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Ukraine: Brink of War; Severe Snowstorm Pummeling the East; And the Oscar Goes to...

Aired March 3, 2014 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight, Ukraine on the brink. Russian troops moving into the country while the rest of the world chooses sides. The new steps the U.S. is taking this morning and the key ally Russia may have picked up overnight. We're live.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: a brutal winter storm pummeling the East. Millions waking up to snow and ice, being warned, stay off the roads. Schools and offices shut down, thousands of flights already grounded this morning. Our Indra Petersons is live tracking this latest winter storm for us.

BERMAN: And while you were sleeping, it ended, just minutes ago. Hollywood honoring its best at the Academy Awards. We'll have the show-stopping moments and all the historic wins.

Good morning, everyone. A lot going on this morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's Monday, March 3rd. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Let's begin with breaking news: the crisis in Ukraine escalating by the hour. U.S. officials confirming Russian forces have seized complete operational control of the Crimean Peninsula. Ukraine's new government putting its own military on high alert, charging Russia has declared war. Western leaders condemning Moscow. Secretary of State John Kerry heading to Kiev to show U.S. support for Ukraine's new leaders, calling Russia's actions a stunning and willful invasion.

We need to bring in Diana Magnay. She's live in Ukraine for us this morning.

Get us up to speed. What is happening at this hour?


Well, there are several military bases in Crimea which are surrounded by troops. Also, we're hearing from authorities, Ukrainian authorities, that several border posts overnight were attacked by these same military troops. They are wearing, though, insignia. Again, Russia has not acknowledged that these troops are theirs.

On the streets of Simferopol, where I am now, it's very calm. It doesn't feel as though there is an invasion or occupation as such. There are troops, though, darted around various locations, for example in front of the main regional and administration building. What you set a sense from here on the ground is that this is more of a war of information. So, there are people who are watching Russian TV who believe one story, who believe that ultra nationalists are en route to Crimea to try and disrupt the peace.

And then you have those who are watching news coming from the West and from the Ukrainian government who believe something different, and this is what is create these divisions, which are sort of accentuating this idea of deep divisions within this country -- Christine.

ROMANS: Diana, we understand the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and his Chinese counterpart have spoken by phone about the situation. What can you tell us about that?

MAGNAY: Well, we know simply from the Russian foreign ministry that they had this talk and that their views, Russia and China, their views coincide on this issue and that they would be staying in close contact. There are so many high-level talks going on. There is also an OSCE meeting this afternoon to try and resolve this situation, and John Kerry will be coming to Kiev on Tuesday. So, so many diplomatic efforts.

And I've got to tell you, the people here in Crimea feel like that they're caught in the middle of it, and a lot of people say, please, put the message across that right here, it's peaceful now. It seems to be that the real anguish, the angst is going on in the war of words around this small part of Ukraine, Christine.

ROMANS: That's a really good point. Diana Magnay, thank you so much.

And, of course, so much of the issue here is that Ukraine is quite literally the pipeline for Russia and so much exports of oil and gas to Europe. This is right there, the footprint, the chess piece for Russia.

BERMAN: It goes right through Ukraine. And of course, "The New York Times" reporting this morning that Angela Merkel spoke to Vladimir Putin and told President Obama that she believes Putin has lost touch with reality. So, that's a little unsettling to read as you wake up this morning.

All right, four minutes after the hour. In other news, another round of deadly winter weather slicing through the middle of the United States. At this hour, close to 100 million people are waking up to ice, snow and plunging temperatures, severe storms. Right now, there is a state of emergency in Tennessee, Alabama and Texas. I just got word from someone on Twitter that Texas is a mess this morning. Overall across the country, 2,000 flights, mostly in the Northeast, have already been canceled today.

ROMANS: In parts of Kansas, the windchill overnight made it feel like 20 below. Take a look at just how treacherous that is. Six inches of snow sending cars skidding off Interstate 135 in Wichita.

