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Robert Bales' Background; App For Distracted Drivers; Israel- Iran Tensions Soar

Aired March 18, 2012 - 06:00   ET


RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: From CNN Center, this is WEEKEND EARLY START. It's Sunday, March 18th. Good morning, everyone. I'm Randi Kaye.

We know his name. We know where he lives. And now we know his wife's pain. We're talking about U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, who allegedly murdered 16 Afghan civilians a week ago today. We'll bring you revelation from his wife, Karilyn's, blog.

And it's primary day in Puerto Rico. Twenty delegates up for grabs. But most eyes are focused on Tuesday's contest in Illinois. We'll tell you why.

And take a look at this, would you? Now, all right. I can't snowboard, but apparently this possum can. We'll bring you that and much more. The best video of the morning, later on this hour.

Level-headed and experienced. Words that an attorney for Staff Sergeant Robert Bales say accurately describe the soldier. And now those closest to Bales are sharing their thoughts about the rampage that killed 16 Afghan civilians and the man accused of committing the act. A statement reads, in part, "Sergeant Bales' family is stunned in the face of this tragedy, but they stand behind the man they know as a devoted husband, father, and dedicated member of the armed services." Bales is currently being held at Ft. Leavenworth Prison in Kansas. His attorneys say they will meet with him next week. Our Susan Candiotti will have much more on Sergeant Bales shortly.

And the outrage sparked by the shooting is being felt not only in the streets of Afghanistan, but also back here in the United States.


CROWD: We want peace! We want peace!


KAYE: That was the scene near San Francisco, where more than 100 Afghans and their supporters held a vigil for those killed. Some of those gathered calling not only for peace, but also for justice for the victims.

An American teacher has been killed in Yemen. It happened in the city of Taez. Yemen's defense ministry says two gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire on the victim as he was driving to work at a language school. No one has claimed responsibility. But violence has escalated in Yemen. On Thursday, officials say tribes abducted a Swiss woman on the Red Sea coast north of Taez.

Turning now to Iraq. Were digging for answers into a military mystery. The United Nations says an American believed by some to have been held captive for nine months has been turned over to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. That embassy is now working to verify his story. He's identified as Rand Michael Hultz. Holtz wearing a military uniform, speaking about his experience.


RAND MICHAEL HULTZ, SAYS HE WAS HELD CAPTIVE: I was taken inside Baghdad and had been kept in and around different locations within the city by al-Mahud (ph). It was explained to me that my release has been for more of humanitarian reasons and that there was no exchange involved.


KAYE: A Pentagon official says that while the Defense Department is reviewing the reports, there is no knowledge of any active duty military member missing in Iraq.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Free, free Syria.

CROWD: Free, free Syria.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Free, free Syria.

CROWD: Free, free Syria.


KAYE: Chants of "free, free Syria" ringing out in the nation's capital. Protesters in Washington are urging President Obama to stop the bloodshed in Syria. Hundreds of demonstrators rallied outside the White House yesterday. They want increased U.S. pressure on the Syrian regime and more aid for civilians.

It is primary day in Puerto Rico, and both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are hoping for victory. The polls open in just two hours. There are 20 delegates up for grabs in the U.S. territory. A key campaign issue? Puerto Rico's statehood status. Santorum, Romney and Newt Gingrich have all said they support Puerto Rico becoming the 51st state if Puerto Rico's voters do as well.

The man who turned Red Bull into a global phenomenon and became a billionaire in the process has died. Chaleo Yoovidhya and a business partner transformed a sweet energy drink that was popular with truckers and construction workers in Asia into a brand now sold in 164 countries. Chaleo died in Thailand of natural causes. He was in his 80s.

Time now to check our Sunday forecast. So let's say good morning to meteorologist Reynolds Wolf.

Reynolds, how's it looking for today?

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, it's going to be OK. And for parts of the country -- the eastern third of the country should be OK. Very mild conditions. Plenty of sunshine. But when you get to the Central Plains and then certainly when you get to the West Coast, things really do change. A chance of severe weather in some spots. Possibly some heavy snow in the Rockies. And it looks like the rain is going to continue for parts of central and southern California. We'll give you more on that coming up.

KAYE: All right, Reynolds, thank you.

WOLF: You bet.

KAYE: And here's a rundown now of what's still to come.

The wife of the U.S. soldier accused of killing innocent Afghans opens up about life as an Army wife. See what was on her mind even before last weekend's deadly rampage.

Plus, if Israel does decide to strike Iran, why experts in and outside of Israel envision a much more complicated attack.

