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Dozens Killed In Ukraine Protests; Kerry To Raise Chance Of Ukraine Sanctions; Venezuelan Protesters Not Letting Up; Juror In Loud Music Trial Wanted Murder Conviction; Iran, Six World Powers Hold Nuclear Talks; Woman Dog Rescued After Falling In Sinkhole; Government Wants License Plate Tracking System; NFL Combine Gets Under Way Today; Obama To Comment On Ukraine Today

Aired February 19, 2014 - 10:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM starts now.

Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thanks so much for joining me.

We begin this morning with the long shadow of the Cold War and new explosions of that bitter east versus west divisions. This is Ukraine where thousands of Americans live and more than 25 people died in escalating violence. Protests first flared back in November when the Ukrainian president backed out of a trade deal with the European Union. Instead, he chose closer ties to Russia and President Vladimir Putin. That angered people in the Ukraine who want closer ties to Europe and the United States.

And international tensions rose further with Russia's accusations that the U.S. is meddling and crudely interfering in the Ukraine. And while Putin's attention and presence are more than 600 miles away at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Ukraine is stuck in the middle most geographically and politically.

Ukraine's president now vowing a crackdown on anti-government violence. Some protesters are mocking his ban helmets by wearing pots and pans on their heads, but make no mistake the clashes are brutal and ugly. Molotov cocktails are becoming the favorite weapons of the protesters' arsenal. Both police and citizens are being hit indiscriminately.

After direct appeals from the United States to the Ukrainian government to stop the violence, there is news this morning that the Obama administration is prepared to take an even tougher stance. Our chief Washington correspondent and anchor of "THE LEAD," Jake Tapper is following that part of the story. Tell us more, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Carol, senior administration officials tell me that in a few hours or within the hour actually, Secretary of State, John Kerry, who is in France and meeting with the French foreign minister, will address publicly, what's going on in Ukraine and for the first time publicly, raise the specter of the U.S. possibly imposing sanctions on the Ukrainian government. This is not to say that they are announcing sanctions, but they will be raised. We should note that yesterday in a tweet, the U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine, Geoffe Pyatt, noted in a tweet, quote, "We believe Ukraine's crisis can be solved by dialogue. But those on both sides who feel violence will open themselves to sanctions."

Kerry's remarks today I'm told will be made in conjunction with other governments. There is a coordination going on by the U.S. government, by the Obama administration with friends and allies and the senior administration official also tells me that Secretary Kerry will reiterate in public what Vice President Biden said privately to Ukrainian President Yanukovych that his government is responsible for the safety of the Ukrainian people.

And that he has a choice to make between dialogue and compromise with the opposition or the violence and mayhem that we have been seeing in the streets. This probably will not, Carol, be enough to satisfy all critics. We had Senator John McCain, on my show yesterday. He said the U.S. government and the Congress, White House, together, should impose sanctions on the Ukrainian government.

So some people will no doubt say that raising the specter of sanctions will not be enough. They need to be imposed. It is a big step for the Obama administration -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right, Jake Tapper, thanks so much. There is also no sign of let up in Venezuela as thousands of people there protest against their government. They are demanding peace, freedom of speech, better security, and an end to the nation's shortage of goods. The outrage directed at President Nicholas Maduro and the government's crackdown on protesters.

Today, the leader of the opposition, Leopoldo Lopez seen here is set to appear in court. He is accused of horrendous crimes, but the charges against him may spark more violent protests. CNN's Karl Penhaul is in Caracas where the protests have been going down.


KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In the course of this morning, we are expecting the Harvard-educated leader of Venezuela's opposition to appear in court on charges of murder, terrorism and also arson relating to a wave of violent protests that are sweeping the country. Now anti-government protesters, supporters of the opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez are calling among themselves to flock to the courthouse in support of their leader.

