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Bracing for the Storm; More Trouble for Christie?; Terror Takedown

Aired February 11, 2014 - 05:00   ET


GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Bracing for the big storm. Ice, snow and freezing rain all in the forecast threatening to batter the South once again. Hundreds of planes already grounded. Schools are closed and residents are told to stay at home.

Indra Petersons is on top of it, tracking it all here.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: More trouble for Chris Christie. The governor's chopper rides now being questioned as more subpoenas are handed out, investigating his ties to a bridge traffic scandal.

HOWELL: And rare, new video capturing the tense moments when U.S. forces took down a suspected al Qaeda member.

PEREIRA: Good morning, and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Michaela Pereira.

HOWELL: And I'm George Howell. Thank you so much for waking up with us this morning. It is Wednesday, February 11th, 5:00 a.m. here in the east.

PEREIRA: We're going to begin with what is happening right now across the big part of the South. If it feels like it's familiar. Well, it is.

Another dangerous winter storm, bringing with it, snow, ice and rain from Texas to the Carolinas, an area that as you'll recall was paralyzed by ice just two weeks ago. Already, today hundreds of flights have been canceled, and we're told the bad weather will not be over today.

HOWELL: If it looks to be a mess, it's already snowing right now in parts of Alabama. Just look at these pictures from just north of Birmingham. That entire state will be under a state of emergency in just about two hours' time. Crews there were out late spraying down the roads in advance of the storm. Many schools are already closed and residents are being told to stay home.

PEREIRA: In Georgia, store shelves have been wiped clean. Look at this!

Folks getting ready for the storm. Forty-five counties are now under a state of emergency, most schools are closed, including in Atlanta. We're told road crews are ready to go. They're poised to try and prevent that, another paralyzing shutdown like the one that left thousands on the frozen roads two weeks ago.


MAYOR KASIM REED, ATLANTA, GA: We're going to have 120 pieces of equipment available to us. We already have the contractors in place. We have the material that's need for deicing in place, and we're partnering with the state. And I'll let the results speak for themselves.


HOWELL: Mayor Kasim Reed there, promising not to be caught flat- footed. A state of emergency also in Mississippi. The crews there loading up on salt and sand to treat those roads. The governor is also warning to be prepared for power outages, outages due to the ice that builds up on electric lines in the North and Central parts of that state.

PEREIRA: Indra Petersons is watching this storm for us. We're expecting this one to be a snow-maker or expecting it to be really cold or both?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, unfortunately, it's going to be even more than that. It's very easy to see when you see the temperature difference, below-freezing temperatures. You look at Nashville and Memphis, you see right pretty much just barely at that freezing mark at Birmingham. Then notice right along the coastline, you're seeing temperatures above freezing.

Why does that matter? Because it gives you all three types of precipitation. Notice we're seeing rain closer to the coast where it's warm. You see some ice and maybe some sleet right in the middle there. And behind it, you see snow where those temperatures are colder.

That is why these forecasts are so tricky. How much ice or how much snow you get depends on exactly that line of where that cold air goes. But here's one of the models. Look at the potential here. We could see when all's said and done almost up towards an inch of ice in Atlanta. Look at these numbers. Columbia seeing a little over an inch of ice, only half an inch is what it takes to take power lines down.

Now, talking about snow, the models are all over the place. I wanted to give you the extreme case here. Notice we could see some snow in Atlanta, but then when the system makes its way up to the Eastern Seaboard, we could see as much as over a foot in D.C., some models say five inches, but either way, you still have the threat of at much as eight inches in New York City Wednesday into Thursday.

Let's talk about the timing. Here we go. Right now, we're seeing some rain, some ice and even snow out there, and that's only the first wave. That clears out this morning.

But once you get through tonight and in through tomorrow, here comes the second wave. A low actually forms. So, this is the guy we're going to start tracking. And notice all the ice and snow that comes with this second wave. Now we're in through Wednesday and through Thursday. Overnight Thursday morning, starting to see it moving in towards New York City, then we go all the way throughout the day on Thursday, really the Northeast, mid-Atlantic starting to see heavy amounts of snow here, but this is just one of the models that's kind of continuing and exiting out by Friday morning.

So, really, the answer to your question is all of the above and it's such a tricky forecast.

HOWELL: So, Indra, one question. I see the South and Northeast. When I head back to Chicago, looks like Chicago's kind of clear.

PETERSONS: Looking a lot better.

HOWELL: I'll take that.

PETERSONS: For once, you're looking a little better.