And you know how annoying and dangerous it can be for someone to text while driving? Well, an app aims to put a stop to that. Seriously. I'll explain. You're watching WEEKEND EARLY START, because news doesn't take the weekend off.


KAYE: Back to our top story now.

A man who's known, Afghan shooting suspect Sergeant Robert Bales, all his life says nothing adds up. He says the soldier accused in last Sunday's house to house rampage is not the young man who's done so much for his family since he was a kid. Susan Candiotti has this exclusive report.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Robert Durham (ph) remembers his last conversation with Sergeant Robert Bales, who called him from Afghanistan.

ROBERT DURHAM, FRIEND OF ROBERT BALES: He said, I love you, poppy, you know? Take care of yourself.

CANDIOTTI: That was in December, shortly after he was redeployed to the region for a fourth time.

DURHAM: A real caring, real understanding individual. Even from a real young age.

CANDIOTTI: Durham has known Bales all his life. They lived next door to each other in Norwood, Ohio. He still calls him Bobby.

DURHAM: Bobby and my son were best friends.

CANDIOTTI: An uncommonly kind friend, because Durham's son Wade, two years older than Bales, is severely disabled.

DURHAM: Bobby was just a very understanding, very accepting kid. He didn't, at one time, point out a kid's disability. It was what they could do.

CANDIOTTI: Bobby took Wade swimming, too school parties, to the zoo. Bobby made sure Wade was never left out, no matter what anyone thought.

DURHAM: And with Bobby around, there was never a question. All of Bobby's friends accepted Wade because Bobby accepted him.

CANDIOTTI: At Norwood High School, outside Cincinnati, Bales was a football captain. Year book photos show him typing and a playful side. After attending two colleges and working in finance, a fateful day, 9/11.

DURHAM: 9/11 really affected Bobby.

CANDIOTTI: Within two months, he joined the Army.

DURHAM: He was like a lot of young men and women who decided that, not on our watch. You don't do this to our country.

CANDIOTTI: When they talked about the war, Durham says Bales empathized with civilians.

DURHAM: People are people to him. People are people. I never heard him say that he hated anyone.

CANDIOTTI: Like most, Durham was horrified to hear about an American soldier who allegedly gunned down 16 Afghan villagers door to door.

CANDIOTTI (on camera): How did you react when you heard the news?

DURHAM: They're saying Bobby did that. And I couldn't believe it. I still can't believe it. I can't believe it. And the Bobby that I knew is not the Bobby that could have done that.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Durham suspects his friend may have snapped, and he's worried.

DURHAM: I don't think he can live with it. He'll never be the same. And that -- he's such a great person. That just -- that crushes me. I don't -- I don't know.

CANDIOTTI (on camera): What questions do you have?

DURHAM: I think everyone has the same question, because everyone knew the same Bobby. What happened? What happened? CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Questions with few answers.

DURHAM: I don't know what happened to my friend, Bob Bales. I hope somebody figures it out.

CANDIOTTI: And gets him help.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, Norwood, Ohio.


KAYE: Reynolds is back now with a forecast for you.

Reynolds, what do you have in store for us?

WOLF: We've got a lot going on. It's one of those days where you just have -- you can just take your pick of weather items around the country. One thing that's pretty interesting, though, is when you think of ski season, ski season was very, very slow starting this year, especially in parts of the Central Rockies because they had very little snow. Many resorts actually were building their own snow, creating their own stuff. Now they're finishing up the season in a pretty strong way. And not only in parts of the Rockies, but even in the Sierra Nevada, where we have all this moisture that's coming right in from the Pacific, crossing over the coastal range, into the San Joaquin Valley. And, boom, when it gets up to higher elevations, it's turning into snow that you can see plain as day.

Same story in southern California. Out near the great (INAUDIBLE). You can see a little bit of light snow, especially up towards Big Bear. But then when you get over towards Phoenix and Flagstaff, you see the transformation of the rain farther to the south. Then when you get higher elevation up near Flagstaff, it's all switching over to snow. Same story up near Salt Lake City. In the valleys, things are fine. Up towards Snow Bird, it's totally a snow event, which is great news for anyone who hopes to get a few more runs, a few more turns in before the ski season ends up.

The problem is, on the other side of that system, it's a different story. Very dry conditions. And with that, the strong winds. You have a fire threat that will be in effect for the day. But when you get into the Central and Southern Plains, a chance of severe storms. Not much on radar for the time being, but as we get to the late afternoon and then you have the daytime heating, the high, the humidity, that's where things get a little interesting. So we might have some strong storms that could develop.

Are tornadoes possible? Yes, unfortunately. We might see some isolated tornadoes that could develop. But the primary thing -- primary thing you're going to see is going to be the chances of some small hail and some heavy rain. And, with that, maybe some strong winds.

