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EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Iran Testing "Nuke Trigger"?; Unrest in Syria; "Cleanup" At Suspected Iran Nuke Site; Jeep Liberty Recall

Aired March 8, 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: A very good morning to you, everyone. This is EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We are bringing you the news from A to Z.

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

There are new satellite images showing Iran maybe covering its tracks at a suspected nuclear site. Of course, this is the same week that it tells inspectors to come on in and take a look.

Barbara Starr is standing by live at the Pentagon. She's going to update the story for us.

BANFIELD: And get out your best sunglasses because that, while pretty, ain't great. It's a solar storm and it's actually slamming us here on earth right now. The pictures are terrific, but you know what? This could affect your satellite, maybe your TV. Not sure if the power grids are going to get zapped by this either.

And the worst of it is still just two hours away. We've got an eye.

SAMBOLIN: And a bank reaching into your pocket once again. There is a brand new fee that is going to make you furious.

BANFIELD: And he's the king of the under-world. Recognize that face? James Cameron of "Titanic" fame and many other fabulous films. Now, he's getting in that teeny, tiny sub, and he's going a long way down to the bottom of the world, folks. The most -- the deepest anyone has ever gone.

Jason Carroll, our guy here at CNN, got some exclusive access. And we're going to get you up to speed on what James Cameron is doing and why he's doing it himself.

SAMBOLIN: I think it is the deepest part of the world.

BANFIELD: It is, without question. Fascinating.

SAMBOLIN: I just cannot wait.

It is 5:01 in the East here.

First, a big question this morning: what is Iran trying to hide? Are they trying to hide something?

Diplomats tell CNN new satellite images show Iran is trying to clean up something at a suspected nuclear site. It's possibly trying to cover up evidence that it was testing a nuclear trigger. So they're saying earth moving vehicles were spotted hauling away possibly contaminated soil.

And Iran just agreed to allow U.N. inspectors into this base this week after previously saying that it was off limits.

So, what's was going on? Kind of thing that could push Israel even closer to war perhaps?

Senator Dianne Feinstein met with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on Tuesday, and then she told Erin Burnett that Israel has not yet made the decision to attack, but it may not take much more.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I believe that Israel will attack. I believe that it is important that diplomacy be given an opportunity. Israel believes they are prepared to handle it. Now, what happens after an attack is another story.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon for us.

Why is it that we're so concerned about these images?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a site where Iran is said to have tested some explosives in techniques it would be used for a nuclear trigger, perhaps not a trigger itself. So that's another key component of this whole cycle that Iran is on, that the world worries about. Are they headed towards putting all the pieces together that could allow them to make a nuclear weapon?

Senator Feinstein there indicating that that might be the track they're on because she believes Israel will attack, and Israel has said it will attack to prevent Iran from getting the capability to make a nuclear weapon, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: And, Barbara, you know, we've been talking about this for quite some time. And there was an article that came out early February that said that perhaps Israel would strike against Iran February, March, April. And we've been watching these talks between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama, and it almost seems like some of this has been decided and we're just observing on the sidelines.

STARR: Well, you know, hard to say. You know, if you ask the general public, are we -- is Israel going to attack, is the U.S. going to attack? Of course, we don't know. You know, these are some of the most closely held secrets.

What we do know is that the Obama administration continues to press for diplomacy, economic sanctions, and to try and convince Israel to give all of that time to work.

The U.S. position is that Iran is beginning to feel the bite from those sanctions and that it will feel that pressure. Hard to say whether that's really how it's going to play out.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Barbara Starr, live at the Pentagon for us. Thank you.

BANFIELD: It's four minutes past 5:00 now.

And in Syria, the government there and its continued slaughter of its own people is having an effect. Now, apparently, there's a defection in their ranks. The deputy oil minister, Gonzo (ph).

He's appearing on a YouTube video declaring his loyalty to none other than the opposition who's been struggling against the regime in all of the bombings. And all of this at the same time as the Obama administration is beginning to weigh some of the military options with regard to that country.

Senator John McCain has been pretty darn clear he wants airstrikes to try to get rid of Bashar al-Assad.

And on CNN's "A.C. 360," he urged the president and the Pentagon to act.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: If we can do something about it, and we can, we should unilaterally and it's going to require -- excuse me, not unilaterally. No boots on the ground. With other nations who will join us if we lead and we can bring this to a halt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: And earlier yesterday, you should have seen the sparks flying. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, head to head, toe to toe with Senator McCain and some of the other members of the Armed Services Committee.

And listen to this repartee regarding Syria and potentially ignoring congressional approval. Have a listen

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Our goal would be to seek international permission and we would come to the Congress and inform you.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: I'm almost breathless about that because what I heard you say is we're going to seek international approval and then we'll come and tell the Congress what we might do, and we might seek congressional approval.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Secretary Panetta said it would not make sense for the United States to act unilaterally in Syria.

Oh, those videos are hard to watch -- hard to watch as the days grow longer.

And there's more on the growing crisis in Syria as well. Later on "STARTING POINT" at 7:00 Eastern, Soledad is going to talk to Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers. He's chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and also a former FBI agent.

