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Pentagon Plans for Smaller Army; On To New Hampshire; Downsizing The Military; New Charges Against Alleged L.A. Arsonist; Who is Rick Santorum?

Aired January 5, 2012 - 05:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And a very good morning to you, everybody. Hello.

It's an EARLY START, very early.

I'm Ashleigh Banfield.


We're very happy you're joining us. We are bringing you the news from A to Z.

It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

So, let's get started here

Six police officers were shot overnight while serving a search warrant in Utah. That was drug-related. They are recovering in the hospital this morning. Apparently, there was only one suspect there.

BANFIELD: Also in the hospital, right?

SAMBOLIN: Yes, also in the hospital.

BANFIELD: We'll continue to watch that.

Also, guess what? Some huge announcements coming, pictures like this may not be as voluminous if the government gets its way. President Obama is about to announce that we're going to cut a lot of troops and change our war strategy. We're not going to be so capable of fighting two wars at once if what he says is going to be the way of the future.

SAMBOLIN: So, you know the Dallas teenager that was deported by mistake? Well, her family says she was sent to Colombia where she didn't speak the language, didn't know anyone. Why? Because apparently, she ran away from home, and when the police picked her up, she gave them a false name, which happened to belong to a 22-year-old illegal immigrant who had a lot of arrest warrants. So, they're trying to get her back home.

BANFIELD: If you need another reason, don't lie to police.

We've got a bunch more on the docket for you as well, including, oh, politics. Have you heard? We're in political season officially, and this man can now be called perhaps Mr. Money Bags. Rick Santorum has raised upwards of $1 million in just about the last 24 to 36 hours, which amounts to more than half of what he's been able to raise since he started his campaign, if the numbers actually shake out, which is pretty remarkable.

So, we're going to talk a little bit about what that means and whether that money's going to continue as they surge forward to the next few states.

Seismic changes, and I mean it, seismic changes coming to the United States military forces. Defense Department today and leader Leon Panetta, as well as President Obama, planning to talk today about how the Pentagon is going to cut about a half billion dollar from its budget.

And here's how the new strategy will shake out. Apparently, we're no longer going to be able to fight two ground wars at the same time. Four thousand troops are going to be cut from European bases and at least 47,000 fewer Marines and troops will be in active duty in the next five years.

And all of this, if you're keeping track, it comes at a time when we might just be needing them, because Iran is ramping up its military might, China has been building up its army as well, and, of course, if you've been following Syria, Anderson Cooper's phenomenal work on covering Syria, those crackdowns continue. And who knows if we're going to get involved in that.

Our Chris Lawrence, crack reporter at the Pentagon, joins us live, getting up for an EARLY START.

Chris, you -- the reason I want to talk to you about this, you've been working at the Pentagon for a number of years now. I've followed you in your work. You walk those halls on a regular basis and you've got sources and you talk to the generals and on down. There must be grumbling if they're talking about massive cuts.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, exactly, Ashleigh. I mean, you know, you're not going to get agreement on something this big.

You know, some people say, well, look, you know, this is sort of like, you know, trying to buy health insurance for the diseases you think you're going to get instead of having a comprehensive plan that will cover you in any regard. Some of the other people I've talked to say, look, it still allows us to fight one ground war and deploy forces somewhere else to sort of, what they call spoil another adversary.

So, in other words, if the U.S. military was heavily engaged in Korea and Iran, you know, started to act provocatively, they could deploy enough forces to sort of settle Iran down until those forces could be moved over to the second war.

BANFIELD: OK. So, I get the chess match, but at the same time, there's a lot of smart people in the building where you work, and I'm guessing that many of them understand that our strategies going forward include technologies that we never had when many of the war plans were actually drawn up. In fact, I think some of the war plans that we have in existence right now are maybe upwards of a decade or plus old.

So, are there people who are actually thrilled with this because they know that we could use better gear to fight a different war?

LAWRENCE: Yes, in other words, using your money in a smarter way. You know, some of the people I've spoken with say, look, you know, the chances of us sending 150,000 troops to two separate wars, they just don't see that on the horizon. They say that's not the way war's going to be fought in the future.

And if you really look at this plan, you'll notice that a lot of the nuclear deterrent, a lot of the big weapons systems, a lot of the investment in the things like unmanned submarines, you know, drone subs, so to speak, a lot of that is still going forward because they think a lot of the combat in the future is going to be cyber warfare and things like that.

BANFIELD: Yes. And you know what? Even though you're the pentagon beat, you're going to be the politics beat, because guaranteed today, there's going to be some GOP folks who jump on that on the stump.

LAWRENCE: I would take that bet in a heartbeat.

BANFIELD: Yes, yes, you'd better keep your monitor on today, my friend. Thank you, Chris. We'll talk to you in a little bit.

So, it dovetails perfectly into the story, the big story of the week.

Adios, Iowa! We loved it, but we've got to move on. Republicans are already ramping up for round two. Next stop, New Hampshire.

Mitt Romney already in the state. Not everybody is. Not everybody is thrilled about New Hampshire, but this guy picked up the big endorsement.

Senator McCain stopped by to announce to that thrilled audience that he's putting his support behind Mitt Romney. That makes a difference. It makes a big difference.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, and the GOP field is one candidate lighter. Michele Bachmann suspended her campaign. Rick Perry we thought had suspended his, but no, he's back in the game.

