Return to Transcripts main page


California on Fire; Deadly Mining Disaster in Turkey; The Donald Sterling Interview

Aired May 15, 2014 - 04:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning: California on fire. Thousands of people evacuated, dozens of homes destroyed as flames burned through San Diego County. Right now, a state of emergency declared as firefighters struggle to get the flames under control. We'll have the very latest, just ahead.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: a devastating mining disaster. Hundreds of people killed, hundreds more missing. This morning, a frantic rescue effort to save any possible survivors. We are live on the scene in Turkey with the latest.

BERMAN: And still more revelations from Donald Sterling, on the record in a CNN exclusive. The L.A. Clippers owner opening up about his marriage, his affairs and why he believes he may not be forced to sell his team. Good luck with that, Donald Sterling.

Good morning, everyone! Welcome to EARLY START. Great to be back. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: Nice to have you back.

I'm Christine Romans. It's Thursday, May 15th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Let's begin with breaking news. Northern San Diego County on fire. Look at these pictures. No relief in sight. Nine separate wildfires torching 9,000 acres so far. Schools and businesses evacuated, homes torched. One firefighter said it's like a scene from Armageddon.

We're going to get the latest from Paul Vercammen this morning.


PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, Christine, call it the devil's pitch fork, because we had humidity less than 10 percent, you had winds and you had hot temperatures. The evacuations included Legoland, a nuclear power plant, parts of a military base and untold residences. And behind me, the fire burning right above Cal State University-San Marcos. Not only have they canceled the rest of the week here, they had to postpone the graduation ceremonies.

And we've watched the firefighters doing the very best they could to stay in front of these flames. At one point, there was an inmate crew that was digging line, and it came so close to us that I had to race out during a live shot and grab my cameraman's battery bag and get it out of there.

It was surprising to me just how quickly it shifted. And, of course, multiple parts of San Diego County burning. And the overarching theme, as I talked to a federal fire official, he says they are most concerned right now about almost all of California, almost all of Oregon and parts of Nevada. The drought, of course, is playing a big role in these multiple fires.

Back to you now, John and Christine.


BERMAN: Our thanks to Paul Vercammen on that. We will stay on that all morning as developments coming in.

Now, more of CNN's exclusive interview with Donald Sterling, including parts of his conversation with Anderson Cooper you have not heard before. Sterling insisting he's a giver, not a hater, showing remorse, a lot of remorse for what he's done to his estranged wife, Shelly, and seemingly in complete denial about his chances of keeping the Los Angeles Clippers.



ANDERSON COOPER, "AC360" HOST: You believe you will be able to keep the team, then?


COOPER: Because the advertisers certainly, you know --

STERLING: The advertisers are all coming back. Let's not be crazy.

The fans will all come if you have a good team. If you don't have a good team, the fans won't come.

COOPER: Even if you're owner?

STERLING: What am I, a Frankenstein? What am I, some kind of an ogre? I'm a good person. I'm a warm person. I say hello to everybody who comes to the team.

COOPER: There's some players, though, who have talked about a boycott of the season.

STERLING: Well, that's talk. The media pushes that. Why would they do that if they get their salaries, they're going to play.

COOPER: Do you think your wife, Shelly, should also be removed as an owner?

STERLING: If for some reason I can't have the team, I think that she should have her interest. I mean, she didn't do anything. I brought all this on her, the poor girl. I don't know how she can live, deal with this.

I guess I was bad committing all those terrible -- I don't even want to say it. But you know, people say, how do you commit adultery? You justify things. You say, well, every man in Paris or France has a mistress.

I mean, it may make you smile, but when you're so old, you don't think it's wrong anymore if you have a little bit of fun. You don't have much time, if you have a little bit of fun. You can't do what you did before and nobody expects -- but you want to be cared for. Everybody wants to be cared for. I made such a mistake.


BERMAN: I mean, it's sad any time you see an old man crying like that, but his justification for adultery is so interesting, given what he was saying about Magic Johnson --

ROMANS: He accused Magic Johnson of promiscuity and is explaining rationalizing his own affairs and adultery.

BERMAN: I mean, he can do whatever he wants to do, but it's just an interesting --

ROMANS: And why bring the French into it?

