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Intern Killed by African Lion; North Korea Threatens "Preemptive" Nuke Strike; Sen. Rand Paul Ends Filibuster; Storm Slams Northeast; Deficit Dinner Date

Aired March 7, 2013 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Without warning, a lion suddenly turns on one of its keepers, killing a young woman inside a cage.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: New this morning, North Korea said to be conducting a series of military drills on a grand scale.

BERMAN: And high seas and strong winds. The powerful winter storm brings a flood threat to some of the same areas hit hard by hurricane Sandy.

SAMBOLIN: And droning on and on and on. One senator's protest over drones turns into a one-man nearly 13-hour marathon on Capitol Hill.

BERMAN: This was pretty high drama.

SAMBOLIN: Very impressive.

BERMAN: The type of thing we've not seen in Washington in a long, long, time.

SAMBOLIN: Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is Thursday, March 7th, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And we start here this morning with developments in the tragic mulling death a 24-year-old intern at an exotic cat sanctuary in Florida. It's so sad. She lived for these animals and ended up dying in one of their cages.

So, let's take a look at video of Cous Cous, the 350-pound African lion who had to be put down when he wouldn't allow officials to get close enough to try to rescue Dianna Hanson.

This horrifying ordeal unfolding yesterday afternoon at the Project Survival Cat Haven in Dunlap, California.

Dan Simon is there this morning.


We're outside the main entrance here and the question is morning is how did that 24-year-old volunteer intern get in harm's way, how did she get in a position to be harmed by this lion? What we can tell you is Cat Haven had all the necessary permits, was state regulated and seemed to have a good reputation.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a Cous Cous, a North African lion.

SIMON (voice-over): A lion shot dead Wednesday afternoon.

DALE HANSEN, CAT HAVEN FOUNDER: Female volunteer intern entered the lion's enclosure where she was attacked and fatally injured. The lion was shot and killed per our safety protocols. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the -- our friend and family and to her family at this time and this trying time.

SIMON: The 24-year-old volunteer has been identified as Dianna Hanson from Washington state. Her Facebook page shows her pictured with large cats. Her father released a statement last night saying in part, "Dianna was so excited at working in Cat Haven and living in California. Her favorites were the tiger and the lion Cous Cous who killed her today."

JENNIFER MICHAELS, THE JUNGLE JENNY FOUNDATION: We're moving over to the African lions and I'm going into the den.

SIMON: Jennifer Michaels also known as Jungle Jenny got an up-close view of the lion while getting a tour of the animal sanctuary called Cat Haven in central California.

MICHAELS: I didn't see any type of aggressive behavior or anything that I need to be worried about.

SIMON: Cat Haven is a 100-acre, wooded sanctuary, home to some of the rarest cats in the world, including lions, tigers and leopards. It describes as an innovative park, dedicated to the preservation of wildcats.

Five-year-old Cous Cous came to the sanctuary as a cub. Founder Dale Hansen says this species of lion no longer exist in the wild.

HANSEN: The North Africans were killed off in the wild about the 1920s. So, all the ones you see are in captivity.

SIMON: As for the victim, Dianna Hanson, it's not clear exactly how she died. But her father says big cats were per passion, writing, "We will miss you so much but I know you'll be happy. For now, you truly are in the eternal Cat Haven."


SIMON: And the father, at least in that statement doesn't seem to hold animosity towards Cat Haven. In fact, he also said in that statement that the way to honor his daughter's memory is to support preservation societies just like this one -- Zoraida, John.

SAMBOLIN: Well, when you look at the pictures you know she was doing what she was passionate about.

A quick question here: were there any signs of previous aggression with Cous Cous?

SIMON: You know, it's a good question. Not that we're aware of. Of course, Cous Cous, as you'll see in some of the video, appeared on different broadcasts such as the "Ellen" program. We saw really no signs of any aggression.

You cannot be lulled into a false security with these animals. They're, of course, hard wired to be predators and apparently that's what we saw play out yesterday.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, they are wild animals after all.

Dan Simon, thank you for that. We appreciate it.

And "STARTING POINT" will have much more on this deadly lion attack. At 7:00 a.m., Soledad O'Brien will be joined by noted wildlife expert Jeff Corwin.

And then at 8:00 a.m. Eastern, Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo, will be on live as well.

BERMAN: All right. This just in to CNN this morning: North Korea ups its tough talking with threatening a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States, as the United Nations Security Council prepares to vote on tougher sanctions against North Korea. "Reuters" reports a foreign ministry spokesman made this threat in a statement to a state- run news agency.

Right now, it is believed that Pyongyang doesn't have the capacity to deliver a nuclear strike against the U.S.

