CNN CNN


 

Return to Transcripts main page

EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Shooting Outside French Jewish School; Romney Routs Santorum in Puerto Rico; All Eyes On Illinois; Did Castro Know In Advance?

Aired March 19, 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. And welcome to EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We're very happy you're with us. We're bringing you the news from A to Z. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And we begin with your top stories.

Fifty-four delegates at stake tomorrow in the Illinois primary. Mitt Romney coming off a rout of Rick Santorum in Puerto Rico. But Santorum is insisting the nomination is his, if he pulls off an Illinois upset.

BANFIELD: Spring nearly sprung. So, what the heck is this? No joke. More than a foot of snow on the ground in Flagstaff, Arizona. More on the way, too. Bizarre. A major late winter storm shutting down the Interstate 40 for nearly 200 miles.

SAMBOLIN: In Nebraska and Oklahoma, the trouble is tornadoes. Take a look at this. Storm chasers captured this twister on the ground in the town of Willow, Oklahoma. CNN's Reynolds Wolf is tracking all of the severe weather.

BANFIELD: Dozens of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators arrested in ugly pictures in lower Manhattan. They're trying to reoccupy Zuccotti Park. The accusations are flying this morning that New York City police abused peaceful protesters.

SAMBOLIN: And how sweet it is. The sweet 16 is set after 11th seeded North Carolina State upset third-seeded Georgetown. Up next for N.C. State, Kansas on Friday.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BANFIELD: And we begin with breaking news from France.

At least three people, including two children, have reportedly been killed in a shooting outside of a Jewish school in Toulouse, France. That's in the southwest part of the country. And several other people were reportedly also injured by this gunman. Security has been ordered tightened at Jewish schools. It's not clear if these shootings could be connected to some other shootings that involved soldiers earlier on.

CNN's Jim Bittermann is joining us on the phone from Paris.

So, give us the details on the injured and those who were killed. And exactly who this shooter could be, Jim.

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, that's certainly what police are looking at this morning. Basically, Ashleigh, about 10 minutes after 8:00 this morning, local time, as students were gathering at a school called the Ozar Hatorah School in the Jewish area of Toulouse. In fact, a gunman came by on a motor bike and shot into the crowd of about four or five people. Reports are that two students were killed and adults killed and several injured in addition to who were killed.

Now, what police are looking into what connection there might be to two earlier shooting instances involving soldiers in the Toulouse area. Basically, the M.O., the method of operation looks very similar. A motor bike involved. The gunman comes by and shoots. In one case, shot at one soldier and killed him. In another case, a gunman shot at three soldiers. Two of those soldiers were killed and another severely injured.

So, police have at least the potential serial killer on the loose in Toulouse. The interior minister of France said that he is going to be headed that direction down to Toulouse this morning to see what reinforcements he can give to the local police, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: All right. Jim Bittermann reporting from Paris, about an incident in Toulouse. And the Israeli foreign minister making a comment, being horrified by what transpired in France today. We'll have more on that as it develops.

SAMBOLIN: It is three minutes past the hour here.

Mitt Romney, hoping to take a big step towards clinching the GOP nomination with a victory in Illinois tomorrow. That's after routing Rick Santorum in the Puerto Rico victory. He got roughly 83 percent of the vote in Puerto Rico yesterday. Santorum, in the single digits. With 20 delegates for Romney. He is hoping to parlay the win into Latino votes moving forward.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Those people who don't think that Latinos won't vote for a Republican need to take a look in Puerto Rico and see there that conservative principles and Latino voters go together and that Hispanic voters are going to vote for Republicans if we stand for something, conservative principles that bring growth and good jobs and rising home values. That's how we're going to win. We're going to get Latino voters to help us out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: So, let's look at the delegates scoreboard here. Romney with 518. Santorum, 239. Gingrich, 139. Ron Paul there with 69.

Fifty-four delegates at stake tomorrow in Illinois where polls show Romney with a slight lead.

CNN political editor Paul Steinhauser live in Washington, D.C. for us.

Quite a trouncing. Let's start in Puerto Rico and we'll move forward to Illinois.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: You got it. Here's the (INAUDIBLE) between the Romney and the Santorum campaigns. Remember, Rick Santorum was also down in Puerto Rico for two days, Zoraida, on Wednesday and Thursday, and got in little trouble over the Spanish language and the controversy there of whether they should make English the official language if they were to become a state.

Take a look at this statement from Hogan Gidley, spokesman for the Santorum campaign, last night after the loss in Puerto Rico. It says, "Rick Santorum has a consistent core. And he showed that when he went to Puerto Rico and took a locally unpopular but principled stance about English being the language of America.

Mitt Romney on the other hand switched another one of his positions to gain favor in Puerto Rico, by saying that Puerto Ricans shouldn't have to lean English if they want to become a state. We all know Mitt Romney will do and say anything to get votes. And this is just another example of that."

You can imagine, the Romney campaign definitely doesn't agree with this. And they said that Romney has not flip-flopped at all on this issue. And they disagree very much with the Santorum campaign.

