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More Tornadoes, High Winds Expected; Arrest in Disneyland Blast; Obama's 2014 Strategy; High-Ranking Bush Official to Run FBI; Arizona Mom Speaking Out

Aired May 30, 2013 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: May is for mayhem. Weather wreaking havoc across the country -- tornadoes, dust storm, heat wave. We'll tell you when and where to prepare.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A shocking arrest in the explosion that rattled Disney's Toontown. A park employee now behind bars.

BERMAN: And tears, disbelief and rage. The American grandmother jailed in Mexico, accused of drug smuggling, speaks out from behind bars -- first on CNN.

ROMANS: And high-flying descent. Incredible video this morning as a base jumper leaps off Mt. Everest.

BERMAN: Oh, my goodness! Crazyville!


BERMAN: That is an awesome picture.

All right. Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's Thursday, May 30th, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Developing this morning, a persistent, unrelenting threat of severe weather and parts of the country already torn up by tornadoes. We could see more dangerous storms today.

Meteorologist Indra Petersons is following all of it for us.

Good morning.


Storms have really hit the country hard this week, and, unfortunately, there is more on the way.


PETERSONS (voice-over): Storms raged from Texas, all the way to New England, and had nearly half of the country in the danger zone. And in Texas, dangerous hail and fierce winds causing many to worry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at this hail! We're going to have broken windows.

PETERSONS: This video was shot in Corinth, Texas. Look at the hail bouncing off of the ground. The Diamondbacks and Rangers game postponed Wednesday night when heavy rain and lightning moved in very quickly. The ground crew struggled to gain control as heavy winds ripped the tarp right out of their hands.

In Amarillo, Texas, heavy wind gusts were blamed for blowing down this iconic billboard, ripping its post from the ground. Owners of the business watched as the 30-year-old sign fell to the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My sales associate actually went to open up the overhead door to get ready for them because the winds were really, really strong, and then we heard him holler, so we all came running and that's when we saw the billboard actually falling down.

PETERSONS: These residents in Truxton, New York, south of Syracuse, had a close call trying to get a glimpse of the storm from their back porch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was trying to film, and all of a sudden, a tree cracked down right above us, and I told her, we've got to run inside.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was crazy. I mean, all around us is just trees and glass and everything. It's nuts.

PETERSONS: Just as crazy, floodwaters caught on this surveillance video from Tuesday. Torrential rain caused flooding that burst down the doors at an Illinois college.


PETERSONS: And all that wild weather continues again today. The Northeast bracing for what could be a heat wave. Temperatures are really going up.

And look at these temperature jumps, 15, even 16 degrees from just yesterday. And keep in mind, just two days ago, they were seeing temperatures in the 60s with rain out there.

So, what we're looking at, a heat wave. We have three days of 90- degree temperatures out there, and it looks like, yes, we're getting pretty hot out there. New York today looking for 91 degrees, Boston so close, 89 degrees, and it looks like towards D.C., they're seeing 90s there. But, of course, add the humidity to that and that really gives it that hot, sticky feeling.

Speaking of that hot, humid air, really big trouble-maker for us still today, all that hot, humid air continuing to mix with the dry air behind it, all of that mixing with the low, and of course, the jet stream really fueling the severe weather. We have that threat again for you today. It looks like a good 15 million of you still under the slight risk for severe weather. Again, today switching a little bit farther to the east, so the severe weather threat extends now from Iowa through Missouri and all the way through Texas. We'll continue to monitor this as we throughout the day.

We saw tornadoes yesterday and today, another threat out there as well.

BERMAN: Crazy stuff, and it is hot here, Indra.

ROMANS: Oh, yeah.

BERMAN: Downright hot.

PETERSONS: In here, too.

BERMAN: Yes, in here, as well. Thanks, Indra. Appreciate it.

So, two letters containing threats against New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg have tested positive for the deadly poison ricin. One was addressed to the mayor. It was opened at a New York City mail center, and several police officers who came in contact are reportedly being treated now as a precaution.

The other letter was opened by Mark Glaze in Washington. He is the director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, an organization founded and financed by Michael Bloomberg.


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK: The letter was obviously referred to our antigun efforts. But there's 12,000 people who are going to get killed this year with guns and 19,000 are going to commit suicide with guns, and we're not going to walk away from those efforts.


