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EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

CPAC Kicks Into High Gear; CPAC To Go Proud, Go Home; Sandusky in Court; FBI File on Steve Jobs; Driver Rescues Children from Smoking Bus; Making His Case; Interview with Ted Kattouf, the Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria; Candidates Court Youth Vote At CPAC

Aired February 10, 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: And a very good morning to you. It is Friday. This is EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We are very happy you're joining us this morning. We are bringing you the news from A to Z. It's 6 a.m. in the east so let's get started here.

BANFIELD: The day coming up for all the CPACers. They are kicking it in the high gear in Washington. They are CPACers. Not to be confused with cheese head.

These are some of the most influential conservatives in the country that's like their Super Bowl. And it's a big day for Mitt Romney because he's leading in the delegate count, but he's struggling in the last few states.

So he's going to try to make an impression, but while other speakers are there, why is one conservative organization not welcome?

SAMBOLIN: Jerry Sandusky's neighbors want him confined indoors. Sandusky wants more freedom.

BANFIELD: Also in Syria, the numbers just keep coming in. The violence is escalating. Twenty five more people killed overnight, women and children among them. The army in the streets seems like just playing out regularly. Find out what's next.

SAMBOLIN: All right, parents, look at this. A North Carolina school bus goes up in flames. The driver saves six children onboard. And guess what, it is not the first time these buses have burned. We're going to look into that a little bit more closely. EARLY START starts right now.

BANFIELD: And up first, three GOP candidates are about to stand before the most influential conservatives in the country. Wait, Zoraida, three?

SAMBOLIN: Yes, we're missing one.

BANFIELD: We're missing Ron Paul.

SAMBOLIN: The CPACers, as you call them.

BANFIELD: Yes, the CPACers will hear from three, but they won't hear from Ron Paul. Everyone seems to want these folks' votes. So much not Ron Paul, though.

SAMBOLIN: CPAC conference is kicking into high gear. Romney, Gingrich and Santorum, all speaking today, and all three coveting a win in that straw poll tomorrow.

CNN political editor, Paul Steinhauserer live in Washington for us. So there were some light-hearted moments yesterday, Paul. What can we expect today?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: A little less light- hearted. This is a big day for the presidential campaign, some big day for the CPAC. You mentioned, it's a like a political campaign or a political convention actually.

It's a big deal. They've been doing it for 39 years, Zoraida. This is the top, the chief gathering every year of conservative activists and supporters and leaders from across the country.

As you mentioned, all three candidates are going to be there except for Ron Paul. He's up in Maine campaigning. Remember, Paul's won the straw poll the last three years in a row. So he got his son, Senator Ran Paul talked here.

But I think all eyes are on Mitt Romney. Zoraida, let's go back four years ago, then presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. He dropped. He gave up his bid for the White House.

Remember at the time, he was the conservative alternative to Senator John McCain, the eventual nominee. Romney quit his campaign at CPAC. But he ended up winning the straw poll.

OK, fast forward four years. Now Romney is the forerunner, but after last Tuesday's defeat maybe conservatives are still not truly in love with Mitt Romney. That's why we hear he's got a big speech planned.

His campaign says that it's going to be a major address, maybe something on taxes. And also even besides the speeches, it's the closed door stuff that's going on. Romney meeting with people behind closed doors conservative leaders, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: And I heard something about some bickering that's going on. What's that all about?

STEINHAUSER: Have you heard? Have you heard that?

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

STEINHAUSER: Yes, listen, since Tuesday we've seen the Romney campaign really picking up against Santorum calling the former senator an insider, a Washington insider. Here's a quote from the campaign yesterday about those earmarks. They say Senator Santorum is like a shopaholic who wants to blame department stores for his spending obsession. That's some tough talk. Here's what the senator said in response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is the gotcha politics of Mitt Romney. He's not interested in talking about the issues. He's interested in trying to pander and make political sauce when there are real substantive issues about how we're going to change this government and he's on the wrong side of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEINHAUSER: OK. So we're going to listen to all three candidates today and, of course, Zoraida, tomorrow we get the results of that very important, much watched presidential straw poll at CPAC.

SAMBOLIN: Well, thank you for that preview. Paul Steinhauser live for us. We appreciate.

So one group not in attendance at CPAC this year, conservative gay organization, "GOProud."

SAMBOLIN: "GOProud" actually sponsored the conference back in 2010 and in 2011. So it's a little surprising to hear this. But CPAC informed the group that they were not invited to sponsor 2012 this time around.

They could come, they could come as individuals, but they just couldn't be officially part of this thing. So joining me now are the cofounders of that group, "GOProud," Jimmy Lasalvia and Chris Barron live for us.

