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New Veterans Care Delays; U.S. Adds More Troops to Girls Search; Tornadoes Touch Down; Kidnapped Girl: Found 10 Years Later; Spurs Win 112-777, Lead Series 2-0

Aired May 22, 2014 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A deadly wait list. New allegations this morning of V.A. hospitals leaving their patients suffering, waiting for appointments and then allegedly covering it up. This morning, the embattled V.A. secretary back on Capitol Hill, this as the president vows to fix the veterans health care problem.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Severe storms barreling across the country. Tornadoes on the ground, floods turning streets to rivers, and hail sending many running for cover. Indra Petersons tracking the areas hardest hit and who is in the storm's crosshairs today.

BERMAN: Finally free. A 15-year-old girl kidnapped from her home 10 years ago found alive. This morning, she's finally back with her family. We will tell you this remarkable and alarming story, ahead.

ROMANS: That's right.

BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. Good to see you today. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Thursday, May 22nd. It is 5:00 a.m. exactly in the East.

Let's begin with shocking, new allegations this morning that the V.A. may be mistreating some of the veterans most in need of medical care. In a story first seen here on CNN, a doctor at the Phoenix V.A. says injured veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not being given priority appointments, despite a national mandate putting them at the front of the line.

And Dr. Katherine Mitchell told Drew Griffin this was happening as recently as a few weeks ago.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: You're telling me that our troops coming back from war, now separated from active service --

DR. KATHERINE MITCHELL, PHOENIX V.A. HOSPITAL: Who should have priority for scheduling do not.

GRIFFIN: -- who are coming to the Phoenix V.A. for follow-up care for war injuries --

MITCHELL: Correct.

GRIFFIN: -- are being put on a waiting list and being made to wait six to 10 months?

MITCHELL: Yes, or longer.


ROMANS: The Phoenix V.A. is 1 of 26 facilities now under investigation, accused of falsifying appointment records with sometimes deadly consequences. In Seattle, a family is now suing the V.A., saying scheduling delays were responsible for a veteran's death because his cancer was able to spread.

And in Portland, Oregon, V.A. officials say schedulers made veterans wait more than 14 days for an appointment 30,000 times. The president says he is outraged at the allegations. He is promising punishment if those allegations are proven true.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are going to fix whatever is wrong, and so long as I have the privilege of serving as commander-in-chief, I am going to keep on fighting to deliver the care and the benefits and the opportunities that your families deserve now and for decades to come. That is a commitment to which I feel the sacred duty to maintain.


ROMANS: The president says someone will be held accountable, but for now, he's standing behind Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. Shinseki today is on Capitol Hill holding closed-door meetings about the V.A. scandal, as the president's point man on the crisis, Rob Nabors, visits that Phoenix V.A. to see for himself what's being done there.

BERMAN: Now to Nigeria, where this morning more U.S. service members and some critical technology have joined the search for more than 200 kidnapped girls now held for more than a month. The Pentagon has put 80 service members on the ground in neighboring chad, equipped with predator drones.

Vladimir Duthiers is live in Abuja with the latest on this.

Vlad, what kind of difference can these drones and these extra troops make?

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John, good morning. Well, this is going to make some difference, because up until this point, the Nigerian military, six weeks on after these girls were abducted in the middle of the night from their dormitories, has not been able to locate them. The president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, saying he has no idea where they are, but he has 20,000 Nigerian troops in northeastern Nigeria actively searching for these girls, still coming up empty-handed. So, whatever the United States, France and China, the other countries surrounding Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Cameroon, Benin, putting each battalion of troops on the ground to help locate these girls, it's going to hopefully do something to bring a resolution to this, but six weeks on, we still have no idea where these girls are. And for the parents waiting for some kind of hope, some semblance that these children will be back to them, they're going to have to be waiting for some time to come, John.

BERMAN: And, again, we're talking about the new U.S. effort. The U.S. says these troops will stay there as long as their help is need, but is there any sense right now that they're getting any closer to finding these girls?

DUTHIERS: Yes, you know, intel reports suggest these girls may have been split up into smaller groups and trafficked into neighboring Chad, Cameroon, Niger. You're talking about an area the size of West Virginia, large area, very dense, essentially Boko Haram stronghold. These guys come armed to the teeth, rocket propelled grenade launchers, they even antiaircraft weapons.

So, this search has been going on, we're told by the Nigerian government, has been active, but many of the people we talked to, John, say they've seen no significant military presence, no police presence. In fact, we talked to a woman last week whose daughter is being held by Boko Haram. She hadn't even been interviewed by the government or the military.

So, still a long way to go, John.

BERMAN: A long way to go, maybe even just beginning.

All right. Vladimir Duthiers in Abuja, thanks so much for being with us.