But just another slice here of the nastiness you can see between the two campaigns, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, let's move forward to Illinois now. Santorum says if he wins that, he's got the nomination. Romney says he's ahead.

What's happening in Illinois?

STEINHAUSER: Yes. Remember a couple of weeks ago, we said Michigan was a must-win for Romney?

SAMBOLIN: Right.

STEINHAUSER: So, well, then the next week, we said it was Ohio. I think this week, you can say, yes, it's Illinois, more of a moderate state, much a different feel than what we saw in Alabama and Mississippi, a state that Mitt Romney really needs to win.

You saw him change his strategy. He was not supposed to be campaigning in Illinois until today. He went there on Friday morning, went back all day yesterday. Usually, Sundays are a slow day for Mitt Romney in the campaign trail, spent the whole day there. You can see, Illinois is a crucial state for Mitt Romney to win.

Remember, Louisiana coming up on Saturday. That is a more conservative state that Santorum will win. Keep your eyes on Illinois tomorrow, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Still a lot more ahead.

STEINHAUSER: Oh, yes.

SAMBOLIN: Paul Steinhauser, live in Washington, thank you very much.

BANFIELD: Six minutes now past 5:00 on the East Coast. Happening this moment, a major late winter storm causing some major headaches in -- yes, Arizona. I'm not kidding. Arizona.

Look at your screen. In Flagstaff, more than a foot of snow is already on the ground. We could get another foot later on today. The storm is forcing closure of Interstate 40 for nearly 200 miles. That's from Kingman, Arizona, all the way to east Winslow, if you're keeping score.

SAMBOLIN: Some good skiing there. You would love it.

BANFIELD: Great skiing in Arizona. Yes, and great condos now in New York. Get yourself a winter condo in Connecticut.

Other parts of the country are seeing some pretty unseasonably warm temperatures, as well.

And Reynolds Wolf is in the weather center.

OK, what's the deal?

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, I mean, we really do have a crazy mix, which makes weather awfully interesting. But the snow in parts of Arizona, interesting, but not unusual at all. Many of us have the perception that in Arizona, you basically have Phoenix, you have Tucson. You don't think about the northern half of the state, but that's where you do quite a bit of snow. And that's certainly was the case this weekend.

In Arizona, the snow volume, you had 26 inches of snow. Well over a foot in Ft. Valley, Flagstaff and even in Bellemont. Big Bear City in California got about 20 inches of snowfall. In some places, even a little more, and certainly great for all of the skiers up in Big Bear.

What we're going to be seeing today is a little bit of a difference in parts of the Central and Southern Plains. Look for a chance of severe storms. Already severe storms watches in parts of Oklahoma and back in the northern Texas. Across parts of, well, Great Lakes and down into parts of, say, the Appalachians, we're seeing some rain in Pittsburgh.

But the big chance of severe weather is going to take place right here in the Southern Plains as that frontal boundary sweeps its way to the east, interacts to that Gulf moisture, strong storm possible in parts of Texas and into Louisiana, as we fast forward from today into Tuesday.

Now, one big issue there we're going to have is also the heavy rainfall we might see in parts of Texas. In fact, some places at six inches of rain falling at a very rapid rate. It means we certainly have a good chance of seeing some flooding in a few spots. Some places could see up to a foot just over the next 24 hours or so. So, certainly, a huge concern for a lot of people.

The other thing you were talking about is the big change of temperatures. Out in the west, it has been the cold. But in the east, a huge ridge of high pressure, means 85 degrees your high in Memphis, up by Beale Street. In Chicago, they're still recovering over St. Patrick's Day, 79 degrees. Even in New York, where we sent it back to you guys, 72, the expected high.

BANFIELD: Seventy-two. What month is this, Reynolds? What month are we in?

WOLF: Hard to believe, but we're in March. I know.

BANFIELD: All right. Thank you for that, Reynolds Wolf.

SAMBOLIN: We're loving it, right?

BANFIELD: Yes. Well, I hate to say no complaints. I actually do have complaints. I think it's supposed to be cold when it's supposed to be cold. When it's supposed to be hot --

SAMBOLIN: Send her the e-mails.

BANFIELD: It is nine minutes now past 5:00. And this just in -- are you ready?

We bring you this live, folks. The national price for gas rising for a tenth day in the row now, standing at $3.84 a gallon. That's according to AAA.

Gas is already selling at least 4 bucks a gallon on average in seven states. And if you're one of them, I'm sorry. Alaska, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New York and Washington -- feel your pain. That's the level analysts say that people start changing some of their spending habits, as well.

And the steep rise in gas prices has become a weapon for Republicans to use against the president. But are there promises? Or just politics? Coming up at 6:15 Eastern, we're going to talk to Jim Burkhart, managing director of the Global Oil Group, and get answers there.

SAMBOLIN: I hope so.

Our Christine Romans is watching the markets for us this morning.

They closed mixed on Friday. The Dow and the NASDAQ both closing lower, but not by much. And the S&P 500, which is nearing a four-year high, closed up by 0.01 percent. That's good news for your money. The S&P 500 is the best indicator for what is in your 401(k).

