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Near Collision at Houston Airport; Anger Grows at V.A. Secretary; Wildfire Forces Hundreds to Evacuate; Kidnapping Suspect Denies Charges; Cuban Apologizes for "Hoodie" Comment

Aired May 23, 2014 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It has happened again. Two huge passenger jets barely miss, this time over Houston after air traffic controllers send one right into the path of another. Why does this seem to keep happening?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: He's promising to regain the trust of veterans, but this morning there are new calls for the V.A. secretary to resign with even Democrats, even Democrats now furious at the delays that may have cost lives. How long can Eric Shinseki hold on? And how long before they fix the problems at the V.A.?

BERMAN: Shocking, new developments in a California kidnapping case. The suspect's lawyer says the victim went along willingly and only went to police now because she wants a divorce.

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

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is Friday, May 23rd. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Breaking overnight, word of another frightening near collision at one of the nation's busiest airports. The FAA is now investigating how two United Airlines jets came within a few hundred feet of each other after both took off from Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport.

Now, this happened two weeks ago. An air traffic controller told one plane to turn right, directly into the path of the other plane. They were only seconds away from colliding when the controller realized the error and told the planes to turn again, avoiding -- narrowly avoiding disaster. Listen to what it sounded like.


TOWER: United 437, turn right heading 180, sir, and maintain 300 there.

PILOT: Full stop, turning right immediately --

TOWER: United 601, stop your turn, climb, stop your climb, stop your turn for United 601.


ROMANS: Wow, this is the fourth we've learned about just this week.

BERMAN: Stop your turn, stop your turn.

Embattled V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki vowing to fight to keep his job and he's promised to fix delays in care that may be costing veterans their lives. It could be a tough battle for the beleaguered ex- general because some high-profile Democrats now are demanding that he step down.

Here's chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine and John, V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki was summoned to a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill yesterday afternoon, not to meet with a Republican, but a frustrated Democrat.

And afterwards, Shinseki told reporters that he has not offered the president his resignation. He said, "You guys know me better than that." But his remaining support is tenuous.

Do you still think that he should be at the helm?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I have not called for General Shinseki to resign, although I have to admit, I'm getting a little closer.

The reports that continue to come are appalling. And these are men and women who served our country, and -- we've not just let them down, we've let them die!

BASH: Congress is stepping up its investigation of the V.A., but three V.A. officials scheduled to attend a House Veterans Affairs Committee meeting yesterday morning didn't show up.

And later in the afternoon, the V.A. general counsel scrapped a meeting with the committee chairman, Jeff Miller, after Miller demanded it be open to the press.

REP. JEFF MILLER (R), FLORIDA: We waited all day long. We called nine times for them to tell us whether or not they were going to come, and he never came.

BASH: All of this while the president's point person on V.A. troubles, Rob Nabors, traveled to Phoenix, the V.A. office where problems first surfaced, to interview the interim director, even as congressional investigators warn the problems we know about now may just be the tip of the iceberg -- Christine and John.


ROMANS: All right. Dana Bash, thanks for that.

Five percent contained, not what you want to hear when a wildfire is bearing down on your home. That's the situation this morning near Sedona, Arizona. More than 7,000 acres have already burned. Hundreds of homes and businesses are right there in harm's way.

Let's get the latest this morning from Ana Cabrera.


ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Christine, it's the extremely dry conditions that have firefighters really concerned. It's these pine needles, these dry pine needles that are blanketing the forest floor, providing a kindling of sorts for this fire that's now burning thousands of acres.

You can see that huge plume of smoke that's been blowing to the north. The winds have been a huge X-factor for firefighters as they work to try to contain this fire that's burning in very steep, rugged and treacherous terrain.

So, firefighters have been relying a lot on the air support in some of those areas, dropping fire retardant to protect the homes that are on the northeast flank.

Still, 300 homes that are threatened right now. There are hundreds of fire crews that have arrived from six different states to help in this fire battle. At least 20 hot shot crews that are also joining in this firefight.

Right now, it's a race to keep this fire away from the homes as it continues to spread with Mother Nature not lending any reprieve so far -- John, Christine.


BERMAN: Thanks to Ana Cabrera near Sedona, which really is one of the most beautiful parts of the country.

ROMANS: I know.

BERMAN: Let's hope they're being safe and get the upper hand.

Another day of dangerous weather on tap for a large part of the country. Severe thunderstorms and the threat of flash flooding facing millions from Wyoming to Oklahoma. Lightning and the possibility of wildfires also expected to be a problem in many of those areas, drought-stricken areas, I might add.


