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More U.S. Help to Find Kidnapped Girls in Nigeria; Democrats Discuss Benghazi; Change Your EBay Password

Aired May 22, 2014 - 05:30   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Culture of deceit? President Obama vowing to fix health care for veterans after VA hospitals across the country kept patients waiting for appointments and then allegedly covered up these extreme delays. This morning, the man at the center of that scandal heads to Capitol Hill amid brand-new allegations. We're breaking it all down for you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, U.S. troops on the ground searching for hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by terrorists. We're live in Nigeria with the latest.

ROMANS: Tornadoes, hail and rain tearing down trees, damaging homes, and the severe storms aren't done yet. Millions in their path today. Our Indra Petersons is tracking it all down for you.

Welcome back to EARLY START. A very busy Thursday. I'm Christine Romans.

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

And this morning, one of President Obama's top advisers is visiting the Phoenix VA. This is the center of a growing scandal right now, and really the center of disturbing, new allegations of delays involving care for wounded veterans. A doctor at the Phoenix VA tells CNN's Drew Griffin, who has broken so much of this information about this scandal, this doctor told Drew that this facility is violating a national mandate in making injured veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wait for months to get appointments.

The worst part, Dr. Katherine Mitchell says is that it was still going on 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 VA HOSPITAL: Who should have priority scheduling, do not.

GRIFFIN: Who are coming to the Phoenix VA for follow-up care for war injuries.

MITCHELL: Correct. GRIFFIN: Are being put on a waiting list and made to wait six to 10 months?

MITCHELL: Yes, or longer.


BERMAN: Twenty-six facilities nationwide are now being audited as part of this investigation. In Portland, Oregon, VA officials say tens of thousands of appointment requests took more than 14 days to fill. And the VA in Seattle is now facing a lawsuit from a family that says delays in scheduling surgery contributed to the cancer death of a Vietnam-era veteran.

The president called Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to the White House and demanded answers, saying he's outraged and insisting whatever's going on at the VA needs to be remedied now.


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 a sacred duty to maintain.


BERMAN: The president also says someone will be held accountable, but he's standing by Eric Shinseki, the secretary, for now. The former general today is on Capitol Hill holding closed-door meetings with lawmakers.

ROMANS: All right, the U.S. this morning is stepping up its search for hundreds of kidnapped Nigerian girls held for more than a month by the terror group Boko Haram. Now the Pentagon has put 80 more service members on the ground, this time in neighboring Chad, set to aid in the hunt with a predator drone.

Vladimir Duthiers live in Abuja with the latest for us.

Vlad, is there any optimism now, new optimism that these new efforts might help?

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, I would have to think that from the U.S. side that there is, that they actually believe that they can do something by putting these 80 U.S. military personnel in neighboring Chad to assist with this search for these missing girls taken from their dormitories April 14th. Six weeks on almost, no sign of them, Christine.

But a lot of people here in Nigeria are skeptical. Whilst they welcome the international attention and the support of international countries, there is a strong feeling here that the government and the military has been unable to do the job, to get the job done. President Goodluck Jonathan in Nigeria says he has 20,000 soldiers in northeastern Nigeria actively looking for these girls, and yet he also admits that he has no idea where they are, Christine.

Also, we know that U.S. intel reports suggest that these girls may have been split up, trafficked into neighboring Chad, Cameroon, Niger. It's going to be very challenging, no matter what kind of assets are brought to bear on this situation -- Christine.

ROMANS: Let's talk about those assets brought to bear. The 80 more U.S. service members, the use of a predator drone. Can you tell us what we expect them to be doing? I mean, these are boots on the ground, but this is mostly technical assistance?

DUTHIERS: That's right. These are going to be maintenance officials, maintenance military personnel who will sort out the aircraft, maintain those aircraft, interpret the data that comes back from those aircraft. These are not combat boots on the ground, and there has not been a commitment by either the United States or France to do anything like that. The only military combat boots on the ground are going to be Nigerian soldiers along with a battalion from each country in the neighboring area, Chad, Cameroon, Niger, Benin, offering one battalion of troops to assist in the search.

Now for our audience in the United States, this is still going to be a very difficult search, because if you recall, Joseph Kony has done this as well. He's kidnapped children, and it's taken years for anybody to find them. In fact, many of those children are still missing -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Vladimir Duthiers, thank you so much for that -- Vlad.

