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Terrorism Threatens Winter Olympics; Iran to Join Peace Talks?; Iran Nuclear Deal; Broncos versus Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII

Aired January 20, 2014 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Olympics in danger. A new video promises violence and raises fresh, serious security concerns. Will the winter games be safe?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The bridge scandal deepens. New accusations against Chris Christie and his administration this morning about their handling of Superstorm Sandy funds. Was another New Jersey mayor threatened with political payback?

BERMAN: Just two remain. Amazing games set up a supersized Super Bowl. We'll have all the highlights, plus what happened after the final whistle that has everyone talking this morning.

ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Great to see you this Monday, it is January 20th, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

ROMANS: All right. Up first, with the Olympic Games -- winter games in Sochi, Russia now just 18 days away, there are new questions this morning about whether the athletes and the spectators will be safe.

A new video posted by Islamic militants claims responsibility for last month's deadly terrorist bombings in the city of Volgograd, threatens next month's games as well. Russian President Vladimir Putin says they'll do their utmost to keep Sochi safe.

This happening as the Olympic torch relay goes through Volgograd this morning.

CNN's Phil Black is there. He joins us live by phone.

What's the latest?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Well, Christine, the Olympic flame arrived here in Volgograd, coming into the train station just three weeks after terrorists walked into that same station building and blew himself up, killing 18 people. There was another attack the next day that killed 16 people. And now, only yesterday, this video has surfaced featuring two men who claim responsibility for that attack and more ominously promise there will be more to come, especially during the Olympics themselves.

They say they have prepared what they describe as a present for Russians, for tourists who will be in Sochi during the games. They say they have a long list of people who are prepared to support them and take part in the actions that they have planned and that all of this is in response to the blood of innocent Muslims which they say has been spilled around the world.

It is just the latest indication that there are still terrorists in this country with the determination, and perhaps the capability, to exploit the international focus that will be on Russia during that two-week period -- Christine.

ROMANS: And part of that international focus will be American athletes and also American tourists.

How are U.S. officials reacting, Phil?

BLACK: There is real concern among some and the concern is that the Russian message that their security preparations are thorough, that everything is set to go, that the Olympics will be safe, well, that that may not match the reality on the ground. Take a listen.


REP. MIKE ROGERS (R), MICHIGAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIR: So what we're finding is, they're not giving us the full story about what are the threat streams, who do we need to worry about. Are those groups, the terrorist groups who have had some success, are they still plotting?

You know, there's a missing gap, and you never want that when you go into something I think as important as the Olympic Games.

SEN. ANGUS KING JR. (I), MAINE: I would not go. And I don't think I would send my family.


BLACK: And defense analysts will tell you even if the Russians are successfully locking down Sochi, they cannot lock down the whole country. And the lesson of the bombings here in Volgograd is that there remain other vulnerable targets across this country which cannot thoroughly be protected during the Olympics -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Phil Black for us this morning in Volgograd, Russia. Thanks, Phil.

BERMAN: Pretty interesting to hear U.S. officials, leaders saying they would not go to the Olympics right now given the security situation, and some of them were preview to briefings so pretty substantial.

Here at home, we have some breaking developments this morning concerning another allegation of political payback against New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Did the governor and his team withhold Sandy relief funds to a key city as political payback?

We are expected to hear a response in a few hours from Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno. Breaking overnight, a source tells CNN she will categorically deny the claim by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer that officials threatened to withhold hurricane relief money from Hoboken if she did not support a key re-development project.

Zimmer told our Candy Crowley that the lieutenant governor was delivering a direct message from Christie.


MAYOR DAWN ZIMMER (D), HOBOKEN, NEW JERSEY: You have -- you know, the Christie administration using their authority to try and get something. I don't know what they were trying to get in the bridgegate but I do know what they were trying to get in Hoboken. They were holding our Sandy funds hostage in order to get pushed through and expedite the Rockefeller project.


BERMAN: Now that mayor, Dawn Zimmer, says she met Sunday with investigators from the U.S. Attorney's office.