BERMAN: Both letters were postmarked from Shreveport, Louisiana, according to the American Postal Workers Union. The FBI now investigating.

ROMANS: New information this morning in that explosion at Disneyland's Toontown. A Disneyland employee being held on $1 million bail in connection with that blast. Police arrested 22-year-old Christian Barnes, charging him with possessing an explosive device. They believe he's responsible for a dry ice blast that sent guests running for the exits.

CNN's Sara Sidner now with more.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Disneyland's Toontown turned into a ghost town after an improvised explosive device went off in a trash can on Tuesday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was loud. It startled us, you know. We kind of ducked and looked up, and I looked a little higher than the ground to see what's going on.

SIDNER: Crowds evacuated as the bomb squad responded. Not the kind of scene visitors ever expected to encounter. Police say no one was hurt, but they did discover evidence of a small explosion.

SGT. ROBERT DUNN, ANAHEIM POLICE DEPT.: When our officers arrived, they found the remnants of a water bottle, which is kind of indicative of a dry ice type explosion.

SIDNER (on camera): That's right, this stuff, dry ice, often used for special effects. It turns out, exploding dry ice bombs is a popular form of fun in some circles. If you don't believe me, just check out all the videos on YouTube.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to show you how to make a dry ice bomb.

SIDNER (voice-over): And the results when they do. What the videos don't tell you is that creating and detonating an ice bomb is a crime. You could be charged with a felony if you're caught.

Twenty-two-year-old Christian Barnes, a vending cast member at Disneyland, is being held on $1 million bail on suspicion of possessing and detonating an explosive device.

DUNN: There is potential any time this occurs for there to be injury, there is potential for someone to get injured to the point where they lose their life, and that's why the charges are so serious.

SIDNER: Disneyland officials say Barnes had the dry ice in his vending cart where he sells items that need to be kept cold. Police say that Barnes is cooperating.

Across the country in Disneyworld's Animal Kingdom, a grandmother found a loaded gun on the seat of the dinosaur ride as she boarded with her grandson. The gun owner said he had a permit to carry a concealed weapon but told authorities that he didn't realize that guns are not allowed in the park. The happiest places on earth turning scary for some visitors until both situations were under control.

Sara Sidner, CNN, Anaheim, California.


BERMAN: Six minutes after the hour right now.

And if President Obama can't figure out a way how to work with Republicans, he's hoping at least to out-number them next year. The president in Chicago last night for a Democratic fund-raiser, he says while Washington appears to be broken, he's holding out hope it can be fixed, and if the gridlock remains, he says there's always plan B.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If day in, day out, what we confront is obstructionism for the sake of obstructionism, then we've got to figure out a way to work around that. And one of the best ways to work around it is to have a Democratic House of Representatives. So, the --



BERMAN: Roughly 150 people paid up to $5,000 apiece to hear the president speak about gun control, education, infrastructure and climate change at a private fund-raiser. Afterward, a little more exclusive, couples paid up to $32,000 each to dine with the commander in chief.

ROMANS: New word this morning that President Obama will nominate a former high-ranking Bush official to run the FBI. James Comey served as deputy attorney general under President George W. Bush. He would replace Robert Mueller, who's stepping down as FBI director in September.

CNN's Brianna Keilar has more on Comey, who nine years ago played a major role in one of the most dramatic episodes of the Bush administration.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Like a scene out of a Hollywood thriller, a critically ill attorney general is in intensive care at a Washington hospital. Two of the president's top aides rush to his bedside, hoping to pressure him to sign off on a secret wiretapping program the night before it's set to expire.

This was real, though, and what happened that night, March 10th, 2004, put James Comey, President Obama's pick for his next FBI director, in the headlines.

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR NOMINEE: I was very upset. I was angry. I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man.

KEILAR: Comey was Attorney General John Ashcroft's deputy. And with Ashcroft very sick, Comey was the acting attorney general when then- White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and chief of staff Andrew Card visited Ashcroft's hospital room, a last-ditch effort to get his endorsement of a warrantless eavesdropping program he thought was illegal.

Comey caught wind of it and ordered his driver to speed through the streets of Washington, sirens blaring, and beat them there.

COMEY: Attorney General Ashcroft then stunned me. He lifted his head off the pillow, and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter and then laid his head back down on the pillow, seemed spent and said to them, "But that doesn't matter because I'm not the attorney general."