What's ahead now?

In New York, we have Will Cain, columnist with "The Blaze." In San Diego, Ruben Navarrette, syndicated columnist, "Washington Post" writers group. And in Chicago, conservative commentator Lenny McAllister.

Thank you, gentlemen, for joining us this morning.

Ruben, I want to start with you. So, you know, Santorum announced that he raised $1 million. And so, does that finally put him in the game here?

RUBEN NAVARRETTE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It does, and there's more to come, you can be assured of that. I think the trick is how he takes that money and more money to come and turns it into an apparatus, builds this structure in these states, but working in his favor is the fact that there's so many Republicans out there who, one, are not warming up to Mitt Romney, and two, frankly resent probably the attempts by the media and the Republican establishment to anoint Romney. It certainly happened in Iowa.

So, if South Carolina, even shades of New Hampshire, go this way, that's a big opening for Santorum. He could do very well in those places.

BANFIELD: Hey, Will Cain, jump in on that thread, because that's amazing thing to be able to say that you -- well, if it's true. We're hearing a lot about $1 million. And if that's the case, that's a big bump, but is that going to actually happen more and more, or is that sort of it for Santorum? He didn't have the kind of boots you need for a state like Florida or South Carolina.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right, Ashleigh. And you know what I'm curious, where is this money coming from? Where is Santorum's constituency, both from a voter and a donor base going to come from?

I've got to be honest with you. I'm kind of confused by it, because here's the narrative that's being played to us, right? Conservatives are looking for their true, idealistic, principle base candidate, who they can count on being conservative, and that's Rick Santorum, we're being told now.

We've been told that's various candidates over the last six months, but one thing we know it's not Mitt Romney, right? That's the electable, moderate you settle for.

Well, I don't know about this narrative very much. Santorum is essentially the mirror opposite of Ron Paul. He advocates for big government programs, from giving the manufacturing base a corporate tax rate cut, but none other -- not a cut, but down to zero percent, and none other. That's picking winners and losers in the economy.

Beyond that, you know, he has the most absolutely interventionist foreign policy out there. Rick Santorum is not what people like to believe, some big small government conservative. So I don't know where this -- if this narrative holds true, it's not going to be valid. I mean, if we're selling a lie.

So I don't know who's going to keep giving him money. Who's going --


BANFIELD: People in the position in government are giving him money. Who knows?

SAMBOLIN: I'm going to switch gears here -- well, maybe not switching gears, because we know he's going to be scrutinized more and more now.

So, Lenny in particular, all of you I want you to listen to this, but the NAACP blasted Santorum for targeting blacks in entitlement reform. Let's listen to this and then we'll chime in.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't want to make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.


SAMBOLIN: All right, Lenny, I'm going to bring you in on this because I know that we've been texting back and forth on this.


SAMBOLIN: You say that you actually have an explanation for that comment. We'd love to hear it.

MCALLISTER: Well, here's the thing, Rick Santorum's from Pittsburgh, Penn Hills, Pennsylvania, where I grew up. Rick Santorum, working class Catholic, same way I grew up. Good people, such as the reverend and Mrs. Albert Price (ph) and Harold and Amy Burgess (ph) still live there, own their homes, been there 40 years.

Rick Santorum has seen them going from homeowners to watching other peers around them, be around them and grow up people, such as me and my friends, to now having their neighborhoods decimated because the education and the jobs have gone away.

And what he's basically saying is, listen, I remember people such as the folks that I live around in Penn Hills being able to be working class and do something for their children, and now we don't have those type of opportunities in place. And when you find bureaucrats trying to push social programs for these younger generations as being a way of life and not the way of life of the people that I grew up with --

SAMBOLIN: Lenny --

MCALLISTER: -- in Penn Hills, the people Santorum lived around, if we don't put those things back into place, we're going to continue to see what we've been seeing.

SAMBOLIN: Lenny, let me interrupt you because there's something key here that I didn't -- I failed to mention earlier. Last night on "JOHN KING," he actually said that he is confident that he never said "black" there, but we just listened to it.

We got to switch gears here. So, Will, let's talk about Rick Perry. You know, we thought that he was out. He's back in again.

So, is this actually going to be good news for Romney?

CAIN: Absolutely, that's good news for Romney. First of all, Rick Perry -- I mean, this is getting kind of funny. Not getting, it has been funny, and I'm a native Texan here.

But I guess what we saw is he was going to get out and Michele Bachmann decided to get back in and he and his campaign said, wait a minute, wait a minute, those are constituents we can court, so let's get back in and take her voters.

It's absolutely so good for Romney. In fact, it's so good for Romney we should wonder if somebody in the Romney campaign or somebody close to Romney said, hey, Rick, you know, it'd be really nice if you stuck around.

Romney needs a fractured field. He needs that vote split up.

One thing you remember about Rick Perry is he's been miscast as this Tea Party ideologue, this true believer. Rick Perry is a politician and he has been for two decades. He's going to do what's best for his long-term political career. And I would say, being on the right side of Mitt Romney is probably going to be good for your political career.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Will Cain, Ruben Navarrette, Lenny McAllister, thank you for joining us this morning. Stand by because we're going to be talking to you all morning long.