ROMANS: New this morning there are doubts about a cyber security firm's claim that a 17-year-old Russian teenager was behind the malware used in the massive Target hack attack. IntelCrawler says the teen authored the malware and sold it but didn't carry out the breach. But the Internet blogger who broke the Target data breach story disputes a report that the teen is the key suspect.

As many as 110 million Target shoppers had either their credit card or their personal information compromised and it's feared more retailers and customers were hit.

BERMAN: Breaking news this morning, the Associated Press reporting that American Kenneth Bae now jailed in North Korea is pleading with the U.S. government to help secure his release. Bae has been held in North Korea for more than a year. According to the AP, Bae spoke in a news conference he called at his own request.

Bae was arrested back in November 2012 while leading a tour group. He was accused of crimes against the state of North Korea and sent to 15 years hard labor. He was moved to a hospital last year due to his poor health.

Speaking out now, interesting that the North Koreans are allowing that to be made public this morning.

ROMANS: All right. Developing this morning, just when you thought it was safe to put away the igloo, temperatures across much of the Midwest and the northeast expected to plummet to near zero and well below this week in a deep freeze reminiscent of what we just went through a short couple of weeks ago.

Indra Petersons is here with the frosty forecast for us.

Hi, Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. I'm going to start with the good news. It's going to be cold but not as bad as what it was a few weeks ago. So I've got to give you a little upside here but nonetheless yes, a couple of clippers are going to be making their way through. You can actually see some of the light snow shower as the systems are making their way through. And yes, the temperatures are going to be going down.

So let's take a look at what's actually out there. Here's the first up again today. We're seeing some light showers. That's not really the big one we're going to be watching as much as the second one because note these clippers typically very dry. They're coming over to Canada. But this second one sort of pull all this moisture off the ocean so by tomorrow places like New York City and D.C. could see even as much as four if not eight inches of snow.

Take a look at the winter weather watches and advisories we have already right now. And now let's talk about those totals. So definitely this is some very recent forecasts. You really up in D.C. anywhere from three to six inches of snow. New York City, Florida, eight inches of snow, and even around Minneapolis, one to two inches, Fargo two to four inches, so yes, it's snow and then the cold air. There we go. That's that pattern, that cold arctic air making its way farther to the south and to the east.

So take a look at these temperature differences. Notice New York City will be going from 44 down to 20. Not single digits like a week ago but either way Chicago, yes, they are going to be seeing the single digits. But remember they were seeing sub-zero temperatures. So yes, the chill is here. But I have to give that perspective not as bad. But a lot more snow with it this time at least for New York City and D.C.

ROMANS: Kids will love it.

BERMAN: Suspicious.


PETERSONS: Someone will.

ROMANS: Thanks, Indra.

BERMAN: All right. Developing this morning, heads of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are giving mixed reaction to the president's proposed NSA reforms. Republican Congressman Mike Rogers told CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" that too many of the president's ideas breed uncertainty and it's already affecting the ability to protect Americans.

Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein also voiced concern about storing phone metadata with a third party saying a system with more delays getting information could be harmful.


SEN. DIANE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: That's a very difficult thing because the whole purpose of this program is to provide instantaneous information to be able to disrupt any plot that may be taking place.


BERMAN: Congressman Rogers also questions if Edward Snowden had help from the Russians when he leaked classified documents that led to the NSA fallout.

ROMANS: Overnight a service member from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force was killed in an attack on a base in Afghanistan. Officials say a suicide car bomb hit the base as well as enemy forces with small arms fire. There's some damage to the base. No other details have been released.

BERMAN: Also breaking overnight, a powerful earthquake hitting parts of New Zealand. The 6.3 magnitude quake struck the country's north island some 75 miles or so from the capital of Wellington. It reportedly shook buildings and knocked out power to parts of the region. So far no reports of any casualties.

ROMANS: U.S. markets are closed today in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Stocks essentially flat so far this year. Markets are opening. Europe, London, Paris and Frankfurt are lower right now. The trading day has finished in Tokyo. The Nikkei closed down nearly 93 points.

