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Dangerous Deep Freeze; Snowden's Online Q&A; Hagel Orders Nuclear Review; Sochi Security

Aired January 24, 2014 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, man, snow, sleet, ice, single-digit temperatures. Millions hit this morning by a deep, deep freeze, including many places you would not expect. We're talking chaos on the roads, shutting down major interstates. Authorities warning many just to stay home. We have what you need to know from the cold zone.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: I know, you're going to have to close your eyes when you look at your heating bills this month!

I'm Christine Romans. What a winter it's been. It's Friday, January 24th. That's the good news, it's Friday -- and it is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

BERMAN: We need that Friday thing.

ROMANS: Yes, we sure do.

Up first, another day of arctic cold on tap for millions of Americans, the deep freeze plunging into the Deep South, even. Hard freeze warnings along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Florida. In fact, every state in the lower 48 has temperatures below freezing -- had temperatures yesterday below freezing, every state. In Indiana, sudden lake-effect snow created whiteout conditions, leading to a horrific pileup on Interstate 94.

Dozens of cars and semis involved in this, at least three people were killed. It's almost unimaginable, the backup that caused. Meantime, the crippling cold playing havoc with air travel around the country. Even more flight cancellations are expected today.

CNN's Nick Valencia live in Houston for us. Nick, Texas, along with many of these other southern states, smacked with freezing weather in the south! This is not the kind of winter weather these folks are usually used to.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No. Good morning, Christine and John.

This is certainly not the part of the country that's used to winter storm warnings, especially this time of year, but Houston, Texas, right now hovering in the low 30s. We did see a little while ago accumulations of some sleet, but it is expected to get much worse. So city officials are bracing for it to get much worse, I should say. The last time the city got hit really hard was back in 2011, a crippling ice storm really just causing havoc for the city's transportation system.

It's not expected to get that bad. But you know, if you're waking up in parts of western Texas or central Texas or even southern, you know, more south in Texas, you're seeing ice accumulations this morning. As far as what the Texas Department of Transportation is doing to prepare for these icy road conditions -- well, they started yesterday. They started laying down some antifreeze solution along the roads, a mixture of sand and mashed-up rock, just to start sort of create traction on those roadways.

So, if you're waking up this morning in Houston, you may look out your window, think it's not that bad, but you've got to drive slow on those roads out there.

ROMANS: I'll say. I mean, these are parts of the country, there are no snow tires. You don't put chains on the tires of the truck, you know. That's something they do in the Midwest, and even there you're seeing this deadly accident in Indiana. They're used to these cold conditions. People know how to drive in it.

But that just tells you how dangerous and difficult this very cold weather is.

VALENCIA: Oh, absolutely! And I would mention, back in 2011, that's really jogging memories for Houstonians here, you know, when they were watching the local news last night. Every meteorologist was really talking about 2011, saying it's not going to be that bad, but if you remember if you were in the city at that time.

And according to local affiliates, there was about 4,000 accidents between midnight and 4:00 a.m. three years ago. So it just gives you a sense of just how bad it could get here in Texas. Like you said, Christine, this is not a place where people are really used to driving in those conditions.

As far as flight cancellations and delays, I want to get this in here really quick.


VALENCIA: Houston having the most cancellations, 113 canceled flights at Bush International Airport, another 35 canceled at hobby. All of those may not be weather-related, but the majority are likely weather- related. That's coming to us from Flight Aware.

So if you're traveling today, go to to check if your flight has been canceled or delayed.

ROMANS: And check with your airline, sign up for the text messages so you don't go to the airport needlessly.

Thanks, Nick.

VALENCIA: Absolutely. BERMAN: I'm not making fun, but Nick looks really cold. They're not used to that down there.

ROMANS: It's Houston! >

BERMAN: The question is, what will it be like this weekend?

Indra Petersons is here with that.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I think we've all kind of hearing that this cold air is expected to stay really to the end of the month. So, we've got to brace yourselves.

Let's take a look at the temperatures again this morning, very similar to yesterday. Looking a lot of single digits out there. So, Boston this morning just nine degrees, Buffalo, six, Pittsburgh right now only at three degrees.

