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Crisis in Ukraine; USS Truxtun Heading to Black Sea; Army Sex Assault Allegation; "Blade Runner" Murder Trial: Day 5

Aired March 7, 2014 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Tensions as high as ever over the crisis in Ukraine. President Obama with an hour-long phone call with Vladimir Putin. The line seemed clear and dangerous as a vote in Crimea draws closer. This could make it a Russian territory.

We are live in Ukraine and on the Black Sea, where an American warship is about to arrive.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Left in tears. Oscar Pistorius breaks down in court as a doctor describes his dying girlfriend's final moments, and there could be more fireworks at his murder trial, day four, today.

BERMAN: A top army official now under investigation, accused of a sex crime. It was his job to train prosecutors to handle sex crime victims. Amazing.

The new details we're learning this morning in just a bit.

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

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is Friday. It bears repeating, it's Friday.

BERMAN: It is Friday.

ROMANS: March 7th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

A very busy week and a very busy end to the week. Up first, the fight for Crimea. Western leaders condemning a referendum by Crimean lawmakers to separate from Ukraine and to join Russia. The Crimean people will vote on that measure in just nine days. Ukraine's interim prime minister boldly declaring Crimea was, is and will be an integral part of Ukraine moving forward, a sentiment shared by President Obama.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The referendum on the future of Crimea would violate the Ukrainian constitution and violate international law. Any discussion about the future of Ukraine must include the legitimate government of Ukraine.


ROMANS: The president pushing hard for a diplomatic way out of this crisis, spending an hour on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin Thursday, urging him to hold direct talks with Ukraine with outside observers on hand.

Meanwhile, Russian forces remain in control of Crimea, where a pro- Ukraine rally is under way at this hour. Let's bring in CNN's Anna Coren.

Good morning.


That's right. We're at a pro-Ukrainian rally. You don't see too many of these here in Crimea, which as we know is very much staunchly pro- Russian.

Several hundred people showing out in this miserable, cold weather, but they want to get their message across -- they do not want to become part of Russia in just over a week's time. That is when that referendum will be held on the 16th of March. And the people here will have to decide whether Crimea stays with Ukraine or breaks away and becomes part of Russia.

Now, the people that we've just been speaking to, you know, they have grave concerns. They feel that the government that's been newly installed here is at least illegal, what they're doing is illegal. They're pushing this referendum through. They say it's a violation of international law.

They know it's dangerous just coming out here and taking to the streets, voicing their opinion, because it really goes against what this government here in this region wants to achieve. So, they know the score, they know what they're up against, but despite that, they want to voice their opinion.

We have to remember that Crimea is 60 percent ethnic Russian, and they do have very close historical and cultural ties with Russia, once part of the Soviet Union. So, that is the connection, if you like, between Crimea and Russia. But as far as these people are concerned, only a small minority, they don't want to see Crimea become part of Russia. They want to stay part of Ukraine, Christine.

ROMANS: Wow. Certainly a complicated situation, and a vote, Anna Coren, in just nine days. Thank you.

BERMAN: The USS Truxtun is steaming toward the Black Sea at this hour. According to Navy officials, the guided missile destroyer with 300 sailors on board is on a routine deployment that was scheduled well before the crisis in Ukraine erupted. Nevertheless, it brings on new significance given the crisis at hand.

I want to bring in Ivan Watson right now by phone. He is on the Black Sea. He's been following this.

Ivan, what's the latest?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, this destroyer, as you mentioned, the Truxtun is on its way, heading through the canals and straits this morning and headed up towards Istanbul's Bosphorus Straits, the choke point that leads toward the Black Sea.

Again, the U.S. Navy saying these were preplanned exercises to be conducted with two Black Sea countries (AUDIO GAP) joint naval exercises. Given the (AUDIO GAP) crisis at the moment in Crimea, it's symbolic right now, and certainly when it comes to naval power, reports that the Russian navy has been blockading a number of Ukrainian navy ships off of (AUDIO GAP) actually even sinking a boat to keep those ships from coming out.

We've actually seen a number of other warships sail through this Bosphorus choke point earlier this week, with vessels and a Ukrainian warship as well. Now, the Pentagon has also been sending military signals, deploying extra planes to bolster Eastern European countries in the Baltics and Poland as well, trying, it seems, to send a message that the U.S. will back its NATO allies, its European allies at a time when Russia is clearly occupying part of Ukraine -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Ivan Watson. You can hear him on the Black Sea right now, actually in the straits separating Turkey right now, the Bosphorus, where the USS Truxtun steaming into the Black Sea on routine deployment.

