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EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Historic Drought Hits Half Of U.S.; How Does The Drought Affect Your Wallet?; Ground Beef Prices At Highest Level Since 1984; Ethanol Futures At 3-Month High; Stuck Accelerator Complaints Investigated; Search For Missing Iowa Girls; Suspect Steals Cop Car; Mandela Celebrates 94th Birthday; Clinton Visits Mandela; Historic Drought Hits Heartland; Search for Missing Iowa Cousins; Stuck Acceleration Complaints Investigated; NY Knicks Let Jeremy Lin Go

Aired July 18, 2012 - 06:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: -- vast stretches of farmland especially hurting corn and soybean plants. One analyst is estimating 75 percent of the crop at the heart of the drought stricken region has been wiped out.

This is already having disastrous effects on the entire country. Corn prices have surged 45 percent and they are expected to jump even higher.

So that means the price of everything, from food and groceries to fuel could skyrocket. Christine Romans is standing by. She is going to have much more on the business angle in just a moment.

But Rob Marciano is live in Burnettsville, Indiana. Rob, we're going to start with because that kind of a sampling of what's happening across the country, isn't it?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. This drought is so wide spread. It just boggles the mind. What you see behind me is really echoed throughout the Corn Belt of the Central U.S.

These corn stalks should be over my head by now and obviously they are nowhere near that. The husks that would normally be almost mature at this point, miniature, not even close.

So you're talking about a crop across the entire Corn Belt that as of last week was 30 percent considered to be good or at some point harvestable. So that is disastrous as far as the corn crop goes.

And of course, soybean and all of the other crops across this part of the country, which in some cases feeds the world, is down that much. Of course, the drought is the main player, but the heat we have seen over the past several weeks has been huge as well.

So we are in north central Indiana, but across the Corn Belt all the way down to the southern plains all the way to the Canadian border as well, farmers are having a problem. Take a look what this farmer from North Dakota had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JIM GRIFFNOW, FARMER FOR 40 YEARS: We have had several dry spells, but not near as bad as this. When you're so far behind in rainfall totals, you never catch up.

EDWARD WORLEY, CO-OWNER, LEHI PRODUCE: Pretty much all of it, but 99 percent are vegetable locals. If we get more rain, it will stay the same. But if it keeps on drying out, it might get a little more expensive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're having to water twice a day, which means an increase in cost.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARCIANO: So it's not just the farmers. Then you talk about going from farm to table or the grocery store, folks who sell produce, not to mention the Ag fuels brought from corn and soybean. Listen to what one produce vendor had to say it's doing to his business.

As far as the rainfall here across Northern Indiana, this is a 45-day stretch that they've only seen once before. Less than a tenth of an inch of rain has fallen since June 1.

So incredibly dry and obviously the heat as well, we are in the midst of the second or third heat wave so far this summer with temperatures getting up and over 100 degrees.

Take a look at the heat advisories out, not only for Indiana, but really stretching from Eastern Kansas and the Dakotas across the lower Great Lakes, back through the mid-Atlantic as well.

So this is going to be a dangerous heat for folks who live in the cities, but obviously for farmers and their crops. It continues to be a tough, tough go. We're only in mid-July, Zoraida, so we still have a good stretch of the heat to go.

SAMBOLIN: I was listening to those farmers there that you talked to and one of them says you never catch up. So is there any hope?

MARCIANO: Well, the hope is for rain and the outlook is fairly grim. The agricultural undersecretary is going to be taking a tour of this particular area later on today.

Of all of the places, Zoraida, this is the worst. And it's really hard to pick one because so many states and so many acres and hundreds of square miles of land and crop land have been devastated by this drought, but this is the spot that is the absolute worst.

And there's not a whole lot of hope. All they can hope is that the heat wave breaks, which it will and they may get a little squeeze of rain when that front comes through, but the long-term outlook isn't all that great.

SAMBOLIN: Wow. We're going to be praying for some rain for that area. Rob Marciano in Burnettsville, Indiana. Thank you very much for that. JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHR: You know, it's so amazing to see the corn there with Rob, which should be taller than him. You know, it doesn't even go up to his shoulders, amazing.

