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Maxing the Case; Saudis Back Syria Action; Montana Sentence Outrage; Diana Nyad: Setting Records; Wal-Mart Slashing iPhone Prices

Aired September 2, 2013 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The stunning decision and now the furious sales pitch. New developments as the president tries to convince Congress to strike Syria for allegedly poisoning their own people.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Sentence outrage. The teacher given 30 days behind bars for raping his 14-year-old student. But now, the new word that the shocking sentence may actually be reversed.

BERMAN: And look at this -- luck on the side of this driver, nearly crushed by a massive boulder. Oh! Look at that. That was a landslide there. And that is, in fact, one incredibly lucky driver.

SAMBOLIN: I had not seen that video. That is really incredible.

All right. Good morning to you. Welcome to EARLY START. Thanks for being with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Great to see you. It is Monday, September 2nd. Happy Labor Day.

SAMBOLIN: Happy Labor Day!

BERMAN: A lot of news today, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

SAMBOLIN: All right. We are going to begin with the president's surprising announcement, that he will let Congress decide if the U.S. should strike Syria. That's in response to what the administration insist was a chemical weapons attack on the Syrian people.

Now, as Brianna Keilar reports, the White House has begun an intense sales pitch to convince lawmakers a military response is the right thing to do.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Secret briefings on Capitol Hill.

The White House making its case to skeptical lawmakers.

On CNN, Secretary of State John Kerry revealing new evidence to back claims the Assad regime killed hundreds with nerve gas.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Blood and hair samples that have come to us has tested positive for signatures of sarin.

KEILAR: The president's team moving quickly, after his surprise decision to put a serious strike on hold, saying Congress should approve.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And all of us should be accountable as we move forward.

KEILAR: His aides insist he'd been thinking about reversing course even before the British parliament embarrassed Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The nays have it.

KEILAR: Friday, though, he sent Kerry out to argue for urgent action.

KERRY: What is the risk of doing nothing?

KEILAR: Later that day, he signals second thoughts.

OBAMA: Nobody ends up being more war-weary than me.

KEILAR: But aides say he didn't tell anyone until Friday at 6:00 a.m., when he takes a 45-minute walk with chief of staff Denis McDonough. At 7:00, he tells his national security staff, sparking a debate. Saturday morning, he calls his top team to the Situation Room to finalize his plan. Phones congressional leaders from the Oval Office to get them on board, then heads to the Rose Garden to stun the world.

OBAMA: I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people's representatives in Congress.

KEILAR: Brianna Keilar, CNN, Washington.


SAMBOLIN: Several members of Congress who took part in the briefings remain skeptical about the president's proposal, saying it gives the military too much power. They want to see changes before they vote to authorize strikes on Syria.

BERMAN: The president's decision wasn't just a surprise just here. In Syria and throughout that region, many said it is not what they wanted. Some saying it's not what they wanted frankly.

Now, the Arab League, though, and the Saudis are urging international action. That is an important development.

Our Arwa Damon is in Beirut this morning.

Arwa, we'll get to the Arab League in a moment. But, first, give me a sense of what's being said inside Syria this morning.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's a lot of frustration, naturally, as there has been along towards U.S. policy when it comes to handling the situation in Syria. As you were saying, though, this most certainly taking people by surprise on the one hand, but at the same time, not entirely shocking them, because they say the U.S. has never really been our ally in all this, simply because of the fact up until now, there's been no concrete action when it comes to any of Washington's decisions.

People inside Syria, on the one hand, do want to see those in opposition -- do want to see some sort of military action. But at the same time, they are saying that even those proposed strikes being put forward by the U.S. is not enough. They want to see game changing action. Regime changing action and, of course, that's not what's on the table. And many people are saying if all the U.S. has to offer is these pinpoint specific strikes, well, that, potentially is going to harm the rebels, harm the opposition, harm the people more than it is going to harm the regime, John.

BERMAN: And, of course, you have some harsh language from the Syrian regime in response to the president's decision, calling him weak, calling in a retreat. But I want to talk about the Arab League, Arwa, because they put out an interesting statement last night, essentially calling for some type of international action, but they had some pretty specific language.

DAMON: Yes, they most certainly did. And they are saying they blame the regime, because at the end of the day, the regime is responsible for security, or so they say. They want to see international action, but more along the lines of an investigation and international court. They are not specifically publicly calling for military action. And this is a very important distinction to make, especially if you remember the rhetoric when the same debate was going on about Libya, where the league did come out and supporting military action.

