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EARLY START

Terrorism and Security Concerns Plague Sochi; Former Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell And Wife Indicted On Federal Corruption Charges; Winter Storm Creates Chaos For Millions; Travel Troubles; Syria Peace Talks

Aired January 22, 2014 - 04:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The Northeast buried this morning. More than a foot of snow falling in some places. This brutal winter storm shutting down schools, offices, roads, grounding thousands of planes.

Indra Petersons is outside tracking the storm in Boston. Rene Marsh keeping us updated on the thousands of flight cancellations from Washington, D.C. And I am live in the cold streets of New York where I've got to say the snow is everywhere.

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

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans. It's a very warm studio upstairs. It is Wednesday, January 22nd. And it's 5:00 a.m. in the East. And John's got the big story this morning.

BERMAN: Yes. So, if you are watching this, Christine, the news is, you made it! You haven't lost power, or maybe you're stuck in an airport. Whatever the option, I hope you're warm.

It snowed here in New York City more than 15 hours. You can see it all over the streets, the plows, they are at work, there is the snow when I got up today. It is cold, about 16 degrees with the wind chill. Much, much worse than that.

There's more snow down in Philadelphia. You can see the map right here giving you the totals up and down the east coast. It really has affected a large area.

In Washington, D.C., federal workers are being told to come in late this morning, or just is stay home if they can't get in. The government, however, will be open for business. It was closed on Tuesday. The D.C. area got around six inches of snow which is an awful lot for Washington, D.C. Roads there were slick.

Take a look at these pictures from Alexandria of Virginia showing a car get spinning out on the D.C. beltway. Bad stuff there and a fatal accident in Landover, Maryland. Both of these are being blamed on the bad driving conditions.

Temperatures there are plunging. The temperatures will be the story for the next several days. The wind chills now five to 15 below. And those wind chills and that cold make for slick, slick roads here in New York today. These pictures are from Long Island, hit hard by the storm. Ten inches of snow or so fell out there. It was hard to even walk for some people in Brooklyn here in New York with the snow falling so fast, the plows, the shovels could not keep up.

And as I said, this has really been a coastal phenomenon this morning. The charlotte area is ice cold, maybe colder an ice. Temperatures plunging to about 20 degrees as the snow fell there. And that made the driving there treacherous.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were doing 180s on the road earlier. We got behind a scraper that let us go for a little bit but it didn't work after that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right, that's North Carolina.

In Delaware, there's a state of emergency and a level one driving warning. That means just get off the road. Stay off. Well over half a foot of snow falling in parts of that state. The governor approving the deployment of the Delaware guard if emergency officials make that request.

And as I said, the cold, the big story, single-digit temperatures, and close to two feet of lake effects snow around Chicago and northwest Indiana. Massive traffic jams, late into the night, in Chicago making it difficult for plows to clear the roads. You can't push several feet of snow. There is nothing to do. No relief in sight with wind chills today and tomorrow. Get this, they will plunge to minus 25!

All right, that's the scene up and down the east coast. We're going to Indra Petersons live in Boston this morning. Keeping an eye on conditions there. What we can expect today -- Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, what an incredible 24 hours this has been. Of course, right here in Boston, we're now seeing that it's very cold out this morning. We're actually still seeing that snow as it's very close this morning.

Temperatures the arctic chill is here, temperatures about 11 degrees here, but you got to add in that wind chill. We are seeing some gusts about 30 miles per hour right now, so it's bringing it down to a good seven below. You can feel it there on your fingertips or quickly freezing out here.

Let's talk about what happened. We have this Alberta clipper. Since it was kind of dry season, it makes its way just over the upper Midwest. Kind of swing through usually dropping small amounts of snow, not this guy. We all saw what happened. This guy intersected with the Atlantic Ocean last night.

Let's talk about the amount of moisture it pulled up record-breaking snowfall. (INAUDIBLE) over a foot of snow. Jersey places of 15 inches of snow. Even there in New York City, almost a --. Now, here in Boston itself, we saw about five inches, but of course, the areas around Massachusetts also got that foot-mark of snow. And this is not over with yet. The snow is still out there. We're still talking about slight snow this morning.

But here's the good news, the low is pulling offshore and making its way to the north. But its strength at the same time, so keep in mind, the winds, they are intensifying. That is going to be cold and that arctic air blast, it's lasting for a while. We are in together guys.

BERMAN: Yes, we are in this together in a very, very cold way.

All right, Indra Petersons, so the snow is blowing sideways in Boston. Thanks, Indra.

So this storm, obviously, as you can imagine is having a major effect on travel or should we call it lack of travel. It's awfully hard to get where you're going by either in car or train or the air.

