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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD

Wintry Blast Threatens Northeast; Priest Murdered in California Church; Russian Ship Passengers Rescued from Antarctic; Kerry Set to Meet Netanyahu, Abbas; Clemency for Edward Snowden?

Aired January 2, 2014 - 11:00   ET

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


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It is Thursday, January 2nd, and welcome to LEGAL VIEW.

I wish I had better news for you in this new year, but this is only day two into 2014 and it's already a doozy.

For millions of you all across the country, from Illinois to Maine, snow blowers are in overdrive, gearing up for a dangerous nor'easter.

And a blizzard warning for much of Long Island from tonight to tomorrow morning.

There are virtual whiteout conditions and an absolute cold that will chill you to the bone.

And don't even think about trying to escape that cold, because traveling is out of the question. Millions of people aren't going to be able to fly even if they wanted to today.

According to FlightAware.com, more than 1,500 flights are cancel this had morning and most of them are at Chicago O'Hare.

CNN's team coverage starts with Margaret Conley in Boston. Ted Rowlands is picking up the story in Naperville, Illinois. Alexandra Fields joins me from New York.

Margaret, I want to begin with you. Just how bad is this expected to get and when?

MARGARET CONLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Boston was declared a snow emergency, and the worst part is going to come in tonight and into tomorrow morning.

How bad is it going to be? We can expect up to a foot of snow and temperatures to drop below three degrees freezing.

But the big concern here is the wind. We've already seen a stronger wind picked up in these last couple of hours, and there's light snow.

So, with strong winds and light snow, there's concern about blizzards. And with blizzards, there could be a whiteout, whiteout meaning that you can't see.

So, there's going to be low visibility, and that's really going to impact travel, travel in the air and on the roads. We've already seen flights being canceled, as you said, or delayed.

And we talked to the department of transportation here in Boston. There's already been at least one accident and also the speed has been slowed down on some of the roads. It was 65 down to 40.

But one thing, Ashleigh, that we are keeping track of here is the number of snow plows that are out in the area. We talked to department of transportation. There are now just about 1,500 snow plows. They have capacity to have up to 4,000 snow plows, so we are still in the beginning stages.

Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: All right. Thank you for that, Margaret.

I want to scoot over to Illinois now, where Ted Rowlands got the cold assignment in a place where all the flights are being canceled.

I can see you jumping up and down, Alexandra. I will get you to in a moment. I know it's because you're cold and not impatient.

Ted, I want to read something so that all of you can hear it and our audience, as well. This came from the National Weather Service in Key West, just so you all know why you're jumping up and down and cold.

At 8:00 a.m. Eastern standard time, January 2nd, there was a 115- degree temperature difference between Key West, Florida, and International Falls, Minnesota.

Ouch! That really speaks volumes, so, Ted, take it away, and let me know where you fall on that spectrum.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank god we're not in International Falls, Minnesota.

We're in the mid-20s. It's supposed to drop down to single digits, though, as you said at the beginning, this is a doozy.

It started snowing Chicago-land area on New Year's Eve day, and it has basically kept snowing. We're expecting a foot of snow when it's over, which is tapering off, thankfully for us, not so lucky for you folks in the east.

But it's supposed to taper off in the afternoon, evening hours here, and good riddance. You can have it.

Luckily, this has been a holiday week for most schools and most workers, so the commuting hasn't been affected for the most part, but the roads are horrible. They've been literally plowing 24/7 and it's been snowing 24/7.

And then you mentioned the folks at O'Hare, waiting for flights, cancellations, tons of postponed flights, as well.

If you are traveling today, especially if you're going through any airport in the northeast or O'Hare, check before you leave your house. BANFIELD: Yeah, not only that, but those road conditions, we were just seeing a snow plow. That's kind of one of those obvious things.

Make sure your car is prepared right, Ted? You are always working out in these conditions, even when you're not wearing a hat. I don't know if your mom's watching.

But it's important to keep your car in a safe circumstance, as well, too, right?

ROWLANDS: Absolutely. And slow down. You get used to it. But when you have this much snow, you really do have to just slow down, take your time and, for god sakes, don't text.

BANFIELD: Yeah.

ROWLANDS: Just take it easy out there, because there are fender benders everywhere and you never know what's coming in terms of black ice or the person in front of you.

BANFIELD: And the girl from Winnipeg here is going to tell you to put a candle in your glove box. Just a simple candle can save your life if you end up in a really tight spot and you can't move and you're --

ROWLANDS: Yeah, and some water.

