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AMERICAN MORNING

Seven Days To Iowa Caucuses; Courting The Social Conservatives; Civilians Shelled In Syria; Pakistan Contradicts U.S. Report On Airstrikes; Iran Strengthening Ties With Iraq; Brees-ing By Marino; The Search for Ayla Reynolds; Iran Strengthening Ties with Iraq; Romney Won't Release Tax Returns; Countdown To Iowa Caucuses: Seven Days; Mall Brawl

Aired December 27, 2011 - 06:00   ET

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


ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: One week to go. Five Republicans who want to be president will be making their case face-to-face with Iowa voters today. We're live in the hawk eye state, where the politics is now turning personal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just bring her home to us. I want my baby home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: A family's desperate search intensifies. Maine police now offering a reward hoping to find a missing toddler who vanished from her bed only days before Christmas.

CHO: Syria under siege. The bloody crackdown intensified. The army shelling its own people as the Arab world steps in to try to end the slaughter of civilians.

VELSHI: And an all-out brawl at the mall. Police with guns drawn, shoppers scrambling for exits. Chaos after Christmas on this AMERICAN MORNING.

CHO: Good morning. It's Tuesday, December 27th. This is AMERICAN MORNING. I'm Alina Cho along with Ali Velshi. Good morning.

VELSHI: Good morning to you.

CHO: We're so glad you're with us today.

VELSHI: There's a lot going on. Let's get right to it.

Starting in Iowa. It's the place to be this morning. Five top Republicans plan to visit the hawk eye state today. They're not going for the corn. Seven days remain until the Iowa caucuses.

The first in the nation and there's a nomination as you know up for grabs. CNN political director Mark Preston is live in Des Moines this morning.

Mark, the week begins with Newt Gingrich trying to distance himself once again, not from someone else, but from his own past.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, from his own past, Ali. No question about that. New documents unearthed by CNN just in the past week show that Newt Gingrich, in fact, served his first wife with divorce papers.

Now, the story goes that Newt Gingrich had served his wife Jackie with these papers while she was recovering from cancer, after having some surgery. Newt Gingrich, however, in the past year or so has said it was his wife who, in fact, had asked for that divorce.

Now, these divorce proceedings had been under a lock and key, so to speak, put away to be kept safe. However, CNN was able to get a copy of them.

Our own Alan Duke was able to look at them, and it shows that, in fact, it was Newt Gingrich who had given his wife the papers. Newt Gingrich responded, Ali, that in fact, that his wife did want the divorce, but he is the one who had filed it.

Not something that he certainly wants to deal with as we're heading into the Iowa caucuses.

VELSHI: Right, the Newt Gingrich issue with his marriages, with questions about his fidelity. These are big issues, particularly with conservative voters who tend to be the ones who show up at these caucuses and primaries.

Meanwhile, speaking of conservative voters, Rick Santorum, the one who's trying hardest to appeal to those conservatives, was the only candidate in Iowa yesterday, and here's how he broke down the race. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This libertarian primary, which Ron Paul's going to win, and you've got it's moderate primary, which Gingrich and Romney are scrambling for and three folks running at strong conservatives. And I think if we win that primary, we're in very good shape as the non-Newt, Mitt and -- Newt-Romney.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: It's very interesting how he's broken it down into three things, the libertarians, which he is right, Ron Paul will get all of that. The Newt/Romney and then he's calling it the three people running for the conservative vote, himself, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann.

Does Santorum have a chance, A, of winning that conservative part of the vote? And, B, what does that do for him anyway?

PRESTON: Well, you know, no question that Rick Santorum, Ali, is trying to court that Evangelical Born-Again Christian vote, very important here in the Iowa caucuses. The entrance polls back in 2008, Ali, show that 60 percent of the nearly 119,000 people who participated in the caucuses back in 2008 describe themselves as Evangelical, as Born-Again. Rick Santorum needs a very strong showing on caucus night on January 3rd. He needs to place in the top three, at least the top four, if he wants his campaign to move on.

But as you said, all of the candidates who are here in Iowa are courting that all-important vote, including Mitt Romney, who has downplayed his chances here in Iowa.

The fact of the matter is, if he plans to have a strong showing, Ali, he has to do well with those voters.

VELSHI: You know, it's interesting, Mark, he broke it down into those three sections. The one person he didn't include in the discussion is Jon Huntsman, who is finally polling ahead of him in Iowa and definitely polling ahead of him in New Hampshire. Is Huntsman at all in this equation?

PRESTON: No, not here in Iowa. Jon Huntsman stand is going to be in New Hampshire, which will be on January 10th. Jon Huntsman has not campaigned here in Iowa. He has spent no time here in Iowa. He has no staff here in Iowa.

