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American Morning

Gingrich Iowa Director Out; Poll: Gingrich Strong In Primary; Trump Pulls Out Of Own Debate; House Passes Payroll Tax Cut Extension; Deadly Grenade, Gun Attack In Belgium; Sandusky Headed For Jury Trial; Syracuse University and Coach Boeheim Sued; Deadly Distracted Driving; Postal Service Delays Closings; Quieting Loud Commercials; Eleventh Body Found on Long Island; Corzine Grilled About Missing Money; Interview with Christine O'Donnell; Deadly Distracted Driving; House Passes GOP Payroll Tax Cut Extension; Egypt Starts Second Round Of Elections

Aired December 14, 2011 - 06:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Shake-up in prime time. The Newt Gingrich campaign suffers another loss in Iowa after a staffer takes a shot at an opponent's religion.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Texting, tweeting, talking, all the while swerving. The feds now urging a nationwide crackdown on cell phones behind the wheel even if you don't use your hands.

COSTELLO: If you're trying to shake-up Washington in 2010, Christine O'Donnell is here to make her endorsement for 2012, live, on this AMERICAN MORNING.

ROMANS: Good morning, everyone. It's Wednesday, December 14th. I'm Christine Romans along with Carol Costello on this AMERICAN MORNING. Good morning.

COSTELLO: Good morning, good morning to all of you. Good news and bad news this morning for the GOP frontrunner Newt Gingrich. With less than three weeks until the Iowa caucuses, his political director in the state has stepped down after calling Mormonism a cult.

Two GOP candidates, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are Mormons. Gingrich is already working with bare bones staff in this state. In the meantime, a new poll shows Gingrich has opened a commanding lead nationally over Mitt Romney, but head-to-head with the president, well, that's another story.

CNN political director Paul Steinhauser -- got your title wrong, Paul.


COSTELLO: You're the best guy at CNN. Paul Steinhauser, and you're here on this AMERICAN MORNING. OK, let's talk about these polls.

STEINHAUSER: Yes. Let's start with the numbers and it's a story we've seen in a lot of other polls as well. This is brand new from NBC/"Wall Street Journal." Let's go to the numbers. This is battle for the Republican nomination.

And there's Newt Gingrich way ahead of everybody else, 17 points ahead of Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, everybody else in the poll, people likely to vote in the Republican primary in single digits.

A Pew poll out yesterday had the same numbers. All right, but go to the next screen, Carol. Here's where it gets little tricky. These are hypothetical battles between President Obama and the top two Republicans in next year's general election. This poll indicates the president ahead by 11 points over Newt Gingrich, but basically dead even with Mitt Romney.

So looks like Gingrich right now, you know, according to the poll, sailing in the battle for the nomination, but would have trouble next year in the general election. Like I said, we've seen it in our own polling and in others, troubling numbers for Newt Gingrich at least looking ahead to 2012 -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Wow, OK, let's go back to Gingrich's political director in Iowa. For the moment, he's stepping down. Why? Tell us why.

STEINHAUSER: Yes, because yesterday morning, Newt Gingrich put out an e-mail to campaign staffers and surrogates who go on television and talk in favor of Gingrich saying, no more with the negative. We're not going to respond. We're not going on the attack against other candidates and we're going to stay positive. That's the way we're going to win this.

Well, problem. Reporting yesterday in Iowa indicated that the man you mentioned, Craig Bergman, before he joined the campaign earlier this week in a focus group, as you said, called Mormonism a cult and yes, two of the other candidates, Romney and Huntsman, are Mormon.

So this is what the campaign put out last night. Craig Bergman agreed to step away from his role with Newt 2012. Today, he made a comment to a focus group prior to becoming an employee that is inconsistent with Newt's 2012 pledge to run a positive and solutions- orientated campaign.

That from R.C. Hammon, the spokesman for the campaign. Listen, we saw Gingrich and Romney going at it the last couple of days. Gingrich says he is going to stay positive now. He wants his campaign surrogates and staffers to do the same. We'll see how long this lasts -- Carol.

COSTELLO: I was just going to say. Mitt Romney, he picked up an endorsement today. Tell us about it.

STEINHAUSER: Yes, people -- some people are snickering about this one, but it's an endorsement. We're talking about Christine O'Donnell. Let's flash back, re-rack to 2010. Remember, she was the former "witch" who ran for the Senate in Delaware. She knocked off a more establishment Republican in the primaries. She was kind of a big surprise, but she did not win in the general election. She lost to the Democrat there in that Senate run.

Now she has come out with an endorsement of Romney. People say, does this really matter? Listen, she does have some support among the Tea Party Movement. He needs it. No doubt it when it comes to Tea Party supporters and she had a little dig when it comes to Newt Gingrich saying, America needs a president that is not a Washington insider. I think she's talking about Newt Gingrich there. So I look forward to your interview.

COSTELLO: I know I was just chatting with her, you know, in the newsroom. She's going to be here, too. So Paul Steinhauser, I'm sure you'll stick around for that.

