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Snow Storm on the Way; Hunt for California Murderer; Chandra Levy Case Revisited; Classified Documents Released to Congress; Newtown Movie?; Teen Handcuffed 4 Months in Basement; Postal Cuts Spark Privatization Debate

Aired February 7, 2013 - 09:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now in the NEWSROOM: weekend whiteout. The northeast about to get pounded by a monster snowstorm. Some spots could get almost two feet of snow. People are talking this morning, is this the blizzard of '78?



COSTELLO (voice-over): Exposure or exploitation? First "SNL", then the Bowl, now the movies?


CARINA RUSH, PRODUCER: I think we want to tell a beautiful, gripping story about a family's struggle.

COSTELLO: When it comes to the Newtown kids, where's the line?


COSTELLO: Plus this.


COSTELLO: Wardrobe warning: CBS issuing Grammy guidelines. No butts, no breasts, no exceptions.

And this:


WILLIAM SHATNER, ACTOR: To boldly go where no man has gone before.


COSTELLO: Shatner back in space. Captain Kirk chatting with the Canadian astronaut Chris Hatfield from 200 miles above earth. We've got the conversation live. NEWSROOM starts now.


COSTELLO: Good morning, thank you so much for being with me. I'm Carol Costello. We begin this morning with an historic winter storm gaining steam and taking aim. This is a live weather cam shot from Green Bay, Wisconsin, and this snowstorm is only half the recipe for his weekend's blizzard. The other half? A ferocious weather system now forming in the southeast. Combined, this new storm could dump a foot of snow or more on New England, and it's already drawing comparisons to the crippling blizzard 35 years ago this week.

Millions of you probably remember the so-called Great Blizzard of 1978. That storm brought the region so its knees. Three feet of snow, dozens of deaths, thousands of cars stranded.

Indra Petersons is in the Weather Center. So Indra, how fearsome will this storm be?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: This could be a record-breaking storm. So I want to quickly get to how this is expected to form. What we're currently watching is a low starting to form ino the southeast. We're talking about heavy showers. Then as this low builds and moves up towards the Carolinas, we're going to start watching heavy rain and wind.

We keep talking about these two storms emerging. As you can see, as we go forward in time here, this will become one large bull's eye, a big nor'easter starts to form and everything's going to be, in fact, dealing with where the position of this low is. What we're going to start to be watching is will it be close to the coastline or far away from the coastline? If it's close to the coastline, we have our moisture and if the freezing line drops farther to the south, of course you have more cold air, and we're talking about heavier snow totals there as well.

And notice how large of an area this will be impacting. Winter storm watches in effect for huge portions of New England. Also, that second portion of the storm you were talking about just currently over Green Bay, Wisconsin, that's where we're going to be talking about even eight to ten inches of snow.

And keep in mind these models have a huge variance out there for the mountains. We're going to continue to watch it in position as the future models come out.

COSTELLO: All right. We'll check back. Indra Petersons, thanks.

A manhunt now under way in California. A former Los Angeles police officer, 33-year-old Christopher Jordan Dorner, is wanted in the murder of another former cop's daughter and her fiance. Monica Quan and Keith Lawrence were found shot to death Sunday night in the parking garage of their Irvine, California, condo complex. Lawrence was a public safety officer at the University of Southern California; Quan was an assistant women's basketball coach at Cal State Fullerton.

Here's what Irvine's police chief said about the case.


CHIEF DAVID MAGGARD, IRVINE, CALIFORNIA POLICE: My detectives have been working day and night since this tragedy. Today, we have identified Christopher Jordan Dorner as a suspect in this double homicide. Dorner was an officer through 2009 and reservist for the United States Navy. Of particular interest at this point in the investigation is a multi-page manifesto in which the suspect has implicated himself in the slayings.


COSTELLO: In that manifesto, Dorner apparently threatened to hurt police officers and their families. According to "The L.A. Times", Dorner was angry with Quan's father; he's now retired and may have been involved in Dorner's firing in 2009.

Now, the manifesto, the writings were posted earlier this week on a message board. In the meantime, authorities say Dorner may be involved in three new shootings just this morning near Los Angeles. One officer is dead and two others were hurt.

On the phone right now, CNN's Paul Vercammen. This is really frightening.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): It is. Certainly the Los Angeles Police Department that they have ringed (ph) department headquarters at Los Angeles and they've also now sent numerous officers out to search for Dorner. And in talking to police, they say where one of the shootings occurred, where an officer wound up dead and another hurt, they were going into a protective mode. You hear where the shooting (INAUDIBLE) four various officers.

