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California Burning; Tragedy Along Tornado Alley; Storm Chasers Killed; Deadly Bombing In Afghanistan; "Blade Runner" Back In Court; Celebrity Diplomacy In Boston Bombings Investigation; Celebrity Diplomacy in Boston Bombings Investigation; Republicans Release IRS Transcripts

Aired June 3, 2013 - 06:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: -- CNN's Stephanie Elam live in Palmdale, California, for us. Good morning, Stephanie. What's it like on the ground there?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, I wish -- I hope it doesn't look like I'm afraid to look at you because that's not the case. It's just the winds are so fierce right now and this is the issue with this fire. The winds are so strong that it's just blowing the fire into different places. That's what happened Saturday night, but it's not just here. There are other parts within the western region that are also up in flames.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three, two, one.

ELAM (voice-over): By air and land, a full-scale assault on massive wildfires raging out west. More than a thousand firefighters are battling the ferocious powerhouse fire about an hour northeast of Los Angeles. The unpredictable fire doubled in size over the weekend forcing the mandatory evacuation of nearly 3,000 people and leaving about 1,000 homes in danger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have 15 homes that were damaged, six were destroyed.

ELAM: But the Los Angeles County Fire Department says those numbers could have been worse if not for their around-the-clock air assault.

NORM WALKER, INCIDENT COMMANDER: We have put everything that we have into this, including night air attack from the forest service, three L.A. County fire helicopters dropping water at night and one L.A. city fire helicopter dropping at night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are the only region in the world that does that.

ELAM: And in New Mexico, firefighters are working to contain two raging wildfires fueled by historic drought conditions. The Tres Lagunas fire has charred more than 7400 acres and forced the evacuation of more than 100 summer homes, some camp grounds and six hiking trails. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've had the smoke coming over in years before, but it's never been this close and it's never been that big.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Looked like the whole canyon is going to blow up literally. The whole canyon is going to blow up and we're going to be screwed.

ELAM: Back in California firefighters hope Mother Nature will lend a helping hand.

DEPUTY CHIEF DAVID RICHARDSON, L.A. COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT: We're supposed to see a decrease in our winds as well as increase of relative humidity.


ELAM: Well, the humidity is one thing that is picking up. The winds however are still here. It is visually very stunning because it almost looks like the stars, because we're in a remote area, the stars filter down to the hot mountain. While it's very pretty it's dangerous and that's why a lot of people who live around here have been evacuated.

ROMANS: All right, Stephanie Elam, Palmdale, California. Thanks, Stephanie.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So from wildfires to tragedy along tornado alley and more proof of how dangerous an unpredictable storm can be. Watch as a tornado in El Reno, Oklahoma, sucks a semi -- a big truck, backward, flips it over. The tornado was so violent it killed at least 16 people in Oklahoma, including some experienced storm chasers, Tim Samaras and Carl Young and also Tim's 24-year-old son Paul.

Tim's death is shocking given his focus on safety and his decades of experience in this field. The search will continue today for six other people who are missing among them is an 8-year-old girl. Ed Lavandera is in El Reno, Oklahoma. Good morning, Ed.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Well, those six people that are missing caught in flash floodwaters that struck right after the worse of this tornado hit here near Oklahoma City Friday night.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): The search for six missing people swept away in flash floodwaters will continue Monday morning. The bodies of three children and two adults were found Sunday. They drowned as they tried to hide in storm drains from Friday night storms. Three storm chasers were also killed by the ferocious tornado. Their car mangled and shredded by the storm's force, found on a back country road.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the roof of the house.

LAVANDERA: Around Oklahoma City, again people are staring at their homes in piles of rubble and for Dana Trammel, it's not the first time.

(on camera): When you look at all of that and you look, where in the world do you begin? That's what I keep asking myself?

DANA TRAMMEL, TORNADO VICTIM: Well, if it hadn't been for the other time, you know, I probably would have been more devastated than I am now, but I'm used to it now.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): He's used to it because as crazy as this might sound just two years ago another tornado destroyed his house.

(on camera): Do you feel incredibly unlucky?

TRAMMEL: Sometimes. It's kind of hard to -- kind of hard to take. The more I walk around and look and see the stuff that's scattered everywhere, makes it a little tougher.

LAVANDERA: It is hard to take.

TRAMMEL: Yes. Well, I mean, this is basically you're looking at everything I owned.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Trammel says the only thing he wants to find is an old picture of his little boy with a cast on his arm running around in daddy's shoes.

TRAMMEL: But I'm just afraid it's gone. I don't think that -- I don't think it's possible. As much as it rained, even if it's there, it's more than likely ruined.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's really nothing left, much of anything.

