Colossal Winter Storm Headed East; The Race for President: Palin Surprises Trump; Flint Water Crisis: New Emails Released. Aired

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Palin Surprises Trump; Flint Water Crisis: New Emails Released. Aired

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[04:30:34] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: the Northeast bracing for a monster snowstorm. Honestly could be one for the record books we are tracking when and where it will hit.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Sarah Palin hits the road with Donald Trump as a new poll shows his lead growing in a key early voting state.

BERMAN: And new e-mails reveal who knew what, when and where in the Flint water crisis. Why the city's contaminated drinking water was ignored for so long.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. Thirty-one minutes past the hour.

This morning, as many as 65 million people in the country, well, they are bracing for a humongous winter storm, a nor'easter set to start Friday with high winds and heavy snowfall and potentially record- breaking snow totals. The storm barreling down in Washington, D.C., a light snow made for a treacherous commute last night with hundreds of vehicle accidents and pedestrian slip and falls.

Joining us with the very latest, meteorologist Pedram Javaheri live in the CNN weather center.

Pedram, how big will it be and how far north of Washington is going to be terrible, like where we live?

(CROSSTALK)

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, it's a pretty fine cut off line at this point. We are trying to get the latest updates as far as what the models are putting together when it comes to the forecast. But right now, we think the heaviest, pretty good confidence because model run after model run has put the bull's-eye over Washington and Baltimore and dramatically drops it off as you were your way from Philadelphia north towards New York. So, break that down for you here. And you take a look, you see the area indicated in green here. A blizzard watch for Baltimore and Washington right now for Friday night and Saturday morning. It's about 8 million people in line here. You think about this. Blizzards are most prone and common across the Northern plains and state of Wyoming. Population of 5,000 people statewide. In North Dakota, 800,000 people.

We are talking 8 million people under the blizzard watch right now with the potential to produce incredible winds along with the heavy snow that's going to come down across this region.

So, take a look. Here we go -- 24 inches in the D.C. metro and points north. That is the heavy snowfall and working north to Philly and then to New York City, about 6 to 8 inches and lesser amounts. Work to the north, it cuts off beyond that into Boston to where some models are saying Boston may not get anything. Others are saying a couple inches as far north as Boston.

But anytime you bring down this much and we will go with 20 inches from Friday into Saturday in areas like D.C. That would literally more than what your entire annual averages in D.C. That would also be more than what is received in 2014 into 2015 and going back before the storm gets here as far as later on today, the storm will be centered over northern Texas and it meanders over Tennessee Valley.

A severe weather element to this as well. If you're tuned in from portions of the Gulf Coast States and New Orleans, a scale of 3 here for large hail and damaging winds and isolated tornadoes cannot be ruled out in Biloxi and New Orleans. And also freezing rain, about 800-mile stretch of land, for a freezing rain as much as a quarter of an inch, maybe a half an inch could accumulate. So, definitely, it's going to be a slick go across this region.

But again, it all comes down to when the storm system parks off the Eastern Seaboard on Friday night, the track that it will take. If it is farther north, John and Christine, you're talking about far greater amounts for you across New York. But at this point, every single model, the American models and European models. They are saying Washington, D.C., you cannot get out of this one with the severity and intensity of the storm Friday into Saturday.

ROMANS: I think six years ago, Pedram, a really bad snowstorm in D.C. And I'm telling you, nothing could move. You remember that one? That was the last time, 2 inches of snow and nothing can move in D.C. I'm not being cruel. It's true. I mean, this kind of snow paralyzes D.C. for a long time. They have nowhere to put it. It's a real problem.

ROMANS: That's true. That's true.

JAVAHERI: That's right. And the 2010 storm you're talking about, Christine, absolutely. Somewhere between 8 to 12 inches came down. It was a lot of once every ten years or so, we see at least a foot of snowfall across D.C. metro. But, of course, now, we are talking potentially 20 inches. This is one for the books you guys have been saying.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks so much for that, Pedram Javaheri.

D.C. is beautiful when nothing is happening there.

