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Terror in Nigeria: New Fears; New Benghazi Investigation; Johnny Football Goes to the Browns

Aired May 9, 2014 - 04:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, U.S. investigators on the ground in Nigeria searching for hundreds of young girls kidnapped by terrorists. This morning, new fears it might already be too late.

We're live with the latest.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: White House cover-up or right-wing conspiracy theory? A new investigation launched into the 2012 terror attack in Benghazi that killed four Americans. Will Congress prove the Obama administration lied or will Democrats prove Republicans are just playing politics?

We're going to tell you what's happening today.

BERMAN: And an agonizing wait for Johnny Football. The one-time Heisman trophy winner snubbed by team after team after team in the NFL draft.

Where did he finally land? Hang on. We'll tell you.

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

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's Friday, May 9th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Let's begin with the new political divide this morning in Washington. It's about Benghazi and the new select committee now officially authorized by the House. Democrats are set today to decide if they'll take part in the work of this committee, a committee looking into the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound, an attack that left the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three State Department employees dead.

Republicans allege a major cover-up, that the White House has been hiding evidence and coaching major players, like former U.N. ambassador, now national security adviser, Susan Rice, to lie about what happened. House Speaker John Boehner has offered Democrats five spots on this committee. The Republicans will have seven, something he says is fair, given what former Speaker Nancy Pelosi did when she was in charge.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This is a serious investigation. We wanted to work together to get to the truth. I think the 7-5 split is eminently fair, frankly, fairer than her global warming committee that she set up.

REP. SUSAN DAVIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Instead of debating the minimum wage, we're getting maximum partisanship. Instead of creating a select committee on job creation, we're voting to create a select committee on Benghazi, shamefully playing politics with a terrible tragedy.


ROMANS: Several prominent Democrats are saying now they think they should take part, if only to be on the record with their opposition to what's happening. House Speaker Boehner is expected to name his choices for the committee today.

BERMAN: We have new developments to tell you about in a shocking CNN investigation into the Veterans Administration. The V.A. secretary, Eric Shinseki, has now ordered a face-to-face audit at all V.A. clinics. This after accusations first reported on CNN that some veterans died while waiting for care at V.A. facilities, because it's alleged those hospitals kept some patients waiting months without seeing doctors.

Well, now investigators are poring over the books at the San Antonio V.A. hospital after a clerk came forward with his own allegations, telling CNN's Drew Griffin that he was told to change records to make it look like patients weren't waiting longer than 14 days.

Listen to this.


BRIAN TURNER, V.A. CLERK: What we've been instructed was that -- they're not saying fudge, there's no secret wait list, but what they've done is come out and just say zero out that date. There's been a report the following day if someone has a wait period that's longer than 14 days. The standard is the one to 14 days between the timeline of a desired date.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Irregardless of when the appointment --

TURNER: It doesn't matter when.

GRIFFIN: -- took place.


BERMAN: A House panel has subpoenaed the V.A. secretary to see his e- mails to find out what he knew about the alleged scheduling delays, if anything. Eric Shinseki insists he will not resign. The White House says the president has complete confidence in him.

ROMANS: Now to Nigeria, where today, more U.S. personnel are expected to join the efforts to find hundreds of girls kidnapped by the terror group Boko Haram. There are already dozens of U.S. experts and advisers on the ground, part of an interagency team trying to help the Nigerian government track these girls down, but the Pentagon now says it thinks the girls have been split up into smaller groups and there are growing worries they may have already been moved into neighboring countries.

Vladimir Duthiers live in Abuja with the latest for us.

Vlad, what can you tell us this morning about the search for these girls, any kind of intelligence we have on where they are?


Well, the parents' fears are now turning into their worst nightmare. They had said all along to us that they feared that these girls, the longer that the Nigerian government waited to mount a search-and- rescue mission, the more that they might be ferried across into other countries. And in fact, that is what U.S. intelligence is saying, that is what the parents are saying. They're saying that they believe that the girls are now probably in neighboring Cameroon, Chad or Niger.

And if you think about it, it makes sense. Trying to hide 200-plus girls in the forest is going to be difficult. It's difficult to feed them. There are logistical issues. Breaking them up into smaller groups and ferrying them across into neighboring countries is probably what is happening.

And what the parents told us is, about three weeks ago, just a couple of days after the girls were kidnapped, they saw convoys filled with young girls and what they say were militants on a road leading from Nigeria into neighboring Cameroon. And so, right now, a lot of fears that they may be long gone and it would be very, very difficult to track them.

