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Local Reports: Texas Serial Bomber Dead; Trump Ignores Warning on Putin; 3 Women Involved in Legal Action Over Trump; Historic Spring Nor'easter. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired March 21, 2018 - 04:30   ET



[04:30:17] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Some major breaking news at 4:30 Eastern Time out of Austin, Texas. Local reports, one from the "Austin American Statesman", another from a local television affiliate, say the serial bomber there is dead, involved in an officer-involved shooting in Austin. Details just beginning to trickle in.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody, on a big news Wednesday.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: It sure is. I'm Christine Romans. Again, it's 30 minutes past the hour.

And certainly, people are going to wake up in Austin, Texas, this morning with a little more relief than they've had the last few weeks. The breaking news out of Austin this hour, a large police presence at what authorities are calling an officer-involved shooting in the neighborhood of Round Rock.

The "Austin American Statesman", a reporter there, and also other local media reporting the serial bomber is dead. The serial bomber in Austin has been killed. Officials say I-35 southbound will be closed for the next hours for an investigation. Again, the bombing suspect is dead, this is according to law enforcement sources, telling the "Austin American Statesman." Obviously, this has been just a frantic scene the past few weeks, five different devices, two fatalities, some terrible injuries here.

One of these devices was a trip wire, the most -- that was a couple of days ago sort of change in M.O. has really had Austin, Texas, on edge here.

BRIGGS: Yes, the evolution from packages at doorsteps exploding when you open them to the trip wire to the FedEx facility where packages were sent through them.

And some compare the situation there in Austin, Texas, in the last couple of days to what we saw with the shooter up in the D.C. area where the entire town, almost a million people in Austin, on edge, not knowing what to do, where to go, where it's safe. We're working to get Tony Plohetski from "The Austin American

Statesman" who reported this that the bomber is dead, working to get him live for us.

ROMANS: There's been a large police presence for the past hour or so. There were reports from the Austin Police Department of an officer- involved shooting. So, the question here is exactly how this went down. Did the suspect detonate something and was shot by police, was the suspect identified and apprehended by police and died in the subsequent attempt to arrest?

The exact details of how the suspect, the bombing suspect is dead remains to be seen here. But we know that i-35 southbound now has been shut basically, right, for the next four to six hours as the investigation continues.

BRIGGS: One specific question of it for those of you that are in Austin, it's near Old Settlers Boulevard, not the entire obviously IH- 35, but four to six hours of the southbound section of it near Round Rock.

ROMANS: One thing we were hearing from authorities yesterday that was interesting is that the FedEx, there was an explosion of FedEx for the facility that hurt one person at a FedEx facility there. And so, police were able to get an awful lot of information and evidence from the fact that that package was sent via FedEx. So, there had to be an account number, there had to be an origination, there was a destination.

So, it was a little different and more information in evidence, the package that exploded at the FedEx facility than the earlier packages which had been apparently hand-delivered on doorsteps.

BRIGGS: There was speculation that this might be targeting minorities as it looked to be in the early going. That has since changed that narrative. It looks like the bomber was just creating mayhem and chaos and fear in the area rather than targeting any particular race or minority there in the Austin area.

But great news out of Austin. A massive sigh of relief --


BRIGGS: -- for the million residents there.

ROMANS: We'll be waiting a briefing for the authorities there who will be able to give us a little more detail on how they were able to isolate and locate this person, how the bombing suspect was killed, whether it was by his own hand or her own hand or by the police. We do know that there was an officer-involved shooting.

Don't want to make assumptions. Sometimes the early details in a breaking news situation can be revised and changed. But, clearly, the authorities will be laying out exactly what happened there.

BRIGGS: All right. Let's move to politics now and talk about the president, already taking heat for congratulating Vladimir Putin on his re-election. Now, it gets worse. "The Washington Post" reporting the president ignored warnings from national security aides not to congratulate Putin. Briefing materials even said, do not congratulate, in all caps.

A White House official not disputing the language but saying the president did not read nor see the note card.

ROMANS: The congratulatory message drawing harsh criticism, including this from Arizona Republican Senator John McCain: An American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections.

[04:35:10] And just days after waffling on whether Russia is a friend or foe, the White House press secretary gave a similar hedge on the Russian election.


REPORTER: Does the president believe the election in Russia was free and fair?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, in terms of the election, there were -- we're focused on our elections. We don't dictate how other countries operate. What we do know is that Putin has been elected in their country, and that's not something that we can dictate to them how they operate.


