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Remembering James Gandolfini; Spy Program Revealed; No Hoffa Here

Aired June 20, 2013 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Such a brilliant actor, television icon, "Soprano" star James Gandolfini dying suddenly on a father/son trip. We have reaction from Hollywood this morning and a look back at his remarkable career.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama back at home this morning, promising to reveal new information about the government's secret surveillance program.

BERMAN: And so much devastation. Look at that. Homes crashing down and the death toll rising from a monsoon flood and the danger not over.

ROMANS: Dramatic pictures. Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. It is Thursday, June 20. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

ROMANS: We begin this morning remembering James Gandolfini, the actor, dead at the age of 51, of an apparent heart attack and the tributes flowing in this morning.

Nischelle Turner has been watching the reaction to the death of the man many of us know as Tony Soprano.

Good morning.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he's the man who made us love a mobster.

ROMANS: Right.

TURNER: For a lack of a better word. You know, there's a lot of reaction this morning. First reaction by most, of course, shock from fans, friends and colleagues in the industry. Then, the respect for whom many call one of the best, if not the best, and most underrated actor of our time begin to roll in.


TURNER (voice-over): The sudden death of James Gandolfini rippled from Italy to the Jersey Shore.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't believe it. I'm in shock. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really taken back. I mean, he was such a young man. Just such a nice guy.

TURNER: The Emmy Award-winning actor's death confirmed by HBO, the network where he shot to fame as the tough-talking mob boss Tony Soprano on the hit drama, "The Sopranos."

JAMES GANDOLFINI AS TONY SOPRANO: I couldn't ask for more.

TURNER: The HBO representative said the 51-year-old actor may have had a heart attack, though the official cause is not yet known. The news blindsided his closest Hollywood friends.

"Soprano" co-star Steven Van Zandt tweeting, "I have lost a brother and a best friend. The world has lost one of the greatest actors of all time."

The show's creator David Chase mourned the loss in a statement saying, "He was a genius. Anyone who saw him, even in the smallest of his performances knows that. He is one of the greatest actors of this or any time. A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes."

Gandolfini was vacationing in Italy where he was scheduled to attend the Taormina Film Festival in Sicily later this week. The press shy star made one of his last public appearances at this charity event for Stella Adler Acting Studio in New York City just last week. Among his last film roles was playing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in "Zero Dark Thirty."

GANDOLFINI: You guys ever agree on anything?

TURNER: He may have enjoyed global fame, but he never strayed far from home, New Jersey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He definitely put New Jersey on the map, all positive, you know? He just made Jersey better than it already is.

TURNER: One of his best known fans, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in a statement said, "It's an awful shock. James Gandolfini was a fine actor, a Rutgers alum and a true Jersey guy. I was a huge fan of his in the character he played, Tony Soprano."

The ice cream shop in Bloomfield, New Jersey, which served at the diner setting in the final scene of "The Sopranos", was overflowing with fans after news of the actor's death spread.


TURNER: We all remember that booth. It was reserved last night there in the diner, so no one would sit there in honor of James Gandolfini.

The cause of death is not known. The morgue director at the Policlinico Umberto Hospital Rome said there will be an autopsy performed tomorrow morning.

There's a little background on this here. The Director tells us that Gandolfini was brought to the emergency room dead on arrival about 6:55 Eastern Time last night. He explains under Italian law, anyone who arrives dead cannot have an autopsy earlier than 24 hours after their body is brought in. And also, guys, because he is an American citizen, his body will remain in Italy until a death certificate is requested by the family and the U.S. embassy.

BERMAN: You know, just 51. So young.


BERMAN: And there are not many people you can say literally changed television. He changed entertainment.

TURNER: Yes, put HBO on the map. Nobody knew what "The Sopranos" were. And James Gandolfini didn't get that role until he was almost 35 years old. So, his success came later in life. But he definitely changed the face of television with this role and with this series.

It's one that none of us will forget.

ROMANS: And then, he tried to kind of change from being typecast as a mob guy. He did plays on Broadway. He really tried to spread his wings and show his range as an actor.

TURNER: He was great on Broadway. He started on Broadway in 1992. He was in a "Streetcar Named Desire" with Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange, and that's kind of where he got his first taste on the stage. Of course, he returned to Broadway and got carnage and was just fantastic.

BERMAN: He's an actor's actor. And more importantly, according to everyone who's sending tributes, a nice guy.

TURNER: Absolutely. He was a Jersey boy.


TURNER: There he was.

ROMANS: All right. Nischelle Turner, thanks.

And coming up at 5:30, we are going to look back at his remarkable career on screen and off.

