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Crisis in Ukraine; A General's Plea; Christie's Big Speech; Pistorius on Trial

Aired March 6, 2014 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A tense standoff seeming to grow worse in Ukraine, diplomacy making no dent yet, as a U.N. envoy is surrounded by armed men forced to leave Crimea. We're live in Ukraine, in Brussels, where everywhere we need to be with the very latest.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A top general on trial today for sexual assault. He says it was consensual. So, why is he pleading guilty to some of those charges?

BERMAN: And was Oscar Pistorius trigger happy? Prosecutors making their case at his murder trial as witnesses describe what they saw and heard the night he shot his girlfriend to death.

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

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. Great to see you this morning. It is March 6th, Thursday, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

ROMANS: Let's get you up to speed.

First, the growing crisis in Ukraine. Even though some don't want them there, right now, 35 international military observers from 18 nations, including the U.S., are headed to Crimea, and they may be putting their lives on the line.

Just yesterday, the U.N.'s special envoy to Crimea, Robert Serry, left the region and abandoned his mission after a tense encounter with pro- Russian militias. Crimea remaining under Russian control this morning. We're just learning Russian forces have scuttled an old warship in an inlet, trapping as many as seven Ukrainian naval vessels, while two other heavily armed Ukrainian ships remain blocked from leaving port for a second week, blocked by four Russian vessels.

We'll get the latest from our Michael Holmes live from Kiev. What can you tell us? Bring us up to speed this morning, Michael.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a couple of things to bring you up to date on, Christine. First of all, we've just gotten word there's been an announcement that in Crimea, in 10 days from now, there is going to be a referendum in which the people of Crimea, as we said, the majority ethnic Russian there, they're going to be asked whether they want to become an autonomous region within the Russian Federation or whether they want to become an autonomous region within Ukraine. That's going to be a vital question, and how it's answered could determine how this all goes. There has been speculation that that would have been an out, if you like, for this, if they were to become a more autonomous region within Ukraine, and perhaps, have their own local regional government that would be probably pro-Russian. But if they respond that they want to become an autonomous region within the Russian Federation, that raises a whole new ball game.

So, that was just announced. That's going to take place in 10 days. The other developments, you mentioned one of them, which is a curious one. (INAUDIBLE) bay in western Crimea, there are Ukrainian ships in that bay, and they have been blocked for a little while by Russian ships, but what's happened now is they've scuttled an old ship there and making it more of a permanent blockade, if you'd like, of those Ukrainian naval ships.

We've also had overnight there has been trouble in a place called Danyet (ph), which is to the west of here. Two government buildings were taken over by pro-Russian demonstrators. They've done it before in recent days and left. Well, they got pushed out, about 80 of them, by Russian police this morning -- by Ukrainian police this morning, rather. And several people were injured in the clashes that went on overnight.

So, certainly a very tense situation remains here in Ukraine, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Michael Holmes live for us this morning in Kiev. Thank you, Michael.

BERMAN: All right. Russian news viewers got to see a different point of view during Wednesday's "Russia Today" newscast. Take a look at Washington-based news anchor Liz Wahl, an American working for Russia's state-owned TV station RT. She resigns on the air. Listen to what she told her Russian audience, followed by her comments last night to CNN's Anderson Cooper.


LIZ WAHL, FORMER ANCHOR, RUSSIA TODAY: I cannot be part of network funded by the Russian government that white-washes the actions of Putin. I would hope as a reporter and in life, you should always seek the truth, spread the truth, disseminate the truth. And what's clear is what's happening right now amid this crisis is that RT is not about the truth. It's about promoting a Putinist agenda, and I can also tell you firsthand, it's also about bashing America.


BERMAN: There are people who point out that RT has been about those things for quite some time.

A day earlier, Abby Martin, another Russian-based anchor on Russian TV broke with the station's editorial position and announced the invasion of Ukraine, telling viewers what Russia did as wrong. Martin, who you're looking at right there, still has a job. Now to the diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis in Ukraine. Secretary of State John Kerry says he is hoping to speak again later today with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. The two met yesterday in Paris. The secretary characterized the talks as constructive.

And right now, at this moment, Europe's 28 heads of state are huddling in Brussels to discuss how far they are willing to go to punish Russia.

CNN's Erin McLaughlin is there.

