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FBI To Probe Florida Teen's Death; The Battle For Illinois; Tough Talk Between Santorum And Romney; GOP Proposes New Tax Plan; Tornado Damage In Texas; Bargain Hunter at 14; The Battle for Illinois; Cruise Ship Crashes In Fog; Apple Sells Three Million New iPads

Aired March 20, 2012 - 06:00   ET



ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And a good morning to you. Welcome to 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 6:00 a.m. in the east here so let's get started.

BANFIELD: Federal prosecutors and the FBI now investigating the killing of an unarmed teenager by a neighborhood watch captain in Florida. That teenager's parents say race was a factor. The teenager was black. The shooter was white. The 911 calls captured the teenager's final moments.

SAMBOLIN: Voters in Illinois will start heading to the polls in about one hour. The outcome of this primary could be critical because in 18 hours, the race for the Republican nomination could be clinched or in a state of total chaos.

BANFIELD: And a moment of silence in France, happening right now remembering the victims from yesterday's Jewish school shooting. The shootings triggered fears of a possible attack on synagogues and other Jewish targets right here in this country.

SAMBOLIN: And nasty weather hammering the heartland. Texas and Oklahoma getting some of the worst of it. Take a look at that, a tornado touched down in the lone star state, right near San Antonio. There are reports of significant damage.

BANFIELD: With grieving parents begging for justice, the FBI is now investigating the shooting death of an unarmed teenager in Florida.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trayvon's crying!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who's that crying?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trayvon's crying!


BANFIELD: Nearly 100 students and friends of Trayvon Martin gathered outside of a Florida courthouse yesterday. They were demanding justice for the black teenager who was shot and killed last month by George Zimmerman.

He's a neighborhood watch captain who was patrolling his gated community in Sanford and admitted to pulling the trigger. The teen's parents say they believe race was a factor in their son's death.

The Justice Department releasing a statement saying, "The department will conduct a thorough independent review of all the evidence and will take appropriate action at the conclusion of the investigation."

In a 911 call from the area, you can hear screams and you can hear the fatal shot too.


UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: So you think he's yelling help?


UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: All right. What is your --

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: There's gunshots.

UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: You just heard gunshots?





SAMBOLIN: Zimmerman hasn't been charged and claims it was self- defense even though another call shows he followed the teenager even after the police told him to back off.

Trayvon Martin's family wants him arrested so a jury can decide whether he is innocent or guilty. The state's controversial stand your ground self-defense law could make that difficult.

BANFIELD: Joining us now on the phone is Criminal Defense Attorney Midwin Charles. So Midwin, weigh on this with me if you can. When the DOJ gets involved, are they looking to solve this crime or are they looking at the police officers who perhaps allegedly didn't solve this crime? What is their mission?

MIDWIN CHARLES, LEGAL ANALYST (via telephone): Good morning, Ashleigh. Their mission is both. What they do is they initially focused on the investigation whether local authorities proper -- followed proper protocol and they looked to see whether or not there was any specific intent to try to hide facts, to try to shield and protect Zimmerman as opposed to actually focusing on the crime.

BANFIELD: There's no federal murder statute, right, so I guess Midwin, my question is, can they come in? Can they sort of proverbially swoop in and somehow get a murder case on the books?

CHARLES: Not particularly, no. Usually when you have federal murder charges, they are usually wrapped up into something else, such as drug trafficking, rico cases and things like that.

However, there are federal civil rights charges and George Zimmerman can possibly face that, but of course, as you know the Department of Justice has put out as well as the U.S. Attorney's Office, so you've got two federal agencies involved here that are going to work jointly and together.

And they both have often said that this focus is on specific intent, and not negligence, recklessness or mistakes or accidents. So you're almost seeing a sort of reluctance on the part of the FBI and the Department of Justice to get involved in this, but I don't see how they couldn't, given the national outcry of what happened here.

BANFIELD: Sure. When the politics comes into it, the DOJ also said it's going to work hand in hand with the state representatives.


BANFIELD: Can they sort of push the state, push them politically or otherwise to maybe forward something akin to a murder case?

CHARLES: You know, they can't. You know, there is a separation of powers here, which is why you see a sort of reluctance on the part of the United States Department of Justice and the FBI --

BANFIELD: That's why I said politically.

CHARLES: What they can do is kind of perhaps point out to them what they overlooked, errors that they made, and so it would be a glaring embarrassment to them if they didn't pursue George Zimmerman and arrest him.