We want to talk about how this drought can affect you and your wallet no matter where you live. Christine Romans is here with us right now. Christine, you grew up in the farm country. You grew up in Iowa.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And they say knee high by the Fourth of July. That was the old saying from the farmers of the 20s and 30s, and of course, the new kinds of corn that we grow.

And the new kinds of technology we have that corn should be well over Rob's head no question. Even where I'm from in Iowa, you can look at some of these corn fields and they look green, but you walk into those cornfields.

You peel open an ear of corn, peel back the husk and you can see there are no kernels or these ears have stopped growing. They've just stopped growing. There's not enough water for them to grow.

This is primetime right now, July for so many of these different crops, including rice, including soybeans a lot of different vegetables, but mostly corn.

I mean, this is the Corn Belt. We already have and you feed these grains to livestock. Livestock is stressed. It is more expensive to feed them some of this stuff.

You take a look at, for example, ground beef prices, already by March, ground beef prices were the highest since 1984. They are still going up.

This is in your supermarket. You're feeling it already. Bone and chicken breast, $1.40 a pound, that's a record high. High grain prices feed into everything, cereal, processed foods, beef, pork, poultry, all these other kind of stuff.

We also burn corn for fuel. Burn a lot of things actually for fuel, farm up produce for fuel too so there's ethanol that we talk about there overall.

When you look at how this vegetation is just dried up. I have a NOAA kind of map that shows you from the early part of the spring and how things have gotten worse.

The orange we're going to show you is where things have really started to completely just dry out. This is something when you look at the middle part of the country, guys, this is the richest farmland for corn and soy beans in the world.

One thing I will say, a lot of people talk about the dust bowl. This is the worse since 1956 for much of the Midwest. But I'm hoping a lot of people have crop insurance, that's going to be different than what you saw in the dust bowl and we're hoping there's a bigger safety net for farmers as well then there was in the 1930s and in the early 1950s.

BERMAN: Let's hope that's the case. Christine Romans, thanks very much.

SAMBOLIN: It's 6 minutes past the hour. Federal regulators are launching an official investigation after receiving close to 100 complaints about stuck gas pedals. This is in Ford and Mazda SUVs.

Those accelerators may have caused one death and nine injuries and the investigation involves about 730,000 vehicles. The national Highway Transportation Safety Administration focusing on two models here. Take a look at this, 2001 through 2004 Ford Escape and the Mazda Tribute SUVs with V-6 engines.

Authorities in Iowa are draining a lake this morning in search for two missing girls, 8-year-old Elizabeth Collins and 10-year-old Lyric Cook. They disappeared last Friday.

Their bikes and purse were found at the edge of Meyers Lake. That is in the town of Evansdale. FBI scent tracking dogs have been brought to the scene now and it could take three days to drain the lake sufficiently to actually determine whether the two young cousins might have fallen in.

So later this morning, we're going to be talking live with the parents of 10-year-old Lyric Cook. That is ahead at 6:40 a.m.

BERMAN: We have some amazing video to show you this morning from Columbus, Ohio of what happens just after police respond to the scene. They heard there were some shots fired and they get there and briefly detain the suspect.

You can see them chasing the suspect down right there. But he takes off and guess where he's running right now, to the cop's car. He opens the door, must be running. He gets in and he speeds off. And as soon as he takes off the officers fire at him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He broke away from me when I grabbed a hold of him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: It's really an amazing video.

The man eventually crashed the cruiser and he was arrested. Police are looking for another suspect in the shooting.

SAMBOLIN: He was hopping along there as they were getting him in that vehicle.

All right, New York Knicks fans, lincredulous this morning. Lots of Lin Sanity. Jeremy Lin packing his bags, he is heading back to the lone star state.

The Knicks declining to match the Houston Rockets' offer of $25 million over the next three years. I think everybody predicted this. They had until midnight last night to keep Lin, the big apple's love affair with the dazzling 23-year-old point guard over.

Just 26 games, Lin sending out a couple of tweets last night saying, quote, "Extremely excited and honored to be a Houston Rocket again and much love and thankfulness to the Knicks and New York for your support this past year, easily the best year of my life."

BERMAN: What a sweetheart. He's such a nice guy.

SAMBOLIN: I think that was it, right? This really likeable guy, the great story, you know, just when you think that everybody says you're not going to make it and look what he does.