BERMAN: More winter misery in Missouri. You're looking at one of the dozens of accidents on snow-covered roads in St. Louis.

ROMANS: Oh, my.

BERMAN: Police report rescuing dozens of drivers who were stranded for hours. They were on Interstate 70 there.

ROMANS: So, schools are closed, travel's a nightmare in southwest Illinois. Look at that, windchills are below zero, highways choked with ice and snow. Illinois officials telling us there is not a single major roadway in the state that's not iced over.

BERMAN: Parts of I-275 shut down for two hours in both directions in northern Kentucky. Just state after state feeling this weather. Drivers in Kentucky being warned to stay off the roads. That state has been socked with up to 7 inches of snow.

Two traffic deaths in the South blamed on this system. The mid- Atlantic states getting hit right now, as we've been saying.

Indra Petersons is tracking the extreme weather for us. She is live in Washington, D.C., this morning.

Good morning, Indra.


It's unbelievable how quickly things are changing out here, John. Remember, this is the same system that was in California right before the Oscars, a system that was so rare, it actually brought an EF-0 tornado in that region. Now, it's impacted so many of us as it's made its way across the entire country, icing concerns in Memphis, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and now, just making its way into the mid- Atlantic.

A few hours ago looking outside, nothing. Then about an hour or so, some rain, some freezing rain, and now, we've changed over from sleet into snow. It's a very wet snow that makes it kind of miserable feeling this morning. Unfortunately, this is something we're going to have to get used to in the D.C. area for some time, because the snow's only expected to get heavier and heavier. Keep in mind, two weeks ago we were talking about, this is the biggest snowstorm they had with 6 inches to a foot of snow in the D.C. area, the biggest snowstorm here in three years.

Now, once again, we're talking about potential for another five, even 10 inches of snow, guys. Unbelievable what kind of season this has been. Of course, the bull's eye now further South. If you're out towards New York City, you're only talking about maybe under an inch of snow. That system has progressed farther south, so the bull's eye around the mid-Atlantic, we're talking D.C., kind of maybe out towards Virginia, West Virginia. The farther south you are, you'll get more of the wintry mix. Even farther south than that, the temperatures are warmer, you are going to be talking about rain.

But regardless, what kind of winter weather you're getting, it is so cold, guys. We are talking about another blast of arctic air. So, temperatures are not just about 30, 40 below where they should be in the upper Midwest. You're talking about all the way down even into the Southeast, places like Texas seeing temperatures today 30 below where they should be, and it is March, guys. No one wants this. That is the concern.

Even places out towards Philly looking at several more inches of snow throughout the day today. Here towards D.C., we're talking about snow thickening up throughout the day, not exiting until maybe after rush hour tonight. But by 9:00 p.m. or so, things should calm down, this guy should finally exit off to sea.

Keep in mind, though, temperatures as we know will be staying cold, so any snow on the ground will be staying here for a couple of days. I can't believe it is March. How about you guys?

ROMANS: All I need is a new pair of gloves because I've lost all my gloves for the winter. You can't buy new gloves. There are like Capri pants in the stores, you know? It's ready for the spring apparel and I need a pair of gloves!

BERMAN: I am over it, completely over it.

PETERSONS: I'll give these, Christine, but I'm not giving them to you.

ROMANS: No, you keep 'em, you keep 'em.

BERMAN: All right. Thanks, Indra. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: The White House this morning calling on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to seize the moment and work towards a Middle East peace agreement. Netanyahu will meet with President Obama at the White House this morning. The president already warning it will be difficult to defend Israel from international isolation if Jerusalem fails to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians. He's also calling on the Israelis to give nuclear talks with Iran more time to succeed.

BERMAN: If he keeps his schedule this week, President Obama plans to campaign hard for a minimum wage hike and he will be taking that fight on the road. Again, that's the schedule, depending on the crisis in the Ukraine. The president's scheduled to be in Connecticut on Wednesday, along with four New England governors, making the case for a $10.10 minimum wage. It's been $7.25 since 2009.

