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EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Two Western Journalists Killed in Syria; Afghan Vent Fury; Final Face-Off Tonight!; Koran Protests Shutdown U.S. Embassy; Dow Tops 13,000 Mark

Aired February 22, 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: And a good morning to you. This is EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We are very happy that you're joining us this morning. We're bringing you the news from A to Z.

It is 5:00 a.m. in the East. So, let's get started here.

Well, they're venting their fury. There's outrage in Afghanistan -- take a look at this picture -- over the burning of a Koran at a main U.S. military base. The U.S. has apologized, but it's not stopping this.

BANFIELD: And you know something? We started this story with you yesterday, but the momentum seems to be growing.

It is sort of a final face-off also here in the United States before Arizona, Michigan, and Super Tuesday. Brand new polling is showing that we are in a virtual tie, though, in the desert.

SAMBOLIN: And reliving the Lewinsky affair. Staffers are opening up for the very first time in a brand new documentary. They are saying the White House was consumed by it for nearly an entire term. That documentary is getting some mixed reviews this morning. We're going to share that with you.

BANFIELD: And the president singing the blues, not over the campaign, literally singing the blues with B.B. King. Yes, get down. You're going to hear the rest of that coming up.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SAMBOLIN: We begin this morning with breaking news out of Syria. Opposition activists telling CNN two Western journalists were killed in heavy shelling by Syrian government forces on a neighborhood in the besieged city of Homs. We are not naming the journalists yet. We are pending notification of their next of kin. We are working our sources on this story, and we'll be following it throughout the morning for you.

Again, two Western journalists were killed in heavy shelling by Syrian government forces in Homs.

BANFIELD: Also, in another area but a lot more violence as well, the American embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, is on lockdown this morning. New protests raging across that country.

Take a look at the pictures. It started yesterday with a few hundred people outside Bagram, and now look, all of this in response to the inadvertent burning of the Muslim holy book, the Koran, at our air base there.

Thousands of Afghans have now amassed outside of the base. They're setting fires. They're venting their outrage in extreme ways, throwing rocks as well.

U.S. choppers had to fire flares to try to break up this crowd.

SAMBOLIN: And an official says some of the religious material was removed because detainees were writing on the documents to exchange extremist messages. Still the United States is apologizing, saying that it was an honest mistake.

General John Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan, ordered an investigation, saying it was not intentional in any way.

BANFIELD: Journalist Ben Farmer is live in Kabul, Afghanistan, for us this morning.

Ben, get me to the crux of the issue here. Is this getting going out of hand, or do American officials on the ground there feel as though they can contain this outbreak of violence?

BEN FARMER, JOURNALIST: Well, at the moment, it seems to be escalating. We now have three major protests in Afghanistan. One in the capital Kabul, one in the eastern city of Jalalabad, and one close to where it happened yesterday.

The death toll and the toll of injuries has risen over the course of the morning. There are at least 30 wounded and perhaps five dead. There is no sign at the moment that NATO's apologies, which have been very profuse, are having an effect to calm these people.

The embassies inside the center of Kabul are all locked down, and the transport for staff has been put on hold because they're worried the anti-Western feelings, which is very strong in these protests, would result in even more violence if these protesters do reach the capital -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: What are they doing about American personnel on the ground there? I mean, we're in the midst of a drawdown, but there are a substantial number of Americans who are going to be staying behind in that country, and this just sort of foreshadows what could be lying ahead for them.

Is there any word right now of additional security measures other than the lockdown?

FARMER: Well --

BANFIELD: Our sincere apologies. That signal, unfortunately, with Ben Farmer has just broken up.

But we can tell you this. There have been profuse apologies from the ISAF commander on the ground, General John Allen. He has apologized not only to Hamid Karzai in that country. He has apologized to the people of Afghanistan. Even the White House weighing in, Jay Carney, the spokesperson, yesterday during the news conference suggesting that America is offering its sincere apologies for this inadvertent burning of the religious material.

However, we all remember last year when a Florida pastor burned a Koran in protest. That sparked violence in that country that led to dozens of people being killed. A United Nations compound being stormed.

So clearly, this is a critical, critical issue to keep an eye on. I think we, unfortunately, don't have Ben Farmer any longer, do we? We've lost that signal.

So, we'll continue to try to watch that and keep an eye on the developing situation for you.

SAMBOLIN: You know, I also read they're going to do additional training now for this not to happen again, so they can identify when it's religious documents and this does not happen again. So, we're hoping that will happen soon as well.

It is five minutes past the hour here.

Major market milestone. The Dow Jones crossing 13,000, that mark for the first time in nearly four years. Blue chip stocks up more than 6 percent so far this year. The end of the day, Dow closed just below 13,000, up 15 points for the day, 12,965. The NASDAQ lost a few points. The S&P 500 up just a bit.

