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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

"Blade Runner" Bail Hearing; Nike Severe Ties with Pistorius; 30 Million in Path of Winter Storm; Convincing Iran to Abandon Nuclear Program; Car Bomb Explodes in Central Damascus; PlayStation 4 is Here

Aired February 21, 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: It could come down at any moment. A South African court is expected to rule on bail for Olympic star Oscar Pistorius. And this after a bombshell revelation about the lead detective on the case.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A terrifying moment seen in real time. A surveillance camera captures that deadly blast that reduced a Kansas City restaurant to rubble.

SAMBOLIN: And right now, a winter storm is plowing across 18 states. It's affecting some 30 million people. In some places, we're talking feet of snow, not inches.

ROMANS: And first on CNN, more fallout from the David Petraeus sex scandal. Army brass taking action after that steamy affair that brought down the director of the CIA.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans. I'm in for John Berman this morning.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is Thursday, February 21st. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East. So, let's get started here.

At any moment, we could learn whether Oscar Pistorius will be granted bail, despite a charge of premeditated murder against him. The latest development from our Robyn Curnow who is from inside the courtroom is that proceedings are adjourned right now because the state needs to find the lead investigating officer. That officer, Hilton Botha, now facing attempted murder charges for allegedly opening fire on a mini bus carrying seven people. That was back in 2009.

At stake for Pistorius, if he doesn't get bail -- possibly months in prison before a full trial actually gets under way. Nkepile Mabuse has the very latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NKEPILE MABUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: South Africa woke up to absolutely shocking news this Thursday morning that the investigating officer in the Oscar Pistorius murder case is himself attempted murder.

A radio station reporting this morning is that Hilton Botha, the main witness yesterday in the bail hearing of Oscar Pistorius, in 2009, was charged with seven counts of attempted murder, allegedly, because he shot at a mini-bus taxi and injured seven. The reports go on to say that he was allegedly driving a police car and that he was allegedly under the influence of alcohol.

We spoke to the National Prosecuting Authority about these allegations and they have confirmed that charges have been reinstated against this investigating officer. In 2009, the charges were dropped. We understand on the 4th of February, they were reinstated. But the National Prosecuting Authority not confirming that the charges are attempted murder charges.

So we're working to confirm those details for you. But, of course, this goes into the credibility of the state's -- one of the state's main cases. And really as twists and turns continue in this Oscar Pistorius matter, everybody here in South Africa is expecting that Pistorius will be granted bail today after his defense team poked holes in the state's case that they presented in the Pretoria magistrate's court yesterday.

Nkepile Mabuse, CNN, Johannesburg.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: Just into CNN this morning, Nike now suspending its contract with Oscar Pistorius. The deal is believed to be worth $2 million.

And an ad featuring Pistorius with the words "I am the bullet in the chamber" has already been pulled. Nike saying in the statement, quote, "We believe Oscar Pistorius should be afforded due process and we will continue to monitor the situation closely." But, again, Nike suspending its endorsement contract with Pistorius.

SAMBOLIN: Meantime, all Reeva Steenkamp's family wants is the truth. That is what her half brother Adam said in an exclusive interview on "ANDERSON COOPER 360" last night.

As for the possibility of Pistorius being granted bail today, here's what he told CNN's Jake Tapper.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADAM STEENKAMP, REEVA'S HALF BROTHER (via telephone): I don't have any absolutely terrible bad feelings. I'm not wishing bad things on anyone else. But if I were to detach myself from the situation which I suppose I can't do, under the circumstances, I would think it would be rather strange if someone who did something like this were to get bail.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Coming up at 6:30 Eastern, we'll break down this morning's development at the Pistorius bail hearing with CNN legal contributor Paul Callan.

ROMANS: Right now, 30 million people are in the path of a huge winter storm system moving from California into the Central Plains. Eighteen states are in the crosshairs here. The powerful storm blanketed the Rockies and even brought snow as far south as Tucson, Arizona. Blizzard conditions including fierce winds and sleet ripping through parts of Nebraska, South Dakota, and Iowa. February in the Midwest.

Parts of Kansas facing the biggest threat of heavy snow. The effects of this giant storm system are already being felt there. The National Weather Service predicting heavy snowfall across the state with up to 18 inches in the forecast in some areas. Kansas State University has canceled classes and the Kansas City International Airport is cancelling some flights.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback even shutting down state offices through Friday morning ahead of the storm.

CNN's Erin McPike is live in Wichita where it is coming down hard. Good morning, Erin.

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. You're right. It is coming down very hard and very fast. And I'll tell you that just an hour ago, looking out the window, you couldn't really see anything on the ground. It wasn't coming down that hard. But already, we're seeing a lot of accumulation.