But as Ivan points out, so much of this military movement is symbolic and meant by a show of force, both sides doing it, Russia doing it, running training exercises in western Russia, the U.S. doing it, running training missions all over the region. We are following it by the minute.

ROMANS: This morning, we're also hearing from Venezuela's president, Nicolas Maduro, in an exclusive interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour. Maduro defended his country's crackdown on protesters who have been in the streets in Venezuela calling for his resignation. He said those protesters are a minority, claims the U.S. would have followed the same path. We should say, this translation was followed by his office.


PRES. NICOLAS MADURO, VENEZUELA (through translator): Those who have started this violent plan is a minority, is a tiny group belonging to the opposition, and they have put the rest of the opposition in a serious, in a dire situation. What would the U.S. do if a tiny group would say they're going to generate a revolution or a revolt to change the constitutional government of the U.S.? I guess the state will react, would then resort to the tools to restore order and peace.


ROMANS: Meantime, a group of U.N. human rights experts are now voicing concern over the allegations protesters have been attacked, beaten and tortured. The country's top prosecutor says of the 1,300 people arrested in the protests, fewer than 100 are still in custody.

BERMAN: This morning, a Marine Corps captain and master sergeant had been relieved of duty after an explosion that left four fellow marines dead during a training exercise at Camp Pendleton. The investigation into that accident, which happened last year, said the explosion was probably the result of a dropped or kicked grenade as the Marines gathered up unexploded ordinance. The two marine disciplined were in charge of that exercise.

ROMANS: The army colonel who trains sex crimes prosecutors now being investigated for alleged sexual assault. Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Morris has been removed from his job. CNN learned he's accused of groping a female lawyer at a conference back in 2011. Morris oversees nearly two dozen special victim prosecutors who are responsible for sex crime, domestic violence and child abuse cases.

BERMAN: A bill designed to strip military commanders of their authority in sexual assault cases failed to get enough votes to proceed in the Senate. Fifty-five senators did back the measure, a clear majority, but that's five votes short of the 60 needed for a vote, an up-or-down vote on the bill. The bill's co-sponsor, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, says it was needed to combat an epidemic of rape and sexual assault in the military.

ROMANS: It didn't take long for Massachusetts lawmakers to respond to this controversial court ruling in favor of a man who took up-skirt photos of female subway riders. The state legislature approving a ban on such pictures, pictures of women or children in public. It comes a day after the state's highest court ruled the up-skirt subway photos didn't violate state law because the women weren't naked. The court said such actions should be illegal but weren't because the way the law was written.

BERMAN: It set off like a 48-hour fury all over the northeast, but they have changed the law now. I think everyone agrees that was a wise, wise move.

All right, we have new details this morning of a hack attack on the Navy's computer networks believed orchestrated by Iran. The "Wall Street Journal" says investigators reporting part of the blame now on a poorly written contract to maintain parts of the network. Apparently, Hewlett-Packard was not required to maintain security standards, which could have left the networks an easier target.

ROMANS: Oh, there's so many questions about security, information security, and that's just the latest example.

All right, it's Friday. That means the weekend.

Indra Petersons, how does the forecast look?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I'm going to give you a little cheat sheet. We're going to start off right from the beginning, what we're talking about. Yes, a little bit of cold air is still around as the jet stream is farther down to the south, but eventually, we are going to see the jet stream lift up. So, notice, by the time we get through Monday -- hello, things are warming up. That is all we need to know. So, things are improving.

We're talking about temperatures today that, yes, they are still on the cool side, we know that. We're seeing some below-normal temperatures. But knowing it gets better as we go through the weekend, we can handle this. Because look at Monday, we go from below normal to above-normal temperatures.

How long has it been since I have said even those words? Fifties, 60s are going to be in the forecast. It looks good. Just keep in mind, we know there is that low in the South that brought a little bit of rain. Today around the Piedmont, maybe some wintry mix and even the mountains seeing some snow as the system makes its way up the coastline. So, D.C. this morning could see some sleet for the morning commute, maybe some icing.

But here's even better news. That low is going offshore, not hugging the coast. We're not looking for that snow in towards the northeast. See? Looking even better.

Now, Southeast, yes, you had a little bit of rain yesterday into this morning, but look at these temperatures! You're going near 70s, guys. I mean, Jacksonville going up to 74, Charlotte going up to 64 as soon as that system kicks out of here. In the Midwest, a little burst of cold air behind it and it looks good there, too, guys.

All gets better. Little rocks along the way, but it's all right.

BERMAN: Good work, Indra. Good work. Well done.

