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EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Gas Up 3 Cents Overnight: Now $3.647/Gallon; Eruptions Over Koran Burning; 35,000 Postal Service Jobs At Risk; Governors Meet With Obama

Aired February 24, 2012 - 05:00   ET

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


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. It is a very EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

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

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

BANFIELD: How about we wake them up with bad news?

SAMBOLIN: I hate waking folks up with bad news. But --

BANFIELD: But you're going to need to know --

SAMBOLIN: You're informed.

BANFIELD: It's one of the few things that can really get your blood boiling and make everything on your list more expensive. Gas prices are getting a lot of attention, including the attention of our president. We'll explain what's up today.

SAMBOLIN: And eruptions rage in Afghanistan, even after President Obama apologizes for the burning of the Koran, calling it a mistake. Police are alert for more chaos this morning. We are actually getting reports of a serious increase in the chaos there.

BANFIELD: And in this country, a man accused of killing his wife while on a scuba trip and who pled guilty to it elsewhere finds that he will not be spending time in prison in this country. Oh, no, the judge said I don't even want the jury to hear this. We'll explain.

SAMBOLIN: Remember yesterday, we told you about the lawmaker who called the Girl Scouts a bunch of communists and a bunch of radicals. Well, he says he's sorry. However, he says it doesn't change the way that he feels. We'll have a lot more on that.

But, up first, as Ashleigh said, a little bit more pain at the pump. And apparently, there's no relief in sight either. AAA says national average price of gasoline now is $3.64 per gallon. It's the highest ever for this time of year.

BANFIELD: Yes, we're kind of watching the AAA report this year to see when they come up with a daily increase or decrease. I don't think it's going to be decrease. But we're watching.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: There it is.

BANFIELD: $3.64, with -- this was yesterday.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: So, it's out yesterday. This is the new number. It's up 3 cents overnight.

BANFIELD: Three cents and 3 cents, two days in a row.

ROMANS: You fill up this morning, 3 cents more than yesterday.

BANFIELD: We just did this. Oh my God. All right.

So, there you go -- while you were sleeping.

And you know what? If you think that is bad. Try there in L.A., $4.93 a gallon. That's not fun.

A lot of people saying you can blame Iran and the tensions with Iran for much of this. The president stressing an all-above approach to energy independence is really needed to try to get all of this in check and also, he is answering to what was inevitable, the Republican critics coming down on him about the high gas prices. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Right now, we are experiencing just another painful reminder of why developing new energy is so critical to our future. Just like last year, gas prices are climbing across the country. This time, it's happening even earlier.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I represent $2.50 a gallon gasoline. He represents $9 or $10 a gallon gasoline. I ask you, which of those two is going to be happier?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Let's bring in Christine Romans, shall we, to chat about this because if we continue 3 cents every night, this can get a little out of control.

ROMANS: Yes, $3.75 to $4.25 for national average is what I'm hearing from Tom Kloza at Oil Price Information Service. Others are saying maybe $4 to $4.25. It will be $5 and higher in some places because the price of gas is widely divergent across the country.

You guys, two things I know. I know that my mom loves me and I know that when gas prices go up, it gets very political. Those are two things you can really count on.

SAMBOLIN: What's driving it?

ROMANS: What's driving it is Iran. A lot of the experts are telling me, they think that he fear factor about Iran is adding about $10 to a barrel of crude, which adds about 30 cents to a gallon of gas, 30 cents of what you're putting into your tank. It's because of the fear factor of Iran.

The supply shock of Iran would be something that would really affect the global market for oil, even though we don't get a drop crude from Iran. It is a world market that has speculators, and hedgers, and people who buy and sell all the time.

And so, this is how a gallon of gas breaks down for you -- 12 percent a gallon of gas is basically taxes. Distribution and marketing is 6 percent, refining 6 percent, and the price of crude oil is 76 percent of the cost of a gallon of gas.

So, when you see crude oil above $110 a barrel, that means your gas prices are going to go up.

Two things that a lot of you are asking me about. One, why do corporate energy companies make so much money. They're making so much money and we're paying at the pump, why is that fair? A lot of you are asking about tax subsidies.

BANFIELD: Right. Twelve percent in taxes.

ROMANS: Right. So, a lot of people are asking about that as well. And a lot of you are asking me about speculators -- how much of this is speculators driving up the oil? Because demand for gasoline is down in the U.S., so why is the price going up?

Well, here's the thing -- the rest of the world is gobbling up oil. They're going to be gobbling up more oil. They're building oil- intensive industries. We're also building, you know, green intensive industries, especially in China as well.

But the demand from Brazil, from India, from China, from the developing nations for oil means, all the experts are saying, those days of dollar a gallon gas are behind us, you know?