Rene Marsh live at Reagan national airport in Washington with the latest.

Rene, any improvement?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, here is the very frustrating reality. There are people who are waking up in the airport this morning. I saw them as I walked to my live shot here, snuggled up on the airport seats.

Here's what we know. We know that those boards are going to be lit up today with more cancellations, more delays. Guess what, we're already starting the day off with more than a thousand cancellations. Of course, we're going to see, because the snow is gone here, at least in D.C., we still have a lot of that cold, cold weather here. So we're going to see delays caused by some of that deicing that we're going to see at airports. We saw that today. We're going to see that again. We saw that yesterday. We're going to see that today.

Also, some of the airports really getting slammed with cancellations and delays so far this morning. We're talking about Boston, New York city airports, as well as Philadelphia. They are seeing the most cancellations at this hour. Most of these airports in the bull's-eye, they had limited operations last night, and they will continue to have limited operations this morning. Those passengers, they're not very happy. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm stuck in New York. I'm supposed to be in Atlanta. I have a business. I'm supposed to make deliveries tomorrow. I've got to figure something out. I can't get out until Thursday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It took me two hours to get to the airport. And we sat on the runway for probably an hour and they bumped us off. So now we're here. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MARSH: You know, a lot of these airline, they started these cancellations well before the snow even started to fall. And I spoke with one analyst yesterday, he said, look, when there's bad weather coming, this is going to be the new normal. So travelers get ready. Thousands will be impacted because they will continue to do these pre- cancellations. And this analyst says for good reason. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Partly because now the government fines them, when a plane is stuck on the tarmac, you have passengers without food and water for a whole long time, and it could be billions of dollars for a point. And there are millions of reasons why airlines say, you know what, we'd rather cancel lots of flights rather than perhaps have that one flight full of stranded passengers. So very much a tradeoff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARSH: So not really ending on a high note here because based on that information, it just means that the next time there's a big winter storm, expect more of these cancellations in the thousands -- John.

BERMAN: Right. That's a lovely thought, Rene Marsh at Reagan national airport.

If you are watching us at an airport this morning, we're sending you warm hugs. Hang in there.

We're going to be out here all morning in the cold, keeping an eye on the storm and the aftermath. It will be cold for a while.

Christine, back to you.

ROMANS: All right, a lot of people watching us from those airports, no doubt.

In other news, John, former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and his wife have been officially indicted on federal corruption charges. The couple is accused of accepting thousands of dollars of gifts and loans from the head of a indict tear supplement company who wanted help promoting his products. At his news conference, McDonnell said he did nothing illegal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB MCDONNELL, FORMER VIRGINIA GOVERNOR: I never promised and Mr. Williams and his company never received any government benefit of any kind from me or from my administration. No contract, loan, grant, funding, legislation, budget appropriation, regulation, border commission assignment or any other official state benefit. And not one penny of taxpayer money went to hip or to Star Scientific during our administration, not one penny.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: McDonnell claims prosecutors they're guilty of unjust overreach. He says he will be vindicated at trial.

This morning, Chris Christie is getting some new advice about his future from a Republican bigwig who says maybe it's time for the New Jersey governor to step back a bit from his national ambitions.

Former Virginia attorney general and gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli tells CNN's "CROSS FIRE" he thinks Christie should give up his role as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. He should focus on fixing his reputation at home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEN CUCCINELLI, FORMER VIRGINIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think just from the perspective of setting this aside in other races, it makes sense for him to step aside in that role. He does not serve the goals of that information by staying as chairman. Every governor does better by setting everything else aside. If the goal is to be the best governor you can be, that's done by setting everything else aside.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Christie has said the scandal over allegations of top aides strong-armed political opponents, Christie said that scandal will not impact his ability to help other governors nationally. And he spent this past weekend helping fund-raise in Florida for Governor Rick Scott.

We're hearing this morning for Edward Snowden who is denying he is a spy for Russia. The admitted NSA leaker said he acted alone despite allegations from some in congress. Snowden said he never intended to live in Russia, but actually was planning to go to Cuba, but the U.S. canceled his passport before he could get there.

A Syrian peace conference begins today in Geneva. And this morning, secretary of state John Kerry is saying there is no way Bashar al- Assad will be part of the transitional government there. That as a new report claims the U.S. is now funneling cash and other aid to rebel groups in hopes of fighting extremists in Syria. The newspaper "the Telegraph" said the U.S. efforts are in connection with Saudi Arabia and Qatar with the goal of stopping an Al Qaeda affiliated group battling for control of Syria.