ROMANS: That's the sound of insurance claims.


ROMANS: In central and eastern Pennsylvania. That's tennis ball- sized hail shattering car windows, breaking windows in buildings all over the town of Reading. Emergency management officials tell us there's a lot of damage. You could see it, look at all that damage. But you know what, no serious injuries.

BERMAN: When hail dents your car like that, it's the most helpless feeling in world. You're like, there's nothing I can do. Why is this happening to me?

Virginia battered Thursday by hail, high winds and driving rains. Tornado warnings late in the day sent people scrambling tomorrow shelter in Richmond. A lot of damage reported throughout the state with trees down, streets and highways flooded and more than 20,000 homes without power.

ROMANS: Severe damage being reported Upstate New York. Thunderstorms packing ferocious winds and hail, ripping through Albany, Schenectady and Montgomery Counties. Many homes in the region devastated, as you can see, with trees and power lines down all over the place.

BERMAN: Devastation in Kent County, Delaware. Just look at this home, flattened by a possible tornado.

Several structure collapses are being reported in that area. Roads are closed. Power's out now in over 4,000 homes. The good news, though, we should tell you. No serious injuries reported.

ROMANS: Our Indra Petersons, will this weekend look a little bit better?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: That's the good news, right? Things need to change for the weekend. They are getting better.

So, yes, we have a plus out there. Let's take a look at the radar. What a different picture from just yesterday. We were talking about large hail up and down the East Coast.

But now finally, yes, we're seeing some showers. It's not gone, but this will kind of be the story as we head through the weekend, scattered showers hanging around, minimal chances as we go farther each day. Why? What are we watching? A low off the coastline.

Take a look. That wrap-around moisture producing mini little showers here and there. Each day, we're going to see high pressure come in and with that -- the low moves farther offshore and rain chances go down.

So, Monday should be the best day, but that's not to say not here or there, you're not that one person with that cloud over your head. Keep in mind, in the Midwest, another low is out there, so your chances will actually increase for showers.

But again, no one's going to get a complete washout, unless you're in the Southern Plains and around Texas. We're talking about a lot of rain. And also the Pacific Northwest.

Look at totals, only half an inch, an inch over the next several days, so not a biggie in the northeast. Look at the heavy rain southern plains in through Texas. That's where we're looking at the threat for some even flooding. Severe weather threat today into the Carolinas, that's not going to be the big story.

Temperature-wise, it is nice and right where it should be today, and temperatures only go up each day as we go through the weekend. And I like sunshine on Memorial Day weekend. I'm fine with it. Temperatures could go way up for all I care.

ROMANS: I know. After this winter --

PETERSONS: Bring it!

ROMANS: If I roast this summer, I don't care.

PETERSONS: I want a sunburn.

ROMANS: I know. Thanks, Indra.

BERMAN: All right. Happening today, President Obama set to officially nominate two new members to his cabinet. Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan will take over as the director of the Office of Management and Budget, replacing Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who is on track to be the next health and human services secretary, and San Antonio mayor Julian Castro, who replaced Donovan at HUD. The announcement were set for this afternoon at the White House.

ROMANS: As the White House releases a key memo justifying its killing of U.S. citizens overseas, there is word this morning some at Pentagon want permission to speak more publicly about the U.S. drone program. "The Wall Street Journal" says some top defense officials plan to present Chuck Hagel with a proposal that will let them publicly defend drone strikes. The administration in the past has kept most details secret for fear of giving too much information to potential targets.

BERMAN: So, what if terrorists tried to take over a U.S. nuclear missile launch silo? Turns out, armed security forces at the 341st missile wing in Montana were put through a drill last summer simulating exactly that kind of attack. And as Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr tells us, it didn't exactly turn out well.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: John, Christine, it was last summer at an Air Force nuclear base in Montana when a security group, a small team of Air Force security experts failed an inspection. It was an exercise, training about what to do if terrorists took over a nuclear missile silo and tried to get to a nuclear weapon on the base. They failed that exercise.

Now, a report has emerged about exactly what happened. I want to read you a couple of examples of what they are talking about. The report says that the personnel, quote, "failed to take all lawful actions necessary to immediately regain control of nuclear weapons."

And as a result of that, the test found that the Air Force team may not have been able to, quote, "prevent theft, damage, sabotage, destruction or even detonation of a nuclear weapon." Now, the team went through retraining and they did pass, but this comes at a time when the nuclear force has been plagued by some disciplinary problems, morale problems.

