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Controversial Prisoner Swap: New Questions; White House Defends Prisoner Swap; Obama in Poland

Aired June 3, 2014 - 04:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: new questions, new controversy over the prison swap that freed a captured American soldier and returned five terrorists to the Taliban.

This morning, new interviews with Sergeant Bergdahl's fellow soldiers, questioning how he was captured and the potentially deadly effects of his disappearance, this as lawmakers meet today on whether the president broke the law to carry out this controversial exchange.

We have live team coverage, all the angles on this story.

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

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Christine Romans. It's Tuesday, June 3rd. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East.

So glad you're with us this morning.

We begin with Bowe Bergdahl and new criticism today for the Army sergeant held for five years by the Taliban. This morning, as he continues to recover, really begins his recovery at a U.S. military hospital in Germany, there are new questions, new accusations from some of those who served alongside him.

We don't know what really happened in Afghanistan five years ago and how he fell into Taliban hands, but some of his fellow soldiers are calling Bergdahl a deserter who walked off his base and put his fellow soldiers' lives in jeopardy. Six service members died during the search for him.


SGT. JOSH KORDER (RET), SERVED WITH BERGDAHL IN AFGHANISTAN: It's very frustrating to me to turn on the TV and to see Bergdahl's family on the TV being shown to everyone. And then these soldiers, although they had very beautiful and extravagant ceremonies after they died, were pretty much only recognized in the local news, local newspapers. They were never nationally televised for their sacrifices in the way that he is, and he pretty much voluntarily walked away, and in turn, caused, you know, the actions that may have killed them.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: It may take weeks before we hear Bowe Bergdahl's response. His doctors say his treatment may last for some time before he can be returned to the United States.

Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

Nic, what can you tell us about Bowe Bergdahl, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl's condition?


I think really, the headline from here has to be that his recovery's going to go at a pace that he's comfortable with. Doctors here are saying that they are sympathetic. They're sensitive to everything that he's been through. And what U.S. defense officials have just told us right now is that there is no, no set timeline for when he will be returning to the United States.

He will be going to San Antonio Medical Center and take the military base medical center in Texas. That is the plan, but no precise idea when. He is in stable condition is what we understand, but he is being treated for symptoms that require hospitalization with special focus on his dietary and nutritional needs. So, that does give an indication, it certainly gives the impression that during his captivity, he wasn't eating well.

And certainly, we've heard officials say they were concerned about how he looks and his general health was deteriorating in the last weeks of captivity. So, it sort of fits that profile. That's what we hear here, but the details, the discussions that are happening, everything else about him, what he was doing, how he ended up being captured, none of that is being told to us so far, Christine.

ROMANS: And do we know how long he'll be there? I mean, you've said that this will be on his -- on the pace of his recovery. Could it be days? Is it weeks? Do we have any idea what is the typical, I guess, medical course for something like this?

ROBERTSON: Sure. I mean, every time we ask that question, we're told there is no set timetable, that it really seems to be down to the doctors who are treating him to make that assessment, and also down to him and his own speed of recovery.

I think some of this -- and this is -- you know, we've got to look at this -- we're outside. We don't have a lot of information. We have to say some of this is speculation. You know, what has happened to him and how much is it going to take doctors to sort of bring him back to sort of feeling comfortable with going through the next stage in the process, which will be meeting his parents, which will be a lot more potential media exposure, all those sorts of things, exposure to other soldiers who may potentially have negative feelings about him.

So, all of these things will be weighed in the consideration. His father described his situation as a diver that's gone down deep. Now, it's a case of sort of bringing him up, but how deep did he go? How many times was he threatened with death? All these sorts of things that build up over time and really stress somebody and move them into a very unpleasant psychological place, Christine.

ROMANS: We've seen stories before of mock executions and all kinds of horrific treatment at the hands of some of those captors.

Nic Robertson, thank you for following this for us this morning.

BERMAN: Of course, the reason that Bergdahl is free this morning is because the White House agreed to an unusual prisoner swap with the Taliban, sending five fighters to Qatar from Guantanamo Bay. The Senate Intelligence Committee is set to hear from administration officials today in a closed-door briefing, as some question whether Qatar will hold up its end of the bargain, stopping these men from rejoining the fight in Afghanistan and perhaps elsewhere.

