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Severe Snow Storm Hits U.S.; NSA: Breaking the Law?; Mega Millions Mania

Aired December 17, 2013 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Bundle up, folks! Yet another storm slamming the East Coast this morning, bringing snow, sleet and new record low temperatures. Who will be hit hardest?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A stunning rebuke to the White House. A judge says the NSA data vacuum is likely unconstitutional. So what will a White House do today with its spy program hanging in the balance?

ROMANS: Mega millions mania. Tonight's jackpot now, more than half a billion dollars and rising. Could you end up being the big winner, John Berman?

BERMAN: No, I'm not going to win it. Neither are you. And I hate to say it, folks, most of you won't either.

ROMANS: You're being a little bit of a dream, though, aren't you?

BERMAN: That's right.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It's Tuesday, December 17th. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

BERMAN: It is. And say it with me now -- snow and cold, cold and snow, too much of both this morning for a big part of the country. Maybe you thought a comfortable cruise until the holidays? Think again! A big storm is hitting this morning as the temperatures continue to plunge.

ROMANS: Let's head to Milwaukee first where snow is falling on Monday at the worst possible time. That's the start of the evening commute you're watching there. You're watching there -- slippery roads causing a few accidents around the area. More trouble could be in store for today, even more snow expected for the morning drive to work.

BERMAN: That snow is being blamed for a plane sliding off a taxi way in Madison, Wisconsin. The Delta jet was arriving for Minneapolis. It was taxiing to the gate when passengers say it looked it like it just missed a turn and kept on going.

No one was hurt and those on board say they barely noticed it.


DENISE PENN, PASSENGER: It was a traumatic stop. He skidded off and he stopped. And, you know, you had to look around to realize, hey, wait a second, we are not on the runway any more.


ROMANS: You know, the dreaded lake effect snow falling on Erie, Pennsylvania, dropping nearly a foot of snow in just 24 hours. All told, Erie has had more than 40 inches of snow so far this season. More than double what it normally sees by mid-December.

BERMAN: Lake effect is crazy. It's worth going to bed if you have it.

And this reminder: if you're going for a drive after a snowstorm, do not be an idiot! Be sure to clean off your car. It is dangerous to leave all of that snow and ice on top. Not just for you but for the other drivers and it could cost you in some states, it's a crime to drive around with that stuff on top and you could be ticketed.

I was driving Sunday and stuff was flying off this truck and hitting people in the windshield with loud thumps. It can crack a windshield and it's very, very dangerous.

All right. A lot of weather out there, which means we need to hear a lot now from Indra Petersons. She's checking the forecast for us.

Good morning.


Of course, we have more snow on the way. We've got like one day with a breather. But by now, already this morning, you're starting to see on the current radar, snow already falling around Philly. So, we are just a few hours away from New York City to start seeing some of that snow fall. Of course, eventually, we're going to start seeing some snow pretty much anywhere from the Northeast, really back all the way through New England and even the mid-Atlantic.

So that is the story today. You can see that winter threat extending pretty much along that immediate coastline there as the low is expected to form today. As far as amounts, around New York City, around Boston now, up to a little bit more from yesterday, looking for maybe as much as two to four inches. A pretty good system will be out there farther to the north around Portland, especially, we could see as much as six to nine inches of snow.

So, pretty good storm maker is out there and we will talk about the timing a little bit. You can see this morning as we're going to start to see it especially during the morning commute hours making its way into the city here. Then, by the afternoon, especially late afternoon, look at New England. We are starring to see the snow coming down and impacting everyone.

Think about your commute home tonight that could be a problem for a lot of people out there. Behind that, we're actually looking for when does the low form? This is key. Where it forms means who is going to get more snow and, of course, how much snow they are going to get based on the position. So, we're going to have to watch that through tonight and tomorrow if Boston gets more than it's expecting or Maine gets dumped on so it's up in the air a little bit.

BERMAN: But a lousy commute home?

PETERSONS: Yes, not good.