The stock futures are down ahead of the opening bell this morning. BANFIELD: Normally, I'm listening to all those details and processing them. But I can't think of anything other than Apple.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Apple. I know. 9:00, the company is having a conference call. And everybody wants to know what Apple is going to do with its huge cash horde. Did you know that Apple has $98 billion in cash sitting in the bank? Just the last --

BANFIELD: Say that again.

ROMANS: Ninety-eight billion dollars. It is literally more money than God.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: Apple Computer designed something in Cupertino, California, builds it through subcontractors in China, ships it all over the world. And they're making things that we never knew we needed but now we can't live without. And Apple revenue is up, you know, 40 percent, 50 percent every year.

Look at the stocks. You can see the shares of Apple Computer, just this year --

BANFIELD: Lord.

ROMANS: -- are up almost 45 percent. We crossed $500 a share about a month ago, and then, crossed $600 a share four weeks later.

Sitting on all this cash, in just the first fiscal quarter of the annual year, it made $16 billion, in cash. That's money that goes right into the bank. A lot of analysts are saying they think this company is going to give a dividend, meaning that shareholders of the company will get a little money back, maybe 2 percent, maybe 2.5 percent.

A lot of big tech companies give money back to their investors, to their shareholders. And that's what folks are hoping will happen here. And they think it's going to make Apple even more valuable because then you have all of these big mutual funds and all these big value investors and investors who want to get a little bit of a return back for holding their Apple shares, instead of the stock going up and up.

So --

SAMBOLIN: I wonder where the top is, though, right?

ROMANS: That's such a good question. There's two kind of adages on Wall Street. One is the trend is your friend. And the trend in Apple is up. I mean, anybody who's been, you know, selling Apple all the way up is just pulling their hair out, right?

The other adage is, trees don't grow to the sky, meaning they can't go up forever. So, Apple has -- is Apple worth it? Does it continue to be worth $300, $400, $500 a share? It is if it can continue to invent things we didn't know we needed, if they can penetrate the entire world with their products. If their costumers -- their competitors don't find a way to start to eat into some of their momentum. The momentum is there for Apple right now.

But the news today: will there be a dividend? We'll find out at 9:00.

BANFIELD: That's fascinating. Christine Romans, thank you so much.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

BANFIELD: Twelve minutes now past 5:00 on the East Coast. And we are giving you an early read on some stories you should watch for later on today.

Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians, he's expected to meet face-to-face for the first time with his attorney today in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. It's going to be the first time he gets a chance to talk with this prominent Seattle lawyer, John Henry Browne, who's made all sorts of media appearances, but hasn't talked to the client in person.

Formal charges against Sergeant Bales could be filed this week.

SAMBOLIN: The owners of the New York Mets head to court today. A jury will decide if they looked the other way while reaping millions from Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme. The stakes are enormous for Madoff victims and the team, with over $300 million on the line.

BANFIELD: And Catherine, and the duchess of Cambridge -- that was ridiculous. I don't know why I said with that thrill in my voice. She's delivering her first public speech later this morning. It's going to happen in just over two hours during her event at a new children's hospital facility. Catherine will tour the building, meet the staff and the patients, and also plant a tree to commemorate the opening. Just don't her call Kate.

SAMBOLIN: Do you remember Diana was the people's princess, right? I wonder if they dubbed her anything yet.

BANFIELD: I don't know. Yes, I'm not sure, because she really has the same aura.

SAMBOLIN: To connect.

BANFIELD: One thing I notice all the time, and maybe it's just me, she's very skinny, and gets skinnier and skinnier in each public appearance.

SAMBOLIN: Well, if you had that kind of pressure on you. You have to do the same, right?

BANFIELD: Yes. I mean, I hope she is planning to have kids and get some beef on.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Fourteen minutes past the hour here. Coming up on EARLY START: Ontario town is turned upside down. Hundreds are on the street, rioting on St. Patrick's Day. Look at that. Those are actually students.

BANFIELD: Are those Canadians?

SAMBOLIN: Students.

BANFIELD: What's wrong with the Canadians?

SAMBOLIN: A lot. We're going to tell you about that when we come back.

BANFIELD: These are my rivals right now when I was in college.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, really?

BANFIELD: Yes. So, go ahead. Show the pictures, as long as you want.

Also coming up, the Supreme Court is set to debate health care reforms, real soon. And you know something? A single vote could make or break what we've come to know as Obamacare.

SAMBOLIN: And a shocking, new book. Did Fidel Castro know in advance that JFK would be assassinated? We're going to delve into that.

You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you, Chicago.

BANFIELD: Beautiful.

SAMBOLIN: Sixty-three degrees right now. You know I'm bummed about this. It's going to be 79 degrees later.

You've been having fabulous weather while I'm not there. You know? I don't know. But I'm happy. I am happy for you.

BANFIELD: Look at that lovely picture. That's so pretty. I hope people are awake to see that.

