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EARLY START

After the Storm; Obama on the Road; More Trouble for Bieber; Judgment Day for Amanda Knox

Aired January 30, 2014 - 05:00   ET

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


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Judgment day for Amanda Knox, awaiting a third verdict in her former roommate's murder. Could the freed American be forced to return to an Italian jail cell? We're live.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And Justin Bieber arrested again, accused in the assault of a limo driver. And now, a petition to deport Bieber is gaining huge momentum. Why the White House may actually have to get involved.

ROMANS: Now wait, I'm trying to keep score. DUI, assault of a limo driver.

BERMAN: And then there's the whole California egg thing.

ROMANS: The eggs. All right. We've got to unravel that for you today.

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

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is Thursday, January 30th, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

ROMANS: But this is a big story that matters to all of you. A cold morning today in Atlanta and across the South, still trying to get moving again after a few inches of snow and a few millimeters of ice paralyzed the region. The death toll across the South, at least 10.

Thousands of people were left stranded in their cars or they had to stay at school, sleeping at school, or they stayed in their offices. Others spent nearly a day just trying to get home.

This morning, the state is promising to help people get back to their abandoned cars as many are asking who was responsible and who's going to pay the price for all this?

Victor Blackwell live in Atlanta this morning. He joins us on the phone.

Victor, still some frustration this morning, people just starting to be reunited with their kids and their cars. Certainly not back to normal there. What's the latest?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, John and Christine, good morning. There have already this morning been reports of crashes because there are significant patches, stretches of ice on the interstates around Atlanta, ice on the streets in inner city Atlanta. The Georgia Emergency Management Association has declared a civil emergency through noon, asking people, with the exception of emergencies, to stay off the roads around the Atlanta metro area.

Also this morning, you know, the initial crisis is over. The snow, of course, has ended, but now, of course, as you mentioned, is the recovery, trying to get drivers back to their vehicles that they abandoned when they had to walk sometimes eight, ten miles home on Tuesday. We know that Georgia State Patrol, National Guard members are actually driving people back to their vehicles to try to help get back to these cars. In many cases, those cars have already been towed, so they have to figure out who towed the car, where is the vehicle, and in some cases, they'll have to pay or they'll have to -- if they've already paid, some local counties or municipalities are actually reimbursing the people who had to pay to have their cars removed from tow lots.

ROMANS: Wow.

All right, Victor Blackwell reporting for us live this morning. Thank you, Victor.

BERMAN: Still ongoing, even though the worst of the crisis might be over. I want you to look at an image from Woodstock, Georgia. Take a look here.

That is a car in a sinkhole covered in water. The reason it's there, the slippery roads. The car slid into a fire hydrant.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The water kept flowing up from the hydrant.

REPORTER: You got out of the car and you got out safely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

REPORTER: How long before this happened?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably 30 minutes.

REPORTER: Did you see it happen?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, all my school stuff was in it, and I was like, uh.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Wow. Virginia Beach saw a lot of accidents, wracking up about 9 inches of snow in Virginia Beach.

Look at this car smashed into a house.

BERMAN: Wow.

ROMANS: The driver and three people in the house went to hospital. None of the injuries said to be serious.

BERMAN: North Carolina digging out this morning with schools closed, many offices telling workers stay home. This after a few inches of snow fell there. The problem this morning is the cold, causing the roads to freeze over.

ROMANS: You know, it took until late in the evening, but the last students stranded at school in Alabama are finally, finally home this morning. More than 11,000 kids spent the night in their schools with their teachers because of this storm. The last ones reunited with their families, John, just a few hours ago. Some of these last kids finally got home.

Indra Petersons watching the weather for us.

Indra, are things going to -- are things going to get better in the South?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I think the morning's going to be tough, like they said, until about noon today. You still have very cold temperatures, but after that, a nice warm-up is on the way. So that's good news.

