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Severe Weather Strikes The South; 21 Days Until the Fiscal Cliff; Clinton Down with Stomach Bug; Syrian Rebel Group Called Terrorists

Aired December 11, 2012 - 05:30   ET




ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Storms tear through the south. People from Louisiana to Florida, cleaning up after several reported twisters tear through. And another round of storms, unfortunately, expected today.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Give me shelter. A report says Google managed to hide big money from Uncle Sam overseas, but they did it without breaking any laws.

SAMBOLIN: Tom on top. Do you know who I'm talking about? Days after welcoming a new baby daughter, Tom Brady, takes charge in a big "Monday Night Football" rout. What's the problem, Berman?

BERMAN: I could just stare at that crowd.

SAMBOLIN: -- Brady?


BERMAN (on-camera): And he's not bad.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): He's so dreamy. You heard it here.


BERMAN: Tom Brady is the definition of dreamy.

SAMBOLIN: Of dreamy.

BERMAN: I'm happy to say it.

SAMBOLIN: All right. What about his wife?

BERMAN: She's dreamy, too.


BERMAN: There's a lot of dreamy going on in that family, let me tell you that right now.

SAMBOLIN: All right, folks. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. I stayed up way too late watching that game last night.

SAMBOLIN: Apparently.


BERMAN: It's 31 minutes after the hour right now. Our top story this hour is the weather. More storms are expected to smack into the south today. Yesterday, a large swath of that region from Louisiana all the way to Florida was hit with severe weather. There were reports that tornadoes did touch down and take a look at this video.

A man in Birmingham, Alabama, was talking to a reporter about how bad the weather was when this happened.


CLINT THORNTON, HOMEOWNER: We had dogs. He was in the cage -- oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. You all OK? You all OK? You all all right?


BERMAN: The roof of Clint Thornton's home collapsing as he's talking. I should tell you, everyone inside was OK. But a lot of weather going on. As I said, let's check in with Alexandria Steele in our weather center. Good morning, Alexandra.

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning to you, John. You know, Birmingham did see a tornado. National Weather Service has confirmed an EF-1 tornado moving through at about 5:00 in the morning. This was the line of storms that moved through, at least, a dozen reports of tornadoes.

This is Birmingham, though. Again, an EF-1 from around 5:00, 90-mile per hour winds reported with this. Roofs off homes like we saw at Clint's home. Also, commercial buildings even had roofs torn off as well. And also, 7:00 in the morning, Baker, Louisiana, let's take you to Baker and show you the damage, the destruction there. Trees, power lines down as well. Even a car wash destroyed. Again, that's Baker, an EF-1, winds there, 105 miles per hour.

So, there was the path. The only threat today is in Florida. What we're going to see just in Florida, the tail end of that front may be firing off an isolated tornado. So, there we are, so far, thus far two confirmed, potentially more, National Weather Service heading out to survey the damage. The Birmingham one, mile-wide long path, 250 yards wide, four-mile long path in Baker, Louisiana.

All right. Let's talk about a little bit how quiet the season has been, thus far. Only seven tornadoes have touched down between November and December 8th. The ten-year average is 70. So, it has been incredibly quiet, but we do have a severe weather season in this cool season and it happens in Dixie Alley where we saw it. Now, as John was mentioning the threat today, only in south and Central Florida. You can see the storms move through with that cold front. Again, some strong winds possibly an isolated tornado and some damaging hail. And then, that will move east and we all clear up and cool down - John.

BERMAN: All right. Alexandra, thanks very much.


SAMBOLIN: It is 33 minutes past the hour.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Powerful world leaders are no match for a stomach bug. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, apparently, has a really bad one, though, and she is having to bail out of friends of Syria. That is a meeting tomorrow in Morocco so she can recuperate.

Deputy Secretary William Burns will go in her place. One topic they're expected to discuss is how to deal with radical Islamists among Syria's rebels.

BERMAN (voice-over): Hope the Secretary feels better. That sounds like no fun.

Senator John McCain is seeking a seat on the Foreign Relations Committee next year and that's setting up a possible showdown with Ambassador Susan Rice. The Foreign Relations Committee overseas the State Department that, of course, means that Susan Rice is nominated to be Secretary of State.

The Arizona senator would be in a position to really grill her during her nomination hearing. McCain has been one of the biggest critics of Susan Rice, suggesting she misled the nation about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, and she did it, he said, to help the president get re-elected.

SAMBOLIN: Accused New York subway pusher, Naeem Davis, is expected back in court today. Davis told "The New York Post" he was high on pot and heard voices before allegedly pushing 58-year-old Ki-Suck Han on to subway tracks. Han has -- or was struck by a train in front of horrified witnessed. He was trying to climb out. Davis is charged with second-degree murder now.

