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White House Tries to Win Lawmakers on Syria; Assad's Take; Brazil and Mexico Slam U.S.; Microsoft Will Buy Nokia Phone Biz

Aired September 3, 2013 - 05:00   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Striking Syria. As President Obama pushes Congress to punish the country for allegedly poisoning its own people, Syria's president goes on the record with a new warning.


DIANA NYAD, ENDURANCE SWIMMER: Forget about giving up. Get your feelings and somehow with your left hand, say push Cuba back.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It took five tries, but she never gave up. Diana Nyad, the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. New details this morning about how she did it and how she's doing.

SAMBOLIN: Superwoman.

And you don't want to run into this in the water. A giant gator caught over the holiday weekend. The largest -- oh, my goodness, looks like a toy.

BERMAN: It's freaking huge.

SAMBOLIN: It is -- look at those jaws.

BERMAN: All right. With that -- good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: It's really nice to have you with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is Tuesday, September 3rd. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

BERMAN: And let's bring in the very latest on the crisis in Syria.

The White House furiously lobbying members of Congress today. They call it flooding the zone, trying to build support for the president's plan to strike Syria. While they are counting votes in Washington, in the Middle East, they are counting lives. The waves of humanity hurt by this chaos.

And new this morning, the United Nations now says the number of refugees from this crisis has reached 2 million people. They say this is a crisis that is only escalating. Later today, the administration sends two of its heavy hitters to Capitol Hill. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. All this as it appears the White House might have achieved a persuasion breakthrough with two crucial lawmakers.

Senior White House correspondent Brianna Keilar reports.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two key Republicans voicing new optimism about President Obama's plans in Syria after a meeting in the Oval Office. Senator John McCain now a key ally in the fight to get Congress on board for military action.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We want to work to make that resolution something that the majority of members of both houses can support.

KEILAR: But it's not going to be an easy road.

MCCAIN: We still have significant concerns. We don't want endless war.

KEILAR: Congress has key demands, a limited strike and no boots on the ground. The White House will continue to make the case with them today, behind closed doors with two briefings and in public.

Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And President Obama hosting a new round of face-to-face meetings with lawmakers, House Speaker John Boehner, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and 12 other key members of Congress.

The White House hoping to articulate a clear strategy to avoid a defeat on Capitol Hill.

REP. MICHAEL C. BURGESS (R), TEXAS: Certainly, the mode at the district that I present is, do not do this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we're going to need to take a good, hard look at the wording.

KEILAR: Some of them may soon be lobbied from a much different direction. Russia, a friend of the Syrian government, says it will send some of its representatives to meet with members of Congress. And Russia is still questioning if chemical weapons were even used.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying there's "nothing concrete", "no names" and "no proof".

Brianna Keilar, CNN, Washington.


SAMBOLIN: Our thanks to Brianna.

Syrian President Bashar Assad is making it clear that he does not believe the United States or France has evidence that his regime committed the deadly chemical weapons attack that left more than 1,400 dead. And he's urging caution before any military strike.

Mohammed Jamjoom is in Beirut this morning.

Mohammed, what is Bashar al Assad saying?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Zoraida, the embattled Syrian president gave an interview to French daily newspaper "Le Figaro" yesterday in which he said much of the same kind of thing he said in the past. He said the Syrians never utilized chemical weapons, nor would they. He also said it would be a huge mistake for the Americans or the French to bomb Syria or to plan any kind of military intervention.

He said that this region is a powder keg and that if anybody strikes out against Syria right now, it wasn't just Syria's response that these countries would have to worry about, but also the response of Syria's neighbors, reinforced just how volatile this region is and he said if this war in Syria is conflated now, if there's military intervention there, that it could become a region-wide war -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Mohammed, let's talk about the people in Syria. A new U.N. figure show a staggering number of refugees, more than 2 million from the crisis there. The U.N. put out a statement yesterday. It says Syria is hemorrhaging women, children and men who cross borders often with little more than the clothes on their backs.

Can you talk to us about that situation?

JAMJOOM: It's an absolutely staggering number. We are talking about 2 million people who either registered or are going to register as refugees from Syria. Let's try to put that in some perspective here. Over 1 million of those are children.