ROMANS: Vlad, what is the hope that U.S. officials can contribute to this particular search for these girls? We know that there are American personnel on the ground. What are they hoping that they can do and achieve?

DUTHIERS: Well, you know, anything that they offer is going to be more than what the people in Chibok said they've been getting. What they hope to do with the United States intelligence sources, law enforcement officials, intelligence officials, some military personnel, although combat troops are not expected to take part, is offer logistical assistance, offer intelligence, offer even hostage negotiation techniques and tactics that can be applied if they are to make contact with the militants and if they are able to locate these girls and where they kept them.

So, I think that for the first time, the Nigerian government taking note that the world is outraged with what's going on here, and this isn't the first time. This has been going on since 2009. So, any little bit -- any little help that they can get from the United States and global community is going to play a huge part in getting these girls back. ROMANS: All right. Vladimir Duthiers for us this morning in Nigeria, thank you.

BERMAN: Six minutes after the hour right now. And today, much of Ukraine is on edge this morning as it pauses to mark a major holiday there. It's Victory Day, which celebrates the Soviet Union's defeat of Nazi Germany. So, in Odessa, Kharkiv and Kiev, stores are closed, public events cancelled. This amid worries of more violence as separatists move ahead now with a planned independence vote this weekend, that as Moscow celebrates with just a huge parade, which some people equated to a victory lap of Vladimir Putin.

Our senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is live in Moscow's Red Square this morning.

Matthew, give us a sense of the latest there.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely intense day of national pride here in Russia. It is every year, to be frank. I've seen several of these Victory Day parades.

They're an opportunity for Russia to display its national pride, and of course, to display its military might. We saw tanks. We saw surface-to-air missiles. We saw ICBMs, intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons paraded through Red Square in the center of the Russian capital, to the cheers of tens of thousands of people that line the streets of the Russian capital cheering on their troops.

But this year, I think it's fair to say it's been given a nationalistic twist. National pride is on the rise in Russia. Nationalism is on the rise in Russia as well, particularly after the events in Ukraine and the annexation in march of Crimea, which is broadly supported by the vast majority of the Russian public.

Now, that support has been transferred to the Russian president as well. He's now an immensely popular figure. He always was, in fact. But a couple years ago, you may remember tens of thousands of people in the streets protesting against his return to the presidency. Today, the latest opinion polls say his popularity runs somewhere like 82 percent, which is absolutely astonishing for a man of his power.

BERMAN: A man of his power who's made a statement that he doesn't want a referendum this weekend in eastern Ukraine. But the pro- Russian separatists there, Matthew, have said they're going ahead with it.

CHANCE: Absolutely, and that's a really big surprise. It was a surprise in the first place that he did that dramatic U-turn, saying that he wanted these pro-Russian separatist groups in eastern and southern Ukraine to abandon or to postpone, as he said, their series of referendum on independence for that region. It's even more of a surprise, perhaps, that they have not heeded his words.

They've said, no, look, we're going to go ahead with it, no matter what the Russian president thinks. So, I think it's sort of on the face of it, it's undermining those claims, that it's the Russian president that's really pulling the strings in eastern and southern Ukraine. That may have indeed been the intention of that call in the first place, to distance Vladimir Putin from the events on the ground in Crimea.

BERMAN: All right. Thanks so much -- Matthew Chance in Red Square this morning. A very big day there as all eyes remain on Ukraine this morning.

Meanwhile, President Obama's choice to head up the Department of Health and Human Services may be a step closer to confirmation. Sylvia Mathews Burwell went before a Senate committee where she received mostly good feelings, even from Republicans who are against Obamacare. Senator John McCain called her qualified but compared her job to steering the Titanic. A vote on the Senate nomination in the full Senate is expected before Memorial Day.

ROMANS: New details this morning of Timothy Geithner's time as treasury secretary. An early copy of his memoir obtained by the "Associated Press" shows Geithner thought about stepping down in 2010 and wanted the president to name Hillary Clinton as his successor. He also details the darkest day of the recession, pushing back against critics who say he and the administration favored big banks over average Americans. He writes, "They had to save the banks first to stop the entire economy from collapsing."

BERMAN: I'm looking forward to seeing what he says in the complete book, a lot of insight there.