Coming up at 6:30 Eastern, the former Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell will join us live.

And also at 8:40 Eastern with Mitt Romney's Mormon faith under attack, and Newt Gingrich's personal life popping up again. We'll talk about how this will impact Iowa conservatives with Dr. Richard Land. He's president of the Southern Baptist Convention and "Newsweek" reporter McKay Coppins will also join us.

ROMANS: All right, even Donald Trump is now pulling out of the Donald Trump debate. Trump says he is out as moderator of the GOP debate that was scheduled for later this month.

What did you tweet, Carol? Trump fired himself from the debate. Only two Republican candidates, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum were committed anyway. So how did the Donald spin this one? Being moderator may have been a conflict of interests. Here he is on Sean Hannity's radio show.


DONALD TRUMP, REAL ESTATE MOGUL (via telephone): They really were concerned that I may run and didn't want me hosting a debate where I end up running against them.

The chances of my running aren't that great, other than if they pick the wrong candidate. If the economy continues to be bad and if the Republicans pick the wrong candidate, which is a possibility, I would very seriously think about running.


ROMANS: Trump had flirted running for president earlier this year. He was even a GOP frontrunner for a very brief moment.

COSTELLO: With millions of working Americans facing $1,000 tax hike in just 17 days, it politics as usual on Capitol Hill. The House just passed a Republican plan to extend the payroll tax cut, but it's virtually dead on arrival of a Democratic controlled Senate. And the president isn't going to sign it because it also contains the measure that speeds up the process for government approval of the Keystone oil pipeline. Here's House Majority Leader Eric Cantor with the GOP perspective.


REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Harry Reid has now in his lap a bill that will stave of tax increases for everyone who has a job in this country, and will make sure that we get back on the path to job creation. It's time for the rhetoric that has come from Senate Democrats as well as the White House to start matching reality.


COSTELLO: So here's the reality. Democrats are not budging, and the White House wants the payroll tax cut extension and a new spending plan passed quickly without all the politics.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: What the president is not willing to do is leave town or allow Congress to leave town without ensuring that 160 million Americans do not see their taxes go up next year.


COSTELLO: Congress has until Friday to pass a new federal budget or we face a possible -- yes, we face a possible government shutdown again.

ROMANS: This morning we're learning more about deadly attack in Belgium. It happened at packed Christmas market in the city of Liege yesterday. Police say the attacker launched three grenades and gunned down holiday shoppers from a nearby roof.

CNN's Nic Robertson is live there. Nic, what's the latest on the number of victims in this case?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, 124 people according to prosecutor were taken to hospital for treatment. Some of those with serious injuries and some of them also with psychological trauma.

Five people including the attacker died in the attack, and the police also saying they found the body of the attacker's cleaner at his house in a shed that he used for growing cannabis, large quantities of cannabis he used to sell, that body found overnight.

But if you look down over my shoulder here, you can see the bus shelters, the windows blown out, which was the scene of the attack yesterday. Crowds gathered around.

A lot of journalists and a lot of camera crews, but in the middle there, there are flowers being laid in tribute. I talked to one lady here who was a witness to the attack yesterday. She was still shaking.

She had her young children with her. She said she was absolutely horrified, shocked at what she had seen. She said for her, in this quiet city here, known for its tranquillity that this felt like for her like their 9/11 in Liege.

That it was horrible. It was shocking. It was sudden and there's still no explanation. People here deeply traumatized -- Christine.

ROMANS: Nic, what are prosecutors saying about the attacker?

ROBERTSON: He has a criminal record. He spent 40 months in jail on charges of cultivating and selling cannabis, of racketeering with weapons. He's also been told to report to the police station here just hours indeed after he perpetrated his attack on questions of sexual harassment and possible rape.

But the prosecutors saying and the police haven't discovered yet any kind of suicide note from him. They are saying that he committed suicide at the end of the attack by shooting himself.

Then say they have no indication what turned this hardened criminal, he spent time in jail to a ruthless, cold blooded, psychopathic killer. No one has that answer here right now -- Christine.

ROMANS: Certainly that kind of violence is so, so rare in those cities in Belgium. Thank you so much, Nic Robertson.

COSTELLO: Jerry Sandusky's lawyer says the disgraced former Penn State coach is ready for the fight of his life. Sandusky waived his right to a preliminary hearing yesterday and also waived a scheduled arraignment date in January clearing the way for a jury trial.

Sandusky faces more than 50 counts related to allegations of sexual molestation revealed in a grand jury report last month. Prosecutors were prepared to put some of the accusers on the stand yesterday.

At 8:10 Eastern, we will be joined by Tom Klein, he's an attorney for one of Sandusky's alleged victims. His client all set to testify yesterday. We'll get his reaction to Sandusky waiving his preliminary hearing.

ROMANS: Two men who say former Syracuse's assistant basketball coach, Bernie Fine molested them when they were boys have filed a defamation lawsuit against the university and its head basketball coach, Jim Boeheim.

