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EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Syrian Forces Shell Homs; U.S. Closes Syrian Embassy; Russia's Foreign Minister Arrives In Syria; Staff Removed From L.A. School; Greek Unions Strike over Austerity; Big Underwater Mortgages Settlement; GOP Candidates Battle for 70 Delegates; Interview with Denise Cox; Greek Unions Strike Over Austerity; Norway Massacre Killer Demands Medal

Aired February 7, 2012 - 06:00   ET

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


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: A very good morning to you. It is a very EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We are bringing you the news from A to Z. It is 6:00 a.m. in the east so let's get started here.

It is slaughter in Syria. Nearly 100 more civilians were killed. Russia's foreign minister arrived in Damascus. Can he negotiate an end to the bloodshed?

BANFIELD: And disturbing news out of Washington. Final moments for Josh Powell and his two young sons. What police say he did to those children right before the murder/suicide. We're going to speak to the missing wife's sister live here on the program.

And California school shut down because of the sex abuse scandal. Two teachers were arrested. The entire staff has now been reassigned. Just how bad was all of it? Are there more details? We're going to weigh in with an expert.

And also, big night for the GOP race, three states, 70 delegates. It's going to be important and a lot of the buzz right now going to Rick Santorum. We'll explain why that is.

SAMBOLIN: But up first, another night of slaughter in Syria. Heavy shelling in Homs. The government troops killing nearly 100 more civilians. The U.S. embassy shut down. It's ordered the staff to leave the country. Syrian activists are growing more desperate by the hour. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZAIDOUN, SYRIAN ACTIVIST (via telephone): The entire world should be ashamed of what's happening here. Everybody is just silent, looking at us being slaughtered every moment for no reason, just for asking for our freedom. This is too much. For God's sake, this is too much.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BANFIELD: So hard to hear the terror in his voice. Right now, Russia's foreign minister is in Damascus and he's meeting with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Not sure if he's going to be able to figure out a diplomatic escape route for this country.

But he is calling on Syria to end violence and adopt democratic reforms. This, of course, after Russia vetoed the United Nation's effort to stop the violence there. Russian foreign minister is stressing that he is not prepared to ask a president of a foreign country to step down.

SAMBOLIN: If the Russian foreign minister cannot convince Al- Assad to pull back his troops and end this incredible violence, the United States could be facing some really uncomfortable options with Syria.

BANFIELD: Likely up to and including possible military response. We've done it before. The United States embassy has already shut down in that country.

Our Jill Daugherty is live at the State Department to sort of hash this out. Jill, that activist that was just played out a moment ago saying the entire world should be ashamed, the terror in his voice.

It's really hard to hear this over and over again and see that no one is taking action and I'm reminded in Libya, didn't seem as bad, but everybody took action in Libya. What is the problem? Why isn't anybody taking action in this country?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's a very different country. Libya was simple compared to Syria. Syria has impact on the entire region. Right now, it seems obvious why not go to military action?

But President Obama, number one, has already ruled that out at least for now. And many people analyzing say it is far too complex at least at this point. Then you can also look at the United Nations, but they've tried that. So that essentially is off the map.

So what is the United States doing right now? They're going outside of the United Nations. They're talking to other countries. And they're trying to pull them together in a very concerted effort to put more and more pressure not only on Assad, but on the people around him.

And it kind of reminds you of Libya. What they're saying is push those people. Tell them the end is near. Assad has limited time. Get them to abandon him. And then there also, and Secretary Clinton pointed this out.

What they're going to do is expose the countries that are providing funding and arms to the Syrian government. That, of course, includes Russia. Now, one of the big problems is, the arming the rebels, arming the people who are on their streets.

It's already happening. Some countries are doing it and they also were getting arms from inside, from people who defected from the military. The U.S. is not going that far, but certainly other countries are. And it's really aggressively now for a civil war, which looks as if it's under way.

BANFIELD: And so the big news today, Jill, is that he's there, he's meeting with Al-Assad, everybody talking about whether he can broker anything. Wasn't that option at the U.N?

And, if not, does anybody really believe that Lavrov and the Russians, and by the way, I ask you this specifically because I know you spent a decade plus reporting out of Russia. Does anybody believe that Russia really has that interest in mind or is that visit is truly about peace or something else?

DOUGHERTY: What they say, they are kind of red lined. You just heard it. They're not going to ask a leader to step down on principle. They don't think that should happen. So what does what mean?