BANFIELD: But then, why do we keep hearing Republicans on the stump talking about $2 gas?

ROMANS: Because it's an election year.

BANFIELD: Is that just fantasy? Isn't there a way do that with our U.S. oil reserves here?

ROMANS: U.S. is already importing less oil. If you start, you know -- the president says he wants an all of the above approach how to make sure that we're -- we wean ourselves from dependence on foreign oil.

Look, our two biggest suppliers of oil are Mexico and Canada right here in our own backyard. It's a very complicated, complicated scenario. But there's nothing complicated about putting the pump into your car and it's $3.64 this morning. It's going to keep going up for the next few weeks, I think.

SAMBOLIN: It's really hard to wean yourself and then have to face that, right? That it continues increasing.

BANFIELD: I drive a smart car. I weaned.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: Wait. Wait. You drove in a SUV the other day.

BANFIELD: My other car is an SUV. But you know what? I make strategic choices all the time now about not driving the SUV. I put the kids in the SUV --

SAMBOLIN: What can you do? I thought when you have the car pool, what do you do?

ROMANS: We do that, it's just the rest of the world is growing so quickly, you know, that it might be whatever we do -- we consume more oil than anybody else. Don't get me wrong.

BANFIELD: For now. China, I'm talking to you.

Christine, we're going to keep on this throughout the show. So, stay close by, if you will.

ROMANS: Sure.

BANFIELD: But we also have another big story that's been developing, and that's in Afghanistan where riot police and soldiers are on guard in Kabul because it is Friday, which you know means Friday prayers. And the protests are growing as we speak.

Despite President Obama's apology, which was hand-delivered to President Karzai, angry protesters still erupted in Afghanistan over that whole issue of a mistaken burning of Korans at our NATO air base there, at Bagram.

Two American troops now have been killed. That was by a man dressed in an Afghan army uniform. You know, the people who we're training. It came after the Taliban called on killing Americans in revenge of the desecration of those holy papers.

Officials say more people died, several more injured, also including people from the area of the compound that is under siege.

Our Nick Paton Walsh is on the duty. This is his assignment, spends a lot of time there.

It's been fairly quiet. In fact, you even had a chance to get to Beirut to do some reporting on Syria. And all of this has blown up, out of control, and it is Friday and most people know what that means.

How bad is it today?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are in the fourth day of protests. So far, Friday prayers appear to have ended peacefully across most of the country. We're hearing of four to five protests nationwide, by interior ministry officials stress these are small so far and peaceful. That's not to say they've dodged a bullet so far today because all the protests of the past three days have begun peacefully but then spiraled out of control.

And there is a lot of anger still there and a huge effort overnight by Afghan authorities, it seems, to ensure that whatever said in the mosque, the Friday prayers, are going to inflame the situation, pleas from the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, for restrain, and the first communique from the commission he set up to investigate this. The first thing they said was please, everybody come down. But it's nothing to remove that real sense of tension particularly in Kabul and around the country about what could happen in the next few hours.

So far, it's peaceful, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: So, President Karzai, initially some say might have been able to do more to tamp this growing problem because he didn't right away suggest that this was a mistake. He instead came out more on the side of those folks that you're seeing on the streets.

Is this now something he's realizing has caused the chaos and perhaps now he's starting to realize the error of his ways and suggest this is a mistake and perhaps we should give the Americans bit of a bye on this?

WALSH: Well, I mean, for the first few days, all you could hear was a massive slew of NATO and American apologies. And now, the president has apologized. There's not a huge amount else that the Americans can do to say they're sorry.

Yes, people do say Hamid Karzai could have started. He's trying to calm things down earlier, put these statements out first.

And then, some cynics analyze saying, well, actually some of this plays into his hands. He's in the middle of negotiating with the Americans now about a peace process, about their future status as a military force here, and a reminder that he has a role in guiding and calming the population, help strengthen his hand in those negotiations. That would be a cynic's take on this.

But at the end of the day, there's a lot of amount of Afghan anger on the streets here. We're speaking to Afghans, they're 100 percent justified. They're appalled that this happened and they are amazed that NATO admitted that it did.

So, to a certain extent, as the democratically elected some say leader of the Afghan people, Karzai had to stand with the Afghans on this. But now, certainly, this fears by what could happen today if it gets out of control, that he's issued these statements last night, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: What do you politics playing in, Nick Paton Walsh, live for us in Afghanistan, thanks for that this morning.

SAMBOLIN: Newt Gingrich weighing in on that, right, criticizing President Obama, saying that apology was undeserved.

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: Ten minutes past the hour here.

Here's an early check of what will be the big story today and tonight as well.

