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New Investigation Into Benghazi; Veterans Hospital Investigated; Fears in Nigeria That Kidnapped Schoolgirls Were Split Up; Pistorius on Trial

Aired May 9, 2014 - 04:30   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: a new investigation into the 2012 Benghazi terror attack that killed four Americans. The House GOP leading the charge this morning. Is Congress amping up to unearth a White House cover-up or are they just playing politics?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: New developments this morning after an investigation first on CNN. V.A. hospitals now getting audited after a series of health care delays may have cost veterans, some of them, their lives. And there are new allegations this may have happened at a lot more places than first thought.

ROMANS: New fears in Nigeria that hundreds of young girls kidnapped by terrorists have been split up and moved throughout Africa. This morning, more U.S. investigators arriving, hoping to help find these girls and bring their captors to justice.

We're live with what's happening today.

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

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Happy Friday. Thirty minutes after the hour.

It could be a critical day, an interesting day and certainly a contentious day in Washington, now that the House of Representatives has officially voted to launch its own investigation into what happened in Benghazi. A select committee will be formed. Of course, the deadly attack on a diplomatic outpost left the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three State Department employees dead. Today, House Speaker John Boehner set to name his choices to serve on this select committee looking into the attack and whether the White House, as he alleges, is covering up the facts.

But Democrats are threatening not to take part at all, calling the committee a political witch hunt. They will meet this morning to debate and decide their next steps. The speaker, though, is defending the committee, despite questions about whether it's all motivated by the upcoming election.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This is a serious investigation that 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.


BERMAN: Of course, Republicans have alleged that the White House knowingly distorted the reasons for the attack and encouraged former U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to lie about what happened. She's now the president's national security adviser, of course.

Democrats say this is unfair by the Republicans and it's unfair that they're only offering five seats on the committee while the majority party will have seven.

ROMANS: This morning, there are disturbing, new developments in a story brought to you first right here on CNN. A shocking investigation shows veterans were left on waiting lists by the V.A., unable to get the health care they need. Now, the V.A. secretary, Eric Shinseki, is ordering a face-to-face audit amid calls he resign or be fired from that job. That as investigators this morning are looking into new allegations that this was happening at another V.A. facility. A clerk telling CNN's Drew Griffin he was told to change records to make it look like patients were not waiting longer than 14 days.



DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, it could be three months, and it looks like 14 days?

BRIAN TURNER, V.A. CLERK: It could be three months and look like no days. It looked like they had scheduled the appointment and got exactly what they wanted.


TURNER: That's your --

GRIFFIN: So, that's my --

TURNER: I would call it that. You can call it that. The V.A. doesn't call it that. They call it zeroing out.


ROMANS: V.A. Secretary Shinseki has now been subpoenaed by a House panel looking into these allegations. He says he will not resign and the White House says the president has complete confidence in him.

BERMAN: About 33 minutes after the hour. And this morning, more U.S. help is on the way to Nigeria. The government still looking for hundreds of girls kidnapped by the terror group Boko Haram. Today, seven members of the U.S. military will join the dozens of advisers on the ground already, desperately trying to figure out where those schoolgirls are being held. This, though, comes amid new worries that the girls may have been taken across the border into Cameroon, into Chad or Niger. The Pentagon now says it thinks the girls have been split up, possibly into smaller groups. Of course, that will make them much, much harder to find.

Vladimir Duthiers is live in Abuja with the latest.

Vlad, what can you tell us this morning?

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John. Well, those fears by the U.S. government and also the United Kingdom is what the parents in Chibok have told us all along that they were worried about. They had told us that they had seen convoys of trucks on this road leading from Borno State into neighboring Cameroon. They say that they saw young girls on those trucks. They say they saw militants guarding those girls.

And so, what the U.S. is saying is that it probably makes sense that these girls have been split up. Keeping 200-plus girls in one location, in an area where, frankly, a lot of people have told us they know that Boko Haram is there, has those girls in that particular location, the Sambisa forest, which borders Cameroon and Nigeria, breaking them up into smaller groups, because Boko Haram has many members within those three countries, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, based upon ethnic lines.

