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EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Slaughter in Syria; Officials: Powell Planned Murder-Suicide; UN Chief: "Appaled" By Syrian Assault; Obama Vs. Catholic Leaders

Aired February 7, 2012 - 05:00   ET

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


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. And welcome to EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We're bringing you the news from A to Z. It's 5:0 a.m. in the East.

So, let's get started.

BANFIELD: It's been a terrible, terrible night in Syria. In the town of Homs, this is pretty much what everyone heard repeatedly, shelling, tank fire, nearly 100 civilians have reportedly been killed. And now, a Russian official is in Damascus to meet with the regime. We are going to figure just exactly how that will play out in the effort to end the carnage there.

SAMBOLIN: And we have new information about final moments for Josh Powell and his two little boys. What the coroner says he did to his two little boys before he set the house on fire.

BANFIELD: And on the political front, a lot of delegates, up for grabs -- 70, in fact, in the states that are actually offering them up. Three states at play tonight. Is Rick Santorum sitting a lot prettier than he has been in states past? We'll let you know.

SAMBOLIN: And the dark side of Camelot. This is an explosive new memoir. It claims that John F. Kennedy had an affair with a teenage White House intern. He was in his 40s, she was 19. We're going to get some more details on that.

EARLY START begins right now.

BANFIELD: And, first up, we want to get to the situation in Syria that's really been growing so desperate by the hour. If you take a look at the video and hear the sounds, it's remarkable. These are scenes that have been playing out over and over by the day, by the night.

Here are the reports that we're getting. Government troops slaughtering civilians. But because it's so difficult to report from that community and from that area, we can't independently confirm this.

But we can tell you this: the United States has yanked the embassy staff back and shut down our embassy in that country. The Brits have pulled their ambassador out as well, though not permanently, but they have made that move.

And the anti-government activists are getting on any set of airwaves that they can, begging for an end to this blood bath. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZAIDOUN, SYRIAN ACTIVIST (via telephone): The entire world should be ashamed of what's happening here. Everybody is just silent and looking at us being slaughtered every moment for no reason, just asking for our freedom.

This is too much. For God's sake, this is too much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Wow, that is difficult to listen to.

Arwa Damon is live in Beirut, Lebanon.

Arwa, Russian's foreign minister just arrived a short time ago to visit Syrian President al Assad in Damascus. What is the very latest that you can tell us?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't know the exact details, although the foreign minister is said to be carrying some sort of a message to President Bashar al-Assad. And if you look at the images emerging from state television, they show massive clouds celebrating the arrival of the Russian foreign minister.

These images could not be in greater contrast to the other images we have been seeing activists uploading to YouTube, just showing the sheer devastation and horror people are going through in parts of the country, especially in that flash point city of Homs where the Syrian government appears to have launched what activists are describing as a full-out assault on them.

And no one has been spared the violence. These images that we've been looking at of intensifying attacks are showing adults being killed, children as well. Parents begging for help in utter anguish over the fact that they either have not been able to save their children from harm or they are having to sit by and watch them continue to suffer.

And as you were mentioning there, a lot of disgust and a lot of anger at the international community, especially Russia and China, but at the international community as a whole, for its failure to unite on Syria, because as long as global nations remain divided, many say they remain emboldened.

SAMBOLIN: How effective will this visit be? Because Russia is the one who voted against, you know, potentially stopping this bloodshed there.

DAMON: Look, Russia holds a lot of cards. Russia can put pressure on the Assad regime should it choose to do so. But Russia has also been pushing for some sort of political dialogue s for reforms to be implemented, reforms that the government has promised to be implemented immediately. The issue right now is that the situation is escalated to such a degree that the opposition is not going to sit down at a negotiating table that is going to include President Bashar al Assad, nor do they have any sort of faith in reforms that this current government, as it exists, is actually going to implement.

And so no matter what, the Russians accomplish on the ground, it is highly unlikely that it's going to be sufficient to bring about a true and genuine end to the bloodshed. And that is the dilemma that Syria is facing right now. The situation inside the country is so fiercely polarized and it also is polarizing on the global scale as well.

Bringing these various sides together, at this point, many people are telling you it's not going to take place. That window for dialogue, it closed a long time ago.

SAMBOLIN: It is just horrific to watch all of these images. Arwa Damon, live from Beirut for us -- thank you.

BANFIELD: And we have some new and very disturbing developments this morning in Washington state. Police saying that they have new evidence that backs up their theory of a murder/suicide that played out in a house fire that killed Josh Powell and his two young sons. We showed you the pictures and now we have more details.