LAVANDERA: The Acres of Angels farm is a refuge for abused animals in the town of El Reno. Angela Coble cares for everything from pigeons to dogs to llamas. One of those llamas was killed. This llama and several horses and donkeys had to be taken to shelters for treatments of wounds, but her family lived here in a 117-year-old two-story farmhouse that had endured countless Oklahoma storms, but not this one.

ANGELA COBLE, TORNADO VICTIM: It was special because we really had our fingers planted pretty deep in the caring for the animals. It was like a simple country life kind of home. You're away from the city and, you know, I loved it.


LAVANDERA: And John, what added to the chaos Friday night here in the Oklahoma City area, this tornado didn't just touch the ground and carve a straight path through the countryside in Oklahoma City, it touched down and made several unpredictable moves and changing directions several times and that added to the chaos and made it a much more life threatening situation which we saw on full display Friday night.

BERMAN: A deadly, deadly storm, all right, Ed Lavandera for us in Oklahoma this morning. Thanks, Ed.

ROMANS: And as Ed just explained three well known storm chasers are among the victims of the latest Oklahoma tornado. Tim Samaras and his Twist-X team appeared regularly on the Discovery Channel. They chased science, thrill, but really these are scientists who lost their lives doing this.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I mean, it really has been an incredibly hard weekend for the science community. Still a lot we don't know about tornadoes and these guys were doing ground-breaking research to help us learn to really save your lives.


PETERSONS (voice-over): A monster twister that forecasters predicted all week could happen and it did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold on, brothers. Hold on.

PETERSONS: A crew from the Weather Channel caught in the middle of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody duck, go, go, keep it going if you can. Everybody duck down.

PETERSONS: Watch as a violent tornado sent cars, trucks and everything else in its path flying. The storm so erratic among those killed were veteran storm chasers Tim Samaras, his 24-year-old Paul Samaras and fellow researcher Carl Young, three men who normally found themselves running toward the storm, rather than away from it, as seen here in the Discovery Channel show "Storm Chasers." Samaras explained why to CNN's Soledad O'Brien in 2004.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Why do you want to get so close to tornadoes and do this?

TIM SAMARAS, STORM CHASER: I plant probes in the path of tornados and in order to get them correctly in the path you have to be close.

PETERSONS: His team tried to close in on the tornado in what Samaras warned about in his final tweet, "Dangerous day for Oklahoma. Stay weather savvy." Other chasers were in harm's way including meteorologist, Mike Bettis and his crew as seen here on the Weather Channel.

MIKE BETTIS, WEATHER CHANNEL: Eventually the camera was ejected.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the camera. It never stopped recording. Watch it here as you can actually see Bettis' truck rolling over and over in the field.

BETTIS: I just saw my wife's face and I thought, you know, that's, you know, that's my life. I don't want to give that up just yet and thankfully I don't have to.

PETERSONS: A fortunate fate Bettis' photographer, Austin Anderson, shared as well. He escaped the storm with broken back bones, a broken rib and breast plate, but says he's not done storm chasing.

AUSTIN ANDERSON, PHOTOGRAPHER: There's a lot more to learn about tornadoes and getting out there and seeing them up close firsthand is important because it's -- I think I feel like I'm helping people learn about tornados.

PETERSONS: A mission he shared with storm chasers Tim Samaras, Paul Samaras and Carl Young, their lifelong passion cut short by a ferocious twister's unpredictable force.

JIM SAMARAS, VICTIM'S BROTHER: I just could never think it would ever happen to him because of his level of expertise, years of doing this. If I had to have a way for my brother to die, it would be doing what he did, chasing tornadoes.


PETERSONS: Such a tough weekend for all of us. Typically these storms normally move in a northeast direction, but we always talk about that a tornado can switch directions at any point. That's what it did last Friday, took a hard left and caught a lot of people in danger.

We're looking at the same storm pushed to the northeast, producing some heavy rain really all up and down the coastline today. That's what we're going to be monitoring. Also in the west coast, we're talking about these wildfires, dealing with so much heat out there.

Winds gusting 25 miles per hour, but the fires themselves have their own winds within them and can be tricky and the temperatures will be rising in that area. As far as the risk area we're still talking about a slight risk today extending from the Dakotas through Texas.

And unfortunately for the neck several days as the low exits out of the Rockies we're going to be looking at the strengthening a little bit, producing a high risk as we go through Tuesday and Wednesday. A lot going on in the weather world and continue to watch it and keep you posted.

ROMANS: All right, Indra Petersons, thank you so much, Indra. It's been a crazy couple weeks of weather especially for folks in Oklahoma. I wish them the best. Later this morning on "STARTING POINT," we'll be talking to two storm chasers about their experiences in Oklahoma on Friday. Reid Timer and Tyler Constantini will be live with us an hour later.

