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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Georgia Elementary School Shooting; Crisis in Egypt; Did Syria Use Chemical Weapons?; NSA Surveillance

Aired August 22, 2013 - 05:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

CALLER: He said to tell them to back off. He doesn't want the kids, he wants the police. So, back off and -- what else, sir?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A terrifying 911 call. A school staffer trying to keep a gunman calm after he storms in and opens fire.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: And Egypt in chaos. After weeks of violence plaguing to the streets, the country's former president jailed after the 2011 revolution ordered to be set free. We are alive.

ROMANS: Big brother watching. New records reveal the NSA obtained thousands of American emails that had nothing to do with terrorism.

BROWN: Well, good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START on this Thursday. I'm Pamela Brown, filling in for Zoraida.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It's Thursday, August 22nd. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

BROWN: And up first on this Thursday morning, it is back to school this morning for students at a Decatur, Georgia elementary school. That was the scene of a gunfire on Tuesday.

We're learning more about the suspected shooter, 20-year-old Michael Brandon Hill. Police say he'd been previously convicted for making terroristic threats and according to prosecutors, he entered the Ronald McNair Discovery Learning Academy with an AK-47 type assault rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition.

And we are hearing, for the first time the school worker who convinced Hill to surrender.

CNN's Martin Savidge has that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

911 OPERATOR: DeKalb police, what's your emergency?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a remarkable call.

ANTOINETTE TUFF, SCHOOL BOOKER: I'm on 2nd Avenue in the school and the gentleman said, tell them to hold down the police officers are coming, he say he's going to start shooting. So tell them to back off.

SAVIDGE: Alone in the office of an elementary school, booker Antoinette Tuff is face-to-face with a man armed with an assault rifle and close to 500 rounds of ammunition.

TUFF: He just went outside and started shooting.

911 OPERATOR: OK.

(GUNFIRE)

TUFF: Oh, can I run?

911 OPERATOR: Where -- can you get somewhere safe?

TUFF: Yes, I got to go. No, he was going to see me running. He's coming back.

SAVIDGE: It isn't just her life on the line but hundreds of students and staff, as well as dozens of police officers now outside.

TUFF: He said to tell them to back off. He doesn't want the kids, he wants the police, so, back off and -- what else, sir?

He said, he don't care if he die. He don't have nothing to live for. And he said he's not mentally stable.

911 OPERATOR: OK. Stay on the line with me. OK? Put the phone down if you have to but don't put it on hold so I can't hear.

TUFF: OK.

911 OPERATOR: Can you tell me where you are?

TUFF: In the front office with him.

SAVIDGE: He's got an AK-47. She's only armed with her words and puts her own life on the line.

TUFF: I can let them know that you have not tried to harm me or do anything with me or anything. That you want -- but that doesn't make any difference. You didn't hit anybody.

So -- OK. Let me ask you this, ma'am. He didn't hit anybody. He just shot outside the door. If I walk out there with him -- if I walk out there with him so they won't shoot him or anything like that.

SAVIDGE: To connect with the suspect, she pours out her own personal story, of a marriage that suddenly ended.

TUFF: Well, don't feel bad, baby. My husband just left me after 33 years. But -- yes, you do. I mean, I'm sitting here with you.

SAVIDGE: And her own thoughts of suicide.

TUFF: We all go through something in life.

No, you don't want that. You're going to be OK.

I thought the same thing. I tried to commit suicide last year after my husband left me. But look at me now. I'm still working and everything is OK.

SAVIDGE: There's no hint of fear, no sense she's lying to save herself. Her cool, collect nature moves even the police dispatcher.

911 OPERATOR: Ma'am, you're doing a great job.

SAVIDGE: Moments later after convincing the gunman to put down his weapon and lay down himself, the police barge in.

And only then does Antoinette Tuff finally break down.

TUFF: Let me tell you something, I haven't been so scared in all the days of my life.

911 OPERATOR: Me neither, but you did great.

TUFF: Oh, Jesus.

SAVIDGE: Martin Savidge, CNN, Decatur, Georgia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: Oh, just brings tears to your eyes. Wow, amazing.

All right. This morning, political chaos in Egypt. Security forces rounding up a key figure from the Muslim Brotherhood, Ahmed Arif, the group's spokesperson is reportedly been arrested.

Meantime, an Egyptian court has ruled that former President Hosni Mubarak, who was deposed during the 2011 revolution should be released from jail.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh following developments live for us in Cairo this morning to joining us on the phone.

Bring us up to speed, Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): I'm standing outside the prison where Hosni Mubarak has been incarcerated and may well be released. We will not exactly know when that moment is.