BANFIELD: How does that happen? How does the NASDAQ go down on a day when everyone's cheering?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It has different components in it. And, you know, the Dow has just 30 stocks, remember? So, like, G.M., American Express, 3M, companies like that, G.E. But -- actually, I don't know if G.M. is in it anymore, but G.E. is in it.

But, you know, it's 30 stocks. So, keep that in mind. It's not representative of what's in your 401(k). That's the S&P 500. It's up 8 percent this year.

BANFIELD: It's huge.

ROMANS: It is.

I want to look at the Dow, though, because this is the psychological one that everyone looks at. It crossed 13,000 for the first time last year since May 2008. You guys, look how far stocks, as measured by the Dow, have come.

In May 2008 was the last time 13,000. And remember, basically the economy and the stock market crashed. The president took office, and then slowly, slowly, the stock market has recovered. It is up 63 percent during this president's administration.

So, clearly, the stock market is telling us that corporate profits are recovering. Remember, the stock market doesn't reflect how you feel. It reflects how companies feel.

And the stock market is telling us that companies are feeling better. They have a lot of cash in the bank. They're cautious about hiring. They're giving money back to their shareholders -- not necessarily hiring, giving money back to shareholders, and things are doing well for the companies.

Now, something that's really important here. A lot of you are asking me, wow, stocks are better. I'm going to get in.

Look, professional investors, when they're up 8 percent in several weeks, which they are at the S&P 500, they look at a milestone like 13,000 and think, hey, I'm going to take a little money off the table. I might sell some stocks.

The rest of us say, hey, I feel good now. I want to buy stocks.

BANFIELD: Be careful.

SAMBOLIN: You have to be careful. You have to be buying stocks all the way up, not just when it hits 13,000. Otherwise, it doesn't do you any good.

So, this is an important time to remember what is your risk tolerance? What do you want your money to do for you? What is your -- are you looking at your 401(k) statements? Please do it twice a year. Don't do it when the market is at 13,000.

BANFIELD: They're selling on the peaks and we're looking for the dips, right?

ROMANS: Yes, yes, yes. A lot of people I know who are watching, who are very actively engaged in the stock market say it's hit a wall right here. They're looking for pull back before they get in.

BANFIELD: All right. Risk tolerance again.

ROMANS: I tweet.

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: I still don't get why the S&P isn't up a little. It's that whole psychological thing. I thought it would have bled over.

ROMANS: You mean NASDAQ.

BANFIELD: Oh, sorry. No, no --

ROMANS: Is the S&P down?

BANFIELD: The S&P was down slightly, just a little bit. I kind of thought, again, it's a different measure.

ROMANS: I find out which one -- you know, once it hit 13,000 on the Dow, then there was a little bit of selling, this flurry of selling. I'll check out what exactly was going on there.

BANFIELD: My own personal finance person here. It's wonderful.

Every morning, we also like to give you an early start to your day by alerting you to the big stories developing tonight.

President Obama's plan for corporate tax reform is being unveiled today. And it proposes cutting the overall corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 28 percent. And the effective tax rate for manufacturing to no more than 25 percent. Officials say the changes are essential to fixing a system that is not competitive, unfair, and inefficient.

SAMBOLIN: In Upstate New York, prosecutors beginning their case in their trial of a Megabus driver involved in a deadly crash. That was back in September of 2010. The driver John Tomaszewski is charged with four counts of criminally negligent homicide. Prosecutors say there were 13 signs warning of the low bridge and urging tractor- trailers away from that route.

BANFIELD: Today is Ash Wednesday. It ushers in the season of Lent. It begins today, and it's observed by Christians for 40 days prior to Easter.

SAMBOLIN: And a horror scene at a health spa right outside of Atlanta. Five people were gunned down at Su Jung Health Spa that is in Norcross, Georgia. Police say the shooter then turned the gun on himself.

In all, four men and two women died. Police say they do not have a motive yet. We're going to a reporter live about that as well.

BANFIELD: We're going to talk -- we're going to turn to politics right now. On the day of the big debate in the desert, there's brand new polling that shows it is statistically tied in Arizona.

I bet Mitt Romney didn't expect that. He is at 36 percent. But within that margin, take a look.

Here are the numbers. Rick Santorum is closing in at 32 percent. Newt Gingrich fell behind at 18 percent. Ron Paul really, really well behind at 6 percent.

Romney's four-point lead is again within that critical margin of error.

SAMBOLIN: And, of course, Santorum is leading nationally as well. People now are digging deeper into his past, right? Got to check out the frontrunner.

So, he's been forced to answer questions about a sound bite from 2008. This was dug up by the Drudge Report. Listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age? There is no one else to go after other than the United States, and that's been the case, for now, almost 200 years.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Jim Acosta asked Santorum about his Satan warning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: As a person of faith, I believe in good and evil. I think, if somehow or another because you're a person of faith, you believe that good and evil is a disqualifier for president, we're going to have a very small pool of candidates who can run for president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: CNN political editor Paul Steinhauser is live in Mesa, Arizona.

