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Chinese Dissident Leaves U.S. Embassy; Obama: The Tide Has Turned; Al Qaeda's Defeat "Within Reach"; Romney "Pleased" With Obama Trip; Obama's Surprise Trip To Afghanistan; Land Mines Found In Luggage; Secret Service Prostitution Scandal; Gingrich Getting Out Of Race; Charges To Be Filed In Hazing Case; Chinese Dissident Leaves U.S. Embassy; Texas Teen Badly Beaten; Dow Jones Closes at Four-Year High; Facebook to Be Traded Publicly; Chinese Dissident Leaves U.S. Embassy; Kabul Blast Kills Seven After Obama Visit

Aired May 2, 2012 - 05:59   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

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


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.


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


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?


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. We're going to have a live report on this in the State Department coming up a little later on in this hour.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Now to our other big story this morning, new questions about America's longest war. . After a trip to Afghanistan by the president that was supposed to sum them 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 was a tough reminder that there is still a long way to go.

And we still don't know how much longer troops will be necessary or how much more it could cost. Of course, the politics surrounding the story can't be avoided.

We're covering all the angles this morning. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is live in Kabul. Athena Jones is at the White House. First to Nick in Kabul. Good morning.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Two hours after Air Force One wheels left the tarmac of Bagram Air Field, this loud blast rocked Kabul.

Apparently, a suicide bomber driving a car of explosives in something called the green village here supposedly secure compound where many foreign contractors, expats stay here. Deep concerns about what happened afterwards.

Suggestions by some officials the guards opened fire that perhaps there were other attackers that were trying to attack that compound. Whatever happened, we're left with seven civilians dead, including one school child and 10 school children injured in this melee that followed afterward.

But this sends a clear message to Afghans. There may have been a secure lockdown under the cover of darkness when the president of the United States came here principally to address the American people and explain to them how America can feel comfortable drawing a presence to the close.

But for the Afghans, the growing insurgency, which just announced the spring offensive would begin tomorrow, still very much in evidence.

ROMANS: Nick, here's what the president didn't mention last night. No specifics on troop levels, economic assistance, or status of diplomatic relations. Nick, it seems like this agreement is rather vague. WALSH: We think it's symbolic because it's been so long to hammer out that it was supposedly two staunch allies. I mean, America's main ally here is the Afghan government. So many are questioning why it took so long to hammer out in the first place.

But great sighs of relief in Kabul today that they were able to put this together before the big NATO summit in Chicago later this month where everyone's got to talk about what kind of contribution they want to make in the years ahead.

And after these frankly awful past four months disaster after disaster befalling the NATO campaign here. It was very much an important milestone that Washington needed to set the path ahead for America's presence here.

But the real concern as you say is much left unanswered. We did get hints from the president yesterday that he wants to see a, quote, "steady pace of troop reduction after the major surge withdrawn at the end of this summer."

That will mean more soldiers coming home next year, frankly, and also the U.S. made it clear they'd like to see all troops in a non-combat role by the middle of next year. So many questions really as to the pace of troop withdrawal that will happen after September this year.

But as you also say, still questions remaining as to how much money is America committing to Afghanistan in the years ahead and what exactly the troop numbers will be. That's really where American lives are on the line -- Christine.

BANFIELD: And from Nick Paton Walsh in Afghanistan. Let's take you straight to the White House where Athena Jones is standing by live.

Athena, while the presidential candidate Mitt Romney is certainly taking the high road on this visit. There are not that many folks, actually, who are speaking out.

But there are some who are criticizing the president for this visit and also for what's not in the agreement.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. I should note, though, let's talk about what Mitt Romney said. This is the Republican presidential candidate, he and like other Republicans refrained from criticizing the president. Here's what 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 is at stake in this war. Success in Afghanistan is vital to our nation's security.

Now, Mitt Romney's comments were echoed by Senator John McCain who as you know has not hesitated to criticize President Obama on various topics over the years, but he refrained from doing that yesterday. Let's listen to what he had to say to our own Dana Bash.


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So this is not spiking the football in the end zone as he said?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: No, I don't view it as that. And I wish the president would explain more often to the American people why Afghanistan and its support that Afghanistan not return to a base for attacks on the United States of America.


