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EARLY START

Bergdahl Deal Blasted; Bergdahl Facing Long Recovery; GM Investigation Revelations; Obamacare "Inconsistent Data"

Aired June 5, 2014 - 04:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: new questions, new outrage surrounding the prisoner trade that freed a captured American soldier but sent five high-level terrorists back home. This morning, we're learning new details of how the controversial deal went down as the president defends his decision to a growing list of senators who are calling this deal dangerous.

We'll bring you live team coverage, all the angles, coming up.

Good morning, everyone. Great to see you this morning. This is EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Christine Romans. It is Thursday, June 5th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East.

We begin this morning with new anger in Washington and the new doubts directed at the White House over its deal with the Taliban to bring Bowe Bergdahl home. The American prisoner of war was swapped for five longtime detainees at Guantanamo Bay, all said to be prominent members of the Taliban and long called too dangerous to release.

In a late-day briefing, senators were told Bergdahl's health was in jeopardy and the administration had to make a deal to save his life. But many who were in that room say they are not convinced and they worry U.S. security may now be at risk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I learned nothing in this briefing, nor did I expect to learn anything in this briefing.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I remain as deeply skeptical today as I did before this conversation we had with this administration. For two days now, we've asked questions, many of which have not yet been fully answered. Beyond that, I would say that I remain increasingly convinced from everything we've been presented that these five individuals that have been released will soon return to the fight against America.

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: I was not satisfied from the briefing that I received today that the conditions that they've agreed upon are sufficient to ensure that they won't re-engage back in the fight against us and threaten either Americans or our allies. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: That means the president will likely spend another day trying to convince lawmakers at home and U.S. allies in Europe that he made the right call, as we learn new details of just what the administration was thinking as it announced this deal.

Senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta live for us this morning in Brussels.

Jim, bring us up to speed.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Christine, good morning.

That's right. President Obama will have a chance to answer some of these new questions about the controversy swirling around the release of former POW Bowe Bergdahl later on this morning. He'll have a news conference with the British prime minister, David Cameron, after some of these G-7 meetings wrap up here in Brussels.

One thing I can tell you from talking to administration officials about this controversy is that, yes, they did expect there to be somewhat of a backlash, somewhat of an uproar after the president announced this prisoner exchange, you know, one POW on the U.S. side in exchange for five pretty dangerous, hardened Taliban fighters and commanders, in some cases.

And so, they did expect that to happen. What I'm hearing from officials that they did not expect is just how personal it seems this debate has gotten. They were not expecting some of the critics of the president to use some of these unresolved questions about how Bowe Bergdahl became captured in the first place to sort of be used as a political football in all of this. And so, there is some feeling inside the White House that perhaps some of that was unexpected.

Now, they're going to, of course, try to keep their focus on the task at hand over here in Europe. The president has been all week long, as you know, Christine, trying to reassure and rally European allies to stand up against Russia. The president has had some tough things to say about Russian President Vladimir Putin, about the need, in his words, for U.S. forces to continue to support eastern European allies to make sure that Russia doesn't do anything more in terms of aggression in Ukraine, and we're going to be hearing more about that from the president later on today. I expect at this news conference.

The G-7 put out a pretty tough statement last night, Christine, saying once again, they don't accept this Russian annexation of Crimea, and so, we'll be hearing more from that on the president's -- during the president's news conference later on this morning, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. We'll look forward to that. Jim Acosta in Brussels for us. Thanks, Jim.

BERMAN: So, one person now defending the efforts to find and free Bowe Bergdahl is retired Army General Stanley McChrystal. The former commander of the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan tells Yahoo! News, he says they had to take sometimes risky steps to try and rescue the soldier and something he has no apologies for. This as even more of Bergdahl's former comrades come forward to blast his actions, including a former squad leader who claims to "THE LEAD" and to CNN that Bergdahl was a deserter whose actions led to at least six deaths. Now, that is a fact that the Defense Department denies.

