Return to Transcripts main page


Terrorists: Kidnapped Girls for Sale; Crisis in Ukraine: Death Toll Rising; Circus Collapse Investigation; Clippers, Chris Paul Roll; Oscar Pistorius Murder Trial; Search for Flight 370: New Phase

Aired May 6, 2014 - 04:30   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. Great to see you this morning. Twenty-nine minutes after the hour right now.

And this morning, the calls growing louder for action fast in Nigeria, this after a terrorist made clear his plans to sell more than 200 girls kidnapped from a school. You've heard that right. He planned to sell them.

In a video, a man claiming to be the leader of Boko Haram admits abducted the girls and says he's been commanded by God to sell these more than 200 girls. This comes more than a month after the girls were taken at gunpoint, loaded into trucks and driven into the African bush.

Our Vladimir Duthiers is live in Lagos, in Nigeria, with the latest.

And, Vlad, the U.S. is now sharing intelligence, we understand, Nigeria. Any sense of how much this might help?

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, any little bit of information, any little bit of intelligence will help Nigeria in trying to locate these girls. As the president said a few days ago, he welcomed international support, international help in trying to locate these children. He's asked already the president, he's asked the leaders of Cameroon, Niger and Chad to come to his assistance, but this is the parents' worst nightmares realized, because over the course of the last three weeks, since these girls were abducted in the middle of the night by these armed attackers, they have been saying that they have seen convoys filled with young girls and armed assailants traveling a road leading from Nigeria into neighboring Cameroon.

And now, after this despicable video where the supposed leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, makes the claim that he will sell these children in a human market, this is what -- this is their worst fears realized. And in fact, what they've said to us is had the military been more active, had they done more in the early days after the abduction, perhaps this might not have happened, John.

BERMAN: Vlad, what about the mixed signals on the issue of urgency, if you will, from the government itself, from the president and his wife? Because I think this is confusing to a lot of people from the outside looking in.

DUTHIERS: Nigeria is a confusing country in many cases. There are mixed signals all the time. Look, what's happened in the north in this country is something that has been happening since 2009. Boko Haram has killed more than 1,500 people just this year alone, an astounding number. The abduction of these 200 girls in any country in the world would bring that country to a standstill.

Here in Nigeria, because of this insurgency that has lasted so many years, there was probably a sense in the early days after the abduction that, well, this is what happens up there, this is the plight of those people who are one of the least educated and one of the poorest in a country that is already struggling in many instances.

I think that once international outrage grew, once the social media campaign took route, then they started to sort of realize that they really need to fix the optics on this. Although to be -- one thing I can say is even though the president has been on camera saying we will do anything to find these girls, we have not yet heard any kind of military operational details about what exactly they are doing on the ground, John.

BERMAN: Let's hope the international pressure keeps up, because this is simply outrageous. Vladimir Duthiers in Lagos for us this morning. Thanks so much.

ROMANS: Terrifying, just terrifying.

Violence growing this morning in Ukraine, where fierce fighting near Slaviansk has left at least four people dead and many more injured. Militants downed a Ukrainian helicopter as government forces try to retake a key city.

Senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh is live this morning in Slaviansk in eastern Ukraine.

Bring us up to speed on what's the latest on the ground now, Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a quiet morning at this point, and that comes after 24 hours of the worst violence we've seen yet as pro-Russian militants clash with Ukrainian troops. We saw those troops move down the main highway down the side of Slaviansk. Around 10:00 yesterday morning, they moved snipers and scouts into position. Then the substantial clashes, stray bullets killing one civilian woman who we saw brought into the hospital by her distraught husband.

But as it stands now, the interior minister claiming dozens dead on the pro-Russian militants' side and four Ukrainian soldiers. We suspect potentially today, people may be regrouping, but the whole region's still certainly on edge, because the Donetsk airport, that's the main one, the main city in the region where I'm standing, has been closed indefinitely. No reason given by Ukrainian authorities. And that will make people in this area deeply concerned, that perhaps key officials know something they're not talking about. Perhaps they're planning something, or maybe we're going to see a heightening of tension or violence here.

People are still looking across the border at those Russian troops. That's really why tensions here are so much higher. Something could potentially trigger Russian intervention, and I think it has been odd in the eyes of many analysts how relatively quiet the Kremlin has been in the last 48 hours, given the flare-up of violence across Ukraine -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Nick Paton Walsh live in Slaviansk -- thank you.