JONES: And so McCain's comments kind of lead us into the criticism from the "New York Times" editorial page. They said the White House set it up -- set the speech up yesterday 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.

Now, of course, you heard Nick Paton Walsh touch on the fact that in a few weeks the U.S. and its allies will be meeting for the NATO summit in Chicago beginning to hash out some of the things going forward about troops and resources.

Of course, we may not hear any hard numbers for some time. It took the U.S. and Afghanistan 20 months to reach this strategic partnership agreement, which people are criticizing as being vague.

But about the speech last night, the "New York Times" went on to criticize the president for not being more specific about, for instance, how we'll help the Afghans transition for a lead for security.

How we'll help train them or how President Karzai's going to rein in corruption in his government so still a lot of big issues to be resolved. A lot of acute challenges we've heard described the situation in Afghanistan so all of that is to come.

I think the White House would say that this was a chance to begin to talk about the end, but no one really expected the president to lay out, you know, have 45-minute speech yesterday while on the ground at Bagram -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Story's not over today. Story is not over for years. Athena Jones at the White House, thank you.

ROMANS: A woman from New Jersey missed her flight at Newark Liberty International Airport after TSA screeners found land mine casings in her luggage. Experts were called into the checked bag area after her suitcase set off alarm.

The woman was on her way to an explosives demonstration in California. She was eventually allowed to travel without the weapons and a friendly reminder, the TSA says even replicas, even parts of explosives are not permitted on airplanes. BANFIELD: Three of the 12 Secret Service agents involved in the Colombia prostitution scandal refused to take a lie detector test and were dismissed from the agency.

Nine others implicated in the scandal have taken the poly tests and according to New York Congressman Peter King, those are the facts.

Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee tells CNN none of them failed that test, but their responses led them to being discharged.

ROMANS: It's the end of the road for Newt Gingrich. The former House speaker officially exits the race for Republican nomination this afternoon. He's 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: Officials say a brush fire that blackened 158 acres in suburban Tampa earlier this week was apparently caused by a campfire that someone left burning behind on a golf course. That fire forced evacuations in the town of Hudson. It also closed the highway U.S. 19 for hours.

ROMANS: Coming up, criminal charges in the case of hazing gone too far. The latest on the death of a drum major at Florida A&M University.

BANFIELD: And up in smoke, major fire in the empire created by a powerful film and television player. We'll tell you who, why, how, and whether it was resolved. You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: It's 11 minutes now past 6:00 on the east coast and 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. The 26-year-old Champion died back in November, you might remember. He was beaten on a bus.

Police say as part of a band hazing ritual. CNN's George Howell is live in Atlanta with the very latest. And George, it's been months and months since all of this. Why did it take so long to end up in this development?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is certainly a question the Champion family will be asking today. We should hear from them around 2:00 p.m. Eastern in this news conference.

But today we have confirmed that several people will be charged in this case. Again, this happened back on November 19th. Robert Champion was onboard a bus with several other band members from Florida A & M university, when according to the medical examiner's office he was beaten so severely to the arms, chest, and back that he went into shock and died from that beating.

Investigators believe it is a case of hazing. And now that raises several questions. The first, obviously, how many people will be charged in this case, Ashleigh? Remember, there were at least 30 people onboard the bus when this happened, 30 people who could be part of this.

It'll be interesting to see how many people are charged and also what will the range of those charges be? We know that hazing is a felony in the state of Florida. But could this be manslaughter? Could it be a murder case?

We have yet to see. We should learn more later today. But again, these are answers the family has been waiting for, for a long time. Listen to what Pam Champion had to say just a few weeks back when she was still in waiting for this.


PAM CHAMPION, ROBERT CHAMPION'S MOTHER: I think we've been patient enough, and we need to hear something kind of an answer because it's no real mystery. We know who were there. We have to get rid of the hazing.

And the only way to do that is to send a strong message. That it won't be tolerated. So far, just look. Has this strong message been sent? Will it have to happen again?


HOWELL: And I followed this story and followed the Champion family for quite some time since this accident happened. And that really is the point that they want to make. They want to make sure that the message prosecutors send is a strong message to any student, anyone considering hazing -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: And I know that a lot of the details have been kept under wraps, but do we know at all whether some people on that bus who might been witnesses to this have been offered immunity in exchange for testimony that might have actually led to the arrest of others?