There are a lot of facts that are coming out that clearly an obvious person investigating this case would have done, for example, no alcohol test was run on George Zimmerman that night, no drug test was run on him that night, which is typical in a case where you have a homicide.

There's also talk that there was a cell phone that Trayvon Martin was carrying that day because he had just spoke within a family member. Where is that cell phone? Why wasn't it used to locate his body?

Remember his body was sitting in a morgue for three days as a John Doe. His family didn't even know where he was. Remember, they initially reported him as missing. So there are a lot of things that are glaring, that are obvious. That were not done and typically done in a normal case.

And of course, I don't have to tell you if the roles were reversed, i.e., if the victim were white and the alleged perpetrator black, this would be an entirely different story.

BANFIELD: Yes, and that's been a complaint by a lot of people so we'll see what the feds come up with. Midwin, great of you jump in last minute and weigh in on this. Thank you.

CHARLES: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: It is 6 minutes past the hour here. Polls open in one hour in Illinois and in the spirit of Chicago politics, the tone is turning decisively nasty.

Fifty four delegates is up for grabs in Illinois. Santorum is still saying that he will get the nomination if he pulls off an upset today.

American Research Group poll conducted over the weekend shows Mitt Romney with 44 percent of the vote, 14 points ahead of Rick Santorum. Listen to the two GOP frontrunners turning up the volume a bit.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not an economic lightweight. President Obama is. We're not going to be successful in replacing an economic lightweight with another economic lightweight. We have to replace him with someone who knows how to run this economy.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I heard Governor Romney here to call me an economic lightweight because I wasn't a Wall Street financier, like he was. Do you really believe this country wants to elect a Wall Street financier as the president of the United States?


SAMBOLIN: So let's look at the delegate scoreboard here. Romney has 519, Santorum 239, Gingrich 138, and Ron Paul 69. And a footnote here that Romney is outspending in ads 7:1 in Illinois.

BANFIELD: Not just him, but his "Super PAC." You put them together that's unbelievable although that's kind of a trend with him, right?

SAMBOLIN: Yes, it is, and a lot of money.

BANFIELD: Still squeakers, we're still here. They should be trouncing these guys with that kind of money, Romney.

All right, so let's talk a little bit about some money, shall we? House Republicans set to unveil their 2013 budget today and the proposal will be presented by Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

And if you get your "Wall Street Journal," go on, check it out. It is on your front doorstep, it has an opinion piece explaining his plan.

SAMBOLIN: It's actually right here. "The GOP Budget and America's Future" for you. Christine Romans has been looking at this very carefully this morning.


SAMBOLIN: And what are they proposing in this plan?

ROMANS: Well, a couple of things here. Now this is a big remake of the U.S. tax code. What Paul Ryan and the GOP here are proposing $4 trillion in cuts over 10 years. How does that compare with the president?

The president's budget proposed $1.1 trillion cuts over 10 years so $4 trillion over 10 years or $1.1 trillion. It shows you that Paul Ryan is serious about slimming down the size of government and cutting, cutting spending and programs.

First of all, he would also collapse six income tax brackets into two, a 10 percent tax bracket and 25 percent. It's not clear how much money you have to make to fall into those, but it would be tax brackets, 10 and 25.

He would get rid of the alternative minimum tax. Something that middle class families scream about and it costs a lot of money to patch every single year, he'll get rid of that. Also, he would cut the corporate tax rate to 25 percent.

This is the GOP proposal. Cut it to 25 percent and eliminate taxes on overseas earnings. Putting the U.S. in what's called a territorial tax code, something that companies would really like.

Now Paul Ryan, Congressman Ryan and the GOP have put together a series of I'll call them web interstials, little web videos -- in plain spoken language show you how serious they are about cutting America's huge and growing deficits and debts. Here's a little clip.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE BUDGET COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Our debt as a share of the economy is already too high, but look at where it's going. These are actually pretty conservative estimates. We face a crushing burden of debt.


ROMANS: So he's got a new video out today. He's got some other ones you can look at as well. I'm going to tweet links to those if you want to take a look.

What's going to the political part here is Medicare and Medicaid. Our president didn't touch entitlements in his budget. The GOP does. Some big changes to Medicare and Medicaid.

Nothing for current recipients but after 2022 there would be some major changes, very different approaches. Paul Ryan, Congressman Ryan says there are inexcusable wastes in Medicare. We must fix it.

