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EARLY START

Critical Day for Primary Elections; Crisis in Libya as Deadly Fights Rage in Streets; Search for Flight 370: Data Release

Aired May 20, 2014 - 04:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A critical election day across the country. Primary races in six states. The results could be a key indicator of what happens in November. Will Republicans gain enough momentum to take over the Senate? We are breaking down all the major races.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, crisis in Libya. The U.S. military ready to evacuate Americans from the country's capital as deadly fights in the street rage on. We are bringing you the very latest this morning.

BERMAN: And breaking news overnight. Finally, raw satellite data used to shape the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. It is set to be released. Investigators promising families they will finally get the answers that they've been waiting for. We're live in Malaysia with the latest.

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

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's Tuesday, May 20th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Up first, primary day.

BERMAN: Whoo-hoo!

ROMANS: Voters heading to the polls in six states to decide several key races that could shape the direction of the nation and the November midterm elections. The stakes are pretty high in Kentucky, where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to defeat challenger Matt Bevin for the GOP nomination after a nasty campaign.

A big win for McConnell could deliver a blow to the Tea Party, which put a lot of money behind it.

BERMAN: In Georgia, it has been a wild, wide-open primary with five Republicans likely heading for a July runoff vote in their bid to take the Senate seat of the retiring Saxby Chambliss. The eventual winner would face Democrat Michelle Nunn, daughter of Democratic Senator Sam Nunn.

Chelsea Clinton's mother-in-law is trying to make a congressional comeback in Pennsylvania. Marjorie Margolies is seeking the Democratic nod, getting fund-raising robocall help from Bill and Hillary Clinton.

More eyes will be on Oregon to see if it is a blue state that has the potential to turn red in November. Pediatric neurosurgeon Monica Wehby is favored to win the Republican primary against State Representative Jason Conger. Republicans think that Dr. Wehby has a shot to unseat Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley in November.

ROMANS: In Idaho, another big race for the Tea Party, Mike Simpson, a John Boehner ally and eight-term incumbent congressman trying to hold off a strong challenge from Tea Party candidate Brian Smith.

And in Arkansas, Democratic Senator Mark Pryor and Republican challenger Tom Cotton, they are expected to clinch their respective nominations. Republicans say they like their chances of gaining a Senate seat in that state come November.

We'll dig a lot deeper into today's big primary contests and the trends to watch for when we're joined next hour by Paul Steinhauser, CNN political editor.

BERMAN: So, stick around for whole other hour. All right.

ROMANS: Get up, Paul, if you're not up yet. Hurry.

BERMAN: Set that alarm.

The United States has now doubled the number of aircrafts standing by in Italy, just in case Americans need to be evacuated from the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, in Libya. An evacuation order could come at any moment this morning as fierce fighting erupts throughout the capital city.

Let's get more from Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: John, Christine, with violence rising every day in Libya, the question now, is that country falling into civil war? And if it is, can the U.S. embassy remain open? Can diplomats stay on the job? If the violence gets any worse, the State Department is prepared to evacuate the 200 or so Americans that are there. A package of heavily armed marines waiting just to the north in Italy across the Mediterranean, about 250 marines equipped with eight V-22 aircraft that can fly very quickly to Italy. They are on a two-hour string.

What does that mean? That means if the evacuation order comes, they will be in the air and on their way to Libya within two hours or less. Just a couple of years after the disaster in Benghazi, the administration is taking no chances. It has the troops and the firepower ready to go to get Americans out of Libya if it comes to that -- John, Christine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right. Our Barbara Starr, thanks for that, Barbara. A war of words erupting this morning between the U.S. and China. Officials in Beijing warning the White House they will retaliate if charges against five Chinese military officers are pursued by the Justice Department. These officers are accused of hacking into American companies to steal American trade secrets. China's assistant foreign minister has summoned U.S. Ambassador Max Baucus to discuss the charges.

So, what corporate secrets did the hackers try to steal?

