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Don Sterling: CNN Exclusive; Escape from Terror; Ukraine Crisis: Rebels Claim Victory

Aired May 12, 2014 - 04:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Donald Sterling on the record, out loud, for the first time saying, "I'm sorry." It is a CNN exclusive with Sterling apologizing for the racist remarks that got him banned from the NBA. The L.A. Clippers owner opening up about what he'll do if he is forced to sell the team and talking about the woman he says has been secretly recording him for years.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Escape from terror. In another CNN exclusive, a young Nigerian girl kidnapped from school by armed militants explains how she managed to break free and make it back home. We are live in Nigeria with her harrowing tale.

BERMAN: And breaking news this morning -- Ukraine in crisis. Pro- Russian rebels claiming victory after eastern provinces vote on whether to secede from the nation. So, will that country now be split into pieces? What is the situation on the ground? We're live with the very latest.

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

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. May 12th. It's 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Let's begin with a CNN exclusive this morning, Donald Sterling on the record for the first time about the racist comments he made and the NBA's push to force him out as owner of the L.A. Clippers. Sterling sat down with Anderson Cooper, insisting he was baited by the woman named V. Stiviano, baited into saying she shouldn't be seen with black people. He called her a friend he thought liked him and he thought cared for him. And he apologized, calling what happened a mistake.

His wife, Shelly, is also speaking out, telling ABC News she thinks Donald Sterling is suffering from early-stage dementia and she plans to get a divorce, but she says she doesn't want to give up her share of the team.


SHELLY STERLING, WIFE OF DONALD STERLING: I've been with the team for 33 years, through the good times and the bad times, and it's my passion and I love it. I guess, whatever their decision is, we have to live with it.


ROMANS: The NBA says under its rules, if he loses control of the team, she will, too.

As for the Clippers, they mounted an amazing fourth-quarter comeback in their semifinal series against Oklahoma City Thunder, rallying from a double-digit deficit to win 101-99. Their series is now tied two games apiece.

You can see Anderson Cooper's exclusive interview with Donald Sterling coming up on "NEW DAY," 6:00 a.m. Eastern, and this evening on "AC360," 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time right here on CNN.

BERMAN: Now to another CNN exclusive. We're hearing this morning from a young Nigerian girl who escaped after being captured by terrorists when they rounded up more than 270 of her classmates. Those girls are still being held by Boko Haram. That is a terrorist group in Nigeria.

This morning, hundreds of people, including U.S. troops, are out looking for these girls without any success yet.

CNN's Nima Elbagir is live in Abuja, Nigeria, this morning.

And, Nima, you were the first international reporter to reach this town where this all happened. Tell us what you saw there.


Well, I think what really struck all of us on the team was just how much that sense of fear still remained with the people, nearly a month after that attack. This young lady wasn't just incredibly brave for speaking to us, but she was risking not just the broader community's worries about what she might bring down upon them, because Boko Haram are still out there, they are still active in that region.

We're hearing reports about their activities and their attacks all along the road they traveled, but she was also risking retribution from the Nigerian government, who have continuously doubted much of the version of events that the girls' families have been putting out.

Listen to what she had to say to us, John.


ELBAGIR: Describe the men that came and took you. What did they look like? Were they wearing civilian clothing or military uniforms? What were they wearing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know understand (ph).

ELBAGIR: But what was their dress? What were they wearing?


ELBAGIR: Did they look like soldiers? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel afraid.

ELBAGIR: You feel afraid?


ELBAGIR: You don't want to talk about what they look like?


ELBAGIR: It's OK. I understand. I understand. I'm sorry.


ELBAGIR: You can still hear that tremor, that fear in her voice, John, but what she was able to give us is new detail about really how incredibly well-organized this attack really was. She describes a convoy, effectively, of large vehicles and motorcycles and quite a well-equipped force coming on what one villager described as a shopping trip to pick up these girls. This is what she had to say.

Well, she spoke a little bit more -- I'm sorry, I think we'll get to that later -- but she spoke a little bit more about what it felt like in that school and when she and her classmates were in that truck, she said she felt that there really wasn't an option. She couldn't bear the thought of not going home to her parents.

