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V.A.: Wait Times Manipulated; Edward Snowden: I'm A Patriot; "Pings" Not for Flight 370; White House Concussion Summit

Aired May 29, 2014 - 04:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight: new evidence of V.A. hospitals mistreating patients and covering it up. A late-night hearing detailing the abuse and new reaction from the White House. We learned overnight the V.A. secretary is on thin ice with the president -- those words from a White House official. The details ahead.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: NSA leaker Edward Snowden on the record about spilling U.S. national security secrets to the world. Why he calls himself a patriot and if he'll ever return home to face espionage charges.

BERMAN: And breaking news this morning, a new admission from investigators searching for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. They may have been looking in the wrong place. Wow. We're breaking it all down this morning.

ROMANS: That is a really, really interesting turn.

BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. Thirty minutes past the hour.

Breaking overnight, there are calls now from top lawmakers, including Democrats, for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. The White House now says Shinseki is on "thin ice" after the V.A. revealed its own probe showed that a CNN investigation -- showed what a CNN investigation first discovered.

Yes, waiting lists were manipulated at V.A. facilities in Phoenix. Some 1,700 veterans were not put on the official books and may have never gotten appointments for care. Some of the top leaders of the V.A. went before a House committee at a late-night hearing, insisting they were sorry for what happened and they will fix it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I still think we have a good system, and I think we have evidence that we deliver good care. We are obviously in very difficult times right now. We have identified that we have significant failures to provide timely care. We need to address that. I think we have a way forward. I think we have the tools to do that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our veterans have been crying out for help for years. They've been ignored, they've been dismissed, and ultimately, they've been betrayed, and there probably is criminal behavior. It sounds like there is. And people need to be more than fired. They need to be sent to jail.


ROMANS: Wow. The V.A. has now expanded its investigation into 42 medical centers nationwide. The details of what they find are not expected until later this summer.

BERMAN: Edward Snowden insists he did it for his country. The former NSA contractor speaking out about why he leaked millions of pages of classified documents. Snowden says the American public needed to know they were being spied on. And he does not doubt that he did the right thing.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Do you see yourself as a patriot?

EDWARD SNOWDEN, NSA LEAKER: I do. Being a patriot means knowing when to protect your country, knowing when to protect your Constitution, knowing when to protect your countrymen from the violations and encroachments of adversaries.

And those adversaries don't have to be foreign countries. They can be bad policies. They can be officials who, you know, needed a little bit more accountability. They can be mistakes of government and simple overreach and things that should never have been tried or that went wrong.

WILLIAMS: You hear often in the United States, why doesn't he come home and face the music?

SNOWDEN: It's a fair question, you know, why doesn't he -- why doesn't he face charges? But it's also uninformed, because what has been laid against me are not normal charges. The Espionage Act provides anyone accused of it of no chance to make a public defense. You are not allowed to argue based on all of the evidence in your favor, because that evidence may be classified, even if it's exculpatory.

And so, when people say why don't you go home and face the music, I say, you have to understand that the music is not an open court and a fair trial.


BERMAN: Secretary of State John Kerry disputes this, calling Snowden a coward and saying real patriots face the consequences of their actions. The secretary invited Snowden to come home any time he wanted.

ROMANS: Breaking news this morning from Australia, where officials are now confirming a six-week-long underwater search for Flight 370 has turned up nothing, nothing. The Bluefin-21 has been scouring the floor of the Indian Ocean, covering more than 300 square miles, looking for any sign of the jet months after it disappeared. The search location was where investigators thought they may have heard pings from the plane's black boxes. Now, CNN is learning those sounds may have been underwater noise.

Here's Rene Marsh.


RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine and John, it was the most promising lead, and now we know it is false.

The U.S. Navy tells CNN it has concluded the underwater signals were not from the missing plane's black boxes. If they were, the Navy says the underwater drone Bluefin-21 would have detected them.

MICHAEL DEAN, U.S. NAVY: I'd have to say at this point, based on all of the imagery data that we've collected and looked at, if that black box were nearby, we would have picked it up.

MARSH: We're now told the pings could have been from the search ship itself or other electronics, this as Bluefin-21 completed its 28th and final mission on Wednesday. The search will resume in August when private companies take over.

