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Wildfire Raging Through California; Turkey Deadly Mining Disaster; The Donald Sterling Interview; Nigeria: "No Prisoner Swap"

Aired May 15, 2014 - 04:30   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning: wildfire raging through California. Thousands of acres torched this hour, tens of thousands told to get out, to leave their homes behind. Right now, firefighters are battling these flames. They're trying to keep them from spreading. The very latest, ahead.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a desperate search for survivors after a deadly mine collapse in Turkey. Hundreds of people killed, hundreds more are still missing this morning. We're live with the very latest on what's happening right now.

ROMANS: And new revelations from Donald Sterling this morning. The L.A. Clippers owner in an exclusive CNN interview on the record about possibly being forced to sell his team and what his affairs have now done to his marriage.

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

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Thirty minutes past the hour right now.

And we do have news from California. It is like a scene from Armageddon. The words of a firefighter battling one of nine, nine separate wildfires that have already scorched more than 9,000 acres of northern San Diego. Schools, businesses forced to evacuate, homes left in ashes, and there is no relief in sight, really.

Residents say they've never seen anything like this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're doing mandatory evacuations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's the best thing, safest thing. I have kids, we have animals, birds, you know, we have to get out of here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's going crazy around here. The planes are going around us now. They weren't earlier, but they are now. Nothing but black, and I saw the flames at bottom of the hill here.


BERMAN: Let's get the latest on the struggle and the struggle ahead. Here's Paul Vercammen. >


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.


ROMANS: All right. Now more on CNN's exclusive interview with Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, including parts of his conversation with Anderson Cooper, parts you haven't heard before. Sterling sounding remorseful about what he's done to his estranged wife, Shelly, and he's -- you know, I would say he's seemingly in denial about keeping his NBA team.


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


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, and 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.


ROMANS: There have been other leaked phone conversations involving Donald Sterling, and now a man who says he's the one behind them, he's speaking out to CNN. We'll hear from him in about 20 minutes.

BERMAN: You're going to want to stick around for that.

ROMANS: Oh, yes.

BERMAN: It is fascinating.

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

At this moment, there are 282 known dead, still 120 others trapped under ground. At this point, it is believed they are likely gone.

I want to bring in Diana Magnay live from Soma, Turkey.

And, Diana, give us a sense of the status of this search.


Well, there's still plenty of activity, but as you say, very little hope that that activity will amount to much. The last survivors pulled out alive were pretty much 24 hours ago now, and the dead, those who were brought out now have all suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning, or most of them. We don't know if the fire is still raging under ground. Rescue workers are trying to clear areas so that they can go down there. They're pumping oxygen, but there are concerns also that pumping more oxygen down into the crown will simply fan the flames.

So, actually, what you see now around the mine shaft is all these rescue workers but not so many relatives. The bereaved seem to be around the hospitals or mourning at home. Here there are more observers, people waiting also for the president of this country, who is due to arrive at the mine at some point soon.

Now, yesterday, the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, visited and made an extraordinary speech, really, incredibly sensitive comments. He said this was essentially par for the course, that mining involved these kinds of deaths and started citing examples from 19th-century Britain, saying mining is an industry where these kinds of deaths occur.

And of course, we have now seen over the last 24, 48 hours demonstrations, protests, people extremely angry in the cities of Istanbul, of Ankara, and they have been met with very strong resistance from riot police, which is just going to enflame people's anger yet further, a sense that the government is to blame for not having looked into the safety record of mines such as these, even when it was brought to their attention as soon as April this year by a member of the opposition, John.

BERMAN: You get the sense this tragedy will not be the end of it. It could be something that does ignite a bit of political turmoil there. Diana Magnay in Soma -- thanks so much for being with us.

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

I want to get the latest from Vladimir Duthiers live from Abuja, Nigeria.

What's happening up there in terms of the violence surrounding Boko Haram?

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Christine. Well, we know that the Nigerian military has, in fact, empowered vigilante groups in northeastern Nigeria. They are known as the Vigilante Joint Task Force, after the military unit of the Nigerian army.

Now, the Nigerian army says they can't be everywhere at once. They've said that they probably get about 1,000 warnings of Boko Haram attacks in northeastern Nigeria on a regular basis, and so, they've empowered these groups.