ROMANS: All right. Happening today, the first meeting of a special House committee looking into deadly attacks on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, those attacks, of course, left the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans dead. Republicans allege the White House has been covering up what really happened ever since.

Now, Democrats have agreed to take part in that investigation and they've named five seasoned lawmakers to serve as their representatives on the panel, including Maryland's Elijah Cummings. He'll be the party's ranking member.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: I feel that I owe it to the families of Ambassador Stevens and the other brave Americans who lost their precious lives to bring some minimal level of balance to this process and to check false claims wherever they may arise.


ROMANS: The committee chairman, Representative Trey Gowdy, is promising to lead a fair investigation.

BERMAN: Also today, the House is set to vote on a bill to change the way the NSA collects bulk phone records, but it's not the bill lawmakers are approved earlier. Under the new plan, phone companies would keep those records, not the NSA, and the agency would have to get court approval to see the data itself, but the bill now allows for wider searches not necessarily tied to a specific person. Civil liberties groups are calling the revised law too broad.

ROMANS: A warning this morning from eBay. All right, everybody, change your password.

BERMAN: Again?

ROMANS: Do it now, this after the site says hackers got into a huge database containing personal information about more than 230 million customers. What was stolen? Passwords, names, addresses, phone numbers, even dates of birth. There's no evidence any credit card information was taken. EBay says it's working with the FBI and other agencies to try to track down the hackers.

BERMAN: I've changed so many passwords in the last month. The only person who can't get into any of my accounts is me.

ROMANS: It's so true! I mean, it's just insert company name here and then it's the same story over and over and over again.

BERMAN: I'm giving up.

ROMANS: Don't give up. Don't give up. Protect yourself.

There we go! Don't give up on markets. Look at this, time for an EARLY START on your money. Stocks trading slightly higher across Europe. Dow futures are higher, too, about 26 points higher right now.

The real big story in business, General Motors -- another recall, bringing the 2014 recall total to 29. That's 14 million recalled vehicles in the U.S., nearly 16 million worldwide. G.M. has recalled more vehicles in 2014 now than it has sold. The CEO, Mary Barra, showing extreme caution following the botched ignition switch recall earlier this year. That defect led to 13 deaths.

And really, a lot of people are saying G.M. is now more aggressive on recalls after word got out that the company knew about the defect for years before acting. So, the big question, are G.M. vehicles safe? The answer is yes. G.M. still has a 4.4 safety rating from NHTSA, the same organization supervising all of these recalls. And of all the traffic deaths that occur each year, so few are tied to vehicle defects. The number is only about a fraction of a percent.

While some of G.M.'s recalls have been tied to accidents or required cars to be pulled off the road immediately, many of these recalls are for smaller issues that don't make cars unsafe to drive, tail lamp wiring, things like that.

BERMAN: They've recalled more cars than they've sold this year?

ROMANS: Yes, and their whole profit for the first quarter basically wiped out by the amount of money they've had to set aside to pay for all this.

BERMAN: Interesting.

All right. Eight minutes after the hour right now.

Let's shift now to your weather. It could be a tough, tough day, dangerous for much of the country with a severe storm threat from the central plains to the Northeast. Look at that map.

ROMANS: Denver in the crosshairs again this morning after a day when Mother Nature showered the city with this, hail! Golf ball-sized falling there, but there was baseball-sized reported, too. Several inches fell, enough to damage planes at the Denver airport. There were multiple tornadoes spotted on the ground.

Look at this funnel cloud. You can see it there. And the winds were strong enough to bring down trees like this one that fell right on a house. Wow.

The thunderstorms, of course, also brought a ton of rain, flooding streets, making driving very, very dangerous.

BERMAN: No one ever says tennis ball-sized or lacrosse ball. They got shafted on this whole thing.

All right. The same story in Pennsylvania. Look at these pictures of flooding right there. This is from Elk County, northeast of P. Several serious thunderstorms rolled through, dropping two to four inches of rain an hour there.


BERMAN: That is a lot of rain. And look at this picture right now. This is why we tell you do not drive through standing water. The hazard lights will not help you.

This picture is from Ohio, not far from Dayton. Heavy rainfall there flooded the streets, obviously, stranding that car.

Several interstates were shut down for hours. Some drivers left stranded until crews were able to push the water out of the way.


BERMAN: Indra Petersons tracking all of this today, where it's headed. What do we need to know, Indra?

ROMANS: Busy morning for you.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Just a little bit. Across the entire country we'll be talking about severe threats out there today. Very kind of scatter and widespread. Notice you're looking from New York down through D.C. then a section around Nashville, kind of going towards Chattanooga and again today, almost the third day in a row around Denver you're talking about more severe weather and likely more hail headed your way. And down to the south, out towards Midland, Texas, those are the four spots we'll be watching closely.