(AUDIO GAP)

Today, state media saying by helicopter to secure military hospital somewhere in the capital. Let me remind you what a momentous moment this really is for the Arab spring, the whole 2 1/2 years of turmoil erupted in this region. One of the key authoritarian deposed in all that popular revolt now being released from jail. We understand he will go to house arrest, unless at some point the last minute intervention to prevent this from happening.

But what's also remarkable is standing here with the collection of media, and you would think that Egypt would be protesting the release of a man that many lost their lives, the deposed, and we are simply not seeing that. In fact, many of the protest movement, the old administration that was deposed months ago, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, not really fast enough to ensure his conviction. He's walking free it seems at this point from custody, on a technicality, because he's been in jail awaiting conviction far too long.

So, a remarkable historic moment in many ways. But almost unnoticed, thinking perhaps that if the military (INAUDIBLE) many believe to be the case. It's their way of reminding Egypt that back in charge, perhaps looking after their own, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Nick Paton Walsh for us in Egypt this morning -- thanks, Nick.

BROWN: And turning to Syria now, where opposition leaders say government forces used chemical weapons to kill hundreds of men, women and children in the suburbs of Damascus. The White House says it is, quote, "deeply concerned", and they're call on the U.N. to urgently investigate. A team of investigators from the United Nations is already on the ground there in Syria. The Syrian however government denies the allegations.

ROMANS: Thirty-five years in prison, that's the sentence Army Private Bradley Manning received for the largest leak of classified information in U.S. history. Manning's attorneys say they are disappointed by that sentence, but plan to appeal and ask President Obama for a pardon. If it falls through, Manning could be eligible for parole in seven years.

BROWN: In closing arguments today, and the court-martial of army psychiatrist and admitted Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan. The army major who is representing himself will only be allowed to speak within his roles as a lawyer and will not be able to use jihad as part of his closing argument.

Hasan offered no defense Wednesday. He did not testify and questioned no witnesses.

ROMANS: All right. President Obama kicks off a two-day bus tour to New York and Pennsylvania with a stop today at the University of Buffalo. The White House saying that the president is going to announce a new plan aimed at making colleges more accountable and affordable by rating them and ultimately linking those ratings to financial aid.

The reported plan would rank colleges by looking at their tuition, their graduation rates, the earnings of their graduates and percentage of lower income student who attend.

BROWN: Vice President Biden's son Beau is expected to be released from a Texas hospital today. The Delaware attorney general reportedly underwent a successful medical procedure at a MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Biden was hospitalized last week after becoming weak and disoriented during a family vacation. It's not yet clear exactly what the procedure was. The vice president says Beau is in great shape and will follow at his doctors in Delaware.

ROMANS: Fire crews in an uphill battle this morning against a massive wildfire burning near California's Yosemite National Park. This wildfire has scorched so far 16,000 acres. Some 700 firefighters are involved.

As of now, it's just 5 percent contained. Thousands of people have been evacuated.

Let's get a check of the national weather. For that, we'd turn to Indra Petersons.

This has been such a busy summer for those firefighters. You think every day, what a tough job they have.

BROWN: I know.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, unbelievable.

You think a couple things. You think rain is going that way and it could help. You have the strong winds out there, you get erratic fire behavior. And that's exactly what they're expecting so you can notice, again, red flag warnings right on those fire line as the low moves in.

So, yes, it's a mixed bag. Eventually, yes, we're getting more moisture now. We're getting more storms.

I want to show you, in the long term, we already they are getting more storms right now. But what about once we get past the weekend? Well, let's talk about that. Weather comes from somewhere.

So, let's start all the way in the Pacific. Eighty percent chance for development for tropical development. Here is Mexico and there we go right around Baja.

So, let's watch what happens with the moisture. Well, in the next five days, look what happened. Actually, we're talking about -- yes, ruining the vacationing plans anywhere around the Baja Peninsula as we get heavy rain really kind of paralleling here along the coastline.

But behind that, what we are going watch for is when the low is right here, all of this moisture really to move into the Southeast. That could mean heavy flooding. That could mean good news into the fire line as we continue to see those humidity levels rise. The potential for storms, even the far distance, versus the opposite of high temperatures and low humidity. Into the Northeast today, it looks pretty good. Out in Ohio Valley, it looks like we are going to be talking about that cold front kicking through the area, more showers, as we spread to the Ohio Valley. By tomorrow, look at the same cold front and that kind of exiting offshore.

So, what does that mean for us? It means a beautiful weather behind it. In fact, below seasonable norms, temperatures could be in the 70s really anywhere in the mid-Atlantic and the Northeast this weekend.