BERMAN: On Capitol Hill today, a first meeting of the House Select Committee looking into the Benghazi attacks. This a day after Democrats agreed to participate in this panel investigating whether the White House covered up what happened at the diplomatic compound September 11th, 2012.

You'll remember, the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans died that day. Among the five Democrats named in this committee is Maryland's Elijah Cummings. He says their goal is to ensure the committee doesn't turn into a partisan witch hunt.


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.


BERMAN: All of the Democrats served on other committees that have already investigated the attacks. The top Republican on the Select Committee, Representative Trey Gowdy, is pledging the work will be fair. ROMANS: The House of Representatives is set today to vote on a major overhaul of how the NSA handles phone data. Under the bill, the agency can no longer collect that data itself. It will reside instead with phone companies and the government would have to ask a court for permission before it can look at those call records. But civil liberties groups are upset that some provisions have been changed to give the government more leeway in creating broader searches.

BERMAN: If you have an eBay account, be sure to change your password. That company revealing that hackers got into a huge database there containing the personal information of more than 233 million customers. Their credit card information should be safe, but eBay says hackers have taken names, e-mail addresses, passwords, phone numbers, birth dates. EBay says it is working with the FBI and other agencies to try to track down the hackers.

ROMANS: And what's the John Berman famous line about this? You've changed them several times --

BERMAN: Well, no, I mean, honestly, I've changed my password so many times that the only person who can't get in is me. I don't know my passwords for anything anymore.

ROMANS: I know. You have like a little sticky in your wallet that has all the --

BERMAN: They're completely safe.

ROMANS: Written down all the passwords because you can't remember them.

All right. Time for an EARLY START on your money. European stock, Dow futures are both slightly higher. The big story, folks, is GM. Another recall announcement brings the company's grand total to 29 recalls for this year. GM earmarked $1.7 billion to deal with recall costs last quarter, essentially wiping out its profits.

The company has fines paying NHTSA $35 million for its handling of that botched ignition switch recall that led to 13 deaths. Some perspective on that fine? GM revenue is about $415 million or so every single day, so a lot more money is coming through the books than that $35 million fine.

What does this mean for the rookie CEO, Mary Barra?


MICHELLE KREBS, INDEPENDENT AUTO ANALYST: The challenge for her right now is she's got to deal with this crises. She's got to -- and I think she's doing a lot of the right things, insisting on recalls, getting this investigation done. She's hired outside consultants. But at the same time, she's got to continue to run a car company.


ROMANS: Yes. The good news for Barra, GM is still selling cars as still the number one automaker in the U.S. and Mary Barra's been getting pretty high marks for how she's handled this so far, but you're in the second inning of all this. I mean, they've got to really clean it up and show going forward it is a new GM.

BERMAN: There is utility getting all the bad news out at once as well.

ROMANS: True. That's true.

BERMAN: All right. Let's talk about the weather now, because the picture potentially dangerous and dark for a big swath of the country. Look at this map -- map, I should say. Millions could be in the path of thunderstorms. What could they do? They could spawn tornadoes from the plains to the East Coast.

ROMANS: Get ready for more trouble in Denver a day after this happened. That's golf ball-sized hail covering the ground. Baseball- sized hail reported, too. Several inches fell in and around the city, enough to damage planes at the Denver airport. The storms were responsible for putting up to five tornadoes on the ground, including this one here. And the winds in some areas topped 50 miles per hour, dragging down trees.

Of course, thunderstorms mean a lot of rain, and serious flooding was reported throughout the region.

BERMAN: And Pennsylvania, sudden thunderstorms inundated this community northeast of Pittsburgh. Two to four inches of -- two to four inches of rain an hour there as the storms just came one after another.

And near Dayton, Ohio, heavy rainfall filled the streets. Look at this. The hazard lights not going to help one bit. Trapping cars, even shutting down two major interstates. Hundreds of drivers were stranded for hours until crews could clear these roads of all that water.

ROMANS: All right, so, Indra Petersons, what can we expect today?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know I'm still stuck on that video, the video of what --

BERMAN: That makes you so angry.

PETERSONS: So angry every time. More people die from flooding than any other severe weather. Add those up together. More people die from flooding. I'm going to keep saying it. I can't stand seeing those pictures. Please be safe out there because again today, we're still talking about more severe weather.