BERMAN: Thirty-four minutes after the hour. This morning, reaction still pouring in on a Supreme Court decision finding that Christian prayers are OK at the start of public meetings. The high court ruling 5-4 that those prayers are ceremonial and permitted, so long as they don't turn into preaching, something that would proselytize, getting people to convert there.

But they said the practice of only Christian prayers say it excludes those with other faiths or those who have no faith at all.

ROMANS: All right. To New Jersey today -- actually, this isn't a New Jersey story, this is a climate change story. A key report due out today, expected to lay out the impact of climate change on the country. The White House report many years in the making will build on a draft first made public last year and argue that climate change is costing billions and affecting everyone's lives.

The authors say the weather extremes this year and last are evidence this country must take action before it's too late.

BERMAN: Now, at last, to New Jersey.

A former aide to Governor Chris Christie is set to testify before a legislative committee today about the bridgegate scandal. Christina Renna was the governor's director of government affairs and worked closely with Bridget Anne Kelly, the deputy chief of staff who wrote that famous e-mail believed to have triggered the shutdown of lanes on the George Washington Bridge.

ROMANS: All right. House Speaker John Boehner has named his pick to head up a congressional select committee investigating what happened in Benghazi and whether the White House tried to cover it up. South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy is a former prosecutor and prominent critic of the Obama administration. He said he has evidence of a cover-up in the aftermath of the death to the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other state department employees. Democrats say they haven't gotten any details yet about the committee and are pushing for a no vote on forming one.

BERMAN: So, this morning, we're learning that Americans are divided over whether Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling should be forced to sell his team after making those racist comments. A new CNN/ORC poll finds that while 47 percent of the public supports a "for sale", 50 percent are against it, 100 percent think I should speak more clearly. Those numbers could change when you look at NBA fans.

ROMANS: I like how they slice this, because it's a different story.

BERMAN: Sixty percent of fans say he should be forced to sell. Only 41 percent of non-NBA fans agree. What's interesting here is the basketball fans, the ones who know, perhaps, a little more of the history, are the ones who say he should sell.

ROMANS: All right. The Clippers, meantime, looking like a team that could contend for the NBA title, perhaps. They routed the Oklahoma City Thunder. I guess that's being kind, to say routed. The first game of their Western Conference Semifinal, 122-105.

Star point guard Chris Paul hit eight 3-pointers, eight 3-pointers, one shy of a playoff record. He had 32 points. Game two of the series is Wednesday night in Oklahoma City.

He was unbelievable. Unbelievable.

BERMAN: He was fantastic.

There was another big basketball story, which is the Washington Wizards won their first second-round playoff game since 1992. I can't do the math, you're into business and math stuff, but I think that's a long time.

ROMANS: Makes it rare.

BERMAN: Makes it very, very rare for that to happen. Stay tuned. We'll have much more on the Wizards coming up.

Meanwhile, Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus moving on with its next show as investigators reveal what could have caused eight acrobats dangling by their hair to go crashing to the ground.

ROMANS: And flames igniting when a plane crashes into a Denver home. Miraculously, no one hurt. How is that even possible? A story and the pictures, right after the break.


BERMAN: Forty minutes past the hour. More drama this morning at the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius. A neighbor is on the stand right now, testifying that he heard a man screaming the night Reeva Steenkamp was shot and killed, that after two neighbors testified that Pistorius was begging and pleading for help in the moments after that shooting.

CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps is at the courthouse for us this morning in Pretoria.

Kelly, how does this testimony help the Pistorius defense here?

KELLY PHELPS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the screaming evidence was relied on very heavily by the prosecutor in the state's case in order to lay a foundation for the claim of intention to kill. So, they essentially argued that because neighbors had heard a woman screaming, that that must have been Reeva Steenkamp.

Therefore, Oscar Pistorius would have also heard her screaming, and therefore, one must infer that he knew it was Reeva Steenkamp he was shooting. But now, today, we're hearing from the immediate next door neighbors of Mr. Pistorius. This is the house right next door his house. And if you recall, the earlier neighbors were further than 100 meters away, some of them.

And these immediate next door neighbors are contradicting the state's witnesses' evidence, and they are saying, no, we heard a man screaming, not a woman screaming.