PEREIRA: It's interesting how you manage to find the one glimmer of hope in that forecast.

HOWELL: I'll take it. Negative 20 degrees, I'll take it.

PEREIRA: Indra, thanks so much.

Happening today, as many as 18 new subpoenas in the state investigation into possible misconduct in the Chris Christie administration. CNN has learned among the subpoenas is a request for information about Christie's flights in a state police helicopter. Investigators want to know if Christie himself flew over the massive traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge and whether a key ally, David Wildstein, was on board that chopper with the governor.

That as lawyers for the mayor of Hoboken say they won't turn over documents or let their mayor, Dawn Zimmer, give a private interview to Christie's lawyers. The governor's office is conducting its own probe of any possible misconduct. Zimmer's attorneys write that it's inappropriate for the mayor to participate in that probe while a federal investigation is under way.

HOWELL: Breaking overnight, a possible first step toward raising the debt ceiling and holding off a U.S. default. House Republican leaders late Monday revealed their plan, saying they would agree to increased borrowing limits in exchange for restoring recently cut military pensions, but some conservatives, they don't like that and insist any spending increases should be off the table. The Treasury Department says the U.S. will hit the debt ceiling at the end of the month.

PEREIRA: This morning, many small businesses are getting more time to comply with Obamacare's employer mandate. The administration announcing companies with fewer than 100 workers will have until 2016 to begin providing coverage. The mandate deadline was already pushed back for all businesses until 2015. The administration says it wants to give companies enough time to make the process as simple as possible. HOWELL: The French president, Francois Hollande, continues his official state visit to Washington today. Just a day ago, he went with President Obama to Monticello. That is where Thomas Jefferson lived.

In just a few hours, the French president will visit the White House for meetings there and a state dinner, and that meal, of course, complicated by Hollande's newly single status after an affair with a French actress that led him to part ways with his longtime partner.

PEREIRA: New calls this morning for the military to turn over detailed information about sex assault cases. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is demanding to know how allegations were handled at four bases in the last five years, including Ft. Hood and Camp Pendleton in California. The request coming in light of revelations that charges were often reduced in rape cases at military bases in Japan. The Senate is expected to vote this week on Gillibrand's bill that would change how the military handles sex assault charges.

HOWELL: We could get more revelations today about the threats facing this country. As the director of the national intelligence, James Clapper, testifies before a Senate committee. Also today, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, will take part, explaining their worries for the coming year.

PEREIRA: That as intense discussions are underway today in the Obama administration about possibly staging an operation to kill an American citizen overseas who's suspected of plotting attacks against the U.S. CNN has learned that military commanders and national security officials are all involved in the talks, but ultimately, the president himself would have to sign off on any operation. The White House is not talking about the discussions but pointed to a speech the president made last year.

HOWELL: The U.S. last --


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: -- does not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen without due process, nor should any president deploy armed drones over U.S. soil, but he also said that when a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against the United States and is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens and when neither the United States nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot, his citizenship should not serve as a shield.


PEREIRA: The U.S. last carried out a strike against an American citizen in 2011 when Anwar al Awlaki was killed in Yemen.

HOWELL: In Iraq, many are still talking today about an accidental explosion that left 21 militants and their instructor dead. This happened just north of Baghdad. Authorities say the man was showing recruits how to build a car bomb when he accidentally triggered a huge blast, killing himself and many of those watching.

Nearly two dozen people, all suspected terrorists, were arrested afterwards. They were apparently trying to run from the scene.

PEREIRA: This morning, we're getting a closer look at the raid in Libya that captured a suspected al Qaeda member. It was all caught on security cameras.

Barbara Starr has our details.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The video is truly remarkable. It was a predawn raid last October in Libya. In this dramatic, newly released security camera footage obtained by "The Washington Post," a van pulls up next to a vehicle on the streets of Tripoli. Watch as U.S. Army Delta Force commandos jump out and grab Abu Anas al Libi, an alleged al Qaeda operative. The suspect tries to reach for his gun, but he is captured.

Al Libi was wanted for his alleged role in the 1998 al Qaeda bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in East Africa. Within days of the capture, he was brought to federal court in New York where he pled not guilty to terrorism charges. As you look at the tape, people quickly gathered on that street, shocked at what they had seen, but it was all over in seconds -- Michaela, George.

PEREIRA: All right. Barbara Starr, thanks so much for that.

HOWELL: All right. New this morning, we are finding out the possible motive behind a series of cyber attacks on the nation's biggest retailers. A new government report says the hackers were not trying to take down the U.S. economy, but instead, it implies that their goal was simply to make a lot of money by selling your personal data.