All right, gentlemen, I guess the question would be, and either one of you can filled iN, why do you think that happened?

JIMMY LASALVIA, CO-FOUNDER, GOPROUD: Well, I think that for -- ever since we started GOProud two-and-a-half years ago, I mean, the first thing we did was sign up the co-sponsor CPAC.

We did that for two years. There were folks on the ACU Board and in outside organizations that wanted us barred from CPAC simply because we're gay. And they took it -- advantage of the leadership change at the organization and were successful in keeping us out this year.

BANFIELD: OK, so my confusion is, that when you were part of it and you were sponsors to CPAC, there were some pretty major groups that boycotted CPAC all together. Like Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, Liberty University, Heritage Foundation, even Senator Jim DeMint. So do you think that set play here, that they were weighing, my goodness, which of these groups can we afford to lose most? CHRIS BARRON, CO-FOUNDER, GOPROUD: Well, I think sadly while we -- the entire time that we have been involved in CPAC have said the most important thing was unity within the conservative movement.

There have been a handful of, you know, of organizations on the social right who have decided to go the route of division and some of those individuals and organizations that you just mentioned decided to boycott previous CPACs.

Even though we were not invited this year and we were informed that we were not allowed to participate, we haven't gone that route. We haven't said we should be organizing a boycott.

Because we understand that in this election year the most important thing we can have is unity within the conservative movement. It's unfortunate that other folks haven't done the same thing.

BANFIELD: Here's the thing that gets confusing to some people who might be watching right now. And that is, I mean, I don't want to be so foolish to say, gee, how can a gay group be conservative since there seems to be competing messages?

But I will tell you this, I got a release from you guys back in January 27 saying after last night's Republican debate one thing is clear, any one of the four remaining GOP presidential candidates would be a dramatic improvement over the failed presidency of Barack Obama.

So any one of the four would include Rick Santorum and wow, I think a lot of gay people who don't belong to your group would be astounded by that comment because here's one of the comments that in 2003, Rick Santorum made about gay people and gay rights, et cetera.

And I'll read directly, "If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual gay sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have to right to adultery, you have the right to anything."

I remember when that blew up big for the senator and I think that led to the inability to Google Rick Santorum's name without seeing a lot of really gross stuff. How do you guys reconcile this? How do you say he's better than Barack Obama when he says this specifically about you?

BARRON: Well, let's be clear. First off, we strongly disagree with what Rick Santorum said there. Those comments are absolutely outrageous. Secondly, Rick Santorum is not going to be the nominee of this party.

I know that the mainstream media and some in the party want to continue the charade that there is a horse race going on here. Rick Santorum is not even on the ballot.

BANFIELD: He's won three states. He swept them with huge numbers. BARRON: John McCain lost 19 states, 17 of those after he won in South Carolina and Florida and his nomination was never in question.

The bottom line is the only candidate who has a national organization that can win this primary is Mitt Romney. I mean, we can continue to pretend that there's a horse race and I know that the media wants to pretend like there's a horse race.

BANFIELD: Let me give you that. Let me give you that one, guys. That's Rick Santorum. Now the other candidates as well that you're supporting also support the idea that gays shouldn't serve in the military.

And they also support the idea that there should be a constitutional amendment to prevent gay marriage in this country. That doesn't seem like it's in sync with what you would want in your candidate?

LASALVIA: That's not exactly true. Ron Paul doesn't support the constitutional amendment and even Mitt Romney went so far so say it's not likely. That particular proposal has lost support ever since it first failed in Congress in 2004.

The reality is, we're all living in this Obama economy. Gay people are living in the Obama economy, too. And we've got to come together. Gay and straight, liberal and conservative, and fire the president.

That's what we have to do as is a country. We have to look at who is best positioned and best able to do that. And to fix the problems that everyone, including gay people care about, those kitchen table issues that everyone is worried about right now.

BARRON: And the left would have you believe that the only thing that gay people care about is military service and marriage. And while those are important issues, the fact is, is that gay people care about things like the economy and jobs and retirement security.

BANFIELD: I appreciate it. Jimmy LaSalvia and Chris Barron, I could go on for a whole lot longer and I do appreciate you guys coming to talk to us today.

I'll be interested to see what you think about how CPAC resolves all of the issues after the next couple of days. Thanks, guys.

SAMBOLIN: All right, it is 10 minutes past the hour here. There is a big birth control battle going on. Catholic TV station is suing the Obama administration. Senators are introducing a bill to protect religious groups. You expect a Republican to do that, right? There's a Democrat in the mix as well.

