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EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Obama's Surprise Trip to Afghanistan; Romney Pleased with Obama Trip; Facebook IPO to Kick Off; Clinton's Trip To China; Romney Advisor Resigns

Aired May 2, 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, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans in for Zoraida Sambolin.

This morning EARLY START begins with breaking news from Beijing.

BANFIELD: And we start with this. Chinese dissident Cheng Guangcheng has left the U.S. embassy. It is believed that he's been holed up there in Beijing for six days after escaping house arrest. According to a U.S. official and Chinese state media, Chen has been taken to a medical facility and will be reunited with his family.

ROMANS: These developments coming while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are in Beijing preparing for economic and strategic meetings with Chinese leaders beginning on Thursday. It's not clear how the Chen case might influence those talks, but this was starting to become a sticky situation between the U.S. and China. China now reportedly demanding an apology from the U.S. for sheltering the activist.

We're going to have a live report from Beijing in the next half hour.

BANFIELD: And now to our other big story of the morning. New questions about America's longest war. This after a trip to Afghanistan by the president that was supposed to sum it all up. President Obama saying one year after the death of Osama bin Laden that crushing al Qaeda is within reach. But a car bomb that killed six people after Air Force One was wheels up certainly a tough reminder that there's a long way to go in that country.

And we still don't know how much longer the U.S. troops are really going to be necessary or how much this whole thing could continue to cost us. And, of course, there are the politics surrounding this story that just cannot be avoided.

We're covering all of the angles this morning. And we begin with CNN's Nick Paton Walsh who's live in Kabul. Also Athena Jones is live at the White House for us.

First to you, Nick, in Kabul. A very secret mission, a very successful mission, it seems, and now the fallout from the president's visit. Take me there.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I mean, Afghanistan woke today two hours after Air Force One was wheels up to the sound in Kabul, at least of a very loud explosion. This apparently a suicide bomber driving a car explosives into something called the Green Village here where many foreign ex-pats, contract workers live in supposed high security.

It's not quite clear what happened after this first blast. Suggestions some guards at the scene began opening fire. What we do know is there are now seven dead Afghan civilians including one school child and 10 schoolchildren wounded in this crossfire. All continued explosions. Suggestions from ISAF, too, there may have been other attackers who attempted to enter that compound.

So a bloody reminder this morning to Afghan civilians that despite the really edifying speech and phraseology we heard from the president of the United States, their lives in the capital here are no safer -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: So, Nick, there's a lot of hoopla. And this visit by the president is being touted as the beginning of the end, and yet still a lot of things unanswered. For instance, troop levels going forward after 2014, the economic assistance that this country may be roped into for a very long time, and then those critical diplomatic relations. So while we do have signatures, is this whole thing a bit vague?

WALSH: It's a little strange. I mean to be honest, the presidential speech yesterday was definitely for an American audience. It was about trying to sew up, I think, the narrative of why America came to Afghanistan in the first place. They were here to get bin Laden. A year after bin Laden's death, Obama is here trying to explain how they can certainly move forward.

The strategic partnership agreement that he signed with Afghan President Hamid Karzai is deeply symbolic because it's something America and Afghanistan badly needed to see sign they're having an important summit in Chicago later on this month. But it's low on substance. It leaves key questions like how much money will Washington give Kabul in the years ahead, they leave that unanswered. And the bigger thorny issue of what kind of long-term U.S. military presence will be here is not at all addressed by that document but will be by a later one.

So yesterday's visit very much more about trying to explain to Americans how this war can come to an end, how America can feel good about this war ending. But it's a reminder this morning simply two hours after U.S. Air Force One wheels came off of Bagram Air Base here, with loud explosions rocking the capital, reminding many Afghans they are no safer -- Ashleigh.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks so much, Nick. From Afghanistan.

And Nick, let's go straight to the White House now and talk to Athena Jones. She's live there. Athena, let's talk about the president. He's facing a little bit of criticism here about the content of this agreement. Tell me about that.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly he is seeing some criticism on the editorial pages of publications like the "National Journal" and "The New York Times." But I should mention first, interestingly, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney did not criticize him. He said in a statement, "I am pleased that President Obama has returned to Afghanistan. Our troops and the American people deserve to hear from our president about what it is -- what is at stake in this war. Success in Afghanistan is vital to our nation's security."

So Mitt Romney and several other Republicans stopping short of criticizing the president on this important day while he was overseas.

I should note, though, as I mentioned earlier, "The New York Times" in an editorial wrote, "The White House set this -- this speech up -- set it up as a big moment, but the president squandered the chance to fully explain his exit strategy from a war Americans are desperate to see brought to an end."