And keep it on CNN for the best political coverage on television. You know that. Senator John McCain joining us live on "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien. That is headed your way in the 7:00 hour.

BANFIELD: Soledad also has a packed show for you today. She's talking to Christine O'Donnell in the 7:00 hour as well. Remember her? Tea Party darling? "I'm not a witch"?

She endorsed Romney, but is the rest of the Tea Party going to follow suit? I'm so curious what that bloc is going to do. I feel like they've fractured all over the place we can't really count on them as a bloc anymore.

SAMBOLIN: All right. It is 11 -- almost 12 minutes after the hour.

U.S. markets rose from earlier losses to close mixed by the end of business day yesterday. So, the Dow was up 21 points while the NASDAQ and S&P 500 closed flat.

BANFIELD: Christine Romans, one of my favorite people in the universe, is here.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Closing flat was a good thing, quite frankly. People were worried about Europe and they're worried --

BANFIELD: You're more excited about that than being called my favorite person in the universe?

ROMANS: That's the kind of --


BANFIELD: OK. Some business to talk about, sort of a government appointment that skirts Congress.


BANFIELD: You know, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. I've never heard of it.

ROMANS: The money police, they are the money police, basically. Now look, this is the hallmark of the president's financial market regulation reform, right? I mean, there were all of these things that weren't regulated that led to the financial crisis. The president wanted this big agency, it passed the Congress, this big agency to be the centerpiece of new banking and financial regulations.

The Republicans don't want it. The Republicans don't want one guy in charge of an agency. They want this agency to have to come back year after year to ask for money. They want a board of people to run it and they want it to be more accountable to Congress.

Basically, this is Republicans in the business community who don't want the president to have his signature -- one of his signature, what he would call his signature legislative achievements.

Now, what is not regulated right now, right? Payday lenders, some of the mortgage originator and nonbank mortgage originator and servicers, some of the credit, the debt collection agencies. Without a head --

BANFIELD: Debt collection agencies aren't regulated?

ROMANS: Without a head, this agency can't go and really go in there and watch what these different groups are doing. And so, this is just pitting two ideologies, you know? The Republicans and the Chamber of Commerce and others don't want this agency around, or they want it watered down, right?

And this is something that consumer groups and Democrats really, really want. This is a political fight. Political year, and the president stepped in, made the recess appointment.

So, now these debt collection agencies and all that will fall under the purview of this agency.

BANFIELD: Do libertarians want it at all? Ron Paul and the libertarians, do they want it at all?

ROMANS: Less government, less government, less government. So, that's where we stand.

We're watching futures are a little bit lower and also later on, I'll have for you jobless claims coming up later this morning. Jobless claims -- let me be really clear -- the labor market has been slowly improving, so it's going to be important to se what happens with jobless claims.

BANFIELD: Election year.

ROMANS: I know.

BANFIELD: Every one of those will be snapped up by either side.

ROMANS: I know, you're right. And the big jobs report, I know the press release is already written.

BANFIELD: Talking about it yesterday.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Christine Romans, thank you very much.

ROMANS: Good morning, you guys.

SAMBOLIN: OK. So, every morning, we give you an EARLY START to your day by alerting you to the news that is happening later and the stories just developing now, but they will be the big story tonight.

First up, President Obama is expected to announce a new summer jobs program today. That is for the young Americans who cannot find jobs. The White House is hoping to create a quarter million opportunities between the government, private companies and non- profits that volunteer to take part.

BANFIELD: And also, the government is still working to try to get back this Texas teenager. She was deported by mistake in 2010, by mistake. ICE officials apparently shipping the 15-year-old girl to Colombia after she was arrested, but she gave a fake name to the cops.

Even though she's an American citizen, doesn't speak a lick of Spanish, and according to the family, doesn't know anyone in Colombia, ended up in Colombia. So, a big old oopsie.

SAMBOLIN: And lastly, this is a bummer, especially in the mornings. Orange juice more expensive today as Florida fights a freeze. Orange juice prices jumped almost 9 percent with temperatures dipping into the 20s and breaking record lows in some cities.

So, on the heels of that, Rob Marciano -- see what you did to the prices of oranges?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I'd like to have my morning O.J.

BANFIELD: Couldn't get your juice?

You know, we're in the elections center, but we're in Atlanta and --

MARCIANO: Are we disclosing that now? I thought that was --

BANFIELD: Apparently, the election's over, so it's OK. But I always hear it called Hot-lanta. I didn't wear a coat and I saw a fountain that was frozen into an ice castle cascade.

MARCIANO: I love this. We tried to dig it up --


MARCIANO: There it is.

BANFIELD: Ask and we shall receive.


BANFIELD: This truly was the place I had lunch the other day, in Atlanta.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, my goodness!

BANFIELD: In Atlanta. I kid you not.

SAMBOLIN: They didn't do that on purpose.

MARCIANO: By the way, Zoraida, that place is called Front Page News, so I don't know that's why you went there, being a hard core journalist.

BANFIELD: Totally accidental.

