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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

"Cruise From Hell" Finally Over; Olympic Hero in Court; Hagel Vote Blocked; Meteor Shower in Ural Mountains; Cruise Nightmare: What Now?

Aired February 15, 2013 - 06:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Feels really good to be on land and not be swaying back and forth.

(END VIDEO CLIP

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Back on solid ground. Passengers finally leave the Carnival cruise ship Triumph, but the voyage home isn't over for most.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And high drama in the courtroom. Just a short time ago, international sports icon Oscar Pistorius broke down in tears. He was shaking as the judge charged him with murdering his model girlfriend.

ROMANS: And new this morning: explosions in the sky. Hundreds of injuries reported after a meteor blows up just before the hitting the Earth.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START this morning. I'm Christine Romans.

SAMBOLIN: John Berman is going to join us later on "STARTING POINT". I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is Friday, February 15th, just about 6:00 a.m. in the East, so let's get started here.

Up first, the Carnival ship, Triumph, returns and the cruise from hell is finally over. Thousands of passengers who've spent five days stranded at sea and slogging through sewage are now sleeping in their warm beds, maybe they're on buses or trains or on their plane rides home.

Carnival's crippled cruise liner docked late last night in Mobile, Alabama, to all of those cheering crowds. Passengers began streaming of about an hour later. Some of them were really angry, and others were actually taking it all in stride. All of them relieved just to be back on shore.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are glad to be on dry land. Our -- it's just been a horrible experience for us. It was a great cruise to start off with, but it just -- you know, the morning of.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Saturday morning at 5:30 there was a fire alarm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we've been kept in the dark a lot. We haven't been told everything that we probably should have known and it was just -- you know, the --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's because you just --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Things just kept getting worse and worse and we could never get a straight answer, bathroom facilities were horrible, couldn't flush toilets. No electricity. Our rooms were total darkness. No air, and we had -- we had -- it was --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Horrible, horrible.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A really taxing experience for us. Honestly, I don't think this ship should have ever sailed out. I think there were issues with it, and I think it should have probably stayed in dock.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN: Well, as we understand it, that ship is actually going to remain docked there for a while, and they will look into that, whether or not it should have been sailing, what's wrong with it.

Let's go right to David Mattingly. He is live in Mobile, Alabama this morning. Officials said it would take five hours to get everybody off of the boat. So what we want to know, is everybody off? I know the passengers got off first, but the crew was still on board.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the passengers are off the ship. That was the one thing about this voyage that seemed to go off without a hitch. They predicted it would take four or five hours, took exactly that amount of time.

The Carnival cruise ship sending out a tweet just a couple of hours ago that the last passenger was off the ship and on the way to their hotel room and that long-awaited hot shower.

What we're waiting for right now is to see the crew come off, the 1,000-plus members of the crew who had to work so hard, living in the same conditions the passengers were living in, but also having the responsibility of taking care of those passengers.

They have not yet come off the ship. There are a couple dozen buses waiting to take them away also to a hotel room, a nice warm place to sleep and a nice hot meal.

SAMBOLIN: They really deserve it. Especially after we heard from the passengers, everything they did in order to try to make them comfortable. So for days, David, we've been hearing about the filthy conditions and actually quite descriptive filthy conditions, but now we are actually seeing images, all of those cell phone cameras in action. Can you share some of those with us? MATTINGLY: That's right. We were hearing the thousand words before we saw the pictures and the pictures exactly match the description. We were getting from passengers on board earlier in the week.

They were posted to social media. Just as soon as people were within cell range, when they got close to Mobile, and this is what we were seeing, hallways, floors that were soaked with sewage, the sewage that sloshed out of the system, and drained from deck down to deck down to deck when the ship was listing to one side.

We saw the passengers sleeping on mattresses outside in the hallways who had to get away from their cabins because they couldn't stand the terrible smell that was inside. And some of those pictures we saw, it looked like the line of people sleeping outside was just absolutely endless.

We saw long lines for food. We saw people just languishing outside on board with nothing to do, just waiting to get to port. The only thing that was different once everyone arrived, they were able to smile and laugh.

And there was a great sense of relief as they finally set down here, putting their feet on dry land for the first time in days, getting away from all of that stress, all of that smell, those terrible conditions that were there on board.

SAMBOLIN: You know, you are right, David. As we were watching them, they are handling this well, right. They were all giddy and happy and sharing all of their stories. Thank you so much, David Mattingly, live in Mobile, Alabama.

