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EARLY START

Brazen New Attack in Nigeria; Putin Calls for Delay of Referendum in Ukraine; House Holds Lois Lerner in Contempt; New Arrest in South Korean Ferry Investigation; Student Loan Interests Going Up

Aired May 8, 2014 - 05:30   ET

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


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JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Terror in Nigeria. Islamic militants slaughtering hundreds of villagers in the streets. This coming weeks after hundreds of young girls were abducted from their schools and threatened to be sold on the human market. Now there's a desperate hunt to find these children, to bring their captors to justice. A team of U.S. experts is now on the way. The question is, could it already be too late? We're live in Nigeria with the very latest.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, could Russia's president be trying to solve the crisis in Ukraine, as deadly battles rage on the streets between soldiers and pro-Russian separatists. Vladimir Putin offers the country some advice on its upcoming election. Why? We're live.

BERMAN: And breaking news this morning. A new arrest in the deadly South Korean ferry disaster and who police say is responsible at this point. This news could surprise you. We're live with the latest developments this morning. A lot going on today.

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

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's 31 minutes past the hour.

We're learning more this morning about a brazen, new attack by terrorists in Nigeria. They're already holding hundreds of kidnapped girls, threatening to sell them into slavery. And now comes word Boko Haram fighters went after a northern village, slaughtering at least 150 people in the very place where the military was said to be staging part of its efforts to find those girls.

Vladimir Duthiers is live for us in Nigeria. Tell us, this attack -- I mean, some of the details of this attack, Vlad, are so gruesome, we can't even really detail them on television. Tell us the latest here of what this group has done.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're right, Christine. This is the latest in a long line of atrocities perpetrated by Boko Haram. On Monday they attacked this market village very close to the border of Cameroon, slaughtering at least 150 people, although one local state senator we spoke to said the numbers could rise to as high as 300 people. As I said, the latest in a long line of just brutal attacks carried on in northeastern Nigeria against the people that are there. Since 2009, thousands of people have been killed, but there's a more staggering number. In just this year alone -- I want people to sort of let this sink in -- 1,500 people have been killed in Boko Haram- related violence in northeastern Nigeria. Just this year alone, in the first three months.

That's a number that anywhere in the world would bring a country to a standstill. In Nigeria, up until the international scrutiny that they are now undergoing, this had been considered business as usual in the northeastern part of the country. The president had put the northeast -- three states in the northeast under a state of emergency, but it begs the question, Christine, if one state is under a state of emergency and these atrocities can still be carried out, how effective is it?

ROMANS: How effective is it, indeed, and how outraged are the people in Nigeria. I mean, they clearly are outraged. The rest of the world is now outraged. Is it making any difference?

DUTHIERS: You know, it's hard to say. I think that this abduction of these 200 girls taken in the middle of the night in what is one of the poorest regions in Nigeria, one of the least educated regions, just trying to get an education. Boko Haram, the name literally means Western education is forbidden. That's why they've attacked schools, but they've also as you just heard markets, police barracks. They've attacked all kinds of institutions, burning people to death, hacking people to death.

I think now that the world is looking at what is happening in Nigeria, the Nigerian government for the first time is realizing that people actually care, even though to many people in the northeastern part of the country, they feel as if the government doesn't care. One father that we spoke to who has two daughters missing in the abduction says to us that they feel neglected and forgotten by their own leaders.

ROMANS: You know, and these stories are always just so agonizing, too, when you look at the wealth that is in Nigeria, you look at the oil wealth in this country and then you look at who gets rich from the oil. And then the fact that 200 girls could simply disappear, that 150 villagers could be slaughtered, that 1,500 people in three months could be mowed down by a wild pack of terrorists, it's just so frustrating and hard to understand, Vlad.

DUTHIERS: It boggles the mind, frankly, and I think that, as you rightly point out, this is a reign of terror that these people have been living under for so long. And I think as one father said to me that they welcome -- the fact that the international community is now taking a look, he says that we welcome the United States, the U.N. He says please come to Chibok, please come and see what we're telling you. We would like them to see what we're suffering under. These are people that can't even sleep in their beds, Christine. They have to sleep in the bush at night because they're so afraid of what might happen to them.

