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Three Planes Nearly Collide At Reagan National; Were Red Flags Ignored?; Covert Support For Syrian Rebels; Adrian's Fingertip Finish; Phelps, Lochte Set for Showdown; Secret Support for Syrian Opposition; All Charges Against Gooding Dropped; Candidates Hitting The Campaign Trail

Aired August 2, 2012 - 06:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: New developments out of Aurora, Colorado. A report says the accused shooter's psychiatrist raised a red flag weeks before the massacre.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Collision course, the FAA now investigating a close call between three packed passenger jets near Washington, D.C.

BERMAN: Rescued at the airport, two TSA guards credited with freeing a kidnapped woman. Good news for the TSA frequently under attack. They got a good one today.

SAMBOLIN: And good news for the woman too.

BERMAN: Absolutely. Good morning and welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We're happy you're with us this morning. It is 6 a.m. in the east. Also coming up for you, storm watches for vacation hot spots in the Atlantic as a tropical depression moves in.

BERMAN: Plus another thrilling finish in London leads to gold for Team USA swimming and we have a big day coming ahead there also.

SAMBOLIN: We have breaking news from overnight, a frightening close call in the skies. The FAA saying three commuter jets came within seconds of a mid-air collision at Reagan National Airport.

After confused air traffic controllers dealing with bad weather launched two flights and another plane that was trying to land. Listen to the confusion at the time on the radio.


TOWER: 3329, stand by. Hold on. We're trying to figure this out too. Stand by.

UNIDENTIFIED PILOT: OK. We really don't have the fuel for this. We got to get on the ground pretty quick.

TOWER: Everybody standby -- we've got a couple of opposite direction arrivals. So it's going to be a little bit of a delay in your departures.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SAMBOLIN: Confusing but calm as we're listening to them chat there. Now we have CNN's Athena Jones. She is live in Washington. What can you tell us about that?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. You know, the details are still sketchy on this, but we talked to the FAA. We've spoken with U.S. Airways, which had some of the flights we believe involved although they wouldn't confirm that all three flights were their planes.

They are going to be investigating this incident. But as you said, it was just after 2 p.m. on Tuesday at Reagan National during a particular spot of bad weather. I was out on that weather. It was driving rain.

So controllers decided to switch planes that had been landing and departing on one runway one going from south to north, they decided to switch that to another runway and have them coming from north to south.

The problem is they failed to communicate this to everyone involved. Here is part of what the FAA had to say in their statement. During the switch over the operations miscommunication through the track on and the DCA Tower led to a loss of the separation between the two regional jets departing.

The FAA is investigating the incident and will take appropriate action to address the miscommunication. Now according to preliminary information from the FAA, these planes, one of them, the first plane as it was taking off, got about half the distance it should have been from that incoming plane.

The second plane was a little further away, but it's still pretty scary stuff, and it is not the first time we have had these kinds of air traffic control issues -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right, do we know how close this call was?

JONES: Well, it is interesting. One of the reports we have seen in the media stated that the planes were 12 seconds from impact. The FAA has really cautioned us against using those, that number 12 seconds.

But we know these are planes traveling at very, very fast speeds and if we say that the standard distance they should be apart is three nautical miles lateral and 1,000 feet vertical. One plane was about 1.45 nautical miles apart and only 500 feet, the other was a little further, 2.4 miles and 600 feet.

But still at really fast speeds, you certainly want to keep all the distance that you're supposed to.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, with 192 people on board those planes. Thank you so much, Athena Jones. We appreciate it.

JONES: Thanks.

BERMAN: It is now 4 minutes past the hour. New reports this morning that before the tragic Colorado shooting that killed 12 and injured dozens of others University of Colorado officials were notified about suspected shooter James Holmes, but may not have acted.

SAMBOLIN: Sources tell local affiliate, KMGH, that in early June, Dr. Lyn (inaudible), Holmes psychiatrist contacted members of the campus behavioral assessment team and told them he could potentially be a danger to others.

BERMAN: The reports say she made calls to the team, but it, quote, "never came together" because this was the same time Holmes began withdrawing from the university, which happened on June 10th.

SAMBOLIN: University officials have yet to confirm or deny the reports. It is unclear exactly what behavior the psychiatrist was actually concerned about.