Apparently, Dorner had threatened numerous officers, and what they were doing was trying to get to those officers and their families and protect them from Dorner. In his manifesto, he talks about threatening the families of various LAPD officers.

COSTELLO: Paul Vercammen, reporting live from Los Angeles. I know you're going to monitoring a press conference that is going to, I think, start in a couple of hours in California. When that happens, of course, we'll bring back Paul.

Now to a mysterious new twist in a murder case that rocked Washington and captivated the nation. It's the 2001 killing of Chandra Levy, a name that millions of Americans were bandying about a decade ago. Her death was tragic, but it was her final months as a congressional intern that drew all the attention. It wasn't long after the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal and the news media seized on revelations that Levy was having an affair with her married boss, then Congressman Gary Condit. He was later cleared but his political career ruined.

More than nine years after the killing, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador was convicted of Levy's murder. But today, he appears in court, and there are whispers that conviction will be tossed out.

CNN's Brian Todd is in Washington. Good morning, Brian.

BRAIN TODD, CNN CORRSPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. There have been some new twists in the Chandra Levy murder case, as you mentioned. But because the judge has kept the contents of two recent hearings under seal, much of this is still a mystery this morning.

We do know, as you mentioned, that the man convicted of murdering Chandra Levy, a Salvadoran immigrant named Ingmar Guandique, he is going to be brought to D.C. Superior Court today. He's been in prison in Alabama. We do not know exactly what will happen today, but in December and January, the presiding judge in the case held two hearings that he has kept under seal.

According to court papers filed by media organizations trying to get the hearings unsealed, prosecutors recently notified the court of potential evidence that might have to do with the credibility of a prosecution witness. We do not know what the issue is or who that witness is.

One key witness for the prosecution was Armando Morales, a convicted felon and a former gang member, who testified that Ingmar Guandique confessed to him in prison that he killed Chandra Levy. Again, it is not clear that Morales is the witness in question here.

Now, the judge kept the recent hearings under seal, citing what he called safety reasons. Again, it is not clear what those reasons are or whose safety he's referring to. So a lot of mystery is surrounding this hearing today, Carol. Not quite sure what the judge is going to do, or whether he's even going to let the media observe today's hearing. But we do know the man convicted of killing Chandra Levy is going to be there.

COSTELLO: My heart breaks for the Levys, that's for sure. Brian Todd, reporting live from Washington.

Also this morning on Capitol Hill, the lawmakers who watch over the nation's intelligence community have their hands on classified documents. The topic: when U.S. drones can legally kill Americans overseas.

President Obama has agreed to the release only after caving in to the demands of Congress. And today, in a Senate confirmation hearing, lawmakers will grill John Brennan, Obama's choice to lead the CIA. He's also an architect of the drone program and a vocal supporter.


JOHN BRENNAN, OBAMA'S COUTERTERRORISM ADVISER: We conduct targeted strikes because they are necessary to mitigate an actual ongoing threat, to stop plots, prevent future attacks, and to save American lives.


COSTELLO: But it was the killing of an American citizen in Yemen that raises all the questions. U.S. drones killed U.S.-born cleric Anwar al Awlaki. He was tied to the terrorist plots, including the underwear bomber, but had never been tried in a U.S. court. And as you know, a U.S. drone targeted him and killed him in Yemen.

Also new today, Iran says it has broken the code from a U.S. drone that it captured just over a year ago. Iran says it has unlocked the encrypted surveillance images from a spy plane. CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of the video, which is running on Iranian state television and YouTube.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This aircraft has had many flights in countries around Iran. And operations that have taken place in Pakistan, this aircraft has provided guidance.


COSTELLO: Now, the U.S. has never confirmed that Iran actually shot down the drone, only that it somehow vanished over Iran. President Obama has asked Iran to return it, but the regime has refused.

The children of Newtown, Connecticut, have been in the spotlight ever since that deadly shooting inside Sandy Hook Elementary School back in December. The focus has been on bringing life back to normal, but some of the kids have taken part in public displays like singing "America the Beautiful" with Jennifer Hudson before the Super Bowl.


CHILDREN (singing): America, America, God shed his grace on thee.


COSTELLO: Some of these kids will also take part in a Grammy pre-show that airs on Sunday on the E! Entertainment Network. Question this morning: Are these kids being exploited? How can they return to a normal life?