BERMAN: Donald Trump headed to Las Vegas today. This is a new poll showing him with a huge lead in New Hampshire. The CNN/WMUR poll, he's at 34 percent in this poll, 20 points ahead of Ted Cruz, who has surged eight point in a little over a month.

Cruz has had a couple of pretty rough days.

[04:35:01] Sarah Palin endorses rival Trump. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad urged Iowans to vote for anybody but Cruz. The Republican Bob Dole warned of cataclysmic problems if Cruz is the nominee.

Overnight, both Cruz and Trump had a lot to say, including interview with our very own Don Lemon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (via telephone): They don't like him. I mean, he didn't have one senator stick up for him recently because now, people are saying he is a real problem with running because he was born in Canada.

He was born in Canada and he was a citizen of Canada until 15 months ago. And he said he didn't know that.

So, he didn't about his loans. He didn't know about Goldman Sachs. He didn't know he was a citizen of Canada and now he's running for president.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Republican voters want a conservative. They don't want a deal maker who has written checks and supported Hillary Clinton and Mitch McConnell and John Boehner and Chuck Schumer. They want instead a principled Reagan conservative.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right. Donald Trump and Sarah Palin together for a second day, with Trump calling her a special wonderful person.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty with the latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John and Christine.

Well, Donald Trump and Sarah Palin hitting the campaign trail together in Oklahoma, rallying supporters at Christian University Oral Roberts.

And Sarah Palin wasting no time for a lot of red meat to conservatives in the crowd.

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We got a red head from the big red apple running for president and yet, the GOP machine, all of a sudden, they are saying we're not red enough. We're not conservative enough. And I say what in the world do they know about conservatism.

SERFATY: And Ted Cruz trying to recover from a rough 48 hours for his campaign, really taking a triplicate of hits. Not only Sarah Palin's endorsement but her hitting the campaign trail for Donald Trump, also some criticism coming from two Republican leaders, the Iowa governor and now Bob Dole.

Here is how Ted Cruz responded in Hollis, New Hampshire.

CRUZ: Right now, the Washington establishment is abandoning Marco Rubio. They've made the assessment that Marco can't win the race. And the Washington establishment is rushing over to support Donald Trump.

We are seeing that happen every day. And Mr. Trump is welcoming the support of the Washington establishment. Indeed, Mr. Trump said they should support him because he said Ted won't go along to get along. He won't make deals with the Democrats.

SERFATY: And there you saw Ted Cruz really try to cleverly tie both Marco Rubio and Donald Trump in the same hit to the Republican establishment wing of the party. This is a comfort zone for Ted Cruz. One that I think we'll continue to see him argue about on the campaign trail holding himself up and hits up as proof that he is the anti- establishment candidate among all the Republicans -- John and Christine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: All right. Sunlen, thanks so much.

Sarah Palin also surprised a lot of people when she linked her son's arrest on domestic violence charges to President Obama and his policies on veterans. Addressing what she called the elephant in the room, Palin accused the president of neglecting including her son and saying she relates to families feeling the ramifications of post- traumatic stress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN: But my son like so many others, they come back a bit different. They come back hardened. They come back wondering if there is that respect for what it is that their fellow soldiers and airmen and every other member of the military so sacrificially have given to the country. And that starts from that, at the top.

It's a shame that our military personnel even have to wonder, if they have to question if they are respected anymore. It starts from the top. The question, though, that comes from our own president where they have to look at him and wonder, do you know what we go through?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: CNN's Don Lemon asked Donald Trump about the arrest. He said it was his idea for Palin to address the issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Did you ask her to address her son's address?

TRUMP: I told her it would be absolutely fine. I thought it would be appropriate. There is tremendous press. I think it's something that's very important to discuss, not even for her son, but for so many other sons and daughters coming back from the Middle East where they have, you know, traumatic problems. They have tremendous problems.

And I told here, I actually suggested it. I think -- I said I think it would be a great forum.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Palin's oldest son Track faces assault and other charges. His girlfriend reportedly says he punched her and threatened to use a rifle. Look, there are links between post traumatic stress and violence among veterans. That is out there. To say it is the president's fault, a lot of people find that controversial.