Take a look. You can actually see the system. This is a 12-hour loop, pretty much offshore, just leaving some leftover showers around Florida. But again, like we were just talking about, if you have clear skies, you have dry air, temperatures are cooler.

So, many places in the South this morning having a hard freeze. There are very cold temperatures, many of them below 20 degrees. You can actually see that already, a lot of places actually cooler than even yesterday.

So, that's the concern. There's still a lot of black ice on the roadways, especially some of those overpasses and bridges. But once you get past the initial morning hours, things improve, because anything left on the ground should melt. Temperatures start to go to the 40s today in Atlanta itself and then eventually actually even above normal, into the 50s.

So, that's the good news into the South, things are improving. Even the Northeast, temperatures are getting better. Upper Midwest, though, as typically we always see, here comes the cold air again, meaning, yes, snow in the forecast.

Several rounds of them, nothing too major, but Minneapolis could see 4 to 6 inches of snow today. Easy to see one, two, three -- each system kind of makes its way through, nothing too significant. We'll be watching those kind of carefully, but big thing to notice, it is snowing, it is also very windy.

So, some strong gusts out there, a good 40, even 50 miles per hour, blowing that snow around, which always brings problems because you can't see, visibility goes way down.

ROMANS: And it drips -- right after you spent two hours shoveling the driveway.

PETERSONS: Yes, I don't know anything about that.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMANS: Thanks, Indra.

PETERSONS: Sure.

BERMAN: All right. Five minutes after the hour.

Happening today, President Obama back on the road visiting the Milwaukee area, also Nashville. This is part of his post-State of the Union effort to drum up support for his economic ideas.

The president will stop at an engine plant in Wisconsin and a high school in Nashville where he is expected to outline just what he will do if Congress decides it does not want to work with him. This came after a day of stops in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm hoping the Congress goes along with this, but I'm not going to wait for Congress. I can do more with Congress, but I'm not going to not do anything without Congress, not when it's about the basic security and dignity of American workers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Negatives (ph) were always tough.

One program is already in the works. President Obama has directed the treasury secretary to make rules for a new plan designed to help lower-wage workers save for retirement.

ROMANS: Because half of American workers work for companies that don't offer a retirement plan. The president says, you know, that's not good enough. We need to have a starter retirement account, because the people who have been the winners the past five years are people who have got stock market investments. For half of American workers, they have no avenue for that.

BERMAN: Interesting idea, calling it myRA.

ROMANS: Still a lot of details to work out on that, too.

All right. Republicans, meantime, are on Maryland's eastern shore today, gathered for their winter retreat, where immigration is expected to be the big topic today. Top leaders include House Speaker John Boehner. They plan to release a set of principles for the immigration overhaul, including giving probationary status to many illegal immigrants. They say they will only move toward making those principles law if the rank and file agree.

BERMAN: This morning, New York Congressman Michael Grimm says he is trying to move on. This is, of course, now after he's officially apologized to a reporter that he threatened to throw off a balcony and break in half like a boy. Grimm made the threat just after the state of the union address, when the reporter asked him about a campaign finance allegation.

Well, after initially defending his outburst, the congressman now says he is sorry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHAEL GRIMM (R), NEW YORK: This was an unfortunate incident that shouldn't have happened, and you know, I'm sure my Italian mother is going to, you know, be yelling at me saying you weren't raised that way, and she's right. She's absolutely right.

So, the bottom line is, I overreacted, and my emotions got the better of me, I lost my cool, and that shouldn't happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Grimm says the reporter has accepted the apology. The two are planning to have lunch together some time next week. Can I make the joke again?

ROMANS: Yes.

BERMAN: They're going to break bread instead of breaking the reporter in half.

ROMANS: I think they should bring his mother, too, by the way.

A terrifying morning from a top U.S. intelligence official, telling Congress that a Syrian militant group tied to al Qaeda is determined to attack the U.S. and its allies and is right now training a growing number of fighters to do that. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says the fighters come from Europe, from the Mideast, these fighters even come from the U.S. the plan is to train them, send them back home to carry out new attacks.

