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Terror in Nigeria: New Fears; New Benghazi Investigation; Veterans Hospital Investigated; Johnny Football's Long Wait

Aired May 9, 2014 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: happening now, U.S. investigators on the ground in Nigeria. They are searching for hundreds of young girls kidnapped by terrorists. This morning, new fears it may already be too late.

We are live with the very latest.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And, was it a White House cover-up or is it a right-wing conspiracy theory? A new investigation launched into the 2012 terror attack in Benghazi that killed four Americans. Will Congress prove that the Obama administration lied or will Democrats prove that the Republicans are just playing politics? There's a lot going on and a big decision today. We'll tell you what's happening.

ROMANS: And an agonizing wait for Johnny Football. The Heisman Trophy winner snubbed by team after team in the NFL draft. Where did he finally land? We will tell you.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. What day is it?

ROMANS: Friday!

BERMAN: It's Friday, May 9th, it's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And we do begin this morning with this new political divide in Washington. It is about Benghazi and the new select committee now officially authorized by the House of Representatives.

Democrats today, they have a big decision to make. They will decide if they're going to take part in the work of this committee at all, which was just authorized to look into the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi. That attack left the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other U.S. employees dead. Republicans allege a major cover-up that the White House has been hiding evidence and coaching major players, including former U.N. ambassador, now national security adviser Susan Rice, coaching them really to mislead the American people, even lie about what happened.

House Speaker John Boehner has offered Democrats five spots on this committee. The Republicans will have seven spots, something he says is fair, given what former House 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.


BERMAN: Now, there had been talk that the Democrats would simply boycott this select committee.

Now, however, several prominent Democrats are saying they think they should be included, they should put some people on this committee, just, if nothing else, to get on the record with their opposition to what's happening there. House Speaker John Boehner expected to name his choices for the committee today. And again, Democrats make the decision about whether to join at all today.

ROMANS: And now to the new developments 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 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, months without seeing doctors.

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.


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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: A House panel has now subpoenaed the V.A. secretary to see his e-mails and what he knew about these alleged scheduling delays. Eric Shinseki insists he will not resign and the White House says the president has complete confidence in him.

BERMAN: The other major story we're following this morning in 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 that 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 is live in Abuja with the very latest.

And, Vlad, if they have been split up, if they have been moved, it will make them much, much harder to find.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. For the parents in Chibok, this is their worst nightmare. In fact, they have said all along that they believe that this was going to happen. They believe that their children, their girls would be taken out of Nigeria into neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger, very porous border between those countries, very little security.

Boko Haram operates freely along that border. In fact, the Sambisa Forest, where it is believed they initially took the girls, is a Boko Haram stronghold.

So, real fear for the parents that they may never see these children again as they've been split up across three different countries, John.

BERMAN: Nevertheless, give me a sense of the current U.S. involvement in this effort, Vlad.

DUTHIERS: What we know, John, is that another seven U.S. military personnel are set to arrive either today or in the next couple days, joining a team of 11 that's already on the ground. Eventually, with the experts, advisers that will be coming in, we're looking at a team of about 50 or 60. We're not talking combat troops, just in an advisory role to provide logistical support, intelligence, mapping technologies.

And they're going to need it because this is an area where the Nigerian military has not been very active. As I said, this is a Boko Haram stronghold. And every time they try to approach that forest, we're told that they get pushed back, because you're talking about trying to mount an offensive operation, search-and-rescue operation, on a heavily fortified defensive position. It's known that Boko Haram uses rocket-propelled grenade launchers, armored personnel carriers, so it's going to be very difficult.

But the U.S. is there to provide that help and hopefully, it will lead to some kind of positive resolution there, John.

BERMAN: Vlad, we're finally now hearing a lot about this story in the United States and around the world. There's a lot of focus on #bringourgirlsback.

Give me a sense of how dominant the story is inside Nigeria right now.