(BEGIN VIDEOI CLIP)

STAFF SGT. JUSTIN GERLEVE (RET.), BOWE BERGDAHL'S FORMER SQUAD LEADER: I can only say I blame Bergdahl to the fullest extent, but if he wouldn't have deserted us, these soldiers very well could have been in a different place at a different time, rather than the place that the time took of their death.

GEN. STANLEY MCCHRSYSTAL (RET.), FORMER U.S. COMMANDER IN AFGHANISTAN: After Sergeant Bergdahl, then Private Bergdahl, came up missing, we did a huge number of operations to try to stop the Taliban from being able to move him across the border into Pakistan, and we made a great effort and put a lot of people at risk in doing that, but that's what you should do. That's what soldiers do for each other.

So, it wasn't -- it wasn't the wrong thing to do. I think we're going to have to wait and talk to Sergeant Bergdahl now and get his side of the story.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Get his side of the story. It could be some time before we get that side of the story. This morning, he's still in a U.S. military hospital in Germany with no sign yet of when he might return home.

That's where we find senior international correspondent Matthew Chance live at the Landstuhl Medical Center there.

Matthew, any sense, any update on Bowe Bergdahl's condition?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, and it's been quite striking, actually, that there's been a tight-lipped approach to the condition of Sergeant Bergdahl since he's been inside this Landstuhl Regional Medical facility here in southern Germany.

We've had a couple press releases since he arrived on Sunday, but we have not had an update for two days now. And apparently, the recent update is being prepared, but the updates, we're told by the press offices here have to be approved by the Pentagon. And so far, the latest update has not been.

In terms of what his latest medical condition is, the latest we heard is that he's in stable condition. He required hospitalization when he arrived here from Afghanistan. They won't go into details, into specifics of his medical problems, but they're saying that part of his treatment is to address nutritional and dietary needs after nearly five years in captivity. Beyond that, there's been pretty much silence as to what his status, what his state of mind is. We understand he will require, obviously, and is probably engaged now, in some kind of psycho analysis, psycho analytical treatment to deal with the trauma of his ordeal. And again, but we haven't learned yet whether he's had a chance yet to tell his side of the story, because that's one of the key issues for U.S. investigators, of course, as you mentioned, to get his account of how he fell into the hands of the Taliban back in 2009. So far, we've heard very, very little on that, John.

BERMAN: It is interesting, Matthew, the secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, called the parents of Bowe Bergdahl, we understand, late yesterday to reassure them, to tell them, look, our goal is to get the sergeant home first, and then we'll deal with everything else, all the other things now surrounding this case.

CHANCE: Yes, it's just that the time frame for that is not something that's set in stone. What the medical authorities here in Landstuhl are saying is, look, the ultimate objective, of course, is to get him back home to the United States, but the pace of that will be set by the rate at which he recovers and heals and is able to reintegrate.

And so, it's something that we think is a decision being made by the doctors and the psychoanalysts here on the ground.

BERMAN: I wonder if they have to consider the firestorm now of controversies surrounding his return to the United States when that does happen.

Matthew Chance at Landstuhl, thanks so much.

ROMANS: In Bergdahl's hometown, many have been celebrating the news of his release, but now, a town-wide party has been called off.

Our George Howell is in Hailey, Idaho, this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, it was supposed to be called the "Bowe is Back" event. And here on the streets of Hailey, Idaho, when you look at the balloons and ribbons that line these streets, you can tell that this was supposed to be a big event. There was a lot of excitement about it.

But we've learned that the city has decided to cancel the event, basically, as a matter of public safety. They say that this city of some 8,000 people, that it doesn't have the infrastructure to support all of the people that could come here, given the national attention on what's happening with Bowe Bergdahl.

At this point, Bergdahl's family, they are not speaking out, but we did learn that they got a call from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, a 10-minute call, basically reassuring them that the government will be there to support him when it comes to his reintegration, when it comes to his health care. And while the Bergdahls are not talking, we know that supporters here are speaking out, and you can see that right here in the local paper. You know, you look at this op-ed. The headline reads "Bring our soldier home and let him heal." And then another it says, "It's time to focus on a soldier's freedom."