So, what they'll do is they'll break up these girls, put them with their different cells in those different countries, making it much, much harder for anybody to find them, John.

BERMAN: Any sign of activity by Nigeria or now the other countries supporting them of trying to find these girls? Any people deployed at this point?

DUTHIERS: So, we've gone repeatedly to the defense ministry to ask them to divulge operational details, nothing that would threaten national security, just to tell us how many troops are on the ground looking for the girls, where they're looking for these girls. So far, they have not divulged anything. The people we've spoken to in Chibok say they have not seen any kind of significant military progress being made to locate these girls.

We'll keep digging at it, John, but for now, I think what's important is that the international community is offering help. And for the first time in a long time, Nigeria is accepting that help, sort of signifying that not only do they not know where these girls are, but they're perhaps not capable of doing it on their own, John.

BERMAN: It's also important that you're there pressing them.

Vladimir Duthiers in Abuja -- thanks for being there for us. ROMANS: All right. Now to Ukraine, where this morning much of the country is not celebrating a national holiday. It's Victory Day, marking the Soviet Union's defeat of Nazi Germany. There are increasing worries that that could mean more violence on the streets this morning, so public events are canceled, stores are closed.

A different scene in Moscow, though, with a huge parade. And in Crimea, where just weeks after voting for independence, there are rumors Vladimir Putin may join the celebrations there.

Phil Black is live for us this morning.

Phil, what's the scene right now for you?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, we are seeing a huge display of patriotism, Russian patriotism. Where I'm standing now may be considered by much of the international community to be disputed or even occupied territory, but not according to the huge crowds here in Sevastopol. There's been a big military parade through the streets of this city, a big crowd out waving Russian flags, other patriotic symbols as well, and the party's expected to get even bigger later in the day with warships from the Russian Black Sea naval fleet putting on a display here behind me.

And yes, the rumor is that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, will be flying in from Moscow after attending that march there to attend, to witness this. If that is true, and the Kremlin hasn't confirmed it yet, but the scale of the preparations we have seen here certainly suggests the Russian president could be attending. If he does come, then it is going to be interpreted by much of the international community as very much a triumphalist statement.

But to many Russians, many here in Crimea, it will no doubt be greeted warmly, because he is being celebrated as the man who reclaimed Crimea, a territory many long believe to be an unquestionable part of the Russian state -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Phil Black, thanks for us.

That would be a poke in the eye to the international community, wouldn't it?

BERMAN: A huge spectacle, to say the least. We'll keep our eye on that all morning for you.

Meanwhile, smooth sailing so far for President Obama's choice to head up the Department of Health and Human Services. Sylvia Mathews Burwell was praised during her Senate confirmation hearing and told by many of the Republican senators that she's competent and well qualified for the job, even if these senators aren't such big fans of Obamacare.

Senator John McCain compared the task ahead for her to steering the Titanic. A vote on her nomination to the full Senate expected before Memorial Day. ROMANS: We're finding out this morning just what former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner thought about his time on the job. His memoir is out early next week, but an early copy obtained by "The Associated Press" has Geithner fighting back at critics, insisting he had to save big banks before worrying about average Americans because that was the only way to stop the entire economy from collapsing.

Geithner also reveals he thought about stepping down in 2010. That was a surprise to me. I mean, we knew a lot -- he said a lot of this before, but the fact that he could step down. And look, he suggested to the president that Hillary Clinton would be a worthy successor.

BERMAN: I love reading about that time. It's such an unprecedented moment in our history. We're on the brink. I mean, you covered every minute of it.

ROMANS: "On the Brink" is another former treasury secretary's book.

BERMAN: That's right, a competing book.

ROMANS: This one is called, "Stress Test," because it's funny because it was such a -- just a very -- to be inside there, just amazing, and now to see the little pieces of it coming together, really interesting.

All right, this morning we may be hearing from Donald Sterling for the very first time since he was banned for life by the NBA, if it's Donald Sterling in this new audio recording released by "Radar Online". A man said to be sterling is talking on the phone with an unnamed friend. The disgraced Clippers owner denies he's a racist, insisting anyone who knows where he came from knows that's true.


