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"Our Hearts Are Bleeding"; Ukraine On Edge

Aired January 23, 2014 - 05:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Breaking news overnight. A new message from al Qaeda as tensions rise in the talk for a new Syria. Why terrorists are setting their sights on the war-torn country? We're live.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): New terror threat on the Olympics. Has Russia dropped the ball on keeping athletes, fans, and these games safe?

ROMANS: Dangerous, bone-chilling cold weather blanketing the country, millions waking up to below-freezing temperatures again. Indra Petersons tracking how cold it's going to get and how long it's going to stick around!

BERMAN: We saw the sad face, then the happy face from Indra there. I think that says it all.


BERMAN (on-camera): Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS (on-camera): I'm Christine Romans. It's 31 minutes past the hour this Thursday morning.

And this morning, we do have definitive proof that cold is, in fact, a four-letter word. It is cold, freaking cold, folks. Dangerously cold over a big chunk of the country from the northeast to the Midwest. Temperatures are not even going to get close to freezing and the wind chills, I mean, wretched. At least three people have now died, apparently, because of this cold. As we said, this can be very, very dangerous.

Indra Petersons is tracking the deep freeze for us. We put her outside in the cold here in New York City. Indra, what can we expect today?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. No better way to track it, right? Yes. Right now, New York City feeling like four below. Let's talk about a lot of these current temperatures, because this cold air mass is now in place, and here's the concern. It is not expected to go anywhere. We're talking about several clippers that are going to be making their way through reinforcing the cold air. So, what you're feeling this morning, these current temperatures, single digits in the northeast, but once you add in the wind chill, we're talking about subzero temperatures.

Into the upper Midwest, we're talking about even (ph) 20 to 30 below. So, that's the problem. We have this huge, almost like sudden bull's eye dome of high pressure. That's the cold air, and that dome of high pressure is only expected to sag farther down to the south meaning that cold air is going to continue dropping down to the south as well. So, that's kind of the pattern as far as where the cold air is, but it's not the only thing.

We have these things called clippers. They're Alberta clippers. They come down from Canada. And right now, we're kind of in this weather pattern where just a series of them are going to keep swinging on through. Each one of them bringing a certain amount of snow. And I say certain amount because each one, depending on how far south the tracks and whether or not it intersects with the ocean, like we saw just a few days ago, will depend on how much snow you're going to be getting out of these systems.

Either way, each one will reinforce that cold air. That's going to be the concern here moving forward. So, this pattern's really here to stay, cold air in the east, out to the west, big dome of high pressure and record-breaking heat. So, really kind of huge contrast as you look across the country, guys.

BERMAN: Bummer. That's all I can say is it's cold and it's going to stick around for a long time. Indra Petersons, thank you so much.

ROMANS: All right. Now to breaking news overnight. A new audio message purportedly from al Qaeda leader, Ayman al Zawahiri, calling for an end to the infighting between rebel groups in Syria, this, as the Assad regime and the opposition are in Switzerland for fragile talks right now aimed at ending the war. Nic Robertson is live in Switzerland. He's at this peace conference. Nic, what effect do you think this is going to have on the talks there?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the rebels and the opposition see this statement by Ayman al-Zawahiri as showing that the al Qaeda elements are losing, and they think that this means that the way that Bashar al-Assad uses what they call the terrorist card by saying it's fighting terrorism is going to lose that. So, the opposition thinks this is good for them, because there are moderate rebels fighting al Qaeda.

The message coming from Ayman al-Zawahiri, that all the al Qaeda elements, rebels inside Syria should unite is an indication to the opposition here that they're doing well and this is definitely to their advantage. We've been hearing, though, from Secretary of State Kerry and from the Syrians just how divided the sides here are over the issue of what happens to Bashar al-Assad. Listen to what John Kerry and the Syrians had to say.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: There is no one who has done more to make Syria a magnet for terrorists than Bashar al-Assad. BASHAR JAAFARI, SYRIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: The statements and speeches of most of those who took the floor today did not encourage the national political dialogue.


ROBERTSON: And it's that statement by John Kerry about the terrorists in the light of this message from the al Qaeda leader that makes them think that they're doing the right things. They've got the right moves on the ground right now, the moderate rebels taking on these extremist rebels, the al Qaeda rebels there. Back to you.

ROMANS: Nic Robertson for us this morning in Switzerland, and still three years of civil war, nothing changing on the ground for the people of Syria yet.

BERMAN: All right. Thirty-five minutes after the hour.

Russian leaders this morning are trying to reassure the public that the Olympics in Sochi will be safe, but the threats and concerns are growing, especially with the news that the U.S. Olympic Committee and several European committees have received an e-mail threat, warning of a terror attack at the games.

