Return to Transcripts main page


Controversy Emerges Over Prisoner Swap with Taliban; Tea Party Candidate in Close Primary with GOP Mississippi Senator; Former Bergdahl Platoon Member Comments on Deal; Obama in Poland

Aired June 3, 2014 - 07:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: So let's discuss the politics surrounding this situation which are growing more and more bitter. We have Kevin Madden, CNN political commentator and Republican strategist, and Richard Socarides, former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and the writer for Gentlemen, thank you very much.

Kevin, let me start with you. It is easy to go after the particulars of this deal and rightly so. However, the shock coming from lawmakers, specifically Republicans, that this came out of nowhere, is that a little bit of political theater? This has always been the deal on the table.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think they're making -- they're making it justifiable case that they believe that the president may have broken the law. So I think that that's why they're going to be a certain level of oversight hearings now to really investigate that fully on whether or not the president went through the proper legal protocols in order to engage in an agreement like this. And I think that there are also serious questions by lawmakers up on Capitol Hill, whether or not a deal like this would incentivize further kidnappings. You did hear criticism, very robust criticism, come from somebody like Lindsey Graham who is an important voice on national security concerns like this.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Richard, what about that legal question? Why not? I mean, the president tried to answer that question in his press conference saying the whole process was truncated because we didn't want to miss that window. Is that a good enough excuse to not notify congress?

RICHARD SOCARIDES, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, I don't think you need an excuse, nor do I think we should be talking about excuses. I think the president this morning made a very strong case for why he did this.

BOLDUAN: Dianne Feinstein said the president should have notified the key committees that this was in the works.

SOCARIDES: There may be legitimate questions that member of Congress have around why the 30-daytime period rule was not addressed specifically. And I'm sure the president and his team will have the appropriate answers for that. But I think the president made an incredibly strong case this morning for why we never leave anyone on the battlefield. This is consistent with strong standing American policy. It's not a new policy. It's consistent with international law. It's consistent with everything we've always done in the whole history of U.S. warfare.

So I think people who are complaining today, it's part of the Republican partisan atmosphere that's been created in Washington where every move the president makes is criticized. They want to criticize everything. These are the same people who before were criticizing that he wasn't doing enough to get this guy out.

CUOMO: Part of it is, but part of isn't. What Kate is getting is, similarly as with a point of pushback with Kevin is that you knew about this deal all along. Don't act shocked. You know that Reagan gave arms up for POWs. Don't act shock. It's how you did it here, Richard. You did it by going around Congress. And it breeds a lack of confidence in how you do business as an administration, and you have not stated a good reason why the law was circumvented.

SOCARIDES: I don't know what the administration's position is exactly on this issue because they haven't said what it is.

CUOMO: Because they don't have a good answer.


BOLDUAN: -- the case that he's making?

SOCARIDES: Listen, I think what the president suggested this morning is that Congress was well informed that this kind of deal was in the works. So they obviously think they met whatever requirements the law imposed.

MADDEN: Well, look, just on that point. It's not up to the president to decide whether or not he thinks the Congress was well informed or not. I think there are still legitimate criticism and legitimate frustration up on Capitol Hill that they didn't know enough about this. So I think the president, you know, Richard, you make the argument that he made a strong case, I think he was very dismissive.

And I think two audiences are not going to be as dismissive about the conditions of this case. First is the Congress, and he has to have a good relationship with them. Secondly, is the American public. There still remains more questions than there are answers right now. That has to be a legitimate concern for this president right now.

SOCARIDES: I think the American people are satisfied that the president made good on our country's sacred commitment to families on POWs to bring everybody home. I think the American public will be satisfied this morning that that is what the president was doing and those were the actions he was taking.

CUOMO: Kevin, how does it matter that the timing involved here, that you are coming to the end of the war, that the president actively wants to close Guantanamo Bay, so you may wind up having people released without any strings, at least here, while you are releasing dangerous people, at least you're doing it in a way that there are some conditions on them where you may not have it with the other ones. Let's listen to a bite on this from the president to give us context and you respond. Go ahead.

MADDEN: Right.


OBAMA: The release of the Taliban who were being held in Guantanamo was conditioned on the Qataris keeping eyes on them and creating structure in which we can monitor their activities. We will be keeping eye on them. Is there the possibility of some of them trying to return to activities that are detrimental to us? Absolutely.


CUOMO: Your take.