MARCIANO: Anyway, good southern Cajun food there. Speaking of the Southeast, the low temperatures from yesterday, we talked about the freeze across much of Florida. Yes, some of the citrus crops saw some damage, but overall, it wasn't really that bad. The more damaged crops replace things like strawberries and some vegetables that are a little bit more sensitive to that.

Teens and 20s yesterday, we're not seeing that this morning. On average, about 10 degrees warmer today than yesterday. But still, freeze warning out for at least the central parts of the peninsula. Temperatures are 29 degrees in Gainesville, 32 degrees in Jacksonville. At this time yesterday, they were down to around 22 degrees.

A couple of snow flurries across parts of upstate New York this morning. Other than that, things are actually kind of quieting down, especially across the midsection, where record highs are going to be the case today as they were yesterday with storms not all that bad.

Only three spots where we're looking at potential delays today -- New York metros, Boston and Seattle. We will take it as 2012, relatively speaking, gets off to a fairly quiet start.

Guys, back to you.

BANFIELD: Rob Marciano, thank you for that, my friend.

MARCIANO: All right.

BANFIELD: This one's awesome. Still ahead, how far one woman will go to protect her baby?


MOM: I've got two guns in my hand. Is it OK to shoot if he comes in this door?


BANFIELD: Yes, that's her and that's the baby. She grabbed a gun, called 911, put the bottle in the baby's mouth and then unloaded with deadly force.

What do you think happened to the intruder? What do you think the sheriff's going to do about it? You will not believe what you're going to hear.



BANFIELD: From the CNN election center, good morning. It is 20 past 5:00 on the East Coast.

Get out of bed, sleepy head, and go to bed, if you're in L.A. Of course, it's much earlier there.

Hi, everybody. We got some national headlines for you, local news.

SAMBOLIN: Or enjoy your cup of coffee while you listen to this this morning. We have papers from Detroit and from Washington.

Let's start with Detroit. You know how cities have a budget crisis, right?


SAMBOLIN: So, listen to what Detroit police are doing. In precincts, they will no longer be open to the public 24 hours a day. They are actually --

BANFIELD: In Detroit?

SAMBOLIN: Yes, yes, yes. They're going to be closed from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. --

BANFIELD: That's not good.

SAMBOLIN: Only open for eight hours. The plan here is to save money, and, they say, to get more cops on the street. Well, you know the residents and the community leaders are up in arms over this --

BANFIELD: It's Detroit.

SAMBOLIN: -- because they're worried -- yes, of course, high crime, but the fact that you're closed at any hour at all -- who answers the phone? What about the dispatcher? I mean, just a ton of questions there.

BANFIELD: I dare say, maybe the closing hours should be during the day when there's less crime, more crime at night.

SAMBOLIN: Very scary. Very scary.

BANFIELD: Man, that's amazing.

Here's something I love because I always wondered if there was something in the water. Ever notice all the twins rolling around, double baby strollers in the stores?


BANFIELD: You're not crazy. Apparently, the twins rate is up way, way up -- 76 percent in the last 36 years, and now, the status that one in 30 infants is a twin. I think, you know, years and years ago, it was closer to like one in 52.

And there's a couple reasons for it. We're all having babies older, folks -- me, Zoraida, all of us. We're all having babies a little bit older. That does lead to, you know, twins.

SAMBOLIN: It's fertility drugs, right?

BANFIELD: Well, that's the second reason. Interestingly enough, being older does lead to twins on its own. And then fertility drugs, of course, can lead to multiple eggs, but then also multiple embryos being implanted, depending on the kind of fertility treatment you're taking.

SAMBOLIN: Right, right.

BANFIELD: So, that's why. It's not crazy and it's not something in the water.



Speaking of babies and speaking of protecting your young, a mother -- check her out. She looks awful innocent, doesn't she? There she is with a 3-month-old baby. She called 911 the other day to ask if it was OK to blow away the intruder who was breaking into her home. Two guys apparently trying to break into her mobile home. She hears it, calls 911, puts the bottle in the baby's mouth, grabs her gun and says this.


MOM: I've got two guns in my hand. Is it OK to shoot him if he comes in this door?

DISPATCHER: Well, you have to do whatever you can do to protect yourself. I can't tell you that you can do that. But you do what you have to do to protect your baby.


BANFIELD: Holy moly! So, in the end, it's very serious. Here's what's happened. She killed the first intruder after he stepped through the door. The other one fled but then turned himself in. She says she did it to protect her 3-month-old baby.

She was home by herself with that baby because her husband died of cancer on Christmas Day, and this was just New Year's Eve when this was happening.

Joining us now live on the phone is Grady County, Oklahoma sheriff, Art Kell.

Sheriff, can you hear me OK?

SHERIFF ART KELL, CHICKASHA, OKLAHOMA (via telephone): Yes, I can.

BANFIELD: Boy, is this a story that grabs people, because so many of us say I would do the same thing. Someone comes into my house and I've got kids, even if I don't, I feel like I have the right to do that. And yet, she called to ask if she had the right.

Tell me about that dispatcher. That dispatcher's fairly new, right?

KELL: Yes, ma'am. She's been working there 2 1/2 months.

BANFIELD: And the truth of the matter is, is that I believe Oklahoma's one of those states where you have that castle doctrine. If someone comes in your house, you don't have to ask questions, do you?

KELL: That's correct.

