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Fallout From Benghazi "Failure" Report; Storm Affecting Holiday Travel; Boehner Calls for Plan B Vote; Tebow Unhappy with Jets

Aired December 20, 2012 - 05:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A winter blast just before get away day. Snow falling from Kansas to Wisconsin with blizzard warnings in effect.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Tiny dancers taken way too soon. Ballet instructors share their memories of three talented young victims of the Newtown tragedy.

BERMAN: The search for answers in the Benghazi attack. Twin hearings today on Capitol Hill, amid word of a shakeup at the State Department.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. Good to see you here this morning. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Thirty minutes past the hour. We're going to talk about holiday travel plans for millions of you.

BERMAN: Yes. Screwed up.

SAMBOLIN: It could be -- I know -- it could be on hold this morning thanks to a huge winter storm that is whipping through the Midwest. There is a blizzard warning in effect for half a dozen states. Take a look at all that. There the storms stretching all the way from Colorado to Wisconsin. Some folks in Chicago are on my Facebook this morning talking about this saying it is awful there.

The Rocky Mountain State has already been battered. A 156-mile stretch of I-70 between Colorado and Kansas shut down in both directions by heavy snow. That was yesterday. This system is packing wind gusts over 60 miles an hour in some places, and parts of Iowa could see a foot of snow or more today.

Wow! It is so bad, in fact, that the governor of Wisconsin has already declared a state of emergency in his state. Meteorologist, Alexandra Steele, she's live from the weather center. My goodness. What else is in store for today?

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: All right. Well, let's just talk about what we've seen yesterday. And we've talked about Denver, also of course, what happened in Texas with that blinding dust storm. All right. So, this is what it looked like through Colorado. Colorado yesterday one of the hardest hit places on I-70. Today, it's I-80 through Iowa.

Literally, Iowa virtually shut down today. Blizzard conditions really will prevail throughout much of the day. Here's a look at what we have. Hastings, Nebraska, yesterday, eight inches of snow. Today, this morning, the snow is over, but 35 mile-per-hour wind gusts. Blowing snow. Temperatures right now feeling like five degrees below zero.

So, behind the snow, incredibly blustery and cold. The story for today will be really phase two of this storm. We're going to watch the snow move in. Snow gets heavier. Accumulation totals get into the double digits, and the winds get even more powerful. You know, Zoraida talked about Chicago, seven o'clock tonight we're going to watch that rain in Chicago change over to snow.

And then, the winds gear on up to get to 50 mile-per-hour gusts, sustained in the 20s and 30s. So, an awful night tonight to travel in Chicago. Tomorrow morning, here's where we're seeing the rain. There's even a severe side to this. So, tomorrow morning, in New York, in Washington, Baltimore, all these airports tomorrow morning just slammed with very heavy rain. Not snow, just rain.

And then, Friday, it moves out the afternoon except for Boston and Northern New England, but still, behind it, cold and windy no matter where you are in the Midwest or northeast. So, that's how we're going to see this thing move through today. But there's also, guys, a severe weather impact today.

Tornado watches now issued through noon. We're going to see that south of Atlanta, Charleston, probably Atlanta could even be into potentially some very strong storms today.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Alexandra Steele live in Atlanta, thank you.


BERMAN: All right. There's a lot going on in Washington happening today, a hearing in the deadly Benghazi consulate incident. This after fallout from an independent review of this incident. So far, there's been one resignation and now three more people are on administrative leave from the State Department. This independent review examining September's attack blamed systemic failures in leadership and management deficiencies.

The review found that a lack of leadership left the U.S. consulate insecure and vulnerable. U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans were killed in the attack on September 11th. Our foreign affairs reporter, Elise Labott, has the latest on this.

And Elise, you know, yesterday it said no one, you know, breached their duty. But you had a sense some heads were going to roll inside the State Department.

ELISE LABOTT, FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: That's right. It's a major shake-up, John. And even though the panel found that these people didn't legally breech their duty, they definitely found deficiencies, let's say, and they identified in the report four individuals, the assistant Secretary of State for diplomatic security, Eric Boswell, his deputy, Charlene Lamb, who, if you remember, was cited in a lot of documents for denying security requests.