HOWELL: At this point, prosecutors are being very tight-lipped, obviously, about the people that will be involved in this. We should learn some details here at 2:00 p.m. Eastern.

But that is definitely a question that we will want to ask. Again, it will be very interesting to see how many people that were onboard this bus of some 30 people will be connected to this case.

And one other thing that I want to point out, the family got notice of this yesterday, but I'm told through their press person that they got notice a little later in the day and not enough time really to get in position for this.

In fact, Pam Champion was traveling on business, so now the family is getting ready for this news conference that is set for later today -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: CNN's George Howell in Atlanta for the latest. Thanks very much, George.

ROMANS: All right, just about 15 minutes past the hour. Time to check the stories making news this morning.

Chinese dissident Chen Wong Cheng has left the U.S. embassy in Beijing and has been taken to a medical facility before being reunited with his family. It is believed he was in the U.S. embassy for six days after he escaped house arrest. According to China's state media, Beijing is demanding an apology from the U.S. for sheltering him.

BANFIELD: Five men arrested in that plot to blow up a bridge outside of Cleveland, Ohio. An investigator says at least three of them are self-proclaimed anarchists. An undercover FBI worker had been following this group since last fall. The C4 explosives that the men allegedly attached to the bridge were fake. And the FBI says the public was never in any danger.

ROMANS: A Texas teenager brutally beaten by a fellow student and her mom says the school could've prevented it. Pamela Flower says she told officials her daughter was being threatened by another student. A principal promised to look into it but he says he forgot and it, quote, slipped his mind. Flower says that slip-up could've cost her daughter her life.


PAMELA FLOWER, MOTHER OF BEATEN TEEN: He had enough time to stop it. Pull her out of class, pull the other girl out of class and ask them questions.


ROMANS: Flower's daughter was hit dozens of times with a sock filled with a combination lock. She was rushed to the emergency room, treated with multiple staples to her head.

BANFIELD: A fire at the Tyler Perry studios in Atlanta has damaged two buildings causing one of them to partially collapse. No injuries were reported in the three-alarm fire. Witnesses say the flames were raging out of the top of the four-story building. Tyler 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 2010.

ROMANS: And what are the odds, six winning $1 million power ball tickets sold by one gas station in Glendale, Arizona.


ROMANS: Only two of the winners have reportedly come forward. Lottery officials can't explain it. They're not trying to. They say the winning tickets were not quick picks and that each of them had the first five numbers right: 4, 25, 29, 34, 43. But none of them had the power ball number, 29.

BANFIELD: That's the weirdest thing I've ever heard.


BANFIELD: I bet they're going to be overrun with people wanting to buy.

ROMANS: Glendale, Arizona.

BANFIELD: Check your tickets.

ROMANS: Check now.

Smithsonian is putting together a new exhibit honoring Apple founder Steve Jobs. It's going to feature a special display of the 317 patents acquired by Jobs before his death last year. The National Museum of American History has contributed a 1985 Apple Macintosh computer. The exhibit opens May 11.

BANFIELD: I think I had one of those. I know, I still have one in the garage somewhere.

ROMANS: Buying a prosthetic arm could be like buying a pair of shoes. You may be able to pick one up in small, medium, or large. Zoraida Sambolin has the story in this technovations.


BILL TAYLOR, PROSTHETIC ARM USER: It's about like putting a backpack on. Very simple and very fast.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bill Taylor tested a new type of prosthetic arm that could give hope to people around the world. Created by a group of engineering students from the University of Illinois, the arm does not have to be custom made.

TAYLOR: It's designed to be taken out of the box or off the shelf and fit to someone in less than 20 minutes.

SAMBOLIN: Their open-socket technology makes the arm effective and affordable. And the device will cost less than $300.

TAYLOR: The socket is really the part where we've done our innovation. It uses both rigid plastic pieces and flexible cloth pieces to enable it to be very easily adjustable.

SAMBOLIN: The students founded the non-profit IPT during their senior year in 2010 to help people who can't afford prosthetics.