Some 40 U.S. governors will meet with President Obama this morning in a close door session. That is at the White House.

Soledad O'Brien will have a sneak preview of the annual governor's meeting with Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley. That is at 7:30 Eastern on "STARTING POINT."

BANFIELD: Opening statements for the Tyler Clementi cyber bullying trial begins today. His former roommate, Dharun Ravi is accused of secretly streaming Clementi's intimate encounter with another man with a camera that was strategically placed in their room. Clementi committed suicide just days after the alleged incident.

SAMBOLIN: Milwaukee Brewer's outfielder Ryan Braun is expected to show up at spring training today. Baseball officials throw out Braun's 50-game steroid suspension after he successfully challenged the drug test results.

BANFIELD: It is 11 minutes past 5:00.

And here's something you don't hear very often, a Saskatchewan screamer. Now, I lived in the province beside Saskatchewan, and I never heard of the Saskatchewan screamer. But apparently, it's slicing through her former home town.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. You know, we talked about this yesterday. Hundreds of flights have already been canceled. The city may see seven to eight inches of snow.

And you know who predicted this yesterday? I tweeted it out because I thought no way, Rob. But yes, indeed. It's crazy in Chicago.

BANFIELD: Saskatchewan screamer?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I have not heard that term.

BANFIELD: Oh.

MARCIANO: I thought I heard them all, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: So did I. I'm Canadian, for heavens sake.

(CROSSTALK)

MARCIANO: Thank you for adding another quiver -- or arrow into my quiver.

Some video for you out of Chicago. We mentioned several inches of snow. They're not quite 10 yet. But it's still snowing right now. Enough for folks to get out there, and get the scrapers off and, you know, do more housekeeping, so to speak, this year than we have done in quite awhile. A different winter compared to last year.

Delays at the airports, you mentioned. So, frustrated travels there, not only at O'Hare, but at Midway as well, over 100 flights canceled as well. They're still snowing this morning, so there will be delays this morning. But the edge of the snow shield will begin to exit Chicago as we go through lunch time.

But it does extend over towards the Northeast. Right now, it's snowing heavily just north of New York City, rain in New York and most of Long Island, but snowing in Bridgeport, Hartford, Poughkeepsie and Newburg. Not much of the accumulation expected because warmer air will work its way in, but it will be windy as well with this storm. A lot of energy with it from the Canadian border, all the down to parts of Georgia.

Here's what we expect for a snowfall totals, additional snowfall, a couple of inches, four to seven across parts of Upstate New York. And the severe threat again today across parts of the Southeast. This is after the report-breaking warm temperatures we saw yesterday across the area, into the 80s in some spots in Georgia, 76 in Atlanta. Everybody coming out of the woodwork to enjoy a summer here.

SAMBOLIN: Nice.

BANFIELD: Here's something else you will never hear, Manitoba mudslide. It will never happen.

MARCIANO: No pretty flat.

BANFIELD: I just made it up. Thank you, Rob.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you.

MARCIANO: All right, guys.

SAMBOLIN: All right. It's 13 minutes past the hour here.

A judge tosses a case of a man accused of killing his wife on a scuba diving trip in Australia. That happened 10 days after they were married. So, he pled guilty in Australia and he served time in Australia. Now, he's back here. Why is the case getting tossed out here? We're going to try to get some answers for you.

BANFIELD: And was there ever a tabloid story? John Edwards and a sex tape with a mystery who bore him a child. And what about that sex tape? It's been hard fought over in court and there's a decision. You want to know where it is? You'll find out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Recognize this? This is Adele, "Set Fire to the Rain." And we're taking a live look at Baltimore right now.

Good morning to you, by the way. It's 56 degrees. A little bit later, stormy for you and 72 degrees.

BANFIELD: Seventeen minutes past 5:00 on the East Coast. Time to get you caught up on your top stories.

Same-sex marriage, one step closer in one more state. This time Maryland. The state Senate there last night approved a bill sending it to the governor in this state, Maryland, as opposed to a New Jersey, has promised to sign it into law. So, watch for that.

Also, seven states and several Catholic Church groups are suing the federal government all over that new contraception regulation. The lawsuit claims that the policy is in violation of constitutional rights to religious freedom.

SAMBOLIN: What goes up can go even higher. We're talking about those rising gas prices. The latest gauge from AAA has a national average at $3.64 a gallon. That is 3 cents up from just yesterday. Gas prices are the highest ever for this time of year.

Remember the Indiana lawmaker who called the Girl Scouts a radical organization that promoted abortion and homosexuality? Well, he's now apologizing, but he's apologizing for the tone of what he said.

State Representative Bob Morris said he was sorry for his emotional reactionary and inflammatory words. But he still believes what he said.

