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Searching for Flight 370; CIA Spying on Congress?; Huge Winter Storm; Crisis in Ukraine

Aired March 12, 2014 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Searching for a needle a haystack. A Malaysian missing jetliner probably hundreds of miles off course when it vanished without a trace. This morning, an intensified and refocused search to find hundreds of passengers who disappeared into thin air. We are live with the very latest.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Is the CIA spying on the U.S. Senate? Senate leaders launching explosive accusations. Did the intelligence agency illegally spy and tamper with investigation?

ROMANS: Happening now, a huge winter storm barreling across the country. Millions from the Midwest to Maine, they're going to be pounded with rain, ice, snow and sleet. Indra Petersons is tracking who will be hit the hardest.

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

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Great to see you this morning. It's Wednesday, March 12th, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And this morning, we have new developments and frankly new confusion in the search for Malaysia Air Flight 370. The only fact that anyone seems to agree on it's been missing now for five days with 239 people on board. Search crews this morning seem to be fanning out over an even wider area, trying to find this jet that simply disappeared.

But there is conflicting information about where it went. A senior Malaysian air force official had told CNN it appeared the plane may have strayed hundreds of miles off course. Others, though, are now refuting this information, saying it's not clear what happened.

The latest briefing from officials there is just about to get under way.

I want to get to Nic Robertson with the very latest on this investigation.

Nic, and what seems to be, again, just flat-out conflicting information?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We certainly seem to have a sense of that from the Vietnamese. Of course, the plane was flying towards Vietnam, passing in through Vietnam airspace when it apparently, probably, according to the sources we have, made a turn back towards Malaysia.

The Vietnamese say they have insufficient information from the Malaysian authorities. They only had official contact one, that they don't get to talk to senior officials. And right now, they're scaling back their search which focuses more of the efforts on the Malacca Strait, which is where we understand the plane had reached after making that almost U-turn in the sky. And flying back across Malaysia, disappearing at 2:40 a.m.

The prime minister in Malaysia is calling for families to be patient, to understand the government is doing everything to pray to God and to be united in all of this.

But it does seem that the military at this stage, the air force in particular, the air force chief, coming out and saying that he hadn't spoken to journalist, and given specifics about how the plane had possibly turned around and gone back. And it does seem that he is pointing to the government to follow their lead on this, as if there's some disagreement within the Malaysian authorities about who should take the lead on the information here. He's pointing at the government not the military. But it does, again when we listen to the Vietnamese, highlight the amount of confusion about where this plane is, which, of course, is exacerbated by the fact nothing has been found so far -- John.

BERMAN: Nic, they're asking people including the families to be patient. I imagine it's hard to be patient when there is this confusion. And it does raise questions about whether the Malaysians simply have their act together in this search?

ROBERTSON: You know, there have certainly been other incidents around the world. And we can think of the Westgate terrorist attack, as an example in Kenya, were there were for a number of days conflicting information coming from the government.

A huge amount of pressure has been placed on the Malaysian authorities here. And it does seem internally, they haven't got -- they don't appear to have a strong mechanism to get out the information in a way that they want to get it out. The information they provide lags the facts on the ground. The search was under way for several days in the Straits of Malacca, before reporters and the rest of the world were provided information that the flight might have actually turned around and been over the Straits of Malacca when it disappeared.

So, it certainly seems that the government at the moment is struggling to get its message out and control what's going on here. And that only leads to this frustration from the families that they're not getting enough information.

But when we hear from people like the vice transport minister in Vietnam saying they're not getting enough information, they've only had one official contact with Malaysian authorities. And they were a major part of the search. Let's remember that in the beginning.

It does point up that there is a paucity of useful information for all of those involved. BERMAN: And again, the facts are, this plane has been missing for five days and the facts are, they seem to be no closer to finding any clues about where it went.

Nic Robertson for us covering this story -- thanks so much, Nic.

ROMANS: All right. This morning, the CIA is denying a shocking allegation that it spied on Senate staffers and even took documents off of their computers. Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein took to the Senate floor on Tuesday to make the claim that CIA spies went into those computers without authorization, as the staffers worked on a report about the agency's controversial prison interrogation programs.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I have grave concerns that the CIA's search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution.

JOHN BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR: Nothing could be further from the truth. When the facts come out on this, I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong.


ROMANS: Senator Lindsey Graham says if it's proven that the CIA has interfered with a congressional investigation, Senator Lindsey Graham says someone should go to jail.

