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EARLY START

New Terror in Nigeria; Putin: Troops Pulled Back; Ferry CEO Arrested

Aired May 8, 2014 - 04:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: New terror in Nigeria. Hundreds slaughtered in the streets by Islamic militants. The attackers: the same group who kidnapped hundreds of young girls from their schools. Those children set to be sold to the highest bidder. And this morning, that country is in fear, waiting for help.

We're live in Nigeria with the very latest.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Crisis in Ukraine escalating this morning. Deadly fights in the streets between soldiers and pro- Russian protesters as Russia's president insists he has nothing to do with the conflict. He offers Ukraine's citizens some advice on their upcoming election.

We're live in Moscow with how the Kremlin could be getting involved now.

BERMAN: And breaking news overnight: a new arrest in the deadly South Korean ferry disaster. The CEO of the company that operated the ferry is behind bars this morning.

We are live with all the latest developments.

Good morning. Great to see, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's Thursday. It's May 8th, 4:00 a.m. on the nose in the East.

Let's begin this morning in Nigeria, where this morning it seems the terror group Boko Haram is on the offensive, unfazed by the international calls to release hundreds of kidnapped girls, including a call from First Lady Michelle Obama. The terrorists launching a brazen, grisly attack on a northern village, an attack that left at least 150 people dead.

The details of that attack almost too disturbing to mention. Some of the victims were burned to death.

Vladimir Duthiers is in Nigeria for us and joins us on the phone.

Vlad, we understand this village was a staging ground for the military, the military out looking for those girls. Tell us what happened. VLADIMIR DUTHIERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Hi, Christine.

So, this is a classic Boko Haram technique. They essentially dress up in army fatigues, they go door to door pretending to be the military, and then they launch their attack. We have heard reports that people have been hacked to death, and in fact, this is going to sound gruesome, but people were burned alive during this attack. At least 150 people killed. A local state senator telling us that the numbers may rise to almost 300 people.

This supposedly was meant to be a staging ground for the military to begin their search or to continue their search for these missing girls, although it begs the question, if there was really a military search-and-rescue operation under way, how was it that Boko Haram was able to attack and kill so many people, Christine.

ROMANS: There is more international support coming in now for this effort to find these girls. Is the international outcry making a difference at all?

DUTHIERS: I think for the first time, Christine, the Nigerian government, the Nigerian military realizes they're under international scrutiny and that this cannot be business as usual as has been for the last four or five years. We normally report on these Boko Haram atrocities practically every other week here in Nigeria.

This is the first time that the world has turned their attention on what is happening up north, the reign of terror that people in northeastern Nigeria have been living under since 2009. So, yes, there is mounting pressure, and it will serve as a catalyst for perhaps seeing some kind of a change in that part of the country, Christine.

ROMANS: The former secretary of state here, Hillary Clinton, said that the government of Nigeria, somewhat derelict, Vlad, is the word that she used, in being unable to protect its citizens. You know, and now the slaughter of these people, 150 people, the disappearance of 200 girls at the hands of this group.

How much control does the government even have in this situation?

DUTHIERS: That's a great question. That was probably one of the most forceful comments we've ever heard, one of the most forceful critiques we've ever heard about the Nigerian government when it comes to dealing with the terror threat.

President Goodluck Jonathan admitted last year that in parts of Borno State where these atrocities have been taking place with regularity, that the federal government did not have control over parts of the state. And so, the question now becomes, how are they going to bring the rest of the northeast under the control of the military and serve as a way to protect the people? Because the parents that we've spoken to who have lost their children have said that they feel neglected, they feel unprotected, and that they are doing the job they say those that are in power to serve them are not, Christine.

ROMANS: Vladimir Duthiers for us this morning live in Nigeria -- thanks.

BERMAN: From one crisis to another, to Ukraine, where days of fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces have left dozens dead. Ukraine has blamed Russia for the conflict, but now it appears Russian President Vladimir Putin is taking a different tact, saying an independent vote planned for this weekend should be delayed. He's claiming that his troops have pulled back from the border, a claim that NATO says does not appear to be true.

So, let's go to senior international correspondent Matthew Chance, live in Moscow this morning.