It's really tough to be the front-runner, isn't it?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: It really is. You know, this is the first debate in nearly a month, since our debate in Jacksonville, Florida, and so much has changed, especially for Rick Santorum.

Remember last time there was a debate, he was standing on the sidelines. This time, he's going to be center stage with Mitt Romney. When you become a co-front-runner, you get a lot more scrutiny.

And, listen, we knew the other candidates would probably go after Santorum because of his record in Congress when he was a senator. So, Romney and Paul have been criticizing him as a big earmarker, a big spender.

But now, he's got all these other things he's going to have to defend as well, including some of the sound you just played a moment ago. So, you know what happens when you're a frontrunner in the debate? You often get pummeled by other candidates. Get ready for the major leagues, I guess, you could say, Mr. Santorum -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: What do you think we're going to expect out of him?

STEINHAUSER: Well, I think Santorum is a fighter. We've seen him, no doubt about it. He's a very feisty person. So, he may be able to punch back, maybe like Newt Gingrich did.

Remember last time around in Florida, Mitt Romney went after Newt Gingrich after Gingrich's big victory in South Carolina. Romney was very successful in those debates. We'll see how aggressive he is tonight in our debate. Also, how Rick Santorum will defend himself.

And, finally, let's talk about Gingrich himself. He has basically going from here to down there over the last month. He needs a breakout performance tonight at this debate to kind of reenergize himself and get some mojo back.

Remember, this is also not only the first debate in over a month, it's the last debate not only before the primaries here in Arizona and Michigan in six days, but also before those 10 states vote on Super Tuesday on March 6th. This is the last chance for the candidates to make a major impression on a national stage -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Did you really say getting his mojo back?

STEINHAUSER: I did say that. It's a little Austin Powers quote there. I hope you enjoyed it.

SAMBOLIN: I loved it. Thank you very much. Paul Steinhauser live for us. We appreciate it.

And do not miss the last presidential debate before primaries in Arizona and Michigan and Super Tuesday, of course. CNN's Arizona Republican debate tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

BANFIELD: And who says you can't disco down if you're a political editor, huh? Who says?

Let's get you to Rob Marciano, who could possibly be considered the disco king of CNN.

Hello, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: At 5:00 in the morning especially. We were pulling some moves before we went on the air.

BANFIELD: Watch that hamstring.

MARCIANO: Hope your mojo is moving along on this Wednesday.

We have showers rolling into Chicago in the way of some rain and snow showers, possibly some wet snow piling up to an inch or two there and some of the state off New York. But New York down to Philly to D.C., we're OK.

We're setting up, though, across the South for not one, but two days of potentially rough weather, especially across the Southeast, northern Georgia, northern Alabama, and parts of eastern Kentucky and Tennessee today.

Isolated tornadoes possible, damaging winds and large hail. I think tomorrow will be a better bet for a more widespread event as some energy comes out of the Rockies. More energy coming out of the Pacific Northwest. Strong system today with high wind watches and warnings. You could see gusts of 70 or 80 miles an hour, especially in the canyons over some of the higher peaks.

With this will be rain, flood watches, and even flood warnings have been posted for parts of western Washington, including Seattle and parts of King County.

Temperatures today, especially in the eastern third of the country will be warming up into the 70s across parts of Texas, 76 degrees expected in Dallas, and 47 degrees, even with the rain/snow mix, in Chicago. So, what does fall will melt away pretty quickly.

Fifty-five degrees expected in New York, and 67 degrees in Atlanta. And even warmer temperatures tomorrow. Some fog in San Francisco, if you're traveling through that city.

I mentioned the showers in Chicago, especially this morning, might be some delays there if you're traveling through that area. Some wind behind the system in New York. In Atlanta, maybe some afternoon thunderstorms, as we pointed out, some of those could be rough.

BANFIELD: That's a lot of delays.

MARCIANO: Well, we try to keep our bases covered.

SAMBOLIN: We appreciate you. Thank you.

MARCIANO: All right.

BANFIELD: Thanks, Rob.

OK. It's -- I guess you could say it's official. President Obama has the singing bug. First, it was Al Green swooning away. Remember this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (singing): I'm so in love with you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: I had no idea the man could sing, no idea, until that moment right there. Man, you had me at hello.

OK. Now, he's moving on, folks. He's stepping up his game. It's "Sweet Home Chicago." He's singing for the second time in 2012, a little more hesitant this time, though, grabbing the mike with blues legend Buddy Guy and also B.B. King. Talk about pressure.

Here's a few lines of "Sweet Home Chicago."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(OBAMA SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: I'm a little partial to that "Sweet Home Chicago."