MADDEN: Well, I think General Spider Marks made a point earlier during your conversation, Chris, where he talked about the level of whether or not there is an official declaration of an end to a lot of our engagement there. So I think that remains a question. And again, I think this is something where the president is really going to have to build a strong case up upon -- with Congress as it relates to justifying some of his actions.

BOLDUAN: Richard, do you think this is a -- this poses a potential problem for the president? They're not talking about those explicit assurances that the Qataris have been able to provide, able to keep eyes on these five Taliban members.

SOCARIDES: I don't think this is going to be an issue. I think the Republicans are trying to create a sideshow around this like they try to create around everything. I think the president acted consistent with longstanding American policy and in keeping with our commitment to bring every member of our armed forces home as the war winds down. He made a POW exchange. Those are a tough decision. It's always one of the toughest decisions a president can make. There are obviously, you know, involved a balancing of the issues. We have to do everything to make sure that these people that were released out of Guantanamo Bay do not, you know, continue to cause --

BOLDUAN: What is everything? That's the question.

SOCARIDES: We don't know. I mean, these are the kinds of things, these deals are often made in secret. Obviously we made a deal with the Qataris. We trust the people who are charge of our military --

CUOMO: So what do you do when you get a request like we just got from one of the released spies, Cuban spies, who says, hey, you know, maybe Cuba will do a deal like this? What about the CIA operative being held in Iran, Robert Levenson, do you make a deal with them?

SOCARIDES: We're not at war with Cuba. And, you know, I think that each situation has to be taken on its own. But this was clearly a POW swap. I don't think this sets new ground. This is not a new kind of policy. This is totally consistent with what we've done historically. Those situations would suggest something different. And I don't think that's what we're doing. MADDEN: I just want to disagree with Richard's trying to frame this as a Republican-Democrat thing. I never used a term "Democrats" on Capitol Hill. I said Congress. I think members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, are going to give and I believe that there's a justifiable level of oversight over this particular deal. And remember, there were Democrats that voted for law that said that the president had to consult with members of Congress 30 days before any prison transfer.

BOLDUAN: The president signed the law, even though he also offered a signing statement, but he signed the law, so he knows what's in it.

MADDEN: So this should not be turned into a partisan thing the way Richard has tried to frame it.

BOLDUAN: Kevin Madden and Richard Socarides, thank you very much. One thing is sure, there's nothing simple about this case that we're watching play out right now as Bowe Bergdahl transitions back to regular life, if you will. Thanks so much.

Let's get over to Michaela.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Here's your headlines at this hour. A business owner from Yemen who now lives in upstate New York is facing charges this morning after police say he plotted to kill U.S. military members and others as vengeance for American actions overseas. Officials arrested Mufid Elfgeeh over the weekend. He faces multiple weapons charges. Court papers reveal that Elfgeeh also planned to kill Shiite Muslims in western New York.

Breaking overnight, police in San Francisco have captured a media consultant who had been 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. Monday morning a strange note detailing his, quote, "dark moments" was sent to his Facebook connections. Right now he is being questioned by police.

Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino is among 15 former NFL players suing the league over concussions. Nearly 5,000 other players have previously filed suit. The new civil claim alleges the NFL knew about a link between concussions and long-term health problems and yet they concealed it. In the court documents the players claim they're suffering symptoms consistent with brain injuries. The NFL has not been responsive to CNN's request but we will speak with former players later in the hour about this.

Quite a wild scene in a Florida courtroom after a fight breaks out between a judge and a public defender.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I had a rock I would throw it at you right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, this is --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop pissing me off. If you want to fight, let's go out back and I'll just --


PEREIRA: Well, apparently he did. The two had been arguing back and forth during the hearing before Judge John Murphy asked the lawyer to step into the hallway. The courtroom camera captured audio of the ensuing scuffle. Apparently neither of the two were arrested. So far no charges have been filed.

BOLDUAN: That's one way to settle it, I guess.

CUOMO: No small irony, a beautiful example of why you need the court system to begin with.

BOLDUAN: Just, yes, why, exactly. Why we need the legal system? We're going to show you right now.

CUOMO: Irony does not get more obvious than that, when a judge and a lawyer decide to take it outside instead of deciding a matter in the court of law. Amen.

OK, so across the country, another type of fighting is going on. It's primary day in eight states. One race in particular has drawn a lot of attention, the Republican Senate battle in Mississippi. Why? Well, that's where the incumbent Thad Cochran is trying for a seventh term. The race has been neck and neck and down and dirty. Let's get more from chief congressional correspondent Dana bash.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Defeating a 36-year Senate veteran in your own party is no easy task. So Chris McDaniel is bringing the conservative cavalry to Mississippi.