This one is difficult to even talk about, but the county medical examiners have now said that those two young boys had, quote, "chop injuries" on their head and neck and they recovered a hatchet from the scene as well. Not only that, but they found five gallon cans of gasoline near the bodies.

And the Pierce County sheriff's spokesman told CNN's John King their father, Josh Powell, sent out several good-bye e-mails before this happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SGT. ED TROYER, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, PIERCE COUNTY: These e-mails weren't sent out days in advance. It appears they were sent out minutes before it happened. It was very calculated and very planned.

In fact, he also had gone and given away some books and toys to local charity and dropped them off at a store. And so, he was making arrangements to leave this place. So, he had some knowledge of what he was going to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: And, of course, the back story on this, Susan Powell, two years ago, disappearing. Her husband claiming he was out camping the night before in winter weather with two toddlers. He's long been the suspect in her disappearance. So, this death essentially ends an entire family.

We should tell you as well that her parents, the Coxes family lawyer says that their son, one of their sons, drew a picture of his mother in the trunk of the family vehicle.

SAMBOLIN: They said those little boys were finally talking. There's also candlelight vigils for the boys, 5-year-old Braden, 7- year-old Charlie, that was held outside of the Powell home.

So, in the next hour, we're talking to the sister-in-law of Josh Powell. Denise Cox is the sister of Susan Cox Powell. She believes Josh Powell killed her sister.

What is next for that family?

BANFIELD: It is an absolutely brutal story. I will be interested to speak to them because there may even be some civil litigation issues here as well. So, we'll explore that in the next hour.

In the meantime, let's move on to the business news this morning. There was some new overnight news. BP, the oil giant, remember the big spill, has made a big announcement of profit, $7.7 billion in the fourth quarter last year. It signals a pretty nice bounce back from the Gulf spill. That is probably pretty shocking to a lot of people to hear that.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: That's $85 million in profits everyday in the quarter.

BANFIELD: Is that an entire profit number?

ROMANS: Yes. When you -- we break it day by day, they were raking in $85 million a day, a total turnaround in the Gulf for them and a real -- look, these big oil companies are cash machines because we're addicted to oil, right? The world is addicted to oil. They make a lot of money.

BANFIELD: They've been spending money, too, in the cleanup. I see the commercials every day on our network, other networks, saying we're committed to cleaning up the Gulf. I mean, I think a lot of people would feel differently about that. There's an argument to be made on both sides.

ROMANS: And, you know, they're spending a lot of money for their investors and shareholders because they raised their dividend. And that's something -- I mean, if you are one of those buy and hold BP holders, they're paying you to hold their stock, too. That was something that got investors excited.

Today, we're watching Bernanke, the Fed chief. He will be speaking again today. Last week, he was talking about how he's going to keep interest rates low, still cautious, concern about long term unemployment. But we'll find out today after the jobs report, he's a little bit more upbeat about the direction of the U.S. economy.

You know, I'll be honest with you, 2011 was a year that really burned a lot of economists and even people like Ben Bernanke who were hoping for the seeds of recovery to really take root. And we kept -- it was false starts a lot last year. So, we'll see if Ben Bernanke is a little more confident today about the direction of the U.S. economy this year.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Big jobs report last week. But there are concerns about Greece. And, you know, I was trying to understand Greece and somebody said to me, they're that big.

So, why do they have so much of an effect? Why are we constantly talking about them?

ROMANS: They do, because I'll tell you one big reason, is Greece has got Europe in a tizzy right now.

BANFIELD: Are you allowed to say Greece is the word?

ROMANS: No. You know, I was doing a lot of terrible Greece puns. But I swear, my New Year's resolution was no more Greece puns, no more PIIGS puns, which is Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain. But enough of that.

Greece, let's talk about why it's so important. Look, Greece is trying to secure the next installment of a big bailout. Greece needs the bailout so that it can survive and stay in the eurozone.

We don't know what the contagion affect, ladies, would be if Greece had a disorderly default on its obligations and debt, if it was kicked out of the E.U. It could be pretty dangerous to the banking system. It's very interconnected. And also, Europe is America's number one trading zone, trading partner.

So, if Greece were to really bring down Europe or cause a recession in Europe, that would be felt here. So, this is why this little tiny country is so important to the rest of us.

What they're really talking about now in Greece -- I think there's optimism this morning that Greece is going to get its act together. There are 15,000 public sector job cuts that they promise by the end of the year. They have to sell all these austerity measures to the people.

BANFIELD: Who are striking I think for today, right?

ROMANS: Greece has to show that it's not just doing the right now, that it's completely remaking its economy. That it's going to have a modern economy, not that it's transparent, where people pay taxes, where, you know, you don't retire at 50 with all of these benefits.

