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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Racist Chant Leaders Apologize; Hillary Responds to E-Mail Questions; Did Senate Iran Letter Break the Law?; Another ISIS Atrocity; Jury Sees Tsarnaev's Writings on Boat

Aired March 11, 2015 - 04:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Mea culpas from two students tossed out of the University of Oklahoma for their racist chant. One is speaking out. The other's family doing the same. We'll tell you what they said.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: She speaks. Hillary Clinton explaining her e-mail controversy. What about those explanations, though? Did she go far enough? There could be some trouble ahead for a likely presidential run.

ROMANS: And ISIS with another black eye on the face of humanity. A new video shows the execution of a man ISIS claims was a spy, and it was a young teenager who pulled the trigger. More on their despicable tactics ahead.

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

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. Good to see you. Thirty-one minutes past the hour right now.

We have new developments this morning at the University of Oklahoma where two fraternity members are apologizing for leading a racist chant. Now, those apologies came just hours after these two students were expelled from the university.

Yesterday students, faculty members came out in force to cheer the quick action by university president, David Boren, and protest against racism.

We'll get the latest from our national correspondent, Miguel Marquez, who is at the university with the latest.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, John, Christine, this is the area outside the SAE house at the University of Oklahoma. Hundreds of protesters here have come to really rally and show support, more than anything, for what they did not like about that video that made its way around the world, ricocheted around the world. We're also hearing from one of the individuals who has been expelled,

saying that he actually withdrew from the school this Monday, Parker Rice from Dallas, whose house we went to, and they have pulled out of their house. In a statement, he says that their family has received death threats.

And also in that statement, I want to read part of it to you, he says, "I know everyone wants to know why and how this happened. I admit, it likely was fueled by alcohol consumed at the house before this bus trip, but that's not an excuse. Yes, the song was taught to us, but that, too, doesn't work as an explanation. It's more important to acknowledge what I did and what I didn't do. I didn't say no, and I clearly dismissed an important value I learned at my beloved high school, Dallas Jesuit. We were taught to be 'men for others', in quotes, I failed in that regard, and in these moments, I also completely ignored the core values and ethics I learned from my parents and others."

The family also asks that the media and other people please leave them alone for now because they are trying to figure out where everything goes from here. The people here at the University of Oklahoma, though, are going to stay on this. They want the school to address all of the concerns that they have, saying that this is not the only instance of racism at this school.

For its part, the school, which has come down very hard on SAE and on this incident, says the investigation is continuing. There may be more disciplinary actions and even more expulsions -- John, Christine.


ROMANS: The family of another -- Miguel, thank you for that -- the family of another student is apologizing for his role in that racist SAE video. "The Oklahoma Daily" student newspaper has identified the second expelled student as Levi Pettit.

His parents issued a statement saying, quote, "He made a horrible mistake and will live with the consequences forever. We were as shocked and saddened by this news as anyone. Of course, we are sad for our son, but more importantly, we apologize to the community he has hurt."

The last African-American member of the University of Oklahoma's SAE chapter is speaking out, William Bruce James II. He pledged SAE 14 years ago. He says the fraternity that appears in the video is all but unrecognizable from his years there.


WILLIAM BRUCE JAMES II, LAST AFRICAN-AMERICAN MEMBER OF OU'S SAE FRATERNITY: It's extremely painful to hear it still, obviously. I can't watch the video. But it's extremely shocking, but the most shocking thing for me is that just -- it doesn't represent what I remember at all. And I don't understand how the house got there. But that's not indicative of anything I experienced at all.


ROMANS: And then there's this new video that has emerged from the now shuttered OU chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. "|The Oklahoma Daily" says this video appears to show the fraternity's house mother, Beauton Gilbow, laughing and singing the "N" word. She says that video is out of context. She was singing along to a rap song and the young men were taping her.

BERMAN: New this morning, Hillary Clinton is trying to tamp down a pretty raging controversy over the use of personal e-mail while she was secretary of state. Mrs. Clinton faced reporters for the first time in a long, long time after a United Nations event on Monday. She struck a somewhat defiant note, defending her use of personal e-mail of a personal e-mail server, also her BlackBerry, saying it was for convenience. She also said it was allowed under federal rules.