BERMAN: Meanwhile, President Obama returning to Washington early this morning and amid the controversy over the NSA spying programs, new revelations are leading to more questions about what the government may be doing to keep an eye on Americans.

Here's Athena Jones.


ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Obama returning early this morning from overseas and still facing questions about government surveillance program that is spooked Americans. He's promised more answers.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we are going to be doing when I get back home is trying to find ways to declassify further some of these programs without completely compromising their effectiveness, sharing that information with the public.

JONES: But after revelations about government access to phone records and e-mails, his FBI director now facing questions about limits on the agency's use of drones on American soil.

ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: We have very few and of limited use.

JONES: The Coast Guard uses drones for surveillance on ice sheets in Alaska and Department of Homeland Security uses them to watch the borders.

A law enforcement official tells CNN the FBI has used unarmed drones just over a dozen times, like to monitor the scene from the rescue of a 5-year-old Alabama boy taken hostage. The advantage, they aren't as loud or easy to see as a helicopter.

SEN. CHARLES GRASLEY (R), IOWA: Since you use drones, that the FBI has developed a set of policies, procedures and operational limits on the use of drones and, whether or not any privacy impact on American citizens.

MUELLER: We are in the initial stages of doing that.

JONES: Critics like Rand Paul say that's putting the cart before the horse.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I am a little concerned that we are going to use the drones and then we are going to develop rules for them.

JONES: Athena Jones, CNN, Washington.


BERMAN: So, meanwhile, the leader of WikiLeaks says he's working to get asylum in Iceland for the NSA leaker Edward Snowden. Julian Assange telling reporters he's in touch with Snowden's legal team and is trying to broker a deal with the Icelandic government. Snowden is still believed to be in hiding in Hong Kong.

ROMANS: Peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban have now been delayed. The talks have been set today. The Afghan government backed out, apparently upset it wouldn't be in charge and angry that the Taliban opened an office in Qatar. That sparked a furious round of diplomacy with Secretary of State Kerry calling Afghan President Karzai several times, trying to broker a deal. No word yet on when these peace talks might now begin.

And new this morning, the Taliban set to be offering trade to the U.S. A spokesman for the group telling "The Associated Press" they are ready to hand over an Army Sergeant Beau Bergdahl in exchange for five of their operatives being held at Guantanamo Bay. Bergdahl has been missing and presumed captured since 2009. Earlier this month, his parents said they received a letter from him.

BERMAN: The actress Shannon Richardson accused of mailing ricin-laced letters to President Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to be in federal court in Texas for a hearing today. Richardson allegedly tried to frame her husband for the crime. If convicted, she could get up to 10 years in prison.

ROMANS: Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is back home Wednesday as police continue their investigation into a suspicious death nearby. The body of a man was found in an industrial park a mile away. The man was a semi-pro football player who says he was connected to Hernandez. Police were seen searching along a road near Hernandez's home. says he is not a suspect.

Hernandez is facing a civil suit in Florida, though, for shooting a man in the face after they fought at a Miami strip club. The suit dropped temporarily, but lawyers telling ESPN they plan to refile that.

BERMAN: The FBI calling off the search for the remains of Jimmy Hoffa. They're done. Three digs of digging in the Detroit suburb turned up no sign of the former Teamsters' boss. It's just the latest chapter in the unsuccessful search for Hoffa who disappeared back in 1975.

This most recent tip came from an alleged mob boss who told federal agents that Hoffa was buried in Oakland Township, Michigan, shortly after he went missing.

ROMANS: Hot, dry conditions, high winds, a dangerous combination that's refueling a wildfire near Prescott, Arizona. Look at those pictures. Officials say the Doce Fire has now grown to 7,000 acres. Fast-moving flames forcing the evacuation of some 500 homes. And right now, fire crews, no containment, zero percent containment of that fire.

BERMAN: Have you seen this? Caught on tape, a waterspout in Grand Isle, Louisiana. Look at that, end of days. The National Weather Service report some damage, including downed power lines at the spout mostly out of the water.

That's amazing. That is just amazing. That's Armageddon. That's what the end of the world looks like right there.

ROMANS: Or it's just a waterspout.

BERMAN: Or it's just a waterspout. One or the other. You choose. End of the world --


ROMANS: Indra, John Berman is very dramatic for a Thursday morning. I don't know if I'm going to make it.


I wanted to show you the radar because I think it's pretty incredible, but I'll show the different reason why. Here is what we are looking at. Talk about the radar from yesterday, 3:45. Not seeing much activity on the radar.