Well, these hackers allegedly stole network credentials for all of the employees at Allegheny Technologies, spied on steel manufacturer Alcoa and eavesdropped on e-mails from the steelworkers union during a trade dispute. It comes down to hackers trying to find a shortcut for Chinese businesses to get ahead of American businesses. Many of these Chinese businesses are actually government-owned or tied to the Chinese government.

Steel is consistently viewed as better quality in the U.S. than Chinese steel. Some of the attacked companies were doing business in China.

Hackers also allegedly stole blueprints to nuclear power plants. That's what the U.S. alleges. And business plans for solar energy companies.

BERMAN: All right, some other news. The State Department closely monitoring a volatile situation unfolding right now, this morning, in Bangkok. Thailand's army declaring martial law nationwide. This is an announcement that caught the Thai government off guard.

Army officials say this is not a coup. It's friendly martial law, just a move to maintain peace after six months of sometimes violent antigovernment protests.

ROMANS: The CIA is promising to never again use immunization campaigns for spying, which is exactly what it did during the hunt for Osama bin Laden, setting up a hepatitis survey in the Pakistani city where bin Laden was ultimately killed to extract DNA from his relatives. The effort failed and the Pakistani doctor behind it sent to prison. Critics say the stealth programs fuel anger against immunization workers and could promote the resurgence of diseases like polio.

BERMAN: One of three patients in the United States diagnosed with the MERS virus now fully recovered. He's been discharged from an Orlando hospital. He's described as a health care provider who lives and works in Saudi Arabia. All other health care workers who came in contact with him as well as family members have tested negative for the deadly virus.

So, that's good news.

ROMANS: Yes, absolutely good news.

All right, a top Swiss bank, Credit Suisse, has agreed to pay a nearly $3 billion fine for helping wealthy Americans hide assets through secret accounts in order to avoid paying billions of dollars in taxes. Credit Suisse pleading guilty to a criminal charge of aiding and abetting tax evasion. Very rare for a big company to plead guilty to criminal charges. The deputy U.S. attorney general calls the bank's guilty plea historic and says the illegal activity at Credit Suisse was pervasive.

ROMANS: Time for an EARLY START on your money this morning. European stocks near six-year highs in the U.S., Dow futures slightly higher this hour.

Tech stocks had a terrific day yesterday. The NASDAQ up nearly a percent, the Dow and the S&P also closing up just slightly. Tech stocks have had a rough few months after strong gains the beginning of the year. The techs index is down just over a percent year to date.

BERMAN: The big question so many people are asking right now, what's the vice president doing today? Well, Joe Biden embarks on a four-day visit to Romania and Cyprus. The mission: reassuring European allies that the U.S. is committed to the region in the face of Russian aggression in the Ukraine.

Mr. Biden will urge officials in Cyprus to step up sanctions against Russia. And in Bucharest, the vice president plans to discuss how the Romanians can help Europe with its energy needs and lessen dependence on Russian gas supplies.

ROMANS: OK. So, what about the president, then?

Happening today, big business comes to the White House. President Obama expected to greet business leaders from across the country and around the world. Ford, Honda among the corporate giants represented at the meeting with the president. The topic is jobs -- investing in and creating good-paying jobs here in the U.S. and -- I mean, I'm interested in what kind of leverage the president has, because he's had job councils before and we have seen big companies lagging in the big job creation.

BERMAN: I'll bet the discussion there will be about as high brow as it was last night for the president when he paid a surprise visit --

ROMANS: I love this.

BERMAN: -- to a little league baseball field in northwest Washington. While heading to a fund-raiser, the president dropped off Press Secretary Jay Carney, who was there to watch his daughter play. The president stuck around, got to throw out the first pitch. It's probably appropriate, if the president shows up. He gets to throw out the first pitch.

You can see the stunned little leaguers and parents shaking hands, taking pictures. Notice he didn't stick around for the game, because the president is smart enough to know that little league baseball games are torturous.