BERMAN: All right, just in to CNN, deadly bombing left more than a dozen people dead in Afghanistan. Ten schoolchildren and two ISAF soldiers were killed along with a police officer. This happened at Paktia Province. No word on the nationalities of the soldiers.

ROMANS: South African blade runner, Oscar Pistorius, is due back in court tomorrow. Pistorius facing murder charges in the death of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp. He's been living with his aunt and uncle in Pretoria since being released on bail. His lawyers now want to know how graphic crime scene photos wound up being broadcast last week on Britain's "Sky News."

BERMAN: Coming up, the war of words over the IRS, it grows bitter. So what are politicians are now saying about each other as the investigation continues.

ROMANS: And a hollywood action hero takes a starring role in the Boston bombing investigation. How Steven Segal is helping find out what happened. What's his role in all of this?

BERMAN: This is really happening.

ROMANS: Interesting.


BERMAN: There are some new developments this morning in the investigation in the deadly Boston marathon bombings in the form of celebrity diplomacy. A congressional delegation is in Russia trying to determine if the deadly attacks might have been prevented or averted and they were joined there by actor Steven Segal.

This really happened. The head of the delegation said it was actually Segal who was instrumental in setting up some of their meetings. Phil black is in Moscow with the story. We're baffled. Good morning, Phil. Explain this to us because we're just baffled.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, Steven Segal is not someone you expect to see in a congressional delegation's press conference in Moscow when the subject at hand is counter terrorism and intelligence cooperation but there he was. The delegation has been here for much of the last week or so, meeting with Russian officials, trying to determine what lessons can be learned about cooperation on this level between these two countries in the aftermath of the Boston marathon attack.

The delegation was led by Republican Dana Recoarbacker from California. His conclusion, at the end of all of these meetings, is there was no one specific point or failure that prevented authorities from identifying the plot and stopping it before it happened. His view is that the cooperation, the relationship, should have been on a much better, more generous, positive level and if that was the case and there was a chance, it could have been averted.

Another Republican, Steve King, from Iowa, he made the point that they received new analysis from the briefing with the federal security service, Russia's FSB, on the Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his mother. Let's hear a little more from both men now.


REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: Their opinion that Tamerlan and his mother were both of radical idea before they came to the United States. And I think that is just (ph) much of the conventional thinking within the United States.

REP. DANA ROHRBACHER (R), CALIFORNIA: Some specific we didn't pay attention to this detail or that detail, but instead, they didn't pay attention to the big picture. And the big picture was all screwed up and then in that our people were not cooperating as they should have and vice versa.


BLACK: Now, the Seagal factor. Steven Seagal was in the room as some members of the delegation gave really overwhelming praise about the role that he played, credited him with setting up very high-level meetings within the Russian establishment, particularly with one of Russia's deputy prime ministers and credited him with setting up that briefing with the federal security service.

When Seagal was asked about it afterwards he says, yes, as a matter of fact, I did. Now, it appears to have been something of divisive point, I should say, within the delegation because while Seagal was standing there taking credit for this, another member of the delegation, Steve Cohen from Tennessee, was shaking his head in disagreement the whole time.

It appears as I say to have been somewhat divisive but in the end, Steven Seagal tried to strike a diplomatic note, by saying that, yes, he made some of the initial phone calls to set this meeting up, but the U.S. embassy played a big role in making this happen, John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Quickly, Phil, why does Steven Seagal have great contacts in the Russian security service?

BLACK: Well, we know he and the Russian President Vladimir Putin get along because they have a shared interest in martial arts. Steven Seagal is a master of aikido. Vladimir Putin is a high-ranking black belt in judo. Putin himself has tried to style himself as something of an action hero all along.

So, we know that Steven Seagal has spent time here. But in Seagal's words he says he is friends with many presidents in many countries but didn't really explain why -- John.

BERMAN: Yes, who knew? All right. Phil Black in Moscow, thanks so much for that story. Maybe Jean Claude Van Damme can help in the Middle East.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: I was going to say Dennis Rodman in North Korea, but I think that's a different situation.

All right. The IRS scandal widening this morning and we could see fireworks today, because this afternoon, acting IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel appears before a House committee investigating the agency's targeting of Tea Party groups. Tomorrow, tomorrow morning, we're going to hear testify for the first time from members of those groups who claim they were victimized.

BERMAN: Meanwhile, a top Republican is really adding fuel to the fire. Darrell Issa of California alleging that the calls for the IRS to target conservative groups may have come directly from Washington.

Here's CNN's Dan Lothian.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: For the first time, we're hearing what IRS workers in Cincinnati are telling congressional investigators about why they targeted conservative groups.

