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Taliban Releases Video; Bergdahl Video Hangs Over Presidential Trip; Severe Storms Pummel the Midwest

Aired June 4, 2014 - 06:00   ET


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Did a tea party candidate knock him off? The situation's still unclear at this hour. We're following it all.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Your NEW DAY starts right now.

Good morning. Welcome to NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, June 4th, 6:00 in the east. Breaking news overnight, the moment Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was set free, caught on video. This clip just released by the Taliban, shows Bergdahl being turned over to the U.S., then being loaded into a waiting chopper. It's our first look at the soldier in years.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: This all comes as the Army launches a new review to determine once and for all whether the last American POW in Afghanistan was really a deserter. Let's bring in Barbara Starr live from the Pentagon. Barbara, we have to start off with that extraordinary video.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Good morning, Kate. It is so unusual to see this. You were going to want to look at it frame by frame.


STARR (voice-over): Breaking overnight, the first images of the actual Bowe Bergdahl swap emerging on the Taliban's web site. Chanting praise for their leader, 18 armed Taliban militants seen standing and wait perched on grassy hills in the valley, guns and rocket launchers at the ready. The narration says this meeting took place at four in the afternoon in host province, Eastern Afghanistan.

At the center of the action, a silver pickup truck, Bowe Bergdahl seen inside sitting in the back seat. Bergdahl dressed all in white. He appears to be nervous, blinking, and shaky. Bergdahl seen talking with one of his alleged captors. At one point, the army sergeant even cracks what looks to be a smile while talking and then wipes his eyes.

Seen flying overhead, a twin-engine plane approaching the meeting point. And then suddenly like a scene out of the movies the Special Forces Blackhawk helicopter descends. Two Taliban militants immediately escort Bergdahl towards the chopper, waving a white flag.

Three U.S. Special Operations commandos approach, shaking hands with the Taliban militants. They pat down Bergdahl's back and immediately begin escorting him to the helicopter. In Bergdahl's left hand, a plastic bag. The contents, not yet known.

The commandos wave back to the militants as they run towards the chopper. They pat Bergdahl down again, this time in a deliberate and thorough fashion, presumably a swipe for explosives right before loading him in.

This face-to-face exchange lasting less than 10 seconds before they were off. A message later emerging, don't come back to Afghanistan. Another portion of the edited video shows the homecoming of the Taliban prisoners in a separate location. A caravan of SUVs pulls over alongside a busy stretch of road.

The five Guantanamo Bay detainees exit, hugging their supporters. This video now detailing what is considered a highly controversial exchange. The Obama administration facing steep criticism for what some say is a negotiation with terrorists in exchange for a U.S. soldier who some say is a possible deserter.


STARR: Now, behind the scenes what is so extraordinary about this video, besides the obvious, getting Bergdahl back, who were the men that came to get him on that helicopter? All we are being told is special operations forces. But what that actually means is they were either SEAL Team 6, Army Delta Force, Task Force 160, one of the units who have never publicly acknowledged who is never publicly seen. You never see these men in action and now we are seeing them. We are seeing how they do their business -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Barbara, you're absolutely right. That is one of the many striking things about this video and the big part of the story has become Bowe Bergdahl's health. I don't think we are able to gauge one way or the other his condition from this video. But what else strikes you of the video, what strikes you do you think they're going to be looking at?

STARR: Well, I think they will be looking at some of perhaps how the Taliban arranged themselves. One of the things that really struck me, you look at that pickup truck, that silver pickup truck, the hood was up, I wonder if that was part of the prearrangement to make this transfer happen.

That they wanted to see the hood of the car up so that they could be sure there wasn't a car bomb under there. There was a lot of choreography, a lot of procedures, a lot of very specific hand gestures back and forth, signaling. It was noisy, windy on that little landing zone.

So they had to arrange it. Both sides were going to reassure each other that they weren't walking into a trap. What we do know is that the U.S. had plenty of backup firepower just over the horizon, not too far away. They also had planes overhead keeping an eye -- a drone overhead, keeping an eye on all of this. There were a lot of eyeballs on all of this. Everybody watching everybody else -- Kate. BOLDUAN: Extraordinary window into that extraordinary prisoner swap. Barbara Starr, thank you so much -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, let's bring in Matthew Farwell, he is a writer for "Rolling Stone" magazine and a veteran himself. He served in Afghanistan in the same area as Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. He put a lot of time and effort into a report that came out in 2012 on Bergdahl, ran in "Rolling Stone." I was very insightful at the time. Maybe even more so now. He joins us. Pleasure to meet you. Thank you for your service.