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: Sterling also doesn't appear ready to give in to league demands that he sell the Clippers.

Meantime, an attorney for his wife, Shelly, tells CNN she plans to fight any attempt to force her out. That makes Clippers Coach Doc Rivers uneasy.


DOC RIVERS, CLIPPERS COACH: I think it'd be a very hard situation if you want me -- I'll say that much. I think it would be very difficult. I guarantee you every person wouldn't be able to live with that. Whether I would or not, I'm not going to say, but I just know that that would be a very difficult situation for everybody.


ROMANS: The Clippers play game three of their playoff series with the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight in Los Angeles. The series tied at a game apiece.

BERMAN: All right. We know many of you are watching us with bleary eyes because you were up late watching the NFL draft. Look who that is and look what hat he's wearing. That's Johnny Manziel, the next quarterback for the Cleveland Browns. No, the Cleveland Browns did not pick very, very high. They picked 22nd.

Johnny Manziel dropped to 22nd in the draft. A lot of people thought he would go way, way higher. He wasn't even the first quarterback picked.

Blake Bartle went to the Jacksonville Jaguars much higher. The number one pick in the draft by the Houston Texans, Jadeveon Clowney. He will be playing there and expected to pick up their defense substantially.

ROMANS: All right, tornadoes touching down across the country. Homes damaged, streets flooded and the threat, everyone, isn't over yet. Indra Petersons tracking the storms for us. Going to tell you what you can expect today and for your weekend.


BERMAN: All right, we have some important weather news to tell you about. It could be a very dangerous day over a big swath of the country. Look at the red there, from Texas all the way to Indiana, severe thunderstorms, maybe worse in the forecast. It could cause trouble for millions of people.

ROMANS: And there already has been plenty of trouble. Look at this incredible video. That's a tornado on the ground in St. James, Minnesota. It's about 120 miles southwest of Minneapolis. Luckily, no injuries have been reported, but there has been damage in some Midwestern communities, as tornadoes were reported throughout the day on Thursday.

BERMAN: Same storm system drenching northern Texas. Yikes! These pictures from Dallas. Some areas got more than five inches of rain. The winds blowing it sideways -- ooh, that just looks nasty.

The wind was so intense, it destroyed this mobile home about 50 miles from Ft. Worth. Residents say this storm really had them on edge.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of a sudden, I heard this, whoo, whoo, whoo, then I seen trees out of control and then poles coming out of the ground.


ROMANS: In Oklahoma City, roads became rivers. Rain piling up there, too. Thousands lost power at the height of this storm. Indra Petersons is here with what we can expect today and then for the weekend.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, it's kind of a case of two cold fronts. We're going to have to watch, both of them having a threat for severe weather. The first one today you can already see bringing the threat for severe weather from Minneapolis back through Texas, down to about San Antonio. Not as high of a risk for tornadoes, but still we cannot rule them out. Most likely we'll be looking for very strong winds out there and even reports of large hail.

But it is the weekend. Everyone's concerned about Mother's Day, right? Take a look at your city. Keep in mind, there's two fronts. In the Northeast, looks like warm front rain today, stronger with a cold front on Saturday. Sunday looks good.

Midwest is the other way around, seeing the cold front today, a little bit of a break in between, and then the second system that's going to be out there.

Here's kind of how it pans out, look at the temperatures, kind of a mixed bag for you today. Again, really looking at the storms really kind of picking up along that cold front here, as we just showed you. Now, it's moving through tomorrow, that cold front moves farther to the East, we start to get more rain on the East Coast, but a break in the Midwest.

Look at temperatures, though. They're going way up. And now as we move in through Sunday, Mother's Day itself it does clear out into the Northeast itself. Looks like still seeing spotty showers out in Chicago, even have the threat for severe weather as we head towards Mother's Day, so that's going to be the concern out there as well. A couple fronts.

BERMAN: The tale of two cold fronts. It was the wettest of times, it was the wettest of times? Had to be done. Someone had to do it.


ROMANS: Thanks, Indra.

BERMAN: All right. If you thought that picture you took on Snapchat really disappeared forever?