Republican Darrell Issa in an exclusive interview on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION."

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R-CA), OVERSIGHT & GOVT. REFORM CHAIRMAN: As late as last week, the administration's still trying to say there's a few rogue agents in Cincinnati, when, in fact, the indication is they were directly being ordered from Washington.

LOTHIAN: Issa released just partial transcripts, citing an ongoing investigation. So, the full context isn't clear.

In one excerpt, one worker quotes a supervisor. "He told me that Washington, D.C., wanted some cases." And when asked about targeting Tea Party applications and whether those directions emanated from Washington, the worker replies, quote, "I believe so."

CANDY CROWLEY, "STATE OF THE UNION" HOST: "I believe so." It's totally not definitive, you can understand.

ISSA: That one isn't.


LOTHIAN: Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on Issa's House Oversight Committee called his claims, quote, "reckless," saying, "So far, no witnesses who have appeared before the committee have identified any IRS official in Washington, D.C."

Issa says more interviews and transcripts are coming.

ISSA: This is a problem that was coordinated, in all likelihood, right out of Washington headquarters, and we're getting to proving it.

LOTHIAN: But two Democratic sources involved complain Issa released the transcript's excerpts before making them available to Democrats in what they say is supposed to be a bipartisan investigation. The sources tell CNN the excerpts are taken out of context and Issa's claim they indicate direction from Washington is misleading. They say their impression was the workers were talking about consulting with tax attorney specialists in Washington about how much political activity is acceptable for tax-exempt status.

Issa is also going after IRS spending, saying the agency wasted $50,000 on training videos like this newly released Cuban love shuffle.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm receiving incoming reports from the landing party. LOTHIAN: And on an already notorious "Star Trek" spoof. The video's shown at one of 225 IRS conferences between 2010 and 2012, costing $50 million, including $17,000 for a speaker on leadership through art at a 2010 conference in Anaheim, where Issa says one high-ranking IRS worker stayed in the Hilton Anaheim's two-bedroom presidential suite that normally runs $1,500 a night.

The man the president has chosen to fix the IRS, Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel, faces his first congressional grilling this morning, one of three IRS hearings this week on a controversy that shows no signs of letting up.

Dan Lothian, CNN, Washington.


BERMAN: And our thanks to Dan for that story.

So, really, is there anything funnier in the world than Federal Reserve humor. We will tell you what Chairman Ben Bernanke that was so funny that these graduates at Princeton, they will never ever forget it.


ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START.

Minding your business.

So much for selling may and go away. That didn't hold true this time. The S&P 500 rose more than 2 percent last month and the Dow posted its sixth straight monthly gain.


ROMANS: As for June, the first trading day, kicking off with a rally, Dow futures up about 45 points. We'll see if it holds.

All right. The Federal Reserve chairman letting loose, delivering Princeton's commencement speech -- and it was funny. Ben Bernanke normally serious, he quotes Forest Gump, calls him a philosopher, quotes the Gospel of Luke and says his rabbi will forgive him for using the New Testament, and says people will little schooling but work hard deserve respect and are more fun to have a beer with.

And for the parents, he offers this pat on the back.


BEN BERNANKE, CHAIRMAN, FEDERAL RESERVE: Some years ago, I had a colleague who sent three kids through Princeton. My colleague used to say from a financial perspective, the experience was kind of like buying a new Cadillac every year and then driving it off a cliff.


ROMANS: A lot of parents can relate.

BERMAN: Like dying, he's killing you, that Ben Bernanke.

ROMANS: You think I'm overselling the Fed funnies but it is funny. I mean, come on.

Bernanke also advised the graduates to remember who paid for their tuition.

Apparently, in 2008, he spoke to Harvard and he was panned because he talked about inflation. So, this time, he was more fun.

BERMAN: Inflation is hilarious, though.

ROMANS: Funny is relatively speaking, all right?

Meantime, Apple heads to court to defend itself against accusations it conspired to raise e-book prices. The Justice Department brought this case a year ago. It accused Apple and five publishers working a deal to allow publishers to set book prices instead of retailers. The government says Apple was trying to compete with Amazon and offering lower prices and becoming more dominant in the market.

The publishers involved settled with the government.

BERMAN: And it's a big deal, actually, in the publishing world.

ROMANS: Did you think that was funny? You don't think anything I say is funny.

BERMAN: About as funny as Ben Bernanke. Just, you know, glass of water as funny as Ben Bernanke.

Coming up, fires burning out west. Thousands of acres gone. There are homes threatened. We will have the latest from the fire line.

And Angelina Jolie makes her first public appearance since her revelation she had a double mastectomy. We'll tell you what she said on the red carpet.