So Jon Huntsman, regardless of what happens on January 3rd here in Iowa will not be any kind of a factor. However, if Jon Huntsman does not do very well in New Hampshire, we could see the end of Jon Huntsman's campaign -- Ali.

VELSHI: All right, Mark, always good to see you. I hope to see you a lot out there on the campaign trail. Mark Preston joining us from Des Moines.

CHO: And in order to capture the Republican nomination, the candidates understand they first have to capture the hearts and mind of social conservatives.

With just a week to go before the Iowa caucuses, that battle is being fought in a very public way and it's getting personal. Here's Mary Snow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Newt Gingrich's wife Calista is a central part of Gingrich's presidential campaign. Campaigning with him in Iowa even appearing in a recent ad.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: From our family to yours, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I'm Calista Gingrich.

SNOW: But a veteran political reporter in Iowa says that among caucus goers, it's questions about Gingrich's two previous marriages that have come up.

KAY HUTCHINSON, RADIO IOWA NEWS DIRECTOR: For instance, Mitt Romney had a telephone town hall meeting and one woman from Mason City, Iowa, made a point of thanking him for being married to the same woman for 42 years.

SNOW: This recent ad featuring Mitt Romney's wife, Ann entitled character, seems to be a not so subtle dig at Gingrich's multiple marriages.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you really want to know how a person will operate, look at how they've lived their life.

SNOW: And in this ad, Anita Perry tells her marriage to her high school sweetheart, Texas Governor Rick Perry. Gingrich hasn't shied away from addressing his three marriages and past infidelities on his web site and in public.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I said up front openly I've made mistakes at times. I've had to go to God for forgiveness, seek reconciliation, but I'm also a 68-year-old grandfather and I think people have to measure who I am now and whether I'm a person they can trust.

SNOW: In a socially conservative state of Iowa, political watchers say personal is political.

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: The personal history does matter, at least in 2008, 60 percent of the participants in the Iowa caucus were Evangelical Christians.

SNOW: But a strong tenet for Evangelical Christians is forgiveness. Making a direct appeal to them earlier this month, Gingrich signed a written pledge to defend and strengthen the family. The Evangelical American Family Association endorsed it.

How significant is Gingrich of marital history? An ABC "Washington Post" poll of Republicans nationwide found 72 percent said it is not a major factor.

According to a CNN Opinion Research poll, 24 percent of Republicans found Mitt Romney was most honest and trustworthy compared to 12 percent for Gingrich.

These are national polls, but the question remains whether personal traits will be more of a factor in Iowa. Mary Snow, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHO: And stay with CNN for the Best Political Coverage on television. Today at 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Newt Gingrich will be live in "THE SITUATION ROOM" with our Wolf Blitzer. That's only on CNN.

VELSHI: New reports of carnage in Syria even as Arab League monitors arrive to see whether the government is making good on a commitment to stop the bloody crackdown. These new pictures may tell us the answer.

Tanks shelling the city of Homs. The opposition saying 42 people were killed in Homs yesterday. Activists say the army has a neighborhood they are surrounded. A move possibly crafted to keep the observers away from the real story.

Mohammed Jamjoom has been monitoring the developments closely from Cairo. He's there this morning. Mohammed, what has happened in the last 24 hours?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ali, I mean, yesterday we just heard one horrific tale after another. So many residents and activists and opposition group members in Homs saying that a carnage, a massacre was happening in Homs.

Even on the same day that members of this Arab League team, this monitoring team were arriving. It really begs the question. If this were happening on the same day that this delegation was arriving, is the Syrian government actually going to end this crackdown?

We're told today that there were tanks that were in the city of Homs that have been told that they've been hidden in neighboring buildings. We've spoken to members of the Arab League who are in Homs now.

They said that they were taken to Homs by security forces. But once there, they have free access to go wherever they want in the city and the people on the ground there can contact them as freely as they want to.

But more and more activists and more and more opposition group members say that the violence there continues. That the dead bodies keep piling up, and we keep hearing these pleas for help from the international community.

Many people concerned that the Arab League just isn't going to be effective enough to really stop this crackdown, despite the mission statement that they signed with Syria.

Right now, you know, more and more people in Syria keep telling us that if something doesn't happen soon to end this violence, there isn't a group whether it's the Arab League or another group that can stop this, they're afraid a genocide is going to happen -- Ali.

VELSHI: All right, and obviously, we don't have a sense yet as to how effective this Arab League delegation will be, but whether or not they can even get the access necessary to see what's going on. I know you're keeping a close eye on it for us, Mohammed. We'll check in with you again. Mohammed Jamjoom watching the situation in Syria from Cairo.