So, that key ally, the Arab League, the Arab nations, not necessarily someone or an entity that the U.S. can turn to, to rely on, has been someone who is potentially going to support strikes.

It's a complicated situation here. Everybody who is watching is anxious because as we have seen to date, what is happening in Syria is not confined to that nation alone and it is impacting Syria's neighbors and potentially could impact the entire region. So, people are very worried about what is going to happen.

BERMAN: It's no overstatement to say the whole world is watching what happens in the United States, specifically in Congress.

Arwa Damon in Beirut for us this morning, thanks so much.

SAMBOLIN: It's six minutes past the hour.

We are following a developing story near the Afghan/Pakistani border as well. Taliban militant claiming responsibility for attacking a NATO base, setting off explosives and then opening fire in an area where NATO supply trucks were parked. Several of them, they catch fire. NATO says none of its members were killed. An Afghan official says all of the attackers are now dead. BERMAN: Terror connections among some applying for jobs in intelligence positions? A classified government budget document obtained by "The Washington Post" saying some looking to work at the CIA and NSA had connections to terror groups like Hamas, Hezbollah or al Qaeda. And the NSA plans to launch thousands of probes into suspicious employee behavior. The document was given to the newspaper by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

SAMBOLIN: And there's another NSA bombshell. Reporter Glenn Greenwald says he has information that shows the NSA was spying on the presidents of Mexico and Brazil. According to secret documents provided by Edward Snowden, the NSA was reading Enrique Pena Nieto's emails before he was elected president of Mexico. The documents also show the NSA used a surveillance program called the DNI Presenter to monitor the Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's communications.

BERMAN: So, progress report this morning on that massive fire burning near Yosemite National Park. The fire now is 45 percent contained but not before growing to more than 225,000 acres. That is huge. That's an area bigger than 350 square miles, some 5,000 firefighters are battling the blaze that has destroyed 11 homes, caused five injuries. This is n now the fourth largest fire in modern California history.

SAMBOLIN: Wow. Indra Petersons is tracking the forecast for us this morning.

And Indra, the fire crews getting any help from the weather?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I mean, they are a little bit. Moisture is obviously the biggest thing. They want those humidity levels up. And that's the one thing we are watching. This is actually a water vapor satellite. You can see a lot of that moisture kind of wrapping out of dome of high pressure.

The moisture is kind of slowly getting into the area. It bring as chance for thunderstorms. This is yesterday's satellite where you see all that white -- these are thunderstorms that have been popping up in the area the last several days. So, today, yes, we do have that threat in the forecast for some showers. Winds, though, keep in mind, could gust stronger when you have thunderstorms in the vicinity. Of course, there's always that threat for dry lightning as well.

So, kind of that mixed bag. Temperatures will be warming up as we go throughout the weekend, also drying out if you want to look ahead into that forecast.

One of the things we have been watching are the showers wrapping around the high, producing a lot of flooding into the Southwest. Remember, the ground is so dry there. It really doesn't take much to get the floods in the area. So, a lot of flash flooding concerns today as we continue to get moisture into the area.

And speaking of rain, into the Northeast, mid-Atlantic, and even the Southeast, we are going to watch a front slowly make its way across, especially paying attention to the front right around Maine, moving pretty slowly out there. So, we are going to be looking for potential one to two inches, even four inches of rain is possible in Maine today.

So, a wet Labor Day.

BERMAN: Boo --

SAMBOLIN: That's too bad, if you have plans today. There you go. Indra is the bearer of bad news.

BERMAN: Thanks --


PETERSONS: You are welcome, again.

BERMAN: All right. About nine minutes after the hour right now.

Egypt's military rulers tightening their grip on power, announcing the deposed President Mohamed Morsi will stand trial for allegedly inciting fellow Islamists to kill opponents protesting outside the presidential palace while he was in office. Morsi has not been seen publicly since ousted in July. More than a dozen members of the Muslim Brotherhood will be tried, along with Morsi.

SAMBOLIN: There is more trouble at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant. The country's top nuclear regulator now says signs of possible leaks have been found in several storage tanks. That, after thousands of gallons of radioactive liquid escaped last month. And the plant's operator says radiation levels from a leak there are 18 times higher than expected. Radiation from the leak now measures high enough to kill a person within four hours of exposure.

BERMAN: It sounds like a cause for serious concern there.

SAMBOLIN: No kidding.

BERMAN: All right. For the first time in 12 weeks, former South African President Nelson Mandela is back home this morning. The 95- year-old was released from a hospital in Pretoria on Sunday. But a government spokesman says his condition does remain critical. At times, he is unstable, requiring medical interventions.

