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New England Braces for Blizzard; Manhunt for Ex-Cop Continues; Former Dorner Classmate Speaks Out; Bush Family Email Hacked; Film Critic Goes Too Far; Interview with Sen. Ron Wyden; Anne of Green Gables Gets a Makeover

Aired February 8, 2013 - 08:00   ET



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome, everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning, a blizzard that could cripple parts of New York and New England is already falling snow here in New York. How much snow we're expected to see and what you should know about your flights, trains and potential power outages is a long and ugly list. We got full team coverage ahead for you.

Right now police looking for a suspected cop killer in California, could the discovery of his truck be a break in the case? We're going to talk to James Usera straight ahead. He is a former classmate of the suspect, Christopher Dorner.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: John Brennan in the hot seat as he tried to become the new CIA director. He's surprising views on interrogation tactics and drones, we'll talk with a lawmaker who was in that hearing.

O'BRIEN: It's Friday, February 8th and STARTING POINT begins right now.


O:BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. Our team this morning: Michael Skolnik is back with us. He's editor-in-chief of Abby Huntsman is with us, too. She's the host of "HuffPost Live." Ron Brownstein is the editorial director of "National Journal."

Good morning.



O'BRIEN: Lots to cover this morning. We're talking first about the blizzard. They're using words like "epic", which is never good talking about a storm. It's about to bury the Northeast. It could be a storm for the ages. Forecasters have also used the word historic snowfall totals. This is a look at New York City. You can see more than a foot of snow in the next 24 hours. Right now, 23 million people in the Northeast, in fact, are under a blizzard warning. Air travel is already a bit of a mess, 3,000 flights scheduled for today and tomorrow have been canceled. Boston concerns the storm could be worse than the images from this blizzard back in 1978 when 100 people were killed. Remember this? Thousands of homes destroyed. The forecast there calls for 34 inches of snow in Boston.

Meteorologist Jennifer Delgado is tracking the system. Alison Kosik is in New York for us. Indra Petersons is in Boston, where we're seeing some bad, bad news.

All right. Alison, let's start with you here in New York. What are we expected to get and how is it now outside?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How is it now outside? Here we go. It's already starting. I'm already picking up enough snow to make little snowballs.

It's kind of icy on the street. People are still going about going to work. This is kind of like a normal morning of just bad weather, but the trouble is we know what's coming our way, anywhere from six to 12 inches expected to hit here in New York City.

New York City is getting prepared, getting ahead of the storm, getting ready with its salt spreaders and its plows, hundreds of them at the ready, especially during the primetime of rush hour this evening, where we're expected to get the brunt of the storm -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Alison, thank you.

A wintry mix already started falling in the outer suburbs around the nation's capital. Brianna Keilar is at the White House this morning.

D.C., they know a little bit about big snow fall, because it's not long ago you had the massive storm. How are people preparing there?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You know, today here, Soledad, it's really galoshes and raincoats. The capital is sort of dodging the brunt of the storm. We've got rain and that's really all we're expecting right here in downtown Washington, D.C.

I will tell you, we can commiserate because it was about three years ago where we were in the middle of snow-mageddon, right in between those two storms that brought feet of snow here to the D.C. area. So we've certainly been through it before.

But, as of right now, you're looking at the counties well outside of D.C., a couple hours south in Culpeper County, you've got about five inches of snow has fallen. There is some -- we're expecting some sleet and some freezing rain about an hour outside of D.C. But so far as I said, just rain here.

The thing is obviously, though, this is the center of government and FEMA is very much involved in looking toward the Northeast here and a lot of folks head towards New York, head towards the Northeast on the weekend. We are sort of moving into the period where we will be cut off from the Northeast when it comes to travel. So a lot of people will be rushing to get out of town.

We understand that FEMA has been sending, working with cell carriers to send out notifications to people directly by their cell phone in the Northeast to give them winter weather information so that they can have their warnings and we're told as well, Soledad, that the White House, President Obama and FEMA are in touch with local and state officials ahead of this storm.

O'BRIEN: Well, it's good to hear on that front because it looks like it's going to be very, very bad.

All right. Brianna, thank you.

Let's get right to Indra Petersons. She's in Boston. So, Indra, you know better than anybody what's coming your way. It does not look good. But 34 inches, really?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, the potential is there. I want to you imagine you are in Boston. It's been a mild winter, we're about 15 inches below normal for snow amounts and this morning -- I mean, we're seeing temperatures at the freezing mark. Winds are gusting, 20-mile-per-hour steady winds out here, but overall clear visibility.