BERMAN: Exactly, why. He's already brought Magic Johnson, now the French. Where will it stop?

All right. Well, there have been other leaked phone conversations involving Donald Sterling. Now the man who says he is behind the leaked conversations is speaking out to CNN. We're going to hear from him in just 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, Nigeria's president declaring there will be no exchange of Boko Haram prisoners for hundreds of kidnapped schoolgirls. Meanwhile, violence erupting in northern Nigeria, where the terror organization operates. Villagers reportedly ambushing members of Boko Haram, killing and detaining dozens of them.

Let's get the latest from Vladimir Duthiers. He's live from Abuja in Nigeria.

Vlad, what can you tell us about this, this revenge, this fighting back amongst the villagers?


Well, we know that the Nigerian military has, in fact, empowered many vigilante groups in northeastern Nigeria. They're called the Vigilante Joint Task Force, after the Joint Task Force, which is the military unit that is tasked with rooting out Boko Haram across the northeastern part of the country. Now, these vigilante groups, they feel that they sometimes are the only line of defense to protect themselves and their people against Boko Haram, because the military can't, obviously, be everywhere at once. In this particular case, we understand that there may have been an attack on some special Boko Haram militants.

But the problem, John, is there have been allegations that the Nigerian military themselves have been involved in human rights abuses when it comes to dealing with terrorists, killings, illegal detentions, and it only gets worse when you involve civilians who may not necessarily operate by the letter of the law, John.

One other update we have. There were two bombings the day these girls were taken, April 14. There were two bombings. There was one bombing in Abuja, followed by another one ten days later.

Yesterday, the Nigeria military saying this man, one of the masterminds of that bombing, has been arrested in Sudan. This is one of the suspected bombers, Boko Haram suspect. And this guy here, Rupal Abubakar (ph), is still at large.

So, some advancement in the rooting out of Boko Haram, John.

BERMAN: All right. Investigation under way, leads in the hands of Vladimir Duthiers.

Our thanks to you for that report.

ROMANS: All right. Hope is fading that any more survivors will be found in the aftermath of that deadly mine explosion in Turkey. It's a grim, grim scene in the city of Soma. Smoke and fumes still rising from this collapsed mine, and that's hampering the rescue.

There are 274 known dead, 120 others still trapped under ground, likely gone.

Let's bring in Diana Magnay live from Soma, turkey, this morning.

This is an epic disaster, for mining, for Turkey. What is the status of the rescue right now?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Christine, and the death toll actually has risen to 282. It makes it Turkey's worst ever industrial disaster, the greatest loss of life in a mining accident or any kind of workers loss of life in this country. This country now in three days of national mourning and a very deep feeling of anguish and despair here amongst the families.

When I drove into town yesterday, I passed one of the hospitals where you saw the bereaved and families praying, praying in the gesture outside of the hospital that you use in this part of the world when praying for the dead -- terrible sights of mourning.

And here, the activity still goes on, the rescue efforts still go on but it seems very unlikely that they'll be able to find anybody. I spoke to a volunteer miner who had come from a neighboring mine to help. He spent much of the day yesterday going to those few areas within the mine that are safe, but he said it was simply a question now of recovering the bodies, most of them dead as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning.

We don't know if this fire that's been burning in the deep, deep underground in that mine is out, but many angry accusations, both at the company behind this -- the mine was recently privatized -- and at the government, who critics, trade unions say, you know, shied away from rigorous enough safety inspections. So, even though the prime minister says he does not want to see this used as a political platform, it's hard to see how an accident on this scale will not be -- Christine.

ROMANS: Oh, and it's hard to see how an accident on this scale, they won't investigate every single angle of safety and profits in that mine.

All right. Diana Magnay for us in Turkey this morning.

But indeed, questions just beginning, even as they are still, still trying to cope with the scope of that disaster there in Soma, Turkey.

Murder charges have now been filed against the captain and three officers on the South Korean ferry that capsized and sank last month, killing more than 280 people. The other 11 surviving crew members have been indicted on negligence charges. Prosecutors say many members of the crew scrambled to escape the sinking ship. They scrambled to escape before the passengers, 23 of those passengers are still listed as missing.