Well, if you are awake, you might be watching us obviously. Eighteen minutes now past 5:00 on the East Coast.

Time to check our stories making news this morning with Christine Romans.

Hey there.

ROMANS: Good morning, you guys.

I want to get you up to speed on the developing story out of Toulouse, France, this morning, where a gunman has reportedly killed two children and one adult outside of a Jewish school. Witnesses say the gunman sped off on a motor scooter after the shooting.

This is video just in from the scene. French officials have ordered tighter security at all Jewish schools in the country. This is the same area where a soldier was killed by a gunman on a scooter recently. It's not clear if the incidents might be connected.

Tomorrow's Illinois primary shaping up to be a critical battle in the race for the GOP nomination, 54 delegates up for grabs. Mitt Romney coming off a big win in the Puerto Rico primary. It could take a step towards the nomination with a win in Illinois. Rick Santorum insisting he'll be the nominee if he pulls off that upset tomorrow.

A town in Ontario looking like a warzone on St. Patrick's Day. 1,000 rowdy revelers break out in riots. And they're sitting cars on fire, throwing glass bottles at police. Several people were arrested. One woman was reportedly taken to the hospital with burn injuries.

"21 Jump Street" debuts at the top of the weekend box office, earning an estimated $35 million. The film starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum was made for about $45 million. So, that's equal right away.

Dr. Seuss' "The Lorax" fell to second. "John Carter" was third.

And trivia question, ladies. Who -- which big, huge star got his start in the TV show, "21 Jump Street"? Remember?

BANFIELD: Johnny Depp.

ROMANS: I know. It says exactly how old we are by knowing that.

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: Oh, I never get that stuff.

ROMANS: I loved that show.

SAMBOLIN: You jumped on that one so quickly, I figured you were 100 percent right.

BANFIELD: If I didn't get it right, my entire former country where I emigrated from would be livid, because I think that was a Canadian production.

ROMANS: Oh, was it? I didn't know that.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: There you go.

BANFIELD: Christine --

ROMANS: Useless trivia of the morning.

BANFIELD: Twenty minutes now past 5:00 on the East Coast.

U.S. Supreme Court set to argue the president's health care reform law starting next week and the decision could come down to a single vote. The court is split between four liberal justices and five conservatives. And the White House is weighing its options on how to get that crucial fifth vote of approval.

Jeffrey Toobin is CNN's senior legal analyst. He's also the dude who knows everything about the Nine. You wrote the book called "The Nine."

Hi, Jeff.

JEFF TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Good morning.

BANFIELD: Good to see you.

Hey, listen. So, look, we've got a couple of minutes and I don't know how man years you studied constitutional law. So, this is going to be a bit of a sticky wicket to get through this. But essentially, what I'm gathering on this is that the Supreme Court has to decide over the challenges to Obamacare. And it has to do with some clauses that are critical in the Constitution.

TOOBIN: Just one clause. Just one clause is all that matters.

BANFIELD: OK. Which one is it, the Commerce Clause?

TOOBIN: The Commerce Clause.

BANFIELD: Or that other really strange --

TOOBIN: Don't worry about the other. It's the Commerce Clause.

BANFIELD: There's called a Necessary and Proper Clause.

TOOBIN: Necessary and Proper is not really the main part of this case. It's really about the Commerce Clause.

BANFIELD: So, what's it about?

TOOBIN: OK. Congress has to act under its authority in the Constitution. Something in the Constitution has to say Congress has the right to pass any law that it passes. And the authority that it uses in most of the laws that it passes relating to the economy is the Commerce Clause. In Article I, the Constitution says, Congress has the right to regulate commerce among the several states.

What does that mean? What is -- what is the commerce power? Traditionally, that has been a very broad brand of power, particularly when it comes to health care in the economy. Think about -- we have Medicare. We have Medicaid.

The United States government has been deeply involved in regulating health care for decades. The question in this case is the individual mandate, which is the part of Obamacare which says everyone has to have insurance.

BANFIELD: No matter what. TOOBIN: No matter what.

BANFIELD: You have to buy it.

TOOBIN: Correct. And the question is that constitutional under Congress' power in the Commerce Clause.

I think, I wrote an article in "New Yorker" this week, that the answer is clearly yes, because the national market for health insurance is unusual because everybody is part of that economy -- that market, no matter what, because if you buy health insurance, that's how you pay for health care. But if you don't buy health insurance, you're still going to be treated by a hospital if you fall in the street and get hurt. Everybody is going to pay for your health care even if you don't get health insurance.

BANFIELD: So, this is the inactive versus active argument?

TOOBIN: Correct.

BANFIELD: OK, well, can I ask you this?

TOOBIN: Sure.

BANFIELD: Because when it comes to acting on the Supreme Court, we have nine justices.

TOOBIN: Correct.

BANFIELD: Four of them are liberal, considered to be, you know, falling in line on the liberal side. And you can see them on the left, appropriately so on the left-hand side of your screen. On the right-hand side of your screen, five of them, considered to be mostly in the right-hand corner when voting on issues.