And of course "The New York Times" there is touching on the extreme unpopularity of this war. I think the White House would say, though, to this, that this was a brief speech the president gave while on the ground there at Bagram. You know he was there on the ground for only about six hours, all under cover of darkness, a quick in and out trip, of course, due to the security situation that Nick Paton Walsh just discussed.

And so the idea wasn't necessarily to lay out every single thing that was going to happen going forward in a relationship with Afghanistan and the U.S. Of course a lot remains to be worked out, as Walsh mentioned, the exact troop numbers, the amount of money that the U.S. and other allies will pledge to Afghanistan.

These are the kinds of things that will begin to be discussed a little later this month at that NATO summit in Chicago. You know the NATO summit they had in Lisbon set out a lot of the parameters then. And this new summit will establish a new benchmark. So I think the White House will say this is the beginning of explaining how this is going to come to an end but that people weren't necessarily expecting, you know, a point by point, a long detailed speech last night.

ROMANS: All right. Athena Jones in Washington. Thanks.

BANFIELD: It is six minutes now past 5:00, and Mitt Romney is marking the one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death with a visit to a New York City firehouse. He was joined by the former mayor at the time of the attacks, Rudy Giuliani. Romney was calling it totally appropriate for President Obama to claim credit for ordering the raid that killed bin Laden, but he says still he believes the president crossed a line.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think politicizing it was -- and trying to draw a distinction between himself and myself was an inappropriate use of the very important event that brought America together, which was the elimination of Osama bin Laden.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Mitt Romney insisting once again that had he been president, he too would have ordered the raid that killed bin Laden.

ROMANS: Newt Gingrich will officially get out of the race for the Republican nomination this afternoon, we're told. The former House speaker is expected to briefly mention his support for Mitt Romney, and plans are in the works for a formal endorsement in the next few weeks.

BANFIELD: Criminal charges are now expected in the death of Florida A&M drum major Robert Champion. A Florida state attorney is expected to announce those charges later on this afternoon.

Twenty-six-year-old Champion died back in November. You might remember police say he was beaten on a bus as part of a band hazing ritual.

ROMANS: A fire at the Atlanta studios of entertainer Tyler Perry has damaged two buildings, causing one to partially collapse. No injuries were reported in this three alarm fire, which witnesses say had flames raging out of the top of a four-story building.

Perry is one of Hollywood's busiest and most successful entrepreneurs. Last year he topped "Forbes Entertainment's" highest paid men list. Raking in $130 million in the 12 months beginning in May 2012.

All right, ahead on EARLY START, a cabbie caught on tape mowing down a guy. The story behind this crazy video coming up.

BANFIELD: And also, a young child recovering from burns because of the allegations against her own mother that this woman took her to a tanning bed.

You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Eleven minutes now past 5:00. Time to check stories making top billing in the headlines this morning.

He is a Chinese dissident. His name is Chen Guangcheng, and he has now left the U.S. embassy in Beijing and is taken to a medical facility before being reunited with his family. It's believed he was in the embassy for six days after escaping house arrest. All the while, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton along with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are in Beijing, preparing for an economic and strategic set of meetings with Chinese leaders there.

According to Chinese state media, Beijing is demanding an apology from the U.S. for harboring that activist.

ROMANS: Five civilians and a guard killed in a suicide car bomb attack in Kabul overnight. It happened just hours after President Obama left the Afghan capital. The Taliban is claiming responsibility.

Hours earlier, the president met with U.S. troops and signed an agreement with President Karzai. That agreement calls for the withdrawal of U.S. troops by 2014 and provides guidelines for cooperation between the two nations into the next decade.

BANFIELD: A woman from New Jersey missed her flight at Newark Liberty International Airport after TSA screeners found landmine casings in her luggage. Experts were called to check the baggage area after her suitcase set off alarms. Apparently, it turns out the woman was on her way to an explosives demonstration in California. She was eventually allowed to travel but wasn't allowed to take those weapons with her.

TSA wants to remind everybody that even replicas of explosives are not permitted on airplanes.

ROMANS: All right. Five men arrested in a plot to blow up a high-level bridge outside Cleveland, Ohio. There they are. Investigators say at least three of them are self-proclaimed anarchists. An undercover FBI worker had been following the group since last fall. The C4 explosives the men allegedly attached to the bridge were fakes. The FBI says the public was never in any danger.