And then bam! Out of nowhere, a waterspout. There wasn't even a slight risk in the area. So, to me, that's pretty incredible as well.

We are watching for a chance of showers. Nothing really major, one to two inches, typically in the higher amounts in Florida, as can be expected. But really, the slight risk area up to the north is where the low went across. We're talking about Dakotas, anywhere from Minnesota, even through Iowa today. And again, this is slight risk. We could see thunderstorms developing and some of those could turn severe.

Really, the big story, warm temperatures. What everyone's been asking for after all the rain in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic. Beautiful, we are going to continue to warm, 70s and 80s, and eventually go to above normal temperatures. As we go towards the weekend, that people should be happy about. Not yet, there you go. We are not happy about it, of course, in the west, where we continue to be hot and dry. We just talked about the fires and there's no relief for them.

ROMANS: Thanks, Indra.

BERMAN: All right.

The Stanley Cup Finals as close as it gets. The Chicago Blackhawks tied the series at two games a piece in another overtime thriller. Another reason I have not slept in weeks. Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrooks scoring the game winner last night, nearly 10 minutes into overtime beating the Bruins goalie, did not have a great night last night. The score was 6-5 in the end.

ROMANS: Wow, that's a lot of goals.

BERMAN: That's a lot for a hockey game.

(INAUDIBLE) shot out the Blackhawks the other night. Three of four games went to overtime. This is an incredibly close and incredibly competitive series. Game five is Saturday night. Thankfully an off night for me, back in Chicago.

ROMANS: Is it normal to have the NBA playoffs and Stanley Cup at the same time?

BERMAN: Basically the same time.

ROMANS: Oh my goodness.

BERMAN: I think maybe the NHL was delayed a bit because of the job action earlier this year.

ROMANS: That's right. BERMAN: They play hockey in June.

ROMANS: A lot of sports. That's a good thing, Berman. I'm not complaining.

BERMAN: I'm all for it.

ROMANS: In Spain, they see the bulls on the run, but not like this. Check out what happens after a bull weighing in at 440 pounds got loose and started charging cars.

Now, here comes a guy, not sure how smart he was. He was able to wrestle the bull to the ground. Then he got help from passer byes and secure the animal with the rope around his legs.

BERMAN: Just 12 guys, one bull. Oh my goodness.

ROMANS: In the U.S., it's a deer at the convenient store. In Spain, it's a bull running through the streets.

BERMAN: It's cultural differences. Wow, glad they are OK.

ROMANS: Me, too.

BERMAN: Coming up, we're going to tell you a story. Dozens dead. Neighborhoods destroyed. The monsoon that is wiping out lives and livelihood. Look at those pictures.

ROMANS: And a mysterious new virus has killed dozens already. Now, researchers raising new warnings.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone.

Parts of India just inundated with rain. Monsoon flooding has triggered landslides, left thousands of people stranded after roads and bridges were washed away. Look at that.

Local officials say as many as 150 people died. And the country's prime minister expects that number to rise considerably.

ROMANS: Then there's this video from Nepal showing the power of the monsoon rains, flooding from one of the region's major rivers, sweeping the house away. Just amazing. More than 50 homes in the region wiped out by flooding and landslides.

BERMAN: That water was just rushing. Look at how powerful that looks.

ROMANS: Oh my goodness, taking the foundation right up underneath.

BERMAN: All right. Sixteen minutes after the hour.

More protests in Brazil, this time outside of soccer stadium, in the northeastern part of the country. This as Brazil battled Mexico, a very high profile game in Confederation Cup. These demonstrators took to the streets outside. They're angry at the government, holding placards, calling for an end of high corruption, high taxes. They're even upset the government money is going to sports stadium.

This in advance of the World Cup, which will be in Brazil next year. Protests have been taking place nationwide this week.

ROMANS: More criticism this morning for the IRS. This time over $70 million in bonuses apparently set to be paid out by this agency. Senator Charles Grassley asking the IRS to explain why the government sequester isn't preventing these payouts. The IRS says it has time to make the payments under a union contract and is negotiating the union to make some changes.

BERMAN: Three Navy midshipmen are facing charges this morning, accused of raping a female student more than a year ago. All three are current or former football players. A woman's attorney says she woke up with bruises after a night of drinking and saw on social media that the three claimed to have had sex with her while she was blacked out. An earlier investigation into the incident was closed last year without charges filed.

ROMANS: Success reported in the vaccination of girls against the human papillomavirus. Federal health officials say the prevalence of dangerous HPV strain has fallen by half in teenage girls since the vaccine was introduced in 2006. About a quarter of the population said to be infected with HPV.

BERMAN: So, progress there.