And fights are breaking out overnight at a mall in Orlando. Why? Because hundreds of people are trying to get their hands on a pair of new Nike basketball shoes.

Look at the police. Riot police were called in. Two people were arrested for trespassing. No one was hurt. The shoes cost $220 and they glow in the dark.

That's a reason to get in line to wait. I thought it was a Lin shoe that was coming on. But for all those that are waiting for it. It is still a month away.

BANFIELD: The Lin shoe?

SAMBOLIN: Yes, the Linsanity shoe. Yes.

BANFIELD: Wow.

SAMBOLIN: It's a month away. I thought it was coming out today, quite frankly. But a month.

BANFIELD: I heard that he was saying no to so many endorsements because they're trying to manage his brand and make sure they don't spray it out there.

SAMBOLIN: But a Nike shoe, that makes all the sense in the world.

BANFIELD: Yes, they know that.

It is 19 minutes past 5:00 in the East Coast.

And we have an early look at an early read of your local news making big headlines all across the nation. We got papers this morning from Charlotte and Miami, but let's start in Charlotte.

This is one story that will not go away from "The News & Observer." It's John Edwards -- seen here walking on the left with a lovely hair cut. The woman in the middle, his mistress, Rielle Hunter, with their baby, and that guy who used to work for John Edwards apparently had a sex tape left behind in his house by Rielle Hunter, and the sex tape apparently showed Rielle and the former senator.

But they went to court. Rielle Hunter wanted that sex tape back and she got it back. So, it is presumably going to be destroyed, presumably no one will ever see the contents of it, which is not a bad thing if you ask these two people any way.

Also, if you're wondering more about the story, you might actually be told. Yes, because the rights has been sold to Academy Award-winning writer and producer Erin Sorkin.

Erin, if you are awake, get that thing out.

SAMBOLIN: Much more to come.

BANFIELD: Ands good luck to the Oscar then this weekend.

SAMBOLIN: Let's head over to "The Miami Herald," although I don't want to talk about this. Apparently you can't just beat the heat. Dwayne Wade and LeBron James pour cold water on our guy, Jeremy Lin. Miami stomped Jeremy Lin and the New York Knicks, 102-88. The Heat's eighth straight win.

So, Lin said, quote, "They did a great job of making me uncomfortable." I would say so. Miami defense too hot for the Knicks. The Heat forced 19 turnovers, 12 steals, 10 blocks. Chris bosh led the team with 25 points.

I think it's unfair you have those three guys on there, isn't it?

BANFIELD: Isn't that what money buys?

SAMBOLIN: If I was living in Miami, I would be happy.

BANFIELD: I bet. I know. Not just because of the weather --

SAMBOLIN: Doesn't always win championships, though.

BANFIELD: I love that.

SAMBOLIN: Show-offs.

BANFIELD: I know. But isn't that what makes it great? I don't even know about basketball. I just love watching that.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, I love it.

All right. Twenty-one minutes past the hour here.

A judge in Alabama is tossing out the case against the so-called honeymoon killer. You know this guy, Gabe Watson. He was charged with killing his wife on their honeymoon while diving off of Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Prosecutors say Watson shut off her air supply and then turned it back on after she died. They claimed the motive was to collect on her life insurance.

So, listen to this -- Watson pled guilty. He spent 18 months in jail in Australia. The case then came to the United States, since he was accused of plotting the killing on U.S. soil.

But the judge does not want a jury to hear the case. What?

All right. So criminal defense attorney Midwin Charles joins us this morning.

So, the big question is here -- he serves time over there. And he actually pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter, yet he come here's and they don't have a case against him? What happened?

MIDWIN CHARLES, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: That's right. And remember, involuntary manslaughter is very different from first degree murder. And I think what happened was there was evidence that came up during two weeks of trial that the prosecution put on that just was not persuasive enough to this judge.

The judge believed that they didn't prove motive. As you know, the prosecution was trying to say that you know what? She had this life insurance policy.

But it turns out that he was not the beneficiary of the life insurance policy. Her father was.

So, this judge granted this motion for judgment of acquittal, which, Ashleigh, I got to tell you is very rare. I've never seen it done in court. I've been practicing for quite awhile, both here in New York state and federal court. I have never seen a judge grant a motion for judgment of acquittal before the defense has gotten a chance to present their case.

SAMBOLIN: Hey, Midwin, it's Zoraida here. Let me ask you this -- the defense didn't get to present a single witness. Why is that?

CHARLES: Well, typically what happens is the prosecution goes first. Right after they're done, before the defense puts on their case, the defense moves for a motion for judgment of acquittal, which essentially says, judge, we've heard all the evidence so far from the state. We don't think that they have enough to prove their case. So, we're moving and asking that you acquit our client because the prosecution has not proven their case.