BERMAN: He was cut twice and now he's got a $25 million guaranteed contract. He's getting that money. Jeremy Lin, you're paying next time.

All right, two presidents are celebrating one milestone. Coming up, we have a really nice CNN exclusive with former President Bill Clinton on his visit with Nelson Mandela who turns 94 years old today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: And welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. It is 13 minutes past the hour. We're having a very good time here. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: We certainly are. I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We're happy you're joining this morning.

So one of the most admired men in the world, Nelson Mandela is celebrating his 94th birthday today and receiving outpouring of well wishes from millions of people all over the world.

President Obama has praised the former South African president and anti-Apartheid activist as having, quote, "abiding humility and unbreakable will."

Former President Bill Clinton actually flew to South Africa to kickoff the birthday festivities in Mandela's home village. CNN's Robyn Curnow is in Kunu, South Africa.

She spoke with both Clinton and the Mandela family, huge celebrations happening. Can you share all of the details?

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there. We're inside the Mandela family compound, Mandela is inside that building now. I hear from his grandchildren that he is relaxing. He has had a late breakfast and enjoying his 94th birthday.

I had the privilege of seeing him yesterday. He was eating lunch with President Bill Clinton and Chelsea who as you said flew in for the occasion.

He looked well. He put on a bit of weight. Obviously, he had a few health scares in the last year, but he looked like he was much healthier than earlier on in the year.

And obviously probably is quite happy to see Bill Clinton. The two go way back as you say. I had an opportunity also to chat with President Clinton and this is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CURNOW: What has Mandela meant to you personally?

BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Personally, he's been a wonderful friend to me. You know, when we were working together, we were both presidents of our countries, we actually had a lot of business to do. We often had to do it in telephone calls where it was very late in America and very early in South Africa. I try to do the late side because out of deference to him.

But he didn't call me a single time, not once when he didn't ask about Hillary and Chelsea and if it wasn't too late he would ask me to go get Chelsea and bring her to the phone and ask about her homework, was she keeping up, you know? So, I saw in him something that I try not to lose in myself, which is no matter how much responsibility he had, he remembered he was a person first.

CURNOW: Do you think you taught him anything?

CLINTON: I doubt it. I was a pretty good politician, I might have helped him. But he was a pretty good politician when I met him.

I don't know. We did a lot together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CURNOW: OK. So Nelson Mandela's birthday celebrations kick off in the next few hours. There's going to be a family lunch. His grandchildren and great grandchildren traveled to be here with him. We understand from the family there will be of course be a birthday cake, it's ice cream and it's shaped in the shape of the African continent.

Not sure about 94 candles to blow out.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Wow. Robyn Curnow, lucky you. How wonderful sharing us a moment with us this morning. Thank you very much.

See, when I was reading some more of this, which is really neat. So, the way they are honoring him, asking people to devote time, to volunteer their time, 67 minutes in recognition of his 67 years of service. And a lot of people are hopping are onboard and doing that and spending the day volunteering their time in really interesting and unique ways, cleaning up neighborhoods and tattoo parlor is hoping to tattoo with 67 images of Mandela's face and the proceeds are all going to go with charity.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It's Mandela day all around the world.

I was actually in South Africa covering a story two years ago, and you can feel his presence all over the country. There is nothing like it.

It is about 16 minutes past the hour right now. We're going to get you up-to-date with the latest headlines.

Christine Romans is here with the top stories -- Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning again you two.

A crisis unfolding across half of the country right now. Millions are praying for rain, trying to weather the worst drought to hit this nation in more than five decades, crops are ruined on farms across the heartland, livestock stressed right now too.

State leaders are scrambling for solution, trying to come up with aid plans for farmers. At this point, though, it appears that some livelihoods will be lost and food prices will almost certainly spike, folks.

Federal regulators especially launching an investigation after getting nearly 100 complaints about accelerators getting stuck in Ford and Mazda SUVs. They're trying to determine whether the gas pedals caused one death, nine injuries and nearly two dozen accidents. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration says more than 700,000 vehicles, two models are involved, the 2001 through 2004 Ford Escape and the Mazda Tribute SUV with a V-6 engine.