I mean, that really is the sentiment you get here in Hailey, Idaho. People are staying out of the politics of it. They're just ready to see Bowe Bergdahl return home -- Christine, John.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: Our thanks to George Howell for that report. Those people do want to see him home. No time frame, though, yet on when that might happen.

Happening today, we're set to hear new details of General Motors' internal probe into its delayed recall of ignition switches, which is now linked to at least 13 deaths. Former federal prosecutor Anton Valukas has been poring over the books and procedures, trying to figure out what went wrong and why the company waited more than a decade before issuing a recall.

Among those eager to hear the result, Ken and Beth Melton. Their daughter, Brooke, died in a car crash. Her family says it was the result of a faulty ignition switch on her 2005 Chevy Cobalt. They settled initial claims against the company but asked to reopen the case, saying G.M. hid evidence from them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BETH MELTON, MOTHER OF BROOKE MELTON: They're playing with numbers, that they don't count Brooke's death, and she's dead because of that ignition switch.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Are you willing to settle this time?

KEN MELTON, FATHER OF BROOKE MELTON: No. Settlement is off the table.

HARLOW: Any amount of money?

K. MELTON: Right.

B. MELTON: It's not about the money.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So, General Motors denies the allegation that it hid evidence. The investigation is expected to exonerate the current CEO, Mary Barra, who has repeatedly said she had no knowledge of the faulty switches until she took the top job earlier this year. She did hold several senior jobs before this top job, so the fact that it exonerates here is of importance.

ROMANS: And her entire career has been spent at General Motors. BERMAN: Yes.

ROMANS: So, a lot of the attention has been on Mary Barra. This recall came just a month into her tenure as the CEO.

And so far, so far, the perception is she's doing everything right here. She's met behind closed doors with lawmakers, she has promised transparency. She's making good on that promise today. She's going to talk to employees and she's going to talk to the press immediately after the release of that report.

And bottom line, while the recalls are always bad business and consumers and certainly victims have been just really horrified by this G.M. recall crisis, this hasn't been bad for G.M. so far. G.M. car sales were up 13 percent in May, twice the jump analysts were expecting.

G.M.'s stock, it's actually up. It is up 2.7 percent since February, when the recall was announced.

So, really remarkable, the reaction to the company. And one of the reasons why, John, is that a lot of analysts and even consumers are telling us, oh, wow, too bad this crisis at G.M., but I drive a Chevy or I drive a GMC Acadia. Even some of the cars that have been recalled, consumers don't connect G.M. with whatever kind of car they are buying and driving right now.

Let's check with stocks quickly. Here's an EARLY START to your money this morning.

European stocks lower right now, futures are flat. Watch for headlines, John, from the European Central Bank this morning. We could see an announcement of negative interest rates.

BERMAN: What does that mean?

ROMANS: It means banks in Europe would have to pay the ECB, the Central Bank, to accept their deposits. That would be remarkable. We'll be looking for that, 7:45 Eastern Time.

BERMAN: Very good. Tune in for that, breaking news at 7:45.

All right. Nearly 1,700 veterans intentionally left off a waiting list for care in Phoenix have now been contacted by the V.A. More than 700 of them want to see a doctor within 30 days.

Acting V.A. Secretary Sloan Gibson will visit the Phoenix V.A. Medical Center later today. He is expecting to announce new guidelines in the wake of a nationwide scandal that was first reported here on CNN.

Meanwhile, the Senate appears to have failed in its attempt to craft and pass a compromise bill today bringing immediate help to the veterans. That's because a dozen senators are leaving for France to attend D-Day ceremonies.

ROMANS: Seventieth anniversary. More problems for Obamacare. About 2.2 million people who signed up could lose coverage because of inconsistent data on their applications! In many cases, information supplied by applicants about income and immigration status is more up to date than federal records show, and the system cannot process the conflict. The White House hopes to have the problem mostly ironed out by the end of the summer.