BANFIELD: The wife of a former close aide to John Edwards will be back on the witness stand this morning and be at the disgraced former senator's trial. Cheri Young explaining yesterday why she videotaped the home and the possessions of the senator's mistress Rielle Hunter. That was back in '08. And she told the court that her family's relationship with Edwards had soured so much that she felt she needed proof that there really was a mistress named Rielle Hunter.

ROMANS: Shocking cell phone video of a cabbie running over a man in Montreal. This followed a fight between the taxi driver and a group of people in the street. The guy was run down and kicking the cab door before the driver hit the gas. The victim is in stable condition. The driver was charged with assault and hit and run.

BANFIELD: You see him just driving right off afterwards.

Wow. Look at this video. A brush fire scorching 115 acres in suburban Tampa, Florida, earlier this week, and apparently it was caused by a camp fire that someone left burning behind on a golf course. The fire forced evacuations in the town of Hudson. It also closed U.S. 19 for hours.

ROMANS: All right. Fifteen minutes after the hour. Rob Marciano has today's weather.

Good morning. ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, guys. It's been dry across north central Florida. South Florida has had some rain, and the Midwest seeing some rainfall as well. There was some severe weather yesterday. About 15 reports actually of tornadoes and significant hail and wind damage as well.

(WEATHER REPORT)

MARCIANO: Guys, back up to you.

ROMANS: All right. We're going to hold it to you, Rob. We are holding you to warmer air in the next couple of --

BANFIELD: Poor Rob. Sounds like a threat.

MARCIANO: Maybe get that.

ROMANS: No, no. It's like me and stocks. People blame you when they go up, blame me when they go down.

BANFIELD: Yes, well, it's the news, folks. It's 16 minutes now past 5:00 on the East Coast. And we're getting an early read on the water cooler stories?

ROMANS: Yes.

BANFIELD: That you like to chat about when you head off to work, talk to your friends. Got papers from Miami, Fayetteville, and Newark. And let's start with the "Miami Herald." Because apparently, folks at that paper have uncovered an old MySpace page of George Zimmerman. Yes, dates back all the way to 2005.

Zimmerman's attorney has confirmed that it is legit. Apparently, there are some posts on it with past -- about past run-ins with the law and also this is not favorable. Disparaging remarks about Mexicans. I want to read for you what it actually said.

"I don't miss driving around, scared to hit Mexicans walking on the side of the street. Wannabe thugs, messing with people's cars when they ain't around, don't make you a man in my book. Working 96 hours to get a decent paycheck, getting knives pulled on you by every Mexican you run into."

Again, those are Zimmerman's words on a MySpace page in 2005.

ROMANS: The "Fayetteville Observer" reporting on a pastor who said parents should punch their kids if they show signs of being gay. That pastor now says he was joking --

BANFIELD: Yes, not funny.

ROMANS: -- about punching your kids if they show signs of being gay.

BANFIELD: Not funny. ROMANS: Sean Harris is the senior pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville. Here's a snippet from the sermon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HARRIS, PASTOR, BEREAN BAPTIST CHURCH: Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist. Man up. Give him a good punch. OK? You're not going to act like that. You were made by God to be a male, and you're going to be a male.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Pastor Harris now says he does not advocate hitting children, wishes he could take back that remark, but he's not backing down from his overall message, saying, quote, "Effeminate behavior is ungodly. I'm not going to compromise on that."

And what's interesting to me is that the congregation is amen, yes, and affirmatively responding to that message.

BANFIELD: You know, and you wonder how many of them are doing it because everyone else is doing it.

ROMANS: And how many aren't saying a word.

BANFIELD: May not feel the same way. That's for sure. And no matter what's the message, wrong way to say it, too.

"Star Ledger" in New Jersey now. You're not going to believe this one. A mother allegedly arrested for bringing her 5-year-old little girl to the tanning booth. Yes, a tanning booth for a 5-year- old. But apparently -- here's the mugshot. She's tan here. But you should see how tan she ultimately got.

The little girl reported got a sunburn and authorities say the 44-year-old mother, Patricia Crenzel, took her daughter to a stand-up tanning booth without the staff knowing. She's now charged with child endangerment. New Jersey law does ban children under the age of 14 from using tanning salons.

Now for her part, Miss Crenzel, says she disputes these charges. She said that she did bring her child to the salon and even into the room with her but that she wasn't in the actual tanning booth. But the little girl told her teachers at school that she got a burn while tanning with mommy.

Crenzel says she got a burn while playing in the backyard. No matter what, it is not going away for her right away.

Also for an expanded look at all of our top stories --

ROMANS: Wow.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMANS: I just laugh, yes.

BANFIELD: I know, right? In this day and age, too.

Just head to our blog, by the way, because you can get a whole lot more information on there. It's CNN.com/earlystart.