Two systems making their way across, one in the Northeast. And this guy, especially into the Southern Plains, this is huge. We keep talking about this because they've had this huge deficit of rainfall, really bad drought conditions, and finally, some heavy rain is headed in their direction as a slow-moving system kind of lingers.

So, for that, we're talking about several inches of rain -- looking at the flooding potential high along with drought conditions there. That's the reason we're going to be talking about flooding in that region. Meanwhile, into the Northeast, again, looking for the threat for severe weather, especially as the afternoon comes. The temperatures ramp up. You're going to be looking at that concern.

Especially look at this, notice D.C. looking for a high today of 85. New York City dropping today down to 66. You see that boundary right there, that huge temperature clash? That sets up that severe weather threat, especially behind the warm front.

There you go, all that warm, moist air comes in, you have the front making its way across. That's the concern today for severe weather, especially into the Northeast. Think about flights.

Look at the situation already this morning, only expected to get worse as the daytime heats up. Just keep in mind, we could end on a good night. Memorial weekend, it kicks out of here by Saturday and looks so good. I'm happy.

ROMANS: Look at that for one more second.

PETERSONS: Stare at it for a second, right? Above normal, sunny.

BERMAN: I like how you said think about flights. You can think about them, because most likely, you won't be taking them today.

PETERSONS: You will not be taking them. Hang out in the airport, right?

BERMAN: Imagine that, because that's as close as you're going to get.

ROMANS: Thanks, Indra.

All right. Coming up, kidnapped, raped, held against her will for ten years. This morning, a California woman finally free. Her accused captor behind bars. How she made it back home, ahead.

BERMAN: And a tainted beef recall expands. Nearly 2 million pounds of potentially contaminated with a dangerous bacteria. We will tell you the new states affected, coming up next.


ROMANS: A really remarkable, stunning, sad story this morning from California. A 25-year-old woman has been found alive 10 years after her mother's live-in boyfriend allegedly abducted her.

Take a look at the suspect. He's 41-year-old Isidro Garcia, arrested Wednesday, booked on suspicion of kidnapping, rape, lewd acts with a minor and false imprisonment. Now, the two of them lived apparently very public lives.

Look at these photos. She's not being identified, but she was 15 when she was allegedly drugged by Garcia and taken from her mother. Listen to neighbors who knew Garcia and the young woman. They were stunned by the news.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She always seems happy and he always makes for parties for her and everything.

REPORTER: How about Isidro?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, he was a really quiet man. He always say hi to everyone, but --

REPORTER: And did it appear to you that she was under duress, or --


REPORTER: Nothing to indicate that she was being kept against her will?



ROMANS: But police say Garcia forced the victim to marry him illegally in 2012 using fake names and fake documents, fathered a child with her. We're told she was kept locked in a garage to keep her from escaping. The case finally came to light when the victim found her sister on Facebook and authorities were contacted.

BERMAN: We're learning new details in the Boston marathon bombing case, including that the bombs used in the deadly attack were constructed in part using Christmas lights and model car parts. Prosecutors are also revealing in court records that suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev wrote a note while wounded and hiding from police in a boat, saying he was jealous of his dead brother, Tamerlan, for going to the garden of paradise. He also asks Allah to make him a martyr.

Lawyers for Tsarnaev are fighting to keep the note and statements he made from his hospital bed out of his upcoming trial.

ROMANS: All right, investigators in the Aaron Hernandez case are looking for help from tattoo artists. The heavily inked former NFL star's charged with murder in two separate incidents, the 2013 shooting death of a semi pro football player and a 2012 double homicide in Boston. Prosecutors say the tattoo artists who did work on Hernandez's right forearm, they may have crucial evidence.

Hernandez is being held without bail, is scheduled to be arraigned on the newest charges on May 28th.

BERMAN: Due in court today, Michael Jace, the actor accused of shooting and killing his wife just moments after she and her young sons returned from little legal practice. Police say Jace confessed in a 911 call and neighbors reportedly heard loud arguing moments before shots rang out. Jace is probably most famous from his starring role on TV's "The Shield," where he played a police officer.

ROMANS: This is being called one of the largest roundups ever of people who shared child porn online. Federal officials in New York arresting 70 men and one woman ranging from a police officer, a Boy Scout leader, a paramedic, an RN, all accused of trading child pornography using peer-to-peer file-sharing software. They were tracked using IP addresses. Hundreds of computers were seized. Authorities now are trying to identify the children in those pictures.

