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V.A. Hospitals: Evidence of Abuse; Edward Snowden: Traitor or Patriot?; Search for Flight 370; Pacers Stave Off Elimination

Aired May 29, 2014 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight, the secretary of veterans on thin ice. A growing chorus of Democrats calling on him to step s investigators revealing new evidence of systemic problems at V.A. hospitals. Patients waiting more than 100 days to be seen. While secret wait lists cover up the potentially deadly delays.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Edward Snowden, traitor or patriot? Overnight, the NSA leaker on the run and wanted for espionage explains why he believes he was right to expose U.S. security secrets to the world.

BERMAN: And breaking news this morning. The search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, it could be back to square one. Investigators revealing the pings they thought were the plane's black boxes may be completely unrelated to the vanished jetliner. We are breaking down this shocking, new admission and what comes next.

ROMANS: I still can't get over those developments. Just can't get over it.

BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. A lot going on this morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's Thursday, May 29th, 5:00 a.m. on the nose in the East.

Let's begin with breaking news over the scandals at V.A. This morning, the White House says Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki is on, quote, "thin ice," and many more lawmakers, including Democrats, are calling for his resignation after the V.A.'s own inquiry substantiated what we first discovered in a CNN investigation, that waiting lists were manipulated at V.A. facilities in Phoenix, delays CNN found could possibly have led to dozens of deaths.

The V.A. now says some 1,700 veterans in Phoenix were never scheduled for appointments. Seemingly, this was all an attempt to make the medical centers' wait times look better. At a late-night hearing, members of Congress went after top V.A. officials who insisted, if they knew the extent of the problem, they would have acted sooner.


DR. THOMAS LYNCH, ASSISTANT DEPUTY VA UNDERSECRETARY: Knew that the scheduling system was challenged, but we discounted the OIG reports and patient concerns as exceptions, not the rule. We could and should have challenged those assumptions. This was an insidious process. It was not obviously apparent while it was happening.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I believe that this issue has reached a level that requires the Justice Department involvement. These allegations are not just administrative problems. These are criminal problems.


ROMANS: An angry Senator John McCain there.

The V.A. has now expanded its investigation. And 42 medical centers nationwide are now being audited. The results of that probe not expected until later this summer.

BERMAN: A new defense this morning from Edward Snowden. The former NSA contractor who leaked millions of pages of classified documents tells NBC News he had to go public with the information because the American people needed to know what the government was doing. As for his own role, listen to what he told Brian Williams.


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 says if Snowden was a real patriot, he would come home and answer to espionage charges in court. ROMANS: Now to breaking news in the search for Flight 370. More than six weeks after the Bluefin-21 first went into the waters of the Indian Ocean, Australian authorities now say they're certain the jet is simply not where they were looking. The unmanned sub has scoured more than 300 square miles, nothing to show for it.

Part of the reason why they put the sub down there was because they heard these sounds under water that could have been pings from the plane's black boxes.

But now, as Rene Marsh tells us, it seems those noises were not from the plane.


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: All right. Rene Marsh, thank you for that.

We should note, others in the Navy says it's too soon to know for sure just what the underwater sounds were. A spokesman telling CNN, "comments were speculative and premature, we continue to work with our partners to more thoroughly understand the data acquired by the towed pinger locator."

Australia, who is leading the search, continues to analyze the recordings, but officials say the final resting place of that jet is not where they were looking.

BERMAN: Obviously, this is important to the families, so important to them. Those on board Flight 370, the families on board are looking at these new developments. And this is tough for them to hear. They've been looking to find out the fate of their loved ones so long now.

Sarah Bajc's partner, Philip Wood, was the only American adult on Flight 370. She told us last hour here on EARLY START she sees this as a hopeful sign that perhaps her partner is still alive. She didn't have anything good to say about the search so far.



SARAH BAJC, PARTNER OF PHILIP WOOD: The tail is wagging the dog here. They made a determination of where they thought the plane went, and now they have 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-ups.

As a family member, I mean, I'm still hoping, and this is a really sad commentary on the state of our circumstance, but I am desperately hoping that Philip is being held hostage by a hijacker. And you know, only in this situation could I possibly say that, but you know, 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.

The only way I think we're going to figure it out is to go back to the beginning and look at all of the clues and all of the evidence. Granted, it's mostly circumstantial, but we've got to start over.


BERMAN: Coming up in our next half hour, we'll speak with David McKenzie to see what other family members are saying about these new, very, very surprising developments.

ROMANS: All right. A man with a likely American connection's reportedly a U.S. citizen is believed to have been behind a weekend suicide bombing in Syria. If confirmed, it's the first time an American has ever been a suicide bomber there. U.S. intelligence officials say more than 70 Americans have traveled to Syria to fight for rebel groups against the Assad regime. BERMAN: In just a few hours, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will testify on capitol hill, and you can be sure lawmakers will ask a lot of questions about immigration reform, especially since the White House just announced that it is delaying a review of deportations. A lot of people think that what the president is trying to do here is give House Republicans some space to pass reform over the next few months if he continued with any changes in the deportation issue.

