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Bridge Shutdown Scandal; American Held In UAE Released

Aired January 9, 2014 - 05:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The bridge to scandal. What did Governor Chris Christie know about a plan to mess with one of the busiest bridges in the world? Was it political payback? This morning, new information and new questions about what this might mean for his presidential ambitions.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Breaking overnight, Dennis Rodman apologizing for what he says was a booze-fueled response, angry rant on CNN. Why he says his dreams of basketball diplomacy with North Korea were falling apart?

BERMAN: And a big change in the forecast heads our way, the country breaking free from the deadly deep freeze, but we have new stories of survival this morning from this historic cold snap. Indra Petersons tracking what's coming next.


ROMANS (on-camera): Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN (on-camera): And I'm John Berman. It is 31 minutes past the hour right now.

ROMANS: All right. There are calls for a federal investigation this morning into a political scandal involving New Jersey's governor, Chris Christie, a superstar in the Republican Party who has long prided himself on working with Democrats and has long been considered a frontrunner for the 2016 presidential race. Now, he is entangled in a New Jersey controversy involving a local mayor and the George Washington Bridge, one of the busiest bridges in the world.

Last year, as Christie ran for re-election, many Democrats endorsed him, but not the mayor of Fort Lee. Then, back in September, suddenly, without any notice, two of the three lanes from Fort Lee to that bridge, that important, busy bridge, were shut down in rush hour traffic, closed for days, leading to a traffic nightmare. Even paramedics couldn't get to people in trouble, leading, reportedly, to a 21-year-old -- sorry 91-year-old woman dying.

Governor Christie has long denied any connection to what happened. He insisted no one in his office had anything to do with it, but two of his appointees at the agency that runs the bridge have resigned. And now, e-mails show a top aide in Christie's office wrote to one of those appointees in the weeks before the bridge shut down writing, quote, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." The mayor of Fort Lee is furious.


MARK SOKOLICH, MAYOR OF FORT LEE, NEW JERSEY: You cannot close down the busiest bridge in the world for political retribution. It's not something that's possible. You have intentionally put people in harm's way. You knew that before you did it, you knew that when Fort Lee called 20, 30, 40 times, you knew that when I kept sending text after text and calling cell phone after cell phone.

You always knew that, because we were telling you that that was happening. Do me a favor, don't call me, but call the families who were waiting three, four times longer for emergency service agencies when their loved ones were having heart palpitations or when their loved ones had extreme chest pains and were waiting for our ambulance corps to arrive.

Do me a favor, call and apologize to thousands of families whose kids were late for the first day of school and the three or four days that ensued thereafter. Call our police department and call our administrators in the school system that had to deal with this. Call the folks that had to deal with traffic Armageddon here that week.

Don't call me. It's not -- you don't have to call me. I give you a pass. Don't call me, but call those families, call those kids, and call everybody else, because Fort Lee didn't deserve it. We didn't deserve it.


ROMANS: Christie has released a statement saying, quote, "I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge. One thing is clear, this type of behavior is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better."

One of Christie's appointees will appear before a state committee today. It's not clear if Christie, himself, may speak out today, but a lot of people want him to go beyond that statement, that paper statement, and they want to hear him, you know, look in the camera, talk to people from New Jersey, and explain exactly what happened.

BERMAN: Yes. He's going to have to speak out loud about that. I would not be surprised to hear him talk today. It can't last much longer. And of course, Democrats control the legislature in New Jersey, so there will be investigations.

ROMANS: Oh, yes.

BERMAN: There already are. There will be hearings. There already are. So, he's got to get out in front of this, get out as much information as he can, as quickly as he can.

All right. Thirty-four minutes after the hour.


BERMAN (voice-over): Breaking overnight, he says he's sorry. He, of course, Dennis Rodman, issuing a detailed apology this morning about his angry, bizarre, come up with any word you'd like, his "Twilight Zone" interview with CNN's "NEW DAY."

ROMANS (voice-over): Turns out it was drunken.

BERMAN: Exactly. A day after he serenaded Kim Jong-Un before a basketball game in honor of the North Korean dictator's birthday -- that's what happened yesterday. You'll recall that Rodman was asked by our very own Chris Cuomo about Kenneth Bae, the American held in North Korea for more than a year and whether he should be advocating for his release.

Rodman suggested that, well, Rodman suggested that Chris didn't know why Kenneth was being held in North Korea. Well, now, Rodman is apologizing to Bae's family and to Chris for this interview. In a statement from his publicist, Rodman blames this on a stressful day. He says he'd been drinking and some of the players with him were threatening to leave.

This is what the statement says. He says "It's not an excuse, but by the time the interview happened, I was upset. I was overwhelmed. It's not an excuse, it's just the truth," he says. "I embarrassed a lot of people. I'm very sorry. At this point, I should know better than to make political statements." Rodman closes by saying, "I am truly sorry."