ROMANS: I love the fact that he was dropping off Jay Carney. What are they, carpooling?

BERMAN: Yes, big motorcade to go to the Little League game so Jay Carney can get there, but it's a wonderful picture.

ROMANS: It really was. I hope they had a great day.

All right. Breaking news overnight, new information set to be released in the search for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. Finally, the families will get the data they've been asking for. We're live.

BERMAN: Plus, the NBA now formally trying to terminate Donald Sterling's ownership of the L.A. Clippers. But it doesn't look like he's going to go quietly. New developments overnight right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Twelve minutes past the hour.

The raw satellite data the Flight 370 families have been demanding to see for weeks could soon be available to the public. The Malaysian government and officials from the British satellite firm Inmarsat previously denied having it. Now they've issued a joint statement saying they're working on releasing it in the name of transparency.

Let's bring in Saima Mohsin. She's monitoring the developments live from Kuala Lumpur for us this morning. So, now after this delay, with the families asking so many times to see this raw data, now, they're going to make it available. Tell us what we can expect to see.

SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Christine. Yes, we've had this snowball effect overnight in Kuala Lumpur.

First, the acting transportation minister announcing that he has asked the Departments of Civil Aviation to work with Inmarsat. Then, early morning here Kuala Lumpur time, another press release coming jointly from Inmarsat, the satellite company, and the Civil Aviation Department, saying they're working together.

What they want to do, Christine, according to them, is present this information in two parts, really. There will be the raw data that the families have been demanding so long, as we know, we've really been campaigning for coming up behind them for this. And then they want to provide some information that will explain to the families -- and that's what they said in this statement this morning -- that will explain to the families how to read that data.

Now, I've been talking to several members of the families here in Kuala Lumpur, and Sarah Bajc, one of the partners of MH370 passenger, she's in Beijing, and I asked her why she was spearheading this campaign to get this data.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH BAJC, PARTNER OF PHILIP WOOD: We don't just need the data of the seven pings. We need all of the data that that plane was transmitting, including for days before. So, that flight goes every single day, right? We need to have comparison points of how that flight would have been echoed, how it would have been tracked based on known landing and position times.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOHSIN: And you know, there's a lot of suspicion as well. Sarah Bajc also told us that she believes that there are too many hidden agendas, too many vested interests. And the Malaysian government simply has to let this go and put this in the hands of an independent body, or at least what the family members feel would be an independent body.

So, what's she planning on doing with this data, Christine? Well, they plan to take it, either share it with independent experts that they are sourcing or ask people to approach them. So, really, they don't even want this in a presentable way. They want the raw data. They want more than that, and they want to find out for themselves where this plane ended up and where their loved ones are -- Christine.

ROMANS: Saima, we've seen that mistrust for weeks now. Weeks, they have just not trusted what they've been getting from the authorities. Saima, thank you.

BERMAN: Quarter past the hour now.

The so-called hook-handed terrorist has been convicted. On the second day of deliberations, a Manhattan jury finding Abu Hamza al-Masri guilty on 11 terror-related charges. The Muslim cleric was accused of inspiring terrorists, aiding kidnappers and trying to found a terror training camp in Oregon. He will be sentenced on September 9th and could face life in prison.

ROMANS: The House of Representatives stepping up efforts to fight human trafficking. Several lawmakers, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, will address this issue today. According to officials, there are some 20 million victims worldwide and more than 17,000 people are trafficked into the U.S. annually -- many of them children, children in the commercial sex trade. Five bipartisan bills are expected to hit the House floor this week.

BERMAN: You may soon be able to text 911. Four major wireless carriers are making the emergency service available across the nation. Supporters call this a long overdue step toward updating the emergency response system.

Local governments in 16 states are already using this. Highly, highly effective. I've done stories on this. The federal government will require all service providers to offer it by the end of the year.