ROMANS: All right. Get ready for the Facebook roadshow. That's right. Coming up how Mark Zuckerberg reportedly plans to hype the upcoming Facebook IPO. It's coming.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: Get ready.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Whispering about 401(k)s and what our responsibility is in life. Great thing I'm beside her. Free advice, everyone.

Twenty-two minutes now past 5:00. By the way, if you were watching the stocks yesterday, Dow Jones Industrial Average nice close. Four-year high yesterday.

ROMANS: Yes.

BANFIELD: Reason to clap. It's a good jumpstart for the month of May with all three major indices closing nice and high. And I say that it's great sitting beside Christine because you get one thing you need to know. I get tons of things that I need to know. But the one thing you need to know is --

ROMANS: Is make sure you're investing in your 401(k). And make sure if you're a young worker, in particular, that you're right away signing up for the 401(k). Average 401(k) balances rose 8 percent to $74,600 at the end of the first quarter.

BANFIELD: High.

ROMANS: Yes, and that's according to Fidelity. Fidelity says people are putting more money into their 401(k)s, and believe it or not, a lot of the growth coming from strong stock market performance for people but also you at home and your employer, you're putting more money into the 401(k).

When you put it in, your company matches. So the one thing you need to know about your money today, make sure that you're investing in it, and I'm going to tweet and put on Facebook a link to make sure that you've been figuring out how you should be balanced. It's called asset allocation. Make sure your risk profile -- you know what you're doing. You've got to be balanced, right, too. That's the other part of the equation. I'm going to tweet that out so you can take a look at it.

BANFIELD: Reallocating your assets every four months or so?

ROMANS: Yes. Yes.

BANFIELD: Looking at it to take a peak? ROMANS: Or at least once a year.

BANFIELD: At least once year.

ROMANS: Yes.

BANFIELD: OK. Any particular time of year?

ROMANS: Well, I like to do it after February. It's the shortest month of the year. I always do it after February. But other people do it at tax time. Other people do it the end of the year. You can do it whenever you want. Do it on your birthday.

BANFIELD: OK. I thought that was (INAUDIBLE). So --

ROMANS: Other big business story today is Facebook.

BANFIELD: You mentioned -- yes, mentioned the one thing but is great because Facebook is starting to get geared up from the big IPO that they're waiting on.

ROMANS: That's right. Right. The social network, we think it's going to have a new IPO real fast approaching. We know it's probably be about May, "The Wall Street Journal" reporting this morning citing sources. Company shares will begin trading publicly on May 18th.

The "Journal" also reporting the roadshow will shop its stock to investors, and that kickoff starts on Monday. On its about page, you're going to see the company's mission statement, it's quote, "To give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected."

How's that for a mission? The question now, of course, will it be able to live up to that mission as a public company? Will that mission change? That's what everyone is really concerned, well, interested in knowing how that's going to play out. No question the company growing like crazy.

As we reported to you, more than 900 million users on Facebook with 526 million logging in every day. And last night the company announced on its developer blog that it pushed 160 million people to mobile apps from its site. These people are downloading apps on their smart phones after seeing them on Facebook. It's a big part of their business. And so we got that little glimpse into how the company's doing last night on its -- on its blog.

BANFIELD: Half a billion people log on to Facebook every day.

ROMANS: I know. I know.

BANFIELD: And then Zuckerberg going out and touting this whole new organ donation connection to Facebook.

ROMANS: Yes.

BANFIELD: And that's having a huge effect on organ donations across the country.

ROMANS: Yes, and it just shows you what a -- what a social movement this Web site has been. What will it be or this technology is but what will it be in terms of an investment? A lot of people say the big money has already been made from the early, early investors in Facebook.

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: Didn't they say that about Apple?

ROMANS: They said it about Google, too.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: But I'm telling you, you know, what is it going to mean? Are you going to be able to get in not at the very beginning? You know that the -- you know, when we get closer, we'll talk about the ins and outs of trying to buy an IPO. But a lot of people are exciting about this.

BANFIELD: Now that's what you call a deep tease.

ROMANS: Right.

BANFIELD: That's a bit closer. You have to watch every single day for the wisdom of Christine Romans.

Twenty-six minutes now past 5:00 on the East Coast. It's available for weddings and bar mitzvahs, folks. Kind of a sign of the times. A historic governor's mansion up for rent.

ROMANS: Hey, you got -- you got to close budget gaps somehow.

All right, plus when hawks attack, one man who has a too close call with nature.

BANFIELD: I'm laughing, but honestly.

ROMANS: You're watching EARLY START.