But the one who's critical here is Antonin Scalia, as I understand. That's why I brought up that Necessary and Proper Clause because there's some people watching this, Jeff, who say that the briefs and the direction that Obama and the Justice Department are taking, seem to indicate they're pushing this argument to fall into that clause because that man had voted accordingly before and that might be how they can get their conservative vote. Is that crazy?

TOOBIN: Well, it's not crazy, because -- I mean, this case, the scope of federal power has been something that the Supreme Court has dealt with for decades. I mean, this came up a lot during the New Deal. And then after the New Deal, even conservative justices, as you point out, like Justice Scalia, certainly Justice Kennedy who is usually the swing vote in these cases, have voted to approve broad federal powers.

So, the possibility here, and I think it's a legitimate possibility, is that these conservatives might join the liberals in upholding Obamacare because there are different roots to get there in terms of finding constitutional justification. You could find the Commerce Clause. You can find the Necessary and Proper Clause, federal taxing power is also broad. And so, I think the odds do favor this law being upheld. But there are different ways you can do it.

BANFIELD: Well, this is pretty thick and chewy stuff and you did a great job. You ever thought of teaching for a living?

TOOBIN: No.

BANFIELD: You should. I would take your class. I would give this up, all this glamour and getting up 1:00 in the morning to take your class.

TOOBIN: Absolutely. I appreciate it.

BANFIELD: Jeff Toobin, lovely to see you. Thank you.

TOOBIN: See you.

SAMBOLIN: It's always nice to break it down into English. You are absolutely right.

(CROSSTALK)

SAMBOLIN: Twenty-four minutes past the hour.

Ahead on EARLY START, more kooky weather. California, a town there is digging out. A massive, massive mudslide in that area. I think they're predicting more rain, although they are praying for no rain this morning.

And did you hear about Rick Santorum's really bold prediction? He says that he will be the nominee if he wins Illinois tomorrow.

You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Her killing captivated an entire nation. And to this day, JonBenet Ramsey's murder remains unsolved.

BANFIELD: And now, her father is talking about the case and his decision to let his daughter participate in beauty pageants.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN RAMSEY, JONBENET RAMSEY'S FATHER: The point is, you need to protect your children, and not to put them on public display like that. It would be my choice if I had to do it all over again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: More of my interview with John Ramsey, what he has to say about today's toddler and child pageants. And also, the one thing he's been carrying around with him for 15 years. You're going to see it.

You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: It is 29 minutes past 5:00 on the East Coast. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is time to check the stories making news this morning.

BANFIELD: Two children were among three reportedly killed in a shooting outside a Jewish school in Toulouse, France. Witnesses say a man on a scooter opened fire a child drop off zone and then took off. CNN is working to confirm the details. Several other people reportedly injured, as well, by the gunman. Security has been ordered tightened at Jewish schools throughout France.

This incident occurs just days after three soldiers were shot to death by a man on a scooter in the same part of France, but it is not clear at this point if those shootings are connected.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): And tomorrow's Illinois primary shaping up to be a make-or-break battle between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. Romney coming off a big win in Puerto Rico could take a big step toward clinching the nomination with a strong showing in Illinois. While Rick Santorum says the nomination will be his if he pulls off an upset tomorrow.

BANFIELD (voice-over): Forget spring break. Today's a snow day. And that's for kids in Flagstaff, Arizona. That city has received more than a foot of snow to the late winter storm, and it shut down I-40 for almost 200 miles.

SAMBOLIN: And look at this messy, muddy weekend in New Castle, California. Look at there is a minute. About 30 miles northeast to the Sacramento. They are still digging out after a massive mudslide. It had one main road blocked for hours, and some folks in the neighborhood are little jittery this morning, because one heavy rain could threaten several home there.

BANFIELD: North Carolina state pulling off the upset and busting up Brackets, too. The number 11 seed Wolfpack defeated third seed Georgetown, 66-63. It happened on Sunday to advance the NCAA tournament's sweet 16. N.C. State will now play the Kansas Jayhawks on Friday.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Thirty-one minutes past the hour.

The primary in Illinois tomorrow could turn out to be a defining moment in the race for the Republican nomination. Mitt Romney routed Rick Santorum in Puerto Rico in the primary yesterday. He got over 80 percent of the vote, and he gets the full 20 delegates. Santorum, however, sounding surprisingly confident, in spite of that. Hoping for an upset in Illinois, where 54 delegates are at stake, making a bold prediction also, if he pulls it off.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we're able to come out of Illinois with a huge or surprise win, I guarantee you, I guarantee you, we will win this nomination.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: So, Santorum has a long way to go. The delegate count right now. Romney is at 518. Santorum is at 239. So, let's talk to our political panel about this. Live from Washington, D.C., we have Joe Williams, White House reporter for Politico. Nice smile this morning. Here in New York, we have Democratic strategist, John Hlinko, who is being seated. There you are. Good morning to you.