A state emergency today in Thailand as mass protests spent on toppling the government are paralyzing parts of Bangkok. This follows weeks of often deadly clashes there. Opponents want the prime minister to step aside calling her a corrupt puppet of the former leader who oust in 2006. The emergency decree could lead to curfews and bans on public gathers. Thai officials say they've ruled out using force to end the rally.

The Dow Futures lower this morning. The Dow hit with some disappointing earnings, finish, yesterday down 44 points. Nasdaq and S&P though, both closed higher. Right now in Europe this morning, London, Frank and Paris mostly higher. In Asia, the Nikkei Asian markets still benefitting from the bank of China's move to ease fears of a credit crunch.

Here in the U.S., shares of IBM are down about 2.50 percent on pre- market trade. Late Tuesday, the company reported weaker sales. The CFO told analysts that IBM is likely to take a billion-dollar charge to, quote, "rebalance its workforce." Analysts say that could mean 10,000 to 15,000 IBM job cuts in 2014.

Coming up, new warnings of terror from the site of the upcoming Olympics. Police are searching door to door for terrorists they believe may already be in position to attack. We're live with those latest developments this morning.

And a deadly plane crash caught on camera. What we're learning from this new video. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: This morning, in Russia, police in the desperate search for three women feared to be potential suicide bombers including, a so- called black widow who may already be in Sochi ahead of the winter Olympics.

Phil Black is in Volgograd this morning with the latest. Phil joins us on the phone right now.

Phil, what can you tell us this morning?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Yes, good morning, John.

Today, we're talking about two potential black widow terrorist threats that Russian authorities believed they has detected. One of them they say about 22-year-old woman who authority believe may already be in Sochi, planning the attacks on the Olympics there. The second thought to be a group of women targeting the Olympics torch relay, as it goes through the city of Rostov-On-Don (ph). That's where the torch relay is today.

So, possibly an imminent threat there with initially three women thought to be involved in the plot. One of them, we know, was killed by security forces during an operation on the weekend. But the whereabouts of the remaining two women is unknown, John.

BERMAN: So, we know that President Obama spoke to the Russian leader Vladimir Putin over the phone to discuss among other things safety at the winter Olympic Games. What kind of assurances are the Russian government officials giving that in fact the games will be safe, Phil?

BLACK: They're saying very much on message, not saying a lot in detail, but insisting that their plans are thorough. They're adequate but everything is in place, and these games will be safe. You're right that the Presidents Obama and Putin spoke by phone yesterday. President Obama offering to help in any way possible to help make the games secure. We don't know what president Putin's response to that was. We do know, however, that the joint chief we have been talking with a Russian counterpart about sharing technology with them, American technology that would help in detecting and jamming improvised explosive devices. Both sides are now said to be looking at whether or not that American technology is compatible with Russian systems, John.

BERMAN: All right, thank you so much, Phil Black in Volgograd this morning. Again, this issue of safety at the Olympics, a major, major concern, one we'll be covering every day.

ROMANS: All right. We're getting a new look at a deadly plane crash in Aspen earlier this month. And a warning, some of you might find this video disturbing.

Take a look here. These images were taken by infrared cameras and they show the plane bounce off the runway, then fall again and then explode. One person died, two others were seriously hurt. Cause of this plane crash still not clear, but the pilot had reported high winds and problems trying to land.

BERMAN: Classes are canceled today at Indiana's Purdue University in wake of a deadly shooting there. Officials say one student killed another in the school's electrical engineering building. 22-year-old Codey Cousins is being held on suspicion of homicide. His alleged system is 21-year-old Andrew Bolt. Police say the shooting does not appear to be random. The suspect is being held without bond.

Two women in Maryland are charged with killing two young children in an alleged exorcism. They are still being held without bond this morning. 28-year-old Zakieya Avery and 21-year-old Monifa Sanford told investigators they were part of a group known as Demon Assassins. And an exorcism was needed to drive the demons out of the two children, a 1-year-old and a 2-year-old. Prosecutors are seeking a mental evaluation to determine if the women are competent to stand trial.

BERMAN: That's just awful.

A day of disappointment for the family of Jonathan Ferrell, the former college football player who was fatally shot by police last year. He was unarmed at the time and reportedly seeking help after a car crash. Tuesday, a grand jury declined to indict a North Carolina officer for that shooting. State attorneys are hoping to resubmit the case saying the grand jury that ruled Tuesday was missing jurors.

ROMANS: Toronto mayor Rob Ford in trouble again this morning, admitting, yes, he's been drinking, despite the promises that he's now sober. The latest incident came to light in this You Tube video. It shows the mayor of North America's fourth largest city babbling incoherently at restaurant, speaking of what sounds like a Jamaican accent. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR ROB FORD, TORONTO: Five months -- trying to tell me -- look, we're doing this together.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Were you drinking last night?