ROMANS: Uh huh.

BERMAN: Gosh, you're awfully naive and you're wrong! We will tell you who has been storing your private photos, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone.

This morning, the Obama administration is warning the nation's schools enroll every student, no matter what their parents' immigration status is. The Department of Education and Justice Department issuing new guidance, reminding districts they have an obligation under law to be flexible in proving a student's age or residency. The Education Department is currently investigating 14 schools or districts for allegedly violating that law and preventing students from enrolling.

ROMANS: Dr. Dre, meet Apple, and a big paycheck. Apple reportedly close to buying Beats, the headphone-maker and music streaming service for a cool $3.2 billion. It's not the first time Beats has played with a big-name electronics company. HTC used to own half of it but bought back their shares. Apple has been looking for a while to get its groove back as it loses market share to Samsung and other providers.

BERMAN: All right, listen up, children and Christine Romans. That picture you just posted on Snapchat, it might not go away, which you should have known, but that's why the company has just settled with the government over charges that it misled the public. It knew those supposed disappearing messages could be saved. The complaint from the FTC also argue that Snapchat collected user data without consent. Snapchat insists it has resolved most of the government's concerns long before this settlement.

ROMANS: And I don't have anything interesting enough to save or to be scandalous.

BERMAN: If only I had something on Snapchat!

ROMANS: If only there was something so exciting, but there isn't.

BERMAN: Ah, yes, going to bed at 7:00.

Oscar Pistorius an emotional wreck as prosecutors try to prove he murdered his model girlfriend. But is the Olympic athlete faking it? What one witness is now saying, that's next.


BERMAN: Hundreds of activists in jail this morning in Venezuela after violent and deadly protests on the streets of Caracas. The government shut down camps filled with demonstrators allied against President Nicolas Maduro, and those demonstrators went on the march, battling with police. One officer was killed in these clashes. That is a serious situation going on there.

ROMANS: In Syria this morning, the final rebel fighters are expected to leave homes days after Syrian forces first let them evacuate the city where protests have raged and intense shelling is believed to have killed thousands. There had been calls for months for more aid to those trapped in the city. Now, the government is planning to reconstruct what its bombs and years of fighting have destroyed. BERMAN: This morning, the defense of the Oscar Pistorius trial is making really its clearest argument yet for why the Olympic sprinter may be innocent of intentionally killing his girlfriend. A forensic expert is on the stand testifying that much of the state's case is circumstantial and that the police botched their investigation. This after a social worker insisted that Pistorius' emotional breakdowns were genuine.

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

Kelly, walk us through this testimony today, why it's so critical.

KELLY PHELPS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, essentially, he's striking at certain details of the state's findings with regards to the ballistics evidence. But if you extract back to that (AUDIO GAP) we know they have to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

And his evidence feeds into the defense contention that this police investigation was not reliably conducted. Now, if the investigation was improperly conducted, and the incorrect findings have been drawn from the physical evidence, then on a fundamental level, that would render the state's contentions unreliable.

BERMAN: Kelly, I find it also interesting that they put a witness on the stand to talk about Oscar Pistorius' demeanor on the stand. Why do you think they felt that was important to justify?

PHELPS: Well, what was so unusual about that witness was that it was clear at the beginning of her testimony that she, in fact, approached the defense to testify, and only on Tuesday this week. And that was in response to reading allegations that he was faking his emotions. And she felt that it was important to put her version of the truth on the record.

She was the probation officer that had been assigned to look after Mr. Pistorius in the bail hearing in the immediate aftermath of the killing. And she felt that it was disingenuous to claim that he was manufacturing his emotions because he had had a sincere and consistent response from the immediate aftermath of the incident.

And this feeds into Gerrie Nel's accusation when what he cross examining Pistorius that Pistorius was somehow hiding behind his emotions in order to avoid taking responsibility. So, it does strike to the core credibility of Pistorius' testimony.

BERMAN: Interesting, but as you say, unusual testimony there at this point in the trial.

All right. Kelly Phelps, great to have you with us this morning. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: All right, one minute to the top of the hour. EARLY START continues right now.