Running a little late this morning. And then, in Chicago, we have Lenny McAllister. Good morning to you. Thanks for being with us, gentlemen. All right. Joe, I'm going to start with you. Santorum isn't even eligible for ten of those Illinois delegates, right? He didn't qualify for the ballots in four out of the 18 districts in Illinois. So, how can he pull off the surprise win that he's talking about?

JOE WILLIAMS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, I mean, he's managed to surprise and confound people before. This one looks like a bit more of a long shot. I ran into a Democratic operative a couple of days ago who said, basically, if Santorum had even a smaller -- small organization -- if he had a better organization even to as minor degree, he'd probably be the frontrunner by now, because he's managed to excite the base.

And he's done a lot of that by hand-to-hand, shaking the hands, plus pressing the flesh, retail politics that Mitt Romney is not so good at. So, it's possible, but his disorganization makes it probably unlikely that he would triumph and collect enough delegates to overcome or at least take a huge bite out of Mitt Romney's lead in Illinois.

SAMBOLIN: And his lack of organization is what got him into this, right?

WILLIAMS: Pretty much, yes. That's what got him into the fix, because it's not like nobody knew when these primaries were going to happen or that the schedule hadn't been set up at least a year and a half, two years in advance, to make sure that everybody had enough time and knew what they needed to do to get every last delegate that they qualify for.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Lenny, I'm going to switch gears over to you. So, Romney was talking about the math, right? And this was last week that he was talking about that. He's talking about delegate math again on Fox News. Let's listen, and then, we're going to chat about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know a lot of people will talk about delegates and strategies and math, and that's all very interesting to the insiders. But I think the American people want to see someone who has the leadership, skill, and experience to defeat the president. I can't tell you exactly how the process is going to work, but I bet (ph) I'm going to become the nominee. I sure hope I'm going to become the nominee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: So, Lenny, he knows that he has to get the delegates in order to win. And the polling is showing that it's a very tight race. What's that play in Illinois?

LENNY MCALLISTER, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: What's it play is, once again, being able to excite voters. And, he's actually pivoting away from talking about that delegate math, because if you remember what it looked like coming out of southern Tuesday last week, he was talking about how it was inevitable that the delegate math would not allow anybody else other than him to win the nomination.

Well, that didn't play very well. Voters don't want to be excited about delegate math. They want to be excited about leadership. So, what he's trying to do right now is pivot away from that. He should still win, obviously, the majority of delegates here should he win Illinois tomorrow, but he also needs to excite people.

He needs to finally coalesced a base, get them behind him so that as he moves into Yankee primary when coming into April and some of these other states going to the District of Columbia in April, et cetera, he can have momentum. He still does not have the momentum of the people to drive him.

He's going to need the Tea Party momentum, which is really big here in Illinois and other segments of the conservative base behind them so that by the time he gets to Tampa, he's not trying to forge alliances. He's trying to invigorate those alliances that he's forming now in the spring to go after President Obama in the fall.

SAMBOLIN: You know what, I want to ask you one more question, and it's about Santorum, that big loss that he sustained in Puerto Rico because of the English language requirement there. Is that something that could actually help him in Illinois, do you think?

MCALLISTER: I think it will help him down state. Now, Rick Santorum stayed consistent with this. He tried his best to ride the line, be consistent with his message, but be respectful to the cultural uniqueness of Puerto Rico.

At the same time, you look at this other side, Mitt Romney, who has a reputation of flip-flopping, said he wanted English to be the official language of the United States at one point in time, goes down to Puerto Rico and completely backs away from that position. That situation right there will play well for Rick Santorum in regards to consistency and painting Mitt Romney as a flip-flopper.

Will it be enough in Illinois? Maybe, maybe not. Will it be something that will come up later on in his campaign trail? Absolutely.

SAMBOLIN: All right. I'll be curious to see how he does in Southern Illinois, so we'll watch that. John, I'm going to switch to you, and we're going to talk about gas prices. Again, we just showed a little while ago that they're actually swinging upwards again. Economists say that the president can't do much to affect prices, right?

But tell that to 54 percent of the people who believe in president can do a lot to control gas prices. Charles Krauthammer is saying this as well.

"Yes, of course, presidents have no direct control over gas prices, but the American people know something about this president and his disdain for oil. To the American worker who doesn't commute by government motorcade and is getting fleeced every week at the pump, oil seems very much a fuel of the present and of the foreseeable future."

So, this affects people's wallets, obviously. What can President Obama do in order to ease this pain at the pump?

JOHN HLINKO, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, the reality is, there's not a heck of a lot he can do, at least, in the short-term. I mean, people would like to believe that the president has a magic wand that he can wave, and you know? I mean --

BANFIELD: But the perception is there, right? What can you do to fight that perception? Fifty-four percent of Americans believe that it is the president's fault.

HLINKO: Well, there is some talk about releasing some oil from the strategic petroleum reserve, which could help fight the perception. In other words, show kind of action. Whether or not it makes sense is another question, but that is one thing that could help. It could, at least, let people know that he's trying to do something.