The Boy Scouts of America reaffirming its ban on openly gay boys and adult leaders -- the Scouts making this announcement after conducting an internal review and despite protests from the public. They put out a news release saying its exclusionary policy, quote, "reflects the beliefs and perspectives of the organization" -- Zoraida and John.

SAMBOLIN: Boy, that's a tough one. Thank you, Christine.

Eighteen minutes past the hour.

Two words that sound like doomsday for our economy. Coming up: Christine is back to answer the question, what is the fiscal cliff and should we be worried?

BERMAN: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: It's a big resounding yes. For an extended look at our top stories, head to our blog, CNN.com/EarlyStart.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Minding your business this morning: fiscal cliff, two words you're going to hearing over and over again in the next six months. You've heard a lot about them so far.

If lawmakers do not act in time, we will find ourselves in another recession next year, that is according to the Congressional Budget Office.

BERMAN: This fiscal cliff is out there. It's big and it's scary.

Christine Romans is here too break it down for us.

ROMANS: It is scary and entirely avoidable. But let me not go here.

Let me tell you what the fiscal cliff is and the two forces at play here. On January 1st next year, the Bush tax cuts, the alternative minimum tax cuts expire. So, that means if nothing changes, your taxes will go up.

At the same time, Medicare doctor will also go down. So, you have this part of it and provisions that expire, which will mean higher taxes.

The other part of it is federal spending, huge cuts. If current law stays in place, the government will need to cut a trillion dollars from spending over nine years, a trillion dollars. Half of that comes from defense, half of it comes from non-Defense Department spending.

The Bipartisan Policy Center says these cuts will cost about a million jobs over two years, not just government jobs, folks -- jobs in the private sector, many contractors working with the government. And those contractors by law have to start notifying people before they lay them off. So, a lot of government contractors are in a lot of uncertainty right now.

The economy is barely growing. The first half of the year, maybe 1.7 percent, that's not good. Maybe the second half of the year, this is a forecast from UBS, maybe 2.5 percent growth. But look what happens, if the economy goes off the fiscal cliff, the Congressional Budget Office says GDP will shrink at the rate of 1.3 percent in the first half of next year, unless we back away from the cliff.

That is a recession. The CBO, very uncharacteristic, saying we would have a recession if the fiscal cliff stands. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke again warning Congress yesterday about this. I'm assuming he's going to do it again today when he testifies on Capitol Hill.

What makes this so scary, it's happening in an election year. No one expects Congress to deem with big issues until after November 6th and we're approaching the debt ceiling again. We could hit it as early as December.

Remember how easy that was to solve? No. Just add another thing to Congress's to-do list -- guys.

BERMAN: Scary thing, can't predict politics.

ROMANS: I know. And I'm telling you, the one thing you need to know about your money, every day I kind of say, the one thing you need to know -- it can't be all or nothing, either falling off the fiscal cliff or doing nothing to prevent a recession. We're here because Congress didn't do its job during the debt ceiling debate and here because of what Congress didn't do.

If you want to look for someone to blame for the biggest risk to the economy right now, the biggest risk for the economy, blame Congress.

BERMAN: And if you're counting on a lake duck session after the election, that is risky because what happens if there's a recount? What happens if it's more divided, not less divided after the election? That's the risk they're all running here.

ROMANS: Will they have less political risk in a lame duck congress to make some really tough choices? I mean, some tax increases for some people and some spending cuts for other people? I mean, will there be some cover in a lake duck Congress, do you think?

BERMAN: Potentially but not in if the last few weeks of October and early November are incredibly contentious. You just never know. When these are serious stakes at play here.

Christine, thanks so much.

Giving us plenty to worry about.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. This is what our elected officials are supposed to do, right? Taking care of these problems.

BERMAN: It is. It is.

It is 25 minutes past the hour right now.

He is the local sheriff who sent his cops to Hawaii to investigate President Obama's birth certificate. Coming up, Sheriff Joe Arpaio tells the world what he claims he found.

And if you're leaving right now, you can watch us any time on your desktop or your mobile phone. Just go to CNN.com/TV.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: All dried up -- farmers suffering along with their crops in the sweltering heat.

BERMAN: Cleanup on aisle one -- amateur video captures a mob in a Wal-Mart snatching merchandise.

SAMBOLIN: They picked the wrong place to rob. Watch as a 71- year-old man uses his hand gun to turn the tables on two would-be robbers.

