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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Deep Freeze; Do Feinstein's Gun Efforts Stand a Chance?; New Questions about Chandra Levy Case

Aired January 25, 2013 - 05:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Travel plans on ice. Parts of the Southeast getting major dose of the deep freeze.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Democrats take action, unveiling an ambitious plan to ban so-called assault weapons. But does this stand a chance in Congress?

SAMBOLIN: And new questions about Chandra Levy's murder. More than a decade later, a judge takes a closer look at this case, if can you believe that.

Good morning to you. Welcome to EARLY START. Happy Friday. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is Friday, January 25th -- let me repeat that, it is Friday, January 25th, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

SAMBOLIN: He came in dancing this morning.

BERMAN: I'm so happy.

Up first, it's that cold where? So, with a quarter of the country in a deep freeze, now the arctic cold front moving to the Southeast. Forecasters expect freezing rain and dangerous accumulations of ice across the Carolinas and Tennessee. The extreme weather is blamed for at least three deaths so far.

Alexandra Steele is standing by at the CNN weather center with a look ahead. But, first, we're going to go to Jennifer Delgado live in Nashville, which is supposed to be the South, Jennifer.

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, exactly. Well, the South is bracing for a messy commute out there. Right now, we're at the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

Of course, you see all the salt back there and the salt trucks. They're prepared to go up and have been going out all night long to lay that salt on the road. Of course, we're talking about a very messy commute. We're going to be looking at potential for some black ice, especially on the overpasses and over about the last half hour -- the rain, the freezing rain has been starting to come down. It shouldn't come as a surprise after such an extreme week of wild weather.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DELGADO (voice-over): Frigid temperatures and record-breaking wind chills continue to plague much of the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Freezing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cold.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gosh! It's freezing out here, man.

DELGADO: And now, freezing rain and ice in Tennessee. Crews armed with salt trucks are at the ready.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have 32 counties here in the middle of Tennessee area that TDOT will be keeping an eye on. We will have enough people to make sure the roads are ready for rush hour.

DELGADO: Relentless freezing rain in Salt Lake City forced all the runways at the he is city's international airport to close Thursday. Some parts of the Great Lakes picked up between two and three feet of lake-effect snow this week which led to this pileup in Ohio.

In New Hampshire, brutal subzero wind chills continue to plummet. Precautions under way at Pat's Peak Ski Area to keep workers and patrons safe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We give them hand warmers and foot warmers. We rotate them out a little more frequently, and we do allow them to come into the huts that are warmed up for breaks.

DELGADO: And in the Midwest, a stubborn warehouse fire that started on Tuesday night rekindled again in Bridgeport, Illinois, leaving the structure looking like -- well, a massive igloo. It's actually so cold in Minnesota, pipes froze leading to this ice rink melting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything runs through a condenser outside. And that started slushing up on us. We couldn't get rid of the heat that we needed to, to keep cooling.

DELGADO: But it could always be worse. Wind chills at the top of Mt. Washington registered negative 85 degrees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The best way I heard it described is think of yourself diving into a very, very cold pool of water. It doesn't matter how well you're covered up, the air finds a way in.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DELGADO: Yes, and, you know, we are here right now and the temperature outside right now is at 30 degrees. So, we're below freezing. And it looks like we're going to stay that way through 9:00 a.m. for Nashville. For other parts like eastern Tennessee as well and northeastern Georgia, that's where we're expecting the highest amounts of possible ice accumulation, could see about a quarter inch.

When you start to get that, you start to see the trees and potentially power lines coming down. But for here, we are thinking about a tenth of an inch. But, certainly, the roadways will be slippery out here in addition to the ice we're talking about snow. And I think Alexandra Steel is going to have more about that coming up in just a moment.

John, you know, I was asking, I'm not even sure if you can see my face because I'm so bundled up right now with all these hats out there. And I'm trying to protect the hair.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: I'm sure the hair looks good.

SAMBOLIN: That's my girl.

BERMAN: I can see a little bit of your face and then the salt trucks just waiting to get out.

DELGADO: Here I am.

BERMAN: Hey, good morning. Jennifer Delgado in Nashville, with the salt trucks with, the hair, great to see you.

SAMBOLIN: And with the great attitude.

BERMAN: That's right.

SAMBOLIN: Nice and cold there.

Alexandra Steele is at the weather center in Atlanta. She's nice and warm this morning. Good morning to you.

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning to you, Zoraida.

All right. Jennifer is out, the temperature is 30. The wind chill, what it feels like for her is 24 degrees. So, I want to show you the big picture. There are some mitigating factors with this storm. There is a lot of dry air. You can see Chicago has not seen one inch of snow since February 24th all last year. So in the last almost 11 months they have not seen an inch of snow. Will they pull out an inch with this? I don't know if they're going to.

