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Deal To Free Soldier Facing Criticism; Political Fallout From Bergdahl Deal; President Obama Making Big Environmental Push; Bergdahl for Taliban Warriors: Good Deal or Bad

Aired June 2, 2014 - 06:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: -- announcing today a potentially historic environmental policy change that is sure to upset Republicans.

We're going to start with another big story this morning. The prisoner swap that freed an American soldier after five years in captivity, but there is criticism, as well as celebration. This morning, Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is recovering in Germany after being held prisoner by the Taliban.

New pictures this morning of the five terror suspects freed in the deal arriving in Qatar. Many are wondering if the price was too high for Bergdahl's freedom, a very difficult issue. We're going to start our coverage with Nic Robertson in Germany who has new details on the moment Bergdahl was finally freed. Nic, what do we know?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Chris, 27 hours ago, Sergeant Bergdahl arrived here at the Landstuhl Regional Medical facility behind me for what is going to be -- this was described as reintegration, his psychological welfare, his physical welfare taken care of, what he learned, what he saw while he was held captive. But all of this began such a long time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON (voice-over): After almost five years of captivity in Afghanistan --

ARMY SGT. BOWE BERGDAHL: Scared I won't be able to go home.

ROBERTSON: Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is free and safe. Now, new details emerging about the secret recovery effort three years in the making. According to U.S. defense officials a so-called proof of life video sent of the now 28-year-old last December incited them to broker a secret deal. Officials say the soldier's sickly appearance putting them on an advance timetable. The deal, swap these five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Bergdahl.

BERGDAHL: Release me, please. I'm begging you. Bring me home.

ROBERTSON: According to "The Wall Street Journal," after days of waiting, the Taliban's call to meet finally came. U.S. defense officials say it was just around 10:30 in the morning on Saturday. When 18 armed Taliban fighters led Bergdahl to the meeting point near the Pakistan border. In waiting special operations forces backed by helicopter gunships. Bergdahl walks up to the U.S. commandos talking to him right away.

The American forces immediately search him for explosives and verify his identity. U.S. officials say the meeting lasted just seconds and quickly Bergdahl was ushered onto a helicopter en route to Bagram Air Base. On the helicopter, Bergdahl reached for a paper plate scribbling the letters SF? asking the commandos if they were special forces.

After hearing they were, Bergdahl broke down crying. After nearly five years, America's lost from the POW from the Iraq and Afghan conflicts was finally free.

JANI BERGDAHL, SGT. BOWE BERGDAHL'S MOTHER: Five years is a long time but you've made it.

ROBERTSON: Bergdahl's parents who have not yet had contact with their son sent him this message.

BOB BERGDAHL, SGT. BOWE BERGDAHL'S FATHER: I'm proud of how much you wanted to help the Afghan people and what you were willing to do to go to that length.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: So how long before he can be back in the arms of his parents, which is what they are most looking forward to. No doubt, he is, too. Doctors say they're sympathetic to everything that Sergeant Bergdahl has been through and they're going to take this reintegration at a pace that he's comfortable with. So it's not clear quite yet just when he will be reunited with his parents -- Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: That long process of recovery really just beginning right now. Nic Robertson, thank you so much for that angle of the story. Now, the deal to free Bergdahl is also coming under fire for the dangers it could present to other Americans overseas. And reaction to his release has been strong on both sides of the aisle.

CNN's Joe Johns has more on what officials are saying now about the deal. Joe, what are you hearing?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Kate, the detainees who got their freedom as a result of this prisoners swap have been described the worst of the worst. Which raises the question whether the U.S. government's deal could incentivize other terrorist organizations to try to kidnap more Americans to get their own hostage deals in the future.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: It's a good day.

JANI BERGDAHL: Yes, it's a good day.

JOHNS (voice-over): A day after the president's emotional celebration with Bowe Bergdahl's parents in the Rose Garden, tough questions for his national security adviser, Susan Rice, on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION": Point blank, did the U.S. negotiate with terrorists for his release?

SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Candy, what we did was ensure that as always the United States doesn't leave a man or woman on the battlefield.

JOHNS: Rice said what she called the acute urgency of Bergdahl's failing health justified not telling Congress 30 days beforehand as the law requires.

CROWLEY: So there was a conscious decision to break the laws as you know it dealing with the detainees and the release of them.

RICE: Candy, no, the Department of Defense consulted with the Department of Justice and it was in our view that it was appropriate and necessary to do this in order to bring Sergeant Bergdahl back safely.

JOHNS: And Rice said Qatar's emir had assured President Obama the five Taliban Guantanamo detainees swapped for Bergdahl would not pose a significant risk.

RICE: There are restrictions on their movement and behavior. I'm not at liberty to get into detail about the precise nature of those restrictions.

JOHNS: Republican Mike Rogers, the House Intelligence chairman countered that there's now a price on American soldiers' heads.

REPRESENTATIVE MIKE ROGERS (R), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: So we have say changing footprint in Afghanistan that would put our soldiers at risk for this notion that if I can get one, I can get five Taliban released.

JOHNS: But Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel insisted this was about saving a soldier's life.

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We didn't negotiate with terrorists. Sergeant Bergdahl is a prisoner of war.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: While the administration insists it did not negotiate with terrorists to secure the Bergdahl's release because the government of Qatar apparently was acting as an intermediary, this is a question that will likely be asked and answered again and again in the coming weeks -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Joe, thank you very much. President Obama's use of executive power is also at the center of a potentially historic environmental policy change. The president going around Congress with a plan that would cut carbon pollution from power plants by 30 percent in the year 2030.

Erin McPike is following developments for us from Washington. It's a little confusing. It's 30 percent but it includes some percentage that's already been made of, right?

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, Chris, and President Obama of course couldn't get Congress to pass that cap and trade bill in his first term, so he's actually using a loophole to get this sweeping measure to address climate change done himself. He's traveling to Europe tonight so he's not making that announcement later today.

EPA Chief Gina McCarthy is doing it instead. Of course, though, he will hold a conference call with the American Lung Association as he tries to trump up how these changes will be good for your health.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCPIKE (voice-over): President Obama is going around Congress to enforce a steep 30 percent cut in carbon emissions, so-called greenhouse gases from coal-fired power plants. He's using his executive authority, proposing new EPA regulations to take his strongest action yet against climate change.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: As president and as a parent, I refuse to condemn our children to a planet that's beyond fixing.

MCPIKE: Linking the move to health problems like asthma, he taped his weekly address at the Children's National Medical Center.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Often these illnesses are aggravated by air pollution. Pollution from the same sources that release carbon and contribute to climate change. And for the sake of all of our kids, we've got to do more to reduce it.

MCPIKE: The new rules reportedly would give states and local governments wide latitude in how to reduce carbon pollution allowing them to encourage solar and wind power instead of forcing power plants to close. In his midterm election year, it's a strategy designed to go head to head with Republicans who are making hey of the harm these regulations will do to the coal industry.

MIKE ENZI, REPUBLICAN SENATOR, WYOMING: The administration has set out to kill coal and its 800,000 jobs. If it succeeds in death by regulation, we'll all be paying a lot more money for electricity if we can get it.

MCPIKE: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates it will cost the economy $50 billion a year. Advocates say those claims are exaggerated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is something we can't put off, and the president deserves huge credit for making this his legacy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCPIKE: Of course, Republicans are adamantly opposed to anything that even smells like cap and trade. That could be considered bad for the coal industry. That's especially bad in coal country where there are a handful of nail biting Senate races that Democrats need to win to hang on to the upper chamber this year. Those are in places like Kentucky, North Carolina, Louisiana and Colorado. So politically, this is obviously a risky move for the president -- Kate and Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Erin, but it is a move, nonetheless, so let's evaluate it with Mr. John Avlon, CNN political analyst and editor-in- chief of "The Daily Beast." You have the future versus the now. You have the environment versus energizing the base midterm elections. That's what's going on here, right? It's not just about environmental policy. How does this help the president?

