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Obama to Announce World Strategy; Ukraine Pledges to Oust Separatists; Remembering Victims of Santa Barbara Shooting Rampage; Marine Due in Mexican Court;

Aired May 28, 2014 - 04:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: New this morning, should the United States police the world? President Obama just hours away from unveiling how much and how little the U.S. will intervene in the problems of other countries. It's a brand-new strategy ahead.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A community in mourning after six college students are murdered. The father of one victim making a new, emotional plea, ahead.

BERMAN: New this morning, Donald Sterling outlining his legal fight against the NBA and why he says they can't force him to sell the L.A. Clippers. This, folks, could get ugly.

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

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's Wednesday, May 28th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East. Let's start with breaking news in Afghanistan this morning.

Two Americans from the U.S. consulate have been injured in an attack on their vehicle in the city of Harat. That's in the far western part of Afghanistan, near the Iranian border. Now it's not clear exactly what happened here but there are reports the vehicle was shot at with a rocket propelled grenade. These two Americans are said to have suffered life injuries and are being treated.

We will follow every development in this breaking news.

BERMAN: In the meantime, a U.S. warship carrying some 1,000 Marines is on its way to the coast of Libya this morning. This as the State Department has issued an urgent warning, advising Americans to leave that country immediately due to an unpredictable and unstable security situation. Officials say the ship is a precautionary move. Its bloody battles for power pushed Libya to the brink of chaos or should we say more chaos nearly three years after its revolution.

ROMANS: All this as President Obama is set to deliver an important address about U.S. foreign policy a day after outlining the future for U.S. troops in Afghanistan and how nearly 10,000 will remain there into next year. The president today heads north to West Point where he's set to explain the U.S. role in the world going forward.

As Jim Acosta tell us -- tells us this is a critical speech at a time when the administration's foreign policy plans have come under close scrutiny.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John and Christine, President Obama will answer his foreign policy critics in a speech to graduates at West Point later today after more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Aides to the president say now is the time for the U.S. to redefine its leadership in the world. The president's vision, officials say, is for the U.S. to intervene in foreign crisis but not act unilaterally.

In recent weeks, the president has come under heavy criticism over his handling of the civil war in Syria and the crisis in Ukraine. But White House officials say the U.S. now has greater flexibility to tackle global challenges with the war in Afghanistan winding down.

The president laid out his plan to dramatically reduce troop levels in Afghanistan in a speech at the White House yesterday.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The bottom line is, it's time to turn the page on more than a decade in which so much of our foreign policy was focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.


ACOSTA: The president's plan for Afghanistan will call for less than 10,000 troops in that country next year and only a fraction of that as he leaves office in 2017. A group of Republican senators led by John McCain attacked the president's proposal as a monumental mistake -- John and Christine.

BERMAN: Our thanks to Jim Acosta for that report.

So dealing with Russia and Ukraine has been a major focus for the president when it comes to foreign policy. It is a new pledge this morning in Ukraine. The government there promising it will oust separatists from the east. This comes a day after an intense fighting ended at militant takeover of the Donetsk airport leaving dozens dead.

I want to get the latest now from Nick Paton Walsh, live in Donetsk.

Nic, what's the situation today? Any quieter than yesterday?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It seems to be quieter today. And we have seen, obviously, an ebb of the violence we saw on Monday as the Ukrainian military move in to that key part of the infrastructure of Donetsk, the international airport. That was a very bloody day indeed. We heard sporadic gunfire around the airport yesterday. And our reports of the occasional moments today as well.

There's a report of tension across this very large city, John, because the separatists say they want to impose a curfew and then they've denied that, too. A messy picture of quite who's in charge on the streets here. Protests expected during the day. And of course, a broader sense of anxiety, too, because some key observers from the OSCE, that monitoring body from Washington, Brussels, Kiev and Moscow, all agreed they're supposed to be here trying to monitor security and de-escalate things.

Well, four of them observers were last heard of to the east of Donetsk way back on Monday evening. Still out of contact, still concerns as to where they are. And (INAUDIBLE) into the broad issue of uncertainty here. People simply don't know what comes next. They know the Ukrainian government is pledging to move in.

But it's unclear if that actually marks a wide offensive here in a very populated area or if simply Kiev are talking tough because they want to come to a negotiating table not looking impotent in a military kind of way which they seem to be in the past month or so. So real fear for people in this city today -- John.