And Democrats right away are saying he's favoring millionaires over Medicare. So there's going to be a lot of fire and brimstone over that I'll tell you.

SAMBOLIN: He's very passionate about this. Thank you very much, Christine. It makes fun for us because we get the material to work with.

ROMANS: The fire and brimstone is great for me because I have to fact check it all. I love doing that.

All right, 10 minutes past the hour here. Severe storms on the first day of spring hammering the nation's mid section. Last night a tornado touched down in South Central Texas.

It is right near San Antonio. We are so sorry about that for you guys, part of the long line of storms actually stretching from Texas to Minnesota.

BANFIELD: It means Rob Marciano is busy, up all night I guess in the CNN Weather Center. Are they out of the serious watches and warnings or where do they stand there?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, the line itself is moving slowly to the east, so slowly that we've had a problem with flooding as well in an area that's been plagued with drought, so that's good news, but all at one is obviously not the best news.

Three reports of tornadoes just south of San Antonio, as you mentioned, some damage there in Divine and this line is moving off to the east fairly rapidly.

Here are a look at the rainfall totals, these are records set and across Texas, Missouri and Oklahoma, Waco almost four inches, Joplin, Missouri, seeing over three inches and over three inches in Oklahoma City and Tulsa nearly that as well.

So here is the radar, severe thunderstorm watch out for much of Southeast Texas for the next few hours. Dallas you're seeing heavier rain, some pockets of flooding there. We've flash flood warnings that are out for just east of San Antonio and just southwest of Joplin, Missouri as well.

Up to another six inches possible as this line slowly moves off to the east as we go on to the next 12 to 24 hours. It doesn't really get past the Mississippi River so intense flood threat right here is going to be ongoing and the threat for severe weather with potentially damaging winds and maybe tornadoes today.

East of the Mississippi, we're still 20 to 30 degrees above average. Incredible pollen counts and temperatures near 70 degrees in New York City and mid 80s, record breaking heat for Atlanta. Guys, spring is here.

BANFIELD: Happy first day of spring, Rob.

MARCIANO: Likewise.

SAMBOLIN: And that's generally outrage in New York, why food donations to the homeless are being blocked by the mayor?

BANFIELD: And as if you didn't mean to hear this. Another accident at sea, look at the damage on this big vessel. It's a luxury cruise liner, not such a luxury to be on it. How did it crash into a containership? We'll tell you.

SAMBOLIN: OK, parents listen up to this one, housing bust or investment opportunity. A 14-year-old Florida girl now a proud homeowner.


SAMBOLIN: I woke up my 13-year-old to watch. You need to do it as well. You are watching EARLY START. She has one year to get it together.


SAMBOLIN: Good morning, Miami. It is 73 degrees right now, partly cloudy. Later, you're going all the way up to 83 degrees but you're going to get some rain with that.

Here's a reason that we are in Miami. When the housing market went belly up in south Florida, some turned the crisis into an opportunity. In January of this year, Willow Tufano became a homeowner.

She spotted this great bargain in Port Charlotte, it's easily describe as a fixer upper, needed a lot of work and it was headed for foreclosure and on the market for just $12,000.

Guess what, folks? Willow Tufano is just 14 years old. She bought the home along with her mom. They now rent it out.

And Willow Tufano and her mother, Shannon Moore, joining us live from Naples, Florida.

Shannon is a real estate agent, we understand.

Thank you, ladies, for being up so early.

Willow, I'm going to start with you. Where did you get the money for a down payment on a house?

WILLOW TUFANO, 14 YEAR OLD HOMEOWNER AND LANDLORD: Well, I saved it up by selling things on Craigslist that I found, that I bought from garage sales, that I found on the side of the road, garbage day, auctions, Craigslist, eBay, Freecycle, just a lot of different places, and I saved that to buy a house.

SAMBOLIN: So, Shannon, I understand that some of the homes that you had in foreclosure perhaps is where Willow got this idea to go ahead and sell some of the items that were in that home. Is that true?

SHANNON MOORE, 14 YEAR OLD DAUGHTER BOUGHT HOME: Yes, it is. She -- I have investors who buy foreclosed properties and sometimes they leave behind items. And generally my investors put stainless steel appliances in the properties, and if the appliances are white or black, they usually, they don't want them so they give them to Willow to sell.

SAMBOLIN: OK. So, we're showing some pictures right now of the house I believe that you bought, the before and afters of it. Tell us, Willow, how you chose that house?