BANFIELD: Jerry Sandusky is going to court. Not about his trial, about his confinement. He's none too happy about the current situation being confined at home. Others want the confinement to be even stricter. Who is going to win on this one? We're back after this.

SAMBOLIN: Well, first, let's get a quick check of your travel forecast. Jacqui Jeras is in for Rob this morning. Good morning to you, Jacqui. We don't want to leave you out this morning.

BANFIELD: Hello, Jacqui. Taking hits on the Canadians last hour?

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I was a little bit. Don't punish me for that. Cold air coming down from Canada and it's really bringing winter back big time across the upper Midwest. That cold air is going to meet up with this moisture from the south.

We'll be looking at snow showers today from St. Louis up towards Chicago and Indianapolis as well as Cincinnati. A couple of inches expected and that heads towards the east for tomorrow. Keep that in mind Boston, New York City, as well as Philadelphia.

Otherwise, it's just rain for you in places like Houston as well as Dallas today. Look at those temperatures, only 14 Minneapolis, 35 in Chicago. Temperatures are going to be about 20 degrees below average.

So winter is back. That's a look at the nation's forecast. EARLY START returns in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Jerry Sandusky is headed to court. It's a hearing today regarding his confinement. The prosecutors are asking a judge to keep Jerry Sandusky from going outside his home. Don't forget. He's under home confinement while he awaits trial. The neighbors have said home confinement? Well, his home borders an elementary school and they see him on his porch they say watching children in the school playground.

SAMBOLIN: Meantime, Sandusky, who is charged with more than 50 offenses against young boys over a period of 14 years, will ask the judge for more freedom.

Jason Carroll is live outside Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. The big issue here that we were talking about yesterday is this whole court issue that Sandusky gets to sit there and watch children as they come and go from school. What do you think is going to happen there?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a couple of things. We do know that, as you know, Sandusky is allowed to be out on his back porch and neighbors have been complaining. For example, they were complaining when they saw him out, Zoraida, shoveling snow.

But we spoke to his attorney and his attorney tells us that when he was out there shoveling snow he had permission from his probation officer before he did that. There were complaints that he was out on his back porch looking at children. But once again, his attorney says that incident is related to the fact that there is a woman who is outside with her young child. Sandusky saw them, they saw him. He went right back inside after that happened again. That's according to his attorney.

The bottom line is this. The defense in this particular situation wants looser restrictions on his house arrest. They want Sandusky to be able to go out and visit his lawyer. They want his grandchildren to be able to come in and visit him.

And the prosecution is saying, look, this is house arrest. It's very serious business. He's charged with very serious allegations here. It is not a, quote, "a house party." And they want his house arrest restricted.

Today, we'll see if the judge decides to rule on that or take it under advisement and rule on it later - Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: They're also asking for an out of county jury for the trial?

CARROLL: Well, what they're basically asking for is that other jurors will come in from a different county and be seated here. It's very clear that this trial will take place right here where I'm standing. But because there's been so much publicity surrounding what's happened here there has been a call for perhaps jurors to be taken from a jury pool outside from where we are now.

SAMBOLIN: And that the -

CARROLL: So that's another thing that the judge might be looking at.

SAMBOLIN: There's a lot to look at today. We understand Joe Amendola wants more evidence notes from the prosecution witnesses. Do you think that he'll get that?

CARROLL: Well, I can tell you this. Yesterday, Joe Amendola met with the Attorney General's office and they went over a number of points. That being one of them.

But that's going to be put on hold because we're told during that meeting with the Attorney General's office Joe Amendola and prosecutors came to an agreement that prosecutors would have another two weeks to decide what evidence they're going to turn over and what evidence they're not going to turn over. That's been put on hold.

I think the most - one of the most important issues here, Zoraida, has to do with Jerry Sandusky and whether or not he will be able to have visitation with his grandchildren. That was also discussed with the Attorney General at this meeting yesterday.

And we're told that the proof that Jerry Sandusky's grandchildren want to see him will come in the form of written testimony. That written testimony coming from five of Jerry Sandusky's children. And that will be submitted in the court today. So prosecutors said, "Well, look, if Jerry Sandusky's grandchildren want to see him, we want to see the evidence, we want to see the proof." We're now being told that that proof will come in the form of written testimony that will be submitted today.

SAMBOLIN: All right, Jason Carroll, a lot is going on there. Thanks for watching it for us.

BANFIELD: And it's 19 minutes past 6:00 on the East Coast. This is a guy who's been described as one of the obdurate in the office, Steve Jobs, and now the FBI is releasing files on his.

SAMBOLIN: One of the most what?

BANFIELD: Obdurate.

SAMBOLIN: What's obdurate?

BANFIELD: Unyielding.