ROMANS: "The Post" also reporting Trump ignored aides' talking points, condemning the poisoning of a spy in Britain, an act the U.S. has blamed on Russia. Now, it's worth noting, President Obama did congratulate Vladimir Putin on his 2012 election win, a move that drew Republican criticism at the time. That, of course, was a reset -- an attempted reset in U.S.-Russia relations.

All right. Stop me if you've heard this. A nor'easter barreling up the East Coast. This is the fourth in three weeks. Set to dump more snow on Washington, Philly, and New York City than the previous three storms combined. More than 70 million people are under some type of winter weather advisory.

BRIGGS: Schools in Washington, Philly, New York, all closed. They are open in Boston for the moment. But after-school programs canceled at this hour. Nearly 3,300 U.S. flights have already been canceled.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri joins us live from the CNN weather center.

Good morning, Pedram. What is on the way? Still hasn't really started coming here in New York

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, absolutely. I mean, look at it on radar, it really doesn't look impressive right now, but everything is already just to the West. You know, the cold air's in place, the moisture source is in place. And elements look like they'll be coming together over the next day, three to four hours and essentially continuing for much of Wednesday, potentially lingering into the overnight hours of Thursday into Thursday morning, as well.

But we'll follow what's happening here because the snow showers, again, as far as what is happening right now, generally, light across portions of, say, New York, areas that are making it to the ground, areas around Washington. Also, some light snow showers, much of the energy to the south and to west of you. But upwards of 16 states, we do have winter weather, winter storm, and also winter weather advisories in place for about 72 million people.

So, we know it's a serious setup as far as what is in store. The snow forecast continues with the heavy snow indicated in the dark purple. That continues potentially as late as 9:00, 10:00 p.m. before we see these taper off a little bit. So, with that said, at times one to two hours of -- one to two inches per hour of snow could come down in an extended period here. So, forecasts that easily take the amounts up over ten inches for most of areas around, say, Washington, Philly, certainly around New York, as well.

And this is what we're looking at right now and being very conservative with this to let you know. Six to eight inches in Washington, in Philadelphia, up to nine to 12 inches. New York City, we have between six and 12 inches. The National Weather Service has a forecast taking this upwards of 15 to 21 inches of snowfall for New York City.

But again, the elements are there in place. We just have to see how the system migrates back and forth over this region. But even on the lower end of that, getting to around a foot or so, we could be looking at places like Philadelphia seeing their most significant march snowstorm on record. Similar sort of a setup for New York City, as well. Get over a foot of snowfall in New York City in the month of March. This becomes the most impressive system for this late into the spring season, at the beginning of the spring season. So, pretty impressive system nonetheless -- guys.

BRIGGS: Spring season.

All right, Pedram. Thank you, my friend.

Elsewhere, new legal threats facing President Trump from a porn star, a reality TV contestant, and a former playmate, and it's only Wednesday. A judge in New York ruling Summer Zervos' defamation suit can proceed.

The one-time "Apprentice" contestant says President Trump sexually assaulted her in 2007. He's denied the claims. Attorneys for Zervos say they'll seek a deposition from the president forcing him to testify under oath.

ROMANS: Also, a 2011 polygraph, there's a picture there, shows Stormy Daniels, Stephanie Clifford, was truthful about having unprotected sex with Donald Trump. She was asked that question. She passed that question. Polygraphs are generally inadmissible in court, but the court of

public opinion can judge for itself.

Daniels tweeted this: Technically, I didn't sleep with the POTUS 12 years ago. There was no sleeping. People do care that he lied about it, had me bullied, broke laws to cover it up, et cetera. And P.S., I'm not going anywhere.

BRIGGS: Your discomfort with the story is comforting, Romans.

ROMANS: I'm discomforted --

BRIGGS: Then, there is former "Playboy" model Karen McDougal suing to be released from a nondisclosure agreement covering an alleged affair with President Trump. She claims "The National Enquirer's" parent company, American Media, paid her $150,000 but did not run her story. An American Media spokesman says McDougal has been free to respond to press inquiries since 2016 and claimed the company had not silenced her.

[04:40:07] This technique from "The Enquirer" is some called catch and kill, where they buy the story and they can do whatever they want with it.


All right. The Federal Reserve wraps up its two-day meeting today. And new Fed Chief Jerome Powell is expected to raise interest rates for the first time in 2018. The real question: what will the Fed do next?

Since the financial crisis, the Central Bank has raised rates gradually. But one thing could change the plan. A $1.5 trillion tax cut could juice the economy so much that inflation picks up, and the Fed may have to raise rates faster than planned to keep the economy from overheating.