You know, this rhetoric not unheard of from North Korea, although they've been saying it an awful lot over the last few days. So, it has caused a lot of people the last few days to take notice here.

Other news right now: to the nation's capital where the magic number is 12 hours and 52 minutes. That is how long it took Rand Paul to finally stop talking earlier this morning, really just happened a few hours ago. The Kentucky senator protesting the administration's domestic drone policy with an old-fashioned filibuster, pausing only for an occasional sip of water or bite of a candy bar, all this while he was delaying the confirmation of CIA nominee John Brennan. He was doing this to make a point.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: No American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court. That Americans could be killed in a cafe in San Francisco or in a restaurant in Houston, or at their home in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is an abomination.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: Now, Senator Paul was not in record territory. Strom Thurmond set that record, around 24 hours for a filibuster. But we haven't seen this in years and years and years.

So, our Shannon Travis is live from Washington this morning.

This was something to behold, Shannon.

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, it was something to behold. And you just mentioned Strom Thurmond holding the record just over 24 hours. But, again, we haven't seen this in such a long time, it was quite bizarre.

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, you remember, he was elected in 2010 with strong Tea Party support. He has libertarian leanings.

He's a real problem with this use -- Obama administration's use of drones. He long sharply criticized the administration's use of drones and targeted killings against Americans overseas. He has a real problem, a real concern about the possibility of that happening here, killing Americans on U.S. soil, with those drones.

So, that's basically the crux of this long filibuster that he had. John Brennan is considered an architect of that drone program. You just played a little bit of a quote from Rand Paul questioning, again, that policy. But he also in this long, long filibuster, John, he also went a little bit fairy tale-ish to make his point.

Take a listen at this.


PAUL: Has "America the Beautiful" become Alice's wonderland? No, no said the queen, sentence first, verdict afterwards. Stuff and nonsense, Alice said widely -- loudly. The idea of having the sentence first?

Hold your tongue, said the queen, turning purple. I won't, said Alice. Release the drones said the queen as she shouted at the top of her voice.

Lewis Carroll is fiction, right?


TRAVIS: And, John, the senator was also tweeting during this long prolonged period. I'll just read one of them to you. Quote, "No president has the right to say that he is judge, jury and executioner." That from Rand Paul.

He did have a little bit of assist -- or actually a lot of assist from Republicans but a little bit of assist from a Democrat. That would be Ron Wyden of Oregon who says he will eventually support Brennan's nomination but that he also has questions about the use of drones against Americans.

BERMAN: Shannon, how has the White House responded to this so far?

TRAVIS: Yes, the White House is responding. We know that Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday had the Senate hearing where he said, look, it has never happened before. He can only imagine this happening in a very extraordinary situation.

BERMAN: You mentioned Rod Wyden, a Democrat, helping out in the process of the filibuster last night. You know, Rand Paul is getting a strange bipartisan coalition of at least moderate support on this. You have the ACLU, there are some Tea Party folks, Reince Priebus called on Republicans to help him out last night.

You haven't seen this kind of grouping in a while.

TRAVIS: That's right, because again, there's this blending of, as you mention, of the far left and far right having real concerns about Americans not giving due process, terror suspects who might be Americans, whether they're overseas or on U.S. soil, not being given due process and being targeted by this drone program.

BERMAN: All right. Shannon Travis, thanks for this report. Nice to see you out of the snow this morning.

SAMBOLIN: Nine minutes past the hour.

There will be more questions from jurors today at the Jodi Arias murder trial. She answered nearly 100 in court yesterday. Among them, why Arias can't recall what happened after she shot her boyfriend, Travis Alexander?


JUDGE: Why is it you have no memory of stabbing Travis?

JODI ARIAS, MURDER DEFENDANT: I can't really explain why my mind did what it did, maybe because it's too horrible.


SAMBOLIN: Arizona is one of three states that allow jurors to question witnesses during a criminal trial. Arias has been on the stand for the better part of a month now -- a lot of testimony, gruesome, graphic. Arias faces the death penalty if he's convicted.

BERMAN: Full disclosure, I couldn't take my eyes off this yesterday. Fascinating jury questions.

Other news that you really -- will be startling to many of you, including me, sharks by the thousands, just when palm beach area lifeguards thought it would be safe to let people back in the water, they decided to close these beaches for a second straight day.

We're like talking thousands and thousands of sharks right now. A lifeguard supervisor says sightings like these are common, even in the thousands at this time of year. There's a shark migration with sharks moving north after spending the south -- winter in the south. SAMBOLIN: Really cool to watch, isn't it?

