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Crimea Referendum In 10 Days; Standoff In Ukraine; American Anchor Quits Russian TV On Air; Contempt Charged Contemplated for Lois Lerner; SAT Back to the Basics

Aired March 6, 2014 - 05:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Danger on the ground in Crimea. A U.N. envoy blockaded by gunmen and forced to leave. This morning, more work to find a diplomatic solution as Crimea's parliament proposes a referendum on joining Russia. The crisis in Ukraine appears to be escalating at this hour.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm John Berman. Thirty minutes after the hour right now. And the growing crisis in Ukraine, it is changing minute by minute, 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 attempt encounter with pro- Russian militias. Crimea remains under Russian control this morning. And this news just in -- we're just learning that 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 by four Russian vessels.

And then the breaking news right now, in 10 days, the people of Crimea will be asked to decide in a referendum whether they want to stay part of Ukraine or join Russia. They will vote on whether they can join Russia. That is a very, very big deal, and I think a little bit unexpected. At this moment, Ukrainian riot police are in a tense standoff with pro-Russian demonstrators in the Southern Ukraine port city of Odessa, a very historic city.

Our Matthew Chance is there. Matthew, give us a sense of what you're seeing on the ground.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John. A lot of tension here in Odessa. You can see I'm at the main government building in this city. It's about a million people. It's the third biggest city in Ukraine. And these hundreds of people that have gathered outside are pro-Russian demonstrators in this city, in Ukraine. They're demanding that the authorities that, of course, control this administration building here, authorities loyal to Kiev, leave the building and hand it over to them. They're also demanding that there should be a referendum here as well in Odessa on a union with Russia. One of the protesters that gathered here saying to me earlier that we want a Soviet Union, too. They want full political union with the Russians.

Obviously, this kind of tension is taking place not just here in Odessa. We talked about what's going on in Crimea as well, just a short distance from here, but also in towns and cities all along this southern and eastern area of Ukraine where the majority of the population are ethnic Russians and where they speak Russian as their primary language.

Speak to any of these people and they'll say they believe the new authorities in Ukraine in particular are discriminating against them, discriminating against the use of the Russian language, even sending what they call fascists to this area to attack the Russian-speaking population. Now, we've seen no evidence of that, but that's certainly the rhetoric that's being talked about here in this square outside this main government administrative building in Odessa.

Take a look at some of the people around me. Many of them -- you can see them right now, but many of them are wearing masks. There's a sort of gang of young men chanting anti -- chanting pro-Russian slogans. Poster there showing a picture of some of the leaders of the interim administration, including the interim prime minister there on the left of the screen.

Vitali Klitschko there, as well, I can see. A number of people who are now basically in charge in Kiev. These people very much opposed to that. They say they want a referendum at the very least so that they can choose a closer union with Russia and a more distant separation from the authorities in Kiev, John.

BERMAN: Matthew Chance in Odessa right now. And those scenes are being played out in cities and towns along the south and eastern part of Ukraine. And it's why the news. Thank you, Matthew. It's why the news out of Crimea just a few minutes ago is so crucial. There will be a referendum in Crimea. Voters there will get to choose whether they stay part of Ukraine or actually join the Russian federation, becoming part of Russia.

I think that was unforeseen. People thought that maybe Crimea would be able to remain autonomous, as an autonomous state, but given the choice to join Russia, if that happens, that will put the U.S. and European Union in a real bind.

ROMANS: A game-changer, quite frankly, in what they do next.

All right. Russian news viewers got to see something a little different during Wednesday's "Russia Today" newscast. Washington- based news anchor, Liz Wahl, an American working for Russian-owned state television, she resigned on the air. This is what she told her Russian viewers. Listen to that, and then followed by her interview last night with 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 tell you firsthand, it's also about bashing America.


ROMANS: Her network called it a publicity stunt. A day earlier, another Washington-based Russian -- anchor on Russian TV, Abby Martin, broke with the station's editorial position and she denounced the invasion of Ukraine, telling viewers what Russia did was wrong. Station executives told reporters Martin had been misled by American media.