I want to get the latest now. I want to bring in senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny.



Now, Hillary Clinton finally broke her silence, but she did not break the fever of controversy that's clouded her campaign in waiting for the last eight days. She vigorously defended during a news conference at the United Nations her use of private e-mail. She said any mistakes were innocent ones.

And this is how she explained it.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: And I have to add, even if I'd had two devices, which is obviously permitted, many people do that, you would still have to put the responsibility where it belongs, which is on the official. So, I did it for convenience, and I now, looking back, think that it might have been smarter to have those two devices from the very beginning.

ZELENY: But it's unclear if that two-device defense is going to wash. Some Republicans in Congress already saying, look, we use two devices ourselves. Why would that be such an inconvenience?

But Secretary Clinton was steadfast, saying that she did not break any laws. She said the server, that private e-mail server, was in their house in Chappaqua, New York. It was installed under the watchful eyes of the Secret Service, which is, of course, her husband and her have Secret Service attention.

But that is not enough for congressional investigators either. Look for them to potentially try and subpoena that server. So, she did not clear up the full controversy around this.

She may have given more openings to answer questions, but it's clear that Secretary Clinton finally on the offense, for the first time in eight days, on the offense on this. Democrats will now surely come rallying to her side -- John and Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Thanks so much, Jeff.

Congressional investigators may not stop at Hillary Clinton's e-mails. As first reported by CNN's Dana Bash, the House Intelligence Committee investigating Benghazi will seek private e-mails from as many as 10 of Clinton's top aides at the State Department. The committee's chairman says he's concerned some e-mails about Benghazi and the attack on the U.S. consulate there might have been sent between private accounts. Clinton's media team hasn't yet responded to a CNN request for comment.

BERMAN: Some questions this morning about the open letter to Iran signed by 47 Republican senators. There are some Democrats who are charging that it broke U.S. law. They're talking about the Logan Act which was passed under John Adams. No one's ever really been prosecuted under that act. I don't think any serious legal scholars --

ROMANS: No comment from John Adams about whether --

BERMAN: John Adams could not be reached for comment on this controversy. Every time someone does something like this on foreign policy, you know, people say it's a violation of the Logan Act, but it always seems to go away.

I want to get the latest, though, about this controversy from the White House. We'll check in later with Michelle Kosinski.

ROMANS: Also later this morning, a Senate committee will take up the president's request to authorize the use of force against ISIS. The terrorist group releasing a chilling new video, a chilling video showing a child, a young teenager, shooting a man ISIS alleged to be an Israeli spy. This morning, Israel's defense minister saying defiantly the victim had absolutely no connection to Israeli intelligence.

Meanwhile, ISIS losing its grip on Tikrit. Iraqi forces taking back large parts of the city overnight. The terrorists reportedly in retreat after a week now of heavy fighting.

I want to go to Cairo and bring in CNN's Ian Lee.

Good morning, Ian.

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine.

And we're hearing from the Iraqi government that this is the final push to take the city of Tikrit. We're hearing from a Shiite militia that they just took the hospital there known as Saddam Hospital. It's just blocks away from the city center and the presidential palace.

But despite having a force of roughly 30,000, including the Iraqi army, Shiite militias and Sunni fighters, it has been slow go. ISIS is very good at these IEDs, improvised explosive devices. They've had suicide bombers. It has been a slow push.

But the Iraqi government says that they will be able to take the city within the few days, Christine.

ROMANS: Tell me how does this all play into retaking Mosul? That's another huge priority for the Iraqis.

LEE: This is a huge test for the Iraqi army. They were demoralized after last summer when ISIS swept most of -- or large parts of Iraq. They've had new training from U.S. advisers. They also have new equipment.

So, we'll see how effective they are in helping take this city. Although Shiite militias with Iranian advisers are spearheading the main fight, but this is just down the road from Mosul. It's a city -- Tikrit is about -- or Mosul is about ten times the size of Tikrit, so it really is training, preparations for taking that final push, for taking Mosul, which will also see Kurdish Peshmerga fighters involved with, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Ian Lee in Cairo for us -- thank you, Ian.