ROMANS (on-camera): I'm interested in the fact that the pressure from families and business associates of some of the other former players. You know, I keep wondering, how do they know they're safe there? You know, an elderly American tourist was held there recently and released. You've got Kenneth Bae there.

You've got a regime that is known to starve its own people. Human rights violations widely reported. How do they know they're safe? I can see why there'd be pressure from families.

BERMAN: You know, best not to do drunken interviews when someone's life is on the line, either.

ROMANS: All right. Changes could be soon coming to how the NSA conducts its surveillance programs.


ROMANS (voice-over): President Obama said to be closer to making his decision about how to go forward, meeting Wednesday with key members of his intelligence team, and today, with Congressional leaders to discuss reforms. Last month, a group of outside experts appointed by the White House said the NSA programs should be reformed or stopped and that more oversight was necessary.

BERMAN (voice-over): The White House is firing back at what former defense secretary, Robert Gates, is saying in his new book. His scathing criticism is directed both at the president and vice president. Gates saying the president lost faith in his own Afghan war strategy, and he calls the vice president wrong on almost every major foreign policy issue over the last 40 years. The administration's response? A hardy endorsement of Joe Biden.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president and the rest of us here simply just disagree with that assessment. As a senator and as a vice president, Joe Biden has been one of the leading statesmen of his time and he has been an excellent counselor and adviser to the president for the past five years.


BERMAN: The book will not be officially released until next week, although, the excerpts are everywhere.

ROMANS: Yes, they are.

All right. The battle over extending jobless benefits returning to the Senate today where majority leader, Harry Reid, may try to force a procedural vote on a bill that would restore money for more than a million Americans whose checks have been cut off. Those checks about 300 bucks a week. But many Republicans, including some who backed an earlier vote, say they won't sign on.

They will not do it, unless, lawmakers come up for a way to pay for it. It's about $6.4 billion, the cost for this, and the White House has really lobbied hard for it.

The deep freeze that turned much of the country into an ice box growing deadlier. The death toll from the cold now up to 23. Many of those deaths a result of traffic accidents, snow shoveling, or simply exposure to the elements. The good news, though, is that temperatures are now rising. What a difference from earlier in the week when they were barely above zero.

BERMAN: You know, one of the hardest hit areas, Western New York, there is finally a chance to dig out after days and days of heavy snow. Just look at that picture! That is crazy! Several feet of accumulation blanketed that region. Now, the worry is flooding as all that snow melts, but the icy roads and bad weather meant that everyone had their own horror stories.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pennsylvania's awful. Harrisburg was a sheet of ice. It was a slip and slide, the road, essentially. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's been bad because of the freeze that started everything, like, for instance, my house, the pipe busted in the house. So, I've been at my parents' for three days.


ROMANS: Wow. Hell has frozen over. This is the scene in Hell, Michigan, a town of 600 northwest of Ann Arbor that's been digging out from up to two feet of snow. They're still battling subzero temperatures. And check out this, slippery mess on I-94 and the lodge freeway in downtown Detroit. A water main break turning the roads into a sheet of ice, forcing officials to shut down the interstate into the night.

BERMAN: In Indiana, a truck driver is lucky to be alive this morning after being pinned to ice underneath his truck. This happened Monday when he got out to check on his brakes. The truck shifted suddenly. He got stuck. Luckily, his phone fell out of his pocket and he was able to make a call for help.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It caught my left side and my left arm was pinned by the axle of the truck. I wound up being froze to the pavement in the snow. I remember saying, I said, "whoever this is, whatever you do, don't hang up the phone." If they hung up the phone, it was going to be my last chance to talk to anybody. It's amazing to me. It's better than winning the lottery.


ROMANS: Another chance. Wow.

BERMAN: Amazing. Just amazing.


ROMANS (on-camera): Indra Petersons, what should we expect for today?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I'm starting with temperatures, because that was the big story the last several days, and because they're going up. Things are improving. Now, today, a few places still have below-normal temperatures, but it doesn't matter, considering they have rebounded significantly compared to the last few days.

And as soon as you get towards the weekend, it gets oh so much better. Starting in the Midwest, you'll see that recovery first as well as into the south as the jet stream kind of lifts farther to the north. So, take a look. New York City still three degrees above normal by Friday, Minneapolis 12 degrees above normal, then by Saturday, everyone is seeing that recovery.

Notice New York City almost 20 degrees above normal. Same thing with D.C. You're looking at 60s for the weekend. So, it looks great out there. Just keep in mind it is warm, but there's also going to be some showers into the forecast. Today, a weak little system producing some icing in the morning around Arkansas, kind of making its way in through Memphis. That dissipates quickly. Another system right behind it does start to move in. The key here is look at the low.