Also testified before Congress, another gentleman, Raymond Maxwell, in the Bureau of Near East Affairs, the policy shop which the panel also found kind of didn't show a lack of ownership of these issues and another gentleman in the diplomatic security department. It's really, you know -- I think there could be more heads to roll, if you will.

BERMAN: So this is, in fact, a big broad shake-up. Interesting that you say that there could be more from this coming up. Two State Department officials are testifying on Capitol Hill today, correct?

LABOTT: That's right. The deputy Secretaries of State, Tom Nides and Bill Burton. As you know, Secretary Clinton still suffering from a concussion and won't testify, but very interesting who's going to be chairing the meeting. The current chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, who is tapped to be the next Secretary of State.

So, it's going to be a difficult balance while he has to be hard on these gentlemen, but also show a little support to the department which he did yesterday. Let's take a listen.


SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: I think that the department has taken a huge step forward to address the lessons learned from Benghazi which are important to everybody. You know, there's 70,000 employees over there. There are 275 different posts. People are at risk. It's a dangerous world we're in. And I think that this report is going to significantly advance the security interests of those personnel and of our country.


LABOTT: A lot of questions still, John, about whether Secretary Clinton will testify. We understand her staff has told Congressional committees she will be back in January and is prepared to give testimony herself.

BERMAN: All right. Elise Labott in Washington, thanks very much.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-five minutes past the hour. Twelve days until the fiscal cliff and negotiations appear to be at a stalemate. And it looks like there is growing ranker between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner. The Speaker ups the ante today when he calls for a vote in the House on his Plan B which extends the Bush era tax cuts on incomes under $1 million.

The president promises to veto the bill if it ever reaches his desk, which it won't. And to complicate matters, it's not clear this morning that Speaker Boehner even has the votes to pass his plan "B." Is there a way to untangle this mess? Political editor Paul Steinhauser is in Washington. Is that my first question to you? Can you untangle the mess? How can we untangle it?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Personally, I don't think I can do it.



STEINHAUSER: But that is the big question, what happened to the optimism from earlier this week? Both gentlemen making comments yesterday and both seem to be playing a political game of chicken in a way, Zoraida. The president, after making gun control comments, he talked about the fiscal cliff about two hours later. The House Speaker went in front of cameras for 56 seconds before walking off. Here's a taste of what both men said.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH) HOUSE SPEAKER: Tomorrow, the House will pass legislation to make permanent tax relief for nearly every American, 99.81 percent of the American people. Then the president will have a decision to make. He can call on Senate and Democrats to pass that bill or he can be responsible for the largest tax increase in American history.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At some point, you know, they've got to take me out of it and think about their votes and think about what's best for the country. And if they do that, if they're not worried about who's winning and who's losing, I think we can get this done.


STEINHAUSER: The big question, Zoraida, as you said is, does House Speaker John Boehner, have enough support from his own coalition, from his own party, to pass Plan B today and will Plan B derail the negotiations for the larger deals to try to avert the fiscal cliff -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: You know, Paul, , you're not giving yourself enough credit. I know that you could untangle this mess. You just don't have the power to do it. You have some new polling data for us this morning on how Americans feel about all of this?

STEINHAUSER: Yes, a brand new poll from CNN/ORC, a national survey. We asked Americans which party's policies are too extreme, their views too extreme. And take a look at these numbers. They're very interesting. More people say the Republican Party has too extreme views and opinions, 53 percent, only 37 percent say that about the Democrats.

It's a different story two years ago. And one other number to look here at in this fiscal cliff negotiations, the approval ratings for both men. Look at the president's approval rating on our brand new poll, 52 percent, as for the House Speaker, his approval rating much lower at 34 percent. Those numbers are interesting as both men try to negotiate to avert the fiscal cliff -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Paul Steinhauser live in Washington, thank you.