TAYLOR: The vast majority of people who are in need of prosthetic care are living in developing countries. But the key for us will really be partnering with aid organizations to get it out there and in the hands of people who can use it.

SAMBOLIN: The group is working with amputees in Guatemala to test the device.

TAYLOR: Everyone has the right to access to prosthetic care. We can allow people to regain independence they may have lost by losing their limb.


BANFIELD: That's cool.

ROMANS: All right. Get ready for the Facebook road show. Coming up, how Mark Zuckerburg reportedly plans to hype his company's upcoming IPO.

BANFIELD: You don't say?


BANFIELD: It is 22 minutes past 6:00. And Dow Jones closing at a four-year high yesterday.

ROMANS: Four year. Not day, not month, year.

BANFIELD: I've got to be honest with you. I get confused because every so often we get, oh, it was the worst month of the year, a terrible week, and now this report today. That was a pretty big jump.

ROMANS: It was a good manufacturing jump. Manufacturing is about 12 percent of the U.S. economy. If there was a strong manufacturing number and Fed presidents don't think there's going to be a severe slowdown in the U.S. here. At least there's not evidence of it. And that was enough.

BANFIELD: It wasn't official. Just in speeches?

ROMANS: Couple of Fed speeches. But when you look at the Dow, stocks are back up where they were in December 2007.


ROMANS: So think about that. That was the first month of the recession.

BANFIELD: Right. Right.

ROMANS: Take yourself back. We didn't know it was a recession then.

BANFIELD: Aren't you glad you were listening in? it's important to know because all three meant for a good start to the month. And that leads us to the one thing you need to know from Christine Romans.

ROMANS: Right. About your money. You've been watching stocks go up and hopefully you've been enjoying it. Average 401(k) balances rose 8 percent. That's a lot. Are you more than that or less than that? Think of that and wonder where you are. Fidelity says people are putting more money into their retirement accounts. A lot of growth was from the strong stock market, the rest was from you at home and your employer adding more money to your 401(k). The one thing you need to know about your money today, make sure you're invested in your 401(k). And if you are, please, please take a look at your risk profile and make sure that you are weighted the right way. You've got bond stocks, a little bit of cash, you've got the right weighting for your age and your risk. I'm going to tweet something right this second that will help you, a quiz that will help you decide how you'll be weighted.

BANFIELD: And that's a hard question for people. Because the circumstances change. Last month to this month, there are phone numbers for people to call. They should take advantage of those.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

BANFIELD: Let's talk about Facebook. That social network's IPO is coming at us.

ROMANS: Other big story this morning. The wall street journal reporting citing company sources the company shares will begin trading publicly May 18th. Mark your calendar. The journal also reporting the road show to shop the stock to investors will kick off on Monday. And by investors, they're not shopping it to you, to the big banks and the big mutual fund companies. On its About page, you're going to see the company's mission statement. It's "to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected." How is that for that mission statement? The question now is, will they be able to live up to this as a public company? No question the company's growing like crazy. 900 million users, 526 million log in every day. And last night, the company announced on its developer blog that it pushed 160 million people from mobile apps from its site. Just another little bit of information for people to try to figure out how much money this company's making --

BANFIELD: Critical.

ROMANS: What the -- what it's going to look like going forward.

BANFIELD: We don't get to buy that. We don't get to buy it when it comes out, we've got to wait a while. The little guys.

ROMANS: The little guys, yes. And when we get closer, I'll give you tips about what little guys should do about Facebook stock. But this is a story about what big guys are doing with the stock.

BANFIELD: Still to come, big guys from above, why one man is having to wear a helmet in his yard after experiencing something out of a Hitchcock flick. We'll explain. You're watching EARLY START.


ROMANS: Thirty minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

Here's what's happening at half past the hour. The escaped activist Chen Guangchen 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. Now, there were reports that Chen was going to fly to Washington with his family, but we just learned this hour from the State Department that Chen is staying in China to study.

Criminal charges today expected 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.

And land mines full of shrapnel full -- found in luggage at Newark airport. The TSA says they did not contain any explosives or detonators. A woman told them she was headed to an explosives demonstration and was allowed to get on another flight without the weapons. Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: Thirty minutes now past 6:00. Christine, thank you.