ROMANS: All right. Thirty-nine minutes past the hour.

Hillary Clinton, she is campaigning in Iowa today. She is brushing off a new report that there was classified intelligence on the private e-mail server she maintained as secretary of state. The intelligence committee's inspector general wrote to congressional leaders about several dozen emails on the server, including some concerning the government's most secret intelligence programs.

But Clinton dismissed that claim in an interview with NPR, calling it a leak aimed at hurting her presidential run. Clinton is keeping her focus on that campaign, fighting for votes in Iowa. That's where CNN's Jeff Zeleny is.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: John and Christine, Hillary Clinton opening a big day of campaigning on Thursday in Iowa. Late Wednesday night in the town of Burlington, she struck a different tone and almost seemed as though that she was urging her supporters to give her a shot, give her another shot.

She, of course, is locked in a tight fight with Bernie Sanders. He is leading with New Hampshire where he will campaign on Thursday. She is running neck and neck with him in Iowa. But, of course, these states are so closely linked in terms of momentum.

Let's listen to what Hillary Clinton said Wednesday night in Burlington.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know what it's like to be knocked down, but not knocked out. I've had a few hard times. I don't know anybody in this audience who hasn't had their own share, but I've learned and I give my mom the credit for this, that it is not whether you get knocked down, it is whether you get back up.

And I've gotten back up time and time and time again.

(APPLAUSE)

Because I believe that we all have an opportunity to try to keep going and to help others along the way.

ZELENY: So you can clearly tell by the tone in her voice, time is running out. Things are getting tough for her to make this closing argument to voters. She's giving a case of electability, how she would be the most electable Democrat in the race. It's an open question whether those true believers in the Iowa Democratic caucuses, those voters who like Bernie Sanders ideals will actually listen to her argument of pragmatism, to vote for the person they believe is the strongest.

But I can tell you, in the final week and a half of this race, a very close contest here in Iowa. They will campaign throughout the weekend and into next week -- John and Christine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right. Jeff Zeleny for us in Iowa.

Time for an early start on your money this morning. Dow futures are down a little bit. Deep losses in Asia overnight. Look at Shanghai and Tokyo. There's a little bit of hope here. Europe is trading higher right now.

The focus is still on oil, folks. Crude oil down again today. Here is where the market stands. Just 12 trading days into the year. What a terrible, terrible year it's been.

The Dow is off to the worst start ever tanking 9.5 percent, $613 billion in market value wiped up and that's just from 30 stocks. The S&P 500 also down 9 percent, $1.6 trillion of market value gone from the 500 stocks. It's the second worst start in history for the S&P. Only 1929 started off with a larger loss.

BERMAN: This was a bad year if I remember.

ROMANS: I don't remember any comparisons to 1929 or 2008 for that matter.

BERMAN: America's favorite stocks not safe from the selloff. Here are some of your favorite names. These are the losses from the recent highs over the past year.

Walmart plunging 31 percent, Goldman Sachs -- I can't read these numbers. It's so ugly.

One thing I will say, John, futures were down 300 points yesterday. Then it was a terrible time in the middle of the day, down 500 points. By the end of the day, closing down 200 and some. There is nibbling. People are looking at stocks on sale and they are buying stocks. That's the good news here. There's just so much uncertainty about oil and the rest of the world. That's what really gnawing at investors.

BERMAN: I did like the moral stand you took not to read the stock losses for the companies, despite the fact that we had them up there on the screen for everyone to see.

ROMANS: I could not make my mouth say it really. It just hurts too much.

All bright. Forty-four minutes past the hour. President Obama calling the water crisis in flint inexcusable as newly released e- mails reveal why it took the state so long to act. That's next.

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[04:47:41] BERMAN: New this morning, e-mails between Michigan Governor Snyder and officials discussing what was wrong and who was to blame for the water crisis in Flint. The just released message suggests the top aides say the real responsibility lies with local officials in Flint.