They have to completely remake their entire economy to grow; otherwise, we'll be in the same position again. So, that's what they're still fighting about it. And it's important to everybody.

SAMBOLIN: All right.

BANFIELD: OK, Christine, thank you.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

BANFIELD: I don't know what it's like in your neck of the woods to quote Al Roker, but it is so warm, that Zoraida wears sleeveless and I don't know what month it is.

Rob Marciano is joining us now.

SAMBOLIN: (INAUDIBLE) this morning there. It's been a heat wave, Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, well, it's been a heat wave for a couple of months, hasn't it?

BANFIELD: Well, it really has.

MARCIANO: Well, don't kiss winter bye-bye just yet, ladies.

BANFIELD: OK.

MARCIANO: Later in the week, I think you're going to feel a little bit of that. Here it is on the map, pretty quiet, mild, a little bit breezy across the Northeast. Cold front, this one is fairly weak. But there's another one that's coming down Thursday, Friday that we're going to have to watch. Some showers across parts of Florida.

And decent storm system that's heading into the West Coast. From San Francisco down to San Diego, a little bit of light rain. They'll take it, they need it. They need a little bit of mountain snow as well.

It's going to be windy along the coast, also a gust of 55 miles an hour in spots. So, we've got have wind advisories and wind watches that have been posted. So, if you're traveling in San Francisco, Los Angeles to San Diego, those are spots that will see delays because of the weather.

Some light snow moving through Chicago. Midsection, I forgot to mention that. There's a little bit of light snow moving to the Midwest and the western Great Lakes. Miami and Orlando, also some light showers.

Thirty-seven in Chicago. So, that's a little cooler than it has been. And you'll continue that cooling trend as we go through the next couple days.

Forty-eight in New York City. Why not wear short sleeves? And across the panhandle, Florida temperatures in the lower 70s.

Speaking of the panhandle of Florida, cool picture floating around Twitter over the week, and this shot taken on Sunday by the gentleman that runs the panhandle helicopter company. He took this shot in the morning. Fog rolling in and buildings kind of lifting like mountains would lift.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Spectacular picture, Rob.

MARCIANO: Yes, condensing those clouds. Now, some would call these Kelvin-Helmholtz waves but not quite.

SAMBOLIN: But that's what they look like, they look like waves.

MARCIANO: Yes, exactly, and thanks to the buildings and the little onshore fog.

BANFIELD: Where is this again?

MARCIANO: Panama City.

BANFIELD: Panama City. Those are some of the most beautiful beaches. You can't even see them.

MARCIANO: The crystal white sands and the azul water.

BANFIELD: Listen, in the mornings, a lot of people don't always watch every moment because they're off doing their routines. If you didn't see that, you've got to go TiVo back. Those pictures are remarkable. Thank you.

MARCIANO: I'll tweet it out if you missed it.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, thank you.

BANFIELD: That would be terrific. Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: I'll follow you. I think I already do, actually. Mr. Marciano.

Still ahead on EARLY START, questionable money moves. And it is perfectly legal.

We're talking about congressional earmarks. There is a big outrage over a new report, dozens of members of Congress are funding projects right next to their own homes. And then there is a list of their names and the projects.

BANFIELD: I bet Rick Santorum will want to hear this one at some point. He's had to answer to that a lot on the campaign trail.

And also, we have a big ruling that we're expecting in California. The whole gay marriage story in California is complicated. But do you know something? Proposition 8 is what it's all about. And today, we may finally get a ruling on whether you can or can't marry a same-sex spouse.

SAMBOLIN: And a tell-all book from a grandmother who says she was JFK's mistress as a 19-year-old White House intern. He was in his 40s. Larry Flynt joins the discussion live.

You are watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Oh, Michele Murtaugh is our producer who has a particular affinity for my musical tastes because I went off about the Eagles and "Hotel California." I think it was yesterday.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

BANFIELD: And look at what she did.

SAMBOLIN: Look at what she delivered for you, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: She chose --

SAMBOLIN: Happy Tuesday just for you.

BANFIELD: I -- Michele (INAUDIBLE), that's all I can say. And we're going to talk Prop 8 later.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: Good morning, San Francisco. Nice tower cam shot for you -- 52 degrees right now, rain, clouds and 57 later on.

SAMBOLIN: Better than here.

All right. Seventeen minutes past the hour. Time to check the stories that are making news this morning.

Nearly 100 more civilians killed overnight by Syrian forces in Homs. The foreign minister of Russia just arrived in Damascus. The last hour to urge President al Assad to end the violence there.

Officials in Washington state say Josh Powell attacked his children with a hatchet before they died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Police also telling CNN Powell used 10 gallons of gasoline to set his home on fire.