Where are we looking today? New York down to D.C. Notice how spotty this is. Kind of scattered out there. Out towards Nashville, even Chattanooga. Still, again, third day in a row around Denver. We're going to be talking about more hail, more thunderstorms. That threat for severe weather still there, even out towards Midland, Texas. Here's what's going on. Two systems making their way across the country. We had the northeast. We're still looking for that. Also, down around the southern plains. This is huge. We keep talking about it. Everyone's been watching and waiting for rain in the southern plains. Finally, they're getting some. It may be too much in a short period of time. Flooding concerns could be out there as well.

What are we looking at as far as rain totals, heavier amounts in the southern plains. Maybe only about an inch or two into the northeast, remember, under those isolated heavier thunderstorms, we showed you what happened out towards Philadelphia, you could still have that threat for flooding. So that's the concern there.

Why are we talking about severe weather in the northeast? Look at this temperature difference. Look at all this hot, humid air, D.C. up to 85 today. Just north of us, New York City looking at 65. That temperature clash brings that threat for severe weather. All the elements combine, and notice you have the system making its way across. And today, already, already seeing the thunder and lightning out there, and it's only expected to get worse.

Again, think about the flights. A lot of delays are going to be out there in major airports, Philly, D.C., in New York, even out towards Denver. You are all in the trouble zone. But by Memorial Day weekend, it looks better in the northeast, it kicks out of here by Saturday.

BERMAN: All right, we're going to count on that.


ROMANS: Thanks, Indra.

A 15-year-old girl kidnapped a decade ago, she is found alive, held against her will for 10 years. How she made her way back home. It might surprise you, after the break.


BERMAN: A mystery solved in California. A 25-year-old woman has been found alive after 10 years in captivity. Police say she was kidnapped by her mother's live-in boyfriend.

Here's the suspect, 41-year-old Isidro Garcia, arrested Wednesday and booked on suspicion of kidnapping, rape, lewd acts with a minor, and also false imprisonment. The two apparently lived a very public life. Look at these pictures. Wow. Police are not identifying the victim. She was 15 when she allegedly was drugged by Garcia and snatched from her mother. Neighbors who knew Garcia and the girl could not believe this news.


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


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

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


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



BERMAN: Police say Garcia forced the victim to marry him in 2012 using fake names and fake documents. He also fathered a child with her.

We're told she was repeatedly beaten and kept in a locked garage to keep her from escaping. The case finally came to light when the victim found her sister on Facebook. That's when the authorities were contacted.

ROMANS: And he told her -- he told her repeatedly, police say, that her family didn't -- stopped looking for her and that if she contacted anyone, that he would make immigration problems for her family. So she was terrified, they said.

BERMAN: It's really crazy to see these pictures of them out in public.

ROMANS: Yes. It really is.

All right. We're finding out more now about the bombs used in the deadly attack on the Boston marathon. Prosecutors revealing in a court filing that these pressure cooker bombs were built using Christmas lights and model car parts, and they were likely not constructed at the suspect's home.

Also revealed that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev wrote a note while he was wounded and hiding from police in a boat. In that note, he asks Allah to make him a martyr. Lawyers for Tsarnaev are fighting to keep the note out of his upcoming trial.

BERMAN: Actor Michael Jace is due in a Los Angeles court today as he faces murder charges in the shooting death of his wife. This happened earlier this week after she and the couple's young sons returned from Little League practice. Neighbors reportedly heard loud arguing moments before the shots rang out. Police say Jace confessed in a 911 call. He might be most remembered for his starring role in TV's "The Shield," where he played a police officer.

Let's take a look now at what's coming up on "NEW DAY." Kate Bolduan joins us now. ROMANS: Good morning, Kate.

BERMAN: Hey, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Good morning, guys. We're following more disturbing allegations as you are of wait times for U.S. veterans at VA hospitals. CNN has learned that some combat vets are waiting months for care, even though a mandate requires them to receive priority, and these are new vets coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. This as President Obama promises accountability. But he is standing by the VA chief, at least for now, we can say.

So what's really being done about this, you can call a national disgrace, and who is being held responsible? We're going to discuss that with a couple of people.

Plus, an incredible story you've also been covering this morning. A woman finally breaks free after 10 years of captivity, saying that she was forced to marry her captor, even give birth to his child. How was her real identity kept hidden for so long? They were essentially living right out in the open.

We're going to talk with Elizabeth Smart, who survived, as you know, an unbelievable kidnapping herself, to get her take on this.

BERMAN: Interesting to hear her take, to be sure.

BOLDUAN: It will. Yes.