BERMAN: Embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki is set to testify before a Senate committee this morning. He, of course, under fire following a CNN report revealing dozens of patients died while waiting to be treated at a V.A. hospital in phoenix. At least a half dozen V.A. hospitals now being investigated for allegedly cooking the books to cover up similar potentially deadly treatment delays, including one -- excuse me, I'm going to sneeze -- one in Austin, Texas, where staffers acknowledged they're overwhelmed.


JACKIE SWOPE, VETERAN: Because of the, frankly, the overloading of the medical services and the other services that they can provide, they're not able to see them, I want to say in a timely manner. Symptoms could worsen. They could result to self-medication.

DAVID BONSALL, MARINE CORPS VETERAN: They've always come through with at least within 30 days of, you know, of receiving that notice.

REPORTER: And you're good with that 30 days?

BONSALL: Yes, I'm fine with it.


BERMAN: CNN has obtained a copy of the statement Secretary Shinseki has prepared for today's hearing. He will tell senators he is angered and saddened but won't say what his department is doing to fix the problems and apparently doesn't even acknowledge there is a problem.

ROMANS: Federal health officials have posted warnings at nearly two dozen U.S. airports after a second confirmed case of Middle East Respiratory Symptom or MERS. One is in Indiana. The other case is in Florida. Both patients are health care providers who were working in Saudi Arabia.

Now, the potentially fatal virus has now been reported in 18 countries. The World Health Organization says the spread of MERS is serious and urgent. It has not yet risen to a global health emergency.

BERMAN: With New York's aging Tappan Zee Bridge as a backdrop, President Obama blasting Congress for failing to approve critically needed transportation legislation. He says partisan Washington gridlock threatens road, bridge and other infrastructure projects. The president announcing he's using executive authority to fast track the new Tappan Zee Bridge and dozens of other highway projects nationwide.

ROMANS: When you see other countries building out their infrastructure, it's kind of amazing the difference between the speed of which the U.S. does this and the rest of the world.

BERMAN: Or lack of speed.

ROMANS: Lack of speed, you're right.

President Obama will be on hand later this morning for the official dedication of the 9/11 memorial museum at ground zero. This museum is filled with remnants of the World Trade Center and objects from some of the nearly 3,000 people who died in the terror attack. The museum will be open 24/7 for the next week so families of 9/11 victims can visit at any time. It officially opens to the public next Wednesday.

BERMAN: It's said to be amazing, emotional, though.

ROMANS: I'm not sure I'm ready.

BERMAN: I'm not sure I'm ready, either, to be honest.

ROMANS: All right, happening today, Hillary Clinton officially on the campaign trail as her husband fights back against accusations former secretary of state could have brain damage. What Bill Clinton had to say about it, ahead.


BERMAN: Sixteen minutes past the hour. Welcome back.

Hillary Clinton hits the campaign trail today, headlining a fund- raiser for an old friend and new family member. Marjorie Margolies is Chelsea Clinton's mother-in-law. She's fighting to win back the Pennsylvania House seat she lost in 1994, mostly due to her support for Bill Clinton's budget.

And the former president made some news of his own Wednesday. He was firing back at Republican strategist Karl Rove, who suggested Hillary Clinton might be suffering from a brain injury after a 2012 incident.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: First, they said she faked her concussion, and now they say she's auditioning for a part on "The Walking Dead." Now, they say she's really got brain damage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You think they're just trying to --

CLINTON: If she does, then I must be in really tough shape because she's still quicker than I am.


ROMANS: That response has many speculating the Clinton machine is now in full swing, gearing up for 2006.

BERMAN: You know, Karl Rove has done two things successfully here. He's, one, injected the issue of age and health into this. I mean, people are talking about it.

But two, he's made it sound ridiculous. So, he may have brought it up as an issue but blunted it as an issue at the same time. It's fascinating to see.

All right. A new report says more than 36,000 convicted criminals were released by immigration officials last year. The news is being used by critics of the White House, which is conducting a review of deportation practices, with the goal of making them more humane. The report was conducted by a group that advocates for tougher immigration enforcement. Officials say many of those released were monitored using GPS and in-person checks.