The U.S. Army grieving the loss of 49-year-old Brigadier General Terence Hildner. He died of natural causes on a training mission over the weekend, making him the highest ranking officer to lose his life in Afghanistan.

BANFIELD: Seventy delegates and some pretty critical momentum. That's what's at stake today as Republican candidates compete in caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota and there's this kind of weird nonbinding primary in Missouri.

Also, the New York Giants will be honored today with a good old- fashioned ticker tape parade in Manhattan's Canyon of Heroes, expected to happen later this morning. This, of course, unless you were under a rock, is because they captured their second Super Bowl victory in four years over the New England Patriots.

And country singer Randy Travis is apologizing after being arrested yesterday for public intoxication. Travis was found parked in front of a church with an open bottle of wine.

SAMBOLIN: Interesting story.

BANFIELD: One of the latest mug shots for smokingun.com which they feature prominently.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Nineteen minutes past the hour. And we're getting an early read on your local news that's making national headlines.

Headlines this morning, we have papers from Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. I have the "Washington Post" here. Don't you want to look at my headline? This is much better than looking at that.

But this is a huge investigation that's going on, folks. Thirty-three lawmakers spent 300 million in taxpayer money on local projects. Examples that we have?

BANFIELD: Wait, I've heard this story a million times before.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, I know. But now, it's detailed out. So, the specific projects with the name, Alabama senator $100 million to renovate an area that was right near his office. Georgia congressman, $6.3 million to replenish a beach right near his vacation home.

BANFIELD: Ooh!

SAMBOLIN: And the Senate rejects a bill last week that would have outlawed all of this.

So, listen to this -- the chambers of Congress have different standards here. In the Senate, members must certify that neither they, nor their immediate family members have a financial interest in all of those earmarks. But in the House, only lawmakers and their spouses are covered, not children or parents.

I'm going to put this on Facebook for you, in case you want to see, because I was looking through the different states, including Illinois, to see how egregious.

BANFIELD: So, if you put your house in your children's name, and you can earmark all you want for that place and it's perfectly legal?

SAMBOLIN: In some places.

BANFIELD: Well, it might be legal but, you know, it didn't work well in the campaign.

SAMBOLIN: No, it does not.

BANFIELD: That's for sure.

Let's get to the "L.A. Times," OK? There is a story here that's been particularly disturbing. You probably have heard about that elementary school where two teachers have been arrested, one for lewd acts and the other one for horrifying photos, bondage photos, involving little kids, like 6, 7-year-old kids.

Well, now, comes a sweeping move. Read "The Times" today, there's a very detailed article about all of the staff, the entire staff of this elementary school getting wiped out. They're gone. They're not going to work at this school again.

It doesn't mean they're being fired, though. They're being kind of adjusted, moved around.

SAMBOLIN: The article said they may come back.

BANFIELD: Right.

SAMBOLIN: What they have to do is launch a full investigation and decide who actually comes back. Some people have permanently been removed. The other ones are in a temporary location and may come.

BANFIELD: I am fascinated by what kind of investigation they're going to do on a lot of these teachers, because this came out of the woodwork, and these complaints from kids go back to 1991.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

BANFIELD: So, it does make you wonder. Well, if there were two that they say are unrelated at the same elementary school, you know, is there a possibility of more?

SAMBOLIN: It's a horrific story for parents in particular when you trust. And you drop your kids of --

BANFIELD: And you don't want to think there's anything more than just the coincidence with the two teachers. But you've got to be safe.

SAMBOLIN: All right. It's the opening salvo in the Supreme Court battle over immigration, pitting the state of Arizona against the Obama administration. The lawyers for Governor Jan Brewer file an opening brief with the high court. Brewer is appealing the federal court ruling that is blocking key elements of the state's incredibly controversial immigration law. It's giving police broad new powers to crack down on illegal immigrants.

BANFIELD: So the Supreme Court is going to hear these arguments, but not until April. In the meantime, we have senior CNN legal analyst Jeff Toobin to break it on down.

You're the man who typically -- you know, we like to say wrote the book because you literally wrote the book called "The Nine" on the Supreme Court. So, let's talk about the decision they have to make, the nine.

What's at stake here, constitutional rights of immigrants or the right of a governor to govern as she sees fit?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST (via telephone): There's actually a third interest at stake in this case, which is the right of the federal government as opposed to the state, to conduct its on foreign policy. The main argument here by the Obama administration is not so much that the immigrants' rights are being violated, it's that Arizona, by passing this law, is interfering with the federal government's right to run foreign policy, immigration policy and in the language of the law, that this law is preempted by federal law. That's the heart of the issue in front of the Supreme Court.