What we do know is it's called a thunder snow because we're hearing a lot of thunder and lightning which is kind of weird. You don't hear that very often. At least not out here.

This area hasn't seen a big snowstorm like this in about six years. So everybody needs to be very prepared, lots of cancellations. It's moving East, too, into Nebraska. And so the Big 10 has already canceled the Iowa-Nebraska game for tonight and postponing that for Saturday.

So, Christine, lots of snow.

ROMANS: You know it's serious when you have to cancel the Iowa- Nebraska game. That's all I got to say. Coming from the Midwest.

MCPIKE: Absolutely.

ROMANS: Erin McPike, I know everyone takes it very seriously, and stay safe there. Big storm system. Thanks, Erin.

SAMBOLIN: Right now, it looks like a winter wonderland, don't you think?

ROMANS: It does.

SAMBOLIN: But the storm system is really huge, eventually stretching from the Dakotas to Houston, Texas. And while it dumps snow in the North, it will also pour heavy rain over New Orleans and Montgomery, Alabama. And it could kick up tornadoes along the Gulf Coast as well.

So, let's get right to Jennifer Delgado. She's in the weather center in Atlanta monitoring all of this for us. Good morning. JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEROLOGIST: Good morning, guys. You can see on the radar we have a lot of action out there. We have thunderstorms out there. You can see the lightning, a line of storms developing through parts of Texas as well as snow -- we saw the live shot -- the snow coming down even more on the way as well as that wintry mix affecting areas right along Interstate 44.

So let's break this down for you. What can we expect today? Well, a big mess out there if you're going to be traveling. As we go throughout the morning now, what you're going to see is the snow intensifying. As we move to the north through areas like Kirin (ph), as well as in Celina, we're seeing the snow really starting to pick up. Some of these locations, we're talking 12 to 18 inches of snowfall in some parts, even an eastern Kansas they're going to see a lot of snow.

And then this is going to be the real mess. You can see through northern parts of Arkansas as well as into western Memphis, look at that wintry mix. Also in the southern part of Missouri, this is going to lead to ice accumulation.

So, this means driving on the roadway is going to be dangerous. This combination with strong winds is going to lead to some power lines coming down as well as some trees. The weight of the ice and then you combine that with winds at times we're going to see very limited visibility.

Now, we talk about how big the storm system is and the wide area that it's affecting. You can see we're talking 18 states out there from Minnesota, Michigan, all the way down towards New Mexico, and even affecting the northern parts of Texas.

So, how long is this going to last? Well, this is going to go through the day and the snowfall amounts are going to be incredible with this triple threat storm. You can see the areas in purple as I said to you, possibly up to about 18, 20 inches of snowfall.

This is not going to be fun. I have to tell you guys, I'm a little bit envious of our reporter out in that snow. I would like to visit -- I like to visit snow. I don't want to live amongst the snow.

ROMANS: It means chains on your tires. It means snow plows. It means --

SAMBOLIN: Skiing.

DELGADO: Chocolate, trapped in your house.

ROMANS: Thanks so much, Jennifer.

DELGADO: You're welcome, guys.

ROMANS: Also developing overnight, five people dead in the crash of a small plane near Augusta, Georgia. This is new video, first we've seen from the crash. One of the passengers onboard, the pilot survived. Authorities say after the Beechcraft jet was on a flight from Nashville to Thompson, Georgia, it landed last night, ran off the end of the runway.

CNN's Victor Blackwell is following developments live from Thompson, Georgia, for us this morning. Good morning.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. And we're getting new information from local law enforcement officials that indicating that this plane did not actually go off the end of the runway, it either completely overshot the runway or never actually came in to land. And I'll tell you why.

We're standing right next to the airport. And the runway is a few hundred yards away and ends at this four lane road. We're told by that local law enforcement official that the first evidence of the plane, the first pieces are a few hundred yards in a field on the other side of the plane and they scatter about a mile to a mile and a halfback in that direction.

There would be no evidence on this side of the road. If that plane had gone into the road or off the runway, it possibly could have hit a car or gone into a building across the street. Actually, all the evidence is on the other side of that building.

Now, what we've learned from the sheriff here is that the first indication that something was wrong was about 8:30 last night when 911 dispatchers received calls about power outages. So, they came to investigate the outage and that's when they found the crash site. They also say there was a fire that was extinguished soon after.

We're told there were no injuries on the ground. Again, five people killed, two people sent to hospitals. There are substations in this field. There are power lines here. And that's likely why the power was out.