SAMBOLIN: The Web site of the late Andrew Breitbart is releasing tapes of President Obama during his college years. The tapes of the future president are at Harvard in 1991. That's when he was in law school, right?

It shows him speaking warmly about and hugging a so-called radical professor. The professor's name, Derrick Bell. He was the first black tenured professor at Harvard, and they were protesting the lack of diversity of Harvard staff at the time.

So, the Web site claims the news media and professors intentionally suppressed the tapes during the 2008 election to hide President Obama's connection with radical leftists.

Breitbart's editor Ben Shapiro says this is the smoking gun and only the beginning.

So, Ben Shapiro is actually going to join Soledad O'Brien live at 8:00 Eastern to talk about the video that was uncovered and what it really does show.

BANFIELD: And there had been all those warnings before Breitbart died that this was going to come out so I'm surprised. So, there you go.

SAMBOLIN: Some of this is aired before so it's not really that surprising. So, I'm kind of interested to see what this is all about.

BANFIELD: The conspiracy theorists jumped all over this and suggested this might have been something behind Breitbart's death. But I don't think that's going to end any time soon.

And we want to mind your business, too, at eight minutes past 5:00 a.m.

U.S. markets bouncing back yesterday after their worst loss of the year on Tuesday. It was Super Tuesday, but not for the markets. The Dow and the NASDAQ and the S&P on Wednesday had some strong gains, though getting a boost from the good news from the economy including positive report on private sector jobs, slight drop in the national average gas.

That would be two days in a row. So, we're watching for three.

SAMBOLIN: We're loving it.

Even though it's a little bit, every little bit.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Don't spend it all in one place.

SAMBOLIN: Let's bring in Christine Romans.

So, you heard me be a little bit earlier, we were whispering. It's bank fees. I opened an account yesterday and oh, my gosh.

ROMANS: You know, free banking is dead in this country. Free banking is dead in this country. And one of the reasons why years ago, 20 years, 25 years ago, they started free banking, it was a way for banks to get young people who were getting their first bank account, people who just got a new job, their first bank account. The idea was to be free at first, then you do so many other things with the bank that they'd make money off of you.

Well, now, it costs about $250 to $300 a year per bank account, per checking account. Ands the government won't let them give all these fees to people anymore. So, they're finding new ways to charge people if they can.

You know, they can't jack up your interest rate on your credit card anymore, or the banks account. So, there's new rules to try to protect you. The banks say that means, well, we can't afford free checking.

BANFIELD: Is it cat and mouse, though? Do they do it and get their wrists slapped?

ROMANS: You know, the laws are very clear. So, they do it with exactly the right amount of time to warn you it's going to happen. And what we've seen now -- so, Wells Fargo is the most recent, expanding in the west, six more states. They'll be charging $7 a month for what was free banking, free checking.

And the company, Wells Fargo, has been reaching out to customers, been telling them, look, this is coming. This is how you can avoid it. Usually you can avoid it by keeping up at least to $500, sometimes up to $7,000 in the account, by having another relationship with the bank, like direct deposit, or you have a mortgage serviced through them.

You've got to -- the onus is on you people to make sure that you know what you can do to avoid these fees because I really -- this is not the kind of economy where you should be paying for the use of your own money.

SAMBOLIN: Shop around also, right? Because some of them say you have to maintain $1,500 of a balance and some are smaller balances.

ROMANS: Absolutely. Absolutely. But I think the bottom line is for the, quote-unquote, "little guy" who doesn't have a boat load of money and an awful lot of complicated financial transactions they're doing, they don't want you. I mean, I really don't think they want you.

BANFIELD: What's going on with the free market here? You hear this on the Republican campaign trail. The free market takes care of itself. ROMANS: The free market has people going to credit unions, where you look last year, and end of last year, you had 4,326 people every day opening up a credit union membership -- every single day the end of last year.

BANFIELD: Wow.

ROMANS: That means it's a record. Record number of assets in credit unions or not-for-profit.

BANFIELD: Is there a down side?

ROMANS: I mean, for these people, no. I mean, these people are saying, look, I have a small account. I don't want to get feed, nickeled and dimed to death. So, it depends if you have a large and complicated kind of -- I mean, for some people, a traditional big bank is going to be better. Just make sure you know what those fees are.

BANFIELD: So these credit unions are not the pococurantes of the world?

ROMANS: There you go. That's the word.

What does it mean again?

BANFIELD: Caring little, indifferent, nonchalant. It's an adjective or a noun.

I'm not sure the crew noticed.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: I need a full screen.

SAMBOLIN: We have something called word of the day. There you have your word of the day. You learned something.

BANFIELD: No cheering. No cheering.

SAMBOLIN: Bravo.

BANFIELD: There is so little love from this crew. Honest to God, they try to kill me every day with these difficult words.

ROMANS: How do you spell it?

BANFIELD: There you go -- I'm going to give it to you because you're going to use it in the next half hour.

ROMANS: Careless or indifferent person. It's a political season. There's plenty.