Look, the majority of the personnel do perform their jobs very well, but they do have these problems. This is a very high-pressure environment. The nuclear force has to be perfect. That's what the Air Force says.

It's not an environment where they can tolerate any mistakes -- John, Christine.


BERMAN: Our thanks to Barbara Starr for that. That's the thing, there's no margin for error when you're dealing with nuclear weapons there.

ROMANS: That's right.

BERMAN: More layoffs to tell you about at computer giant Hewlett- Packard, announcing plans to cut 11,000 to 16,000 jobs. That's in addition to the 34,000 layoffs already in the works. HP says the cuts would be across the board and save an additional $1 billion per year. The company's had difficulties as consumers shift away from PCs to mobile devices.

ROMANS: McDonald's CEO responding to two days of protests over low worker pay, responding at the company's annual meeting in Illinois on Wednesday. Police arrested more than 100 people as protesters forced McDonald's to close one of its headquarters buildings. CEO Don Thompson telling shareholders, "We respect the fact they want to challenge us relative to wages. We pay fair and competitive wages and provide job opportunities and training for those entering the workforce."

Those workers want a $15 wage. They say they deserve a $15 wage and they point to $1.2 billion profit from McDonald's and say it's just not fair.

We're going to have more on McDonald's coming up on wage issues coming up tomorrow on "YOUR MONEY" --

BERMAN: It's a big Christine Romans and a mini Christine Romans right there. Big, little. I like it. That's true.

ROMANS: One of them talks back to you and one of them doesn't.

BERMAN: And they both stare at me kind of strangely.

ROMANS: Two p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. Shameless plug.

All right. Let's take a look at the markets right now. Time for an EARLY START on your money.

Stocks in Europe are mixed after starting off the morning lower. S&P futures basically flat, just one day after almost hitting another record. G.M., though, is the big story again today. CEO Mary Barra having private meetings on Capitol Hill with lawmakers. Here's what she has publicly said.


MARY BARRA, G.M. CEO: We've moved from a cost culture after the bankruptcy to a customer culture.


ROMANS: All right. Behind closed doors, she's been promising lawmakers constant communication, saying they'd receive a copy of G.M.'s internal investigation in early July and that she would testify further at hearings.

And so far, congressional aides are telling us they like what they're hearing from Mary Barra. She became CEO just one month before the recall was announced, and so far, those aides say they like the messaging from the new CEO.

But recalls may continue through the summer. Now, look at this -- according to Barclays, G.M. hired 30 investigators to comb through data and find possible issues. So, maybe, just maybe you're going to see more of this. Also, Mary Barra telling lawmakers, frankly, that they don't have all the parts yet to do all of these recalls and all of the repairs.

So, there's going to be a long road, no pun intended, for Mary Barra and that company.

Before you go shopping for the Memorial Day cookout, listen up. New warnings about dangerous contamination in your food.

BERMAN: Even the healthy stuff!

ROMANS: The details next.


BERMAN: This morning, new worries over food that could possibly make you sick. The CDC is investigating an outbreak of E. coli linked to raw clover sprouts. Some 10 people in Idaho and Washington state are believed to have come down with E. coli infections after eating the sprouts.

They're linked to an Idaho producer, evergreen fresh sprouts. And or listeria contamination worries connected with walnuts sold by Sherman produce in Missouri and Illinois. And some hummus and dip sold nationwide at Trader Joe's and Target stores as well. No illnesses have been reported from those products, but all now have been recalled.

ROMANS: So, a bizarre twist in the case of the California woman found alive 10 years after she was allegedly kidnapped and held captive by her mother's live-in boyfriend. The victim was 15, just 15 years old when she says she was drugged and abducted and then systematically beaten, raped and kept locked in a garage to keep her from escaping. Now, the suspect, 41-year-old Isidro Garcia, allegedly forced her to marry him, fathered a child with her. Now his lawyers insist Garcia never hit the victim, never prevented her from leaving, and these claims of abuse are being, quote, "made up" because the couple is splitting up.


CHARLES FRISCO, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Any couple that's going through divorce has problems. Every couple going through a divorce may say things, and oftentimes say things that simply aren't true because they want to get the goat of the other spouse. It appears that's probably what happened in this case.