Thousands of people, this business right behind me, a technical college without power. So, we know that federal authorities were here yesterday. They'll be back at sunrise. We should get more information from the FAA and the NTSB about exactly how this happened.

Back to you.

ROMANS: All right. Victor Blackwell -- thank you so much, Victor.

SAMBOLIN: Ten minutes past the hour. New developments this morning in a shooting and carjacking spree in Orange County, California, that left four people dead including the gunman. Police just releasing 911 calls from that case.

The killings began early Tuesday morning when police say 20-year-old Ali Syed fatally shot a young woman at his parents' home. That prompted his mother to make this frantic call to 911.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

OPERATOR: 911, what's your emergency?

CALLER: Yes, I think somebody is shot. OPERATOR: Take a deep breath and tell me what's going on, OK?

CALLER: Please come.

OPERATOR: Explain to me what's going on, please.

CALLER: I can't talk. Please come.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: That poor woman. Police say Syed then committed three carjackings, killing two drivers in the process. The killing spree ended when Syed turned the weapon on himself and took his own life.

Former Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. facing up to five years in prison when he is sentenced. That's scheduled June 28th. He pleaded guilty yesterday to using $750,000 in campaign funds over a 7- year-period to buy personal items such as a Rolex watch that cost more than $43,000.

Jackson's wife Sandy, a former Chicago alderman, also pleaded guilty to filing false income returns related to the use of campaign funds. She faces up to three years in prison.

ROMANS: We're getting a very first look at surveillance video capturing the moment a gas explosion and fire wiped out JJ's Restaurant in Kansas City. Witnesses said it sounded like thunder, felt like an earthquake. One person was killed. More than a dozen others injured. Authorities say a utility construction crew severed a gas line leading to the massive explosion.

SAMBOLIN: A Boeing executive meets with FAA officials tomorrow to lay out the company's plan to fix a problem with its 787 Dreamliner jets. The fleet has been grounded because of battery issues that ignited at least two fires. Boeing hopes to get the planes back in the air by April.

ROMANS: First on CNN, the Army doing an about-face on the promotion of Paula Broadwell, David Petraeus' former mistress. Defense officials decided to revoke Broadwell's promotion from major to lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves after initially approving it last summer. Since the Petraeus scandal broke, Broadwell has been under investigation for having classified information in her home without permission.

SAMBOLIN: I know you're tired of hearing this. But this just in, gas prices rising again. The nationwide average for a gallon of regular gas jumped up about a penny to $3.78 a gallon. That's 35 straight days that the price of gas has gone up.

ROMANS: And in those days, it's up 47 cents or so in about 35 days. So that is something people are really feeling, really feeling that.

All right. Big developments in the works this morning aimed at ending the nuclear standoff between Iran and the West. We're going to go live to Washington coming up. SAMBOLIN: Plus, bowling and strippers. A suburban mother in trouble after racy pictures involving her own son surface on the Web. How is she involved? You'll find out when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START.

New developments this morning in the global effort to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear program. Six world powers including the U.S. and Russia have a plan, and they're going to present it to the Iranians in talks next Tuesday. The goal is to offer serious economic incentives in exchange for Iran's shutting down uranium enrichment facility and surrendering its stockpile of enriched uranium.

Foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott is in Washington with details of this new proposal. What's new about it? I know last year they tried to do this and they didn't go for it. What's new here?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: That's right, Christine. It's been about a year since the U.S. and the partners sat down with Iran over its nuclear program. And the Iranians have been making a good deal of progress on the developments since that time.

So they're sweetening the pot, so to speak, and asking more of Iran in return when they sit down next week in Kazakhstan.

Now, in exchange for easing the ban on the trade of gold and precious metals to Iran and some nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes, Iran must close its enrichment facility at Fordow, which is underground. Now, that's the concern here, that the longer Iran keeps this underground facility open and becomes more difficult to stop them militarily from having the uranium needed for a nuclear weapon. And they also want Iran to ship out the uranium that's already enriched to a pretty high purity level.

Now, Iran has already rejected the plan. My sources are saying that expectations are pretty low for these talks because Iran has its elections coming up in June. Nobody thinks the Iranians are ready to make a deal before that. They don't want to be seen as making concessions to the West before these elections.

But, Christine, Iran's economy, as you know, is really hurting because of these biting sanctions the U.S. and European Union slapped on them -- this ban on oil and against their central bank. In the last year alone, Iranian currency has fallen 80 percent. And so, the U.S. and its partners feel it's good to get the talks going, see what Iran wants.

The hope is maybe they'll feel the crunch and deal seriously after the elections because people are really hurting.

ROMANS: All right. Elise Labott -- thank you so much, Elise.

