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Ice Storms Hit Parts of U.S.; Scientific Expedition Trapped in Antarctic Ice; Intelligence Officials Worry about Rise in Al Qaeda Affiliates; Monsignor's Conviction Overturned; Interview with Thomas Bergstrom

Aired December 27, 2013 - 07:00   ET


MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Officials fear that it will rise, the death toll, throughout the day. And at least 70 people injured so far. This seems to be another indication that Syria's violence from the civil war, which is right next door to Lebanon, is spilling over once more into Lebanon, and even though nobody has yet claimed responsibility for this killing or this attack.

Mohamad Chatah was known as a fierce critic Bashar Assad, the Syrian president, a fierce critic of Hezbollah, which is the militant Shiite group based in Lebanon which supports the Syrian regime, and this is just the latest in a string of troubling attacks that have been going on in Lebanon the last few months. Chris?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Mohammed, I'll take it. Thank you so much for the update. We'll check back in with you throughout the show.

Back here at home power problems are dragging on for hundreds of thousands in the northern U.S. and Canada. The cause is the snow and ice storms earlier in the week. At least 19 people have died, many succumbing to carbon monoxide poisoning from generators. Crews are working on the problem, but it's expected to persist at least into the weekend as more rough weather approaches. Chad Myers is in for Indra Petersons this morning, taking a look at what is going on, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: The power goes out for you for two hours and it's just disgusting. What am I going to do? I lost all my power. My stuff is going to melt in my freezer. Think about this where you're out of power for four days and the morning lows go down to zero. That gets absolutely dangerous.


MYERS: Talk about another blow. Hundreds of thousands of residents in the northern tier of the country are still waking up with no power. This as another blast of arctic air is on the way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was tough. I mean, it was dark. Candles only do so much. The fire, you have to keep that going. That's our only option.

MYERS: This morning people in Pennsylvania are recovering from multiple mass-casualty pileups on state highways. As the dramatic scenes unfolded Thursday, first responders rescued more than 40 people injured, transporting a couple dozen to area hospitals.

More snow is expected from Michigan to Maine. This comes as a blow to power crews who have been rapidly working against the ice and below freezing temperatures to try to restore power to some of those left in the dark since last weekend. Crews have finally been able to fire up their electrical grids but are warning some people won't have power until at least the end of the weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's been challenging.

MYERS: Crews even sacrificing their Christmas to restore the city's power after being hit by what Bangor Hydroelectric Company is calling the most damaging ice storm in Maine since 1998.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is probably the worst time of year to have something like this happen.

MYERS: This Portland Inn even opened on the Christmas day to feed the crews racing to bring back power. And up in Canada, another cold weekend is in store, leaving citizens in Toronto icy cold.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The trees are still down. The power lines are still down. Nobody's been to our street to fix anything.


MYERS: There are so many power lines down the crews can't get them all back up at one time. There's a triage going on. If one line will get 100 homes back online, they put that power line back up. But if that line goes to your house and you're the only house out, you have a long wait for that power to come back.

Buffalo seeing some light snow right now, chilly temperatures from Toronto, although 29 isn't bad compared to where you've been. It warms up even into the 30s and 40s for the weekend. But then by Monday, back down well below freezing. In fact, the morning lows back down below zero for some of these areas that still don't have power. Chris, Kate, back to you.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Ice is a problem here, but everything is relative. I say that because there are agonizing hours left for a ship stranded in the ice off Antarctica. It's been four days since the expedition ship with 74 people aboard got trapped in the thick, thick ice there. The good news is a Chinese ice breaker ship can now be seen in the distance. It's now less than eight miles away. But due to the thickness of that ice, it could take up to eight hours to reach those stranded. CNN's Diana Magnay has the latest. Diana?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Chris. Well, this ship was an academic scientific research vessel. Basically they were doing test on the marine wildlife and the birds around the Antarctic when the temperatures just dropped on Monday and they were literally frozen where they were.

And on Christmas Day in the morning they sent out a mayday signal. It has taken three days since that signal for these three vessels to arrive, and the first is now not just on its way but literally within eyeshot.


MAGNAY: Just hours ago, joy on board the ship, passengers pointing out into the distance as a Chinese ice breaker set to rescue them slowly makes its way towards them. This Russian flagship stuck in the ice for four days now after weather conditions turned bad. But help is on its way. Behind it, two more ice breakers, one French and one Australian, if the Snow Dragon gets stuck, too.

On board are 74 researchers, a mix of professional and amateur scientists who decided to spend their Christmas checking out the effects of climate change in the frozen Antarctic. They sailed around 100 nautical miles east of their starting point when they got stuck. Despite blizzards with wind speeds of nearly 45 miles per hour, we've heard the moral remains high and while they wait, they've had a few friendly visitors checking in to say hello. This morning's visitors are far more welcome.