BERMAN: Kelly, there was a two-week pause in the trial, it was after the testimony of Oscar Pistorius. How are people feeling now about how well he did on the stand? How important is it for these witnesses for the defense right now on the stand to either clean up his own testimony or buttress his own testimony?

PHELPS: It's crucial that the rest of the defense witnesses support and corroborate and strengthen Pistorius' own testimony. We know that Gerrie Nel cross examined him very vigorously, and at times, he was visibly shaken on the stand and it appeared he brought out some inconsistency or contradictions within Pistorius' version of events. And the defense will now rely on all of their further witnesses in order to provide evidence that materially supports aspects of Pistorius' testimony, and therefore, try and lend an err of credibility and believability to Pistorius' testimony.

And we saw that yesterday as well with the standers. They spoke about the events in the immediate aftermath of the killing and their version of events corroborated and materially related to the version that Pistorius had put on the stand himself with regard to the immediate aftermath.

ROMANS: Kelly Phelps for us this morning in Pretoria. Thank you, Kelly.

BERMAN: So, we now know the cause of that terrifying accident at a circus in Rhode Island. Investigators say a single metal clamp broke during the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey show in Providence, sending an aerial apparatus just crashing to the ground, leaving nine acrobats hurt.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, the apparatus was attached to a cable, which then fed back to a winch machine on the floor. So, if you can imagine, it goes from the floor up to the rafters at the top and then comes down, grabs the chandelier apparatus that the performers are hanging from. It was a single piece of equipment that failed.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It did, it snapped.


BERMAN: Today, the circus heads to Hartford to prepare for its next performances and Ringling brothers promises it will replace all of the metal clamps before the next show, which is Thursday. Eight of the injured performers remain hospitalized, two of them in critical condition, but the circus says none of the injuries appears to be life-threatening.

ROMANS: OK, new details this morning on just what caused a major air traffic control problem in Los Angeles last week.

The FAA says it was a U2 spy plane that the computer system misinterpreted as flying on a low path. That sent the system into overdrive and interrupted its ability to handle the normal commercial traffic. Fifty flights were canceled. More than 450 flights delayed because of this mistake. The FAA says no flights were in danger and the problem has since been corrected.

BERMAN: How many U2 spy planes are flying overhead that can cause major air traffic disruptions?

ROMANS: In that case, one, just took one.

BERMAN: Deeply troubling to me. We need to learn much more.

All right. I want to show some incredible pictures from suburban Denver. This is where a single-engine plane crashed into a home and burst into planes. The plane was pulling an advertising banner. It lost power just before it crashed.

Get this -- the pilot suffered just minor injuries.


BERMAN: Luckily, no one was inside the home at the time, but those pictures just stunning.

ROMANS: Yes. There's hope north of Oklahoma City this morning, that full containment could be near for a deadly fire, a fire that's now consumed more than 3,000 acres. Fire crews are reporting the blaze in Logan County is now 75 percent contained after damaging at least 30 structures. One man was left dead, injured dozens of firefighters, but worries remain that the fire could spark up again and begin marching through even more land.

BERMAN: It's a solemn anniversary today in Cleveland. It's been one year since the so-called Cleveland three and a child escaped a house of horrors, where they had been held for years, undergoing just unspeakable abuse. One of the three, Michelle Knight, tells Anderson Cooper, in all the years she was tortured, she never thought she'd ever get out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Did you think that this would at some point end, that it wouldn't go on, that he would let you go? Did he promise that he would let you go?

MICHELLE KNIGHT, KIDNAPPING SURVIVOR: No, he told me he'd never let me go.

COOPER: He said that from the beginning.

KNIGHT: Yes. He said, you don't have a family that cares about you. If I kill you right now, nobody would even care.


BERMAN: Today, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus will be honored by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children for giving courage to families trying to find missing loved ones.

You can see part two of Anderson's interview with Michelle Knight. It's wonderful to see her doing so well one year later. That airs tonight on "AC360."

All right. A global health emergency now declared for a disease many people thought it been eradicated. The World Health Organization says polio is making a comeback in the Middle East and Africa, and it's spreading fast. Polio is spreading fast. So, the WHO is imposing travel restrictions on Pakistan, Syria and Cameroon, requiring residents be vaccinated for polio before traveling overseas.

So far, there have been 68 cases of polio this year, almost triple the number seen this time last year.