ROMANS: All right. The NBA has now set a date, June 3rd, for potentially voting Donald Sterling out as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, June 3rd. The league on Monday officially began the process of removing him on charges he has damaged the league with his racist comments. Sterling has until May 27th to respond and can present his side at next month's board of governors meeting. The NBA is not commenting on a "Sports Illustrated" report that Sterling's lawyer is demanding a three-month delay to prepare his response.

BERMAN: It will be interesting. It will be tough for the NBA to delay right now.

We are learning new details about last month's near collision at Newark's airport. According to a new report, planes from United Airlines and Express Jet were separated by just 50 yards laterally --

ROMANS: Wow!

BERMAN: -- and 135 yards vertically. That is very close. They were operating on intersecting runways as one was taking off, the other landing. Combined 211 people were on board these flights. No one was injured. The final report not expected for several months, but wow.

ROMANS: That's close.

Another V.A. medical center under investigation this morning after officials found a wait list of patients kept on paper rather than in the V.A.'s computer system. Three staff members at the Gainesville, Florida, facility have been placed on paid leave. This comes amid a widening scandal where whistleblowers say they were told to cook the books to conceal dangerously long patient wait times. In Phoenix, at least 40 veterans may have died waiting for care.

BERMAN: Today, a former top campaign staffer for Chris Christie testifies in the bridgegate investigation. Matt Mowers now runs the Republican Party of New Hampshire, but he was once the governor's point of contact with Mark Sokolich, the Democratic mayor of Ft. Lee, New Jersey. Officials are trying to determine if lane closures on the George Washington Bridge were designed to punish Sokolich for refusing to back Christie's bid for re-election.

ROMANS: The football team at Austin Peay University in Tennessee might not be so motivated to score touchdowns next season. A 40-foot- deep sinkhole just opened up in their stadium's end zone. Work crews noticed the earth opening up weeks ago but couldn't stop from growing. The sinkhole, 508 feet wide. The Governor Stadium is already undergoing renovations, expected to be ready for the fall season. That is something.

BERMAN: It came from excessive spiking of the ball in the end zone, too much pressure there.

ROMANS: Unbelievable.

BERMAN: Georgia officials do not have to disclose the source of the state's lethal injection drugs. That's according to a ruling by the state Supreme Court, which reversed a lower court decision granting a stay of execution to a convicted killer. Attorneys for Warren Lee Hill argue that confidentiality could lead to more botched executions like the one last month in Oklahoma, where officials also refused to disclose the source of these drugs. ROMANS: Another voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage has fallen in the courts. A federal judge striking down a 2004 Oregon amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, calling it discriminatory and saying it violates equal protection. Gay couples statewide racing to tie the knot in Oregon.

BERMAN: Minnesota has become the first state to ban some antibacterial soaps. The governor there signing a bill to prohibit the chemical Triclosan, which is used in 75 percent of antibacterial products and has been linked to hormone disruption in lab animals. Defenders say Triclosan provides health benefits.

The FDA, which is pushing new regulation, says there is no evidence showing it is more effective than regular soap and water. This law takes effect in 2015.

ROMANS: What is it that Dr. Sanjay Gupta says, soap and water, sing happy birthday twice? Is that right?

BERMAN: He sings happy birthday a lot that time.

ROMANS: He's a happy guy.

All right, how does this sound to you?

A Bonnie and Clyde-style action film starring Jay-Z and Beyonce. Look at the thriller for a movie called "Run." It's such a cool thriller, but it's actually not really -- it doesn't exist. The film doesn't exist. The first couple of pop released a fake but believable preview sunday. The clip ends with the words "coming never,"

But not if fans have their say. There is already an online petition to get a film made. The couple's joint "On The Run" concert tour begins next month.

BERMAN: Isn't it interesting that they're promoting this upcoming concert tour right on the heels of having that big, public blowup last week? It's a whole lot of coincidental publicity all at once.

ROMANS: There's a whole lot of publicity with Beyonce and Jay-Z in general.