BERMAN: Dirty Harry meets grandpa right there going nuts.

SAMBOLIN: That video, I love it.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman.

It is 30 minutes past the hour right now.

And this morning, we are talking about this terrible drought that's affecting so much of the country. More than half of the U.S. battling this devastating dry spell, the worst in more than 50 years. Disaster areas have been declared in 26 states. Conditions are destroying farm crops.

One analyst estimates 75 percent of the corn crop in the drought region completely wiped out. That could drive up food and fuel prices.

Rob Marciano is live from Burnettsville, Indiana.

And, Rob, what's the latest? Any rain? Any?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Not in the near future. Were just hoping for cooler weather. When a cold front does come through, there's a chance that they might get some rain. But, you know, they've been looking for that for a week.

Since June 1st this area has seen less than a tenth of an inch of rain, the driest 45-day stretch in north Indiana. And to make matters even worse, yesterday, the temperature hit 101 degrees, yet another record high.

We are standing in one of many corn fields here in Indiana and across the Corn Belt. And by this time of the year, these stalks should be well up and over my head.

Obviously the heat and dry has made this not so good. Matter of fact, this area, we're on the corner of this field because of the circulation and the ability of these stalks to breathe. These are some of the healthiest stalks here, and the healthiest here. The reason I know this because the owners of this farm, the Scotts -- come in guys -- Brian and John Scott, father and son, grandfather over there. Four generations now enduring this drought and heat wave.

And, Brian, first of all, let's break down a little bit of 101. These are two ears of corn, one looks good and that was tough to fine but this is more typical of what we've been seeing.

BRIAN SCOTT, INDIANA FARMER: Yes, this is pollinated. This is the most we're going to get out of it if it makes anything. This is a really -- this is a good ear and good year, we think we're leaning towards maybe half this size, so half of a crop, certainly below average.

MARCIANO: Below average and scary fashion.

The undersecretary, one of the undersecretaries of agriculture is going to come out here and tour your farm, John. Put this in perspective, you've been doing this a while and your dad a farmer as well. How bad is this particular heat and drought combo been for the farming industry?

JOHN SOCTT, INDIANA FARMER: The news keeps referring to the drought of '88. I guess at this point we think we're probably better at this date but we have potential to be much worse until we get major rain storms coming through.

MARCIANO: And that's what we need. These guys were telling me that this crop is not irrigated. There are some farms irrigated north of here. But they need rain in order for these crops to mature more than they are and that hasn't been happening in the last 45 days. And the next 45 days, the extended outlook doesn't look all that great.

So, we'll be here all day and learning about corn from these nice people. And this is the heartbeat of America right here and these people are hurting from this situation.

BERMAN: All right. Rob Marciano in Burnettsville, Indiana, thanks so much. Thanks to you guys, too.

SAMBOLIN: And new this morning, dozens of New York City firefighters injured. They are battling a six alarm fire. Take a look at these pictures. This is an apartment building, in the Bronx.

In total, we understand 28 firefighters and two civilians were hurt. Officials are saying all of those injuries are minor. The fire started in the middle of the night on the sixth floor of the building and it spread through the apartments and caused the roof to collapse. Crews were able to bring the flames under control.

BERMAN: It's a bad fire there this morning.

Investigators working for Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, they claim President Obama's birth certificate -- here we go again -- is definitely fraudulent. Members of Arpaio's volunteer posse have been saying for months they suspect the birth certificate produced by the White House in 2011 was a computer-generated forgery. And after completing their probe, they claim no doubt remains.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO, MARICOPA COUNTY, ARIZONA: As we suspect, it is a fraudulent document. My original intent was to clear the president of the United States. But the investigation initiated by our cold case posse found far too many problems on the birth certificate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: What he's saying this time is that numeric codes in certain areas of the birth certificate prove, he says, that it's a forgery. The Obama campaign has declined to comment.

And police are trying to figure out who shot this video showing a flash mob of 300 teenagers jumping on shopping carts, and hurling merchandise through a Florida Wal-Mart.

CNN affiliate, WJXT visited the home of a 17-year-old student who posted the video then removed it from his page. But there was no response at his door.

Police think this incident may be linked to a nearby house party where gunshots were heard earlier that night.