A bill to end the NSA's bulk collection of phone data heading to the full House floor following a unanimous vote by the House Intelligence Committee. The USA Freedom Act would bar the bulk collection of not just phone records, but financial, health and other personal information. It will also require the NSA to seek a judge's permission if it wanted to access the phone data of suspected terrorists.

ROMANS: This morning you're hearing what could be disgraced L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling defending himself against charges of racism, this in a new audio recording released by "Radar Online". While CNN cannot confirm the voice on the tape is Sterling, if it is, it's the first we're hearing from him since he was banned for life from the NBA.

Sterling's said to be talking to an unnamed friend, telling him, "I'm not a racist," insisting anyone who knows where he came from knows that's true. Listen.


STERLING: I grew up in east L.A. East L.A., you'd die to get out of there! I got out of east L.A. I was the president of the high school there. I mean -- and I'm a Jew! And 50 percent of the people there were black and 40 percent were Hispanic. You ever been to Boyle Heights? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I've been to Boyle Heights.

STERLING: So, I mean, people must have a good feeling for me.


ROMANS: The NBA commissioner is pushing the other owners to force Donald Sterling to sell the clippers, but an attorney for Sterling's wife, Shelly, tells CNN she's a co-owner of the team and has every intention of keeping it that way.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mrs. Sterling wants to retain her ownership interests in the team. She has enough money in her life and for her children and her grandchildren. She's passionate about her ownership of this team. She loves the team.

Players love her. Doc Rivers has been very supportive of her, and she's supportive of them. Mrs. Sterling wants to retain her 50 percent ownership interest in her lifetime.


ROMANS: As for the Clippers, game three of their playoff series with Oklahoma City thunder is tonight in Los Angeles. The series is tied at a game apiece.

BERMAN: All right, let's talk the NFL draft, shall we? Because there was some big news and a big wait if you're one guy. If you're a Cleveland Browns fan, you may be celebrating this morning about that wait.

That's because Johnny Manziel, Johnny Football, headed to Cleveland. The Browns grabbed the quarterback with the 22nd pick in the draft. That is a lot lower than a lot of people thought for the former Heisman trophy winner.

The Browns are not the team -- a lot of people thought he would go a lot higher, for sure, the Jacksonville Jaguars.

A lot of people even suggested Houston might take him with the first pick. They did not. They took defensive end Jadeveon Clowney out of South Carolina. Big picture there.

Big night in the NFL draft.

Happening right now: severe storms terrorizing millions of people across the country. Danger in the forecast from the South all the way up to the Northeast. Indra Petersons is tracking what is happening right now, and she'll tell you right after the break.


ROMANS: All right, this Friday morning, millions are directly in Mother Nature's crosshairs. A severe weather threat aimed squarely at the middle part of the country, and it could get very dangerous from Texas all the way to Indiana.

BERMAN: These storms already putting tornadoes on the ground in the Midwest. Take a look at this video.


BERMAN: St. James, Minnesota. Wow! That's about 120 miles southwest of Minneapolis.

Just one of the many twisters reported throughout the day on Thursday. Luckily, amazingly when you look at pictures like this, no injuries have been reported.

ROMANS: The Dallas area's hoping to dry out today after being drenched. More than 5 inches of rain, also intense winds, winds officials say were responsible for destroying this mobile home about 50 miles from Ft. Worth. Many windows were shattered throughout the region and residents were scared by what they saw.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The wind was blowing so extremely hard, and I shut my front door, locked the door, and the next thing you know, I ran in the bathroom, and then I just hear my house going clink, clink, clink, clink. It was just shaking!



BERMAN: Want you to take a look at this now. These are pictures from Oklahoma City. Wow! Look at those. Rain just causing those huge, huge puddles, almost small ponds on the roads there. Thousands of people lost power. Probably not a good night to be out driving in that storm.

ROMANS: No, not at all.

Indra Petersons tracking the threat today and for your weekend.

Indra, what can we expect?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, right now, it's that time of year again, like every day, where do we need to focus? Today, it's going to be Indianapolis back down through San Antonio again today.

Today's a slight risk, so not as strong where we had the moderate risk yesterday towards Minnesota and Iowa. Today, it's more that slight risk. However, that does not mean we can't rule out the threat for more tornadoes out there today, more likely to see strong, damaging winds and large hail, so that's going to be the concern.

Take a look at your weekend. We all want a good weekend, right? Might want to pick your city because we have two systems out there, so everyone's going to be warming up, but for the most part, you're only going to have one day where you're getting the sunshine, so definitely check out your city to see which day that is.