BERMAN: All right. It is 38 minutes after the hour right now. And coming up, gone but never forgotten in Newtown, Connecticut. Zoraida's conversation with the dance instructor to three of the young victims. Instead of focusing on how they died, she's chosen to take inspiration from how they lived.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. Forty-one minutes past the hour. We continue to learn more about the young victims and their lives and extracurricular activities outside of their schools. Three of the young girls, Jessica Rekos, Charlotte Bacon, and Olivia Engel, there they are, were all students at a local dance studio in Newtown called Dance Et Cetera.

I had a chance to talk with their dance teacher and some of the teenage girls who helped give lessons to those little girls.



SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Memories from a dance troop of three little dancers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's a pit in my stomach all day.

SAMBOLIN: When dance teacher, Jen Turey Draghi, heard about the shooting, she ran to her studio to check the student roster.

JEN TUREY DRAGHI, DANCE TEACHER: And then when I finally got to the office, I've combed through to see who was 5, because at that time, they were saying it was a kindergarten class and who was 6.

SAMBOLIN: On Saturday, her worst fears confirmed. Charlotte Bacon, Olivia Engel, and Jessica Rekos had all been killed, devastating news for Jen and her teen instructors.

Where were you when you found out the names?


SAMBOLIN: You were here?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We all were here.


DRAGHI: We kept classes and rehearsals going.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To keep everything as normal as possible.

SAMBOLIN: How did you get through that?

KELSEY REIFF, DANCER: It was hard. The little girls were all with us and we were trying to stay strong for them and not show all the emotions that we were feeling, but it was so hard.

SAMBOLIN: Especially knowing that some of the children they were teaching had lived through the trauma of the day before, yet, amazed by their resilience.

DRAGHI: We tried to keep the details --


DRAGHI: -- from the conversations with the little ones. But to keep it honest and let them know why we're sad. And then, they would give us a hug.

SAMBOLIN: Olivia and Charlotte were part of the dance school's musical theater program. The teams say Olivia loved to sing "Good Morning Baltimore" from the musical, "Hair Spray."

BRIANNA VELKA, DANCER: I'm sure you heard the expression, like, "a smile from ear to ear," and that was the definition of Olivia. She had this beautiful smile in her cheeks, like, those cute baby cheeks. You just want to go grab them.

KRISTEN SCHEURMANN, DANCER: Charlotte just had such a big personality. You know, even when we were singing on vocal warm-ups to musical theater class, she would be acting out what we were saying.


SCHEURMANN: She made up her own little dances every time we were singing our songs. And she would just so spunky and full of energy.

SAMBOLIN: Jessica, they remember, as a focused and determined little ballet dancer.

JACKIE MOONE, DANCER: It was 9:15 in the morning. I didn't really want to get up. and I just remember her just walking in and just like her smile and hearing her laugh and just having her hugs around me just so tight.

SAMBOLIN: The girls know there will be more hard days ahead.

SCHEURMANN: It doesn't seem real yet. And I don't think it will until we have that musical theater class again and I realize that they're not going to walk through that door anymore and we'll never get to hear them sing. SAMBOLIN: The young dancers believe their art will help them get through this.

VELKA: We will. We will dance every dance we perform. We will sing every song that we sing and remember them and know that they're souls are here with us. And that they always will be. And, you know, in our darkest of time, there will be a light shining on our path. And our light will be Jessica, Charlotte and Olivia.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): You know, I have to tell you, originally, we were just supposed to talk to Jen. And Jen said the girls need a voice. They need to talk about these little girls. They need to share their memories because it's part of their healing process.

And as difficult as that was, John, to sit down for the girls, the laughter that they were having remembering these little girls and keeping their memory alive the way that their parents would want to keep it alive and the way that they need to was really, you know, it was really something they needed. They all walked out in a better mood.

It is very moving. just as a reminder, every aspect of life in this town going on in the weeks, days and months, there will be an absence. every new thing that happens, there is an absence everywhere they go.

BERMAN: It is very moving. But just as the reminder, every aspect of life in this town going on in the weeks, the days and weeks and months, there will be an absence. Every new thing that happens, there's going to be an absence everywhere they go.