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: Christine Romans doing the job for us this morning and we'd also like to give you the early read of the day at 12 minutes past 5:00 in the morning in the East Coast. We like to alert you the news that's actually going to be big talkers tonight.

Here's one -- cutting through the red tape to get to the green. Today, the House is expected to start the debate over the jobs act. It's a bill that will start smaller businesses bypass SEC hurdles that make it tougher for them to go public.

SAMBOLIN: And more news that could directly affect your 401(k) -- being called a make or break day in Greece. Today is the deadline for banks and big investors in Greece to accept a debt deal. The final hurdle Greece must clear to meet all the conditions of its second E.U. bailout.

BANFIELD: And it is not the dawning of the age of Aquarius, folks, but look at that. That should be on the t-shirt honestly. A stunning image from NASA of a biggest solar storm in years that shooting out of the sun, folks. The waves are actually battering our planet. It does have an effect on you. When you wake up, squint.

Brunt of it is expected to hit in about two hours. Space weather experts say that the wave of charged particles may actually mess with satellites -- hopefully not until our show is over. It might also disrupt power too -- grids, communications over the next 24 hours.

SAMBOLIN: Satellites, planes perhaps?

BANFIELD: I'm just kidding.

On folks who grew up in the north, these images that you're seeing on your screen, those of you, aurora borealis, folks, the northern light, will continue to look pretty sweet.

SAMBOLIN: OK. Now, I want to know if I should be worried.

Rob Marciano --

BANFIELD: I hope not.

SAMBOLIN: -- do you have anything on that for us?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, nothing to be worried terribly about. But the next six to eight hours, we'll start to get more influx to this and that's when radio communications or at least the power grid and planes that are flying over the poles may be affected.

This is the strongest flare of coronal mass ejection, X type, X 5 rated coming out of this sun spot. This is the strongest one that we've seen since 2006. So, we're entering the cycle where, you know, the sun goes in and out of a solar minimum, maximum every 11 years.

We're getting towards the peak. So, the next couple of years, we're going to see a lot more of these sun spots with solar flares that emit these CMEs, or coronal mass ejections, of highly charged particles of plasma hurled towards the earth at 3 million to 5 million miles an hour. So, they get here anywhere from a 1.5 to three days later. So, that's why we're seeing that today. Higher frequency radio, you'll see some blackouts there, maybe some power grid blackouts, and GPS, satellite interruptions. That's all possible. And, of course, the brilliant aurora bore borealis. That is a plus sign.

All right. We're going to see some rain, actually some rain across the tornado zone. Southern Illinois, Indiana. This will get into Ohio and Kentucky before the day is done. Nothing terribly severe out of this. I think the severe threat will remain down to the South.

But the winds will continue to kick up with this and the heat pump as well. Temperatures well above average, 10 to 20 degrees above average at some case. How does 71 sound for you in D.C.? Sixty-six degrees in New York City? And 75 in Atlanta. A little bit cooler behind, 45 in Chicago.

And still windy in places like Michigan. We've got some brush fire just north and west of Detroit. This thing burning yesterday because of the high wind, a little bit cooler today. I assume that the firefighters got a quick handle on this out of Auburn Hills, Michigan.

But the warm winds on the front side of this for you, folks, up there along the I-95 corridor will be a balmy day today. So, enjoy that.

SAMBOLIN: We are enjoying it. Thank you, Rob.

MARCIANO: All right.

SAMBOLIN: This just in, folks. Gas prices dropping for the third day in a row.

BANFIELD: It's an alarming three-day trend.

SAMBOLIN: It's exciting. The national average for a gallon of gas stands at $3.76. That is down only a fraction of a cent. AAA just posted this on their Web site. We're sharing it with you.

Gas may be dropping slightly. But prices are still up more than 14.5 percent so far this year. Good news, bad news, right?

BANFIELD: Five-fifteen, folks. Five-fifteen in the morning. I'm not sure that that's good news or bad news either. Either you're up real late or you're up real early.

Coming up, there is absolute outrage. Are you ready for this one?

SAMBOLIN: Ooh.

BANFIELD: She wins a million bucks and she keeps on collecting some good old-fashioned welfare from you and me, folks.

SAMBOLIN: Wow.

BANFIELD: We'll tell you about it.

SAMBOLIN: And Afghan air force troops established by U.S. funds are reportedly under suspicion of running drugs and illegal weapons out of the country.

You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: And courtesy of WDIV, the lovely and talented station in Detroit giving us our tower cam this morning. Beautiful shot at 19 minutes past 5:00.

It's 58 degrees in Detroit. Go figure. Beginning of March -- that's warm and toasty.

SAMBOLIN: But look what's going to happen later.

BANFIELD: Drop about seven degrees. Not too bad. You know what? If you're in this time of year, this is usually super chilly. This is still winter in Detroit. But you're going to be well above.

SAMBOLIN: Normally, you like to se those numbers go up, not down, as the day progresses.

Nineteen minutes past the hour.

Christine Romans is here with the stories making news this morning.