Erin, we understand the E.U. is now talking about freezing the assets of Ukraine's former president, Viktor Yanukovych, along with many of his closest aides. How far are these sanctions that the E.U. leaders are talking about now? How far are they willing to go?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. Well, those asset freezes that you mentioned actually began today. The question now becomes, how far will Europe go to put pressure on Russia? Now, the members of the 28-member E.U. states arriving here in Brussels, the meeting is expected to begin in about a half hour. On the table, a range of measures, including the possibility of individual asset freezes of people in Russia believed to be responsible for the crisis in Crimea. Also being considered, suspending, potentially, negotiations around visa issues.

So, all of that set to be discussed here, but any sanction approved by Europe requires the approval of 28 member states, which can be problematic, considering the diversity of opinion that exists in Europe on the questions of sanctions against Europe, for instance, the eastern European countries have been very aggressive in their rhetoric towards approving possible sanctions, whereas countries that have economic interests in Russia, such as Germany, seems to be more reticent, preferring dialogue first.

So, it will be interesting to see what sort of consensus comes out of today's meeting -- John.

BERMAN: If any consensus at all.

All right. Erin McLaughlin in Brussels for us, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: All right. Happening today: a high-ranking army general plans to plead guilty to some charges at his sexual assault court- martial. A lawyer for Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair says his client will admit to adultery and possessing pornography, but will not admit that he sexually assaulted a female captain. It's not clear if the military judge overseeing the court-martial will accept the pleas. Sinclair has long maintained his relationship with the captain was consensual.

BERMAN: The president is reaching out to Latinos to sign up for Obamacare. The president will be participating at a town hall meeting this morning in Washington. Members of the Latin American community will get a chance to ask the president questions about the Affordable Care Act. Right now, 10.2 million Latinos in the United States are uninsured.

ROMANS: Meanwhile, the White House is offering relief to millions of Americans who were dropped from the health care plans because of Obamacare. Those people will now be able to renew their policies for two more years, even though they're not in compliance with the new health care law. That pushes the hot-button issue well past midterm elections this fall.

BERMAN: Some people say it pushes the boundaries of what the president can do by law as well.

ROMANS: Well, will the insurance companies allow them to renew that? That's the question, too.

BERMAN: That's the question, too.

All right. This morning, one of America's biggest coal companies is set to pay hundreds of millions to clean up what comes out of its mines. Alpha Natural Resources reached a deal with the federal government and five states to put in new equipment to stop pollutants from getting into the water supply. The company has been hit with more than 6,000 clean water violations since 2006 and has agreed to pay $27.5 million in fines.

ROMANS: Breaking overnight, an American Eagle jet forced to make an emergency landing in Greenville, Texas, shortly after taking off from Dallas-Ft. Worth. CNN affiliate WFAA reports the flight lasted eight minutes. One passenger tweeted there was smoke in the plane. Everyone is fine.

Flight 3400 was headed to Moline, Illinois, when the cockpit crew decided an emergency landing was needed. Still no word on the cause of the smoke.

The pregnant mom who drove her van into the ocean with her three children inside was talking about demons, she was acting oddly in the hours before she left home. That's according to family members. Witnesses rushed into the water off the coast of Daytona Beach, Florida, to rescue the children with only seconds to spare. Police taking a cautious approach with the mother.


BEN JOHNSON, SHERIFF, VOLUSIA COUNTY: We're looking to see if criminal charges are going to be appropriate or if this is a medical issue. At this time, we don't know. It's early in the investigation, but we want to get to the bottom of it to determine which is the correct way to go about it.


ROMANS: One of the rescuers tells reporters two of the children in the back of the van were screaming, "Our mommy's trying to kill us", seconds before they were pulled to safety. The mother, the driver also pregnant.

BERMAN: That's such a sad story.

The Pacific Northwest bracing for more rain today after days of downpours caused mud slides. Look at this one. This was near Seattle right there, pushing a home right from its path. Luckily, no one was inside at the time, but there are real worries that these soaked hills could give way even more.

ROMANS: All right. Indra Petersons here with her forecast for us.

Hi, Indra.


Once again, very easy to see as we're showing all the mudslides towards the Pacific Northwest, and very easy to see this moisture, which is going all the way from the south of the Hawaiian Islands all the way up into that region. That's the concern. They're expecting even more rain in the region today as a series of storms is still expected to make their way through.

So, by the next five days, another five, or six inches possible. But here's the concern, temperatures have been above normal. They've been seeing a lot of snow, a lot of rain, snow back and forth, and with that, the threat for avalanches will still be high in addition to the rain that they're already seeing. So, that's really the concern out west.