So with us now is criminal defense attorney, Joey Jackson. A lot of unanswered questions so we want to make sure everybody understand there and it looks like there is some finger pointing going on now.

Could they have prevented this? Was this the psychiatrist's fault or a combination of the psychiatrist and this BETA team, which is short for Behavioral Evaluation and Threat Assessment? So are they trying to figure out liability here?

JOEY JACKSON, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: They really are. I mean, in an instance like this when you have a massacre, people have concerned. This is a major public issue here.

But here is what it boils down to. A psychiatrist does have what we call a duty to warn and a duty to protect, but that relates to a specific credible threat.

In the event that there was a specific credible threat as to Mr. Holmes representing a danger to someone then the psychiatrist would have the responsibility to report it and make it known.

And it seems here, Zoraida, that steps were taken at least by her to contact other members of that committee so that they could take further action.

BERMAN: It seems to be what you're saying then is that it is crucial what exactly Holmes said.


BERMAN: What that information was that she knew. What is it that he would have had to have said that would trigger necessary action?

JACKSON: Exactly, John. Because what happens is if you're undergoing psychiatric treatment the argument could be that you represent some kind of danger and may be something amiss. So you don't want to make too broad liability because then a psychiatrist would have to report about everything. However, in the event that something was said, John, and that something related to him saying that he wanted to harm someone.

He wanted to endanger someone. He wanted to kill someone. That would trigger the duty under the law for her to not only protect the people in that Colorado community at the campus, but others at large.

SAMBOLIN: And is that regardless whether or not he was enrolled at the school because that seems to be a big issue that's come up recently. He had not enrolled so they felt no jurisdiction over him or he had left the school.

JACKSON: Exactly. What happens is, is that the first concern of course is the campus because that's where he was enrolled. So you would think that if people were in danger, they would be endangered in that locality.

However, there are instances, of course, if he was psychologically deranged or something that people in the outer community could have, of course, been endangered.

So that duty, Zoraida, it would depend, as John mentioned early, on specifically what he said and what his psychiatrist knew and if he said something that amounted to something that I want to exact revenge upon the universe or something particular about someone.

She would have to call the police and if a specific person was named, notify that individual as well.

SAMBOLIN: I would imagine that a lot of this is going to be playing out in court as well.

JACKSON: Without question.

SAMBOLIN: Joey Jackson, thank you so much for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.

BERMAN: Thanks, Joey.

President Obama has signed a clandestine order authorizing U.S. support for Syria's rebel forces. That's according to CNN sources. The directive allows covert action by the CIA and other agencies, but it is not clear what type of support has been authorized or exactly when the order was signed.

CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend was telling our Anderson Cooper she believes the U.S. needs to act with more urgency in Syria.


FRAN FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: The longer we wait to act, the more radicalized the Syrian population becomes. They have been tortured. They have been abused by their own leader. They will turn to whoever can provide them weapons, food, and if that's al Qaeda, that's who they will turn to on the ground.


BERMAN: The State Department said yesterday it has set aside $25 million for non-lethal assistance to the Syrian rebels with another $64 million in a humanitarian assistance earmarked for the Syrian people as well.

SAMBOLIN: It's 8 minutes past the hour. Extreme weather threatens to ruin a lot of tropical vacation plans. Rob Marciano is tracking the storm's path. You said people get deals this time of year for a reason, right?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Actually, I bid on that once in St. Lucia in July. No hurricane at the time, but --

SAMBOLIN: Good for you.

MARCIANO: So the winds from this thing although not very strong will maybe wash away or blow away some of the bugs. Westerly movement at 21 miles an hour, it's about 500 miles from the wind ward islands or Barbados, St. Lucia.

The winds right now sustained at 35 miles per hour. So we bump it up another 5 miles an hour and we get a tropical storm status. The five-day forecast from the National Hurricane Center does not strengthen it rapidly.

It has strong winds it has to get through in order to do that. But we do expect it to get in the Caribbean where the waters are warm so we'll just have to see what happens there.

Speaking of warm, temperatures toasty again across the central plains, heat advisories and heat warnings over 100 and Dallas today may well touch 110. Guys, back up to you.

SAMBOLIN: When it is 30 below, we're going to be looking for the warmer temperatures maybe not exactly 110. Thank you, Rob.

