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GOP Victory; New Information Says Al Qaeda Could be Growing; Are E-Cigs Good For You?; Nigerian Terror

Aired May 21, 2014 - 04:30   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight: a big victory for the GOP, taking down tea party challengers across the country and putting themselves into position to take the Senate from Democrats possibly this November. We'll break down all the primary races live, straight ahead.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Al Qaeda's resurgence. New information that the terror group could be growing and rebuilding, the U.S. in its cross hairs. We'll give you the very latest just ahead.

HARLOW: And terror in Nigeria. Dozens dead after a market bomb blast, and the attack is possibly linked to the terrorists responsible for kidnapping hundreds of schoolgirls. We'll take you live to Nigeria with the latest, as well.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Great to see you this morning; 32 minutes past the hour.

Hear that sound? It means key election results across the country. And many in the Republican party breathing a sigh of relief this morning while others wonder what went wrong. Voters have said no to tea party challengers almost across the board, choosing instead to go with the tried, the tested, the establishment, picking incumbents over upstarts in six states, and the implications really just huge for Republicans and for Democrats in the fall.

HARLOW: Yeah, the biggest surprise was just how early Senator Mitch McConnell beat back a challenge by a tea party favorite, Matt Bevin. The conservative fell to the five-term senator from Kentucky in that state's Republican primary. But now, the real fight begins. McConnell will face the Democratic secretary of state Alison Lungergan Grimes in the fall. She easily won her primary backed by many prominent national Democrats, and the two are already trading barbs.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R- KY): My opponent is in this race because Barack Obama and Harry Reid want her to be in this race. There's a reason, my friends, a reason every Hollywood liberal is sending her a check. MARY LUNDERGAN GRIMES, SECRETARY OF STATE, KY: Together, we will take this fight to Mitch McConnell and hold him accountable for his 30 years of failed leadership.



BERMAN: Solid and big defeats for the tea party in Idaho, considered by many to really be the centerpiece of this year's fight for control of the Republican party.

CNN projects the Republican Congressman Mike Simpson has won his primary easily turning aside a challenge from the conservative back lawyer Brian Smith. Simpson is the chairman of the powerful House of Appropriations Committee seen as an insider. Governor Butch Otter also appears to be victorious in his fight running for a second term. Results show he's leading by a significant margin against state senator Russ Fulcher who against ran as the more conservative candidate.

HARLOW: And in Georgia, it will take a run off to figure out which Republican will run for the seat of retiring Senator Saxby Chambliss. But a conservative candidate won't be taking part. CNN projects businessman David Perdue and Congressman Jack Kingston topped the crowded field and held secretary of state Karen Handel off. She had received backing, though, from Sarah Palin. The eventual victor will face Michelle Nunn in the fall. She's a nonprofit executor, also the daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn. And national Democrats called her their best chance for retaking that seat he once held.

BERMAN: Oregon's incumbent Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley will face pediatric neurosurgeon Monica Wehby in the fall. She topped a more conservative opponent in her race as well. That's despite some recent revelations of harassment complaints from an ex-husband and former boyfriend. She blamed Democratic dirty tricks for that information coming to light.

HARLOW: The governor's race in Arkansas will pit two former congressmen against each other, Democrat Mike Ross and Republican Asa Hutchinson. Both handily won their primaries as did incumbent Senator Mark Pryor. He'll face Congressman Tom Cotton in the fall as he tries to retain his seat there.

BERMAN: Yeah, and something as a defeat for the Clinton family. Chelsea Clinton's mother-in-law will not be heading back to Congress from Pennsylvania. Former Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies lost her Democratic primary in suburban Philadelphia despite last minute campaigning and robo calls for her by the Clinton's. As for the governor's race in Pennsylvania, CNN projects Democratic voters have chosen Tom Wolf to go up against incumbent Tom Corbett. Wolf is a business, a wealthy businessman, put millions of dollars of his own money into the race. Governor Corbett is seen as one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents in the fall.