If Assad continues and he's made so many promises it's likely that the Russians could get something, reform, a promise to reform, something like that. But realistically is it going to change the situation?

I think you would have to say it's doubtful. That said, let them try. They want to show they're doing something right now because they're under extreme pressure from the world community that is really agassed at what happened at the United Nations.

BANFIELD: Such huge trade deals between these two countries, including arms as well. So there's just so much more in terms of levels and layers to what's going on between Russia and Syria.

Quick question though about the Arab League, lots of meetings are coming up in the next week. One of them including the Arab League on Sunday convening in Cairo.

I often think that those nations have a lot of clout, a whole lot more clout than we do necessarily, in diplomacy anyway. Does anybody think that that might be something that gets good traction at the Arab League meeting this week?

DOUGHERTY: That's one of the real hopes because that is a game changer. The Arab League, the countries in the region that could put pressure should clamp down especially on those sanctions. That's not thing that they will be doing.

If the sanctions are skirted by countries in the region or around the world, they don't work. If you can get the Arab League, which is already on board, that can make a big difference.

BANFIELD: Jill Dougherty at the State Department for us this morning. Thanks so much. Appreciate it. And every morning we like to get you an EARLY START to your day by alerting you to news that's happening actually later on today. These stories are building and developing. And they will be big news tonight.

Voters in Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri, heading to the polls today to vote for their picks for the Republican presidential candidate. Mitt Romney is favored to win, but, you know what? Hold on there, a lot of analysts say keep your eyes on Rick Santorum. He just could possibly pull off an upset.

SAMBOLIN: President Obama's re-election campaign is changing its position and its opposition to "Super PACs." President Obama had been among the most vocal critics of these outside political spending groups.

But in an about face, the campaign will begin using administration and campaign aides to fund raise for "Priorities USA Action." That is a "Super PAC" backing the president.

BANFIELD: And a ruling is expected today on California's Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage in that state. Does that proposition violate federal constitution, equal rights under the law? No matter what verdict, police are expecting big crowds, loud protests, and more legal appeals no matter what.

SAMBOLIN: It's 7 minutes past the hour. Up next, an entire staff for Los Angeles Elementary School was removed after two teachers were arrested for lewd acts with students. Is this the right action? A sex crimes expert is going to join us to talk about this.

BANFIELD: And also, authorities are saying some new findings reveal Josh Powell long planned the violent murder/suicide involving his sons. We're going to talk to the sister of Powell's still missing wife, missing two years now. What does it mean for that investigation?

SAMBOLIN: And Air France cancels flights as workers go on strike? Did you have a trip planned? Coming up, what travelers need to know. And Rob Marciano in the weather center for us. Good morning to you.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Zoraida. Hi, Ashleigh. We are looking at a little bit of rain across parts of South Florida. Northeast looks quiet, but some snow moving into the Midwest and a western storm that wraps up your weather.

There is some colder air moving in from Canada and the northeast, but that's coming over the weekend. San Francisco, San Diego, you will take the rain you need it. It's going to be wind as well.

So if you're flying out west, that's where the problem spots are going to be as far as airports are concerned. San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, a little bit of light snow moving through the mid section.

Chicago late in the day, high temperature is 37, 48 still balmy in New York City. That's a quick check on weather. EARLY START is coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Buenos dias, Miami. It is 74 degrees, scattered storms. It's going to be 81 degrees later.

BANFIELD: Could use a little visit to Miami.

SAMBOLIN: I could always use a visit to Miami.

BANFIELD: Except August, not so much.

SAMBOLIN: I still like it.

BANFIELD: We have some big changes that we want to tell you about that had emanated from a very big story. A California school at the center of a very disturbing sex abuse scandal, trying to make major action.

All of the employees at Miramonte Elementary are going to be reassigned. All of them gone. Students are also going to be interviewed, questioned about what went on there.

SAMBOLIN: The former teacher, Mark Burns, accused of lewd acts on 23 children. Blindfolding kids and things I've got to tell you we cannot even talk about at this hour of the morning because your kids may be in front of the television.

Another teacher, Martin Springer, also charged with fondling two girls. Stacey Honowitz, I don't know if I'm pronouncing your name right, I apologize for that, a former Florida prosecutor worked in sex crimes and child abuse unit for almost 20 years is joining us this morning.