ROMANS: In Arkansas, same-sex couples are in limbo this morning. Wednesday the state Supreme Court upheld a ruling that overturned a voter-approved ban on gay marriage, but a separate law that bars county clerks from issuing their licenses, that is in place, and the justices offered little guidance on what happens next. The licenses have been halted, but officials say the 450 couples who have already have one of these licenses, they can get married.

BERMAN: Deliberations are expected to start today in the terror trial of Abu Hamza al-Masri. In closing arguments, prosecutors told the Manhattan jury not to be fooled by the radical Muslim cleric who took the stand this week, saying he knows how to work a crowd. Al-Masri is accused of inspiring terrorists, including 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta, helping kidnap tourists in Yemen and trying to found a terror training camp in Oregon. He's pleaded not guilty.

ROMANS: All right, Joran van der Sloot is a new man. That's according to a woman who is five months pregnant with his child and planning to marry the convicted killer. Van der Sloot is serving 28 years in a Peruvian prison for the 2010 murder of a local college student. After that, he faces extradition to the U.S. in connection with a different case, the 2005 disappearance of American Natalee Holloway in Aruba. Van der Sloot is set to marry the Peruvian citizen next week.

BERMAN: I know what you're thinking. I read it. In Peru, they have different visitation rules inside prison.

ROMANS: Apparently, they do.


Back in court today, two alleged friends of Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev -- they are accused of tampering with evidence during the massive manhunt for the suspects. At a pretrial hearing, federal investigators said the men willingly shared information, but defense attorneys said FBI agents intimidated them, obtaining confessions without lawyers present. One of the men is expected to take the stand today. A third friend has been charged with lying to investigators. These trials will take place later this year. All three of these young men have pleaded not guilty.

ROMANS: All right. Two young boys remain in the hospital this morning after falling from an inflatable bounce house that was lifted some 20 feet in the air by gusty winds Monday. The boys, ages 5 and 6, they are in stable condition. One is in a medically induced coma after suffering a serious head trauma.

Police in New York say the bounce house was properly staked to the ground. No charges have been filed. The investigation is ongoing.

As a parent, that story is so terrifying. And that's not the first time we've reported on those stories.

BERMAN: No. Even when bouncy houses work the way they're supposed to, it ends up being --

ROMANS: Right, when the two kids jump into each other --

BERMAN: Exactly, it's a cage match.

All right. New revelations in the Donald Sterling saga, recently recorded television conversations of the L.A. Clippers owner leaked to the media. Now the man who says he recorded those conversations, a longtime friend of Sterling's, is speaking. New twist in all of this drama, next.


ROMANS: Welcome back.

It seems a lot of people have their finger on the record button when Donald Sterling is on the other end of the phone. A man who claims to be Sterling's friend and former escort provider says he's the one who taped some of the explosive phone conversations with the Los Angeles Clippers owner, those conversations that we heard last week. Here's part of one of them.


STERLING: You think I'm a racist? You think I have anything in the world but love for everybody? You don't think that. You know I'm not a racist!


ROMANS: Self-proclaimed rapper Maseratimet says he was on the other end of the phone call with sterling. He tells CNN he once ran an escort service in Vegas and Sterling was his client.

Here's why he says he felt compelled to record their conversations.


MASERATIMET, RAPPER: I'm hearing this tape with him and her on the phone, I'm like, that threw me off. And it's like, you know, I'm just -- well, that threw me off, so I had to call him. It's like, you know, you've always dated -- I've known him to always want a woman of color, and then to say what he said just, it just threw me off big time.

When I first called him, it wasn't recorded. And then he just -- when he started dwelling, just drilling me, I hit the record button. I don't know, I hit the record button, and I didn't care at the time.

I mean, this guy, he said some stuff that I got offended to, and then he's talking about Magic Johnson. I mean, I look up to Magic Johnson, so you know, clearly, you know, it just really ticked me off, so that's what made me hit the record button.


ROMANS: Maseratimet says he wasn't paid for releasing the tape, says he no longer considers Sterling a friend.

BERMAN: Let's just let that one marinate for a little bit.

ROMANS: All of this has been marinating for --

BERMAN: A long time.

Breaking news this morning, California is on fire, burning overnight. Thousands forced to leave their homes as flames move in. We'll have the very latest right after the break.