BERMAN: So, we're expecting to see George Zimmerman in court later this morning. He wants to know the names of people who've said they can identify who's screaming for help on that 911 call. He also wants to lose the GPS device and be allowed to travel outside Seminole County, Florida. He's expected to argue eight motions in all.

SAMBOLIN: Bob Costas is not backing down from his controversial on- air comments about gun control. The NBC sportscaster admits his remarks may have been imperfect in the aftermath of a murder/suicide involving Kansas City Chiefs player, Jevon Belcher, but Costas tells CNN's Piers Morgan that he sees something good coming from all of this.


BOB COSTAS, NBC SPORTSCASTER: If this has sparked a conversation and in some small way influenced people's behavior, so much the better. Front page of the paper and not the sports section, front page of the weekend edition of "The USA Today" is about guns in the National Football League. There is a gun culture in the National Football League.


SAMBOLIN: According to a report on NBC's football night in America show, seven NFL players have turned in their guns to team security officials since the Belcher murder/suicide.

BERMAN: On "Monday Night Football," it was pure beauty. The best team in the AFC, at least by record, goes into Tom Brady's house and gets steamrolled. That's a touchdown pass to Donte Stallworth right there. A beauty. Brady tossed four touchdown passes in all. A 42-14 rout of the Houston Texans.

The Texans are the best team -- have the best record in the league. That's Danny Woodhead right now. He's going to cough it up. But the amazing thing, Brandon Lloyd recovers it in the end zone for a touchdown. Everything's going the Patriots way. What a dreamy night. The Patriots now won 20 straight home games in the month of December.

This was Tom Brady's first game since he and his wife, Gisele, welcomed their second child together, a daughter, Vivian Lake. So, congratulations --

SAMBOLIN: Did you actually watch this game?



BERMAN (on-camera): I can not. It's too good. It's too exciting.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): How late were you up?

BERMAN: I think the official designation for (INAUDIBLE) was up to way, way late.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thirty-seven minutes past the hour. Three weeks to go until the fiscal cliff and all the talk in Washington is about what's not happening. We'll explain, coming up.


BERMAN: So, welcome back. News this morning that Google dodged $2 billion in global income taxes last year by using a shell company in Bermuda as a tax shelter. According to report by Bloomberg, Google did it by shifting $9.8 billion of its revenues into this tax haven. That's about 80 percent of Google's pretax profits. Get this, it is all perfectly legal with the company enjoying a 3.2 percent tax rate on the profit it earned overseas. We reached out to Google for comment. We haven't heard back from them just yet.

SAMBOLIN: Forty minutes past the hour. It is all quiet on Capitol Hill. And when it comes to the looming fiscal cliff crisis, that actually could be a good thing. In just 21 days, we go over that cliff and just four days to get a deal done before they head to Christmas break. Drastic tax hikes and spending cuts loom, but the two sides are negotiating, and for a change, all the posturing and finger pointing has died down, at least, for now we're going to say.

CNN political reporter, Shannon Travis, joins us live from Washington. So, Shannon, what are you hearing?

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, we're hearing that the negotiations are continuing, Zoraida, but exactly what those negotiations contain, what's actually happening in them, we're unclear of. So, we know that President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, had that one-on-one meeting on Sunday, it was their first since mid- November.

Discussions have continued but, again, very light on details. Both sides yesterday put out statements from a public and then from the White House, but again, very light on details.

I'll just read just one of them for you, quote, "Discussions with the White House are taking place, but we have no detail to share about the substance of those conversations. The Republican offer made last week remains the Republican offer and we continue to wait for the president to identify the spending cuts he's willing to make as part of the balanced approach he promised the American people."

That's from Brendan Buck. He's press secretary for John Boehner. Meanwhile, President Obama, obviously, is standing firm on his commitment to sign no deal that doesn't include tax rates for the wealthiest Americans. He mentioned some of that yesterday in a campaigning event in Michigan -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: I think it was his spokesperson that said that they're not going to negotiate through the media, and a lot of people are thinking that is actually a good thing.

TRAVIS: Correct.

SAMBOLIN: But we have a really urgent situation in Washington right now. So, tell us about the deadlines. We know that, you know, everybody's leaving for the Christmas break and the president had said that he wanted a deal done before then.

TRAVIS: That's absolutely correct. And we also have a de facto deadline that we're pushing up against in terms of on Friday. If there is a deal that's reached, they will potentially need to reach it by this Friday, Zoraida, because once the deal is reached, the legislative process obviously takes time to cook, if you will, about two weeks potentially. So, they would potentially need to have a deal done by Friday so that we don't actually go over the cliff.