BANFIELD: So, in the end, one guy is dead inside her home. The other one took off and later turned himself in.

But here's what's interesting, he is the one being charged with murder, not her, because of the castle doctrine, I understand, her. Because of him being a criminal, is it a felony murder? Doesn't matter who dies in the commission of a crime? Doesn't matter if you're the one who's committing the crime and your pal's committing the crime, you get charged with murder if anybody dies? Is that how that worked?

KELL: Yes, ma'am. In Oklahoma, what it does, it helps people that get involved with a shooting incident. And if there's two accomplices involved in it, then the other one is also charged with the crime, the murder and the homicide.

BANFIELD: Anybody in your community second guessing this at all, suggesting maybe this shouldn't happen? Or is pretty much everyone on board that that young woman had every right to do what she did?

KELL: Yes, in this community, the thefts and the burglaries have risen quite a bit. You know, we're all tired of being a victim of crimes. And in this instance, we have a lot of people ask this -- what can we do? And I always tell people that you have a right to protect your property and you also have a right to protect your lives. When there --

BANFIELD: There's a picture that ABC News -- I want to show this because -- while you're saying that, I want to show the picture ABC News was posting of 18-year-old Sarah Dawn McKinley (ph). That's her looking down the barrel of -- I believe that's her .12-gauge shotgun that she was pointing through the door when he was coming through the door.

She knew what she was doing. She's no dummy when it comes to firearms. She had two guns at the ready.

Is that sort of par for the course in this community? Are most people armed? Are there a lot of NRA members? Do people know about that castle doctrine? Is it a big thing in your community?

KELL: Yes, we're a rural community, and you know, we have -- in the county, we have 1,100 square miles. They know that, you know, we're not going to get there within two, five, 10 minutes.

BANFIELD: Yes, they're on their phone.

KELL: Yes, they're on their phone, and they know if there's any type of perpetrator comes in on the property or armed, then it would be the last line of defense for them is armed.

BANFIELD: Poor woman, being widowed just on Christmas eve and then having this done all at the age of 18 with a 3-month-old baby. Real quickly, only have 10 seconds left -- do you know if she's OK, she's doing all right?

KELL: Yes, I talked to her yesterday. She feels good about what's happened and she said she's always thought to herself that if somebody comes into her home that she would not allow them to come in and harm her or her family.

BANFIELD: Sheriff, that's exactly what's about, being prepared and not being scared and making sure you know what your plan is. Thanks so much for being with us.

KELL: Hey, you're welcome. Thank you.

BANFIELD: Can you imagine? Just imagine if that were you, with your little baby, middle of the night.

SAMBOLIN: I'd do whatever I had to do.

BANFIELD: Of course you would.

It's very controversial, though, still very controversial, castle doctrine. But you know what?

SAMBOLIN: Twenty-seven minutes after the hour.

Still ahead, Ron Paul's Twitter slam on Jon Huntsman. Guess what? Paul passing the buck.

BANFIELD : Really?

SAMBOLIN: Huntsman is now responding. Hear what he told CNN.

You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: Hey, everybody. Welcome back. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We're very happy you're with us. Welcome back to EARLY START live in the CNN Election Center.

On the agenda in the next half hour, Rick Santorum trying to prove that he is not an Iowa wonder. His surge now includes $1 million, according to "The New York Times," in fundraising.

BANFIELD: Nice! That's some sweet cash. How about that? I wonder if that's going to continue, a million bucks.

SAMBOLIN: We're going to check with some folks, see what they think.

BANFIELD: Also, you know that thing we do that you've been following since we've been on the air for all of, like, what, four days?


BANFIELD: We wake some poor soul up just because we figure we have to be up, so other people should be up, too. Just so you know, it's something that we OK with them long ago, but we told them we would never tell them when they were actually going to get a phone call from us, but there a lot of people, we think, weigh into certain stories that we do.

And we've got one this morning. She has no idea we're going to be calling her, but we do have a hint for you. Are you ready? Here it comes.


SAMBOLIN: Is that a good enough hint?



BANFIELD: She doesn't watch TV.

SAMBOLIN: Kind of, sort of, maybe.

BANFIELD: You're right. It's not --

SAMBOLIN: That actually is in the background a lot.

BANFIELD: Yes. That was not as good a hint as it should be because there's a million different people on "Law & Order," but it's a she. She's on "Law & Order," and she weighs heavily into politics for more reasons than you'll know. So, that's coming up soon. We'll give you some more hints as we go along as well.

Time to check the top stories that are making news this morning if you're getting ready to get out the door. You're ready for this one.


BANFIELD (voice-over): The military may no longer be able to fight two ground wars at once. Today, President Obama and defense secretary, Leon Panetta, say they're going to unveil a new strategy for the Pentagon that includes cutting tens of thousands of troops to cut defense costs.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): The accused Hollywood arsonist, Harry Burkhart, is now charged with 37 counts of arson. Police allege he set more than 50 fires over New Year's weekend, triggered by his mother being taken into custody. She's wanted in her native Germany.

BANFIELD: And a tweet from Ron Paul mocking Jon Huntsman as the -- Mr. Paul on the defense. This is what it said, "Jon Huntsman, we found your one Iowa voter. He's in Linn precinct 5, and you might want to call him and say thanks." Ron Paul told Soledad O'Brien yesterday he knew nothing about that tweet. He didn't send it, he said.