Down to the southeast, temperatures still mild, but look at this -- starting to recover, climbing even to the 70s. They have had some rain. They're going to continue to see some rain today, but we're going to watch this carefully, because the system that's been bringing rain into the Southeast is going to make its way up the coastline. It's going to intersect with the cold air coming in from the North and we have a threat for icing conditions from just about D.C., kind of in through Raleigh for the morning commute tomorrow. So, that's the main concern as those systems kind of clash.

Otherwise, temperatures in the Northeast are rebounding. This looks good. We're actually going to start seeing some 50s, which is great. The Midwest, another shot of cold air heading your way, a little snow, but overall, temperatures not too bad. But scary out West, a lot of rain all at one time, never a good thing.

ROMANS: I can accept those numbers on the board.

BERMAN: Fifties, that sounds to hear, though.

PETERSONS: What is a 50, right?

ROMANS: Thanks, Indra.


ROMANS: All right. Stocks higher around the world, calm returns to global markets. Another gain of more than 1 percent for Japan's stock market. European stocks moving higher as well. That's the picture right this moment.


ROMANS: It was a flat day in the U.S. market yesterday. Look, we have a big jobs report tomorrow. That's going to move into the spotlight. Don't expect much, frankly. The winter that just won't end likely weighing on higher.

Economists surveyed by CNN Money expect only 150,000 jobs added, the unemployment rate to hold at 6.6 percent, although an economist at Deutsche Bank just said he lowered his to 120,000, you know? So, we'll watch to see what happens. Cuts expected in jobs that are weather-related things like construction, flights were cancelled, people stayed inside, rather than going to the mall, not to shop or eating out, all that likely to hit job in February. Exactly, two weeks until the first day of spring.

BERMAN: Can't wait.

ROMANS: I know. Me, too.

All right. Oscar Pistorius back in court this morning as prosecutors try to prove he killed his girlfriend in cold blood. The very latest live from the courthouse, coming up.

BERMAN: And Chris Christie set to deliver one of the biggest speeches of his political life, trying to convince an unlikely audience, conservatives, that he's their guy if he decides to run for president. We'll have that story, coming up next.


ROMANS: Breaking overnight, the son of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi now in custody in his home country. Saadi Gadhafi was turned over to Libyan authorities from Niger, where he fled after his father's ouster. Niger had long refused to extradite the younger Gadhafi over fears he would be executed. Saadi Gadhafi is accused of a multitude of crimes from his days as head of Libya's special forces.

BERMAN: Day four of testimony in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial. Prosecutors pulling out all the stops this morning, trying to paint the Blade Runner as a trigger-happy, cold-blooded killer. There's really been so much drama already in this case, in this courtroom.

Let's bring in senior international correspondent Nic Robertson live from Pretoria.

Nic, bring us up to speed on what's happening this morning.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, just another day of drama and intense questioning by the defense attorney, Barry Roux, of the third witness, the husband of the first witness, the near neighbor, just questioning him, piling the pressure on, saying, "Have you ever heard shots from a nearby house?" "No, I haven't," he said.

"Have you ever heard somebody break down a door with a cricket bat from a nearby house?" "No, I haven't." "I put it to you that you weren't hearing a woman screaming, you were hearing a man, Oscar Pistorius," is what he was implying. And the witness said, "No, I'm very clear, I heard a woman screaming, then I heard a man in a monotone. Then I heard the man sort of apologizing, almost in the sound of his voice," for the neighbors, for creating all this attention.

But this witness has still stuck to his guns that there were screams of a woman followed by shots. The defense just trying to break that down, because what the defense is trying to do is to show that there was no argument between Oscar Pistorius and his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, and therefore, no justification for this premeditated murder, that he would have gunned her down because he was angry with her.

We've now just gone on to the seventh witness, another neighbor. We're going to hear his testimony. But it's just, it's clear how hard fought all this information was. The prosecution came back again to talk to that third witness, just to sort of, if you will, set the record straight for that.

So, it's key how important all this testimony is right now, John.

BERMAN: It really is crucial. The defense has to discredit just about every one of these witnesses.

All right. Nic Robertson for us in Pretoria, covering this case. Really appreciate it.

ROMANS: All right. What exactly did Pope Francis say about civil unions? The new pope causing a stir in a wide-ranging interview on Ash Wednesday, while insisting that marriage is between a man and a woman, the pope seemed to open the door to civil unions.