Let's talk about what's going on where Nick is. You can actually see, we have a cold front that kind of passed through the area. We have a low just to the south, so pulling this moisture off the Gulf.

The problem is, you're kind of in between the really cold air and the warmer air to the South. You do have icing concerns. So, that's they're talking about today, from Louisiana kind of stretching all the way back in through San Antonio.

Here's the good news -- this will start to transition more into snow instead of the icing conditions as this low, that moisture source, starts to kind of move farther off to the south and that cold, arctic air moves in. That's going to turn ice into snow, but of course, that cold air will be moving farther to the south, bringing even cooler temperatures to many more people out there.

Other thing we're going to be watching, we're kind of in the pattern of one, two, three clippers, these systems that make their way across into the Northeast, so chance for showers over the weekend -- really watching the third one in this system. It could bring heavy snow for next week and also could bring very cold temperatures, similar to a few weeks ago, into the beginning.

ROMANS: There's a third one.

BERMAN: So, it's bad and it's going to get worse.


BERMAN: Thanks, Indra.


BERMAN: Appreciate it.

So, this morning, a lot of people are talking about the idea of a return to the U.S. for NSA leaker Edward Snowden. This is coming after Snowden held court on the Internet for an online chat. He answered a question from CNN's Jake Tapper, and Snowden claimed it would not be possible for him to have a fair trial here in the U.S. and that laws protecting whistleblowers need to be changed first.

This came after Attorney General Eric Holder said that he's willing to consider Snowden's return but only if he admits his guilt for spilling state secrets.


ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: If Mr. Snowden wanted to come back to the United States, enter a plea, we would engage with his lawyers. We'd do that with any defendant who wanted to enter a plea of guilty. And so, that's what -- that gives a little context to what I said.


BERMAN: But no clemency. That's the key there. Snowden is charged in the U.S. with espionage. He has been in Russia since June after being granted temporary asylum for about a year.

ROMANS: Developing this morning, an eye-opening three-year Pentagon study suggests some of the NSA's anti-terror techniques should be used to find nuclear weapons. The study found intelligence agencies aren't organized enough or equipped to detect when other countries are developing nuclear weapons or beefing up their arsenals.

As if that wasn't troubling enough, the 100-page report concluded the potential new nuclear states are emerging in numbers not seen since the early days of the Cold War.

BERMAN: So, also developing along these lines, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is ordering an independent review of the military's nuclear force. This follows the latest in a string of embarrassing disclosures concerning officers in charge of the nation's nuclear weapons.

Earlier this month, nearly three dozen Air Force Personnel at a nuclear base in Montana were implicated in a scandal involving cheating on a proficiency exam. A Pentagon spokesman says, "Clearly, we have some issues," but he insists that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is secure.

ROMANS: All right. To Russia now. Russia has been reluctant to accept outside help handling security for the Sochi Olympics, but this morning that door may now be opening. Pentagon officials are said to be talking with the Russians about counterterrorism measures. But so far, there's been no formal request for technology or assistance. Concern about security at the Olympic Games has led some American athletes to tell their families to stay home.

Speed skater Tucker Fredricks is one of them.


DAN FREDRICKS, TUCKER'S DAD: There are concerns out there for security, and it seems like every day there's another concern in all that. And Tucker wants to be focused on the race, and he's asked us and his wife if we would, you know, stay home and watch it on TV, just so he can stay focused and not have a secondary thing to worry about.


ROMANS: Wow. An interesting perspective from the athletes who are going there and don't want to be distracted by the security issues for their families. The State Department has advised Americans who are traveling to the games to, quote, "remain alert" regarding their personal security.

BERMAN: Great advice.

Breaking overnight in Egypt, three separate explosions in Cairo. The largest hit the city's police headquarters, two others apparently targeting police stations. At least four people were killed, more than 50 people wounded in these blasts. It was a chaotic scene for hours there, running into a few minutes ago.