All right. Some say that this is President Obama's Clinton saxophone moment. You be the judge.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

SAMBOLIN: Did I say saxophone? I meant saxophone. Take the e out of there, gentlemen.

Or maybe it's more like President Bush boogying down.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

SAMBOLIN: I don't know. Yes, you be the judge.

BANFIELD: This was one of my favorite moments, though. This was one of my favorite moments of President Bush.

SAMBOLIN: I don't know if I'd call that boogying down.

BANFIELD: Letting loose. Look at him go. I love it.

No, I love this. He had me at hello although he didn't even say it.

But if I had to vote on all three --

SAMBOLIN: The first Obama moment, I think was the best.

BANFIELD: Yes, "So in Love With You," it should have been on Valentine's Day, like I said.

SAMBOLIN: Awesome.

BANFIELD: Still ahead, this just in. Chris Christie says what's on his mind.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: He should just write a check and shut up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Oh, hello. Who did he tell to put his money where his mouth is? You'll find out.

SAMBOLIN: And, folks, listen to this -- what could be the end of affirmative action as we know it. The Supreme Court takes up race as a factor in college admissions. We're going to talk to a legal expert about this.

You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BANFIELD: We got some breaking news into CNN just minutes ago. Word that the two Western journalists, including an American, have been killed in Syria. The American is Marie Colvin, who reported from Syria for us actually, just hours ago, and Frenchmen Remi Ochlik.

Syrian activists say they were killed during heavy shelling in the city of Homs. They are the latest to die in this slaughter. There are thousands of people who have killed in this battle.

Opposition says 106 killed just yesterday alone. Last night on "A.C. 360," Marie Colvin talked about the murder that was happening in this city that very day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARIE COLVIN, LONDON SUNDAY TIMES (via telephone): This is the worst, Anderson, for many reasons. The last one, I think the last time we talked, when I was in Misrata. It's partly personal safety, I guess. There's nowhere to run.

The Syrian army is holding the perimeter, and there's just far more ordinance being poured into this city, and there's no way of suggesting where it's going to land.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Nick Paton Walsh is live for us in Beirut.

Nick, what can you tell us?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There's very little we can tell you about how this very tragic accident happened at the moment. The newspaper, "The Sunday Times," a British newspaper is saying simply that she's been reportedly killed in Homs, according to activists who they've spoken to.

I can only say Marie Colvin was -- when I joined British newspapers 15 years ago, she was a legend then. And since then, she's literally in every major conflict or story, her name has been above some of the most eloquent reporting you could have imagined to have seen.

We don't know how this happened. There has been, as you said, consistent shelling of the area where she was for the past 18, 19 days now. And that's really all we can say at this point, Ashleigh.

SAMBOLIN: It's Zoraida, Nick.

We're taking a look at pictures of her there. She's wearing an eye patch. What can you tell us about that?

WALSH: Well, she wore the eye patch since she was injured in Sri Lanka in 2001, again, bravely pursuing reporting, and she wore that eye patch ever since. I mean, she's been to every major conflict, from Kosovo to Chechnya to Iraq to Afghanistan. She's always had been there.

We should point out today, also, another Western journalist appeared to have been killed, some others injured, and I'm sure Marie herself would want everybody to know that another nine people were killed in Homs today who were just civilians living there, killed by the shelling, too -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: And do we know if her family has been contacted?

WALSH: We understand that is the case. I think that's one of the reasons why the "Sunday Times" trying to be cautious about when they released news of her death to make sure her relatives were informed. So, yes, I believe that has now occurred, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Nick Payton Walsh live for us in Beirut -- thank you for those details. We appreciate it.

BANFIELD: I worked with Marie Colvin overseas. And she's an amazing journalist. She was just an incredible, consummate foreign correspondent. And we are all better for the reporting that she's done.

And it underscores what we have been saying on this program, any Western journalist, any journalist at all that tries to make their way into Syria is doing so at great risk to themselves and now, we have seen this borne out.

SAMBOLIN: I was looking at reports of her online. They called her fearless, absolutely fearless.

BANFIELD: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: All right. We need to move on here.

It's 22 minutes past the hour.

BANFIELD: Monica Lewinsky, it was a scandal that made headlines when it broke 14 years ago, and it turns out it's creating another buzz again.

SAMBOLIN: It's a two-part PBS documentary on the Clinton presidency that aired this week, and it focused on President Clinton's affair with the White House intern.

Alina Cho is here with the details. And they got really mixed reviews also.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It did. And supporters of Clinton say it was long on Lewinsky and very short on accomplishments. I mean, you know, it is fascinating to watch.

You know, this was a four-hour documentary shown in two parts, covers the 42nd president from childhood until his last day in office. In some ways, it was a highlight reel. It showed the rise of then- House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the battle over the budget, and the eventual government shutdown. Also touched on President Clinton's response to crises at home and abroad, from the Oklahoma City bombing to the siege at Sarajevo.