BERMAN: And the director of national intelligence also had troubling news on North Korea. Clapper said the isolated nation is moving ahead on threats to advance its nuclear weapons program by examining the size of the uranium enrichment facility and restarting a plutonium reactor closed since 2007. South Korean intelligence confirms the reactor is up and running. The North has been beefing up its nuclear program since an atomic test explosion last February.

ROMANS: Early going shows U.S. markets may be shrugging off what was an ugly, ugly performance overnight overseas. Japan's Nikkei bearing the brunt of a broad-based sell-off. These are big percentage declines there when you look at Tokyo, for example. Hong Kong and Shanghai also lower. London hovering around break-even after early selling.

U.S. futures up just a bit. The worries overnight in Asia centered around the U.S. Federal Reserve's plan to pull back the amount of money it is injecting into the global economy. You remember the taper?

Investors concerned that places like turkey and India really dependent on all of that stimulus for growth, and as it slows, their currencies are dropping. That's shaking confidence in the markets, shaking stocks, too.

BERMAN: Call it the Bieber bear market going on right now.

ROMANS: I think it has nothing to do with Bieber. Bernanke is much more powerful than Bieber. Don't tell the Beliebers, but it's true.

BERMAN: They'll be shocked, because this morning, Justin Bieber is in trouble in not one but two countries. The 19-year-old pop star, this is him in that mob, surrendering to police in Toronto in connection with the assault of a limo driver back in December. Bieber had to push through all these people to get into the police station where he stayed for about 90 minutes.

Now, this came just a few hours after his lawyers in Florida entered a not guilty plea on his behalf, this was in Miami Beach on, DUI charges. And on top of this, an investigation is still ongoing in Los Angeles into whether Mr. Bieber was responsible for pelting a neighbor's home with eggs.

More than 175,000 Americans have now signed on to a petition on the White House Web site calling for Justin Bieber to be deported to Canada. No official reaction yet from the Obama administration, but the Obama team says that when they get more than 100,000 signatures on these web petitions, it will respond.

So, we can expect the White House to say something about Justin Bieber.

ROMANS: I think you might be on to something. I just missed your initial comment about the Belieber, the Bieber sell-off, the Bieber down market. But if you put a chart over a chart of his woes, they almost perfectly match.

BERMAN: Conspiracy. Interesting.

All right. Ten minutes after the hour.

Coming up, judgment day for Amanda Knox, on trial for a third time in the murder of her roommate. Could the now freed American be forced to return to jail in Italy? We're live with this.

ROMANS: Plus, hundreds sick on board a Caribbean cruise finally at home this morning. They're sharing their horror stories as we learn some surprising new information about this germ-ridden boat, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Developing this morning, Amanda Knox about to find out her fate. The American from Seattle on trial again in Italy for the murder of her roommate, charges she had been convicted of and cleared of before. Now, a new court very close to announcing another verdict, a verdict she is not in Italy to hear in person.

Erin McLaughlin is live in Florence this morning.

Erin, what's the latest?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.

The proceedings began in the courthouse just behind me this morning. Amanda Knox's defense delivering their final closing statements, asking the court not to, in their words, convict two innocent people. Following those closing arguments, the jury then retired to deliberate.

Amanda Knox, of course, not present in court this morning, but her former boyfriend and fellow defendant, Raffaele Sollecito, did make an appearance. His father telling CNN that he was absolutely terrified to be here today, but he nevertheless wanted to face justice, even though he's legally not required to be present.

Both he and Knox were originally convicted of the grisly murder of 21- year-old British student Meredith Kercher in 2009. That conviction then overturned in 2011 by an Italian appellate court, but Italy's supreme court was not happy with the acquittal decision, saying it was full of contradictions and deficiencies, and then ordered this new trial in Florence, new appellate trial.