MAGNAY: Chris, it's summer in the Antarctic now, so it's light all day and all night long. Even though we're approaching midnight in the Antarctic, they'll be able to watch the Snow Dragon make its painstaking way towards them.

CUOMO: There may be light but is there heat? Those people look cold on that ship. Diana, thank you for the reporting.

Earlier we spoke with Chris Turney. He's the leader of that stranded expedition. Here's a little bit of what he told us.


CHRIS TURNEY, PROFESSOR OF CLIMATE CHANGE: The vessel is fine and safe and everyone aboard is very well. Morale is really high. And I don't know if you saw the YouTube footage but we got hit by a heavy blizzard yesterday with wind speeds at 70 kilometers an hour. And fortunately the wind has passed, the low pressure system has moved away and a lot of the pressure around the hull of the vessel has eased back now as the winds have subsided.

The ice has built up around us unfortunately over the last few days. We have two to three meters, four in places surrounding us. Yesterday, the ship was tilting a little bit because of the pressure on one side because of the strong easterly winds. And beneath that a bit, which is good news.


CUOMO: And there's more good news coming if that ship can make it. One of the interesting things here is they can't get out but technology can get in. You can actually watch what's going on in the eventual rescue online,, m-a-w-s-o-n.

BOLDUAN: Track the progress. We'll be tracking it as well. Let's get back to Pamela Brown in for Michaela for some of our other top stories this hour.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: In the headlines today, major airport security questions raised on Christmas day after two breaches, at two airports on opposite ends of the country. At Newark airport in New Jersey, a man in women's clothing scaled a fence and walked on to two runways in Sky Harbor and Phoenix airport. The workers said they saw a man climbing over a barbed wire fence and run onto the tarmac there.

The family a California girl who suffered complications following a tonsillectomy is asking the hospital to help get her transferred to another facility. A judge concluded 13-year-old Jahi McMath is brain dead and only has to be on life support until Monday. But the girl's uncle says the family found a facility willing to take Jahi and treat her.

A crazy fight to show you right outside a Florida movie theater, take a look at this. This happened on Christmas night. Some 600 people involved in a brawl in Jacksonville. Police say this group tried to storm the doors without tickets and get past an off-duty officer working as a security guard. He called for backup and the crowd went crazy in the parking lot apparently. Police were able to break up the fight and five people were arrested. There were only minor injuries and limited damage, we're told.

A controversial U.S. military base in japan will be moved but it's likely to take a decade. Officials there have won permission to relocate the marine base in Okinawa to a less populated area. The U.S. has been trying to move the base for years but residents opposed it, saying it was unsafe and too loud. The local government gave its OK after promises of cash to spend on infrastructure projects there.

"Duck Dynasty" fans continuing to make their opinions known. They want Phil Robertson back on the show. Some 250,000 people signed a petition demanding A&E reinstate the family patriarch. He was suspended, as you'll recall, for comments he made to "GQ" magazine equating homosexuality with bestiality and prostitution and saying African-Americans were happier under Jim Crow. The petition says Robertson was just expressing biblical views. Chris and Kate?

CUOMO: A lot of popularity on that show and even more popularity for literal translation of the bible.


CUOMO: No surprise that people are rallying in his favor. But what will A&E do? We'll have to see.

Coming up on NEW DAY, if you thought all that U.S. blood and treasure abroad had stamped out Al Qaeda, I hate to tell you it is not the case. We're going to tell you about the fresh new threat as the terror organization's affiliates are said to be getting stronger.

Also ahead, a monsignor's conviction on charges linked to the Catholic Church's child sex abuse scandal now overturned. But is Monsignor William Lynn in the clear? We'll talk to his lawyer, coming up.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY. Terrorists plotting their next moves against the U.S. Experts say Al Qaeda is making a comeback. the hatred is the same, but Al Qaeda itself is different. As Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr shows us, the terror group is several groups in different countries but united in their desire to strike the U.S.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Chris, Kate, you know, the Obama administration likes to say Al Qaeda is decimated, on the run. But going into 2014, there are new Al Qaeda affiliates growing in strength.


STARR: CNN has learned recent intercepts of messages from senior Al Qaeda operatives in Yemen are renewing concern the group is planning new attacks. The intercepts don't indicate specific targets but are described by one source as, quote, "active plotting."

SETH JONES, RAND CORPORATION: There are multiple indications that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is plotting attacks, both within Yemen against U.S. and other western structures as well as overseas.

