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New Images of Bergdahl Handover; White House Defends Decision on Prisoner Swap; Remembering Tiananmen Square

Aired June 4, 2014 - 04:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning. Dramatic, new video, cameras capturing the first moments of freedom for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. These images released by the Taliban in a prisoner swap.

We're breaking down the new video, the mysterious, new details on how Bergdahl was captured in the first place and the growing backlash to how President Obama handled the controversial deal.

Live, team coverage of this breaking story begins right now.

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

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. Great to see you. It's Wednesday, June 4th, 4:00 a.m. in the East. We do begin with this video just in to CNN.

It is really incredible to look at. Posted to the internet by the Taliban's media arm. They had cameras there. It shows the moment when Bowe Bergdahl was handed off to U.S. Special Forces. This is the beginning of his trip home.

Wow, you can just see it unfold here as part of this prisoner exchange, of course, that sent five Taliban fighters back to the Middle East from Guantanamo Bay. You can see someone who looks like the Army sergeant, not in this video, but sitting in the truck. What you're looking at right there is the Blackhawk helicopter.

ROMANS: It looks like there, they're taking Bowe Bergdahl to that helicopter, American Special Forces, after the handoff from the Taliban, loading him on board there. These pictures all just took seconds, quite frankly.

BERMAN: Yes. It's all over in seconds. This is the first time in this video, the course of it, you've seen a little bit earlier, you see his face, and it's the first time that anyone had seen his face in months, so you can bet that people are poring over these images to get a sense of how he's doing, to get any clues about exactly what can be learned from this exchange itself.

Want to go now to senior international correspondent Matthew Chance, he's live at Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany. That's where Bowe Bergdahl is being treated right now.

Matthew, we've seen a translation of the video, and in it, the narrator says they were asked, the Afghans were asked about Bowe Bergdahl's condition, and they say they thought he was fine, which is interesting, because that conflicts with what some in the U.S. have suggested, that his health was deteriorating rapidly.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think it's probably a relative term, but you're right. In the Pashto language narration that accompanies this very dramatic video, the first video we've seen, of Bowe Bergdahl since his handover to U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan.

It said that the first question the U.S. Special Forces asked when they received Bowe Bergdahl, Sergeant Bergdahl, is what was his health like. They said tell us the truth, if he's not well, and the Taliban fighter who's doing the narration said that we told them that he was fine and then they handed him over.

That conflicts with what the U.S. medical teams here at Landstuhl medical facility in southern Germany say. They've got him inside the hospital behind me, giving him medical treatment for what they say are conditions that required hospitalization.

The focus very much at this stage in terms of his medical condition is on his dietary needs, his nutritional needs after being held in captivity by sort of Afghan militants, Taliban militants, for nearly five years. But there's also a psychological dimension to it as well. Obviously, a big trauma that this guy will have endured, being in captivity for so long. And so, it's a very slow, painstaking, psychological process of healing as well that he's just now starting out on -- John.

BERMAN: Any sense of how much of this process will take place in Germany, or is it possible he be released and sent back to the U.S., or if not released, at a minimum sent back to the U.S.?

CHANCE: Yes, well, I mean, there's no predetermined timeframe for that to take place. Certainly, the reintegration process, as they're calling it here, the process of psychoanalysis and helping him to get back into society and back to his family, it starts in earnest here at this regional medical facility at Landstuhl, but it will continue once he goes back to the United States.

What they're not giving at the moment is any kind of time scale for that to happen. It could be, you know, later on today, it could be the next few days, he could be here for a week or even longer, who knows? It will very much be determined, they say, on the pace of his healing and the pace of his reintegration -- John.

BERMAN: A lot of work to be done on that.

Matthew Chance at Landstuhl for us. Thank you so much.

We're taking a look again at this video that we just got in minutes ago of the exchange where Bowe Bergdahl was handed over from the Taliban to U.S. forces then brought to Landstuhl where we just saw Matthew Chance.

It's really incredible stuff to look at. It's more than 15 minutes worth. We're trying to distill it down. You just saw Bowe Bergdahl there -- there he is right there.

ROMANS: And you can see the Blackhawk helicopter in the back. I think that's a Blackhawk helicopter in the background.


ROMANS: That's where the Americans are coming in, and the looks of the Taliban, the Afghan militants who have held him for five years, standing there by the truck waiting for this handoff.

This is a handoff, of course, that has been years in the making -- John.

BERMAN: You can only imagine what he's thinking. You saw a glimpse of him right there, what he's thinking as he looks up at that Blackhawk that's taking him away from five years of captivity.