Now, a massive security crackdown in and around Sochi still has not been able to find at least two suspected female terror bombers, so- called black widows, and there are now real fears that something very, very bad could happen at the games.


FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Most specific threat we've seen at an Olympic Games, frankly, in recent memory, certainly post 9/11. I mean, during the Athens games, there were threats. We worked with the Greek authorities to thwart them. But what makes this different is that, one, you've got a group that is clearly capable of looking at the most recent Volgograd bombings.

Two, they're inside kind of the perimeter, the borders of the country that is the host country for the Olympics. And they've actually sort of stated their intentions. And so, intentions, capability and access, all those three things combined make this a very, very serious threat.


BERMAN: Still, Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, tells CNNs Christiane Amanpour they are ready to keep the games safe.

ROMANS: Developing this morning in Israel, more details now about an alleged al Qaeda plot to blow up the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv. Israeli officials say three men now arrested were part of a terror cell planning a double suicide bombing targeting the American embassy and the Jerusalem Convention center. And then, apparently, planning a shooting attack on a bus leading to an Israeli settlement.


MARIE HARF, STATE DEPT. DEPUTY SPOKESWOMAN: We've been in contact with the Israeli government regarding these threats. We're closely following the situation. We employ a wide range of security measures to safeguard U.S. citizens and our employees who work around the world, certainly here.

ROBERT BAER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: They may had the plans on the books, even sent people here and there, but al Qaeda cannot operate in the west bank or Jerusalem or Gaza. It's just -- it's too difficult for them. They couldn't make a concerted attack. They'd like to, yes. The Israelis have the place well too wired for them to get away with this.


ROMANS: The Israeli intelligence agency says the ringleader planned to go to Syria for his training and had computer files showing how to manufacture the explosives.

BERMAN: We're hearing this morning from Iran's foreign minister about the details of the nuclear deal that his country reached with the west. Mohammad Javad Zarif tells CNNs Jim Sciutto in an exclusive interview that the White House is misrepresenting what Iran agreed to do and that its nuclear program will continue just with some concessions.


MOHAMMED JAVAD ZARIF, IRAN FOREIGN MINISTER: What Iran has agreed is not to enrich above five percent. We did not agree to dismantle anything. What we agreed to was not to enrich over five percent. We agreed that, and we're not enriching over five percent, but we're not dismantling any centrifuges. We're not dismantling any equipment. We're simply not producing, not enriching over five percent.


BERMAN: The White House responded with a senior administration official calling Zarif's comments spin intended for the citizens back home in Iran.

ROMANS: New this morning, the NSA's phone surveillance program is being called illegal and a serious threat to civil liberties. An independent federal privacy watchdog in a new report set to be released today says the spy program should be shut down. The report was obtained by "The New York Times" says the collection of bulk telephone data lacks a viable legal foundation.

BERMAN: Meantime, NSA leaker, Edward Snowden, will open up today online. He is going to answer questions in a virtual town hall. These questions can be submitted via Twitter with the hashtag, asksnowden, and his responses will be posted on the website freesnowden.IS, meaning he will only have to answer the questions that he actually wants to answer. ROMANS: All right. The clock is ticking this morning toward another debt ceiling deadline. Treasury secretary, Jack Lew, now says the government will exhaust its ability to borrow money by late February, meaning Democrats and Republicans in Congress will have to work together to raise the debt ceiling or the U.S. can't borrow more money to pay its bills.

The U.S. every month is spending more money than it brings in. There's hope in some circles that the bipartisan budget deal reached earlier this month might be a sign both sides can work together to avoid another fiscal crisis.

BERMAN: Just refresh my memory, how bad is it if they don't reach a debt ceiling deal?

ROMANS: It's bad. It's bad. It's ridiculous and bad.

A look at the markets this morning, this Thursday morning. Dow futures down following a slide on Wednesday. In Europe right now, markets generally lower. In japan, the Nikkei closed. It's down a little tiny bit, just about eight-tenths of a percent.

IBM is a step closer to getting out of the computer hardware business. China's Lenovo has finally reached a deal to buy IBM's low-end server operations for $2.3 billion, leaving the computer giant able to focus more on consulting. Watching Netflix this morning, too. Do you subscribe to Netflix?


ROMANS: Uh-huh. Its stock is soaring because there's a lot more of you out there. Stocks soaring an after-hours trading because so many people are signing up for Netflix. The company reporting it added more than two million subscribers to the end of the year. Lots of people want to watch "House of Cards," "Orange is the New Black." I mean, you've got Netflix, which is basically a television studio, too, right

Also doing better this morning, eBay. The auction site reporting stronger profits. Investors are excited about a proposal from the billionaire shareholder, Carl Icahn. He wants eBay to spin off its PayPal business into something else, into a separate company. EBay says it won't do that. PayPal is eBay's biggest growing operation.