BERMAN: No, it's not cool to watch. It's terrifying.

SAMBOLIN: You don't want to be in the water.

BERMAN: There's like 10,000 sharks. Nothing cool about that.

SAMBOLIN: I think it looks fantastic. Just don't be in the water. Duly warn.

Eleven minutes past the hour here.

Happening now:

A state of emergency -- parts of Virginia pummeled by a huge winter storm, up to 20 inches of heavy, wet snow fell in some parts of the state. And that caused Governor Bob McDonnell to declare a state of emergency and activate the National Guard as well.

Authorities opened shelters for the 215,000 Virginians who do not have power. So, right now, the storm is on the move. It's bringing gusty winds and snow to New York City and coastal flood warning to the Northeast, including some areas that are still recovering from superstorm Sandy. Karen Maginnis is standing by. She's monitoring the system for us.

But we are going to begin with Jennifer Delgado. She is live in Massachusetts.

So, Jennifer, what's happening there?

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Oh, what's happening here? Not much at all, Zoraida -- just some winds gusting roughly up to about 40 (AUDIO GAP) per hour.

I'm in Scituate, Massachusetts. And that's roughly about 25 miles south of Boston. This is the south shore.

Now, as we walk over a bit closer, what you're seeing some of the white caps coming in off the ocean. What we're going to be dealing with today is a storm surge, potential coming at 6:50, and should say high tide coming at 6:50. With that we are going to see a storm surge just under three feet.

So, what that is going to mean for those communities that are right along the coastal area, they're going to be looking at coastal flooding there. And we're also talking about erosion.

Now, keep in mind, you mentioned superstorm Sandy but of course the big nor'easter from February 9th, this also damaged some of the coastline here.

So, some of the communities up there are on voluntary evacuation. So, we do have roughly about 300 National Guards here. They're here just in case something happens with the coastal flooding. But keep in mind, with high tide coming later this morning, tonight, as well as tomorrow morning, it's going to be even higher, the threat for the coastal flooding is going to be pretty great here.

And again, we're talking storm surge just under three feet. So, again, we're getting mixed precipitation. It's not pleasant but it's exciting.

SAMBOLIN: I can hear the wind gusting there. It's nice to know the National Guard is on standby.

DELGADO: Yes, it's hard to think under these conditions sometimes.

SAMBOLIN: You're doing a great job, Jennifer. Thank you.

All right. So, let's get right to Karen Maginnis.

We see what this storm has done to the Midwest and now, Virginia. Yesterday, we were anticipating a lot of snow here. We got gusty winds. What can we expect today?

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. It was very hard and difficult to forecast this system. I think it was sequestered. That's my thinking with this storm. It does have legs, though.

And the area of low pressure still situated out in the Atlantic but still on that northern edge. That's where we'll feel the effects today from Boston to New York.

Now, New York, you'll see the gale force winds expect for the afternoon. But a secondary aspect of this and that's what Jennifer mentioned, aside from the snowfall, is that we're expecting those strong winds coming out of the North and the Northeast, gusts up around 50 miles an hour.

Here's New York and for the afternoon, two maybe four inches of snowfall. Because of the winds, the wind is going to drive that water onshore because they've been compromised from superstorm Sandy, Zoraida and John, it looks like we could see the potential for some moderate beach erosion once again.

We'll have another hit coming up in about 20 minutes.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Karen Maginnis, thank you.

BERMAN: All right. Meanwhile, the market is on fire. One day after hitting an all-time high, the Dow did it again, gaining 42 points to close at 14,296.

Zoraida is checking her 401(k) at this very moment. The index is up 9 percent already this year.

And happening right now, Dow futures pointing higher again this morning.

SAMBOLIN: Good gracious. BERMAN: Suggesting another rally at the opening bell.

SAMBOLIN: How nice. We love sharing news like that.

So, coming up: President Obama's dinner date with Republican senators. How did it go? Was compromise on the menu? We're going to check in.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It is 18 minutes past the hour.

By all accounts, the dinner date went well and hopefully they're going to see each other again soon.

President Obama taking a group of Republican senators out for dinner last night. That was in the nation's capital, bipartisan cooperation was on the menu. Has he began laying the ground work for a deficit- cutting deal.

CNN's Dan Lothian is following the developments for us from Washington.

So, Dan, this morning, I called it a love fest. But Berman says it a like fest only. Shed some light for us.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's amazing that we're making so much about just this one dinner, but it's unusual because the president doesn't usually sit down and meet with GOP senators in this kind of setting. The White House saying that the president thought it was a very good dinner, that there was a good exchange of ideas and the senators telling us they talked about everything from budgets to entitlement reform to tax reform.