Thank you for being with. We really appreciate it. I want to talk a little bit, if you could just fill us in a little bit about how these sex abuse scandals actually happen for folks who don't have perspective on this.

STACEY HONOWITZ, PROSECUTOR, BROWARD COUNTY: First of all, I'm not a former, I do supervise the sex crimes unit still to this day. And I want to tell you that these scandals are not so unusual. What happens is children aren't educated and people don't want to discuss this topic.

And so all of these scandals and all of these abuses go on for so long because no one wants to come forward. In this case, I think the this school made the right decision because it's really the only way the school could survive by reassigning all of the staff and to interview now all of the these kids to see just how long all of these abuses had been going on.

SAMBOLIN: All right, let's talk about some of the things that this guy did. He blindfolded his victims. He did things we said we cannot describe. He took some 400 photos.

It was actually -- that's how they found out about this because some of the pictures that the person was looking at, she decided this is not good, let me contact the authorities. My question is, how did something like this go undetected for so long?

HONOWITZ: Well, you know, Ashleigh, in sexual abuse cases, lots of times it goes undetected for a very long time. From my understanding the classroom was extremely isolated from the rest of the school and these kids never said anything.

And if you don't disclose, if you don't come forward, except there was a complaint years before, which was investigated and the district attorney decided not to go forward because there wasn't enough evidence.

After that there should have been an ongoing investigation. People should have been watching this classroom and they weren't. And if you don't educate and if you don't teach kids that they have to tell, then it goes undetected for a very long time.

And that's why I've written two books about this. "My Privates Are Private" and "Genius with a Penis" because nobody ever want to discuss it. Even we talk about you don't want to discuss it early in the morning, these issues need to come to the forefront or school cases like this, coaches, anybody can be the victim of sexual abuse.

SAMBOLIN: OK. Those two cases that you were talking about earlier, one was in 1990. Apparently some activity under the teacher's desk. That was dismissed. The other one was in 1994. It involved touching a girl. The D.A. declined to prosecute in that instance.

I've got to tell you there's a lot of conversation about the fact that 98 percent of the school is Hispanic. That a lot of the parents' English is not their first language. And this was really a cover-up.

I heard a mom yesterday saying in Spanish, she said if this would have happened in Beverly Hills, then somebody would have addressed this much sooner.

So it really - is it really a matter of the children not understanding that this is a problem and the parents not speaking up or the fact that 98 percent of the community is Latino?

HONOWITZ: Well, look, you can have a combination of reasons for why the disclosures were never made or if, in fact, it was a cover-up.

Certainly in pedophilia, they're master manipulators and so they find the most vulnerable victims. And in this case if English wasn't the first language, if they knew that these kids wouldn't tell, they were perfect victims.

I wouldn't say that there was a cover-up because of the socioeconomic background. I do think, though, that investigation needed to go deeper in this case. And we'll never know the reasons why.

And now, when you start interviewing these children, maybe we will get some answers. Maybe they did try to speak up and nobody did want to listen. I just don't know if it was because of the community that they lived in.

You'll find in very high socioeconomic communities that disclosures are sometimes not made. You know, sexual abuse really know no boundaries. It's rich, it's poor. It is a matter of educating. It is a matter of teaching. And it's a matter of teachers being able to talk to students and parents being able to talk to teachers -

SAMBOLIN: I - I want to ask you one more thing because of the breadth of your experience. There were some reports that this teacher, even after those pictures surfaced, was left in the classroom so that the police could continue their investigation. Isn't that victimizing the children further?

HONOWITZ: Yes. I mean, I didn't hear that, but if that is the case certainly you are subjecting them to more abuse.

Now, there are several ways to conduct an investigation. Putting the pedophile back in with the victim is really not the way in which most offices or police departments would handle it.

So you know what, Ashleigh, there is going to be a federal investigation. It's a shame that it takes so long to get to this point, but now we're going to see why it went on for so long, why people don't go - didn't come forward and if, in fact, there was some type of cover-up. We know in a lot of these cases that it does happen, it does go on. People are just too afraid to speak up.

SAMBOLIN: All right, Stacey. We also know that at this stage of the game these are just allegations. Could you pronounce your last name for me because I want to get it right?

HONOWITZ: It's Honowitz.

SAMBOLIN: Honowitz. Thank you so much.

HONOWITZ: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: Stacey Honowitz, thank you for joining us.

