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Ukraine in Chaos; Winter Returns; History on the Basketball Court

Aired February 24, 2014 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news: wanted for mass murder. An arrest warrant just issued for the president of Ukraine. As of now, he is on the run. A nation in chaos. We're live with the latest developments this morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Winter weather returns. Millions across the country set to be smacked with bitter-cold temperatures and with the arctic air comes more snow. Indra Petersons tracking just how cold it's going to get.

BERMAN: All right, breaking news and breaking barriers. History made on the court. Jason Collins, the NBA's first openly gay player, he gets in the game.

Good morning, everyone. Great to see you this morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It's Monday, I'm sorry, February 24th. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And a lot to get to this morning. We'll begin with breaking news from Ukraine, where an arrest warrant has been issued for the country's ousted prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych. Ukraine's acting interior minister says he's wanted for the mass murder of peaceful citizens.

This morning, his whereabouts are not known. It follows a weekend of political upheaval that saw Yanukovych tossed out. A former rival freed from prison, and parliament appointing an acting president. There's growing concern about possible intervention by Russia.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is live in Kiev. Bring us up to speed, Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, the mass murder you're referring to is, of course, the shooting dead of dozens of protesters here, mostly by police down a few days ago just from where I'm standing here. Now, they believe that Yanukovych specifically ordered that, hence the arrest warrant.

But, really, we're talking remarkably about a president that just as little as 72 hours ago was clinging on to power but is now a wanted man on the run in his own country. He tried to flee a few days ago, turned around at an airport. Now we understand he may have spent the night in a residence in the south. He is now thought to perhaps be somewhere neighboring Russia, but it is not totally friendly turf because the mayor of the key town just announced he's joining the opposition.

So, as Yanukovych continues to move around Ukraine, the ground is increasingly shrinking beneath him. Many people here and in his lavish presidential residence where we were yesterday want to see him behind bars, but Ukraine now facing more urgent task of getting itself back together again. Its new minister of finance just said we need $35 billion now to keep the country afloat, asking America and Poland to help out with that.

Plus, as you mentioned, we're still waiting to hear from Moscow, the big kind of force in the background here. Ukraine's very powerful neighbor, whose economic pressure started some of this dispute in the first place, no major noise from them at all. Key warnings from American and European diplomats and officials that it would be a bad mistake to get involved in this crisis. No sign they will at the moment, but things moving so fast inside Ukraine, it's rapidly getting out of their influence and that's going to make Vladimir Putin very uncomfortable.

Still, the focus today, people are still mourning behind me the deaths of those individuals and this call, a final arrest warrant now for Viktor Yanukovych. He's far away from being the president here. He's now frankly a criminal in the eyes of authorities here on the run.

Back to you.

ROMANS: No question, Nick. This political issue has caused a lot of economic damage, and it's a country that already last year needed a $15 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. It wasn't able to keep up its end of the bargain and keep that money. Now, they say $35 billion. Clearly, that's something people will feel and a lot of work to be done here.

Nick Paton Walsh, thank you.

BERMAN: All right. Happening today, President Obama speaks to the nation's governors as they wrap up their annual winter meeting in Washington, D.C. The president hosted them at a White House dinner Sunday night. That gathering included several 2016 White House hopefuls. The president appealed to state leaders to work with him on the economy, education and health care in what he hopes will be a year of action.

ROMANS: Meantime, the president's defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, will preview the new Pentagon budget today, and it includes painful cuts that, among other things, will shrink the army to its lowest, smallest fighting force since before World War II.

BERMAN: That's a big headline.

ROMANS: It really is. Pentagon officials say the budget cuts will result in a military that's too small for any protracted foreign occupations. The Hagel plan also calls for slashing military benefits, limiting pay raises, increasing health care premiums and reducing housing allowances. He is also recommending a one-year pay freeze for top military brass. BERMAN: The Obama administration is still weighing its options for a continued military presence in Afghanistan beyond this year. One of four options reportedly being considered by President Obama will leave 3,000 troops behind based in Kabul and the American installation of Bagram. Military commanders have recommended 10,000 troops remain in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Hagel expected to brief his NATO counterparts in Brussels this week on what the U.S. is currently thinking.

ROMANS: All right. In hot water for spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the U.S. has reportedly turned its attention to other senior German officials. That's according to the German newspaper which cites a high-ranking NSA employee. President Obama ordered a halt to surveillance of Merkel's cell phone after revelations caused an uproar last year.