Good morning, lady.

ROMANS: Good morning, ladies.

Let's talk about Syria, first or Iran, rather. New satellite images raising more fears about Iran's nuclear program. Diplomats say they show Iran cleaning up a suspected nuclear site possibly to cover up work on a nuclear detonator. U.N. inspectors have repeatedly been denied access to the military base in these images.

Now to Syria where the bloody crackdown on the opposition apparently reached a tipping point for Bashar al-Assad's deputy oil minister. He announced in a YouTube video posted by activists that he was defecting from the regime and joining the revolution of the people.

"Wall Street Journal" reporting Afghan air force troops established largely with American funds, they're being investigated for allegedly running drugs and running illegal weapons out of the country. Officials say one investigation is led by the U.S. military coalition, another by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Huge recall from Toyota this morning to tell you about -- 680,000 cars and trucks including Tacomas, Camrys and Venzas. Toyota says the safety system in some vehicles losing power because of bad installation. Some vehicles are getting stuck while they're in park.

And after winning a million dollars in Michigan's lottery, Amanda Clayton was still collecting the $200 a month in state food assistance she had been receiving before her windfall. There she is. A local Detroit station caught up with Clayton during a shopping spree. She told a reporter she thought it was OK because she wasn't working. CNN affiliate WDIV spoke with the Michigan Department of Human Services and the department released a statement saying in part, "Under DHS policy, a recipient of food assistance benefits must notify the state within 10 days of any asset or income change. DHS relies on clients being forthcoming about their actual financial status. If they're not, and continue to accept benefits, they may face criminal investigation and be required to pay back those benefits."

The state says Clayton has now been removed from public assistance.

Michigan State Representative Dale Zorn pushing for a law to keep lottery winners from claiming state benefits. He'll be a guest on "CNN NEWSROOM" at 11:00 Eastern.

Of course, conservatives rail about this. They say it shows the safety net out of control. So many people getting it. No one checking.

And progressive and liberal economists say this happens once or twice or three times. It's very, very rare.

SAMBOLIN: A flagging system would make sense here. Didn't she realize that, hey, maybe I should call somebody, give this back?

ROMANS: And apparently the onus is on her according to the state. She's got 10 days to say, oh, I have a he got some money and to back off. Remember, these are cards now. They're not like stamps anymore. It's a card usually and the card is automatically reloaded. So, it's like a debit card you use.

BANFIELD: Is she loopy? I mean, is she loopy and thought this is my debit -- she got lulled into the idea this is a debit card?

ROMANS: It looks to me from the affiliate reporting that she knew it was free government money. She was using it because she wasn't working even though she did get her lottery winnings.

SAMBOLIN: Wow.

BANFIELD: I wouldn't want to be her. Even with that million win, I would not want to be her right now.

ROMANS: After taxes a million dollar win is $500,000 some thousand.

SAMBOLIN: It is good money.

ROMANS: It's good money. You're right.

BANFIELD: Is it worth the public humiliation though that this story has wrought upon her?

ROMANS: No.

BANFIELD: All right. Christine, thanks for that.

ROMANS: You're welcome. SAMBOLIN: All right. Twenty-three minutes past the hour.

Is it worth the public humiliation?

BANIFELD: No.

SAMBOLIN: Maybe Christine would say yes to that. Invest the money, put it away, fix the problem.

BANFIELD: It all depends on your values.

SAMBOLIN: All right. We're getting an early read on your local news that's making national headlines this morning.

We have papers from Houston, Texas, and Richmond, Virginia.

We're going to start with "The Houston Chronicle".

A contested new voter ID law in Texas could bar millions of registered voters from casting ballots. That law would actually require voters to present state issued photo IDs to match voter registration cards.

Here's something very interesting. The records reveal 18 percent of registered voters in Texas don't have a prior ID and that is 2.4 million people who could actually be turned away. Hispanics here are the most heavily impacted. And the Department of Justice is reviewing the law to determine whether it falls in line with the Voting Rights Act.

BANFIELD: Sometimes I wonder what our IDs do for us. I remember when I first came to this country, before I became an American citizen, a proud American citizen, I got a summons for jury duty because I had a driver's license.

And I thought, I'm not a peer. I'm not a part of your peers. I'm not a jury of your peers. Constitutionally, I cannot serve.

SAMBOLIN: That's one of those things that fall through the crack, right?

BANFIELD: Yes, there's a little box you check, but it's teeny tiny. And if I didn't read up the fine print, I would have shown up for jury duty. People do. Noncitizens show up for jury duty and sometimes they render verdicts which if they're discovered later, that verdict is out.

A little secret from the law files this morning.

Let's take you to the "Richmond Times Dispatch".

This was a big controversial story and it has come to an end, at least that's what we think. The Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has signed a bill that makes it mandatory for any woman who wants an abortion to undergo an ultrasound. That is official. It's done.

But here's the deal. It used to be a far more invasive kind of ultrasound, the internal, shall I say, ultrasound that was part of that.

SAMBOLIN: Women would understand that.