Boeheim has apologized for initially questioning the motives of Fine's accusers. But alleged victim, Mike Lang, says those comments made him sick to his stomach and former ball boy, Bobby David, told our Piers Morgan that he wants to encourage young victims of abuse to speak up.

ROMANS: All right, it's about 10 minutes past the hour. Also making news this morning, texting and driving just don't mix. The NTSB is calling for a full nationwide ban on cell phones and electronics devices while behind the wheel, and it applies to hands- free devices, too.

The recommendation came after several investigation found texting to be the cause of deadly accidents. Three thousand people died in distraction-related crashes last year.

Coming up later this hour, we'll speak with Debbie Hersman, Chairman of the NTSB. That's at 6:40 a.m. Eastern. We'll ask her if this is public safety or it's going too far?

COSTELLO: A reprieve for tens of thousands of postal works endanger of losing their jobs. The U.S. Postal Service agreeing to delay the closing of nearly 4,000 local post offices in more than 250 mail processing centers until the middle of May.

It gives Congress more time to help the agency avoid bankruptcy. The postal service is expected to lose more than $14 billion next year.

ROMANS: It's a long time coming, but finally after almost four years, a crackdown on those annoying, loud commercials. The Federal Communications Commission will require broadcasters to maintain a constant volume level for programs and commercials. The new rule takes effect next December. It takes year?

COSTELLO: I'm so excited, too.

ROMANS: I know that gives programmers time to come up with ways to smooth the differences in the audio levels. The agency said it has received almost 6,000 complaints since -- not counting the number of times all of us have screamed at our television.

COSTELLO: Stopped to watch that little needle and make sure it's in the right place?

ROMANS: Apparently, it takes whole year, Carol, to smooth out the differences.

COSTELLO: All right, then. Still to come, former MF Global CEO, Jon Corzine under fire on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers demanding to know what happened to more than a billion dollars in customer money from this bankrupt brokerage firm.

ROMANS: Plus, James Murdoch testify that he was unaware of the phone hacking scandal that erupted over the summer, but now a new e- mail suggests otherwise. Details on that ahead.

COSTELLO: And he once named the sexiest man alive, but Nick Nolte is more well known for that shot. Sad it keeps popping up, isn't it? Now the actor is finally setting the record straight about this very unfortunate photo. It's 12 minutes past the hour. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Ah, chilly outside this morning, wasn't it?

ROMANS: And still dark.

COSTELLO: Still dark. A live look at New York City this morning. It's 15 minutes past the hour. Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING.

Police are investigating a possible serial killer near New York City, and we're waiting for the results of forensic tests to determine if remains discovered yesterday on Long Island are those of Shannan Gilbert.

ROMANS: She's the young woman whose disappearance last year led to the unexpected discovery of nearly a dozen bodies on Long Island.

Our Chris Knowles joins us now live. Shannan Gilbert is -- the search for her is what uncovered what could very well be a serial killer in the New York area.

CHRIS KNOWLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It began with her in the spring of 2010 and now this long later we're finally, maybe, finally, seeing what has happened to her. The announcement that cops had found what they say they believe are the remains of Shannan Gilbert.

It comes exactly one year after police in Long Island first acknowledged they may have a serial killer on their hands. Now, Gilbert went missing more than a year-and-a-half ago. Her purse, jeans and other personal items, well, they were found last week in Oak Beach. That's when police redoubled their search efforts. And yesterday morning in thick muck and bramble, police discovered the new remains.


RICHARD DORMER, SUFFOLK COUNTY POLICE COMMISSIONER: We have this day at approximately 9:14 A.M. located a set of skeletal remains we believe at this time to belong to the missing Shannan Gilbert. The body was found approximately one quarter mile northeast of where her personal belongings were located last week.


KNOWLES: The exhaustive search for Gilbert eventually led to the discovery of 10 bodies along that barren part of Long Island. To date, not all of them identified and all of them with ties to the sex industry. And police say that even though Gilbert's body, or suspected body, was found near those other remains, until the autopsy is completed, they'll continue to believe that Gilbert's death was an accidental drowning. Not part of that serial killer's streak.

Now, Gilbert's mother, well, she's not convinced.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MARI GILBERT, SHANNAN GILBERT'S MOTHER: Well, this sick bastard is caught, they're going to find more bodies out here in these woods.


KNOWLES: Now, the last person who had apparently seen Gilbert alive told CNN earlier this year, he, too, was doubtful that she was murdered. The case continues.

Now, all of the other victims were found wrapped in burlap. So it doesn't sound like that's what they found here. At least they haven't said that yet, so we'll, you know, wait to those autopsy results.

COSTELLO: Is there any way to determine there's not -- I can't think of a more gentle way to put it, but there's not much left of her body.


COSTELLO: Would it be possible to determine the cause of death?

KNOWLES: Well, you know, I can't -- I can't tell you. They, you know, they're saying flat out that they are, as you say, skeletal remains. There's not a lot there to work with. So cause of death, you know, might be a little bit more difficult in this case as it was with the others.