CHO: Also new this morning, Pakistan is blasting a U.S. report on the NATO air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani troops back in November. Pakistan's government says NATO fired first.

It claims that NATO knew its helicopters were firing on troops, but continued shooting for more than an hour. This contradicts the Pentagon report that claims Pakistani troops fired first at U.S. forces stationed near the border. U.S. officials blame the incident on a breakdown in communication.

VELSHI: Iran wants to strengthen its ties with Iraq offering to expanding military cooperation between the two countries. This just a week after the U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq. Iran calling the Iraq war a, quote, "humiliating defeat for the United States."

CHO: In the sports world, Saints quarterback Drew Brees now owns the NFL record for most passing yards in a season. He passed Dan Marino last night on Monday night football as the New Orleans Saints clobbered the Atlanta Falcons 45-16. Brees now has 5,087 passing yards on the year and there's still one more game to go.

VELSHI: He just tweeted out. He said, celebrating with my teammates, such a special night. Thanks for making this possible. Who that nation, I love you.

All right, coming up after this -- listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is she OK? Is she laying somewhere dead? Is she safe? Is she cold? Is she being fed? Is someone watching her?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: New details about the disappearance of a toddler from Maine. Why police are confident that it is an abduction and they're offering a big reward.

CHO: We have dramatic pictures on the day after Christmas. Police with guns drawn at the mall. How this day after Christmas shopping turned to mayhem in Minnesota?

VELSHI: And you probably saw this picture, President Obama getting a mouthful. Check that out. Not from rival candidates or from Congress, but from a kid who couldn't keep his hands to himself. We'll take a look at some other baby bloopers on the campaign trail when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHO: Welcome back. Fifteen minutes after the hour.

Police stepping up their search for a missing toddler from Maine. A $30,000 reward for any information about the disappearance of 20- month-old Ayla Reynolds. She was last seen in her bed just days before Christmas. Police are now confident that that little girl was abducted.

Our Deb Feyerick reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's Friday night, December 16th. Twenty-month-old Ayla Reynolds is ready for bed wearing her green polka dots pajamas with the words "Daddy's Princess" on the front. Her father, Justin DiPietro puts her to sleep. He says it's the last time he saw his daughter.

The next morning, Ayla was gone, vanished sometime during the night. DiPietro had been caring for Baby Ayla for weeks after her mother, Trista Reynolds, checked herself into a 10-day rehab program. After completing rehab, Reynolds filed court papers to regain custody of her daughter. The papers were filed the day before Ayla was last seen.

Police say both parents are fully cooperating in the case, and say they have not suspects yet, but they are certain Ayla was taken from her home on that Friday night.

JOE MASSEY, WATERVILLE POLICE CHIEF: We believe that someone was involved in taking her out of the house, and that's where the focus of this investigation has turned.

FEYERICK: Two days after Ayla's disappearance, Trista Reynolds tells various media outlets including HLN's Nancy Grace that she worried her daughter Ayla was not safe with her father.

The day after Ayla's mother gives these interviews, Justin DiPietro writes a letter to law enforcement. He says he has no idea what happened to his daughter, nor does he know who's responsible for her disappearance, adding, "I will not make accusations or insinuations towards anyone until police have been able to prove who's responsible for this."

Meanwhile, the search for Ayla widens. Police receive nearly 200 tips. Civilian volunteers joined state, local and federal authorities in over 80 searches of the area, including a nearby river, a pond and several hiking trails. Cadaver dogs are brought in. Still, no sign of the missing girl.

TRISTA REYNOLDS, AYLA REYNOLDS' MOTHER: Is she OK? Is she laying somewhere dead? Is she safe? Is she cold? Is she being fed? Is -- is someone watching her?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bring her home. Just bring her home to us. I want my baby home. I want her home.

FEYERICK: And on Christmas Day, prayers instead of presents for Ayla. It's been over a week since the blond haired, blue eyed toddler was last seen.

In these cases, time is the enemy, but police continue their search, hoping a new $30,000 reward will bring them closer to finding little Ayla.

Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CHO: Heartbreaking.

VELSHI: Yes, it really -- it really was. Hope they find that little girl.

On the morning after Christmas, it was sheer mayhem at the Mall of America in Minnesota. Take a look at this. Police say nine people were arrested during a moving melee yesterday. Dozens of teenagers brawling in the food court and swarming through the mall. It was a scary scene that sent many shoppers scrambling for the exits.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some people are running. Some people are just staying. People are like confronting each other like in the middle -- people just walking and stay -- like nobody was even around. They were just going at it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of a sudden and like stores just started closing down and like the gates are going up. And so we just didn't know what's going on and the cops were like pushing us all away from like Nordstrom's.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: You know I'm not afraid to go to the mall.