Among the alleged new targets, the German interior minister, a top Merkel confidante.

BERMAN: The U.S. and South Korea beginning joint military exercises today. This comes as families separated for decades on the Korean peninsula are reuniting. The drills are taking place despite North Korea's threat to cancel the cross-border reunions if the drills were not scrapped, but Pyongyang ultimately agreed to go ahead with the reunions.

Now, the war games between the U.S. and South Korea are said to involve some 10,000 South Korean troops, about 5,000 American forces.

ROMANS: All right, we are less than a month from spring.


ROMANS: Ha, but it is still winter and much of the country getting yet another bitter-cold taste. Look at that arctic air in the Midwest, another deep freeze. The eastern half of the country's now starting to feel it.

BERMAN: Yes, Indra Petersons is tracking all this for us. Indra, it's supposed to be spring almost! It was warm yesterday. What happened?

ROMANS: I heard birds, I heard birds --

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know what, happy Monday, right? That's pretty much all I can say.

Once again, we're talking about cool air making its way in, that arctic plunge again diving down to the South, and that's what we're going to be dealing with, these temperatures backing off each day.

First, let's talk about the difference here. Let's talk about the temperatures we saw yesterday. This is what you guys are talking about, right? It was gorgeous. D.C. was 64 degrees. Look at the South, almost near 70 yesterday. And now, here are the highs we are expecting today. Ouch! This does not look good. We're talking about 30s and 40s out there, another way to look at this. Let's talk about the temperatures whose highs will be just at the freezing mark.

Monday, today, Detroit, Pittsburgh, we're talking about just freezing highs. And then watch this cold air spread. By tomorrow, looking at spreading towards Indianapolis, even New York city, your high will be just 32 degrees. Then, by Wednesday, we're really feeling the cold air making its way down even to the South, 31 degrees. Oh, yes, it has been a tough season.

Do want to point out, there is a chance for snow by the middle of the week on the East Coast. You're going to see a low kind of making its way off the coastline, as well as another wave kind of making its way across the lakes.

With that, we're looking for some snow. D.C. by Wednesday, three inches. New York City could see another 2 inches, so I hope you guys enjoyed (AUDIO GAP)

BERMAN: We heard the birds. It was nice. I wore the tank top. It was all good.

ROMANS: I was wearing a sweatshirt and shoveling icy snow off my trees and landscaping. It was horrible.

BERMAN: You have to get it off before we get another few inches.

All right. Indra, thanks so much.

All right. Breaking overnight, a stretch of the Mississippi River closed to water traffic as crews work to clean up an oil spill. Coast Guard officials say a barge ran into a tow boat between Baton Rouge and New Orleans over the weekend. Public drinking water intakes on the river were closed as a precaution. Officials do not know how much oil was spilled. No one was hurt. All the barges have been secured.

ROMANS: The world's richest economies are getting together to pump trillions of dollars into the global economy, $2 trillion, to be exact, over the next five years. That's the pledge this morning out of Sydney, where representatives from the 19 richest nations and the E.U. are meeting. It's the G-20 conference. The $2 trillion boost a big change from just a few years ago when it was austerity, remember, big spending cuts that were the theme of some of these big economies.

Analysts say the plan is ambitious. Some are skeptical about exactly how it will work, but it comes as the U.S. and other economies are growing but not quickly enough.

Still, the S&P 500 -- look at this -- the S&P is in spitting distance of a record high, just 12 points shy. Stock futures up slightly at this moment. Overseas markets are mixed right now.

BERMAN: All right, honest to goodness history made overnight. Mark your calendars. Jason Collins became the first openly gay player to appear in an NBA game, and in any game for the four major professional sports, men's sports. Collins signed a ten-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets, and hours later took the court against the Los Angeles Lakers.


JASON COLLINS, NBA PLAYER: It was weird in that, you know, I'm usually like the background, one of the background players, and it's weird, obviously, this. But at the same time, it is what it is, and it's part of life.

Most important thing is that the team got the win. That's all that I've ever cared about. I don't care about scoring, I don't care about -- I care about my team winning and helping my teammates get open and making their job easier.


BERMAN: Good for him, good for the Lakers, good for the NBA. Collins finished the game with two rebounds and a steal in the Nets' 108-102 win over the Lakers.