CUOMO: But now you're one of us. Let's talk about what you learned reporting on this situation. When you see this video, what strikes you about this? Let's look at what we are able to see here as we move the video forward. Let's see. Start playing here. Here we go. Barbara was just talking about the hood was up on the truck. Could be it's in the desert and overheating, a prearranged sign. What strikes you?

FARWELL: The intensity that's on Bowe's face, you don't know what he's thinking, he doesn't know that the helicopter is coming in. Remember, he's been in captivity for five years.

CUOMO: A lot of assumptions about his health. One of the things he was saying is this was an urgent situation, his health was in great decline. When you see him there, he doesn't seem to be -- he seems to be able to move under his own power. What do you see?

FARWELL: Just psychologically, you know, coming back in that sort of situation, can you imagine the feelings that go through your head know that you're going back to the states. You're going to have to see guys in your old unit. You're going to have to reunite with your parents, with girlfriends you left behind. The strain on this kid is incredible.

CUOMO: Do you think me can in any way be aware of all the drama that is surrounding the circumstances of how he left and, you know, what's thought of him?

FARWELL: I would imagine he had fairly good media access even out in the desert.

CUOMO: The idea of how this exchange is done, is this what you would believe it would be? You know, or do you think there are special circumstances being used here?

FARWELL: I mean, it seems pretty par for the course. Actually seems really professionally done, like it went off without a hitch. Sometimes these guys can be a little trigger happy. Obviously they didn't.

CUOMO: What do you make of the idea of how they shake hands with the enemy? Is that typical protocol? FARWELL: Well, I've never participated in one of these, but as a sign of respect and that, you know, it's a good will thing, I think that's fine.

CUOMO: Them doing the search of Bergdahl, also something you believe is standard procedure?

FARWELL: Remember, too, that this takes place in Khost Province where the CIA failed to search a man coming on one of their bases and he blew up killing quite a few CIA officers. So they are going to take extraordinary precautions to make sure that that helicopter doesn't blow up.

CUOMO: It's not necessarily a sign of faith or bad faith in terms of Bowe Bergdahl.


CUOMO: That's just what you do.

FARWELL: Just being professional.

CUOMO: We understand that one of the things that they did have in that parlay together was, tell us about the condition of the prisoners or anything we have to know about, is there anything that's going on. What do you make of that?

FARWELL: I mean, again, it seems like, you know, good brief between the two, opposing sides coming, asking if there's any relevant information, and then getting on their way.

CUOMO: Should anything be made of the fact that he is in traditional tribal dress from that region or -- what do you think of that?

FARWELL: No, if anything he's in pretty formal dress. They kind of dressed him up for the occasion. Obviously, they made this video for propaganda value.

CUOMO: He's not changing when he gets there. They are.


CUOMO: It's interesting at the end of this tape they say never come back to Afghanistan, but they don't seem hostile at all. They seem like they're reaching their hands out and trying to be as nice as possible, the Taliban guys.

FARWELL: Right. It's natural for captors and captives to have some sort of bond, I mean, we have Stockholm syndrome as verified psychological phenomenon.

CUOMO: Absolutely. And now what is driving a lot of the controversy here is, of course, the release of the five Taliban guys.


CUOMO: When you see this, what do you think the value of this to them and what do you think it does to our relative leverage?

FARWELL: You know, I don't -- I don't actually know. I think the interesting thing about this deal is it could have been done two years ago, you know, this exact same deal. And because of pressures from Congress and because the White House wasn't willing to pull the trigger, it wasn't. We left Bowe to sit in captivity for another two years.

CUOMO: When you say this deal could have been done, you believe an exchange could have been done with much lower level Taliban guys.

FARWELL: No. It was in our reporting it was these five guys.

CUOMO: So it was always these guys on the table.


CUOMO: This was the best deal that the U.S. was able to cut in terms of what level guys.

FARWELL: The best deal would have been three days after he was captured when they wanted 15 low-level Taliban prisoners released from within Afghanistan and an undisclosed sum of money. But the Army for whatever reason couldn't pull the trigger on that one.

CUOMO: Do you think that was a better deal for the U.S. than this one.

FARWELL: Obviously.

CUOMO: Because these are high-level guys.

FARWELL: Right. And the guy would have been in captivity for less than ten days.

CUOMO: Now the central question here in terms of understanding Bowe Bergdahl's disposition. Do you believe he deserted?

FARWELL: You know, I believed that he walked off the base. I think we made that clear in our reporting. Desertion, obviously implies that he had some premeditation and that he intended to completely leave his unit and abandon his post.

CUOMO: What do you think?

