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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

"Blade Runner" Bail Hearing; 30 Million in Path of Winter Storm; Car Bomb Explodes in Central Damascus; 911 Calls Released in Murder Spree; FAA to Meet Over Dreamliner Safety; Convincing Iran to Scrap Nuclear Program; Distracted Pilots Crackdown; Tire CEO Lashes Out

Aired February 21, 2013 - 06:00   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 expected to rule on bail for Olympic star, Oscar Pistorius, and this after a bombshell revelation about the lead detective on this case.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news: multiple casualties reported from the scene of a car bombing in downtown Damascus, Syria. We're going to follow that for you.

SAMBOLIN: And a winter storm dumping snow, ice, sleet, plowing its way across 18 states. There are 30 million people in its path.

ROMANS: First on CNN, new fallout from the David Petraeus sex scandal. Army brass taking action now against Paula Broadwell after the steamy affair that brought down the director of the CIA.

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

SAMBOLIN: Really nice to have you this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is Thursday, February 21st. It's just about 6:00 a.m. in the East here, so let's get started.

And happening right now, Oscar Pistorius just minutes away from learning whether he will be granted bail despite a charge of premeditated murder against him. Final arguments are now under way and the defense is angling for a lesser charge. They say that there is simply not enough evidence for murder. And they say if Pistorius wanted to kill Reeva Steenkamp, he could have done it in the bedroom rather than the bathroom.

In a stunning development surrounding the lead investigator in this case, Officer Hilton Botha now facing reinstated attempted murder charges for allegedly opening fire on a mini bus carrying seven people back in 2009 when he was allegedly under the influence of alcohol.

It's just stunning developments here. Nkepile Mabuse is following all of this for us. What is happening right now in that courtroom?

NKEPILE MABUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Zoraida, as you rightly said, it's arguments today on whether Oscar Pistorius should be granted bail or not. You will remember that the big contention is whether this was premeditated murder or not.

In South Africa, if it is premeditated murder, bail is automatically denied and that is what the state asks the magistrate to do. On Tuesday, the magistrate said, he couldn't rule out the possibility of premeditated murder.

But since then Oscar Pistorius' defense team has been poking holes at the state's case and successfully so in some measure. Today, they are repeating what they believe is that Oscar Pistorius is not guilty of premeditated murder.

They're saying he's not guilty of murder at all and so far they say the state has not been able to prove premeditation -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: What about the lead investigator here, these stunning new developments surrounding him?

MABUSE: You know, the charges that he's facing, seven counts of attempted murder charges, which arise from a case in 2009 where he allegedly with other police officers shot at a mini bus, a taxi. They were allegedly drunk and driving a police car. This is huge news in South Africa.

This is what South Africans woke up to this morning. But when the magistrate in the Oscar Pistorius case called the investigating officer back to the stand this morning, he didn't ask him anything about these allegations.

The magistrate is concentrating on the evidence that this investigating evidence has led in his attempt to convince the court to not grant Oscar Pistorius bail. So the magistrate hasn't asked about the big news that has consumed South Africa at the moment, so obviously focusing on his main decision, which he hope he will make today -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: You know, we have been following Robyn Curnow's tweets out of the courtroom and one of the things that he was questioning is why is it that you did not request any of the cell phone records of Reeva Steenkamp or any of the text messages that she sent out between those hours that are in question, so I know that you're following all of this for us. Nkepile Mabuse, we really appreciate it.

All Reeva Steenkamp's family wants is the truth about what happened to the model and reality TV star. That's what her half-brother Adam said in an exclusive interview on CNN's "ANDERSON COOPER 360" last night. He told our Jake Tapper they didn't discuss her relationship with Pistorius.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADAM STEENKAMP, VICTIM'S HALF BROTHER (via telephone): I had no bad indications whatsoever. I did not actually talk to my sister in any detail about Oscar at all. I mean, in fact I didn't talk to my sister about Oscar at all. I wouldn't like -- everyone is saying the same thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: He went on to say in that interview that she actually seemed happy. So coming up at the bottom of the hour, we'll break down all of the latest developments of the Pistorius bail hearing with CNN legal contributor, Paul Callan.

ROMANS: All right, right now, 30 million people are in the path of a huge center storm moving from California into the central plains. Eighteen states are affected here.

The powerful system blanketing the Rockies and then it 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 and parts of Kansas facing the biggest threat of heavy snow right now.