PEREIRA: Let's talk money and get a check of what the markets are doing and shape to do.

Alison Kosik, good morning.

HOWELL: Good morning.


We are seeing lots of green arrows in markets overseas. Hong Kong closed with a gain of more than 1.5 percent. London, France and Germany starting the day higher as well.

All eyes on the new Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen today. She's heading to Capitol Hill for a Q&A session with the House Financial Services Committee. Financial markets are going to be keeping a close watch for any comments that she may make about how the economy's doing or if she hints about any policy changes, especially with the stimulus that's ongoing.

Economists think it is unlikely that Yellen would make such a statement today, but markets will still be on the edge of their seats watching. This is the first time we're going to be hearing from Yellen since she began her new job as head of the Fed earlier this month, and she's going to be appearing on Capitol Hill this morning at 10:00 a.m. and then before a Senate committee on Thursday.

HOWELL: Great.

PEREIRA: A lot of eyes on her.


HOWELL: Absolutely.

PEREIRA: Waiting to see, you know, what tact she's going to take.

KOSIK: Exactly. It's going to be interesting.

HOWELL: Alison, thank you.

KOSIK: Sure.

PEREIRA: Coming up, terror threats, empty seats and an Olympic village that seemed, well, not ready. But days into the winter games, is Sochi now being called a success?

HOWELL: We'll see. We're live there.

Plus, an explosion rocks a ball bearing plant in a small New Hampshire town. More than a dozen people injured. We have new details right after the break.


HOWELL: This morning, there's good news in Sochi, more chances for U.S. gold. Medals are being set to be awarded in eight events, including speed skating, snowboarding and cross-country skiing. But much of the attention now is turning to who's not watching. The stands in many events are half full.

Nick Paton Walsh joins us live in Sochi.

So, Nick, despite the fact that people aren't watching there, they're still calling it a success?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. The Kremlin saying nearly half the world's population watched the opening ceremony, but there have been lots of pictures on social media of the stands being half empty. Organizers moving in to perhaps react to that, saying that spectators who are already here are going to get another shot at getting tickets to more events and that the volunteers, the young Russians here, many of them English speaking, welcoming people to the games, that they'll be given seats as well.

Perhaps that's a way of trying to keep the stands full. We've seen a lot, though, I have to say recently, of venues more near capacity.

But one person who very much is drawing crowds himself on social media, Johnny Quinn, the U.S. bobsledder who sprung to Twitter fame through bursting through the door of his hotel room when he was accidentally locked shut and he couldn't get out, he got into trouble later yesterday when he and some teammates were locked in a lift, steel doors there, no chance of breaking through that at all, but, of course, they had their smartphones on hand to document the whole thing.

Many saying, though, Johnny, can you really actually get locked in two confined spaces in such a short period of time? The Olympic Committee confirming, yes, this was a genuine incident.

But still today, controversy around a tweet as old as last year by a Russian MP, an Olympic veteran, called Irina Rodnina. Now, she lit the flame during that Friday Olympic ceremony, was deeply controversial because last year, she tweeted a picture of Barack and Michelle Obama with a banana superimposed over that. Now, today, she has released some tweets in which she says -- she blames hackers for that original tweet and says she respects the Obama family and apologized for not clearly stating earlier that I don't support the tweeted photo or racism in any form.

Many asking, these tweets in perfect English, previous tweets in Russian, why did it take quite so long for this clarification to emerge? George?

HOWELL: So, Nick, a few complications, a few empty stands, but the games go on. Nick, thank you so much.

PEREIRA: To other news now, close arguments could begin today in the case against Michael Dunn. He is the Florida man charged with gunning down a 17-year-old after an argument over loud rap music. Dunn says it was in self-defense, but Monday, a state medical examiner disputed that, as jurors saw the bullet-ridden clothes of the teen. Defense attorneys called several character witnesses and could call Dunn to the stand today.

HOWELL: Now sentenced, a Mexican national connected to the killing of an American border agent using U.S. guns. It was all part of that botched "Fast & Furious" operation, you'll remember. His name, Manuel Orsorio Arianes (ph), and he will spend 30 years in jail for the death of Brian Terry. At least two weapons at the scene were Terry's death were connected back to the "Fast & Furious" operation, where law enforcement agents arranged to give guns to criminals with hopes of tracking them.