After a surprise trip to Afghanistan, President Obama announced an agreement with the Afghan government that outlines our relationship with them after we withdraw in 2014. Trouble is, not a lot of details in this one, and there's criticism because of that. The president says the pact is a statement of America's commitment to fighting terrorism.


OBAMA: We're building an enduring partnership. The agreement we sign today sends a clear message to the Afghan people. As you stand up, you will not stand alone. It establishes the basis for our cooperation over the next decade, including shared commitments to combat terrorism and strengthen democratic institutions.


BANFIELD: Joining me now from Tampa is former CIA senior operations officer Gary Berntsen, who lead CIA forces in eastern Afghanistan back after 9/11. All right, Gary, so what's critical "here as you stand up, you will not stand alone." Those words stood out to me critically because there's a long history of people bugging out of Afghanistan and leaving a mess behind like a Petri dish.

GARY BERNTSEN, FORMER CIA SENIOR OPERATIONS OFFICER: Yes, good morning. One of the statements, of course, are central to that agreement is the cost of this commitment, which will be for the next ten years, 2014 out to 2024.

And we're talking about a bill of about $40 billion. President Karzai wanted this included in the agreement; the American side didn't want to do this. I would say to the president -- to President Obama, that he needs to take a play out of George Herbert Walker Bush's plan from 1991 in the Gulf War, and that is get others to pay for this. Make this a multilateral agreement.

During that conflict, 1991, two-thirds of the conflict was paid for by the Kuwaitis, the Saudis, the UAE. This is their neighborhood. We need to leverage the Qataris, the UAE, the Saudis, the Kuwaitis, and to get them to pay for the cost of the Afghan security forces, that's $40 billion --

BANFIELD: And that's easier said than done, though.

BERNTSEN: NATO is going to come up short.

BANFIELD: I mean, listen, that's easier said than done.

BERNTSEN: It's not going to be that difficult.

BANFIELD: You don't think it's difficult?

BERNTSEN: It should not be that difficult. This is a drop in the bucket for those countries. They have the funds for this. NATO, and if you look at Europe, and if you look at the financial crisis, there is going to be a very, very heavy lift for them. If you looked at the Qatari investment authority, the Abu Dhabi investment authority, the rest of them, their sovereign wealth funds. They've got the money. They can do this.

BANFIELD: Yeah, but what's in it for them, Gary? if they're going to sign onboard with the Americans and pick up the tab for this ten-years plus, what's in it for them if we don't give up a lot of our -- let's say, I don't know, authority to do things like drone strikes?

BERNTSEN: Look, the U.S. has -- is going to be there and it's going to be spending a fortune already, Ashleigh. With U.S. forces on the ground, so-conn people will be there for a long time committed to this fight.

They have a vested interest in the region, they are our partners in the region. We are assisting them in the Persian Gulf defending them against Iran and other potential threats. This is something -- and the Qataris entered this a year-and-a-half ago. Of course, the Qataris now are attempting to do negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghans. They've willingly entered the process. We need to continue to engage them. They'll come in and they can help.

BANFIELD: All right. So, here's a deeper question about strategy and what it takes on the ground. Because you were there 2001, Tora Bora. I keep wondering if it was you that I saw in one of those Ford pickup trucks when I saw a guy with a sidearm who looked very American trying to be under disguise.

But you as well as anybody who did boots on the ground there know, it is different. It is very different when you are in disguise and people don't think you're a troop. You can do a lot more. And you have a solution that you think is better than troops. It more talks about dirty intel, getting people inside well informed with a mission as opposed to just a lot of guns.

BERNTSEN: Well, I think what you're going to see is so-com is going to be there with a much smaller footprint, and I think you'll probably wind up having teams in areas that will be attached to the Afghan regional commands. The Afghans will have five, you know, regional commands around the country that will do that. And you'll have to have so-com people, you'll have agency people, you need State Department people, you'll need teams that will work with the Afghans to do this.

The footprint should be much, much smaller than it is now. We have too many people on the ground. This is essentially -- we're breaking the bank by doing it the way we're doing it. And we're not getting the bang for the buck.

We don't need the footprint that we have. And I'm very, very confident that so-com will come up with the formula. They've been the ones that have been tasked to do this. And they'll come up with an acceptable formula for this, and we'll be able to have a significant draw down.