ROMANS: All right, a six-hour rain delay couldn't stop Dale Earnhardt Jr. from capturing his second Daytona 500 championship. He led the final 18 laps, crossing the finish line under caution in primetime, nearly 11 hours after that race began. The victory snapped a 57-race winless streak for Earnhardt, who called winning the great American race the greatest feeling you can have in the sport.

BERMAN: And this ended so late. A lot of people watching the Daytona 500 are still up right now. I was getting tweets from them, seriously, talking about junior's win. So, hello to all of you. Welcome to EARLY START.

ROMANS: Fifty-seven winless races.

BERMAN: It's big.

ROMANS: It's a big one.

BERMAN: He's a favorite.

By the way, this is a programming note: you may notice we're on a new set here. What you don't know is it's because Christine Romans trashed the old set, like Keith Moon from The Who, just wrecked the place. We can never go back. The hotel won't let us back.

All right, coming up for us, a big finale for Winter Games in Sochi, closing out the most expensive Olympics in history. Look at this, discount fireworks display. We're live with the latest from Sochi.

ROMANS: And then this, a poisonous gas fills a New York restaurant. One person killed, dozens more hospitalized. What we're now learning this morning, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone.

The Sochi Olympics are now in the history books. The Winter Games ending much the same way they began, with a spectacular closing ceremony. Just look at that.

As for the medal count, Russia won the most, also the most gold. And you know what? Perhaps best of all, it is important to note that this was an Olympics without any kind of security incident. We were so worried going in, and thankfully, nothing happened.

CNN's Ivan Watson live in Sochi.

It's time for the cleanup, Ivan.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The games are, you know, some might say finally over. It was a big fireworks display last night, a dramatic closing ceremony. There were some Russians at the end, their eyes were tearing up, there was some sadness there, at the end of this more than two-week festival of sport here.

And the Russians took a moment even to poke some fun at themselves. They arranged at the beginning of the closing ceremony 4 1/2 rings on the stadium floor, poking fun at the big Olympic ring fail during the opening ceremony, a long 2 1/2 weeks ago.

And, of course, they got the final hoorah, as you mentioned, the largest number of gold medals, the biggest overall medal count as well. That's a big win for the Russians, for the host country. And they even got the final ceremony getting to have first, second and third-place sweep in the 50-kilometer mass start cross-country race with their male athletes on the podium at the end.

So, it was a sweet closing for the Russian host city that was really celebrated here in Sochi. And of course, now the long task of cleaning up begins -- John.

BERMAN: And, of course, it will be very interesting to see what happens to this magical city, almost built from scratch for the Olympics. Ivan Watson in Sochi -- the $51 billion location now of the Olympic Games, which are done -- thanks, Ivan.

ROMANS: All right, American prosecutors will try to have an alleged Mexican drug lord extradited to the United States. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in New York says authorities want to try Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, head of the Sinaloa drug cartel. The notorious boss, known as Shorty, was arrested Saturday morning a raid on his beachside condo.

Guzman is believed to be the head of a cocaine empire worth billions. He has avoided police for years using bribes, safe houses and homes connected with underground tunnels. So, a very big arrest. The U.S. wants him extradited.

BERMAN: And a lot of shock that it went down as easily, no shoot-out or dramatic event. He just woke up and the authorities were there.

All right. Today, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on a greenhouse gas regulation case. The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking to tighten emission standards for so-called stationary greenhouse gases like those emitted by power plants. The White House says they will stem the effects of climate change.

The high stakes case is a consolidation of six separate appeals on the regulations, seen as a major test of executive authority.

ROMANS: This morning, gas lines are slowly returning to service at a Long Island mall where a carbon monoxide leak killed one person and wounded 27 others. This happened at a popular seafood restaurant. A store manager, 55-year-old Steven Nelson, found dead in the restaurant's basement. First responders say they quickly became light-headed when they walked in the restaurant. Immediately, they evacuated the restaurant and two others.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They just told us to get out of the building and that there were people who were passing out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were eating dinner. The place was jammed. And then just very calmly, the wait staff came and told us that we have to evacuate the building.


ROMANS: Now, the town code does not require carbon monoxide detectors, but authorities are blaming a faulty water heater flue and the store has been cited for having defective equipment. As of Sunday night, another employee was still hospitalized in stable condition.