TUFANO: Well, I heard my mom talking about it with my dad at the dinner table. They said a house for $12,000, and that sort of caught my attention. I was like -- I asked my mom, I have $6,000. Would you like to buy it with me? And it was sort of a surprise in the beginning. So --

BANFIELD: Willow, I have a 13-year-old son --

TUFANO: Pretty much the price was the big thing.

BANFIELD: I have a 13-year-old son and if he had $6,000 in the bank, the last thing that he would want to do is buy real estate. So, how did that conversation happen? Why did you say I want to spend it on this particular thing?

TUFANO: Well, I think it's sort of that I have an influence from my grandmother and my mom, because they both are in the real estate business, and I've been doing online school for about two years now, and I'm able to go around with them and see the different things that they see. And I think it's interesting, actually, not very many people do my age, but it really is.

SAMBOLIN: I'm really proud of you and I imagine, Shannon, you are as well. It's apparent your daughter is an out-of-the-box thinker, but it's not just about self-gain, right? She did something unusual for her birthday. Tell us about that.

MOORE: Well, she -- I think it was her 11th or 12th birthday -- she rented three different inflatables. They were $300 and she talked the person down to $150, half price, for the inflatables, and invited half the school to her birthday party. But the deal was is they had to either bring cash or supplies for the cats and dogs at the animal shelter. So, everything for that birthday went to support the animal shelter.

SAMBOLIN: So, Willow, I know that you are -- is it 12 or 13 years old?

TUFANO: The birthday party?

SAMBOLIN: Are you 14 now?

TUFANO: I'm 14, yes.

SAMBOLIN: OK, what's in store for you? Do you have any ideas of what you want to do when you grow up?

TUFANO: I do not really know. I know I want to do investing, and I want to go to college to get my business and marketing degree. But I'm not really certain on what I want to do. I do know - not really as a job but I'd also like to foster animals. So pretty much investing and fostering animals are what I have in plan for now.

SAMBOLIN: Well, I'm sure that there is a lot in store for your future. Shannon and Willow, thank you so much for getting up nice and early with us. We wish you all the luck in the world.

And good job, mom, really good job.

TUFANO: Thank you.

MOORE: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: We have a lot to learn from this lady, both of these ladies.

We'll be right back. You're watching EARLY START.


STEPHEN YEUN, ACTOR: Hi, I'm Stephen Yeun and I am on "The Walking Dead." This is my trailer and where I spend most of my time.

When you're traveling and going to be there for a long while, it's so important to make where you're at home. My guitar always made it feel like home because I always have something to tinker with.

I have this program called sleep cycle, and it wakes you up within a 30-minute window based on how much movement you have on your bed, because it determines whether you're in deep sleep so you don't wake up groggy.

For me there are times when you get into remote locations. When you don't have Internet, it's just great to get away, especially doing something like "The Walking Dead" and you sliced a zombie in half.

So, those are my traveling tips for when you're traveling or fighting zombies. Bye.



BANFIELD: The GOP battling in earnest for the president's home state. So how is that going, huh? The polls are going to open in just about half an hour. Candidates throwing big blows over the economy. So, did anybody stumble yesterday?

SAMBOLIN: You're going to let us know I'm sure.

And shooting at four miles high into the sky. Look at that -- Italy's Mt. Etna comes to life again.

You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: It is 29 minutes now past 6:00. Welcome back to EARLY START.

Great to have you here with us. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

Time to check the stories making news this morning.

Some nasty old-fashioned, Chicago-style politics as polls open in Illinois 30 minutes from now. Fifty-four critical delegates are up for grabs in today's primary. The two GOP front-runners questioning each other's credentials to stir the economy -- Romney calling Santorum an economic lightweight, and Santorum referring to his rival as, quote, "a Wall Street financier."

BANFIELD: Federal investigators and the FBI are now investigating the shooting of an unarmed teenager by a neighborhood watch captain in Florida. Students are protesting and demanding justice for that student Trayvon Martin. His parents are saying that race was a factor in his death. The shooter, George Zimmerman, says he acted in self-defense and has not been arrested by local authorities.

The Justice Department releasing this same saying, "The department will conduct a thorough and independent review of all of the evidence and take appropriate action at the conclusion of the investigation."

SAMBOLIN: Brand new information this morning in that deadly shooting at a Jewish school in the south of France. Tough pictures to watch there.

French official telling local media the gunman may have recorded the rampage. He had a video camera strapped to his chest. Four people, three students and a teacher, were gunned down right outside the school. A moment of silence was held today for the victims.