Look, we're not going to solve Afghanistan's problems completely. What we need to do is allow them to hold their own ground. Pakistan is the problem. You've got 24 militant groups operating on the Pakistani side of that border. This is a long conflict. And we have to be able to sustain this and maintain the support of the American people, you know, in this commitment. And we're not going to be able to sustain that support with 100,000 people there.

BANFIELD: And I think you and I have to have a whole other interview just about Pakistan alone and the drone strikes in the future --

BERNTSEN: Huge problem.

BANFIELD: Yes. And it's great to talk to you about this. And I appreciate your savvy. Gary Berntsen is a former CIA senior operations official joining us live this morning. Thanks, Gary.

BERNTSEN: Good morning.

BANFIELD: Back to you, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. 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 on the street. The guy who was run down was seen kicking this cab door before the driver hit the gas. The victim is in stable condition. The driver was charged with assault and hit- and-run.

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


RICHARD VARVIR, HAWK ATTACK VICTIM: Cutting the grass over there --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On the riding mower.

VARVIR: On the riding mower. And all of a sudden I heard a noise. Boom, it hit me.


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: And more hawks will be in the yard.

ROMANS: In the meantime, a little silver bike helmet --

BANFIELD: A very wise idea. Thirty-seven minutes now past 6:00 on the East Coast.

And still ahead on EARLY START, the death of Osama bin Laden becoming a big political issue for the president. Is he, as some accuse, spiking the football? Or is he taking due credit? We'll talk.

ROMANS: And first, a quick weather update with Rob Marciano. Good morning.




ROMANS: Forty-one minutes past the hour. There's Washington, D.C., it's 67 right now. Scattered storms, 84 later today. D.C. will be a good 25 degrees warmer than it will be further up the coast.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in China for important strategic talks between the world's two biggest economic powers. But those meetings may be overshadowed by an escaped blind dissident. Activist Chen Guangcheng spent more than four years in prison for his campaign exposing forced abortions and sterilizations in China. He is a symbol of the human rights fight in this country.

Now, he fled house arrest in a daring nighttime escape recently. He's currently seeking asylum at the U.S. embassy. Chen is being treated at a medical facility and will be reunited with his family.

CNN's Jill Dougherty live in Beijing. Good morning. What can you tell us about his whereabouts and his situation right now?


Christine, I'll tell you, this is an extraordinary story. There's no question. Because this was such a diplomatic problem as Hillary Clinton arrived in Beijing. And then, quickly after a lot of very, very intense negotiations, a solution has been worked out. And just about an hour ago, we got a briefing with some amazing details by two senior administration officials who painted this picture. As you mentioned, Mr. Chen is blind. And when he was escaping from the house where he lived, he had to climb -- literally climb over a wall and then several other walls. And he was injured in that process. He hurt his foot. And he at this point is on a crutch.

So, when he came to the American embassy, they allowed him in on a humanitarian basis. It was supposed to be temporary, and these administration officials, one of them, admit that the U.S. did assist in entry into the embassy.

So then, negotiations, intense negotiations and what comes out of it? Mr. Chen now will be able to -- he has left the embassy. He's in a hospital, his family is being reunited with him. And he's going to get proper care. There are American doctors, Chinese doctors who are working on his case.

And then what does he do? According to this agreement, he is free. There are no legal issues anymore. And he's free with his family to go to a secure location of his choice to study, and he has several choices of where he would like to go to school. You know, he was never able to study. And all of this becoming a lawyer, he did on his own.

And the other thing, according to this agreement, Christine -- and this is important -- the Chinese central authorities are going to investigate how it was handled by the local authorities. That is very, very important.

And so there were rumors that Mr. Chen might want to come to the United States. At this point, everyone is saying that he will stay here. And then another very interesting detail as they're coming out of the embassy, he had agreed, yep, let's go. They get into the van, and these officials who have been working for, like, six days without no sleep (sic) realize they had left their cell phones back in the embassy. They got a phone, and what he wanted to do was call Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state. So they arranged that call with another phone and he spoke to her, thanked her for the attention this has been getting in the United States and, in fact, around the world.