Now, all the old evidence back on the table as well as some new forensic evidence and testimony, but none of that appearing to be game-changing. One factor that has changed from the previous two trials is the fact that Knox has not been present for any of the proceedings. She remains at her home in Seattle. She wrote an e-mail to the court saying that she was too afraid to return, too afraid to be wrongfully convicted. Now, all of that is before a jury of six laypeople as well as two judges, currently in deliberations -- John.

BERMAN: So, deliberating right now. Whatever they do decide, is this it? Is it the final decision this time?

MCLAUGHLIN: This is not the final decision, John. Both sides will have the opportunity to appeal to Italy's supreme court. But remember, that is the very same Supreme Court that overturned the acquittal decision. That process could be months away -- John.

BERMAN: Strange legal process there. Erin McLaughlin, thank you so much for being with us this morning. Again, we are awaiting that decision. It could come any time today.

Meanwhile, it will not be long until we find out if federal prosecutors will seek the death penalty against Boston marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The Justice Department confirms that Attorney General Eric Holder will announce a decision by tomorrow. Tsarnaev faces 30 criminal counts for the April 15th bombing that killed three people and injured 260 others.

ROMANS: Breaking overnight, Missouri's third execution this month. Herbert Smulls put to death by lethal injection last night for the 1991 murder of a St. Louis jewelry shop owner. The U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay late Tuesday to take up several appeals. The final appeal was rejected just 30 minutes before Smulls was put to death.

BERMAN: A Massachusetts high school student charged with killing his teacher is expected back in court today. 15-year-old Philip Chism is set to be arraigned on additional charges in the case. Police say Chism has admitted that he raped 24-year-old Colleen Ritzer and then killed her with a box cutter. Chism pleaded not guilty back in December.

ROMANS: Believe it or not, things keep getting worse for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. The admitted crack smoker now is being sued for allegedly trying to have his sister's ex-boyfriend beaten up in prison.

Why would he want his sister's ex-boyfriend to be beaten up in prison? Well, according to the suit, to keep Scott McIntyre quiet about Ford's abuse of drugs and alcohol. McIntyre was jailed by threatening, saying he would expos his, quote, "unsavory practices", end quote. Ford's lawyers deny the accusations.

BERMAN: Today's installment about Rob Ford.

Meanwhile, new developments in the chemical spill that prompted a water ban for 300,000 West Virginians this month. State and water company officials are rejecting a scientist's claim that residents may have inhaled formaldehyde while showering. Officials say the chemical that leaked into the water supply only produces formaldehyde at 500 degrees, which is way hotter than any shower.

ROMANS: We're also watching developments this morning in California's massive drought. Officials say 17 areas parched by a largely rainless winter, they could run completely dry within 100 days. Governor Jerry Brown declaring a state drought emergency this month. President Obama called Brown Wednesday to pledge federal support to help lessen the drought's effects.

BERMAN: A deep cleaning happening today on a cruise ship-turned-sick bay for hundreds and hundreds of passengers. The Explorer of the Seas is now back at port in New Jersey after nearly 700 passengers and crew came down with some sort of stomach bug, likely norovirus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KIM WAITE, SICK CRUISE PASSENGER: You could see absolutely everyone sitting there being sick in buckets, in bags. It was awful, and they just gave us a number to wait, and I had to wait three hours to be seen.

DANIELLE PANEPIANCO, CRUISE PASSENGER: We were looking forward to staying warm and being on our honeymoon and enjoying our time together, and we're never going to get that back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Royal Caribbean is giving passengers refunds and credits towards a future cruise. The ship will be off limits for 24 hours but is scheduled to head out again on its next journey on Friday.

ROMANS: Their honeymoon!

All right, it's an Oscar stunner. In a rare move, the nomination of one of the year's best song contenders "Alone Yet Not Alone" has been rescinded. The songwriter apparently violated academy rules by e- mailing members of its music branch during the nomination period to promote his little-heard tune from a little-seen movie of the same name. Academy officials say there won't be a replacement nominee.