Tensions running particularly high in Egypt on the eve of the anniversary of the 2011 revolution. The Muslim Brotherhood, declared a terrorist organization by Egypt's military, has called for a week of demonstrations there.

ROMANS: All right. It turns out stocks don't just go straight up!

BERMAN: I thought they did after last year.

ROMANS: Who would have thought? After a really easy year of 20 percent-plus gains in your 401(k), it's been a rocky start to the year. I'm not ready to say the bull market is over, but the market has not had a real correction since last summer and stock market experts have long said you won't see the kind of gains this year that we did last year.

What's the problem? Emerging markets trouble, earnings for U.S. companies are mostly unimpressive, Dow futures are lower this morning after the Dow industrials fell to a five-week low yesterday. The Dow sliding 176 painful points. That's about a little more than 1 percent. Worries about a slowdown in China's economy has the NASDAQ and S&P 500 also fell.

Let's look at Europe, what's happening right now. Stocks in London, Frankfurt, Paris -- they are all following the Dow lower, all down this morning. In Japan, the Nikkei fell nearly 2 percent, also following the sour mood in the U.S.

Here in the U.S. right now, a stock to watch this morning, Microsoft. It's higher, sharply higher, up 3.5 percent in the premarket. Xbox was a big seller this holiday season, 7.4 million consoles flying off the shelves. Overall, Microsoft's sales were up 14 percent, that helped the company bring in better earnings.

Another stock we're watching this morning, Starbucks. It is also up 1.3 percent. Stronger earnings raised its forecast for how much money it thinks it will make this year. Microsoft, Starbucks, two to watch this morning, even though the Dow is looking like it's going to be lower.

BERMAN: Yes, the Dow, you know, down big. Who would have thought we would have had a Dow drop and Justin Bieber getting busted in the same day?

ROMANS: Maybe there's a connection. I'm not making that connection, but it could be that investors were bearish after Bieber.

BERMAN: The Bieber bear. All right, who knows where Justin Bieber is waking up this morning, but it might very well be with a headache, because he is waking up facing criminal charges following his arrest in Miami for driving under the influence while drag racing in a rented Lamborghini. If I had a nickel for every time.

The 19-year-old spent about an hour in jail and faced a judge via video link. Bieber is also charged with driving without a valid license and resisting arrest. The police report reveals Bieber's expletive-filled reaction when he was stopped by police.

Here is some of what he said in a dramatic reading. "Why did you stop me? Why the blank are you doing this? What the blank did I do? Why did you stop me? I ain't got no blanking weapons. Why do you have to search me? What the blank is this about? What the blank are you doing?"

How did I do? Did I do OK?

ROMANS: That was good. That was good.

BERMAN: All right, from the sound of it, Bieber needs a good lawyer. I need a good agent.

And he now has a good lawyer, apparently. Defense attorney Roy Black.


ROY BLACK, ATTORNEY: Mr. Bieber has been released on bail. Both the state and I agreed that the standard bail would apply in this case, and they have not asked for any increased bail because of his popularity or fame.

REPORTER: Can you name a Justin Bieber song?

BLACK: I will have to take the Fifth on that.


BERMAN: Isn't that the "baby, baby, baby"? He should have known that. That song he should have known.

The standard bail, by the way, is $2,500. According to police, Justin Bieber told them he drank, smoked pot and took prescription medication before getting behind the wheel of that rented Lamborghini, which he allegedly was drag racing.

ROMANS: And he doesn't have a license. How old is he, like 19? BERMAN: Nineteen. Nineteen.

ROMANS: Wow. Well, I mean -- I don't mean to laugh at the kid, but come on. Get it together.

All right, happening right now, the high-stakes, high-drama effort to find peace for Syria. Sparks flying as negotiators try to hammer out a plan. This is a really important, fragile place we are in the peace talks. We are live.

BERMAN: And straight out of the movies, a major mob bust in one of the country's most famous heists. There are new developments happening today. We'll tell you all about it, coming up next.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone.