It is 9 minutes past the hour. Team USA continues to rule the pool at the London games. A big showdown looms tonight between two American teammates. Everybody wants to watch this. We'll go live to London coming up. I wish I could fly you there for the day.


BERMAN: We have some pretty cool time lapsed video as day turns to night and the lights come on at the Olympic stadium in London. Of course, that is the shining centrepiece of the 2012 games, so much of our attention right now focused on London.

American swimmers continued their dominance in the pool last night. It was a thrilling finish for American Nathan Adrian who took home the gold in a dramatic 100-meter freestyle final.

He squeaked by with a 100th of a second better finish than the Australian runner up. That is not a lot. Amanda Davies joins us now in London right now live. All of this action in the pool, Amanda, but that was so close.

AMANDA DAVIES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I can tell you, John, I was pretty smug that was the one I had chosen to go to the aquatics center last night. It really was fantastic and so many of the headlines have been about Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte and the build up.

Nathan Adrian put his hand out and his fingers out to claim some of those headlines because it was so incredibly tight, wasn't it? He was the favorite, James Magnuson for that sensational victory.

And then in terms of the women, we'll be talking about Missy Franklin, but no, it was Allison Schmitt who stood up to be counted in the 4 x 200 relay.

People suggesting that she deserves a phone call from President Obama after claiming her fourth medal of the games, her second gold and then we have got to mention Rebecca Soni as well.

She was only in a heat for the 200 meter breast stroke, but it was a heat in which she set a world record, so the final she is definitely going to be one to watch there.

BERMAN: In the drama not over in the pool because today we have what really is the last ever meeting between Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps. They will go head to head for what is probably the very last time in at least Michael Phelps career.

DAVIES: Yes. You wouldn't believe it is going to be the last time these guys go head to head. They spent last night together watching Nathan Adrian and there was some fantastic pictures on twitter that have been posted of the two of them high fiving as Nathan Adrian won his gold.

They're able to spend time in each other's company but Ryan Lochte has got a busy evening because he is going to defend or look to defend his 200 meters backstroke title first and then less than an hour later, the two will be lining up next to each other and lanes three and four in the 200 meters IM.

And they have met before, of course, in these games. Lochte got the advantage, finished first in the 400. He then also finished ahead of Phelps in the semifinal for this last night. But Phelps is looking for that Holy Grail of a third straight gold medal in the same event at an Olympic games. Of course, this is his last meeting against his great rival before he retires, so he has a point to prove.

BERMAN: Sort of bragging rights for eternity. Amanda Davies in London, the lights might not be on all the time for you, but you are sparkling as always. Thanks for joining us.

DAVIES: Bless you. Thank you.


Here is your up-to-date medal count. China taking a one medal lead over the U.S., 30-29 overall. China has more golds than Team USA, Japan in third with 17 overall.

BERMAN: And what to watch for today. It is the U.S. women's gymnastics squad to look at trying to add more gold in the all around individual finals and Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps go head to head. We were just talking about that, in the 200-meter individual medley.

SAMBOLIN: And it's 6:30 Eastern. Blaine Wilson, five-time all- around national champion and Olympic silver medalist will join us to talk about the girls' chances tonight.

BERMAN: It is now 17 minutes after the hour. We want to get you up to date on all the headlines.

Christine Romans is joining us with our top stories.


Red flags may have been missed in the Aurora movie theater massacre. The University of Colorado psychiatrist who were seeing suspect James Holmes was so alarmed about something he said in early June she called the school's threat assessment team to warn them. But according to a report by CNN affiliate KMGH in Denver, when Holmes dropped out of school a few days later, it appears the team took no further action and police were never called.

Two alert TSA officers are being credited with rescuing a kidnapped woman. It happened last month at a security checkpoint at Miami International Airport. The behavior detection officers noticed an injured nervous woman who didn't seem comfortable with the group she was with. When they separated her, she apparently broke down accusing two women in the group of repeatedly punching her over a man and stealing her money. The two women were then arrested.


ROMANS: Former Florida Governor Charlie Chris will endorse Bill Nelson in his bid for a third term tomorrow. They will be appearing together at the Orlando law firm where Crist now works, along with former President Bill Clinton. His GOP challenger is likely to be Congressman Connie Mack. He's the front-runner in the Senate primary scheduled for August 14th, you guys.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Christine.