BANFIELD (on-camera): His camp did, though. Last night, both Huntsman and Paul were addressing the dust-up with CNN's Piers Morgan.


REP. RON PAUL, (R-TX) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, you know, that was done, you know, through staff. It was supposed to be good humor. And I mean, I just didn't think that was a big deal. JON HUNTSMAN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You think he would have learned the perils of ghost-written subject matter by now, but I have to tell you, at the end of the day, I actually found it to be pretty humorous.


BANFIELD: Oh, I love that! You know what, there's an example of it not getting as ugly as we think it's getting. They were actually having a good time with that. I think it's funny, too, but you know what? Do be careful when you tweet, because you are responsible for it, even if you've got other people tweeting for you.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Well, especially when you're running an election. I mean --

BANFIELD: Yes. And you want to be president and you've got some 14-year-old campaign staffer sending those out. Yes, careful.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, this morning, Rick Santorum is trying to maintain the momentum after his near victory in Iowa. He is in New Hampshire, already reaping the benefits of his performance in Iowa. The poll numbers picked up slightly for him as well. He's raised more than $1 million since Tuesday night. That's according to "The New York Times."

But it also means his record is coming under closer scrutiny. So, joining me now is Kristina Cooke, a Reuters correspondent. Nice to have you with us this morning.


SAMBOLIN: So, let's start with this surge. It came so late in Iowa that he didn't have a lot of time to get scrutinized. And you know, now that's starting to happen. You've spent a lot of time looking at his record. What are the key points that you think he's going to be scrutinized on?

COOKE: Well, I think he's already starting to be scrutinized a little bit. You had that Rick Perry ad out on the earmarks. And also, in an environment now in which there's so much anti-Washington fervor, it's difficult to see how Rick Santorum picks up on that. I mean, this is really a Washington insider.

He was in the Senate for 12 years, in the House before that for four years. And since he was defeated in a landslide election in 2006, he has been doing very well for himself, picking up various lobbying gigs on K. Street.

SAMBOLIN: Kristina, you mentioned the earmarks, so let's deal with that. Rick Perry and Senator Rand Paul have already hit him on his support of the earmarks. And Paul even called him a big government Republican. So, we're going to listen to what Santorum said to John King, specifically, about earmarks last night.


RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: All I said is that what the constitution provides is that Congress appropriates funds, and that's what we do. We appropriate funds. And as Ron Paul did, as Jim DeMint did, as just about, I think, every single member of Congress did. When you go to Congress, you make sure that when taxes go from your state to Washington, D.C., you fight to make sure you get your fair share back.


SAMBOLIN: But not everyone takes those earmarks, and so, how do you think the Tea Party is going to feel about that?

COOKE: Well, it's interesting. So far, it seems that they haven't really looked at that in any great depth. I spoke to someone in New Hampshire Yesterday who's very excited about Santorum, but they admit they hadn't had a chance to really bet him, really look at his record as he had some of the other candidates.

SAMBOLIN: And in this article that you wrote that we were reading, you compare him to Gingrich in some ways, and that after Congress, he was able to turn that experience into some pretty lucrative, you know, careers working for lobbyists, and of course, also on Fox News. How well did he do?

COOKE: Well, he made more than $1 million in just about 18 months from 2010 to the first half of 2011. I spoke to one of the lobbying firms, and they said that he was giving them strategic advice. So, he wasn't lobbying himself, but he would give them a sense of where he thought based on his experience the bills might end up.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. That does kind of remind you of Gingrich. And something really stuck out on me on the article that you wrote, and so, I'm going to quote it here. It was something that Santorum said. He said, "This isn't my first rodeo. I've been in tough races. I've had the national media crawling up anywhere they could crawl. It is not going to be fun." Do you think he's prepared for all of the scrutiny?

COOKE: Well, in his 2006 race, he really faced a lot of media scrutiny. You know, he lost that race in a landslide. So, there are a number of things that came up in that race that may come up again. You know, for example -- at the time, obviously, you had the Iraq war, which was a big issue for voters in Pennsylvania.

But there was also some ethics issues. Rick Santorum had moved to Virginia shortly after he was elected to the Senate, and he was still cyber schooling his children in a school district in Pennsylvania which cost that school district around about $100,000. So, that was --

SAMBOLIN: Kristina Cooke, we appreciate you this morning, live for us from New York. You know, there's also the issue there of the Obama campaign saying that they were going to scrutinize him as well. So, we'll see how he stands up to it.

All right. Thirty-eight minutes after the hour. Coming up at about 7:35 on "Starting Point," Soledad O'Brien will talk to Senator John McCain about why he endorsed Mitt Romney. Did you watch that?

And at 7:05 Eastern, Soledad will talk to former Senate candidate, Christine O'Donnell, about whether Rick Santorum's recent momentum will affect Mitt Romney in New Hampshire, where he is leading the polls, quite handsomely.

BANFIELD: One of the last interviews she did on CNN, she walked out on Piers Morgan when he was asking her about gay marriage. So, I wonder if Soledad's going there today.


BANFIELD: But she's laughed about the whole "I'm not a witch" thing. I love that.