House Republicans have been fighting that increase, claiming it would hurt employers and cost Americans jobs.

ROMANS: Former IRS official Lois Lerner will not testify this week at a House hearing into the agency's alleged targeting of conservative groups. According to her attorney, she'll plead the Fifth. California Republican Darrell Issa heads up the hearing on Wednesday. Yesterday, he told reporters he does expect Lerner to testify. Republicans believe because she read a statement before Issa's committee last spring, Lerner has waived her right to invoke the Fifth Amendment. BERMAN: Another international problem facing United States right now. Afghan President Hamid Karzai ripping the United States for its role in his nation's 12-year war. Karzai tells the "Washington Post" the common cause the U.S. shared with his country has eroded because of civilian casualties. He adds that U.S. forces should have focused more on hitting Taliban havens in Pakistan and less on Afghan villages. Karzai has refused to sign a security pact with Washington that would keep some U.S. troops in his country beyond 2014.

ROMANS: All right, North Korea now flexing its muscle again, firing two short-range missiles into the sea after similar rocket launches last week. This is part of a now yearly dance with South Korea that carries out joint military exercises with the U.S. Those annual drills began last week and were immediately condemned by the North as preparations for war. The missiles have been identified as Scuds with the capability of reaching Japan.

The crisis in Ukraine spreading into worldwide markets this morning. U.S. stocks in the very early going indicate sharply lower open this morning. Dow futures down 100 points.

Big declines in stocks in Europe and Asia. Oil and natural gas prices soaring. Here's the reason -- Ukraine doesn't hold much power, but it's geographically very important to Europe.

Look at this map. Russia supplies about 25 percent of Europe's gas, and half of that gas needs to travel through pipelines running through, yes, Ukraine. Also, Ukraine is one more fragile emerging market, the country deep in debt, is in need of assistance to avoid economic collapse in the coming weeks. That's what all the analysts are telling us.

Then there are grain prices. Ukraine is one of the world's top exporters of corn and wheat. Prices could rise on concerns that exports could be disrupted.

BERMAN: You showed that map of Ukraine right where the pipelines are going through.


BERMAN: You know, there are people saying that Europe and the U.S. does have some leverage here over Russia because Russia does need those markets. If for some reason the pipelines are shut down, it cuts off a huge market.

ROMANS: Europe, Russia, Ukraine -- everyone wants to make sure you don't disrupt the economics of the region. That's incredibly, incredibly important. That may be something that tempers, quite frankly.

BERMAN: Let's hope.

All right, the other big news overnight, Hollywood made history at the Academy Awards. And in case you did not stay up --

ROMANS: You stayed up.

BERMAN: I stayed up way later than I should.

Here are the big winners -- as expected, Cate Blanchett won her second Oscar, this time for best actress for a socialite who suffers a breakdown in "Blue Jasmine."

On the men's side, it was the "Dallas Buyers Club" showing up big time. Matthew McConaughey won his first Oscar, named best actor for his role as a cowboy diagnosed with AIDS in "Dallas Buyers Club." There he is, kissing his wife right there. What a lovely moment for Mr. McConaughey.

Best director honors went to Alfonso Cuaron for his gripping sci-fi drama "Gravity." This was groundbreaking to look at, phenomenal directing there. He's the first Latin American director to win best director. The film won seven the most total Oscars, seven in all, mostly in technical categories. It did not win best picture, however. That honor went to?

ROMANS: Steve McQueen.

BERMAN: Let's let Will Smith say it. He says it better than me.


WILL SMITH, ACTOR: "12 Years a Slave"!


BERMAN: There you go. You know, I had to let him say it right there. That's Will Smith. "12 Years a Slave" won best picture, directed by Steve McQueen. Just unflinching slave drama. It's the first film from a black director to win best picture.

