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Fiscal Cliff Countdown: 28 Days; Counteroffer from GOP; Iran Claims U.S. Drone "Captured"; Proposed Legislation Would Record Text Messages for Two Years

Aired December 4, 2012 - 05:30   ET




ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Breaking news this morning in the Middle East. Iran says they captured an unmanned American drone, but U.S. officials have a very different story. That's coming up.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): All right. Plus, two Virginia Tech students arrested and charged for their part in an explosion on campus.

SAMBOLIN: Plus, tracking your text messages. Coming up, we'll tell you about proposed legislation that would force cell phone companies to record your text messages for two years. And we're going to show you who will be using the texts if the bill is approved.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Oh my goodness! Good morning to you on that note. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

ROMANS (on-camera): I'm Christine Romans. I'm in for John Berman. And today, it's Tuesday, December 4th, and it's 31 minutes past the hour.

SAMBOLIN: We begin with breaking news in Iran, reporting it has captured a U.S. drone. You're looking at video from state TV in Tehran. It shows two Iranian revolutionary guard commanders examining what appears to be an intact ScanEagle drone.

But a U.S. defense official tells our Barbara Starr, quote, "The U.S. Navy has fully accounted for all unmanned air vehicles operating in the Middle East region." We're going to have much more on this developing story throughout the morning.

ROMANS: All right. Call it the fiscal cliff follies, because with 28 days remaining before massive tax hikes and spending cuts kick in, Democrats and Republicans are spinning their wheels. They're ridiculing each other's ideas. It's a recipe for recession.

The GOP offering up its first plan. It calls for $2.2 trillion in deficit savings over the next decade, including $800 billion from tax reforms, 600 billion for Medicare reforms, 600 billion in spending cuts. But the President rejected it outright because it doesn't contain tax hikes for the wealthiest Americans.

Brianna Keilar live from Washington. Brianna, time -- you know, time is running out. Any sign of serious negotiation on the horizon?



KEILAR: -- I think would be fair. The log jam that you're watching, we're expecting to continue likely until next week. So, don't be surprised if you see that. I think the policy prescriptions here, what needs to be done to find a package for deficit reduction are pretty clear. And right now, you're watching the politics play out.

All you need to do is open your ears, listen to the White House, listen to Congressional Republicans, and you'll hear them playing the blame game. Here's the taste of it.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Making vague promises about achieving revenue through capping deductions or closing loopholes simply doesn't add up to a serious proposal.

SEN. TOM COBURN, (R) OKLAHOMA: I'm certain that if this is not good enough for the White House, we will go over the fiscal cliff, because this is a compromise on taxes.


KEILAR: So, the White House now, Christine, is insisting that they won't talk specifics on entitlement reform, which is what Republicans want until they budge on those income tax rates, budging on increasing them for wealthy Americans. And as you know, Republicans, at this point, still dug in saying they're not going to do that.

But the White House feels they get kind of have the upper hand here because so many Americans, I think, we talked about seven in 10 think that those income tax rates should go up.

ROMANS: You know, this new GOP plan also, Brianna, seems -- most part drawn proposals made by Erskine Bowles, a Democrat, who co-chaired the Deficit Reduction Committee last year. There are some differences, though. You know, Bowles would not have raised the eligibility age for Social Security. What does he think of this plan?

KEILAR: Well, he also thinks another big thing is missing and that is increasing those tax rates for wealthy Americans. Here's what he said.


ERSKINE BOWLES, (D) CO-CHMN, NATL. COMM. ON FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY & REFORM: I am positive that to get a deal done, you're going to have to have higher tax rates on the top two percent. I'm equally sure that the $350 billion worth of cuts that the President put on the table for health care entitlements is not going to be sufficient to get the deal done. There is going to have to be some compromise.


KEILAR: Now, the White House, Christine, is saying that there's nothing new in Speaker Boehner's counteroffer. That it is lacking specifics, what kind of deductions, for instance, would he propose to increase tax revenue. But I will tell you there are a lot of things in here that are similar to the grand bargain, the failed grand bargain that the speaker and the President tried to work out last year.