It is 4 minutes past the hour. Shaking uncontrollably, Olympic hero Oscar Pistorius broke down in court this morning as murder charges were read against him. Pistorius, seen here leaving jail en route to today's hearing, is accused in the shooting death of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp.

A double amputee, Pistorius made Olympic history when he won a silver medal as part of a South African relay team. Prosecutors say they are seeking a charge of pre-meditated murder against Pistorius whose bail hearing has been postponed until next week now.

CNN's Robyn Curnow is live in Pretoria with more on today's developments. Robyn, what is the latest?

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm standing outside the court where Oscar Pistorius appeared this morning. All these people around me are journalists, you can tell by the size of this group, the vast international reaction and interest in this case.

Now, inside the courtroom, it was incredibly emotional. Very hot, very stuffy, lots of people standing, sitting, trying to get a glimpse of what the magistrate was saying and hearing, also trying to get a glimpse of Oscar Pistorius.

When he walked in, he was standing up straight. When the magistrate read out the charges, he literally put his head in his hands and started sobbing. It was very, very sad. He then went on to sit down as his lawyers and the prosecutors sort of talked with the magistrate.

And during that whole process, he looked like he was desperately trying to control himself. He was holding his hands. He was shaking uncontrollably. Occasionally he would break down again. It appears at times he might have been trying -- he might have been praying.

All in all, he looked incredibly fragile and broken and absolutely devastated by these events. Of course, the implications of this, the prosecution looking to charge him with premeditated murder. I mean, the implications are that he faces life in prison.

SAMBOLIN: Robyn, if I could just ask you one question. It is about domestic violence. There were some allegations about some domestic issues in the past. He was arrested in 2009. Can you tell us anything about that? Does he have a history of this?

CURNOW: You know, I think that we have to be careful about any sort of character assassination. We have to be quick to jump on some rumors and things. I mean, I will be very cautious that the assault charge brought against him in 2009 was dropped because of a lack of evidence by the police.

Any other charges, there haven't been any other charges brought against him. The police have hinted at previous domestic disturbances. We're unclear that what means, terms of his relationship with Reeva. There was no sense it had been a violent relationship.

So I think before any of this information comes to court, we have to be careful of judging him or painting him, as there has been some sort of domestic violence. Really unclear on what happened that morning inside his home on Valentine's Day.

And I think over the next few days, we might get some more information, some more details. Because this hearing, this bail hearing has been postponed until Tuesday, it means we're really not going to get more much official information over the next few days unless they leak or drip, drip information coming from prosecutors or police. I really am reluctant to speculate at this moment.

SAMBOLIN: No. We really appreciate that. Robyn Curnow live in Pretoria for us.

I just want to make a correction here. It is "domestic allegations" and I said "domestic violence allegations". The allegations were domestic allegations that is their wording, their legal wording.

ROMANS: All right, let's get to another big story we're following this morning. No vote today, Republican senators using a filibuster to block Chuck Hagel's confirmation as Defense Secretary and put off a vote until they return to a 10-day vacation.

The delay angering Democrats and the White House who says filibustering the president's nominee is unprecedented and unconscionable. More now from our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ayes 58, nays 40.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A moment for the history books.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The motion is not agreed to.

BASH: Chuck Hagel fell short of the 60 votes needed to break a GOP filibuster of his nomination to be Defense Secretary. Only four Republicans supported their former Senate GOP colleague.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: The filibuster of Senator Hagel's confirmation is unprecedented. I repeat, not a single nominee for Secretary Defense ever in the history of our country has been filibustered, never, ever.

BASH: Republicans argued they need more time, saying Hagel is too controversial to be confirmed, only days after getting through committee on a party line vote.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R), TENNESSEE: The president has the right to appoint people in whom he has confidence, but we have a constitutional responsibility to consider the nominee. A number of the Republican senators have questions.

BASH: But Democrats see it another way. That Republicans are dragging their feet on Hagel in order to look for more information to bring him down.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Let's not hide behind a filibuster. Let's have the courage to vote yes or vote no. Don't hide behind parliamentary tricks.

BASH: The White House knew from day one Hagel's confirmation would not be easy. Controversial statements on Israel, Jews and gays as well as his position on Iran and Iraq put him in the crosshairs on senators on both sides of the aisle, but mostly fellow Republicans and a widely panned performance at his confirmation hearing even by Democrats didn't help.