SAMBOLIN: OK.

BANFIELD: Do you think that might be the word of the day?

SAMBOLIN: Oh, yes. I'm going to go look that one up.

BANFIELD: Nailed it.

SAMBOLIN: Obdurate.

BANFIELD: Yes. The FBI, find out what they have to say about him in the 191 pages.

And also coming up, take a look at the pictures on your screen. Get to your TV for a moment. This is really worth seeing.

SAMBOLIN: Wow.

BANFIELD: Yes, there were children on that bus.

SAMBOLIN: Were.

BANFIELD: Yes, there was a bus driver, and, yes, she is a hero today for getting every single one of them off before that bus turned into this. We'll show you the whole thing coming up in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: We want you to have the moves like Jagger and get out of bed this morning. Good morning to you, Little Rock, Arkansas. It is 41 degrees, a little rainy but it's going to 49 degrees later.

BANFIELD: I like that Adam Levine. He has the moves like Jagger. I'm just saying.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, I'll give you that. He's cute. BANFIELD: He is indeed. OK. So great story this morning.

The FBI releasing their files on Steve Jobs. You know, Apple's Steve Jobs. It's shedding some new light on that whole cult of personality. The fact that he's being considered for a job with the White House back in 1991. Probably a good thing he didn't take or we might not have those iPods.

SAMBOLIN: Right.

BANFIELD: Files released after a Freedom of Information Act request were filed by a journalist for a website called Muckrock.com.

Christine Romans has been looking at through some of the documents this morning. You know, it always surprises me when there are FBI files on people. I don't know why.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Right.

BANFIELD: But they got it for years. But when you see them, you kind of get creeped out.

ROMANS: And this is a - this is a level three expedite for the president. I mean, (INAUDIBLE) it's so interesting. It's 191 pages.

And what's really kind of interesting about it, too, they found some new things. There was a 1985 bomb threat against him. Hadn't heard about that before.

BANFIELD: Really?

ROMANS: He goes at length with the FBI about why he was fired from the first time from Apple. So this is when he was working at someplace called Next.

And it also talks about people they interviewed, some three dozen people they interviewed that were friends, acquaintances, relatives of his who confirmed youthful drug use, LSD, hashish, marijuana. He also said it to the FBI as well, but most people who knew him said he wasn't using drugs then.

But, you know, the FBI is looking for stuff like that. You know, does he have any financial problems? Anybody could blackmail him. Was he involved with the communist party? All of these things were negative, by the way.

One thing that's interesting, too, is that people who were interviewed about him, a couple of them stated this, and this is on page 5 of this report. "He is strong willed, stubborn, hardworking, and driven," which these two people believe is why he is so successful. Those two people went on to say, "However, Mr. Jobs possesses integrity as long as he gets his way." That was something that was recurrent throughout this as well. That this is somebody who is hard, he gets what he wants -

BANFIELD: Obdurate? ROMANS: And obdurate, I think is your word of the day. And pretty - some pretty interesting stuff overall.

I mean, I don't think it's earth shattering for people who have followed the cult of personality.

SAMBOLIN: But if you haven't, some of it is really surprising, because I know you put this in front of me, it is rather mundane. And I'm reading it and I'm saying there is nothing mundane about this.

ROMANS: He was -

SAMBOLIN: Talks about drug use and personal relationships.

ROMANS: Personal relationship. He had a daughter with a girlfriend early - and that's in here as well. And he eventually had - went on to develop, you know, a father-daughter relationship with this young woman.

But all of this personal stuff in here and you think, gosh, this guy was running a computer company, been fired from a computer company, running another company. Who would think that -

BANFIELD: There would be this much.

SAMBOLIN: And why does an FBI file exist?

ROMANS: Because he was being considered for a post within the first Bush administration, a business kind of liaison.

SAMBOLIN: So that takes back to that, OK.

ROMANS: So they had to check him out, make sure that, you know, his finances were good. That he was a fine, upstanding citizen.

BANFIELD: You are really good at finding this stuff. It's fantastic.

ROMANS: I mean, it's all, you know, it was tweeted about. I mean a lot of people -

(CROSSTALK)

SAMBOLIN: I love this. Well, a lot light reading for today. Thank you very much.

BANFIELD: There's another good Friday story as well, right?

SAMBOLIN: Oh, my gosh. This is incredible. It's 26 minutes past the hour here.

Lindora Richardson has a favor to ask of all of us. She said, "Don't call me a hero." North Carolina - she's a North Carolina bus driver. She saved six children's lives on Wednesday.