And also, one Democratic leadership aid telling CNN, I guess, in a moment of truthfulness, that it does pass the laugh test. So, certainly, it's not something that Democrats are going to hop on board with, but maybe it could have been worse in their estimation.

ROMANS: All right. So, maybe, we're at mile two of the marathon, 25 miles to go.

KEILAR: Twenty-five --


ROMANS: Twenty-five miles to go. All right. Thanks, Brianna.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-five minutes past the hour. Two Virginia tech football players have been suspended from the team.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): They are charged with manufacturing and detonating an explosive device. Police say 20-year-old Joshua Trimble and 19-year-old Brian Rody were arrested Sunday after a small explosion right near an apartment building.

Luckily, no one was hurt. An attorney says the players were just pulling a prank on some female friends.

ROMANS (voice-over): Oh my. New York City police searching for a man who allegedly pushed another man to his death in front of a subway train. Two men apparently had some sort of argument on the subway platform prior yesterday to this fatal assault.

SAMBOLIN: Two men from Mexico have been charged in the death of a U.S. coast guard member. The men appeared in the Southern California court yesterday. Neither man was asked to enter a plea, and they are being held without bond. Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne suffered a traumatic head injury when his boat was rammed. This was off the southern California coast. It all happened on Sunday. He was pronounced dead on shore.

ROMANS: Still no sign of an 11-year-old leukemia patient who was mysteriously removed from a Phoenix hospital last week by her mother. But police have located Emily's father. He denies any involvement in the case. Doctors say the young girl could die within days. She's been receiving chemotherapy at Phoenix Children's Hospital for about a month and has a catheter in her heart that could become infected.

SAMBOLIN: Oh my goodness. All right. The head of the CDC warns that all signs are pointing to a bad flu season this year. So, CDC director, Dr. Thomas Frieden is advising all Americans over the age of six months to get vaccinated. He says the flu arrived early this year, but the vaccine is an excellent tool to fight it.

ROMANS: All right. Monday night football. Rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III needing a little luck to lead his Washington Redskins to victory over the defending Super Bowl champion, New York Giants. Griffin with a big fumble, but teammate Josh Morgan recovers and runs the ball into the end zone for a touchdown. Skins go on to win 17-16. They're now within one game of the Giants in the NFC east.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Well, another big storm is expected to slam into the West Coast today. Boy, we are feeling for you, folks there. That is the third one in less than a week. We are tracking the storm for you this morning.

And every time you send a text message, it could soon be recorded. It could be stored for years to be used against you if you get into trouble with the law. How do you like that? We have more details coming up.

ROMANS (on-camera): What are they going to do with all that useless information?


SAMBOLIN: I don't want my info out there.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. Forty-one minutes past the hour. There is simply no relief in Northern California. The storms just keep on coming. Four of them in less than a week now. One death is attributed to all of this terrible weather, and more rain is actually expected today.

Meteorologist, Rob Marciano, is tracking all of this from the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta. What do you have for us?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, more rain over saturated soil. So, that's going to be the problem, Zoraida. Once we get through of this one, though, we should see a little bit more of a drying pattern, but they're getting it for sure. And in some cases, they have received almost two feet of rainfall in a six-day period.

So, flood watches remain up where there's not warnings from Seattle to just -- just south of Medford across Northern California for another three or four inches of rainfall today. Storm warnings are up as well. It's going to be windy. Some high wind warnings are posted for some of the coast range mountains and some of higher crests of the Sierra-Siskiyous, and the Cascades.

So, here's your first pulse of rainfall for today. Again, fourth storm in less than a week. And this one is kind of a double whammy. We get a pulse this morning in the form of some rain and snow. And then, a warmer pulse will come through later on today and that will sink down to the south and grab the northern parts of San Francisco and Napa Valley where they've had a slew of problems as far as flooding there along the Russian River.

The rainfall right now is light to moderate across I-5. Here's a computer models and how we expect the two pulses of moisture to hit. Again, one today and then one later on tonight, and that will bring heavier rainfall just to the north of San Francisco. But Sacramento, which has been hit hard, they're going to get a good brunt of maybe 1- 1/2 to two inches more rain on top, again, that saturated soil.