ROMANS: Vladimir Duthiers for us this morning, live. Thanks for that.

BERMAN: All right, from one crisis to another. Now to Ukraine and new statements from Russian president Vladimir Putin that have a lot of people asking, could the nation be on the road back now from the brink? President Putin calling on pro-Russian separatists to hold off now on a referendum that would declare their independence, and he's claiming, claiming that his troops have pulled back from the border. This is something, though, that NATO says so far they've seen no evidence of.

So, let's get the view on the ground. Our senior international correspondent Arwa Damon is live in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk. Arwa, over the last few days, you witnessed firsthand some of the fighting, some of the conflict. So, what are you seeing now after Vladimir Putin's statements?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNTIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there does seem to be this sort of uneasy calm, if one can even categorize it as such. The violence here does tend to come in waves. But following that statement by President Putin, CNN spoke to the self-declared chairman of the so-called Republic of Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, who said that he was surprised by Putin's comments but that they most certainly were valued, would be taken into consideration. They do, of course, respect what Moscow has to say and have historically relied on Russia for support.

The leaders of the pro-Russian camp, as far as we understand, now in a meeting discussing, taking a vote, as to whether or not that referendum, the creation of a federal state, the vote on that should, in fact, take place on May 11. The announcement, perhaps, within the next half hour.

A couple of issues here, though, John. First of all, the postponement of a referendum might not necessarily ease the growing tensions here. The military efforts by the central Ukrainian government going and trying to use force to retake some of these various locations has really hardened the population against them, at least the population that supports the pro-Russian camp, against them.

And we're seeing a society here that is really struggling on multiple levels, many people feeling as if they are victims of this greater geopolitical game that is taking place. Also worth taking into consideration is what happened post the Geneva agreement, when we did not, in fact, see any of the armed groups moving out of the various locations that they do hold. So, there's still a lot of uncertainty and not necessarily a lot of faith that, first of all, that referendum will be postponed, and that, if it is, it will in fact ease the tensions here.

BERMAN: A key few days there, to be sure. Arwa Damon live for us in Donetsk. Thanks very much.

ROMANS: In Washington, the House today set to take a significant vote, deciding whether to create a special committee to investigate the Benghazi attack and whether the White House has tried to cover up what really happened at that diplomatic compound back in 2012. The U.S. ambassador to Libya, three other State Department employees died in the attack on Benghazi. And former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insists the administration has been truthful.

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HILLARY CLINTON, FMR. U.S. 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.

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ROMANS: Democrats are pushing for a no vote, calling the committee a partisan witch hunt. Republicans say it's necessary to find out what really happened.

BERMAN: Contempt of Congress, the new charge now officially leveled at a former top IRS official. The House voting to hold Lois Lerner in contempt for refusing to testify about the targeting of conservative groups. She has appeared several times before the House Oversight Committee but took the Fifth and refused to answer questions. This after making an opening statement. Republicans say it's part of a pattern that they say they have an obligation to investigate.

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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 have 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.

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BERMAN: Lerner's contempt charge will now be referred to federal prosecutors. It is unclear if any further action will be taken after that.

ROMANS: All right, European stocks trading higher right now. Futures in the U.S. pointing to a higher open on Wall Street. Tax season is over, and you know what? It was good! It was a good tax year for Uncle Sam.

BERMAN: What?

ROMANS: The Treasury Department reported a $114 billion surplus in April. That is the highest April surplus since 2008. The Congressional Budget Office also releasing numbers on the deficit, saying it's down $187 billion from last year.

BERMAN: Wow.

ROMANS: Partly because government spending fell by 2 percent, the biggest spending cuts coming in the form of unemployment benefits and Homeland Security. But the government also saw an increase in revenue from taxes, including payroll and tax revenue up 7 percent, corporate income taxes up 16 percent.

More coming in, less going out, that means the deficit shrinking a little bit. When you look in the far-out years, we've still got a lot of problems, but at least for that month --

BERMAN: Good news for now.

ROMANS: Yes.

BERMAN: At least.