Why? Because we have two systems out there. The warm front in the Northeast, still looking at the major cold front kind of cruising through as we go towards the Northeast by Saturday, but then another system's even behind this. So, let's time it out, right?

Today, we're still looking at showers picking up. By Saturday, really the entire Northeast is finally having the cold front making its way through the region, starting to dry out through the Midwest, but here comes system number two, right? Once that kicks out, here comes the next day, so looking at the threat for severe weather from Chicago really kind of back all the way into the Plains again as a second cold front makes its way through. That's going to be the concern.

Rain not too heavy, except unfortunately around Mobile, and also Pensacola, Florida, looking at potentially more rain. So, the thought of more rain in that area of course means flooding concerns.

BERMAN: To be clear, in the Northeast, you're saying it stinks and then it stinks again.

PETERSONS: It stinks and then it's nice and then it stinks again, but there's a nice in the middle.

BERMAN: A little nice donut there, very good.

ROMANS: And the nice looks like it might be Mother's Day. So, we'll see.


ROMANS: Thank you.

BERMAN: Priorities.

ROMANS: Don't forget it's Mother's Day.

BERMAN: Thank you.

All right, 19 minutes after the hour.

New developments following the botched lethal injection in Oklahoma. That state has agreed on a 180-day stay of execution for another inmate scheduled to die on the same day last week. Right now, investigators looking into the April 29th execution of Clayton Lockett. He died 43 minutes after his execution began, did not go the way it was supposed to.

Prosecutors say Charles Warner, convicted of raping and killing an 11- month-old, will likely be executed in November.

ROMANS: Florida police now say four people found dead in a burned-out mansion owned by former tennis star James Blake had been shot. Blake rented the Tampa area home to a family of four, and police have described the victims as two adults and two teens. There is new surveillance video of a man believed to be the father firing a large amount of fireworks. Police say he also bought several gas cans. The fire is believed to have been set on purpose.

BERMAN: What a strange story that is.

Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus back in the act last night in Connecticut. The circus staging its first show since nine performers were injured in that terrifying accident last week in Rhode Island. But not on display last night was the hair hang act. That was the act that sent acrobats plunging some 30 feet to the ground when a single 5-inch clamp snapped right in the middle of the act. There you just saw it again. Seven remain in the hospital, two still in serious condition.

ROMANS: An Olympic hero accused of murdering his model girlfriend. Right now, a forensic expert claiming it's impossible for the prosecution to prove Oscar Pistorius meant to kill Reeva Steenkamp. Why is that? And could this testimony end up exonerating the Blade Runner? We are live in South Africa, next.


ROMANS: Welcome back.

On the witness stand this morning at the Oscar Pistorius trial, a forensic expert testifying for the defense, and arguing that most of the state's evidence can't be proven, this hours after a social worker insisted Pistorius isn't acting in all of those breakdowns he had in court are genuine.

CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps is live in Pretoria this morning for us.

Kelly, it seems the defense saved the best witnesses for last. What's happening in court right now?

KELLY PHELPS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. Mr. Wolmarans, their key forensics and ballistics expert, is potentially their most important witness. He's an incredibly well-respected ballistics and forensics practitioner, and he is step by step refusing some of the core claims that the state made with their forensic evidence, particularly looking at the trajectories of the bullet through the bathroom door and what that says about the position that Reeva Steenkamp was in.

You'll recall that the state had claimed with their expert that she was in a defensive position and that this somehow showed that Pistorius had intention to kill because she knew she was in danger and there was a fight ensuing. And now, Wollie Wolmarans has gone on the stand and said that's simply the wrong way to read the ballistic evidence.

ROMANS: (AUDIO GAP) testimony's going to impact the state's case.

PHELPS: It would absolutely impact the state's case. We know that the state has the burden to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. And one of the strongest claims the defense has always had going for them has been casting doubt over the veracity of the police investigation.

We saw that through cross examination of the state witnesses, and now through their own witnesses, they are bolstering the claim that the police investigation was simply not professionally and accurately conducted, and therefore, reliable findings cannot be made from it.

ROMANS: Kelly Phelps for us this morning in Pretoria, South Africa -- thank you, Kelly.

BERMAN: Coming up for us next, a huge decision day for Democrats in Washington. Will they participate in this committee looking into Benghazi? Republicans say it's a White House cover-up. Will they learn anything new? That's coming up next.