All right. As both sides digging in Crimea and diplomatic efforts to end the crisis intensify, Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is staying silent. He's letting his foreign minister do the talking, and that's making a lot of western leaders a little leery. Phil Black is in Moscow for us this morning. Good morning, Phil.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Good morning, Christine. Here in Moscow, something of a pause. No public statements on Ukraine, but also a sense that there is active diplomacy under way as well. President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone last night with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. And today the foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, is in Rome along with the U.S. secretary of state, John Kerry.

It's expected that they will meet in Moscow. We'll be watching events in Brussels very closely as European leaders discuss sanction options against Russia. But here, no change. While no talk of further military incursions, no change, no acknowledgement that those are Russian soldiers on the ground occupying Crimea. And indeed, a deputy foreign minister today said that the west is to blame for events in Ukraine, because western countries supported extremists in seizing power.

Meanwhile, Russian state media reports that President Putin's personal approval rating has been sitting at a two-year high for the last two weeks. Polling shows that around 68 Percent Of Russians approve of his work, and the pollsters' analysis is that that is because of the successful Sochi winter Olympic Games and the president's position on Ukraine -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Phil Black for us this morning in Moscow. Thanks, Phil.

BERMAN: He's got a domestic audience to be sure there.

All right. A guilty plea expected today from a high-ranking army general at his court-martial for sexual assault. 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. Sinclair has long maintained his relationship with the captain was consensual. It is not clear if the military judge overseeing the court martial will accept these pleas.

ROMANS (voice-over): The president is reaching out to Latinos to sign up for the Affordable Health Care Act. He'll be participating in a town hall meeting this morning in Washington. Members of the Latin- American community will get a chance to ask the president questions about Obamacare. Right now, 10.2 million Latinos in this country are uninsured.

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

It is controversial. Republicans say this proves that Obamacare, in their words, is broken. They also say that the president is going beyond his powers to keep on changing and modifying this law without Congressional support.

ROMANS: Yes. They have a running total of the number of little changes there've been along the way in a very, very big bill.

All right. Let's get a look at your Thursday forecast. Indra Petersons is back with us. Good morning, Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. A lot of things are changing. Going to be warmer in the east, but keep in mind out west, heavy rain. That's still the forecast here. As you can see that moisture self (ph) really extending all the way from south of Hawaii all the way into the Pacific Northwest. We're going to continue to see above-normal temperatures, heavy rainfall as several systems make their way through.

This is a concern not just for flooding and mud slides that they've already been seeing, but of course, the threat for avalanches. We're seeing a lot of kind of temperature fluctuations, and with that, that's never a good thing for the most recent snowfall that they've been seeing. Otherwise, southeast, we're seeing a lot of rain recently. Keep in mind, temperatures rebounding, and for the weekend.

So, we love that. Just keep in mind, the low that was in the south, that's going to start climbing up the coastline and intersecting with the cold air we've been dealing with. You put those air masses together and you actually have the threat for icing, tomorrow morning's commute. Keep that in mind. D.C. kind of down through Raleigh. We'll have that concern for maybe some sleet, possibly even some freezing rain for you.

Otherwise, temperatures, though, are improving, maybe even some 50s, guys, as we go towards the weekend. Midwest starting to cool off a little bit as another little shot of cold air and a little bit of snow heads their way Friday in through Saturday. 50s. Hello.

BERMAN: 50s good, but you know, I don't usually feel badly for the people in Washington, D.C., but they've had a rough go of it. We're talking about ice and another --

PETERSONS: That's a bad for me, too, in New York. I'm just --


BERMAN: Thanks, Indra.


ROMANS: All right. Global stocks moving higher this morning after jumping in and out of negative territory. Japan had another good day, gains of more than one percent. Hong Kong closed higher as well. Stock markets in Europe all higher at this moment, and so are U.S. stock futures. We're going to be watching for the government's big job report that comes out tomorrow.