BERMAN: There could be trouble on the tax front for Donald Sterling. L.A. County is investigating two properties, including Sterling's childhood home, for potential tax fraud. They're reportedly looking at whether Sterling and his sister duped the county out of thousands of dollars in property taxes by failing to report that the owners of record had been dead for decades.

The official owners were Sterling's late mother and his grandmother. As a result, officials say they were paying decades-old property tax rates, which you can bet were way, way lower.

ROMANS: Oh, yes.

All right, same-sex marriages will continue in Pennsylvania, now that the governor has decided not to appeal a federal judge's ruling throwing out that state's marriage ban. Governor Tom Corbett said in a statement he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman, but he doubts the state could succeed on appeal. And with the attorney general having also passed on defending the law, it appears there is no one left to appeal the ruling to a higher court.

BERMAN: This morning, more states could possibly be affected by the recall of potentially tainted ground beef. The government has released a list of retailers in nine states that may have carried the meat suspected of containing dangerous E. coli bacteria. Eleven people have fallen ill.

Nearly 2 million pounds of ground beef have now been recalled. It was produced by the Wolverine Packing Company between March 31st and April 18th. Consumers are being told to look for this code -- EST-2574B.

ROMANS: And cook your meat thoroughly.

BERMAN: Cook your meat thoroughly. ROMANS: All right. PetSmart now joining rival Petco in pulling Chinese-made jerky treats from all of its stores. The FDA has linked these treats to more than 1,000 dog deaths and nearly 5,000 illnesses in dogs, cats, even people. The Chinese jerky products won't actually disappear from PetSmart stores until March of 2015. Petco for its part says they'll be gone by the end of the year.

BERMAN: The Transportation Department striking a blow for plane passengers. They want to require airlines to tell passengers up front about additional costs like fees for checked and carry-on bags and advance seat assignments. The government says the so-called hidden fees make it difficult for customers to determine true ticket costs. The airline industry is against the move. The public has 90 days to comment. The rule could be finalized by next year.

ROMANS: All right, the Spurs seem to be in charge, simply routing the Thunder and taking a commanding lead in their playoff series. Joe Carter has the details in the "Bleacher Report," next.


ROMANS: All right, while you were sleeping, the San Antonio Spurs demolished Oklahoma City by 35 points in game two of the Western Conference Finals.

BERMAN: We have to acknowledge the greatness of Tim Duncan, who is just amazing.

Joe Carter has that and more in the "Bleacher Report." Hey, Joe.

CARTER: Hey, good morning, guys.

Speaking of Tim Duncan and Ginobili, the big three in San Antonio, they've been playing together 11 years in the playoffs. Can you believe that, 11 years? They seem to never die.

This game last night was close for a very short time, about a quarter and a half. Then the Spurs went on a huge run. By the third quarter, San Antonio was up in this game by 29 points.

It was during that span that you could see Oklahoma City lose their composure. You see during a time-out, Russell Westbrook was seen yelling at Kevin Durant. The Spurs, well, they took advantage of that, and Danny Green, of all people, had the hot hand last night. He made seven 3-pointers, which absolutely buried Oklahoma City. It was their worst playoff loss ever, final score 112-77. Spurs now up two games to nothing. By the way, it is worth noting that teams that go up 2-0 in a seven-game series go on to win that series 85 percent of the time.

Trending this morning on -- we have learned that Pacers star Paul George suffered a concussion in game two against the Miami Heat. It happened on this play right here, when Paul George took a knee to the back of the head by Dwyane Wade. The two of them were scrambling for a loose ball. Paul George said he actually blacked out for a moment during that play. His status for game three is questionable. George has to first pass a league-mandated concussion test before he can play again.

Well, the Super Bowl champions, the Seattle Seahawks, were honored at the White House yesterday. President Obama, of course, praised the team, but he also poked fun at Richard Sherman's infamous Super Bowl rant.


OBAMA: I considered letting Sherman up here to the podium today. Giving him the mike. But yeah, we've got to go in a little bit, so.


CARTER: Obama's good, guys. I think every year President Obama gets a little funnier and his timing gets a little better. Obviously, at the correspondents' dinner he was great, but yesterday poked fun at guys, but also gave a lot of guys credit, including Richard Sherman, saying he loves to root for an underdog. Sherman has a great story, from Compton, from drugs and gangs, all the way to Stanford and now the highest paid cornerback in the league.

BERMAN: Yes, some really pointed comments about Sherman and also actually at the correspondents' dinner, as you mentioned.

Joe Carter, great to have you this morning, thanks so much.

ROMANS: Thanks, Joe.

CARTER: Good to see you guys.

BERMAN: That's a big news this morning. New allegations of patient mistreatment at V.A. hospitals, these are new allegations on top of everything else. We'll tell you what's happening today right after the break.