We're getting warmth off of the gulf, the high that brought the cold air still in the back side of it, pulling the winds out of the south. That's the reason everyone's warming up, but also the showers are going to be moving into the Midwest. Then by the weekend, that second system will make its way into the northeast, so more rain here as well, but regardless.

BERMAN: I like how you call it a weak, little system, demeaning the weather patterns moving this way.


PETERSONS: Sorry, yes. Little guy.


BERMAN: Indra, appreciate it.

ROMANS: Thanks, Indra.

Coming up, freedom finally coming to an American thrown behind bars for posting a parody on YouTube. The very latest on this developing story from Abu Dhabi. We're live when we come back.


BERMAN: All right. We have breaking news from the Middle East right now where the American man arrested over this parody video has now been released after nine months in jail. Sara Sidner is in Abu Dhabi with the latest -- Sara.

SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, yes, Shezanne Cassim has spent nine months in jail. His family has been fighting to get him out of jail with the help after they went public of Hollywood A-list comedians like Will Ferrell and a U.S. senator and the governor of Minnesota where Shezanne Cassim is from. This has been quite an ordeal for the family, a lot of people calling for his release. Finally, the release did happen.

The UAE, however, sentenced him to one year in prison, a 10,000 dirham fine for what they said was a video that defamed the UAE abroad. That was the charge that he was convicted of, along with four other men, two of them from here in the UAE. We understand that he has definitely been released. He was taken to an area for deportation and he is, we suspect, on a plane now heading for home.

This has been a long, long ordeal for him. As you might imagine, he came here hoping to make it big in a city that is growing and everyone in the Middle East looks at as a huge business hub and opportunity, but he's going home now after an ordeal he never thought would happen to him -- John. BERMAN: Yes. I can't imagine anyone thinks something like this will happen to him. We are happy for him and his family that he is being released. Sara Sidner for us in Abu Dhabi, thank you so much.

ROMANS: All right. A deadly helicopter crash has claimed the lives of at least two sailors.


ROMANS (voice-over): Their navy chopper went down in the Atlantic near Norfolk, Virginia. There were five crew members on board the "Sea Dragon." One is still missing. The chopper was taking part in a training mission when it had to make a water landing. This happens the day after an air force helicopter crash off England, killing four airmen. The investigation into that crash is ongoing.

BERMAN (voice-over): Tucson paused Wednesday to remember the 19 victims of that mass shooting that happened there three years ago. Six people were killed and 13 wounded, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who was shot in the head. Giffords marked the anniversary by completing a tandem skydive. Look at that. Just another step in her remarkable recovery. Just yesterday, she reported she has now regained movement in her right arm.

ROMANS: Jahi McMath, the 13-year-old California girl declared brain- dead, is now receiving food and air through tubes. An attorney for her family says doctors completed the procedures on Wednesday at the facility where she was taken earlier this week. McMath suffered complications after tonsil surgery last month, but doctors and a court have declared her legally dead.

But the family insists they want more time to see if she recovers. Their attorney now claims doctors believe she is improving.

BERMAN: A meeting with a judge today for a special prosecutor looking into a controversial Missouri rape case. The prosecutor's investigating Daisy Coleman's claims that she was sexually assaulted at a party and then the charges were dropped because the accused perpetrator was politically connected. Coleman was taken to a hospital this week after her mother says she tried to commit suicide after being bullied online.

ROMANS: The International Space Station may get a reprieve. The Obama administration says it now thinks the orbiting research complex should continue to operate until the year 2024, four years longer than planned. That's a big deal, because some of the private companies developing space programs were not sure if they'd have a place to land their cargo if the ISS was defunded. Of course, Congress still has to have a say. The station program costs about $3 billion a year.


BERMAN (on-camera): All right. Let's take a look at what's coming up on "NEW DAY."

ROMANS: Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan join us this morning. Hi, guys. KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, you guys. A lot going on, as you know. We're following the huge traffic scandal, you guys have been talking about as well, plaguing New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, this morning, and the growing calls for a federal investigation by some.

When will we actually hear Christie speak? Growing calls for that. And what will we learn in new hearings that will be happening this morning? We're looking at every angle with guests as well -- and we're going to have a panel on that as well.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And we have breaking news overnight regarding North Korea and Dennis Rodman. He's apologizing. He feels that his outburst was out of line. He'd been drinking. He's stressed. He had a lot of people coming after him. He was just trying to do the right thing there and he lost it. He apologizes to his teammates, to those who were offended, he apologizes to us.

That's all very nice, but he's also with the ruler again there. So, we're going to dig into what sparked his apology and we're going to talk to one of the wives of one of the players on the team who went there with him, Cliff Robinson's wife, Heather, and what that team knew when they were going into North Korea and assess the responsibility there as well.