This is such a controversial subject right now. This new video obviously coming at the same time that some in Bergdahl's own unit are growing more and more critical of him. Some have called him a deserter.

We do not know conclusively what really led to his capture at this point by the Taliban, but his former team leader, Sergeant Evan Buetow, tells Jake Tapper on "THE LEAD" that he heard radio transmissions in the days after Bergdahl just seemed to walk away from camp, radio transmissions about an American walking through a nearby village trying to find someone to serve as an interpreter.


SGT. EVAN BUETOW (RET.), BERGDAHL'S FORMER TEAM LEADER: The fact is that we knew from radio interceptions that we've got that he was -- before he got in touch with the Taliban, he was looking for someone who spoke English so he could talk to the Taliban. And when we heard that, it told us, OK, he's actively seeking out the Taliban, so at least we know that.

My goal here is not to -- I don't really want to get into the political side of anything. My goal is to show that Bergdahl is a deserter and he's not a hero and that he needs to answer for what he did.


ROMANS: All of this as the backlash against the White House grows. His release came at a high price. Five high-ranking Taliban fighters returned to the Middle East from Guantanamo Bay. This morning there are new calls for explanations.

How did those men go from too dangerous to ever set free to bargaining chips in exchange for the only American POW still in custody from the Afghan war? And what obligation did the president have to tell Congress about those negotiations?

The top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Saxby Chambliss, tells CNN both he and Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein were never notified about this decision, even though he says the law and courtesy insists they should have been.


SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), RANKING MEMBER, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: There's a list down there of a very few of us that do receive these advanced phone calls. And it's hard for me to believe that both Dianne and I, both of whom had objected vigorously in writing as far back as three years ago, to the president as well as to Secretary Clinton about the release of these prisoners. That we were the two that failed to get the phone call.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You do not have the luxury in a situation like this of opening a window and hoping that in 30 days it's still going to be open. This was touch-and-go and has been touch-and-go for years. And when you have the opportunity to execute this recovery of the last uniformed member of the military held in captivity by the enemy in either of these two long ongoing conflicts, you take that opportunity, and it was absolutely the right thing to do.

That was affirmed by the secretary of defense, affirmed by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and affirmed by the commander-in-chief.


ROMANS: The commander-in-chief today is in Warsaw, where he just met with Ukraine's president-elect.

This visit to Europe supposed to be about Ukraine and the U.S. role in Europe, but of course, the Bergdahl decision and the president's defense seems to be hanging over every single move there.

Senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta is traveling with the president this morning.

And Jim, what is the White House saying, if anything yet, about this new video?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine, I have asked, and we have not yet heard back from senior administration officials about this video, but one thing I can tell you from talking to a different official about this exchange, and I think you can see some of this in this video, this official was saying to me, look, this was kind of a test case between the White House, the United States and the Taliban to see whether or not, basically, they could do business with each other, whether they could conduct a prisoner exchange like what we saw with Bowe Bergdahl.

And this administration official that I talked to said, you can see -- and you can see in this video that this exchange took place without firing a shot, without things getting too heated. It was just conducted in a very businesslike fashion and the exchange occurred and both sides walked away thinking, well, maybe, you know, we can do business with one another down the road. And this is something that, frankly, administration officials say will have to happen in the coming months and years as the U.S. winds down the war in Afghanistan, as this one official said, you don't negotiate peace with your friends, you do that with your enemies.

And so this episode may have been sort of a first test case to see whether or not the U.S. and the Taliban can work with each other in terms of just doing the mechanics of winding down the war in Afghanistan.

Now you're right, as you were just saying in that setup, you know, there is sort of a mess that the White House has on its hands at this point when it comes to the notification of key lawmakers up on Capitol Hill, Dianne Feinstein is not happy. She said yesterday that she regretted that the White House had not have formed her prior to this prisoner exchange and that that resulted in an apology.

A top National Security official, Tony Blinken, called Dianne Feinstein to say, well, we're sorry that that did not occur. And then late last night, we were getting statements from senior administration officials saying, well, in spite of that, we still feel that that was the correct call, not notifying members of Congress because that notification could have put Bowe Bergdahl's life in jeopardy.

And having said all of that, Democrats are now also pointing to some inconsistencies on the Republican side. They're taking exception to what John McCain has said in calling this a mistake, this prisoner exchange a mistake. They're pointing to an interview that he did with CNN back in February where he said, well, maybe a prisoner exchange of some sort should be considered.

So there are inconsistencies flying back and forth. And you said it, Christine, this is really overshadowing the first part of the president's trip. He is in Warsaw right now meeting with the Ukrainian president-elect, Petro Poroshenko, and they've got a lot to discuss.