BERMAN: Federal officials say the hacking of the State Department e- mail system over the past year is the worst ever against the government agency. According to investigators, Russian hackers suspected of breaching State Department computers were also behind cyber attacks, targeting the White House and other federal agencies. Back in November, State Department officials shut down the e-mail system over a weekend in an effort to bolster cybersecurity.

ROMANS: Another head rolls in Ferguson, Missouri. The city council voting unanimously to accept the resignation of city manager John Shaw. He was cited in a scathing Justice Department report that details racial bias in the Ferguson Police Department and municipal court system. Shaw supervised all city agencies including the police. Since that report, the Ferguson City clerk has been fired and two police officers have quit.

BERMAN: The Senate plans to take up the nomination of Loretta Lynch for attorney general next week. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the announcement on Tuesday. Her nomination cleared the Judiciary Committee last month with bipartisan support. It's taken a long time to get her confirmed by the full Senate. When confirmed, if confirmed, I suppose I should say, she would be the first black woman to serve as attorney general.

ROMANS: So, did you get freaked out by stocks yesterday?

BERMAN: I was freaked out.

ROMANS: A lot of people did. It was an ugly day.

Right now, this is what it looks like right now -- Asian markets mixed, European markets higher, but it was a plunge yesterday, a market plunged yesterday. Futures indicate we could bounce back from that today, but yesterday was the worst day of the year. The Dow tumbled 332 points, erasing all of its gains for the year.

The S&P 500 also now negative on the year. It sank 2 percent. The surging dollar is what really, really spooked investors, the dollar at a 12-year high against the euro. And the euro is slipping even more this morning.

That means it's the best time in 12 years for you to take your dollars and go traveling to Europe. But it's bad news for the U.S. companies that are selling their goods overseas. It makes their products more expensive there, slashes the value of their overseas earnings.

So, good for foreign travelers, U.S. travelers traveling abroad, but not so great for the big companies that are selling there.

BERMAN: All right. There is more rain set to start in the Gulf Coast, and it could spoil our weekend here in the Northeast.

I want to get straight to a dapper Pedram Javaheri for an early look at your weather.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Christine and John, good morning to you.

Look at this map, look at the color contours of yellows, oranges, the 60s, 70s and even some 80s. Near Charleston, near record high temperatures in the forecast. Just a few days removed of the cold air that we had in place last week.

But look at the perspective -- 20 degrees above average in the plains and the Northern states of the country. In fact, Minneapolis, the place to be, 65 degrees over the next couple of days. This is the warmest weather they've seen since the week of Halloween. It remains mild over the upcoming days.

Of course, the sun angle considerably higher so the snow melt very much rapidly depleting. In fact, the snow cover went from 60 percent down to around 20 percent in a matter of just ten days. So, a lot of melting taking place across the country. Great Lakes also about 90 percent ice covered dropped down to around 70 percent ice covered in a few days as well.

And here we go, next storm system in line pushes in from the South, plenty of Gulf moisture. The timing for this, Friday into Saturday, a wintry mix possible around New York. But generally going to be around Boston where we could see some wintry weather mixed in, but really nothing in the way of major accumulations for this weekend, guys.

ROMANS: Pedram Javaheri, thank you for that.

Forty-four minutes past the hour. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's own words introduced in court. You'll never believe what he said -- what he wrote on the inside of that boat. What were his thoughts as police surrounded him? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERMAN: A key piece of evidence presented in the trial of the suspected Boston marathon bomber. At hand, the cryptic bloody messages he wrote while hiding on a boat after the attack.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick takes us inside the courtroom.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has shown virtually no emotion in court. So, the note that he scribbled inside the boat really is the first time jurors have had an opportunity to get insights into what he was thinking immediately after the blast.

Now, in the note, which is scribbled in pencil, it's marked by bullet holes as well as his own blood, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev says he's jealous of his brother who he believes has now entered paradise. He says he was meant to stay behind in order to shed light, in his words, on the brothers' actions. He blames U.S. policy, saying that it was the killing of innocent civilians that, quote, "we Muslims are one body, hurt one, hurt us all."