And it's a happy hour in Asia right now and a perfect time to talk about another big liquor deal. Just last Monday we had Japan's Suntory buying Jim Beam for $16 billion. This Monday we've got another big beer deal. The world's largest brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev, the owner of Budweiser here in the U.S., agreeing to buy South Korea's Oriental Brewery Company for $5.8 billion. That's a big deal.

Oriental is South Korea's biggest brewer have been bought by private equity firms KKR and Infinity Equity Partners back in 2009 for $1.8. You can do the math. They're selling it for five something billion. That's a $4 billion profit.

BERMAN: That's good.

ROMANS: In just a couple of years. Something investors should be able to drink to.

BERMAN: Everyone wants the booze.

ROMANS: I know. Two --

BERMAN: I'd like to do the market research there for those companies.

ROMANS: Two big -- I'm telling you right -- yes. Right.


I'm telling you right now there's big demand around the world for booze.

BERMAN: I'm shocked. Shocking --


ROMANS: That's what it is.

BERMAN: Today, by the way, is Martin Luther King Jr.'s -- it's the holiday. And it marks five years since President Obama took office. Later today he and the first lady will participate in several day of service events.

The vice president will spend the holiday delivering key note remarks at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast held by Al Sharpton's National Action Network in Washington, D.C.

ROMANS: Words have a lot of people buzzing this morning. The president weighing in on the legalization and dangers of marijuana.

In an interview with the "New Yorker," the president gave a surprising new perspective saying, quote, "As has been well documented, I spoke pot as a kid. And I view it as a bad habit and a vice. Not very different from the cigarettes that I smoke as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol."

But the president said he told his daughters he doesn't think they should use marijuana because he said it's a bad idea, a waste of time and not very healthy.

I can tell you the pro-pot lobby immediately jumped on those remarks and said, you know, less dangerous than alcohol and said that it's a real -- it's a real wind in their sails for them. For more states legalizing.

BERMAN: Yes. It wasn't an endorsement. He didn't say go out and smoke pot but it was interesting that the president said not more dangerous than alcohol. This is a 17,000-word interview.

ROMANS: It was a big --

BERMAN: Published in the "New Yorker."

ROMANS: I think it was a series of interviews, right? That they put all together.

BERMAN: A series of interviews over months but it was a fascinating article to read.

The president also talked about football. He said he won't let his son play football.

ROMANS: That's right.

BERMAN: Which is also really interesting.

ROMANS: He doesn't have a son.

BERMAN: He does not -- his hypothetical son. He's never borne any son. All right. Coming up, Iran's landmark nuclear deal now underway, but new this morning fresh questions about whether the country is putting Syrian peace talks in jeopardy. We are live overseas covering every angle of this developing story.

And a fresh face debuts on "SNL." So how did their newest and highly anticipated cast member do? We're going to take a look.


ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START.

A possible stumbling block for peace talks on Syria. Overnight, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon invited Iran to the talks, set to start Wednesday in Geneva, but the move has drawn strong objections.

Nick Paton Walsh is live in Beirut following the latest for us.

What can you tell us, Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, over the weekend, there was some sense, a kind of muted celebration that the Syrian opposition had agreed to attend these peace talks in Geneva, the first real talks of their kind during this, for now, many three-yearlong, brutal civil war. But simply, just as that joy had begun to establish itself, Ban Ki-Moon extended this invitation to Iran.

Now the U.S. has been staunchly against Iran's attendance, as has the Syrian opposition. Iran says they won't accept the main precondition that most parties have for their attendance, which is that they will be willing to discuss a government to replace the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. That's, of course, something which Bashar al-Assad has been staunchly against, and in fact, he repeated suggestions he wasn't even going to be interested in talking about stepping down.

An interview with the -- foreign press news agency just on Sunday but released earlier on today saying he might stand for re-election again. So just when people had begun to think those talks could happen on Wednesday, they seem to be falling apart. The Syrian opposition saying they're suspending their decision to actually attend.