BERMAN: All right. We're going to move on now to the latest developments involving the NSA's phone surveillance programs. President Obama is meeting today with executives of eight high tech companies who called for changes and how the government spies on phone and e-mail records. This comes a day after a federal judge declared that part of the NSA's programs are likely unconstitutional.

This judge saying that collecting phone records like the NSA does probably violates the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. The judge really with harsh language called the program almost Orwellian in its scope. He also said the Founding Fathers would be aghast of the program, writing that the government can't cite a single case where the NSA surveillance actually stopped a terror attack.

The journalist Glen Greenwald who helped the bail on the NSA's foreign email collection said in his words that it's further proof that the American people needed to know what the NSA was doing.


GLENN GREENWALD, JOURNALIST: The NSA screams the word "terrorism." Media people go on TV and scream terrorism to scare people, but there is no evidence. Say the people in the know, this court, people on the intelligence committee, that these programs actually stop terrorist plots.


BERMAN: Edward Snowden who leaked a lot of those documents to Greenwald and he stole the documents, of course, said the ruling justifies what he did, writing, "I acted on my belief that the NSA's mass surveillance programs would not withstand a constitutional challenge. The secret program authorized by a secret court was when exposed to the light of day found to violate Americans rights. It is the first of many."

As for Snowden's future, White House is responding to the suggestion he should be offered amnesty in exchange of returning the documents and data taken from the NSA, insisting its position has not changed.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Mr. Snowden has been accused of leaking classified information and he faces felony charges here in the United States. He should be returned to the United States as soon as possible where he will be accorded full due process and protections in our system. So, that's our position and it has not changed.


BERMAN: All right. A lot going on here. It's important to note that the judge in this case has stayed his ruling for now, meaning the changes for now, pending a government appeal, the Justice Department is reviewing the decision.

ROMANS: All right. It looks like the votes are lining up in the Senate behind a compromise federal budget plan already approved in the House.

Several Republicans, including Orrin Hatch and Saxby Chambliss, they have now announced they'll back this bipartisan spending bill, seemingly giving it more than enough votes to pass. A key procedural vote is scheduled for today.

BERMAN: The Department of Homeland Security has a new leader. The Senate confirming Jeh Johnson to become the secretary, taking over two months after Janet Napolitano left to become the head of University of California. Johnson is a former federal prosecutor and a key attorney for the Defense Department. The vote in his favor was pretty overwhelming, 78-16.

ROMANS: The family of a missing former FBI agent Robert Levinson is renewing its calls for a meeting with the head of the FBI. Levinson disappeared on a trip to Iran in 2007. But new revelations published last week show he was working as a CIA contractor. The family says FBI Director James Comey has repeatedly delayed meeting with them. A law enforcement official telling CNN the bureau is hoping to arrange a sit-down with Levinson's family soon.

BERMAN: The Pentagon's top sexual assault prevention officer is stepping down. Major General Gary Patton will leave next month after a 35-year army career. Patton has been the public face of the army sexual assault prevention programs as Congress moved to make changes and how sexual assaults are handled in the military. He is leaving amid allegations that he intimated whistleblowers during an Army review of corrections at a U.S. funded Afghan hospital.

ROMANS: Now to Ukraine, where protesters continue their rally in Kiev, upset at the country's growing ties to Russia. That ahead of a key meeting set to take place a little under an hour from now between that country's president and Russia's President Vladimir Putin.

Diana Magnay is live in Kiev this morning.

Diana, why is this meeting drawing such anger from the protesters?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, the reason the protesters came out here about four weeks ago now is because Mr. Yanukovych, Ukraine's president, decided not to sign a trade deal with the European Union. So, when they see him going to Russia now to strengthen ties with Russia, that infuriates and that is precisely what they want to avoid. When you talk to them they don't want to return to a Soviet Union. You know, Ukraine has had its independence now for 20 years. But a lot of these protesters feel that the Soviet mentally still exists. And certainly exist in Mr. Yanukovych, their president, and amongst the ruling elite, the sort of powerful industrial elite who surround him, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Diana Magnay for us in Kiev this morning -- thank you.