BANFIELD: He's found the solution, hasn't he?

ROMANS: Wow.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back. Thirty minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans. Here's what's happening at half past the hour.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS (voice-over): The escape Chinese activist, Chen Guangcheng, is now at a medical facility in Beijing and will be reunited with his family. U.S. officials now talking about the man in the middle of a dicey diplomatic fight between the two nations. This is all going down as Secretary of State Clinton arrived in Beijing for talks.

A deadly blast and gunfire in Kabul after the President Obama's secret visit to Afghanistan. Six people were killed. Several more injured. A suicide car bomber and Taliban militants reportedly described in Burkas attacked the compound housing hundreds of foreigners.

And criminal charges expected today in the death of the Florida A&M drum major, Robert Champion, whose death was ruled a hazing homicide. A state attorney will hold a news conference this afternoon. Five band members facing possible felonies -- Ashleigh.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD: All right. Christine, thank you. Thirty-one minutes now past the hour.

Economic meetings between secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and Chinese officials are being overshadowed this morning by some new drama surrounding an escaped blind Chinese dissident, a real human rights supporter. Just a couple of hours ago, CNN learned that this activist named Chen Guangcheng arrived at a medical facility in Beijing.

Last week, he fled house arrest in a daring nighttime escape and had been reportedly staying at the U.S. embassy. CNN's Stan Grant is covering these angles. He joins us on the phone from Beijing with the very latest developments. So, Stan, the question, I guess, remains, was he in the care of Americans at the embassy before this new report that he is definitely at a medical facility getting treatment?

VOICE OF STAN GRANT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We can't (ph) confirm that. He was staying at the U.S. embassy for the past six days. This has now been confirmed by Chinese state media. This is the first time the Chinese media has even mentioned his name since he escaped six or seven days ago. Now, the Chinese have been oblivious to this.

There's been a complete information blackout. Well, now, they're reporting that he was at the embassy. They're saying that he has now left the embassy voluntarily and is getting treatment at a Beijing medical facility. They're not naming which one. And that he's been reunited with his family. You know, this has been a diplomatic time bomb.

It started ticking once he fled his village where he's been held under house arrest for the past 18 months after serving four years in jail before that. And, of course, being at the embassy, China (ph) on one side, the U.S. on the other, and then secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, touching down in China today.

As you say, this was definitely going to overshadow what were expected to be very cagey trade talks in any event, but now, human rights very much at the center of this. The question now is, where will he go? Will he stay in China or will he flee to the United States?

A lot of speculation that he could fly out from China to the United States in a matter of hours or certainly within the next 24 hours. A lot of people staking out the airport, looking for any sign of that. In the meantime, China is playing hardball. They're demanding an apology from the United States for shielding Chen Guangcheng.

BANFIELD: Well, if there's any legitimacy to those reports, Stan, that there's a possibility he could end up flying to the U.S., I can only imagine at the exact same moment that secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, are there for economic meetings, that this would cause a big problem.

GRANT: A big problem, indeed. You know, this is a very, very brittle relationship at the best of times, but it's a relationship of mutual dependency. China and the U.S. are locked in a very, very accretive (ph) economic relationship despite the tensions that exist. But, yes, this is certainly something that could cause a rupture in what is already a very, very tense relationship.

Will he go to the United States? There is precedent for this. In 1989, after the Tiananmen Square protests, one of the real leaders there, a man called (INAUDIBLE), actually left China. He was also holed up in the U.S. embassy. He spent more than one year in the U.S. embassy. In the end, he was allowed to leave to the United States, but guess what? Medical treatment.

Are we seeing the same scenario playing out here? Those questions yet to be answered, but you're right. Very tough times for this relationship, and I have to remind you, China right now is demanding a full apology from the United States for even harboring Chen Guangcheng.

BANFIELD: Well, tell you what, here's something China can get straight from us as it's breaking live. And Stan, while you've been on the air, we just got some information from the state department. Our foreign affairs reporter, Liz Lavett (ph), has been able to confirm with the state department, at least, officials there are saying that Mr. Chen is going to be staying in China to study.

I just have a very quick top line on that, that he is going to be staying in China to study, that from the state department from our reporter, Liz Lavet (ph). So, just quickly, and then, I need to really get this straight from the horse's mouth from you, Stan and that is we keep saying Chinese dissident, human rights supporter.

Why should Americans really care about this one person in a country of more than a billion?