ROMANS: The theory of investigators is that she was running, screaming from someone's home.


ROMANS: People heard her running and screaming. She disappears into this very barren, very brushy area and what? She got caught in a bramble and she couldn't get out? She drowned?

KNOWLES: Yes. Keep in mind, when she went missing this was spring time. And that area is very marshy, very boggy. So you have not only the think bramble in full bloom, but you also have pockets of low-lying water, and even deeper pools out there. Sort of sits on the strip of land in between, you know, two bodies of water. She wasn't a swimmer. So this is the theory that police say they're operating with right now.

COSTELLO: And it was dark.

KNOWLES: Yes, exactly. Middle of the night.

ROMANS: Chris Knowles, thanks so much.

COSTELLO: Show me the money. That demand directed over and over at MF Global CEO, Jon Corzine -- or former CEO, we should say. Corzine was on Capitol Hill yesterday flanked by two former colleagues from his bankrupt brokerage firm. The Senate Agriculture Committee is trying to get to the bottom of more than a billion dollars in missing customers funds from the former New Jersey governor's company, but they didn't get far.


SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW, (D) Michigan, Chairwoman, Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry: ... CFO, where's the money?

HENRI STEENKAMP, MF GLOBAL CFO: Senator, unfortunately, I do not know where the money is.

STABENOW: Mr. Abelow, where's the money?

BRADLEY ABELOW, MF GLOBAL PRESIDENT AND COO: Senator, as I said in my statement, I -- I do not know where the money is.

JON CORZINE, FORMER MF GLOBAL CEO: It's clear that something was amiss, and that needs to be discovered, what that was.


COSTELLO: Corzine insists he never directed anyone at MF Global to misuse customer funds, but those claims didn't fly with a Minnesota hog farmer who says he lost $200,000 with Corzine's company.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot of people, moms and pops out there that probably have their whole life savings tied up and lost -- and tied up here. So it's important this -- important to realize that this effects a lot more people across the whole country.


COSTELLO: Corzine isn't done yet. He faces another hearing on Thursday. This time the House Financial Services Committee will be trying to find the money.

ROMANS: Something was amiss, not what you want to hear from your CEO. Something was amiss.

COSTELLO: How come you not know where a billion dollars went?

ROMANS: Rob Marciano is in the Extreme Weather Center. Rob, where is the money?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I don't know. I mean, I've lost a million here. (INAUDIBLE). Good morning, guys.

ROMANS: Good morning.

MARCIANO: I want to start you off with some totals that are starting to rack up out west. Check out some of the snow in Flagstaff, Arizona. Yes, right near the Grand Canyon piling up yesterday over a foot of snow in spots. And traffic problems there, no doubt about it. This intense winter storm is beginning to inject into the Plains and it's going to cause some problems for some other people.

Some of the snow totals, two feet Forest Lakes. There's Flagstaff at 15 inches and some spots in Utah also seeing a foot or more of snow. New Mexico, Southern Colorado will see more in the way of snow today to a lesser extent. But some of that energy is going to come out and create some severe weather across Texas including Dallas down through Austin with a possibility of seeing an isolated tornado, certainly some damaging winds or large hale later in the day.

But some of that moisture or energy is already leading ahead of the main piece and that's bringing some rain. Some of it heavy. Chicago, especially westward north up towards Milwaukee and some of this is streaming into Detroit as well. So a wet lower Great Lakes for you.

East Coast, not too shabby. Temperatures will be actually on the mild side. But if you're traveling today to Chicago and Dallas, you're going to be at the airports, an issue.

Was it Ali comes back for one day and then he flies the coop (ph)?

ROMANS: He's delicate. He's a delicate --

MARCIANO: He's a delicate talent, yes.

ROMANS: You know, I mean --

MARCIANO: I've known that for a while.

COSTELLO: I don't even know how to respond to that. Thank you, Rob.

MARCIANO: All right, see you.

COSTELLO: Just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING, Hezbollah militants naming names, claiming to expose CIA agents operating under deep cover inside Lebanon.


ROMANS: "Minding Your Business" this morning.

The Federal Reserve holding off on any new steps to boost the economy, and that announcement yesterday leaving stocks lower. The Dow dropped about 70 points in the last hour to close down 66 points. Stock futures trading pretty flat so far this morning.

It turns out the housing bust was even worse than the housing industry told us it was. The National Association of Realtors reports that the number of existing homes sold over the past five years is less than they estimated. That's because some properties were listed more than once, and in some cases new home sales were also counted. The industry will give its revised figures one week from today. But, again, the housing bust, worst than the National Association of Realtors (sic) first admitted.

More jobs, two words we'd all like to hear. And according to a new report from the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the number of small companies planning to hire new workers is at its highest level in 38 months. Though we should mention that number is still well below pre-recession levels but that shows improvement in hiring for small business.

It's yet another sign. Chrysler, the once troubled automaker is turning things around. The company's CEO tells the "Wall Street Journal" they're right now on track to make $3 billion in profit next year, it's all because of rising U.S. sales.