FARWELL: I'm not sure. Looking at the condition of the unit, Sean Smith of "The Guardian" had a good video when he embedded with them. From what I saw from serving is an undisciplined unit that had a lack of effective leadership and really didn't seem to have very much control over their soldiers. And so it's difficult for me to try to get inside Bowe's head.

CUOMO: You know the area. You know what it would take to leave the OP there.

FARWELL: Right. CUOMO: If he left with nothing as they say he did, does that suggest to you someone who is thinking about being gone for any specific period?

FARWELL: It's just somebody who is probably not thinking right at the time because the area he left from is about 2 miles north of a town, which every time we patrolled through there we were, you know, amped up and ready to go. It was Taliban central town. Senior Taliban commander lived right up the mountain valley.

COUMO: So there would be hostilities.

FARWELL: Absolutely.

CUOMO: Last question, we are relying heavily on the interviews and thoughts of other guys who serve with him during that time.


CUOMO: What qualifications would you put on what you're hearing out of them in terms of their certainty that he deserted, certainty that information was given by him because they started to get much more precise in the attacks and that six of their own were killed in the search for him?

FARWELL: So I've got to break that down just a little bit. First of all, I understand why all of these guys are coming out now and coming out very passionately. The Pentagon put a very restrictive nondisclosure agreement on unprecedented number of troops, 3,500 people could not talk about their entire deployment for, you know, going on five years now. And so --

CUOMO: Because there were a lot of politics.

FARWELL: Right. Now the bubble has burst and everyone's emotion is coming out. I've spoken with numerous guys from the platoon, the unit, all of the way up the level of the chain of command. As far as placing the deaths of those six soldiers squarely on Bowe's soldier, look, it's a bad area. You bring in that amount of American troops, they flooded the zone to search for him.

You bring in that amount of Americans to any bad hostile area, people are going to die. We had four guys die on my tour in that area. So I, you know, completely respect that, but I think it's unfair to put that right on Bowe's shoulders.

CUOMO: Any idea that it could have been more precise?

FARWELL: Bowe was a private first class. I was a private first class at that time. My tactical and strategic knowledge and responsibility basically consisted of keeping my weapon clean and keeping my truck running.

CUOMO: You didn't know anything that would have been of value?

FARWELL: Exactly. CUOMO: Well, Matthew, listen, I appreciate you coming with us. Thank you for the insight on this. The "Rolling Stone" piece he did in 2012 is worth reading again now if you're following the story. Thanks for being here. I'm sure we'll have you back -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: So amid all the criticism over the deal to free Sergeant Bergdahl, President Obama is in Warsaw, Poland, today again speaking right now certainly the new Bergdahl video that was just released will be hanging over the president's every move.

Now the Pentagon is responding to the video's release. Let's turn to CNN's Jim Acosta who is traveling with the president right now with much more -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, that's right. The president is speaking here in Warsaw right now at the 25th anniversary of Poland's solidarity movement triumph during the fall of the Soviet Union. We expect the president to draw some parallels between Poland's experience during the downfall of the Soviet Union and what's happening in Ukraine after the Russian -- that the Ukrainian's experience there from Russian forces.

But getting back to Bowe Bergdahl and this video, this remarkable video that was released by the Taliban, I can tell you that the Pentagon is reviewing it. They don't doubt its authenticity. They are noting in the video that this handover was peaceful and successful.

And that really follows a conversation that I had with senior administration official yesterday about this exchange. And this official was saying to me that this might be really a sort of test case, the first test case for the U.S. and the Taliban that they can really do business with one another when it comes to the mechanics of winding down the war in Afghanistan.

That this transfer of prisoners happened without a shot fired and that, yes, while the Taliban, they killed a lot of Americans, they were linked to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, at some point the war has to end in the words of this administration official and feel like this prisoner exchange and the hand over of Bergdahl over to U.S. forces demonstrate that, yes, these two sides can work with one another when it comes to ending this war in Afghanistan.

That we don't expect the president to talk about Bowe Bergdahl today. The next chance will be in Brussels tomorrow. He has a news conference with the British Prime Minister Dave Cameron and so perhaps he will be asked about it then. Of course, we'll be watching the president for the rest of the week to see whether or not he had that encounter with Russian President Vladimir Putin as both of those leaders will be attending the D-Day celebration on Friday.

So, a lot to watch. A lot on the president's plate, besides what's happening with Bow Bergdahl right now. He's only adding more controversy to this trip -- Chris.

CUOMO: That's true, Jim. And the whole piece of the Bergdahl conversation has nothing to do with Afghanistan but what's going on in Cuba and the expectations of the administration and military about what's going to happen with the men who are being held at Gitmo in the not too distant future. We'll get into that later in the show. Thank you for the reporting.