I want to show you where the Customs Tower is. I want to track this throughout the day. This is less than a quarter mile and you can clearly see this, this morning. But by the afternoon, we're expecting snowfall rates of two to three inches per hour, gusts anywhere from 50 to even 70 miles per hour and that's the reason we have the blizzard warning in effect. This monstrous blizzard is expected to bring visibility down near zero.

So, when all is said and done, I can be standing here with three feet of snow and I can have banks of snow or flurries above my head. So, that's what we're expecting.

Everyone is doing exactly what Mayor Menino has asked them to do. They're staying home if they don't need to go to work today. At noon today, all cars are going to be off the roads and, you know, transportation is shut down.

People are staying home, they're waiting out this storm and they're trusting the government has everything in place -- which they do. They have 600 snow trucks ready to plow the roads, another 4,500 on standby. Even the National Guard is on stand by. So, everyone is waiting out the storm.

The best side to this is that, of course, it's on the weekend and they can do that.

O'BRIEN: The number of cartoons I have seen about people stocking up on beer and milk and bread.

Again, I'm going South, I'm fine.

BROWNSTEIN: Blizzard on a weekend can be cozy. People burrow in with hot chocolate or red wine. But 34 inches is kind of pushing cozy.


BROWNSTEIN: Yes, that's some of the other side. Yes.

O'BRIEN: Meteorologist Jennifer Delgado is tracking the system. You know, just a moment, Michael was saying we're going to be stuck for 10 days. He's obviously --


O'BRIEN: No, not 10 days.

DELGADO: He's right.

O'BRIEN: Really? How long is this going to -- I mean, give me the sense of how long the storm will take to go through and how bad it will be?

DELGADO: We're really going to see it pulling away from the coastline Saturday evening. But right now we start off with rain out there, but I also want to point out the last couple hours, we start to see more wintry mix working in the areas, like into New York, as well as into parts of Connecticut and into Rhode Island. But this is the storm that we're watching and we're watching this other one out in the Great Lakes.

When they combine, this is what is going to cause this big weather explosion of snow to arrive later in the day. So, again, we're going to track this for you.

As we start this of at 10:00 a.m., again, right now, right on track, we'll start to see some of the wetter snow moving in, but as we go into the afternoon, by 4:00, New York, you're going to see all snow there and really the same for parts of Boston. But when we get into the evening hours, as well as into the overnight hours, that's when we're really going to see the two storms merging and the heaviest snowfall is going to be coming down.

And we're talking all snow, in addition to the strong winds that Indra was talking about. Some of these wind gusts could still be up to about 70 miles per hour. Again, when we talk about some of the snowfall totals, we're talking for Boston, nearly 22 inches of snowfall. And for other areas again we're still talking potential of three feet of snow with these winds around, Soledad, up to 50 to 60 to 70.

This is going to be enough to, of course, take down some power lines, reduce visibility and also cause coastal flooding for areas like even that were damaged by superstorm Sandy last year -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right. Jennifer, thanks for watching this for us. We'll continue to check in with you. You guys ever follow Michael Bloomberg's parody site in Spanish?


O'BRIEN: So, here's what they're saying (INAUDIBLE).

All right. We're going to continue to cover this blizzard that's approaching like no other network can. We'll look at what's happening at the airports, thousands of cancellations already to tell you about.

Also covering our other top story this morning, the hunt for the alleged killer, an ex-cop in southern California, turns out -- reported overnight sighting of Christopher Dorner near an Indian reservation apparently at this hour has gone nowhere.

The 33-year-old Dorner is suspected of killing three people including one police officer. He's homicidal, possibly suicidal, according to this chilling letter that he posted online. His burned out struck was spotted in an area around the Big Bear Lake ski resort in San Bernardino. He, though, he remains at large at this hour.

CNN's Casey Wian is in Hollywood, California, this morning. Good morning, Casey.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. Law enforcement continues to be on high alert throughout southern California. Police agencies have asked their officers not to travel alone in their patrol cars. They're all pairing up for their own safety.

Police officers throughout the region are trying to not only protect potential targets of Christopher Dorner. They're also trying to find him.


WIAN (voice-over): A possible break in the hunt for Christopher Dorner as authorities find his truck burning on a remote road in Big Bear Lake, California. Police fanned out, rifles drawn, as they searched nearby woods and go door to door.

SHERIFF JOHN MCMAHON, SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: So, we'll keep working on it until we're either able to locate the suspect or determine he's no longer in the Big Bear Valley.