Matthew, you heard it, the west seems skeptical of Vladimir Putin's latest comments. What can you tell us?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, certainly skeptical of that claim by the Russian president that the 40,000 or so Russian troops on the Russian side of the border, just across from Ukraine, have been sent back to their barracks, NATO saying that it's seen no such troop movements. It's been a kind of war of words between NATO and the Russian foreign ministry over the course of the last few hours, the foreign ministry using their Twitter feed to say -- well, look, the NATO secretary general, his name is Anders Fogh Rasmussen, he must be blind if he can't see the troop movements taking place.

So, a lot of western skepticism, a lot of war of words, but for a president that's not known for his flip-flopping, there's been a remarkable U-turn in the kind of rhetoric coming out of the Kremlin over the past 24 hours. Previously, he was saying he didn't support a presidential election in Ukraine on May the 25th. Now, he's saying he thinks it's a step in the right direction.

So, it's all sort of raising hopes that some kind of diplomatic solution to this crisis in Ukraine can be reached.

BERMAN: And I think that is a key point, Matthew. Despite the skepticism there, it is definitely a difference in tone from the Russian leader. Any sense in how it's being received inside Ukraine, particularly among the pro-Russian separatists there?

CHANCE: Yes, it's very interesting how it is being received. I'm not there to judge for myself, but they seem, from the reports I've been seeing, to have been taken quite aback by the fact that this Russian support has been withdrawn from their idea of staging a referendum. Vladimir Putin saying those referendums scheduled for this weekend should be postponed. Previously, the Kremlin had been saying it supported these referendums on independence for those regions.

So, they're now left debating what they should do. It's going to give us a good indication as well as to how much control the Russian president really has in eastern and southern Ukraine to see whether his words for the referendums to be postponed is heeded or not. So, we're watching it carefully.

BERMAN: And I think that's what to watch over the next 24 hours to be sure.

Matthew Chance, great to have you with us this morning -- live from Moscow. See you again.

ROMANS: Happening today, the House is expected to vote on creating a special committee to investigate the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, an attack that left the ambassador to Libya and three other State Department employees dead. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has faced a lot of criticism from the right for her handling of security before the attack and the investigation afterward, but she says she's satisfied all the questions about what happened have been answered.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Despite all of the hearings, all of the information that's been provided, some choose not to be satisfied and choose to continue to move forward. That's their choice, and I do not believe there is any reason for it to continue in this way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Many Republicans say the White House is hiding information. They allege a cover-up. Democrats are pushing for a no vote on forming the committee. They say it's a partisan witch hunt.

BERMAN: So, the House has now voted to hold a former IRS official in contempt over her refusal to testify on the agency's targeting of conservative groups. Lois Lerner has appeared several times before the House Oversight Committee. She gave a statement, but then took the fifth and refused to answer questions. The House vote late yesterday was mostly along party lines. A few Democrats joined with Republicans who insisted this is all about getting answers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Who's been fired over the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS? No one that I'm aware of. Who's gone to jail for violating the law?

When is the administration going to tell the American people the truth? They've not told them the truth about Benghazi. They have not told them the truth about the IRS. They have not told the truth about Fast and Furious.

Now, only one would have to guess, if they're not willing to tell the American people the truth, it must not be very pretty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Something you will hear a lot leading up to November at this point.

As for Lois Lerner's contempt charge, it will now be referred to federal prosecutors. It is unclear if any further action will be taken after that.

ROMANS: Congress also moving ahead with a bill to change the NSA. The House Judiciary Committee has unanimously advanced a measure that would stop the spy agency from collecting bulk phone call records, leaving the records instead with phone companies.

Under this law, the NSA could gather data about a suspect and their close contacts only if a judge approves. The House Intelligence Committee is set to consider a similar bill today.

BERMAN: A threat is suspending operations at the U.S. embassy in Yemen. The State Department saying it is not shutting down the facility but has closed the embassy's doors to the public. Officials tell CNN there is credible information of a threat against Western interests in Yemen. This comes nearly a year after that embassy and several others were shut down over similar fears.