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's very much a legacy play for the president. What we're seeing the president after having worked for Congress being burdened by that attempted outreach is now saying for the second term he's going for the legacy of executive order. He is going to take executive action to bypass Congress where it's necessary to achieve big things.

On the EPA regulation, it's very much sort of Obamacare for the air. This is something that's a long-time liberal priority. It's going to be politically problematic at the very least. But the president's going big because he feels a moral obligation to do so.

BOLDUAN: And I think many folks were surprised how much he talked about combating climate change in the second inaugural speech.

AVLON: That's exactly right. People were shocked that this is the first inaugural speech to explicitly mention climate change. This is evidence that the president is taking action. A little secret, folks. Environmentalists haven't always been satisfied with the administration's actions, but this is a big step when it comes to climate change by the administration.

CUOMO: But the real challenge isn't to say, let's do better by the environment. It's figuring out how to deal with making jobs instead of costing them. Legitimate criticism that you're going to hurt one of the last bastions of blue collar workers. Who cares if you do it if China and India don't?

AVLON: Absolutely right on both counts. Look, the political cost is profound. A lot of red state and swing state in particularly coal country where this is not a life sentence, but decreasing the degree of difficulty dramatically for Alison Grimes in Kentucky, for the Senate seat in West Virginia, the Jay Rockefeller is opening up. This is making it more difficult for Democrats to hold on to the Senate. No question about it. We're the number two carbon emission after China. India is a major problem. There is very little that any one country can do unilateral.

BOLDUAN: Let's switch and talk about Bowe Bergdahl now.

AVLON: Yes.

BOLDUAN: Almost immediately after everyone has felt relief that the soldier was rescued, then became the conversation, very quickly, was this is good deal?

AVLON: Yes, the pivot to politics was actually incredible -- incredibly fast because members of Congress felt blindsided by this. Normally, there's a 30-day period because Sergeant Bergdahl is apparently in dramatic decline the administration moved very quickly to make this release. As the package earlier pointed out, we've got competing priorities here. Leave no soldiers behind in a war-time situation and do not negotiate with terrorists.

A number of congressmen were criticizing this and you're going to see this over the next couple of days. Not just the precedent that it could increase the bounty on soldiers' heads as we withdraw from Afghanistan but also a concern that this is a creeping attempt to start releasing soldiers from Guantanamo, an administration priority, one of the president's priorities. Many folks in Congress are concerned because of the record of Guantanamo detainees getting activated with al Qaeda once they leave.

CUOMO: Help me understand the surprise though. This deal has been being negotiated with the same detainees from Guantanamo for five years.

AVLON: This has been on the table. We have known sub rosa negotiations are going on.

CUOMO: Sub rosa?

AVLON: Yes, sub rosa. These negotiations have been known. This all happened very quickly when it came down, again, because of his health. Senate Intelligence Committee members have said the five detainees are very dangerous. James Clapper has said these five detainees are dangerous.

CUOMO: Can you monitor them once you let them go?

AVLON: That is the big question. We have a record here. Whatever side of the argument you want to take, whether Guantanamo these guys were radicalized. We know that folks who have left Guantanamo have gotten activated with al Qaeda since leaving. So the idea that you can contain these folks is a very big bet and a five to one deal is always a lopsided ratio.

BOLDUAN: And a lot of questions now going to the administration. We'll continue that conversation throughout the morning as well. John, great to see you. Thanks so much. Happy Monday.