BANFIELD: Women definitely understand that one. When that got nixed from the bill. It is still the external one, the one that goes all over your belly. And the women who get the ultrasound are given the option of getting the picture, hearing the heartbeat, all these different things.

Of course, this has been so hard fought. There's still a vigil I think planned for later tonight behind the executive mansion. People are either thrilled or disgusted by this story and by this new legislation.

SAMBOLIN: Very controversial. 25 minutes past the hour.

Coming up, where does the 1 percent go to fund their lifestyle?

BANFIELD: Vegas.

SAMBOLIN: Would you believe pawn shops?

BANFIELD: There's a lot of pawn shops in Vegas.

SAMBOLIN: There are.

Poppy Harlow looks at the new pawn stars. This is such an interesting story you're going to want to stay tuned for that.

You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Twenty-nine minutes past the hour here. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BANFIELD: I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It's nice to have you here with us at this early, early time in the morning.

And you know what else is nice? Having Christine Romans with us, because she's got all our top stories. She's always working hard, running back and forth to the newsroom.

ROMANS: Little breathless. Thanks, guys.

BANFIELD: In your heels.

ROMANS: Let's start with Iran. New satellite images raising more fears about Iran's nuclear program. Two Western diplomats tell CNN that satellite images show large trucks and earth moving vehicles at a suspected nuclear testing site.

Timing here is important. U.N. inspectors have tried and failed to get into this site before. Tehran only decided on Monday that they'd be let in. Angry sun. A stunning image from NASA of solar flares erupting from the sun after speeding through space at 4 million miles an hour. They're bombarding earth right now. I can't feel anything. Experts say it might disrupt GPS, even ground some flights today. On the bright side, it's sparking a magical northern lights display.

Free checking for Wells Fargo customers may be soon a thing of the past. The bank announcing a $7 a month service fee in six more states. Wells Fargo stopped offering free checking for its new customers back in 2010. Officials haven't disclosed which states would be affected yet by this fee.

President Obama's re-election campaign will release a 17-minute documentary next week on the president's first term in office. It's a film directed by Oscar winner, Davis Guggenheim whose credit include Al Gore's "An Inconvenient True." Seventeen-minute documentary or, I don't know, campaign.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Campaign commercial?

ROMANS: Who knows?

BANFIELD: Buy time. We have to buy time on networks to be able to run that, right? Or just throw it up on the web?

ROMANS: Seventeen minutes, you know, documentaries, aren't they usually longer?

BANFIELD: Sounds like a 30-minuter, right?

ROMANS: There you go.

BANFIELD: With all those commercials in between.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: I feel nothing. Nothing has changed.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: I was very worried about that this morning, actually. I thought, Rob Marciano could probably shed some light on this. I'm worried about the planes, actually. You know, those communication satellites and stuff like that. This is temporary.

BANFIELD: Over the poles, anyway.

ROMANS: He just loves the cool pictures. That's probably it.

SAMBOLIN: So do I, right? So do I. All right. Thank you, Christine.

BANFIELD: I just woke up crankier. That's all. The solar flares made me cranky. Thank you. So, you know, when we went through Super Tuesday, Super Wednesday, we were all talking about the big KO, the knockout punch that Mitt Romney didn't necessarily deliver. Well, they're kind of talking like they did at this point. One of his aides has actually said this, it's going to take an act of God to stop him from winning the nomination.

And some key tests are coming up in the next week, Alabama and Mississippi. The south is not so sold on Mitt Romney. In fact, those look good for Santorum and also for Gingrich, but what do I know? I know the people who do know, though, and that's former spokesperson House Republican conference, Gretchen Hamel, who's joining us live right here in New York.

Also, Democratic strategist, Tim Punke, who is here with us, and national political reporter for Politico, Alexander Burns. All right, folks. Listen up. I said it very quickly. I just said act of God, but I want to give you the actual phrasing, because, you know, it's all in the editing, right? Here it is unedited.

The campaign aide said this, "For those guys, it's going to take some sort of act of God to get where they need to be on the nomination front, and that didn't go over so well with Rick Santorum." When he was told about it on the trail, he had this to say in response to the act of God comment. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, what won't they resort to to try to bully their way through this race, you know? If the governor thinks he's now ordained by God to win, then let's just have it out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: All right. So, Gretchen, is that just a reality check? Is it bullying? And by the way, don't we all use God in some way as a platitude? It's not necessarily really ordained by God?

GRETCHEN HAMEL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THE PUBLIC NOTICE: Exactly. Exactly. But every candidate came out of Super Tuesday showing the press their map to winning this nomination. So, what Romney's staff was doing was no different than what Gingrich's staff and others were doing post Super Tuesday, trying to keep the momentum, trying to paint the narrative that they can win this, and for Romney, it's that he has it locked up, and that people just need to exit the race.

BANFIELD: But in the effort that Newt Gingrich needs to pull off to try to become super relevant yet again, his campaign spokesperson, who's been very prominent throughout this whole campaign, R.C. Hammond, said something to a "Wall Street Journal" reporter that was a bit curious. And I want to read the actual repartee that they had together.