So, imagine being young, alone, herded on to the back of that truck like cattle, effectively, and deciding it was safer out there in the dark, rolling through those dirt roads than being carried off by Boko Haram, John.

BERMAN: Nima, the fear in that girl's voice is simply heartbreaking.

Talk to me about the town. Do they have a sense that the Nigerian government's response to this has been satisfactory? And are they aware of the international outcry really on their behalf?

ELBAGIR: Some of that is trickling down to them. They're aware of the U.S.'s commitment to help, they're aware of the U.K. and France, and actually, that's given them a lot of hope, because to be honest, they weren't getting a lot from their government.

You know, we arrived, and given how far along it's been since the incident, you'd expect to see reinforcements, you'd expect to see a definite presence, but there was nothing. There was very, very little out there.

You know, night that we spent with them, it was the men from the village wandering around on night patrol with machetes and bows and arrows. They were the ones defending their families because they felt that no one else could be trusted to. And it's understandable that they feel that, that you know, if on the day before we came down, that road was still compromised, John. There was a shoot-out between Boko Haram and the Nigerian police on that road in which a police officer was wounded after they had come from an attack on another village. The fact that they are able to still operate with impunity so close to some of their more recent victims, I can't imagine what it must be like for those people, John.

BERMAN: I don't think any of us can imagine.

Nima Elbagir, thank you for going to that town to tell that story and thanks for being with us this morning.

ROMANS: A really harrowing trip for her team. I think it took three or four days for them to get there because all of the obvious struggles and safety concerns.

BERMAN: I can't get over the fear in that girl's voice as she was talking to Nima. You can tell she still doesn't feel safe right now.

We want to take a look at the weather on this Monday because there is a significant threat facing a big part of the country today from Texas to the great lakes. There could be more thunderstorms, more tornadoes.

ROMANS: Right. In Nebraska, significant damage being reported not far from Lincoln. These pictures are amazing. This tornado and others like it roaring across the ground.

Take a look at these clouds in Grafton. No word yet on damage there, but those pictures are unbelievable.

This farm in Sutton, Nebraska, destroyed. That used to be a house and a barn. It's rubble now. The owners, luckily, got away before this happened.

BERMAN: Missouri's still in the crosshairs this morning as many clean up after tornadoes raced through an area near Kansas City. The town of Orrick, there's significant damage, but officials and those who live there are grateful that no one was seriously hurt.


DAWN REZNICEK, ORRICK RESIDENT: My son and I were holding each other and the house was shaking. You can tell that it was, like, the structure was moving because dirt was coming down.

CALEB STEGNER, ORRICK RESIDENT: I was scared. I thought, like, the whole house was going to collapse on us.


ROMANS: These pictures from Colorado, heavy weekend snow near Denver leading to accidents. Some areas could get up to 10 inches of snow by the time this storm system moves out.

BERMAN: Jennifer Gray tracking all of this and the threat this morning at the CNN weather center -- Jennifer.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: John and Christine, severe weather has moved across the country for (AUDIO GAP) and also Saturday. Today looks like we're going to see another round of possible severe weather.

Showers and storms setting up right around the country's heartland. We're going to look at 10:00 on Monday, a little bit later today. Then, as that will progress to the East, we could see showers and storms firing up as we go through the afternoon.

Also, Texas could see quite a bit of rain in the next day or two, so we'll be on the lookout for that as well.

Rainfall totals could be anywhere from four to six inches. Right outside of Dallas, we could see four to six inches on the north side of Chicago, maybe one to three inside the city, and then outside of Memphis could see quite a bit of rain as well.

So, a lot of rain across the country, possible severe weather. You'll be in the severe weather threat if you are in, say Chicago all the way down to portions of Missouri and even southwest Texas in that severe threat for today as well.

Look at these temperatures -- 88 in Memphis, 75 in Kansas City, 38 in Denver. What a contrast! We have that warm air and that cold air colliding. And that's one of the things that's going to spark off a lot of those showers and storms as we get through the afternoon -- John and Christine.