HARLOW: Our political editor Paul Steinhauser joining us live this morning. Not a lot of sleep. You were up watching this all last night. But help us make sense of the results. I mean, we saw the more moderate conservatives really take it here.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, POLITICAL EDITOR: Yeah, it was pretty much a clean sweep, I guess you could say, for the establishment, the more moderate incumbent Republicans over those candidates backed by the tea party and other grass roots conservatives.

You saw it, as you mentioned, in the marquee battle in Kentucky, but also in the Senate contest in Oregon and in Georgia and in that big House showdown in Idaho. The tea party not winning this time. And that was a very different story, guys, back in 2010 and 2012, the last two election cycles when a lot of tea party candidates won some high profile showdowns with the establishment. And that had consequences.

What happens in the primary has consequences come November. In those cases, all the candidates lost, and the Republicans arguably lost five Senate seats because of that.

Not this time, so far. The Republican establishment having the upper hand thanks in part to some big support from outside groups. Here is why it matters. Take a look at this. This is the lay of the land right now in the Senate. The Democrats have a 55/45 majority, but they are defending 21 of the 36 seats up for grabs in November. A lot of those contests in red or purple states with more establishment or moderate Republicans running in November on the ballot. This helps the Republicans. It ups their odds to retake the chamber. Guys?

BERMAN: Let's go bluegrass for a moment here, Paul. Kentucky may be the marquee match-up come November with the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell going against Alison Lungergan Grimes, two very disciplined candidates sort of hitting their stride at the same time.

STEINHAUSER: Yeah, I think you're absolutely right, John. I think we got a little appetizer last night, a little taste of things to come. Take a listen to both candidates in their stump speeches.


MCCONNELL: Kentucky is not going to be deceived. Alison Lungergan Grimes is Barack Obama's candidate. They know it, and they'll issue the same verdict on this candidate that they've issued twice before on him.

LUNDERGAN GRIMES: Mitch McConnell, he wants to tell you who I am. I'm here to tell you tonight, my fellow Kentuckians, I am not an empty dress, I am not a rubber stamp, and I am not a cheerleader. I am a strong, Kentucky woman who is an independent thinker.


STEINHAUSER: That argument there by Mitch McConnell tying Grimes to the president, that's going to be an argument you're going to hear a lot of Republicans make over the next couple of months straight up through November as they try to tie the Democrats to the president and a lot of his policies like Obamacare. Stay tuned, this is just starting.

BERMAN: All right, Paul, great to see you this morning. Up all night covering the election results.

HARLOW: We appreciate it, Paul.

Also this morning, CNN has learned U.S. intelligence officials are pouring over new possible threats from al Qaeda. The so-called threat stream is evolving and now includes potential evidence of operational cells working towards an attack on this country.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr has the latest on that.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, John, a senior U.S. official tells me over the last six months they have seen an increasing series of al Qaeda-based threats suggesting the possibility of attacks against U.S. and western targets overseas and U.S. targets even here at home.

None of the threats have been validated. They don't think that there are operational al Qaeda cells here in the United States, but they are very concerned about what this may mean about the growing strength of al Qaeda.

One place they are looking is right back in Pakistan where al Qaeda began. They believe there are operatives there potentially planning attacks against U.S. and western interests. They also believe in Syria. This is now a place where there are a growing number of Americans, perhaps 70 to 100 who have gone there to fight, and al Qaeda operatives in Syria have been aiming to try to get those people back into the United States or into Europe.

There is also the situation in Yemen. The U.S. embassy has been closed there for several weeks. And it looks like it's going to remain closed for several more days due to what officials are saying is an active threat stream. Poppy? John?

BERMAN: Our thanks to Barbara Starr for that report.

Today, Congress hears first hand from a victim of Boko Haram, the terror group responsible for abducting hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria. Deborah Peters (ph) is set to discuss her ordeal surviving an attack on the same small village where those girls were taken from. This comes a day after bombs tore through the Nigerian city of Jos leaving at least 118 people dead. It seems Boko Haram may have been responsible for that attack.