We'll also get weekly jobless claims later this morning. That will be a view, a real domestic view of what's going on in the jobs market. This is what CNN Money expects the jobless rate to have held steady at 6.6 percent, maybe 150,000 jobs added last month, although, some economists are starting to sharpen their pencil and lower their expectations because the winter storms may have hit jobs again last month.

Spring cannot come soon enough, folks. In the 12 months leading up to the winter, the economy had been adding an average of 205,000 jobs each month, then Mother Nature stepped in.

BERMAN: How long until spring?

ROMANS: I don't know, like 19 days or something?

BERMAN: Who's counting?


BERMAN: All right. Contempt charges could be next after a House hearing turned ugly. They were supposed to be discussing IRS misconduct when it turned into a real shouting match. We'll show you what happened next.


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 this flight lasted just eight minutes.

BERMAN: Wow! ROMANS: A passenger on board tweeting there was smoke in the plane, but everyone is fine. Flight 3400 was heading to Moline, Illinois, when the cockpit crew decided an emergency landing was needed. Still no word on the cause of that smoke.

BERMAN: Contempt charges apparently now being considered for a former IRS official connected to alleged targeting of conservative groups. Lois Lerner again took the fifth before a House committee on Wednesday. She would not answer questions. But when Chairman Darrell Issa tried to adjourn the hearing, ranking member, Elijah Cummings, objected, and then an angry exchange took place. Take a look.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D) RANKING MEMBER, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Mr. Chairman, you cannot run a committee like this. You just cannot do this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Answer the question --

CUMMINGS: What's the big deal? May I ask my question? May I state my statement?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're all free to leave. We've adjourned, but the gentleman may ask his question.

CUMMINGS: For the past year, the central Republican accusation --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're adjourned. Close it down.


BERMAN: I've actually been told that these men are pretty good friends, by the way.

ROMANS: But they closed his mic down.

BERMAN: They did. Issa said afterwards that he felt he was being slandered. Cummings said he felt he'd been completely shut out of the investigation. But like I said, the crazy thing is there, I think those guys get along in real life.

ROMANS: Politics, John.

BERMAN: I know.

ROMANS: You can get along fine in real life --

BERMAN: Look at us. Everyone thinks we get along.


ROMANS: We don't get along?

All right. This next story gives John shivers.

BERMAN: I hate this.

ROMANS: The SAT going back to basics. Big changes for the SAT They set -- sets take effect in 2016. That means if your kid is a ninth grader right now, they are going to have some new changes. Among them, the test is going to return to that 1,600 scoring scale. It had been 2,400 for several years. The essay will become optional now, not mandatory. Students will no longer be penalized for wrong answers.

Now, the head of the College Board, which administers this exam, says standardized tests have become far too disconnected from the actual work of high school students. And a big knock on this test for so long had been that, you know, when you look at family income, the more money a family has, the better you score on this test. They've really, really tried to figure out, you know, what that means and how do you give more accessibility to college and better scores for all kids?

BERMAN: Well, it's the test prep franchise.

ROMANS: Right.

BERMAN: They're trying to make it about --

ROMANS: It's so cool because con academy is going to give free SAT prep, which is a real knock on that whole multibillion-dollar SAT prep industry.

BERMAN: My problem is not with what they did. My problem is only with the phrase SAT

ROMANS: I know.

BERMAN: When I hear standardized, my heart starts beating really fast, I start to sweat.

ROMANS: He's sweating. He's sweating.

BERMAN: All right. Let's take a look at what's coming up on "NEW DAY." Chris Cuomo joins us now. Hey, Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Hello, guys. We're following breaking developments in Ukraine. Of course, right now pro-Russian demonstrators are facing off with riot police in the port city of Odessa. And European leaders are going to be meeting this morning. So, you have the problem and then you have those fighting toward a solution, and they're going to try and figure out what they can do to defuse the tension.