But 40 minutes of the documentary did focus on then-President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky, the eventual impeachment.

Now, one of the most riveting moments in the documentary is the interview with former Clinton advisor Dick Morris, who talks about the very night the scandal broke.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK MORRIS, FORMER CLINTON ADVISOR: When the Lewinsky scandal broke, the president paged me, and I returned the call. And he said, ever since I got here to the White House, I've had to shut my body down, sexually, I mean, but I screwed up with this girl. I didn't do what they said I did, but I may have done so much that I can't prove my innocence. And I said to him the problem the presidents have is not the sin, it's the cover-up. And you should explore it, just telling the American people the truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: You know what we don't hear in that bit of sound that we hear from Dick Morris is that he goes on to say, you know, let me do a poll. Let me see what the American people feel about this -- and what he found was that, yes, his hunch was right. The American people will forgive adultery, but they have a harder time forgiving the lying. And so --

BANFIELD: Just ask Newt Gingrich, right? Going into South Carolina after that debate. Amazing.

CHO: Right.

BANFIELD: So, one of the things I look at those pictures of Dick Morris, and I think, boy, what a difference a decade can make. He's now prominent on FOX News Channel, very critical of Democrats. And I'm sort of curious of the inner workings of the White House staff at this time and how they were trying to come to grips with how they're going to cope with all of this news.

CHO: Well, I think it's safe to say now they were all caught off guard. You look at when the scandal broke, the day -- the day the scandal broke, perhaps the day after, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at the time saying, essentially, I believe the allegations are false. The rest of the cabinet essentially saying, I second that.

But perhaps most interesting -- and many people don't know this -- was the day after President Clinton was forced to answer questions from independent counsel Ken Starr and his speech to America admitting the affair. Remember this, the Clintons were scheduled to leave for their annual summer vacation on Martha's Vineyard, and the White House staff had no idea how to handle the walk.

Do you remember this?

(CROSSTALK)

CHO: The first family's very public walk across the White House lawn to the waiting helicopter. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They decided they can't do anything. They can't orchestrate it. They can't spin it. They're powerless to affect it. And in the end, it falls to Chelsea Clinton, a teenager, to take both of their hands on her own initiative, take her father's hand in one, her mother's hand in another, and walk across the lawn, literally the bridge between her parents at this moment of crisis between them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: I mean, I think that image is seared in the memory of many.

SAMBOLIN: I remember that. They put their daughter in the middle, which makes sense.

CHO: One of the most memorable images from that whole scandal. It's that moment that you wondered, are they going to come out? And are Hillary and Bill Clinton going to be hand in hand? It turns out Chelsea was literally and figuratively a buffer at that moment in time.

BANFIELD: I wonder if they put her there or if it happened that way, if it was strategic.

CHO: We'll never know.

SAMBOLIN: I'd say it was probably strategic.

BANFIELD: I don't know about that.

SAMBOLIN: This is a tough time to be president with all of the scandal. How are you able to deal with the duties of being the president?

CHO: It obviously goes without saying, huge, huge distraction. Former White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers said the affair consumed the president and his staff for nearly three years, from the very time the scandal broke to his impeachment in the Senate. And, of course, now all these years later, 14 years later, this documentary.

Now, coming up in the next hour, we're going to hear about one of those events when the White House first confronts, at the time, a very little known Islamic terrorist group called al Qaeda. Of course, all these years later, there are still people who believe that the Lewinsky scandal sort of clouded President Clinton's vision, didn't allow him to focus on al Qaeda and their growing threat of al Qaeda. Remember, this was three years before 9/11.

BANFIELD: They say legacy takes a long time to foment. It will be interesting.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Alina.

BANFIELD: Still ahead, just hours before a critical debate, they're tied in the polls. Rick Santorum is facing questions about his thoughts on Satan and the United States. You heard it right, Satan and the United States. What is he saying?

You're watching EARLY START. You'll find out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you. Thirty-one minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BANFIELD: And I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It's nice to have you here with us. Let's get you caught up on the top stories making news this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD (voice-over): The U.S. embassy in Kabul looking out their windows at this, and that's not good. It's on lockdown there, folks, because protesters have been hitting the streets, condemning our troops and NATO troops, too, for burning copies of the holy book, the Koran. U.S. officials are apologizing for it, admitting it was just a mistake, but that was it was a mistake in disposing of Korans that had been scrawled with extremist Islamic messages.

In this country, all knotted up, just hours away from that CNN Arizona Republican debate. A new CNN poll is showing that Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney are officially in a statistical dead heat in that state.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Up and over. The Dow Jones average topping the 13,000 mark for the first time in nearly four years. That happened yesterday. It ended the day just below 13,000. The Dow is now up 53 percent since President Obama took office. you like that news.