ROMANS: I'll bet.

ACOSTA: A lot to discuss about Russian aggression in Ukraine and how Ukraine can emerge from that process and get on a path to peace.

ROMANS: And Jim, as you're speaking, we're showing again these images of the Blackhawk helicopter landing and the transfer of the prisoner, Bowe Bergdahl. And it's so fascinating, because right now what our viewers are seeing is Bowe Bergdahl walking over to the American members of the military special forces, and there's a handshake, a quick handshake between those Taliban fighters, the American military and the handoff of Bowe Bergdahl.

I think it goes great to illustrate your point that --

ACOSTA: Right.

ROMANS: -- they did business together for the first time successfully ever in this handoff.

ACOSTA: That's right, and this is something that when you talk to senior administration officials, Christine, they will tell you that at some point, this war has to end. And for the war to end, both sides are going to have to talk with each other. This happened in Vietnam, you know. And eventually, enemies have to do business with one another or else conflicts like this will never come to a peaceful conclusion. And so, that is, I think, something that you do see in that video.

The other thing that can be talked about in that video, John and Christine, is the physical condition that Bowe Bergdahl is in.


ACOSTA: And the senior administration officials I've spoken with will say, you know, listen, that last proof of life that emerged in December, early January showed a declining in health on the part of Bowe Bergdahl, and that is what really prompted the urgency to conduct this exchange and get him out of there.

ROMANS: All right, Jim Acosta for us in Warsaw this morning. Thanks, Jim.

BERMAN: The "Wall Street Journal" reporting overnight they had seen video evidence between videos of a serious deterioration in health. That's what prompted them to make this exchange. There are those in Congress who question whether it was really as urgent as all that.

We will continue to look at this video we just got in minutes ago because honestly it is riveting, it's amazing to look at. We'll take a look at it in just a few minutes.

Meanwhile, a lot of other big news breaking overnight, including a closely watched Republican Senate primary in Mississippi that is still too close to call at 4:12 a.m. Eastern Time. The race between six- term incumbent Thad Cochran and Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel is likely to head to a runoff now.


BERMAN: With most of the votes counted, McDaniel holds a slim, slim lead, but he does not have the 50 percent needed to declare victory. The winner of this likely runoff will face Travis Childress, who won the Democratic primary, a former congressman himself.

Now another race that we're all watching overnight. In Iowa, it was an easy win for State Senator Joni Ernst in the Republican Senate primary. She had support from both the Tea Party and establishment Republicans, a much different situation than Mississippi. Ernst faces Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley in the fall. The GOP is trying to flip a seat there. That's the retiring Senator Tom Harkin's seat in Iowa right now.

Other races in Alabama, California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota, they went largely as expected. ROMANS: All right. Time for an EARLY START to your money this morning. Here's a look at stocks around the world right now.

In the U.S., stocks not at that record, the first time we've said that all week. All three major indexes closed down slightly Tuesday.

News this morning on GM. "The New York Times" reports GM officials expect the CEO Mary Barra to be cleared of any wrongdoing tied to the botched ignition switch recall that resulted in at least 13 deaths. Results from GM's internal investigation are expected as early as this week. It's expected to name executives, employees and departments that screwed up, but officials, again, telling "The New York Times" they expect Barra to be cleared. One thing is certain, Barra has kept sales at GM strong.

Look at this, John. The company's May sales jumped 13 percent from last year.

BERMAN: That's unbelievable.

ROMANS: That is double the expected increase and the best sales since August 2008. That's even with a big recall over Memorial Day when some really popular Crossovers were not even available to be sold. They still had these mega, mega sales in the month.

BERMAN: It's exactly the kind of platform she needs to try to weather this storm with these recalls, to be sure. Some amazing results there.

ROMANS: All right, breaking news this morning, millions waking up to severe storm damage, tornadoes, baseball-sized hail, flooding so deep, some had to be rescued from the water. And the threat isn't over. We are live with what's on tap for today after the break.


BERMAN: Serious weather to tell you about overnight. Severe storms wreaking havoc in states from the Midwest to the northeast.


BERMAN: Look at this video from Nebraska.


BERMAN: That's real. Oh, my goodness. It looks like you're in the middle of a driving range right there, but no, that's hail. I make a joke about golf, driving range. Some of the hail is actually as big as baseballs. It was more of the same on the roads, pellets of hail clattering into the windshield. Ominous, ominous clouds. And then the skies opened up. This was just an epic storm there.