BERMAN: British police say there's no reason to reopen the investigation into the death of Princess Diana and her companion Dodi Fayed, finding no credible evidence to back up allegations that the elite British Special Forces had played a role in their deaths. This sounds scandalous.

Scotland Yard had been given information earlier this year, making the claim that the pair had actually been murdered. But investors now say there's just nothing to back that up. Max Foster will join us live the next half hour to talk about this investigation.

ROMANS: All right. By the time the numbers are drawn in tonight's mega millions jackpot estimated to top $600 million. Officials say it could surpass the record mega millions jackpot, remember last year, of $656 million. That was in March.

There have been 21 straight mega millions drawings without a winner. There is no winner again tonight or Friday night. It's possible the jackpot for Christmas Eve could reach $1 billion.

There's actually some changes in how they do the drawing. Actually one of the reasons it keeps rolling over, more numbers but fewer mega millions numbers. That combination means you have one in a few hundred million chance of winning.

BERMAN: Exactly. So, instead of just not winning -- you really, really, really won't win. Look, I think buy a ticket if you want to join in the fun. It's a super great thing, I'll probably go out and buy one ticket.

ROMANS: You've covered a lot of these things.

BERMAN: I will not win. I will not win the lottery tonight. But it's fun, hey, right? Be very careful in the office pools. Everyone here is in an office pool but make sure you know the rules going in because there are lawyers who deal with these things because there are so many lawsuits after the fact!

ROMANS: You're taking the fun out of it!

BERMAN: I'm just telling you. Remember you heard this, when you win tomorrow and you have people knocking on your door telling, you know, lawyers and stuff, remember that I told you.

ROMANS: All right. Coming up, could the soap in your home actually be harming your family? A new concern from the FDA that could affect millions. That's ahead.

BERMAN: And from accused murderer to budding artist? George Zimmerman putting a painting up for auction! Wait until you hear how much he could be bringing?

ROMANS: High drama playing out in North Korea. Leader Kim Jong-un's first public ceremony since executing his uncle. We're live with the bloody family feud casting a shadow on today's big event. That's next.


BERMAN: It is an important and possibly dramatic day in North Korea where the country is marking the second anniversary of the death of Kim Jong-Il. The current leader Kim Jong-un surrounded himself with top officials but on the heels of the execution of his uncle, they are also wondering could a purge of more prominent citizens be in the cards? A lot of people there looking over their shoulders there.

Anna Coren is live in Seoul this morning.

Anna, give us a sense of what's going on today.

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, as you say, John, thousands of officials turned out to pay tribute to the "Dear Leader", that being the father of Kim Jong-un. He strategically and perhaps symbolically placed himself in between the leaders of the military and the workers really I guess putting out there that he is into a unified front and behind the scenes is a completely different story. There is instability. You know, threats to his power and talks of the coup which is why Kim Jong-un had his uncle executed last week.

He was, of course, convicted of treason. This is a man you have to remember who was second in command. He was a mentor to the young leader.

You know, Kim Jong-un is just 30 years old. He is the youngest head of state in the world and, yet, he is grabbing on to power and really governing with an eye on fear and saying he is consolidating his power and will do whatever it takes really to make sure he doesn't lose any grip. No one, John, is untouchable.

BERMAN: He knows right now the whole world is watching, especially what happened with what happened with his uncle right now. Any sense from either the South Koreans or the U.S. that North Korea could use this opportunity for more provocations, nuclear testing, missile firings, things like that?

COREN: Yes, absolutely, John. And that is what they are really concerned about here in South Korea. The president has put the military and police on high alert. They are expecting further provocations. This is something that South Korea does when there are times of instability, sort of to prove their muscle, prove their might. The Americans have come out and said exactly the same thing, that they are expecting a nuclear test or a rocket launch in the coming weeks, if not months.