The effects of this giant storm system already being felt there in Kansas. 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 now canceling flights. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback even shutting down state offices through Friday morning ahead of this storm.

CNN's Erin McPike is live in Wichita where it's still coming down very hard there this morning, isn't it, Erin?

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it sure is. Right behind me here, we just saw a snow plow go by for the third time in the past hour, but the road is already covered again so coming down very hard.

We also have a handy ruler to check throughout the day. We just checked it's 4 inches now and just two hours ago there was nothing. So it is about 2 inches an hour and we'll see a lot more throughout the day, 9 inches at least, maybe up to 18. We're not sure.

It's going to be a little higher in Topeka where they're expecting 17 or 18 inches. As you mentioned, the governor, Sam Brownback, has shut down most of the state today. He's saying if you want to play in the snow, basically go nuts, but stay off the roads because the roads are pretty bad here.

Now, we have heard that farmers are welcoming this storm because it's been a drought for a couple of years here, so, you know, we want to see some heavy snow to help ease those drought conditions.

ROMANS: And that is the silver lining if there is one, Erin McPike, you're absolutely right. You can play, get out of school today, and the farmers need some water definitely in the subsoil. Thanks, Erin McPike in Kansas.

SAMBOLIN: All right, it is 5 minutes past the hour. This storm system is really huge eventually stretching from the Dakotas to Houston, Texas. While it dumps snow in the north, it will also pour heavy rain over New Orleans and Montgomery, Alabama, and it could kick up tornados along the gulf coast as well.

So let's get right to Jennifer Delgado. She is in the weather center in Atlanta. I think it's probably easier for you to tell us who's not affected.

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, that's right, exactly. If you're in that bull's-eye we're talking bad conditions out there. Our triple threat, snow, ice, as well as severe storms. We're already seeing those storms developing across parts of Texas.

You see it on the radar, the line of storms. You notice it looks like we might get a little squall line developing but severe weather later throughout the day. I want to point out for you look at that lightning that's affecting parts of Kansas. That's why we've been getting reports of thunder snow out there. That shows you just how strong this storm system is.

Notice the wintry mix out there. This is going to spell a lot of troubles, especially for traveling through Northern Arkansas, southern parts of Missouri as well as into western parts of Tennessee.

Now, as we track this for you, we've got to take you through the day. We take it through the evening time right around drive time it starts to shift to the east. But keep in mind, throughout the afternoon this heavy snow will continue to blow up.

By tomorrow notice it starts to affect more parts of the Midwest as well as the Ohio Valley and there's that heavy rain that we're talking about. They could see 4 inches to 6 inches of rain through parts of the southeast over the weekend, but the snow totals are going to be incredible.

We're talking 12 to 18 inches and it looks like in Wichita, they're going to take a beating as well. But Eastern Kansas, they're going to be digging out of here. We're talking roughly about here. That gives you an idea.

SAMBOLIN: My gosh, all right, Jennifer, thank you for the warning.

ROMANS: Another story developing overnight, five people are dead after a small plane crash landed near Augusta, Georgia. One passenger and the pilot surviving -- they're now in the hospital this morning.

This is the first video from the crash site at Thompson McDuffy Airport. The beech craft jet was flying from Nashville to Thompson, Georgia, when it overshot the runway. CNN's Victor Blackwell is live for us in Thompson, Georgia, about 50 miles west of Augusta. Any word on what caused this crash, Victor?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, no. We know that the NTSB and FAA are investigating. Federal authorities were here last night. They will be back at sunrise. We're hoping to get more information from them.

We know that the winds were light and the skies were clear at the time of this crash. Initially from the FAA, we were told this plane ran off the end of the runway but local law enforcement officials told us there is a four-lane road, an industrial building and a few hundred yards between the runway and the first piece of this plane.

They we're told is spread about a mile and a half scattered over a field and forest in the opposite direction of the airport. There's also a substation there, power lines in that area, and the sheriff says that the first indication they got something was wrong was calls about the power outage.

They showed up, found the plane. Actually there was a fire that was put out. We're told no injuries on the ground, but again five people killed, two injured. We're still working to confirm who those people are. Of course, we'll bring you that when we find out. Back to you, Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Victor Blackwell. Thank you, Victor.

SAMBOLIN: And more information now on a story still breaking in Syria. Take a look at these images. A car bomb targeting the headquarters of Syria's ruling party exploding in Central Damascus. We're now hearing that 31 people killed at the scene.