STARR: Reporter: The group is Yemen already well-known for the failed underwear bomber attempt to bring down an airplane Christmas Day, 2009. Four years later, the U.S. the intelligence community believes it poses the greatest threat of an attack on the U.S.

JONES: They are still capable of conducting attacks outside of Yemen, including plotting attacks against the United States in multiple locations, including trying to conduct attacks against the U.S. homeland, especially by taking down aircraft.

STARR: Analysts say the group rebounded in 2013 from battlefield losses. U.S. drone strikes have had mixed results. Inside Syria, a key al Qaeda affiliate, also stronger than a year ago. About 100 Americans, along with potentially hundreds from Europe, are fighting alongside thousands of militants.

JONES: If they were able to return to Europe and get access to the United States or return directly to the United States, they were not put on a watch list, they would pose a very serious threat. They're well trained, radicalized and they have the ability and intent to strike the U.S. homeland.


STARR: Analysts say the rise of the new al Qaeda affiliates is part of the price paid for years of attacks against the old line core al Qaeda. Many of those leaders, including Osama bin Laden are long gone, and now the new affiliates and the new leaders have much more autonomy to operate and they are becoming a growing danger. Chris, Kate? CUOMO: Barbara, thank you. Attacking the old al Qaeda somehow gave birth to the new al Qaeda? Let's bring in CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank to try to get perspective. Paul, you heard whatn I was just suggesting there. Is this what this is about, is this just the natural evolution of the threat?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: To some degree, yes. I think Barbara's report is spot on. We're facing a resurgent al Qaeda network in the Arab world. Al Qaeda has shifted its center of gravity from the Afghanistan/Pakistan border region back to the Arab world. It's taken advantage of the political turmoil caused by the Arab spring to build up a presence right across the region.

Much of this is being fueled by events in Syria. Al Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq has morphed into a regional terrorist outfit, a significant and growing presence both in Syria and also in Iraq. Nearly 2,000 Europeans have traveled to fight in Syria, according to some estimates. There are also estimates of up to 11,000 foreign fighters fighting in Syria, many from around the Arab world, many fighting with al Qaeda-affiliated groups and security officials are very worried about what happens when these fighters return home, both to the Arab world and also back to Europe, Chris.

CUOMO: So was this expected, or is this proof that all previous efforts have been counterproductive?

CRUIKSHANK: The United States has made significant headway in the Afghanistan/Pakistan border region. Al Qaeda central has been degraded there. That sort of has forced them to concentrate much more on the Arab world, Chris.

Also the group in Yemen, some of these drone strikes were effective at curtailing some of their operations but unfortunately, al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen is still there, still present, still a threat to the United States. We saw a plot orchestrated by a group that led to the shutdown of 20 American embassies across the Arab and Muslim world. And the new leader - the leader, rather, of al Qaeda in Yemen is now the new number two in the global al Qaeda network. That's increased pressure on him to attack U.S. interests, Chris.

CUOMO: What do you make of this latest hostage video of Warren Weinstein that's been released by al Qaeda in Pakistan? Is that an extension of the new tactics, of the new presence there?

CRUIKSHANK: I think this is a ploy by al Qaeda central in Pakistan to remain relevant. The limelight has been stolen from them by these other al Qaeda affiliates back in the Arab world. This is them telling their followers we're still trying to do something here. We may not be able to orchestrate the kind of terrorist plot you were seeing three or four or five years ago, but we're still trying to do something, Chris.

CUOMO: We've been told, you've said it to me on this show, that al Qaeda has become somewhat of a brand now. Don't read any extension of al Qaeda as the original organization growing, it's just being borrowed by new groups. And yet when people hear this information, Paul, they're going to say are we losing? Is that what this means? Does this mean we're losing because the threat is growing faster than our ability to stop it? What's the right perspective to have on this?

CRUIKSHANK: I think right now if you're going to think about what's the terrorist threat against the United States right now? I don't think it's quite as high as it was five years ago, and that's because al Qaeda central in Pakistan has been weakened by drone strikes. They're not able to train westerners in the way they were to go and launch attacks back in the west. This was the group most focused, most obsessed with attacking the United States.

What you see now is the evolution of the threat, the strengthening of the broader al Qaeda network back in the Arab world. Most of these groups are sort of focused on the fight over there right now. Not so focused on hitting the United States. The worry in the future is that that could change and that would be of great concern to counterterrorism officials here in the United States, Chris.

CUOMO: It's interesting. The threat is growing but there are inter- nests (ph) or inside disputes going on that distract from the original mission of just attacking the U.S.

Paul Cruickshank, thank you very much. These are deep waters to wade through. Thanks for taking us through them this morning.

CRUIKSHANK: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, conviction overturned against a priest convicted in the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal. Why did the appeals panel say he wasn't responsible and what's next in his case? We'll be joined by the monsignor's lawyer in just a few moments.