WIAN: Dorner, a former Los Angeles cop, has threatened to hurt L.A. police officers and their families, police say, in retribution for being fired in 2008. He allegedly laid out his plan in an online manifesto saying, quote, "I never had the opportunity to have a family of my own, I'm terminating yours."

Dorner also attempted to contact CNN, sending a parcel to our Anderson Cooper. In it, a hand-labeled DVD with a yellow post-it note that reads, "I never lied", an apparent reference to his firing when Dorner claims he was forced out after reporting alleged police brutality.

Also, a coin wrapped in duct tape, which was inscribed with "Thanks but no thanks, Will Bratton," a former chief of the Los Angeles Police Department.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chances are he would have received it from me. It would have the custom I have of when somebody was activated into the military heading overseas.

WIAN: CNN is cooperating with authorities. Police say it began Sunday in Irvine when Dorner killed two people, Monica Quan, the daughter of a former LAPD captain who represented Dorner in front of the police board that eventually fired him, and her fiance.

Three days later in San Diego, police say Dorner attempted to hijack a boat.

Then, early Thursday, Dorner fired at police officers in Corona, who were assigned to protect someone connected to Dorner's threats. One officer was hurt.

Later in Riverside, two officers are fired upon in what police call a cowardly ambush. One seriously hurt, the other killed.

Dorner's manifesto states, "The attacks will stop when the department states the truth about my innocence, publicly."

SERGIO DIAZ, RIVERSIDE POLICE CHIEF: He's told us what he intends to do. And so far, he's done it.

WIAN: Leaving the community on edge, wondering when the violence will stop.


WIAN: In that mountain community of Big Bear, law enforcement authorities warned residents not to open their doors to anyone that they don't know, or uniformed law enforcement personnel. The local sheriff there says he expects schools and the ski slopes to reopen today, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Goodness. How terrifying for people.

All right. Casey, thanks for the update.

Let's get right to James Usera. He is a college friend of Christopher Dorner. Dorner mentioned him in the manifesto.

I want to read a little bit about what he wrote about you. He gives you a lot of thanks and part of his manifesto. It's not confirmed that it's from Christopher Dorner.

But here is what was written, "Best quality about you in college and now is that you never sugar coated the truth. I will miss our political discussions that always turned argumentative. Thanks for introducing to outdoor sports like fishing, hunting, mudding, and even respect for the land and resources. You even introduced me to Pabst Blue Ribbon, a beer that when you're a poor college student is completely acceptable", on and on. "I love you, bro," is how he ends it. Tell us -- are you surprised you're mentioned and tell us about the Christopher Dorner that you knew.

JAMES USERA, FORMER CLASSMATE OF CHRISTOPHER DORNER: Sure, when I first read that and became aware of this manifesto and the fact I was mentioned, I confessed I was a little bit flattered, because I obviously had some positive effect on him. Having now had the opportunity to put it in context with the rest of the manifesto, it's obviously pretty shocking and I'm taken aback at sort of being subsumed into this discussion and into these events.

Having said all that, the Mr. Dorner that I knew was a very intelligent, articulate, rational, level-headed person. He mentions in that excerpt from the manifesto, political discussions that turned argumentative -- I don't know that that is necessarily accurate. I'm sure we had political discussions at times where we disagreed on things but I don't recall anything about Mr. Dorner that suggested to me, you know, being aggressive or violent or anything of that nature.

O'BRIEN: When you read the manifesto, he sort of goes between feeling he was victimized by people at the Los Angeles Police Department and also sort of these emotions of grandiosity, where he was the best, the top, the best marksman.

I mean, did he seem unstable to you. What's he like? Did he feel like he had wronged? The manifesto talks about a youth where he was wronged because of racial slurs.

I mean, did he talk to you about that stuff?

USERA: You know, that all came as a surprise. I haven't read the full manifesto. I've seen bits and pieces that's been reported on the news.

But, you know, I did recall having discussions with Mr. Dorner about racial issues. You know, my experience with him was that he was a person who had experienced racism. You know, as an African-American male growing up in southern California, he obviously had a different frame of reference than I did. So, I mean, I can't necessarily relate to that.

But we did have discussions about that. It was something he was sensitive to in my experience. But, you know, nothing about any comment he made suggested any kind of irrational behavior, nothing about him was, you know, violent or aggressive or anything that would serve as a predictor of the things that have occurred over the last few days.

O'BRIEN: The manifesto is really just teetering on the absolute bizarre.

James Usera, former classmate of Christopher Dorner, we appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for talking with me.

USERA: My pleasure.

O'BRIEN: We got a lot of other stories to cover for you this morning, and Christine has got a look at some of them. Good morning.