Molten lava spewing from Italy's Mt. Etna. Look at your screen, folks, it's a plume of ash and smoke pillowing out of the top and stretching four miles long. Surprisingly, though, airports are all OK. Nobody affected.

This is Europe's tallest and most active volcano, too.

SAMBOLIN: The U.S. is considering a plan to require court warrants from Afghan authorities before embarking on any nighttime raids. That is according to a report in "The Wall Street Journal." Afghan officials have been upset about the raids for years now. The compromise is being discussed just nine days after U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales allegedly killed 16 Afghan civilians, in a nighttime shooting rampage.

BANFIELD: It is 31 minutes past 6:00 on the East Coast.

Bill Clinton won the White House back in 1992, many say on the strength of four simple words -- "It's the economy, stupid."

Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum appear to have gotten that point, too, because it seems to be their focus as Illinois voters prepared to head to the polls in about 28 minutes from now. Mitt Romney is leading Rick Santorum by 14 points in the latest poll.

Take a look at your screen. He's at 44 percent of the Illinois voters there, the GOP voters, and Rick Santorum just sitting at 30.

Both sides are making their own statements about the economy, and how important it is in this race. They're trying to win over the voters obviously, but they just might have stepped in it a little bit. A little bit.

Live now from Wheaton, Illinois, CNN's political editor Paul Steinhauser joins us. Also, in Washington, Democratic strategist Penny Lee is with us live. And in Austin, Texas, Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak joining us again on the program.

All right. You three, let me start with Paul.

Paul, I say it all the time, so exciting another race tonight. This one Illinois, I feel like a broken record, 69 delegates, 54 at stake. But you know something? I feel like --


BANFIELD: I'm telling, I'm a broken record, I'm oft repeated. So, it rolls off my tongue.

It's not a winner take all state. It is a proportional state yet again -- which means we're not going to possibly have the big whoomph that any of these candidate wants and needs.

So, what are we going to get out of Illinois?

STEINHAUSER: We may get a little momentum, especially -- listen, if Mitt Romney wins here, he's supposed to win Michigan, he was supposed to win Ohio, he did that. He needs to win here. That is job number one for him.

But let's look at the other picture. What if Rick Santorum pulls out an upset victory here? Then, it really could change the dynamic. That's why I know -- maybe I sound like a broken but that's why Illinois is so important today and a must watch state.

Listen, Mitt Romney has been winning the moderate states and Rick Santorum has been winning the more conservative states. We saw that with Alabama and Mississippi last Tuesday. This is a more moderate, to a degree more moderate Republican electorate.

Mitt Romney needs to win here, especially where I am, suburban Chicago, a lot of voters up here. This is a part of state where Mitt Romney needs to perform, perform well, where we think Rick Santorum will do better in the conservative south.

BANFIELD: Do we see somebody poling in a 14-point lead losing?

STEINHAUSER: Not at all. Two polls with double digit leads for Romney. I'm trying to make this exciting. Work with me here. Work with me.

BANFIELD: Just your sheer presence, my friend, at 6:30 in the morning in Illinois is very exciting to me. I'm thankful for everything you do.

Let me switch gears a little bit because Mitt Romney was on the stump yesterday talking about the economic recovery. I did not expect to hear this from one of the GOP candidates. I will say that flat out so when I did hear it, my ears perked right up.

Let me, let you hear what Mitt Romney had to say about our current economic situation.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe the economy is coming back, by the way. We'll see what happens. It's had ups and downs. I think it's finally coming back.


BANFIELD: Penny, I thought of you immediately, because I wondered how many commercial production houses are cutting that sound bite right now for the Democrats in the general election.

PENNY LEE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Oh, absolutely. We would love to be repeating Mitt Romney's words, and the praise that he has for the fact that the Obama administration's policies that were put into place are actually now starting to work. I mean, it's going to be very interesting to see how Mitt Romney actually now kind of maybe backtracks from that, because he's trying to have it both ways.

On the one side he wants to say oh, Obama's leadership has been horrible, awful, and we haven't been able to do anything, but at the same time, the economy is recovering. So how does he square away both of those facts? So, it's going to be interesting to see what he says going forward. This is an economic election.

BANFIELD: Here's my guess, he runs a longer part of the sound bite but says it's not good enough yet or as fast enough. That's fair. He does make that argument, we shouldn't have been in this situation in the first place.

