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Bergdahl: Hero or Deserter?; Prisoner Swap Criticized; Obama in Warsaw; Primary Day for Eight States

Aired June 3, 2014 - 04:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: tensions rising over the deal that freed a captured U.S. soldier and returned five jailed terrorists to the Taliban. Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl recovering in the hospital. His former colleagues now question how he was captured and whether the effort to find him was worth it.

Meanwhile, President Obama defending this prisoner swap as today Senate leaders meet on the controversial move. Did the president break the law?

We are bringing you team coverage and all the angles of this very rapidly developing story.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. Thirty minutes after the hour. Great to see you this morning.

And this morning, as he recovers at a U.S. military hospital in Germany, there are really new questions about Bowe Bergdahl, the Army sergeant now back in U.S. hands after five years in the custody of the Taliban. Exactly what happened to him is still a mystery.

We have not heard his side of the story yet, but some of those who served with Bergdahl are calling him a deserter. There are others even suggesting he did not deserve to be rescued after they say he put himself and fellow soldiers at risk. There are people who suggest that six service members were killed looking for him in the last five years, although the military questions that number.

Still, many members of his unit say the public needs to know what they call the truth behind his capture.


NATHAN BRADLEY BETHEA, SERVED WITH BERGDAHL IN AFGHANISTAN: Ultimately, he needed to come home. We don't get to pick and choose which POWs deserve to come home. If a guy is in captivity and we have the opportunity to bring him back, he should be brought back.

In Bergdahl's case, I mean, so many of us have already spent so much of our lives being obligated to care about Bergdahl, being forced to risk life and limb for Bergdahl. And the fact is, it doesn't make any sense to still be angry about it, but it still needs to be brought to light.


BERMAN: You really can hear the resentment in that statement right there.

ROMANS: Oh, yes.

BERMAN: As for Bergdahl, his doctors say his treatment could take a long time, which is understandable.

Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is at Landstuhl Medical Center this morning.

Nic, give us an update on how the sergeant is doing.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, stable condition. His situation requires hospitalization, we're told, particular attention on diet and nutrition. It very much gives the impression that during captivity, he wasn't getting the right foods to eat. And certainly, that's what we under understand, the reason to make this exchange with the Taliban prisoners, make it happen so quickly, was because Sergeant Bergdahl's physical health was deteriorating. That's what we're being told here.

We do understand part of the process that he goes through here will involve questions about what he saw, what he experienced with the Taliban, and obviously, questions about how he ended up in their hands, John.

BERMAN: Nic, of course, there is a suggestion he could provide intelligence about the Taliban that could be helpful to both the United States and Afghanistan going forward, no?

ROBERTSON: Yes, absolutely. I mean, look at what happened Monday. There was a service person killed in Afghanistan in combat with the Taliban. So, one of the parts of reintegration is, does he have any time-sensitive, useful military intelligence information gleaned from his time with the Taliban that could be useful right now today to save troops' lives in Afghanistan.

So, that will be part of the conversations he's having. And because it's time-sensitive, one would imagine that with everything, the medical, psychological help that he's getting, it's going to factor fairly highly in those conversations. We don't know, but because it's time-sensitive, potentially, it would be useful.

So, did he experience something in one of the compounds? Did he see a build-up of Taliban fighters? What were his experiences, particularly in the later days, where there may be just a small something that can factor in with other intelligence that exists to put together to paint a potential real-time threat right now, John.

BERMAN: And of course, all that is a separate issue, then, the debate over how and why he was brought back into U.S. hands. That debate very much raging this morning.

Nic Robertson for us at Landstuhl -- thank you so much.

ROMANS: All right. Happening today, the Senate Intelligence committee is set to receive a closed-door briefing about that prisoner swap that brought Bowe Bergdahl home. The deal sent five Taliban fighters from Guantanamo Bay back to Qatar. Many in Washington are now asking why the president agreed to the deal and whether Qatar will do what it promised, keep these men, these men from rejoining the fight in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says he had similar concerns when he had a chance to green-light 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: Those concerns are not shared by the White House, which says the swap is "not a security threat."