Coming up in our next hour, we'll speak with Mohammed Jamjoom about this threat and why it has officials in Yemen and Washington particularly worried this morning.

ROMANS: This morning, there is new reaction to Monica Lewinsky's tell-all essay in "Vanity Fair," where the former White House intern detailed her affair with President Bill Clinton, calling it consensual but saying he took advantage of her. Well, now, some are saying the timing is suspicious, like Lynne Cheney, wife of former Vice President Dick Cheney. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LYNNE CHENEY, WIFE OF FORMER VP DICK CHENEY: I really wonder if this isn't an effort on the Clintons' part to get that story out of the way. Would "Vanity Fair" publish anything about Monica Lewinsky that Hillary Clinton didn't want in "Vanity Fair"?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's very interesting. I love this theory.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The magazine's head of PR was asked about that and laughed it off, telling the "Washington Post," quote, "Seriously?"

The full article doesn't hit newsstands until next week, but you can read it online on the "Vanity Fair" Web site starting today.

BERMAN: It does require some interesting leaps of faith there that perhaps Monica Lewinsky or Hillary Clinton called up Monica Lewinsky said, hey, I want you to write something and put it in "Vanity Fair"?

ROMANS: Inside the piece, Monica Lewinsky was saying because of the high profile of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, she knew her name and image and her time as intern was going to be in the public domain in years ahead and she wanted to get ahead of it.

BERMAN: To be sure.

All right. Eleven minutes after the hour.

ROMANS: Breaking news this morning: a new arrest in the South Korean ferry disaster. Hundreds of teenagers killed. Now, the CEO of the company behind bars. What did he do? We're live with that.

BERMAN: Plus, an out-of-control car plows through a crowded street. Look at this. Why police say the driver did this. Why? That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Breaking overnight: major new developments in South Korea as divers search a capsized ship for victims. The CEO of the company that operated this ferry has now been arrested and charged with death by negligence.

Our Paula Hancocks is live in Hong Kong with the details about this.

Death by negligence, Paula. Explain this to me.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the head, as you said, is now behind bars. That's one of the charges against him, causing death by negligence, also causing the capsizing of the ship in the line of duty, violating ship safety act.

Now, basically, the reason behind this is this comes after four of his employees were arrested and indicted. There was a raid on the ferry company itself. And it's because the ship has been proven to have been overloaded.

Investigators telling CNN that there was excessive cargo on this ship at the time of the sinking, more than -- almost 2 1/2 times the ship's limit was on board. And not just that, they also say that some of it was not tied down properly, so this did contribute to the capsizing of the ship.

And also, this was not an isolated event. The investigators tell CNN that there were a number of occasions when this ferry company decided to overload the ship, more than 50 percent of the trips that they made over the past year since March of last year when this route started were overloaded. And get this -- they managed to make almost $3 million of profit because of that overloading.

As you can imagine, this is adding to the fury in South Korea, not just from the relatives of those passengers but from the whole country itself, that this company was trying to make money, and it took this kind of disaster to bring this to the forefront.

Now, we've just heard in the past hour or so that the government is now revoking the operator license for this ferry company, not just on this route, which is the norm, but for all of the routes, because they say that there are serious business problems with the practices of this company -- John.

BERMAN: That record, if proven true, Paula, that will be extremely problematic for that company, this ferry disaster continuing to consume the nation of South Korea.

Our Paula Hancocks in Hong Kong today -- thanks very much.

ROMANS: An accused terrorist back on the stand at his terror trial. Abu Hamza al-Masri has already told the court of his early days in Britain working as a bouncer and strip club manager after moving from Egypt. He testified he wanted to make money and wanted to have fun like an American but turned to Islam once he realized the hypocrisy of his lifestyle. Al-Masri faces 11 counts, including aiding kidnappers in Yemen and trying to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon. He has pleaded not guilty to all those charges.

BERMAN: The surviving Boston bombing suspect is making new demands before his trial. Lawyers for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, they are now asking a federal judge to bar statements made to the FBI after his capture. They say he was wounded and he was on painkillers and say of course he did not have an attorney present. They're also asking the judge to bar the death penalty, saying it shouldn't be on the table just because a crowded event was the target. The trial is scheduled for November.

