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Sgt. Bergdahl in German Hospital; Taliban Claims "Great Victory"; Politics of a Prisoner Swap; Obama Takes on Pollution; Senate Takes Up V.A. Bill

Aired June 2, 2014 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: controversy and questions surrounding the release of this U.S. soldier held captive by the Taliban for nearly five years, freed in a prisoner swap for five Guantanamo Bay detainees. This morning, Sergeant Bergdahl recovering in a German hospital, where his parents say their son's battle is far from over.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Taliban leaders calling this prisoner swap a great victory. Right now the five high-ranking terrorists traded for Sergeant Bergdahl's release arriving in Qatar, but who are these men and why were they chosen for this trade? We're live with that part of the story as well.

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

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's Monday, June 2nd. It's 5:00 a.m. on the East.

And he doesn't even know he's a sergeant. He's finding out now because they promoted him while he was in captivity.

"You've made it, you are free", a heartfelt message from his mother, from the mother of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl to her son, as he recovers this morning in a German hospital after nearly five years in captivity.

Bergdahl's newfound freedom touching off a firestorm on Capitol Hill, critics accusing the president of breaking the law and crossing a line by negotiating with terrorists, as new questions are raised about the circumstances involving Bergdahl's capture. Many soldiers who serviced with him are calling him a deserter.

Let's bring in senior international correspondent Nic Robertson live from Landstuhl, Germany, where Bergdahl is being treated.

First, tell us what we know. He is there. He has been treated. He has been gone for five years. Sort of assessing his health and beginning these next steps for reintegration. It's a long process, Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a long process. Doctors here say they're very sympathetic to everything he's been through but they can't say how long he'll need to stay here before he's able to transfer to another medical facility back in the United States.

They say that they want to take this process at a pace that he is comfortable with. How long it will take obviously depends very much on what he's been through. Has he been subject to mock executions?

But his father, Bob Bergdahl, perhaps put it most clearly and succinctly when he explained why he hadn't so far been in contact with his son. This is what he said.


BOB BERGDAHAL, FATHER OF SGT. BOWE BERGDAHL: We're talking like this because we haven't talked to Bowe yet. We haven't called him on the phone. Although you all know we have the capability to do that with satellite technology.

There is reason for that, and that's because Bowe has been gone so long that it's going to be very difficult to come back. It's like a diver going deep on a dive and has to stage back up through recompression to get the nitrogen bubbles out of his system. If he comes up too fast, it could kill him.


ROBERTSON: So, deep on a dive, the analogy that he's giving there. And the doctors here will be the helping hands to try to sort of bring him up from those depths. But one of the things that will be important here is not only his mental well-being, his physical well- being, treating any medical conditions, ailments that may have happened to him over the past five years, but really trying to find out if he has any useful, actionable intelligence information that he would have gleaned from this time in captivity with the Taliban.

But also, are there any lessons that can be learned, perhaps, about his capture, perhaps about any other aspect of his incarceration, any lessons that could be learned for troops that will be useful in the future, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Nic Robertson, do we know how much longer he'll be in Germany before he heads to the U.S. and where he would head after that?

ROBERTSON: We believe that he would head to a medical facility in San Antonio in Texas. How long before he gets there, really, we're being told that's an open question. He's been here a little over 24 hours now.

How much longer, doctors are saying that it's just going to depend on him. They'll take this at his pace, if you will.

ROMANS: Nic Robertson for us this morning in Germany -- thanks, Nic.

BERMAN: What about the other side of this exchange, the five Taliban terror suspects who were swapped for Sergeant Bergdahl? They are in Qatar this morning. These pictures released by the Taliban, reportedly showing their arrival.

Now, under the terms of this prisoner exchange, they will have to spend the next year living in Doha with their movement and activities restricted. This morning, we're getting a little bit of a clearer picture of who these former detainees are and the threat that they could pose. Let's go back two years right now, listening to National Intelligence Director James Clapper in 2012 warning congress that these five men were too dangerous to ever release.


JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I don't think anyone harbors any illusions about these five Taliban members and what they might do if they were transferred.


BERMAN: Becky Anderson joins us live now from Qatar. This is the country that brokered the controversial high-stakes swap.

Becky, what do we know about these men specifically and what do we know about the conditions that they will be monitored over or held, if that's even a way we can describe it?

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, very little at this point. And the foreign ministry here very unsure about when they will, if ever, give us any more information as to where these men are being held, how they're being accommodated and what sort of assurances they've given the U.S. that the U.S. will be secure from any threat from these men going forward. You've rightly pointed out that we understand as part of this deal, these men will be here for as long as a year and will be looked after here.