BERMAN: Fear here. International team of doctors reports that the new MERS virus spread easily between people and it appears to be more deadly than even SARS. They study nearly two dozen cases of the mysterious respiratory illness that originated in the Middle East, largely in Saudi Arabia. Scientists remain baffled as to the source of MERS, now blamed for more than three dozen deaths. The World Health Organization has called this the biggest public health threat there is.

ROMANS: Celebrity chief Paula Deen under fire this morning for language sometime called racist. Deen testifying in a lawsuit by a former employee allegedly she and her brother routinely used racially insensitive terms. In her deposition, Deen admitted to using the "N" word in the past but it's been a long time. And she admitted to planning a wedding with an all black wait staff. Her lawyer says Deen doesn't condone the use of racial slurs and looks forward to her day in court.


ROMANS: All right. Coming up, Dolce and Gabbana convicted of hiding millions from the Italian government. Could the fashion icon soon be wearing prison stripes?

BERMAN: Dolce and Gabbana, they're important, right?


ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome back to EARLY START. It's money time.

Stocks tanked on Wednesday, you can thank the Federal Reserve for that. Futures falling again today. The Dow fell more than 200 points, seven straight triple-digit move. NASDAQ and the S&P 500 sank more than 1 percent each. The Federal Reserve will keep pumping $85 billion a month into the economy to keep interest rates low, to promote economic growth. That will continue.

But the end is near.


BEN BERNANKE, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: The committee currently anticipates that it would be appropriate to moderate the monthly pace of purchases later this year.


ROMANS: Later this year. That's the translation. This is contingent on one thing, the economy improving.

The Fed overall is optimistic the economy will improve. It sees unemployment possibly getting as low as 6.5 percent next year. Wow, that would be nice. Currently, unemployment is 7.6 percent.

Home prices are rising, but enjoy it while it lasts. The new study from Zillow says home prices rose 5.4 percent in May, compared to May of 2012. It's the second highest jump this year. Most cities are seeing big, double digit gains. Prices in Las Vegas up 28 percent.

Similar moves in Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, Phoenix. These are places that were hit hardest by the housing bust. Zillow thinks the surging home prices is bound to slow down as mortgage rates rise.

They are two of the world's most famous clothing designers. But an Italian court says they cheated on their taxes. Dolce and Gabbana were sentenced to one year and eight months in prison for tax evasion. Under Italian law, the pair will not serve time in prison, but do community service or house arrest. They plan to appeal the verdict.

BERMAN: They could revolutionize prison jump suits.

ROMANS: That's right. Imagine what they would do in prison stripes.

BERMAN: I would say about the Fed, we spend a lot of time together now. I spend more time with you than my wife. I have not seen her worked up about anything as the Fed and Ben Bernanke yesterday.

ROMANS: It's true. Look, we know now that the Fed is going to start withdrawing that massive stimulus. They're calling it a taper on Wall Street. Remember TARP, remember sequester, remember all these terrible words, they come up with, the taper now. The Fed basically giving a road map for when it will pull back the historic stimulus from the economy. It will be next year, probably next year. And that means you won't have $85 billion a month going into the market, stocks, into the economy. And that's something that makes investors nervous.

BERMAN: It is a big deal about your money.

Twenty-five minutes after the hour.

Coming up, we have a heart breaking story. A 13-year-old boy arrested in the death of his little sister. So, was this murder or was this horseplay that turned tragic?

ROMANS: And Serena Williams with a new promise after she was quoted criticizing a rape victim. What she plans to do now.


ROMANS: Mourning the death of an on screen icon. "Soprano" star James Gandolfini dying suddenly while overseas on a father/son trip.

BERMAN: A child killer, a thirteen year old boy, arrested, accused of murdering his little sister. Was he trying to hurt her or was he just all an accident?

ROMANS: And an Arizona wildfire spreading fast. Hundreds of homes evacuated. Thousands of acres scorched, zero percent containment this morning.

BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans.

It's about half past the hour now.

BERMAN: And James Gandolfini being remembered this morning as the genius and maybe more importantly, just as a nice guy. The actor dying in an apparent died of an apparent heart attack while he was in Italy with his son. James Gandolfini was just 51. He got a start on Broadway stage and start in movies. But you know, it was that one searing role that will always define him.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How you doing, Mike? How you doing? Ahh! Ahh!


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me fix it up for you.


BERMAN: Tony Soprano, the emotionally crippled head of a New York -- sorry, New Jersey crime family. It's a part that Gandolfini played for six seasons. He won three Emmys. That show's he creator, David Chase, calling him genius.