And jury deliberation is expected to begin today in the University of Virginia lacrosse murder trial. Former UVA student, George Huguely, is charged with first degree murder in the beating death of his ex-girlfriend, Yeardley Love.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD (on-camera): So, Rick Santorum's comments about Satan have been surfacing just hours before the big debate. What do you know? Do you think it's going to make its way on to the debate stage? SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Oh, I believe, perhaps, it will, even though, it's old, right, 2008.

BANFIELD: 2008. He's defending, though -- he's defending it, saying I said it, though, he is going to have to face more questions about it. The fallout could show in a difference in the polls, maybe as the polls continue. So, what does it mean? And is there a bigger meaning to it anyway?

CNN.com's contributor, Ruben Navarrette, joins us to weigh in on this as well as former spokesman and House Republican conference, Gretchen Hamel, is joining us live, and CNN political editor, Paul Steinhauser.

Paul, I want to start with you, because you're the man in the know when it comes to the numbers, and we're looking at these statistics out of Arizona, these latest polls which show that these guys are in a statistical dead heat.

Yes, Romney's ahead by four points, but that's in the margin. I'm wondering if you think those polls might change with some of his language that's coming out from 2008 about Satan and attacking America.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Yes, but you know, it may actually change in Santorum's favor because, remember, this is a Republican primary, and a lot of Republican voters comfortable with Santorum's talk about faith. It's something they're used to him saying. And as you mentioned, he told our Jim Acosta last night, I'm a person of faith. I believe in good and evil.

And in a speech last night right here in Arizona, he said, I'll defend everything I say. So, he's actually reemphasizing those comments. They may actually help him rather than hurt him in a Republican primary. In a general election, they could be a little different. And yes, Arizona, the polls are basically all dead even now. Our latest CNN/'Time"/ORC poll, that's a change from about a week or two. And remember, in Arizona, 29 delegates at stake, and it is winner take all.

BANFIELD: So, it's one thing to hear about the headline, about, you know, Satan coming after America's institutions. It's another thing to read about a headline like that, and then, it's a whole other kettle of fish to actually see it. And guess what, we were able to actually dig up that old sound bite so we thought we'd play it for our viewers this morning. Have a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age?

VOICE OF RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There is no one else to go after other than the United States. And that's been the case now for almost 200 years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: And there's nothing like seeing a radio interview, I'll add. But, what is interesting is our Jim Acosta here at CNN, who is absolutely on it, was on the stump yesterday and was able to catch up with the former senator and asked him about it, and here was his response. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: I'm a person of faith. I believe in good and evil. I think, if somehow or another because you're a person of faith and you believe that good and evil is a disqualifier for president, we're going to have a very small pool of candidates who can run for president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: OK. So, Gretchen Hamel, I want you to weigh in on this. It is one thing to talk extreme conservative values when you're on the stump and you're trying to get the nomination. And it's quite another when you have to face voters down the way who are a lot more, let's say, independent.

Is this working out well now, or is even this a little to strident for conservatives who like fiscal conservatism but maybe aren't that socially conservative?

GRETCHEN HAMEL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THE PUBLIC NOTICE: You know, this may be working well for him now, and we'll really see if it is tonight during the debate, especially since it's Ash Wednesday. I mean, it's kind of a holy day for a lot of folks out there. So, it will be interesting to see how this plays in the debate tonight.

It may work for him in the primary, in the general. You just don't know. Independents, they don't like to get religion involved in politics, and let's be honest, the issues that are on Americans' minds right now are not religious or social issues.

They are the issues of the economy, of jobs, of government spending, and how we're going to get this economy back on a track where it is an upward mobility to where people have more economic opportunity and to where we know that our taxes aren't (ph) going to go up and that we are not going to go the way of Greece.

BANFIELD: Ruben Navarrette, is this too much or is this exactly what conservative voters are looking for, whether they're way up high in Michigan or way down low in Arizona?

RUBEN NAVARRETTE, CNN.COM CONTRIBUTOR: Ashleigh, I think the latter. I think it's exactly what they're looking for. Not so much because they agreed with Rick Santorum on these issues or anybody's going to go to the polls to cast a vote against Satan or in favor of contraception, but rather because it goes to this idea that he's a guy of conviction.

He's somebody who actually stands by what he said. Contrast that with Mitt Romney, who has the exact opposite problem according to the polls, and it does sort of play well for Santorum. Also, I'm a pundit. I'm a columnist. It's my job to tell people what I think. Anybody who's been paying attention to this election knows it's not working this time.

Every time the media tells somebody that there's an issue, the voters go the other direction. If I tell them it's important, they say, it isn't. If I say you should all fall behind Romney, they don't do it. And no matter how many elections you've covered, Ashleigh, this deal is a whole different thing. The 2012 election is just plain weird, and it doesn't play by the rules, and this is one example of that.