BERMAN: Nick, there's a new president-elect. Any sense if he supports this new at least temporary, more aggressive posture from the Ukrainian government to take to fight directly to the militants?

WALSH: We have to conclude he must have authorized it because it started on the first day effectively of him being the president-elect. And, you know, there've been a month of pretty ineffectual bids by the Ukrainian military often poorly results to move against some of the insurgent strongholds. And we saw that move again at the airport, decisive shift and vast with a lot of aerial fire power being used as well.

It's unclear if the entire territory is now controlled by the Ukrainian military but even the separatists themselves can see Ukrainian troops there. We've seen some amount of video suggesting the airport itself actually quite badly damaged.

It's possible that Petro Poroshenko found himself with the military promising to deliver things that perhaps they could have with that same speed. That's quite often what new presidents find when they come to the role here. But I think, certainly, he was talking hours earlier about negotiated situation here, talking to Moscow. Moscow said they wanted to talk to him. And I think people hope there could be a diplomatic window.

Maybe that violence was simply the need to establish authority here. Taking the airport by separatists sort of have been the red line the pro-Kiev government sent here. They moved in to counter that. But we have to ask, is it now force that will decide this crisis or is there potentially a window for talks -- John.

BERMAN: We'll keep looking for that window.

Nick Paton Walsh, live in Donetsk this morning for us. Thanks so much, Nick.

Edward Snowden is on the defense, firing back at critics in a new interview with NBC News. The former NSA contractor charged with espionage for leaking more than one million pages of secret documents says he is just trying to set the record straight saying he was much more than just a low-level hacker. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) EDWARD SNOWDEN, NSA LEAKER: I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word. And that I lived and worked undercover overseas, pretending to work in a job that I'm not. And even being assigned a name that was not mine. But I am a technical specialist. I am a technical expert. I don't work with people. I don't recruit agents. What I do is I put systems to work for the United States.


BERMAN: So interesting to hear him speak at length there. He's had so long to think about these answers in some cases. To finally hear him say it, it's fascinating.

ROMANS: He talks in present tense.


ROMANS: "I put systems at work for the United States."

BERMAN: He, of course --

ROMANS: Not "I used to put systems to work for the United States."

BERMAN: So true. Of course, you know, this interview taking place in Russia. Brian Williams went there to speak to Edward Snowden. He's granted asylum, Edward Snowden has, in that country.

ROMANS: All right. The White House is asking its top lawyer to investigate how the identity of the CIA station chief in Afghanistan was leaked to the public, to 6,000 people. This happened Sunday when President Obama was preparing for a briefing during his unannounced visit to Afghanistan.

The names of everyone meeting with the president, including the CIA station chief were released to the media and distributed to thousands of people on the White House e-mail list. The CIA station chief's identity is supposed to be classified.

BERMAN: Such a big mistake. All right. Developing overnight, now on hold, a major Obama administration review of deportation procedures. The White House had asked Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to look into any way to shield some 11 million undocumented immigrants from being deported.

But now the administration says it's moving the review sort of to the back burner. This as it pushes Congress to act on immigration reform instead. The White House wants to give the Republicans in the House a chance to come to the table and find some agreement by pushing this back. They think there's a better chance of that.

ROMANS: Immigration reform is always sticky, really sticky. But there are some people who think that there's a good chance -- a better chance than we've had in a few years to try to get something done this time around.

All right, the House Veterans Affairs Committee holds a rare evening hearing tonight to review dozens of suspicious deaths at the VA hospital in Phoenix. The facility allegedly kept secret lists, kept some veterans waiting months for treatment allegedly leading dozens to die. Three top VA officials have been asked to appear at this hearing but it's not clear whether they will. Republicans are threatening to subpoena them if they don't show up.

BERMAN: A surprising political role for First Lady Michelle Obama taking on critics of the administration's policies on healthier school meals. The first lady sat down with school nutrition officials and told them it was simply unacceptable that some in Congress now say districts should be able to opt out of these rules.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: Parents have a right to expect that their kids will get decent food in our schools. And we all have a right to expect that our hard-earned taxpayer dollars won't be spent on junk food for our kids.


BERMAN: Some districts say the rules are just too restrictive and serving meals with more fruits, more vegetables and whole grains is too expensive. The first lady suggested that perhaps there was more that the federal government could do to help schools having difficulty meeting these standards.