And back here at home, another day of dangerous severe weather is in store for millions of people in the Midwest. There have been nearly a dozen reports of tornadoes across several states. Nebraska has been getting hit with some of the worst of 85-mile-an-hour wind gust going through there. Hail the size of baseball. Take a look. That's some of the smaller stuff.

We have Indra Petersons chasing the storm throughout the night. She's now in Blair, Nebraska, where hail severely damaged the auto dealership she's standing at.

Tell us about it, Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It was really an incredible sight this morning, Chris. Yes, we're here in Blair, Nebraska, North of Omaha, where yesterday, a fast moving system. We're talking about a system that felt like it came out of nowhere to a lot of these residents, moving at 55 miles per hour. It had hail, as you mentioned, baseball, and grapefruit size.

You want a better visual, that's about 4.25 inches. Picture this. Thousands of pieces of ice heavy falling out of the sky this big. Maybe you want to look at the scars here at this dealership. Huge, grapefruit size balls falling out of the sky clearing all these vehicles out of their windshield, seeing completely pelted with this large hail.

And here's the thing, it's not just one of these vehicles, there's 4,300 of these cars here.

Let me take you up and down, it's not just one road to my right, or to my left. It is literally this entire lot of vehicles. The owner says they had to deal with looters last night, but that was one problem. If you look inside, it's hard for you I know.

But remember, there's no windshield, or back windshield. So, what are you talking about? Heavy rain completely filling these tanks. So here's the concern. This is only one incident, and we thought incidents like this across the entire country yesterday.


PETERSONS (voice-over): Baseball-sized hail pelting parts of the Midwest as intense thunderstorms converged.


PETERSONS: Bringing near hurricane-like conditions, and 11 reports of possible tornadoes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Holy crap! PETERSONS: In Nebraska, hail pummeled over 4,000 cars at this dealership.

We track the storm as it rolled across state. In some parts, a barrage of hail forced residents to run for cover. In Omaha, flood waters also trapping vehicles on the road and some residents in their homes, forcing emergency responders to the come to the rescue.

In Missouri, heavy wind and torrential rain wrecking havoc across the states, causing a stretch of highway and several roads to close, and the threat isn't over yet. The system is moving east from southern Illinois into West Virginia. And by Thursday, the National Weather Service says it will likely reach the mid-Atlantic state.


PETERSONS: In fact, we still have that severe threat again today, especially barring up as we go to the afternoon, we'll be looking for that outlook really from Obama, kind of back down in through Tennessee or Ohio back down to Tennessee -- Michaela.

PEREIRA: All right. The Midwest cleans up and the Northeast prepares for it. Thanks, Indra. Stay safe out there.

Let's take a look at more of your stories right now. It looks like a key Senate primary race in Mississippi is headed for a runoff. Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel has a slim lead over six-term incumbent Thad Cochran. Nearly all of those votes counted. Neither has cracked the 50 percent needed to avoid the runoff.

In Iowa, State Senator Joni Ernst defeated five other candidates to win the GOP Senate primary. Ernst will face Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley in November, for the seat of retiring Senator Tom Harkin.

Other primary races in Alabama, California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota went largely as expected.

The veterans -- scandal of Veterans Affairs widening now. V.A. officials have informed lawmakers they have uncovered long treatment delays and secret waiting list at 10 more facility, in Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. CNN was first to report the existence of these delays.

Meanwhile, "The Wall Street Journal" reports that the White House is eyeing Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove to become the next V.A. secretary.

New doubts this morning about unattainable this so-called "American dream" really is. According to a new CNN Money/ORC poll, nearly six in 10 people feel the dream, however they defined it, is simply out of reach. Young adults aged 18 to 34 the least optimistic, 63 percent of them saying it's impossible to achieve and another 63 percent of Americans said most children in the U.S. will not be better off than their friends.

Little add over what you have on your first cup of coffee. Those are your headlines this morning -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: You can use another cup of coffee.


CUOMO: Coming up on NEW DAY, more of this new video showing the moment Bowe Bergdahl was turned over to the U.S. It's not something we get to see and there's a lot taking place and it's specifically our first eyes on Bergdahl since he was taken. The question is, what will this do to the political fallout that's going on.

BOLDUAN: Also ahead, police say two 12-year-old girls stabbed their friend 19 times because of someone called "Slenderman". But who or what is this person or thing? What we'll learning about the dark motive behind the attack.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back NEW DAY.