Poppy Harlow is live in New York for us. Good morning, Poppy.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Well, the big question is right now, should a movie tied to the Newtown tragedy be made or is it far too soon for this town reeling from that massacre? But it really begs an even bigger question and that is "Where should the line be drawn?" What is good for these children in terms of exposure, what is good for this town, and what is just exploitation?


CARINA RUSH, PRODUCER: I think we want to tell a beautiful, gripping story about a family's struggle.

HARLOW: That's film producer Carina Rush, who came with her team to Ridgefield, Connecticut, this week, just 20 miles from Newtown, to survey the location for a new film called "Illness". It's about a 13- year-old boy's struggle with mental illness. RUSH: What happens to them is kind of triggered by the Newtown story.

HARLOW: But Ridgefield's top official says no way.

RUDY MARCONI, FIRST SELECTMAN OF RIDGEFIELD: The bottom line to us is anything, whether it's based on, inspired by mental health that concerns Newtown and that tragedy, the wound is still way too fresh for anything to be done like that.

HARLOW: It begs the question: Where should the line be drawn?

CHILDREN (singing): America, America

HARLOW: We've seen Sandy Hook Elementary kids perform at the super bowl, and the Newtown Choir sing at a Knicks game. Sabrina Post directs the choir of Newtown children that recorded "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" to raise morning for a youth organization here. Her kids' choir will perform "Call Me Maybe" for Ryan Seacrest's Grammy red carpet pre-show on E!

(on-camera): Where is it too much exposure, exploitation? And where is it beneficial to the kids and the town?

SABRINA POST, SABRINA'S ENCORE PRODUCTION: Anything we can do, given our talents, to help that specifically is to me a really great thing and the line should not be drawn as long as it benefits that purpose.

HARLOW: And then there's us, the media. Where do we draw the line? There are important stories to tell here, and some in Newtown have welcomed us, but others have told me it's just time to leave. And that's completely understandable.

MARCONI: You have to answer that question. Have you crossed that line? Has the media gotten to the point where it now is the word Newtown, is a news item? And it allows you to go to the front of the page and get the recognition. I think we all have to do some soul- searching.

HARLOW: Media critic Howie Kurtz has this take.

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": Once we drag these children in front of the camera and have them sing more than two or three times, it feels like it's about ratings. It feels like it's about grabbing attention. It feels like it's about everything but remembering the tragedy that happened to some of their classmates in that elementary school.


HARLOW: And you know, Carol, we talked to a father who has two young children that go to Sandy Hook Elementary and he's really torn. He said it's a very fine line. I mean, it's good to keep these kids in this town in the spotlight so that the debate over gun control continues and people keep talking about it, but it's a very fine line, he says, between that and exploiting the kids and making a statement. Now, as for that film, the man in charge of the town where they want to make it said he hasn't even been called by the filmmakers. He's shocked about that. Filmmakers are saying if they make it and make money they'll donate it to a foundation to treat mental illness.

But a lot of big questions. People are outraged about that film. That's where they seem to be drawing the line.

COSTELLO: It's our Talk Back question of today: Have we come to the point where we're exploiting the children of Newtown? if you want to weigh in. Poppy Harlow, many thanks to you.

Still ahead, a private post office and what would it mean for you? Should the post office be privatized?


COSTELLO: Sixteen minutes past the hour. Time to check your top stories:

The hacker group Anonymous claiming responsibility for hacking the Federal Reserve's Web site. Spokesman for the Central Bank says a third party obtained info and the problem has now been fixed. Some reports indicate the hackers gained access to a huge data base of bankers' contact information.

Now, look at what happened when a 70-year-old man got confused while trying to find a parking spot. You see his Camry suspended over a stairwell, stuffed between a concrete wall and a building. Police say the driver mistakenly stepped on the gas and the car flew like a rocket over the curve and through a guardrail. Luckily, no one was hurt.

Even though federal officials grounded all of Boeing's 787, they're allowing one exception today. The FAA granted Boeing permission to fly one freshly painted Dreamliner from Texas back to its factory in Washington. There will be no passengers aboard. The crew must monitor the battery. Investigators are looking for the cause of several battery fires on Dreamliners.

Now, to a disturbing story out of Kansas City, Missouri, a teenager is removed from his home after being found handcuffed in the basement. He told police he'd been handcuffed there since September. And now, the teenager's father, stepmother and older brother are being questioned by police.

Casey Wian is live now.

Good morning, Casey.


This is where it happened in this home right behind me. You can see there's a small window there nearly at ground level and that's where police say that 17-year-old boy was handcuffed to a steel support pole, basically handcuffed nearly around the clock since September. The boy told police, according to the police report, that he was let off of his handcuffs about three times a day for meals and to go to the bathroom. Other than that, he was chained inside that basement four months.