That will really set the stage for a possible confrontation with pro- government security forces. The protest here in Venezuela has been going on now for more than two weeks motivated initially by students called on the government to get the crime wave under control added to that demand to improve the economy. Things are now beginning to boil down to one central demand and that that the socialist government of President Nicholas Maduro should resign and Venezuela should end its 16--year-old experiment with socialism. There is no sign that either side is willing to back down. Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters turned out on Tuesday. There were no reports of violence in Caracas. In the southwest of the country, there were reports of seven people wounded by bullets. Just to give you an example of some of the political tensions playing out on the streets here of Caracas, our CNN crew went out in the evening to cover a standoff between pro-government supporters and anti- government protesters.

We also came under attack. A group of thugs on motorcycles road into the protester crowd to disperse them and then rounded on us. In a few seconds, I found myself looking down the barrel of a chrome-plated 9- millimeter pistol and those thugs on motorcycles then proceed to rob us of all our camera equipment and transmission gear as well. That is more anecdote to show you how things are becoming increasingly difficult here on the streets of Caracas.


COSTELLO: Karl Penhaul reporting for us this morning. Here at home, she is known as juror number 4, one of the people who spent 30 hours deliberating the fate of Michael Dunn before eventually convicting Dunn of attempted murder following a dispute over loud rap music. Now that juror, whose name is Valerie, is talking about the experience.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think Michael Dunn got away with murder?

VALERIE, JUROR NUMBER FOUR IN DUNN MURDER TRIAL: At this point, I do. Myself, personally, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you went to the deliberating room, you thought Michael Dunn was guilty?

VALERIE: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of killing a 17-year-old boy?

VALERIE: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What convinced you of that?

VALERIE: To me, it was unnecessary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You didn't think Michael Dunn had to kill Jordan Davis?

VALERIE: I don't believe so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You all took your first poll on guilt or innocence on the murder of Jordan Davis, what was the vote?

VALERIE: Ten to two.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ten people thinking he was guilty? VALERIE: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And two said --

VALERIE: Self-defense.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why were you and the others so convinced that Dunn was guilty?

VALERIE: We all believed that there was another way out, another option.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What were his options do you think?

VALERIE: Roll your window up, ignore the taunting, put your car in reverse, back up to the front of the store, move the parking spot over. That's my feeling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jordan Davis' parents will likely watch this interview. What would you say to them?

VALERIE: I would say I am sorry, of course. Nothing will bring back their son. I hope they feel we didn't do them a disservice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Michael Dunn could well spend the rest of his life in prison. Jordan Davis' parents have a lifetime to grieve. As for Valerie and the other jurors, life resumes though never quite the same.


COSTELLO: That's for sure. Let's bring in our CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Sunny Hostin. Sunny, you heard that juror. You know, the prosecutor in Florida may retry Michael Dunn on first- degree murder charges in the death of Jordan Davis. What will she do differently after having hurt this juror?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I know that they will or at least they have indicated that they will retry this. I think in terms of a difference, again, I think this case was tried well by the prosecution. I think it was a very strong case. I think perhaps what they may do is humanize Jordan Davis a bit more. So that the jury understands that this is not a thug and I think they may also put in some evidence of Michael Dunn's character.

We heard those sort of jailhouse tapes. We've seen some of the letters that he wrote that have these sort of racist overtones. I think because his character was put into evidence, he was portrayed as this peace-loving really, you know, calm person. I think the door would be open to putting in the other evidence that talks to his character, and perhaps that will.

I will say this, Carol, I mean, when you listen to what this juror says, she said, two people or three at the very end believed this was self-defense. Nowhere else in the United States, the other states that don't have stand your ground law would this have happened. And that is because you have the duty to retreat. You have to take those other options that juror number four, Valerie, is talking about.

You have got to roll up your window, move a parking space. You have got to retreat. In Florida, because of stand your ground law, Michael Dunn was able to avail himself of the self-defense law and convince three jurors that he was acting justifiably. I really think we need to underscore that. This is very much about the stand your ground law.

COSTELLO: Sunny Hostin, thanks so much.

HOSTIN: You bet.

COSTELLO: Coming up in the NEWSROOM, high stakes and low expectations. CNN's Jim Sciutto walks us through today's nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers.