The reporters asked this question. "Newt said he had to win Georgia to remain a credible candidate. Does he have to win Alabama and Mississippi to remain a credible candidate?" J.C. answered yes, and the reporter said -- no, J.C. answered and the reporter said, "He has to win?" Yes.

Now, that sounds kind of definitive. I'm curious to find out if that is a dangerous thing to say when you're on a campaign where Newt's own daughter just said yesterday, he's going right to the convention. He's not dropping out anytime soon. So, Tim Punk, what do you think and what do you make of that kind of a comment from someone that high up in Newt's campaign.

TIM PUNKE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think it's obviously a silly comment, because Gingrich is going to face a challenge in a number of the upcoming states, including Mississippi and Alabama. I think the real interesting thing to watch is going to be whether the Santorum campaign and the conservatives that are aligned with the Santorum campaign can actually get Newt Gingrich to drop out of the race.

And I mean, the numbers there, I think, are pretty compelling. If you look at Ohio, for example, the combination of Santorum and Gingrich won 52 percent compared to Romney's 38 percent. So, there's a very compelling case to be made. And look, if conservatives rallied behind one candidate, that conservative candidate could win. So, you're going to see a lot of pressure, I think, on Gingrich over the next few days to try to drop out of this race.

BANFIELD: I think I misspoke. I think I said J.C., I meant R.C., R.C. Hammond who's well known on the trail among our reporters. He's on the air quite often as well. And actually, Newt Gingrich, himself, refers to R.C. all the time on the trail. And, since we're talking Gingrich, I think we should probably talking about what Tony Perkins had to say about Newt Gingrich.

Tony Perkins is well known. He's the president of the Family Research Council. He is a staunch Republican and a very right-wing conservative, and he had this to say about Newt Gingrich in an open letter. He said, "Gingrich has never been in a more influential position in deciding the outcome of the nomination. He could be a king maker if he stepped out of the race and threw his support to another candidate."

Alexander burns, those are strong words, and they're not the kinds of words that you want to hear going into the south when you kind of want to win the south.

ALEXANDER BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: No, Ashleigh, they're not. And I think it does kind of illustrate the desk (ph) that conservatives are having to execute around Newt Gingrich. There is this real sense particularly among Santorum supporters that if somebody is going to get nominated who's not Mitt Romney, there really only has to be one conservative alternative in the race.

At the same time, folks like Tony Perkins who has been around the block, knows conservative politics, knows Newt Gingrich, he understands and conservatives, in general, understand that Gingrich is not the kind of guy who can get bullied out of this race. And so, I think you're going to hear more sort of incentives like that offered to Gingrich. This idea that well maybe you could be an even greater party leader if you weren't actually seeking the presidency anymore.

BANFIELD: All right. To all of you, Alexander, Tim, and Gretchen, thanks very much. I want to add one thing and that is, if you're a fan of Karl Rove and even if you're not a fan Karl Rove, you do have to hear what he said to the "Wall Street Journal" and that is this, "Every primary takes a short-term toll on the nominee who emerges bruised and battered but often even stronger. That was the case four years ago, and it may be the case this year, as well."

So, for all of you nay sayers out there who say this is a damaging campaign because it's going on longer, and our three panelists may or may not agree, that's what Carl Rove, another kingmaker had to say.

Folks, stick around. We want to talk to you, guys, in an hour. Also, I want to let you know that at 6:10, about 40 minutes from now, 30 minutes from now, "Joe the Plumber," Samuel Wurzelbacher, is his real name, but most people know him as "Joe the Plumber." He won his primary contest, and he is going to be an election name on the ballot in Ohio.

So, we're going to talk to him about his efforts and what he's up against and how this whole political thing came about in the first place.

SAMBOLIN: yes. Some comments that he made early on that we're going to ask him about as well.

And still ahead on EARLY START, Chrysler is recalling more than 200,000 Jeep Liberties. Do you have one of this? We're going to tell you why there is this massive recall.

And where does the one percent go to fund their lifestyle? Would you believe it go to pawnshops?

BANFIELD: The one percent?

SAMBOLIN: Poppy Harlow looks at the new pawn stars and what they're pawning and why they're pawning.

BANFIELD: I'd go there.

SAMBOLIN: You're watching EARLY START.

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BANFIELD: Forty-one minutes now past 5:00. And in this age of reality TV, this might just be the best new twist on how the rich get richer, or at least, how the rich keep trying to show that they're rich even when they might not be. The one percent are now turning to pawnshops to unload their treasures.

SAMBOLIN: CNNMoney's Poppy Harlow has more on the new "pawn stars."

POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM: They are, indeed. SAMBOLIN: Unbelievable story.

HARLOW: It was amazing to see this, guys. They will call it collateral lending. This is really just glorified pawning, but the fascinating thing is that rich folks are doing it today. What we're seeing is that people that are having such a hard time getting a loan from a bank are hawking, look at that, a black diamond necklace, Faberge pens, very expensive family heirloom jewelry, coin collections. That's a 24-karat gold Dupont lighter.