SAMBOLIN: Good luck with that. Shannon Travis live in Washington, thank you.

BERMAN: It is 43 minutes after the hour right now. And coming up on this big, big show, there's concern about the Assad regime using chemical weapons in Syria. Also concerned, what happens if the rebels find those weapons first? We're going to have a look at that serious issue coming up.

SAMBOLIN: Also ahead, does the new movie "Zero Dark Thirty" cross the line when it comes to waterboarding? We'll hear from the filmmaker.


BERMAN: All right. It's 47 minutes after the hour right now, and we have surgically separated Christine Romans from her demographic reports to bring us the top stories this morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: But I will bring that back to you at 6:20. So, don't go away. All right.


ROMANS (voice-over): So, more storms expect today in the south. I mean, amazing weather there. People are already cleaning up from a beating they took yesterday, soaking rains and heavy winds. There was order of the day from Louisiana to Florida, reports that tornadoes touched down -- excuse me -- in some areas. In Alabama, tree limbs fell to the ground. Some trees were uprooted by strong winds.

The right to work battle in Michigan is forcing at least two Detroit area school districts to close for the day, Taylor School District and Warren Consolidated School District. a teacher's union rep in one district said 250 teachers plan to take personal leave days to head to Lansing for today's vote and to protest. Michigan is on the verge of becoming the most unionized right to work state.

New York police are looking for a man who mugged an 85-year-old woman in the elevator of her building. Thankfully, they have security video to help out. The woman wasn't hurt, but she says the man even took her wedding ring and refused to give it back when she asked. Her husband recently had a massive stroke and is in the hospital.

Take a good look at that picture, folks. Nelson Mandela is being treated for a lung infection in Pretoria hospital. Doctors now disclosing why he's being treated. The former South African president is said to be responding to treatments. No word when the 94-year-old Mandela may be released from the hospital. We wish him luck.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you very much, Christine.

ROMANS (on-camera): Welcome. SAMBOLIN: And one rebel group trying to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria has been declared a terrorist organization by the Obama administration. The Al-Nusra Front is a fierce group of fighters waging a deadly battle to unseat Bashar al-Assad. The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, has called Al-Nusra a hard line Islamist faction with ties to al Qaeda.

CNN's Arwa Damon who has spent time in Syria reports that other rebels don't agree with Al-Nusra's politics, but they admire the group's determination to get rid of the Assad regime.

BERMAN: A potential threat of a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian regime has forced the U.S. and NATO to rely on rebels who may or may not be trustworthy to help secure these stockpiles. CNN's Brian Todd has been looking into this part of the story.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even if Bashar al-Assad doesn't use chemical weapons in the civil war, there's enough chaos afoot to alarm Western officials about what may happen to those munitions. A senior U.S. official and top diplomats tell CNN, the U.S. and its allies are using defense contractors to train Syrian rebels on how to secure chemical weapons stockpiles.

Our sources say the training is taking place in Jordan and Turkey. They tell us the Syrian rebels are being trained on how to monitor and secure stockpiles but also on handling the weapons sites and weapons materials.

How dicey is it to train Syrian rebels on actually handling the materials?

LEONARD SPECTOR, MONTEREY INST. OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, I think, on the one hand, these may be individuals that are going to be the first ones into some of these sites, and they have to know what safety precautions to take, otherwise, they're not going to want to go in and they also have to know what to look for.

TODD: Leonard Spector is a chemical weapons expert with the Monterey Institute. He says western intelligence is confident the Syrians have sarin and mustard gas, which is a blistering agent. He says they may also have cyanide and VX, a nerve agent that Spector says can break down your muscle control and kill you like bug spray kills an insect. If these materials are mishandled --

SPECTOR: Probably what would happen is that individuals nearby would be terribly affected, perhaps, killed or certainly injured in some serious fashion. But there might not be too much by way of more distant consequences because these would not have exploded, perhaps.

TODD: Our sources say one objective of training the rebels is to try to get real-time surveillance of Syria's chemical weapon sites because the international community would not have time to prevent the use of the weapons, otherwise. (on-camera: But there are serious concerns about the reliability of the rebels. Syrian rebel forces are a confusing mix. Moderate freedom fighters battling alongside hardened jihadists, some of whom are suspected of terrorist ties.

(voice-over): Philip Mudd, a former CIA and FBI counterterrorism official, says there's a huge concern over who to trust with chemical weapons.