And Southwest Airlines inking a record $19 billion deal to buy 208 Boeing 737s jets. This is the largest aircraft order ever placed and the first to include Boeing's more fuel-efficient model.

AMERICAN MORNING will be right back after the break.


COSTELLO: She tried to shake up Washington in 2010. Who does Christine O'Donnell think should lead the nation in 2012? She is here to make her endorsement live -- on this AMERICAN MORNING.


ROMANS: And welcome back. It is about 31 minutes past the hour. Time for the morning's top stories.

Newt Gingrich's political director in Iowa is out after calling Mormonism a cult. Two GOP candidates, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, are Mormons. Gingrich is already working with a lean staff in Iowa. This, as new national poll shows he's blowing away Romney but has weak numbers against President Obama.

With 160 million Americans facing a $1,000 payroll tax increase in 17 day, the House has passed a payroll tax cut extension that also includes provisions to speed up the approval process for the keystone excel oil pipeline. Democrats and the president say, hey, it's a deal breaker and it won't pass the senate. Congress needs to get a spending plan passed by Friday or we face a federal shutdown. Here we go again.

The Federal Communications Commissions cracking down on those annoying loud commercials. Starting next December, next December, broadcasters are required to maintain constant volume levels for programs and commercials. The agency says it received almost 6,000 complaints since 2008 -- Carol.

COSTELLO: She took on the established GOP candidate in Delaware and won the 2010 GOP primary. Tea Party favorite Christine O'Donnell, even though she lost in the general election, she turned a lot of heads in that Senate race.

Now, Christine O'Donnell is here to tell us who she is picking to shake up Washington in 2012.

Welcome to AMERICAN MORNING. We're glad you're here.

CHRISTINE O'DONNELL (R), FMR. SENATE CANDIDATE: Thank for having me, Carol. I appreciate it.

COSTELLO: So, tell us who gets your endorsement?

O'DONNELL: I like Mitt Romney. And I do have to say that, you know, this is something I gave a lot of thought to. I like all of the candidates, but there are certainly things, like executive experience, consistency, that are deal breakers or tie breakers for me.

And I think especially in such an unstable economic environment what people criticized him for in 2008, his consistency, the fact that he was so strong and -- I think people will find that appealing going into the 2012 --

COSTELLO: But some people say that Mitt Romney isn't the most consistent candidate, because he's changed his mind about big, important issues over the years.

O'DONNELL: You know, that's one of the things that I like about him, because he's been consistent since he changed his mind. And I think that he's humble enough to say, I don't always have the right answers. And he's open to other viewpoints, and if it doesn't betray his core convictions, he'll make the necessary changes.

And you saw him lead in Massachusetts with that. He vetoed legislation that, you know, he had a lot of opposition about, and I think that if -- if people who are opposed to him right now took a closer look at his record, and took a look at the fact that, you know, people are trying to paint Newt Gingrich as the anti-establishment candidate, which I think is funny, because in a lot of the Tea Party versus establishment campaigns in 2010, Newt Gingrich was on the side of the establishment.

COSTELLO: Well, let's talk about Newt Gingrich.

O'DONNELL: And Mitt Romney got involved in Scott Brown, Nikki Haley, Marco Rubio and my race. A lot of people aren't giving him credit for that. But I'm sorry, go ahead.

COSTELLO: Let's talk about Newt Gingrich because, you know, we took -- we have some polling out that shows Tea Party, Tea Party member especially in Iowa support Newt Gingrich --


COSTELLO: -- overwhelmingly against Mitt Romney. And one of the reasons might be, you know, universal health care that he instituted in Massachusetts. Is that it, or is it something else about Mitt Romney?

O'DONNELL: Honestly, I think it's that Newt Gingrich is courting the Tea Party and that's actually why -- you know, I love Michele Bachmann, I love Rick Santorum, but because so many Tea Partiers are flocking behind Newt Gingrich, I decided to come out and say, hey, this is who, between Newt and Romney, the Tea Party I don't think should be behind Newt at all. I would understand if they're flocking behind Michele Bachmann.

But Newt Gingrich has supported a federal mandate. Newt Gingrich has been inconsistent and unreliable all the way down from cozying up on a couch with Nancy Pelosi, to getting behind relentlessly Dede Scozzafava in New York 23.

So, I think if, especially Tea Party candidates, if you want to -- or Tea Party members, if you want to get behind Michele Bachmann, get behind Rick Santorum, Ron Paul instead of Romney, OK, I can understand that. But not Newt Gingrich, and I'm really hoping that my endorsement will cause people to give him a second look.

COSTELLO: Well, it certainly has shaken some members of the Tea Party because you went on sort of listening tour in Iowa.


COSTELLO: You wanted to sit down with Tea Party members to talk about, you know, what candidate the Tea Party should support.


COSTELLO: They kind of rejected you. And I just wanted to read you a bit of a letter that they sent out, and this is of your yearning to support Mitt Romney.