So, this was really the first time the jurors got a chance to see or consider what he might have been thinking at the time. That's a big part of the defense's attempts to spare him from the death penalty. Now, the judge did give the jurors an afternoon off, and that's because the judge, along with lawyers for both the defense and the prosecution, went to go see the boat.

There's a question as to whether the jurors will actually be able to look at the note itself --bullet holes, blood and all. So, right now, that's under consideration. The trial expected to continue today -- John, Christine.


ROMANS: You know, and Deb's been covering that trial, she told me it's so emotional in the courtroom. Even the jurors have been wiping tears from their eyes. Even seasoned reporters who have covered Whitey Bulger and all kinds of, you know, really horrific trials, have been a hard time keeping their composure. It's been just that sad and dramatic in that courtroom.

BERMAN: Even for the people who lived through it once already.


Forty-nine minutes past the hour.

Robin Thicke and Pharrell taking a big hit in the wallet this morning. They have been ordered to pay up for copying a song from Marvin Gaye. We'll let you listen for yourself after the break.


BERMAN: An absolutely crazy start to the beginning of the NFL free agent signing period. The biggest move, Darrelle Revis, making a big mistake, going from the Super Bowl champ New England Patriots, going back to the New York Jets where he began. Revis tweeted, "I want to thank the Pats and Pats nation for an unbelievable year. New York," he says, "I'm coming home."

There were some big trades. You don't really ever see trades like this. The Eagles and Rams swapped quarterbacks. Sam Bradford going from the Rams to the Eagles. Nick Foles going to the Rams. They swapped some draft picks as well.

A lot of wheeling and dealing here. I want to get a full update in "The Bleacher Report" coming up in our next hour.

ROMANS: All right. A Los Angeles jury deciding the biggest song of 2013 was plagiarized. At issue was the Robin Thicke and Pharrell song "Blurred Lines," which sounds like this.


ROMANS: Relatives of Marvin Gaye claimed it was too similar to his 1977 hit "Gotta Give It Up." Listen.


ROMANS: Similarity is much bigger than just a cowbell, don't you think?

BERMAN: Legally speaking, I would say yes at this point.

ROMANS: And the jury agreed with the Gaye family, awarding $7.3 million. Attorneys for Thicke and Pharrell say, they may appeal the decision.

BERMAN: You know, you could play Marvin Gaye all morning long.

ROMANS: How many times did you hear that Robin Thicke song?

BERMAN: Too many. One time is too many as far as I'm concerned.

ROMANS: It was like the oxygen in the summer of 2013. It was everywhere.

All right. Student loan debt weighs down millions of Americans. Now, some new help could be on the way to help make it easier to pay it all back. We're going to get an early start on your money, next.


ROMANS: All right. Let's get an early start on your money. How do you follow up the worst day of the year? Maybe with a little bounce.

Look at that. You've got Dow futures higher. The S&P 500 erased all of their gains for the year yesterday. Investors worried a strong U.S. dollar, a very strong dollar will hurt corporate profits next year, and that, in turn, hurting the stock market. The euro has tumbled to a 12-year low against the dollar, losing more ground this morning. So, a lot of action in the currency markets.

President Obama wants to make it easier for college grads to pay back their loans. He ordered the Education Department to develop a new system that allows students to file a complaint when there's a problem. Last year, students with loans graduated with $33,000 in debt on average, $33,000.

Now, I talked yesterday to Mark Kantrowitz. He is the student debt guru about students and how they can keep debt down from the beginning. This is what he told me.


MARK KANTROWITZ, PUBLISHER, EDVISORS.COM: If you're expected to have at graduations going to exceed your annual starting salary, maybe you need to borrow less or go to a less expensive school.


ROMANS: That means liberal arts majors shouldn't borrow as much as engineering majors. You have to borrow as much money as you expect to earn in your first year after school. So, that means if you're going into a low-paying field, you can't borrow as much money.

You won't find that "feeling fat" emoticon on Facebook anymore. They took it off, Berman. Sorry for you. The company removed it after complaints that it mocked people who are overweighed. More than 16,000 people signed the petition on demanding the emotion removal. I know you don't understand emoticons, in the place.


ROMANS: You don't get them.

BERMAN: Well, it's just the beginning. We're going to get rid of all emoticons by the time I'm done.

EARLY START continues right now.