State lawmakers approved $28 million in emergency funding. This on a day when President Obama was in Detroit and weighed in on the dire situation in Flint.

Let's get more now from CNN's Sara Ganim.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Christine, President Obama visiting the Detroit Auto Show on Wednesday commented on the ongoing crisis in Flint.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know that if I was a parent up there, I would be beside myself that my kids' health could be at risk.

GANIM: Also, today, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder's office releasing almost 250 pages of e-mails between his staff over the last two years related to this crisis. Those e-mails showing the state did have concerns about Flint's water infrastructure even before this crisis began, but they kept deflecting blame, even at times blaming the people who lived here in Flint.

The governor's former chief of staff saying this in one e-mail, "The water certainly has less than savory aspects like color because of the apparently more corrosive aspects of the hard water coming from the river. Some of the Flint people respond by looking for someone to blame instead of working to reduce anxiety. We can't tolerate increased lead levels in any event, but the city's water system needs to deal with it."

Of course, we now know it wasn't the city. It was the state that was making those decisions. The governor earlier this week admitting that, apologizing for the crisis saying that it was not unfair to call this his Hurricane Katrina -- John and Christine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: Sara Ganim for us in Flint, thank you.

Officials in Detroit are taking legal action in an effort to force protesting teachers to return to work. They are seeking a restraining order to stop these mass sickouts. Nearly all of Detroit schools were closed again Wednesday in a protest that coincided with President Obama's appearance at the Detroit Auto Show.

The Detroit teachers claimed deteriorating conditions in school buildings present health and safety hazards, you know, that the city went bankrupt and there was a process of bankruptcy protection.

[04:50:03] But the schools were left out of that. The schools were not restructure, too.

BERMAN: Victory for Baltimore police officer William Porter. A Maryland judge rejected a request by prosecutors to force Porter to testify against three fellow officers who are charged along with him in the death of Freddie Gray. In all, six Baltimore officers are being tried in the case involving Freddie Gray's death.

Officer Porter's first trial ended with a hung injury. His re-trail is scheduled for June.

ROMANS: All right. How hot is it? It's hotter than ever. The latest figures from NASA and NOAA reveal 2015 was the hottest year on record, by far shattering the previous record set way back in 2014. Officials say the sharp spike in temperatures last year was fueled by a strong El Nino weather pattern. They say the planet is still warming with no apparent change in the long term global weather rate.

BERMAN: All right. A first for the NFL. The Buffalo Bills promoted Kathryn Smith to take over the quality control coach. She becomes the league's first full-time female assistant coach. Smith joined the Bills this season after spending the last 12 with the New York Jets. The former Jets coach Rex Ryan now the head coach in Buffalo.

ROMANS: All right. Will the stock market suffer another round of big losses this morning? We've got an early start on your money. That's next.

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BERMAN: A CNN exclusive: the foreign minister of Iran with revealing comments to CNN about the nuclear deal, the prisoner swap that freed detained Americans exchange from imprisoned Iranians and says he is happy for the families of Jason Rezaian and the three other freed Americans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: People don't know that many Iranians, Iranian-Americans actually, lingered in jail in the United States for simply allegations of violation of these economic sanctions. So, I'm happy for all the families.

I'm happy for the family of Jason and the family of Amir Hekmati, and Mr. Abedini, and others who now have the loved ones with them.

[04:55:05] We believe they had committed acts that were illegal, but the families are -- I'm happy for the families, all of them are Iranian-American families. I'm happy for the families of other Iranian-Americans who still live in the United States, but now back to their loved ones. I think it was an important achievement that we all made together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: We are now learning all seven of the Iranians pardoned in the swap decided to stay in the United States. Also, the FBI says one American not involved in the swap, former agent Robert Levinson remains in Iran if he is still alive.

Let's get more from CNN international correspondent Phil Black live in Landstuhl, Germany.

A lot of questions about where Levinson is located if he is, in fact, even in Iran.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Indeed. John, yes, it appears U.S. officials are divided over the fact of Robert Levinson. He was not as you say included as part of the prisoner swap. He went missing nine years ago in a small island off the coast of Iran.