VELSHI: I was going to say.

CHO: That is not a scene I wanted to be in the middle of.

VELSHI: I heard that (INAUDIBLE) the cops are pushing me away from Nordstrom's. I mean, that was -- that was tragic. Being pushed away from Nordstrom. Rob Marciano, can you imagine such a horror?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's --

(CROSSTALK)

VELSHI: Can you imagine the cops standing in front of Nordstrom looking at -- looking at that lady and saying, "I'm sorry, ma'am. You can't go in.

MARCIANO: The malls are rough these days.

VELSHI: Yes.

MARCIANO: My goodness. Especially the day after Christmas. Or maybe they just got out of the movies, you know? The last scene of the "Chipmunk's" movie I heard is pretty --

VELSHI: Yes. That's what gets them going.

CHO: It's 6:20 in the morning.

MARCIANO: Good morning, guys.

CHO: Hey.

MARCIANO: We are two days after Christmas now. We've got some Grinch-like hangover happening across the eastern third of the country, weather-wise. It's mess. Mostly in the way of some cold rain, a little bit of snow.

Anyway, anywhere for the most part east of the Mississippi, especially across the Appalachians right now is where you're going to experience most of the nastiness.

Atlanta up through Cincinnati, the Tennessee Valley, this is cold, cold rain with wind. The back side of this, there's a little bit of snow from Chicago back through St. Louis. Minor accumulations expected in those two spots.

Here's how the storm is going to track along the Appalachians. This is a warm track. That's the pattern we've been on. I don't have to tell you that. That means coastal areas will see nothing but rain and it will be a cold, nasty rain at that and again the back side of this, the spine of the western up slopes of the Appalachians will see a little bit of snow.

A few inches of snow expected. Here's what our computer models are saying. Parts of Ohio will actually see some as well, maybe Detroit and through the snow belt of western PA and New York -- upstate New York will see a little bit of snow from this.

The front side of this may see some afternoon thundershowers that could produce damaging winds and/or tornadoes along the mid-Atlantic coastline and we do have some windy conditions right now. So some wind advisories and gusts of 40 to 50 miles an hour potentially with this.

That will slow down your travel. If it's not the rain or low clouds, it will be the wind. Detroit for the most part or D.C. will be rain. New York will be rain as well and Philadelphia will be some rain.

Here's your mild air -- 52 degrees in D.C.; 56 in New York. Not many folks saw a white Christmas. Even some places in Idaho where you would think you'd see a white Christmas.

But just outside of Boise, this man, Emmett, Idaho's, took matters into his own hands and made his own snow. Come on. He said he'd been working on it since October. He wanted a rail park in the backyard. Get something for the kids, here in the holiday week. He tried to make a snow machine, guys, by Googling. That didn't work out well. So he went out and bought one. And he's been pumping out the snow for a couple of months.

VELSHI: So where is this?

MARCIANO: Emmett, Idaho. It's just northwest of Boise.

VELSHI: All right. So he's not -- he's not doing this in some place that -- you know --

MARCIANO: It's not Florida, no.

CHO: It's not Hawaii.

VELSHI: Florida or Hawaii, exactly. All right. Good for him.

MARCIANO: Here we go.

VELSHI: It looks like he did a good job there.

MARCIANO: Grab your board and head to --

VELSHI: I'm surprised you don't have one of those things, Rob, you're a snow lover.

MARCIANO: I'm too cheap, man. Atlanta (INAUDIBLE).

VELSHI: And making snow in Atlanta for other than that a few weeks --

CHO: He's a new father. He doesn't have time for some ski anyway.

VELSHI: Snow or ski. Rob, good to see you, my friend.

MARCIANO: All right, guys.

CHO: Still ahead, he's the richest man in the race. But so far Mitt Romney is refusing to release his tax returns. Critics are now starting to demand to see where all that cash is coming from. We'll update you on that.

VELSHI: Where do they think it's coming from? The guy's been making money all of his life.

CHO: That's true.

VELSHI: All right. Box office takes a big hit in 2011. We'll tell you why ticket sales are down.

It's 22 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: Twenty-five minutes after the hour. Welcome back. "Minding Your Business" this morning,

This just in. Sears saying it will close 100 to 120 Sears and Kmart stores. The CEO says the company is trying to reduce expenses after disappointing sales for big ticket items this year. The locations of the store closures have not been announced.