Meantime, we're learning of a potential new lead. CNN has learned underwater microphones detected a sound that could have been the plane crashing. The United Nations nuclear test ban organization has a network of 11 hydrophone stations intended to detect nuclear tests.

Well, scientists are now carefully analyzing data to determine if one of the underwater microphones picked up a signal related to Flight 370. But we should point out -- this is a long-shot, because the data from the signal detected appears to be inconsistent with other data about the position of the plane.

Still, though, scientists continue to analyze it, and this just goes to show they are really trying to follow up on every possible lead to find something, to find some sort of wreckage. They do tell us that they are hoping to share their findings in the near future -- John, Christine.


ROMANS: Just remarkable that that location is not the final resting place of that jet. That's what Australian officials are saying.

We should note, the Navy says it's too soon to know that the sounds were not pings from the jet, a spokesman telling CNN, "Mr. Dean's comments were speculative and premature as we work to more thoroughly understand the data acquired by the towed pinger locator."

Australia, which is leading the search, says it continues to analyze those recordings, John.

BERMAN: This morning, the families of those on board Flight 370 are also reacting to this news. Sarah Bajc's partner, Philip Wood, was the only American adult on flight 370. We just spoke to her a few minutes ago here on EARLY START.

She says she never thought the plane was in this part of the ocean. Really, at this point, she doesn't mince words about the investigation.


SARAH BAJC, PARTNER OF FLIGHT 370 PASSENGER: My assessment is the same, since really the first week or week and a half of this search, is that they're not running it like an investigation. The tail is wagging the dog here. They made a determination of where they thought the plane went, and now they force fit all of the information to satisfy that.

There are just too many inconsistencies and too much, I mean, I call it overt incompetence for it to be accidental. I mean, nobody can be so stupid as to make so many mistakes over and over and over again.

So, the only explanation is that this is an orchestrated set of cover- up. The ping frequencies were wrong from the beginning. I'm a serious scuba diver. I know that frequencies don't change under water and they don't change from a deadening battery. They might not go as far when the battery goes down, but they don't change frequencies. So you know, I'm astounded that they put as much credence on those as they did.


BERMAN: Our David McKenzie is in Beijing this morning where many family members have gathered for months.

David, you heard Sarah Bajc there. She says she's not surprised by this finding. What are you hearing?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think, John, many of the families here, particularly the Chinese families, don't really know what to think because of the lack of trust they have in the information they're receiving. Over these weeks and months, in fact, there have been so many leads that have then been dashed or been told to us that they're not, in fact, the case. You know, I can list half a dozen right now that we thought might be evidence that the plane had gone down in this place or another place, and then those leads were, in fact, extinguished.

So, this may well fit into that category. And for the family members, they don't know what to believe. They're also complaining they're not getting this information in the Chinese language as quickly as they should. They say once they were moved out of the hotel in Beijing where they were hold up for weeks, that information flow has slowed down considerably.

But again, they are in for the long haul. They know this is going to take potentially years to find this plane, if at all. And so, all these twists and turns are certainly just kind of making their nerves even more raw.

I don't think all of them feel the same way that Sarah Bajc feels, that this is done on purpose. I do feel that some of them feel that everything's been done to help them get some kind of closure, but whether it's on purpose or by mistake or just such a very challenging search, it doesn't take away the fact that they don't know where their loved ones ended up.

BERMAN: No, and it's going to take some time for it to sink in, the last two months of this search could have simply been in the wrong place completely.

Our David McKenzie in Beijing this morning -- thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. Officials say if it's true, it's never happened before. A U.S. citizen reportedly carrying out a suicide bombing in Syria. It happened last Sunday, and members of an al Qaeda-backed terror group say the man wearing the bomb was an American.

But U.S. officials tell CNN, so far, they can't confirm his identity. U.S. intelligence officials say they're aware of more than 70 Americans who have traveled to Syria to fight for rebel groups against the Assad regime.

BERMAN: Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will be facing questions about immigration reform when he testifies later this morning on Capitol Hill, especially since the White House just announced it is delaying a review of deportations. Some are calling that a political move by the president. What it does is puts the ball back in the court of the House and House Republicans during these midterm elections. A lot of people are saying that what the president's trying to do is give house Republicans space to pass this reform now.