Now, this time last year, there were about 230,000 registered Syrian refugees. So, we are talking 1.8 million more people just in a year's time that have fled Syria. Now, in a country like Lebanon that neighbors Syria, let's just talk about how the influx of refugees isn't just a drag on those refugees, but also a problem for a country of Lebanon of 4.5 million people here, who see refugees in practically every neighborhood.

They don't have camps here. They have makeshift camps. At least one in every five people here in Lebanon are now Syrian refugees.

That is absolutely chilling. Antonio Gutierrez , he's the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, said that the Syrian refugee crisis was the great tragedy of this century. It is a humanitarian disaster and only getting worse by the day -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Now, how do you -- how do you account for all those people and take care of them? So, it's just a trickle down effect that just continues.

Mohammed Jamjoom, thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.

BERMAN: Meanwhile, the Marine Corps Web site,, is back up and running this morning a day after a group of hackers connected to the Assad regime and took the site down. The Syrian Electronic Army is believed to have attack the site, posting a letter and pictures, urging no military action against Syria. A Marine Corps official says the site is primarily for recruitment and no military intelligence was compromised they say.

SAMBOLIN: Brazil and Mexico are furious with the United States this morning, both nations demanding to know why the NSA allegedly spied on their respective presidents by intercepting their phone calls, emails and their text. That information comes from documents leaked by former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden.

Brazil is threatening to call off a planned visit to the White House next month by its president and wants a written explanation now by the end of the weak.

BERMAN: Also leaked by Snowden apparently, top secret U.S. intelligence files that reveal a rising level of distrust of Pakistan. According to "The Washington Post," the CIA has expanded its intelligence gathering inside Pakistan with particular concerns about chemical and biological sites in that country. The CIA is also reportedly assessing the loyalty of counterterrorism sources that's already recruited in Pakistan.

SAMBOLIN: Russia issuing an unusual travel warning to its citizens. Be careful where you go or the United States might try to have you extradited. The bulletin from the Russian foreign ministry says those wanted by the United States should avoid going to South American countries and Spain or the U.S. might use shaky evidence to kidnap Russian citizens and bring them to this country for trial.

The Obama administration says it handles all extraditions in accordance with international law.

BERMAN: Snarky diplomacy.


BERMAN: Good news on the fire lines near Yosemite National Park. The massive fire burning is now 70 percent contained. That is a tremendous improvement from the 45 percent contained yesterday. But the blaze continues to grow in some places, up to 235,000 acres.

And dry brush and timber are feeding the flames. Crews say attacking the fire by air has been critical to slowing its progress.

ROMANS: You know, it's crazy to think -- yesterday, I think we said it was the fourth largest fire. It's so huge, right? We can't believe that.

Indra Petersons is tracking the weather for us. How is it going? INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I mean, exactly right. It's a dry season. They didn't get that much rain in California. This is what you see often. You see this huge brush fires in California.

As far as the weather, we are looking at a lot of moisture cruising in today. So, that's good news. The humidity levels are going to be up about 40 percent to 50 percent chance today that we could see some of those afternoon thunderstorms.

By tomorrow, though, we start to see the chances go down and temperatures start to go up. So, a little bit better today than we are expecting for the end of the week. Hopefully, they get a lot of recovery out there.

Otherwise, let's talk about the rain. Here is what the radar looked like yesterday evening. We saw heavy showers, moving through the area. We knew it was coming. Bad Labor Day, right? We saw that cold front kicked through the area. And today, We are seeing spotty showers.

Now, it looks like it was all gone. But as long as the cold front is in place, we have the threat of summer showers. The good news, in the Northeast, in the mid-Atlantic, it is making its way offshore. Tomorrow, it should look better.

But once you go to the Southeast, a typical story. It likes to hang on to the cold front, day by day. Here is tomorrow. We'll take you into Thursday and Friday, even through Friday, we are still looking at that cold front in the Southeast in place.

But they are used to it. How many times have I said this, rain in the southeast?

BERMAN: I feel like we've seen those clouds over the Southeast the entire summer.

PETERSONS: I don't mean to draw any map like that, yes, exactly.


SAMBOLIN: We want them to go away, Indra. Thank you.

BERMAN: Thanks so much.

About 10 minutes after the hour right now.

Some other news to tell you about. Mass protests planned today in Egypt by backers of ousted President Mohammed Morsy. The group calling itself the National Coalition for Legitimacy has asked for a million people to take to the streets. This to mark two months since Mohamed Morsy was removed from power. Hundreds have died since the democratically elected president was ousted back on July 3rd.