Warm conditions across the Ohio Valley. Very muggy. You're going to feel the humidity in Cincinnati today. No question about it. But warm conditions are going to be felt all over the eastern third, and even the center part of the U.S. Eighty-four degrees in Memphis out by Beal (ph) Street, 84 in Atlanta, 64 degrees in New York, 71 in Boston.

And as we wrap things up, 61 in Albuquerque and 56 in Los Angeles. Anyone flying out to Los Angeles, maybe some slight delays under an hour. Low clouds. The big problem is going to be in Phoenix, with a wind and a few thunder boomers that might keep you grounded for a bit on the tarmac.


KAYE: Hey, Reynolds, I've got a question for you.

WOLF: Sure.

KAYE: How many times were you on the road where you see people texting or talking on their phone? A lot.

WOLF: Every single day.

KAYE: Crazy, right?

WOLF: It really is. No question.

KAYE: I know. I want to just, you know, grab their Blackberry or whatever, their iPhone out of their hands. But a lot of people do it. A lot of people text while driving. It's not only a distraction, but we also know that it can be dangerous. A Colorado father of triplets is already thinking about what it will be like for his kids when they start driving. And that's why he's created an app to make driving safer. Here's reporter Eric Kahnert with our affiliate KUSA.


TROY ORNER, APP CREATOR: I don't want them on the road doing this.

ERIC KAHNERT, KUSA REPORTER (voice-over): Troy Orner of Littleton says his triplets have grown up so fast, before he knows it, all three will be asking for the car keys.

ORNER: The thought of them driving in today's world, you know, they're eight, so they're eight years away from driving, and there's so many distractions and meaningless deaths on the roads caused by people texting.

KAHNERT: That's why two years ago Troy began working on a cell phone app to block calls and texts while driving. He hired a California company to help develop his app. The Life Before Text app has just hit the market.

ORNER: It was kind of a shock that it finally came together.

KAHNERT: As distracted driving claims more lives and makes more headlines, more and more safe driving apps are becoming available to drivers.

ORNER: So if you're driving down the road and I want to text somebody, this will come up.

KAHNERT: We took Troy's app for a test drive going 10 miles per hour. Parents have a few options for speed. The app is supposed to block calls, texts, and emails.

KAHNERT (on camera): There it is right there. It says missed call from my cell phone. And it didn't ring. It didn't bother you.

ORNER: No. I got my eyes on the road. Making sure I don't hit anybody or get in a wreck.

KAHNERT: You've got your Twitter here. No cell phone use.

KAHNERT (voice-over): Emergency calls can be made. If a teenage driver disables the app, the parents will get an e-mail. If the app is deleted, an e-mail can also be sent to an insurance agent who may be giving the teen driver a discount for having the app installed. Troy spent $20,000 creating the app. Consumers can buy it for a one-time fee of $3.98. Troy says it's not about the money, it's about his kids' safety and other drivers.

KAHNERT: Even if I don't make any money off of this, it's worth the investment that I made just to put on my children's phones.


KAYE: When their spouses are sent off to war, they are the ones left to pick up the pieces. Up next, inside the diary of the wife of the soldier accused in last weekend's Afghan shooting rampage.


KAYE: She is the woman Sergeant Robert Bales left behind while stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. And this morning, we're getting her thoughts on his service and how it impacted the life that they shared. In a series of blog posts published in "The New York Times," Karilyn Bales writes about several events, including the disappointment felt when her husband was passed over for promotion last year saying, quote, "after all of the work Bob has done and all the sacrifices he has made for his love of his country, family, and friends."

Mrs. Bales also described her pregnancy with their daughter, Quincy, and the anticipation of her husband's return saying, "I only want the days to go by fast when it comes to Bob coming back home." And she wrote this about her unborn child, of whom she shared a certain physical condition and how it reminded her of her husband. She wrote, "I get the hiccups all the time these days. I always think that Bob is thinking about me. I guess Bob was thinking about her too."

Bales' family has reportedly been moved due to safety concerns. Their home, according to public records, was put up for sale just this week.

Rising tensions between Israel and Iran are fueling speculation of a looming war. We watched Iran flex its military muscle, practicing war games in the Strait of Hormuz. In a meeting with President Obama this month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country reserves the right to attack Iran to defend itself. He also said that Israel has been patient.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Israel has waited, patiently waited, for the international community to resolve this issue. We've waited for diplomacy to work. We've waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer.


KAYE: An air strike by Israel it's not going to be so easy to pull off. That's what experts both missed and outside Israel tell CNN's Richard Greene. He's joining us live now from London this morning.