BANFIELD: Good one, if the water can stay thawed.

All right, Ted, thank you. Put that hat back on now that you're going to go off the TV.

I'm going to switch you over to Alexandra Field. Listen, you're in my neighborhood now in the New York area, Alexandra, and I had to get my kids bundled up like Kenny from "South Park" to go to school today.

Give me the rundown on the New York area, and you might as well just do the whole eastern seaboard while you're at it.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, that makes you definitely a good mom, Ashleigh.

And you caught me out here a few moments ago doing my cold dance, so you know we're not dramatizing this. The cold is here. We're feeling it.

Overnight, we had a little bit of a dusting of snow, but we know that the big stuff is still a few hours out. They're forecasting five to 10 inches of snow here in New York City.

That's a big deal. A lot of the estimates will put us in that six-to- eight-inch range with more snow coming to Long Island. That's where we're expecting blizzard-like conditions.

But here in a city of 8 million people, half a foot of snow, that can cause a lot of trouble. So, this is the center of the action right now. We are right outside the department of sanitation's warehouse for salt. The trucks have been coming in all morning, filling up.

The city's got an aggressive plan of attack here. Three-hundred-sixty- five salt spreaders are going to be heading out on the roads and, those garbage trucks, they double as plows during snowstorms. Sixteen- hundred of them have now been equipped with plows. They'll head out as well.

The department of sanitation says its crews are working around the clock. They started on the job at 7:00 this morning. They will go as long as they need to go until the situation's totally under control.

The department of sanitation says that they'll have 2,300 people on staff, all the time, starting now and continuing to whenever the clean-up job is done.

It isn't just the snow, Ashleigh. We know it is also these bitterly cold temperatures. It's just going to get colder here.

The wind is also going to be an issue, so if you have the opportunity to be inside, I suggest you take it.

BANFIELD: I hear you. I was outside yesterday, and I lobbied to be inside today. And I think that's why you're outside.

I'm just teasing.

Hey, Alexandra, thank you. And I just want to add something to all of our reporting, all of our great reporters who've been working on this, I just got an urgent from our CNN National Desk saying that Boston's Logan International Airport is going to remain open unless the conditions become so severe and they have to pull the crews off the airfield for safety.

But as of right now, that's the story. Boston's Logan will stay open. But you know what? If you're going to be planning to go to the airport, you're probably going to call anyway.

Thank you to all our great reporters who are out in the field. Also, CNN is on it. We are blanketing this story like this storm is blanketing us.

All day today, we will be broadcasting the developments as they change, so if you're in an area that's affected, make sure you keep us on, and also throughout the night. And we will be broadcasting extra early tomorrow morning, as well.

So, for your safety and your concern, we're here for you, CNN, all day, all night.

Another story that just has us shaking our heads, a beloved member of a community is found dead now, police investigating a murder mystery that happened inside a Catholic Church.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: A Catholic Church in Eureka, California, is right now being processed as a crime scene.

It's very unusual notion, but a beloved priest, the Reverend Eric Freed, seen her in this YouTube video on the right-hand side of your screen, he was found dead in his church's rectory about 9:00 a.m. yesterday.

And now police have launched a full-on murder investigation and they seem to be fairly stymied about what happened.

Martin Savidge is at the CNN Center in Atlanta. This is absolutely bizarre. In his own rectory, Martin?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, it's a horrible way, of course, for any community to start 2014, but especially the small town of Eureka, California.

If you don't know, it's very picturesque. It's about 300 miles north of San Francisco, right on the water, and only about 30,000 people.

And so at St. Bernard's Church, the parishioners were gathered yesterday morning for what was going to be mass at 9:00 a.m., and when their priest didn't show up, someone suggested maybe somebody ought to go over to the rectory and see if he's all right.

So they sent a deacon next door and that's when the deacon returned and said that something horrible had happened to Father Eric Freed.

We don't know the specific details, but we do know that authorities have launched a homicide investigation. They don't reveal the cause of death.

The mayor is a close personal friend. He spoke about his priest yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just a tremendous person. And this is an absolutely tremendous loss, not only for the St. Bernard's Parish but for our community in general.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAVIDGE: A couple of interesting things. First and foremost, authorities are still looking for the priest's car. They won't say if it's missing, but they did say that they would like to locate it. It's described as a dark gray Nissan Altima, a hybrid.

The other thing, I had a conversation with Father Ortega. He's at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. That's the second Catholic Church in town.

Yesterday afternoon, around midday, a parishioner was opening up that church and found a stranger, a man who apparently had made an unlawful entry into the church.