Eighteen minutes past the hour. They're down but not out. Coming up, Christine Romans fresh back from the drought zone with tales of remarkable resilience from American farmers.


BERMAN: Minding your business this morning. Christine Romans is back from Iowa, reporting on the drought from her home state.

ROMANS: Thank you.

You know, it's worsening really by the day. It really is. The USDA yesterday you guys expanded the number of counties that are designated as disasters. In Iowa where I was every single county in Iowa, all 99 counties declared a disaster. This is what the government said yesterday. The disaster zone, half the counties and a great chunk of our corn production falls in this area.

If you look at how much corn the U.S. produces, we're the king and queen of corn. The U.S. produces far more corn than the rest of the world combined. China is the next closest producer of Corn, Brazil comes in a distant third there.

It is interesting because Brazil actually, we're hearing some of the big food processors or pork processors may be importing Brazilian corn to make sure they can meet shortages in the near term. Really interesting development. It's very rare to see us importing corn.

I want to tell you about the farmers that I met when I was there. I mean, a lot of people ask me were they depressed, upset, what did they say?

SAMBOLIN: They didn't seem that way.

ROMANS: Ninety percent are covered by insurance. That's not -- they're not going to get rich on that but they won't go broke on that. This is the business they're in.

I don't think many of us could understand what it would be like to have everything -- this is the business they're in. They're already looking to next year.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll get by hopefully and this is what it is and try again next year. We only get one chance a year. So, try again next year.


ROMANS: One chance a year. He is going to try again next year. What you're seeing right there is he was chopping the worst parts of the field and chopping that to feed the cattle.

SAMBOLIN: Resourceful, I thought.

ROMANS: He always does, chops a little bit called silage. He always chops a little bit every year. But this time, he's doing them a heck of a lot more. And earlier because feed costs for cattle are going up. So, it's an interesting dynamic.

What's also interesting is it is unclear how much disaster relief livestock farmers will get because of the way Congress passed the last farm bill. They're (INAUDIBLE) for livestock farmers ended earlier this year. That's why it's so important how they handle farm bill type politics and farmers.

SAMBOLIN: And you had some interesting conversations on Twitter about the farmers.

ROMANS: I really did. There are people who were tweeting me and saying they're just taking government handouts, subsidies. I asked that farmer and others, $10 an acre maybe in subsidies and in return for that they have to do exactly what the government says, setting aside certain amounts of acres to graze, et cetera, et cetera, and can't be grazed. So, they're very strict rules for them.

They say, we're not getting rich on government handouts. Make no mistake.

BERMAN: What's the one thing we need to know?

ROMANS: The one thing you need to know is two words, Mario Draghi. He's probably more important than Ben Bernanke right now. He's the president of the Europe between Central Bank and promised to do what it takes to keep the euro intact. Big meeting in Frankfurt today, guys. World is waiting to see how Mario Draghi delivers on that, stock futures are higher.

BERMAN: Go Mario, right?

ROMANS: Go, go, go. Yes, super Mario.

BERMAN: All right. Christine Romans, thanks very much. We're hoping all of Europe will come back and the farmer, we hope they come back.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

BERMAN: America, we love a comeback story, including the gymnast last night, the young American that staged a dramatic rally to score a medal for Team USA. We're talking about Danell Leyva's performance.

Olympic medalist Blaine Wilson is joining us, coming up.

If you're leaving the house right now. You can watch us any time on your desktop or mobile phone. Just go to


SAMBOLIN: Enjoy the extra cash while you can. Unless Congress acts, the payroll tax cut will be left to expire.

BERMAN: Caught on camera, take a look at this. A man disappears as a sinkhole suddenly swallows just an entire section of street.

SAMBOLIN: Setting the bar, a team USA gymnast does something no American man has done in the Olympics since the 1980s.

Welcome back to EARLY START. We're happy you're with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It's about 29 minutes after the hour.

And we're going to begin with just seconds from disaster. The FAA says three commuter jets came that close to a mid-air collision in Reagan National Airport yesterday, after confused air traffic controllers dealing with bad weather launched two flights at another plane that was coming in for a landing. The two closest planes, they were less than 1.5 miles apart and they were closing in at over 400 miles an hour.

All three planes, they were operated by U.S. Airways and had a combined 192 people on poured. Disaster luckily was avoided. The airline says all flights made it safely to their destinations.