BERMAN: All right, it's Tuesday, so how will it look outside? Let's get an early look at our weather with Chad Myers.


A pleasant day across the Northeast today. Probably not still as warm as you would like. The warm weather's still kind of bottled up down to the South, south of this front here.

There is going to be a crazy day out West -- a crazy day for fires and wind. There are going to be towns that are in danger from these random wildfires that are blowing through with winds 40 or 50, 60 miles per hour blowing from the Southwest, desert air as well, too.

This is very dry air, relative humidity tomorrow maybe 5 percent or 10 percent. Red flag warnings, which means no outdoor burning. Expect fires, if you see one, to grow rapidly from Wichita all the way back to Vegas and southward all the way down even to West of the Valley of the Sun there into Phoenix.

Eighty-five Kansas City, 85 in Memphis. There you go, New York City, 69 for you, 61 in Boston. That hot air bottled up down here. The hot, dry, windy air in Oklahoma, Kansas, parts of Colorado, New Mexico, all under the gun for extreme weather today. BERMAN: We've got a whole lot of bottled-up hot air in some places. Chad Myers, thank you so much.

A new phase about to begin in the search for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. Investigators set to re-examine the evidence now. So, what comes next? We're live in Malaysia with the latest right after the break.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone.

In Australia this morning, preparations are under way for a critical meeting about the next steps in the search for Flight 370, the hunt for the plane really entering a new phase. And leaders from China, Malaysia and Australia have to decide just what to do now to try to find this plane.

Will Ripley is live in Kuala Lumpur with more on this upcoming meeting.

Will, what can you tell us this morning?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, you guys put it perfectly earlier when you said this investigation is essentially getting a reboot. They're going to be going over all of the data once again in just a matter of hours in Canberra, Australia. Many of the experts who were right here in Kuala Lumpur will now be in Australia once again poring over everything from the satellite handshakes to the possible underwater pings, to every other piece of data that was taken in during this extensive investigation, now more than eight weeks in. Because what they have is essentially an educated guess, where they think MH-370 most likely went down, and they just want to make absolutely certain that they still feel that they are searching in the right place.

At the same time, since they are fairly confident that they are searching in the right place, they're already talking about which assets they're going to bring in to undertake this next major phase of the underwater search. They're searching a huge area, 23,000 square miles. They've covered less than 200 square miles so far with the Bluefin-21.

So, they're going to see what ships are available, what submersibles are available, what technology from private companies can come into this area and get started, get looking for this plane. So, hopefully, John, they can find some closure for those families of the 239 people on board.

BERMAN: Time to think and reassess the situation. Will Ripley live for us in Kuala Lumpur. Thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right, we all hate paying them, we hate it. But there is new evidence this morning baggage fees on airlines are here to stay. We'll tell you why, next.


BERMAN: OK, so, I think those expensive baggage fees are here to stay. The airlines are making money from them. They're here to stay, and you hate them. A lot of you hate them. If you spend a lot of time in the air, you know what I'm talking about.

It ends up, it winds up, what costs us a lot is the big money-maker for the airlines.

Erin McPike has the latest government figures.


ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine Berman, huge spike in profits for major U.S. carriers last year. You'll see the difference here, $98 million in profits in 2012. One year later, look at this, jumps to $12.7 billion. Those extra fees, more legroom, reservation changes, and especially checked baggage really add up.

Now, in years past, airlines have been in the red, but banking money on your luggage is giving them a very big boost. In fact, last year, baggage fees made up a quarter of those profits at $3.3 billion.

Now, broken down by airline, at the top of the pack is Delta, bringing in $833 million last year, followed by United with $625 million, and right behind are US Airways with $528 million and American at $506 million.

Now, taken together, because as you know, those two carriers merged, that's more than $1 billion of profit from storing your suitcases in the back of their plane. Then, rounding out the top five is Spirit Airlines with $212 million.

So, reservation changes also made U.S. carriers a whopping $2.8 billion last year. Not much you can do about that one, unfortunately, as we know all too well in the breaking news business, guys.


ROMANS: And I'll tell you, the airlines defend themselves. They say, look, you have this in your power, at least in the bag fees. You have it in your power to pay less, just bring less on the plane.

BERMAN: And be willing to smell when you travel, you know? You don't have to change clothes when you're on the road. No one says that's a requirement, right? Thank you, airlines.

EARLY START continues right now.