So, mitigating factors for this being a big winter storm, one, a lot of dry air. Also what is happening is the Gulf isn't open so there is no moisture coming in, kind of enhance any rain or snow or freezing rain.

So that being said, I don't think this is going to be a blockbuster. So, let me talk about what could see.

Here's Nashville where Jennifer is. You can see barely any ice coming through. And you can see it's very dry. So even what we are looking at is called virga. It's falling from the sky. The atmosphere at the surface is so dry. Nothing is coming to the ground.

That being said, Washington, D.C., around 4:00, the snow starts. Maybe one to two inches of snow for you. New York City, by tonight, we'll see it. Maybe an inch of snow. And then it pushes out. So you guys, it's a quick hitter. No question about that, a one day affair. But a lot of mitigating factors. So don't really expect any blockbusters.

SAMBOLIN: All right. It's one day. But it's packing a nice punch for everybody.

Alexandra Steele live in Atlanta, thank you.

STEELE: Sure.

BERMAN: The other news this morning, a big push to ban assault weapons. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California taking the lead in an effort to renew the ban and she made the announcement in dramatic fashion. Flanked by survivors of gun violence and examples of 10 different types of assault weapons, she was granted special clearance to display those weapons in Washington, including an AR-15. That's the kind of gun used to kill children in Newtown.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: These massacres don't seem to stop. They continue on -- Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Tucson, Oak Creek. The common thread in these shootings is each gunman used a semiautomatic assault weapon or large capacity ammunition magazines.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So the goal, Feinstein says, is to get these weapons off the streets over time.

CNN political editor Paul Steinhauser joins us now from Washington. And, Paul, Feinstein is also providing some exemptions here.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: She is. It sounds like s she's almost reaching out to gun owners who use their weapons for hunting and for sport. And take a listen to what she said at the news conference, John.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FEINSTEIN: The bill protects hunters and sportsmen by protecting 2,200 specifically named weapons used for hunting or sporting purposes. They are by make and model exempted from the legislation. When we did this bill in '93, there were 375. Today, there are 2,200.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEINHAUSER: So do these exemptions make any difference with the National Rifle Association, the very powerful pro-gun lobby?

Here's what they said in response to the Feinstein news conference: "Senator Feinstein has been trying to ban guns from law-abiding guns for decades. It's disappointing but not surprising that she is once again focused on curtailing the Constitution instead of prosecuting criminals or fixing our broken mental health system. The American people know gun bans do not work and we're confident that Congress will reject Senator Feinstein's wrong-headed approach."

Action resuming next week in the Senate on guns, John.

BERMAN: So, Senator Feinstein put on a big show. There was big drama there in the Senate. But, Paul, does this really have any chance of getting passed?

STEINHAUSER: Very difficult chance. It's going to be a very tough road ahead. And it's not even because of Republicans in this case. It's going to be because of Democrats. Remember, in the Senate, there are a lot of Democrats from red states, some of them up for re- election next year, John.

And it's no -- you know, not sure whether they're going to support this bill or not. If it does pass Senate, remember then it goes to the House controlled -- the House, which is controlled about it Republicans which will be even tougher hurdle to go over.

What is public opinion on this? Take a look at our most recent poll from CNN/ORC -- very much in line with most other polls from other organizations. A majority do favor the ban on the semiautomatic guns.

But, John, we're seeing a partisan divide here. Obviously, Republicans against it, the Democrats in favor, and a gender gap as well.

And take a look at this number as well. It seems support for this ban is maybe diminishing a little bit from out poll that we conducted right after those shootings, the mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, back in December. You could see a slight slippage there.

What about Vice President Joe Biden? Remember, he was very active in all this. Today, he, as well as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and other top administration officials, are going to Richmond, Virginia. They're going to be holding a town hall there on gun control. And he was talking about this yesterday as well.

And we'll talk more about that next hour, John.

BERMAN: All right. Fantastic. Paul Steinhauser, our political editor in Washington -- great to see you this morning.

STEINHAUSER: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: Nine minutes past the hour. More angry threats from North Korea overnight. A statement from the country's unification committee warns of what they call physical counter measures against South Korea if they directly participate in U.N. sanctions against the North. The statement calls Seoul a puppet to the West and says the latest U.N. resolution passed earlier this week is equivalent to a declaration of war.

BERMAN: Rhode Island could be the next state where same self couples can get married. House lawmakers there approved a measure last night by a vote of 51-19. Now, the bill has been introduced every year for 11 years there and this was the first time it made that a committee. The bill now has to go to the Senate. If it does survive there, the governor has said he will sign it.

SAMBOLIN: I read this, this morning, and thought of you, John Berman.