Richard, good morning to you.

So, tell me, how would Israel go about attempting to destroy Iran's nuclear site? I mean, would this be done by air or by sea?

RICHARD GREENE, CNN WIRES EDITOR: Well, Randi, Iran has a number of targets spread around different locations. And so although Israel has submarines -- and we don't know exactly what's on those submarines. We assume they have cruise missiles or something like that. Because there are a number of different targets and because you would need very, very precise bombing, I think the assumption of all the experts is that this will happen by air. That the Israeli air force will fly either over Saudi Arabia, over Turkey, or straight across Jordan and into Iraq and then, from there, into Iran to bomb from the Israeli air force bombers themselves.


KAYE: It sounds like quite a complicated mission. You've been told that this will be a lot more difficult than when Israel attacked a reactor in Iraq decades ago and a suspected one in Syria. So, what are the biggest challenges here in terms of the military assault?

GREENE: Well, Randi, in Syria and in Iraq, the previous case, as you mentioned, there was one target in each place. Now, Iran has at least four different nuclear sites that we assume the Israelis would want to bomb, if they thought they were going to destroy the entire program. We're talking about something like 125 Israeli fighter bombers. Because it's so far, they're going to need midair refueling. So that's air refueling tankers in the air as well. Plus, whatever, you know, fighter support you want to have to protect the planes that are doing the bombing. It's going to be -- if it happens, it's going to be an absolutely enormous air operation.


KAYE: Yes. And not to mention that some of the sites there are hidden in concrete and mountains and can be really difficult. Would it be a surprise assault, do you think? GREENE: Well, the Israelis would certainly want it to be. Now, it's tricky. If you fly low over the ground, that's going to protect the Israeli planes from the Iranian radar. The lower the Israeli planes are, the harder it will be for the Iranians to see them coming. But if they're flying over a hostile country, like Iraq or Saudi Arabia, then what you're doing is you're opening yourself up to the air defenses of those countries.

Now, Iraq, after, you know, 10 years of war there, they can't really defend its airspace all that well. But, still, the lower you are, you know, the more you run the risk of alerting the people who are on the way to the target. The higher you are, the quicker the Iranians will see them coming.

KAYE: The former director of Israel's Mossad believes Ahmadinejad is a rationale person. I mean, if that is the case, could this be more of a game of chicken? I mean could this be a Cold War all over again?

GREENE: Well, I think there are a lot of people who hope so. You know, certainly I think everybody's preference would be that we not go into a full-on shooting war between Israel and Iran in the Middle East. Netanyahu is a very, very tough negotiator. He's been pressing the Americans. He's certainly making very, very tough statements as far as Iran is concerned. I think there are a lot of people who hope that this is tough talk instead of a war, rather than tough talk leading to a war.

KAYE: And just very quickly, when would this happen by if this were to happen? Do you think it would have to happen before the U.S. elections in November?

GREENE: The Israelis have been talking about a point of no return where Iran's nuclear program will be so far along that they can't stop it by bombing. And there's debate about where exactly that is. President Obama addressed AIPAC last week. The pro Israel American lobbying committee. And he said, look, we have been watching Iran very closely. We know that they do not have nuclear weapons yet. Israel agrees with us on that. So Obama, for his part, is certainly sending a very clear signal, slow down, let's not rush into anything here.


KAYE: Richard Greene, thank you very much. Appreciate that. Nice to see you.

We're going to take you inside a police department that has started its own daily newscasts.

Plus, they haven't committed a crime, but these children are locked away behind bars. Up next, you'll meet the CNN Hero who's working to provide them with life's necessities.


KAYE: Time right now, about 25 minutes past the hour, it's time to check a few other stories making news from across the country. First, to Maryland. The Baltimore City Police Department is getting into a new line of work. News. That's right, they're getting into the news business, so to speak. Why, you ask?


ANTHONY GUGLIELMI, BALTIMORE POLICE SPOKESMAN: We're going to talk about significant arrests. We're going to talk about robberies, acts of violence that may have occurred in your community, suspect description from the night before.


KAYE: Officials believe they're the first to do it.

In Los Angeles, an investigation is underway after a metro train collided with a car in downtown. According to police, the car ran a red light. The metro train was on a test run on the not yet opened Expo Line. Fortunately, only minor injuries were reported.

The Cardboard Box Derby in Pittsburgh turned ugly when a vehicle carrying 14 people flew off course. Some of the passengers were ejected. The extent of the injuries is not known. The cause of the accident is under investigation.