GRANT: Great question, but you know, he's become a symbol of the fight for human rights here in China. Whether you want to practice as an open Christian, whether you want to have the right for democracy, whether you want to disagree with the government, the moment you step out of line here, you run the risk of being jailed or being held under house arrest. He's become very much a symbol for this. I'll just quickly remind you how he came to prominence. He fought against China's one child policy. He exposed thousands of alleged forced abortions and sterilizations. As a result of that, he spent years in jail and has been under house arrest. Hillary Clinton has championed his cause in the past.

And remember, Christian Bale, that actor, he tried to visit Chen Guangcheng just late last year. We actually took him there, and we were physically assaulted and forced from the village. So, his case has a lot of prominence.

Yes, there's a lot of people in this country, a lot of other dissidents, but Chen Guangcheng has become a symbol for all that critics say is wrong with this country -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: And you know, America's relationship with China has often been called the world's most vital economic relationship, and we're seeing this meeting today between Tim Geithner and Secretary Clinton and Chinese officials.

With all of this as the undercurrent, I'm just curious, from your perspective, spending all the time you do in China, does this matter as much to the Chinese as it seems to matter to Americans?

GRANT: China does not like to lose face, particularly, when it comes to issues of sovereignty and its territorial integrity when it comes to issues of its law. It considers this man an enemy of the state. He's escaping from house arrest.

BANFIELD: What about the people, though? Chinese people, Stan? Do they care? Do they know?

GRANT: That's a great question, because the people that we've spoken to either don't know or they won't say they know. I've mentioned before this information blackout. You know, this is a magic country where there's such censorship and there's government controlled information. Often, it's difficult for people to know what's exactly going on.

But I can tell you, there are a lot of cracks in this society. Unrest is higher than it's ever been. I'm talking about violent unrest here. We've seen a big crackdown on dissidents. People that we've spoken to just over the past few days who've been in contact with Chen Guangcheng have then been arrested and questioned themselves.

BANFIELD: Wow.

GRANT: This country is really, really tearing at the edges, and issues like human rights are front and center. What they don't want, Ashleigh, is they don't want anything that can interrupt with China's economic rise. But often, you cannot separate the way people are treated with the way the country does business. That's the balancing act for the United States and the balancing act for China. BANFIELD: Well, that interruption will be fascinating, if there is such a thing, with these meetings between our leaders and their leaders today. Stan, excellent reporting. Thank you. Keep us posted if you hear anything further on his movements and, of course, his safety. And we certainly wish Mr. Chen and his family, you know, a safe existence there. Thanks, Stan. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: All right. To American politics now, a top adviser for Mitt Romney is leaving the campaign amid a storm of controversy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS (voice-over): Richard Grenell was hired less than two weeks ago as Romney's foreign policy spokesman. The Romney camp says he has resigned for personal reasons. But, he managed to upset some on the right and the left.

He was scrutinized by some conservatives for being openly gay, and he was also slammed for Twitter remarks that took jabs at Democratic women for their physical appearance.

The governor of Florida signing a bill that bans local governments in his state from doing business with Cuba or Syria. But Governor Rick Scott admits the new law can't be enforced without federal approval from Congress. The measure is scheduled to go on the books in Florida in July. Cuba and Syria are labeled by the federal government as state sponsors of terrorism.

In cash strapped California, the governor's mansion is now up for rent. Yes, you could throw a party in the place where Ronald Reagan raised his children if you have a few thousand dollars. It's 14,000 square feet with a pool and a spiral staircase, several of them, actually. The home housed 13 of the state's former governors and is currently open for tours.

BANFIELD (voice-over): Just a couple thousand bucks? Really?

ROMANS: A few thousand dollars, depending on the event. I think that's a great idea.

BANFIELD: That's not bad considering some of the venues out there worth a lot. That would be terrific imagine being able to walk among the crystal and the China and the paintings.

So, four boy scouts in upstate New York really made their good deed quota this week. They saved the lives of three men who were trapped under a building after a demolition project went really, really wrong. The scouts were returning from a field trip to Buffalo last weekend when they witnessed the potential disaster unfolding.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was scared because a man's leg was up by his shoulder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You just felt like you had to get those guys from out under that building.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got a 2 by 4, and I just put it underneath the rafters, and I just pulled up to try to get them to be able to breathe as soon as possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Way to go. Scouts were able to hold the debris off of the victims for ten whole minutes until the rescue units got there.

ROMANS: A man in Ohio now wears a helmet when he mows his lawn after a hawk swooped down and dug its talons right through his hat and into his skull.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD VARVIR, HAWK ATTACK VICTIM: I was cutting the grass over there on the riding mower, and all of a sudden, I heard a noise. Boom, it hit me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Richard Varvir had to get a tetanus shot. He and his wife say they literally don't want to ruffle any feathers and will cut down the tree after the hawk's eggs hatch, and they leave the nest.