SARAH PALIN, (R) FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: It's wonderful to be in the magnolia state to just do whatever I can to hopefully help and not hurt the cause.

BASH: Sarah Palin from Alaska and even Rick Santorum, former senator from Pennsylvania.


BASH: Sources close to McDaniel's GOP opponent, Senator Thad Cochran, insists outsiders won't convince Mississippians to vote against their own long-time senator, but inside Mississippi this GOP primary race has become just about the nastiest in the country. A conservative blogger was arrested for breaking into this nursing home to photograph Cochran's ailing wife suffering from dementia.


BASH: Cochran's campaign points fingers at McDaniel.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Posting video of Senator Thad Cochran's wife in a nursing home? Is that enough?

CHRIS MCDANIEL, (R) SENATE CANDIDATE: Our campaign had absolutely no connection to that whatsoever.

BASH: You personally, when did you find out about the break-in?

MCDANIEL: Look, we're going to focus on his record right now.

BASH: As for Cochran, he argues his record is exactly why he should be re-elected, that his seniority in the Senate is a plus for Mississippi. But 42-year-old McDaniel says Cochran's time has passed for Mississippi and the GOP.

MCDANIEL: He believes in big spending. He believes in increasing taxes. He believes in increasing his own pay. I am not that guy.

BASH: The Tea Party movement has a lot riding on a McDaniel win here after a string of primary losses this election year. Tea Party groups nationwide have spent millions.

They've really poured their heart and soul into making you the guy who they can hang their hat on, say that we're not losing this election year. A lot of pressure.

MCDANIEL: It's all in god's hands. There's no pressure. God has a plan.

BASH: Dana Bash, CNN reporting.


CUOMO: All right, you see that, it is CNN money time. Chief Business Correspondent Christine Romans is over there in the Money Center making things happen.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Seattle now has the highest minimal wage in the country, you guys, 15 bucks an hour. It's the same wage fast food workers have been protesting for, more than double the federal minimum wage, and higher even than the $10.10 an hour the president is pushing.

Apple and daily new technology, Health Kit, will track everything from your sleep to your blood pressure. Home Kit will let you turn off your lights and adjust your thermostat from your phone. Some Apple watchers underwhelmed, saying the technology is already available from competitors like Google.

Google, by the way, currently blocked in China. Anticensorship group reports services from Gmail to Google translate are disrupted in China. Why? Likely for political reasons. Tomorrow marks the 25th anniversary of the brutal crackdown in Tiananmen Square. Guys?

BOLDUAN: All right, Christine, thanks so much. Coming up next on NEW DAY, fellow soldiers say Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who we all know was just freed after five years as a prisoner of war, they say he's a deserter, not a hero. We're going to talk with a member of his former unit who was there the night Bergdahl disappeared.

CUOMO: Plus, Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino suing the NFL over concussion-related injuries. Did the NFL hide information about long- term effects of head injuries? That's the main question. We have a former player weighing in.


CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY. The deal that freed sergeant Bowe Bergdahl continues to raise troubling questions, especially about whether or not Bergdahl left his base willingly before he was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Now, earlier this morning President Obama addressed the controversy, saying regardless of the circumstances, the U.S. rescues a soldier from captivity. And moments ago, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey responded saying Bergdahl is innocent until proven guilty.

So the main thing becomes what were the facts on the ground? Let's get to Matthew Vierkant, he's a retired Army sergeant and was a platoon member with Bowe Bergdahl. He serve together. He says he knows what the facts on the ground were.

Sergeant, thank you for joining us on NEW DAY and thank you for your service to the country.


CUOMO: What were the facts on the ground as you understood them at the time when Bowe Bergdahl disappeared?

VIERKANT: The facts on the ground were, he left his weapon and his equipment, took minimal supplies and walked off to either join the Taliban or do something else. Only he can answer that question.

CUOMO: What was the feeling on the ground about what had happened to him?

VIERKANT: Well, the general feeling was that he deserted us and walked off and left us.

CUOMO: And you felt that way even though he left all his supplies? Because to some that would suggest that you're not planning on being gone that long if you don't have any supplies. How did you take it?

VIERKANT: I took it as you would never leave to begin with without your equipment or your weapon, so that's suspect from the beginning. I don't believe he had any intention on coming back.

CUOMO: You think this was a plan of his, that he was going to try to leave?