Developing this morning, a fragile truce taking hold in Ukraine. A top opposition leader urging calm after meeting with President Viktor Yanukovych. He says he's been assured that dozens of protesters will be released from jail and the tensions will stop. It's been a bloody week in Kiev, protesters clashing violently with police, leaving two demonstrators dead.

ROMANS: Also developing this morning there was hope today could be a major step forward in the effort to end Syria's three-year, bloody civil war. In Geneva, Syrian government officials and members of the opposition are talking peace, but not with each other, with a U.N. mediator.

CNN's Nic Robertson live in Geneva with the details.

Where this morning, Nic, it sounds like the two sides may never meet face to face. What's happening there?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, Christine, all the diplomats we talked to behind the scenes here, they're setting expectations so low, many of them saying they just don't see a way that this can be successful. The U.N.'s special representative here that's in charge of the negotiations, the veteran diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, we're told he will talk to both sides in the same room, give them a half-hour speech. Then they'll go into separate rooms where they'll actually begin discussions about the talks.

But the opposition last night told us that they won't get it, they won't, and they're quite clear on this, they will not get in the same room with the government side until the government says that Bashar al Assad cannot be part of this transitional government.

I mean, this already seems like a massive impasse here, Christine.

ROMANS: In terms of progress, Nic, expectations are so low. What can we hope to come away from, if anything, from this conference?

ROBERTSON: This is a great question. I've been trying to get a clear answer from a number of people.

I mean, look, this is what diplomats are saying. They're saying, number one, you know, everyone's outside of this, the U.S., the U.K., all the other nations. It's really on this Lakhdar Brahimi's shoulders here, and they say he's briefed all these other international diplomats that he doesn't really know how he's going to tackle this, that this will be sort of, you know, outside of the regular diplomatic playbook.

What one diplomat told me is, perhaps the best that can come out of this is, when the talks fail, at least the opposition will have had some experience in negotiating against the government who got a lot of experience and incredibly intransigent. But the difficulties are so complex. That's where expectations are being played down. It's almost we're being told here that Brahimi will just feel he is getting success, if he can keep them talking, even in separate rooms, Christine.

ROMANS: Wow, unbelievable, and it's three years of destruction for the people in Syria who really, desperately want some kind of a resolution. Nic, thank you so much. Good luck out there.

BERMAN: Pathetically low expectations, it seems.

ROMANS: Yes, I'll say.

BERMAN: All right. Here at home, former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell will be in court this morning to face corruption charges. The indictment of McDonnell and his wife stems with their relationship with a Virginia businessman. Prosecutors allege they received gifts and loans. We're talking about watches, clothes, shoes, in exchange for allowing the head of a health supplement company to promote his products. McDonnell insists that he did nothing illegal.

ROMANS: New developments in the Chris Christie scandal. Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed his campaign and the state Republican Party committee to assess their knowledge of the move to create traffic jams as political payback. A spokesman says the campaign and the state party intend to cooperate with the U.S. attorney's office. Christie has denied knowledge of the plan and fired, swiftly fired two top aides.

BERMAN: Best-selling conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza will be arraigned on charges he used straw donors to illegally donate to a 2012 Senate campaign. Federal prosecutors say he persuaded others to give about $20,000, then reimbursed them for the donations. This is one of the easiest things to get caught doing. It seems like a silly idea.

D'Souza directed the film "2016 Obamas' America," an anti-Obama film released during the final stretch of his re-election campaign.

ROMANS: More arraignment today for five alleged wise guys indicted for a string of unsolved crimes, including that featured in the movie "Goodfellas," and the indictment reads just like a script. Accusations of murder, racketeering, armed robbery, arson and extortion, all by alleged members of the Bonnano crime family. In the famous heist at JFK, thieves got away with $6 million in money and jewels. Four of five defendants have pleaded not guilty. The fifth will be arraigned today.

Here's the attorney for the alleged mob captain, Vincent Asaro, explaining why his client couldn't have possibly been involved.


GERALD J. MCMAHON, ATTORNEY FOR VINCENT ASARO: Pretty much most of the people that did it got murdered by Jimmy Burke, so I read. So, the fact that my client didn't get murdered would suggest that he didn't have anything to do with it.