ROMANS: Hello, spring.


ROMANS: Thank you for that, Jennifer Gray.

All right, happening now in Ukraine, we're just getting the first results from a controversial independence vote in two eastern provinces, a vote to pull away from the government in Kiev and declare a closer allegiance to Russia, that amid more deadly violence. Gunmen opening fire on crowds about 30 miles from Donetsk. And it's not clear this morning just who those gunmen were.

Nick Paton Walsh live for us this morning in Slaviansk.

Nick, what's the latest?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as I stand here in Slaviansk, we're about six hours away from where we were awoken by a tank, it seemed, rounds exploding for half an hour on the outskirts of this town.

Now, the results of the referendum here never really in doubt, frankly. A large turnout endorsing the (INAUDIBLE) joining Russia. It's not certain, because Vladimir Putin did suggest this referendum should, in fact, be delayed. They still went ahead, regardless.

Suggestions today about 50 percent, possibly even (INAUDIBLE) that particular vote. We spoke with the self-declared mayor and he said only 40 were in fact (INAUDIBLE) numbers were never really in doubt. It was always about the unrest here with the pro-Russian militants and protesters doing, just purging this area of Kiev's government. Now, the interim presence of Ukraine, the opponents of what's happened said it's a farce, that it propaganda for kidnapping --

ROMANS: Trouble with Nick Paton Walsh's audio, as you can hear. We'll get back to him in the next half hour for the latest on the complicated situation in Ukraine.

I mean, really -- you know, Vladimir Putin said he didn't want that vote to happen. It happened anyway. Unclear what happens next.

And in fact, who's firing into these crowds? No one knows. It's an interesting chess board there.

BERMAN: No, and we keep saying we're waiting for the results of the election. Well, the results aren't in question.

ROMANS: Right.

BERMAN: Everyone knows what this vote is going to say.

ROMANS: Right.

BERMAN: What we do not know is what the reaction on the ground will be, and that's why it crucial people watch this the next couple days.

Twelve minutes after the hour.

New this morning, the man in charge of the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 speaking to CNN after months of coming up empty. He explains what comes next in this search. We're live in Australia with the new plan, next.


BERMAN: All right. New this morning, we're hearing from the man responsible for finding Flight 370 months after the jet disappeared with hundreds of people on board.

Angus Houston sat down with our own Anna Coren to talk about the status of this search, what's happening right now, what's next, do they believe they will ever really find this plane?

Anna is live in Canberra, Australia.

Anna, what did Houston have to say?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, as chief martial Angus Houston says that he is confident they are looking in the right place, MH370 is somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Now, the Bluefin-21 submersible will be at that search area within the next 24 hours and will be scouring the ocean floor on what will be its 19th dive.

They're going to exhaust this lead. You know, that, of course, are those four pings they detected, believed to be pings from -- beacons, if you like -- from the black boxes on board MH370. Once that's exhausted, they will then move on to the next phase, which will take in some 20,000 square kilometers, and that could take eight to 12 months to complete.

But Mr. Houston said, you know, this search of the bluefin over the next month could find the debris. He certainly did not rule that out. He says that he is committed to the search, to finding the wreckage of MH370 for the families of the victims of the 239 people on board, as well as for the general flying public. But he does say, he emphasizes that the way that planes are tracked currently needs to be changed.

Let's take a listen.


ANGUS HOUSTON, HEAD, JOINT AGENCY COORDINATION CENTER: We need to have jetliners that are equipped with some sort of tracking device that can't be turned off, that can be tracked all of the time. And with satellite technology available, I think that can be done, you know, in the near future.


COREN: Now, just to give you some background on the man who is really the face of the search of MH370. He is the former chief of the Australian defense force. He's had an illustrious career of some 40 years. He was brought out of retirement to lead this search.

He's been praised with bringing credibility to the search, restoring the credibility. He's been seen and described as a steady pair of hands, and he asks the people, the families involved, he asks them to trust him and his team, because he is confident, John, that they will find MH370.

BERMAN: He's confident. Any sense that he's discouraged that it has taken as long as it has with as many twists and turns as we've seen over the last several weeks?