PETERSONS: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right, global stock markets. What a week. And now we're looking for the monthly jobs report from the U.S. government. That comes out in just a few hours.

This was a good week for stocks in Asia. Stocks in Japan gained 2.8 percent this week. European stock markets slightly lower right now. The U.S. stock market looks to open mixed, but again, a record high for the S&P yesterday. This bull market turns 5 this weekend.

BERMAN: Happy birthday.

ROMANS: Some say that's a long enough run for the bull. But you know what? Previous bull markets defined as a period of the S&P gaining 20 percent without a decline of 20 percent in between. They have actually gone on longer than the current one. That means there's more room to run, if you believe that theory.

BERMAN: Run, bull, run.

ROMANS: The biggest story today for your money, that jobs report comes out at 8:30. Economists surveyed by CNN Money say the jobless rate will likely hold at 6.6 percent, about 150,000 jobs created. But Berman, I will tell you that the whisper, as they say, the whisper is that it could come in weaker than that. We just don't know how bad the weather held back hiring.

BERMAN: Who will be covering that live when it breaks at 8:30?

ROMANS: It will be yours truly.

BERMAN: All right. Excellent. Can't wait for that.

You could be seeing a change in the price of airfares, not what you pay, but how it is broken down when you buy a ticket. Congress right now is working on a bill to undo the changes that were just put in effect two years ago that required airlines to show the complete cost, including taxes and fees as one price.

Oregon Democratic Congressman Peter DeFazio says while the rule was well intentioned, it reduced transparency, since you don't know just how many taxes and fees are piled on on top of your airfare. The whole price is high, that's all I know.

ROMANS: Yes, exactly.

Coming up, we've got tears and agony at the trial of Oscar Pistorius. Another dramatic morning there. The Olympic Blade Runner breaking down. The doctor describing what happened in the moments after Reeva Steenkamp was shot, describing her final moments alive. The latest from the courthouse in Pretoria, next.

BERMAN: And I want you to take a look at this. This is a sight never photographed before. You have never, ever seen this, something from "Close Encounters"? Something from "2001: A Space Odyssey"? No! It's an asteroid coming apart at the seams. Should you be worried about this? We'll tell you, coming up.


ROMANS: Another very emotional day at the Oscar Pistorius murder trial this morning. The Blade Runner breaking down in court, clutching rosary beads as a neighbor describes running to the former Olympian's home moments after he shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, to death. That neighbor back on the stand this morning along with one of Pistorius' ex-girlfriends.

Nic Robertson has the latest live from Pretoria.

Really dramatic and very hard for Oscar Pistorius to listen to some of that testimony.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is, and it's clearly hard for this former girlfriend to give testimony. This is a young woman, Samantha Powers. The judge has been very specific -- Samantha Taylor, rather, excuse me. The judge has been very specific, saying no photographs of her can be taken whatsoever.

She was just 17 when she started dating Oscar Pistorius in 2011. Under cross examination, when Barry Roux, the defense attorney, starts questioning some of her testimony, she says that she broke up with Oscar Pistorius when he started dating Reeva Steenkamp, but then she breaks down into tears.

Listen to this.


SAMANTHA TAYLOR, PISTORIUS' EX-GIRLFRIEND: The first time our relationship ended was when he cheated on me with --

JUDGE: Just take your time, please. We'll just pause for a moment.


ROBERTSON: But what this witness has also said is Oscar Pistorius used to carry a gun with him wherever he went, used to keep it by his bedside, that they used to argue, that their relationship was tempestuous at times, very importantly saying that when Oscar Pistorius started screaming at her, he sounded like a man, and not a woman, which is something the defense has been trying to put across in this case so far.

Also, we don't know why this is important yet, but the prosecution, the state making a big point that Oscar Pistorius used to use his phone at night and used to use his iPad at night to send messages to people. We don't know where that's going, but this is a witness now, we've seen her get emotional and break down crying at least twice under this intense cross examination, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Nic Robertson live for us this morning on day four of that trial. Thanks, Nic.

BERMAN: Eighteen minutes past the hour now.

Chris Christie says it is time for Republicans to take on the media. The New Jersey governor back in the national spotlight, addressing conservatives at the three-day CPAC convention in suburban Washington. The governor also targeting President Obama for a lack of leadership and direction.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: We don't get to govern if we don't win. And it's not only bad when we don't get to govern, because we don't get to mold and change our society. What's worse is they do. We have to stop letting the media define who we are and what we stand for.


Because when we talk about what we're for, no matter what state we're in, our ideas win.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: Interesting note there was when he said we don't get to govern if we don't win. That's a message to Republicans there, to conservatives, to perhaps be more accommodating to a wider degree of people in the party. Christie was snubbed by CPAC last year. Why? After praising President Obama for his help with Hurricane Sandy relief.