And that's exactly what the defense did here. It's pro forma. It happens in every criminal defense case. In fact, it's almost malpractice if you don't make that motion.

But chances are it's almost never granted. It's almost never granted. So, it's very rare to see that happen here.

So, that's why the defense didn't even have to put on their case.

SAMBOLIN: And so, the fact that he pled guilty for involuntary manslaughter in Australia does not way at all here?

CHARLES: Apparently, it didn't. He served 18 months in Australia and was extradited here to Alabama. And only on the condition that he wouldn't face a capital murder charge. That's why it was first facing first degree murder charge. But it seemed to not weigh at all in this particular trial.

I guess the evidence was just not overwhelming.

SAMBOLIN: Now, the prosecutor said this case is over forever. I strongly disagree with him, meaning the judge, I'm extremely stunned and I'm at a loss for words.

So you cannot retry this?

CHARLES: You cannot.

SAMBOLIN: Oh.

CHARLES: The judge has spoken.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Well, Midwin, we appreciate your time this morning. I think we're all shocked by this. Are you shocked?

CHARLES: I am. I've never seen it. In fact, when defense attorneys make that motion, they almost know it's going to be denied. To have it be granted is very much a surprise.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Midwin Charles, thank you for joining us this morning.

CHARLES: And normally when we're covering these cases, we walk out expecting that's one of those things. Defense stands up, he probably sits down. What? What happened? What? The judge agreed?

SAMBOLIN: Well, when you see the pictures of that woman lying at the bottom of the ocean there, right, it's just -- that poor family.

BANFIELD: To be honest, I -- Midwin and I could be in agreement on this one. I was stunned because personally I felt there was at least enough evidence for the jury to look at this. I was just stunned that the judge did this.

SAMBOLIN: Free man.

BANFIELD: That's the way it goes. That's the law.

Hey, still ahead, Newt Gingrich is accusing President Obama of surrender, official surrender, and absolutely blasting him about the apology that he gave to Hamid Karzai over the mistaken burning of those Korans in Afghanistan -- all of it to quell some of this violence. But you know what? It's not going over well among some people here.

We'll explain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: A very good morning to you. It's 29 minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START.

I'm Ashleigh Banfield, that is Zoraida Sambolin. And we are here to give you your top stories this morning.

It's Friday. What can you say? It's got that giddiness about me.

What are you going to do about your gas prices?

SAMBOLIN: Not much.

BANFIELD: Not much is exactly it. They climbed again last night, folks. Yesterday, we told you it climbed 3 cents overnight, today another 3 cents. The average is $3.64 a gallon.

President Obama says he feels the pain at the pump, too, but there's no silver bullet, no silver dough ball for this problem. It just will not leave us alone, and yes, that was the word of the day.

Newt Gingrich also blasting the president for apologizing over the mistaken Koran burnings by NATO soldiers in Afghanistan. He says Afghanistan should be apologizing to us for the killing of two Americans by a protester who was wearing an army uniform, an Afghan army uniform. And yes, we do train the Afghan police. Police and soldiers are on guard now for more protest in Kabul. And 35,000 jobs on the chopping block at the U.S. Postal Service. The postal service announcing it will either consolidate or it'll just close down over 200 of its mail processing plants. The agency says the move will save us $2.1 billion.

SAMBOLIN: We've been talking about that for a long time. Will they, won't they.

And Penn State says it received a subpoena from U.S. attorneys requesting information on the school, Jerry Sandusky, and his Second Mile Children's charity. The source says investigators are looking into a claim that Sandusky took one of his victims across state line.

A crude oil tank explodes at a biodiesel plant. Look at this. This is Galveston, Texas. That explosion sparks a major fire with a second tank engulfed in flames. Luckily, no injuries have been reported there.

And President Obama will meet with a bipartisan group of the nation's governors a little later this morning. The Annual Governor Association meeting at the White House is a closed-door session. But, coming up at 7:30 on "Starting Point," Soledad O'Brien will chat live with Maryland governor, Martin O'Malley and get a little bit of a preview for us.

BANFIELD: GOP presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, is blasting President Obama for that apology that he sent to the Afghan president for the burning of those Korans by NATO soldiers. Hours after the apology, a person who is wearing an Afghan national army uniform killed two U.S. troops based in Afghanistan.

Newt Gingrich says Karzai is the one who owes us, the United States, an apology for the shootings. Is this going to be part of the narrative as we move forward in the Republican primary race and the general election? To talk about it, Republican strategist, Matt Mackowiak is with us this morning, also Democratic strategist, Marjorie Clifton is here, and political reporter from "Roll Call," David Drucker.