BANFIELD: That's pretty nice that they're going to wait for the hawk's eggs to hatch.

ROMANS: -- from the hawks perspective. I mean, maybe he thought it was a big rabbit. You know, you only saw the top. I don't know. I don't know.

BANFIELD: That's some serious big prey if you're going after that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD (on-camera): I've been attacked by a few birds out when they have their babies in the nest close to where I'm from in Canada.

ROMANS (on-camera): When hawks attack.

BANFIELD: These were sea gulls, and it scared me. So, a hawk could be a whole other kettle of fish.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: Up next, 5:41 on the east coast, did the president really spike the football as is being alleged? GOP reacting to President Obama's secret trip to Afghanistan. Some for it, some really not at all. You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: President Obama will land back in Washington, D.C. in just a few hours after a quick surprise visit to Afghanistan. The president met with troops, giving a speech, signing autographs.

That, after meeting with Afghanistan president, Hamid Karzai, and inking an agreement outlining future cooperation between the two countries once this U.S.-led international force withdraws in 2014.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will not keep Americans in harm's way a single day longer than is absolutely required for our national security, but we must finish the job we started in Afghanistan and end this war responsibly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: CNN political editor, Paul Steinhauser, is live in Washington this morning. Good morning, sunshine. You're up early. We love to ser you. How are Republicans reacting bright and early to the president's trip?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Not too much criticism, Christine. I think James Inhoff, Senator Inhoff and Congressman Steve King of Iowa were the only two I saw out there that were really critical of the president and criticizing his trip as being political. As for Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, same thing, not very critical at all.

In a statement put out last night, he said, "I am pleased that President Obama has returned to Afghanistan. Our troops and the American people deserve to hear from our president about what's at stake in this war. Success in Afghanistan is vital to our nation's security."

Now, gone from that statement were his usual complaints about the president when it comes to foreign policy. It seemed like Mitt Romney was letting the president have his moment, his trip to Afghanistan. The only critical thing in there maybe, I guess, you could say, he went on to say, it would be a tragedy for Afghanistan to become a haven again for al Qaeda.

So, that's about the only maybe possible criticism. You know, earlier in the day, Christine, it was a very different story. You saw Mitt Romney along the streets of New York City with former New York City, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, at an impromptu sidewalk news conference. And at that news conference, he said it was very disappointing for the president to try and make this a political item.

He said, by suggesting that I would have not ordered that same raid on Bin Laden had he been in the White House one year earlier -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. A really busy day on the campaign trail again today, Paul. What should we be looking for?

STEINHAUSER: Yes. Take a look at Newt Gingrich today, because finally, yes, finally, Newt Gingrich is going to suspend that campaign. We've known about it for a week. He's going to have an event in Suburban Virginia just outside Washington, D.C. where he's expected to suspend the campaign.

We also are being told that he will briefly mention Mitt Romney and talk about how it is important to have back Romney to defeat President Obama in November election. But, we are told that an official Romney-Gingrich together event with a big endorsement, that's a couple of weeks away. So, something more to talk a bit down the road.

One other thing today, Governor Romney meeting with Governor McDonnell of Virginia, somebody who is being considered maybe, maybe for the running mate -- Christine.

ROMANS: Oh, yes. And that parlor game just getting started. Paul steinhauser. Thanks, Paul.

BANFIELD: It is 47 minutes now past 5:00 on the east coast. Time to check our stories making news this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD (voice-over): And Chinese activist, Chen Guangcheng, has left the U.S. embassy now in Beijing. Confirmed, he has been taken to a medical facility and will be reunited with his family, this, according to a U.S. official and China's state-run media.

There had been reports that Chen was going to fly to D.C. with his family, but we just learned this hour from the state department that Chen is going to be staying in China to study. That's the official word.

Secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, along with treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, are in Beijing right now, just having arrived there, and they're getting ready for meetings with Chinese leaders who are now reportedly demanding an apology from the United States for sheltering Chen, in the first place.

A Bosnian immigrant accused of plotting to bomb New York's subway system as an al Qaeda terrorist has been found guilty on all counts. Court records show the defendant, Adis Medunjanin and Zarein Ahmedzay sworn oath to join the Taliban outside a mosque in Queens in 2008.

They were joined by convicted terrorist, Najibullah Zazi. Testimony reveals how the trio traveled to Pakistan for jihadist training but were sent back to America to plan an attack on U.S. soil.