BANFIELD: And, Jeff, as you mention that, I'm just looking at Jan Brewer's statement that she released in part that says the federal government compensates our state for just a fraction of the costs that Arizona incurs due to illegal immigration. And the bill, which is called SB-1070 is Arizona's way of saying enough. I get it. I get what she's saying.

But we have this little itty-bitty thing called the Constitution. So, what's stronger here? That right or, you know, your protections under the Constitution if you're here?

TOOBIN: Well, to tell you the truth, this is a tough case, because states do have some involvement with immigration. States often arrest people and check their immigration status. What makes this case unusual, what makes this law controversial, is that it makes it a requirement of law enforcement in Arizona to -- you know, this law is nicknamed the "show me your papers" law.

BANFIELD: Yes.

TOOBIN: It gives local police officers a lot of discretion, which basically says if you might suspect that someone is an illegal immigrant, you have to check for their papers. Well, that sort of vague, broad discretion to police officers is what a lot of people are worried about with this law.

BANFIELD: OK.

TOOBIN: That it's some sort of hunting license to go after dark skinned people. That's really --

BANFIELD: I'm glad you mentioned that. I'm glad you mentioned that because I am an immigrant. And so, under this law I could be stopped and asked to show my passport because I'm now a citizen of this country. But I suspect I might not be asked.

Let me move on to Prop 8. People get confused when they hear about gay marriage, California Prop 8, legal challenges, there's just been so many. Can you just give me what this decision is going to be today by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals?

TOOBIN: Yes, today is actually pretty simple. Basically, what the 9th Circuit is going to decide is whether same-sex marriage will be illegal -- will be legal or illegal in California.

BANFIELD: What is it now? What can you do -- if you're gay and want to get married, is it legal?

TOOBIN: Unlawful. There is no same-sex marriage in California.

BANFIELD: So, Prop 8 is in effect right now, right?

TOOBIN: There was a brief period when it was legal, then Proposition 8 was passed by the voters in the 2008 election. And at that point, the legal challenges began. The status quo is that it is illegal in California.

But based on the argument, based on the way the judge's reacted last year when the case was argued, I think a lot of people, including me, suspect that they will overturn Proposition 8 and reinstate same- sex marriage in California.

BANFIELD: That's the prevailing wisdom, right? That this is going to happen.

TOOBIN: I would say that's the prevailing wisdom which may or may not be correct.

BANFIELD: OK. I got just a couple of seconds left. I can't let you go before saying -- does this mean anything to any other states? I mean, everybody likes to talk about precedent. This is a California story, it's not necessarily a U.S. story -- or is it?

TOOBIN: Well, as a technical legal matter, it has no influence on other states. This is only a case about Proposition 8 which only applies in California. However, this case applies the United States Constitution, and certainly other cases and other legal challenges which are working their way through the courts now will read this opinion and, if it says same-sex marriage must be legal in California, it may well have an impact on other states.

BANFIELD: Listen, my friend. You're going to get the wakeup call tomorrow morning, too, because you know we're going to want to talk about the decision.

TOOBIN: OK, no problem.

BANFIELD: Thank you, Jeff Toobin. Nice to talk to you as always.

SAMBOLIN: So pleasant, OK, no problem.

BANFIELD: All right. At 5:27 Eastern Time, like he's been up all night. Talking about Preston (ph).

SAMBOLIN: Still to come on EARLY START, he probably has, 70 delegates in three states up for grabs today. Can Santorum steal the show?

BANFIELD: And I don't know if you've heard about this new memoir, but, man, is it getting some traction in the headlines -- a White House intern who is now a grandmother, talking about her affair with JFK. So, who's best to weigh in on this? A man who wrote a book about sex and politics in the White House, Larry Flynt. You heard me say it -- Larry Flynt coming up live, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: It is 30 minutes past the hour. Time to check stories that are making news this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, says he strongly condemns the mounting death toll in Syria. Meantime, Russia's foreign minister is arriving in Damascus overnight to meet with President Assad on ending the violence. He is there now.

Air France is expected to ground nearly half its overseas flights today because of a strike by pilots and flight attendants. They are protesting a law they say will curtail their right to strike.

And Catholic leaders threatening to challenge the Obama administration over a provision of new healthcare law that would require all employers, including religious institutions, to pay for birth control.

BANFIELD (voice-over): Officials in Washington State say that Josh Powell attacked his two young sons with a hatchet before setting the house on fire. Those boys deaths have been ruled as carbon monoxide poisoning as well as the hatchet injuries.

Drug enforcement agents raiding two CBS (ph) pharmacies in Florida. Authorities say that the two pharmacies ordered more than three million units of Oxycodone, and that, in just one year.