BANFIELD: And you know what, it's a really good thing cable news isn't running for president. That's all I'm going to say as I end this with all three of you.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: Thanks very much, folks. Take care. It's Ruben, Gretchen, and Paul doing the job for us this morning.

SAMBOLIN: It's 37 minutes past the hour here. Still ahead, New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, lays down a challenge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) NEW JERSEY: He should just write a check and shut up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Who is he talking to? No. Who was he talking about? We'll tell you after this.

BANFIELD: He wasn't telling (ph) Piers Morgan that.

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SAMBOLIN: We're having a great conversation here this morning. It's 41 minutes past the hour. He is not your typical politician.

BANFIELD: Heck no.

SAMBOLIN: New jersey governor, Chris Christie, is not holding back as usual with Piers Morgan last night.

BANFIELD: He was asked about Warren Buffett, the billionaire, who said tax me more, I'm OK with that. And here is what the governor said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: He should just write a check and shut up, really, and just contribute, OK? I mean, you know, the fact of the matter is that I'm tired of hearing about it. If he wants to give the government more money, he's got the ability to write a check. Go ahead and write it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Well, even Warren Buffett, though, if he wrote a check, could not do a whole lot. Christine Romans joined us at the table during the commercial break and said, you get letters from people saying, can I write the government a check to help pay down the debt?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: From time to time, I'll get a letter from someone who will say, look, I've inherited money from my husband or I'm a widow, and I would like to do something about our debt problem. I don't want to give this to our -- my grandchildren. You can -- the government will let you write a check.

I mean, you can go to the treasury's Web site. You can find out how you can pay down the debt, but don't.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMANS: You're throwing your money into an abyss of debt. I mean, $15 trillion is the national debt. The issue here is having a fair tax system and having a Congress and a president together who can figure out, come together and figure out, how to fix it, so you don't have such huge disparities.

It's interesting because Warren Buffett, actually, last fall, was asked in a CNN interview about this very thing. Back then, Heritage Foundation, Michele Bachmann, who was running for president were saying, he shouldn't be complaining about it. He should just write a check, and this is what he said at the time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARREN BUFFETT, BILLIONAIRE: It's kind of cheerful to see -- makes you cheerful to see the childlike faith in the American public. We have a deficit, you know, of $1.2 trillion or something like that, and they say the way to solve it is by voluntary contributions. I mean, if they really think that's sound tax policy, you know, God bless them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Sound tax policy. Ironically, I think that's what Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, and Warren Buffett probably both want is sound tax policy, but the way it is right now, there are so many loopholes. There are so many exceptions and exemptions and all these other things that, depending on who you are and how much money you have, you could pay wildly different tax rates. Wildly different tax rates.

BANFIELD: This is my entirely unscientific way of doing a comparison, but if George Soros, Warren Buffett, Prince Al-Waleed, and even Sheldon Adelson decided to give all their money to the federal government, it'd be like buying one French fry from all of McDonald's all around the world. ROMANS: Yes. $15 trillion national debt. More than $1 trillion in a budget deficit. I mean, clearly, the United States is spending way more than it -- but it shows you the political fire power of the argument, you know? And Chris Christie, boy, he does not mince words.

SAMBOLIN: No, he does not. We love him.

BANFIELD: The guy is good for cable news.

ROMANS: Warren Buffett just says it like it is. He's the oracle. And Chris Christie is just like the Jersey oracle.

SAMBOLIN: Fantastic.

ROMANS: He's like the jersey version.

BANFIELD: Jersey boy. Love it.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Christine. We appreciate it.

BANFIELD: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: It is 44 minutes past the hour here. Coming up, five people gunned down in a shooting at a Georgia health spa. We have a live report from the scene right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: It is 47 minutes past the hour. A horror at a health spa right outside Atlanta, a murder suicide at the Sujung Health Spa in Norcross, Georgia. Police say the shooter gunned down five people then killed himself.

BANFIELD: WGCL reporter, Rebekka Schram is joining us live from Norcross with the very latest. There seems to be so little information coming out so far about this other than five people and some kind of a relationship between them?

REBEKKA SCHRAM, REPORTER, WGCL: Right. It sounds like there is a relationship, Ashleigh, between the shooter and his victims. This mass murder has really rocked metro Atlanta's Korean community. Local investigators are getting help this morning from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation as they try to sort out a motive in this case. We're learning that the shooter was apparently related to some of the victims.

Those victims include two men and two women. We're learning that the owner of the Sujung Health Sauna was killed by the shooter, and that the shooter may have been his brother-in-law, although police haven't confirmed that. The police chief here in Norcross tells us much of the incident was captured on surveillance footage at the spa.