The vehicle detonated at a checkpoint in fronting of the socialist party's main office and the Russian embassy. This is according to a human rights group. We'll bring you all of the updates on this breaking story throughout the morning.

ROMANS: New developments this morning shedding light on a deadly shooting spree in Orange County, California, that left four people dead, including the gunman. Police just releasing 911 calls from this case. The killings began early Tuesday morning when police say 20- year-old Ali Syed fatally shot a young woman at his parents' home. His mother then made this frantic call to 911.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

911 OPERATOR: 911, what's your emergency?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I think somebody is shot.

911 OPERATOR: Take a deep breath and tell me what's going on, OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please come.

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't talk. Just come.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Police say Syed committed three carjackings, killing two drivers in the process. He then turned the weapon on himself.

SAMBOLIN: It is 10 minutes past the hour. A once promising career in ruins, former Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. is now facing up to five years in prison when he is sentenced on June 28th. He pleaded guilty yesterday to using $750,000 in campaign funds over a seven-year period to buy personal items, including a $43,000 Rolex watch.

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

ROMANS: Our first look at surveillance video caught the moment a deadly gas explosion levelled a restaurant in Kansas City. One person was killed, more than a dozen others injured. Witnesses say it sounded like thunder, felt like an earthquake. Authorities say a utility construction crew severed a gas line leading to that massive explosion.

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

ROMANS: And they're rolling off the assembly line really with nowhere to go right now such an interesting dilemma.

The army has revoked the promotion of Paula Broadwell, David Petraeus' former mistress. As first reported on CNN, the army reversed its decision to promote Broadwell from major to lieutenant colonel after they initially approved it last summer. Since the Petraeus scandal broke, Broadwell has been under investigation for having classified information in her home without permission.

SAMBOLIN: 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.

ROMANS: Plus bowling and strippers, yes, and young teenagers. A suburban mom in trouble after racy pictures involving her own child surfaced on the web.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. Fourteen minutes past the hour.

There are new developments this morning in the global effort to stop Iran's nuclear program. Six world powers, including the United States now, are going to present a new plan to the Iranians in talks that are set for next Tuesday. The goal is to offer economic incentives in exchange for Iran shutting down a uranium enrichment facility and surrendering its stockpile of enriched uranium.

Foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott is in Washington with details of this new proposal.

And I was reading that the core of the new offer revises last year's demand that Iran stop producing high-grade uranium so what's different in this offer?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well, it's been about a year, Zoraida, since the U.S. and its partners sat down with Iran, and the Iranians have been making a lot of progress on this nuclear development at this particular facility. So, now, the U.S. and its partners are sweetening the pot, so to speak, asking more of Iran in return when they sit down next week in Kazakhstan.

So, in exchange for easing a ban on the trade of gold and precious metals, which could help the Iranian economy, and some nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes, Iran must close this enrichment facility at Fordow. You know, that facility is underground and this is the concern, that the longer Iran keeps this plant open and works underground, it becomes more difficult to stop them militarily from having a nuclear weapon. They want Iran to ship out the uranium it already enriched to a pretty high level.

Iran has already rejected this plan but my sources are saying expectations are low for these talks. The Iranian elections are coming in June. Nobody thinks they want to make a deal and want to be seen as making concessions before those elections.

But Iran's economy is really hurting because of these biting sanctions the U.S. and Europe has slapped on them -- this ban on oil and against their central bank. In the last year alone, Zoraida, the Iranian currency has fallen 80 percent. So the U.S. and the partners feel that it's good to get these talks going, se what Iran wants. The hope is maybe that they'll feel the crunch and deal more seriously after the elections.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, maybe have a little bit more leverage.

Elise Labott live in Washington for us -- thank you.

ROMANS: Happening right now: Oscar Pistorius may be minutes away from learning whether he will be granted bail, despite a charge of premeditated murder against him.

Final arguments are under way and the defense is angling for a lesser charge, not murder. They say if Pistorius wanted to kill Reeva Steenkamp, he could have done it in the bedroom rather than the bathroom.

And new this morning, we've also learned that the lead investigator in the case, officer Hilton Botha, now facing reinstated attempted murder charges of his own for allegedly opening fire on a mini bus carrying seven people back in 2009. That happened when he was allegedly under the influence of alcohol.