DUTHIERS: Well, it's become the dominant story, and I think that is a credit to the people on social media who got this #bringbackourgirls going.

And I think what's really interesting, John, here on the ground, is that for the very first time, although the press has been very present reporting the long line of atrocities committed by Boko Haram since 2009, this is the first time that the international community has said, hey, wait a second, what is going on in Nigeria? Fifteen hundred people killed in the first three months of the year, girls that have been abducted before this particular incident, and we're just learning about this now? That's primarily because the Nigerian government tends to keep a tight lid as to what exactly is happening in northeastern Nigeria and what they're doing.

So, now I think you're going to start seeing the fact that they're admitting that they need help and that they don't know where these girls are is a very positive sign and a credit to the social media campaign.

BERMAN: It's also credit to work like yours, reporting on this tragedy inside Nigeria, and we do appreciate you being there, Vlad.

ROMANS: All right, today much of Ukraine is on edge as it pauses to mark a major holiday. Victory Day celebrates the soviet union's defeat of Nazi Germany. In Odessa, Kharkiv and Kiev, stores are closed, public events canceled amid worries of potential violence as separatists move ahead with a planned independence vote this weekend -- that as Moscow celebrates with a huge parade, possibly a victory lap for Vladimir Putin.

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

Matthew, what's the latest there?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're just outside red square, Christine. You can see there's still a few die-hard stragglers of this Victory Day parade that are staying around, but for the most part, it's dispersed.

The parade is over. It was a dramatic display, as always, as it is every year, of Russian military might. We saw battle tanks parading through red square, troops, missile launchers, even intercontinental ballistic missiles to great applause and great cheers, as people celebrate and commemorate that victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany 69 years ago. It's become something else as well, though, this year. There is a rise in not just national pride but national position in Russia over the course of the last 12 months or so, particularly since the events in Ukraine and when Russia in March annexed Crimea, making it part of the Russian federation. That's something that's broadly supported here.

There was even some support in the crowd in those moments of emotion for Russia going across the border into eastern Ukraine. Some of the crowd was shouting "Let's go to Luhansk," that town, that city in eastern Ukraine that is part of that country across the border from Russia. So, you know, a lot of nationalism, a lot of national pride being displayed here on the streets of Moscow, the Russian capital, elsewhere as well. Other countries when they're looking at this, particularly former soviet countries, do so with a great deal of concern that Russia is once again on the rise, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. A resurgent Russia and a very popular Vladimir Putin.

Thank you so much, Matthew Chance.

BERMAN: And a big question this morning whether Vladimir Putin is on his way to Crimea to celebrate this holiday.

ROMANS: I know. That would really be a poke in the eye, wouldn't it, the international community?

BERMAN: A lot of rumors on that and we'll tell you if and when it happens.

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

ROMANS: New details this morning of Timothy Geithner's time as treasury secretary, revealed in his new memoir. "Associated Press" and "The New York Times" say Geithner thought about stepping down in 2010 and wanted the president to name Hillary Clinton as his successor. In that memoir due out next week, Geithner details the darkest days of the recession, pushing back against critics who say 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: A bill to end the NSA's bulk collection of phone data is headed to the 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, financial, health and other personal collection and require the ns took seek a judge's permission to access the phone data of a suspected terrorist.

European stocks trading lower right now. Futures in the U.S. pointing to a lower open as well. The Dow's up slightly for the week, as the index hovers right around that record. That record we're watching, 16,580.

Two big deal stories to tell you about this morning. A $35 million merger between advertising giants is off, Omnicom/Publicis. The two companies saying they can't see completing the deal any time soon.

BERMAN: That's a visual representation of a deal not happening right there.

ROMANS: That's what it looks like when there's a merger breakup.

On the other hand, Apple is reportedly looking to buy Beats by Dre. The "Financial Times" says they may pay $3.5 billion for the headphone and speaker company, a high price tag for cool. As of late last year, Beats is valued at about a billion bucks.