BANFIELD: It is 18 minutes past 6:00. Time to check your top stories.

No end in sight in the slaughter in Syria this morning, even as the Foreign Minister of Russia arrives in Damascus. Said to be urging the president to end the violence and implement - implement democratic reforms there.

In the meantime, authorities in Washington State say that Josh Powell planted at least ten gallons of gasoline to set his home on fire on Sunday, killing himself and his two young sons. And the U.S. Army is mourning the death of 49-year-old Brigadier General Terence Hildner in Kabul. He apparently died of natural causes. But this does make him the highest ranking officer to lose his life in Afghanistan.

SAMBOLIN: And the Senate passing a long-term funding bill for the Federal Aviation Administration. President Obama is expected to sign the measure that gives $16 billion a year to the FAA for airport operations, construction, and modernization.

Seventy delegates in critical momentum up for grabs today as the Republican candidates compete in caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota and in non-binding primary in Missouri.

And the Super Bowl Champion, New York Giants, will be honored with a Ticker Tape Parade in Manhattan Canyon of Heroes that is scheduled a little later this morning.

BANFIELD: A lot of people in this country are what they call underwater on their mortgages. It means you owe more than your house is worth at this point. And we're expecting some big foreclosure settlement news coming up this week.

SAMBOLIN: And how much money could you be getting? We're going to weigh in on that. Actually, Christine Romans will.

You're watching EARLY START.

BANFIELD: She's the smartest on that stuff, right?

SAMBOLIN: Yes, she is. We'll break it all down for you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Want to get you some video just in to CNN. You're looking at pictures out of Greece. This is Athens, capital city, where it has long been planned to have a strike on this day. There are numerous people gathering in the streets to strike in Athens and all of this over the financial crisis that country finds itself in and that is the beginning of the domino effect to the rest of Europe.

A lot of these people are unions, workers, essentially protesting their government and its new plan austerity measures. Longer work weeks, longer chance before you get to retire. All of these things to try to save some money and get that budget and get that financial mess.

In (INAUDIBLE) look at this. You can see that protesters are clashing with riot squads. This is coming in to us from Reuters. And it's just sort of fascinating to see that this was supposed to be a day of strike. There was some thought that there would be violence. But at this point it's looking like - it's just looking like sort of a standoff about to happen or about to erupt.

SAMBOLIN: They don't like what their government is agreeing to do with the rest of Europe. CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: They not know it - they don't like it.

SAMBOLIN: (INAUDIBLE).

ROMANS: But they don't - they don't like that to survive longer term they're going to have to take a lot of pain upfront. They don't like that. They feel as though their government has made them promises for a long time. This is the way they (INAUDIBLE) in Greece. The government has made them promises and that they expect their government to keep those promises.

BANFIELD: They're watching the international news that says your country is about to cause world calamity. You've got to get your financial house in order or you will all go bankrupt. And if you all go bankrupt you wouldn't even get any of that what these austerity measures are planning.

ROMANS: That's interesting, though. When you talk to small business owners in Greece, they're like - they'll say, well, I'm paying all of this money out every month and sometimes in draft, you know, to pay this little government worker, this government - just trying to survive and they don't like it.

If their - if austerity means that their economy is going to shrink, they're going the get hurt again. They want to be talking about growing not shrinking. It's a very difficult situation. You can see why people get so upset.

When we talk about austerity around the world, budget, certain deficits around the world, national debt around the world and slow growth situation, these are the kind of pictures -

(CROSSTALK)

SAMBOLIN: And when you have a plan that also, you have a plan that you had and then everything has to change. And it affects your life and your livelihood.

ROMANS: And the politics of this, too, is that you've got the internal politics of Greece and you've got the internal politics of Europe and then Europe's dealings with Greece and -

BANFIELD: Is in position (ph).

ROMANS: And the United States. I mean, the Treasury Department, we have affiliates - people who have been there, you know, also giving our two cents for how we think Europe should go. So this - it's difficult.

BANFIELD: I don't know if this matters, though, but I've got friends who live in Greece. And all of the reporting, all they say so few people actually pay taxes.

ROMANS: Well, that's why -

BANFIELD: They don't pay their taxes.

ROMANS: Right. That's what was happening.

BANFIELD: And they're out in the streets protesting austerity measures.

SAMBOLIN: Let's move on to our mess, right?