But BlackRock's chief investment officer of fixed income who oversees $1.3 trillion in assets isn't worried.


RICK REIDER, BLACKROCK GLOBAL CHIEF INVESTMENT OFFICER OF FIXED INCOME: By the way, the Fed will be in no rush to raise interest rates any faster than the pace they're on. This is not inflation like you saw in the '80s and '90s that was accelerating to scary high levels. These are levels of inflation that are considered pretty good for an economy. You want pricing power, you want growth of prices, but you don't want it too fast. And that's about where we're operating today.


ROMANS: Wall Street doesn't like higher interest rates. But what about Main Street? Interest rates affect borrowing costs, raising the rates on saving accounts, auto and student loans and mortgages. So, higher rates, you will feel that.

BRIGGS: Indeed.

All right. Let's get back now to our breaking news out of Austin, Texas. Local reports say the serial bomber is dead.

Tony Plohetski broke that story. He's with "The Austin American Statesman". He joins us on the phone.

Tony, good morning to you. What can you tell us?

TONY PLOHETSKI, REPORTER, THE AUSTIN AMERICAN STATESMAN (via telephone): Well, I'm being told is that over the past 24 hours, law enforcement sources were able to use a mixture of security video from a FedEx store in South Austin as well as information that they had previously gained from store receipts around the area that showed suspicious activity. And then based on that, they were additionally able to get information about this suspect's search history on his computer. And then based on that, they relied upon cellular phone technology to locate him in a hotel in Williamson County, that's the county just north of Austin.

And that as they were closing in on him, a couple of hours ago, that is when according to law enforcement sources he used an explosive device to detonate and commit suicide.

ROMANS: Suicide, Tony. We know there was an officer-involved shooting, was the last report from the Austin police department. Do you have any more details from your sources about how exactly that went down in the end as they were closing in on him?

PLOHETSKI: I am told that there was a potential use of lethal force by police officers. It is unclear, though, whether or not those bullets actually struck the suspect. But I am being told that the suspect is deceased from a detonation device that this person used.

But yes, it is my understanding there was a police shooting, an officer-involved shooting as parts of this. Sounds like a dramatic series of events that officials are still trying to sort through now.

BRIGGS: It sounds like a terrific job of detective work following that trail from store receipts to search history on the Internet to the cell phone.

Tony, we saw just a moment ago, the six different incidents around the Austin area, four explosions, killing two people. If you can take us back to what the feeling was like in the Austin area, how on edge has your city been?

PLOHETSKI: Very on edge. Austin is a relatively safe city. And when we do have violent crimes, suspects are often apprehended quickly by police. So, this city is not accustomed to this type of serial offense that is so violent and so dangerous.

So, the city really has increasingly been on edge, wondering when and where the next explosive device was going to go off. ROMANS: What do we know, Tony, about the motive here? We heard from

law enforcement sources earlier this week that they thought this was someone who was really just trying to inspire mayhem. You know, really sort of trying to cause as much suffering as possible in Austin.

What are authorities telling you?

PLOHETSKI: I'm told this person fits what has been described to me as sort of a typical profile. I'm not exactly sure what that means, of a person who often carries out these sorts of crimes. But in terms of more specifics of this person, I don't have that at this point.

ROMANS: So, you don't know if it's a local resident? You don't know --

PLOHETSKI: I am told it's someone who lives in this area, yes.

ROMANS: Someone who lives in that area. Was it a hotel, did you say, they traced this person to a hotel?

PLOHETSKI: That's right. That is my understanding. A hotel in the city of Round Rock, which is just to the north of downtown Austin, and then as police were closing in, the suspect may have attempted or successfully left that hotel, and there may have been a brief pursuit from what I'm told.

[04:45:11] But again, that is preliminary information that authorities are still really trying to work through at this time.

BRIGGS: And authorities are certainly working to find out if there was anyone else who assisted this bomber. Is there any indication that there was anyone assisting him, or was he a lone serial bomber?

PLOHETSKI: The indications are now that it was, in fact, a lone serial bomber, and that there were no other participants in this string of crimes.

BRIGGS: All right. Tony Plohetski from "The Austin American Statesman," with us on the phone, breaking this extraordinary news out of Austin, Texas -- thanks so much, Tony.

Again, if you're just tuning in, the bomber there in Austin has killed himself with an incendiary device. It appears the people in Austin, Texas, can finally breathe a sigh of relief. We'll have much more on this and politics, straight ahead.