Our Vladimir Duthiers is live in Abujah. And Vlad, let's first talk about the missing girls. What do we know about the government effort at this point to find them?

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Morning, John. Hey, so we know that President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria has said that he has 20,000 Nigerian troops in northeastern Nigeria dedicated to looking, searching for these girls. We also learned from this summit that was held with the leaders of Benin, Cameroon, Niger, along with Nigeria led by the French president that each of those countries, those regional countries will put into place a regional action plan. They'll each contribute one battalion to control the borders because the borders are very coarse right now. U.S. intelligence reports suggesting that some of these girls may have been broken up into smaller groups and trafficked into the neighboring countries.

But it will still be difficult, John. You're talking about an area that is very large area. Most of it is covered in forest. And in fact, if you try to send in a rescue mission when there are hostages on the ground, that could lead to tragic results.

BERMAN: This is a very complicated situation. Vlad, tell us about the explosion. Has anyone claimed responsibility, yet?

DUTHIERS: No one's claimed responsibility. This appears to be the hallmark of the terrorist group, Boko Haram, the same group that kidnapped these 200 girls. But in the past, this area has also seen some kind of ethnic violence, religious violence not necessarily tied to Boko Haram.

But on the scene, two explosions, over 100 people killed. People running, screaming. This happened in several markets. These markets are usually packed with traders, hawkers, shoppers, people describing the scene as gruesome and gory, body parts everywhere, bodies being carted in wheelbarrows to the hospital. When journalists tried to call the hospital, talk to nurses, we could barely hear the nurses talking because the screams were so loud from the hospital, John. Really gruesome scene.

And we are hearing from the president, which is rare. The Nigerian president finally making a statement, which is not common. They usually wait several days or several weeks before commenting on any kinds of attacks that happened in Nigeria.

BERMAN: It's clear that attack was horrific no matter who carried it out. Vladimir Duthiers live for us in Abuja this morning. Thanks so much.

HARLOW: Well, we could soon learn the Obama administration's legal justification for targeting U.S. citizens in terror operations abroad. Under pressure, the White House will release a secret memo explaining their rational. Last year, officials did acknowledge they killed four Americans in drone strikes since 2009. And this is very important regarding the timing of this memo release. The president has nominated one of the memo's authors to a federal appeals court seat. The Senate is expected to vote on that nomination today.

BERMAN: Today, a Phoenix V.A. medical facility is getting a visit from a top White House aide. Rob Nabors has been charged with helping reform the embattled V.A. Department and will see the facility accused of falsifying records to conceal deadly, long waiting lists.

And as this scandal grows, well beyond Phoenix, the House is taking up new legislation that Republicans say will help.


ERIC CANTOR (R-VA): We also will be bringing up a bill this week having to do with the mess of the Veterans Administration. And to try to provide the tools to the administration to hold senior managers accountable. The American people are frustrated, especially when those who served our country in uniform have been treated the way they have. And God forbid who have perished because of the mess at the V.A.


BERMAN: Officials say 26 facilities are now being investigated.

HARLOW: Time for an EARLY START check on your money.

Right now, markets slightly lower across Europe this morning. One stock to watch, Netflix. Investors in Germany and France will soon be able to use the service. The company announced this morning that it would launch the streaming service there as well as in Austria, Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg. Netflix launched in Europe in 2012. You can see the countries where it first launched there in red. Western Europe has nearly 50 million more broadband households than in the United States. A lot of opportunity there, but interestingly, video streaming is still catching on in much of Europe in terms of avid users of this service. Netflix stock of course surged earlier this year, but started sliding a bit in March. We'll see if today's news boosts the company's stock when the market opens.

BERMAN: Norway is the new black.

HARLOW: Norway is the new black.

BERMAN: In Netflix terms.

New details this morning on how Donald Sterling may have tried to cover up the racist remarks that got him banned for life from the NBA.

Plus, ex-NFL players accusing the league for putting their lives in jeopardy with dangerous drugs.

HARLOW: And new research this morning explaining why e-cigarettes could be good for your health. This is a contentious debate. We'll explain, straight ahead.