SAMBOLIN: You know, all the girls there, all the teenager, don't live in that community except for one. They're all in neighboring communities. Yet, they are all tied in to somebody. They know somebody who died. So, it really is this extended family all over the place that is really reeling with pain.

And, you know, I'm glad that we had an opportunity to share, you know, these little girls' lives because they really did have full lives, full of beautiful lives.

BERMAN: It's nice to see. All right. We'll be right back.


BERMAN: All right. Welcome back, everyone. Forty-nine minutes after the hour. I want to get you up to date in all the top stories. Christine Romans here with that.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're tough in the Midwest, and they're about to prove it you, guys, because blizzard warnings are in six states this morning as the season's first major winter storm rocked the Midwest and the Great Plains.


ROMANS (voice-over): Colorado already battered. I-70 had to be shut down in both directions yesterday for 156 miles stretch. This is live picture in Milwaukee right now. You know, I-70 in Colorado reopened in both directions last night. Storm expected to dump a foot of snow in some places from the Rocky Mountain State as far north as Wisconsin.

That's Milwaukee -- live picture coming down. 36,000 people without power right now in Des Moines, by the way.

A 35-car pile up on the Long Island express way in New York has left one person dead, sent more than 30 others to area hospitals, happened just before the evening rush yesterday afternoon. The chain reaction car crash started when a tractor-trailer struck several cars and then caught on fire. The expressway was shut down in both directions for hours while police carried out their investigation.

Phoenix plans to add an important addition to the skyline. It's going to build an observation tower that will reach 420 feet into the sky, accessed by glass elevators. It will provide visitors with panoramic views of the city and surrounding mountains. The developer hopes the tower becomes a symbol of phoenix and a destination for tourists.


BERMAN: Interesting design.

ROMANS (on-camera): I know. It really is. Have you ever seen like a sand storm in Phoenix? It will be cool to see a sand storm from that tower.

SAMBOLIN: I don't think that you'd be able to see --


SAMBOLIN: Thank you so much, Christine.

BERMAN: All right. So, if you were waiting for the day that Tim Tebow would be a starting NFL quarterback event (ph), you're going to have to wait a little bit longer, for now at least. The quarterback question for the struggling Jets has been resolved. And at least for Rex Ryan, Tim Tebow not the answer.


REX RYAN, HEAD COACH, NEW YORK JETS: Tim can play, you know, quarterback through our traditional things. But to me, I was just -- I just kind of made a decision that in my gut I feel that the best thing for our football team is for Greg to be our quarterback now.


SAMBOLIN: So, the Greg he's talking about is Greg McElroy, who will start in place of the struggling Mark Sanchez. McElroy leap-frogged Tebow to go from the third string to starter leaving T-boy with the clipboard still.

BERMAN: Tim Tebow, obviously, not happy about this. "The New York Daily News" is reporting that he will ask to be traded when the season is over. There is so much to talk about here. That is why we're so glad we're joined by Maggie Gray, an anchor at our corporate cousins, What's going on here? They traded for this guy. Big splash. And they just don't want to put him on the field.

MAGGIE GRAY, ANCHOR, SPORTSILLUSTRATED.COM: It finally turned into the complete circus that we all thought that it was going to be at the beginning of the season, but, you have to look at what the Jets their future, they're putting Greg McElroy on the field to see whether or not he could be with them in the future. Writings on the wall at this point, Tebow is not going to be back in 2013.

That's pretty much been, and by this move, you can almost put it in stone that he will not be backed next year. And they want to see if Greg McElroy can actually come in next year and challenge for that starting quarterback job with Mark Sanchez and maybe another veteran quarterback that would bring in to have a true quarterback competition in the Jets locker room. But Tebow out the door.

SAMBOLIN: Well, there are a lot of people that are surprised that he was ever even there. There's a high ranking NFL personnel evaluator who spoke on condition of anonymity. And he said Tebow attempts to play quarterback despite poor footwork, throwing platforms, release timing efficiency progression. He goes on and on and on. So, at the end of the day, not as surprising, right?