Now, we understand from sources here, although I can't confirm it at present, their families have been flown over to join them from Afghanistan.

Let's step back for just a moment. On Saturday, they were released to some Qatari mediators at Guantanamo Bay. We believe those men who were part of that mediation group were there for some three or four days. They arrived back here, we understand, on Sunday, and that was sort of 12, 14 hours ago now. Where they are now, well, that is unclear.

I went down earlier on today to what is known as the Taliban political office here or the embassy, as the Taliban would like it called. There was absolutely no activity there. We spoke to a security guard who told me, at least, that he had seen no activity there over the past 24 to 48 hours. I rang the bell. Nobody came out.

There's no signage on the door, there's no flag being flown. It was started up in 2013. You may remember, the Afghan president outraged when the Taliban raised the flag and put signage on the door that called it the Islamic emirates of Afghanistan. It was temporarily closed after that. But clearly, whoever has been mediating on the Taliban's behalf, runs itself out of this office, is in an innocuous area of Qatar. Just meters away there is a U.S. embassy staff headquarters where people are housed. There is also the foreign ministry here in Qatar, not very far away either. But as I say, so far as where they are, how they're being accommodated and how they will be secured, as it were, while they're here is very, very unclear at this point.

John, what we know about these men is that they are mid-to-high- ranking officials who have been incarcerated or held in Guantanamo Bay for more than ten years for their associations or affiliations with the Taliban, not with al Qaeda, we are told, though as we learn more, it seems at least one of these high-ranking officials did have some associations with Osama bin Laden. We're digging. As we find out more, we'll get it to you.

BERMAN: All right, appreciate that. Becky Anderson live for us in Doha this morning. Thanks so much.

ROMANS: The prisoner exchange that led to Sergeant Bergdahl's release triggering a firestorm on Capitol Hill this morning, the debate pitting America's commitment to leave no soldier behind against its stated policy to never negotiate with terrorists. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel insists the security risk posed by this prisoner swap is being overstated. But Arizona Senator John McCain doesn't see it that way.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I certainly believe that the administration broke the spirit, if not the letter of the law. But again, my major concern is not what the administration did as far as the law is concerned. My concern is what these individuals will be able to do in terms of this release, and it's a great concern to all of us.

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I don't think what we did in getting our prisoner of war released in any way would somehow encourage terrorists to take our American servicemen prisoner or hostage.


ROMANS: Critics of the prisoner exchange believe it will give terrorists a strong incentive to capture more Americans in an attempt to negotiate the release of other detainees.

BERMAN: Big story out of Washington today. The president is set to unveil a new plan setting limits on carbon emissions from power plants. This calls for a 30 percent reduction by 2030, the president going around Congress to put this measure together. The new initiative could take effect next year. It's part of a larger climate action plan that also promotes renewable energy sources, including solar and wind.

ROMANS: The Senate expected to introduce a bill later this week to end long delays for veterans at V.A. hospitals. It would allow vets to seek care outside the V.A. system at a private doctor's office or military base or community health centers. It also calls for emergency funding to hire new doctors and nurses and would forgive college loans for health care professionals who agree to work at V.A. medical centers.

BERMAN: President Obama kicks off a four-day trip to Europe today. The goal to strengthen ties with U.S. allies over the situation in the Ukraine. The president will meet with Ukraine's new president-elect in Poland. He will also stop in Belgium and France, where he will help commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing in Normandy.

ROMANS: All right. Time for an EARLY START on your money.

Markets in Hong Kong and Shanghai closed today. U.S. stock futures slightly higher right now after the Dow and S&P both closed at records Friday. Today's big business story, the FBI and the SEC are investigating golfer Phil Mickelson, sports bettor Billy Walters and hedge fund manager Carl Icahn for insider trading. The probe is tied to Icahn's 2011 play for Clorox. "The New York Times" reports suspicious trading in Clorox shares prior to Icahn's bid for the company, saying both Mickelson and Walters bought shares before Icahn announced his takeover intentions. Clorox stock at the time jumped on that news.

In the end, Icahn dropped his bid and none of the men have been officially accused of wrongdoing. Mickelson telling CNN, quote, "I have done absolutely nothing wrong."

BERMAN: Interesting, though, three big names, business, sports --

ROMANS: And it is a probe at this point, you know. It's an investigation. There have been no charges, but the accusation, the idea that you're probing something like that, very, very serious.