SAMBOLIN: That was scary there. Six weeks before the movie theater massacre red flags about suspected shooter James Holmes that may have been missed. Unanswered questions this morning about communications about Dr. Lynne Fenton, the University of Colorado psychiatrist treating Holmes as a patient and the school itself.

According to CNN affiliate KMGH, something Holmes said caused Dr. Fenton to make an urgent call to the university's threat assessment team in early June. But a few days later, Holmes dropped out of school and it appears there was no further action taken.

Here is a Denver reporter who broke the story and Dr. Drew Pinsky appearing last night on "A.C. 360".


JOHN FERRUGIA, KMGH INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: The team thought they had no jurisdiction. They had no control over him, so there was nothing they could do vis-a-vis this concern that she had. Again, we don't know what the concern was. What we do know is that no one through our sources and through our reporting, we have been told no one contacted the Aurora Police Department with any of these concerns.

DR. DREW PINSKY, HLN HOST: She did do the very appropriate thing of calling the threat assessment team. The question then becomes, though, each and every threat assessment team at every university has to make their own guidelines at least by my understanding how they function based on their own ethical, legal obligations of that particular community.


SAMBOLIN: A lot of people want to know what Dr. Lynne Fenton and her colleagues at the university knew and whether they were legally obligated to call police with their concerns.

BERMAN: We have some stunning video to show you from Taiwan where closed circuit cameras captured a man literally being swallowed up by a sinkhole during a typhoon. It happened just this morning at the Temple of the Sansha, an important historical site in Taipei. Firemen were called to the scene but they were too late to save the victim.

SAMBOLIN: And you see him actually walking up to the side two, but it swallowed up the whole area. Terrible.

A potentially dangerous storm could develop closer to the United States in the Atlantic Ocean. Rob has been keeping an eye on this all morning. Good morning.


We were off to a fast start for tropical season with four named storms. Now, this one after a four week break is taking shape. Winds of 35 miles an hour. So, it's not storm yet. It's a tropical depression, but it's about 500 miles from the Windward Islands, Barbados, St. Lucia, just couple of the islands that are under tropical storm watch.

Now, it's going to have, take its time getting itself together. So, initially, just some heavy rains for these islands if you are traveling there and lucky enough to be doing that and getting into the Caribbean where the waters are very warm, but still a lot of headwinds. El Nino, we thank for that. So, we'll have a difficult time getting started. We'll have to watch it very carefully because it is heading in the direction of Mexico and certainly the U.S.

Meanwhile back home, 112 degrees in Oklahoma City. That is one degree off all time record high temperature. You'll see similar numbers today. Dallas expected to see 110, 88 degrees in New York City after torrential downpours yesterday afternoon across the tri- state.

Video out of Connecticut, Central Connecticut, where flash flooding was happening, a bad deal there, a couple inches of rain in a hurry. And that wasn't the only spot. No rain today expected across the Northeast.

Guys, back up to you.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you very much.

More wheels spinning on Capitol Hill, the Republican controlled House, they passed a measure yesterday that extends the Bush tax cuts at all income levels. They did it after voting down a bill that was passed in the Democratic controlled Senate last week, which extended the tax cuts for everyone but the highest income levels.

The two sides, they were at impasse. They will not revisit until after the November election. This is really nothing more than a dog and pony show.

SAMBOLIN: So, it looks like Democrats and Republicans are going to degree on one thing, letting the payroll tax cut expire for 122 million Americans. The payroll tax funds Social Security and it was temporarily lowered for 2011, saving working families an average of $934 a year. It also costs the federal government about $120 billion.

Danell Leyva's sweet resumption. The 20-year-old gymnastic star struggled during his pummel horse routine last night in the men's all- around final, but he captured the bronze after earning the biggest high bar score of the night, a 15.7.

His score was 90.698. It's only the second all around medal for a U.S. man since 1984.

And tonight, the women try to double their gold as Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman compete in the all around finals.

Blaine Wilson, five-time all-around national champion and Olympic silver medalist is joining me now.

Thank you for being with us this morning. We appreciate your time.

So, you and Leyva have something in common. You both fell off the high bar and sustained injury. You fell in 2004. And you were so dizzy that you decided not to compete.

