tv NBC Nightly News NBC January 23, 2012 5:30pm-6:00pm PST
on the broadcast tonight, the debate here in florida after a big loss in south carolina, mitt romney goes on the attack against newt gingrich. tonight our nbc news debate coming at another critical moment in the gop race. sudden impact. entire neighborhoods destroyed in an instant as deadly and dangerous storms rip through the south in the month of january. her mission, following the surise announcement she'll resign from congress, gabby giffords finishes the event she had started on that awful day in tucson. the amazing rescue captured on camera. a family, a plane crash at sea and the good samaritans that risked their own lives to save them.
"nightly news" begins now. captions paid for by nbc-universal television good evening from tampa. we are down here on stage now at the university of south florida. tonight's debate, as we said, comes at another crucial time in this ongoing gop primary fight. the florida primary now eight days away, and newt gingrich comes in here tonight with momentum coming off his win in south carolina. mitt romney is now on the defensive coming off his loss in south carolina. and he went after gingrich today by name, calling him erratic and failed leader and warning fellow republicans about making gingrich their nominee. our political team is here and in place ready to cover what happens on this stage tonight. we begin with nbc's peter alexander with us here in tampa. good evening.
>> reporter: brian, good evening to you. tonight the stakes are particularly high, as you note, for mitt romney trying to rebound from that loss in south carolina. today, a senior campaign official for romney said tonight's debate is going to be a contrast in character between romney and newt gingrich. romney is getting some help tonight from a top debate coach who four years ago advised john mccain. wounded by his defeat in south carolina, mitt romney has a new changed strategy. now directly attacking newt gingrich on several fronts. >> he's gone from pillar to post almost like a pinball machine, from item to item in a way which is highly erratic which does not have a stable course which normally is associated with leadership. >> reporter: romney questioned whether gingrich broke the law during his time as a consultant and demanded the former house
speaker release documents to shed light on his role at freddie mac. >> people should know if there's going to be an october surprise. let's see the records from the ethics investigation. let's see what they show. let's see who his clients were. >> if you've been campaigning for six years and you begin to see it slip away, you get desperate. when you get desperate you say almost anything. >> reporter: this evening, gingrich's former consulting company announced its intentions to release those documents. romney launched his campaign's first negative ad. >> while florida families lost everything in the housing crisis, newt gingrich cashed in. >> reporter: romney's new confrontational approach marks a dramatic shift to stay above the fray. >> reporter: have you done a good job channelling that anger, the resentment the republican party feels right now? >> i don't think we are a party of anger. we are upset with the president. he's taken the country in a
wrong direction. we want someone who can lead our country and lead our party. >> reporter: gingrich's combative tone helped him earn the come-from-behind win in south carolina. >> i am appalled. >> reporter: as the battle returns to the debate stage, romney's advisors see gingrich used the forum to his advantage. also on stage, ron paul and rick santorum. in an event today, santorum took a question from a woman who referred to obama as an avowed muslim and said he didn't have a right to be president. santorum responded to the question, but didn't correct the claim. >> peter alexander with us in tampa tonight, thanks. >> during this election cycle there's been reporting about the so-called super pacs and attention to tax returns. mitt romney promises he'll release his 2010 returns tomorrow. newt gingrich released his late last week. tonight we have a story about newt gingrich's use of tax
exempt political organization before he was a candidate, including questions about whether he used it to cover some of his personal expenses. our reporting tonight from nbc's andrea mitchell. >> reporter: in a roller coaster year, he's the high-flying candidate of the moment, rising in the polls, but for years before becoming a candidate, newt gingrich was already jetting around the country. records show courtesy of a tax-exempt political association, american solutions for winning the future, which footed many of the bills. the organization's irs filings list $6.6 million for charter jet travel over four years. almost $2 million in 2010 alone. one of those private jet trips took gingrich to iowa where he visited four cities in november 2010 promoting his latest book. the charge, almost $100,000. another took him to notre dame and indiana in september of that same year, where he and his wife showed their documentary film. that charge almost $74,000.
paid by american solutions. while these were not american solutions activities, the gingrich campaign told us there were other events on those trips which were. american solutions qualified for tax-exempt status by defining itself as a political organization, specifically a citizen action network, originally funded by nevada billionaire sheldon adelson, the moneyman behind gingrich's super pac. all such organizations are supposed to be about political activity, not self-promotion or undeclared political campaign. >> the 527 tax code stipulates that campaign finance operations need to be independent of the candidate themself. >> reporter: nbc news learned even some gingrich advisors, leaders of american solutions, questioned his charging millions of dollars of private jet costs to a tax-exempt organization. some say gingrich dismissed their objections.