VIERKANT: I think it was definitely premeditated with the e-mails he sent to his father, mailing his stuff home before the mission. I believe it definitely shows intent, premeditation. And those are the facts. That's what happened. CUOMO: Did you guys look for him?

VIERKANT: Of course we looked for him as hard as we could. Everybody looked for him. Everybody in the country who could.

CUOMO: And what did you discover about which way he had gone and any evidence of what his intentions were?

VIERKANT: Well, we discovered that he was seen by locals in various different areas on his own, walking about on his own free will, not with anybody else but just acting alone.

CUOMO: What was going on before he disappeared? What was his state of mind? What had he told his fighting buddies?

VIERKANT: I don't really know his state of mind. He had made some comments about he could get lost in the mountains and just -- that's one of the comments that he said to me. I can't really speak for other people, what he said to them.

CUOMO: Lost in the mountains meaning he'd like to go and adventure?

VIERKANT: Once again, I don't know. That's what he said. I'm assuming lost in the mountains would mean walking off by yourself into the mountains.

CUOMO: As you know, there was a report at the time done that does suggest that he left of his own free will, as you are saying. Let me ask you, Sergeant, does it matter to you the circumstances under which he came to be captured in determining whether or not the U.S. should have done everything it could to get him back?

VIERKANT: Of course it matters. It matters to me. It matters to everybody in my platoon, company; it matters to every service member that was on the ground in Afghanistan conducting missions, putting themselves in harm's way for somebody who willingly walked off to do whatever. Either way, he put people at risk.

CUOMO: And we do know that troops died trying to retrieve Sergeant Bergdahl. So let me ask you -- would you have made this deal to get him back?


CUOMO: Simple as that.


CUOMO: Why not?

VIERKANT: I believe it's good that he's back home, that we're going to get him care, get him what he needs to recover. But I don't believe trading five prisoners out of Guantanamo Bay for him was the right decision.

CUOMO: If he hadn't deserted and he were taken, would you think it was a better deal then?

VIERKANT: Probably would.

CUOMO: Then it would be something that would be seen as more worthwhile to you?

VIERKANT: To me, with everything surrounding it and the circumstances that permit, I think it would be a lot different for many people if it was under different circumstances.

CUOMO: If the sergeant's watching, what do you want him to know?

VIERKANT: Just that there are a lot of people that want the truth, they want to know why you left, what your intentions were, and just want you to answer for everything that's happened.

CUOMO: I know this isn't an easy topic for you. I know you're angry about a lot of the attention that's surrounding this deal, but I appreciate you for coming on NEW DAY, and again, Sergeant, I appreciate your service to the United States. Thank you.

VIERKANT: Thank you.

CUOMO: Kate?

BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, legendary Hall of Famer Dan Marino, he's suing the NFL. He's saying that the league knew about the long-term health effects of concussions and did not tell the players. We're going to hear from a former player coming up.


PEREIRA: Welcome back to NEW DAY. Here's a look at your headlines.

President Obama at a joint press conference in Poland this morning defending a prisoner swap with the Taliban to bring home Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. He said Congress had been consulted over the years about a prisoner swap and had to act fast over concerns about Bergdahl's health. He also said he'll ask Congress to support, quote, "a European reassurance initiative" of up to $1 billion to build up the relationships of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine with NATO.

To the latest now in the search for Flight 370. "The New York Times" is reporting scientists plan to release detailed information today about a mysterious noise, possibly that of an ocean impact. The low frequency noise described as a dull oomph had to be sped up to be made audible. It was picked up halfway across the Indian Ocean to receivers off of Australia's coast.

The acting Veterans Affairs chief Sloan Gibson vowing swift action to end agency abuses and get thousands of veterans off of waiting lists and into hospitals and clinics for medical care. The agency's inspector general is now looking into 42 separate facilities amid claims wait times were manipulated for thousands of veterans, which CNN was first to report. Gibson was Deputy VA Secretary under Eric Shinseki. He was appointed by the president after Shinseki resigned last Friday.

Got to show you some video here. A Minnesota couple entered married life with a splash. Take a look. Dan and Jackie Anderson lined their 20-person wedding party up on a dock for pictures. And as you can see, that wedding party was too much for the dock. And, oh, no, really? Yes, it collapsed, sending most, not all, but most of the wedding party into the water. And this is the kicker, folks; it happened an hour before the ceremony! The couple says, despite the surprise dunking, the wedding only started 10 minutes late.