BANFIELD: Holy cow!

HARLOW: Pocket watch from Cartier. This is the new pawnshop. That's a Tiffany's broach. What's fascinating, and we wanted to know why are the rich going into stores in Manhattan and all over the country hawking this kind of thing. What do they need the money for? Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: What do they need the cash for?

JOSE CABA, US GOLD BUYERS: I've heard everything from payroll. I've heard everything from estate maintenance. They have to pay the butlers. They have to pay the groundskeeper.

HARLOW: All right. What on earth is this?

GENE FURMAN, OWNER PAWNQ.COM: Well, this is actually 250-year-old torah.

HARLOW: 250-year-old torah.

FURMAN: Something like this does not come very often. I don't want to give the identity of the people who borrow money against it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: That was the most shocking one for me, a 250-year-old torah. He told me it was a religious organization. They needed money to do repairs on the building. Didn't tell me what the organization was, but the average loan that's going out these guys tell me is $20,000. $20,000, and you think, why aren't they just going to the bank?

I even talked to an entrepreneur who hawked that black diamond necklace that was his grandmother's, and he said, I'm starting a restaurant. I needed 30 grand. I went in to my local bank, a bunch of different banks. I could not get the credit. I could not get the loan. So, this is what they're doing.

BANFIELD: And it's really expensive money.

HARLOW: It's really expensive. So, there are pros, there are cons. Here's what you need to know. if You're going to do this, the up side is a few things. Let's take a look here. First of all, they're not going to do a credit check. You're not going to have to fill out an extensive application. You can walk out the door with 20 grand, and they're not going to knock your credit report.

However, you need to negotiate. Never make the first offer. Never tell the lender what you paid for the item and go in having it appraised, know what the value is. Also, the interest you're going to pay is going to be very, very high. In New York, the limit's four percent a month, but a year, that's 48 percent.

In a state like Georgia, the limit is 25 percent a month. So, you're paying massive amounts of interest. You are backing it up with collateral. They tell me that 90 percent of the folks that drop this stuff off come back and pick it up later. So, if you can't get a loan at the bank, this is an option, but it can be a dangerous option, because they own your item.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

HARLOW: So, if you don't come back, they're going to auction it off.

SAMBOLIN: And some of those things had a lot of sentimental value.

HARLOW: A lot.

(CROSSTALK)

HARLOW: But can you believe people are using it to pay their butler? You know, they told me because you have a Ferrari doesn't mean you have --

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: What happens to that bottle of cognac? That Louie Catore's (ph) cognac if the owner comes back and there's just a little bit missing?

(LAUGHTER)

HARLOW: Gone. Exactly. You take the risk. You got to look these folks up on the better business grow and know who you're doing business with.

BANFIELD: That's great story, Poppy. Good work.

SAMBOLIN: Really interesting. Yes. Thank you.

BANFIELD: It's 44 minutes past 5:00. And still ahead, are you ready for this one? From the legal files, a court rules that a man owes child support for kids that his ex-wife had after they split. Don't ask. You just got to stick around for the answer to that one.

SAMBOLIN: I'm looking forward to this one.

BANFIELD: I know, right? I'm shaking my head out it, too.

And then, also, no one has ever sunk this low and yet been lauded. Lauded. You recognize that face. It's James Cameron. We love him, right? Oscar-winning movie maker, and now, he wants to sink so low he'll make -- he'll sink to a record. Down to the depths of the earth. Places few have ever gone before. You'll hear about it on EARLY START.

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SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you, Boston. It is 51 degrees right now, sunny and a balmy 65 degrees later.

BANFIELD: This weather is incredible, isn't it? Detroit and Boston all above freezing. Love to hear that. Forty-eight minutes past 5:00 a.m. on the east coast. And that means the ticker went off and Christine Romans was summoned, and she's here now with the check of the top stories making news this morning.

ROMANS: Good morning, ladies.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS (voice-over): Let's get right to new satellite images this morning raising fears about Iran's nuclear program. Diplomats say they show Iran cleaning up a suspected nuclear site possibly to cover up work on a nuclear detonator. U.N. inspectors have repeatedly been denied access to this site. It's a military base that you see in these images.

Chrysler recalling more than 200,000 Jeep Liberties. The company says salts on the roadways could corrode the SUV's rear suspension. The recall models are from 2004 and 2005. Meantime, highway and traffic officials are investigating nine reports of fractures in the rear lower control arms in Jeep Liberties. They say no one has been reported injured from this.

A Massachusetts appeals court, get this, ordering a man to pay child support for twin girls born through in vitro fertilization, ordering him to pay child support for these in vitro twins. This, despite the fact, that he and his wife had split up before the children were conceived, and the children are not biologically his.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS (on-camera): It was donated egg and sperm, but a Massachusetts appeals court ruling that, in fact, he is responsible. It's a very complicated story, actually. A very complicated story. He is, of course, very upset about it.

BANFIELD: And it's not easy when you get to these particular in vitro stories, especially when something goes wrong before the birth, because legally speaking, it doesn't matter who the egg and sperm belong to. It's all about the agreements that are made beforehand.