SAMBOLIN: Eighteen minutes past the hour. We have breaking news just in to CNN. A car bomb targeting the headquarters of Syria's ruling party exploding in central Damascus. Syrian state television reporting an undisclosed number of casualties. The vehicle detonated at a checkpoint manned by government soldiers in front of the Baath socialist party's main office and the Russian embassy. This is according to a human rights group.

We're going to have updates on this breaking news story throughout the morning for you.

ROMANS: All right, also happening now, day three of track star Oscar Pistorius' bail hearing. We're still waiting to see if Pistorius will be released. Court has resumed after they located the lead investigator, Hilton Botha. The bombshell new information this morning that the lead investigator, the investigator, faces attempted murder charges for allegedly opening fire on a mini bus carrying seven people back in 2009.

SAMBOLIN: And new this morning, Nike has suspended its contract with Pistorius. The deal is believed to be worth $2 million. An ad featuring Pistorius with the words "I am the bullet in the chamber," that has already been pulled. And Nike says, quote, "We believe Oscar Pistorius should be afforded due process and we will continue to monitor the situation closely."

ROMANS: Much of the country is under a severe weather warning this morning. Thirty million people are in the path of a powerful winter storm that's dropping snow, ice and sleet across several states in the Central Plains and Midwest. The system is huge, 800,000 square miles, that's 18 states.

The National Weather Service predicting up to 18 inches of snow in parts of Kansas today.

SAMBOLIN: And with forced budget cuts set to kick in March 1st in a "USA Today"/Pew poll finds that a majority of Americans agree with President Obama's approach to tackling the deficit. Seventy-six percent want a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. And 70 percent say it's essential for the president and Congress to pass major legislation to reduce the federal budget deficit. Potential impact of automatic budget cuts on middle class and families and small businesses will be the focus of a House hearing. That is scheduled for today.

And police near Albany, New York, say a mom hired strippers to perform at her son's 16th birthday party. You heard right. This is at a local bowling alley. The D.A. says some of the kids were as young as 13 years old.

Thirty-three-year-old Judy Viger (ph) is charged with five counts of endangering the welfare of a child. Parents found out about it when steamy photos began popping up on Facebook. You know, kids love to share everything. There you have it.

ROMANS: Are you kidding me?

SAMBOLIN: Mom is in trouble now. No, I'm not kidding you.

ROMANS: Are you kidding me?

SAMBOLIN: True story.

ROMANS: I would have a heart attack.

SAMBOLIN: I would imagine a lot of parents did, huh?

ROMANS: No mom of the year awards there in Albany.

All right. It's game on again for PlayStation. Consumers getting a first look at Sony's new game console. They should have been playing video games.

SAMBOLIN: Well, not violent ones, right?

ROMANS: It was unveiled just hours ago.

SAMBOLIN: Really judgmental this morning.

ROMANS: Does it live up to the hype?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Good morning. Minding your business this morning.

Stock futures lower now. The Dow dropped 108 points yesterday after minutes from the Federal Reserve's policy meeting hinted that the Fed may scale back its bond buying program. And, of course, that program engineered by Fed Chief Ben Bernanke is credited with helping drive stocks to record highs.

Wall Street also gets a batch of corporate earnings reports and economic data this morning, including Walmart, which will be incredibly important for the health of the economy and the consumer and especially the paycheck to paycheck crowd who is suffering from smaller paychecks, higher gas prices and delayed tax refunds.

A survey out this morning from the National Retail Federation shows recession era spending habits are back. Since the payroll tax holiday expired, those who earn $30,000 a year are taking home about $50 less a month. If you make $100,000 a year, you're taking home $167 less.

Most people say they're just spending less overall. But they're cutting back in a variety of ways. Less dining out. They're limiting vacations and travel, and they're reducing their energy use.

We're going to get more insight, as I said, from Walmart when it releases its quarterly earnings later this morning -- incredibly important for the health of the typical American consumer.

Now, the future of gaming has arrived for the typical American gamer. Sony unveiled its PlayStation 4 console Wednesday night here in New York. The hot features, social network integration, streaming capabilities and super charged processor which will make for impressive high def graphics. So far, video game bloggers seem excited and, of course, as we all know, they're not an easy crowd to please.

So, PlayStation 4 trying to recapture the heyday of PlayStation.

SAMBOLIN: We need the kids to weigh in also --

ROMANS: I know.

SAMBOLIN: -- to find out if it's a huge success.

Twenty-seven minutes past the hour.

Angry that their dream vacation turned into a five-day ordeal at sea. You know what we're talking about. Passengers of the Carnival's Triumph cruise are now taking action and they may be asking for really big bucks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)