Let's turn to meteorologist, Indra Petersons, keeping track of the forecast. Indra, it was nice here over the weekend.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I'm so glad you started with that. Can we just talk about how beautiful it was for the northeast? It's going to stay that way, but a lot of changes coming for the southeast. Scattered showers in the southeast for today. Eventually by tomorrow night, we are going to see that spreading into the northeast even a severe weather threat out towards the Midwest and finally, we're looking about spreading into the Ohio Valley.

So let's talk about the threat for severe weather. Again, this is in through tomorrow, severe weather threats for places like Omaha, Kansas City, even places like Chicago. Where you see the red that is a heightened for severe weather, including the threat for tornadoes. All things being one part of it with the jet winds way up high perfectly lined up with the warm moist air out of the gulf.

The cool dry air and a system making its way across. You really have all these things coming together to bring you that severe weather threat. Heavy rain is going to be out there as well underneath those thunderstorms, 2 to 4 inches of rain could mean flooding concerns. Into the northeast, 1 to 2 inches not as impressive there. You will feel that hot and muggy kind of weather. Scattered showers up there. Temperatures above normal in the southeast. The pattern is changing guys.

BOLDUAN: Indra, thank you.

CUOMO: Predicting the weather is very '90s. Controlling the weather is very frontier. Anybody can tell it you what's happening. It's actually making it happen that's impressive.

Coming up on NEW DAY, we are going to have more on the release of Bowe Bergdahl. We're going to examine the deal that secured his freedom and we are going to take a long look at the path after captivity. What happens now for Bowe Bergdahl? To help us with that, we're going to talk to another American who was held captive in Iraq for 10 months.

BOLDUAN: And how on earth did this happen again? Another inflatable bounce house with two kids inside goes flying, this time across a Colorado park. We're going to tell you about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY. Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl's family is rejoicing this morning. Their son is finally free after nearly five years as a prisoner of the Taliban.

But not everyone is celebrating. Bergdahl was released in exchange for five terror suspects. These are new pictures of those five gentlemen arriving in Qatar. It's a move that's outraged many on both sides of the political aisle.

Let's get some perspective with retired Major General Spider Marks. He's a military analyst for CNN and a former commanding general of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center; he was also the senior intelligence officer during the invasion of Iraq.

Spider, do me a favor, General, let's clear up two obvious issues here. First, has the U.S. negotiated the release of POWs in the past through an exchange like this? GEN. JAMES SPIDER MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I would say, yes, we have. In fact, clearly the United States does negotiate with terrorists. I know there's a policy that we don't, but I just think we need to lay it out there. I know there are legal ramifications and, clearly -- I'm not being pejorative here -- but there are ways to craft this such that we don't negotiate with terrorists. But, at the end of the day, we've had an intermediary, the Qataris, and clearly in concert with the Afghan government, at least some agreements, we were able to gain the release of Sergeant Bergdahl, which is the good news. Clearly there's another side to this as well.

CUOMO: Well, good for answering both questions there for me at once. We do negotiate with terrorists. We just saw an example of it. And this is what happens sometimes to get back one of our troops. So then you get back what the cost is here. And that goes to whether this is a good deal. What's your take?

MARKS: Well, it's a good deal -- there's not a simple answer here, Chris. It's a great deal for the Bergdahl family. It's a great deal for our military to get this lost soldier into the arms of his comrades. This is wonderful; it really is wonderful.

There's a lot we have to think about, because these five Taliban that were released are not good guys by any measure. By anyone's calculation, these guys have blood on their hands. They were taken off the battlefield. So this is something we have to be very, very conscious of as we move forward, in concert with the Qatari government, because this is where they will end up, in the state of Qatar. And we have to be part of the surveillance to ensure that these guys do not get out of hand.

CUOMO: What's your level of confidence that you can keep track of these gentlemen once they're released? And by gentlemen, I mean Taliban warriors?

MARKS: Correct. I would say moderate. We have a good relationship with the Qatar government. Our intelligence exchange is very, very positive. It's current, it's relevant. We'll have to be a part of this effort moving forward.