ROMANS: Yes, let's talk about our mess. Interesting, a mortgage settlement appears to be in the works. I've been telling you about this for - for several weeks now, but it looks as though the attorneys general, maybe 40 attorneys general are going to sign on - sign on with the government to end in five or six big mortgage servicers and lenders, a million people could have a write-down of their principal by up to $20,000.

BANFIELD: Holy cow.

ROMANS: That's what housing and urban development. It would be the biggest, broadest relief yet, $20,000 on average for underwater mortgages written down in principle. A $25 billion total of banks who have to come up with a million qualified homeowners.

And Zoraida was asking me -

SAMBOLIN: How would you (ph) qualify?

ROMANS: What does it mean to be qualified? (INAUDIBLE) I like to know. We don't know quite yet what exactly the qualifications will be. We do know that all of the housing rescues to date have been not satisfactory for all the people who thought they were qualified.

But this is a very, very big step forward. I hadn't seen one this big and I hadn't seen one that would actually write down your principle.

But here's the problem. Not all the states are signing on including the biggest states like New York, Florida, for example, which has a big problem.

SAMBOLIN: Where they really need it, yes.

ROMANS: Nevada. And one of the reasons is these states are concerned about their own probes and their own investigations into the banks. And they don't want to actually give immunity to banks quite yet. So that's the interesting point.

SAMBOLIN: We'll continue watching this. A lot of people are going to be interested in that.

ROMANS: Oh, yes.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Christine.

BANFIELD: It sounds like a bailout, though, which is, you know, every homeowner has been asking for, bailouts from the banks. Listen. Ahead on EARLY START, three states, 70 delegates, big contest tonight. Romney building momentum but, hey, so is Santorum. Lots of buzz about him. We'll tell you why.

SAMBOLIN: And we have new developments in the Josh Powell murder/suicide. What he did to his sons before setting the house on fire? We're going to talk to the missing wife's sister. She is joining us live.

You are watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Thirty minutes past the hour. Time to check the stories making news this morning.

We are monitoring a developing situation in Athens, Greece. These are live pictures you're looking at from Athens. Greece's two major labor unions are on a one-day strike today against austerity measures and reforms demanded by international leaders in exchange for new bailout package from creditors.

And also developing this morning. Russia's foreign minister arriving in Syria this morning. He is expected to press the Syrian President al-Assad to end the regime's brutal crackdown on the opposition, and implement democratic reforms.

And Air France expected to cancel nearly half the overseas flights today because of a strike by pilots and flight attendants. They're protesting a law they say will curtail their right to strike.

BANFIELD: The Republican race for the nomination plays out in three states today. Seventy delegates are up for grabs. So, it's a big day. Evangelicals could be key at the Colorado caucuses. Social conservatives really throughout all three, influential tonight. But could the opportunity for Santorum to surge be afoot?

Live from Washington, Republican strategist Matt Keelen. Also, David Drucker, who is political reporter for "Roll Call," and our Democratic strategist for the morning is Penny Lee.

Matt, I want to start with you. I couldn't believe my ears for a moment but I heard a kinder, gentler Newt Gingrich on the campaign trail, saying nice things about one of his opponents, about Rick Santorum. Let's listen and talk about it on the other side

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And Santorum is going to have a pretty good day tomorrow. He will have earned it. He targeted it differently than I did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Wow. That's awfully nice, especially if you're Santorum hearing that. And me thinks that there's something else afoot here. Is it just safe to get props to the guy who lost handily in the race before? Or is he trying to siphon some votes away from Mitt Romney?

MATT KEELEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think he's really trying to soften expectations for himself because I don't think Newt is going to do well today. He wants to look forward into the primary schedule and to big states like Ohio. So, he's trying to tell people, look, don't be surprised when Rick Santorum does really well tonight. I'm still the guy that can beat Mitt Romney.

BANFIELD: All right. Speaking of Romney, he lashed out at Obama. This is kind of the favorite thing to do now, sounding very presidential -- almost like he's already in the general election, talking about the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services policy whereby religious institution, schools, hospitals, everybody has to provide birth control to their employees, saying that that is just -- it goes against what so many of them believe.

Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Creator gave every human being his or her rights.

I'm just distressed as I watch -- as I watch our president try and infringe upon those rights.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: David Drucker, I always listen for the specifics of the stump, as the stump moves from state to state. And the three states that we're talking about tonight all have a heavy social conservative element to their demographics. Is that why he was really playing up this message?