COSTELLO: Hammering out the details while tiptoeing through a mine field. Iran has suspended a potential step and in return, the west is providing billions of dollars in sanctions relief. The challenge now how to find enough agreement for a long-range plan. Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is in Washington. So what are the areas of disagreement?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, I always like to say that the interim deal was about pause, pausing Iran's nuclear program. A long-term deal is about deleting parts of it. They are going to be talking about how many centrifuges is Iran going to dismantle. He has 19,000 of them. They are getting close to it. Again, they have paused that enrichment, but will they stop doing it?

Will they take away capability? There are also other facilities there. There is a heavy water reactor known as the Iraq reactor, a second path tie bomb, a plutonium reactor. The west wants this deleted, dismantled. The Iranians want to modify it. One more, the west, including the U.S., wants Iran to admit to its past lies about its nuclear program and due so in writing as a sign of how serious they are going forward.

That would involve some leaders going back to the time when there were lies about it, when things were concealed, admitting they did so. These were difficult areas. They got six months initially in this interim deal.

COSTELLO: Well, I'm no expert. You're the expert, but I am thinking that lie thing isn't going to fly. So what are the chances of success.

SCIUTTO: Well, I think, you know, with all these things, kind of like with the interim agreement. On some of the toughest issues, you want to find a way for both sides to claim victory in effect. The way they did that on the interim deal, the Iranians, the big issue going in the interim deal was a right to enrichment. Do the Iranians have a right to enrich uranium on their own soil? The way they kind of settled that issue was the Iranians claim that right and the west goes inexplicitly (ph) granted so both can say when they go home, they got what they wanted. In effect the truth is somewhere in between.

And I think on some issues, you might have the same kind of dynamic coming out of this deal. A lot of tamping down of expectations happening now, U.S. officials going in, the president has said 50/50. That's their chances, an equal chance of failing and reaching a long- term agreement as to coming to an agreement. They have a lot of work to do.

COSTELLO: Jim Sciutto, thanks so much.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.

COSTELLO: Checking other top stories this morning at 15 minutes past the hour. An Oregon woman is safe and sound after she fell into a 20- foot deep sinkhole in her backyard while searching for her poodle. A neighbor heard her cries and called 911.


WYATT PIRO, NEIGHBOR: To find out that somebody fell down a hole was kind of nerve-racking because we walk around here a lot. So it was kind of surprising.


COSTELLO: Amazingly, both the woman and her dog escaped unharmed. They crawled out of that sinkhole when the firefighters threw down ropes.

The government could soon be tracking you in your car. Homeland security wants to build a national license plate tracking system. "The Washington Post" says it would connect information gathered by tag readers used by local police departments. A DHS spokesman said the information would only be used in criminal investigations. But civil liberties are concerned.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, the NFL future for Michael Sam begins today as the NFL combine gets underway. What can he expect to hear from team executives when we come back?


COSTELLO: Today, the potential professional football career of Michael Sam will take a new turn. Sam, the man who could become the NFL's first openly gay player begins several days of exams, interviews and work-outs at the NFL Combine, a high-profile event that can make or break a player's draft status. It may be the only time Sam can sit with team executives face to face before the NFL draft in May.

Former NFL linebacker and safety, Coy Wire, participated in the NFL Combine before his NFL draft in 2002. He is now a Fox Sports analyst. Good morning, Coy.

COY WIRE, FORMER NFL SAFETY: Good morning, Carol. Good to be back with you. How are you this morning?

COSTELLO: I'm good. It's good to have you here. So how do you think Michael Sam is feeling this morning?

WIRE: You know, this is the biggest moment of his life and he has come out and will be the first openly gay player. This is the biggest time of his life, the most monumental moment of his life. This is not just a glorified track me, this is a four-day job interview that will determine his career forever.

COSTELLO: He has to sell himself and do it under this cloud of controversy, right. So when executives sit down and they interview him, will they specifically ask him about being gay and what was that like in the locker room at college?