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY NOMINEE: I -- I misspoke and said I supported the president's position on containment.

BASH: But only in the last 48 hours did it become clear that Hagel did not have the votes to overcome a filibuster this week.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Senators have the right to have those questions answered.

BASH: Mostly because a handful of GOP senators who said they would not block Hagel, including John McCain, reversed themselves, deciding to go along with the majority of Republicans, demanding next week's Senate recess to study the nomination and ask more questions. MCCAIN: I think during the break, it's sufficient time to get any additional questions answered, and I will vote in favor of cloture on the day we get back and I believe my colleagues would also -- my colleagues would do the same.

BASH: Another vote to try to stop the Hagel filibuster is already on the schedule, a little less than two weeks from now when the Senate returns from a break. A number of Republican senators who voted no now say they will vote yes then. If they stick to that, Hagel should be confirmed as next Defense Secretary after a tough time from his former colleagues in the Senate.

Dana Bash, CNN, Capitol Hill.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right, another developing story overnight. A meteor shower shaking up residents in Russia. Look at this, a powerful blast followed by bright, burning objects falling from the sky. Russian officials say 500 people now have been injured.

We want to go back to Phil Black on the phone again for us from Moscow. This was a pretty wide swath of area too, where this meteor exploded and most people we're told it was glass injuries. Walk us through.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Yes, that's right. What's becoming clear is that a lot of people have been hurt and a lot of buildings damaged across a very wide area in just a few terrifying moments.

The latest injuries count is now up around 500 or so. That's how many Russian authorities say have sought medical help. Around 100 people are being treated in hospitals. The vast number of injuries are just cuts and scratches from broken glass.

The windows across this wide area were shattered and there were sonic booms, shock waves. That's what really terrified people, and that's what has inflicted most of the damage and most of the injuries, and people within that area, have suffered broken and flying glass.

Russian authorities believe this was one large meteor that hit the atmosphere, tremendous speed, showering across a wide area and trying to track the various pieces that made their way to the earth's surface. They believe main cause of the damage, the injuries being recorded was the shock wave, the sonic boom as a result of that impact.

ROMANS: Injuries -- you can characterize them mostly as minor. The people who have been admitted to the hospital mostly minor glass injuries?

BLACK: Most of them, 500 or so reported, most of them are minor, yes. And of the 100 in hospital, again, not too serious, but we're hearing there could be two, three, maybe a little more that are in according to the Russian authorities, grave condition. We have no details of precisely what those injuries may be, but it is still a startling number of people to have been hurt, just within a few seconds, all of this sort of glass, at 9:20 this morning is when people first started seeing bright lights, loud booms, seeing the streaks across the sky and all of this damage, all of this injuries were inflicted just in those few moments.

ROMANS: It did disrupt cell phone communications, isn't it?

BLACK: There are some reports at that time, cell phone network was disrupted. We don't know if that was a direct result of what was coming through the earth's atmosphere at the time or if the shock, the panic, the confusion that would have followed in the moments that followed.

So many people diving for their phones, trying to find out precisely what was going on, we don't know precisely what the cause of the disruption was, but there were significant disruptions in communication at that time in the moment after this meteor.

ROMANS: All right, Phil Black for us in Moscow, certainly terrifying.

SAMBOLIN: At 9:30 in the morning, crazy.

ROMANS: International sports icon in his weakest moment. Olympic star runner Oscar Pistorius reduced to tears this morning in court. Shaking and facing murder charges in the death of his girlfriend. We're going to speak with a defense lawyer who has defended clients like Joran Van Der Sloot about this case, coming up.

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SAMBOLIN: A hero to millions breaking down in tears in a South African court this morning while answering to formal murder charges. Oscar Pistorius, a gold medal-winning Paralympic athlete known the world over as "Blade Runner" will remain in jail after a just- concluded bail hearing.

Joe Tacopina is a criminal defense attorney who's defended clients like Joran Vander Sloot. And he is joining us now from Rome.

Thank you for spending some time with us this morning.

So, what we know is that he has appeared in court this morning. They have postponed the bail and the prosecutors say that they are seeking a premeditated murder charge now. What does that tell you?

JOE TACOPINA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It tells me that they believe they have enough evidence to prove that this wasn't an accident, that this wasn't a situation where he believed there was an intruder coming into his home. That they believed there was some evidence or there is some evidence that shows that this was an intentional act. Of course, we don't know what that is yet.