I'm smiling because I'm actually making plans. I want to venture out.

BROWN: Oh, good for you. California girl, too. You like this weather.

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: All right. Thanks, Indra.

Well, it seems like we have done a lot of sinkhole stories lately, right? But nothing quite like this one coming up. Let's watch this together. This happened last night in a Louisiana bayou. Let's watch as the sinkhole actually swallowed several tall cypress trees.

You see them first leaning, but then as the branches crack, there they go. The phase quickens, and soon, the trees are buried under water.

Wow, scientists there believe the hole in the earth was grown over 24 acres since it first became active last year. And they expect this hole to grow even more over the next few years.

ROMANS: That is something.

All right. Coming up, privacy invaded. New documents showing the government illegally obtained tens of thousands of American e-mails. Now, the NSA is explaining.

BROWN: And Dr. Phil responds days after deleting a text if it was OK to sleep with a drunk girl. What he had to say about that, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome back to EARLY START this morning.

There's new evidence of electronic spying by the National Security Agency. Declassified documents reveal the NSA collected thousands of e-mails and other communications by Americans that were not related to terrorism.

We get more this morning from CNN's Chris Lawrence.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Amid growing controversy comes more revelations, the National Security Agency illegally collected tens of thousands of Americans e-mails. Newly declassified court opinions show the NSA collected nearly 60,000 domestic communications a year for three years ending in 2011.

The data includes e-mails and other Internet activity. The court also said the NSA misrepresented the scope of its effort.

MARC ROTENBERG, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, EPIC: Very disturbing. The National Security Agency has extraordinary surveillance capabilities. And these are tools that are supposed to be directed toward adversaries of the United States, not with the American public.

LAWRENCE: The NSA says it collected the data by mistake. A senior intelligence official telling reporters there was a, quote, "technological problem that could not be avoided rather than an overreach."

Meantime, intelligence official are denying a media report that the NSA sits through and has access to 75 percent of online communications in the U.S.

The White House is under pressure from the Republican and Democratic lawmakers over the sweeping nature of its secret data collection.

Just two weeks ago, President Obama insisted the government is not violating your privacy.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America is not interested in spying on ordinary people. Our intelligence is focused above all on finding the information that's necessary to protect our people.

LAWRENCE: The NSA is supposed to target foreign communication that have to do with potential terrorism investigations.

Chris Lawrence, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And lawyers for David Miranda will bring his case to Britain's high court today. He is the partner of "Guardian" journalist Glenn Greenwald, who's at the center of the NSA leak scandal. Miranda's lawyers will ask the high court to issue, prevent British authorities from copying information from Miranda's electronic devices. Miranda's phone, laptop and other electronics were seized when he was detained for nine hours Sunday at Heathrow Airport.

ROMANS: A former United Airlines flight attendant will plead guilty next week to making a bomb threat against one of his company's own flights. According to court documents, Patrick Cau used a payphones to call in threats against six United flights beginning last October. He's agreed to plea guilty to one count of making a bomb threat against a plane. He faces a maximum five year sentence.

BROWN: Former New England Patriot star Aaron Hernandez is scheduled to be in court this afternoon. Prosecutors will be presenting evidence to convince a judge to keep Hernandez behind bars. The hearing could be canceled if a grand jury decides to indict him first. Hernandez is charged with shooting and killing his former friend, Odin Lloyd.

ROMANS: New York City police say a cab driver who plowed into a British tourist on a midtown street could face criminal charges. Investigators are said to be reviewing and interviewing witnesses and gathering evidence to possibly purse charges in this crash, which occurred after the cabby got into an argument with a bike messenger. The impact severed the 23-year-old victim's left foot. Doctors were forced to amputate below the knee.

You are seeing Dr. Oz there because it's outside his studio, his office, rather. He went to the scene. He's one of many who went to the scene.

BROWN: Was he able to help?

ROMANS: Yes, he and others.

BROWN: Wow, what a story.

Well, a quiet of a California neighborhood shattered when a car goes careening into a house in Oakland Hills. That crash set the garage on fire. Police say the driver, a woman in her late 80s lost control of her car and plowed into the home, crashing into a gas meter. No one was inside the house at the time, fortunately. The elderly driver was treated at the scene.

ROMANS: Dr. Phil is apologizing for a tweet that triggered outrage online. The tweet sent from his Twitter account posed the question, if a girl is drunk, is it OK to have sex with her? Dr. Phil's show team later issued a statement saying the ill-advised tweet was meant as a discussion tool for a serious show topic based on a recent news story. The statement says it was a poll question, not a statement or a joke.