BERMAN: Opening statements today in the trial of Kerry Kennedy. She's the daughter of Robert Kennedy, charged with driving under the influence after a 2012 collision with a tractor-trailer in New York. Prosecutors claim Kennedy knew her judgment was impaired by a sleeping pill. The defense says she must have taken the pill accidentally. The charge carries up to a year in jail, but without a prior record, Kennedy will likely not see any jail time if convicted.

ROMANS: This morning, federal health officials are investigating a possible norovirus outbreak after several passengers and crew members fell ill on a cruise ship, the Holland America ship. It just ended a week-long Caribbean voyage on Saturday when officials say over 100 passengers and crew members suffered from vomiting and diarrhea. This comes months after two cruise ships had passengers fall ill with the norovirus.

BERMAN: California public health officials are investigating a mysterious polio-like illness that's affected a number of children, causing paralysis in limbs. This sounds terrifying. Officials have been tracking the illness since the first known case in 2012, when a doctor requested polio testing for a child with severe paralysis. That raised concern because polio has been eradicated in the U.S. and the child had not traveled overseas.

ROMANS: It seems there is a shortage of Beliebers in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta. Pop star Justin Bieber is eyeing a home in the affluent community, but neighbors there are saying, please stay out, Biebs. They have organized a protest and even started a Facebook page over concerns that the singer will bring unwanted attention to the neighborhood, not to say nothing of egg-throwing and fast driving. Bieber's camp has not commented on the rumored move.

All right. On a similar but unrelated note, get ready for basketball diplomacy, the movie. According to "The Hollywood Reporter," Dennis Rodman's bizarre diplomatic mission in North Korea could soon come to the big screen. Twentieth Century Fox reportedly buying the rights to what they're calling a comedy called "Diplomats," all about Rodman's strange trips to North Korea and even stranger friendship with the Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un.

I would say, I hope they are sensitive to what the United Nations calls the gross human rights violations that are happening in North Korea. That is no comedy, for sure.

ROMANS: All right, keeping courtesy on the football field, there could be a big game penalty coming for trash talking players.

BERMAN: This is a big, big story.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes is going to explain in the "Bleacher Report," next.


ROMANS: You know, history was made overnight on the basketball court. Jason Collins became the first openly gay athlete to play in the NBA, or actually, any one of the main four U.S. men sports.

Andy Scholes joins us now with the "Bleacher Report."


After Jason Collins made the announcement he was gay this past offseason, he said he hoped he would land another job in the NBA this season and the Brooklyn Nets made that happen yesterday, signing Collins to a 10-day contract. Now, the Nets played the Lakers in L.A. last night and Collins entered the game at the beginning of the second quarter, received a very nice ovation. He played a solid 11 minutes, grabbing two rebounds, and Collins said after the game that it was a lot of fun to get back out on the court, set screens and make some hard fouls.

This year's big race, the NASCAR race, first one's in the books, but there's a bit of confusion on the Internet who actually won the Daytona 500. Now, the race was delayed more than six hours due to rain, so to fill time, the broadcast switched to last year's race. Well, Jimmie Johnson won the 2013 race, and when many news outlets, like FOX News, saw the replay, they reported that Jimmie actually won this year's race. Oops! Well, once they finally restarted the actual race, Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the checkered flag for his second win at Daytona.

All right. We now know what country is the best at hockey, team Canada wrapped up the winter Olympics in style yesterday, winning their second straight gold medal. The women's team won the gold as well to make it a clean sweep for our northern neighbors. Host country Russia won the overall medal count with the U.S. coming in second.

All right, a big topic on social media and right now is the possibility of the NFL penalizing a player 15 yards for using discriminatory language on the field, most notably, the N-word. Now, according to reports, the NFL's competition committee is discussing putting this in place for next season. The new petition rule receiving mixed reviews at the combine, some players say it would interfere with their freedom of speech, while others worried about how it would be enforced.

Now, I think that's a big deal, how it would be enforced, because as soon as this penalty ends up deciding a game, I think that would be a big disaster, because you know, how do you say what actually happened on the field?

BERMAN: It's true, although the ref, you know, based on what he hears, he could make the decision then. And I wouldn't imagine they'd be careful while using that kind of language in the last minute of the game if they know they're going to get penalized. New rules are always a source of confusion.

ROMANS: Oh, yes. Thanks, Andy.

All right, hope you enjoyed the weekend because guess what, winter weather's back with a vengeance! The top headlines and everything you need to know for the day, like bring your gloves, after the break.