Iran, perhaps, also trying to put on a positive face, saying it's suspending some enrichment of uranium as part of the nuclear deal, but really, many wondering if these vital talks on Syria can actually still go ahead in Geneva Wednesday -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Nick Paton Walsh in Beirut for us. Thanks, Nick.

BERMAN: And this morning there was a whole lot going on in this region, especially with Iran. While Iran may pose problems for these talks over Syria, the landmark nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers is now under way. This is an interim agreement under which Tehran promises to limit uranium enrichment in exchange for economic sanctions being eased. So it is, in effect, as of this morning, CNN's Reza Sayah is monitoring developments. Reza, what is the latest?

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Watershed day, John, for Iran, Washington and the world powers. Remember, all sides agreed on an interim nuclear deal back in November. Today that deal is put into action. All sides start doing what they promised they'd do on paper. For Iran, that means halting 20 percent enriched uranium and diluting its current stockpile.

According to state media, that process started within the past hour. With this, technically, Iran will not be able to produce the fuel necessary to make a nuclear bomb. International inspectors arrived in Iran a couple of days ago. They will verify that the process is taking place in the coming hours.

Iran also agreeing not to commission its heavy water reactor, another potential source for nuclear fuel. Iran also agreeing for daily inspections by international inspectors. In return, they get sanctions relief worth roughly $7 billion. This deal will be in place for six months while all sides agree on a tougher, permanent deal.

In the meantime, look for opponents, critics of this deal, Israel, the U.S. Congress, to continue to sound the alarm that this is not a good deal, John. But increasingly they seem to be in the minority.

BERMAN: There has been so much talk about whether it is a good deal or a bad deal. But no question it is an historic deal and the implementation beginning just minutes ago.

Reza Sayah following the developments for us this morning. Thanks so much.

And new for us this morning, three Americans killed in a Taliban attack in a restaurant in Kabul this weekend, they've now been identified. Two of them, Lexie Kamerman and Alexandros Peterson, worked at the American University in Afghanistan. The third American victim, Basra Hassan, was with UNICEF.

Afghans turned out for a rally Sunday denouncing terrorism. In all 21 people died in this restaurant attack.

ROMANS: Developing this morning officials say a massive wildfire that erupted just outside of Los Angeles Thursday destroying several homes, they say it's now nearly 80 percent contained. Hundreds of residents who were forced to flee the spreading blaze have returned home now. The L.A. County Fire Department says full containment of the Colby Fire expected Wednesday but bone-dry conditions keeping the region under threat.

BERMAN: The dry conditions in California forcing Governor Jerry Brown to declare a drought emergency. Reservoir throughout the state are at dangerously low levels. You've seen these pictures. Just what a mess it is.

The governor called for a voluntary 20 percent reduction in water use by the public, businesses and government agencies. And it is likely that stricter mandatory conservation programs will be implemented. Last year was the driest in 119 years. 119 years in California.

ROMANS: With the push of a button a 14-storey tower in downtown Greenville, South Carolina, turned to rubble. Watch.

It took 17 seconds and 700 explosives to bring down Scott Towers. The public housing building was leveled to make way for new apartments. It was the tallest building ever imploded in the city. The contractor called the demolition perfect.

BERMAN: What could be better than a good implosion. I love a good implosion. Actually, you know what pictures better than a good implosion? This. Bao Bao, the panda cub. The National Zoo in Washington opening for extended hours through today so visitors can see the five-month-old bouncing baby there. She met her adoring public for the first time on Saturday.

Bao Bao, which means precious indeed in Mandarin, was conceived by artificial insemination. It was born in August.

That seems private, you know. I wonder if Bao Bao accepts that everyone knows that. The panda house will be open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. And you could always tune in to the panda cam on the National Zoo Web site. We just ask that you do it after EARLY START.


ROMANS: "Saturday Night Live's" newest cast member made her debut over the weekend with a few notable performances.