A weak front is heading across the Great Lakes right now, and it's pushing towards the northeast which has been incredibly warm. Record high temperatures have been fallen across much of the eastern third of the country into the 70s for some folks as far north as Wisconsin and Illinois. Crazy stuff. Zoraida, back to you.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Rob.

ROMANS: All right. Forty-three minutes after the hour. Let's get you caught up to speed this morning.


ROMANS (voice-over): President Obama rejecting a fiscal cliff counter offer from Republicans. The GOP proposal calls for $2.2 trillion in deficit savings over the next decade, including 800 billion from tax reform, 600 billion from Medicare reform, 600 billion in spending cuts. The White House is refusing to consider it because it doesn't include tax hikes for the wealthiest Americans.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): And Britain is rife with speculation this morning. Is Kate having a boy or a girl? Is she having twins, triplets? What about a name? Britain is buzzing with news that Prince William's wife, Katherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, is pregnant. She is in a London hospital being treated for severe morning sickness.

ROMANS: Right. Students at one elementary school in Atlanta will attend class in a different building this morning. Dozens were sickened yesterday at their regular school by carbon monoxide poisoning. At least 49 people were sent to the hospital. Fire officials believe that the heating system failed. Later this morning on "STARTING POINT", we'll talk to a student, a parent, and a school official there.

SAMBOLIN: Real little ones being wheeled away there. The judge overseeing the court marshal of accused Ft. Hood shooter, Nadal Hassan has been removed. A military appeals court ruled the judge was biased. The move invalidates a judge's order that Hassan's beard be shaved. Hassan objected to the order with a number of appeals citing religious freedom.

ROMANS: All right. It turns out NASA's Voyager 1 space probe isn't at the edge of our solar system. It just found a new region of it. For months, NASA officials have been saying that Voyager I is close to reaching interstellar space, but now, it's likely just a few months to a couple of years away.

SAMBOLIN: 'Tis the season on Capitol Hill tonight. Actor Neil Patrick Harris will be on hand tonight to help light the national Christmas tree. House Speaker John Boehner takes part as well. The ceremony takes place at 5:00 p.m. Eastern just right after the sun set.

ROMANS: All right. Iran claims they captured an unmanned American drone. The U.S. Navy telling a different story. We're digging through the details coming up.

SAMBOLIN: And that story we've been telling you about all morning, new legislation would track, record, and keep all your text messages for two years. That is coming up right after this quick break.


ROMANS (on-camera): Breaking news this morning, Iran claiming it captured a U.S. drone. State TV in Tehran showing two revolutionary guard commanders examining what appears to be a ScanEagle drone.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): But moments ago, a U.S. defense official told our Barbara Starr all unmanned air vehicles operating in that region are accounted for.

Guess who we have? Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She is in with us morning. Really nice to have you. So, what's the latest on that? They say they have the drone, and the U.S. Navy is telling you, no, we have all our drones accounted for.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. Navy says they have all the drones that they operate over the Middle East, that they, of course, they reiterate, they operate these unmanned reconnaissance drones in international airspace. They do not go into Iranian airspace. I think it remains to be seen in the coming hours.

We've had cases in the past where they've lost control of drones, and of course, they drifted into airspace. It may also be something that went down months ago that the Iranians are showing. It's just going to have to wait and see. But right now, the U.S. Navy says they have everything.

SAMBOLIN: There were some conversations also this morning about a fake drone? Could that be a possibility as well? STARR: Well, you know, these things are always possible. The ScanEagle is a Navy drone. There are pictures of it on the Internet. I supposed the Iranians could have made themselves a model of it and be showing that.

ROMANS: Let's talk about Syria here, because the White House says it has contingency plans in place for direct action against Syria if it uses chemical weapons here. Have they revealed any details of those plans? Where do we know --

STARR: Well, the -- you know, look, the U.S. military plans for everything. So, yes, for months now, they have been looking at what they would have do if they had to go in and secure the chemical and biological weapons sites. By all accounts, the estimate, 75,000 U.S. troops, and that might not do it all.

So, this is not something the U.S. wants to do. I think everyone should anticipate the U.S. really going the diplomatic route, trying to pressure the Russians, the Chinese, anybody they can to get the Syrians not to do this. President Obama, of course, talked about this yesterday.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under his command, the world is watching. The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable. And if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable.