BANFIELD: The Drug Enforcement Agency is investigating a report that a drug suspect in California was mistakenly left alone, handcuffed in a holding cell for five days. And get this. No food, no water. He's a 24-year-old college student, and he was one of nine people arrested in a raid in which 180,000 ecstasy pills were seized. Stay tuned for more on that one.

A new study claims the video game, Tetris, could prevent flashbacks from post-traumatic stress disorder. Scientists say that's because playing Tetris puts demands on the brain that interfere with it's ability to retain traumatic memories. Researchers had said the suspects (ph) watch a disturbing film and then had some of those suspects play Tetris afterwards. Those who did were likely to experience flashbacks from the film. Scientists say the research doesn't mean Tetris is a cure for PTSD, but it does suggest alternative treatment for symptom.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD (on-camera): A kind of a creepy notion that test sounds almost like a clockwork orange.

ROMANS (on-camera): Yes.

BANFIELD: Being forced to watch the violent films. That is interesting, isn't it?

It's 49 minutes now past 5:00. And up next, amazing video. A jumbo jet crashing, snapping in half in the desert. How on Earth did we get this video? Because it was meant to do this. We're going to tell you exactly why and what anyone found out about this remarkable experience? You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back. Time to take a look at what's trending on the web, and this is only a test. What a spectacular test. An aging 727 crashing and breaking into pieces during a controlled crash in an uninhabited part of the Mexican dessert. No one was on board this plane. The front half of the plane torn off.

The back nearly intact for those who like to sit in seat 30b. Sometimes, first class isn't always best. This was, of course, amateur video taken by an onlooker. The real footage taken from all angles, including inside is going to air as part of a Discovery Channel special to see what it's really like when a jet goes down.

Woe. The flight crew if, in case, you're wondering, parachuted out moments before this old plane went down.

BANFIELD: Exactly what I was wondering. If no one was on board, who the heck brought that thing down? And by the way, how did they know it was going to crash right there with no one on board to guide it? What if it went on and on and on?

Man, that's incredible. By the way, Ben Sherwood wrote that book that talked about you can't really know where to sit because, sometimes, it crashes like that. Survivor's club. It's fantastic.

Backlash brewing on Twitter over the announcement that Duran Duran is going to headline the opening Olympic concert in London. Come on, backlash. It's Duran Duran, please. Critics calling it a lazy and predictable choice. Predictable? What? Predictable? They say, if this were the 1984 games, maybe.

Saying that it ignored the emerging music scene in England. I got you there. Rest of the lineup was chosen to represent other parts of Great Britain, including Snow Patrol, good one, representing Northern Ireland, and then Stereophonics representing Wales. But Duran Duran would be awesome. Is my 1980 showing?

(LAUGHTER)

ROMANS: All right. Feathers flying on a high school baseball field in Springfield, Illinois.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ooh, hits a bird.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He didn't kill it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: You heard it. A pitcher drilled a bird. Might be a sign that he needs to work on his fastball because the bird actually kept going, dusting himself off, flying over the centerfield.

BANFIELD: You know what I'm amazed at? That the commentator caught that? Because I had to watch it on replay three times to actually catch that happening. Commentator was on it. Dude, Channel1450.com, you are on the rise.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: Up next on EARLY START, some very big developments in Beijing where the dissident named, Chen Guangcheng, is leaving the U.S. embassy, gonzo. So, why is China demanding an apology from America, and are we going to give it?

ROMANS: Flames at Tyler Perry Studios a four-alarm inferno where the Madia (ph) movies were shot. You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Good morning to you. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. Zoraida is off today. It is 6:00 a.m. in the east. Let's get started.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS (voice-over): Brand new information this morning about the escaped Chinese activist in the middle of a fight between two super powers. We now know where he is.

BANFIELD (voice-over): And speaking to a war weary nation from the war zone itself, President Obama saying it's almost over, folks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: But, are we any closer to the end than we were just two days ago? We're going to take you live to Kabul.

ROMANS: Land mines full of shrapnel found in luggage in an airport. What was a woman doing with them?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD (on-camera): And just one minute before the top of the hour, we begin with new developments out of Beijing on the case of that famous Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng. He has now left the U.S. embassy where it's believed -- well, he has been sheltered for six days, now being confirmed, after having escaped house arrest in China.

There's speculation that Chen wanted to come to the United States with his family, but now, the state department is issuing a statement saying that Chen is staying in China to study. All of this as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, are in Beijing and preparing for meetings with Chinese leaders beginning Thursday.

Still, it's not clear how the Chen case might influence those talks, because China is now reportedly demanding an apology from the United States for harboring Chen in our embassy there.