Take a look at that bus. That's a bus she was driving with the six children inside ages 5 to 10. She pulled them off the school bus right before that happened. Listen to her tell it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LINDORA RICHARDSON, NORTH CAROLINA BUS DRIVER: I smelled something and I just knew it didn't smell right. I basically stopped the bus. And as I saw the smoke in my face and I knew it was time for me to get myself and the kids off the bus.

I didn't want to like be hysterical and make them hysterical, so, yes, you know, I was calm and they were calm and I felt like that's what aided in a safe delivery for the kids.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: So here's a bit of surprise. As we look at the charred-out wreckage, it's not the first time that this has happened. Apparently that model bus has caught fire before in North Carolina, which begs the question is there an investigation under way? And, yes, there is.

In the meantime, earlier we spoke with this hero, doesn't want to be called a hero but we did speak with her, she says, I'm going right back to work this morning. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARDSON (via telephone): I just feel like I was just doing my job. It's not being a hero. It's doing my job and this was - this is what I was trying to do and I love it so much. So I don't feel like I'm a hero. I feel like I was just performing my job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: I got to tell you what, I love - we actually spoke to her earlier, but this is the first time we see her face. So that was really nice to do, put the face with the name. She is a hero.

BANFIELD: She is in my books.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

BANFIELD: That's the one I want driving my kids.

SAMBOLIN: That is correct.

All right, still to come, a cancer drug could reverse Alzheimer's. It's had quite an effect on mice. Will it have the same effect on humans?

BANFIELD: Also, fresh off, Christine Romans' report about Steve Jobs' FBI file, now word that there might just be a new iPad hitting stores soon? What's this all about? New text specs, when can it land? I know you want to know this stuff. We'll have it for you in a moment.

SAMBOLIN: Look at that cutie pie. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 31 minutes past the hour.

And it's time to check the stories that are making news this morning.

In Syria, state TV reports at least 25 deaths from two blasts in the northern city of Aleppo. At least 137 were killed Thursday in the city of Homs. Tens of thousands are expected to protest across Syria today after Russia voted against a U.N. resolution that would have condemned all of this violence.

Two senators are introducing a bill that would ensure employers with ties to religious groups wouldn't have to abide to the controversial new contraception rule. That rule requires schools and hospitals to provide insurance for free birth control. It's one Democrat, one Republican there.

BANFIELD: A drug used to treat skin cancer is surprisingly showing some signs of reversing another disease, Alzheimer's. But, here's the catch. It's doing this for mice and mice only. And researchers are still skeptical about the drug's ability to actually work in humans.

And a report on the digital blog "All Things D" says, are you ready? Apple will announce the next generation of iPad sometime next month, apparently rumored to have a better display, a faster processor, and better graphics. So, just when you bought the iPad 2 --

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: I don't think it's enough of a reason to buy the next generation still.

BANFIELD: I don't know.

SAMBOLIN: I think it needs more bells and whistles.

BANFIELD: I got the iPad 2 and the camera made all the difference, all the difference. Yes.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Let's move on here.

Talk a little politics. Today is Romney's day to make his case, one of the three GOP candidates speaking to conservatives at CPAC today, asking for their support and, of course, their money.

Let's talk to our panelists about this, this morning. From Chicago, we have Lenny McAllister, conservative commentator and senior contributor, Politic365.com. And from Washington, Joe Williams, White House reporter for "Politico". And from New York, Bernard Whitman, Democratic strategist and president of Whitman Insight Strategies.

All right. Bernard, I'm going to start with you.

So, Romney is speaking I understand around lunchtime today at CPAC. He met privately with conservative leaders yesterday, trying to gain a lot of support. But he's still getting a lot of flak because he is just not connecting with the people.

How does he seize that moment? What does he have to say?

BERNARD WHITMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think he's got to make an impassioned plea for economic revision and renewal of America. The truth is this audience really doesn't like him, they don't trust him, they don't connect with him emotionally. And I think the one thing that Romney does have going for him is he does some business cred.

Now, I would say that is business cred that is not going to resonate with the independent and Democratic base. But I think today, he's got to reach out, he's got to broaden his vision, economic renewal. He has to simplify his economic message.

I think the big criticism that conservatives have with Mitt Romney is he doesn't have a clear, concise plan. His economic argument is 57 points long. He has to reach out and grab conservatives and get them to understand that he is the only viable alternative that can bring economic renewal to America and successfully beat President Obama.