And so, Leyva he had a nasty fall in 2011. Leyva's high score on the high bar was what helped launch him to third place.

What is going through his mind at that moment when what sunk him ended up saving him?

BLAINE WILSON, FIVE-TIME ALL-AROUND NATIONAL CHAMPION: I am telling you, if you are training as well as he was training, nothing. I mean, nothing can stop you from what you want to get done and you want to win a medal and that fall probably never entered his mind.

SAMBOLIN: Really, so we're always wondering how you keep your focus when you know it can go so badly?

WILSON: That's what you do all the training for. You spend your whole life thinking about that moment and what you can do during that moment and everything that happened prior to doesn't matter. Even if you fell in warm-ups, it wouldn't matter.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, I may get in a little trouble over this, because we were talking about skill versus luck. When you get to this level, everybody is highly skilled. You know, it's anybody's medal.

So, Leyva was able to move up three spots from sixth to third during the final rotation because other gymnasts started making mistakes. So, how much of it is skill versus luck?

WILSON: Well, it becomes a minnow game mental game, especially if you can do your own gymnastics. It is the only thing you can control. You do need a little luck in the situation based on the fact that other people are going to succumb to the pressure and you slide right in.

SAMBOLIN: All right. I want to look ahead to the women's competition. When asked about going into the individual all-around gold medalist Gabby Douglas had this to say: "It is very special, gives us momentum, gives us a little bit of an edge thinking that we are truly the best in the world. It gives us that little bit of push."

So, when you read that, do you read it as over confident perhaps?

WILSON: No. No. There's always -- especially when I was around I had an air of cockiness but I felt confident about what I could do as a team and what I can do as an individual. So, no, I mean -- I think she is absolutely right.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Blaine Wilson, five time all around national champion. Thank you for joining us, Olympic silver medalist I should mention as well. Thank you for being with us.

BERMAN: Those U.S. women, they are fierce and confident.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, they are. I can't wait to watch them.

BERMAN: It is 37 minutes past the hour right now.

And overseas, as the crisis in Syria deepens, so has America's role in the region. Coming up, the White House -- their secret move to support the rebels. We're going to go live to Washington.


SAMBOLIN: Good morning, Washington, D.C. It is 41 minutes past the hour. Seventy-six degrees right now. A little later, it's going to be 93, mostly sunny for you.

Welcome back to EARLY START. Nice to have you with us. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: It's about 41 minutes after the hour. I'm John Berman.

CNN has learned that President Obama has secretly authorized American covert support for Syrian rebels in an effort to oust dictator Bashar al Assad. This as fighting rages on, killing nearly 200 people nationwide yesterday, where the rebels make some games.

Former CIA officer Robert Baer telling CNN's Anderson Cooper the opposition needs more now of America's help.


ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA OFFICER: More money will go to the opposition, the fighters, they're out of money. They've been complaining today they're not getting enough medicine, they're not getting enough weapons, enough ammunition. They simply need more funding. If it gets really bad and it could be very soon, we're going to have to switch this to a lethal fighting or actually get the United States military to start supplying these people.


BERMAN: CNN foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott joins us live now from Washington.

And, Elise, we hear covert. Covert can mean a lot of different things.

What kind of aid do we think this means the rebels will receive?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well, John, we understand this finding was signed a few months ago. So some of it, they're already getting some of this help such as intelligence information on Assad's troop movements and also what the U.S. has really been doing, intelligence agencies, trying to vet some of these groups.

As we know, the U.S. isn't ready to arm the opposition but what they are doing is trying to find out more information about these opposition groups to see which groups could get aid from Turkey, from Qatar, from Saudi Arabia. So, it's more about using U.S. intelligence assets to get a better picture on the ground and the U.S. not ready to provide anything beyond the communications equipment that it has already been getting. But that's a substantial amount of communications equipment that can help them move in a more sophisticated way.

BERMAN: The question I guess is who's then. The Obama administration has been hesitant to give too much help for a long time, saying there are so many factions they can't vet each and every one. Does it seem now then that one group has risen above the others?

LABOTT: Well, obviously, the Free Syrian Army is the main kind of rebel group if you will and last week, the Treasury Department authorized some licenses for a U.S.-based group to start giving financial support to them. Still not ready to give the tangible military support.

