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Bergdahl Receiving Treatment; Prisoner Swap Criticized; Obama in Europe; Primary Day for Eight States; Let the NBA Finals Trash Talk Begin

Aired June 3, 2014 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: new questions and controversy over the prison swap that freed a captured American soldier and returned five terrorists back to the Taliban. This morning, new interviews with Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl's fellow soldiers -- they're questioning how he was captured and the deadly effects of his disappearance. This, as lawmakers meet today on whether the president broke the law to carry out that controversial exchange.

We have live team coverage of all of these angles, breaking down every aspect of this big story.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman. It's Tuesday, June 3rd. Great to see you, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And we do begin with Bowe Bergdahl.

Now, until we hear from him, we will not know exactly how or why he fell into Taliban hands, but this morning, there are new questions surrounding the army sergeant held for five years by the Taliban as he continues to recover this morning at a U.S. military hospital in Germany.

There are new accusations from some who served with Bergdahl. They are calling him a deserter who walked off his base and put his fellow soldiers' lives in jeopardy. Some suggest, he may be responsible for the deaths of six other soldiers who 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.


BERMAN: Now, it could be weeks or longer before we hear Bowe Bergdahl's response to this. His doctors say his treatment may last for some time before he can be returned to the U.S.

Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

Nic, give us a sense of his condition this morning and what this recovery looks like.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he's into the second day of his reintegration here. He's described as being in a stable condition. His situation does require hospitalization. Specific attention being given to his dietary needs and his nutrition. It certainly gives the impression that during his captivity, he was not getting proper food, and certainly, that really amplifies what we've heard, that it was necessary to go in and make this exchange and bring him out because his condition was worsening.

So, how long does it all take? That's the question that so many people are asking.

And the doctors are saying, look, it's very simple. This is a process that we're going to be guided by Sergeant Bergdahl on. How long does he need? What are his issues that they're beginning to find out now?

So, they say that they're very sensitive to everything that he's been through, but it's really going to be down to him. How much time does he need to sort of come through the phase where they feel and he feels ready to make that long journey, long-awaited, as well, journey back home, John.

BERMAN: Circumstances of his capture and all the controversy surrounding it right now. Is that part of the discussion as they speak to Bergdahl in these early days?

ROBERTSON: You know, we're not being given a blow-by-blow and a breakdown of what's been happening, but what we do understand is that this fits the standard process. Reintegration process includes mental help, psychological help, physical help for the elements we're hearing about, but also the military component.

Does he -- is he aware of useful, tactical, operational information about what the Taliban may be planning? Can that help save lives in Afghanistan today? What lessons can be learned from his captivity for troops in the future?

And of course, part of those lessons are going to include how did he fall into the Taliban's hands in the first place, not just how did he learn to endure almost five years in captivity, but how did it physically happen? Lessons that can be helpful to soldiers today and going forward in the future, John.

So, yes, we expect that will be part of the questioning. How much of that has been gone into so far, we're just not up to speed on those details, John.

BERMAN: That's right. They're keeping them quiet, to be sure. Nic Robertson in Landstuhl for us -- thank you so much. ROMANS: Of course, the reason Sergeant Bergdahl is free now is because the White House agreed to an unusual prisoner swap with the Taliban, sending these 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 this bargain, stopping 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 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.


ROMANS: Meantime, President Obama is in Europe this morning, just landing this hour in Warsaw. He's set to hold meetings with allies and some prominent critics about the U.S. role in the region. But you can be sure the Bergdahl decision will hang over this entire trip. Lots of questions this morning.

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

Jim, what's the administration saying now in support of its decision to do this prisoner swap?


Yes, you have heard the administration say over the last several days that, basically, there was a finite window of opportunity to retrieve Bowe Bergdahl from his captors, to engage in this prisoner swap, exchanging those Taliban fighters that were released from Guantanamo for Bowe Bergdahl.

And so, I think what we're going to hear from the president in about an hour from now is really an explanation as to why he decided to do this. And I think one of the very interesting things to be listening for during this news conference with the Polish president here in Warsaw is whether or not the president talks about the circumstances that led to Bowe Bergdahl being captured in the first place. That has obviously been a very hot topic of conversation in Washington over the last 48 hours.