BERMAN: Yes. PayPal like literally prints money for them. So, I hope they can spin that off any time soon.

Forty-one minutes after the hour.

George Zimmerman painting again and making the work available for public sale, this time, it's an image of the special prosecutor who tried him for shooting and killing Trayvon Martin. It says "I have this much respect for the American judicial system" and shows Angela Corey (ph) pinching her fingers together. His brother tweeted the image out overnight, saying it would be up for sale today.

The last Zimmerman painting, an American flag, sold on eBay for more than $100,000. This one a little bit more controversial, I think.

Forty-one minutes after the hour.

And coming up, deadly riots filling the streets of a huge city as a key nation descends into chaos this morning. We're live right after the break.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. A tense standoff this morning in Ukraine where protesters and the government, they are talking today about trying to find a way to end this conflict, which has been going on for months. This is coming a day after at least three people were killed in explosive clashes. You're looking at some of these dramatic pictures right now.

Diana Magnay is live in Kiev following the latest developments. Diana, what do protesters want at this point and is there any sign that the government's willing to give an inch?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They want the president to go, John. They want snap elections and they want that to happen fast. And I think the violence that we've seen here over the last three days is an indication of just how frustrated the demonstrators here are. The opposition leaders, and there are three of them, have been calling over and over again for this protest to remain peaceful.

And up until now, it's been pretty peaceful. But after the government tried to rush through legislation last Thursday, which effectively criminalizes this whole protest, makes it illegal to be part of a mass demonstration, it makes it illegal, for example, to wear a helmet or a mask or to be in groups of more than five cars.

So, you know, everybody down there knows that if the police get them, they can be criminally liable for being part of this demonstration. That was when everything gathered pace and when the violence really broke out. Four people killed. The police have been using plastic bullets, firing into the crowds.

They've been using tear gas, stun grenades, and the protesters aiming back with really anything that they can get their hands on, Molotov cocktails, breaking up the paving stones, and then setting fire to tires to make these huge smoke barricades which have done a pretty effective job of dividing them between, forming a sort of demarcation line between them and the police - John.

BERMAN: It really does seem like the tension has reached a treacherous level there. Diana Magnay for us in Kiev. We appreciate you being with us this morning. Thanks so much.

Breaking overnight, 46-year-old Edgar Tamayo (ph), a Mexican national, has been put to death in the state of Texas. Tamayo was convicted of murdering a Houston police officer back in 1994. This execution went forward despite pleas and a great deal of diplomatic pressure from Mexico's government and the U.S. state department. The Supreme Court rejected a last-ditch appeal to stay the execution. ROMANS: New developments this morning in the investigation into New Jersey governor, Chris Christie. NBC News is reporting FBI agents have begun to question the Hoboken mayor, Dawn Zimmer, and some of her key aides. She has alleged members of the Christie administration pressured her to support a development project in exchange for hurricane Sandy relief money.

The U.S. attorney's office has now told Zimmer to stop giving interviews about those claims as they investigate. Christie's office denies -- strongly denies those allegations.

BERMAN: This morning, we're finding out more about just what spilled into A west Virginia River, leaving hundreds of thousands unable to use their water for days. The company responsible for the spill now says it involved two chemicals, not just one. The second chemical, which made up just a small part of the 7,500-gallon leak is apparently less toxic than the first. Still, residents and officials are outraged that they weren't told sooner about the second chemical.

ROMANS: A firefight continuing this morning in Mississippi at a biodiesel plant rocked by an explosion not far from Tupelo. This fire burning so hot, the firefighters, they can't get close enough to it to put it out. Several homes nearby have been evacuated. Amazingly, no one has been hurt, and officials say the chemical tanks at that facility are secure. This is a biodiesel plant that converts chicken fat to alternative fuel.

BERMAN: Dramatic pictures.


Let's take a look at what's coming up on "New Day" this morning.

BERMAN: Chris Cuomo with us this morning. Hey, Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, my friends. We have not one, but two big exclusives for you this morning. Our reporter sat down with Iran's new president and the foreign minister. They're raising eyebrows over comments about the deal Iran struck with the U.S. to dismantle its nuclear program.

They claim the U.S. has mischaracterized the deal, but are they not going as far as everyone believed? That's the main question. You judge for yourself from the answers.

Plus, we have a couple of hot debates today. You heard about the Animal Planet show, it's big. The guy goes on, the "Call of the Wild" man, he rescues animals. Well, what are they doing to those animals before they get rescued or to make it seem like they're being rescued? There's a big investigation that takes some heavy shots at the show. The producers of the show say it ain't right, and they're coming on to defend themselves, and that will be one heck of a debate this morning.