FORD: Yes, I was.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: You were drinking a little bit?

FORD: A little bit, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Do you think that video was offensive to people?

FORD: No, I was with some friends. What I do in my personal life with my personal friends, that's up to me. It has nothing to do with you guys.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Ford has admitted smoking crack but has resisted calls to step down, despite having most of his power stripped away. He's currently running for re-election.

BERMAN: You know, a lot of people are making fun of that video, they have been overnight. I have to say, he has quit drinking and if he is drinking again --

ROMANS: It's not funny. It's just bad. It is sad at this point.

All right, coming up, more calls this morning for a college fraternity to be expelled for throwing a controversial holiday theme party. We have pictures that are making some people very, very angry right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: You are looking at a snow-filled Columbus circle in New York City. We've been doing some reporting, some, you know, on-the-scene reporting there. I can confirm there is in fact snow on the ground here. It's 4:24 in the east.

ROMANS: I have a correction. I have to issue a correction. At the top of the hour, I said it was 5:00 a.m. out of habit. It was really 4:00 a.m. And so many of you online are up and you're taking me to task. So, you are right, it is now 4:24 in the east.

All right, outrageous this morning from civil rights leaders in Arizona. And it was directed at a fraternity and the party this fraternity held for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Leaders are demanding Arizona State University revoke recognition for the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity pick after it told attendees to that party to dressed quote " black." Photos posted online to a people wearing sports jerseys and holding watermelon cusp. ASU has suspended the chapter indefinitely, Arizona State University.

BERMAN: Crazy.

All right, in Florida this morning, researchers are still searching for six missing pilot whales. They have been stuck in shallow waters off of Fort Myers. Eight other whales part of the same pond have already died. Scientists are just not sure what led the whales to swim at shore but say they appear to have been ill.

ROMANS: We're getting a first look this morning at view from inside an Orlando area restaurant when an SUV crashed through the front window. Police just release this video. This crash was on December 30th. And it left several people hurt. Police say that driver was drunk.

All right, all the top headlines, everything you need to do for the say including the latest and the massive snow storm and the clean up and the way that the airports.

BERMAN: All the good stuff.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: A rude awakening for millions of Americans. This winter storm creating absolute chaos. Some parts of the country buried under more than a foot of snow. Roads closed. Flights grounded. We have complete team coverage this morning. You know what, in some places that snow is still falling.

ROMANS: Two political scandals creating double trouble for the GOP this morning. A former governor charged with corruption, while there are growing calls this morning for a current governor to step down from some of his national responsibilities.

BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's 30 minutes past the hour for you this morning.

BERMAN: And we hope you're under the covers right now because the snow, it has been falling fast and furious from the mid-Atlantic all the way up to the northeast. It just piled up. Just under a foot here in New York City. There was a lot more down in Philadelphia. And this is affecting millions of people from Kentucky all the way up to Massachusetts.

ROMANS: Yes, the federal government back in business this morning, but opening a little late. Federal workers in Washington, D.C. are being told to come in two hours later than normal or stay home if they can't get in.

The D.C. area got around six inches of snow. It's a good thing, you know, many stayed home there yesterday. Take a look at these pictures from Alexandria. This is a car spinning out on the beltway.

BERMAN: Oh man.

ROMANS: Yes, it's dangerous. And a fatal accident in Landover, Maryland. Both blamed on obviously slick roads.

Temperatures there now plunging with wind chills of five to 15 below zero.

BERMAN: In New York today, it will be an awfully tough commute into work. The snow covered roads, they are getting icy and so cold.

These pictures from Long Island, hit hard by the storm. About 10 inches of snow fell out there.

And look at this in Brooklyn, it was hard to walk. Gosh, just looks so painful with the snow falling so fast. The plows and shovels, it was hard to keep up.

ROMANS: It's icy cold this morning in Charlotte, yes, Charlotte, North Carolina. Temperatures have been plunging there around 20 degrees. This after snow fell on the mountains Tuesday. Not a day to be driving.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're doing 180s down the road earlier.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got behind a scraper that let us go for a little bit. But it didn't work after that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Smiles on their faces.

BERMAN: I know.

(LAUGHTER)

All right. In Delaware, the governor says stay off the roads. There's a state of emergency. Level 1 driving warnings. That means you don't go. Don't go anywhere. Parts of the state got well over half a foot of snow. The National Guard is now ready to go out and help if the emergency officials there make the request.