DAVID DRUCKER, POLITICAL REPORTER, ROLL CALL: Well, it could be, but I actually think there's a broader strategy behind that and that is that nationwide Republicans, conservatives, especially social conservatives are very concerned about this policy. And I say it probably goes beyond social conservatives and just conservatives generally who don't like the idea of government, in their view, telling religious institutions, you know, how they need to function.

And I think it's very smart for Mitt Romney to speak about this issue because it's something his party cares about and he's running for the nomination right now. To ignore I think it would be a mistake.

BANFIELD: Well, Newt on the trail keeps calling him a pro- abortion Massachusetts, you know, liberal. So, this is probably a good way to battle that off.

Let me move on to one of my favorite people in the whole wide world, Clint Eastwood. I don't think any of you are going to disagree. He is a beloved American figure. And that Super Bowl halftime ad is starting to get a lot of political buzz -- a lot.

Shortly after this ad ran, a lot of conservatives were coming out and claiming this looked like it was a cozying up to the Democratic administration, suggesting we may be down at halftime but we're just getting started. We're going to win the game.

Clint Eastwood put up a statement, actually -- he didn't put out a statement. He said this in reaction to these criticisms.

He said, "I'm certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama. It was meant to be a message just about job growth and spirit of America. I think all politicians all agree with it. I thought the spirit was OK. I am not supporting any politician at this time. If any, Obama or other politician wants to run with the spirit of it, go for it."

Penny, here's the question. I actually saw it through a different prism, I think. I thought it was a Democratic hit on the Republicans. I thought this was something whereby they were suggesting, we're the only one's -- oh excuse me, the Republicans are suggesting they're the only ones who can get this going.

Am I the only one who thought that way? Or did the Dems think that this was -- this was a Republican strategy?

KELEEN: I did, too.

BANFIELD: All right.

PENNY LEE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: This was a beautiful ad and this was an ad that kind of restored America's faith in what we do well, and that is manufacturing and bringing workers back.

And the Republicans want to have it both ways. They want to on one hand say the economy in the tank has been horrible. So, whenever we see any type of positive, they like, you can't take credit for it whatsoever.

So this was a beautiful ad. It kind of brought back --

BANFIELD: Well, hold on, I think my question -- I think I very inartfully asked the question. I think the question was -- in the way, I saw it, it wasn't positive. It was actually like, wow, this looks like it might be a Republican suggestion that the Democrats have just destroyed this country up until halftime. That's the way I saw it.

Which voice among you was the one who said you agreed, too, who was it?

KEELEN: It's me, Matt.

BANFIELD: OK. So, Penny, Matt and I both thought that. Is that so crazy?

LEE: No. What you saw was we were -- economy that we're struggling, that we're starting to bring it back. So, it wasn't a slam saying we dragged it into the ditch until this time. No, what we're seeing is that the investments and the policies that were put into place are actually working and they're bringing back and they're restoring Detroit. They're restoring the auto economy, and there are more things on its horizon.

So it wasn't a slam to say that it was -- we drove it into the ditch and it's been absolutely horrible. No. We're at halftime and it's moving in the right direction.

BANFIELD: Well, Matt, David, and Penny, I'm glad you were here to talk it through. No matter what, he's still a rock star. That's all I'm saying.

Thanks, guys. Appreciate it.

DRUCKER: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-seven minutes past the hour.

Here ahead on EARLY START: authorities say disturbing new evidence proves Josh Powell long planned that murder/suicide. The sister of Powell's missing wife is going to talk us to live.

You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It is 40 minutes past the hour.

New developments in that tragic murder/suicide in Washington state. Investigators say they found two five-gallon gas cans in Josh Powell's house, including one right near the bodies. Powell is a suspect in his wife's Susan 2009 disappearance.

BANFIELD: Also, he took the lives of those two young boys during a mandated visit. The coroner's report is also saying this morning that those children were attacked in the head and the neck with a hatchet before that fire. It is devastating news for anyone who's been following this story for two years now of missing Susan Powell. Powell's family has been in a bitter custody battle with Josh Powell. Both of those boys were with their grandparents on Sunday morning before they were sent over to their dad's and murdered.