PEREIRA: Big rulings in the Colorado theater shooting case. A judge allowing chilling photos taken by the defendant, James Holmes. They were taken hours before the massacre. One picture shows Holmes holding a pistol beneath his face and grinning, along with alleged surveillance shots of the theater taken weeks earlier. Holmes for his part has pleaded not guilty.

HOWELL: San Diego is now one step closer this morning to putting its former mayor's legal troubles behind him. The city has now settled on a sexual harassment lawsuit from Bob Filner's former communications director for $250,000. Irene McCormick-Jackson was one of the first to come forward with allegations against Filner, but he will pay nothing under the theory that as his employer, the city was responsible for his actions.

PEREIRA: A coalition of religious groups is joining a legal battle in an effort to uphold the same sex marriage bans in Oklahoma and in Utah. The Mormon Church and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are among those arguing before a federal appeals court that is reviewing cases to reverse gay marriage bans in those states. They claim unions between a man and woman are best for children, families and for society.

HOWELL: This morning, authorities are trying to track down the cause of a terrifying explosion at a ball bearing factory in New Hampshire. That blast shaking walls and shattering windows, sending 15 people to the hospital. None of the injuries appear to be life-threatening. The plant builds high-tech parts for the aerospace industry.

PEREIRA: Certainly frightening moments there.

HOWELL: Absolutely.

PEREIRA: Coming up, Olympic favorite Shaun White is hoping to make history today. But the big question, could a dangerous course keep him off the podium?


PEREIRA: From his home campus all the way to the White House, support continues to pour in for college football star Michael Sam after he announced that he was gay.

HOWELL: Andy Scholes joins us now with more on the "Bleacher Report" this morning.

Andy, this is a big deal.

PEREIRA: Hey, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: Hey, good morning, guys. It really is. You know, Michael Sam said he wanted to tell the world that he was gay because he wanted to tell his story before anyone else did.

And as soon as he made the announcement, the 6'2", 255-pound defensive lineman, he started receiving encouragement from all around the country. At his home stadium at University of Missouri, someone wrote an "S" and an "A" in the snow to spell out Sam. It's pretty cool.

And President Obama offered his support as well, tweeting, "Congratulations on leading the way, Mike Sam. That's real sportsmanship."

Sam will be the first openly gay player in the NFL come May. He's expected to be drafted in the middle rounds.

Trending on today, the winningest women's alpine skier in U.S. history added another medal to her trophy cabinet yesterday. Julia Mancuso brought home the bronze medal in the ladies' downhill slalom, and while this is her fourth Olympics, this one is a little extra special, as she dedicated the win to her grandfather, who passed away last year.

All right. Later today, Shaun White will look to etch his name further into the record books. The two-time reigning halfpipe gold medal winner is trying to become the first American to conquer the same event at three consecutive Winter Olympics.

The biggest challenge for White today, though, may not be his competitors, but the pipe itself. Many of the snowboarders in Sochi have expressed their concern over conditions of the course.

All right, one of the best moments from the Olympics so far came in yesterday's men's moguls final. Canadian Alex Bilodeau had an amazing final run to win gold, and once he knew he won, the first person he wanted to celebrate with was his brother, Frederick who has cerebral palsy. In an awesome moment you see right here, he pulled him over the barrier. And Alex said whatever he does in life, his brother is his inspiration. So cool.

All right, minutes ago, American Devin Logan won silver in the ladies ski slopestyle competition, bringing the medal count to six. Canada, they got two medals in the event and are up to an Olympic-leading nine.

So, Michaela, right now you have bragging rights over everyone.

PEREIRA: For a minute.

HOWELL: And she's bragging, too.

PEREIRA: I am so excited! You don't understand. I was going ballistic in my apartment yesterday. This is fantastic.

I was wearing my team Canada mittens and everything. There's some great stories of siblings in this Olympics, especially on Team Canada. I love that one that you shared with us right there, Andy. That was just beautiful.

HOWELL: You missed during the break, she was going like this. It's a big deal.

PEREIRA: A little crying. Go Canada, you know?

SCHOLES: Hey, Shaun White should get the U.S. one more today, so we're climbing the ladder.

PEREIRA: That is if he goes on the course. They're concerned with how dangerous the course is, so we'll see what happens.

Andy, thanks so much.

HOWELL: Andy, thanks.

SCHOLES: You're welcome.

PEREIRA: Let's talk about the other story, weather, weather, weather. State of emergency declared in the south. They're bracing for snow, ice and rain. We're going to track the storm for you after the break.


HOWELL: All right. They're bracing for the storm. Severe winter weather set to pummel the south yet again today -- grounding schools, schools are closed and residents told to stay at home.