ROMANS: It's a captive audience, those kids. You know, it's a captive audience. If you're trying to teach a healthy lifestyle, I mean, they're right there. You can do it. But there's been a lot of grumbling about it from some of the school districts.

Time for an EARLY START on your money this morning. Here's what stocks are doing around the world. Right now the big story it's here in the U.S. A new record for the S&P. We told you to watch 1900. It closed at 1911. The 12-record close for the year for the S&P. The Dow back within a striking distance of its record. Futures pointing higher right now.

Meantime, another state taking the fight for a higher minimum wage into its own hands. This time, it's Michigan. The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour. It's a federal wage. President Obama hopes to raise it to $10.10. The plan has stalled in Congress. Twenty-six states have or have adopted minimum wages above $7.25 including Michigan now. The state's current minimum wage is $7.40 but that will go up to $9.25 over the next few years. And at least this morning, it looks as though the governor has to sign that law.

BERMAN: Piece by piece.

All right. Some big news on the Donald Sterling front over night. Mr. Sterling apparently won't give up ownership of the L.A. Clippers without a fight. He formally responded to the NBA's attempt to force him out. Donald Sterling accuses the league of violating his constitutional rights and trying to end his ownership based on an illegally recorded conversation with what he calls his romantic relationship, his girlfriend, V. Stiviano.

Sterling says he's been pre-judged and won't get a fair hearing when the Board of Governors meets June 3rd. The NBA says if they do vote to sustain the charge, Sterling's interest in the Clippers will be terminated and the team will be sold. In a statement, his wife, Shelly, says she is working to negotiate a sale of the team.

Some of the most interesting stuff in Donald Sterling's filing is when he calls out other people in the NBA for their past aggressions. He talks about Kobe Bryant who made some anti-gay statements. He talks about another owner, Rich DeVos, who's come out against gay marriage. It's Donald Sterling's way of saying, hey, guys, this is going to be ugly.

ROMANS: A lot of glass houses around here.


ROMANS: All right.

BERMAN: Big, expensive ones.

ROMANS: Yes. Billionaire glass houses.

An emotional plea from the father of a college student murdered in the Santa Barbara killing spree. His search for answers and action ahead.

BERMAN: Plus severe storms leaving communities under water and the threat not over. We will tell you who should be on alert today.


ROMANS: Santa Barbara is a city in mourning today, five days after a 22-year-old stabbed his roommates and opened fire on the streets leaving six people dead before the gunman took his own life. Much of the community turned out on Tuesday to remember those victims and pledged to forward together.

Our Kyung Lah has the latest.


KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: 20,000 students, people in the community, all filling this sports stadium here on the campus of UCSB. They are here to remember the victims. They are not here to talk about the crime or the shooter. They came to honor the six people who they lost.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: George Chen. Kathryn cooper. James Hong. Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez. David Weng. Veronika Weiss.

LAH: Also here at the memorial was a call to action by the father of Chris Martinez. Chris Martinez, just 20 years old, was at the I.V. Deli Mart getting a sandwich when he was killed. His father says that this needs to be prevented from happening again. He had this message for lawmakers in Washington. RICHARD MARTINEZ, SON KILLED IN SHOOTING RAMPAGE: Not one more. Not one more. Not one more person should have to die because of this ridiculous situation.

LAH: This father and many people who are in this crowd say what will prevent it, what needs to happen now is a true conversation, a true national discussion about the proliferation of guns and the status of mental health in this country.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Goleta, California.


BERMAN: Our thanks to Kyung for that.

Happening today, former NFL star, Aaron Hernandez, appearing in court for Boston for arraignment on two additional murder charges. Hernandez will be formally charged with killing two men in a drive-by shooting in July 2012. He's already facing a trial for the alleged murder of a semipro football player, Oden Lloyd.

ROMANS: The sentencing re-trial of Jodi Arias will not be televised. An Arizona judge has rejected media request to broadcast these proceedings. It's set to determine whether Arias will face the death penalty in 2008 slaying of her ex-boyfriend. Arias was convicted of first-degree murder last May but the jury deadlocked on sentencing. The judge had OK court recordings which can only air after a verdict has been reached. Jury selection begins in September.

BERMAN: So it looks like this will be the final turn for the current oldest member of Congress. Ninety-one-year-old Texas Republican Representative Ralph Hall lost a run-off falling to former U.S. attorney John Radcliff in the GOP primary there. Radcliff said it was simply time for someone else to represent the suburban Dallas district.