ROMANS: Meanwhile, the man accused of a bomb hoax at this year's Boston marathon has been found competent to stand trial, 25-year-old Kayvon Edson was arrested, carrying a backpack with a rice cooker near the finish line where three pressure cooker bombs killing three and wounding more than 260 people. Edson is charged with possession of a hoax explosive, making threats and charges of disorderly misconduct. He could face up to 20 years in prison.

BERMAN: New details on what led to a lockdown at the White House. Secret Service officials tell CNN the man arrested for driving through a White House checkpoint, they say he was likely not a threat. Fifty- five-year-old Matthew Evan Goldstein was apparently confused and panicked when he followed a motorcade carrying the president's daughters on to the ground. Goldstein, an IRS employee, has been released from custody. He is charged with unlawful entry.

ROMANS: Scary moments in Houston, when a car barreled into a crowd, a crowd that had gathered at the scene of a deadly shooting. Take a look.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

ROMANS: Witnesses say it was the father of the alleged shooter behind the wheel and that he had been taunted by a member of the victim's family. Police have not publicly identified the driver but have charged him with aggravated assault.

The shooting left one person dead and another hurt. Witnesses say the alleged gunman got away in the chaos. What a nightmare.

BERMAN: Talk about making an awful situation even worse.

ROMANS: All right. Happening right now: Oscar Pistorius, he is back in court. The Olympic hero accused of murdering his model girlfriend. Can his defense convince a judge this was all just an accident? We're live in South Africa with who is on the stand right now, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Syrian opposition demanding more tools to fight the government of Bashar Assad. The coalition's president in Washington, where he plans to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama, and says he will ask for antiaircraft missiles. This as a shaky truce appears to be holding in the city of Homs.

Opposition fighters and their families, they are evacuating under a deal with the government. Thousands have been trapped in that city for months under intense shelling by Syrian forces. The rebels had control, now no longer the case.

ROMANS: This morning, we're drawing closer to the end of the Oscar Pistorius trial. The testimony back under way right now after a break for South Africa's Election Day.

And the defense is presenting its final witnesses with plans to wrap up by next week. That's when it will be up to a judge to decide if Pistorius committed murder when he shot and killed his girlfriend.

CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps live at the courthouse in Pretoria.

We just in the last 40 minutes saw Oscar Pistorius entering the courtroom. Who's on the stand right now?

KELLY PHELPS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: We've gone back to expert witnesses, and on the stand we have a professor who is an expert anesthetist, and a core part of her job is dealing with the science of gastric emptying. So, we are back to now the disputes between the state and defense as to when last Reeva Steenkamp would have eaten before she died. We know that the state argued that it was two hours before she died, and therefore, this contradicted Pistorius' version of events.

But today's expert is saying that this is a wholly speculative science and that one cannot say with any reliability exactly how many hours before she died she would have eaten from learning that from her stomach contents.

ROMANS: How critical is this testimony, Kelly, to the defense case?

PHELPS: Well, it's critical in the sense that, first of all, the state's version on the gastric emptying undermined a specific part of Pistorius' testimony. So, if the defense can get it back on the record that this is, in fact, such an imprecise science, that would lend credibility to that part of Pistorius' testimony.

And, of course, in a broader sense, it's critical, because we know that physical evidence always has its own story to tell. And often, that story is considered by a court to be much more reliable than the human stories that we hear from lay witnesses.

So, now that we're getting into the final days of the trial and the focus is revolving back on the expert evidence again, we're hearing that story from the physical evidence. ROMANS: Kelly Phelps, thank you so much. The drama continues in what has been a very long case. That's gone on with a couple of big -- a couple of big pauses, a pause yesterday for the national elections in South Africa. But clearly, it's winding down.

BERMAN: Yes, very different schedule that you see in the United States. A two-week break in the middle of the trial to take this holiday off, that holiday off.

In any case, 26 minutes after the hour right now.

Other major news to tell you about. Terrorists on a killing spree in Nigeria, this days after kidnapping dozens of school-aged girls. Right now, there is a team of experts from the United States on their way to help. What can they do? We're live next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)