Coming up, we have a special guest. We're going to wake her up. She's actually on the West Coast. And, well, that kind of gives it away, doesn't it?


BANFIELD: I wasn't going to tell you, but it's assistant D.A. Casey Novak, Diane Neal. She has no clue, but she's about to get a phone call. Did you know this girl is crazy about politics and was considering running herself?


BANFIELD: You'll find out why she did not.


BANFIELD: I can't hear that. I'm not -- I think maybe I'm just not hearing it. Were they playing the "Law & Order" theme? Replaying "Law & Order" theme? OK. Well, I'm an idiot then.


SAMBOLIN: No, no, we just couldn't hear it.

BANFIELD: Sometimes, you know, we just don't get all the sounds that we're supposed to get. It sounded deathly quiet in the studio, by the way. 5:42, and this is a good time on The East Coast to be asleep, and it's a great time on the West Coast to be asleep, but not for Diane Neal.

SAMBOLIN: She's on the West Coast?

BANFIELD: She's on the West Coast.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, my gosh!

BANFIELD: This is what's even worse. She's traveling between West Coast and New York this month. And I know that today -


BANFIELD: -- she's on the West Coast. She's in L.A.

OPERATOR: Sorry, your call cannot be completed as dialed.

BANFIELD: Am I getting bogus phone numbers from my friends because they know I'm going to wake them up?



NEAL: Hey, how's it going?

BANFIELD: It's Ashleigh. You know you were going to get one of these calls, right?

NEAL: I didn't know.

BANFIELD: I think we should redial you. Can you hear that crazy sound that's going and the dial tone and everything else? We're still not really good with the technical on this segment, obviously.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, we're redialing her.

BANFIELD: This is like a news reality show, folks, honestly. This was one of those crazy, hair-brain things we crapped up together. We're thinking, hmm, how are we going to get people to come on our show at five o'clock in the morning? And then what, we just decided --

SAMBOLIN: Just call them!

BANFIELD: Just call them and wake them up. But I want you to know, if you think we're rude, we actually, you know, within the last couple of months, you know, asked our friends, down the road some time, would it be OK if w called you and they agreed, but we just don't tell them when we're calling, so.


SAMBOLIN: A story specific to what we're covering as well. And right now, politics, and apparently, she loves politics.

BANFIELD: Diane is huge into politics. Now, she's not answering because she's probably mad.

NEAL: Hello?

BANFIELD: Sorry! I thought maybe you weren't going to answer. Hi, Diane.

NEAL: It's fantastic! And Ashleigh, you woke me up. I fell asleep on the couch. BANFIELD: Oh, so, you're in L.A., right?

NEAL: I am in L.A., so it's like 2:45 in the morning, and I --

BANFIELD: Bless you for getting up with us. We appreciate it.

NEAL: Are you kidding? It's awesome! How are you guys?

BANFIELD: Good. Did you stay up all night the other night watching the Iowa caucus results?

NEAL: I fell asleep and so I did the exact same thing. I woke up like in my clothes at like 7:00 a.m., fully dressed from the night before. It was like, oh, my gosh, what's going on?


BANFIELD: It was good, though. People don't know, you know, if they're your fans, they know you're Assistant D.A. Casey Novak on "Law & Order: SVU," but they may not know that you're actually really nutty about politics.

NEAL: I love politics. I like to think of myself as a bit of a wonk. I have so much fun. The caucuses -- it's so funny because Perry's in, he's out. I'm going to go reassess, but he's back in. I'm like, what are you doing, dude? Because it's one of those things. What do you guys think he's going to do? Like, why do you think he's in? He's going to split like the evangelical vote in South Carolina --

SAMBOLIN: Are you kidding me?

BANFIELD: It's 2:45 in the morning, and you're better than an anchor in politics in recapping.



SAMBOLIN: Listen. Here's my question for you, Diane, where this interest stemmed from? Ashleigh says that you actually considered running for political office.

NEAL: I actually thought about it. It's funny. I live -- well, I'm on the other coast, no offense to this coast, but my favorite coast -- I love the East Coast. I live in -- moved out in my hut and live in Jersey City, actually. "Law & Order: SVU" shoots in New Jersey, and it was just way easier to get to work and a hell of lot cheaper.

But I was thinking about running because it was so corrupt. It was really funny, again. Sorry Mayor Healey, but even right before the last election, the current mayor of Jersey City, who was (INAUDIBLE) at the time was snapped nude and passed out drunk on his front porch, and he still won the election.

BANFIELD: That could be ripped from the headlines, you know? That could be ripped from the headlines.

NEAL: It totally could.

BANFIELD: We have to wrap it up --


NEAL: -- next to him while he's naked.

BANFIELD: True. We have to wrap it up, but not before we find out. You decided not to run because Senator Fred Thompson talked you out of it?

NEAL: Yes. He's very diverse in politics, but he's like, Diane, do you want to die? He's like Jersey City politics is notorious. They're going to kill you! I was like, oh, oh, that's horrible!

BANFIELD: You know what? This whole year is going to be politics. Can I wake you up again some time throughout the year?

NEAL: Any time. Any time.

BANFIELD: There are so much more people who don't know about her. Diane, thank you. Go back to sleep, darling.