BERMAN: And two armed robbers -- man, did they pick the wrong place to go after Friday night. You have to check out this surveillance video from the Ponce (ph) internet cafe in Ocala, Florida. Look in the background. Here's a guy, 71 years old, Samuel Williams, springing into action to help to other customers being held at gun point.

He pulled out his gun which, by the way, he has a license for and opens fire on the bad guys who can't get out of there fast enough, running away from the 71-year-old.

One of the guys was hit. Both were taken in custody by police and charged with attempted robbery with a firearm and felony criminal mischief.

Don't mess with Sam Williams.

COSTELLO: No kidding.

All right. A peaceful lake in Iowa is an active crime scene this morning. Police dogs now searching for two little girls who went missing after a bike ride. Beautiful pictures we have of them.

Coming up, we'll talk live to the mother of one of the girls.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right. Good morning, and welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. It is 39 minutes past the hour. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We're happy you're with us this morning.

Crews are draining a lake in Iowa. They're hoping to find some signs of two missing girls from the town of Evansdale.

The two little girls, 10-year-old Lyric Cook and her 8-year-old cousin Elizabeth Collins were last seen by their grandmother on Friday, shortly before heading off on an afternoon bike ride.

FBI dogs picked up a scent by the lake and according to Lyric's mom stopped at the water's edge. The town lake is about half a mile from where the girls seen. Currently, there is no evidence of foul play.

So with us now is the mother of 10-year-old Lyric Cook, Misty Morrissey.

Misty, thank you so much for making time to be with us this morning. I got to tell you, we are watching mortified with you, and very prayerful that these two little girls will reappear.

They've been gone now since last Friday. How are you holding up?

MISTY MORRISSEY, MOTHER OF MISSING LYRIC COOK: This morning I feel just more desperation -- more desperation to have people coming together, praying, supporting one another. And praying as hard as we can that they are alive and God brings them home.

SAMBOLIN: Is that the lake they are draining behind you?

MORRISSEY: It is the lake.

SAMBOLIN: And so we're hearing that some dogs actually went to the edge of it and that perhaps you know, the reason they are draining it perhaps they think maybe the little girls are there. Do they typically go to that lake? Do they go swimming in that lake ever?\

MORRISSEY: No, they don't go there, they don't swim there. My daughter is familiar with swimming in lakes, so I don't think she would be scared of this lake. But they don't come here. They don't swim here.

SAMBOLIN: Misty, you know, we talk about a mother's gut, right? What do you think happened?

MORRISSEY: Because we haven't found them anywhere in the surrounding area, I feel like maybe they were taken. I'd like -- I'll be more comfortable in that theory once they drain the lake and we find nothing there. So -- I'm glad they are draining it today.

SAMBOLIN: And the two little girls, do they normally go bike riding on their own?

MORRISSEY: They do normally go bike riding on their own. Not very far, not for very long, but they do.

SAMBOLIN: So, how did it happen that somebody realized that they were gone for too long?

MORRISSEY: My mother is excellent at feeling out how long a child has been gone. My mom has raised all of us. She raised all of our children. She babysat all of our kids. She just became aware that had had been quite a while since they checked in. And that's when she began to search for them.

SAMBOLIN: And, Misty, I understand that you took a polygraph test on Monday and your husband took one yesterday. I imagine that was very difficult to do.

Do you have the results of those polygraph tests?

MORRISSEY: I don't think they've told anybody the results of the polygraph, hopefully that means everything went well. But they haven't told us the results.

SAMBOLIN: How did you feel about being questioned about your little girl?

MORRISSEY: I felt -- I just felt awkward. It's not a process that I've ever gone through before. But I know that was a necessary measure in getting them as much information as we could get to them so they could do their investigation.

SAMBOLIN: And I know a vigil has been held. It's a very small community. Everybody is out helping and trying to search.

How does it make you feel when you look at all of that support?

MORRISSEY: I feel -- I feel very blessed. I feel like that's God's hand helping us. And just overwhelmed, you know, with gratefulness that so many people, friends, family and people we don't know want to be a part of this.

SAMBOLIN: And, Misty, if you could say anything to the little girls, what would you say?

MORRISSEY: I would tell them that we love them and we're here for you and we're praying. That don't give up. Don't give up.