Republicans trying to repeal Obamacare again, and Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise is leading that charge. Party leaders meet today to plan the next move. Scalise wants to schedule a House vote on a conservative-backed health care alternative that would replace the Affordable Care Act.

ROMANS: All right. Let's get an EARLY START on your money this morning. Here's a look at markets around the world. Futures higher right now -- slightly higher, after sort of a blah day for stocks yesterday.

Treasuries, on the other hand, treasury bonds had a very big day yesterday. Look at this. Yields on the 10-year note hit 2.44 percent Wednesday, the lowest since June 2013. People tend to buy treasuries when they're worried about the economy. There might be a reason to worry. The government's set to revise its GDP number later this morning.

John, economists expect it to show the economy contracted last quarter by about 0.5 percent. The economy actually shrinking. The first contraction since the first quarter of 2011. Don't freak out. Most economists think first quarter's a fluke tied mainly to the bad weather, but be prepared for an interesting number later today on the economy. I think markets and people in the markets and economists are prepared for as well, they think it's going to be a pretty bad number.

BERMAN: I'm surprised by two things here. One, that it could show the economy is contracting, because you know, we're not used to seeing that over the last several years at this point.


BERMAN: And two, that the economists are saying don't freak out! Because when I see the economy's contracting, I get a little freaked out!

ROMANS: But that was then and this is now, and now they say the economy is growing again and hopefully nicely into the summer.

BERMAN: And, in fact, over the course of this full year, they expect it could go up from last year.


BERMAN: Forty-two minutes after the hour.

New details this morning in the murder of six California college students. The man who sold the killer his gun is sharing his story. That's after the break.


BERMAN: This morning, the parents of one of Elliot Rodger's murdered roommates are speaking out, saying their son wanted to move out of the apartment because Rodger was loud and antisocial. And we're hearing from the California gun dealer who sold Rodger a handgun just months before the rampage that left six college students dead and thirteen people wounded.

Kevin White says he remembers meeting Rodger back in February and there was nothing unusual about him. He also talked about what it's like to know that a gun he sold is linked to this crime.


KEVIN WHITE, MANAGER, SHOOTER'S PARADISE: What about the guy that sold him the knives or the swords that he used, or what about the guy that sold him the car that he was in driving around, hit people? I mean, do they feel bad or did they know he was going to do something bad with it? I mean, we sell tools or items. I mean, it's no different than the guy that sold him the knife that he used.


BERMAN: White went on to say that Rodger had cleared a 10-day waiting period, so there was no legal reason not to sell him the gun. ROMANS: In the wake of last week's attacks, California lawmakers are pushing a plan to temporarily bar a mentally unstable person from buying a gun if, like Rodger, they've recently been reported to police.

And in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is proposing to require all city gun sales be recorded. That's in response to a recent federal ruling declaring Chicago's longtime ban on gun stores unconstitutional.

BERMAN: New details this morning about the new murder charges against former NFL player Aaron Hernandez. He appeared in a Boston court for his arraignment on charges he shot and killed two men near a nightclub. Prosecutors say it was all because one of the men bumped into him inside the club, causing Hernandez to spill his drink. And they say Hernandez grew more and more angry because the victim did not apologize.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you plead to this indictment?


THOMAS SPOTA, SUFFOLK COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: This case isn't about Aaron Hernandez, it's not about his celebrity, it's about these two young victims. And this is what we always keep foremost in our minds. This sort of thing should never happen in any city in America, and it's very tragic when it does.


BERMAN: The defense blasted what was happening in court and what it called an attempt to taint the jury pool. Hernandez is also facing other murder charges in the killing of a semi-pro football player, Odin Lloyd.

ROMANS: A victory for death penalty opponents in Ohio, a federal judge ordering a temporary ban on executions in the state. At issue is a new drug combination that's only been used once during a 26- minute January lethal injection that appeared to cause intense pain. In April, state officials increased the drug doses, but defense attorneys say they need more time to prepare legal challenges. The ban will run until at least August 15th.

BERMAN: CNN has learned at least five groups are bidding to buy the Clippers from Donald Sterling with offers as high as $2 billion. The news coming a day after sterling accused the NBA of violating his constitutional rights by trying to terminate his ownership for making racist remarks. And his lawyer, who said Sterling would fight the league on the forced sale of the Clippers, quote, "to the bloody end." His wife, Shelly, has reportedly tried to fast-track the sale ahead of a league meeting next week, where owners could just vote the Sterling out.