(BEGINVIDEO CLIP)

JUDY COX, GRANDMOTHER OF THE VICTIMS: They didn't want to go see their dad when it came time. And -- but daddy is waiting for you. I encouraged them and tried to talking them into going. But they clearly did not want to go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: That was Susan Powell's mom, Judy Cox, and her dad, Chuck Cox, talking about that day. That was a court-mandated visit, a supervised visit that those little boys had to have with their dad. We all know now what happened just moments after they ended up at that house.

Live with us from Seattle is Susan Powell's sister, Denise Cox.

Denise, thank you very much for coming to speak with us today. I know you just saw the boys on Saturday. And now comes this flood of just awful details. Is your family -- are you all OK?

DENISE COX, SISTER OF SUSAN COX POWELL: No. Trying to be. Opening up to the public and basically trying to get it out there on spreading the word on how wonderful the boys were and how tragic it is, and trying to drum up some more attention so we can get a search going to find -- to find my sister Susan.

BANFIELD: I mean, this horrible death of these two boys at the hands of their father highlights, again, that there is yet another tragic layer and that is that Susan is still missing and that that investigation never did end up basically targeting Josh and ending up in an arrest.

But you and your parents felt like that an arrest actually might have been eminent?

COX: Yes. We -- I was told from my family that they were working on the case without a body to go after him for murder and it was within a few weeks, it was going to take -- the arrest was going to take place. We were all excited that something was going to happen and we might be able to kind of bully Josh or make a deal or something for him to tell us where Susan is.

BANFIELD: So, your mom and dad's lawyer --

COX: Unfortunately, that won't happen.

BANFIELD: Your mom and dad's lawyer Anne Bremner said that those little boys had made a mention to your mom and dad about mommy being in the mine, meaning Susan, being in the mine.

Were there other indications from these little boys, aged 5 and 7, that maybe they remembered something from when they were 2 and 4 years old?

COX: Well, at the beginning when they came to my parents' home, they wouldn't talk to anyone, didn't want to hug anyone. They were telling every one of us we were all bad.

As time went on, they opened -- started opening up and myself, the boys, would talk to me about their mother because they enjoyed hearing stories about her. And they were able to talk about it openly with me.

My parents, however, they started opening up to them about their mom and the crystals and about how mommy was hurt.

BANFIELD: Did one of the children draw a picture of your sister Susan in the trunk of a car?

COX: From what I've heard, yes.

BANFIELD: I'm sorry. I couldn't hear your answer. What was that? I beg your pardon.

COX: From what I heard, yes. I have yet to see the picture. I plan to be at my parents' home later on today to touch base with them. I gave them a day of privacy to let them do some more grieving. I was there all day on Sunday and wanted to give them another day because there were -- I mean, there's outstanding support from everyone. And I wanted to let them deal with this tragedy how they wanted to.

BANFIELD: Denise, I have another question for you. I don't know if it's too soon to be thinking about this, but this was a court- ordered visit with Josh. And we all know how you and your family feel about Josh and about his father, as well. This has been a very ugly two years since Susan went missing and since his behavior became so incredibly bizarre.

Do you and your family plan to take any action against the state because you were ordered to send those children over to Josh's house on Sunday?

COX: I'm actually not sure. I haven't actually talked to my parents about that. We -- we feel -- well, I feel the state did the best with what they could, but they just didn't have the right information to change the visitations. And, I don't think they understood how serious and how mental Josh was.

BANFIELD: I understand. Denise, please pass on our condolences to your parents and know that there are a lot of people across this country who are thinking about you and praying for you all. Thanks for being with us, Denise.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. It's 46 minutes past the hour. Here's Soledad O'Brien joins us now with a look at what is ahead on "Starting Point". Good morning to you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Well, good morning to you. Oh, that's such a brutal story, isn't it?

SAMBOLIN: Heartbreaking.

O'BRIEN: Breaks your heart, especially when you see those little boys' picture. Poor family members having to talk about it today.

Anyway, this morning on "STARTING POINT," we're going to talk about an explosive new investigation. It comes to us from "The Washington Post," and it's a list of lawmakers who could have personally benefited from the earmarks that they were championing for. The Texas congressman, Joe Barton, is on that list, but he's going to be talking with us this morning to talk about that.

Also, a fight between the Catholic Church and White House. The president's healthcare law makes it mandatory to provide contraception. Catholic Church is saying that's going too far against their belief. So, we're going to debate that this morning.