BROWN: Bad news now for the high school class of 2013. Nearly a third of this year's high school graduates who took the ACT tests are not college ready. According to the testing company's data, those students are not prepared for college level writing, biology, algebra or social science classes. And just a quarter of this year's graduates clear the bar in all four subjects.

Only 5 percent were considered ready for life after high school.

ROMANS: We have seen that before, 25 percent of student who is take the ACT are ready in all four subject matters and ready to go. And it's so expensive because then you go to college and you are not ready, you are paying to take catch up math, catch up English, takes longer, it's too expensive.

We have to do a better job. We just have to.

BROWN: Yes, troubling.

ROMANS: All right. Lastly, he has nothing on a nine-pound Pomeranian from Arkansas. This is Koda. He went missing in late May and the little guy has finally been found wondering the streets of San Diego, California, 1,300 miles away. His owner, Stephanie Roberts, put up posters for months searching everywhere for her best friend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANIE ROBERTS, KODA'S OWNER (via telephone): My daughter cried three weeks after he left. I told her, don't give up hope. He's got that microchip. Sooner or later, that microchip is going to bring him home. A lot of crying. A lot of happy tears.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Only Koda knows how he got to San Diego. He is not talking. His flight home to Arkansas was paid for by the Foundation for the Care of Indigent Animals.

We're so glad Koda is home. What a mystery.

BROWN: What mystery. He was on an adventure, having some fun.

ROMANS: All right. Coming up, a shocking move at UPS, the company dropping health care for thousands. Why? That's next in "Money Time".

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: This ought to wake you up this morning, 5:23 on the East Coast. A beautiful shot of the Statue of Liberty on this Thursday morning.

Rise and shine, everyone. Time to get your day started.

ROMANS: You know, if you can't start the day well with Donna Summer, go back to bed.

Welcome back to EARLY START.

"Money Time." Stock futures are bouncing back this after Wall Street took a beating yesterday. Look, the Dow now six straight losses. Fell more than 100 points. The finish, 14,897. It broke down below that 15,000.

So far, over the past six sessions, the Dow is down 553 points, ouch, 3 1/2 percent, the biggest six-day decline in about 10 months. You lost a bit in your 401(k) over the past week folks.

To keep things in perspective, the Dow is still up 14 percent for the year. The NASDAQ up. The S&P 500 up 15 percent. You have had a great run, a great run.

There's stepping back in stocks. Why? There's confusion about the Fed, and the Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and what his team plans to do to start pulling back their bond buying program. Wall Street was hoping that released notes from the Fed's last meeting would make it clearer. But in traditional Fed fashion, it didn't.

So, you got this big transition in policy right now happening. And that means a lot of people have money they have made and they are starting to take it off the table.

Another big story we're following here. UPS is cutting insurance to 15,000 spouses and UPS putting the blame squarely on Obamacare, the president's signature health care reform. Big Brown (ph) made the disclosure in the memo to employees. It was obtained by Kaiser Health News. The company will discontinue healthcare coverage for all the working spouses who are eligible for insurance with their own employer.

UPS said this, this is the memo, "The change is consistent with the way employers are responding to the cost of the health care reform legislation. This allows UPS to provide its employees and their families with coverage they need and value at an affordable cost."

So, here's a bottom line for you. A lot of big companies have been talking about this. Some have been moving spouses off or charging more for spouses. In the case of UPS, it will cover you, the worker, we will cover your children, but if your spouse has another job, they're going to have to use their own insurance or find insurance elsewhere.

All right. Who is the highest paid person on television? I'm going to give you a hint. She's a TV judge. Judge Judy Scheindlin gets $47 million a year to give her legal tour de tour to people locked in their petty disputes. "TV Guide" says "Judge Judy" show generates 200 million bucks for CBS, but only costs $10 million to produce. Of course, that excludes her salary.

But there you -- if you are looking for a job --

BROWN: Maybe I should look into that gig. And apparently, it's only a few months a year.

ROMANS: I would not have guessed she is the highest paid on television, but she is. Judge Judy, there you go.

BROWN: Wow. All right. Well, coming up right here on EARLY START: allegations of a chemical weapons massacre. The opposition claiming the government has poisoned its people and now, weapons investigators are examining the evidence. Arwa Damon is live with the latest on what happened and the world's reaction. That's after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: An alleged chemical weapons a attack. Hundreds reportedly killed. And now, investigators searching for the truth.

Did the Syrian government poison its people? We are live.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was a hand to my back, to my buttocks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Another woman accusing San Diego's mayor of sexual harassment.