BERMAN: A lot of senators are very angry about this.

Happening today on Capitol Hill, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is set to discuss the future of U.S. forces in that nation.

General Joseph Dunford is likely to address the upcoming presidential election there and what the U.S. will do if Afghanistan will not sign off in an agreement to keep U.S. troops in place.

Also, today, Canada marks the end of its mission in Afghanistan with a form of flag lowering in Kabul. The last 100 Canadian troops there are expected to be out by the end of the week.

ROMANS: New details this morning of just who's been signing up for Obamacare. The government says the enrollment through February is now nearly 4.25 million people and about a quarter of them are young adults. While the numbers are trending upwards, they're still far below the administration's own goals of signing up some 7 million people by the end of March.

BERMAN: It explains why President Obama is doing interviews with Zach Galifianakis.

ROMANS: Yes. BERMAN: Federal prosecutors now looking into a huge General Motors recall and whether the automaker was criminally liable for not disclosing it earlier. Last month, GM announced it was recalling 1.4 million cars over faulty ignition switches, a problem now connected, they say, to 31 accidents and 13 deaths. GM is conducting its own review, as is a Senate committee.

ROMANS: A guilty plea expected today from a Credit Suisse private banker charged with helping American clients hide billions of dollars from the IRS.

Andreas Bachmann and six others are accused of taking actions worthy of a spy novel to help their clients avoid paying taxes, including hiding cash in panty hose and private elevators to avoid prying eyes, and even setting up a secret airport branch so clients did not have to go to their bank in Zurich, they could go straight to their ski vacation while dropping off their cash that wasn't tracked by the U.S. government. Credit Suisse has apologized, saying the bankers were operating without approval from their managers.

Slowdowns in China's economy are worrying investors this morning. Stocks in Japan down 2 1/2 percent. That's a big move for one morning. Hong Kong sharply lower. European stock markets off to a rocky start as well.

Stocks in the U.S. having a losing week, so far. The Dow down 67 points yesterday. Futures are flat right now, but really watching all of those red arrows overseas.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, both of those stocks tumbling, tumbling on news of a bipartisan deal to close them. No time line of when that will happen. No concrete details.

President Obama gave a speech back in August where he mentioned winding down the nation's top two mortgage lenders. Now, we're hearing Democrats and Republicans have potentially reached a deal in the Senate.

The government just recently turned a profit on a $187 billion bailout of Fannie and Freddie. Those stocks hammered, hammered late yesterday. We'll watch them again today.

BERMAN: The good news for everyone in the Northeast has been over the last day and a half, it's been beautiful. The bad news, it's not going to last. It's pretty much over, folks.

Indra Petersons will explain where it's going.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: But if I could this morning, right? I mean, you can just like enjoy that for five seconds. I mean, look at this, temperatures in the morning hours in the 40s, guys.

Now, as we go through the afternoon, it will warm up. Look at the highs, D.C. again looking at 66, New York, 56 today. But now, let's show the drop of that cold air really makes its way, so tomorrow, look at that difference.

We're talking about 30s in D.C.; 20s as your high in through New York City. So, definitely, a lot of changes are going to be coming our way, and a lot of it has to do with, of course, the storm, right now, already dropping snow around the Chicago area and kind of heading farther into the East.

So, let's talk about what we're expecting. Keep in mind, the storm is expected to strengthen as it builds its way into the Northeast. So, anywhere from four to even inches in Chicago area and through Detroit.

Look at this, we're talking about over a foot, possibly to about two feet of snow for Upstate New York and kind of in through Maine. So, that's the concern. Several models, of course, bring lower amounts. That's the extreme we need to be prepared for. Keep in mind today, already in the Midwest, Ohio Valley, overnight tonight, starting to really develop bringing rain towards New York City and switching over to snow so by tomorrow we're still dealing with that snow, the kind of heads off into the East. Keep in mind, strong winds are going to be out there as well.

And we talk about the warm and cold air, right? You have that clash out there. About 15 million under the severe weather threat, that means strong winds and even a threat for tornadoes can be out there. So, I'll be watching for that, of course, into the mid-Atlantic.

So, a lot going on. Unfortunately, warm and cold air not a good thing.

BERMAN: Did you say 22 inches of snow possibly in Burlington, Vermont?

PETERSONS: You're talking about upstate, yes, definitely. No question.

BERMAN: I mean, I know it's Vermont, but still, it's March.


ROMANS: Another couple of great ski weeks throughout.