BERMAN: And it's a messy one to boot at this point, now that it's gone public, perhaps earlier than they wanted it to.

Eleven minutes after the hour.

A major passing in the world of entertainment. Ann B. Davis, whom so many people know as Alice, passed away. She died in San Antonio at a hospital this weekend. Of course, she played Alice in the '60s and '70s sitcom "The Brady Bunch" about the blended family, three young women, three young men, Mike, Carol.

The Bradys were part of everyone's house growing up. I feel like I spent more time with Alice than members of my own family, watching reruns. She was 88 years old, and really, just a comic genius there in this show and others.

ROMANS: Really made her mark on a whole generation of Americans.

All right, breaking news overnight. The woman at the center of the Donald Sterling scandal attacked and beaten on the streets of New York. The very latest on V. Stiviano, ahead. BERMAN: And look at this. That is a bouncy house. A children's party turns into a nightmare when this bouncy house suddenly goes airborne with kids still inside. We'll tell you how they're doing this morning, ahead.


BERMAN: V. Stiviano, the woman at the center of the Donald Sterling scandal, was reportedly attacked by two men last night as she left a restaurant in New York City. Stiviano's attorney says the attackers shouted racial slurs, including the "N" word, and left her with bruises on the right side of her face.

Now, this incident took place after a video surfaced of Stiviano making derogatory remarks about African Americans, part of some reality show she was pitching a few years ago. She is scheduled to sit down for an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper for a segment airing tonight. Her attorney says she still plans to go through with that interview.

ROMANS: A nationwide manhunt under way this morning for a California man who officials say could be armed and dangerous. The FBI swarmed the San Francisco apartment of 42-year-old Ryan Kelly Chamberlain Saturday. Agents say they recovered illegal explosives. Now, Chamberlain, who's not made any known threats, is reportedly on the run. Officials are asking for the public's help locating him.

BERMAN: Big development now in that California college shooting rampage that left 13 people wounded, 7 dead, including the killer. On Sunday, there was a heartbreaking meeting between two grief-stricken fathers. Richard Martinez, whose son Christopher was killed, coming face to face with the father of his shooter. Martinez reached out to Peter Rodger, whose son Elliot posted hate-filled videos explaining his motives for the attack. This meeting was held in private.

ROMANS: This morning, federal investigators are trying to find out what caused a private plane crash that killed the co-owner of "The Philadelphia Inquirer" and six others this weekend in Massachusetts. Seventy-two-year-old Lewis Katz had just reached a $488 million deal to gain full control of the newspaper just days ago. Witnesses say the jet failed to get airborne, slammed through a chain-link fence, burst into flames. Everyone on board was killed.

BERMAN: Six climbers have died after a 3,000-foot fall on Washington's Mt. Rainier, one of the worst disasters in 40 years. The victims, two guides and four clients, were in an area prone to slides. They were expected to return Friday. Searchers found only their tents and clothing mixed with rock and ice. Officials say there is little chance of recovery. The guys were from the same company that lost five Sherpas on Mt. Everest this spring.

ROMANS: All right. Take a look at this heart-pounding video of a bounce house horror in Colorado this weekend. Two children are recovering this morning after that inflatable house took air and tumbled some 300 feet. Witnesses, of course, looked on in terror, saying little girl was ejected immediately. A little boy was trapped inside.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were on the sidelines with the parents watching the game.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And me and one of the others looked over and we saw the wind pick up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then all of a sudden, it picks up, and there's a girl going down the slide. She flies out about eight feet in the air.


ROMANS: Officials say the girl was treated and released at the scene. The boy was rushed to the hospital. His injuries are not believed to be serious. High winds are being blamed for that incident. Terrifying!

And when you see the looks on the faces of the parents who are running from the side of the soccer field to get over there, just, ugh.

BERMAN: These things can be bad news.

ROMANS: Every week we have one of these stories, every week.

BERMAN: Eighteen minutes after the hour. Storms in the forecast for a big part of the country.

ROMANS: Are they going to be packing dangerous winds?

Indra Petersons has a look at your forecast.

Hey, Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Right now, we're already seeing thunderstorms out there. Definitely not a day for bouncy houses. We'll be looking a lot of thunderstorms across the area, already seeing them into the southern plains, but especially in through tomorrow, we are going to be having a threat for severe weather.