HARLOW: The NBA claiming Donald Sterling tried to cover up the racist comments that got him banned from the league for life. According to a report in the "L.A. Times", the NBA alleges that Sterling asked his girlfriend V. Stiviano to lie to lead investigators and say that she altered that recording and that it wasn't him making the racist remarks on the tape. Team owners will vote on June 3rd whether or not they will terminate him.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver talked about that and a lot more on this issue last night.


ADAM SILVER, NBA COMMISSIONER: My confidence level is high. We know we are doing the right thing. And I know I have the owners behind me. And the timing is laid out in the NBA constitution. We are following it to the letter in terms of numbers of days Mr. Sterling has to respond and then when the hearing will be held. And as I said, I know we are doing the right thing here.


HARLOW: The NBA also accuses Sterling of destroying evidence in that case.

BERMAN: Wedding bells will ring for many same-sex couples in Pennsylvania today now that a federal judge thrown out the state's ban on same-sex wedding. The judge said the law belongs on the ash heap of history calling Americans a better people than these laws represent. His ruling took effect immediately and the governor is considering an appeal. But the state attorney general has already said she will not challenge the ruling.

HARLOW: Interesting story. I know you have been probably reading and talked a lot about this one. The NFL is accused of putting profits ahead of player's health. This is in a new lawsuit. It was filed by a group of retired players. They claimed the league illegally supplied them with powerful painkillers and other drugs that kept them playing, kept them in the game, but led eventually to serious medical complications later in life.

Some of those players claiming they were never told they had broken bones and instead were given pills to mask the pain. Others say they developed heart, lung and kidney problems as a result of this. So far, though, no comment really on the NFL. I think so far, they have said they haven't received the lawsuit yet.

BERMAN: It will be an interesting issue.

A new study out this morning says e-cigarettes really might work when it comes to helping smokers quit. The research suggests the battery powered vaporizers can be significantly more effective than other methods; 20 percent of e-cigarette users reported quitting smoking compared to just 10 percent of those who opted for nicotine patches or gum. That's a fascinating issue.

HARLOW: It is, and, you know, but people that I know that smoke e- cigarettes also talk about how they smoke them all day long at their desk, so the question is --

BERMAN: And there haven't been a lot of studies yet about what all that nicotine and other things can do.

HARLOW: And what -- there have not been a lot of studies on the independent effects of nicotine. Meantime, today New York City is saying ahoy again to fleet week. The annual celebration of the Navy is back after a one-year hiatus because of budget cuts. Three Navy ships and two Coast Guard cutters will arrive in New York harbor. This morning, a beautiful morning to welcome them. They will carry some 1500 service members. The Navy plans to take part in fleet week festivities in other cities this summer as well.

BERMAN: Hope they have a great week.

HARLOW: New trouble for General Motors. Another recall. Millions more cars recalled over really troubling problems. That story straight ahead in money time.


HARLOW: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is money time. Stock futures here in the United States up slightly after a tough day on Wall Street yesterday with the DOW falling 138 points. Retail stocks at the center of the decline.

Staples, Dick's Sporting Goods, Urban Outfitters, T.J. Maxx, all reporting worse than expected numbers yesterday.

Meantime, General Motors is putting 2.4 million more cars on its growing recall list. 1.3 million or newer model cross-over SUVs, they are being recalled for a seatbelt defect; 1.1 million are older models being recalled as part of a transmission cable issue that caused has at least 18 crashes. No deaths tied to any of these recalls.

But all told, this year General Motors has now recalled 13.6 million vehicles in the United States alone, the most serious being that ignition switch defect which GM says has been tied to at least 13 deaths. They are clearly a company trying to get out in front and not have what happened before because they didn't tell anyone about that ignition switch defect for a decade.

BERMAN: No, it's clear that they have changed the culture or at least changed the way they handle these types of situations.

All right, just a few minutes before the hour, breaking news overnight. Could be big trouble ahead for Democrats this November. Why? We'll tell you what the overnight election results when EARLY START continues after the break.