And this is obviously a grave concern. We know that North Korea wants to expand its nuclear program and will do whatever it takes to make that happen. You have to a couple of months ago when North Korea was threatening to rain fire and South Korea. We know what is coming is there will be real stability here on the peninsula in the coming months, John.

BERMAN: All right. Anna Coren for us on the Korean Peninsula, clearly a tense situation. But despite the tensions in North Korea, former NBA star Dennis Rodman, he's heading back there this week for another chance for what he calls basketball diplomacy.

But it really doesn't do much diplomacy. He'll be playing basketball with several members of North Korea's national basketball team. This is part of yet another publicity stunt for Rodman. He has twice visited the country and calls Kim Jong-un his friend. And again, this comes just a week or so after Kim Jong-un executed his uncle.

ROMANS: There could be some big changes coming to your medicine cabinet. The FDA is proposing for the first time the companies that make antibacterial soaps and body washes will have to prove their products are more effective than plain old soap and water. The agency is saying there is some evidence that using them could actually cause health risks.


MAE WU, ATTORNEY, NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL: There are more and more studies showing the soaps were not more effective than regular soap and water. And so, it was one of those things that we kind of dub our stupid uses of a chemical. You know, if it's not doing any good, then why are we putting this potentially harmful chemical in our homes?


ROMANS: Some 2,000 products contain the antibacterial agent Triclosan. But the rule would not cover hand sanitizers or antibacterial hand wipes.

BERMAN: So, vitamins many not be any help and you might be even better off avoiding them all together, so says an editorial in the analysis of eternal medicine. This is a pretty scathing editorial. A look at three studies and researchers say no evidence that vitamins help you long term. Some people who took the supplements actually increased their risk of getting sick. The researchers say that vitamin sales are all based on anecdotal evidence and you're better off, they say, not wasting your money. Dr. Sanjay Gupta talked about this last night.

He said vitamin D is an exception in all of this. A lot of people do take vitamin D -- ROMANS: Folic acid, too. They also said folic acid for women of child-bearing years, that is really an important thing to remember. I want to make sure that people who really need something are still taking it but it was strongly worded.

BERMAN: Very strongly worded.

ROMANS: Strongly worded.

All right. A hearing is set today for the case of against three former Penn State administrators accused of covering up the sexual abuse allegations against former football assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. Former university president Graham Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president Gary Schultz, they are all facing criminal charges that they lied to investigators, looking into Sandusky. The former assistant coach is currently serving a sentence of 30 to 60 years.

BERMAN: Lawyers for Boston marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are asking for an extension of the deadline to move his trial outside Boston, arguing they can't make their case until they know if the 20- year-old will face the death penalty. The Justice Department has not yet made a decision on whether Tsarnaev should face execution. He has not pleaded not guilty to carrying out the attack that left three people and hundreds more injured.

ROMANS: Everything should be back to normal this morning at Harvard University after a bomb scare led to four buildings being evacuated Monday. Authorities sounding the all clear six hours after receiving an email threat complaint, or claiming that explosives were hidden in three academic buildings and a dorm. Nothing was found but for those on campus, the fear was real.


LEA PETROVIC, RESEARCH ASSISTANT, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: I'm from Boston. So for me, I guess, with everything that has happened the past year, like it definitely did remind me a little bit of April and like what it happened because I had been pretty close to that situation. So it did hit a little close to home.


ROMANS: Wow. Final exams initially set for Monday are now being rescheduled.

BERMAN: Not all are being rescheduled. Some students are getting the option to accept their grade as it was --

ROMANS: Oh, really?

BERMAN: Or they could take the course a pass/fail. It's a class by class thing. They had a exam scheduled for yesterday afternoon and if students were too traumatized to go take the exams yesterday afternoon after what happened in the morning, they could get out of that also.


BERMAN: So, a mess up there at Harvard.

ROMANS: I'll say.

BERMAN: Twenty minutes after the hour.