Right now in Nepal, about 80 children are growing up behind bars. Not because of anything they did, but because of their parents' crimes. This week's CNN Hero is trying to give them a better life, sacrificing her future for theirs. Meet Pushpa Basnet.


PUSHPA BASNET, CNN HERO: In Nepal, when parents have been arrested by the police, and the children don't have local guardians, some children go to prison with the parents. The first time when I visited the jail, I was studying for my bachelors in social work. I saw small girl who just grabbed my shawl and she just gave me a smile. It was really hard for me to forget that.

My name is Pushpa Basnet and my mission is to make sure no child grows up behind prison walls.

In 2005, I started a daycare where the children can come out from the jail at morning and they can go back to the jail at the afternoon. We have children who are from two to four, they have coloring, reading, studying five days a week.

We started residential home in 2007. (INAUDIBLE) we have 40 (ph) children living out here (ph). Mostly over six years old. I don't get a day off, but I never get tired.

The children all call me mamu. It's a big family with lots and lots of love.

When I started this organization, I was 21 years old. People thought I was crazy. But this is what I wanted in my life. I'm giving them what a normal child should have. I want to fulfill all their dreams.


KAYE: And, remember, CNN Heroes are all chosen from people that you tell us about. So go to to nominate someone that you think is making a difference in the community.

Vice President Biden blasting the GOP presidential candidates, calling each one of them out by name. What the Obama camp hopes to accomplish by putting him out on the trail. Your political gut check moments away.


KAYE: Welcome back. More now on U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. He is currently being held at Ft. Leavenworth in Kansas for allegedly killing 16 civilians in Afghanistan last Sunday. Though he hasn't been charged, he has hired Attorney John Henry Browne. Here is what Browne said about Bales and his medical history.


JOHN HENRY BROWNE, BALES' ATTORNEY: It's of interest that we have a soldier who has an exemplary record, a decorated soldier who was injured in Iraq, to his brain and to his body.

And then despite that, was sent back. I think that's an issue. I think it's a concern.


KAYE: And in an interview this past week with CNN, Browne spoke more about the effects of brain injuries on all soldiers, not just his client.


BROWNE: There's been a big problem with soldiers who have been previously deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan with concussive head injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. I know there's been a lot of controversy about this particular base in Washington not treating those illnesses. We do know he had a concussive head injury.


KAYE: As you have heard, Bales was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury in 2010, and from his lawyer's comments, it would appear that the groundwork is already being laid for a potential defense based on mental incapacity.

Yesterday I spoke with Chad Battles, an Iraq war veteran, who is currently undergoing treatment for traumatic brain injury.


CHAD BATTLES, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: One of the main problems that I have noticed in having this pretreatment, post-treatment, is that with the TBI and including the PTSD, sometimes while I'm having an event or if I would be triggered, it's like driving a car with no brakes. You see the wall ahead of you. You want to stop. You push the brakes, but they're not working.

So you know what's happening, but it's like you are just stuck in the reaction because your body is reacting and you're not able to say, whoa, let's stop this.


KAYE: Checking a few other top stories now. The U.S. embassy is investigating the killing of an American teacher in Yemen. The country's defense ministry says gunmen shot the victim as he was driving to work today in the southern city of Taiz. This comes just three days after officials say tribesmen abducted a Swiss female teacher north of Taiz.

Protesters are demanding justice for the victims of the shooting rampage in Afghanistan. Demonstrators rallied yesterday in the San Francisco Bay area. U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales is accused of killing 16 Afghans one week ago. The protesters say they want a change in the U.S.-Afghanistan strategy and an apology to the Afghan people.

And check this little guy out. It is a previously unknown frog species. It was discovered -- get this -- in New York City. Scientists say the frog's peculiar croak tipped them off that they were onto something big. The species is so new -- kind of cute though -- it doesn't even have a name yet. That's how new this species from New York City is.

Time now for your CNN political gut check. We'll take you beyond the speeches and break down what's really going on in politics.

Vice President Joe Biden came out swinging this past week marking a new offensive by President Obama's re-election team. Biden called out Mitt Romney and other GOP rivals as being, quote, "dead wrong" on the auto bailout and pretty much everything else. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, these guys have a fundamentally different economic philosophy than we do. Governor Romney was more direct: Let Detroit go bankrupt. You know, it's kind of amazing. Gingrich and Romney and Santorum, they don't let the facts get in their way.


KAYE: So has the battle for blue-collar America officially begun? I asked our political director, Mark Preston.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Who better to send the message for the Obama campaign than Joe Biden, who really exemplifies the blue collar background? In fact, that's why Barack Obama chose him to be his running mate back in 2008.