I think the reality is, we buy a lot of oil from some pretty dangerous places, and there's going to be shutoffs and there's going to be tensions in the Middle East that's going to drive up prices. All of the talk of war in Iran, that drives up prices. Frankly, the mishandled war in Iraq is still hurting us, because Iraq could have been producing more oil and that could have driven down the price.

But, you know, trying to explain that in a 30-second, you know, sound byte, it's not easy. I suspect the president will open up the strategic petroleum reserve or at least some oil and that should help the perception, at least.

SAMBOLIN: All right. We're going to talk a lot about that later. Thank you so much, gentlemen. Joe, Lenny, John, thanks for being with us. We'll see you again on the six o'clock hour.

MCALLISTER: Thanks, Zoraida.

HLINKO: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: And CNN's coverage of the Illinois primary begins tomorrow night at 7:00 eastern with Erin Burnett, then it's followed by live coverage of the primary results at 8:00 with Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper, and the CNN political team.

BANFIELD: Thirty-eight minutes now past 5:00 on the east coast. Coming up, my one-on-one interview with John Ramsey, JonBenet's father. Can you believe if she were alive today, she would be 21 years old. What is it like when John Ramsey comes into contact with some of her friend who are 21? I'll ask him that question. You'll find out.

Also, did Fidel Castro know that JFK would be assassinated before it happened? We'll have that story as well. You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: It was 16 years ago that this image of a six-year-old beauty queen was splashed across every supermarket tabloid in this country. Her murder, a mystery that no one seems to be able to solve. JonBenet Ramsey's parents would be under an umbrella of suspicion for a decade and a half.

It's hard to believe, but today, JonBenet would be 21 years old. And although, her family has been cleared of suspicion, the killer may still be out there. I had a chance to sit down with JonBenet's dad, Jon Ramsey. We talked about his brand-new book, "The Other Side of Suffering," about his remarkable journey back from the brink and his new outlook on life.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN RAMSEY, JONBENET RAMSEY'S FATHER: I've learned a lot about suffering, about recovery. I've learned about how your faith is challenged when you suffer tragedy. And my eyes have also been opened to the fact that everybody carries a burden. And so, I want to share that.

BANFIELD: When I met you, I didn't expect to meet a happy person, but I really kind of feel like I met a happy person. Is that true?

RAMSEY: Yes. I can say that I have joy in my life, which I think is a deeper appreciation of what life's all about, what your purpose is, where you're going to life, what the future holds. There was a period of time when I was so angry that if I'd knew who he was, we wouldn't need a trial, and I would have no remorse. But that anger has passed to a point now where I want to know why? Why did this happen to my child?

BANFIELD: How did you get there?

RAMSEY: Well, it took a long time, and I spent a lot of time thinking about and reading about the whole topic of forgiveness. And then, I realize that forgiveness, really, is a gift that I give myself. It's a letting go. It's moving on. It has nothing to do with, of course, you're forgiving -- maybe not want to be forgiven, not even know you forgiven, but it's a release.

BANFIELD: What would you want people to know about JonBenet?

RAMSEY: She was so much more than a beauty queen that she's been tagged, and it really hurts when she's tagged that way because that was just a small element of her life. She was energetic. She was incredibly smart. Just an amazing, young child.

BANFIELD: You used to call her Johnny B.

RAMSEY: Yes, Johnny B. She lit the room up and not everybody -- I remember one day, I came home from work, and I was kind of crying about something. She said, dad, I don't like that face. So, I put on a smile. She said, that's better. That is just who she was.

BANFIELD: Attitude adjustment.

RAMSEY: Yes, total.

BANFIELD: Speaking of those, you see these programs on cable, "Toddlers & Tiaras."

RAMSEY: Yes. it called a little bit of that.

BANFIELD: When you see those programs, what do you think?

RAMSEY: I don't care for them at all. And that was certainly not the world in a JonBenet and Patsy participated in back then. That was 15 years ago. When Patsy and JonBenet did it, there was always a talent component to the program. And the only people there were grandparents and moms and dads.

BANFIELD: Not coaches.

RAMSEY: No coaches.

BANFIELD: Costume designers.

RAMSEY: No. No. And, but now that they put it -- made a television show out of it, it's pretty questionable. That's a good idea. I don't think it is.

BANFIELD: Do you regret that JonBenet was even in a small part of that world?

RAMSEY: Well, in a sense. You know, we questioned it for a while. Was that the reason we were targeted? Was there someone in that audience that looked at her in a different way than they should have?

BANFIELD: Do you think that's --

RAMSEY: I don't think so. No, I don't. But we certainly wondered that. But I think the point is that you need to protect your children to not put them on public display like that. It would be my choice if I had to do over again.

BANFIELD: You carry a medal in your wallet?

RAMSEY: Yes.

BANFIELD: To this day?

RAMSEY: Yes.

BANFIELD: What's it for?

RAMSEY: Well, it was a medal that JonBenet won five days before she was killed for a talent contest. I always to tell her when she'd do these little pageant that, you know, just focus on your talent the best you can. They didn't matter. The rest doesn't matter. It was kind of a thing between us.