STARR: The United States talks like that as firmly as he did. I think that's a message to Syria, to the world, and maybe even a bit of a message to Iran, which is so deeply involved in trying to support the Assad regime.

SAMBOLIN: And there are talks also that Russia may be getting involved here in order to have Assad relinquish power. What do you know about that?

STARR: Well, you know, this is always one of the sort of rumors, if you will, out there, that that might be one of the countries that would take him in if he were to step down. But right now, there's absolutely no indication that he plans to leave office.

SAMBOLIN: And these consequences that the President was talking about, do we know anything more about that?

STARR: You know, the ultimate could be some sort of military strike against Iran's chemical sites. But that's going to be really tough. They are spread out. They're throughout the country, in civilian populations. This is going to be very, very tough if they were to decide to go that route.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Our Barbara Starr, I know that you are following all of these developments for us. Nice to have you in the studio today. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Text messages, they've been such a big part of American life. L.O.L., pick up some milk, honey. And now --

SAMBOLIN: And much, much worse, you know?

ROMANS: Oh, yes. I know. That's the rated "G" version. And now, law enforcement groups are asking Congress to enact legislation that would require wireless companies to record and store their customers' text messages for two years. The reason is criminal investigations can be adversely impacted without such a law. Officials report that text messages are now frequently used as evidence in criminal trials.

SAMBOLIN: All right. The biggest tech company in the United States is finally producing some of its computers in the United States. We talk Apple computers coming up next.

ROMANS: And the federal government wants to talk to Lindsay Lohan. Find out why after the quick break.


ROMANS: Welcome back. It's 56 minutes after the hour. Zoraida is with me. I'm Christine Romans. We're taking a look at the top CNN trends on the web this morning. There's a word that Apple may be slapping an "Assembled in the USA" label on some of its items.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. CNET reports that the company has shifted some of its manufacturing back to the United States. So, you can expect to see an "Assembled in the USA" label on some iMac boxes. One reason is the companies are coming under increase scrutiny for overseas labor practices, and it could be good PR to advertise that products are being made or assembled in America.

ROMANS: I know. And Apple is making so much money by manufacturing overseas. They literally couldn't figure out what to do with all the cash in the --


ROMANS: They really couldn't figure out what to do with all the cash in the bank. You can afford to do a little bit of work in the United States with that much money.


ROMANS: All right. What a relief to report this bit of news. The world is not going to end this month, at least, that's what a federal government blog says. You may have heard this theory. Some people believe that the ancient Mayan calendar predicts the end of the world on December 21st, 2012, but scholars have long countered that people have interpreted that calendar incorrectly. Who knew the Mayans knew about the fiscal cliff?


SAMBOLIN: I know, right?

All right. So, the troubles keep coming for actress Lindsay Lohan. The latest news involves a big visit from Uncle Sam. It's a big visit. TMZ reporting the IRS has reportedly seized her assets, including her bank accounts, because they say that she owes close to $234,000 in unpaid taxes from 2009 and 2010, and an unspecified amount from 2011.

ROMANS: All right. Going gaga over the British royal baby news. The late-night hosts could not resist a few one-liners about the royal bun in the oven, and they also had some fun with the idea of a tweeting Pope.


JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Very exciting good news from Great Britain, Princess Kate and Prince William are expecting a baby. How about that?



LENO: The bad news, Prince Harry already planning a huge baby shower in Vegas. So, I don't know what's going to go --


JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON": Prince William and Kate Middleton are expecting their first baby.


FALLON: You can tell the baby is a member of the royal family because Kate said she can already feel it waving.


CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, "CONAN": The Pope is on Twitter.


O'BRIEN: That's true. Pop's on Twitter. Pope's only been on Twitter for about 15 hours. He's already called Chris Brown a douchebag.


CRAIG FERGUSON, HOST, "THE LATE, LATE SHOW WITH CRAIG FERGUSON": The Twitter name of the Pope is @Pontifex.


FERGUSON: I think that's only because @dudeinthebighat was already taken by Trace Adkins.


ROMANS: @Redshoes and @Popemobile too. All right. EARLY START continues right now.