But, of course, we saw him on the campaign trail this week, Randi, as he was very critical of the Republican presidential candidates, named them by name, went directly after them. So, of course, Joe Biden right now is the top surrogate on the Obama campaign.

KAYE: I want to talk about Illinois. Certainly the primary coming up on Tuesday. Mitt Romney, I mean, he has a lot of money, and he likes to pour it into these states and use it to attack his opponents. Illinois in this case is no exception. How important is Illinois and how are the candidates doing there?

PRESTON: It's extremely important. You know, Mitt Romney needs to win Illinois. He needs to change the narrative of Rick Santorum sweeping in at the last minute and winning these states. We saw Rick Santorum do that in Mississippi and Alabama.

Now we're heading off to Illinois on Tuesday. But today there's also Puerto Rico, and Mitt Romney needs to win Puerto Rico because part of his argument is that he is in the hunt for delegates, delegates is what is going to win the nomination. They need 1,144. He needs to win Puerto Rico today, and then from that, he needs that bounce going into Illinois to do well.

KAYE: And let's look ahead to this week in Washington. There's some other campaigning taking place there besides the main GOP candidates, isn't there?

PRESTON: Well, Randi, you and I have talked about the vice presidential sweepstakes, and, of course, that's going to be more and more come to the forefront.

Well, three potential names are going to be in Washington giving speeches this week, all very interesting political speeches. Let's start first with Nikki Haley. She's going to be headlining the fundraiser for the national Republican congressional committee. That's the fundraising arm for House Republicans.

House Republicans obviously want to maintain control of the House of Representatives. Nikki Haley will be their big star.

We're going to see Mitch Daniels come and speak to a banking group as well. He is going to be talking about monetary policy, which, of course, is a very, very big deal.

And then, of course, you have Paul Ryan, who a lot of people wanted to run for president as well. He is also going to be speaking about his vision for the budget at an event this week. So start expecting a lot of folks to be focusing on who potentially could be Romney's V.P., who could potentially be Rick Santorum's V.P. We're going to start really paying attention to these appearances. KAYE: And they might as well be wearing T-shirts that say, pick me, pick me, right?

PRESTON: Certainly some of them, you know. Even Chris Christie has not ruled it out as have others. So it's an interesting -- it's an interesting, fun political game.

KAYE: Yes. We are heading to the next level. All right, Mark Preston, thank you very much.

PRESTON: Thank you.

KAYE: And you can read more "Gut Check" every day on Or better yet, let us send them to you. Just send an e-mail to, and we'll get them to you.

And later on, CNN SUNDAY MORNING, Newt Gingrich's daughter will join me live. I'll ask her if there is any chance of her father dropping out of the race, and what it would take for that to happen if so. That live interview coming up at 8:10 Eastern time for you.

An unruly crowd forced a Republican caucus in Missouri to shut down. Witnesses tell affiliate KFBK that the caucus in St. Charles County adjourned before delegates were selected, when a man with a video camera refused to put it away. And some of the crowd began shouting at the organizers. Police arrested two people.

David Cole, chairman of the Missouri Republican Party, released the following statement, saying, "Given the importance of this election cycle, we understand that emotions run high, but it is important that these caucuses are conducted in a fair, open and honest matter." He went on to say that the meeting was adjourned to protect the safety of all participants. Getting kind of ugly.

And Disney wants to make some dreams come true for America's men and women on front lines. It's launching a new initiative called "Heroes Work Here," to hire, train, and support returning veterans and their families.

Disney says it will provide at least 1,000 jobs for veterans over the next three years. It also plans to launch a public awareness campaign to encourage other employers to do the same. You can find out more online. Just go to

New details about those controversial pardons in Mississippi. Now we're learning two inmates may have been given preferential treatment by former Governor Barbour and his wife. CNN investigates next.


KAYE: Those controversial pardons granted by Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour as he left office are stirring new criticisms. CNN has learned that the governor's wife and his security chief granted special favors to two inmates, favors that one legislator brands as "appalling," saying they were treated, quote, "like kings." Here's Ed Lavandera.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just days before these two Mississippi killers were pardoned by Haley Barbour, CNN has learned David Gatlin and Charles Hooker were issued brand-new driver's licenses even though they were still technically incarcerated, working as trustees at the governor's mansion.

Which begs the question -- how do two inmates get driver's licenses while they're still in custody of the prison system?

LAVANDERA: Well, Haley Barbour's chief security officer tells CNN he personally drove both men from the governor's mansion here over to the driver's license office himself.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Barbour's security chief suggests the licenses would help them find jobs. But why else would either of these men need a driver's license? To drive their newly purchased cars, of course.