We'll see how it pans out today. Northeast still looking good for another day or so with high pressure in place, but by tomorrow, that will weaken and move further down south and you'll start to see more showers spread into the Northeast. Meanwhile, we'll be looking at severe weather into the Midwest and that's eventually going to spread in closer towards the Ohio Valley.

Let's take a closer look now at that threat for severe weather. It's already expected to be a heightened risk or a moderate risk is expected to be out there for a good 5 million, 6 million of you, that includes Omaha, Kansas City and just the outskirts, maybe just north of St. Louis. But 13 million of you looking at the threat for severe weather, this includes that threat for tornadoes. The reason why, the jet stream, winds way up high They're going to line up perfectly with all that moisture coming out of the gulf, the cool and dry air behind it, a system making its way through. All of that brings the perfect ingredients together for that threat for severe weather. Otherwise in the northeast, temperatures a little bit above normal, nice and warm. Scattered showers moving in. Southeast, same old same old, scattered showers and warmth.

We'll really be watching towards Wednesday -- Tuesday and Wednesday for severe weather.

ROMANS: Thanks, Indra.

BERMAN: Thank you so much.

Disney's "Maleficent" cast a spell on weekend moviegoers, earning a hefty $70 million at the box office. The live-action fairy tale stars Angelina Jolie as the evil witch queen -- Christine Romans.

"X-Men: Days of Future Past" dropped to second place, adding another $32.6 million. It's about you, John Berman.

While Seth McFarlane's "A Million Ways to Die in the West" debut at number three.

ROMANS: Who's that?

BERMAN: I have nothing to say. Indra, Wild West. She's from California.

ROMANS: That's true, that's true.

All right. Coming up, East versus West. The Stanley cup finals now set after another overtime thriller. Andy Scholes --

BERMAN: Andy's back!

ROMANS: You know what? I actually don't know yet who won the Hawks game.

BERMAN: He's going to tell us coming up.

ROMANS: Andy, only tell me if they won.


ROMANS: It's going to ruin my kid's life.

BERMAN: The stage is set. The New York range years will take on the L.A. Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals, this after the kings really came through with a huge overtime game seven win against the Blackhawks.

Andy Scholes, give us the highlights. And welcome back, Mr. Scholes.

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: Thank you very much, John. Sorry, Christine. Sorry your Blackhawks didn't get the win. ROMANS: That's all right.

SCHOLES: But the L.A. Kings, they may be the clutchest team in NHL history. With last night's win, they improve to 7-0 in this year's playoffs when they're facing elimination. Just incredible.

Now, for a while there last night it looked like the Blackhawks may be on their way back to the Stanley Cup Final. They were leading in the third period. That was until Marian Gaborik me through with the tying goal for the Kings.

The game would go to overtime. And in the extra period, Alec Martinez, the wrister. That's your game-winner. Kings win it 5-4. They'll now host New York for game one of the Stanley Cup Final Wednesday night.

All right, the NBA Finals is also set. The Spurs are going to take on the heat in a rematch of last year's epic seven-game series that saw LeBron and the Heat win their second straight title. And this is the first finals rematch since the Bulls and Jazz played two in a row back in '97 and '98. Tim Duncan said after beating the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals, he's happy they're going to get another shot at the Heat, and this time, they are going to win.

Game one is Thursday night in San Antonio.

Trending on this morning, the World Cup kicks off a week from Thursday. Team USA playing their second tune-up match yesterday, taking on Turkey. Michael Bradley here with the beautiful pass to Fabian Johnson. He buried it to put the U.S. up 1-0. Clint Dempsey would later score on a gift from Turkey. USA gets the win 2- 1. They'll have one more tune-up match against Nigeria on Saturday before heading to Brazil.

Finally, guys, I wanted to introduce you to a future hall of famer. Meet Camden John Scholes. He's 9 1/2 pounds, 22 inches long, and his fastball is already clocked at 1 mile per hour. Scouts are saying he should arrive in the big leagues in about 21 years.

BERMAN: He is perfect, Mr. Scholes.

ROMANS: He is. Although I think he's got a future -- he's a future broadcaster. He could take your job in 21 years, maybe.

SCHOLES: I'd be thrilled if I'm still doing this in 21 years.

ROMANS: The smile's not nearly as toothy as Andy Scholes, though. He's got to work on that. He looks terrific.

SCHOLES: He'll get there. Thank you, guys.

ROMANS: Congratulations.

All right. Controversy and chaos this morning surrounding a prison swap that freed one captured U.S. soldier and sent five Taliban terrorists back home. We've got live team coverage of that next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)