Matt, let me turn to you for a moment here. When I was listening to Rick Santorum, I thought he's having a Romney moment when we talked about unemployment and when I was a Romney moment, that was the moment he had right here in the studio with Soledad O'Brien when he says I'm not worried about poor people and had to deal with a lot of damage control.

Let's listen to Rick Santorum's reference to unemployment.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't care what the unemployment rate's going to be. It doesn't matter to me. My campaign doesn't hinge on unemployment and growth rates. There's something more foundational that's going on here.


BANFIELD: So there. You have it. It's harsh to hear at the beginning. He does provide the context. But context or not, is that troublesome?

MATT MACKOWIAK, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think it's a little bit troublesome. You never want to say something like that, people will use it against you, and there's a lot of economic anxiety out there right now. You know, people are seeing gas prices reach above $4 a gallon, expecting them maybe to get to $5 this summer which is really placing hardship on a lot of people. Seeing the unemployment rate be while it's improving slightly in terms of statistics, people feel like it's difficult to find a job. A lot of people have been unemployed for a very long time.

So, when you hear a comment like that, it makes Santorum somewhat a little bit out of touch or a little bit sort of unfeeling and that's something that's not helpful, because Santorum's appeal has always been to the blue collar worker.


MACKOWIAK: While Romney's appeal has been to the wealthier group of Republican primary voter answer that's what's so interesting about Illinois, it is a Midwestern state, to some extent a blue collar state in the suburbs around Chicago, but also down state where Santorum will be strong.

BANFIELD: They're not going to want to hear the business about unemployment.

MACKOWIAK: They're not going to want to hear that. So, tonight's an opportunity for Romney to really gain some momentum and you have Louisiana coming up from Santorum could have a win.

BANFIELD: And you know what? I just feel for these guys because talking as much as they have to do all day every day and sleep on a bus, et cetera, et cetera, I'm amazed they don't make more gaffes. I like these guys and want to give them a big long leash on this one.

Paul, Penny, Matt, thank you. Nice to see you all.

MACKOWIAK: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: It is 37 minutes past the hour here.

"Desperate Housewives" star Eva Longoria is doing her part to try and get President Obama reelected. She's been named a special co- chair for the Obama campaign and has raised as much as $500,000. Eva Longoria sat down with our Soledad O'Brien to talk about her role and how Hollywood and politics often collide.


EVAN LONGORIA, CO-CHAIR, OBAMA 2012 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think us celebrities in Hollywood get a bad rap for wanting to get politically involved. But the truth is I'm an American citizen before I'm anything else. And I have a voice and I have platform and I want to use it.

And I've always been involved politically and I find that a lot of celebrities or a lot of actors or a lot of entertainers who want to get behind a certain candidate can do so because that's their right as an American citizen.


SAMBOLIN: There is more. You can see the rest of Soledad's interview with Eva Longoria at 8:20 Eastern on "STARTING POINT."

BANFIELD: Thirty-eight minutes now past 6:00.

We're minding your business this morning, with gas prices.

And guess what? They're up. AAA just announcing the new national average for gas now $3.85 a gallon. It's up just about half a cent, not quite, though, but it's getting closer and closer to the $4 a gallon mark. Oil prices are still high, $107 a barrel right now for light sweet.

The oil by the way is the number one factor driving --

SAMBOLIN: Sweet crude.

BANFIELD: I know, I love light sweet crude. It's like a breakfast cereal.

It's the number one thing driving your gas prices as well, folks. So, there you have it.

Bad news, but we like to bring to you in a nice way.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, 39 minutes past the hour.

Ahead on EARLY START: New York's homeless denied food donations by the city's mayor, sparking a lot of outrage. Why is he doing that? We're going to try to get to the bottom of that to get some answers for you.

You are watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Well, good morning, New York City. If you step outside, 55 degrees, a little bit later today, it's going to be at 68 degrees, partly cloudy and, Ashleigh said it's going to get yuckier.

BANFIELD: Looks like Gotham, doesn't it? Look at your screen. Tell me that doesn't look like Gotham.

SAMBOLIN: Fabulous, right? A little eerie.

Forty-two minutes past the hour.

On any given day, there are more than 40,000 men, women and children in New York City's homeless shelter population. Feeding them comes at a great cost and a great effort. Private donations of surplus food by houses of worship and organizations around the city have been commonplace. That is until now. Those donations are being turned away.

Critics say New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration is taking the term "food police" to new depths.

Jeff Stier, director of the National Center for Public Policy, joins to us talk about this.