ROMANS: That Jimmy "The Gent" Burke, he mentions, was the real-life inspiration for Robert de Niro's character in the film.

BERMAN: A grim scene at a burnout home for seniors in frigid Quebec this morning. Rescue crews sifting through icy rubble, which is all that's left from a deadly fire that killed at least five people, and injured ten others. Thirty people who live in the facility are still unaccounted for.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My mother, she's blind. He's handicapped, you know, and she's supposed to move this person first, OK? And she's still there. I can't believe it.


BERMAN: Tragic.

Officials still do not know what caused this fire. They're hoping some of the residents who are unaccounted for might have been away with their families, but they are expecting the death toll to climb significantly higher.

ROMANS: Arizona State University has excelled the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity for throwing a racist party over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. Photos surfaced on social media showing partygoers wearing hip hop clothes, flashing gang signs and holding watermelon- shaped cups.

Civil rights activists are calling for all the students involved to be expelled. Arizona State University has not yet decided how the students will be discipline, but hey, there's plenty of evidence to sift through right there.

BERMAN: Love to hear their thinking on this.

Twenty-one minutes after the hour. And coming up this morning, a career-defining match between two of the greats of tennis. So, could this rivalry, years in the making, come to a conclusion today? Andy Scholes has the very latest, including the scores, coming up next in "Bleacher Report."


BERMAN: All right, let's talk about some of the best rivalries in history. We have Ali/Frazier, we have Sox/Yanks, Manning/Brady. But on the tennis court, there is one now for the history books. It's all about Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, and these two mega stars are renewing their rivalry right now, down under, in Australia.

Andy Scholes gives us the all-important update.

How's it going, Andy?

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: Hey, good morning, guys.

Whenever these two face off in a grand slam, it's just must-see TV. Federer and Nadal absolutely dominated the world of tennis for more than a decade. Now, Federer, he's got 17 grand slam titles to Nadal's 13.

But when these two superstars collide, Nadal is the one who holds the edge. He's won 8 out of 10 against Federer in grand slam matches right now, and they're engaged in another thriller. Nadal, he won the first in a tiebreak 7-6, and right now, he is up 3-2 in the second set.

All right, in case you missed it, Justin Bieber was arrested in Miami yesterday, and some of his neighbors in Calabasas, California, they're celebrating the news. Former NFL wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who allegedly chased the Biebs in his Prius after Bieber sped by him in a Ferrari, tweeted, "They finally caught him! Glad no one was hurt, no kids in the street. Everyone grows up at some point. Hopefully, he learns from it."

Hall of fame running back Nate Dickerson, another one of the Biebs neighbors, tweeted as well, "It's about time. Nobody's above the law."

CNN's Rachel Nichols got the first sit-down interview with the Seahawks' Richard Sherman after his epic postgame rant, and one of the topics they discussed was Sherman being labeled a thug.


RICHARD SHERMAN, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: I think it used to be the "N" word. Now they're using thug instead of the "N" word. And you know, as a more accepted way of saying it.

And it's still sad, man, because what was thug about what I did? Because I said something about one guy, about a football game. You know, I didn't go talking about I'm going to fight the guy after the game, I'm going to go, I'm going to go, you know, blow his car up or anything like that.


SCHOLES: You can catch the whole interview tonight on "UNGUARDED WITH RACHEL NICHOLS" at 10:30 Eastern, right here on CNN. And Rachel also caught up with David Stern to talk about his, of course, last season as the NBA's commissioner. That should be another great interview.

BERMAN: Comes full circle, back to Justin Bieber. A lot of people yesterday when Bieber was busted were saying, shouldn't we be calling him a thug?

SCHOLES: Very true.

BERMAN: So, Richard Sherman has got some interesting points on race there, for sure. Andy Scholes, thank you so much. Great to see you.

ROMANS: All right. All the top headlines, what you need to know for the day, including the latest on the deadly weather. Millions -- tens of millions of you are waking up to bitter cold, after the break.