SAMBOLIN: Japan is unveiling its plan for dealing with radiation leaks at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, including freezing the soil around the reactor building to stop ground water from carrying radioactive liquid away from the plant. This is the second time they're talking about this. The cost all told will be upwards, a half billion dollars. Radioactive water has been leaking from storage tanks there for weeks now. The plant partially melted down in 2011 after being hit by an earthquake and the tsunami.

BERMAN: Also in Japan, a massive tornado causing destruction in an area north of Tokyo. More than 100 homes destroyed -- look at that -- dozens of people injured when that twister ripped through that region there. The tornado was blamed on unstable weather conditions, partly the result of a typhoon forming off the coast.

SAMBOLIN: Grab a cup of coffee, sit down, take a look at this. That's a giant gator. A record setting gator caught in the Mississippi River near Jackson. This was over the weekend. It looks fake. It weighed more than 700 pounds, measured more than 13 feet long.

BERMAN: It's got a double chin.

SAMBOLIN: It does. Yes, a little porky.

The gator isn't the longest ever caught in the state of Mississippi, but it is the heaviest.

BERMAN: Now, I don't know if this is P.C., but that's a fat alligator. That's a fat alligator. I'm not afraid to say, because he's not going to come after me. What is he going to do?

How does an alligator get so fat?

SAMBOLIN: I don't know. I worried about what he's been eating.

BERMAN: Do you think he has metabolism issue? He's a big boned. He's a big boned alligator. He's hefty.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, yes. You are trying to compare them.


SAMBOLIN: All right. So, coming up --


NYAD: For 49 hours, the wind blew like heck. It was rough.


SAMBOLIN: That was superwoman.

She is the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. At 64 years old, no less, how did she do it? Diana Nyad's inspiring story, coming up.


DENNIS RODMAN, FORMER NBA PLAYER: Just want to go over to meet my friend Kim.


BERMAN: He's back. Dennis Rodman back in North Korea, meeting with the leader there, Kim Jong-un. What they plan to discuss, next. This is serious.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone.

It took five tries, but Diana Nyad, she finally did it, accomplishing a feat that so many people said was impossible. I have to admit, I was kind of one of them, getting from Cuba to Cuba.

SAMBOLIN: So glad you admitted.

BERMAN: Just to (INAUDIBLE), Zoraida, I said it wasn't possible. But she did it, all alone, just with her body, no shark cage, no nothing.

Karen Kiffa (ph) has the story.


KAREN KIFFA (ph), REPORTER: Neither fatigue nor jellyfish could stop Diana Nyad from accomplishing her dream. The 64-year-old stepped on the shores of Key West Monday afternoon after swimming 103 miles from Cuba to Florida. She was exhausted, but in high spirits.

NYAD: My whole mantra this year was find a way. You don't like it? It's not doing well? Find a way.

You can get start down to negative spaces, I just said, forget about the surface up. Get your hands in, somehow. And with your left hand say, push Cuba back and push Florida towards you.

KIFFA: Witnesses to the big finale were in awe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's pretty intense. It's pretty hectic: Definitely, she's in another world. It was amazing.

KIFFA: It was her fifth attempt at the feat, done without a protective cage or flippers. She did have a 35-person crew to monitor and clear her path of jellyfish or other dangers. She began her latest swim from Cuba on Saturday. Nyad had said this would be her final attempt to complete the swim, which turned out to be the proverbial cherry on top.

NYAD: You are never too old to chase your dreams.

KIFFA: I'm Karen Kiffa, reporting.


SAMBOLIN: What is on your bucket list if you are 65 years old?

BERMAN: Retire (ph) and saying, right?

SAMBOLIN: Unbelievable. I just love her. Superwoman.

All right. Seventeen minutes past the hour.

Testimony is expected to wrap up today in the preliminary hearing for three former Navy football players. They're all accused of sexual assault. A female midshipman claims the three had sex with her while she was drunk at an off campus party. And she only became aware of it when she heard gossip afterwards.

Monday's testimony focused on partygoers who were asked just how much the woman had to drink and whether she was actually intoxicated when the alleged assault occurred.

BERMAN: A Southwest Airlines plane returning safely to Raleigh, North Carolina, after a bird strike. This happens just after the Boeing 737 took off Monday night. The plane has 124 passengers on board, a five- person crew.