ROMANS: Thank you, Soledad. Good morning.

Nine government workers who were passing out polio vaccinations in Nigeria were killed Friday morning. Police tell us this happened in the northern city of Kano. The victims include eight women and one man. So far, no claims of responsibility but an Islamist militant group which condemned the use of Western medicine has been blamed for other attacks.

New this morning, Rupert Murdoch's News International striking more deals with some big names over phone hacking. We know now the list includes actor Hugh Grant who two years ago testified that British tabloid newspapers hacked his phone, broke into his home and accessed medical records. The list also includes Christopher Eccleston of "Heroes" and "Dr. Who" fame. This is the second group of suit to be settled by News International over that scandal.

New overnight, the Secret Service on the trail after someone hacked the e-mail accounts of the Bush family. A spokesman for former president George H.W. Bush tells "The Houston Chronicle" a criminal investigation is under way. Published reports say the unidentified hacker was able to access e-mails, photos, and other personal information about both former Bush presidents.

The veteran film critic Rex Reed go too far in his critic of the new comedy, "Identity Theft." In "The New York Observer," he referred to the film star Melissa McCarthy, that you may recognize in "Bridesmaid" as, quote, "tractor sized" and a, quote, "hippo." If that wasn't bad enough, Reed also wrote this: "McCarthy is a gimmick comedian who has devoted her short career to being obese and obnoxious with equal success."

O'BRIEN: What's so weird about this review, like you could hate a movie, and God knows, there are plenty of movies to hate, but he literally, in this review, attacks Melissa McCarthy, not for her bad acting, right? Like, hate her acting, hate the movie, hate the screenwriters, whatever you want. He just constantly goes back to the fact that she's overweight. I mean, like, it -- I don't get it.

ROMANS: And the commentary section of the paper went crazy. Fiery response --


ROMANS Attack the movie, don't attack the woman.

O'BRIEN: And did you not see her in "Bridesmaids," she's hilarious.

ABBY HUNTSMAN, HOST, "HUFFPOST LIVE": She's entertaining. Who are we to judge her? I mean, she is free to make her own choice.

BROWNSTEIN: Just real quick out of everything that you just, you know, enlightened us about, the idea that you could hack into the former presidents' e-mail is just kind of incredible -- an incredible story really. (CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: Well, the fed was hacked yesterday.


BROWNSTEIN: And the story this week about "The New York Times" and "Wall Street Journal" being targeted by, you know --


BROWNSTEIN: -- just the level of security issues that we're all facing.

ROMANS: I will be honest with you, it's much worse than we think because a lot of companies, a lot of people don't advertise that they have been hacked because they don't want to invite more hacking.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, we kind of believe that we're like kind of protected out there. So much of our life is now lived online.


O'BRIEN: All right, thanks, Christine. Appreciate it.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, John Brennan was grilled during his confirmation hearing as CIA director. Could the drone program prove to be a roadblock for him? We're going to talk to Senator Ron Wyden ahead.

You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Things turned pretty tense during the confirmation hearing for the president's pick to head the CIA. John Brennan's hearing was interrupted numerous times by protesters. And Brennan defending his position on the country's controversial drone programs to this.


JOHN BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR NOMINEE: I think there is a misimpression on the part of some American people who believe that we take strikes to punish terrorists for past transgressions. Nothing could be further from the truth. We only take such actions as a last resort to save lives when there's no other alternative to taking an action that's going to mitigate that threat.


O'BRIEN: The strongest criticism focused on elite Justice Department memo giving the president authority to order the killings of Americans overseas by drone strike.

Democratic senator, Ron Wyden, of Oregon says the White House hasn't lived up to its promise of transparency. He joins us this morning. It's nice to see you, sir. Thank you for talking with us.


O'BRIEN: So, you were accusing Brennan of stonewalling, leading up to this hearing and then you asked him a lot of questions back and forth at the hearing. Were you satisfied with what he told you?

WYDEN: There's still a lot of ground to cover.

O'BRIEN: Like what?

WYDEN: I certainly was encouraged when the president, for example, called me and said that he was going to address some of what we requested in terms of the legal analysis for these targeted killings of Americans. When I went to read the documents, however, I came away not convinced that we have everything. You asked, for example, about drones before.

I can tell you that there are certainly plenty of instances where the use of a drone is appropriate. It could be a roadblock to confirmation and there was concern on both sides of the aisle is the failure to give the intelligence committee the documents we need to do our work which is vigorous oversight.

O'BRIEN: So, what documents do you need? And do you think they're going to give them to you, and if they don't, are you go ahead and confirm him?