Hall served as a congressman there since 1980. So big wins for Tea Party Republicans in Texas last night.

ROMANS: In Texas. And Ralph Hall has said this would be his last term.

BERMAN: At 91. Yes.

ROMANS: If he won. At 91, but he did not make it.

All right, now to your weather and it could be a dangerous day for millions of you. Severe thunderstorms possible in the south and through the middle part of the country and a high risk of flash floods.

BERMAN: We got some big risks in the nation's mid-section. Flooding was the problem in Texas for a second day of soaking rains hit the Gulf Coast. These pictures from the Houston suburbs where more than four inches of rain fell in just two days. Much of that area still under a flood watch through this morning. ROMANS: Well, take a look at these pictures from North Dakota where the clean-up is under way at a trailer camp not from Bismarck. A tornado slammed into that camp leaving nine people hurt, one critically. We now have video. Look at that, of that twister. Most of those living there were oil workers and their families.

BERMAN: Some terrifying images from that.

Jennifer Gray tracking the forecast for today and who may be at risk of severe weather now. Let's listen.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: John and Christine, the big focus is going to be showers in the south. We do have a lot of rain still left over in portions of east Texas, Louisiana on into Mississippi. Those are going to extend up into the Ohio River Valley.

A slight chance of severe weather across portions of North Dakota and Montana. We could see large hail and damaging winds. So we'll be watching out for that as we go through the afternoon hours into the early evening hours.

Now temperatures for today, we are going to top out in the low to mid- 80s across the southeast. Mid-80s in Washington, D.C, 64 in New York. We'll see temperatures around 84 degrees in Kansas City. By tomorrow, still rainy in the south. We have had potential flooding across portions of the south and also a few spotty showers in the Rockies. Unfortunately, the southwest is going to remain very dry and very warm.

Temperatures in the mid to upper 80s once again for tomorrow from Dallas all the way to Atlanta, up to Kansas City. A nice 70 degrees in Chicago and 64 in D.C. -- John and Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks for that.

Happening today, an American Marine jailed in Mexico for months for accidentally bringing his registered weapons into the country set to make a plea deal to a judge today. Will he finally be released? The story, next.


BERMAN: Happening today in Mexico, a U.S. Marine is due in court. This nearly two months after being arrested on gun charges. This is a case that has sparked fierce activism here in the United States.

Nick Parker has more now from Mexico City.


NICK PARKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just hours from now, Andrew Tahmooressi will have his first chance to outline his defense to a Mexican judge. We understand the preliminary hearing gets under way at 9:00 a.m. local time in Tijuana time. That's 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time and it's expected to last about an hour. It's only his second court appearance since he was arrested nearly two months ago after crossing the border, carrying three firearms, which are illegal in Mexico. The decorated Marine, a veteran of Afghanistan, says he entered Mexico accidentally, on his way to seeing friends in San Isidro, California. His mother and other supporters in the United States have lost a campaign to win his freedom.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I tell him every time, I'm doing everything possible. The State Department is doing everything possible. Legislators, we're reaching out to our legislators. They are doing everything possible.


PARKER: Prosecutors are also expected to present the case against him in today's hearing. Tahmooressi's defense team will hope to have the charges against him dropped. If not, the case is expected to take between four to six months. Tahmooressi is currently being held at the medium security El Tongo prison outside Tijuana. The presiding judge in the case has banned media reporting from inside the court citing concerns over Tahmooressi's rights -- John, Christine, back to you.

ROMANS: Nick Parker, thanks for that.

The polls in Egypt are open again today because of low turnout. Officials decided to add on one additional day of voting to encourage more Egyptians to come out and help choose the next president. Anyone who does not vote can be fined the equivalent of $70. Former military chief Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is the frontrunner and expected to easily win the election, although the low turnout is in part due because so many people say they don't like the choices.

BERMAN: New this morning, police in South Korea are now questioning a man in his 80s about a deadly fire at a hospital. At least 21 people died in the blaze at a facility that treats patients with dementia. Several others were injured, some seriously. Dozens did escape. The man even hospitalized for dementia earlier this month. He is denying he started the fire but police are investigating arson as the possible cause.

ROMANS: Should the United States be the world's police? President Obama just hours from outlining how much and how little the U.S. will intervene in crises around the world. What he's expected to say, next.