A lot of people feel Republicans would not have come to the table to negotiate. Still, the possibility of a deal may be remote.

ROMANS: Time for an EARLY START on your money this morning. Here's a look at what stocks are doing around the world. Futures are slightly higher after a so-so day on Wall Street yesterday. The Dow, the S&P, the NASDAQ all closing down slightly.

The worst-kept secret in business is now official. Apple is buying beats electronics for $3 billion. That's Apple's biggest deal to date. Beats is the headphone and music streaming company started by Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre. Those two names are key.

Here's what apple analyst Gene Munster told me when word of the deal first leaked.


GENE MUNSTER, APPLE ANALYST: Jimmy Iovine is the head person. There may be something behind that in his role in this that is kind of driving this deal.


ROMANS: Apple has been known to make purchases because they're trying to buy companies for the talent, for the engineers, for the talent, so we'll see. The hope is, though, the well-connected pair will help improve Apple's content offering in both music and video. It will also make Dr. Dre the first billionaire in hip-hop, at least according to a drunken celebration video posted to Facebook earlier this month.

As for Apple, Munster says this purchase could open the door to more deals. Remember apple's cash pile's more than $150 billion.

BERMAN: So, Dr. Dre, a very rich man. I made this joke last hour, but maybe you weren't awake.

ROMANS: Do it again.

BERMAN: I'm going to do it again as if I never said it before. Dr. Dre, this is why your mother always said you should grow up and be a doctor, because you make good money like this, right?

ROMANS: It was so good the first time.

BERMAN: It was really good the first time, trust me.

ROMANS: It was OK the second time. BERMAN: All right.

New information revealed on why police say an NFL star murdered two strangers on the street.

ROMANS: Plus, Brad Pitt attacked on the red carpet, after the break.


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 that he shot and killed two men near a nightclub. Prosecutors say it was 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 murder charges in a separate killing of a semi-pro football player, Odin Lloyd.

ROMANS: 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 a California gun dealer who sold Rodger a handgun just months before the rampage that left six college students dead, 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.


ROMANS: White went on to say that Rodger had cleared a ten-day waiting period, so there was no legal reason not to sell him the gun.

BERMAN: Meanwhile, a new California proposal would temporarily bar a mentally unstable person who has been recently reported to police from buying a gun. Rodger's mother reported him just months before last week's shooting. And in Chicago, where the city's longtime ban on gun stores was recently deemed unconstitutional, Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to require all future sales be videotaped.

ROMANS: A federal judge has ordered a temporary ban on executions in Ohio, where the lethal injection procedure has been under intense scrutiny after a 26-minute January execution that seemed to cause intense pain. It was the first time a new combination of drugs had been used, and in response, the state upped the administered doses in April. Defense lawyers will now have more time to prepare legal challenges. The ban lasts until at least August 15th.

BERMAN: Each as Donald sterling's lawyer says, the L.A. Clippers owner will fight to the bloody end to keep his team, CNN has learned there are as many as five bidders to buy the Clippers for as much as $2 billion. Shelly Sterling now is said to be reviewing these offers. She is reportedly trying to fast track a sale ahead of the June 3rd board of governors meeting where NBA owners could vote to terminate the Sterlings' ownership rights over Donald's racist remarks.

A lot of people think what's happening is a good cop/bad cop approach, Donald saying his thing, Shelly's trying to sell the team, saying look, if you want to buy the team, it's going to cost you a little more here.

ROMANS: They bought the team back in the '80s for I think $12 million. Imagine the capital gains on that. Imagine what will go into the coffers of California if they sell that team.

BERMAN: Smart is the new rich. I wonder if the Sterlings have read "Smart is the new rich" by Christine Romans available at Amazon.

ROMANS: John, you're so nice. I'm sure the attorneys have thought about keeping the tax bill to a minimum.

Anyway, with growing concerns over sports head injuries, President Obama will host a concussion summit at the White House today. Some 200 sports officials, medical experts, parents and young athletes will attend the meeting. The goal is to find new ways to identify, treat and prevent serious brain injuries, particularly in youth sports.

BERMAN: This morning the Houston area is under a serious flood threat after days of drenching rains forced rivers from their banks and left these cars -- look at that -- plowing through water they should not have been driving through. The big worry is the San Jacinto River, which is getting closer to homes. Houston has seen more than 7 inches of rain in recent days.

ROMANS: Whoa! BERMAN: Indra Petersons here bright and early for a look at the weather today.

ROMANS: Good morning!

BERMAN: Good morning, Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, everybody. Yes, we've been talking about all this rain in the south for so long, and there's a reason for that. We have, and we are still talking about it.