COSTELLO: Right, OK? So the letter from the Tea Party says, specifically of concern, Ms. O'Donnell's statements that Tea Partiers should unite regardless of which candidates wins. Statements expressing her personal leanings to be 70 percent in support of Mitt Romney and statements regarding her personal donations to his campaign. And an official stance is and always -- is and has always been that the Tea Party should not endorse candidates."

O'DONNELL: Well, I'm making my endorsement as personal, as Christine O'Donnell. Not on behalf of the Tea Party, not on behalf of Christine PAC -- this is a personal endorsement.

But, you know, as I've said before, the passion that motivates the Tea Party and gives them the energy to go forward and to be a force in the political process could be the very undoing, if we're, you know, so rigid about you know, once there is a nominee, if they refuse to unite behind whoever the front-runner is, then it's going to fracture the base of the party and it's going to make sure that Barack Obama is, you know, gets re-elected.

And I'm really hoping that, again, I'm not so arrogant to think that my endorsement's going to make or break Mitt Romney, but I hope might bona fide someone who's gone against the establishment, who's personally sacrificed, if people have read my book, they know that over and over, I have, you know, sacrificed for what I believe is right. And I want them to know that that same level of sacrifice is going into my endorsement of Mitt Romney, and I genuinely trust him and I'm hoping, again, that -- that that gives some weight.

COSTELLO: Well, let me ask you one last question about the intense dislike that members of the Tea Party have nor for Barack Obama. Some say that intense dislike is coloring their choices when it comes to the Republican primary candidates. Do you think that's so?

O'DONNELL: Oh, if so, I think we'd be more united. I think that right now, we'd have a clear front-runner. I hope that their intense dislike for Barack Obama's policies -- and that's the thing. People are frustrated with what he's doing to the country and the fact that he says, oh, you know, Barack Obama's campaign slogan is more like a campaign whine. You know, I just need more time.

But you have to look at what Ronald Reagan did. Ronald Reagan inherited a very bad economy from Jimmy Carter, you know, gas rationing that didn't belong in free America, double digit inflation.

COSTELLO: Well, I guess what I was talking about was, it seems like the Tea Party centers on one candidate and then becomes disenfranchised.


COSTELLO: First, it was Michele Bachmann. Then, it was Rick Perry. Now, it seems to be Newt Gingrich.

So, why all this like searching around for a candidate?

O'DONNELL: Well, I think in the primary process, that's OK. You know, you can do that, but we cannot get so emotional behind it that we're, you know, not willing to unite afterwards, because, again, right now, what we're doing is we're giving Barack Obama a free pass to campaign from the Oval Office, dishonestly, saying there's nothing he can do, when Ronald Reagan was able to fix the economy so quickly, he campaigned on, it's morning in America again.

So there is something that Barack Obama can do, but he is so far to the left that he's not willing to do what President Clinton did when he had a Republican Congress, when he saw that it wasn't working. He started governing from, you know, from the center, and Barack Obama is continuing to move our country so far to the left, and I really hope that the Republican Party can unite around Mitt Romney.

COSTELLO: Thank you so much for coming in this morning.

O'DONNELL: Thank you, Carol.

COSTELLO: We appreciate it.

A programming note for you: Ron Paul will be a guest on "THE SITUATION ROOM" live from New Hampshire. That starts at 4:00 Eastern Time.

And at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, Michele Bachmann will be a guest on "JOHN KING, USA" -- Christine.

ROMANS: Thanks, Carol.

Coming up, the NTSB is cracking down on distracted driving, calling for a full nationwide ban on the use of cell phones in the car, even those hands-free devices. The chairman of the NTSB joins us live, next.


ROMANS: Welcome back.

Just hang up and drive. Safety experts are calling for a nationwide ban on using cell phones to talk and text message while driving. And now, the NTSB wants to take it a step further, banning all electronic devices in the car, even hands-free devices.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 3,000 people died last year because of distracted driving.

Joining us live from Washington is Debbie Hersman, chairman of the NTSB.

Welcome to the program.

DEBBIE HERSMAN, NTSB CHAIRMAN: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

ROMANS: You know, we've known for a long time talking and texting while driving is more dangerous than just driving the car. But what prompted you to propose this ban now?

HERSMAN: You know, the NTSB has been investigating accidents really for a decade involving distraction. And yesterday, we had a board meeting, in which we evaluated an accident that we investigated where a driver had been sending or receiving texts 11 times in the 11 minutes prior to the crash.

But this isn't the first time we've invest gated an accident like this, but this is the most comprehensive ban we've recommended. We've recommended bans for novice drivers, for teen drivers, for commercial drivers. But yesterday, recommended a ban for all drivers.

ROMANS: And we were just seeing video of that 2010 Missouri crash where a driver and also a 15-year-old on a school bus were killed, 38 people were hurt.

But I'm telling you -- frankly, I'm getting a lot of e-mail from people saying, what about fumbling with the radio? What about passing back a bottle to the kids? What about having someone else in the car? There are a lot of different distractions.