ROMANS: No relief in sight for Chicago and northwest Indiana. Temperatures there dropping. Wind chills expected to hit 25 below. That, after close to two feet of lake-effect snow fell. Massive traffic jams late into the night in the Windy City, making it difficult for the plows to clear the roads in Chicago.

BERMAN: Indra Petersons is live in Boston this morning. It has been snowing there. Indra is keeping an eye on the conditions if she can keep her eyes open with the wind blowing so hard and the cold so fierce.

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

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know my love for wind. Forget the snow, it's when that wind just blows cold air right in your face. That is what makes it so difficult. And so many of us are going to be dealing with this, this morning.

Here in Boston, we didn't get the heavy snow per se in this area, leave about five inches, but around Massachusetts, yes, a good foot of snow. And so much snow fell across many portions of the East Coast.

You mentioned that Philly, seeing over a foot of snow. New York City seeing almost a foot of snow. And how about Jersey? A good 15 inches of snow. So an unbelievable 24 hours we have seen, as this low made its way over towards the East Coast and intersected with the Atlantic Ocean.

That was the key. That's what changed this clipper as that low developed to bring this huge snowmaker. So where is this low right now? What do we expect as we go throughout the day? Well, it is still pulling its way offshore. But we still have time here in Massachusetts. We're still talking about some of this light snow. Wind gusting to about a good 30 miles per hour.

And here's the key, the low is still strengthening as it lifts offshore but still kind of progresses to the north. So with that, we're still going to be talking about stronger winds, taking the snow that's already on the ground, expecting to still blow it around and bringing some low visibility as we go through the late morning hours.

So much of that on the Cape itself. They still have that ocean-effect snow. Remember this just a few weeks ago. You have those winds really close to the cape and you still have a chance to even more snow, more blowing snow and low visibility. So blizzard warnings there. Still in effect about 1:00 p.m.

Other stories, we know it is windy, it is cold. So, yes, very cold temperatures, especially when you bring in that wind chill. We're going to be talking about temperatures or in just the highs, say, in the teens, you add in the wind chill this morning, at least here in Boston, seven below.

For you guys in New York City about a good five below, not a comfortable start. Hopefully everyone can stay home today.

Another snow day, please.

BERMAN: I know. It can be like this for a while.

All right, Indra, up in Boston, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: Now if you are trying to get on a plane this morning, good luck. The delays, the cancellations from the storm causing still a lot of problems with air travel.

Rene Marsh is live in Reagan National Airport in Washington with the latest.

And I guess, I mean, would you rather be -- you know, your flight is canceled, do you want to be stuck on a plane? I mean, I guess it's two bad choices.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, there is really no good choice when you're dealing with really bad weather here. Speaking of being stuck, I mean, some people are waking up in the airport this morning. That's their reality. And we expect to see even more cancellations. Even more delays today. I mean, just right out of the gate this morning, we're already dealing with over 1,000 cancellations.

The areas that really is getting socked with these, you know, cancellations and delays right now, Boston where we just saw Indra. Also New York City airports where you guys are, as well as Philadelphia. Those are the airports at this hour that are seeing the most cancellations.

Really, what does that mean for passengers? It means that they're thinking about plan B, C, D, and in some cases E and F. So take a listen to some of them, not very happy at this point.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Canceled. Canceled all across the board, probably three times now, so far.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My flight was scheduled to go out this afternoon. And I got a call that it was rescheduled and I couldn't re-schedule until Thursday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm in New York for the night. I have a 2:00 flight out tomorrow is their earliest they can do for me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I'm going to be missing work, definitely. And today is my wife's birthday. I definitely wanted to make it home. But unfortunately, that didn't happen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Got to figure something out. I can't get out until Thursday. I'm kind of wrecked.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARSH: All right. So here in the D.C. area, we know that the snow, it has stopped. But the issue now here, it's just cold. You know, driving in, 12 degrees was what I saw on my dashboard there. So you may expect even more delays because they're going to need to deice these planes. And as far as the cancellations go, you know, we started seeing them pop up well before the first snowflake even fell to the ground and started to stick.

This is the new normal. One analyst says that airlines are doing this before the bad weather comes in. And this is what passengers should really expect moving forward. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SETH KAPLAN, AIRLINE EXPERT: You know, partly it's because now the government fines them, when a plane is stuck on the tarmac, and you have passengers without food and water for a whole long time, and it can be millions of dollars for a flight. There are millions of reasons why airlines say, you know what, we'd rather cancel lots of flights rather than, perhaps, have that one flight full of stranded passengers. So very much a tradeoff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARSH: All right. So there you have it. So next time we hear that bad winter weather is coming our way, this is what it looks like, this is the new normal when it comes for how these airlines are dealing with these storms that are coming our way this winter.