SASHEER ZAMATA, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": Dad, get out of here. You're embarrassing me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry, my little angel. I just wanted to stop by and gossip with the ladies.

ZAMATA: No, Dad. I'm here. I told you to sit in the bathroom all night. Go away.


ROMANS: Twenty-seven-year-old Sasheer Zamata, a former Upright Citizen Brigade performer, is the first black female cast member since 2007. During Zamata's debut she showed the -- you know, the range of characters she could play including that Rihanna impression. She also hired -- she's hired earlier this month in a widespread criticism of the show's lack of diversity.

BERMAN: It was a long time coming. Actually I was awake for the beginning of "Saturday Night Live" but then quickly fell asleep because it turns out -- it turns out it starts very, very late on Saturday night.


But I'm glad she's on the show now.

Coming up for us, Super Bowl XLVIII is set. We will tell you who's in, who's out, how they got there, how they went home. Plus I got to say a post-game moment that everyone is talking about this morning. It is shocking, folks. That's coming up in our "Bleacher Report."


ROMANS: So I watched a lot of football yesterday.

BERMAN: Yes -- you did not?

ROMANS: I did.

BERMAN: Look, I'm in recovery this morning. I mean --

ROMANS: I know. I thought of you. I was thinking of you.

BERMAN: A lot of America in recovery this morning after championship Sunday. The Super Bowl is set. The Denver Broncos will take on the Seattle Seahawks on February 2nd in New Jersey's MetLife Stadium.

Andy Scholes has all the game action for us. Plus the post-game action which is what a lot of people are talking about today.

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: Yes, that's right. Good morning, guys.

You know, the Super Bowl, it should be a great game. You're going to have Peyton Manning and the NFL's number one offense on one side and then you're going to have Richard Sherman in the Seahawks' top rated defense on the other.

Now everyone is talking this morning about Sherman's antics. As you said, John, after yesterday's win over the 49ers. Now the Seahawks, this is a great game. They took the lead in the 4th quarter, Russell Wilson finds Jermaine Kearse, this is on 4th and 7th, goes for the touchdown, gain Seattle lead. Now the Niners were driving to win the game in the closing seconds.

Colin Kaepernick passed to Michael Crabtree, though, bad in a way by Sherman and it's picked off. A great play and Sherman, he lets Crabtree and everyone else know how great it was. He even was going to throw the choke sign at the Niners' bench but he didn't stop there. In his post-game interview on the field, he said, "I'm the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you're going to get."

Then in his post-game news conference, Sherman, he kept going, he addressed his wonderful fans on social media.


RICHARD SHERMAN, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS CORNERBACK: I'd like to also say something to the a-hole fans that write on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and talk crap. Because we appreciate the motivation. We appreciate it. You helped us win this game. So thank you very much. Appreciate it.


SCHOLES: All right. He should be fun on Super Bowl media day.

In the AFC championship game, Peyton Manning was as dominant as ever. He threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns while yelling Omaha 31 times. Now the Patriots, they try to make this game interesting play but when they needed to they just couldn't stop Peyton. Broncos get the win, 26-16.

So for just the second time in the last 20 years, the NFL's top seed from each conference will square off in the Super Bowl. Broncos and Seahawks, Sunday, February 2nd, at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

And, guys, the Broncos, they are a two-point favorite in this one and Peyton Manning, he's trying to become the first quarterback ever to win the Super Bowl for two different teams.

BERMAN: They're very good teams. Look, I'm sad about the Patriots but the Broncos were the better team yesterday to be sure.

Andy Scholes, thank you so much.

ROMANS: Top headlines, everything you need to know for the day including new threats to the Winter Olympic Games right after the break.


ROMANS: Olympics in the crosshairs. A new video and a new threat to attack the Winter Games. Will thousands of athletes and tourists be safe?

BERMAN: New accusations against Governor Chris Christie. A mayor claims the Christie team used Superstorm Sandy funds as a political weapon. We have breaking news over night about the response.

ROMANS: Brace yourself. Brace yourself.