And libertarian groups say it's Orwellian, that it goes too far, that there are other things that can be done than a ban on cell phone use.

HERSMAN: Well, I think you're absolutely right. There are a lot of distractions and frankly, distractions have been around as long as the Model-T has been around, people are distracted.

But this is a new type of distraction. What we see is that people are bringing more and more electronic devices into the car. There's devices that are in the car as part of their infotainment and they really are creating more distractions. We're seeing more people texting behind the wheel and people distracted by the cognitive conversations that they're having with people where it's taking their attention away from the driving tasks.

ROMANS: Has the research shown that talking to someone who is sitting next to you in the car is different than talking to someone on the phone who's not in the car?

HERSMAN: They're aware of the traffic, aware of stops, aware of situations that might become complicated, and they don't always expect you to respond when you're dealing with a complicated merge situation. But the person, on the other end of the phone, they aren't helping you, and they don't know that.

ROMANS: Some state lawmakers, Debbie, have already come out against this. Georgia said that lawmakers there would oppose it. He said it's government pushing its nose too far into people's lives. Is this -- how do you respond to those critics, this is big brother trying to fix the bad habit with a new law?

HERSMAN: What we do in our business at the NTSB is we investigate accidents. We learn from them, and we make recommendations. I know that this isn't the popular thing, but it is the safe thing, and it's the right thing to do. We fully respect that everyone else has different views about this, but no call, no text, no post is worth a human life.

ROMANS: And there are those who are also e-mailing me saying that this is like the old days when you thought it was sacrilegious, say, you can only drive 55 miles an hour. That's one of those -- one of those rules that people like in the beginning but ended up saving lives.

HERSMAN: And same thing with drunk driving, with putting your children in child restraints, with wearing your seatbelt or even smoking. These are all things that were societal norms that it took some time to change.

ROMANS: It's interesting. The university of Utah stat that I saw here that using a cell phone while driving, whether it's hand-held or hands-free, delays a driver's reaction as much as having a blood alcohol concentration of.08 percent. I mean, I think people when they're using the phone or when they're texting, they don't they think are impaired.

HERSMAN: You're right, and I know how difficult this is, because I used to talk on my phone as well until I understood the dangers of it, and two years ago, we put a ban on all of our employees from talking or texting hand-held or hands-free. And I'll tell you, when I hung up my phone and stopped talking on the phone while I was driving, it was like becoming sober and seeing that everyone around you was drinking.

You notice the people who are distracted. They're not keeping up with traffic. They're maintaining their speed. They're driving erratically. They're not holding their lane position. It is distracting, and I think people recognize that, but they think, do as I say, not as I do. They don't want other people doing it, but they don't want to stop themselves.

ROMANS: It's your job, Debbie, to research the accidents and make the recommendation there. Do you think the states will follow suit or you think this will be a slow process?

HERSMAN: Thirty-five states already have texting bans. There are a number of states have hand-held bans. There are also states that have bans for teen drivers. And so, I think we're on our way to understanding that this is a challenge, but it will take some time, and we understand that, but we think that the dialogue and the education and communication about this issue is a very good beginning.

ROMANS: All right. Debbie Hersman, the chairman of NTSB, thanks for joining us this morning.

HERSMAN: Thank you for having me.

ROMANS: I'm telling you, I got a lot of e-mail, a lot of sort of libertarian groups and think tanks, right, when we saw that we were going to interview her and were saying, this goes too far. This is hysterical, one said. This is over the top. This is nanny state stuff.

You know, this is -- how is this different than talking to somebody in the car? How's it different than using a GPS? Her point that there a lot of distractions, none of them are good, but this one is particularly insidious. So, I'm sure the debate will rage on from here.


It's just about 49 minutes past the hour.

Just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING, the Illinois gold rush. Investors are flocking to the rural Midwest, buying up farmland with acres of potential, but is this investment as safe as it seems?


COSTELLO: It is 50 minutes past the hour. Here's what you need to know to start your day.


COSTELLO (voice-over): A shake-up with three weeks to go until Iowa. Newt Gingrich's political director in the state is out after calling Mormonism a cult. Two GOP candidates, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are Mormons.

Donald Trump pulling out as moderator of his own debate. He now says it could pose a conflict of interests if he decides to run as an independent.

The House has passed the payroll tax cut extension that also includes a provision to speed up the approval process for the Keystone oil pipeline. Democrats and the president say that add-on is a deal breaker, and it won't pass the Senate.

Today marks the second round of Egypt's parliamentary elections. Egypt's Islamists claimed victory in the first round last week. It's the first election since the February uprising that toppled longtime leader, Hosni Mubarak.


COSTELLO (on-camera): And that's the news you need to start your day. AMERICAN MORNING back after this.


COSTELLO: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. Mark Twain said it buy land. I hear they're not making it anymore. Many investors now are taking those words to heart staging a veritable farmland grab in the Midwest.