SAMBOLIN: And much of the country is under a severe weather warning this morning. Thirty million people are in the path of a really powerful winter storm that is dropping snow, ice and sleet across several states in the Central Plains and the Midwest. This system is huge, 800,000 square miles, 18 states. The National Weather Service is predicting up to 18 inches of snow in parts of Kansas today.

Tough travel weather today.

ROMANS: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: All right. A mom charged by police after they say she hired strippers to perform at her son's 16th birthday party at a bowling alley. The D.A. in Albany, New York, says some of the kids were as young as 13 years old.

Here's the mom, 33-year-old Judy Vigar. She is charged with five counts of endangering the welfare of a child.

So, this is how parents found out about it because steamy photos began popping up out there on Facebook.

Moms out there, can you imagine? Dads too, right? Crazy.

I know. You're speechless this morning. This story has got you.

We're very judgmental this morning on this story.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: I never want to ever hear anything like this about my children.

A mom and dad near San Diego are suing their school district over yoga. They claim the twice weekly classes are religious in nature and violate the separation of church and state. The Encinitas School District, it's believed to be the first in the nation to have full- time yoga teachers at every school.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, boy.

ROMANS: The superintendent said the program is about wellness, not about religion.

SAMBOLIN: About chilling, relaxing.

ROMANS: Om --

SAMBOLIN: Nineteen minutes past the hour.

We're not allowed to use smartphones during airline flights, but did you know that your pilot can? Christine?

ROMANS: It's true. This is "Road Warriors" this morning for you.

I mean, if the FAA had its way, pilots won't be able to use their personal wireless devices in the cockpit. The proposed rule would ban flight crews from using smartphones, tablets, lap tops, for personal use when it comes to wireless communications. Flight crews are not allowed to use wireless devices while they're taxiing, taking off or landing.

SAMBOLIN: Well, that's good news.

ROMANS: The new proposal would extend the ban for the entire flight. The goal is to reduce distractions so pilots can pay more attention to air traffic control and weather.

Several incidents prompted this proposal, including one in 2009 when two Northwest Airlines pilots -- remember this? They flew 150 miles past their destination while using their personal laptops. Both pilots had their licenses revoked.

SAMBOLIN: This is one of those duh moments, right?

ROMANS: I know. But you know, some of them actually do get weather on their laptops and some of them actually check their schedules on their iPads and laptops, too.

SAMBOLIN: I'd love to be able to look at the percentages of that, Christine.

ROMANS: I know. Well, look, some airlines, they give the pilots iPads to lighten their load, took care of the paper documents. Wireless devices used for work would still be allowed.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, all right.

Twenty minutes past the hour. Coming up, the American CEO who may have angered an entire country. Wait until you hear how he mocked the entire French workforce.

ROMANS: This is really an interesting story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Good morning.

Minding your business this morning, stock futures are lower right now. A Walmart reports its fourth quarter earnings in about an hour. We're going to look for clues from that company and how consumers are dealing with the payroll tax holiday expiration and higher gas prices right now.

The Dow fell 108 points yesterday after minutes from the Federal Reserve's latest policy meeting hinted that the Fed might scale back it's bond-buying program. That program engineered by Fed Chief Ben Bernanke is credited with helping drive stocks to near record highs and stabilizing the economy.

The head of a U.S. tire company is raising eyebrows this morning. The "Wall Street Journal" reports that Maurice Taylor, CEO of Titan International, sent a scathing letter to a French industry ministry, blasting the country's work ethic. Taylor was responding to a request from France that Titan look into buying a shuttered tire plant in France.

"The Journal" says Taylor wrote, quote, "Sir, your letter states that you want Titan to start a discussion. How stupid do you think we are?" He goes on to say, "The French workforce gets paid high wages but works only three hours. They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three."

We called Titan for a comment but haven't received a response yet. The Titan's Web site says CEO Maurice Taylor is nicknamed "The Grizz" for his tough negotiating style. The one thing you need to know about your money today, 10 percent. That's the amount the long-term unemployed could lose from their weekly jobless benefits if Congress doesn't avoid the spending cuts which begin March 1st. The 10 percent cut applies to the emergency federal benefits that Congress has been authorizing since 2008. On average, it adds up to about 400 bucks through the end of the fiscal year.

So, the long-term unemployed among those who would feel those forced spending cuts if Congress doesn't act.

SAMBOLIN: It is 25 minutes past the hour. An Oscar nominee who's gotten worldwide recognition was apparently not recognized at the airport. One filmmaker's story coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)