And also, the entire staff is being replaced at a Los Angeles elementary school where two teachers were arrested for lewd acts and pornography involving students.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Let's talk politics. Seventy delegates up for grabs in three states today, but even more critical for the four Republican candidates is who emerges with the momentum tonight.

BANFIELD (on-camera): It's a big one.

SAMBOLIN: There's lots of buzz about Rick Santorum. Evangelicals can help him in Colorado. Social conservatives are influential in Minnesota, Missouri, sounds good for him. And, Gingrich is not on the Missouri ballot. Santorum sensing an opportunity is stepping up his attacks on Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is the narrative which you're going to see. Any time someone challenges Governor Romney, Governor Romney goes out, instead of talking about what he's for, which is what I did today in contrast to what Governor Romney's for. He just goes out attacks and tries to destroy. I don't think it's going to work this time. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Will it? So, live from Washington, Republican strategist, Matt Keelen, David Drucker, political reporter for Roll Call, and Democratic strategist, penny lee, joining us this morning. Matt, we're going to begin with you, even Gingrich saying that Santorum is going to do well. Let's listen and then we'll talk about it.

MATT KEELEN, FOUNDER, THE KEELEN GROUP: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think Santorum is going to have a pretty good day tomorrow, and he will have earned it. He targeted it differently than I did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: But Matt, here's my question, could the Santorum surge really threaten the candidates?

KEELEN: I think it's going to hurt Newt quite a bit, because it's going to take away from the contrast that he wants to be directly talking about Mitt Romney. Santorum is going to get some momentum out of this. It's going to help his fundraising, and I think a lot more people are going to start looking at Santorum and saying is he the more electable candidate than Newt?

And I think Santorum has a good argument on that, because I think he fits an opponent to Barack Obama a heck of a lot better than Newt Gingrich does.

SAMBOLIN: All right. I want to switch gears here with Penny. Romney attacked Obama yesterday as well about part of his medical plan requiring mandatory contraceptive coverage. Let's listen to this, and then, we'll talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The creator gave every human being his or her rights.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: I'm just as stressed as I watch our president trying to infringe upon those rights.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, the archdiocese across the country distributed letters at Mass two Sundays ago. I got mine. Very aggressive letter. Denounce mandatory coverage. And the Catholic League now saying that they're ready to challenge Obama on this rule. Is this going to be a major issue in the election, Penny? PENNY LEE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, it's amazing to watch Mitt Romney, you know? He says he was distressed. But this is the exact same law that was put into place under him in his Romneycare in Massachusetts. And what this is, this is not forcing anybody to buy. This is not forcing anybody to use contraceptives. This is simply saying that those insurance must then provide it for women.

And as contraceptives and other preventive medicine has continued to go up, they are simply saying that insurance companies now have to provide access and make it more affordable so that women can take those necessary precautions to be able to have a better and a healthier life.

So, doctors that have objectives based on religion don't have to prescribe it, but it's amazing to see that the hypocrisy -- and I think this is why conservatives have problems with Mitt Romney is, he continues to flip-flop. This is the exact same policy that was in place in Massachusetts.

SAMBOLIN: Well, OK. So, Romney, himself, vetoed an exemption for religious hospitals for the morning after pill. This is what you're talking about. A spokeswoman told us that he vetoed it because the legislation should not exist. And he also vetoed mandatory contraceptive coverage. So, a little bit different there.

LEE: But again, it goes back to saying we need to increase the access for it. So, under Massachusetts right now, insurance companies do provide for a greater access. And that is exactly what this law is trying to do as well is simply saying that you can't be denied. A woman can't be denied the availability of contraceptives or other preventive healthcare.

And that is a necessary thing for the livelihoods of women. So, many of them have been, you know, kind of cut out because the costs were getting so high. Things such as, you know, it helps with ovarian cancer. It helps with migraines. It helps with many other things, although many see it as just birth control. It is not. It is many other things.

SAMBOLIN: David, I don't want to leave you out, and we're running out of time here. So, I've got a political headline for you. Obama's Super PAC decision, president blesses fundraising for priorities USA action, which is a Super PAC. A total reversal on his position. Obama was a critic of the Super PAC. Could the president flip-flopping on Super PACs backfire or is it simply a necessary evil?

DAVID DRUCKER, POLITICAL REPORTER, ROLL CALL: I don't think anybody is really going to care. They're more concerned about jobs, the economy and things like that. I think that it could hurt him in a small sense, because he's campaigned, you know, in 2008 that he was going to do things differently. He's been on the record saying that money and politics isn't any good, but the truth is you're not going to win a presidential election, unless, you harness all the resources at your disposal.