ROMANS: Oh, yes, because farm prices have been going up, up, up. They're hoping, of course, to reap their rewards, but the investment could also be risky. Does it look like a bubble? CNNMoney's Poppy Harlow has the story.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's actually nobody buying land, and so, I put on my jeans and I put on my boots and started, you know, just driving the countryside.

POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM (voice-over): After decades of trading stocks and fighting the wild swings of the markets, Dave Erickson saw something he liked a whole lot better.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are in Plainfield, Illinois, southwest of Chicago.

HARLOW: Farmland.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's something that you can hold on to and it's real.

HARLOW: This year, he and his partner spent $11 million buying 735 acres of farmland right outside Chicago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're looking at it as an investment with the future growth and the builders returning. This one is slated for single family homes and town homes.

HARLOW: Brokers like Keith Warpinski sold land like this to developers at steep prices during the housing boom.

KEITH WARPINSKI, LAND BROKER, HRM PROPERTIES: I sold land in the $50,000, $60,000, $70,000 per acre range four, five, six years ago.

HARLOW: But then came the bus (ph).

WARPINSKI: Now, those prices are so depressed you're buying land for $10,000, $15,000, $20,000 per acre.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This property was close to $100,000 an acre.

HARLOW: $100,000 an acre?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just five years ago.

HARLOW: And what did you buy it for?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We bought this one for $17,000.

HARLOW: $17,000.


HARLOW: Developers may have been hurt in the financial meltdown, but land for farming is in real demand.

(on-camera) According to the Chicago fed, farmland prices here in Illinois are up 23 percent in just the last year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of the best in the world, right here, Central Illinois.

HARLOW (voice-over): Dave Klein (ph) sells farmland in rural Illinois.

Who's calling you saying, hey, Dave, I'm interested in investing in farmland?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll get people calling from Chicago, New York, California, and across the world.

HARLOW: High commodity prices and low interest rates are feeding demand, but so is fear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's not a lot of other things out there that people really trust. They know if they buy a farm, it's going to be there.

HARLOW: But buyer, beware. WILLIAM ISAAC, FORMER FDIC CHAIRMAN: You have to plan for these worst case scenarios.

HARLOW: Bill Isaac was chair of the FDIC when the farmland bubble burst in the 1980s. Does this feel like we're on the cusp of something similar?

ISAAC: I think we could be. We're not there yet. We've got to get interest rates up higher at some point, significantly higher. And people who are buying land, which is ill-liquid, need to take that into account and agriculture prices may come down, and they have to factor that into their equation.

HARLOW: But whether to grow or to build, land is back in fashion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can invest in a blue chip piece of ground that some day, somebody will realize its value.


HARLOW (on-camera): So, when you look at the numbers, farmland, especially in the Midwest, it's outperformed the S&P 500 handedly over the last ten years. Compare it today to the 1980s, and in the 1980s, we saw Fed Chairman Bulker (ph) raised interest rates to 21.5 percent.


HARLOW: And as you heard the contrarian in the piece, rates are not going up. They're not going to go up likely to 21.5 percent. So, it's a different scenario, but the fallout was so fast in the 1980s, people lost so much money.

What you saw is that land values in many of the ag states fell like 50 percent in a few years, and I thought this was staggering. You saw the net value of farmland in the Midwest fall from $92 billion to $8 billion in three years.

ROMANS: We have a world population that's growing so quickly --

HARLOW: Exactly.

ROMANS: And people need that demand for what those farmers are growing. And one think that's interesting about this, too, it's like this is the other black gold, you know? It's that dirt, especially in the Midwest is incredibly rich. The richest and most productive land in the world, really.

HARLOW: And you've got seven billion people, projected to be 9.3 billion in the world by 2050, I think, it is.

COSTELLO: Yes. What disturbing, though, is they're buying up this rich farmland, but they're going to put houses on it.

HARLOW: Yes, it's twofold. In rural parts of, say, Illinois and Iowa, they're going to farm it, but right outside Chicago, they call their counties, of course, they think people are going to keep moving out, and that land -- you heard the guy. It was 100 grand five years ago. He bought it for $17,000, and he told me I think it's going to go up to $50,000 or $60,000.


HARLOW: And guess what, the investor is making money from what the farmer is producing, getting about three percent to four percent a year, which is better than a lot of things right now and thinking it's going to go back up. Interesting he noted to me, the investor, Dave Erickson (ph), he said, human nature is human nature.

Things are cyclical. People always come back. And just like the housing boom and bust, we're going to see that in farmland. But I think people be aware. It's very expensive to get into farmland and beware, because it could fall off just as quickly as it rose.

COSTELLO: And have to pay big taxes --

HARLOW: You do, but there's a lot of subsidies. That's the other.

COSTELLO: May or may not go away, right?

ROMANS: Small town, family farmers, I hope they're getting lots of money.

HARLOW: Me, too.

ROMANS: That's what I look forward, too.


ROMANS: I want people to be retired on a high, you know, if they can. Thanks, Poppy.


COSTELLO: We'll be back. It's just about 7:00 a.m. Eastern.