BERMAN: All right, Kate, thanks very much. 47 minutes after the hour.

A critical food warning for millions this morning. A beef recall is spreading. Nearly two million pounds possibly contaminated with a dangerous bacteria. We'll tell you the new developments just after the break.


BERMAN: Same-sex couples in Pennsylvania this morning are really cheering the governor there after Tom Corbett decided not to appeal a federal judge's ruling making same-sex marriage legal in that state. In a statement, Governor Corbett said that while he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman, he doubts the state could succeed on appeal. No other state official has stepped forward to defend the law, so it's in place.

ROMANS: All right, new fears this morning in the recall of 1.8 million pounds of ground beef. The government has released a partial list of stores across nine states that may have received meat possibly contaminated with dangerous e. Coli bacteria. So far 11 people have been sickened.

The meat came from the wolverine packing company and was produced between March 31st and April 18th. Check your ground beef packages for this code. Ready? Est-2574b. BERMAN: Another major pet food retailer, Petsmart, is pulling Chinese-made jerky treats from its stores in the U.S. and Canada. The treats have been linked to more than 1,000 dog deaths and nearly 5,000 other pet illnesses. The FDA still hasn't been able to determine the exact cause. Petsmart joins its retail rival Petco in removing the treats. They will not actually disappear from Petsmart shelves until March of 2015. Petco plans to pull the products by the end of this year.

ROMANS: The government is trying to make airline fees more transparent. A new proposal would require airlines to tell passengers up front about additional costs, like fees for checked and carry-on bags. Right now, the Transportation Department says many of those costs are buried, making it harder on passengers. The airline industry says the proposal overreaches. The public, you're going to get 90 days to comment, and officials say the rule could be finalized within the year.

BERMAN: Other big business news this morning. McDonald's shareholders are meeting, this as protesters gather outside. They are very, very mad. We'll tell you why after the break.


ROMANS: All right, let's get an EARLY START on your money this morning. European stocks and U.S. futures both slightly higher right now. You can see Dow futures up 21 points. One group to watch, luxury stocks. U.S. shoppers are in general staying home, but rich people are buying lots of expensive stuff.

Earnings reports from Tiffany, Nordstrom, Michael Kors, they show the 1 percent spending is spending strong. Meantime, retailers who cater to the 99 percent think Staples, Dick's Sporting Goods, JCPenney, all having a harder time.

McDonald's on lockdown today. The company shut down its headquarters ahead of its shareholder meeting this morning. Protests are expected tied to everything from unhealthy food to low wages. 110 McDonald's protesters were arrested yesterday. Workers were calling for higher wages.

In terms of wages, the average salary for a fast-food worker is $9.09 an hour. That's above the current minimum wage of $7.25 but well below what the president is asking for, $10.10. And worker themselves are calling for a $15 wage. That shareholder meeting kicks off today around 9:00 a.m. Central.

Silicon Valley has a new king. San Jose is the tenth most populous city in America, and it's about to crack some million-dollar resident milestone. The census bureau is out with new data showing that U.S. cities are still growing faster than suburbs, most of the growth that's happening in the south and the west.

Texas getting even bigger, by the way. Seven of 15 fastest growing cities were in Texas. Home prices follow that trend. Truly a report that nationwide, urban home prices are climbing at a slightly faster rate in cities than in suburbs.

BERMAN: I was reading, though, we're reaching the tipping point where renting may make more sense than buying.

ROMANS: In some places, yes, but rents in general have been going up, too, and that's something that especially young renters who don't want to be homeowners, they're really frustrated because the rents are rising much faster than their paychecks.

BERMAN: Difficult to get ahead.


BERMAN: All right. That's it for us. "NEW DAY" starts right now.


DR. KATHERINE MITCHELL, PHOENIX VA HOSPITAL: Are waiting on what could be six months, nine months, or longer.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Brand new allegations against the VA. A doctor telling CNN that recent war vets coming home injured are forced to wait months for care. Three senior officials are being called before Congress today. We have to do better for our veterans. Who will step up for them?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: On the ground. The U.S. sending 80 troops into west Africa to help find those hundreds of missing Nigerian girls. Who is being sent and what exactly is their mission?

MICHAEL PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Finally found. A woman allegedly kidnapped when she was 15 and held for 10 years, forced to marry her captor and have his child. So brainwashed neighbors thought they were the perfect couple. She's free now and speaking out.

CUOMO: Your NEW DAY starts right now.