CUOMO: And if you went on Delta's website yesterday, you got a heck of a deal on air travel but will the airline honor the super low prices following what turned out to be a glitch?


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY. It was a landmark conviction over the Catholic Church's child sex abuse scandal, now unanimously overturned. A priest accused of covering up for and protecting abusive priests, a three-judge panel rejected the argument that Monsignor William Lynn was legally responsible for the abuse. Victims are outraged this morning. Miguel Marquez is here with the brand new developments coming out.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. This is an outrage for victims because they saw this as precedent-setting. It was the first time an official wasn't prosecuted for not abusing kids -- or abusing kids, but instead for covering it up.


MARQUEZ: Monsignor William Lynn's child endangerment conviction overturned late Thursday. This morning, his attorneys are calling for his immediate release. Lynn spent the last 18 months behind bars for the way in which he handled sexual abuse complaints. As a high- ranking official in the archdiocese of Philadelphia, he was assigned to investigate reports of abuse.

During his June 2012 trial prosecutors argued he covered up abuse inside the Catholic Church and allowed a known predator to stay in the ministry. He was sentenced to serve three to six years.

Thursday, a three-panel judge unanimously rejected arguments made at the time of the trial that Monsignor Lynn was legally responsible for the welfare of an abused boy in 1998. An argument Lynn's attorneys have always countered saying that Pennsylvania's child endangerment law only applies to parents and caregivers.

His trial, the first in the U.S. of such a senior official in the church and it was considered an historic moment for survivors of abuse. Now the decision to overturn his conviction has survivors outraged.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It really does not exonerate the monsignor at all. All the court is saying the statute is so narrowly defined that it does not encompass the acts that are alleged to have been committed by Monsignor Lynn.

MARQUEZ: Pennsylvania district attorney Seth Williams released a statement expressing disappointment with the ruling saying, "while we are deciding what our next course of action will be, we most likely will be appealing this decision."


MARQUEZ: Now, Lynn could be released as early as today. It is not expected, this ruling, to go beyond Pennsylvania, because the specificity of this particular law in that state. Chris?

CUOMO: Miguel, thank you very much. We're joined now by Thomas Bergstrom, the attorney for Monsignor William Lynn. Thank you for joining us, Mr. Bergstrom.


CUOMO: The basic question is, is this about your client simply getting off on a technicality?

BERGSTROM: No, no, it's not at all. Let me explain that. First of all, the jury acquitted him of any conspiracy charge during the trial. He was convicted of a single count of endangering the welfare of a child, under the Pennsylvania statute.

That statute deals with basically three principles, a parent, a guardian, or an other person supervising the welfare of a child. Thirty years of precedent in the superior court of Pennsylvania essentially defines that other person as one who has direct control, some affinity between that person and the child. He never knew this child, never met this child. This child didn't even exist as far as he knew. And it wasn't until 2010 that Monsignor Lynn even learned that this child had been abused back in 1998.

CUOMO: All right, well let's take up that part of it -


BERGSTROM: The parameters --

CUOMO: I hear you on the law.


CUOMO: Not here to debate you about the law. It seems like the law was misapplied here. That's why the appeal panel said what it did. We'll let the courts deal with that part.


CUOMO: He didn't - when he found out, there was a lot of evidence offered at trial that the priest in question, Avery, had admitted to things that it was known, that he was moved as a result of what he had already admitted to, and that your client allowed that to happen. Whether or not the law fits, that was used in this case, isn't that something that deserves criminal responsibility after everything we've learned about the church scandal?

BERGSTROM: Well, wait a minute. A law is the law. I mean, if there is a law that punishes that conduct he should have been charged with that conduct. He wasn't charged with that conduct. As a matter of fact, he was acquitted of conspiracy.

The fact of the matter is, the superior court recognizes this clearly in their opinion, Monsignor Lynn did not have the authority or the power to transfer priests. That responsibility laid totally with the cardinal. Lynn obviously --


CUOMO: He could have reported him to the police. Forget about transferring him. We don't want them transferred. We want them prosecuted.

BERGSTROM: That's a very good point, and the DA made that point over and over and over again. Guess what? The evidence in this case reveals two things. Number one, it reveals that these cases were reported to the police. The police did nothing about it, and the reason they did nothing about it was, again, because of the law.

In many of these cases, not just this one, but in many of these cases, and not just Monsignor Lynn, in many of these cases, the statute of limitations had long expired. Much of the abuse that you heard in this record occurred in the '40s, the '50s, the '60s and the '70s. It didn't occur in 2004 and 2005 and 2006. So, the statute had long run on those cases.