WIRE: I think they will ask how he is going to handle it. Is he ready to handle it? I think they do that with any sort of player, not about sexuality. But they want to see how tough you are physically, but also mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and they will ask him about it.

But I think his track record shows that he is a status quo smasher. He is a mold breaker. Look at what he did at Missouri. I mean, he rallied his team. They knew about it. They rallied behind him. They went from being 5-7 two years ago to 12-2 last year, fifth in the nation.

He won the SEC defensive player of the year. He was not a distraction to his locker room. If anything, he was a unifier. His team rallied, supported, respected him, a difference maker.

COSTELLO: There is no doubt he is an awesome young man, but he is a young man. What if he runs into a Richie Incognito?

WIRE: I don't think we should wish that upon anyone. Those types of players are in the NFL. They need to get rid of those types of players until they get themselves right. Michael Sam I think will go to a team who understands and has a good pulse on their locker room. They know they will have men in there that will be accepting and open and understand the situation.

I think he is going to be a boon for whatever team decides to take him. This guy, he is a good player. I think he could get drafted in the third or fifth round, but he is a guy who is a leader, a courageous person, a difference maker that any sort of organization would love to have him be part of.

COSTELLO: Well, this is what I have also heard. It is not so much that Michael Sam is gay, but it is about the media circus he will create if he joins any team. Coaches don't want that distraction. That may hurt him more than being the first openly gay player in the NFL. WIRE: I think that is something to consider but, again, look at Michael Sam's track record. This guy is of a different breed. When it comes to his ability to be in social situations that aren't the norm, like you said, he was a young kid and came out to his players, his teammates, his coaches that he was gay. It didn't matter who him. He was proud of who he was and confident of who he was, and ultimately, that gained the respect of his coaches and teammates and the team succeed because of it.

COSTELLO: I hope you are right, Coy Wire. I do. Thank you so much.

WIRE: Thanks for having me.

COSTELLO: We'll be right back.

All right, we are not going to this break because we have confirmed this breaking news. President Obama will speak today on the escalating violence in Ukraine. Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is in Mexico where the president is attending a summit of North American leaders. Jim, what will he say about Ukraine?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't have details just yet about what he is going to say, Carol. This was obviously not on the agenda. They were supposed to be talking about matters pertaining to the North American continent, to Canada, Mexico and the United States.

But deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, just told reporters on Air Force One, as the president is heading down here to Toluca, Mexico, for this North American Leaders Summit that the president will publicly address or he anticipates that the president will publicly address the situation in Ukraine today.

That unfolding violence we are seeing in the streets as government forces fire on protesters there. This follows what the vice president urged to the president of Ukraine last night in a phone call saying that he would like to see that government exercise what the White House calls maximum restraint earlier this morning on Air Force One. Ben Rhodes told reporters that the president is observing the situation very closely.

He talked about it with French President Francois Hollande earlier today. So allies are looking at this as well. It is unclear as to how much the United States can do about it. Secretary of state, John Kerry, as our Jake Tapper has been reporting is expected to talk about the prospects for sanctions against the Ukraine. He knows that President Vladimir Putin of Russia is very much driving the situation in Ukraine and that is also a component in this as well -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes, and the Russian president also involved in Syria, right, and Iran. This is a sticky situation for the president of the United States. Thanks so much, Jim Acosta reporting live from Mexico.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, a new push to free the only U.S. soldier held captive as the Afghan war comes to an end. Now experts say the clock is ticking if the United States wants to see Bo Bergdahl released.


COSTELLO: Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me. Checking our top stories this morning, the claims of the so-called Craigslist killer slowly unraveling. Alaska officials now say there is no evidence to back up Miranda Barbour's story she killed anyone. They followed up tips but found no evidence of a crime. She told reporters she committed countless murders in several states. She and her husband are currently in a Pennsylvania jail after admitting to killing a man they met on Craigslist.

A new report by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reveals the mix outlook for raising the minimum wage. If the minimum wage is increased to $10.10 900,000 Americans could be lifted out of poverty but the report added that 500,000 jobs could -- could be cut from the economy.