Now, a Vatican spokesman later clarified, saying the pope was not wading into the debate on gay civil unions but was speaking about the duties of the state and not the church.

BERMAN: He is the master of language that leaves space open for interpretation.

All right. New this morning, the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai pulling out of his country's upcoming presidential election, apparently because of pressure from the president himself. Qayoum Karzai will instead throw his support to Afghan's former foreign minister, who is also believed to be the first choice of his brother. The elections take place April 5th, but with 11 candidates, a runoff is almost certain to be necessary.

ROMANS: Very big day for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, set to speak near Washington at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC. A speech before the conference is seen as a key stepping stone for Republicans who want to run for the White House, especially if Christie looks to bolster his reputation in light of the investigation into misconduct in his office.

BERMAN: That speech, by the way, is scheduled for 11:45 Eastern, smacked in a middle of a show I like to call "@THISHOUR." We'll be covering it then to be sure.

ROMANS: I haven't seen that show.

BERMAN: It's a good one. You should watch.

All right. New this morning, in the fight against HIV, this is big news. A year after doctors first reported an HIV-positive baby had been seemingly cured of the disease, a second case has been revealed. Like I said, a very big deal -- showing that aggressive drug treatment right after birth can reduce HIV to undetectable levels. They can't find any traces of the virus in these two babies.

Doctors are now planning a clinical trial to see if the result can be replicated in other newborns born to HIV-positive mothers.

ROMANS: These are exciting developments, really are.

BERMAN: So many coming out of this conference right now.

All right. Coming up for us, it is definitely March, and the madness on the court could cost Duke its top spot in the tournament! A big upset last night. Where did this come from?

Joe Carter has the details in the Blue Devils' big loss and also concerns about Coach K., in the "Bleacher Report," coming up next.


ROMANS: Duke, the number four team in college basketball, upset by an unranked Wake Forest team.

BERMAN: Yes, and if that wasn't enough, Coach K experienced a health scare during the end of the game. A lot of people concerned about this.

Joe Carter explains in the "Bleacher Report."

Hey, Joe.

JOE CARTER, BLEACHER REPORT: Hey, good morning, guys.

You know Coach K. He's a very emotional guy. You see him gets very heated at times on the sideline. Unfortunately, last night, the stress from the loss got the better of him. Duke says that Coach K. during the end of the game suffered dizzy spells. It forced him to a knee during a late-game time-out.

And after the game, he decided to skip his usually news conference, but he was able to leave the arena under his own power. Duke says he's expected to make a full recovery. It's just a scare.

So, while Coach K. may have poured a little too much emotion into the game, his team certainly did not have enough in the second half. Duke did not score a basket for five critical minutes, which allowed Wake Forest to cruise to a 10-point upset win.

Hey, let's talk a little golf. Tiger Woods says he's feeling much better. Treatment all week has helped ease the pain that forced him to quit last Sunday. He'll start the Cadillac Championship in Miami without a practice round, but Tiger says he doesn't need one.


TIGER WOODS, PRO-GOLFER: I feel good. It's been a long couple days of just treatment nonstop, trying to get everything calmed down, first of all, get all the inflammation out. And then from there, getting the firing sequence right again.


CARTER: Trending this morning on, Jim Harbaugh. We know he's a great football coach. He was a solid NFL quarterback, too. As it turns out, the guy can also hoop. During his visit to a Kansas Jayhawks basketball practice, the guy drains a half-court shot, you know, like nothing, during a shoot-around, having a little fun, of course, wearing his signature outfit. It's got to be the $8 khakis. Khakis.

Running on to the field, we know it's usually a bad idea, unless you're an adorable little boy. This youngster invaded the pitch during yesterday's Brazil/South Africa game.

ROMANS: Look, so cute!

CARTER: Then he got carried around by one of the best soccer players in the world, that's Brazilian star Neymar! He should have been carried off, but instead, they carried him around, then jumped for joy. Looked like Neymar and the kid were having so much fun. What a great experience for this kid. All together now, guys, aww.


ROMANS: Encouraging children everywhere to go right on to the pitch.

BERMAN: Yes, I know.

CARTER: He's going to start a little trend.

BERMAN: Adorable.

CARTER: It is adorable, guys. Good to see both of you. Take care.

BERMAN: All right. We're going to have the very latest from the Ukraine, where a U.N. envoy was surrounded by armed men in uniform and forced out of Crimea. There is a major development on the future of Crimea we have to tell you about, right after the break.