CUOMO: But how? How do you do it? General, help us understand. You let them go. They're in Qatar. How do you keep them there? How do you know who they're talking to? How do you know what they're doing with their time? How much resources can actually be applied to something like this?

MARKS: Well, the answer to all of questions are this is what our intelligence community does, and it must do with a level of detail and precision that's very, very precise. This is why our CIA exists. We run human intelligence networks. We have sources. We'll have eyes on the ground. We'll also have a boatload, for lack of a more precise term, of technique intelligence to ensure we know where they are and what their movements are.

And this is great opportunity for the United States to expand its intelligence collection of these five individuals and their network as they try to reintegrate. Clearly, these individuals are not going to want to remain fallow. They're going to want to get back involved; they're going to want to go over the horizon. We're going to have to make sure we can surveil that and ensure that the conditions of their release are being followed. That's what the intel community's charge is and it must be followed.

CUOMO: So your take on two other aspects of this. So you do not think that the idea of monitoring these men is just a political throwaway line to make it seem more valid. You think they actually can be monitored?

Also Susan Rice saying we had to do this because Bowe Bergdahl's life was in danger, he had failing health. Are those two legit statements or do you think those are rationales to help make this deal more palatable politically?

MARKS: I have to believe the second one completely; I would have no intelligence, nor would anyone, the evaluation of Sergeant Bergdahl's health. It's not a throwaway statement that the United States has established conditions and that's it, and that becomes now, as John Avlon said, the pivot to politics that Congress is interested because now they were left out of the decision process.

The United States must do this. If they don't, we lose complete credibility. So if we don't have the resource that the CIA has, and military intelligence relationships at multiple levels, intelligence works in multiple levels -- if we don't have all of those energized on this particular problem, we are completely lost in the woods on this and we've made a major mistake.

CUOMO: Is this a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation? If you don't do it, then Bergdahl, if God forbid he had lost his life, it looks like you don't care about your own. If you do do a new deal, which you did, you now create an opportunity for the Taliban to seek more POWs to get more exchanges?

MARKS: Clearly. That's the argument. It makes perfect sense.

The United States, at this point, must be able to address the second part of your conundrum, which is, if you don't track these guys, they're now back in the fight. And the Taliban has increased incentive to grab more Americans or other nationalities and put them up on the chopping block or the auction block for the return.

The United States has got to make sure that the conditions of release are onerous, are difficult. And the Taliban goes, holy-moly, being in Gitmo might have been a better deal than being in Qatar trying to reintegrate. I can't move. I can't make any motion in Qatar without being -- without obvious and overt restrictions that are being placed on me. That is what we need to ensure happens.

Ultimately, these folks will go over the horizon, we know that, after a year. We have got to make this one-year period while they're in Qatar incredibly difficult for them to re-engage and incredibly powerful for us, the Qataris, and other nations that are interested and with whom we share intelligence, a very good deal so we gather more intelligence, we have a better sense of what their network looks like and what their intentions are.

CUOMO: General James Spider Marks, thank you very much for helping us on this this morning.

MARKS: Thank you, Chris.

BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, we're going to talk more about the release of Bowe Bergdahl with another American who was held captive in the Middle East. What does it take to survive horrifying conditions?

And also, startling video you just have to see. And, no, this is not a replay of something you've seen already. Another incident of kids trapped inside a bounce house that gets thrown around. How does this keep happening?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY. John Berman's in for Michaela this morning with some of today's other top stories.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Great to see you, guys.

President Obama using his executive authority to make what could be one of the most significant moves to combat environmental warming in U.S. history. The Environmental Protection Agency announcing a major proposal today that calls for deep cuts in power plant carbon emissions. A source briefed on the plan tells CNN it requires power plants that they cut their carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

Breaking this morning, King Juan Carlos of Spain has decided to abdicate, paving the way for his son, Prince Felipe, to take over. The prime minister says the king is stepping down for personal reasons.