U.S. markets open in just over three hours and stock futures are pointing to a higher open right now with four trading days remaining in 2011, the Dow is up 6.2 percent for the year. The S&P 500 up about half a percent and the NASDAQ is down about 1.3 percent. That's for the entire year.

Two economic reports are due out this morning at 9:00 A.M. Eastern. The Case Schiller Home Price Index for October is released. One hour later, the Consumer Confidence Number come out. Economists are expecting consumer confidence to hit a five-month high and expect home prices would have declined but at a slower pace.

Loyalty programs. You've seen them in hotels, airlines, rental car agencies, they're offering incentives to attract customers. Now, airports are getting into the game. "USA Today" says more than 30 airports across the country have joined the "Thanks Again" program. It awards fliers airline miles for parking, shopping or eating at the airports.

Well, a bust at the Box Office for 2011. There are only a few more days left until the New Year and ticket sales in the U.S. are running about $500 million lower than last year. Now the reasons behind the drop -- experts blame the poor economy, too many family flicks and not enough star power. Ticket revenue is expected to be about $10 billion.

AMERICAN MORNING back right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHO (voice-over): Place your bets. A U.S. company wants to make it legal for to you wager on the 2012 presidential race and get paid -- on this AMERICAN MORNING.

VELSHI: Good morning.

Half an hour after the hour, 30 minutes after the hour, whatever you call it -- 6:30 where I am. That makes it time for this morning's top stories.

CHO: Right.

VELSHI: On top, Republican candidates plan to get up close and personal with Iowa voters today. Seven days to go from the Iowa caucuses begin. Mitt Romney and Rick Perry are running ads touting their long marriages in an attempt to win over social conservatives.

CHO: The Syrian government shelling civilians even as Arab League monitors head to the site of the worse violence in the city of Homs. The opposition says 42 people were killed yesterday alone.

VELSHI: And nine people arrested in Minnesota for a brawl at the Mall of America. It started with dozens of teens fighting in a food court and then swarming from store to store. Police say no shoppers were hurt.

CHO: Iran now says it wants to expand military ties with Iraq, just a week after U.S. forces pulled out of the country. Iran is calling the Iraq war a humiliating defeat for the United States.

Now, you'll remember that Iran and Iraq went to war with one another back in the 1980s. But now that the Shia Muslims have taken power in Iraq, including Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, the countries have grown closer, with Iran even calling Iraq a, quote, "friendly and brotherly nation."

But what does this new-found friendship mean for the U.S.?

Joining us now is CNN international correspondent Arwa Damon.

Arwa, good morning to you. I mean, is this newfound friendship for real?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it depends on how that friendship is actually being defined. You'll remember that Iran and Iraq were at war back in the 1980s. That, of course, has been put aside by both nations ever since Saddam Hussein came tumbling down, thanks to the U.S.-led invasion.

But at the same time, there are a lot of question marks when it comes to Iran's involving in Iraq. It is quite natural that the two would have some sort of military cooperation given that they do share an incredibly lengthy border and infiltration, people crossing the border illegally is, of course, a big problem.

But then comes the big question, and that is the Shia-backed militias in Iraq. The militias that are being backed directly according to the U.S. military by the Quds force in Iran, they are being armed and trained by the Iranian Quds force themselves. And these militias have caused a lot of problems for the U.S. in the past. They have launched numerous attacks against the U.S. military, against other U.S. interest in this country.

And so, it's very much of a wait-and-see game. Is this newfound military cooperation really going to be between two friendly nations or is it going to have yet another darker level to it? And what is going to happen to these Iranian-backed Shia militias in Iraq?

CHO: Arwa, we're also getting word now that al Qaeda in Iraq says it was behind a recent rash of bombings in the capital. What do you know about that?

DAMON: That's right. Al Qaeda in Iraq came out, claimed responsibility for that attack, very much saying that they were behind it. They were sending a message to the Shia-dominated government, but they were also a message to Iran and that they were coming to the aid of their Sunni brethren.

That being said, it is not entirely surprising that al Qaeda would be launching this type of an attack. The U.S. military warned it would be taking place if only for the insurgent group to send out a message that it is still active in Iraq.

Of course, the great concern when it comes to these types of attacks, especially these types of statements coming from organizations like al Qaeda where they appear to be clearly siding with the Sunni population, is that it can serve to reopen these sectarian divides. The vast majority of Sunni politicians, these Sunni-backed blocks in governments are very firmly reject all forms of violence and it makes their job much more challenging because then they have to try to calm it down at the end of the day, when it comes to trying to manage the situation in Iraq, political instability does tend to lend itself to even more violence.