Let me start with you, Matt. The first thing I thought of when I saw what happened was that this could end up being a political football right back here, because any time, there's any conciliatory language that goes lobbed overseas, it becomes an issue here. Is this going to stay within this week or is this going to play out right through until November?

MATT MACKOWIAK, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: My sense is this is a one-week thing. This place into the scene that Newt Gingrich has been putting forward throughout this campaign that Obama goes around the world apologizing for America. This is a situation where tensions were high. You had an unfortunate incident that America's apologized for with the Koran burning.

You also had these two American soldiers die right back-to-back. Look, this is the kind of thing that Newt Gingrich is going to put forward if he is the nominee. I think that's an unlikely scenario. But, this is the kind of thing that you do if you're talking to the base. It's not the kind of thing that you do if you're talking to independent voters.

And once we have a nominee on the Republican side, you're going to have to switch your focus from talking to the base to talking to the middle.

BANFIELD: Well, you know what, I don't know. Marjorie Clifton, weigh in on this, because there's a lot of shift in feelings towards what's been going on overseas, particularly, in Afghanistan and post- Iraq. I'm wondering if more independents and even Democrats might start to agree with this.

That it's tired of having to apologize for anything, especially when two U.S. soldiers were killed. This was not an intentional burning in anyway. This was not something to try to -- this was an accident. It might even be a mistake in communication. Soldiers who are just unable to actually read the language on the books that they were disposing of.

MARJORIE CLIFTON, NATIONAL EDITOR, GOVOTE.COM: Well, but I think that you've seen in both Republican and Democratic administrations apologies on behalf of bad behavior by American soldiers. Perception is everything, and that is international and domestic politics. And in this case, it is a perception issue about the United States.

And so, I think that, you know, the move was right, who could have predicted the killing that would later happen. I think that Republicans are going to be hard-pressed to actually win on international politics and the coming debates given all that's happened over the past year. I think Obama's got a very strong state, especially With Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state.

We've had a very strong showing. So, I don't -- I think this will be an issue that will pass over quickly. Again, Gingrich blowing smoke, I don't think he will be the nominee. So, I think it will be a non-issue.

BANFIELD: Well, since you brought his name up again, I want to actually play that sound bite so everybody can see the tenor of how he brought this up. And David, I'm going to come to you right afterwards. But take a look at it. This is Newt Gingrich on the stump yesterday, essentially, blasting President Obama for sending that apology which was hand-delivered by our staff over there, the embassy staff, to the president of Afghanistan. Have a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: President Obama surrendered twice today. And I think it deserves to be brought to the country's attention. There seems to be nothing that radical Islamists can do to get Barack Obama's attention in a negative way, and he is consistently apologizing to people who do not deserve the apology of president of the United States period.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BANFIELD: So, David Drucker, on its face, I can see a lot of people getting pretty revved up about that, agreeing with Newt Gingrich, but what Marjorie just said also rings true, and you have to have a bit more of memory to appreciate the list. I'm going to just go over a few things that President Obama has been able to do during his term.

He wiped out Osama Bin Laden. He got rid of Anwar Al-Awlaki in Yemen. He played a huge role in the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, and then on the far right of your screen, you can see Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.

Of course, we didn't have any military incursion there, but there was a strong diplomatic pressure put on that Egyptian president to step down, and of course, that's exactly what happened. So, David, are Newt Gingrich's comments fair or they sort of in a vacuum?

DAVID DRUCKER, POLITICAL REPORTER, ROLL CALL: Well, I don't think there's anything necessarily unfair with them. I think the question is, are people going to agree with him on a large scale in a general election, and I think that depends on whether or not the American people end up souring on President Obama's foreign policy leadership.

For now, they appear quite happy. Looking all the polls, the president is much weaker on domestic issues. And, he gets rated quite positively on foreign policy and national defense issues.

BANFIELD: So, why would Newt do it? If he's getting good ratings on foreign policy and that list I just showed you is just a small one.

DRUCKER: Because Newt right now is running for the Republican nomination, and Republicans are rather unhappy with the president's leadership on this front --

BANFIELD: The foreign policy?

DRUCKER: Yes. Republicans, they're not happy. That's why you saw in your debate this week, the president get blasted by all four candidates. It was one of the -- well, I'd say three out of four, not Ron Paul. It's one of the areas where the main competitors actually tend to always agree. They all agree that President Obama's leadership on foreign policy and national defense has been troublesome.

Now, the world is volatile, things could change. And if they do, this could be a sort of death by a thousand cuts issue that could be brought up again. For now, it's a one-day story, nobody is going to care. Not about the event but about the apology and the letter.