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says he had similar concerns when he had a chance to OK a prisoner swap years ago.


LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: I had to ensure that the greatest security would be established so that none of them would re- enter the battlefield. And that was my obligation under the law. There were very strict conditions to maintain security on each of these individuals. And those were not acceptable either to the Taliban or to the Qataris at the time. And it was for that reason that I did not support doing it at that point, because we just couldn't get them to agree to the conditions.


BERMAN: As for the president himself, he landed just moments ago in Europe, arriving in Warsaw, where he is set to hold meetings with allies and some prominent critics about the U.S. role in the region. However, it's safe to say that this morning, at least, this decision to trade for Bowe Bergdahl will overshadow these meetings there. You can see the president shaking hands upon arrival.

Our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta is live in Warsaw.

Jim, what's the administration saying this morning about this Bergdahl deal?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, you're right, the president just landed here in Warsaw a few minutes ago. He's now shaking hands with U.S. and Polish service members, also walking past some of those F-16s that were sent to Poland to reassure NATO allies in this region with respect to that Russian incursion into Ukraine that the United States was going to stand by its NATO obligations and stand by its partners in this region.

But you're right, John, here we have another foreign trip for this president that has a cloud hanging over it, questions about his foreign policy, and that is once again the case with this trip because of the release of Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for those Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo, and what the administration is saying right now is basically what they've been saying for the last 72 hours, and that is that there was a very small window of opportunity to secure Bergdahl's release, and if they had not done so, his life and safety may have been in jeopardy.

And so, they decided to go ahead and not follow the law, notify Congress, and instead did this unilaterally, which, of course, has opened up all these questions up on Capitol Hill.

Even the Democratic chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, has said that the White House should have notified at least the Senate Intelligence Committee about this prisoner swap.

And so, there are lots of questions for this president. The president will have a chance to address those questions later on this morning. He has a bilateral meeting with the Polish president and then a news conference here in Warsaw later this morning.

John, you can put money on it, he'll be asked about this prisoner exchange.

BERMAN: Jim, I know he's there to talk about Ukraine, among other things. Do you get the sense that the White House anticipated there would be so much controversy over how this Bergdahl exchange happened?

ACOSTA: You know, I think they were. I mean, they were ready with, you know, several different responses to all of these questions that are being raised, even about whether or not the president is being somewhat hypocritical, because he was critical of President Bush, you'll remember, in the latter stages of President Bush's administration with the signing statements, saying -- well, he could act unilaterally as commander-in-chief in certain instances without notifying Congress about certain details of his foreign policy because he issued a signing statement.

The president had the same thing with respect to this notification requirement to Congress when Taliban prisoners are released from Guantanamo. So, he'll be asked about that at some point, perhaps not today, maybe later on in the trip.

But, yes, I think they were anticipating that. And I think you heard the president on Saturday, John, sort of laying out this case that he wants to make, this debate he wants to have about closing Guantanamo, which really has been frozen because Republicans in Congress don't want to really litigate that battle. They would rather keep Guantanamo open, and the president is determined to wind down this war in Afghanistan, and part of that, he claims, and the administration claims, involves bringing these prisoners of war, if there are any prisoners of war, home, although they feel at this point that Bergdahl is the last of those POWs in Afghanistan.

And so, yes, I think this is something the president wanted to talk about and he'll be talking about it a lot this week. It will overshadow much of his agenda, no question about it, John. BERMAN: He'll be talking about it in a few hours when he holds his press conference in Warsaw. I know you will be there. Jim Acosta for us in Warsaw, thanks so much.

ROMANS: Meantime, in Bergdahl's hometown, Hailey, Idaho, many people say it was a answer to their prayers. His friend and former roommate Shelly Horton tells Anderson Cooper everyone there is excited that Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is finally heading home.


SHELLY HORTON, FRIEND AND FORMER ROOMMATE: About 11:00, 11:30 on Saturday, the phone just started going crazy. And I picked it up and one of my friends just said I heard the craziest news on the radio that Bowe's been released. And, of course, before I got super excited, because there's been so many talks and so many rumors about the talks and everything, I did call his family to confirm. And his mom answered the phone just super over-the-top excited. She was crying, and all she could get out for the first little bit was "It's true, it's true."