This is only hours after the priest's body had been found two miles away. That parishioner started to call the authorities. The man inside quickly got on a bicycle and fled.

Authorities don't know if there's a connection, but they definitely say they can't overlook it and have to at least consider it in their investigation, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Look, I know it's early, but it's just such a strange story.

Are the police saying anything about how this priest met his demise, how he was murdered ?

SAVIDGE: No, they aren't. There was radio traffic at the time that did not seem to give an obvious call. They said that there was an unconscious male that found at the rectory, so it wasn't like they said a victim of a shooting or a victim of a stabbing when the ambulance was called.

So whether it was very obvious how he died, we don't know. We'll have to wait for the coroner's report on that.

We certainly know he was very well liked. Beloved is the term you used. Extremely popular was another term.

He'd been there since 2011, and many people just said he was a wonderful, wonderful church leader.

BANFIELD: It's just very distressing. It's so mysterious, as well.

Martin Savidge, reporting for us, thank you for that.

SAVIDGE: You're welcome.

BANFIELD: An update now on that ship that was stuck in the ice down in Antarctica, filled with people. Now, the ship is still there. The passengers who were stuck on board, however, have been rescued. They are off that ship, thanks to that helicopter, because the chopper finally managed to reach them after 10 days of going nowhere, locked in place by thick, heavy ice. In all, 52 scientists and paying passengers got off that ship and on board an Australian ship, and they're moving north, north where it's warmer, to Australia.

By the way, 22 crew members stayed on board that stranded ship. They're hoping that they're going to be able to finally move it when they're able to, and they have plenty of supplies, so they are safe.

Secretary of State John Kerry is in the Middle East again today. He arrived in Tel Aviv a couple of hours ago. He has plans to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He'll propose the latest framework for a possible peace deal between the two sides.

Martha Stewart and Macy's, no longer in a pitched battle, not in court anyway. The lawsuits between them started flying when Macy's had a problem with Martha Stewart's home products being sold in JCPenney stores. Now all sides have settled, but it's not surprising, neither side is discussing any details of the terms.

You have probably felt one way or another over the whole NSA security leaking. The guy, Edward Snowden, who some people say blew the whistle and really opened up a massive can of worms, now two huge, huge newspapers are weighing in on what they say -- see the word on your screen -- clemency? You might be surprised as to what the newspapers are saying.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Two big newspapers, and I mean big, "The New York Times" and "The Guardian," have a big message for the United States government: grant NSA leaker Edward Snowden clemency and let him come home. Wow!

Let me give you some more specifics. Here's what "The New York Times" editorial board wrote in the paper partially, "considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain, or some sort of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistleblower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community." End quote.

Justice reporter Evan Perez following this story/bombshell from Washington, D.C., how is the administration reacting or is the administration reacting to this, Evan?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: There's not any immediate reaction today, Ashleigh. But it is something that has been a very big topic of discussion among people in the administration. There's a bit of a divide, even within the administration, on the value of discussing this.

Certainly private conversations, people at the NSA would probably tell you that they think there is some value to having a discussion about this. They want the leaks to stop. They know that Snowden has hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of documents and that this could go on for years, and it is damaging, they believe, the morale of the agency and what it's able to do.

If you go over to the Justice Department, on the other hand, I think there's a lot of opposition to this idea that you reward, perhaps, someone who has done this, who says that he has taken all these documents and now is hiding out in Russia under the protection of Vladimir Putin, which, you know, his government has a very complicated relationship, chilly relationship with the United States at times.

Eric holder, the attorney general, I asked him this a few weeks ago. He said he was opposed to the idea. While he said it was valuable, the debate that has been brought about by the leaks, he thought that Snowden should not expect any kind of clemency or any kind of deal. And the idea of even a deal is kind of a complicated issue. First of all, Snowden has said he no longer has the documents with him. They're in the hands of journalists. Presumably, if you were to do some kind of plea agreement, would you have to get Glenn Greenwald and other journalists who would have to turn these back over to the government, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Then promise they weren't copied, leaked, accidentally hacked and all those messy issues.

PEREZ: Right.