There is a new Jedi master reports say actor J.J. Abrams will be at the helm of the next "Star Wars" movie "Episode VII". It follows "Return of the Jedi" in the "Star Wars" chronology. In case you didn't know, "Episode VII" will be the first produced by Disney, which bought Lucas film last year and announced plans for a "Star Wars" trilogy, episode seven, eight, and nine.

Disney has slated seven for a 2015 release. J.J. Abrams is also behind the "Star Trek" film "Into Darkness", which will be out in May.

BERMAN: I think it's fantastic. I have such high hopes for this. "The Star Trek" reboot was fantastic. I'm hoping "Episode VII" is a little better than episodes one, two, three. I promise we'll pay a lot of attention to this going forward. I think having given the due over the last several months with election and inauguration, we somehow let that overshadow the major news of "Star Wars."

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: All right. So, more than a decade ago the search for missing Washington intern Chandra Levy captivated the nation. Now, brand new questions about this murder case, coming up.

SAMBOLIN: Plus, America finally hears from Manti Te'o. His regrets about that fake girlfriend hoax is straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. Fourteen minutes past the hour.

So, the girlfriend was fake. But he says that the pain was very real. Manti Te'o opening up about the Internet hoax that made headlines and unleashed punch lines all over the web. The Notre Dame star football player telling ABC's Katie Couric that he has some regrets but insisted he was telling the truth.

Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANTI TE'O, NOTRE DAME LINEBACKER: For people feeling that they're misled, you know, that I'm sorry for. But I wasn't as forthcoming about it. But I didn't lie. You know, I never was asked, did you see her in person?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: George Howell is joining us now. He's been following this story very closely from the very beginning. And, George, what do you think? There's a lot of chatter about this interview. Did it help him or did it hurt him?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is a lot of chatter. You get mixed reaction, Zoraida. You know, there are some people who are sympathetic for what they heard the other day. Others, not so much.

But throughout that interview, Te'o insisted he believed that his girlfriend was real, and then when he realized he'd been duped, he didn't know what to say about it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL (voice-over): Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te'o denied any involvement in the hoax about the online girlfriend he never met, a woman we now know never existed.

KATIE COURIC, TV HOST: Either you're the most naive person on the planet or this is the saddest story I think ever written. It goes on and on and on.

TE'O: Yes.

COURIC: This web of lies.

TE'O: I thought this was -- how could this all happen to one person? I had my doubts.

HOWELL: Te'o says he got a phone call in September telling him his girlfriend had died of cancer. Then, in December, before the Heisman trophy ceremony, he got another phone call saying she was alive. But Te'o didn't change his story.

COURIC: At the Heisman trophy ceremony, you were interviewed. You repeated the story that your girlfriend had, in fact, died of cancer. That's a lie. Why would you say that?

TE'O: At that time I didn't know. To be honest with you, like, I did not know.

HOWELL: Couric asked for proof of an intimate relationship and Te'o provided phone records, even voice mail.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

"LENNAY KEKUA": Get your rest and I'll talk to you tomorrow. I love you so much and sweet dreams.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COURIC: You have no idea who the voice on the other end of the phone was. Do you think that might have been a man on the other end of the phone?

TE'O: Well, it didn't sound like a man. It sounded -- it sounded like a woman. But if he somehow made that voice, that's incredible.

HOWELL: Te'o says this man, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, called him to admit his part in the hoax. The same man whose voice may have been on those voicemails. He also learned the identity of Lennay Kekua was actually a picture of Diana O'Meara, a 23-year-old marketing executive who never met Te'o. Both Te'o and O'Meara apparently knew the Tuiasosopo. Looking back at the web of confusion, Te'o says his biggest regret is the impact it had on his family.

TE'O: The greatest joy in any child's life is to make your parents proud. The greatest pain is to know that they're experiencing pain because of you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: So, Zoraida, you know, throughout that interview, there were signs Te'o said that, you know, he did notice that when he tried to see his girlfriend she wasn't available. When they tried to Facetime, she could see him but he could not see her.

So, you know, was he duped here? Did he play a part in the hoax? He insisted that he didn't. Or was the sort of thing where he wanted to believe something so badly that he would believe anything? You know, those are the questions people are asking after watching that interview.

SAMBOLIN: I've got to tell you, before the interview, a lot of questions that people were asking, is he or isn't he gay? And maybe that's why he hasn't talked. So, Katie Couric asked him specifically that and that has been all the talk.

HOWELL: That was brought up in the interview. And when you look at that interview in its entirety, you know, he was calm, he was very composed throughout. That was one point where he became very emotional. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COURIC: One of the theories, many theories, Manti, is you created this whole scenario to cover up your sexual orientation. Are you gay?