If you've taken our kids, bring them back. We want them home. And we're all standing here waiting.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Misty Morrissey, we are standing waiting with you and we are praying for the safe return of your daughter and her little cousin. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. We really appreciate your time.

BERMAN: Touching, moving, we are in fact praying for them.

Let's keep you up to date on the morning's top stories.

Half of the country is suffering through historic drought this morning. Millions praying for rain.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

BERMAN: This is the worst drought to hit America in over 50 years. Crops destroyed throughout the heartland, livestock is threatened, too. State leaders are scrambling to come up for assistance with farmers. But at this point it appears many livelihoods could be lost and food prices almost certainly to spike.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Nearly 100 complaints about accelerators getting stuck in Ford and Mazda SUVs. It's formally investigated by federal regulators. They're trying to determine whether jammed gas pedals caused one death and nine injuries, nearly two dozen accidents. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration says 730,000 vehicles and two models are involved. They're up there for you. It's 2001 through 2004 Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute SUVs with V-6 engines.

BERMAN: Here in New York, Knicks fan sad. In fact, Lin consolable (ph). Jeremy Lin packing his bags and heading to Houston. The New York Knicks declining to match the Rockets offer of $25 million over the next three years. They had until midnight last night to keep the 23-year-old pointguard.

Lin, for his part, sent out a couple of tweets overnight saying, "Extremely excited and honored to be a Houston Rocket again and much love and thankfulness to the Knicks and New York for your support this past year, easily the best year of my life." Good to luck to Jeremy Lin.

SAMBOLIN: Maybe he will be sending out some tweets now that he's making --

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN (on-camera): $25 million worth of treats.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): All right. Soledad O'Brien joins us now with a look at what is ahead on "Starting Point."

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning to you. We're going to talk about what could be a potential terror issue a decade after 9/11. Could American flight schools still unknowingly be training terrorists? There are some troubling new questions about possible holes in the government's security net. We're going to get they very first look at the disturbing new report from Republican congressman, Mike Rogers, from Alabama.

Also, the boy scouts of America keeping its policy which bans gays, but they got a new CEO coming in who's against the policy. Does that mean that the fight to have gays in the boy scouts starts all over again?

Plus, the number of Black voters who turn out to vote in November could be this year's secret swing factor and not in the president's favor. We're going to talk this morning to (INAUDIBLE) the president and CEO of the Urban League. They're about to start their conference.

And part two of our one-on-one conversation with billionaire businessman, Sir Richard Branson. Talk about how he got to the top, all those risks that he likes to take and if he has any regrets at all. It's all on "Starting Point." We'll see you about 13 minutes from now.

BERMAN: Can't wait.

All right. So, what are the presidential candidates going to be fighting about today? We're going to be able to tell you in just a few minutes. A first look at the videos that they're using to get their message across. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

SAMBOLIN: We have breaking news out of Syria where suicide bomber has attacked the national security building in Damascus. Syria's government-run television says the country's defense minister was killed. The bombing taking place during a cabinet meeting with several other officials reportedly wounded as well.

That attack comes during a fourth day of violence between government troops and rebel forces.

BERMAN: Back here in the U.S., campaign news. Reenergized Mitt Romney hits the crucial swing state of Ohio later today. He's going to be joined by a couple of political heavy weights, near him if not with him. Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal will headline two events, while former Florida governor, Jeb Bush, will also make his first non- fund raising debut in the Buckeye State.

Also debuting today, not even out yet, but we're going to give you a first look. Two new videos coming to an internet console or a television near you that really layout what these two campaigns are trying to make the main messages of this campaign.

The political crony -- you know, the Romney saying that about Obama, and of course, the corporate raider/nontax disclosing Mitt Romney. That's what the Obama team is saying about Mitt Romney. We have some new videos no one seen yet. Paul Steinhauser joins us live now from Washington.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Hey, John, good morning. I'll start with the Obama campaign out this web video you just mentioned.

Listen, we know, they've been going after Mitt Romney for about two months now of the campaign trail and TV ads saying that listen, when he was leaving that private equity firm that he co-founded, Bain Capital company invested in other companies shut them down, and a lot of jobs were sent overseas.