ROMANS: Thunderbolts could be seen for miles as the storm moved in. Look at that. And on the ground, trees toppled by winds blowing more than 100 miles an hour leaving drivers to navigate some pretty dangerous streets. And where there weren't trees, there was water, lots of water. Some people, including this family, had to be rescued. Rainfall lasting through the night in some areas. Tornado threats in others.

Let's get to meteorologist Karen Maginnis for more on what we can expect today.

Good morning.

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: And good morning, Christine and John.

Ferocious storms wrecked across the Midwest, as you just saw, now making its way towards the east and slightly further towards the south, but sandwiched in an area pretty much from Chicago all the way to Omaha, and from Mt. Vernon, Illinois, all the way to Kansas City. If you're driving along this route, this is where you can expect some very heavy downpours, reduced visibility, very frequent lightning and flooding the main issue.

But overnight, we saw hail reports in excess of 200 reports of very large-size hail, at times grapefruit-size hail, if you can imagine that.

Also this cluster making its way towards the east. By Thursday morning, it should mostly be off the eastern seaboard, but not before affecting the northeast. I'll show you that in just a second.

Across the Ohio River Valley, a slight risk of thunderstorms for today. The big threat, the tornado threat has diminished. But as we go into Thursday, New York City, Washington, Boston, you're all looking at showers and storms with the rainfall that could be quite heavy as well.

Back to you guys.

ROMANS: All right, Karen Maginnis, thank you, Karen.

BERMAN: Keep an eye on that all day because it is serious.

Meanwhile, we have more breaking news overnight. New recordings released that some say could be the sound of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 crashing into the ocean. We will play this sound for you so you can decide for yourself right after the break.


BERMAN: All right, we'll get back to the dramatic, new video of Bowe Bergdahl in just a moment, but meanwhile, this morning we're hearing a new sound that could possibly be related to the disappearance of Flight 370. It was a noise detected deep under water in the Indian Ocean, and some say this could be the sound of the plane crashing. Listen.

You'll have to judge for yourself. Researchers analyzing the audio say they're just not sure what it is. It could be from the plane, they say. It could just as easily be something else. They talk about possible underwater earthquakes or landslides. They do know it originated thousands of miles to the northwest of the -- of the search zone right now. And for that reason, there are those who are skeptical it's connected, but the sound did come roughly at the same time that they think the plane did go down.

ROMANS: All right, it was 25 years ago today that one of the defining moments of the 20th century played out in the heart of Beijing. A government crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square, ending with this indelible image. A single man standing up to a Chinese Army tank. Today China is a very different nation, but many of the tensions between government power and personal liberty remain.

David McKenzie live in Beijing for us this morning.

And David, we understand China is doing everything possible to make sure no one thinks about Tiananmen Square today.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's really enforced amnesia. And you saw those iconic shots like the tank man, shot by CNN at the time, of the man standing up to the almighty force of the People's Liberation Army. Very few people of a certain age here in Beijing would even know that image. And amazingly, would even know what happened on June 4th.

Take a look.


MCKENZIE (voice-over): Does the date June 4th mean anything to you, we ask? "What is it, a national holiday," she says. "No. No, I haven't," he says.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A little bit sensitive.

MCKENZIE: Because you never know who could be listening, she says.

(On camera): Have people forgotten history here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, people have not forgotten history, but I should say, in China, people are really tolerant. People know that things happen, and we need to focus on the future.


MCKENZIE: Many of the young people I've spoken to say that, really, they want to just get on with their lives, make money and deal with the freedoms they have. But there have been activists who have said this has been the most severe crackdown prior to this anniversary in many years. More than 66 people detained, some of them criminally, according to Amnesty International. And they say that, really, the issues underlying in China remain that have not been dealt with.

Certainly, if you went on to the square today and unfurled the banner just as a lone protester, you'd be thrown into the back of a van very quickly -- Christine. ROMANS: And we know that Google was blocked yesterday in China, and we know that if you tried to Google or you tried to use a search engine to learn about these events, the Chinese government very successfully can use technology to enforce amnesia, as you put it.

David McKenzie, thank you so much.

BERMAN: Enforced amnesia.

All right, this new video just in to CNN this morning. Take a look at it. Days after Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was turned over to U.S. forces. We're getting this video days after he was turned over to U.S. forces. This is the moment he was turned over. We're seeing it for the first time, the dramatic scenes when his captivity ended.

ROMANS: Look at that.

BERMAN: That handshake, a handshake between the Taliban and U.S. Special Forces. We are poring over this video, analyzing it. We will bring you more coverage of this dramatic scene just ahead.