So, the show last night also made Twitter history. Why? Well, I'm sure you've seen it because it's been retweeted more than 2 million times. This all-star selfie right there. Name all those mega stars in that picture. There they are. That's been retweeted by every human on earth at least twice.

It beat the previous most-tweeted retweet, which was from President Obama the night of his re-election. It also crashed Twitter, by the way, for about 20 minutes.

ROMANS: Jared Leto got the best supporting actor to for his role in "Dallas Buyers Club," so it was a big night for "Dallas Buyers Club," but I met him at a screening in December and asked him how it felt, you know, so many months or even years after filming, to see yourself in such an important film. And he told me, I didn't watch the movie.

Can you believe that? He won best supporting actor and he told me he didn't watch the movie.

BERMAN: Turns out, it's really good. You should check it out. Hear it's going to win some awards. ROMANS: He says he leaves the arts there on location.

All right. Some are calling this the trial of a century, an Olympic hero accused of murdering his model girlfriend. Was it cold-blooded killing or a tragic mistake? We're live in the court as it begins this morning in the Blade Runner murder trial.

BERMAN: And a new warning for parents this morning. How a popular machine, the sound machine's meant to help babies sleep.

ROMANS: Oh, no.

BERMAN: Yes, that's what I said, too. These machines could be hurting kids instead. Everyone I know uses these.


ROMANS: Welcome back.

You're looking at a live picture from Ellicott City, Maryland, near the nation's capital. The snow beginning to fall harder and will continue into tonight. We're tracking extreme weather. We're going to bring you the very latest in just a moment.

BERMAN: In the other news we have for you this morning, developing right now, just moments ago, the Oscar Pistorius murder trial got under way in South Africa. The man they called the blade runner faces 25 years or more behind bars for the shooting death of his model girlfriend last Valentine's Day. He has pled not guilty to all the charges against him. Again, that was just minutes ago.

Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is live from Pretoria this morning, where the trial is now under way.

Good morning, Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. You know what was really interesting, after those charges were read out, the defense attorney representing Oscar Pistorius laid out, if you will, some of the points of the defense.

Oscar Pistorius signed an affidavit at his bail hearing said that he had heard a disturbance in the bathroom of his house just after he had been to retrieve some fans from the balcony of that apartment of that house, and that's when he grabbed the pistol from underneath his bed, went into the bathroom, shot those shots through the bathroom door.

Even the magistrate at the time at the bail hearing had said, how could Oscar Pistorius not have known that his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, wasn't in the bed? Well, listening to his defense attorney now, we're beginning to get some semblance of details added on.

His defense attorney said as Oscar, or just before Oscar Pistorius went to get those fans from his balcony, he had talked to Reeva Steenkamp in bed. The indication there laying the groundwork that he believed she was in bed because he had just talked to her. He said it was pitch dark and that's why he didn't know.

So, we're beginning to see from the defense exactly how they intend to play the charges as they stand right now, John.

This case, of course, it was all a terrible, terrible mistake. This trial being called the trial of the century in so many parts of the world, because Oscar Pistorius is such a major star.

Nic, it's a very different trial than Americans are used to. There is no jury, just a judge there.

Our Nic Robertson will watch it for us in Pretoria. Thank you so much for being with us this morning, Nic.

ROMANS: All right. The terrorism trial of Osama bin Laden's son-in- law begins today in New York. Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the former al Qaeda spokesman charged with conspiring to kill Americans, he is one of the highest level al Qaeda figures to be tried on U.S. soil, just blocks from ground zero. The case is being seen as a major test for the federal court system. Many critics arguing the trial should take place in a military court.

BERMAN: A big deadline today for two former top Chris Christie staffers involved in the bridgegate investigation. Bridget Kelly and Bill Stepien, both fired now, have refused to comply with subpoenas. Today, their lawyers have to explain why they are not turning over documents. The governor, Chris Christie, cut ties with Kelly after her infamous e-mail "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," after that went public, and he says he became aware of it for the first time.