And then, we were told in broken English he said, I want to kiss you. So, there were a lot of personal details coming out of this. But so far, it's an amazing resolution of a very, very delicate situation.

ROMANS: And both sides clearly wanted a resolution so they could focus on the economic issues and the strategic regional issues they're trying to face when they meet beginning later today. Jill Dougherty in Beijing. Thank you so much, Jill -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: All right. Christine, thank you. It's 45 minutes now past 6:00 on the east coast. And a top adviser for Mitt Romney is leaving the campaign amid a storm of controversy, too.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BANFIELD (voice-over): Richard Grinnell was hired less than two weeks ago as Romney's foreign policy spokesman. The Romney camp says he's resigned for personal reasons. But Grinnell had 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 appearances.

In cash-strapped California, the governor's mansion is now up for rent. Yes, you, too, could throw a fancy party at a place where Ronald Reagan raised his kids. All for the low, low price of a few thousand dollars. It's 14,000 square feet, has a brand new pool and a spiral staircase.

And by the way, if you're wondering about the history, it is a home that housed 13 of the state's former governors currently open for tours, as well, and it's absolutely lovely.



BANFIELD (on-camera): Nice place for a wedding, right? Soledad O'Brien joining us now with a look at what's ahead. You got a lot on your side.

O'BRIEN: Oh, a lot going on this morning. You're going to take a serious look at President Obama's trip this morning. The terror threat a year after Bin Laden. And also, take a look at the tactics used to prevent attacks. We're going to talk to the ex-CIA official who says enhanced interrogation was key to finding the terror leader.

A "Starting Point" exclusive this morning. He is in trouble for not turning off all of his electronic devices on the plane. You remember the passenger who captured that bird strike on his iPad and then brought it to us here on CNN. We're going to talk about it, also shared it, of course, with the airline. Well, he's gotten a letter, legal-ish letter from the FAA. We'll tell you what it says.

The royal wedding fairy tale come to life, and this man had a front-row seat to it. That man was in the wedding, but this man, the dean of Westminster Abbey will join us to talk about that day.


O'BRIEN: Some of the high profile weddings that he has performed. Also, they do funerals, as well, obviously. And he'll tell us how the iconic church is getting ready for those massive crowds they are expecting for the Olympics.

If you're headed to work, you can also follow us on our live blog at We'll see you then at the top of the hour. Back to you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROMANS: Fifty minutes after the hour. Time to check stories making news this morning.


ROMANS (voice-over): Chinese activist, Chen Guangcheng, has left the U.S. embassy in Beijing. He's been taken to a medical facility, and he will be reunited with his family. He's being treated on his ankle for an injury in the escape.

According to U.S. officials and the Chine state run media, there was speculation Chen was going to fly to Washington with his family, but the state department says, no, he is staying in China to study. No more house arrest.

BANFIELD (voice-over): And a deadly blast and gunfire in Kabul just after President Obama's secret visit to Afghanistan. Seven people killed, several more injured, a suicide car bomber, and Taliban militants reportedly disguised in women's burqas, attacking a compounding housing several hundred foreigners.

ROMANS: Cheri Young back on the witness stand in the John Edwards' trial. The wife of the senator's former aide explaining yesterday why she videotaped the home and the possessions of Edwards' mistress, Rielle Hunter, in 2008. She told the court she videotaped all this. Her family's relationship with Edwards had soured. She felt she needed proof that there really was a Rielle Hunter.

BANFIELD: And part of a Las Vegas strip was closed to the traffic for this. Good blow up -- demolition of a casino parking garage. Seven stories down. That's a garage at O'shea's Casino if you've ever been there. It was leveled late yesterday in a matter of seconds. The explosives doing the trick.

It's being torn down to make way for a brand new project that's supposed to include shopping, dining, and a giant observation wheel. Not sure what an observation wheel is. I'm assuming it's one of those Ferris wheels. Yes.

ROMANS: All right. You can feel the music. An Arkansas high school student who is completely deaf has been selected to join the marching band, the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Mitchell Moore beat out 60 others for a spot on the razorback marching band and will be on the symbol line in his freshman year.


MITCHELL MOORE, DEAF BAND STUDENT: I am completely deaf. Without these cochlear implants, I can't hear anything at all.