BANFIELD: Yes. Yes. I, certainly, have heard a lot from Ron Paul in the debate and on this stump about bringing all troops home no matter what, no matter what we leave behind, but I've always been curious as how you can get past that graphic that I just put up there with all of those successes and think that foreign policy hasn't had some success over the last couple of years.

But you are right. It is a Republican primary. All right. Matt and Marjorie and David, stick around, because we're going to talk to you in the next hour as well.

And we also want to remind our viewers not to miss our special live coverage of the Michigan and Arizona primaries, Tuesday starting at 6:00 p.m. eastern with "John King USA." And our complete live coverage of the primary result starts at 7:00 when Wolf Blitzer, Erin Burnett, Anderson Cooper, Candy Crowley and John King.

It's just nothing (ph) get any better than that, folks. They're going to be live right here on CNN. Best political team out there.

SAMBOLIN: And it is 37 minutes past the hour. Still ahead, trapped in Syria. A plea from wounded journalists in dire need of help.

And snowboarding into danger without the tools to survive. Another deadly avalanche, this time outside a popular ski resort. We're going to get some more details for that. You are watching EARLY START.

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BANFIELD: And welcome back, everyone. It is 41 minutes past 5:00 on the east coast. There have been some just unbelievably haunting pleas from badly wounded journalists to our trapped inside Syria. They're calling for a ceasefire so that they can get out, get out of that country and get some badly needed medical attention.

They are in the Homs area, and they can't get out to Lebanon. They can't get out to Turkey. They can't get out to anywhere. The non-stop shelling is preventing any kind of movement.

SAMBOLIN: Those journalists survived the rocket attack that killed American reporter, Marie Colvin. The bodies of Marie Colvin, and photographer, Remi Ochlik, also remain in Homs, near the makeshift presenter (ph) that was rocketed Wednesday morning. You're taking a looking at their pictures right there.

And just in, former U.N. secretary general, Kofi Annan, will serve as joint U.N. Arab league envoy to Syria. Right now, we have Michael Holmes live in Beirut. Michael, we were watching a little bit of video there a moment ago. The name of the French journalist is Edith Bouvier. And we listened to her pleas for help.

And apparently, she requires immediate attention, medical attention and surgery in order to be able to, perhaps, survive. And so, we're wondering, has there been any movement in that that you know of?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, not yet, Zoraida. No. The shelling does continue. I can tell you two dead reported by activists, so far. This follows 101 dead around Syria yesterday. You know, I was just reading on the Twitter feed, Javier Espinoza is another one of those journalist who is trapped inside Homs, he's uninjured.

He tweeted that there is less shelling today in that neighborhood of Homs, Baba Amr, that there is heavy fighting at entrance to that neighborhood. He also chillingly said that there was shooting in the building next door to him. We're hearing of heavy security presence in various other cities. It is early yet, but protests are already getting underway.

Friday, of course, the traditional day of protests in the Middle East. You mentioned about those journalists. What we're hearing is that the two wounded journalists are still awaiting help. Edith Bouvier, as you say particularly badly injured. Badly broken leg. It's broken along the thighbone and across the thighbone. The doctors treating her are concerned that she could suffer either clotting or bleeding internally.

They desperately need to get out. Yesterday, we heard those video pleas from some of those journalists. Here is the British photographer, Paul Conroy, who was working with Marie Colvin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL CONROY, PHOTOGRAPHER: I am currently being looked after by the free (ph) Syrian army, medical staff who are treating me with the best medical treatment available. It's important that I'm here as a guest, not captured. Obviously, any assistance that we can give them by government agencies would be welcomed.

Now, just any help possible. And just want to assure our family and friends in England that I'm absolutely OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: And despite please from the British -- joint back demands from the British and French governments, Zoraida, there has been no assurance from the Syrian regime that they're going to let those journalists out. No humanitarian corridor plan. Meanwhile, of course, as I said, the doctors are very concerned about the health of both Paul but especially Edith.

And there are two other uninjured journalists, there, too, William Daniels, and as I said, Javier Espinoza also trapped inside Homs. Meanwhile, it's horrible to even say, but the bodies of Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik still there inside the city.

We were talking to activists last night who were telling us they're going to have to bury those bodies soon inside Homs if they do not get them out very soon -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, my goodness. That is horrific news for their families. One last question for you. What do you make of former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Do you think he will be able to assist with these journalists getting the help that they need?

HOLMES: Well, of course, he's very seasoned diplomat, former U.N. secretary-general. And, he's somebody who does carry some weight in the Middle East as well, but the regime has shown that it doesn't listen to any of the pressure that's being put on them, so far, be it from the U.N. or the friends of Syria, which, of course, are meeting in Tunisia today.