I have read wild speculation and media reports regarding, you know, prior instances of domestic abuse in the house, not particularly with this current girlfriend, but, you know, just don't know what it is.

I've also heard reports where people say they have heard, arguing, prior to the shots, which doesn't seem to ring true, because the house looks pretty substantial and wasn't a small apartment connected to another apartment. So, we just don't know what the evidence is yet.

But the prosecutors have clearly their crime scene investigation team out since the beginning of this, and for some reason, they believe that this was not an accident.

SAMBOLIN: We have a couple of reporters on the ground there, and one was saying that the domestic issues right now is a lot of rumor and speculation that we really don't have any clear cut facts on that.

Another bit of information that came out of the courtroom this woman was shot through a bathroom door. So that's another bit of detail we have this morning.

So if you are the defense attorney, what are you doing right now?

TACOPINA: Well, right now, you are just trying to cope with the -- the ramp speculation and the media reports that are condemning your client right away, and in a case like this, high-profile case, you know, there is an urge to jump to a conclusion, one way or another. You want to sort of resist that temptation and try to get people to understand that, you know, we don't know all the facts yet and we don't.

Prosecutors are assuming it was an intentional act, because perhaps they don't have any evidence that it wasn't. So, as a defense lawyer, what I'm trying to do right now is sort of calm the masses and get a little, you know, of the investigatory stage behind them and really see where this turns out. I mean, the client has been cooperating with police is my understanding, has given statements.

And the fact that the girlfriend was shot through a bathroom door as opposed to five feet in front of them, you know, does support the notion that this was a situation where he thought someone was breaking into the house or intruding. Of course, there would to be a window in that bathroom big enough for an intruder to climb through, otherwise, he's going to have a problem with that defense.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. A very good point. A lot of details, but we don't have a lot of information yet. And, of course, this is a developing story.

Joe Tacopina, criminal defense attorney, we appreciate your time and expertise this morning.

ROMANS: Coming up, the other big story we're following this morning. All of the passengers from the Carnival cruise line, cruise ship, are home. I'm going to talk about what happens now, with the executives of this company, and the P.R. mop up that must begin starting yesterday.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, when we come back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. We're minding your business this morning.

Stocks trying to reach those record highs, but they're having a little bit of a tough time and futures are pointing to a lower open again today. In the meantime, Wall Street and Main Street are keeping a close eye at the management at Carnival.

ROMANS: That's right.

SAMBOLIN: Passengers are finally off the ship but everybody is wondering how management is going to continue to handle this.

ROMANS: Yes. Anybody in business is watching what's happening with Carnival management now and saying, this is instructive for anybody with a P.R. nightmare, right? It's a crucial moment for Carnival management. Some say this is Carnival's Deepwater Horizon. Thankfully, no one perished in the incident, but it is a P.R. nightmare.

Remember what happened to this guy? This is the BP CEO Tony Hayward. He was forced out after the 2010 oil spill. He famously said back then he wanted his life back during the drama in the Gulf. Well, no doubt, the Carnival management team today is feeling some pressure under all this spotlight.

Last night, Carnival Cruise CEO Gerry Cahill apologized.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GERRY CAHILL, CEO, CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES: I know the conditions on board were very poor. I know that it was very difficult. And I want to apologize again for subjecting our guests to that. We pride ourselves on providing our guests with a great vacation experience and clearly we failed in this particular case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Carnival also offering refunds, cash, a flight home, credit toward another cruise.

But look at where Micky Arison was this week, a Miami Heat game. He is the CEO of Carnival Corporation, the parent company which owns Carnival, Holland, American Princess. So, this drama is unfolding and he's at a Heat game. But he's also part owner of the Heat, we should point out. And his net worth, $5 billion.

Gerry Cahill, who you heard gave that apology, he's the CEO of just the Carnival Cruises Lines of ships. He got a $3.7 million pay package from Carnival in 2011. He will earn every penny of that this year while he tries to deal with this crisis.

But some analysts we talked to aren't worried. They say, long term, loyalists are going to still book trip. Did you know that after the Costa Concordia went aground last year and 32 people died, bookings did not suffer? Carnival shares stabilized, they were down Wednesday, 4 percent, have stabilized since then. But, Zoraida, for Carnival management, this moment is critical here.

SAMBOLIN: And ahead on EARLY START, all of the passengers are off the cruise ship Triumph and they are headed home. We'll speak with one passenger about her ordeal. That's coming up.

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