President Obama's in Warsaw, Poland, this morning, where he's defending the prisoner exchange and preparing for critical meetings.

Senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta live for us in Warsaw.

Jim, what's the administration saying now that the criticism appears to be growing in Washington? They must have seen this coming, and it will overshadow what he's trying to say and do in Europe today.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Christine, and we've seen this play out on the last two presidential trips. This is his third trip overseas in three months, and it seems during each of these trips, his foreign policy is questioned. That's going to happen once again.

And later on this morning, the president's going to hold a news conference with the Polish president, where he'll be asked, I would think almost right off the top, about this prisoner exchange that took place over the weekend.

And you heard the president start to tee up his defense of this over the weekend at the White House in the Rose Garden, when he stood with the parents of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl and said that he is committed to closing the prison at Guantanamo, that he's committed to ending the war in Afghanistan, and he sees this prisoner exchange as being a critical part of that process.

And so, I think you're going to hear the president walk through some of those comments again. But as you mentioned, not only Republican critics up on Capitol Hill are challenging the president's decision on this, the legality of that decision, but even some Democrats. The chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, has said that, yes, the president, the White House, they should have notified these key committees up on capitol hill that this prisoner exchange was going to take place.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney in the briefing room yesterday was saying, no, no, no, that was not possible, that they had a narrow window of opportunity to secure Bowe Bergdahl's release, to keep his safety basically without being in jeopardy in any sort of way by conducting this exchange. And so, you're going to hear the president, I think, talk about that as well.

But as you mentioned, it's going to overshadow everything else that the president is trying to talk about on this trip.

Just as he's landing this morning here in Poland this morning, the White House is announcing that the U.S. is going to start a $1 billion European Reassurance Fund, and that is to -- you know, it's really implicit in the name there -- reassure Eastern European allies that the U.S. is going to stand with them when it comes to their nervousness over what is happening in Ukraine right now, those worries about the Russian incursion into Ukraine, and part of that $1 billion fund will be used to conduct military exercises in the region and so forth. And so, the president will be talking about that as well.

But as he's talking about that, all of these questions will be coming in about what took place over weekend.

ROMANS: Absolutely. All right, Jim Acosta, thanks for that, in Warsaw. We'll talk with you again soon, Jim.

BERMAN: Bowe Bergdahl is from the town of Hailey, Idaho, not far from Sun Valley, and today many there are still celebrating, calling his release an answer to their prayers. His friend and former roommate Shelly Horton tells Anderson Cooper they are grateful that he is on his way back.


SHELLY HORTON, FRIEND AND FORMER ROOMMATE: We're just happy he's back. We're happy that he's out of captivity. Right now, we just want to celebrate the fact that he's alive and well, or as well as he can be, and show support for the family and let them know that we're behind them for whatever they need to do to make sure Bowe on his uphill battle has what he needs.

So, the community's kind of bonded together to show support. And you know, and the unified thing, we can deal with all the other stuff later. Right now, we're just so happy and thrilled to have him back that that's really our focus here.


BERMAN: In just a few weeks, thousands are expected to gather to honor Bergdahl. They had been holding an annual event dedicated to bringing Bergdahl home, but this year's event will reflect really the new reality. It will be called "Bowe is Back".

ROMANS: New promises this morning that changes will be coming to the V.A. Acting chief Sloan Gibson saying now his top priority is to get every veteran, every veteran off waiting lists and into clinics in the wake of a scandal that cost V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki his job. Gibson blamed leadership and ethical lapses for wait times that extended into months at some facilities.

At least 42 V.A. hospitals and clinics are now being investigated by the V.A.'s inspector general.

BERMAN: Voters in eight states heading to the polls today. Primaries being held in Alabama, California, Iowa, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Dakota and Mississippi. That is where 36-year Senate veteran Thad Cochran is trying to fend off a pretty serious Tea Party challenge from Chris McDaniels. The race is tight and has been notable for how nasty it has become.

ROMANS: Not dirty, downright dirty.

BERMAN: It's beyond nasty to dirty, you are correct. On the spectrum, it is on the dirty side of the nasty spectrum.

CNN will be keeping an eye on all of these contests today and we'll bring you results as they come in tonight.