NEAL: Thank you! I'll actually go to bed now. Have a good one. Bye.

BANFIELD: Again, we're saying night-night because she's just dialing into us right now. She's on the West Coast. So, it's like 2:45 in the morning. So, that was really polite.

SAMBOLIN: So, we want to look at frontpage faces when we come back. We're talking to Florida primary -- we're talking about the Florida primary with "Miami Herald" political reporter, Marc Caputo. You are watching EARLY START. Today is --

BANFIELD: Very early, yes.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It is 5:50 on the east coast. Florida could be a king-maker in the GOP race. It has almost as many votes up for grabs as Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina combined.

BANFIELD: Combined, yes.

SAMBOLIN: And the GOP hopefuls already are scrambling to woo all of the voters ahead of the January 31st primaries there.

BANFIELD: If you live in Florida, let me tell you, turn on your TV, you're going to get political ads like crazy.

SAMBOLIN: They've already started.

BANFIELD: Yes. Marc Caputo lives in Florida. He's political reporter for "Miami Herald." Mark, thanks for being with us so early. What's it like watching TV these days? Are you deluged with the Mitt Romney ads, because I heard he's already dumped about a million bucks worth of advertising dollars there?

MARC CAPUTO, POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE MIAMI HERALD": Yes, he has. He's advertised in nine of Florida's ten media markets. Unfortunately for us, or perhaps, fortunately, depending on your point of view, he's not advertising in the Miami Ft. Lauderdale Media Market, because it's so darn expensive here.

But it's just going to be quite a race, and right now, it looks like only Romney is making a serious, serious play in Florida, but that's probably going change as New Hampshire develops and South Carolina develops. What happens in South Carolina's really going to help decide what the landscape looks like in Florida before January 31st.

SAMBOLIN: Well, this is a very diverse state, and you've got a lot of issues that you're dealing with in the state of Florida. You have, you know, a really serious housing crisis, and you have a really large Hispanic population. And there's a name that is being thrown around to, perhaps, be the vice presidential running mate here.

It's Marco Rubio. He's a junior senator from Florida. He has nine years in the state legislature. And he's of Cuban descent, and the Latino vote is very important. What do folks say -- oh, he's 40 years old also and very attractive, which doesn't hurt. What are folks saying about him?

CAPUTO: Well, they're saying about him what you're saying about him, that he'd make a great choice. Now, I understand, the Hispanic vote isn't monolithic. What interests Cubans ethnically, so to speak, can be a little different from Puerto Ricans, a little different from Mexicans. So, it's really up for grabs.

However, if you have a politician who has the skills that Marco Rubio has, who's able to speak to people in both English and Spanish fluently and make the case, it certainly would help the ticket, but there's a lot of game to be played here and a lot of time needs to elapse before they decide who the vice presidential pick is going to be. We don't even know who the nominee is going to be from the Republican Party for president.

BANFIELD: Get your sleep now. Get your sleep now. It's coming.

CAPUTO: Yes. I haven't gotten much lately.


BANFIELD: Thanks. Marc Caputo, being with us this morning. Nice, early get-up. Very nice of him to do that.

Still ahead, you don't diet. This one's like a size minus zero. I diet all the time.

SAMBOLIN: So do I. Well, I eat right. (CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: If you're on a diet (ph), you know, this whole New Year's resolutions, we've got the brand-new diet everybody's talking about. It's not South Beach. It's not any other crazy one.

SAMBOLIN: Probably tried it already, though.

BANFIELD: You know what, the funny thing is, I bet you have all tried it already, and yet, for some reason, it's getting a whole new name. Surprise! We'll tell you about it in a minute.

SAMBOLIN: You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: Because pop culture is just so important in your life as you wake up at 5:55 in the morning --

SAMBOLIN: You'd be amazed.

BANFIELD: I know, I know. We want to get you up on what's trending, so you don't have to log on right away while you're trying to get in the shower and you're naked. On Google this morning, apparently, there's a new diet called D.A.S.H. stands for dietary approaches to stop hypertension.

And U.S. News and World Report says it's the best overall diet for 2012. Here's the shock, big shock. It's big on whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean proteins. What? Isn't that just how we're supposed to be eating? Yes, try it out.


On Yahoo! this morning, a new Girl Scout cookie. It is called Savannah Smiles.


SAMBOLIN: After Ashleigh. It's celebrating 100 years of Girl Scouts. That's why they're coming out with this new one. Cool and crisp lemon wedge cookie is what it is. And you want to know the top- selling one is? Thin mints followed by Samoas, Peanut Butter Patties, and then, my favorite, the Do-si-do.

BANFIELD: What's the Do-si-do?

SAMBOLIN: Oh, it's peanut butter.

BANFIELD: Yes. I don't eat Girl Scout cookies. I don't think they come to my house. I think they're afraid of me. I know what it is, but I don't often have them, so I couldn't even name them if I tried. French fries, I'm crazy about them. Cookies, not so much.

Coming up next hour, we've got a couple things for you. Did you hear about the soldier who, in uniform, took to the mic at the Ron Paul big speech? How about Ron Paul? How about you're in uniform and how about you could get in trouble for that? We're going to talk to someone who is also in uniform and got in trouble for something a little different but similar.