CHO: That's right.

All right. Arwa Damon live for us in Baghdad -- Arwa, thank you very much.

VELSHI: Well, Mitt Romney caught a lot of heat from critics who said he was out of touch when he tried to make that $10,000 bet with Rick Perry during a debate. You'll remember that? Well, Mitt Romney is under fire again for keeping some secrets about his immense wealth and his campaign cash.

Here's Joe Johns.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mitt Romney is worth up to a quarter billion dollars according to a campaign estimate. That makes him by far the wealthiest candidate on the trail this cycle.

And while running for president, he says, he plans to keep his tax returns secret at least for now.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I can tell you, we follow the tax laws and if there is an opportunity to save taxes, we, like anybody else, in this country, will follow that opportunity. But we don't have any current plans to release tax returns, but never say never. We will see what the future holds.

We have released, of course, all of the information required by law, which is a pretty extensive release. But down the road we will see what happens, if I'm the nominee.

JOHNS: And he doesn't plan to release the names his fundraising bundlers either. Bundlers head up high rollers for big campaign dollars. He says he discloses all of the information that's required by law.

That's true. The law does not require release of bundlers name or tax returns.

But campaigns often do it anyway in the interest of transparency.

Not disclosing this kind of information back in the old days was less after big deal, but the last two general campaigns for a president did it. At a time when issues of wealth and inequity, revising the tax code and whether the rich should pay more this taxes is already part of the national debate, Romney's decision is starting to attract a lot of attention.

The presidential re-election campaign asked if Romney thinks he can play by a different set of rules than other politicians.

One campaign watchdog organization says it raises the question whether the Romney campaign has something to hide.

NICK NYHART, PUBLIC CAMPAIGN: With Congress debating whether millionaires or billionaires should pay higher tax rates and if income earned from capital to pay the tax as the same rate as income were swept, those issues are central to the congressional debate. Our presidential candidate is going to be asked about those.

JOHNS (on camera): We do know a little about the bundlers who work for Romney. For example, during the third quarter, six Romney bundlers brought in about $479,000. The only bundlers who have to be disclosed by the campaign are the ones who are registered as lobbyists.

Joe Johns, CNN, Des Moines, Iowa.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHO: Also new this morning, a medical helicopter crashes in Florida, killing everybody onboard, including the pilot. The chopper was carrying a two-person team from the Mayo Clinic, a surgeon and medical technician. The team was traveling to the University of Florida to harvest organs for medical transplants. The chopper crashed just 45 miles east of Gainesville.

VELSHI: A soldier who survived a suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan is in critical condition this morning after being shot and critically wounded at his own homecoming party in southern California. Doctors say 22-year-old Chris Sullivan was shot twice Friday night and is paralyzed from the neck down. Police have a 19-year-old suspect in custody.

CHO: An 18-member delegation from South Korea has returned home after a two-day condolence visit to the North. The group paid respects to fallen leader Kim Jong Il and had an opportunity to meet with his son and chosen successor Kim Jong Un.

South Korea approved the visit by the civilian group, though it is not an official delegation.

VELSHI: He's in, quote, "good spirits." And now, Britain's Prince Philip is out of hospital this morning. He'll be joining his wife Queen Elizabeth and the rest of the royal family where they usually spend Christmas. The duke of Edinburgh underwent a heart operation to treat a blocked artery on Friday.

Let's go to Erin McLaughlin who is live for us in London.

Out of that shopping mess you were in yesterday and into this story where the prince was taken to hospital over Christmas. Missed sort of Christmas with his family but now back in the game.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Ali. Prince Philip is home, safe and sound, after following that four-day hospital stay. The 90-year-old was hospitalized as you mentioned on Friday when he was complaining of chest pains.

Later, tests showed he had a blockage in one of his arteries. He underwent what Buckingham Palace called a minimally invasive coronary stenting procedure that was successful, they say, in relieving that blockage. However, he remained in a hospital there for a number of days under observation.

He didn't have to spend Christmas alone, though, Ali. He had some several high-profile visitors, including the queen who came to visit him on Saturday by helicopter. She was joined by some of her children, including Prince Charles and Prince Andrew. The next day, on Christmas Day, Prince William and Prince Harry drove to see their grandfather with some of the other grandchildren.

So, at least, Ali, he wasn't alone for the holiday.

VELSHI: All right, Erin. We'll keep a close eye on that. Thank you very much.

Erin McLaughlin for us in London.

CHO: Coming up, betting on the presidential race. We'll tell you how Americans can soon be able to bet on candidates and actually collect if they win.