BERMAN: All right. President Obama paying a visit to the Northeast. He was in New York City for a pair of Democratic fund-raisers. And he did some shopping at the Gap. It was a surprise visit, at least for the people at the Gap, a store in Midtown Manhattan. The Gap recently moved to raise the minimum wage for its employees, something the president has urged businesses to do. Yes, that's why the president was there.

In case you're wondering, he did buy a pair of sweaters for his daughters Malia and Sasha. And a workout jacket for the first lady.

I always wonder when he buys these things for his family.

ROMANS: Do they return them? BERMAN: Do they like them? I mean, I've had experience buying things for the misses, you know, I'm batting like 20, you know, out of 200. Nothing. They don't keep anything.

ROMANS: Give me a gift card next time, dad.

BERMAN: Exactly.

ROMANS: All right. Breaking news overnight: a neighborhood evacuated as a high-rise goes up in flames. Look at that very dramatic video. We're going to show and tell you what happened, next.

BERMAN: And high-stakes meeting for President Obama today. One-on- one with Ukraine's new prime minister. This as Russian forces tighten their grip in Crimea overnight. We're live with the latest, next.


ROMANS: Happening today at the White House: a meeting between Ukraine's interim prime minister and President Obama. The two leaders talking as the U.S. and Europe move to impose sanctions on Russian officials just four days before Crimea votes on succession from Ukraine.

Anna Coren live in Crimea this morning.

And, Anna, you've seen Russian forces flooding into a port city there. Tell us what's happening on the ground.

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely, Christine. The military buildup is definitely intensifying here.

You mention that the acting prime minister of Ukraine, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, he is in Washington, D.C., meeting with President Barack Obama this afternoon. He's also going to meet with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry before heading to New York to address the United Nations.

They are trying to come up with some diplomatic solution that will reverse Russia's invasion here in Crimea. Christine, that is exactly what it is. It is an invasion.

We travelled to the eastern tip of this peninsula. We saw, you know, convoys of trucks carrying Russian troops, military equipment. You know the border or the land, I should say, between eastern tip and Russia, it's all in a couple of miles. So, these ferries come across these troops, bringing this equipment.

The port has been taken over by local militia. There are also Russian forces on the ground. When they approached them, they told us to put our cameras down, to stop filming. They were quite hostile and aggressive, with appearance everywhere we've gone, we've come across these local militia.

They don't want us showing this military buildup. But it is happening, without a doubt, at the check points, at the ports. They're taking over these military bases, these military installations.

You know, Christine, I think it's fair to say, definitely that Crimea has already become part of Russia. We spoke to the mayor of the city we were in yesterday, he's planning, the Russian prime minister, to build a bridge that would link Crimea to Russia. Construction is due to begin in the next couple of months.

So, I think it's fair to say that it is set in stone. Crimea is now part of Russia.

ROMANS: All right. Anna Coren, and a vote, just a few days away. Thank you, Anna.

BERMAN: At 16 minutes past the hour right now.

And in San Francisco this morning, fire officials are warning it could be some time before they get full control over a really big fire there. This is an apartment complex under construction. Flames were climbing some 40 feet into the air. Hundreds of people in nearby buildings had to be evacuated.

One firefighter was reported injured. But crews are hopeful they are now getting the upper hand in this place.

ROMANS: Score this one for the GOP. The first congressional election of 2014 going to Republican David Jolly of Florida in a squeaker. He beat his Democratic opponent by just about 3,500 votes to replace the late Congressman Bill Young.

The race was seen as a bellwether for November when the seat, along with all 435 congressional seats will once again, Berman, be up for grabs.

BERMAN: This is a punch in the gut for Democrats. They really wanted this race. They got the candidate they wanted.

ROMANS: So close.

BERMAN: This was a district that President Obama won by two points in 2012. It's a race that a lot of people thought was a key pickup for the Democrats and they didn't get it. And a lot of people think that this shows that the anti-Obamacare message will be one that is very fertile and fruitful for Republicans heading into the midterm elections.

So, important results for both parties.

Washington, D.C.'s mayor is defending himself against allegations that he was involved in a supporter's use of secret funds to help him get elected. Prosecutors say Vincent Gray knew businessman Jeffrey Thompson was funneling illegal contribution into a shadow campaign back in 2010. Gray says that's not true, and used his state of the district address to respond.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MAYOR VINCENT GRAY, WASHINGTON, D.C.: I ask you, who do you believe? A greedy man attempting to save himself? Or me, a public servant who has dedicated my entire career and my entire life to giving back to our communities in the District of Columbia?