CNN has obtained these investigator's reports from the Mississippi attorney general's office, which detail how Gatlin and Hooker also had cars ready for them the day they were pardoned. According to the report, Haley Barbour's wife called a salesman at this car dealership.

It says, "Marsha Barbour contacted him regarding the purchase of vehicles for Hooker and Gatlin." The salesman allegedly told investigators that the inmates had been brought to the dealership on January 6th, 2012, in a black Ford Crown Victoria to complete paperwork for the sale.

January 6th is the very day that their pardons were signed, but two days before the men were officially released. The salesman also stated that he delivered both vehicles to the governor's mansion.


KAYE: That was Ed Lavandera reporting. State Representative Dave Baria called the governor's pardons, in his words, "way out of bounds," but the State Department of Public Service says to its knowledge no policies were broken, and the Mississippi Supreme Court has ruled they are legal.

When you think of New Orleans, Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street are usually the first things that come to mind. So why is the mayor talking about murder? I went to New Orleans to find out. You're watching "Weekend Early Start," where the news doesn't take a weekend off.


KAYE: The mayor of New Orleans says it is the most important issue facing his city: murder. Last year a 14 percent surge in homicides made the city's murder rate the highest in the nation, a staggering 12 times the national rate. I went to New Orleans to see what's really happening on the streets there and talked to those impacted by the violence and those trying to stop it.



KAYE (voice-over): Her name was Keira Holmes Gordon, and this is her funeral. Of the 199 people murdered in New Orleans last year, she was one of the last, caught in the crossfire by a stray bullet, shot in the head just days before her second birthday.

The violence is bleeding into 2012, too. In the 18 hours that preceded our interview with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, 17 people had been shot, six killed, an elementary school locked down, and police headquarters evacuated after grenades were found in a suspect's car.

The mayor and police say most of the victims and suspects are young African-American males. They're killing each other.

MAYOR MITCH LANDRIEU (D) NEW ORLEANS: Innocent bystanders, little babies, you know, wound up being in the way of two guys who decided have a fight over somebody bumping into each other.

KAYE (voice-over): There are so many victims, but too few police officers to figure out who killed them. The steady stream of homicides here has created a backlog for the cold case unit with just a handful of officers playing catch-up.

Some investigations haven't progressed as quickly as victims' families would like. Helen Hill, a young mother, was murdered in this neighborhood five years ago -- still no suspects.

We first shared Helen's story with you in 2007. The filmmaker and her family had returned to New Orleans after Katrina. On January 4th, 2007, Helen was gunned down by an intruder in her own home. Helen tried to stop him and yelled to her husband to call 9-1-1.

PAUL GAILIUNAS, HELEN HILL'S HUSBAND: She had such fear in the last moments of her life, but that she also saved our lives by waking us and calling for us to take care of ourselves.

KAYE (voice-over): the suspect shot Paul three times. He played dead and covered their young son. After the intruder left, Paul found Helen on the living room floor. She had been shot in the neck.

GAILIUNAS: It feels line there's no justice, and it feels like there's a sense of fear and anxiety.

JACOB HILL, HELEN HILL'S BROTHER: This is my life, obviously, and this is -- I work with cold case detectives.

KAYE (voice-over): Helen's brother, Jake Hill, is hardly surprised police haven't solved his sister's case. HILL: The fact that I still see a homicide division that is underresourced and, I think, ill-equipped with good people still is shocking to me.

KAYE (voice-over): New Orleans Police Chief Ronal Serpas told us he is working to fix the problem. They're recruiting new officers, and the city has also started a cease-fire program that recruits people from violent neighborhoods to serve as mediators, and the cold case unit now has four full-time officers.

KAYE: Is there a message that you're trying to send to those who are committing all these crimes?

NEW ORLEANS POLICE CHIEF RONAL SERPAS: We're coming after you like a dog on a bone.

KAYE: With all due respect, you're not the first mayor to tell me things are going to improve, we're going to fix this, we're going to change this. Why should I believe you, or even the people of New Orleans -- why should we think that this is going to be different?

LANDRIEU: Listen, I may not be the person that can solve the problem. If I knew the answer to it, you know, I would have told people what it is. I can tell you this, though, that I'm not going to turn my eyes away from it.

We're trying to completely retrofit this plane while we're flying at 30,000 feet in the air, and we're trying to do it on the front end and the back end, and it's very complicated and it's hard.

KAYE (voice-over): Just before Christmas, suspects were arrested in the death of Keira Holmes Gordon, but even with those men off the street, the killing goes on. If there was ever a doubt New Orleans is the murder capital of America, just listen to this from the city's mayor.