VELSHI: And kids do the darndest things, like shove their hand in the mouth of the leader of the free world. Check this out. Can't get enough of that picture. A presidential photo-op that is going viral, and we've got some other baby bloopers on the campaign trail coming up ahead.

It's 40 minutes after the hour.

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CHO: Welcome back. It's 43 minutes after the hour.

It's an age-old weapon on the campaign trail -- politicians kissing babies.

VELSHI: But sometimes, the photo-op with a tot doesn't go the way it was planned as President Obama found out in Hawaii when he got a mouthful from a kid.

Here's Brianna Keilar.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's rare to get this close to President Obama -- and even rarer to get away with this: 8-month-old Cooper Wagner (ph) sticking his whole hand right in the president's mouth.

But then again, we're heading into an election year, and babies are a mainstay on the campaign trail.

Just like in politics, the reception isn't always warm. This kid didn't even want to be seen with the president, as he and first lady Michelle Obama visited military families in Hawaii Christmas Day.

When the Obama's first entered the chow hall here, the president went straight for a newborn who didn't seem too impressed.

Perhaps it's no surprise the president gravitates towards his youngest constituents. He does well with them.

Back in June, as the Obamas worked the rope line on the south lawn of the White House during the congressional picnic, a baby that could not be consoled by the first lady was immediately won over by the president.

In comparison, these visits in Hawaii weren't quite as successful. But hey, on the campaign trail, at least this wasn't a foot.

Brianna Keilar, CNN, Honolulu.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHO: It's a great shot.

You know, some girls like superheroes. Some boys like princesses. That's just the way it is sometimes.

VELSHI: But this little girl from Upstate New York is taking a stand against toymakers and retailers and unethical marketing and gender stereotypes. Check out Riley's toy rant.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RILEY, LITTLE GIRL: All the girls to buy princesses and all the boys to buy superheroes. Girls want superheroes and the boys want superheroes. The companies who make these try to trick the girls into buying the pink stuff instead of stuff that boys want to buy, right? Yes. So then, why do the girls have to buy princesses? Some girls like superheroes. Some girls like princesses. Some boys like superheroes. Some boys like princesses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.

RILEY: Yes. I think all the girls have to buy pink stuff and boys have to buy different colored stuff?

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: They should be able to buy -- don't trick us.

VELSHI: Don't trick us into making us buy the pink stuff. I think that is hilarious. I can't get enough of that little kid. Good for you, Riley. CHO: That's right.

VELSHI: Some boys like -- she's mad that they steer the girls into princesses and pink stuff and boys get to choose any color whatever they want --

CHO: Exactly.

VELSHI: And anything they want.

CHO: Exactly. They shouldn't be like that.

VELSHI: There you go.

CHO: You know, it's the season of shopping. It's also the season for giving, and some celebs are giving back in a really big way. Dosomething.org actually released its annual celebs done good list. In the top five is Lady Gaga. She launched an anti-bullying campaign. She went to Congress this year. She even set up a foundation, The Born This Way Foundation, to help empower kids.

The name, obviously, coming from one of her songs. Also tied for first place is Justin Bieber. Teen sensation donated his time and hundreds of thousands of dollars, actually close to a million dollars for Pencils of Promise. They have built 45 schools just this year.

I interviewed him last year, and since then, 45 schools around the world in a third world, actually, were built. So, pretty incredible stuff of a kid helping kids.

VELSHI: He's helped a lot of hairdressers, too, with kids coming in wanting to mimic his haircut.

CHO: Yes.

VELSHI: But everywhere you walk, it's like every kids looks like Justin Bieber. Do I sound like somebody's grandfather? I want kids having a hair looking like that.

CHO: Little bit.

VELSHI: All right. Next week, Americans may be allowed to wager on political races and win big money, but you'll be placing bets on who'll be president? That's a good question. The story's up ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELVIS DURAN, HOST, "ELVIS DURAN MORNING SHOW": I'm Elvis Duran from the "Elvis Duran Morning Show" here in New York. I'm on the road a lot. I think calling me a wacky morning deejay is just an insult. There's your wacky. If we were 9:00 to five-ers, I think we'd be boring. I think having zero hours of sleep, it makes you say stupid things.

You could be Kate Middleton.

(LAUGHTER)

The cool thing about radio is we can do radio shows anywhere. When the show travels, we have a big family. I mean, it's twice the size of the Brady Bunch. It takes a lot of planning. It takes a lot of begging for discounts at hotels. We're taking the show to London.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm so excited.

DURAN: I love taking the show on the road. It makes you rethink everything you're doing everyday gets you out of the routine. I can't believe people take, sometimes, days to pack for a trip. I can get packed in and out, boom, boom, in five minutes.