>> this looks questionable and it does raise the issue of whether some of these trips were being used as cover for other activities for mr. gingrich. >> reporter: the gingrich campaign told nbc news american solutions went to every length to follow the rules. while not necessarily violating the letter of the law, many experts say gingrich mastered campaign finance regulations, taking advantage of a gray area in the law to have the best of all worlds. andrea mitchell, nbc news, tampa. in this wild gop campaign so far, let's talk about where we are tonight with the moderator of "meet the press," david gregory and political director and chief white house correspondent chuck todd. david, you talked about it yesterday morning on "meet the press." what kind of shape does the romney campaign come in here tonight in? >> i think they've got two primary problems. one, they have to make gingrich weaker. you look at the gallup numbers
i've seen late today. it is gingrich surging and romney's lead vanishing. he's got to weaken gingrich here. that's not enough. he's got to strengthen himself, define himself. he's releasing his tax records tomorrow. he's got to do more than rely on his biography as a businessman. he's got to chart a course to take on some of the claims the president will make against him if he's the nominee. two real things he's got to accomplish. it's going to start tonight. >> chuck, on the gingrich side of the ledger, you talk about how the calendar spreads out now. the lag time becomes longer, which as you pointed out, can either be good or bad for the gingrich campaign. >> it could be. it will be good for him if he wins florida. you are seeing the romney campaign while claiming they are prepared for the long haul is acting as if it's do or die here in the state of florida. if gingrich loses this, there is a huge gap in february, just one competitive primary he can compete in. that would be arizona before you get to super tuesday.
we saw what happened when he didn't have debates to rely on when there was a big gap in iowa. that's where he started to nose dive again. he's got a financial problem. money is not coming in the way you might expect for somebody surging. he's got help with a super pac late tonight, but he's got that fundamental and organizational resource problem. that's why a win for him in florida may be a must-win if he is going to survive the next sort of vacuum that we'll see in february. >> as always, it will be interesting to see the roles played by santorum and paul on this stage tonight. gentlemen, thanks. we'll look for you later. our nbc news debate begins tonight at 9:00/8:00 central. we hope you'll join us then. we are going to prepare for that further. savannah guthrie in new york is here to take us the rest of the night. good evening. >> good evening, brian. there is weather making news tonight, but not the kind we are used to seeing in january. a violent, fast-moving storm swept across the south and brought tornados and serious damage.
at least two people were killed. 100 others injured. weather channel meteorologist eric fisher joins us from center point, alabama, near birmingham. good evening to you. >> reporter: savannah, we just put the disastrous year of 2011 to bed and here we stand amidst the rubble and broken homes. twisters opened up wounds in this part of the country had only just begun to heal. the turbulent weather packed strong winds, spawning two dozen reported tornados and leaving behind a path of destruction. >> as soon as i had gotten in the bath tub and put the pillow over my head there was this destruction, the whole roof went away. >> reporter: alabama was the hardest hit. some neighborhoods in the birmingham area now look like war zones. it's an all-too-familiar sight for this region. some tracked near areas devastated by historic deadly tornados last april. >> i don't know how you start over from this.
we're thankful to be alive. i want to move, i know that. i don't know where, but somewhere that does not have tornados. >> reporter: residents were left to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives. this time after a rare mid-winter tornado outbreak. >> we were anticipating more like having to be ready for ice or snow or frozen rain, not tornados. >> reporter: many residents had little time to seek shelter before their homes began to crumble. >> we made it in the nick of time. the good lord blessed us and we're glad we're here. we lost our house, but at least we have -- i'm sorry. we've got our family and that's all that matters right now. >> reporter: in arkansas where the national weather service confirms a tornado touched down, russ smith and his family fled their home for stronger shelter. they returned to find their house is in pieces. >> lord spared us and helped us to make the decision to get out of here and it saved our lives. >> reporter: latest word is that the winds topped out at 150 miles per hour.