ROMANS: It is the couple that is married, right? The couple who determined that they are the parents of the child, even though, biologically, it is someone else's egg and sperm.

BANFIELD: Right. SAMBOLIN: The reason that the court ruled that way is because they said he gave his consent, and so, he's responsible for the children because he had given his consent.

ROMANS: And there was a story out of Boston, one of the Boston papers reporting a story that there's actually an immigration angle on this, too. He was concerned that she -- he was concerned that he was not going to be able to stand up for U.S. citizenship and get his U.S. citizenship if --

BANFIELD: If without here?

ROMANS: If he went afoul of her. Right.

BANFIELD: Yes. And here you go. The story here is that when it comes to a legal or civil suit, the headlines are great. The details explain the reality behind those headlines. It's really fascinating stuff, though, isn't it?

ROMANS: Yes.

BANFIELD: Thanks, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you. And coming up, James Cameron headed into the real life abyss. He will attempt to travel to the ocean's deepest point. CNN actually got exclusive access to his preparation. We have all of the details coming up next. You're watching EARLY START.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEONARDO DI CAPRIO, ACTOR: I'm the king of the world!

BANFIELD (voice-over): The creator of that blockbuster movie and also "Avatar," and a whole bunch more, James Cameron, hoping to become not just the king of the world, but the king of the sea. His latest project is literally taking him into the abyss.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD (on-camera): Welcome back, everybody. It's 5:54. You just won't believe this one, guys. Hollywood filmmaker, James Cameron, is taking on a brand new adventure, and this one is really neat. It's the new frontier, everybody. His new project is a trip to the very deepest part of the earth. The challenger deep in the Mariana Trench. Fascinating.

SAMBOLIN: And Jason Carroll went with him.

(LAUGHTER)

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Sort of. I sort of went with him. SAMBOLIN: Wouldn't that be cool, huh?

CARROLL: Yes, cool and a little scary. I was actually with Cameron on board, the Mermaid Sapphire, which is (INAUDIBLE) that they retrofitted for this expedition. It is absolutely fascinating what he's done. Basically, over the past few years, you can see Cameron getting inside the capsule there that he's invented along with a team of engineers, with help from National Geographic.

That thing that you see there, that is called deep sea challenger. That is the submersible that's going to take him to the depths of the Mariana Trench and challenger deep. We were with him out there on that ship. You can see me there as he's giving me a tour of the ship as he went through the process of putting this vehicle through test dives.

One of the test dives down to 26,000 feet. That's five miles deep. You can see how cramped it is inside that. It was absolutely fascinating to see this man who's been a deep sea explorer for many, many years. And I spoke to him, you know, several times when I was there on the ship, we specifically talked about what he thinks about when that hatch closes, and he heads down below.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: When do you feel like it's real? Does it feel real after you've accomplished something or is it right before?

JAMES CAMERON, DIRECTOR: It's the clunk of the hatch closing. That's when the rubber meets the road.

CARROLL: OK.

CAMERON: Because, now, you've got to execute the whole task and finish the job and get back on the ship before that hatch gets unbolted. So, they bolt you in from the outside. It goes by fast. No, it does. I mean, it's so exciting. Every second, you're seeing something cool. I'll tell you, I'm wiped out after the dive. Your brain's going a thousand miles an hour.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: Incredibly fascinating. His mother says she worries about him diving, going to those extreme depths where you have that type of pressure exerted on that submarine.

SAMBOLIN: Exactly, because the last time there was a crack or something and somebody had to come up, and you wonder, that intense pressure, what it does for your body and how do you get ready for that?

CARROLL: Well, you know, he's been training for this for so many years. This is an experienced man. This is about science. This is about discovery. 16,500 pounds of pressure per square inch. If you pulled out your thumb and looked at your nail there, imagine that type of pressure, it would instantly crush a man. So, this is about science in terms of trying to make this happen.

BANFIELD: Here's the nonscientific explanation. Tell me if it's wring or right. 8,000 elephants standing on a Mini-Cooper.

CARROLL: Sounds about right.

BANFIELD: That's the pounds --

CARROLL: Bottom line is it would crush whatever is down there at that type of pressure. But once again, science. This is about exploration.

SAMBOLIN: When is this happening?

CARROLL: Well, we think by the end of the month they'll be ready to go to Mariana Trench, to challenger deep, but you know, it's a slow process, but he's on his way.

BANFIELD: And everything has to align.

CARROLL: Oh, yes.

BANFIELD: Oh, Jason Carroll, cool. Really cool. What a great job. Fantastic. Thank you.

So, Iran has been busy doing some cleaning. Not spring cleaning, folks, just cleaning. And what exactly are they cleaning? Does it have to do with potential nuclear inspections? We're going to look into that in a moment.

And also, don't look at the sun today. Shouldn't look at it any day, but particularly today, because there's a solar storm, folks, and it's the worst in about five years. What does it mean, though, to us and your TV and your travel and your fridge and your phone? We'll let you know. It's all coming up on EARLY START.

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