But I think what the U.S. is trying to do is call al the opposition together. You have the non-armed opposition, the Syrian National Council and also the Free Syrian Army. I think what they're trying to do is get the opposition groups under one umbrella so they can start dealing with a few people as you say, one of the main complaints is they don't know who they're dealing with and if there would be a position where the U.S. would be ready to arm them, they don't know who they're arming. So, they need to get a better picture and putting more of everything under an umbrella would help them do that.

BERMAN: We have been hearing, of course, that sometimes, small arms and ammunition coming over the border from Syria to these rebel groups. The question is not directly from the U.S., the question then is -- what would have to happen for the U.S. to get directly involved in a military sense, for those weapons to come directly from the U.S.?

LABOTT: Well, as we've said, obviously, they need a better picture who is in these groups. But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said something interesting last week. She said that if the free Syrian Army, if these rebels were to gain more territory, gain a more swath of Syria, maybe ally backing and U.S. backing would happen.

And as we saw in Libya, one of the differences between Libya and Syria is the Libyan rebels had Benghazi. They had much more of a territory that they could hold. In Syria, they don't -- even if rebels are able to capture an area, they can't hold it very long. So, they don't want to funnel their support to them too quickly.

But if the Syrian rebels were to gain more ground and you'd see more of a shift of balance of power on the ground, I think the U.S. would start backing the rebels a little bit more wholesomely.

BERMAN: Interesting. So, the U.S. looking for the rebels to gain some kind of toe hold in Syria.

LABOTT: But they're going to need some military support as Bob there was just saying for them to be able to do that. So, it's kind of a catch-22.

BERMAN: That is the quandary. Elise Labott down in Washington, thanks so much for joining us.

SAMBOLIN: Forty-five minutes past the hour. Soledad O'Brien is joining us now with a look at what is ahead on "Starting Point."

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning to you both. This morning, we're going to be talking about those terrifying moments that the airport as three U.S. Airways jets were literally seconds away from crashing into each other, happened at Reagan National in D.C.

All three planes loaded with passengers. The question today, of course, is, how could the air traffic controllers get it so wrong? We've got the tapes, we've got details ahead.

And it's a rich man's game clearly. The estimated price tag for this November's presidential election is $6 billion. Why is it so high? And is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Plus, congratulations on winning that gold medal. You owe us $8,000 in taxes. Yes. That's our "Tough Call" this morning.

Tell you what happens when a 20 something-year-old man decides to ditch all of his friends, get rid of all of his possessions, and live off the generosity of people on craigslist. We're going to talk to the filmmaker who shot it. That's straight ahead on "Starting Point" this morning. We'll see you in 15 minutes or so.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, that will be interesting. Thank you.

BERMAN: Thanks so much, Soledad.

All right. It is 46 minutes after the hour right now. And, a narrow escape for one driver in New England. You have to look at this video. His R.V., look where it ended up. The story behind this unbelievable video coming up.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. It is now 10 minutes before the hour. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Nice to have you.

New questions this morning in the Aurora movie theater massacre.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Did the University of Colorado ignore warning signs. According to CNN affiliate, KMGH, the psychiatrist who was seeing suspect, James Holmes, was so alarmed about something that he said in early June she called the school's threat assessment team to warn them.

Holmes dropped out a few days later, and it appears there was no further action taken. And police were never called.

BERMAN (voice-over): Breaking news this morning. Mass confusion at Reagan National Airport. The FAA saying three planes almost collided in the air when air traffic controllers sent two planes on a collision course with a plane that was trying to land. All three were U.S. Airways commuter jets. They did finally make it to their destinations.

SAMBOLIN: With hurricane season now heading into its peak, tropical depression has formed in the Atlantic, and it may have its eyes on the gulf. This is down the road. The storm way out in the ocean heading toward the Caribbean. Forecasters say it could become tropical storm Ernesto as early as today, the fifth named storm of the season.

BERMAN: The bartender who says Oscar winner, Cuba Gooding Jr. shoved her will not pursue criminal charges against him. She dropped all charges against Gooding. The alleged altercation happened early Tuesday morning at a New Orleans bar. That bar issued a statement saying it is investigating what happened.

And you have to look at this. This is just a crazy, strange, bizarre sight in Brockton, Massachusetts. That's about 25 miles south of Boston. That's a 30-foot RV in a swimming pool.