I think he's going to fall short of that. But if I were advising Romney, I'd say stick to the economy.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Joe, Santorum is also speaking today. I want us to listen to what he said yesterday after the Pentagon recommended expanded military roles for women, and then I want you to weigh in on that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do have concerns about women in front line combat. I think that could be a very compromising situation where people naturally, you know, may do things that may not be in the interest of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved. I think that's probably not in the best interest of men, women, or the mission.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: I'm not quite sure exactly what he meant by that, but maybe men and women would be too distracted on the front line. So, we pulled up a poll here. It's a 2011 "Washington Post"/ABC News poll. And what it shows is that 73 percent of women support women in direct combat roles, 72 percent of men as well support it. Was this a misstep?

JOE WILLIAMS, POLITICO: Well, it's hard to say otherwise. I mean, you have -- on one hand it's a misstep in that, yes, you say something that's probably not going to resonate very well with a female audience, but it's going to perk up the ears of some conservatives, especially after the Pentagon said that they are considering moving women more towards combat roles.

Quite frankly, it's not an unusual move for the Pentagon because we have women in combat roles already. They just don't call them that. You recall the situation in Iraq where there were several women taken hostage.

I live here Walter Reed Hospital and I see women every day suffering from injuries. I saw one jogging the other day who was missing part of her arm. So, it's already happening.

But Rick Santorum is basically trying to shore up his -- he's not doing anything that Rick Santorum doesn't do. He's a traditional values candidate. He's expressing that. He's going to tickle the ears of some of the conservatives at CPAC. That's what he's going for.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Just those percentages there that were odd to hear I'm say something like that.

Lenny, I want to talk to you about something completely different. At CPAC today, it's getting a lot of heat. It's a panel. It's called the Failure of Multiculturalism. Members of the panel include Peter Brimelow, founder of VDARE, and also, Robert Vandervoort, executive director of ProEnglish. Some call this group white national conservative group.

You're a conservative who also happens to be a minority. What are your thought on this?

LENNY MCALLISTER, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: I think it's a huge misstep. This is the epitome of why the conservative base can't reach out to minorities effectively. This is just another situation where Republicans and conservatives are not sensitive to what the 21st century looks like in America. This is something where they're using divisive measures and trying to call it conservatism.

And it's not only is it a bad move, it sells out the actual true core conservative values. This is what burns up black Republicans like me because this is just another opportunity to wrap racism in some sugar coated type of philosophy. Basically, I've said this before -- you can't take cyanide and call it candy just because you wrap it around with chocolate. It's the same exact thing.

This is thinly veiled racism. The same type of stuff you saw from the 17th, 18th, and 19th century that they're now promoting here in the 21st century and try to call it some kind of nouveau conservatism.

It's a bad step. It will divide people. And this is the type of thing that independents look at when they look at Republican candidates moving forward into general election such as that this upcoming fall.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Bernard, Joe, Lenny -- thanks for joining us today.

BANFIELD: Still ahead on EARLY START, big day at CPAC. How to harness the young folks who are part of the conservative movement. We're going to talk to a program organizer at the conference about that.

And then, also ahead, the numbers keep rising, the slaughter in Syria. Women and children among the dead. You're going to find out exactly what the latest is and why this Syrian government is now admitting to deaths.

You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: It is 41 minutes past the hour. And we have some bad news to report yet again out of Syria. At least 25 civilian deaths overnight in Syria's north city of Aleppo. And get this -- this is not according to the rebels, this is now according to Syrian state TV which is run by the government.

The rebels themselves are saying 137 people were killed in Homs on Thursday. This is the fifth straight day of attacks. And hundreds of people have been reported dead in Homs. It's Syria's third largest city and it is flash point in the uprising that has been going on since March of this year to try to boot Bashar al-Assad, the president of that country, from power.

One of the activists who's been documenting this violence, his name is Danny. And he posted an extraordinarily disturbing piece of video online that shows the brutality on children.

Have a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANNY, SYRIAN ACTIVIST: This is one of the houses at Bab al Amr. Look at these children. This is this how the Assad regime is supposed to treat our children? Now you see what the Assad killing children. They've been hitting us from 6:00 a.m. until -- it's 2:00 p.m. now. We have over 100 bodies, over 200 underneath the destructions. We don't even know who they are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Despite the fact those children are in bloodied sweatshirts, the president has repeatedly said that they have not been attacking civilians. And, in fact, saying that terrorists are responsible for this bloodshed.

Ted Kattouf is the former U.S. ambassador to Syria. He's joining us now from Washington.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks for being with us.

I repeatedly get visions of Bosnia as I see more of these images roll in of women and children tortured and dead. Do you see any sign that this might let up?

TED KATTOUF, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SYRIA: No, I don't see any sign, Ashleigh, that this is going to let up. Several days ago, we had a vote at the Security Council, a water-downed, on a water- downed resolution. But even that resolution calling on Syria to take certain steps was vetoed by Russia and China.