ROMANS: All right. Eight cities are vying to host the 2016 Republican National Convention. Today in Washington, six of them will make their pitch to the RNC selection committee. Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Denver, Kansas City and Phoenix. Dallas and Las Vegas will present later this month. Final decision expected later this year.

BERMAN: The possibility of it happening in Vegas is causing a lot of waves right now in political circles.

All right, this story caught my attention, because my kids used this for years. Sound machines designed to help infants sleep. They could be damaging kids' hearing.

ROMANS: Oh, wow.

BERMAN: Researchers say some of these machines are even capable of delivering noise that is unsafe for full-grown adults. The machines can be built into stuffed animals and placed dangerously close to infants' ears. Experts are advising parents to keep the devices further away from children at lower volumes and for shorter periods of time.

ROMANS: I always wondered if they would get, like, so used to the sound of the rhythmic sound of the sleep machine that I wouldn't be able to get them to sleep someplace else. That's what my --

BERMAN: Leave it on for hours, I mean, 11 hours a night. So I'm going to take a good look at that study and see (INAUDIBLE).

All right, coming up for us, Tiger Woods limping off the golf course, calling it quits in the final round of a big event. And now this morning, we are learning why.

Andy Scholes explains it all in the "Bleacher Report," coming up next.


BERMAN: All right. Tiger Woods off to a tough, tough start in 2014. The world's number one golfer pulling out of the Honda Classic over the weekend, he says due to injury.

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

What have you got, Andy?

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: Hey, good morning, guys. This is not the start to the PGA tour season Tiger was looking for. So far, he's off to his worst start ever in his 18 years as a pro.

Now, during yesterday's final round at the Honda Classic, Tiger's back started acting up on him and he was forced to withdraw from the tournament and Tiger said he doesn't know if he'll be able to play in the WGC Cadillac championship in Doral, where he is the defending champion. We'll have to wait and see.

As for the rest of the Honda Classic, Rory McIlroy looked like he would cruise to victory, that is until he blew a two-shot lead. The tournament went to a four-way playoff, Mr. McIlroy then ended up losing to Russell Henley.

All right. March is here and the madness is right around the corner. Selection Sunday is less than two weeks away. Arizona strengthened their resume late last night, beating Stanford. With the win, the Wildcats clinched the pac-12 regular-season title. Right now, Arizona is projected as a one seed for the NCAA tournament.

All right, in the NBA, the play of the weekend came from the Bulls' Jimmy Butler. He drives into the stands to save the loose ball, but then he's trapped behind a row of seats, so he improvised and just runs through the stands, then he jumps back into action on the other side of the court. Amazingly, right there, there was a Knick standing on the court ready to guard him. As we know, the Knicks don't play much defense.

All right. Trending on, Paula Creamer at the HSBC Championship in Singapore needing to make an eagle putt from 75 feet away from the win. Looking good.

ROMANS: No way!

SCHOLES: It's looking good. It's online. And it will drop. BERMAN: You've got to be kidding.

SCHOLES: What an incredible shot, creamer's first LPGA win in three years, guys, and it's definitely a memorable one. Just an amazing shot. You know what they call that? Ice in the veins.

BERMAN: That was to win it? That was a 75-foot eagle to win it?

SCHOLES: To win the tournament. Incredible.

BERMAN: I've never seen anything like that. That is totally nuts.

SCHOLES: And you've got to know, she was just hoping to get it close to the pin to go for the birdie to keep the tournament going, but, whoo, man.

ROMANS: Wow, that's something.

SCHOLES: Good stuff.

BERMAN: Andy Scholes, thank you for that. An inspiration this morning, and we needed it.

ROMANS: Take it with you through the week. Anything is possible. Monday morning.

BERMAN: If she can do it, I can, too.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, Andy.

Breaking news this morning, Ukraine on the brink of war and the world choosing sides. A live report, plus all your top headlines, right after the break.