BANFIELD: Evan Perez, thank you for that. Last hour CNN had a chance to speak with Mr. Snowden's adviser, his name is Ben Wizner, and he's the director of the American Civil Liberties Union's speech privacy and technology project. Hear what he has to say about granting Snowden clemency.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN WIZNER, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION: Washington is full of people who broke the law by lying to Congress, by engaging in illegal spying, by ordering the torture of prisoners. We haven't seen prosecution of those officials and we haven't seen a lot of hand- wringing about the precedent that's being set by not prosecuting those people. Let's not get on a high horse and say oh, dear, if we don't prosecute this person, we're going to set a bad precedent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: That's a very good point. For the legal perspective on all of this, I want to bring in my two brilliant guests. Mark O'Mara and Paul Callan with a few other opinions.

And let me start with you, Mark. Congratulations for making it to New York.

MARK O'MARA, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yeah, we made it. I'll be here for a while through the storm.

BANFIELD: I think you'd better get a hotel.

So, listen, there's a very good point to be made by what the legal adviser just said, we've had plenty of circumstances before where there hasn't been the hand-wringing about setting precedent and setting a good example, and yet what Mr. Snowden did is colossal.

O'MARA: I-this is - even coming from a criminal defense attorney's perspective, this may be a little strange. I don't think the NSA is a bad group of guys. I think they're out there, trying to protect what we need to protect. If everybody else in the intelligence community was acting by the same rules I would be okay with it. But we have to realize that the NSA is a necessary evil, if they're somewhat evil, because we're trying to keep up with other people who do not follow the rules. When someone like Snowden comes in and says I'm going to be the altruistic one, I think he did it improperly. I think that if he said he went to the supervisors and he didn't, he should have gone to a good congressman and done it the right way. What he did was colossal on its effect on our intelligence community and I think we should give him a break only because of pragmatism. Only because he has so much more information.

BANFIELD: Look I hear what you're saying. Everybody out there hears what you're saying. We all have this debate at some point in our dialogue, and that is how much liberty am I prepared to trade for security? It's been our problem since we were forged as a nation. Ultimately, I bring it down to the dumbing down issue. And that is if I don't like the pedophile living next door, I can't go and maim him to protect the community. Right, Paul? Why am I wrong?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You're absolutely right about it, and I think the point here is that people who support Snowden, and he's got his followers and he - there's one good thing has come out of this. He has exposed how much surveillance is going on domestically in the United States. What he has done that constitutes, I think, a terrible crime is with respect to overseas surveillance and espionage, which the U.S. is perfectly allowed to do under U.S. law and by the way which other countries do against us. By having all this information and potentially releasing it, compromising our intelligent sources, he's endangering the United States.

BANFIELD: I mean we are a nation of laws, aren't we? Isn't that what really sets us apart from everyone else? Sometimes you don't like the law, sometimes they don't work in your favor, but ultimately if you don't live by the law, what have you got?

CALLAN: That's why we have these laws, and that's why when we talk about civil disobedience, we talk about people who, for a principle, will violate the law, but you know what they agree to do, Like Martin Luther King? Go to jail -- not make a deal -- so there's no consequence for the actions.

BANFIELD: We could go on and on. We make deals all the time with mobsters and all the rest to try to mitigate how many people are in court and in jail and how long we have to litigate, and ultimately to get a result. I think we'll continue this conversation. Both of you, stick around if you will. We have another big story we're also following.

That is the extreme weather. Could be hitting you. The snow is falling so hard and so fast that a lot of the snow plows cannot keep up with it. That's why flights are being canceled across the country, because of the extreme weather, and that's why schools are closing, too. We'll bring you up-to-date on the latest forecast, especially for your area, and why the bitter cold is also a huge problem, too.

And then take a very close look at your screen, folks. Two guys, the banker and the accused felon. Which one is which? Quickly, make your decision. And I'm going to shock you after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Bottom of the hour now. Welcome back. It's good to have you with us.

Look at this picture behind me. There's a good chance if you're in a third of the nation, you are in the path of a dangerous winter storm. A nor'easter is expected to be at its fiercest just within a couple of hours. The bottom line here, don't be one of these folks. Stay off the roads if you don't have to be on them. The national weather service says with poor visibility, strong winds and blowing snow, it's real simple. It's a bad, bad day to travel.

Many people will have to forget about flying, too. We're constantly checking the flightaware.com website and the reports are cancellations are coming in by the minute. We are plus 1,600, folks. They just keep counting. You know something? We haven't even told you yet about the delays. More than 4,000 flights across the country are delayed. And, again, we're not at the fiercest point of the storm yet. So check if you're supposed to be going anywhere. If you don't really have to, don't.

Want to bring back in Ted Rowlands in Naperville, Illinois where it is really cold and snowy; and meteorologist Alexandra Steele is at the CNN weather center.