PHILIP MUDD, FMR. CIA /FBI COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: When you got roughly 10 percent of the opposition in groups that the U.S. government is declaring as terrorist groups, you're going to be concerned that they've infiltrated the groups that you're trying to train. They're wasting it around that, but in any case lie this, there's a lot of risk.

TODD: But Mudd says it's still better to train the rebels on how to handle those materials than to do nothing. And Leonard Spector says the U.S. and its allies are likely screaming the individuals who are being trained very carefully.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


SAMBOLIN: Fifty-two minutes past the hour. Another news this morning, the movie "Zero Dark Thirty" had its premiere last night in Hollywood. This is a movie about the hunt, capture, and death of Osama bin Laden. It's already getting Oscar buzz, but some critics say the movie supports waterboarding prisoners. Screenwriter Mark Boal disagrees.


MARK BOAL, SCREENWRITER: It is a movie, but hey, it's a controversial subject. And I understand that. It's been controversial before the movie came out. It will probably continue to be controversial. And people will bring to the film what they want in terms of their political points of view.

But it's obviously not -- we don't obviously advocate torture. That would be a pretty gross mischaracterization of the film.


SAMBOLIN: There a lot of controversy surrounding this film. Last year, Republican Congressman Peter King claimed Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow got classified documents from the Obama administration to make this movie. The White House denied it. "Zero Dark Thirty" opens nationwide on January 11th.

SAMBOLIN: We have a jam packed hour straight ahead on EARLY START, including roof comes down after a near monsoon. It happened on live TV.

SAMBOLIN: Look at that guy's face and listen to him. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)



BERMAN: Crazy. This as severe storms whipped across the south. We are going to talk to the crew that witnessed this whole thing. That's coming up.

SAMBOLIN: Plus, have you seen this woman? The search for the real Mona Lisa. Did a real life Indiana Jones find her tomb? And is she still smirking? Ben Wedeman takes us there.

BERMAN: But first, wait for this. A monkey in a coat. Where was this cute little primate spotted and where on earth did he get that jacket? The answer to this in all the morning's crucial question. That is coming up next.


SAMBOLIN: That is so cute.


SAMBOLIN: Yes, he is.



SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 57 minutes past the hour. I'm Zoraida Sambolin along with this guy, John Berman, and we're taking a look at the top CNN trends on the web this morning.

BERMAN: So, I'm this guy. Imagine a show about nothing in a time where people continuously share details about nothing. Yes, someone has launched a new Twitter feed called "@ModernSeinfeld." A lot of my friends were raving about this yesterday. This imagines the show in the age of Twitter and social media and hipsters and everything else.

All right. In one episode, Elaine pretends to live in Brooklyn, date a cute, younger guy. Cramer becomes addicted to five-hour energy, and George's parents get Skype. Now, in another tweet, get this, Jerry breaks up with a beautiful woman because she favorites every one of his tweets and Cramer and Newman start a podcast.

SAMBOLIN: That's cool.

BERMAN: It's going to be a good follow on Twitter.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. It is. It is.

So easy to assemble, a monkey could do it. Check this out. A monkey, a monkey in a coat was spotted roaming around an Ikea in Toronto. A bunch of tweets went out, one asking, anyone lose their monkey? The answer, yes, the owner was apparently shopping inside the store and the monkey managed to get out of his crate and out of the car.

Animal control captured Darwin, the seven-month-old primate, and since monkeys are banned as pets there, guess what, he loses his monkey.

BERMAN: You know, when there's a picture of a money in a coat, it would be malpractice for us not to share it with you. So, I'm glad we can do that this morning.

SAMBOLIN: -- he is adorable.

BERMAN: He maybe just like the meatballs at Ikea.

SAMBOLIN: Maybe. Maybe.

BERMAN: All right. So, it's no surprise, the late-night talk show hosts, they got caught up in this monkey business as well. Take a look.


JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON": This is true. A tiny monkey wearing a winter coat was found wandering around an Ikea.


FALLON: Do we have a photo of the monkey? Look at that, that's real. A monkey wearing a coat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A shearling coat.

FALLON: A shearling -- beautiful coat.


FALLON: He was found walking on Ikea. The sadder part is that monkey still has a better chance of assembling that entertainment center than you do.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": There's Darwin standing in the door at the Ikea.


KIMMEL: Evidently, he escaped from a car in the parking lot and went into the store to find his owner. A police officer described him as a very smart monkey. Yes, if he's so smart, let's see him put together an Ikea book shelf.



SAMBOLIN: Obviously, his owner takes really good care of him. He had a coat on, diaper. BERMAN: But do escape. The monkey escaped. He can't be that good care if a guy got out. I'm just saying. All right. All the monkey news continues right here. EARLY START continues right now.