BERMAN: Yes, sorry's fine. It's everything else that's surrounding it that really matters. Chris, thank you so much. Kate, see you in a bit.


BERMAN: Coming up for us next, if you've applied for a loan lately, you've seen how tough it can be to actually get one. Well, new rules may make it even harder. Uh-oh. The details in "Money Time," coming up next.


ROMANS: We're hours away from the opening bell, but it's never too early for "Money Time." Welcome back to EARLY START. A stock futures climbing Macy's stock moving higher in the premarket. The big department store raised its profit target, says it's going to make more money than it's expected, but it's cutting 2,500 jobs, closing stores, realigning departments.

Those moves will save Macy's $100 million a year. Investors love it. Macy's stock is up five percent in premarket trade.

New mortgage rules take effect tomorrow, meant to offer consumers more information and more protection. It could also mean getting a home loan could be tougher, depending on who you are. These new rules require lenders to make a good faith, reasonable effort to determine if you can pay back your loan. Sounds reasonable, but guess what? In the run-up to the financial crisis, lenders didn't do that, and it turned out to be very, very dangerous for everyone. Loan officers and mortgage brokers now have to follow conflict of interest rules. That means anyone you pay to help you find a mortgage can't be paid by someone else, and you're going to get clearer information on your monthly payments. If you see a problem, the servicer must respond to your written inquiries quickly.

There are a lot of new protections in here, but some concerns maybe it could lead to a little bit longer to process a home loan. And if you don't have sterling credit, you might be shut out. Now, maybe you wouldn't expect to find a really hot car at the Consumer Electronics Show. What's so consumer electronics about cars? Everything. And let me show you this one. This is for how the other half lives, boasting --


ROMANS: -- a 50,000 -- OK, the other 0.1 of the top one percent. $50,000 high-tech stereo system. This Lamborghini can go from 0 to 60 in less than three seconds. Top speed of 220 miles an hour. It will cost you, John Berman, $4.5 million. Only nine will be produced, so get your order in.

BERMAN: Do you want to hear my problem with Lamborghinis?

ROMANS: What color do you want? You wanted it red?

BERMAN: They're like a foot high. You have to lie down and like roll over to get into those cars. So, they may be, you know, great sound systems that go really fast, but you can't get in unless you're a gymnast.

ROMANS: You know what the problem is with Lamborghinis? You say that as if you've driven so many of them.


BERMAN: No, no. I mean, you see them like on the streets and it's like crazy. How do you get in?

ROMANS: Yes. The Maserati's much better.


BERMAN: All right. Coming up for us next, some serious news, a deadly shooting on a Pennsylvania highway has authorities hunting for a killer and asking, could it happen again? We'll have the story coming up next.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. Authorities in Pennsylvania are on the hunt for a killer this morning, suspected of opening fire on Interstate 81 just north of the Maryland State line and killing Timothy Davidson, who called police early Saturday morning saying someone was following him and shooting. Whoever it was, they apparently rammed his car into the median, got out and fired several rounds into the disabled vehicle. The worry is this may not be an isolated incident.


TROOPER ROB HICKS, PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE: While the incident appears to be random, it was still very deliberate, it was still very calculated, and it was still very violent. Due to the fact that we've had a similar case with the same mode of operation, we are concerned that this individual could strike again.


BERMAN: And coming up on "NEW DAY," you will hear the police dispatch calls on this issue. That's coming up in the seven o'clock hour.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks for joining us this morning. "NEW DAY" starts right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the story's beyond belief. You don't hold people hostage for whatever political reason.

CUOMO: Bridge to trouble. Scandal ignites overnight for Chris Christie. Hearings held today after incriminating e-mails surface suggesting that governor's office did punish a political foe (ph). Will it affect his political future?

BOLDUAN: Breaking overnight, Dennis Rodman apologizes, saying he shouldn't have attacked Kenneth Bae and even apologizing to Chris Cuomo. And look at this, new video of Rodman with Kim Jong-Un.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Super lawsuit. An NFL fan taking on the league saying Super Bowl tickets just too expansive costing thousands of dollars and that pricing is illegal. Does he have a chance of winning?

CUOMO: Your "NEW DAY" starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is "NEW DAY" with Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan, and Michaela Pereira.


CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to "NEW DAY." It's Thursday, January 9th, six o'clock in the east. And the Chris Christie camp is in crisis mode this morning. The bridge to political payback scandal just got real. The New Jersey governor is facing hearings, potential investigations that could, could derail any shot at higher office. Here, look at the headlines. He's getting it from right and he's getting it from the left.

Chris is in a jam. Hold it up. Thank you very much. That chance is what the "Daily News" is now saying obviously talking about political ambitions for the presidency. So, that is the height.