And I think this was ultimately a smart thing to do, because I don't think it's the kind of issue that's going to penetrate with voters and over, you know, super seed all of the other issues that are out there. He might be vulnerable on those issues. We know what they are.

I think this is small ball and inside the beltway talk that in the rest of the country isn't going to matter, although it does give Republicans a chance to hammer the president on not governing the way he campaigned.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Matt, David, Penny, thanks for joining us this morning. We'll see you again in the next hour.

KEELEN: Thanks, Zoraida.

BANFIELD: Still ahead, a former White House intern with explosive claims about what went on between her and JFK. You won't believe some of the details, but guess who's going to talk to us about it?

SAMBOLIN: Jaws were open this morning when we mentioned it.

BANFIELD: Jaws are going to open right now, too. Larry Flynt is live, and he is going to weigh in on this and he's got some incredible historical perspective on it, too. You're watching EARLY START.

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SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. Forty-one minutes past the hour here.

The explosive memoir "Once Upon A Secret" revealing new details about JFK's alleged affair with a 19-year-old intern. She's now 69. She is a grandmother. Mimi Alford is speaking out for the first time about her relationship with President Kennedy.

BANFIELD: And she's describing her first encounter which by the way happened four days into her internship where she was with the president in the White House swimming pool. Here's what she says.

"The president slid into the pool and floated up to me. It's Mimi, isn't it?," he said, "Yes, sir," I said. "Mimi Beardsley." "And you're in the process -- or you're in the press office this summer, right?" "Yes, sir, I am," she replied.

Joining us now from Los Angeles to talk about some of the other revelations and let's just say what we just read is this much of what's in this book is author of "One Nation Under Sex," how the private lives of presidents, first ladies, and their lovers changed the course of American history. Seems like that's just not nearly enough of a (INAUDIBLE) for you, Larry Flynt, because there's so much more that you have done.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER) BANFIELD: You've got the copy of the book, too. All right. Larry, let me just get right to this. Why has it taken so long for us to get this story? And let's just say they are allegations, but why has it taken so long and are you surprised?

LARRY FLYNT, AUTHOR, "ONE NATION UNDER SEX": No, I'm not surprised. You know, the public of history books, they tend to be conservative. So, they want to know about politics, not about sexual affairs. So, the story is tend to down through history ignore a lot of this, from the founding fathers right on down. We found the two most promiscuous presidents were JFK and Warren Harding.

BANFIELD: Warren Harding?

FLYNT: Yes.

BANFIELD: Really? What's the story on Warren Harding?

FLYNT: He had affairs with three women while he was in the White House. He also fathered a baby with a woman that was not his wife. That's all well-documented in history. But, Kennedy was more careless because here he was, the most famous and recognizable man in the world.

He wanted to date, including this young lady that wrote the book, but he normally dated women like Marilyn and Angie Dickinson and (INAUDIBLE).

BANFIELD: All the famous ones. Yes.

FLYNT: All the famous ones. So, here, he has been (INAUDIBLE) toward himself wanting to (INAUDIBLE), and you would have thought that a little thoughtfulness or careless -- or being more careful would have taken place.

BANFIELD: Well, it seems if you read Alford's story, it seems he was extraordinarily careless. Let me just play for you a piece of an interview that she gave to NBC just regarding how tough it was to sort of fight off this massive presence that was coming on to her. Here's Mimi Alford.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIMI ALFORD, AUTHOR, ONCE UPON A SECRET: I think I was under the aura of -- I just - I had just a little bit of second thoughts. Not enough to keep me from going back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Is it the man or is it the office when it comes to all of these affairs that have been rumored throughout the ages in the White House?

FLYNT: It's the office. That reminds me of a story, a very close friend of mine told me, he used to be Gerald Ford's communication director in the White House. He would prepare him for his speeches. He and the president were in the Oval Office by themselves. He said, Mr. President, what has surprised you the most about this job?

This is just a couple weeks after he had replaced Nixon. He said, what surprises me most is that every woman that comes through that door wants to sleep with me. And that was sort of reminiscent of Kissinger when he said, power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

BANFIELD: Yes. Famous quote.

FLYNT: I think women actually become victims.

BANFIELD: Listen, I can't let you go, though. I've got to get this question in to you. I know we're just kind of running on to our next segment here, but I've got to ask you this question.

You have said over and over again, you are looking for people to come to you with sexual exploits and information, hypocrisy information about the 2012 candidates. And your co-author of your book actually intimated you may have something coming up. Do you have something coming up about our candidates?