And once Bashar al Assad realized that the Russians and the Chinese had his back, he's going all out to try to crush any resistance to his regime. He feels he has a narrow window in which to operate and they're going all out, particularly in these pro- opposition neighborhoods that have armed men in Homs.

BANFIELD: Mr. Ambassador, for anybody looking at these pictures in disbelief that this could happen, we, in fact, have the blueprint for this exact scenario to play out and it started with his father who was in office 29 years ago in the city of Hama in '82. There was somewhere between 10,000 and 40,000 people who were killed when President Hafez al Assad, that is the current president's father, did the very same thing.

Is this a family affair?

KATTOUF: Well, look, this is a minority regime. What do I mean by a minority regime? The president comes from a sect of Shia Islam that makes up about 10 percent to 12 percent of Syria's population. Meanwhile, the Sunni Arab population of Syria is around 67 percent to 70 percent. And they've had enough of discrimination and of poverty and the like, and they want this regime gone.

But the Alawites who dominate the military and intelligence services feel that if they lose power, it could be them who are on the receiving end of brutal treatment. So, this is an existential fight for them and, you know, it's awful.

BANFIELD: I saw our former defense secretary, Bill Cohen, say on CNN yesterday that sending in the marines is a very complicated kind of story when you're talking about Syria. And it made me wonder about all of the different incursions that we've had and the effort to save people who are desperate for help. I just want to throw up a quick list of some of the military incursions that America has engaged in in the past few decades.

In 1982, Beirut, where we lost some 224 marines. 1993, in Somalia -- pardon, spelling error there. I apologize. But that was, of course, the disastrous Blackhawk down. 1995, in Bosnia, some certain successes there. 2011, in Afghanistan, say what you will about, but it is ongoing and it is troublesome.

Iraq, (INAUDIBLE) needless to say a trillion dollars and thousands dead. And now 2011, Libya, certainly a success story in terms of cost and effect. Is there anything that we can take from that list and apply to Syria?

KATTOUF: You know, right now, I think, Ashleigh, we have to understand that there is no power, not even turkey, which borders Syria that is prepared to use military force to bring down Assad. Now, that could change over time. And it may change.

But, right now, they're talking about a Syria contact group, the Arab league, the European Union, Turkey, the United States, some other like-minded countries, that would try to put maximum pressure on Assad through various sorts of sanctions, diplomatic isolation, the like. But, you know, we put soldiers in Lebanon, marines in Lebanon, and we lost 241 marines in one bombing alone.

BANFIELD: Yes.

KATTOUF: So, you know, Syria is a much larger and more complex society. It's very, very dangerous to put troops on the ground.

BANFIELD: Just no easy answer, but Senator Kattoufa, I certainly appreciate your perspective this morning. Thanks so much for being with us.

KATTOUF: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: It's very hard to listen to that, right, the lack of hope there.

BANFIELD: Like there's just no solution.

SAMBOLIN: Right.

Forty-six minutes past the hour. Soledad O'Brien joins us now with a look at what is ahead on "STARTING POINT." Good morning to you, Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST, "STARTING POINT": Hey, ladies. Good morning to both of you. We're live this morning at the Conservative Political Action Conference or CPAC, which is here in Washington, D.C. Going to hear today from Mitt Romney, from Rick Santorum, and also, Newt Gingrich. Going to happen later this afternoon.

Could there be a big endorsement on the line? We'll take a look at that as they head toward the straw poll which happens on Saturday night.

Plus, this story. A high schoolgirls basketball team, they're trying to raise money for charity and by wearing those pink uniforms, and they get a penalty for it, lose the game. This morning, we're saying to the ref, get real. That's all ahead this morning on "Starting Point." We'll see you. Back with EARLY START right after this short break. We're back in a moment.

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BANFIELD: Good morning to Atlanta. Waking you up with Adel "Rumor Has It." Boy, she's in for a very, very good Sunday. Even if she doesn't win, she's got six Grammy nominations. So, we are pulling for her.

SAMBOLIN: Very nice. All right. So, we've been talking CPAC a lot. It enters in day two in Washington, D.C. Lots of big names there. Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, all are set to speak today. So, we're talking to a very young crowd. By some estimates nearly 40 percent of the attendees there will be younger than 30. It's very important few days for the youth vote are left here.

Ron Meyer is a program officer with the Young America's Foundation. He is in Washington, D.C., attending the conference. Nice to have you joining us this morning.

RON MEYER, PROGRAM OFFICER, YOUNG AMERICA'S FOUNDATION: Good morning.

SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you. So, what I wanted to know is with the youth vote, what is it that you are looking for in a candidate?