[04:50:15] BRIGGS: All right. It's 4:50 Eastern Time. We will update the breaking news out of Austin, Texas, in just a moment. Again, the serial bomber has been killed. He blew himself up with an incendiary device. Back to Austin shortly.

But we start with Cambridge Analytica suspended its CEO after undercover report showed Alexander Nix discussing bribery and entrapment. The embattled data analytics firm best known for its work on the Trump campaign. A new hidden-camera report from Britain's Channel 4 featured Nix and an associate claiming credit for the president's winning strategy.

Nix also recorded describing questions he faced in the House Intelligence Committee. He said Republicans finished with him in five minutes. Democrats' questioning went on for two hours.

ROMANS: "The Washington Post" reporting former White House White House chief strategist Steve Bannon presided over a Cambridge Analytica program that vacuumed up Facebook user data to create voter profiles. Bannon was V.P. and secretary of the company until he stepped down to run the Trump campaign in August of 2016.

The FTC and investors pressuring Facebook over its failure to protect user data. Its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, MIA.

Sources say the Federal Trade Commission is investigating Facebook, specifically how Trump campaign consultants accessed the data of 50 million users without their consent. Facebook is facing millions of dollars in fines. Even worse -- another hit to his reputation. Facebook uses your data to make millions in ad dollars. So, sources at the company think it will take tremendous effort to restore public trust.

And where is Mark Zuckerberg? He has been notably absent. He was not at a staff-wide meeting yesterday while the company is in chaos. Facebook's top executives are frustrated he is not speaking publicly about the issues plaguing Facebook, including allowing Russia to meddle in the 2016 election. Zuckerberg's former mentor says his silence is a problem.


ROGER MCNAMEE, VENTURE CAPITALIST: They have known this for at least a year now, and there's no excuse. And the fact that they're not coming forward and dealing with it, that is a crisis that is going to destroy the company and it's already destroying democracy all over the Western world.


ROMANS: Meanwhile, investors are suing Facebook claiming its misleading statements about policy cost them money. Facebook shares fell another 3 percent yesterday, wiping out $49 billion in market value this week alone.

BRIGGS: All right. We're following breaking news once again out of Austin, Texas. Local reports say the Austin serial bomber is dead. More details as we get them and our CNN law enforcement analyst James Gagliano, James joins us with insight straight ahead.

Don't go anywhere.


[04:57:37] BRIGGS: All right, 4:57 Eastern Time. An update on breaking news out of Austin, Texas, straight ahead.

But we start now with North Korea, taking credit for a sign of change in relations with the U.S. and a commentary published in English on state media. They are the first positive words from North Korea since President Trump accepted this invitation to meet with Kim Jong-un.

CNN's Alexandra Field live for us in Seoul.

What do we know, Alex?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Dave. Well, this is language unlike anything we've heard before from North Korea, certainly, these are times like any we've experienced before. But this is a gentler, more positive tone from South Korea in which they say there has been a sign of change in the relationship between North Korea and the U.S.

They also say there is the dramatic climate that is making possible the potential atmosphere for reconciliation with South Korea. They say that's all credited to, of course, North Korea for their proactive measures, their peace-loving measures. They say that, of course, would be a reference to the inter-Korean summit that's set to take place next month between North Korea and South Korea.

There is also, of course, all of this talk about the possibility of a summit between North Korea and the United States. In this commentary put out by KCNA, the North Korean state news, there's no direct mention of a meeting between Kim Jong-un and President Donald Trump. In fact, North Korea has not explicitly discussed the meeting since President Trump did accept the invitation for the meeting more than two weeks ago.

But this commentary does go on to attack critics in the world, namely in Japan, the United States, and South Korea, who would perceive this as a sign of North Korea's weakness or that they're caving to sanctions. Instead, they say they are getting everything they want.

Meanwhile, right there in South Korea, President Moon Jae-in making preparations for talks with North Korea and even alluding to the possibility that if the right developments take place down the road, we could be talking about seeing a summit between North Korea, South Korea, and the United States.

How's that for historic? Dave?

BRIGGS: Wow, positive but always a tenuous situation.

Great reporting from Alexandra Field in Seoul. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. EARLY START continues right now.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIGGS: Good Wednesday morning, everyone. Just about 5:00 Eastern Time. And we start with the breaking news out of Austin, Texas.

Local reports say the serial bomber is dead. Details just now coming in.

Good morning, and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs on a breaking morning.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Wednesday, March 21st, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And the Austin bombing suspect dies as police close in. That is from an official from the "Austin American Statesman."