And joining us for two hours on the panel to talk about this and much more, Russell Simmons is in the house. That's straight ahead. Join us this morning on "Starting Point." We'll see you at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Good morning, Louisville, Kentucky. It is 32 degrees as you're waking up, but it will be sunny and a little bit warmer later on, expecting temperatures to be about 51 in Louisville, Kentucky, this morning. Nice town (ph) shot.

SAMBOLIN: It just about seven o'clock here, and it's time to check the stories making news this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Russia's foreign minister in Syria right now for a meeting with President Bashar al-Assad hoping to end the violence that has intensified since the failure of a U.N. peace proposal. Russia vetoed that plan.

Greece's two major labor unions are striking right now against austerity measures and reforms demanded by international lenders and exchange for a new bailout package from creditors.

The right-wing extremist who admitted to killing 77 people in Norway last summer told the court Monday that he deserves a Medal of Honor for the massacre. A judge ordered Anders Behring Breivik to remain in custody until his trial begins in April.

BANFIELD (voice-over): Washington State police say they've uncovered two five-gallon cans of gasoline in Josh Powell's home confirming their theory that Powell planned the fire that killed him and his two young sons.

The entire staff of a Los Angeles elementary school where two teachers were arrested for lewd acts and possession of pornography involving students there, well, they're all going to be replaced, the whole lot of them, the staff, teachers, the custodians. Apparently, they will all be questioned, trained, and some may be transferred to different facilities.

And country singer, Randy Travis, is apologizing in a statement to CNN after he was arrested yesterday morning public intoxication in Texas. Travis was found parked in front of a church. There's an open bottle of wine after a night of what he said was celebrating the Super Bowl.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD (on-camera): I'm not sure if that was a super fluid comment that wasn't necessary, but that's what happened with Mr. Travis.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): He actually told the police officer that he had gotten into an argument with his girlfriend.

(CROSSTALK)

SAMBOLIN: All right. Still ahead on EARLY START, from Super Bowl MVP to the king of Madison Avenue, Eli Manning is going to cash in. We're going to tell you about how much. You are watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Good morning, New York. It is 39 degrees. A little bit later, it will be sunny and 50. It is a big day in New York.

BANFIELD: Look at that shot.

SAMBOLIN: It's lovely.

BANFIELD: I love the Statue of Liberty. Beautiful.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. You know why else it's lovely? Because not too far from there, there's going to be a big ticker tape parade, New York Giants. Lot of celebration going on.

BANFIELD: I know. The city is alive. Look at this. These are the images. The ticker tape was already starting to fall in Indianapolis, but the canyon of heroes is going to be wild and alive with New Yorkers who come out to celebrate their champs for the second time.

SAMBOLIN: It starts at 11 o'clock today. I was watching all of the pictures yesterday. Everybody who met them at the airport and all those little kids and the parents. Man, it was just fantastic. Congratulations.

BANFIELD: Everybody who wonders what ticker tape, they don't throw tape. The stock tickers from way back when used to rip those stock tickers and throw those down to welcome back the heroes. Today, we just call it ticker tape, but it's just confetti.

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: Lots and lots. And really a good street --

SAMBOLIN: Big clean-up.

BANFIELD: Do you know what? Do you know who walked in the studio a little while ago?

SAMBOLIN: Who?

BANFIELD: Russell simmons. No, I'm not kidding. Soledad O'Brien.

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: There he is right there. BANFIELD: What you got going on over there, Soledad O'Brien?

O'BRIEN: As always, an excellent panel. Fantastic.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

SAMBOLIN: I didn't even notice that.

O'BRIEN: I know.

BANFIELD: You know, and I was just asking him if he was going to go to the ticker tape parade because he lives downtown. And that's kind of -- he gave me a look like, yes, no, you got to repeat what you said to me, which was like --.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: Meanwhile, I would give my arm to go to the ticker tape parade with my kids. My kids are so into it. Anyway.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, we're going to talk a little bit about Eli Manning. What do you think? His performance.

BANFIELD: Absolutely. I say yes to that.

(CROSSTALK)

SAMBOLIN: Are we done? Are we done? Do we have no more time? Too bad.

(CROSSTALK)

SAMBOLIN: He's making a lot of money.

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: How about that?

BANFIELD: I'll guarantee you, Soledad, you're probably going to talk a little about Eli Manning today.

O'BRIEN: We will. Yes, we will, because I love the giants. Thank you, ladies. I appreciate it very much. That was EARLY START this morning. They'll be back at five o'clock tomorrow morning.