Take a look at this right now, the radar. All the lightning around Louisiana, kind of going into Mississippi and even Alabama. Yes, the storm is still there, very slow to move. Look at the rainfall they've already seen. We're talking about places like Houston, yes, almost seven inches of rain, Baton Rouge almost 4 inches, Victoria close to about 5 inches of rain, and we're not stopping there.

Look at this low that's hanging out. Look at all the thunderstorms, again, still building even right now right into the Gulf. So, with this, more rain.

Talk about the numbers. Heavy rain, still another 3 to 5 inches possible in those areas. So yes, the flooding concern remains extremely high.

The other story is the rest of the country's still dealing with that cold front making its way a little bit farther to the south. Northeast starting to feel a little bit of a chill. Keep in mind, there's another front out there, so you're actually going to see that reinforce over the next several days as we go towards the weekend.

When I say cold air, it's not really cold, it's kind of mild. We're talking about temperatures really just about the 70s over the next several days. New York City about 74.

BERMAN: Sounds nice!

PETERSONS: It's doable, not hot like Memorial Day weekend, but nice.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, Indra. Thanks for that.

BERMAN: All right. This is a surprising story. Brad Pitt under attack on the red carpet. In happened last night as he and Angelina Jolie were signing autographs at the premiere of her movie "Maleficent." Police say a 25-year-old man jumped a barricade and struck Pitt in the face before security guards pulled him away. And officers arrived in the scene.

So, the suspect is believed to be this guy. Vitalii Sediuk, a notorious prankster who's gone s said to have gone after celebrities before. Not sure why that is funny. He is now in custody facing battery charges.

ROMANS: I can't believe they can get that close to them. They have so much security. I'm surprised that they get that close to them.

All right. It's not over yet. The Pacers hold off the Heat to keep their playoff hopes alive and say, thank you, Paul George.

BERMAN: Joe Carter with details in the "Bleacher Report," next.


BERMAN: So, the Indiana Pacers, they're still playing basketball, at least for a few more minutes.

Indiana's Paul George, he had a huge, huge night. And LeBron James barely got in the game last night.

ROMANS: Joe Carter has more in the "Bleacher Report" this morning.

Hey, Joe.

JOE CARTER, BLEACHER REPORT: Hi, good morning, guys. You're right, John, LeBron James not much of a factor, especially in the first half. At the end of the game, he scored seven points, a playoff career low, and it's really because he got hit with too many ticky tack fouls early in this game.

But when he was in the game, Indiana's Lance Stephenson tried his best to get in LeBron's head by blowing in his ear. LeBron's reaction? Well, he can't believe it.

Paul George? Well, he certainly left his mark in game five. He scored 37 points, 21 of which were in the fourth quarter when he dropped several big three-pointers. Now, Miami did fight back in this one. LeBron kicked it out to Chris Bosh for the win, but Bosh's three-pointer did not fall. Pacers take game five and cut Miami's series lead to one.

Afterwards, Rachel Nichols has the best question of the night.


RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN SPORTS: If either one of you ever thought about blowing in someone's ear as defensive tactics?


LEBRON JAMES, MIAMI HEAT: Probably my wife. Blew in my wife's ear before. That was definitely a defensive tactic.



CARTER: All right, playoff hockey is trending this morning on Game five of the western conference finals, Chicago and Los Angeles went to double overtime. The Blackhawks, of course, are on the brink of elimination. Michal Handzus, though, saved their season! The defending Stanley Cup champs are still alive, 5-4 double overtime win. L.A. can still close out the series and advance to the Stanley Cup finals with a win at home tomorrow night.

Let's talk a little golf. Tiger Woods will not be playing in this year's U.S. Open. He made the announcement yesterday on his Web site. See, Tiger had back surgery a few weeks before the masters, and he says he's still not healthy enough to compete. He said that he regrets missing the first two majors of the year but is optimistic about his health and his future.

Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, who's been battling cancer for some time, finished chemotherapy and radiation, and after his last session, surrounded by family and friends, he took a cancer-free victory lap and had this to say to those that have helped him.


JIM KELLY, FORMER QUARTERBACK: Thank you. I've got a long way to go, but I know with you people on my team, I'll be here for many, many more years and many, many more parties and gatherings. So, thank you, guys.



CARTER: Now, Jim's battle with cancer has been very public, guys. His wife, Jill, and his two daughters have been documenting the fight on social media. So, obviously, his story's been inspiring a lot of those that are doing the same thing. And obviously, we wish him and all those out there that are fighting the battle to keep fighting the good fight, guys.

BERMAN: We sure do, and he is doing this in a very public, courageous way, and there are so many people who are rallying behind him. I mean, the entire city of Buffalo is behind him every minute of every day, not to mention, you know, places elsewhere in the country. That's really nice to see.

CARTER: It is.

ROMANS: Thanks, Joe.

CARTER: Thank you, guys.

BERMAN: All right. A late-night hearing revealing new evidence of V.A. hospitals mistreating patients and then covering it up. We're breaking down the very latest right after the break.