TE'O: No, far from it. Far from it.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: You talk about emotion, you know, that's as excited or, you know, to the point as we saw him through that interview.

SAMBOLIN: Indeed. And that's creating a lot of talk this morning.

George Howell, live for us in Atlanta -- thank you very much.

HOWELL: Thanks. Yes.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, the talk being created that it's the one moment where he really was so specific where he had showed some emotion to deny that he's gay. What does that say about the culture in football? That that is one thing he'd rather be dumb than gay.

BERMAN: That's exactly right. A lot of sports writers are saying that's a moment, showed some controversy may have shown his inner self there.

Nineteen minutes after the hour. Time for your "Early Reads" -- that's your local news making national at headlines. This is a murder mystery that turned Washington, D.C. upside down.

I was there during this in 2001. It was huge. Now, a brand new development in the Chandra Levy murder case.

"The Washington Post" reporting that defense attorneys want a retrial. They say prosecutors withheld important information about a witness. We don't know which witness is involved. But defense attorneys say the government already had the information during trial.

Thirty-year-old Ingmar Guandique, a Salvadoran in the U.S. -- who was in the U.S. illegally, is serving a 60-year sentence after being convicted of first-degree murder back in 2010. You remember, there was a congressman who had been connected in the press about this case, Gary Condit, that's really forced him out of office. It was a mammoth story.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, huge scandal.

All right. Twenty minutes past the hour. It's good/bad that the housing -- excuse me -- that the housing market is recovering -- I'm thinking about (INAUDIBLE) -- when you see home buyers in a bidding war to land their dream home. Christine Romans is going to take a closer look for us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: We're minding your business this morning. Stocks set for a small bounce back today. This comes after -- wow, huge the 12 percent drop that Apple took yesterday, bringing down the NASDAQ.

SAMBOLIN: Today, new housing data can actually help lift the mood around here. Christine, it's lifted her mood, I've got to tell you.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I know.

SAMBOLIN: She wants to be ringing bells for you this morning.

ROMANS: I know. I said for months and months, I said I can't wait until I can ring the bell and say the bottom is here in the housing market. And it's here. And we're going to get more evidence of it probably today.

New home sales are out today after the opening bell today. We're expecting another increase. Sales of new homes are at a two-year high. It's good news for just about everyone -- refinancers, first time home buyers and, of course, the economy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS (voice-over): Last month, David and Grace Chu got married.

Now, they're about to close on their dream home -- a brand new four bedroom, five bath center hall colonial.

DAVID CHU, HOME BUYER: We're really looking for a new home.

ROMANS: This house was on the market for just two weeks before the seller accepted their offer. That's a good sign. More than 30 percent of all homes sold in December were on the market for less than a month. The average time on the market for all homes, 73 days.

SUZANNE SUMMERS, SALES ASSOCIATE, COLDWELL BANKER: I try to tell my clients if they really love the home, you know, be ready. Be ready for a bidding war. Don't be afraid of it.

ROMANS (on camera): Here's what's driving the recovery in home sales and home prices. First, jobs. Supply and, of course, interest rates -- interest rates hovering at 40-year lows.

(voice-over): At the same time, rents are rising.

D. CHU: Our rent has literally gone up 40 percent over the past two years. So I think that has really pushed us in particular to look for a home.

ROMANS: The Chu's new house moves more money through the economy than the sale of an existing home.

MICHELLE GIRARD, SENIOR ECONOMIST, RBS: Building new homes creates jobs and the construction secretary your. Furnishing a new home with new appliances -- I mean, starting from scratch, obviously means that it feeds through the improvement of home sales. And on the new home sale side in particular feeds through more broadly to the economy.

ROMANS: It sounds like the Chus are just beginning.

GRACE CHU, HOME BUYER: We're really lucky that this new construction was in an area that we liked. And, hopefully, we'll be able to build more into it. I'm sorry.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: It's really the renters who are in such a good place right now, you guys, because renters are seeing the rents go up just like the Chu's especially in big cities. And now, the same way, interest rates are so low. We have money in the bank because we didn't buy a couple years ago. Prices have been down so much. It's finally affordable for the first time in a lot of places. If you have job, if you have money in the bank and you have a good credit score, the world is yours.

SAMBOLIN: A trifecta that a lot of Americans don't have, though. Thank you, Christine. I appreciate.

BERMAN: More than half of America, thank you for bringing the housing market back, Christine Romans.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: Twenty-six minutes after the hour right now.

So, first the flu and now this -- the stomach bug that has people calling of sick all winter. Find out what is different about it, coming up.

SAMBOLIN: We're going to talk about this while you're having breakfast.

Plus, a reminder about the number one rule of television: never work with animals and children.

BERMAN: Or Zoraida.

(LAUGHTER)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)