BARBARA PENNEY, GRANDMOTHER: Like a lot of kids would do, he would drag the pots and pans out from under my sink and use wooden spoons and will spend a lot of time making racket.

MOORE: A lot of vibration is on the bass drum, because you can feel that, right? So, I play that when I play it, I'm going to feel that, so that helps me keep time when I play as well.


BANFIELD: Just incredible.

ROMANS: Percussion is all about feeling, right?

BANFIELD: Feelings.

ROMANS: Mitchell started playing drums when he was three years old.

BANFIELD: That just gives me Goosebumps seeing a story like that.


BANFIELD (on-camera): It's seven minutes now before the hour, folks.

Some really good video for you of a jumbo jet crash and the jumbo jet snaps in half in the desert. Why is it OK to watch this and not be worried? You might be a bit surprised how this thing came down and why. You're watching EARLY START.


ROMANS: All right. Welcome back. Time to take a look at what's trending on the web. And this is only a test, but one spectacular test. An aging 727 crashing and breaking into pieces during a controlled crash, a controlled crash in an uninhabited part of the Mexican desert. No one was on board this plane.

The front half torn off, the back, by the way, nearly intact. See the way it crashes? This was amateur video taken by an onlooker. Real footage taken from all angles, including inside. Will air as part of a Discovery Channel special. The flight crew parachuted out moments before it went down.

BANFIELD: You've got to wonder, because who landed that thing --

ROMANS: Why would you crash a perfectly good plane? So, that we can all watch it on a Discovery Channel special later on. And this, of course, is just from somebody who happened to be watching, I guess.

BANFIELD: Also, don't assume that every plane crash you lose the front of the plane either. Ben Sherwood wrote that book, "Survivor's Club," which shows that just get a seat close to the exit. If you're looking for the most strategic place on a plane to survive a crash, close to the exit. Thank you, Ben Sherwood. I always count (ph) the seat. I love him.

Backlash brewing over Twitter for the announcement that Duran Duran. Yes, Duran Duran is going to headline the opening Olympic concert in London. Yes, I'm back in the 1980s already. The critics are calling this a lazy and predictable choice saying that it's something you might do for the 1984 (ph) games and saying that it ignores the emerging music scene in England.

The rest of the lineup was chosen, though, to represent other parts of Great Britain, including Snow Patrol which is in Northern Island and Stereophonics from Wales, but the haters out there are saying, really? Duran Duran, and I'm like what, yes. Duran Duran. Come on.

ROMANS: And you have (INAUDIBLE) as your ringtone.


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

BANFIELD: Still a lot from the 1980s, too (ph).


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Didn't kill it.


ROMANS: That's right. You heard it right. A pitcher drilled a bird. Right there. Can you see it? The little bird was right in the path. It might be a sign that he needs to work on his fastball, though, because the bird actually kept going, dusting himself off, and flying over at the center field fence.

BANFIELD: Oh, maybe the video is not as good as the actual scene. But I said it before, I'll say it again. Whoever was doing the play-by-play on because he caught it live and did the commentary live.

ROMANS: You hear that terrible cliche, you know, the feathers were flying. Whatever. But, in this particular case, it works.

BANFIELD: Hey, that's it. We're just out of time because we could go for hours, but that's the news from "A" to "Z." I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. "Starting Point" with Soledad O'Brien starts right now. Good morning, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: And good morning, ladies. Our "Starting Point" this morning, end game in Afghanistan.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end.


O'BRIEN: The president says the U.S. is closer to crushing al Qaeda, but not a lot of specifics on when or how much more it's going to cost. Was the trip overseas a campaign tactic? And Hillary Clinton arrives in China as new information comes in about the escaped Chinese activist in the middle of a fight between the two super powers. We now know he was in U.S. hands and where he's going.

Plus, in defense of water boarding. Some say it's cruel and unusual, and it doesn't work to fight terrorism, but a former CIA operative who water boarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed says the torture tactics help save American lives.

And it's a disgusting national chain with bad beer and bad poo (ph). That's one neighbor potentially of incoming hooters restaurant. But they're fighting it in park slope. We'll tell you why some people want it and some people don't.

It's Wednesday, May 2nd, and "Starting Point" begins right now.