KEILAR: CNN contributor Fran Townsend was one of President Bush's top national security advisers at the time.

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: This is a man with a very strong sense, internal sense of right and wrong and what is appropriate, and he's going to follow that sort of moral compass.

KEILAR: As a federal prosecutor, Comey handled the Khobar Towers terrorist bombing case following the 1996 attack on a U.S. military facility in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 service members. He also took on the mafia, putting John Gambino behind bars. As well as the diva of domesticity, Comey brought charges against Martha Stewart and saw her convicted for insider trading.

Brianna Keilar, CNN, Washington.


ROMANS: Michele Bachmann has a trial date. The lawsuit against her will go to court in May of next year. It claims Bachmann stole and misused an e-mail distribution list from an Iowa home-school group during her failed 2012 presidential campaign. The plaintiffs say they suffered emotional distress and loss of business opportunities after the Bachmann campaign sent two unapproved e-mails to the Iowa Christian home educations network.

BERMAN: So, incredible, new video you need to see this morning. A base jumper leaping off of Mt. Everest. Holy cow!

Forty-eight-year-old Russian Valery Rozov made the record shattering descent on May 5th to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the first ascent of Everest. The feat took four years of planning, four days of arduous trekking and only one minute for the actual jump, not to mention a giant set of guts.

In that 60 seconds, Rozov reached speeds of 125 miles per hour, soaring down more than 23,000 feet. That's four miles. That's a long way and that's fast.

This seasoned daredevil made nearly 10,000 jumps, including one into an active volcano, so he knows what he's doing. But he says this one was particularly tough, both physically and mentally.

ROMANS: Two years of planning, four days to get up there, one minute to come down.

BERMAN: And a giant set of guts, as we like to say.

ROMANS: I didn't know that guts came in sets.

BERMAN: They don't, but, you know, my other options weren't so tenable.

Coming up, her desperate, terrifying cries for help. First on CNN, the American grandmother jailed in Mexico accused of smuggling drugs tells her side of the story. Why she believes authorities are trying to frame her.

ROMANS: And Aerosmith, James Taylor, even New Kids on the Block, some of Boston's biggest music icons, all, all on stage to rock out for a good cause.

BERMAN: Dream on, baby.


ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome back.

The American woman accused of trying to smuggle 12 pounds of marijuana is speaking out now for the first time from inside a Mexican jail. The soldiers who arrested Yanira Maldonado were supposed to appear in court Wednesday, but defense attorneys say they never showed up. Hearings in the case will resume tomorrow.

CNN's Rafael Romo is the first reporter to interview Maldonado in jail. He has more from Nogales, Mexico.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Yanira Maldonado was emotional from the moment she saw us, escorted into the prison administrator's office to be interviewed.

YANIRA MALDONADO, DETAINED IN MEXICO: I'm not a criminal. I'm just here by mistake because people are not doing their work. This is not right. I need to be back with my family. I need to be out of here. I need to get home.

ROMO: Maldonado and her husband were returning by bus from the funeral of her aunt when Mexican soldiers stopped the vehicle at this checkpoint. Passengers were taken off and the bus searched. The soldiers said they found several packages of marijuana under her seat, 5.7 kilos, more than 12 pounds, and she says asked her to pay $5,000.

MALDONADO: It's a lie what they're saying. And they say they found something under my seat, but I never said anything, they didn't show me anything. It was just amazing all what they did.

ROMO: Maldonado says authorities did not make it clear at first that she was a suspect, but she knew she was in trouble when federal agents started questioning her husband and her.

MALDONADO: I was in shock when they said that it was me, because first they said that it was -- it was my husband.

ROMO: Taken into Mexican federal custody, she was transferred to this state prison last Friday, where she is being held in a temporary cell away from other inmates.

Family members have been allowed brief visits.

(on camera): Now, your husband, Gary, and your children, are going to be listening to this and watching you. What do you want to tell them? MALDONADO: That I love them very much, that I'm going -- that they know that I'm innocent.

ROMO (voice-over): And that belief is also held by a Mexican state official with extensive knowledge of the case who told CNN it would have been almost impossible for her to carry that much marijuana on to the bus without someone noticing.