Romney saying, listen, I left Bain Capital in February of 1999 and I had nothing to do with that, trying to undercut the Obama attacks. Take a look at this brand-new web video.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But I had no responsibility whatsoever after February of 1999.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For the management or ownership -- management, rather of Bain Capital. That sounds very suspicious.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEINHAUSER: What they're doing is they're trying to poke some fun of what Romney said during a round robin of interviews last Friday when he was explaining why he was no longer responsible at Bain Capital after February of 1999, and they're using average Americans supposedly to try to say, well, I'm very confused by all that mumbo jumbo.

We'll see how -- you know, listen, John, we've seen these attacks go after Romney for a while now and they are continuing. The Obama campaign not giving up on that one bit.

BERMAN: And you have first look at a new Romney ad, too.

STEINHAUSER: Yes. You know, the Romney campaign and you were talking about this last hour with me, a lot of conservatives complaining, Mitt Romney, you're not fighting back.

Well, the campaign has been fighting back over the last couple of days attacking Barack Obama for political cronyism as they call it, saying that Obama is doing favors to campaign contributors at the expense of who, the middle class. Well, they're out with a brand-new ad, TV ad, this morning. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where did the Obama stimulus money go? Friends, donors, campaign supporters, special interest groups? Where did the Obama stimulus money go? Solyndra, 500 million taxpayer dollars, bankrupt. So, where did the Obama stimulus money go? Wind mills from China.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEINHAUSER: You know, the vast majority of the TV ads and web videos are negative, John. We've got more than three and a half months to go until Election Day. Stay tuned. A lot more of this to come.

BERMAN: All right. Paul Steinhauser in Washington with the political news before it happens. Thanks so much, Paul.

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: Looking into his crystal ball.

Up next, today's "Best Advice" from the wife of Pat Tillman. He's a former NFL player who lost his life in Afghanistan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right. It is 57 minutes past the hour right now. "Starting Point" with Soledad O'Brien on deck. Just over there, in fact.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. So, we wrap it up as always with "Best Advice." And Christine Romans has that.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And today's "Best Advice," you guys, comes from Marie Tillman, the wife of Pat Tillman, the football player who left his professional career and enlisted in the army after September 11th. We asked her about the best advice she has ever received. Marie Tillman. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARIE TILLMAN, WIFE OF PAT TILLMAN: The best advice I've ever received is to fake it until you make it. And that was something that really was helpful to me during the time after my husband was killed, and I really was pretty depressed and not feeling all that great.

And someone told me to just get up every morning and try to smile and try to make it through the day. And eventually, it would not be as difficult.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: She's such a lovely woman. She just recently had a baby. She has her family. Even as she's sort of writing about her husband who died, she also is living life and she said that's what he would have wanted her to do. He would have wanted her to love and to live and to keep moving.

SAMBOLIN: Well, he left her a letter telling her that.

ROMANS: Right. Right.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. She actually found this letter after he died, and it was just remarkable. I want you to live.

BERMAN: And you meet a ton of people who walk through (ph) here and you say she's one of the nicest people you've ever met.

ROMANS: She's one of the nicest people. You know, sitting here, waiting for her to go on Soledad show, she was just behind the scenes, very gracious, very nice, you know, really honest. And sometimes, you see people on book tours and -- she's the real deal.

BERMAN: All right. Christine, thank you so much. Good advice. That is EARLY START for today. I'm John Berman.

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

O'BRIEN: Our "Starting Point" this morning, a crisis is unfolding in slow motion in our nation's heartland. More than two dozen states have been hit by the worst drought in this country in more than 50 years. Crops have been ruined. Livestock and livelihoods are threatened and all of us could soon be paying for it. Rob Marciano is going to join us live from one of the hardest hit states.

America is on the edge of a fiscal cliff. Democrats are now threatening to let all of the Bush era tax cuts expire rather than extend them for the rich. But is it just a threat? We'll take a look.

And a decade after 9/11, could American flight schools still unknowingly be training terrorists? The first look at a disturbing new study that shows some gaping holes in the government's security net.

Plus, part two of our one-on-one with Sir Richard Branson, one of the world's most famous and philanthropic businessman. Wait until you hear his answer when I ask him about his biggest regret.

It's Wednesday, July 18th, and "Starting Point" begins right now.