We're following the breaking news this morning, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl's transfer captured on video. It was released overnight by the Taliban, showing the very moment that the Target was turned over the U.S. and secure and taken away in a helicopter, the army is launching review it's being described as, to determine whether Bergdahl is a deserter.

Let's bring in Paul Begala, CNN political commentator, Democratic strategist and senior adviser to Priorities USA Action.

And Kevin Madden, CNN political commentator and Republican strategist.

Good morning, gentlemen.

A lot to get to today. We've had even the primaries, but let's first, we want to start, let's start with this video, Paul, of the transfer of Bowe Bergdahl. This story, the controversy around this transfer, around this prison swap, that is not going away. What is this video add to that storm?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, a couple of things. First, we have no video of the 500 Guantanamo detainees that were released under the previous president. So, it came and went and we didn't notice, we the people.

This is arresting --

BOLDUAN: You're saying we're paying too much attention to this?

BEGALA: No, no, no. I'm just saying that the Taliban put this out because they wanted to get propaganda --

CUOMO: That was his initial instinct at political spin, that he was giving you today.

BEGALA: It's just that we never see this stuff.

BOLDUAN: I'm saying you cut through it --


CUOMO: You were saying, don't obsessed on this one, there are plenty like this, but this is important because there's been so much made by your side about the distress of his situation. So, people are going to look at him and say, does he look like he's in distress, is that why his eyes are blinking, is he walking a little off or does he look relatively healthy? It's important for political purposes.

BEGALA: I think so, but we'll know that from the docs. What is really amazing right here, you see an American citizen, American soldier, with tears in his eyes when he sees a (INAUDIBLE), when Americans come to get one of their own, who've been captive now, POW for five years, that's a pretty emotional moment and I think the military justice issue should grind on if, in fact, he left his post, which apparently I saw Matt Farwell's reporting, apparently he did, that's there's a time and a place for that.

But it cannot be that the punishment, even for walking off the post, is to abandon you to the Taliban.

BOLDUAN: One of the things, Kevin, I want you to get to weigh on this, weigh in first on what you take from this video? What you think Republicans will take from this video?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, well, I think Paul right there is in an emotional quotient here that I think is going to impact a lot of people, seeing somebody who's a POW that's been captive for five years, adjust on the cusp of their freedom.

But I think that there are a lot of folks who question who question whether or not this was a right deal, whether or not that was the right thing to do. We'll look at this video and I think that will also bolster their argument. Obviously, right now, the Taliban has a great amount of propaganda value on having this video.

And I know I heard Jim Acosta's report earlier, talking about a senior administration official talking about this being a test case on whether we can, quote, "do business with the Taliban", that's going to be a tremendous amount of resistance up on Capitol Hill, not just from Republicans but also from Democrats.

CUOMO: Kevin, have you guys been avoiding a little bit of the future reality of what happens with these guys in Gitmo? You know, I interviewed Senator McCain yesterday, well, they're going to be transferred to the United States prisons.

I did homework on this last night. It is hard to see that that is a true statement. Coming out people close to the situation, they say -- we have transferred the people we can transfer. We have tried the people we can try. There's every expectation that when Gitmo gets closed, these people will be sent back into the country.

Is that being ignored by your side in assessing the relative merits of this deal that at least you have strings to these five guys?

MADDEN: Well, I think -- I don't think -- I disagree with the idea of this being ignored. I think the question is the level of scrutiny that the strings are being attached that you talk about. Right now, these five Taliban had been transferred to a third party that to Qataris. And is there enough of an assurance that they're not going to reenter the fight with the Taliban and again become a threat to Americans and American national security interest. I think those are the questions that many members of Congress, again, both Republicans and Democrats, feel that there has to be a level of oversight about it.

BOLDUAN: Now, I've got to ask you, Paul, about this. One of the things that Republicans and Democrats have an issue with is that they were notified. You know that Senator Dianne Feinstein, Saxby Chambliss, the chair and ranking member of the Senate intelligence Committee, will get a lot of sensitive information coming their way, they were not notified. As Feinstein said she was giving a call by the White House and was apologized to, Saxby Chambliss said he was yesterday, and when he asked the reasoning why he had not been informed, the person on the phone said the reason he wasn't given is that they weren't aware that he had not been called.

Come on. The White House has got to be better prepared than that.

BEGALA: They have to be. They have to be. I mean, my goodness, we give them thermonuclear weapons. You know, they've got to have their act together.

And the statute says they've got to tell them 30 days in advance. Now, they're claiming exegesis (ph) as Chris points out, maybe we'll know that. Well, we'll certainly know that when the docs check Sergeant Bergdahl out.