BERMAN: They say it won't affect their benefits, though. Some people might have to pay some money back if they were given too many tax credits.

All right, you'll have to look at this. Caught on camera. This is President Obama. That is the presidential workout, workout by POTUS right there. Working on the shoulders, yes, also flexibility. Yawning while doing this.

This is at a gym in Poland. They were leaked online, these pictures. The Secret Service says the images were not the result of a security breach. The spokesman says hotel guests were never asked to leave the gym or refrain from taking pictures of the president while this was happening.

I've been in hotel gyms with presidential candidates before. Sometimes --

ROMANS: Have you?

BERMAN: Yes, Mitt Romney working out on the treadmill.

ROMANS: Did you guys do fist bumps or something?

BERMAN: It happens sometimes, usually at odd hours when people aren't in there. Sometimes they let it happen. Other times, they actually move the treadmills into the candidate's hotel room, which is isolating when you think about it.

Look, I'm sure the president may have liked being around other human beings when he's working out, especially when he's wailing on his arms like that.

ROMANS: Can you imagine, you're the international business traveler, you're exhausted, you get on the treadmill and you look out, oh, wow, I've done so many miles, I think that's the president standing next to me.

BERMAN: All I know is when I'm on the treadmill, I'm like, stop looking at me, I don't want to be seen. Leave me alone.

ROMANS: I try to stay away from the treadmill.

All right. Breaking news overnight, a military pilot ejects as his jet crashes into a California neighborhood. A scene of chaos and the destruction left behind. That story ahead.

BERMAN: And the Los Angeles Clippers finally set to leave Donald Sterling's hands. He signs off on a sale for a record-breaking price. Did the scandal help him? That's an interesting question.

ROMANS: Yes.

BERMAN: What else did Sterling get from the deal? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right. Breaking overnight -- look at that -- a fireball in southern California after a military plane crashed into homes. This happened in Imperial, California. That's about 120 miles east of San Diego. A Harrier jet from the air station in Yuma, Arizona, suffered some sort of problem and slammed into this neighborhood.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of a sudden, I see the cab pop off, a small burst of flames, and I saw the pilot eject. I see the parachute open. Then I see the plane kind of wobbling and start plundering down. At that point, I said, man, this is not good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: It had to be just stunning to see and the pictures are amazing here. At least three homes were destroyed. Several others had to be evacuated.

Get this, though -- the pilot ejected and is said to be OK. And despite the damage on the ground, there were no injuries.

ROMANS: Wow.

All right. An intense manhunt under way in eastern Canada, after a man apparently dressed in fatigues opened fire on police in a quiet neighborhood, leaving three dead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(GUN SHOT)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God!

(EXPLETIVE DELETED)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Go down!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He shot him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my God. (EXPLETIVE DELETED)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He shot the cop.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's shot! Oh, my God! (INAUDIBLE)

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: Two other officers were wounded in the shoot-out. Police in the city of Monckton have locked down that neighborhood there, telling residents to lock their doors, leave their lights on and call 911 if they see anything.

Manhunt under way. Unbelievable.

BERMAN: A lot of concern up there right now.

All right. Developing this morning, Donald Sterling finally says uncle. The banned Los Angeles Clippers owner has signed off on the sale of the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and reportedly agreed to drop the lawsuit he filed last week against the NBA. The sale was negotiated by Sterling's wife, Shelly, for an NBA record price of $2 billion. That is $1.5 billion more than the Milwaukee Bucks sold for just a little while ago.

ROMANS: Wow.

BERMAN: The Sterlings, they are co-owners of the Clippers through a family trust. NBA owners still have to approve the deal still. I guarantee you they will. A source says Donald Sterling's lifetime ban from the NBA for racist remarks will be in effect.

And, chief business correspondent Christine Romans, this seems to have helped the sticker price for the Clippers.