The other aspect of all of this that the president may address is this increasing criticism that he's hearing from Capitol Hill, not only from Republican lawmakers but also some Democrats, who are saying that the president, the White House, the administration should have been consulting with Congress before engaging in this prisoner swap and trying to secure Bergdahl's release. But what we've been hearing from the White House over the last 48-72 hours, Christine, same thing you're hearing, is that if they had not acted, Sergeant Bergdahl's life may have been in jeopardy.

ROMANS: They had this moment and that the overriding concern of the United States was that we bring our prisoners home. We bring our guys home.

Tell us a little bit about the president's trip and his goals in Europe here. We know just he sort of reframed America's goals on the global stage last week, when he was at West Point.

ACOSTA: Right.

ROMANS: What do we expect to hear from him on that front today?

ACOSTA: Well, he is here in Poland. And really, the nature of this trip as being billed by the administration was to reassure eastern European partners that the United States will stand by its NATO commitments, you know, despite the fact that Russia has invaded Ukraine and worried all of these neighbors here in this part of the world, that the U.S. will stand by its NATO commitments.

The president landing here in Warsaw within the last hour. He went to an airport hangar here in the Polish capital and looked at the U.S. and Polish service members who are serving side by side, the F-16s that the U.S. sent here to Poland to reassure Poland and the other eastern European NATO partners in this region.

And something else you're going to hear the president announce this morning is a $1 billion fund that will be used to increase some of the military exercises that have been going on in this part of the world. That also is intended to reassure Eastern European allies that, yes, the United States will abide by its NATO commitments.

And it's going to be an interesting week, Christine, because not only is the president celebrating the 25th anniversary of the solidarity movement here in Poland, which, as we all remember, happened back in 1989 as the fall of the Soviet Union was happening. He's also going to be going to the 70th anniversary celebration of D-Day in Normandy on Friday.

So, this whole week will be about reassuring Europe that the United States will be there. But, of course, all of that now overshadowed by more foreign policy questions because of the Bowe Bergdahl release. We'll be watching.

ROMANS: Jim Acosta in Warsaw. Thanks, Jim.

BERMAN: In Bowe Bergdahl's hometown, Hailey, Idaho, many say his release was an answer to their prayers. His friend and former roommate, Shelly Horton, tells Anderson Cooper everyone there is excited that Bergdahl is finally heading home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 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.


BERMAN: 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." Thousands are expected to gather there on June 28th to honor him.

ROMANS: This morning, the 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. now looking into 42 separate facilities amid claims wait times there were manipulated for thousands of veterans.

BERMAN: Check your calendars. It is Tuesday, which means primary day in eight states. One in particular has been capturing the nation's attention.

In Mississippi, 36-year Senate veteran Thad Cochran is defending his seat in what has become a neck-and-neck race with Tea Party-backed candidate Chris McDaniels. This race is getting ugly in its final days with both sides really hurling accusations at one another.

Polls will be open in Alabama, California, Iowa, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota.

Who will win? Where can you find out, you ask? Right here on CNN. We'll be monitoring the results throughout the day and into the evening.

ROMANS: Let's take a quick look at your money this morning. Asian stocks closed higher. New data out this morning on Chinese manufacturing shows the slowdown in the world's second largest economy may be stabilizing.

Here in the U.S., futures lower but very close to record highs. The Dow and S&P, the highest levels ever yesterday.



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

With that plan stalled in Congress, local governments have been taking the fight for a higher minimum wage into their own hands. So far, 26 states have or are planning minimum wages above $7.25.

It's interesting that $15 minimum wage in Seattle, that's exactly what a fast-food workers have been asking for.

BERMAN: Asking for, that's right.

ROMANS: They want $15.

BERMAN: 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.

ROMANS: And Dan Marino suing the NFL. Why one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time coming out against the league he championed for 17 years, next.


BERMAN: Breaking overnight, police in San Francisco have now 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. On Monday morning, there was a strange note detailing his, quote, "dark moments" that was sent to his Facebook connections. Right now he is being questioned by police.

This was a big manhunt. Law enforcement officials were pretty concerned. You can imagine they're pretty happy they have him in custody now.

ROMANS: 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. Dias Kadyrbayev 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 arguing to have those statements suppressed before his trial begins in September.

BERMAN: A shocking story right now 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 this attack for months, luring the victim into the woods with a game of hid and seek after a slumber party before stabbing her 19 times.