MALDONADO: They have cameras on the terminal in the bus, and they haven't checked that. Why they don't check for fingerprints? I don't have -- my fingerprints are not in those package or on the package or whatever they're saying that they found.

ROMO: Maldonado says she has not been mistreated, but she's rethinking the advice she used to give friends about traveling to Mexico on vacation.

MALDONADO: I used to tell people, come to Mexico. It's not true what they're saying. I go every year to visit my family, and look what's happening to me now.

ROMO: All this devout Mormon can do now, she says, is pray.

Rafael Romo, CNN, Nogales, Mexico.


BERMAN: I need to get out of here, she says.

Eighteen minutes after the hour.

New this morning, seven people are dead after a tractor-trailer collided with a minivan in upstate New York. Police say the trailer disconnected and struck the minivan, which was headed in the opposite direction on a two-lane highway near Syracuse last night. Seven of the eight people in the minivan were killed.

ROMANS: The police officer killed in what a state trooper called an obvious ambush will be laid to rest today. Kentucky officer Jason Ellis was shot and killed over the weekend, but it's not clear if he was the intended target. The police chief in Bardstown promising to avenge his death.

Before the funeral today, police will hold a news conference and may announce a reward in that case.

BERMAN: A not guilty plea by a 12-year-old California boy charged with stabbing his little sister to death. Eight-year-old Leila Fowler was found murdered in her home last month. Her brother is due back in court at the end of July. That's when a trial date will be set.

ROMANS: A Florida Islamic group is calling for an independent investigation following reports that Ibrahim Todashev was unarmed when he was fatally shot by an FBI agent. Todashev was a friend of Boston marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Todashev was shot and killed last week in Orlando after allegedly attacking the agent during questioning. The FBI conducting an internal investigation.

BERMAN: Some famous Boston natives will share the stage tonight at a benefit concert for the marathon bombing victims. Steven Tyler of Aerosmith will be among the headliners. James Taylor will also perform along with a lot of other musicians and comedians, New Kids on the Block, Jay Giles Band. Awesome, awesome lineup.

Proceeds for the Boston Strong Concert will support the One Fund Boston charity, which was established to help those most affected by the bombings.

ROMANS: All right, coming up, new information in the dramatic rescue of that newborn baby from a sewer pipe in China. Why the mom will not be charged by police.


ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome back. Minding your business this morning.

All these record highs in stocks have investors a little nervous. The Dow fell more than 100 points yesterday. Futures are flat this morning.

The market is really being dominated by the Federal Reserve. There's more talk of the Fed dialing back its massive stimulus program, $85 billion a month is going straight into the economy from the Fed. The Boston Fed president yesterday said that policymakers stand ready to increase or decrease that stimulus program.

Big question -- is the economy ready for that? Today, we'll get some answers. The second reading on first-quarter gross domestic product, that comes at 8:30 a.m. It was 2.5 percent, was the annual pace the economy grew last month when that number came out -- good, but not good enough.

Also watching Tokyo today. Its main stock market, the Nikkei, plunged 5 percent.


ROMANS: That's a big move. The Nikkei down now 10 percent from its peak just a week ago. That's officially a correction.

BERMAN: In a week? Ten percent in a week?

ROMANS: In a week. That's a big move there. A lot could be riding, though, here on that GDP report at 8:30, so I think that's going to give us the direction for stocks today in the U.S.

An American company being bought by the Chinese for nearly $5 billion. Smithfield is the world's largest pork processor. Last year, a Chinese company bought movie chain AMC, but this is the biggest deal yet of a Chinese company buying an American company lock, stock and barrel. Smithfield pork will still be produced in the U.S. analysts say this deal is more about getting our pork to China because, quite frankly, there is a veracious appetite, figuratively and literally, in China for raw food goods. And that's one of those.

This has to be reviewed, though, by the U.S. government for national security and economic security reasons. They have to look. Any time there is a big purchase, but from the Chinese of a big American company, they have to look at that as well.

BERMAN: Five billion dollars is a lot of bacon.

ROMANS: It is a lot of bacon, yes, it is.

BERMAN: All right. Twenty-five minutes after the hour.

Coming up, twisters tearing through the plains, relentless and dangerous. We will tell you who is in the bull's eye this morning.

ROMANS: And new information this morning on that newborn baby dramatically rescued from a sewer pipe.