LANDRIEU: You are more at risk of getting shot in the city of New Orleans than you do on the fields of Afghanistan, and that is statistically correct.

KAYE: Isn't that alarming to you?

LANDRIEU: That is -- that ought to scare the hell out of people.


KAYE: It sure does scare a lot of people there. And New Orleans had almost one murder a day during the month of January. The latest figures suggest that pace slowed last month.

On a much lighter note, the Caped Crusader hired to fight crime. No, this is not a movie. Where Batman will be battling the bad guys. I'll explain next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KAYE: Welcome back just a few minutes before 7:00 here on the East Coast, Reynolds and I are looking at some of the best pictures, best video of the day that we've -- that we've taken notice of. Have you seen Chicago's river?

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It's pretty amazing, isn't it?

KAYE: Yes.

WOLF: I mean, it's really incredible. Take a look at that video. Isn't it just -- it's breathtaking.

KAYE: I guess this is a tradition of more than 50 years.

WOLF: Yes, they've been doing this for a long time. They use 40 pounds of vegetable dye, so in case you are concerned and wondering, oh, my gosh, is this terrible for the fish it's bad for people, it's actually safe. It's a vegetable dye. They've been using it for many years. Actually, it's palmers (ph) to see if they could detect leaks in the city's sewer system, but you see the aftereffects.

KAYE: Yes, it's actually pretty nice. Kids must love it. It actually looks like it's glowing, doesn't it?

WOLF: It's very fluorescent. It's -- I mean, I wouldn't want to swim in it, safe or not. Still kind of weird, but --

KAYE: Yes.

WOLF: There you go. Nice tradition.

KAYE: Well, guess what, it's not just in Chicago. Take a look. It's actually in Tampa, too. Tampa turned its river green. See, I don't know. It's not especially pretty, but it's interesting.

WOLF: It's contagious, though.

KAYE: Yes --


WOLF: Now they used 70 pounds of vegetable dye in Tampa, and what's interesting is Michelle Obama, who calls Chicago her home, loves the tradition so much that she actually had them use the same green dye in some of the fountains at the White House.

KAYE: Oh, really?

WOLF: Yes, so go figure. So always go to the White House. Let's see. We've got Chicago, we've got Tampa, we'll get the White House. It just keeps going.

KAYE: All right. Switching -- we don't have any more green rivers to show you, but we do want to show you Batman. Yes. That's right. From the comic book to real life, Brazilian police actually have hired Batman to help them battle crime in the violent streets there in Brazil. There he is. He looks pretty good.

WOLF: It's creepy. He is a 50-year-old guy wearing a Batman costume. I mean, you wouldn't want to obey the law -- or disobey the law. You would be off the street completely.

KAYE: He is inspiring the kids to be crime fighters.

WOLF: I guess so. It looks -- if it helps, if the kids like him and it keeps crime (inaudible).


KAYE: Well, I guess it's going to give kids an idea of, you know, good from bad and give them a clear idea of that.

WOLF: You have to love that.

KAYE: You know, so --

WOLF: Absolutely.

KAYE: -- pretty nice.

All right. I want to -- next can we talk about this one? This is probably the favorite video of the day. Look at this little guy. That is an opossum. And if you have seen the film "Ratatouille," with the mouse that could cook, well, this opossum is actually named Ratatouille, but look what he can do. He's snowboarding in his little sweater.

WOLF: It's -- I know. You look at this. You have to (inaudible). It looks cute, but where I'm from in Alabama, that's not cute. That's food. That is food. You actually eat -- no, you eat possums in Alabama.

KAYE: Really?

WOLF: Very, very strange. But nice to see the opossum taking advantage of the extended ski season.

KAYE: Look at him. He is totally mugging for the camera, too.

WOLF: He really is. He is doing a great job. Snowboarding possum, I'm amused.

KAYE: OK, not about -- I'm not sure about that shot.

But hey, listen, one little fun fact from our producer, Harrison, he really did the research on this, because we're going the research on this because we were going back and forth between possum and opossum. I just want everybody at home to know that there are actually more than 60 different species of opossum.

And apparently the true possum is only -- it's primarily found in New Guinea, Australia, Indonesia and other islands in the Pacific region, but the signature bear tail, the opossum is North America's only known marsupial. So the opossum is what's here in North America.

WOLF: The more you know. Wow. That's interesting.

KAYE: See? We're just making you smarter here on" Weekend Early Start," in case you didn't know it already. Thank you, Harrison, for that little tidbit.

All right. Still ahead, attorneys for the U.S. soldier accused of shooting Afghan civilians say they will meet with him this week, but they are speaking out now and we'll have their comments.