GRAY: Well, I mean, it's surprising, because he was number two on the depth chart all year long. And you try to put him in somebody's non- traditional offensive packages, and it just wasn't working. You could tell things were coming out from practice, that things -- that he didn't look so good. Tebow didn't look so good. And the Jets just completely lost faith in him.

But if you're going to go with Tim Tebow like the Denver Broncos did last year, you have to completely tailor make your offense around it. You mentioned also the deficiencies that he has. Well, the things that played to a strengths are his ability to use his feet, his athleticism. But you have to throw out your entire game plan and put in one specifically for Tebow.

We saw it work last year in Denver, but they ended up getting rid of him. So, you need to have an offensive coordinator or team that is committed to running that offense or else it's not going to work.

BERMAN: Just one little comment from Tim Tebow here. You know, he said in response to all the (INAUDIBLE), "Some things are hard to understand. They're trying to do the best they can and I understand that," which is about as angry as you ever see Tim Tebow.


(CROSSTALK) GRAY: I mean, whatever you think about Tim Tebow, whatever you think about his ability to be a quarterback, no one can deny that he has been the epitome of class during this entire debacle. They put him on punt coverages. I mean, this is a guy who's a first round draft pick, who was a starter last year, led six game winning drives and led the Broncos to the playoffs last year.

They won a game. That was on punt coverages. They made him gained 20 pounds. I mean, he had to change his entire way that he plays, and he's been nothing but class.

BERMAN: And one aspect that just got what they wanted. They're on the back page of the tabloid.

GRAY: Yes, that is true.

SAMBOLIN: Maggie Gray, anchor at, thanks for being with us this morning.

So, we have a packed hour ahead on EARLY START, including sending children to school in body armor. Sales of things like bullet proof backpacks are surging 500 percent after the tragedy. What parents and the company selling it are saying.

BERMAN: And a giant winter storm is threatening holiday travel plans across the country. Whether you're planning to fly or hit the road or even if you had a sleigh it would be hard.


BERMAN: How much snow can you expect? We are tracking the storm live.

SAMBOLIN: Oh no. Sanchez in jeopardy? Not yet.

Plus, NASA's new threads. The space suit of the next generation that might make you say to infinity and beyond.

BERMAN: Love how you say that.

But first, we knew it all along. The truth behind this viral video of an eagle swooping down and snatching a baby. We'll tell you about it coming up.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. It is 58 minutes after the hour or two minutes before the hour if you use that.


BERMAN: John Berman here along with Zoraida Sambolin, taking a look at the top CNN trends on the web this morning.

SAMBOLIN: I'm really impressed that you can think that fast.

BERMAN: Just like that I figured that one out.

SAMBOLIN: So, it's one of the videos that almost looks to strange to be true, and guess what? It is. Take a look. It looks like an eagle swoops out of the air, picks up a baby, and then drops him. So, it turns out that's really a well done fake. It is orchestrated by students studying 3D animation design in Montreal. They made the baby and the eagle. Can you believe it?

BERMAN: That is very, very impressive stuff.

SAMBOLIN: Brilliant, kids. Brilliant.

BERMAN: I wonder if that means like the whole Lord of the Rings things was made up also. Gollum is not (INAUDIBLE) either.


SAMBOLIN: All right. Coming up on "STARTING POINT," we'll talk to those three students behind the hoax who are now soaking up the viral fame. Love that.

BERMAN: They deserve some right. Friendly neighborhood Spider-Man dropping by the oval office.


BERMAN: This is a picture of President Obama playing with a kid in a Spider-Man costume that's spreading all over the web. It is just phenomenal. You know, we're seeing more and more of these things now that the election is over. The White House is trying to show a little bit of the lighter side of the president.

It was posted on the president's Facebook and Twitter accounts yesterday. You know, you can't mess with Spider-Man. Your spider sense is tingling.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, that's so nice. You know, you guys are all just grown up kids.

EARLY START continues right now.