BERMAN: We should have a graphic of a little heart between them to keep consistent.

ROMANS: Cupid arrows or breakups.

BERMAN: All right. This morning, we're hearing what could be Donald Sterling defending himself against charges of racism, this in a new audio recording released by "Radar Online". Now, CNN cannot confirm the voice on the tape is definitely Sterling, but if it is, it's the first we're hearing from him since he was banned for life by the NBA.

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


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.


BERMAN: So, the NBA commissioner is pushing the owners to force Donald Sterling to sell the clippers, but an attorney now for sterling's wife, Shelly, tells CNN that she is 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 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.


BERMAN: This is going to get very, very interesting. As for the Clippers themselves, you know, the basketball team that plays basketball in the playoffs? Game three of their playoff series with the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight in Los Angeles. The series now tied at a game apiece.

ROMANS: All right, big news overnight from the NFL draft. And if you're a browns fan, you're probably still celebrating this morning. Johnny Football coming to Cleveland. The Browns grabbed quarterback Johnny Manziel with the 22nd pick, John, in the draft? That's far below the spot most of them thought the former Heisman Trophy winner would go.

And the Browns are not the team most thought would take him. Houston with its first pick chose defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

BERMAN: Now, I stayed up through eight picks, because I wanted to see where he would go and I lasted through eight. Once he didn't go there, I was like, oh, boy, I can't stay awake because this will go on a long time. Glad I didn't -- 22nd, a lot lower than people thought.

All right. Happening right now: severe storms terrorizing millions across the country. Danger in the forecast from the South all the way to the Northeast. It could be a dangerous, dangerous weekend.

Indra Petersons tracking what's happening right now and what's headed your way, right after the break.


BERMAN: All right. Important weather news to tell you about this Friday.

This morning, millions of people in the path of what could be some serious and very dangerous storms. Look at this map here, the areas in red. A severe weather threat aimed squarely at the middle part of the country, from Texas all the way to Indiana.

ROMANS: It's going to be a dangerous day. These storms already putting tornadoes on the ground in the Midwest. Take a look at this incredible video from St. James, Minnesota. About 120 miles southwest of Minneapolis. Just one of many twisters reported throughout the day on Thursday. Luckily, no injuries have been rep reported.

BERMAN: The Dallas area hoping to dry out today after being drenched with more than 5 inches of rain and intense winds. Officials say these winds were responsible for destroying this mobile home about 50 miles from Ft. Worth. Windows shattered throughout the region and residents really just terrified 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, just shaking! >


ROMANS: Wow, take a look at these pictures from Oklahoma City, the rain pretty deep. Lakes on the roads! Thousands lost power at the height of the storm. I just can't believe how many people drive through that water.

BERMAN: I know. It's a very bad idea.

So, what's next? What's coming your way? This weekend, of course, Mother's Day heading this way, too.

Indra Petersons, give us a sense what we're looking at.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: The number today, 27 -- 27 million people have the threat for severe weather today. It's shifted a little bit farther to the East as we're following that cold front progressing to the East. So, today, if you're from Indianapolis stretching all the way back down through San Antonio, we're still looking at the threat for really strong thunderstorms.

Threat for isolated tornadoes will be out there, not as strong as we saw yesterday. Nonetheless, still very large hail and even damaging wind will be in the forecast, especially as you go into the afternoon.

Now, yes, it's Mother's Day weekend. Everyone wants to know, is it going to be nice this weekend?

Kind of a mixed bag. It depends. Take a look at your city. If you're on the East Coast, what are we looking at?

Today, warm front, rain, not as strong. Saturday, the cold front moves in, a little bit stronger rain. Sunday, Mother's Day, actually getting a little bit of a break.

Midwest, it's kind of the other way around. You have a cold front today, then a break on Saturday and the severe weather threat on Sunday.

Why? There are two systems out there. So day by day, here's Friday, everyone seeing some showers of some kind for the most part, Midwest all the way into the East Coast. Temperatures a mixed bag.