Back to you, guys.

ROMANS: And the strains of the smooth jazz belies I think the frayed nerves there at Reagan National. How are they getting any sleep on the benches with the jazz music?

MARSH: You know how they're doing it, Christine? They're curling up on these heaters that they have here, and they're just making it work.

ROMANS: Wow.

MARSH: You know, taking up three seats at a time, doesn't look comfortable but they're making it work.

ROMANS: With a little Kenny G to help them fall asleep.

BERMAN: Can you imagine --

ROMANS: Thanks, Rene. Thanks.

BERMAN: Getting bumped off your flight then have you listen to that for six hours?

(LAUGHTER)

ROMANS: Maybe they have -- didn't have it on all night.

BERMAN: All right. So in Minnesota this morning, police on the hunt for a robber who used snow that's fallen there to make his gateway after he struck a convenience store near the Twin City. He apparently pointed a gun at the clerk, grabbed some cash and then got away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The person behind the clerk said that the person got away on a snowmobile which is unique. We don't get too many robbers with snowmobiles.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: It does not happen in Florida, folks. That's something really that only happens after a snowstorm.

ROMANS: All right. Virginia's former governor is pledging this morning to fight back now that he and his wife have been indicted on federal corruption charges.

Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen stand accused of accepting thousands of dollars in gifts and loans from the head of a dietary supplement company who wanted help promoting his products. At a news conference, McDonnell said he did nothing illegal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB MCDONNELL, FORMER VIRGINIA GOVERNOR: I never promised and Mr. Williams and his company never received any government benefit of any kind from me or from my administration. No contract, loan, grant, funding, legislation, budget appropriation, regulation, border commission assignment or any other official state benefit. And not one penny of taxpayer money went to him or to Star Scientific during our administration. Not one penny.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: McDonnell claims prosecutors are guilty of what he called unjust overreach and he says he will be vindicated at trial -- John.

BERMAN: The list of things, the gifts, they're staggering. A Rolex watch, clothes, you know, golf round after golf round after golf round. The thing is, though, the gift laws in Virginia, very, very lax. So we'll see what happens with this federal case.

Meanwhile, there's some new advice for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, that advice, focus on your state. Republican former Virginia attorney general and gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli -- remember this is a Republican -- tells CNN's "CROSSFIRE" that he thinks Governor Christie should give up his role as chairman of the Republican Governors Association and put all of his attention, instead, on fixing his reputation at home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEN CUCCINELLI, FORMER VIRGINIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think just from the perspective of setting aside this as an issue in other races, it makes sense for him to step aside in that role. He does not serve the goals of that organization by staying as chairman. Every governor does better by setting everything else aside.

If the goal is to be the best governor you can be, that's done better by setting everything else aside.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Now we should say, even though they're both Republicans, no great love between Cuccinelli and Christie.

Christie has said the scandal over the allegations that his top aides strong-armed political opponents will not impact is ability to help other governors nationally. And he did spend this past weekend helping fundraise in Florida. He was doing that for Governor Rick Scott.

ROMANS: This morning, Edward Snowden is insisting he's no spy. The admitted NSA leaker tells "The New Yorker" he doesn't work for Russia, saying he acted alone without any help from any government, despite suggestions to the contrary from some in Congress.

And Snowden says he was never intended to live in Russia. He was actually planning to go to Cuba but the U.S. canceled his passport before he could get there.

BERMAN: All right. Serious situation in Thailand, under now a 60-day state of emergency beginning today as mass protests paralyzed parts of Bangkok. Demonstrators want the prime minister to step aside, calling her a puppet of the former leader who was ousted in 2006. The emergency decree could lead to curfews and bans on public gatherings. Thai officials say they have ruled out using force to end these rallies.

ROMANS: President Obama is talking elections today, meeting with a task force responsible for finding ways to make voting in this country more efficient and to increase access to the polls, as Republicans also gather in the nation's capital to kick off the RNC's annual winter gathering. Delegates will vote on a series of rule changes that could affect how their 2016 presidential nominee is chosen.

BERMAN: This morning, the family of a missing FBI agent is demanding answers and coming forward to talk about what happened to him in Iran.

Bob Levinson disappeared seven years ago. And the U.S. government long claimed that he went to Iran on a private trip. But now his family tells CNN's Susan Candiotti, they knew he was there working for the CIA, but they were told not to talk about it for fear that it could put him in jeopardy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTINE LEVINSON, WIFE: He was doing what he always did, which is working for the United States government and investigating criminal activities. And the United States government has not taken ownership of it yet.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You feel he was abandoned?

LEVINSON: I feel he was left there. He was the man left behind.