I went to the events. I was late, and she already had the contest. She won this all talent award. She came running up to me and said, Daddy, I won this for you and put it around my neck. It was just a little silver dollar medal. And after she died, in my mind, I want that medal, because we never went back in the house.

BANFIELD: Never?

RAMSEY: Never. But I wanted to get that medal at some time. And I just had that thought in my mind and tell me -- my sister, Pam, went back to the house to get clothes for us and came back after a few hours and came up to me where we were staying and said, John, I just felt this overwhelming need to bring this to you.

And it was the medal. And to me, there's a touch of heaven. It was reassurance, to me, that JonBenet was OK. She knew her father needed some help. I cried, but I cried with tears of joy when I got this.

BANFIELD: You should be a much more bitter person.

RAMSEY: Well, I heard a sermon once that said you can be, after tragedy, bitter, broken, barren or better. And, the opportunity is to be better.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD: John happened just mentioned to me that recently, he bumped into an old friend of JonBenet's from back in the day when she was six years old, and that friend is 21 and getting married. So, I asked him, do you imagine JonBenet at 21? And he said, absolutely not. She's frozen in time at the age of six years old.

So difficult to go through these details, Zoraida. He seems like such a good man and such positive man despite --

SAMBOLIN: I was going to say that. It comes across, right? And you always wonder, how do parents survive something like that? And for him to say that he found his joy again, remarkable. And I think an inspiration to a lot of people.

BANFIELD: Yes. No, without --

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: And the book is great. So, I highly recommend. Take a look.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you. Thank you for that.

And still ahead on EARLY START, it's an ugly scene in Greece. Soccer fans riot. They actually set the stadium on fire. Nine police officers were wounded there. We're going to have all the details. You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Fifty-one minutes past the hour. It's time to check the stories making news this morning. Here's Christine Romans. Good morning again.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, ladies.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS (voice-over): Let's go to France first where three people, including two children were killed by a gunman on a motor scooter outside of a Jewish school in Toulouse. French officials have ordered tightened security at Jewish schools throughout the country.

There are 54 key delegates up for grab in tomorrow's Illinois primary. Mitt Romney coming off of a big win in Puerto Rick nearly halfway to the 1,144 delegates needed, but Rick Santorum insists he'll be the party's nominee if he pulls off the upset tomorrow.

Soccer fans set the Olympic stadium in Athens on fire when a riot breaks out at a game. Fifty people arrested, 20 police officers hurt. The game was obviously canceled early.

A new book written by a retired CIA officer claims Fidel Castro may have known ahead of time that John F. Kennedy was going to be assassinated. Brian Latell, the CIA's former national intelligence former for Latin America, says the Cuban dictator ordered a senior aide to stop his usual surveillance of CIA radio signals, and instead, listen for any details out of Texas. This was three hours before JFK was killed.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS (on-camera): So, the controversy continues.

BANFIELD: Oh, the conspiracy theorists. I can hear them banging down the door, Christine.

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: I can hear them buying books.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: Yes, there you go. Thank you, Christine Romans.

It is 52 minutes now past 5:00. And still to come, Republicans seizing on this gas issue, but are the promises of cheaper gas as empty as your car's tank?

SAMBOLIN: Plus, severe weather rips through parts of Oklahoma. There are reports of at least one tornado. You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. Mitt Romney rules in Puerto Rico, and he's hoping for more of the same tomorrow in Illinois.

BANFIELD: And while he's got to fend off attacks from his GOP rivals, he's still a popular target in late-night, too.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Mitt Romney is still trying to change his image as an out of touch rich guy. I don't think it's working. He (INAUDIBLE) today. He took the silver spoon out of his mouth and added bronze.

(LAUGHTER)

LENO: Yes, tone it down a little bit.

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": Romney tweeted a link to a playlist, which is a list of his favorite songs on the music website's spotafly (ph). The playlist includes the sound from Toby Keith, the Beach Boys, Carrie Underwood, two songs from the Killers, and the song, "Born Free" by Kid Rock. Can you imagine any scenario in which Mitt Romney puts ear buds in and fires up the Kid Rock?

(LAUGHTER)

KIMMEL: I can't even imagine him putting ear buds in, to be honest with you. Mitt Romney doesn't listen to Kid Rock. In fact, I think we all know what Mitt Romney's favorite song is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who let the dogs out? Who? Who?

(LAUGHTER)

KIMMEL: I will never get tired of that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD: Who let the dogs out?

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: All right --

BANFIELD: Can't catch a break.

SAMBOLIN: Fifty-six minutes past the hour here. Still to come on EARLY START, Illinois primary up for grabs here. Fifty-four delegates are at stake. Santorum claims the nomination could be his after tomorrow, but what will it take for him to achieve that?

BANFIELD: And you got to see your screen. If you're brushing your teeth, look at this. 200 miles of an interstate shut down in Arizona. I did say Arizona.

SAMBOLIN: It's a winter wonderland, but that's in Flagstaff. They're used to that weather, but not this time of year, right?

BANFIELD: Look at this. More than a foot of snow and even more could be on the way, and we're March? Arizona? You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)