BERMAN: Indeed, there is.

All right. Twenty minutes after the hour. Happening now, an Olympic athlete accused of murdering his model girlfriend now being sent to a mental institution. We have some breaking news about how long Oscar Pistorius will be locked away at this institution and what it means for the trial. We're live in South Africa after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Some big developments just in from South Africa. Oscar Pistorius back in court this morning, not for more grueling testimony, but to find out when he will begin his 30 days of psychiatric evaluation ordered by the judge after a psychiatrist testified that the former Olympian is a danger to society.

Our Robyn Curnow tracking the developments live from Pretoria.

What have we learned, Robyn?

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there. A short very court appearance this time by Oscar Pistorius, the judge very blankly, very simply saying that she orders him to go for this observation starting next week, no longer than 30 days. Essentially, she's postponed the court until the 30th of June, when a panel of experts is likely then to deliver their findings for the court.

What is interesting about this order is that normally when somebody is sent off, essentially, for psychiatric observation, they're under lockdown. They're locked in these maximum security institutions.

Well, Oscar Pistorius is being allowed to go through this process as an out-patient, clocking in at 9:00 a.m. in the morning, allowed to leave by 4:00 p.m., has his weekends free. A psychiatrist, psychologist I've spoken to say this is highly unusual, but of course, this case is not very unusual. I think the Justice Department trying to balance both the needs of justice but the interests in this domestically, internationally and also the need for South Africans to get this over and done with. They want this wrapped up soon.

BERMAN: Interesting. Just another example of what some might see as generous treatment of Pistorius during this entire trial process.

Robyn, any sense of who this psychiatric evaluation period benefits, the prosecution or the defense? Is there one side that was pushing for it more than another?

CURNOW: It's very difficult, and I suppose it depends on the eventual findings. What was clear when I was in court this morning, it took a while for proceedings to start, so I watched the body language of everybody, and there was quite a huge sense of relaxation, a lot of joking and laughing between Oscar Pistorius and his legal team. Also, the state sort of chitchatting amongst themselves.

There wasn't this earnestness or seriousness or anxiety on either side. So, I think both sides seem to be thinking that this is necessary. Basically, what has to be done is this panel of experts either has to disagree or agree with the defense's psychiatric testimony that Oscar Pistorius has this anxiety disorder, which might have really implicated or give some sort of impulse into why he acted like he did the night when he shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp. So, that is essentially what is at stake.

BERMAN: And lastly, if they do agree with that notion that he has this condition, then the defense would be able to suggest that he's not guilty -- in the U.S., it would be not guilty by reason of insanity.

CURNOW: Well, I think that sort of depends on how much they agree with the psychiatrist. If they say, listen, he's not criminally responsible for his actions, there is an agreement that he's insane, absolutely, not guilty. But then he will be sent off to an institution indefinitely until he gets better.

I think the more likely things we're probably either going to see is them disagreeing, saying, listen, he doesn't have an anxiety disorder, you know, it's overblown. He acted with intent, with responsibility, he knew what he was doing, or they agree that the fact that he's a double amputee, that he's vulnerable, these life experiences of having an amputation, of the pressure of his family, pretending that nothing was wrong with him did have some impact in the way he felt fearful at night, and that's maybe why he acted like he did.

So, I think essentially, it might be a mitigating circumstance, particularly when it perhaps comes to sentencing or the judge's decision, if they agree with his psychiatrist. If they disagree with his psychiatrist, well, that just downgrades her evidence and they will then treat him perhaps from a legal point of view as any reasonable man.

BERMAN: Just another twist in this curious, curious case.

All right, Robyn Curnow for us in Pretoria -- thanks so much.

ROMANS: It was the defense who kept bringing it up, which is now why they have to go and follow through with the evaluation.

All right, happening now: critical primary elections across the country. Today's results, they could determine whether Republicans could take back the Senate this November. We're breaking it all down after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)