DAN LEVINSON, SON: We were told by the U.S. government that by revealing what he was actually doing over there would have been harmful to his safety.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: The family says they want the government to come clean about what Bob Levinson was doing in Iran and they want the Obama administration to work harder to bring him home.

ROMANS: In the markets now, Dow futures lower. The Dow closed down 44 points. The Nasdaq and S&P 500 both closed higher.

Right now in Europe stocks in London, Frankfurt, Paris all higher. And the markets are closing in Asia. The Nikkei finishing with a gain. Asian markets benefiting from the Bank of China's moves to ease fears there of a credit crunch.

Here in the U.S., shares of IBM down big, down 2.6 percent in premarket stock trading. You know, late yesterday, the company reported weaker sales. The CFO told analysts IBM is likely to take a $1 billion charge to, quote, "rebalance its workforce." Analysts say that could mean 10,000 to 15,000 IBM job cuts in 2014.

Job cuts at Texas Instruments, even though it reported higher profits, that company is going to trim 1100 jobs around the world. Shares of Texas Instruments are down 1 percent in the premarket.

We talk about all this money that companies have in their -- you know, in their bank accounts. We talk about a recovering economy. But many big, big companies are not adding big payrolls.

BERMAN: And we hear rebalance its workforce.

ROMANS: Yes.

BERMAN: That sounds very, very ominous.

ROMANS: That's business school talk for pink slip.

All right. Coming up, happening this morning, high-stakes talks to end the war in Syria now under way. Secretary of State John Kerry is there. But some key players are not. We are live with the developing story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right. Breaking news now from Switzerland where world leaders have gathered this morning. This is for a conference billed as possibly the best chance to end the war in Syria.

This is the first time that the Assad regime and the opposition will meet face-to-face. Also, there are officials from dozens of other countries.

It is notable, however, who will not be there. Iran. And there are real questions this morning if this peace conference will accomplish anything at all.

Nic Robertson live in Switzerland this morning.

Nic, it's on.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, you know, we've been listening to speeches by U.N. secretary-general, the Russian foreign minister, Secretary of State John Kerry, and then we heard from the Syrian foreign minister, he was given 20 minutes to speak. He spoke for 34 minutes.

The U.N. secretary-general had to interrupt him three times to get him to stop speaking and to stick to the agenda. A lot of vitriol pointing the pictures at the international community and other Arab nations. Not a lot if any conciliation coming from the Syrian government's side.

And we heard from Secretary of State John Kerry unequivocally and very clearly say that Bashar al-Assad cannot be any part of this process going forward.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: There is no way, no way possible, in the imagination, that the man who has led the brutal response to his own people could regain the legitimacy to govern. One man, and those who have supported him can no longer hold an entire nation and a region hostage.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON: And the aim here in Switzerland is to form a transitional government. We've been listening to the opposition, Syrian leaders speaking here, listing a catalog of things that the Syrian government has done.

It's clear to see how far these positions are apart at the moment. And what we're being told is this is the beginning of a process, but be patient. And everyone working on it will have to be persistent. But don't expect any results anytime soon -- John.

BERMAN: That sounds like a very difficult atmosphere for progress there.

Nic Robertson for us in Geneva, thanks so much.

ROMANS: New developments in a deadly plane crash in Aspen earlier this month. We're getting a new look this morning at exactly what happened. And a warning to you, some of you might find this video disturbing.

These are images taken by infrared cameras. And they show the plane bounce off the runway, then fall again then explode. One person died in that crash, two others were seriously hurt. The cause of the crash still not clear, but the pilot had reported high winds and problems trying to land.

BERMAN: No classes today at Indiana's Purdue University after a shooting death on campus. Officials now say one teacher's assistant killed another in the school's electrical engineering building.

Twenty-three-year-old Codey Cousins is now being held on suspicion of homicide. His alleged victim, 21-year-old Andrew Bolt, reportedly worked for the same professor. The suspect is now being held without bond.

ROMANS: Still in jail this morning, two Maryland women charged with killing two young children in an alleged exorcism. 28-year-old Zakieya Avery and 21-year-old Monifa Sanford, they told investigators they were part of a group known as the, quote, "Demon Assassins." And an exorcism was needed to drive the demons out of these two little children, a 1-year-old and a 2-year-old. Prosecutors are seeking a mental evaluation to determine if these women are competent to stand trial.

BERMAN: Deeply troubling.

Prosecutors in North Carolina today are making plans to try again after a grand jury declined to indict a police officer in a fatal shooting.