The father pulled him out of school back in September.

Police say that the boy appeared very, very fragile, very, very malnourished, his cheeks were sucked in, and they said that he had sort of a desperate, vacant look in his eyes. When police went downstairs into that basement for the first time, the boy's initial reaction was "I didn't do anything. I didn't do anything." They found him in a fetal position on the floor.

Here's what one neighbor had to say about the boy and what she had seen.


ASHLEY REPPY, NEIGHBOR: The brother said that he had hit his mom and said that he was on permanent house arrest. There was a couple times they came over here after school and he was sleeping on her front porch, because they wouldn't let him in the house. It was sad, very sad. We cried a lot yesterday, because we were friends with them.


WIAN: Earlier this week, police took the boy to the hospital. He is now in protective custody. The adults who were living in the home are being investigated, as you mentioned, Carol, but prosecutors and police say they're not talking about any potential charges at this point -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Casey Wian reporting live from Kansas City this morning.

News the Postal Service is cutting Saturday delivery has sparked question about whether the 237-year-old institution should be privatized. Critics, including Postal Service workers, the union, says that's a bad idea, but others say it's the best way to save an important agency that ended last year's $16 billion in the red.

Athena Jones is in Washington this morning.

Good morning.


You know, it's not just scholars and academics talking about whether the Postal Service should be privatized. Also, people we spoke with, customers, people who are postal customers say that if a private person ran this Postal Service like a business, it would do better.

People who were pro-privatization say that this would spark innovation. It would free the U.S. Postal Service from government interference. They believe government makes it too difficult for the Postal Service to solve the problems that it has and that doing so would allow them to cut costs more easily, to downsize, increase efficiency and thereby maintain profitability.

That's another way of saying closing offices that don't bring in enough revenue to cover their costs and cutting more staff more easily. So that's the argument in favor, Carol.

COSTELLO: So what obstacles would there be to privatizing the Postal Service?

JONES: One big obstacle would be Congress. You know, this is a quasi-independent operation but it still is under the control in some ways partly of Congress and so you need congressional approval. Right now, there's not any of the bills being put forward to try to reform or help the Postal Service, none of those really address privatization.

We were able to ask the postmaster general about this yesterday and he said privatizing the Postal Service would mean you couldn't provide universal service at a universal price all across the country, Carol.

COSTELLO: Athena Jones reporting live from Washington this morning.

JONES: Thanks.

COSTELLO: Those cute Newtown kids singers, they're just -- they're everywhere. "SNL", the Super Bowl, the NBA, but are they being exploited now? It's our talk back question. or tweet me @carolCNN.


COSTELLO: Now is your chance to talk back on one of the stories of the day. The question for you this morning: are the Newtown kids being exploited?

Suddenly, the Newtown kids are stars. Shortly after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, they popped up on "Saturday Night Live."


COSTELLO: It was a touching moment and we thought that would be it. Now, these kids seem to be everywhere, at the Super Bowl.


COSTELLO: And then at a Knicks game and there's a movie in the works about a mentally ill child whose illness is triggered by the Sandy Hook tragedy.

To some close to Newtown, it's crossed the line.


RUDY MARCONI, FIRST SELECTMAN OF RIDGEFIELD, CONNECTICUT: The bottom line to us is anything whether it's based on, inspired by mental health that concerns Newtown and that tragedy, the wound is still way too fresh for anything to be done like that.

JOAN RIVERS, ACTRESS: Kind of swallowed a bunch of bowling balls.


COSTELLO: And now, we learn the E! Network, home of Joan Rivers, the fashion police and the Kardashians, will feature the Newtown kids via satellite in the Grammy red carpet pre-show, to sing the wildly popular song "Call Me Maybe". You know, the one about the girl who pines over a guy who turns out to be gay.


COSTELLO: Call me tacky maybe?

Sabrina Post whose choir will sing on Grammy night disagrees.


SABRINA POST, SABRINA ENCORE PRODUCTIONS: Anything we can do, given our talents to help that specifically is to me a really great thing and the line should not be drawn as long as it benefits that purpose.


COSTELLO: Her group also recorded a version of "Over the Rainbow" with downloads raising money for a youth organization in Newtown.

Still, as media critic Howie Kurtz says, dragging the kids in front of the cameras again and again seems more about ratings than anything else.

So, talkback question for you today, are the Newtown kids being exploited?,, or tweet me @carolCNN.