So, it was -- after that, it kind of sank in and my whole house went crazy. And then, everybody started kind of piling out of their houses and into town so we could all kind of talk and celebrate.


ROMANS: The town is planning a larger celebration at the end of the month, renaming the annual "Bring Bowe Back" event to reflect his release. It will now be called "Bowe is Back", and thousands are expected to gather on June 28th to honor his release.

BERMAN: This morning, acting head of the V.A. is promising major changes at the scandal-plagued agency. Sloan Gibson says his top priority is to get every veteran off waiting lists and into clinics. He blamed leadership and ethical lapses for the issues that forced the resignation of V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki. The inspector general at the V.A. is now looking into 42 separate facilities amid claims that wait times were manipulated for thousands of veterans.

All right, you can smell it today. It is primary day in eight states. One state in particular is capturing the nation's attention. I am talking about Mississippi.

Thirty-six-year Senate veteran Thad Cochran is defending his seat in what's really been a very close race with Tea Party-backed candidate Chris McDaniels. There's been a lot of angry accusations against one another here. We'll cover this extensively next hour.

Mississippi not the only state holding elections today, primary elections. Polls will be open in Alabama, California, Iowa, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota. And, of course, CNN will be monitoring the results all day, all night, so stay here for the very latest.

ROMANS: And Paul Steinhauser's shaving right now. He's on his way in, racing --

BERMAN: Hello, Paul. Don't cut yourself.

ROMANS: He's racing into the bureau. He's going to tell us everything about it next hour.

Time now for an EARLY START on your money. Asian stocks closed higher. New data out this morning on Chinese manufacturing shows the slowdown in the world's second largest economy might be stabilizing.

Here in the U.S., futures are slightly lower but still very close to record highs. The Dow and S&P closed at their highest levels ever yesterday. That's right, records.

Today's big story on CNN Money, Seattle saying workers must make at least $15 an hour. It's the highest minimum wage in the country, well above the federal minimum of $7.25, higher than Washington state's $9.32 minimum wage, even higher than the $10.10 that the president is pushing.

With that plan stalled in Congress, local governments have been taking the fight for a higher wage into their own hands. So far, Berman, 26 states have or are planning minimum wages above $7.25. So, it's stalled in Congress, but the states keep pushing, pushing, pushing, and Seattle the highest at $15 right now.

All right. Breaking news overnight, a nationwide manhunt ends with the dramatic takedown of a man wanted for dangerous explosives police say were found in his home.

BERMAN: And Dan Marino suing the NFL. Why one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time is coming out against the league he championed for some 17 years. That's next.


ROMANS: Welcome back.

Breaking overnight, police in San Francisco have captured a media consultant on the run for days. Ryan Kelly Chamberlain was arrested overnight near the Golden Gate Bridge. He had been the subject of a nationwide manhunt after authorities found explosives and a deadly chemical inside his San Francisco apartment.

And on Monday morning, a strange note detailing his, quote, "dark moments" was sent to his Facebook connections. Right now, he is being questioned by police.

BERMAN: A former roommate of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev says police rushed into his apartment with guns drawn and manipulated him into making incriminating statements during their search for the Boston marathon bombing suspect. (INAUDIBLE) is accused of removing items from Tsarnaev's room and obstructing justice. He allegedly admitted throwing Tsarnaev's backpack, which contained fireworks, into a dumpster. His lawyers are now arguing to have those statements suppressed before his trial begins in September. ROMANS: A shocking story this morning from Wisconsin, where two 12- year-old girls are being charged as adults for allegedly attempting to murder a 12-year-old friend. Police say the girls plotted the attack for months, luring the victim into the woods with a game of hide and seek after a slumber party before stabbing her 19 times. She is expected to survive after being found crawling on a road by a bicyclist. The case even has police rattled.


RUSSELL JACK, WAUKESHA POLICE CHIEF: Extremely disturbing as a parent and as a chief of police that these, especially the age of our suspects -- we told you they're all 12 years old -- the age of these suspects and being female both lead into, and obviously, the details of what happened in the investigation, this is a very disturbing investigation.