ROMANS: John Berman loves primary day.

BERMAN: It's great.

ROMANS: You love it.

All right, I love money day and it's one of those. An EARLY START on your money this morning.

Here's what stocks around the world are doing at the moment. Futures in the U.S. near record highs. Both the Dow and S&P 500 closed at their highest levels ever yesterday.

Today on CNN Money, 4.7 million people, 4.7 million people, that's how many Americans made more than 200 grand in 2011. That's adjusted gross income or AGI, as they say, everything from salary to stocks, minus your deductions. That means about 3.2 percent of tax filers are solidly upper middle class or higher.

CNN Money decided to find out what it takes to be rich, looking at traits shared by some of the world's wealthiest. Here are some of the top seven, some you would expect -- always on the clock, extreme confidence. Others maybe not so much -- modesty and a tolerance for risk without being impulsive.

Look at that chart, ladies and gentlemen. That's what it takes to be wealthy. You can go to CNN Money to look at it.

John Berman's already over there. He's like -- I've got one out of the seven.

BERMAN: People say what are your weaknesses? I care too much. Sometimes I work too hard.

ROMANS: I'm always on the clock.

BERMAN: Yes, people say I'm always right. That's one of my -- crazy.

ROMANS: I never say you're always right.

BERMAN: No, you don't.

ROMANS: All right. So, check that out at CNN Money.

A chilling story with a bizarre twist -- two 12-year-old girls accused of brutally stabbing their friend, police say to please a mythical creature they learned about online.

BERMAN: It's an unbelievable story.

ROMANS: Yes, more details ahead.

BERMAN: Plus, bitten by a shark and living to tell the tale. One woman explains how and why she kept calm during the attack. I have to learn about this. Calm is not the word that comes to mind.

ROMANS: Calm because I was scared to death.



BERMAN: Now in custody this morning, a San Francisco media consultant accused of having explosives in his apartment. Ryan Kelly Chamberlain had been on the run for days and the subject of a nationwide manhunt. Police stopped him at a park near the Golden Gate Bridge overnight, with a whole lot of questions about why he had explosives, why he sent a strange note to his Facebook connections detailing his, quote, "dark moments."

Police are not saying yet what they think was behind Chamberlain's alleged actions, but again, this was a nationwide manhunt. He had explosives. I think it is a huge relief to law enforcement officials he is now in custody. We'll have much more on this as the morning continues.

ROMANS: Right, a former roommate of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev wants statements he made to police suppressed before his September trial begins.

Dias Kadyrbayev says police stormed his apartment with guns drawn and manipulated him into making incriminating statements during their search for the Boston marathon bombing suspect. Now, he's accused of moving items from Tsarnaev's room and obstructing justice. He allegedly admitted throwing Tsarnaev's backpack, which contained fireworks, into a dumpster three days after the bombings.

BERMAN: This is such a disturbing story out of Wisconsin. Two 12- year-old girls are facing attempted murder charges as adults for allegedly stabbing another 12-year-old 19 times. Police say the suspects had planned the attack since February and lured the victim into the woods during a game of hide and seek. This was after a slumber party. She's expected to survive after being found crawling on a road by a bicyclist.

This case even has police shaken.


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.


BERMAN: That's an understatement.

Police say the 12-year-old suspects were inspired by horror stories they found online about a demon-like creature. One of the girls apparently told police that the creature can read her dreams.

ROMANS: And they're being charged as adults. Really interesting, 12 years old charged as adults, shows you the severity of the stabbing.

The suspect in the April stabbing at a Pennsylvania high school has waived his right to a preliminary hearing. Sixteen-year-old Alex Hribal is charged as an adult with 21 counts of attempted homicide. His attorney says he plans to ask the judge to move the trial to juvenile court. Hribal will be formally arraigned in July. All of the victims, 20 students and a security guard, survived and have been released from the hospital.

BERMAN: All right, you have to listen to this. She says she's never going into murky water again. Understandable. A Florida woman survived a frightening run-in with a shark.

Jessica Vaughn went swimming in the intercoastal waterway in Ft. Lauderdale over the weekend when a bull shark apparently grabbed her from behind. The 22-year-old told reporters, if it wasn't for her friends, she might not have survived.