A wildfire churning through acreage and home in Big Sur, California, driven by high winds and dry conditions, turning vegetation into fuel. The fire so far has so far burned about 500 acres and destroyed 15 homes, including the home of the local fire chief. Authorities have brought in air tankers and helicopters along with several hundred firefighters. They hope they will be able to contain the fire this week, hoping that the winds start to die down.

ROMANS: From accused murderer to painter? The signed painting of a blue American flag went up on eBay Monday. Its creator is George Zimmerman who listed it at $50 to start but in no time the bids skyrocketed to a hundred bucks.

BERMAN: Well, a hundred thousand, I think.

ROMANS: Let's look. Oh, my goodness.

I'd pay 50 bucks (INAUDIBLE) before.

BERMAN: Not a hundred thousand. I have my doubts whether anyone would pay a hundred thousand dollars.

ROMANS: All right. So, Zimmerman was acquitted earlier this year in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Bidding on the painting ends on December 22nd.

I messed the whole thousand.


ROMANS: It's up to a hundred thousand?

BERMAN: It's a lot of money.

All right. Christmas coming early to Beatles fans and collectors. Take a listen to this.


BERMAN: This is the Beatles "Bootleg" album from 1963. It was available briefly on iTunes in Britain this morning and taken down. It's not clear if the songs will be released in the U.S.


BERMAN: The album features dozens of previously unheard recordings, including studio outtakes and performances recorded for the BBC. A little bit of history there that a lot of people will want to hear.

ROMANS: Very cool.

BERMAN: All right. It is a make, or was a make-or-break night for the Ravens last night, squeaking out a win over the Lions with a long, long, long field goal! Andy Scholes has the amazing play that kept them in the playoff hunt. That's next.


BERMAN: So a lot of times in the NFL, the kicker turns out to be the hero, occasionally the goat. But last night for the Ravens, Justin Tucker not only kicked the game winner but he kicked every one of theirs points! He scored everything for the Ravens last night!

ROMANS: Andy Scholes joins us now with more on the morning's "Bleacher Report."

Good morning.

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: Hey, good morning, guys.

You know, Ravens couldn't find a way to score a touchdown last night but lucky for them, Justin Tucker was locked in. He made a franchise record six field goals in the game. Now, Tucker knocked them down from 29, 24, 32, 49, 53 and he saved his best for last. A 61-yarder with under a minute to go! Check it out. It barely gets over the crossbar. The Ravens beat the Lions by not scoring a touchdown. Final score in the game was 18-16.

Cowboys had their worst collapse in franchise history against the Packers on Sunday. Star receiver Dez Bryant caught a lot of flak for heading to the locker room before the game was over. A big no-no in the NFL, but Bryant clarified yesterday why he left early. He said he was very emotional and he left so no one would see him crying on the sidelines!

All right. You know how car dealerships always have those crazy promotions that if the impossible happen you get to keep your car for free? Well, it finally backfired on someone! A car dealership near Seattle last week said if the Seahawks shut out the Giants 12 people will win $35,000 each. Sure enough it happened!

Lucky for the dealership, they actually purchased the $7,000 insurance policy on the promotion so the big loser in this deal is the insurance companies.

All right. Number three in the line up section on, right now, music legend Paul McCartney at the Brooklyn Nets game and he really wanted a free T-shirt. Check them out on. Paul is having a good time as the T-shirts come flying into the stands. Guys, even for someone who's got 60 gold records, free T-shirt is too hard to pass up.

BERMAN: That's crazy. You know, he can go and buy his own. The Nets actually won last night which was a mistake. I mean, they are not supposed to win any more at all but Sir Paul got to see that. So, good for Sir Paul. ROMANS: Thanks, Andy.

SCHOLES: All right. Have a good one.

BERMAN: All right. When we come back, the top headlines and absolutely everything you need to know for your day. That's right after the break.


BERMAN: A severe snowstorm smacking the East Coast, wreaking havoc on the morning commute. It's going to hit the afternoon one real bad, too. Indra Petersons is tracking where it's coming next.

ROMANS: A shocking association, the British military blamed for Princess Diana's death. Now, police, they are releasing their findings. We are live.