that's the strength rarely seen in the month of january. >> the weather channel's eric fisher and the aftermath of the storm. thank you. the u.s. supreme court handed down a major decision concerning your privacy in the digital age. the question, whether authorities can use a gps device to track a criminal suspect without a warrant. the answer from the court today, a unanimous no. our justice correspondent pete williams joins us from washington. pete, good evening. >> reporter: savannah, this was a strong pro-privacy ruling in part because it was unanimous. the court said when the police secretly put a gps tracking device on a suspect's car without a search warrant, that amounted to trespassing. they said the officers encroached on a protected area because the constitution applies to private property like a car as it does to a house. members of the court sent a message they are worried about police tracking that does not involve trespassing by using
smart phones or devices built into cars like gps and onstar. that's something to be sorted out in future cases. today's ruling cites google. it refers to blogs and websites and demonstrates the justices are well aware how these devices work and sensitive to how much privacy people expect in embracing this new technology. >> pete williams at the court tonight, thanks. in state college, pennsylvania, last night, a candlelight vigil for football coach joe paterno who died yesterday of lung cancer. his legendary career ended when he was fired as head football coach last year in the wake of child sex abuse allegations against his former assistant coach. from his time as an undergrad at brown to his 46 seasons as penn state's head coach, paterno was an icon who made it on to a wheaties box and loved by thousands of fans. paterno died at 85. up next we watched her valiant struggle over the past year. gabby giffords makes a big decision. first, there is unfinished
finished the event interrupted that awful day. nbc's capitol hill correspondent kelly o'donnell has our story. >> reporter: a farewell tour in her tucson district today. welcomed by cheers and steadied by supporters who waited so long to see congresswoman gabrielle giffords visit the center named in her honor at a community food bank. >> it's a bittersweet day. >> reporter: today giffords showed her remarkable progress step by step. a determined recovery that she says needs more time and more work. >> i'm getting better. >> reporter: leading to the decision she announced with a video on sunday. >> i will step down this week. >> reporter: the 41-year-old democrat had just begun her third term. she was meeting constituents at a tucson strip mall when a gunman opened fire one year ago. >> i don't remember much from
that horrible day. >> reporter: six people died. 13 injured, including giffords, who was shot in the head. that congress on your corner event was left unfinished until today. giffords held a private meeting with some who were there, like the intern daniel hernandez who had stayed by her side and embraced her today. her resignation stirred sadness and admiration from friends and colleagues. >> i really think this is the next chapter of her life starting. we'll see what she will do next. i think she'll find a way to continue to serve her constituents and continue to be in public life. >> reporter: at last year's state of the union a seat was left open for giffords. tomorrow night she'll be in person and sit between a democrat and republican colleague from arizona as one of her final acts in congress. kelly o'donnell, nbc news, the capitol. still ahead, an amazing rescue. who feels pain more, women or men? new research that may surprise you.
a new study may turn the conventional wisdom that women are more tolerant of pain than men on its head. stanford medical study found women report feeling more pain than men do on a variety of common ailments including back and neck injuries and sinus infection. the author said part of the reason women reported much higher levels of pain could be because men simply don't want to admit how much pain they experience. the super bowl matchup is now set and what a way to get there for football fans. two league championship games, two nail-biters and two very different endings. in new england, the baltimore ravens had a chance to tie the game with the clock ticking to zero, but the ravens' kicker missed a 32-yard field goal giving the patriots the win and leaving ravens players gaping in disbelief. the new york giants kicker
had a better time of it, making a 31-yarder to beat san francisco in overtime. the super bowl will be a rematch of the big game in 2008 when the giants ruined the patriots' perfect season. the president's re-election team is making the most of the spontaneous bit of singing he did at that fund-raiser last week at the apollo theater. ♪ i'm so in love with you >> the president's rendition of the al green classic has been turned into a ring tone downloadable on the campaign's website. the obama campaign hoping it will help the president and his supporters stay together. the race against time to save a family. and the dramatic rescue caught on camera.
the same sea plane on a sight-seeing tour just two months ago. but returning last week with his wife jenny and 4-year-old son logan along for the ride, something went terribly wrong. the plane's engine failed. >> crashed into the ocean and flipped over. we're stuck under water. >> reporter: larry was on a nearby boat and witnessed the crash. >> the timing was impeccable. we were just at the right place at the rice time, less than two minutes till we were on the scene and in the water. >> reporter: only moments before, the plane's pilot helped andy get to the surface. but at first there was no sign of his wife or son. >> i dove back under looking for them. i just came up and i had logan in my arms. by the time i got to the surface, jenny was also at the surface with the pilot holding her. >> reporter: then another remarkable break.
a second tourist boat arrived. it happened to have two doctors onboard. one a u.s. navy physician. they immediately began caring for the victims. >> i'm not sure what the outcome would have been without those doctors. i shudder to think. >> reporter: the family spent days in a hospital before returning home to texas thursday night. >> it reaffirms your faith in people and humanity that so many people stepped in to help that didn't have to. >> reporter: we are happy to say the family is home safe tonight. that's our broadcast for this monday evening. thank you for being with us. remember, brian williams moderates tonight's republican debate here on nbc at 9:00/8:00 central. brian will be back here tomorrow before live coverage of the president's state of the union address. i'm savannah guthrie from new york. have a good evening. -- captions by vitac -- -- captions by vitac -- www.vitac.com
good evening, everyone. thanks so much for joining us. >> it was a kidnapping that gripped the south bay. an 11-year-old girl snatched and then rescued after a gun battle between her kidnapper and police. tonight we're learning new details surrounding the 12-hour ordeal that left the suspect dead and that g