Now, she is expected to survive after being found crawling on a road by someone on a bicycle. 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.


BERMAN: Police say the 12-year-old suspects were inspired by horror stories they found online, apparently about a demon-like creature. One of the girls apparently says this demon speaks to her. Bail has been set for each of them at $500,000.


All right, officials say an Intel executive is among the six climbers missing and now presumed dead on Washington's Mt. Rainier. The climbers, two guides and four clients, are believed to have died in a 3,000-foot fall last week, the mountain's worst accident in more than 30 years. The executive has been identified as 40-year-old Uday Mardi (ph). Parks officials have called off ground searches due to dangerous conditions. The cause of the accident is not yet known.

BERMAN: Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino among the latest group of former players to join 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 between the league and the players, it was rejected by a federal judge back in January.

Could be a lot of dangerous weather coming your way.


BERMAN: So, let's get a check of the forecast.

Meteorologist Karen Maginnis has the forecast. Good morning, Karen.

ROMANS: Good morning.

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Christine and John.

Yesterday is a day to be hyper vigilant about regarding watching the weather, especially across the Southern Plains, coming along Interstate 80, all the way from Nebraska into Iowa and portions of Missouri.

Now, it is infrequently that the Storm Prediction Center issues these moderate watches or alerts. That means conditions are favorable for hail, high winds, heavy downpours and the possibility of tornadoes. Here's the ingredients. We've got this warm, moist flow coming up from the South, a warm front moving to the North. So, these temperatures across this region will be into the 80s. Dew points in the 70s. Ideal conditions for the development of super cell that could spawn a tornado.

Area of low pressure's going to add the rotation into the atmosphere, so watch out. This is going to be a particularly dangerous situation. About 3 million people lie in this moderate risk area, from Omaha to North Platte, to Grand Isle, to Des Moines. So, watch out. And already this morning we're seeing some storms erupt across Nebraska.

Back to you guys.

BERMAN: Thank you so much, Karen. Everyone, please be careful today, please heed the warnings if they come your way.

ROMANS: All right, the NBA finals are still two days away, but the trash talk has already begun. Andy Scholes has the details in the "Bleacher Report", next.


ROMANS: All right, let the NBA finals trash talking begin. The Spurs proclaim that they are going to get their revenge and dethrone King James, but LeBron says not so fast.

BERMAN: Andy Scholes, our trash talk senior correspondent, has more in the "Bleacher Report."

Good morning, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: Good morning, guys. You know, after taking down the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals, Tim Duncan said the Spurs wanted the Heat in the finals, and this time, they are going to win.

Well, two-time defending champions heard those comments loud and clear, and LeBron says the Heat are ready for the rematch.


LEBRON JAMES, MIAMI HEAT: They don't like us. They don't. I can sense it from Timmy's comments over the last couple days. They wanted this. They wanted us. And you know, we'll be ready for the challenge.


SCHOLES: The NBA finals tips off on Thursday night with game one in San Antonio.

All right, the Yankee Stadium Triple Crown hopeful California Chrome's jockey threw out the first pitch last night. Not bad. Probably about 100 times better than 50 Cent. Belmont stakes are this Saturday. Here's something you never see. Derek Jeter's going after a foul ball, or at least what he thinks is a foul ball. He takes his sweet time, almost actually gives the ball to a fan, didn't realize the ball actually dropped in fair. The play turned into a triple. A rare mistake by the Yankees captain. New York loses 10-2 to the Mariners.

Trending on this morning is the crazy prices New York fans are paying for the Stanley Cup Final. The Rangers are playing for the cup for the first time in 20 years and the cheapest ticket just to get into Madison Square Garden --

ROMANS: No way.

SCHOLES: -- for game three, it's around $1,000. Meanwhile, for games one and two in L.A., you can get in to watch for around 360 bucks. So, guys, that means you could actually probably buy a round-trip ticket to L.A., get a hotel and go see the games there for about the same price as you could for staying in New York to see at Madison Square Garden.

BERMAN: If you're buying, we're in.


SCHOLES: I'm out.

BERMAN: Thanks so much, Andy.

SCHOLES: All right.

ROMANS: Mounting questions, controversy and raw emotion this morning over the deal made with terrorists to bring a captured American soldier back home. We've got new developments happening today. Live, team coverage coming up next.