We're also going to take on, John and Christine, this continuing story about this woman in Texas, had oxygen deprivation. She is now on life support. Is she alive, is she dead? There's a Texas law that says even if she is dead, if she is pregnant, the baby, they must do everything they can to protect the baby.

There's now new information about the baby. Will that change the debate that's going on? It's a legal battle. Really interesting. For people who care about this issue, it's a debate to listen to.

ROMANS: And for a lot of people, it's a moral battle. You know, some people, it's a pure gut instinct when they hear this story. Just sad from start to finish. And it isn't finished, quite frankly.

BERMAN: A lot going on this morning --

ROMANS: Thank, Chris.

Coming up, another state could soon see gay marriage within its borders. A politician changing course, and it could sway a court. The story when we come back.


BERMAN: All right. Big developments today on the legal fight over same-sex marriage in Virginia. The "Washington Post" says that Mark Herring will announce that he believes the state's ban on same-sex weddings is unconstitutional and will ask a court to strike it down. Mark Herring is the new attorney general of the state of Virginia. That's significant.

This is a major change in position for Herring and for the attorney general's office itself. Now, when he was in the state legislature, he voted against same-sex marriage, and his predecessor as attorney general had long said he would defend the law, the ban on same-sex marriage. So, this is a big turn-around for Virginia and a big movement that will start today.

ROMANS: All right. President Obama has given a newly created administration task force 90 days to come up with a plan for fighting sexual assault on college campuses. It was a stunning White House report that says one in five female college students are raped, one in five, but just one in eight victims report it.

BERMAN: That's staggering, those figures.

New developments this morning that could affect how you vote. A bipartisan presidential commission is out with its recommendations to cut down on lines and make it easier to cast a ballot, suggesting that voters should be able to register online, saying it saves money and does not seem to have any fraud issues. Twenty-four states currently allow that practice. The commission also recommended expansion of early voting.

ROMANS: All right. Coming up, foreclosures still a problem in the housing market, but now, there are some new numbers that show maybe things are turning around. And I'm going to tell you why cash is still king in real estate. That story in "Money Time," next.


ROMANS: Top of the hour, welcome back to EARLY START. It's "Money Time."

Bargain hunters scooped up more foreclosed homes last year, and many of them paid all cash. Sales of foreclosed and distressed homes made up more than 16 percent of all home sales last year, and that's up from the year before. Listen to this, all cash deals in all of real estate accounted for nearly 30 percent of all home purchases last year, and that is up dramatically.

You've got these super low mortgage rates, but look at how much, 29.1 percent of these are all cash deals. The surge in sales and distressed properties comes despite the fact that far fewer Americans lost their homes to foreclosure last year. A lot of people, I think maybe, John, they're downsizing.

I think maybe people are -- you know, baby boomers in particular, moving out of a bigger house, paying all cash for a smaller house, and there are still investors, foreign investors, buying homes for cash all over the country.

Big Target story this morning. It's battling, of course, one of the biggest customer data breaches ever. It's battling a shopping season that was disappointing. Yesterday, it said it would need to cut 475 jobs as it continues to focus on, quote, "transforming our business." The announcements didn't end there. Target is also telling part-time workers to go get Obamacare.

The retailer says it will no longer offer health insurance to part- time target employees, and that makes up about 10 percent of its total workforce. The launch of Obamacare leaving some employers to re- evaluate their coverage plans and who they're offering coverage to. Home Depot and Trader Joe's both announced last year they would stop offering coverage to part-time workers. They would send them on to those state exchanges and those Obamacare exchanges instead.

BERMAN: Target says they're going to give (ph) 500 bucks to each employee who loses the health care coverage.

ROMANS: Yes. And as we've seen that in other companies, too, they give you a little pot of money and say we're not going to be responsible for this anymore. Go out there into the national marketplace.

BERMAN: All right. Fifty-nine minutes after the hour. That is all for us this morning. "New Day" starts right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Kerry has no right to try to change the lots of the Supreme Court and turn the keys over to the international community.

CUOMO: Breaking overnight, executed. Texas puts a Mexican citizen to death despite calls from Mexico and the U.S. government to wait. They say it may put Americans overseas at risk. So, why the rush to kill?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: CNN exclusive. Our reporter sitting down with Iran's new president and the country's foreign minister. What they say about the deal to dismantle their nuclear program and why does Iran's interpretation so different from the U.S.?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Epic freeze. Brace yourself, America. Much of the country in for a week's long streak. A brutally cold temperatures. It feels like 40 below in some areas, and it's not getting much warmer any time soon.

CUOMO: Your "New Day" starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is "New Day" with Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan, and Michaela Pereira.