BANFIELD: Rebekka Schram, thank you for the update. Unbelievable. And we'll look forward to (INAUDIBLE). Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: Forty-eight minutes past the hour. Coming up, the U.S. Supreme Court argues the role of race in higher education. Is this the beginning of the end of affirmative action?

And then, tonight, the GOP candidates take the stage for what could be their final debate. There is a lot at stake. We're going to tell you what to watch out for. You're watching EARLY START.

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SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 51 minutes past the hour here. The Supreme Court is to take up the issue of race in college admissions. They're hearing a case from the University of Texas where a woman says she was denied admission because she is White. Could this be the end of affirmative action? Paul Callan is a CNN legal contributor, and he is coming to us via Skype this morning. Nice to see you. thanks for being with us.

Good morning, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you. All right. I first want to start with the case of this woman. Could you explain a little bit about why she filed this suit, because as I understand it, she did not gain admission the first time around and actually was part of a second round being considered.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, yes, she was being considered the second round, and there's an issue as to whether she even has a right to bring this lawsuit. There's a doctrine called standing, and that is whether a litigant really has the right to have the case decided by the court, and that's one of the issues that's going to be decided here.

But, the court is looking at a bigger question here. They're saying, basically, she applied to the University of Texas, and her claim is that she was rejected for admission on the basis of her race, that if she had been of another race that is given preference in admissions, she might have been a student at the University of Texas.

So, the court, in a surprise to, I think, a lot of people, has decided to look at the case. They've looked at this affirmative action doctrine in school admissions in the past, and they're now revisiting this very, very controversial doctrine of affirmative action.

SAMBOLIN: It was kind of surprising, Paul, because just as Sandra Day O'Connor, who wrote the majority opinion, right, earlier in the case, and that was nine years ago. And she said that it would be necessary for the next 25 years. So, why is the Supreme Court choosing to take this case now?

CALLAN: Well, Sandra Day O'Connor who, of course, is now retired from the court, in a case involving the University of Michigan, which was the landmark case, basically said, you can consider race as a factor when you're trying to create what she called a critical mass in your student body, so that there's adequate diversity in a student body. And she said it was necessary essentially to remedy race discrimination that had existed in the United States. And she said it would take at least 25 years before we don't need this doctrine anymore. But, bear in mind, through the years, the composition of the court has changed, and it's changed radically. And we now have on the court a large number of conservatives. Judge Scalia was the first. Judge Thomas and new appointees, newer appointees to the court who all firmly believe that affirmative action and race consciousness and selecting students is unconstitutional.

And they're hungry for an opportunity to reverse this, I believe. And this is an opportunity. I think one of the things, Zoraida, that these conservative justices are also looking at is that if Obama is reelected, he will have the opportunity to appoint more people to the Supreme Court, and essentially, the conservatives will lose their opportunity to be in the majority on this issue.

So, I think they're looking at this as a chance now to take the issue up while the ideology is sort of evenly split conservative versus liberal on the court. And there's a better chance for reversing affirmative action with the current composition of the court.

SAMBOLIN: Some of the colleges and universities are arguing that they do want a diverse student body. And if we look at the numbers which I polled back when this all began in 1976, Blacks and Hispanics, the blacks were 9.4 percent of the population versus Hispanic, 3.5 of the student population.

In 2009, we see 14.3 Blacks, 12.5 Hispanic to 62.3 white. Is this something that the court will take into account that all the fact that the institutions say, in order to better serve their students, they need a diverse student body.

CALLAN: The court will certainly consider that very strongly. Prior precedence of the court seems to indicate that universities are allowed to, at least, consider this as a factor. It can't be the overwhelming factor, but it can be a factor. You know, Texas, interestingly, tried to get around this whole problem by saying the top 10 percent of students in each high school class in Texas would presumptively be able to gain admissions to the University of Texas.

This, of course, would guarantee that in minority districts, those top 10 percent would compete equally with students in richer, more White districts, and it does create racial diversity at the University of Texas. But Fisher, who's suing in this case, says, hey, this isn't fair. I come from a very good school, and I'm just out of the 10 percent, and I can't get in, and yet, my test scores mean that objectively speaking, I'm smarter than the kid from the poorer district who's in the top 10 percent.

So, the only reason you're not letting me in is because of my race. So, that's, in a nutshell, what her argument is. And she's saying, hey, it's not fair to me. It's supposed to be merit based, not race based. So, this is going to be quite an argument before the Supreme Court.

SAMBOLIN: OK. Paul Callan live for us this morning. We really appreciate it. It will be interesting to watch as this unfolds.

CALLAN: Nice being with you, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Still ahead, Satan expected to come up, believe it or not, at tonight's Arizona GOP debate. Rick Santorum with a little surprise coming out of his radio past.

And also, reliving Lewinsky. It's a new documentary, visions and sounds from inside the White House. Did President Clinton tell an aide, I screwed up with this girl? You're watching EARLY START.

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