BERMAN: Local stations are reporting the driver of that RV may have lost control yesterday because of a medical emergency. He was pulled out of the pool. He is said now to be in stable condition.

Mitt Romney is making two stops in Colorado today. He'll be in Golden this morning, then he'll be joined by New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, New Orleans governor, Bobby Jindal, and Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker, for an executive roundtable at a high school near Aspen. President Obama heads to the suburbs of Orlando today to talk about the economy and the middle class. He'll also make a campaign stop in Virginia tonight before heading back to the White House.

BERMAN: With the Olympics going on, so much talking about fairness, performance-enhancing drugs and cheating. Nine-time Olympic gold medalist, Carl Lewis, thinks athletes who cheat by using performance-enhancing drugs, they need to be banned, he says, from the games indefinitely.

Lewis faced drug allegations himself in the past, but nothing was ever proven. The track star telling CNNs Piers Morgan it's not just the offending athletes who need to be targeted.


CARL LEWIS, NINE-TIME OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: Why did you get on it? How did you get on it? Who helped you? No one can get on drugs and have a program by themselves. It's always a conspiracy. So -- but the problem is, we get an athlete and we don't get to the root of the problem


BERMAN: Lewis says he doubts cheating in sports will ever completely end. He says he just believes that's the nature of our society.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): And sometimes, it's really difficult to detect, you know, whether or not they have these substances in their blood stream. We had somebody on from "Sports Illustrated" who told me that they actually keep these samples for years on the athletes and then as the testing become more advanced, that they could actually pull medals, five, ten years after the fact. So, that was pretty fascinating information.

BERMAN (on-camera): The testing keeps getting better but so does the science behind making the drugs.

SAMBOLIN: That is the problem.

All right. Fifty-three minutes past the hour. She's an NCAA champion, she's an Olympian on Team USA women's basketball team in London. She plays the drums. What else does she do? Coming up, Maya Moore also has "Best Advice" for us. The best that she has ever received. Stay with us.

BERMAN: I'm listening.


SAMBOLIN: Fifty-seven minutes after the hour. We wrap it up as always with "Best Advice," and here is Christine. CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And this one -- athletes have the best advice. Today's "Best Advice" from Olympian, Maya Moore. She's on Team USA for women's basketball in London, and we caught up with her in D.C. where she was practicing for the Olympics. We asked her what's the best advice she ever received. Listen.


MAYA MOORE, TEAM USA WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: I think the best advice that I've gotten in awhile is focus on who you're becoming more than where you're going. It is your character, who you are, and it will ultimately determine where you're going. So, that's probably my best advice that I have heard in a long time.


ROMANS: I really like that one.

SAMBOLIN: I do, too.

ROMANS: Focus on who you're becoming rather than where you're going. Sort of like a version of life is a destination, not a journey, but -- oh, no. The journey, not the destination. Don't take advice from me.


ROMANS: I can't keep it straight.

SAMBOLIN: In the moment.

BERMAN: So many Olympians, they really do have such great advice.

ROMANS: I think so, too. They're hyperfocus, as you point out.


ROMANS: Maybe they're more introspective than the rest of us, because they have to really be mentally there.


ROMANS: And figure what -- for some of these Olympians -- I think is interesting is they trained their whole lives for something and they could be done doing it by the time they're 30.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, my gosh. Yes.

ROMANS: You know? Wow!

BERMAN: All right. Hopefully, we'll get some more good advice, another week in the Olympics.

(LAUGHTER) BERMAN: That's EARLY START this morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "Starting Point" with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.

O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. Our "Starting Point" this morning is just seconds from disaster. A triple plane crash was barely averted at one of the nation's busiest airports.

And red flag, a psychiatrist so concerned by what the Colorado alleged shooter, James Holmes, was telling her that she alerted a threat team at the university. So, why were police never told?

And secret orders, President Obama signing a deal to support the rebels in Syria. Will the United States arm them for the fight?

Plus, Lochte versus Phelps, the rematch tonight. Can they top the thrilling finish in the pool from last night? Winning gold by a finger.

It's a packed show this morning. Olympic gymnast, Paul Hamm and Chellsie Memmel will join me. Also swimmers, Amanda Weir and Rebecca Soni.

It's Thursday, August 2nd, and "Starting Point" begins right now.