COREN: Yes, look, he said that he has been disappointed, because obviously, very early in the search, there were those initial signs that they had, in fact, detected the locations of those black boxes, but he says that this is a search that he's never going to say with 100 percent certainty that they are going to find something, but he is confident. He stresses that he is confident and that he is going to see this all the way to the end, John.

BERMAN: All right. Anna Coren for us in Canberra, with a behind-the- scenes look at the status of the search with the man in charge -- thanks so much.

ROMANS: Happening today, defense secretary Chuck Hagel begins a four- day, three-nation tour of the Middle East, his third trip to the region in just over a year. First up, Hagel goes to Saudi Arabia for a meeting on regional security, then to Jordan and finally, Israel. Hagel making news in this country as well, saying the military should continually review its prohibition on transgender people serving openly. That's raising hopes the ban could eventually be lifted.

BERMAN: The U.S. embassy in Yemen will remain closed to the public at least through Thursday. This morning, we're learning new details of just why. Yemeni officials tell CNN al Qaeda gunmen attempted to kidnap two embassy employees last month, but the two gunmen were shot and killed instead.

Officials believe this may have been part of a wider plot. There was more bloodshed Sunday outside the capital. Two separate attacks left at least 13 Yemeni soldiers and three suspected militants dead.

ROMANS: Tough questions this morning for former Secret Service director Mark Sullivan. "The Washington Post" says top agents guarding the White House were pulled twice a day for about two months in 2011 to monitor the home of Sullivan's then assistant. Sullivan says he did not personally issue the order and that threats against the employee justified their response. Agency spokesman says the operation lasted only two days and the inspector general has been looking into it.

BERMAN: New warning about the danger of oil and gas wells. A congressional report obtained by "The Associated Press" says federal inspectors have failed to look at thousands of wells that could potentially contaminate the water supply. The report alleges the Bureau of Land Management is working from outdated policies based on incomplete data. The Interior Department is calling for updated regulations and closer coordination for state officials.

ROMANS: All right. Breaking news this morning, wildfires tearing through Texas. Dozens of homes destroyed. We've got that story for you, next.


ROMANS: Breaking overnight: a huge fire forcing hundreds of evacuations in the Texas panhandle north of Amarillo. Officials say more than 100 homes were lost in the flames, some 1,500 acres burned. The fire is now 75 percent contained. No injuries reported, but fire officials caution they haven't yet searched all of the burned-out homes yet.

BERMAN: This morning, investigators are trying to figure out what led to a deadly hot air balloon crash during a festival in Virginia. The balloon struck a power line and burst into flames, killing all three people on board. The University of Richmond says two officials from its women's basketball team were on board. Associate head coach Ginny Doyle and director of operations Natalie Lewis.

Search crews have now found the body of the pilot, 65-year-old Army veteran Daniel Kirk. He is being remembered as an avid balloonist with over 30 years of experience.


DONALD KIRK, FATHER OF DECEASED BALLOON PILOT: Feeling I have is that he was doing what he loved. We could go out here tomorrow and be in an automobile accident, but he was actually doing what he loved.


BERMAN: Police say Kirk began safety maneuvers before the basket and balloon somehow became separated. What caused it to drift into power lines is now under investigation.

ROMANS: Now suspended Miami Dolphins safety Don Jones for what he tweeted about Michael Sam, the openly gay football player drafted by the St. Louis Rams. When his selection was announced, Sam, who was shown live on ESPN kissing his boyfriend -- well, Jones tweeted "OMG" and then "horrible." The team has suspended Jones, fined him, ordered the safety to undergo some training, saying the comments were unacceptable. Jones issued an apology, saying he regrets that what he tweeted took away from Michael Sam's moment.

BERMAN: And I think the dolphins are particularly sensitive to anything like this, given what happened on that team last year with Jonathan Martin --

ROMANS: Yes, I'd say.

All right, a dangerous escape. A young girl kidnapped from her school in Nigeria, she manages to get away. How did she do it? We are live with an incredible CNN exclusive, next.