FLYNT: We have investigations going on all the time. We are running a full-page ad in the "Washington Post" where we're seeking additional information. It's not as powerful as it used to be, because we were the ones who exposed a senator from Louisiana. Of course, he got re-elected, but, we've done our part over the last 30 years --

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: I believe the senator you're referring to is Senator Vitter who's been, I guess --

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: Hey, Larry Flynt, it's good to talk to you -- oh, go ahead, quickly.

FLYNT: Yes. I wanted to say, I have no problem with raging hormones. I think a president who can fight two wars and balance a budget at the same time should be allowed to sleep with whoever he wants to.

SAMBOLIN: Oh my goodness.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: I just had a feeling you're going to end the interview that way. Mr. Flynt, nice to talk to you. Thanks very much for your time. Appreciate it.

I knew you'd get all embarrassed about that.

SAMBOLIN: Oh my goodness!

BANFIELD: It's Larry Flynt, what do you expect?

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Yes. Right. Final words.

Up next on EARLY START, child obesity on the rise. Are you surprised? Kids are offered now healthy lunch, and so, how come they still have access to all of that junk food? You're watching EARLY START.

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BANFIELD: 5:50 on the East Coast. More than a third of all kids in the United States are overweight or obese, and this is a growing concern. Still, our kids seem to have access to junk food in their schools. Not sure why that is.

SAMBOLIN: So, live from the CNN Center in Atlanta, senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen. The rates have tripled since 1980. Why is this still happening, Elizabeth?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. The rates of obesity are higher than ever. And still, this new study that just came out shows that nearly half of kids in elementary schools have access to junk food. Things like chips, and cakes and soda. You have to ask, why in the world are we still doing that?

And you know, we've done many stories on this at CNN, and basically, there's several forces at work, and one of them is that schools can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars through these vending machine contracts. You know, that's a lot of money to schools that are financially strapped.

And that's one of the reasons why they're still there, but there are a lot of forces trying to change that. The USDA is hoping to get new rules later this year.

SAMBOLIN: How do we solve this problem, though, because, unless, we remove junk food from the schools, how do we get this epidemic to change?

COHEN: Right. Exactly. That's the thing. If your kid has that much access to that many calories, you know, there's a chance that they're going to say no to that healthy lunch that's being served, and instead, get stuff out of the vending machines. And really, it's up to parents to try to influence schools and try to get them to get those vending machines out thereof or at least get healthy foods in those vending machines.

You know, some school districts have been successful at that. They are restricting what's in those vending machines, but really, parents have to put pressure for that to happen because there's a financial incentive to sell junk.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. You know what, at my school, the vending machines, all of a sudden, weren't working. So, perhaps, there's a solution to the problem --

COHEN: Right. You jam it up.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: All right. Elizabeth Cohen live in Atlanta. Thank you very much.

BANFIELD: Still ahead on EARLY START, the rap stress, can we call her, MIA?

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: I really like her. But this is -- aw! MIA, what were you doing on national TV? She's now speaking out about that middle finger salute during the Super Bowl halftime show.

SAMBOLIN: They're calling it a salute. To whom?

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: Yes. It's one of those things that kind of like a strange euphemism. She'll tell you why she's upset about that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: I love that song. Did you see the movie "Slumdog Millionaire"?

SAMBOLIN: No.

BANFIELD: Every time I hear the song by M.I.A., I think about "Slumdog Millionaire," but now, I think I might end up thinking about that middle finger salute that she did at the super Bowl. She's upset about it now.

SAMBOLIN: Well, she should be.

BANFIELD: Yes -- right? In front of the hundred million plus people. She, apparently, on further review has said that she regrets what she did. Source close to the rapper telling CNN she, quote, "messed up, feels terrible for putting Madonna in that position." And the sources that MIA she was, quote, "amped up and in performance mode," that she was nervous not thinking that the adrenaline took over.

The source says it was never meant the to be a gesture or a statement. But guess what, it became that.

SAMBOLIN: I think I'm more confused now than I was when I saw it. I thought there was a story behind the story, you know? So, she was geeked up, amped up, and that's what cause you to do that.

BANFIELD: All adrenaline. But, you know, she is a rapper.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. BANFIELD: And, look, it's a different culture where that's OK, and maybe just not in front of 100 million plus young kids and families.

SAMBOLIN: All right. It's almost six o'clock here. Your top stories are coming up next, including a Los Angeles elementary school getting rid of their entire staff after two teachers are accused of child sex abuse. We're talking to a sex crimes expert in the next hour.

BANFIELD: And some disturbing revelations, authorities saying that Josh Powell long planned the murder/suicide involving his two young boys. We're going to talk to the sister of his missing wife about what kinds of things led up to this horrifying incident on Sunday in which those three are dead and an entire family is now gone.

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