ROMANS: So, police say these 12-year-old suspects were inspired by horror stories they found online. Bail has been set for each of them at $500,000.

BERMAN: That's a crazy story. Not just films at work there, I suspect.


BERMAN: A lot of troubling, troubling things.

Hall of fame quarterback Dan Marino is among the latest to gain a concussion-related lawsuit against the NFL. Marino and 14 others joined more than 4,500 other players who previously accused the league of misleading players about the long-term dangers of concussions. A $765 million settlement reached last summer was rejected by a federal judge back in January.

I think they're still negotiating right now, but this goes to show the dangers for the league in not reaching a deal, because more players could come forward.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

All right, family drama surrounding ailing radio legend Casey Kasem, taking a bizarre turn. Kasem's children have been battling his wife, Jean, for access to their father, the 82-year-old who's we're told barely able to communicate. Now, this video has blown up on the Internet. It shows Jean Kasem throwing raw meat at their stepdaughter while reciting Bible passages. It happened as Kerry Kasem was taking her father to the hospital in the battle for the right to oversee his medical care.

BERMAN: Surprising discovery by NASA. A new planet, so-called Mega Earth, also known as Kepler 10C, it has a mass 17 times that of Earth. The surface mass is made of rock, as opposed to gas. The planet is believed to be about 11 billion years old. So, chances are, you will not get to visit Mega Earth any time soon because it's not likely to sustain life because it's too close to its parent star. You would burn up if you're not like Superman. Also, it's about 560 light years away.

ROMANS: Quick weekend trip in the minivan, not.

BERMAN: Mega Earth!

ROMANS: All right, happening now, digging for clues in a kidnapping case that has captivated the world for years. There is new information in Madeleine McCann's disappearance, and it's leading investigators back to Portugal.

We are live with the very latest developments, next.


BERMAN: So, this morning, we're closer to finding out more about a mysterious noise recorded in the Indian Ocean around the time that Flight 370 vanished. The sound was picked up by two undersea receivers near-ish Australia. Some speculated it might be the sound of a plane crashing. The sound originated about 3,000 miles northwest of Australia. That isn't really that close to the arc of locations where the search has been focused so far. These microphones under water are designed to pick up, among other things, nuclear tests.

ROMANS: All right. New developments this morning in a nearly decade- old mystery. Where is Madeleine McCann? She is the young British girl who disappeared from a Portuguese resort town just a few weeks shy of her fourth birthday. Now in the next few days, British police plan to begin digging there in Portugal, looking for any evidence of what may have happened to her.

Isa Soares is live in London with the latest for us.

What have you learned? What is the new information that has police focused again -- refocused on Portugal?

ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine.

Well, sources close to the investigation tell me the police will be searching and digging an area of scrubland in Praia da Luz in south of Portugal some time this week. We have also been told that this area has already been cordoned off. And sources tell us they will be using sniffer dogs to help survey the area and also ground-penetrating radar.

And that basically will check whether the ground, the earth has been disturbed, if any sort of anomalies are in the Earth. And if there are, they will start digging. Obviously, it's a huge patch of land, so this is why they're being so careful, so forensic in their search.

Now, police basically have been saying that the reason they have chosen this patch of land is because of the proximity to the complex where Madeleine was staying with her parents in 2007. It's about -- I've been there several times, Christine. I was there in seven and I've been there three times after that. I can tell you, it's about a five-minute walk or so.

So, that's one of the reasons why they're looking at this area of scrubland. The other reason, they're saying, is because they believe that one man was seen walking, carrying a young girl across that patch land back on the night that Madeleine disappeared, hence why they're looking at this area. This is not the only area they are looking at. Two further areas in Praia da Luz, another strand in this investigation that has made this one of Europe's most disturbing and complex cases.

ROMANS: Complex and unsolved still. Thank you so much for that.

BERMAN: Some day, there will be answers to that.


BERMAN: Mounting questions this morning and controversy, not to mention raw emotion over the deal made with terrorists to bring a captured American soldier back home. There are new developments happening right now in the Bowe Bergdahl case. Live, team coverage ahead.