His family says he was working for the CIA at the time. And the Iranian government has always denied holding him.

The two countries now have agreed to work together to try and confirm his location. White House believes he is not here -- not in Iran, I should say, but a U.S. official told the FBI investigators believe that if he is alive, he is being held in Iran. That is the likely location.

The Levinson family is obviously upset. They say it is outrageous that after all this time that the U.S. government is not on the same page when it comes to securing -- how to secure Robert Levinson's future. They are worried his freedom has not been treated as a priority.

Now, the families of the other prisoners included in the swap, they are obviously feeling differently at the moment. They are very happy.

And we saw that yesterday as Jason Rezaian flanked by his family members walked out of the building here behind me at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Jason waved and smiled tentatively. Didn't say very much. But in a written statement he said he is feeling fine. He's grateful for all of the support that he is receiving. He now wants to recover a watch up on world events and see the "Star Wars" movie. He did say, we heard him say, softly under his breath with real feeling, he can't wait to get home.

We know another one of the American prisoners receiving treatment here, Amir Hekmati. He is also pretty anxious to get back to the United States. But as you touched on, it appears the seven Iranian prisoners who are released by the United States government as part of the prisoner swap, on that side of the prisoner swap are not so anxious, so desperate to get back to Iran.

A U.S. official has told CNN that the American government organized a plane to fly them to Iran once they were released from prison, but not one accepted the ride -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Phil Black for us in Landstuhl -- thanks so much, Phil.

ROMANS: Fifty-eight minutes past the hour. Time for an early start on your money this morning.

Futures are down. U.S. stock futures down. Oil sliding again this morning. Stocks in Europe are holding on to gains. We are seeing big losses in Asia.

Oil companies are getting crushed here. Dozens of smaller firms are going bankrupt. Giants like ExxonMobil and Chevron, their stocks are down double digits for the year. But shares of mid-size energy companies are really suffering.

Here are three posting huge losses for the year. Consul Energy down 35 percent almost. Devon Energy, 32 1/2 percent. Murphy Oil down almost 30 percent.

Finally, the secret to getting into Harvard, John Berman, may be as simple as being a nice human being. What? Harvard University says the college admissions process is contributing to society problems by rewarding personal success rather than going good for others. A new report outlined how colleges should revamp the admissions process, including taking the pressure off applicants, leveling the playing field among race and incomes and promoting concern for the common good.

This plan has been endorsed by 85 top institutions. You can go to CNN Money for a list of things students can do to meet the new guidelines without stressing out.

It is so competitive. I mean, obviously, you have to have perfect grades. You have to have all kinds of extracurriculars to show how smart and bright --

BERMAN: And now you have to be nice, too?

ROMANS: And now, you have to be nice. BERMAN: I mean, come on? That's a bridge too far. That is the straw that broke the camel's back. If I have to be nice, forget it.

ROMANS: Can you imagine --

BERMAN: Being nice?

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Thank God they didn't have that in place when I applied for college.

ROMANS: All right. EARLY START continues right now.

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BERMAN: Happening now, a monster storm heading for the East Coast. Drivers warned to stay off the roads. Blizzard warnings for major American cities. We're live with what you can expect and when.

ROMANS: And attacks sharpening for the race for president. Time running out to get voters on their side. We are breaking down the latest from the campaign trail.

(Byline: John Berman, Christine Romans, Pedram Javaheri, Sunlen Serfaty, Jeff Zeleny, Sara Ganim, Phil Black)

(High: A monster storm is heading for the East Coast, schools already closing, and drivers warned to stay off the roads. Donald Trump explains why he was surprised during Sarah Palin's endorsement speech. President Obama calling the Flint water crisis inexcusable as newly released e-mails detail the state's mistakes.)

(Spec: East Coast; Safety; Storms; Donald Trump; Sarah Palin; Elections; Politics; Barack Obama; Flint, Michigan; Disasters; Government; Policies)

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