Thanks for being with us this morning. We appreciate it.


SAMBOLIN: Happy to have you on.

Here in the city, there are people calling Mayor Bloomberg, the food police, calling him the anti-salt mayor as well. What's going on? What are these rules?

STIER: Well, the mayor has long tried to control how all of New Yorkers eat, whether it's the salt rules or the trans fat rules. Now, he's come into the city's homeless shelters and decided, hey, as long as we're feeding them we ought to control how they eat.

Now, it's OK to set some nutritional guidelines as they've done, but they have recently begun turning away donations from synagogues, houses of worship, all sorts of people who have been coming in, bringing in high quality, safe food, to share their bounty with these people. These are senior citizens, recovering drug abusers and alcohol abusers whose hearts and stomachs are warmed by some of this surplus food that is being voluntarily brought by community members and makes them feel like part of the community.

And now, the mayor said hey we're controlling how you eat. You will eat this, you won't eat too much and we'll control everything that you eat.

SAMBOLIN: So, you wrote about this in "The New York Post".

Do you know specifically what types of food are being turned away? Is it all food or just foods that perhaps are not good for you?

STIER: Well, that's interesting. I was curious how that happened. Now, I had heard originally that only certain types of food were being accepted. So I called the city. I spoke to the commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services, and he actually told me, no, we do not accept any food whatsoever, no matter how nutritional it is.

Now, the city is now defending itself and saying, oh, well, there are food safety concerns, and food safety is a very legitimate issue, but that's always been an issue and always been a concern.

And it's kind of interesting that they're using food safety as a defense for this policy, yet, they've only started enforcing this policy shortly after their new nutritional guidelines went into effect. So, nutrition is all about balance and being reasonable, and I think the mayor has lost his sense of that here.

SAMBOLIN: Do you have any idea what the impact has been to the homeless shelters? Is there a tangible number?

STIER: Sure. The homeless in New York City are not starving. I'll be fair to the mayor. They're not starving. They're getting their nutritional needs met. But, I mean, how many of us are only getting -- occasionally, you want a treat, and I've talked to people who have donated food to the homeless and who have now seen that food being turned away. I call them beneficiaries.

The mayor might call them victims, and they're disappointed. This was a highlight. This was not everyday food coming, but this was a special treat that really warmed them up so they were quite appreciative of the donations that came in.

Now, they're quite disappointed. Interestingly, the Department of Homeless Services Commissioner told me last week that, you know, they don't really need the food because we're giving them enough food.

SAMBOLIN: Isn't that a valid point? It's not like they're not being fed.

STIER: That is true. They are not starving, but the city wants to control everything they eat calorically, how much sugar, how much fat, how much fiber, and they even have recommended condiments, which ketchups they prefer, and occasional treat like we should all enjoy, learning how to have some nutritional balance includes an enjoyable treat every once in a while but not the way this mayor sees it.

SAMBOLIN: All right. In all fairness to the mayor, and I know you mentioned this earlier, but I want to put this up. It's a statement that they have released, because -- it says here, "Because of all sorts of safety reasons, we just have a policy. It is my understanding of not taking donations."

And I understand that you're trying to come up with a way to work around this. How so?

STIER: Food safety has always been a legitimate concern. We're not encouraging people to donate old food that's been left around. That's --

SAMBOLIN: But how would you police that, right? That would be really complicated to do.

STIER: Well, the food that's coming in, for instance, the synagogue that I go to on the Upper West Side is donating high quality food, surplus food from events. That's food that they serve their own members, pretty expensive food and very tasty. I've had it. And --

SAMBOLIN: So, how do you pick and choose? I mean, quite honestly, how do you pick and choose where you accept the donations from?

STIER: If the city were willing to allow this type of food to come in, they could find a way. For instance, they could have authorized contributors. They could have groups that have been certified for food safety. This is about -- this new institution of the policy. They used to not enforce this if these were longstanding policy.

Now, they're enforcing it only because -- not because of food safety, but because of their nutritional concerns. So, I don't --

SAMBOLIN: I'm running out of time here, but I just really quickly because I asked you this question, and I don't think you've answered it is, how are you trying to get around to this?

STIER: Well, we would love more New Yorkers to come in and make donations of healthy, safe food, and see what happens. See if the mayor continues turning this food away. I think if synagogues come in, if houses of worship come in and serve the same food they're serving to their constituents and to their members, I think the mayor might realize this is a bad idea.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Jeff Stier, director, National Center for Public Policy, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

STIER: Thanks for having me on.