ROMANS: Absolutely, there's only a finite member of teams, right? A lot of people say he overpaid, Steve Ballmer overpaid. There's only 30 teams. The opportunity to buy one is so rare that that kind of colors the whole thing.

You know, I was listening to sports radio yesterday -- yes, sports radio --

BERMAN: That's the most exciting thing I've ever heard!

ROMANS: It was so interesting, because the host was talking about, well, got to learn more about this Steve Ballmer guy. I'm in business. I know Steve Ballmer, didn't know Donald Sterling. For people in sports, they're, hmm, who is this Steve Ballmer guy? Very rich Microsoft guy.

BERMAN: He can afford to overpay, also.

ROMANS: Yes. He's got $20 billion.

All right, it's good to be Colin Kaepernick. The San Francisco 49ers franchise quarterback now being paid like a star. He signed a six- year extension that could be worth as much as, wow, $126 million, making him one of the NFL's highest paid players. Football contracts are all about the guaranteed money, and he's getting $61 million in guarantees. That is the most in league history.

BERMAN: That's a pretty good deal. He has a pretty good agent.

ROMANS: Wow.

BERMAN: Twenty-one minutes after the hour right now.

Severe storms barreling through the Midwest, leaving a trail of destruction, but the threat is not over. Millions of people in the storm's crosshairs today. You will want to pay attention to this. Details right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Dangerous storms have already caused widespread destruction in the Central Plains. Those are heading east this morning, heading this way. And there is a major threat today for millions all the way from the Southeast to Colorado as well.

ROMANS: Take a look at these pictures from Iowa, where a possible tornado tore the roof off a motel in the far western part of that state, leaving them covered in debris, windows shattered. Some of the rubble landed 100 yards away.

BERMAN: Nearby in Nebraska, these new cars -- that's right, new cars -- will not be rolling off the lot any time soon. About 4,000 of them were all but destroyed by the hail. Look at the windshields there, just shattered. And those vehicles all dented up, they may not be worth very much. Yikes!

All right, look at this house as well. The paint was stripped off by rain, wind and hail. Imagine that. It just ripped the paint off. Blew out the windows as well.

ROMANS: In Kansas, this train loaded with coal isn't going anywhere.

BERMAN: Wow.

ROMANS: Blown off the tracks.

BERMAN: Look at that.

ROMANS: The winds blowing 52 cars on to the grass. Actually looks like a cornfield to me. This is not far from Kansas City. The wind also blamed for this damage to a home near Topeka. Thankfully, there were no serious injuries reported.

BERMAN: Appreciate you looking out for the Future Farmers of America there. Looks like corn.

ROMANS: Looks like corn, might be wheat, could be wheat. It's Kansas.

BERMAN: Twenty-six minutes after the hour.

Chad Myers has a closer look at your forecast for today -- Chad.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: John, Christine, good morning. A few showers moving your way today, also into New England. A cold front pushes down South and that makes some nice air for your weekend. It will be shattered showers, partly cloudy, muggy across the Southeast. More severe weather across the plains. The bull's eye is somewhere between Wichita, Tulsa, maybe toward Little Rock, and then a big wind event right through here.

There is a big fire issue here later on today. If any fires get going, wildfires, they may not stop for a while. Winds could be blowing 50 or 60 miles per hour, 79 Kansas City, 73 in Chicago, 76 in New York and 80 in D.C. for today.

For tomorrow, 86 Atlanta, 88 Memphis, 93 in Dallas. The heat is on in El Paso. That's the wind coming out here.

See the big pink region right through here? Red flag warnings all the way across the Southwest with that very dry, hot air fueling the fires, if they start. So, be very careful out there in the desert Southwest.

John, Christine, back to you. Have a great day.

ROMANS: A lot of red on that map. Chad Myers, thank you.

New details this morning about the prisoner swap that freed captured Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. The deal leaving some lawmakers furious still this morning, and the president playing defense. Live team coverage on the political fallout and how Sergeant Bergdahl is doing right now, after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)