It's so good to get out of you comfort zone and travel somewhere and learn about someone else and what they're doing during their lives. It really enhances your life when you get back home.

Thanks a lot for joining me today. Safe travels.

(CHANTING) peace out, everybody!

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHO: Ten minutes before the top of the hour. Here's what you need to know to start your day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHO (voice-over): Five top Republican candidates plan to get up close and personal with Iowa voters today with seven days to go before the caucuses begin. Mitt Romney and Rick Perry are running ads touting their long marriages in an attempt to win over social conservatives and take a not so subtle dig at Newt Gingrich.

The Syrian government shelling civilians, even an Arab league monitors, head to the site of the worse violence in the city of Homs. The opposition says 42 people were killed yesterday alone.

Nine people arrested in Minnesota for a brawl at the Mall of America on the day after Christmas. It started with dozens of teens fighting in a food court, then swarming from store to store. Incredibly, police say no shoppers were hurt.

It's the largest reward ever for a missing person's case in Maine. Police are offering $30,000 for information about the disappearance of 20-month-old Ayla Reynolds. She was last seen in her bed more than a week ago. Police do believe she was abducted.

New this hour, Sears saying it will close as many as 120 Sears and K-Mart stores after disappointing sales for big ticket items this years. The locations of the store closures have not yet been announced.

And New Orleans Saints quarterback, Drew Brees, is now the NFL's all-time leading passer for a single season. He broke Dan Marino's record for passing yards in a year last night on Monday night football in a win that clinched the division for the Saints.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHO (on-camera): That's the news you need to know to start your day. AMERICAN MORNING is back after this.

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VELSHI: Welcome back. They say politics is a gamble, but could we soon mean that literally?

CHO: That's right. You know, a U.S. company is actually asking federal regulators to let Americans place bets on political contests. It could happen in time for the 2012 presidential race. CNN's Lisa Sylvester explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You can bet on your favorite team. You can bet if you think the price of oil is going to rise or fall. You can even bet if you think the price of oil is going to rise or fall. You can even bet if you think the unemployment rate is going to go up or down, and in the near future, you may be able to win big if you accurately predict who will win the next presidential race.

The North American Derivatives Exchange or NADEX in Chicago has filed an application with federal regulators to offer trading on political events. NADEX says the trading would be similar to the way a farmer might trade for the future price of wheat or corn.

TIMOTHY MCDERMOTT, NADEX: While you're talking tax policy or healthcare costs or energy policy, elections matter and can have a really significant economic impact on people. So, we think that these types of contracts fit squarely within the traditional functions performed by futures exchange.

SYLVESTER: You can place political bets currently through the Iowa electronics markets and an exchange in Ireland called in-trade, but the big difference with NADEX is you could have big money on the line. These markets can be a good predictor of not only who sits in the White House, but also, which party controls the House and the Senate.

(on-camera) So, here's how this would work, and this is just a hypothetical example. Say you have a buyer who predicts that President Obama will win the next election. He puts up $50. You have a seller who says, no, it's not going to be President Obama who wins. It's actually going to be Mitt Romney. He puts up $50.

If the buyer is correct, the buyer pockets $100. The seller gets zero. On the other hand, if the seller is correct, then it's the seller who pockets $100, and the buyer ends up with zero. (voice-over) The value of contracts would rise and fall before the election as a candidate's fortunes ebb and flow. The commodity Futures Trading Commission, which regulates futures trading, can reject NADEX's application, and at least, one of the five commissioners opposes the proposal.

Bart Chilton notes that federal law prohibits contracts on other events like terrorism acts or political assassinations.

BART CHILTON, CFTC COMMISSIONER: I'm not sure that we want to throw our political process into the trading pits where just a few well-healed speculators could theoretically wager on the outcome of an election, and thereby, take away the power of actually people who vote. So, even in Vegas, they don't allow gambling on elections, and they know something about election gambling.

SYLVESTER: But NADEX insists political outcome's trading has a public merit, and it hopes to have the options list January 4th.

(on-camera) If the CFTC doesn't act by January 4th, then the application is automatically approved. Three of the five commissioners would have to vote to stop the trading from going forward. Another option is the commissioners could ask for more time to review the NADEX's proposal.

Lisa Sylvester, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VELSHI: OK. Next hour, where is Ayla Reynolds? Police now offering a five-figure reward for helping to find a missing 20-month- old from Maine. We'll have the latest on the case, straight ahead.

CHO: And five top Republicans campaigning in Iowa today, just seven days to go before the Iowa caucuses. We will talk you there live, next.

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