Former college football player Jonathan Ferrell was shot and killed last year by a Charlotte officer. He was unarmed and reportedly seeking help after a car crash. The state attorneys are hoping to resubmit the case saying the grand jury that ruled Tuesday was missing jurors.

ROMANS: Arguments today in South Carolina over a controversial conviction and execution dating back 70 years. Fourteen-year-old George Stinney was put to death in 1934 for killing two young white girls. Police said at the time he confessed.

He had no attorney, there was no other evidence and no witnesses. He was 14. And all the trial's documents from back then had disappeared so his family is asking the judge for a new trial.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAY CHANDLER, ATTORNEY: I believe that George Stinney could not have committed these murders. I think George Stinney saw those children, but I don't think George Stinney was the last person to see those children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They had no choice in how they died and he did. And I think that justice was served according to the laws in 1944 when this happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The judge was only tasked with deciding whether Stinney received a fair trial but has already asked both sides if she really has the power to change what happened.

Mayors from across the U.S. are meeting in Washington today for their annual gathering, a chance to talk with Congress and tell the federal government what they need to run their cities. More than 280 mayors set to attend this three-day event.

Also in Washington today anti-abortion activists will take part in the 40th Annual March for Life marking the 40th anniversary of the "Roe versus Wade" decision, which is a pencil march from the National Mall to the Supreme Court. The event can draw hundreds of thousands of people from across the country. Abortion rights groups also plan events today.

More trouble today for Toronto's mayor Rob Ford. The admitted crack smoker now admitting he's been drinking despite his insistence he's now sober. The latest incident came to light in a YouTube video. It shows the mayor of North America's fourth largest city, by the way, he's babbling incoherently at a restaurant and he's speaking with what sounds like a Jamaican accent. You can listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR ROB FORD, TORONTO: I said -- (EXPLETIVE DELETED) five months, trying to tell me -- look, you know what I mean. Well, we'll turn this (INAUDIBLE). You know what I mean? He's not here. I'm here.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Were you drinking last night?

FORD: Yes, I was.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You were drinking last night?

FORD: A little bit, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you think that video was offensive to people?

FORD: No, I was with some friends, and what I do with my personal life and my personal friends, that's up to me.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Ford, you said --

FORD: It has nothing to do with --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Let's talk about --

FORD: Has nothing to do with you guys.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Ford has resisted calls to step down despite having most of his powers stripped away. And he is currently running for re- election.

Coming up, stay with us, "Money Time," what's happening with your 401(k) and the biggest, biggest money news coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START. It's "Money Time."

Shares of IBM are down almost 3 percent in premarket trading. Late Tuesday, the company reported its steepest drop in quarterly sales in more than four years. China has a struggle for IBM with sales falling there 23 percent. The company also announced it will take a $1 billion restructuring charge. Analysts say that could signal -- could be a signal for 10,000 to 15,000 job cuts in 2014. That's a view from analysts.

And job cuts at Texas Instruments, even though it reported higher profits. The company will trim 1100 jobs worldwide. Shares of Texas Instruments down about 1 percent in the premarket.

Here's a thought, colleges that will pay your student loan bills. Doesn't sound real, does it? It is. A small but growing group of colleges guaranteeing students that they will help them pay their student loan bills until they secure a well-paying job. It's known as loan re-payment assistance. It's a program that a lot of schools are doing.

Law schools have been doing this for years. But now dozens of private colleges getting on the bandwagon with similar programs. CNN Money found eight small private Christian colleges offering the programs and students there say it was a big attraction in picking the schools.

There are some caveats, once a graduate breaks through an income threshold they no longer get this assistance even if it's income falls in future years. Something to check out, though.

And this may be the ultimate March madness pool. How does $1 billion sound? Yes, $1 billion. Warren Buffett is going to give $1 billion to the college basketball fan who does the near impossible. Forecast a perfect NCAA bracket.

The contest is run by Quicken Loans. It's going to give a billion bucks to the lucky person or people who correctly predict every winner in the 60-14 bracket. Prize money provided by Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway will be doled out over 40 years in annual payments of $25 million or in a lump sum of $500 million.

Don't fill out your entry just yet, according to math and science site orgtheory.net, the bracket has nine quintillion possible combinations. So I say that's a pretty smart bet for Warren Buffett that he's not going to have to dole that out.

EARLY START continues right now.

BERMAN: The northeast buried this morning, more than a foot of snow falling in some places. This brutal winter storm shutting down schools, offices, roads, grounding thousands of planes.

Indra Petersons is outside tracking the storm in Boston. Rene Marsh bringing us the latest on the thousands of flight cancellations. She is in Washington, D.C. And I am live out on the cold streets of New York, where the snow was blowing around from side to side. It is very, very cold this morning.