By Saturday, it's following that cold front. Look at the temperatures. Look how warm you are, 80 degrees expected out towards New York City, even Atlanta and even New Orleans, so that looks good. Then by Sunday, although you had a break in the Midwest, here come the showers and the threat for severe weather also out towards the Midwest by Sunday, so that's the concern.

Rain not too heavy, but under a thunderstorm, you get the heavier rain as well. Watch for that.

ROMANS: All right. Indra Petersons -- thanks, Indra.

New developments following that botched lethal injection in Oklahoma. The state has agreed to a 180-day stay of execution for another inmate. He was scheduled to die on the same day last week.

Right now, investigators are still looking into the April 29th execution of this man, Clayton Lockett. He died 43 minutes after his execution began.

Prosecutors say Charles Warner, convicted of raping and killing an 11- month-old baby girl, he should die in November.

BERMAN: Florida police now say four people found dead in a burned-out mansion owned by former tennis star James Blake, they say they had been shot. Blake rented the Tampa area home to a family of four. Police described the victims as two adults and two teens.

There is new surveillance video of a man believed to be the father buying a large amount of fireworks. Police say he also bought several gas cans. The fire is believed to have been set on purpose.

ROMANS: Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey circus getting back in the act last night in Connecticut. The circus staging its first show since nine performers were injured in a terrifying accident last week in Rhode Island, but not on display last night was the hair hang act. That was the act that sent the acrobats plunging some 30 feet to the ground when a single, 5-inch clamp snapped. Seven performers remain in the hospital, two in serious condition.

BERMAN: All right. Big sports news. Johnny Football in a free fall as team after team after team times 22 --


BERMAN: -- passes over him in the NFL draft. So, why not take the former Heisman Trophy winner? What's going on here? We will have the explanation for you coming up in the "Bleacher Report," next.


BERMAN: All right, after months and months and months of build-up, the NFL draft finally under way. And I've got to tell you, there were a lot of surprises, and no doubt, the biggest surprise is just how far Johnny Manziel dropped in this draft.

ROMANS: Yes, he will be a Cleveland Brown.

Brian McFayden is here to tell us all the draft day drama. Say that five times fast on a Friday, in this morning's "Bleacher Report."

Good morning.

BRIAN MCFAYDEN, BLEACHER REPORT: Hey, good morning to you guys. Thirty-two picks down, 224 to go. Let's start at the top of the list with the first pick. The Houston Texans took South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Scouts say he's a once in a generation player, but there was some criticism of Clowney's work ethic last season and questions whether the Texans would trade the number one slot.

Meantime, Texas A&M quarterback and 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel had to wait longer than expected but eventually was drafted 22nd by the Cleveland Browns. Rounds two and three are coming up later tonight. The fourth through seventh rounds take place tomorrow afternoon.

The Miami Heat continue their perfect run through the NBA playoffs. They beat the Brooklyn Nets 94-82 last night. LeBron James led the way for the home team with 22 points. The Heat lead the series two games to none. Game three is tomorrow night in Brooklyn.

And San Antonio looks like a team on a mission. Seven spurs players scored in double digits to blow out the Trailblazers 114-97. Portland will try to dig themselves out of a two-game hole at home tomorrow night.

Back to you guys.

ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much for that. What a long night.

BERMAN: Very, very long night.

But you know where Tom Brady went in the draft, by the way?

ROMANS: Where?

BERMAN: He was the 199th player selected in the NFL draft.

ROMANS: Really?

BERMAN: He went in the sixth round. So, all you people all worked up about this, the very best player in the history of ever went in the sixth round at 199.

ROMANS: And you know so much useless information about the Patriots, it's ridiculous.

BERMAN: Very, very useful to me.

ROMANS: All right, the White House accused in a terror attack cover- up. Now, GOP leaders in Congress say they're finally going to get to the bottom of it. That's next.