Mandela was first hospitalized back in June for treatment of a serious recurring lung infection. Apparently, his house has been outfitted with really emergency medical equipment to take care of him and maintain the care he's been given for the last few months.

SAMBOLIN: Absolutely. All right. Ten minutes past the hour. Incredible pictures to show you from Taiwan this morning.

We gave you a sneak peek that Berman did this morning. A car just got hit by a mudslide. And almost look at that, by a boulder. This is insane.

BERMAN: It looks like a movie. It's like a movie set boulder.

SAMBOLIN: And he's kind of like stuck there, right? Probably paralyzed. A giant rock stopping just feet away, as you say amazingly. The driver emerged with just minor injuries. That part of northern Taiwan has been slammed by torrential rain. It's causing flooding and mudslides throughout the entire region.

Yes, I would have been paralyzed, too, right?

BERMAN: You think so?

SAMBOLIN: Oh my gosh, it's over!

BERMAN: All right. About 11 minutes after the hour right.

And coming up, the shocking sentence that outraged so many across the country. The teacher convicted of raping a 14-year-old student given just 30 days in jail. But now, new word that the sentence could be changing.


DIANA NYAD, ENDURANCE SWIMMER: Next time I see you will be to celebrate and to say, oh, here we go again.


SAMBOLIN: All right. Can she do it this time? Endurance swimming champion Diana Nyad swimming from Cuba to Florida, guess what, folks, without a shark tank. She's already breaking records this morning. We are going to show you her progress so far, coming up next.


SAMBOLIN: Fifteen minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START.

A former Montana teacher convicted of rape is in prison serving out his 30-day sentence. But with pressure now mounting that he'd remain in jail longer and continued calls for the judge that sentenced him to be reprimanded, it seems Montana's highest court may actually get involved.

Here is Miguel Marquez.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This morning, new details about the shockingly light sentence of a rapist just 30 days in jail might be reversed.

SCOTT TWITO, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, YELLOWSTONE CO., MONT.: The dream scenario for us, that he would do 20 years, with 10 of those years suspended.

MARQUEZ: That dream scenario expected to take a step toward reality this week. On Wednesday, a critical call scheduled between the Yellowstone County attorney and Montana's attorney general office.

TWITO: There maybe a misapplication of the sentencing attorney here. And that's where I focused my attention at this point.

MARQUEZ: If the state's attorney general agrees that Montana Supreme Court would be asked to reverse the light sentence Judge J. Todd Baugh handed up in the case against this man, former Billings high school teacher, Stacey Rambold. Judge Baugh sentenced Rambold to just 30 days of jail after he broke his terms of parole for the 2007 rape of then 14-year-old Cherice Morales.

During sentencing, Judge Baugh said the 14-year-old Morales was in as much control as her then 49-year-old rapist and that she acted older than her chronological age. Morales wasn't there to speak on her own behalf. She took her life before trial in 2010.

G. TODD BAUGH, DISTRICT COURT JUDGE, YELLOWSTONE CO. MONT.: What I said was demeaning to all women, not what I believe in and irrelevant to this sentencing. I owe all our fellow citizens an apology.

MARQUEZ: Despite the apology, the sentence stands, the outrage growing. Protests so far in both Billings and Butte, more plan to cross the state and one online petition urging him to resign is nearing 50,000 signatures, another, over 70,000.

Miguel Marquez, CNN, Los Angeles.


BERMAN: A hearing is set to resume for three former navy football players charged with raping female midshipman in an off-campus party. The alleged victim spent several days on the stand during this preliminary hearing, talking about what she experienced. She claims she woke up with little memory of what had happened and later learned the three players claimed to have had sex with her while she was drunk.

SAMBOLIN: The Michael Jackson wrongful death trial could be closer to its end. Lawyers for concert promoter AEG Live are expected to wrap up their part of the case this week. Arguing it was Jackson's addiction to painkillers, not the promoter's actions, that led to his death.

Jurors have been hearing for weeks now about Jackson's relationships with his medical providers, including close friendships that could speak of who was responsible for his care.

BERMAN: So, the fifth time might be the charm for swimmer Diana Nyad. We've been talking about this all morning, going on right now at this very moment, trying to swim once again from Cuba to Florida, doing it without a shark cage.

And her crew now says she's close to her goal. Like you saw a memo saying they can actually see the sun rising over Key West right now. Nyad is within ten miles of Key West, going strong after more than 40 hours. She has swum further than anyone else without a shark cage on that route, ever. Before she left, she said this will be her final attempt.