You know, they're trying to put more economic and diplomatic pressure on the Syrian regime. But they haven't listened to anything, so far. And as we say, the shelling continues in Homs today. So, whether he's going to be able to have any success, we don't know.

The ICRC, International Committee for the Red Cross, also been trying for the last couple of days to negotiate some sort of humanitarian aid into particularly that Baba Amr suburb or neighborhood of Homs. No luck, so far. So, it's very much a wait and see. And meanwhile, lives are on the line, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: OK. Michael Holmes live in Beirut for us. Thank you for that update.

BANFIELD: Here in the U.S. if you're planning any travel, you better check your flights because there is some awful weather in the Midwest.

SAMBOLIN: They were whacked with that really nasty storm, so it's caused a lot of delays across the country.

And Lin-sanity feels the heat. Reality check or the cold. Reality check from LeBron and company. You are watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Good morning, Chris Martin. That's Coldplay waking you up. A little "Paradise" for you. Isn't that great? This is Charleston, South Carolina this morning. Waking up to severe storms later on today, guys. I'm sorry about that. You will be 77 degrees if that's an offset, but you will have some storms, so make sure you're prepared and aware.

SAMBOLIN: It is 50 minutes past the hour. Time to check the stories that are making news this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): In Maryland, it's about to become the eighth state to legalize same-sex marriage. The Maryland Senate last night approved a same-sex marriage bill. It is sending it to the state's governor who has promised to sign it.

Reigning National League MVP, Ryan Braun, successfully challenged a positive drug test. He said he would get this overturned, and he did. It is the first time a major league player has won an appeal. Braun faced a 50-game suspension after testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone that was back in October.

And Bank of America announcing it will freeze employee pension plans starting in July. Instead, the company will increase its 401(k) contributions by two to, perhaps, three percent. BANFIELD (voice-over): John Edwards, former senator, former presidential candidate, and his former aide and his former mistress have some resolution in their lives. The aide and the mistress have settled their lawsuit. The civil suit that Rielle Hunter had filed to try to get possession of that sex tape that she made with Edwards. And it appears that that tape will likely now be destroyed as a result.

An avalanche kills a snowboarder outside a ski resort in Dutch Canyon, Utah. Rescuers say he did not have any safety beacons, wasn't wearing those beacons, and was in extremely unstable out of bounds area and was buried for about 40 minutes under three and a half feet of snow before anyone was able to get to him.

On the basketball court, LeBron trumps Lin-sanity. New York Knicks star, Jeremy Lin was no match for LeBron James and the Miami Heat. The Heat beating the Knicks 102-88. I think that's kind of a something. It is their eighth straight win. Miami has the NBA's best record heading into the all-star break. Big all-star weekend for anybody who loves basketball.

SAMBOLIN: Love it.

BANFIELD: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: And still ahead, gas prices up again while you slept. This is the second day in a row we're telling you this. Rising gas prices making everything more expensive for you. Christine Roman is going to join us to break this all down. You are watching EARLY START.

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BANFIELD: It is five minutes to the top of the hour, and here's my guess, if you're like us, then you get up early, because you're watching, you might not stay up late for the funny stuff.

SAMBOLIN: You know, I was saying that. We were watching a little bit of a preview of this, all of the late-night laughs. They were happy, and I thought, this is good that we're going to show this because I never get to see --

BANFIELD: We don't get to watch this stuff. Craig Ferguson and Conan O'Brien all just digging in to the latest GOP debate and having some fun with it. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, "CONAN": Well, in last night's Republican debate, the candidates were asked to describe themselves in one word. That's right. Rick Santorum said courage. Ron Paul said consistent. And Newt Gingrich said bootylicious.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Weird. Makes me like him now. Yes. Two of the biggest topics at last night's GOP debate were illegal immigration and birth control. Those were the two. Yes. And I think Ron Paul got confused because he said that we should build a fence around women and pull out of Mexico.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Weird.

CRAIG FERGUSON, HOST, "THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH CRAIG FERGUSON": High gas price is terrible, and it's an election year. So, both sides are trying to turn it into a political issue. The Republicans are blaming comrade Obama, and, well they say, and the Democrats are like, no. It's not cowboy Bush, and everybody like calm down, and what you do I do with the gas situation, blame the dog.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD: Blame the dog. Not Iran. I liked actually that the real story, Newt Gingrich describing himself in one word as cheerful.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: That was the best. He could have just said that.

SAMBOLIN: Maybe we need to know him to appreciate that, right?

Fifty-six minutes past the hour here. Ahead in our next hour, Montel Williams beating M.S. on his own terms. He says he uses diet, exercise, medical marijuana, and electroshock therapy. We're going to talk about how that is all working for him. You're watching EARLY START.

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