BERMAN: When this happened, there were people who went nuts. It wasn't that they hadn't heard of the song, they hadn't even heard of the movie. They're like, what is going on here? Well, now there could be an explanation.

ROMANS: I'll say.

All right. Coming up, just three days until Super Bowl Sunday. The teams are geared up, the fans are geared up.

Andy Scholes is geared up. He joins us live from Super Bowl Boulevard with earmuffs and all the pregame fever. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Can you feel the anticipation?

We are getting closer and closer and closer to Super Bowl Sunday, just three days away now. Meanwhile, Times Square in New York has been turned into an NFL dream world. Even though it's not in the same city, let alone the same state as the Super Bowl.

ROMANS: It's 10 miles close, 10 miles away.

"Bleacher Report's" Andy Scholes live from Super Bowl Boulevard, where for some reason, all of our producers are hanging around Super Bowl Boulevard these days.

How are you?

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: Hey, guys, I'm doing great. This is the place to be this week during the Super Bowl as we lead into the game. You know, 13 blocks here on Broadway in Times Square have been transformed into Super Bowl Boulevard. There are all kinds of fun things to do out here.

How do I know? Well, I spent all day yesterday doing them. Now, everything is free, except for the 60-foot toboggan run. That's going to cost you 5 bucks, but guys, I can tell you, that's probably the best $5 I've ever spent. So much fun.

There's all kinds of other things you can do out here. You can kick a field goal, get autographs from NFL stars, take a picture with the Lombardi Trophy and much, much more.

As for the Broncos and Seahawks, the fun and games are over. It's time to get down to business. Just three more days of practice left before they hit the field at MetLife Stadium for the super bowl. Yesterday the Seahawks, they practiced again indoors, while the Broncos, they're doing their best to try to get acclimated to the freezing temperatures, they held their practice outdoors at the Jets practice facility.

All right. So, we all know the Super Bowl tickets are the hardest to come by in sports. Right now, the cheapest on StubHub is going for about $1,600. So, how awesome would it be to get tickets for free?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What? What are you talking about?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those are Super Bowl tickets.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, they're not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're row 10. They're in the end zone. And we're staying 2 1/2 miles from the stadium in a Homewood Suites.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, it can't happen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's going to. We're going to the Super Bowl, mom.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHOLES: Aww, that's so great. That's Vicki Harris. She's a lifelong Seahawks fan, and her son, Mike, surprised her with Super Bowl tickets this week. Now, she missed out on going to the NFC championship game back in 1983, because she was pregnant with him, but I'd say he's more than made up for that now, better returning the favor.

Better watch out for those dogs, though. Looks like they may want to go as well.

All right. Everyone's aware by now of the snowstorm that basically shut down the city of Atlanta. Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman was one of the people who got stuck in traffic, and that's when former teammate Chipper Jones jumped on his four-wheeler, camouflage and all, and he went on a rescue mission, picked up Freddy from the traffic nightmare, brought him home. You can see how this whole saga played out on bleacherreport.com. Nice to see that Chipper Jones has found an activity to do in retirement.

Guys, it's not very busy out here right now because it's, like, 5:20 in the morning, but it will get busy later. And after "NEW DAY," I think I'm going to get back in line for the toboggan run. I'll save you two spots. You have to meet me.

ROMANS: I'll meet you there. I'm going at 7:30, so I will meet you there, 7:30, on the toboggan.

SCHOLES: All right, sounds good.

ROMANS: Mano a Romano.

BERMAN: Oh, wow.

SCHOLES: I can't wait.

BERMAN: That I want to see.

All right. Thanks, Andy.

Twenty-seven minutes after the hour right now.

Meanwhile, the news we've been following all morning, the South still frozen over this morning. This follows the deadly, deadly, chaotic day on the road. We will have the very latest as millions of people are waking up to this ice again. This is right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)