MEYER: Well, I think young people and young conservatives are looking for someone with bold solutions and someone that's actually going to address them as a young person, not as grandchildren and children or real people and really want big change in the country. Right now, young people are hurt worse by this economy.

They're taking an economic shellacking, thanks to the Obama administration. Huge (ph) unemployment out a historic high, hasn't been this high since World War II. Average graduating college debt is at record levels. The national debt is off the charts. We've come up with something called Youth Misery Index at the Young American's Foundation to show these things.

And are these candidates going to bring up topics like that or they're going to address young people? Are they going to outline why they're take an economic beating and are they going to propose real solutions? The thing is, I think, with all the candidates, maybe with the exception of Ron Paul, their plans are not bold enough to address the issues we're talking about when it comes to national debt and getting the economy going.

And with Ron Paul, the national security problems are quite large, too. So, there is no really -- I think they have a lot of room to grow here. And they have a case to be made at CPAC as to why we ought to support them.

SAMBOLIN: Listen, Ron Paul is a big favorite, we understand, among young voters. He will not be attending. Is that a big disappointment?

MEYER: For some young people, I think it is. I think everybody has heard Ron Paul before. I think the thing is he needs to come out and support Israel (ph) before conservatives -- young-minded conservatives to nearly come out and support him. As a whole, I think that the national security stuff is a deal breaker for a lot of us. And I think it's one of those things where he has to do some room there to get everyone behind him. SAMBOLIN: And is there something that you're looking for forward to hearing today that really would kind of zone in on a particular candidate or is there already a buzz about one in particular?

MEYER: I think everyone is just sort of excited, and you know, there's a lot of room for growth for each of these guys. If they bring up youth issues, if they address the young people that are there and take the opportunity and don't rattle off the same talking points we've heard 100 times at the debates, then, yes, I think there's a lot of room for growth.

We have to have freshness. We have to have boldness. What are these candidates needs to step up and take the mantel of conservatism and charge for it. And I think that the movement is looking for a strong leader right now.

SAMBOLIN: OK. I want to put up a poll here, because you mentioned that it's a tough economy all around, but particularly, for people your age. Young adults are having a hard time finding a job, saving for the future, paying for college and buying a home. You're 22 years old. Is that you, is that the profile of your friends?

MEYER: Oh, absolutely. Young people, like I said, are taking an economic shellacking. Really thanks to big government. I think that's what they need to talk about. They need to show why these problems exist. How we got into this financial mess, in the first place, and why it was big government and why big government has kept us in it?

Government spending hasn't helped young people at all. The stimulus package has been a disaster for young people. Since the stimulus package came to play, youth unemployment has skyrocketed and continued to go up. Now, are we going to see them put a proposal to get us back to work?

Here's the thing, young people want careers. They don't want internship. They don't want more college debt. We want careers. We want real jobs. And we need to empower the private sector. The government doesn't hire young people in mass, because they're heavily union centered. That's the thing. We need to empower the private sector so we can get real jobs and start our lives.

SAMBOLIN: Listen, let me ask you something. In the past, Republicans have had a bit of a reputation, right? Privilege may be (INAUDIBLE). You may be too young to remember Alex P. Keaton. Do you know who he was? "Family Ties"? No. you're looking me like --

MEYER: No.

SAMBOLIN: I'm older, so I remember Alex Keaton. So, if you can paint a profile of the young Republican?

MEYER: I think while I'm not -- I'm for the conservative movement. I don't know about Republican or whatever.

SAMBOLIN: A young Republican conservative. MEYER: A young conservative would look at this. I think the conservative movement is growing right now. Here's a thing. Barack Obama has lost more youth support than any president Gallup poll history if you look at the poll numbers. I think the conservative ought to be looking at how to grow the movement.

But I think the typical conservative that's young wants someone who is going to cut the deficit, cut the debt, get to a balanced budget within five years, and get us back employed and see that youth unemployment number fall. We've seen just an awful economic situation, and we need some really bold, big answers from these leaders.

SAMBOLIN: Twenty-two-year-old Ron Meyer, program officer for Young America's Foundation. Thanks for joining us this morning.

MEYER: Thanks for having me on.

BANFIELD: And at 6:55 on the East Coast, if you haven't had enough of CPAC yet, wait for it, because our Soledad O'Brien is live at CPAC, and she is gearing up for a big day there and a big two hours of her program as well. GOP candidates are going speak. We're right back on EARLY START after this.

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BANFIELD: And that is EARLY START. Happy Friday to you.

SAMBOLIN: "STARING POINT" is next with Soledad O'Brien. Good morning to you.

O'BRIEN: Hey, everybody.