ROMANS: Happening today, a first of its kind event at the White House, President Obama hosting a summit on the dangers of sports- related concussions. Legal officials, medical experts, parents and pro athletes are going to attend this meeting. The president expected to announce multimillion commitments from the NFL, NCAA and others for more research and public awareness of concussion dangers, especially among children and other young athletes.

BERMAN: This is what we talk about every week on the sidelines of soccer and lacrosse and other sports. You know, parents talk about it all the time. All these sports. What will you let your kids do? You know, will you let them play football, do heading drills in soccer?

ROMANS: And should they be changing the rules and kinds of ways they play the game for kids under 12, for example.

BERMAN: So many questions, as it gets more and more advanced.

Some surprising new developments in the case of a marine jailed for months in Mexico for carrying his registered gun. We'll tell you what happened when he faced a judge, next.


BERMAN: This morning, he is still in a Mexican jail. An American marine in prison for months on gun charges, this after his first court hearing ended moments after it started.

Rafael Romo has the latest on this case.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR: It was supposed to be Andrew Tahmooressi's first opportunity to tell a Mexican judge why he's innocent and should go free, but according to a Mexican government judicial source, the U.S. marine fired both of his Mexican lawyers before Wednesday's hearing even began. The judge then started the hearing and quickly suspended the proceedings. The 25- year-old decorated marine, an Afghanistan war veteran, has been held in a Mexican prison for nearly two months. Tahmooressi had been detained at the border crossing while in possession of three personal firearms bought legally in the United States. He says he crossed the border accidentally.

JILL TAHMOORESSI, MOTHER OF MARINE DETAINED IN MEXICO: They wouldn't allow him to turn around when he got lost and ended up at the border and he said, I made a wrong turn, I got lost, can you just let me turn around? That was not an option.

ROMO: Mexican authorities are accusing him of weapons trafficking, a charge that carries up to 30 years in prison. His next hearing is on June 4th -- Christine and John?


ROMANS: Wow. Rafael Romo, thank you for that.

Coming up, it could soon be much easier to get your hands on Cialis, but is that a good idea? An early check of your money, next. BERMAN: Don't look at me! Just read the tease.

And coming to CNN, a new series from executive producers Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman. "The Sixties," it is the decade that changed the world -- the space race, the Cold War, free love, civil rights and more. The 1960s reshaped Americans' lives in ways that affect us still today. Be sure to watch this, or set your DVR or both. The premiere is tonight, that's at 9:00 Eastern and Pacific, right here on CNN.


ROMANS: Good morning. Let's get an EARLY START on your money this Thursday morning.

Futures on Wall Street point to a slightly higher open. The S&P 500, look at that, a record-high close on Tuesday. Still close to there. There's a chance we could see a record today. The actually S&P hit a new intraday high yesterday before closing down slightly. The Dow and NASDAQ closed lower as well.

All right. If you're watching right now, there's a good chance you've been hacked. That's right, 110 million Americans, roughly half of all adults, have been hacked, and that's just in the last 12 months. The number of accounts is even higher, since many people have more than one, 432 million hacked accounts. That's according to data compiled by Ponemon Institute for CNN Money.

There are two reasons these numbers are so high. First, we're moving more and more of our information online, and so are companies. Second, hackers are getting better. One thing you can do to protect yourself, run the most up-to-date date software on your devices.

All right. Men, listen up, you could soon be able to buy Cialis over the counter. The plan needs to be approved by regulators, but Eli Lilly and Sanofi, the two companies the make Cialis say it could happen as soon as 2018. To date, 45 million men have used it.

An Eli Lilly spokeswoman told "USA Today," making it over the counter would ease embarrassment issues for men and also boost sales for those two companies. Half of the men over 40 are said to suffer from type of E.D., embarrassment issues.

I mean, the advertising on the TV and radio for those drugs is --

BERMAN: If you're watching football with the guys, it's awfully hard. But this could give them an edge over Viagra, because Pfizer has not been able to sold it over the counter. This would be a breakthrough business-wise.

EARLY START continues right now.