The problem, Christine, is that many Human Rights Watch -- Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International says that these groups sometimes, along with the Nigerian military, engage in extrajudicial killings. There is a strong sense of mob justice in Nigeria when it comes to people that they feel may be threatening to their interests. The Nigerian military themselves have engaged in forced interrogations, illegal detentions, and so, it makes it very difficult to control the situation.

There are some developments, Christine, on Boko Haram terrorists here in Abuja that are accused of bombing a bus station not far from where we are today. This man, Aminu Sadic (ph) was arrested in Sudan, considered one of the masterminds of this bombing that occurred here in Abuja. This is the other man, Rufi Abubakar (ph), he is still at large according to the state security services here, Christine.

ROMANS: But certainly, it's an improvement in that we know who they're going after and for several weeks it felt like there was no movement on trying to find people who were the perpetrators of this, Vlad.

DUTHIERS: Well, you know, it's interesting, Christine, I think that the spotlight is now shining on Nigeria.

In the past, these things have happened in sort of a vacuum. Nobody's known about them other than people here and the local media. Now, with the #bringbackourgirls, with world leaders and high-profile celebrities tweeting about it, many people feel that social media activism is moving the needle in Nigeria.

There's been some talk in the United States that it's not doing anything that, you know, somebody like David Cameron, a powerful leader, can do more than hold up a sign. But there's many people here say nobody was paying attention until this hashtag. Christine.

ROMANS: Interesting.

All right. Vladimir Duthiers -- thanks, Vlad.

BERMAN: Murder charges have been filed against a captain and three officers in charge of 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 of the crew scrambled to escape the sinking ship --


BERMAN: -- before the passengers had a chance to escape. Twenty- three of those passengers are still listed as missing.

ROMANS: V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki's set to testify before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee this morning. He's under fire following a CNN report revealing dozens of patients died. That's right -- veterans died waiting to be treated at a V.A. hospital in Phoenix. At least half a dozen V.A. hospitals are now being investigated for allegedly cooking the books to cover up similar, potentially deadly, treatment delays, including the one in Austin, Texas, where staffers acknowledge they're overwhelmed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JACKIE SWOPE, VETERAN: Because of the, frankly, the over loading 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 net notice.

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

BONSALL: Yes, I'm fine with it.


ROMANS: CNN has obtained a copy of the statements Secretary Shinseki has prepared for today's hearing. He's going to tell senators he's angered and saddened, but he won't say what his department is doing to fix the problem, won't even acknowledge there is a problem.

BERMAN: President Obama blasting Republicans in Congress for blocking federal funding of critically needed infrastructure projects. Speaking on New York's aging Tappan Zee Bridge, using it as a backdrop, he said without passage of a transportation bill, current funding will run out, putting more than 100,000 highway, port and bridge projects at risk along with nearly 700,000 jobs. The president is using executive authority to fast track the Tappan Zee Bridge and dozens of similar projects nationwide.

ROMANS: President Obama will attend a somber ceremony this morning at Ground Zero in New York, the formal dedication of the 9/11 Memorial Museum. There will be remnants of the world trade center in there, objects from some of the nearly 3,000 people who died. They'll be on display at the museum. It officially opens to the public next Wednesday.

BERMAN: Some of the objects just bring up such vivid, vivid memories. Does not seem like that many years ago.

ROMANS: No, it doesn't.

BERMAN: Forty-two minutes after the hour.

Severe storms barreling across the country. This morning, millions are in their path, tornadoes touching down. The threat is not over. We'll tell you what you can expect for the day, right after the break.


ROMANS: Severe weather heading for the eastern third of the country. Flood watches are in effect from Arkansas to the Gulf Coast and all the way to the Appalachians. Thunderstorms, heavy rain in the forecast.

BERMAN: Thousands of people are in the dark this morning in Ohio after a line of powerful storms rolled through there. A tornado touched down in the town of Cedarville near Dayton, destroying several homes, giving residents quite a scare.


GREGORY RUSSELL, CEDARVILLE, OHIO RESIDENT: I could see all the tar paper, stuff blowing everywhere.