ROMANS: All right, getting uninsured Americans to sign up for Obamacare proving to be a big challenge, but there are signs of progress. The consulting firm McKenzie surveyed 395 people who registered under the Affordable Care Act by mid-February and found 27 percent were previously uninsured. That's an 11 percent increase from the number of uninsured Americans who signed up the month before.

BERMAN: All right, we have some amazing new pictures to show you this morning from outer space documenting the end of an asteroid. The Hubble space telescope captured these images over several months. Scientists think the effect of sunlight pulling on the asteroid caused it to fall apart. One researcher says they have simply never seen anything like this before.

ROMANS: It is cool.

BERMAN: Whether you appreciate it or not, this apparently galactically cool. Scientists very, very excited about this.

Are you as excited? Tweet us @earlystart and @christineromans. She wants to know.

Coming up, there are losses, and men, there are losses. This one was one for the record books. The Lakers just demolished, embarrassed, smeared, ugly.

Joe Carter has the highs and lows --

ROMANS: He's not ugly.

BERMAN: No, Joe Carter's a beautiful man, but he has the highs and lows -- really, the lows and lows, coming up in the "Bleacher Report."

Beautiful man, Joe Carter.


ROMANS: All right. The Los Angeles Lakers have been a franchise from what, 54 years?

BERMAN: That's about one year nearly for every point they got blown out by last night in one of the worst games in the history of ever. Joe Carter here with the "Bleacher Report."

Hey, Joe.

ROMANS: What happened?

JOE CARTER, BLEACHER REPORT: Hey, good morning, guys. Yes, I have to say here that the Lakers might have officially hit rock bottom here, because they lost to the Clippers last night by 48 points. It's their worst lost in franchise history.

I know the Clippers are good now, but they used to be a team the Lakers steamrolled on a regular basis. The Clippers' biggest celebrity fan was Frankie Nunez. Now, of course, that bandwagon is full, and for good reason. The clippers got to ice this one early. You see Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan didn't even have to play in the fourth quarter and the Lakers are one loss away from their first losing season in 10 years.

Trending this morning on, LeBron James, he only scored 19 points in last night's blowout loss to the Spurs. San Antonio never trailed in this route. And after the game, King James blamed his poor play on the NBA's new sleeved jerseys. Teams have only been wearing these jerseys on and off since Christmas. LeBron has never been a fan of these jerseys. He said they're too snug and it affects his jump shot. Good thing it's the last time the Heat have to wear these sleeved jerseys.

And Dr. Frank Jobe, the sports medicine pioneer, who is the first to perform the procedure that became known as Tommy John surgery died Thursday in Santa Monica, California. He was 88 years old. Now, the doctor first performed the groundbreaking elbow surgery back in 1974 on Tommy John, a Dodgers pitcher. He removed a tendon from his forearm to repair his elbow. John went on to pitch for 14 years. Several big-name athletes have had the surgery and have Jobe to thank.

Well, Tiger Woods only made it through 10 holes at the Cadillac Championship on Thursday, not because of his bad back, but due to the bad weather. The world number one looked a bit rusty before the severe storms and darkness suspended play. Tiger was 2 over par through 10 holes, five strokes behind the leaders. He'll have to play 26 holes today, which could be tricky, given his back problems.

And of course, clothes make the man, and if you're Johnny Manziel, it's going to make him a very rich man. Johnny football signed a marketing deal with Nike yesterday. No financial details yet, but sources say, guys, it's the most lucrative for a rookie in this year's class. Johnny Manziel, already making big money before he's played one down in the NFL.

BERMAN: Yes, before any impact on the NFL, but you want to talk about impact, talk about Dr. Jobe in baseball. We always look at players changing the game. Dr. Jobe fundamentally changed baseball sports medicine. That surgery has saved the careers of so many players. They owe him so much.

And they know it, too, by the way. They know it.

CARTER: You talk about somebody like Tommy John. Tommy John went on to win over 100 more games. He played 13 more years in baseball. He saved the careers of Chris Carpenter, John Smoltz, just recently Stephen Strasburg. I mean, you said it, John, this guy has definitely saved and extended the careers of many athletes, not just baseball, but many other athletes as well.

BERMAN: What a legacy.

All right, Joe, really appreciate it. Thanks.

ROMANS: All right, an American warship now steaming toward the Black Sea as Crimeans take up a referendum that could make them a permanent part of Russia. We're going to have the very latest on the crisis in Ukraine, right after the break.