WYDEN: Every American has the right to know when their government believes it's allowed to kill them. And to really make an evaluation on that issue, we need to see the full legal analysis.

Now, what I read before the hearing certainly was a step in the right direction and I want to commend the president for certainly changing course and making additional material available, but to do our job, which is part of the checks and balances that makes our system of government so special, we need the full legal analysis.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask Ron Brownstein a question for a minute. He says it's a step in the right direction, but clearly, he's waiting for more documents to get a real analysis of how actually the decision is made to kill an American with a drone strike overseas.

BROWNSTEIN: I think there are two very distinct questions and I'd love to hear what the senator has to say about them, which is on the one, you want after the fact oversight by Congressional committees investigating or at least analyzing the decisions that were made or do you believe that there needs to be some other body that reviews his decisions before they are made.

Should the president be able to do this on his own decision or does someone else have to look at it before we decide that we are going to, in effect, take out an American citizen.

O'BRIEN: How, in fact, do you see that working, senator? Would you like a separate body that would analyze that?

WYDEN: First of all, I think we have to understand that in our system of checks and balances, the president is given enormous sway in the area of national security and particularly to protect our country in dangerous times like this, but it is not unfettered power.

There are checks and balances and what I did think again was a step in the right direction is John Brennan began to spell out the rules of engagement, some of the principles that he uses in terms of applying this particular kind of modern warfare. We have more to do and more to clarify.

O'BRIEN: So, that means you're waiting on some documents? Do you think they're forthcoming, and if they don't come, what do you do?

WYDEN: I made it clear yesterday, Soledad. We need to see any and all documents. That was the request by a bipartisan group of United States senators on the question of a legal analysis for targeted killings before we vote, and we need to do that in particular in order to carry out our responsibilities for vigorous oversight, public oversight, and engaging with the public the way the president told me he wanted to do, certainly, useful as well.

This committee is the one charged by law with conducting oversight. We need those documents to do it.

O'BRIEN: Senator Ron Wyden joining us this morning, a democrat from Oregon. Thank you, sir, for your time. Appreciate it.

WYDEN: Thank you for having me.

O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, a beloved novel about a young girl gets an update, but how are we feeling about Anne of Green Gables now. I mean, that's Anne of Green Gables? Come on people. We'll talk about that on the other side.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Trending on the web this morning, lots of people, kind of me included angry about an update, maybe an inappropriate -- yes, I'm a little angry. I'm a little -- I'm outraged about an update -- this is Anne of Green Gables. Have you guys --


ROMANS: I'm sure she's a lovely girl.

O'BRIEN: This is the cover of this reissued edition. You know, it's a story of an 11-year-old girl who she now is -- it's a story of an 11-year-old girl who is, you know, this cute girl, Anne of Green Gables. Now, it's like this hottie 17-year-old blond girl is the face of "Anne of Green Gables."

HUNTSMAN: But doesn't she have red hair, am I wrong?


HUNTSMAN: -- braids, and freckles and point chin.

O'BRIEN: Yes. I mean, that's like part of the book.

HUNTSMAN: This is all about money, though. I mean, they want to sell books. And I think they --

O'BRIEN: What?

HUNTSMAN: I know. Shocking, right? But the concept is sex sells. And that's --

O'BRIEN: Yes, but why?

SKOLNIK: Not this book.

O'BRIEN: "Anne of Green Gables" -- my daughter is 12, right? She is the audience of "Anne of Green Gables." Why does she need the hottie to sell the book to her?


ROMANS: Regular girls relate to girls who don't look like that. Regular girls relate to the red, you know, the red hair, the freckles, the pointy chin. You know what I mean?

O'BRIEN: This is like, this should be the cover of "Lolita."


HUNTSMAN: My little sister is 13 years old, around the age that you'd buy this book. And last time I walked in her bedroom, she had posters of like Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus, and they're all dressing very sexy. And I thought, you know, that age, that's where they are fascinated by the sex appeal.


O'BRIEN: I don't know. The story of "Anne of Green Gables" is not that, though, right?

HUNTSMAN: I totally agree.

O'BRIEN: This is what i spend my life doing this with humanity trying to come in on my 12-year-old daughter.


ROMANS: Leave Laura Ingalls alone.

BROWNSTEIN: I mean, this is -- official back. I'm just --


O'BRIEN: Worn like that. (CROSSTALK)

Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a live report on the very latest weather conditions is ahead. We'll tell you what's happening at the airports with thousands of flights already canceled, more probably ahead.

And a discount for well-behaved kids? I like that. We'll explain this restaurant receipt straight ahead.