JESSICA VAUGHN, SHARK BITE VICTIM: If I had panicked, they would probably freak out some more and then I would freak out and it wouldn't be good. I didn't see much. I just saw something hit me, and that was it. I just saw something black. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: But there was no freaking out, as she says. Vaughn says she was worried about stepping into the water from the beginning. Now, she says she has no plans to do that again.

This is a woman after my own heart. This is how I react to these stories. I'm just not going to go in the water. We are glad she's doing well. She is facing several months of recovery for that leg, but she is expected to recover.

ROMANS: How would you react? Calmly or freak out?

BERMAN: I would make plans to move to Kansas. I would scream and then move to Kansas where there are no sharks.

ROMANS: They have tornadoes in Kansas. There's something dangerous everywhere.

BERMAN: No sharks. Shark-free tornadoes.

All right. Forty-nine minutes after the hour.

New leads in the disappearance of a young girl. This story's captivated the world for years. Now police, could they be closer to finding Madeleine McCann? We'll tell you where they're digging for clues, next.


ROMANS: Could a mysterious noise be the sound of Flight 370 crashing? Authorities are set to release more data tomorrow about a sound recorded in the Indian Ocean around the time the Malaysian jet disappeared. It was picked up by two undersea receivers off Australia, and some believe it was the sound of the plane slamming into the ocean. The noise originated about 3,000 miles northwest of Australia, which is not consistent with the arc of locations where the search has so far been focused.

BERMAN: CNN has learned that British police plan to begin digging in Portugal this week looking for Madeleine McCann. Of course, she is the young girl who disappeared from a Portuguese resort town seven years ago, just a few weeks shy of her fourth birthday. The dig is set to take place in an area of wasteland near the apartment where McCann was staying with her family.

Portuguese authorities had previously searched this area. It's not clear what British police think they might find there now.

ROMANS: In Nigeria, police have banned protests in the capital Abuja from people demanding the government rescue hundreds of abducted schoolgirls. Officials say the protests have degenerated and they now pose a serious security threat. The search for the girls has now lasted more than seven weeks after those girls were taken by the terror group Boko Haram. Authorities say they have located the girls, but rescuing them may be impossible. New trouble this morning for General Motors with new claims its ignition switch problems could be linked to dozens more deaths. We'll have that report when we get an early check of your money, next.


ROMANS: All right, let's get an EARLY START on your money this morning. Futures slightly lower right now after stocks in the U.S. kicked off the month of June with record highs. Both the S&P and the Dow closed at their highest levels ever to start the month. Futures a little bit lower right now.

One stock we're tracking this morning, Apple. Everyone from computer geeks to iPhone users gearing up for new products unveiled at the company's worldwide development conference Monday. The company unveiled new operating systems and a new integrated technology health kit, which allows you to track everything from your sleep to your calories. A home kit would let you control your lights and thermostat from your house, even close a garage door.

Investors, though, not impressed. Apple shares fell on the news. One criticism, that new Apple technology looks like features already offered on competitors like Google.

Google, meantime, on lockdown in China. All Google services are currently blocked in China, likely for political reasons, because tomorrow marks the 25th anniversary of that, the infamous Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Another report out this morning raising questions about G.M. "Reuters" looked at data on front end crashes similar to those caused by G.M.'s faulty ignition switch. "Reuters" found at least 74 people died in gm cars in accidents with key similarities to those linked to the 13 deaths G.M. has already acknowledged. G.M. says it uncovered those 13 deaths through claims and lawsuits and has not said whether it has referenced the database used by "Reuters".

G.M. declining to comment on this latest analysis. We're going to find out later this morning whether reports like this have kept Americans from buying G.M. cars. May sales numbers due out today.

And so far, Berman, I have not seen sales decline because of all of this recall stuff. In general, people are still buying G.M. cars.

BERMAN: Interesting. Gives you a sense, though, why G.M. may have been so proactive over the last few months, at least, on this scandal, if they're concerned more could be coming out.

ROMANS: That's true.

BERMAN: EARLY START continues right now.