All right, a whole lot of people this morning will be poring over Monica Lewinsky's tell-all essay in "Vanity Fair." The full version gets posted to the We bsite today. We already know a lot of the major points. She says that her affair with the president, President Bill Clinton, was consensual, though she does feel, as she says, that her boss took advantage of her. She says she's breaking her silence now to, in her words, reclaim her narrative. There are some people who believe that this is not the case. Lynne Cheney, the wife of former vice president Dick Cheney, she has a conspiracy theory. Listen.

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LYNNE CHENEY, WIFE OF 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"?

MEGYN KELLY, FBN HOST: That's very interesting. I love this theory.

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BERMAN: So, "Vanity Fair" says this isn't true. The magazine's PR head was asked and told "The Washington Post," quote, "Seriously?" This magazine hits the newsstands next week.

ROMANS: I think it's pretty clear and in her own words, she said, Monica Lewinsky said she was trying to get out ahead of this story because she thinks that it's going to continue to come up as Hillary Clinton potentially runs for office.

BERMAN: She might run for president?

ROMANS: Well, she's thinking about it.

BERMAN: She's thinking about it.

ROMANS: All right, happening now, severe storms tearing through the country. Where there's danger of tornadoes touching down this morning, we'll tell you exactly where to look. Indra Petersons tracking the very latest for us, next.

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BERMAN: Taking a look now at the weather and the danger today for millions of people here in this country. Severe thunderstorms expected to move east, likely causing big problems from Texas all the way to the Great Lakes.

ROMANS: And the impact already seen in Colorado. Look at that. Tornadoes touched down about 150 miles east of Denver. Two funnel clouds spotted. Luckily, no damage was reported. Those storms also bringing a bunch of hail. That's right, hail. Hail on the seventh of May. A few inches piling up on the ground there.

BERMAN: Winter weather in Wyoming as well. Look at that. There's snow in Casper, 5 inches of it. Tornadoes also reported in that area.

ROMANS: Kansas this morning cleaning up from some high winds, high winds that knocked over a train, blew the cars right off the tracks. Gusts north of Wichita topping 60 miles per hour. Damage in that area said to be widespread with a lot of windows blown out.

BERMAN: We are concerned about some of the severe weather, the possibilities over a large part of the country. Let's talk to Indra Petersons about what we might see.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: And take a look at the satellite. Very easy to see how explosive these thunderstorms are, even in the last few hours. You can actually really see them kind of blowing up towards the upper Midwest. That's the area we're going to focus on the most today, and that's where we have an enhanced risk for severe weather.

Now, 51 million of you have the threat for severe weather today from Minnesota back down through Texas, but notice where you see that red, that's where we have a moderate risk or a heightened risk for severe weather. That's southern portions of Minnesota and even in through Iowa today.

What are we looking for? Those strong winds, we already showed you what that can do. Also large hail yesterday. Reports yesterday of even hail as large as softball size. That's what we'll be looking for and even the threat for isolated tornadoes will be out there.

What are we looking at? We're looking at very warm temperatures. We're talking about temperatures well above normal, spreading even farther to the east today. Watch as that system makes its way across. This is going to be the concern even as we go through tonight and in through tomorrow. Showers already into the northeast today. We'll be watching for that. But of course, this will be the story really for the next several days, anywhere in the eastern half of the country as the system continues to make its way across, meaning showers into the northeast even as we go through the weekend. But really, of course, always in the Plains, that's where the focus will be the next several days.

ROMANS: Thanks, Indra.

Now, let's look at what's coming up on "NEW DAY". Kate Bolduan joins us this morning. Hey, Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Good morning, guys. This morning we're following two key moments of Hillary Clinton's past back in the spotlight. First, the article everyone is talking about, buzzing about. Overnight, Monica Lewinsky's new "Vanity Fair" article, this essay that she's written, first-person essay. It has just been released in full. In it, she reveals new details about her affair with President Clinton, more how it affected her. And really, this all is about what was going on with her at the time and how it hit her in the aftermath. And also her feelings towards Hillary Clinton. That is all in there. We'll be discussing that.

This all comes as Hillary Clinton speaks out against a critical vote on the Benghazi attack today. Could she be forced to testify about what happened? We're talking about that select committee that was formed by the House. They're going to be moving forward. Could she be subpoenaed? We will see.