FARRAH EMAMI, DISTRIC ATTORNEY SPOKESWOMAN: This is a victim who was kidnapped at 15 years old and convinced that she had no one to turn to. She was told her family wasn't looking for her. She was told that he was her only ally. And so, over the course of many, many years, maybe her freedoms did increase, but she was still mentally his captive.


ROMANS: The victim tells a Los Angeles TV station she feels blessed to be back in the arms of her family. Still a lot of questions about that case.

BERMAN: Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban apologizing for some of what he said in an interview. He was discussing his own prejudices in light of the Donald Sterling scandal. Cuban said if he sees a black kid in a hoodie late at night, he'll cross to the other side of the street.

Now, he also said if he sees a white kid all tatted up, he'll cross to the other side of the street. Overnight, he took to Twitter to say he regretted using the words about the hoodie. He said writing, "In hindsight, I should have used different examples. I didn't consider the Trayvon Martin family, and I apologize to them for that."

ROMANS: Mark Cuban is notoriously frank, he has a lot of opinions and he shares those opinions. And when you listen to the entire interview in "Inc" magazine, he was talking about teaching his children about suppressing any inner prejudices. It was kind of a long and interesting conversation. But that particular segment really, really irritated people.

BERMAN: Indeed.

ROMANS: And he is walking that part back.

The Justice Department says it will now require the FBI and other federal agencies to videotape interviews with suspects. Opponents have argued it could reveal interrogation tactics and discourage witnesses from talking. Advocates, including federal prosecutors, say video-taped confessions will help seal convictions. The requirement will not apply in cases of national security when time is of the essence. All right, a serious snub. The greatest soccer player in history left off the World Cup roster.

BERMAN: This is a huge story.

ROMANS: Joe Carter has details in the Friday edition of the "Bleacher Report," next.


BERMAN: All right, if you heard an audible scream last night or yesterday afternoon, it was because I find out this news. The United States World Cup roster's officially set, but missing from the team is Landon Donovan, the greatest player in U.S. soccer history.

So, what's going on here, Joe Carter? Explain it to me. Please justify it because it is unjustifiable.

ROMANS: And if you've heard John Berman scream, you'll know.

JOE CARTER, BLEACHER REPORT: I've heard him scream a couple of times, so I do know, as a matter of fact.

This really speaks to, guys, the great amount of American soccer talent that's available, the big pool of great soccer players. Because when you look at Landon Donovan, he's played more games, or at least second all time, scored more goals than any other player on a U.S. national soccer team.

So, he is certainly what you'd think to be a very vital part of the history moving forward. But really, this is a coach's decision here. Jurgen Klinsmann is clearly saying here that he's got the best 23 guys, and Landon Donovan does not fit into the needs of the U.S. national team moving forward.

Obviously, this came as a surprise to Donovan. On Facebook, in part, he says that he was looking forward to playing in Brazil, and as you can imagine, that he was very disappointed with the decision. Regardless, he says he's going to cheer on his friends and his teammates this summer and he remains committed to help growing soccer in the United States in the years to come. By the way, World Cup begins June 12th.

Trending this morning on, the New York Rangers had a chance to go up 3-0 in their series against the Canadiens. The Rangers did tie the game in the final 30 seconds on a Chris Kreider goal. That forced overtime, but just over one minute into the extra, Montreal scores the game-winner. Alex Galchenyuk. The Canadiens now have new life in the finals and trail the rangers by one game.

Well, two days after biting part of his teammate's ear off during a dugout fight, the Los Angeles Dodgers have released catcher Miguel Olivo plays or did play for a minor league team affiliated with the Dodgers and in a game earlier this week, he got into an argument with Alex Guerrero. And during that argument in the dugout, basically, Olivo went all Mike Tyson-like on Guerrero's ear. Guerrero actually had to have surgery to reattach part of his ear, and he has decided to not press charges.

The fight was over a missed tag, apparently, on the field. And basically, if you look at the two characters, Guerrero's on his way up, just signed a $28 million deal with the Dodgers. He's the future. Olivo's on his way out. They're pushing him out, putting him in the minors, so maybe there was conflict there.

But it was over a missed tag at second base during the game. Now, obviously, Olivo is going to be looking for more work, if he gets any work at all.

BERMAN: That's the definition of a hostile work environment, someone bites off your ear.

CARTER: Can you imagine if Christine bit off your ear during an argument?

ROMANS: All of my injuries to him, don't leave bruises. All right. Thanks so much, Joe. Nice to see you.

Just seconds from disaster, another close call, near collision over a major airport, hundreds of lives put in danger. The latest, next.