SEAN EVANS, CEDARVILLE, OHIO RESIDENT: I couldn't hear it in the house but as soon as I came out, saw the metal everywhere and sure enough, the barn tore up.


ROMANS: Sure was.

Let's get an early look at the weather this morning with Jennifer Gray -- Jennifer.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We're going to see a lot of shower activity moving towards the East Coast as we go through Friday into Friday afternoon, also a few spotty showers across the Midwest. Fire threat will remain very high in southern California with very hot temperatures. However, those temperatures should start to relax a little bit as we go forward into the weekend.

Ninety-five degrees today in Los Angeles, 78 in Albuquerque, 63 in Denver, 65 in Atlanta. A little cooler for the Southeast, a little later this afternoon. Mostly sunny for the Southeast as we go forward into Friday. We'll see a couple of showers right around the Ohio Valley. We'll also see some showers in the Rockies. Sunny and warm still in southern California.

So, that fire threat will remain high yet for another day. By tomorrow, though, those temperatures, 85 degrees in Los Angeles, coming down little by little. Sixty-four in Denver, 62 in Kansas City, 70 in Atlanta.

Guys, back to you.

ROMANS: All right, Jennifer Gray. Thanks for that.

I don't want to thank her for all those red things, all the bad news.


ROMANS: But thank you for the report.

BERMAN: Going to be a tough day ahead out in California.

Forty-seven minutes after the hour. Hillary Clinton is on the speaking trail today. We will explain right after the break.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone.

Hillary Clinton is fund-raising today. No, not for herself, trying to help an old ally regain a Pennsylvania House seat. Marjorie Margolies lost this seat in 1994 after voting for Bill Clinton's budget. This was a big deal 20 years ago.

But their relationship runs much deeper than that. Margolies is also Chelsea Clinton's mother-in-law. Wednesday, she got a big plug from the big dog, Bill Clinton, who also took aim at Karl Rove for suggesting that Mrs. Clinton might have suffered brain damage after a 2012 fall.


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: Do you think they're trying to --

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


BERMAN: Clinton went on to say those comments were just the beginning, leading to further speculation about a 2016 presidential run.

ROMANS: All right. The immigration debate heating up, sparked by a new report that says more than 36,000 convicted criminals were released by immigration officials last year. Among them, 193 convicted killers and more than 400 men convicted of sexual assault. This comes as the White House conducts a review of deportation practices with the goal of making them more humane.

Critics, including the group that conducted this report, say that what the U.S. needs is tougher immigration enforcement. They're trying to highlight where there are criminals who are released, not necessarily grandmothers.

BERMAN: The Arkansas Supreme Court has upheld a ruling overturning a state ruling on gay marriage, but same-sex couples are not rejoicing. A separate law barring county clerks from issuing gay marriage licenses is still on the books, and the courts have not yet weighed in on what should happen next. So, licenses for same-sex couples have sort of come to an end. Officials say the 450, though, that have been issued so far will be honored.

ROMANS: Breaking overnight, radio icon Casey Kasem found just hours after his daughters filed a missing person's report. He was located in Washington state where he's reportedly with his wife on vacation. Kasem is suffering from a form of dementia that left him barely able to speak. His daughters have accused their stepmother of kidnapping him.

And clearly, this is a family drama playing out with someone who is really kind of a revered pop culture icon, but he has been located, on vacation with his wife in Washington. BERMAN: Yes, his daughters said he had been stolen.

ROMANS: Right.

BERMAN: All right. In a new twist in the Donald Sterling saga, a man who secretly recorded and distributed phone conversations with the embattled L.A. Clippers owner explains why he apparently tricked his friend.

ROMANS: This is something.

BERMAN: Yes, this is something.

Right after the break.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone.

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


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!


BERMAN: Self-proclaimed rapper Maseratimet, says he was on the other end of the phone call with sterling. Maseratimet says he once ran an escort service and Sterling was a client.

Here's why he says he felt compelled to tape 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. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Mr. Maserati, or Mr. Met, whichever he goes by, claims he was not paid for releasing the tapes and says he no longer considers Donald Sterling to be a friend.

ROMANS: It certainly does, though, pull the curtain back on a whole world I didn't know existed.

BERMAN: Something's existed for Donald Sterling there.

EARLY START continues right now.