NYAD: There's a fine line between having the grace to see that things are bigger than you are and to let your ego go and let nature, God if that's your world, take over. And there's another edge over that fine line where you don't ever want to ever, ever give up. And I'm still at that place.


SAMBOLIN: I love this woman.

BERMAN: She exists on that fine line. I mean, you cannot question this woman's courage, her bravery, her courage, her perseverance -- never giving up. This is her fifth time trying.

Her crew says Nyad is swimming strongly at this moment. One complication, she is unable to keep food down, we hope it doesn't get in the way. If all goes well, she could finish within the next few hours.

It goes without saying, stay with CNN. We will bring up-to-minute reports.

SAMBOLIN: I hope that she finally succeeds.

BERMAN: They are looking at tides right now and apparently looking at the best route to finish up, to stay away from jellyfish and other things like that.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, she's close. She's closer than before. So, we wish her luck.

All right. Coming up, Walmart slashing prices on the iPhone and the iPad. The deal other retailers will find really hard to beat.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. Even on a holiday weekend, even with music, it is money time.

Alison Kosik is here.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And on this holiday weekend, I know you are craving deals. We've got that for you.

One of the biggest deals ever expected to be announced today. Verizon ready to pay Vodafone $130 billion for its stake in Verizon Wireless. Now, this deal would give Verizon the 45 percent piece that Vodafone owns of its Verizon Wireless joint venture. Basically, it means that Verizon would own 100 percent of Verizon Wireless, the real money- making aspect of this company.

Both sides confirm they are in advanced discussions and the deal could be announced as early as today. Verizon Wireless is the most profitable U.S. wireless carrier. And the transaction means that the parent company Verizon would not have to share the billions in cash with Britain's Vodafone. And for Vodafone, the deal represents a war chest for potential new buyouts down the road.

And on a week that starts with Labor Day, we'll get one of the most significant reports on the labor market coming up this Friday. Analysts expect the August unemployment report to show that 177,000 new jobs were created last month and unemployment rate stayed at 7.4 percent. This is really a pulse check of how the labor market is doing and should be a key element in the Federal Reserve's decision on whether it's going to begin to pull back from the $85 billion a month of bond buying it's been doing over the past year. And that will have a major impact on interest rates.

So, are you looking for a new iPhone?


KOSIK: OK, then listen up, John.


KOSIK: I know, why? I'm joking.

Wal-Mart is slashing prices of the 16 gigabyte iPhone 5 to $98. That's much cheaper than the $129 they were originally charging and way below the $200 sticker price for that phone. To get the discount, you need to sign up -- there's a catch, you have to sign up with a two-year contract with AT&T. The price cuts actually comes just ahead of Apple's expected unveiling of its iPhones next week and all those brilliant colors that are the rumors.

BERMAN: Champaign.

KOSIK: Yes. Champaign, and now, some other colors, gold, oh, it was Champaign.

SAMBOLIN: He's going to bling his out.

BERMAN: I don't mean to get in the way of the news here.

KOSIK: Diamond encrusted.

BERMAN: I need a phone but go ahead with the news.

KOSIK: OK. Well, let's talk about money, shall we?


KOSIK: And this is going to be the highest price ever paid for a player in the professional soccer league. Gareth Bale is going to Real Madrid for reported $130 million. Bale played for the Tottenham Hotspur and was a premier league player this year. The deal was expected for months although Tottenham had it insisted its star player was not for sale.

BERMAN: This is the biggest sports story on earth today.

KOSIK: I know it is. BERMAN: We think we're a big deal here in the U.S. Everyone in the planet watches soccer. Gareth Bale, one of the two or three best players in the world now going to join the other best player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo, playing for Real Madrid.

SAMBOLIN: Monopoly.

BERMAN: It is a big, giant deal for big, giant money.

KOSIK: I'm not surprised.


KOSIK: Twitter is blowing up.

SAMBOLIN: Are you excited about this?

BERMAN: I think he's making the wrong move. I think he should have stayed at Tottenham. But that's, you know, that's for him to decide.

SAMBOLIN: Why do you think he should have done that?

BERMAN: You know, it's closer to home for him. He had a big impact on the Premier League. And I think he could get a little bit lost playing with Ronaldo.

SAMBOLIN: That's a lot of money.

BERMAN: Yes. Well, he doesn't make a lot. Tottenham makes all that money. He gets a hefty salary, but there's weird fees that go on in soccer.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you. We are going to take a quick break. And we'll be right back.