BERMAN: An unusual state of the district address.

Now, Mayor Gray has not been formally charged with any crime. But he is up for re-election, faces challengers in the primary on April 1st. The allegations, of course, could be a big part of that election.

ROMANS: Meantime, that same D.C. businessman is being implicated in a campaign finance investigation involving Hillary Clinton's 2008 White House run. Court papers allege a longtime Clinton adviser solicited illegal contributions from Jeffrey Thompson who says he funnel some $600,000 in a shadow operation to boost the former secretary of state several state.

A spokesperson says the adviser did not know Thompson was funding those projects off the books.

BERMAN: No word yet from a judge when she will rule whether former top aides of New Jersey's Governor Chris Christie will have to comply with the state legislative subpoena over their alleged rules in the shutdown of lanes on the George Washington Bridge. Lawyers for Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Stepien argue turning over documents could violate their Fifth Amendment rights. Only Kelly appeared in person at the hearing and had to walk through a group of protesters at that courthouse.

ROMANS: At the Oscar Pistorius murder trial in South Africa, more dramatic testimony from a forensic scientist about what happened the night Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend. A police investigator took a swing at the actual bathroom door Reeva Steenkamp was behind when she was killed. He says the marks show Pistorius did not have his prosthetics on when he used the cricket bat at the door.

Pistorius himself was seen passing a note to his lawyers with his own sketch of what he said happened.

BERMAN: Breaking news overnight: an NFL player off the field since he accused a teammate of bullying him. He's been traded to a new team. Andy Scholes will tell us what happened and where he's going in the "Bleacher Report", next.


BERMAN: All right. A really high-profile football player on the move. The Miami Dolphins Jonathan Martin, you'll recall, he shed light on the bullying scandal, said he was bullied in the locker room. He's been traded now to the San Francisco 49ers.

Andy Scholes has that in today's "Bleacher Report."

Hey, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: Hey, good morning, guys.

You know, after the bullying scandal there were really two ideal spots for Jonathan Martin to land. One would have been with his college teammate Andrew Luck and the Colts. The other with his former coach at Stanford, Jim Harbaugh. He's now coaching the 49ers. And, you know, that's where Martin is headed. On the first day of NFL-free agency, the Dolphins traded Martin to San Francisco for a conditional seventh round pick.

After the news broke, Martin tweeted, "Opportunities are few in the NFL. Can't wait to get to work. #ninerempire."

All right. Four more teams punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament last night. Former NBA Hall of Fame John Stockton on hand to watch his son David led Gonzaga to an automatic bid.

And check out this monster shot block from young Stockton. Wow. Dad certainly didn't teach him that.

Along with Gonzaga, North Dakota State, St. Mary's, and Milwaukee earned spot for the big event.

All right. Number one lineup section of right now, the Rockets and Thunder rivalry continues to be a heated one. There were multiples scuffles during last night's game. Four technical fouls and a flagrant foul were issued.

But there was one funny moment from the game. Dwight Howard kicks it out to Omar Asik. The problem was Asik was on the bench. He's not even in the game.

Kevin Durant dropped 42 points on this one as the Thunders get to win 106-98.

All right. The greatest coach in NBA history is returning to the game, not on the sidelines, but to run the New York Knicks. According to "The New York Post", Phil Jackson has agreed to become the president of the Knicks. The Zen master won two titles as a player in New York before his coaching days.

Jackson could be in place running the Knicks by the end of the week. Guys, we all know he can coach a team. Certainly a chance to see if he can run a team as a front office executive and put the players in place to win a championship.

BERMAN: And our backs on the line, Phil Jackson the greatest coach of all time.

SCHOLES: By NBA title standards.


BERMAN: You know, my condolences to Phil Jackson coming to New York, with the Knicks is really not a great thing. But we were just talk about baby Stockton's block.

ROMANS: He looks like his dad on the court, you know? He looks like him.

SCHOLES: Yes, he looks just like him. I'm sure his dad never had a block as impressive as that.

BERMAN: I'm not sure his dad ever had a block, period.


BERMAN: Andy Scholes, great to see you this morning.

SCHOLES: Good to see you, too.

BERMAN: All right. We do have a lot of news to tell you about. New developments in the search for that missing jet Flight 370. Did the plane change course before it disappeared? There are conflicts reports now. We have that and the other top headlines right after the break.