BANFIELD: Forty-eight minutes now past six, and Soledad O'Brien is now joining us with a look at what's ahead on "Starting Point." Hello, Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST, "STARTING POINT": Hey, ladies. Good morning to you. Coming up this morning on "STARTING POINT," we're going to sit down and talk to actress, Eva Longoria. "The Desperate Housewives'" star is also national co-chair for President Obama's re- election campaign. We're going to get her assessment on the 2012 campaign this morning.

Also, it's primary day in Illinois. Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum will do battle in Obama's old stomping ground. We're going to get some party perspective from the RNC chairman, Reince Preibus this morning.

Peyton Manning, looks like he's going to join the mile high club signing with NFL Denver Broncos. What does that mean for the Broncos' incumbent quarterback, the guy you might have heard of, Tim Tebow and Tim Tebow fans? We'll talk about that as well. That's all ahead this morning on STARTING POINT." Short break. EARLY START is back in just a moment.


SAMBOLIN: Fifty-two minutes past the hour. Time to check stories making news this morning. Here is Christine Romans.



ROMANS (voice-over): The FBI now investigating the killing of an unarmed teen by a neighborhood watch captain in Florida. Trayvon Martin's parents say race was a factor in his death. The shooter, George Zimmerman, says he acted in self-defense. He has not been arrested.

The justice department now releasing a statement saying, quote, "The department will conduct a thorough, an independent review of all the evidence and take appropriate action at the conclusion of the investigation."

Less than ten minutes before polls open in Illinois. Fifty-four delegates at stake in this crucial primary. Mitt Romney calling his rival an economic lightweight. Rick Santorum questioning whether Americans really want a Wall Street financier to be president of the United States.

A luxury cruise liner crashing into a containership in thick fog off the coast of Vietnam. Passengers knocked off their feet. Luckily, no one was hurt, though. Both ships suffered damage.

And Apple, it says it sold three million new iPads in the three days since its release. That's the strongest launch yet for an iPad. The latest model comes with a faster processor, a sharper screen. Prices starting at $499. And now, the iPad 2 sells for about $399, ladies.


BANFIELD: Three million, are you kidding me?

ROMANS (on-camera): Three million in three days. I'm telling you, there is never a recession in an Apple store.

SAMBOLIN: No kidding.

BANFIELD: Is that worldwide?

ROMANS: Yes, but I think that the big launch was here in the United States. But, I'll check it out. Three million in three days, that's a lot of them.

SAMBOLIN: Unbelievable.

BANFIELD: A lot of iPads. Thank you.

I still think it's okay to invest, but I do not do business, so I'm going to leave that to you. Thank you, Christine. And it is now 53 minutes past 6:00 on the east coast.

Did you see this? It was great. First lady going on David Letterman, kiss, hug, and then some cool stuff about walking around town undercover when you're the first lady. You'll hear all about her covert missions. You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: Did you see the first lady appearing last night on "The Late Show with David Letterman." It was her first time as Dave's guest. He asked her about what life in the White House is look? Look how great she looks. That is a vision of health right there. She talked a little bit about where she goes, kind of the public thing, and how she gets around and if she does, and then, she told him about one of her covert shopping trips undercover.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: That's my Target run. I went to Target. I thought I was undercover. I have to tell you something about this trip, though.


OBAMA: No one knew that was me because a woman actually walked up to me, right? I was in the detergent aisle and she said, I kid you not, she said, "Excuse me, I just have to ask you something." And I thought oh, cover's blown. She said, "Can you reach on that shelf and hand me the detergent?"


OBAMA: I kid you not.


OBAMA: And the only thing she said, I reached up, because she was short and I reached up, pulled it down, she said "Well, you didn't have to make it look so easy." (LAUGHTER)


SAMBOLIN: I got to tell you. She was not undercover, right, because somebody snapped to that photo of her there. So, Michelle Obama also said that she has gone undercover to PETCO with Bo, the first dog, hardly undercover there, right?

BANFIELD: But the secret service goes along. I'm sure that they're never, never far behind. I do remember, each president -- look at that dog.

SAMBOLIN: So adorable.

BANFIELD: What a sweet ride on Air Force One. Bo waiting for his owner. I won't go without you.


BANFIELD: That dog alone is worth the price of admission.

Hey, everyone, that's EARLY START, the news from A to Z. I'm Ashleigh Banlfield.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.