Also, Russian president Vladimir Putin is making an about face, potentially? He claims Russian troops are pulling back from the Ukrainian border, and he's even asking pro-Russian separatists to delay a vote on secession. Could this be the first steps towards peace, or should the U.S. and Europe be on high alert? We're live on the ground to try to separate fact from fiction, which is difficult to do when it comes to the crisis on the ground in Ukraine, guys.

BERMAN: Fact and fiction, a noble goal separating the two. Kate Bolduan, great to see you. Looking forward to seeing that.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, guys.

BERMAN: Breaking news overnight, a new arrest in the deadly South Korea ferry disaster, suggesting that this scandal may be much bigger than a one-time mistake. We're live next.

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BERMAN: This morning there are major, new developments into the investigation into the capsized ferry in South Korea. Authorities there have now arrested the CEO of the company that operated this ferry, charging him with death by negligence. This is coming as divers draw closer to ending their search for victims.

Paula Hancocks live in Hong Kong with the details. Paula, give us the latest.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, his name is Kim Han- Sik. He is behind bars this Thursday. And, as you say, he has been charged with causing death by negligence.

Now, he did speak to reporters earlier this Thursday, apologizing publicly to the relatives of those who were lost and also to the victims of this ferry disaster, saying, "I have committed a crime that can only be paid back with my life." Now, it's very unlikely this will be any consolation to those who have lost loved ones. Bear in mind, 35 passengers are still missing. They're still in the frigid waters of the Yellow Sea.

Now, we know that four of his employees have also been indicted. We know that the company offices have been raided. The reason for this, investigators confirmed to CNN, that this ship was overloaded. There was more than double the limit of cargo on board than there should have been. And apparently, this was not an isolated incident.

Investigators also confirming to CNN that, since March of last year, more than 50 percent of the ships that went on this route, 50 percent of those trips were overloaded. They were trying to make money, and investigators say they made almost $3 million in profit because of this overloading. They say that that did help capsize the ship. This is what they are focusing on at this point. This is why the head of that company is now behind bars. And, of course, this adds to the anger that South Koreans feel, that profit had been put before safety and that this tragedy should not have happened. John?

BERMAN: Profit before safety -- if true, infuriating. Paula Hancocks live for us. Thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right, bad news this morning for some college students borrowing to go to school and a lesson the open market can sometimes bite you. I've got details in Money Time, next.

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ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START. It's Money Time. Student loans getting more expensive. Last year, Congress passed a bipartisan bill to lower student loans by tying them to market interest rates. The latest treasury bond auction to set rates happened yesterday. Students will actually pay nearly a percentage point more than last fall following that auction.

BERMAN: Yikes.

ROMANS: Undergrads can expect an interest rate of about 4.66 percent. For grad students, it's going to be more like 6.21 percent. Still cheap money to borrow, but remember, it's a good investment, just make sure you're spending it wisely.

A new study by "USA Today" shows that CEOs who cut jobs tend to get raises. The paper looked at the five CEOs who cut their workforces the most over the past five years. All five got huge pay hikes. General Growth Properties had the most layoffs, more than half the workforce. CEO was paid $22 million last year, a 424 percent raise.

BERMAN: Warms your heart.

ROMANS: Doesn't it? Sometimes it's a real hard job to reorganize, so they can afford to pay them a lot of money.

BERMAN: It is hard to reorganize. You know what else is hard? Losing your job, so -- ROMANS: It's true, absolutely. I know. That's why people get so angry.

BERMAN: That's it for us today.

ROMANS: On that happy note!

BERMAN: On that cheery note. "NEW DAY" starts right now.

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CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Ghosts of Clinton's past. Monica Lewinsky is back and saying things Hillary may not like. And while Mrs. Clinton takes some blame for her husband's affair, Republicans want to give her a lot of blame for Benghazi. A key vote today in the investigation. Will Hillary be subpoenaed?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs speaking out saying he will not resign despite growing calls from veterans groups after a CNN investigation found fatal failures in his department. Can he survive the storm?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Back from the brink? Russian president Vladimir Putin says he's pulling his troops back from the Ukraine border. The U.S. though says that's not happening. This is a step toward peace or a blatant lie?

CUOMO: Your "NEW DAY" starts right now.

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