One telling us that it was the conversation was, quote, "very real" and that nobody was holding back punches.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): It was a dinner date with Republicans and President Obama picked up a tab, blocks from the White House at the swanky Jefferson Hotel, food and fiscal challenges in an effort to find compromise less than a week after across-the-board cuts kicked in.

REPORTER: How did the meeting go?


LOTHIAN: Twelve Republican senators invited by the president broke bread for more than two hours.

REPORTER: What was the tone of the room like?

SEN. JOHN HOEVEN (R), NORTH DAKOTA: Very positive, encouraging, candid, focused on how do we come together?

Compromise is necessary and it's possible, the issue is, how do we get there?

LOTHIAN: President Obama has stepped up his outreach to Republicans in recent days. A series of phone calls, this dinner and planned trips to Capitol Hill next week, engaging in a way his critics say he failed to do in his first term.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ultimately, the way we're going to get stuff done, personal relationships are important, and, obviously, I can always do a better job.

LOTHIAN: The dinner didn't result in any major agreements, but it was viewed as a positive step in the right direction.

HOEVEN: That's why these kinds of dialogues are so important and there needs to be more of them.


LOTHIAN: Now, while they did focus primarily on some of the fiscal issues, we're told they also talked about other things such as immigration reform. In the end, they talked about the need to continue the discussion in a significant way to set up some kind of process so that they could keep talking. But they did not settle on anything.

As for what was on the menu, we're told that they had the choice of filet or sea bass. Some of them had wine, drank wine, others like the president, we're told, drank iced tea -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIIN: OK. Well, I guess the big issue is, as Senator Hoeven, is how do we get there to that big compromise? So, hopefully, they'll continue meeting in swanky places, enjoying dinner and solving some problems.

LOTHIAN: That's what everyone hopes.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, Dan Lothian, live for us, thank you.

BERMAN: The magic of bipartisan sea bass.


BERMAN: It's amazing what it can do.

Twenty-one minutes after the hour right now. And if you are in the market for a new home, you will find fewer houses to choose from out there.


BERMAN: And that may be a good thing.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, it may.

BERMAN: We'll explain, coming up.


BERMAN: We are minding your business this morning.

The Dow is at fresh record highs and looking for more gains today.

SAMBOLIN: Yay! Christine?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Be honest, have you checked your 401(k)?


SAMBOLIN: Yes, are you kidding?

ROMANS: You know, the big question everybody asks, can it keep going from here? And I've been telling you again and again, that this is an old bull market, 4 years old. But the last leg of a bull market can often be the most profitable but you don't know when it's going to be over.

If you're very close to retirement, please, please, make sure you do not have too much in stocks because people who are in retirement or close to retirement, highs can be dangerous place for those people because you might need to use your money in the near term.

So, if need to use your money in the next 18 months, you should not have anything other than risk capital that you can get your hands on in the stock market. So, there's my lecture of the morning.

But I do have some good news about the housing market. There are three things that make your personal finances, right? Your job, your investments, which are doing well, and your home.

And I'm going to tell you right now, Zillow is telling us the availability of homes on the market is declining. The number of homes available dropped more than 16 percent in February compared to a year ago.

Why is this good? Well, this is good because it sets you up for higher prices later on. It's good for the selling season. Basically, more people aren't ready to buy, but there aren't enough homes for all of them. It adds to the anticipation.

This report from Zillow covers 99 metro areas, only five metro areas, showed more homes for sale than last year. And bigger home, the most expensive homes posted the largest drop. You can thank the 1 percent for that.

Any of you out there in the 1 percent, you are buying and selling -- inventory of homes is declining because you've got money to spend. Inventories for the most expensive properties dropped more than 20 percent from last year. Mid price homes, the supply of those homes fell 17 percent, the lower priced, the supply fell 9 percent.

Why is it happening? Some people owe more on their house than its worth. They're underwater. They can't sell. Others don't want to sell because they're looking at their neighborhood and they say, wait, there's nothing for me to buy. I'm just going to sit tight.

Zillow says it's a good problem to have. It will fix itself because the low number of homes for sale means that people are buying. Lower inventories can lead to higher prices.

And I can tell you, there's some excitement in the selling season, the spring selling season. You're hearing a lot about how at least people tied to real estate think that can be one of the best springs they've seen in years.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, I love it when you come with good news. Thank you.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Twenty-seven minutes past the hour.

Back to business, Mitt Romney has accepted a new job.

BERMAN: And his boss is kind of his son. We'll have the details on his new gig.

SAMBOLIN: Kind of his son?

BERMAN: Kind of.

We'll explain, coming up next.