We have reporters on the ground in all the hotspots and we'll have expert analysis looking at the implications of the crisis.

Then, we're going to bring it back home here and look at how the situation's playing out politically. Hillary Clinton doubled down, we could say, on her comments about Vladimir Putin. She compares him to Adolf Hitler. And that's always going to be an ugly situation. But the question is, why? Is this a tactic? Can you really equate them? Is this some type of strategy we're seeing at play? We'll break that down for you.

We're also going to talk this morning, John and Christine, about one that just shocked the conscience. You know, it shocks the conscience, this ruling from the Supreme Court in Massachusetts that up skirting, you know, what's a nice word that I can say on TV?

ROMANS: What is a nice word?

CUOMO: Some pervert can take a camera and take a picture up a woman's skirt is constitutional.



ROMANS: How could that not be an invasion of privacy?

BERMAN: That will be an interesting discussion.

BOLDUAN: Wait until you hear what I have to say about it.


CUOMO: Constitutional.

BERMAN: All right. We will wait to hear that discussion. That sounds fascinating.

CUOMO: I'm not defending that, by the way. I want to let you know right now.


BERMAN: Let's just leave the camera on them and see what happens here, see where this goes.


CUOMO: That was terrible.

BOLDUAN: I'm going to think it might be bad, and Chris is going to be pro.


CUOMO: I'm not, I'm not, I'm not.

BOLDUAN: I'm kidding.

CUOMO: -- have generations of women in my family attacking me.


BERMAN: This is why you have to watch, believe me.

All right. This morning, we are hearing scary, new details of what may have caused a mother to drive into the ocean with her young children in the car. What police are looking at now as the possible cause? Right after the break.


ROMANS: Welcome back. Happening today near Washington --

New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, he's going to take the stage at CPAC, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. A speech there, of course, is seen as a key stepping stone for Republican politicians who want to run for the White House, especially as Christie looks to bolster his reputation in light of the investigations into misconduct in his office.

The pregnant mother 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 her home. That's according to family members. Witnesses rushed into the water, rushed into the surf off the coast of Daytona Beach. They rescued the children one by one with only seconds to spare. Police taking a wait-and-see 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.

Pet stores in Chicago are being told no more animals from puppy mills. Lawmakers there giving overwhelming approval to a measure banning the public sale of dogs, cats, and other pets obtained from large-scale breeding operations. Beginning next month -- next March, rather, pet stores in Chicago will have to get animals from shelters, rescues, or humane organizations. A very, very big change.

Coming up, Target tech chief out months after a hacking scandal compromised millions of customers' personal information. That story in "Money Time," next.


ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome back to EARLY START. It's "Money Time." Calm returns to markets worldwide and U.S. futures are following stocks around the world higher this morning. You know, the U.S. government's monthly jobs report is out tomorrow. That's now the center of attention. And don't expect much. Economists surveyed by CNN say the jobless rate probably held steady at 6.6 percent and only 150,000 jobs were created in the month. Spring can't come soon enough for workers in areas like construction and shipping, retail and restaurants. It's been just too cold to add a lot of jobs in those areas.

The 28-year-old American CEO of bitcoin virtual currency exchange, First Meta, was found dead in her home in Singapore. Now, the company's website says it is shocked and saddened by the tragic loss of Autumn Radtke. First Meta allows users of virtual currencies like bitcoin to trade and cash out the currencies. This is another dark cloud over bitcoin. Last month, we saw the collapse of the Mt. Gox Exchange in Tokyo.

Target's tech chief is out. It's the latest development in one of the largest data breaches in history. Target will replace the head of technology and add two other top positions to overhaul information security. Cyber criminals went through an online portal for venders to steal personal information of up to 110 million Target customers last year.

And pizza chain, Sbarro, is preparing to file for bankruptcy protection. That's according to the "Wall Street Journal." Sbarro is struggling with weak sales. Last month, the company announced it would close more than a quarter of its 400 airport and mall food court restaurants.

"NEW DAY" starts right now.