It was flying to Chicago. No injuries were reported. Officials say the plane has been taken out of service for repairs.

SAMBOLIN: You want some good news this morning? Well, it's good news if you're Time Warner Cable customer. The month long blackout of CBS is finally over. Both sides reached a deal Monday to put CBS and Showtime programming back on. Terms have not been announced. The dispute over fees dates back to August 2nd when the Time Warner dropped the CBS owned networks and local channels from its cable service.

Time Warner Cable, we should note, is not affiliated with Time Warner, the owner of CNN.

BERMAN: "Murder, She Wrote", "Judging Amy", "Gilligan's Island" -- some of my favorite shows are on CBS.

SAMBOLIN: I know. Some people said too little too late.

BERMAN: Look, it's just in time for football.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, that's all that matters?

BERMAN: No, no, that's why they signed the deal. Time Warner Cable --

SAMBOLIN: That's all that matters.

BERMAN: It is, really. It is. There's a lot of money involved with that.

All right. There is another basketball diplomacy to tell you about for former NBA all-star Dennis Rodman. He is back in North Korea today for his second visit this year.

Could he discuss the case of an American missionary held on charges that tried to bring down the government? Rodman tells "Reuters" that isn't the reason for the visit, but earlier told "The Huffington Post", he might bring the issue up. Let's hope he does.

Rodman plans see Kim Jong-un who he calls a friend. He says he will talk about basketball. The trip this time is sponsored by an Irish bookmaker, Paddy Power.

SAMBOLIN: A mediator there, that would be a --

BERMAN: There's an American being held prison there and his health is in jeopardy right now and he needs all the help you could get.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. So, this could actually be a serious story.

All right. Nineteen minutes past the hour.

Coming up, Microsoft making a massive play in the mobile phone market. "Money Time" coming your way next.


BERMAN: Is this the money music? Can you dance for "Money Time"? Is this the "Money Time" dance? Because "Money Time", we can do it all show. If we are going to dance for "Money Time", we can add more "Money Time" segment.

SAMBOLIN: I like it when we add a little something, flavor to the show.

BERMAN: I think they all like it. Everyone likes it.

SAMBOLIN: It is "Money Time". Zain Asher has all of the money news for us this morning.

Nice to see you.


We've got huge business deals right now to talk to you about. Microsoft is buying Nokia's phone business for $7.2 billion. Now, the move puts Microsoft squarely in a battle waged by Apple and Google in the smartphone market.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer spoke within the past hour about the deal in a news conference in Finland, Nokia's home country.


STEVE BALLMER, MICROSOFT CEO: We so look forward to welcoming the strong contingent that will join us here in Finland and in many other countries around the world. Finland will become the hub in the center for our phone R&D and we're counting very much on the incredible talent of Nokia employees to be a key part of driving and propelling Microsoft forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ASHER: The sales deal also brings a familiar face back into the fold. Nokia CEO Steven Elop who used to be a Microsoft veteran. He's now going to be rejoining Microsoft. Ballmer announced just a week ago that he will retire within a year. We are going to find out about another tech deal in just a few hours.

Verizon's CEO will speak about his company's decision to buy out Vodafone's 45 percent stake in Verizon Wireless. Lowell McAdam, chairman and CEO of Verizon, will speak on analyst and investors on a web cast at 8:00 a.m. Eastern. The deal announced money. It's the biggest in corporate history, $130 billion.

And lastly, Yankee Candle may have a new scent, money. America's largest maker of scented candles is in discussions to be bought by consumer product maker Jarden Corp. According to "The Wall Street Journal", the price tag on the deal is $1.75 billion. Jarden owns well-known brands like Crock-Pot, Rawlings, baseball equipment and some home appliances.

Yankee Candles operates in over 500 stores in the U.S. and Canada. The deal could be announced today.

BERMAN: When did these things become such a big deal? They are everywhere.

SAMBOLIN: You have the bacon scented one in your house.

BERMAN: I don't know how it got there. I appeared one day. Seriously. I don't know why the every word (ph), such a big deal.

SAMBOLIN: I had man candles sent to me and I gave them to you.

BERMAN: When did they start popping up? I don't know.

SAMBOLIN: Light it.

BERMAN: Thank you, Zain, very much. Fascinating.

Coming up here, shocking accusations against an elementary school principal. Could she have murdered her husband? The evidence against her, next.