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Bergdahl Prisoner Swap: New Outrage; Bergdahl Facing Long Recovery; GM Investigation Revelations; Plane Crashes into Homes; Sterling Gives Up the Fight

Aired June 5, 2014 - 04:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: New questions, new outrage and new details this morning on the deal that freed a captured American soldier and sent five terrorists back home. This morning, the president is on the defensive and Senate leaders are deriding his deal with the Taliban as dangerous, this as we learn more about the controversial prison swap and how it went down.

A team of reporters covering our very big story this morning right now for you.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman. Great to see you today. Thirty-one minutes after the hour.

And this morning, they say they are not convinced. I'm talking about senators who spent the evening listening to the Obama administration as it defended once again its decision to trade five Taliban leaders for American prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl.

The reason the senators were told was that Bergdahl's life was in jeopardy, because he looked sick in the last video message the Taliban sent out late last year. But senators on both sides of the aisle who took part in this closed-door, classified briefing, say the price for Bergdahl's release was too high. And while they say the U.S. should do all it can to release any American POW, these senators still worry about the impact of this deal.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We are glad that Sergeant Bergdahl is home, but the exchange of five hard-core, hardest of the hard-core al Qaeda/Taliban will pose a threat to the United States of America and the men and women who are serving.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: What the president has done here is sent a very clear message, an incentive, that if you can get your hands on an American serviceman or woman, you can trade them for as many as five terrorists.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: These are all high-level people. This is not low-level. This is high-level. And these are people that basically have the ability to go back and hit the ground running.


BERMAN: Now, the White House suggests that they believe there is little risk that these men will rejoin the fight, but the president likely will have to answer questions about this again today, this as he meets with world leaders at the G-7 Summit.

That is where we find senior international correspondent Nic Robertson in Brussels where there are really new details of the backlash that the White House was planning for, some of the backlash they were planning for when it announced the Bergdahl deal.

Nic, what can you tell us this morning?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly appears that they underestimated the amount of the backlash. President Obama who said it from the beginning, that he knew this would create some amount of discussion, some amount of debate, that in part, this was something he wanted to do to encourage the debate about the end of the war in Afghanistan, encourage the debate about closing down Guantanamo Bay.

But this is going to absorb his time and thinking again today. He will have a press conference following a bilateral meeting with the British prime minister, David Cameron. Whatever is on the agenda of that meeting, and it's unlikely to be Bowe Bergdahl, is going to be in the questions following. So, he's going to have to be ready for those questions.

The whole day with the G-7 is supposed to be talking about the global economy, about energy security for Europe, finding other places to get their gas, other than Russia, but the issue of Sergeant Bergdahl, that exchange for the five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, is something he's going to have to prep for. There will be tough questions based on what we've heard from those senators after they've been in that briefing, John.

BERMAN: It really does seem there are two issues, at least two issues at play here. One, the White House did seem prepared for this discussion about is this deal worth it, five for one, was that trade worth it? It does not seem, to me at least, that they were anticipating the backlash from troops themselves over Bowe Bergdahl, over whether he walked off the base and was a deserter as they claim. The White House, I'm not sure that they were expecting as virulent an argument on that front.

ROBERTSON: Yes, it does kind of beg the question of how much detailed information the Department of Defense provided to the White House. One would expect them to have been able to read everything that was required, and one would have expected the questions about how Bowe Bergdahl came to be off base to be part of that. But it does seem to be part of the bigger problem for the president, that he has miscalculated, that he appears to have miscalculated, at least, that backlash from the troops. It's been very vociferous. It's been very strong. However, Secretary of Defense Hagel who said and made it clear that, essentially, we shouldn't prejudge. There has been an investigation. It is open in its conclusions, but Sergeant Bergdahl needs to be heard from on this issue.

For President Obama, he has said that it was the health and welfare of Sergeant Bergdahl that was a growing concern. It was an immediate concern. The window of opportunity came up for this exchange, and he would have likely been aware that if the window came prior to this important G-7 meeting, the important announcements that are going to come out of it, specifically referenced Ukraine and Russia in a message to President Putin, that Sergeant Bergdahl's exchange was going to muddy that message. It was going to come right in the middle of it.

But as he said, we don't leave a soldier in the battlefield, and whenever the window came open, even at the political cost to him now, he took it. Did he know everything he should have known about Sergeant Bergdahl's disappearance from the base? One would have expected he should have done. Maybe this was all part of a calculation, John.

BERMAN: All right. Nic Robertson for us in Brussels -- thanks so much, Nic.

ROMANS: So, the president's defense comes at the same time more of Bergdahl's former colleagues are coming forward to criticize their fellow soldier, including his former squad leader who told Jake Tapper on "THE LEAD", he thinks Bergdahl was a deserter, he thinks he was responsible for six deaths. All soldiers he and others claim were killed while searching for the POW, something that the Defense Department denies. This as former Commander Stanley McChrystal is defending the sometimes deadly, dangerous missions under taken as they searched for the captured soldier.


GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL (RET.), FORMER U.S. COMMANDER IN AFGHANISTAN: Anyone who serves has a responsibility to the people they serve with, but also, we as a nation have a responsibility to those who serve. So, I think if we raise this discussion up and we say we've got a service member for whom we are responsible, the answer's pretty clear, then we also should look at sergeant Bergdahl, and he had responsibilities as well. And I think they should review that and see whether we are meeting those responsibilities on both ends.

STAFF SGT. JUSTIN GERLEVE (RET.), BOWE BERGDAHL'S FORMER SQUAD LEADER: Yes, no American needs to be left behind. Then again, it goes again to that he needs to be accountable for his actions, accountable for what he did, and he needs to stand trial.


ROMANS: Bitterness of some of his former colleagues when they talk about him. The military has made clear it plans to talk with Bergdahl once he's well enough to recount what happened first and what he went through later. But this morning, he's still in a U.S. military hospital in Germany.

That's where our senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is. He's in Landstuhl Medical Center there.

Matthew, we know this could be a long process. What do we know about how long he may stay there in Germany?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're not being told anything about that. In fact, what medical officials here at the Landstuhl regional medical facility are saying is that, you know, there's no predetermined timeline for that reintegration period that he's embarked upon right now. It will very much be determined by the pace of his recovery and his ability to be able to talk properly and be able to, you know, recover from the various medical issues that he's apparently suffering with.

In terms of what they are, they're not giving too much detail about that. There are privacy laws, apparently, that protect the patient from having what's wrong with him or her described by their doctors.

But they're saying there are dietary concerns, nutritional concerns, but nothing particularly life-threatening. And I think that's important, because obviously, that's one of the reasons that the White House said they had to move right now to exchange Sergeant Bergdahl for those five Taliban prisoners, because they were concerned about his welfare, concerned about his life. What we're hearing from inside this hospital behind me is that there is no apparent threat to his life at the moment, that he's in a stable condition and that, you know, he's actually progressing quite well.

ROMANS: All right. Matthew Chance, thank you for that -- Matthew in Landstuhl, in Germany.

BERMAN: Thirty-nine minutes after the hour right now.

General Motors set today to reveal new details of an internal investigation into the long delays before the company finally recalled cars for a dangerous defect. Faulty ignition switches, now linked to at least 13 deaths. Former federal prosecutor Anton Valukas today will release his findings addressing the corporate culture at G.M. and how it may have worked to keep the danger under wraps for a decade.

Ken and Beth Melton say a faulty switch led to their daughter, Brooke's, death in 2010. They settled their initial claims against the company but have asked to reopen the case, saying G.M. hid evidence from them. This is something G.M. denies, but the Meltons are unconvinced.


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.


BERMAN: As for current CEO Mary Barra, the investigation is expected to show that she had no knowledge of the danger during her time with the company. She has repeatedly said she was not informed about the switch problems until she became CEO earlier this year. She's worked in the company forever in a number of senior positions.

ROMANS: The big question is why did it take them 10 years? Ten years. Internal documents show they knew about this problem 10 years before the recall. That's the crux of this here.

All right. Time to an EARLY START to your money. Happy sweet 16 to the S&P 500, 16 record highs for stocks. The 16th hit yesterday. Higher futures again today. It could happen again.

Today's big deal news, a possible merger between Sprint and T-Mobile. Multiple reports this morning that the country's third and fourth largest wireless providers are close to a $32 billion deal, joining forces would take the two better able to compete with Verizon and AT&T. It's not a done deal yet. There are clear hurdles to getting it done, including that if it's announced, it would have to clear regulators.

When AT&T tried to buy T-Mobile, that deal was stone-walled. For consumers, the combined company would have more cash to invest, helping it compete with AT&T and Verizon. So, watch that space today.

BERMAN: One big, giant company to control the world, one ring to rule them all.

Breaking news this morning -- a military plane crash landing in the middle of a California neighborhood. Look at these pictures. It smashed into a home and caused chaos in the street. We'll take you to that dramatic scene, next.


ROMANS: Incredible pictures to show you this morning after the crash of a military jet into homes in southern California. This happened in Imperial, California, about 120 miles east of San Diego. A harrier jet from the air station in Yuma, Arizona, plunging into a neighborhood.


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. You know, at that point, I said, man, this is not good.


ROMANS: At least three homes were destroyed. Several homes had to be evacuated. No one was hurt on the ground. The pilot that ejected is also said to be OK.

BERMAN: That's amazing and lucky.

All right. A not guilty plea from a friend of the Boston marathon bombing suspect facing obstruction charges. The 23-year-old Khairullozhon Matanov is accused of lying and destroying documents during the investigation, when an FBI agent has now Matanov did identify the suspects and give police their addresses just hours before the huge manhunt that left Tamerlan Tsarnaev dead and his brother Dzhokhar in custody. Prosecutors are asking to hold Matanov without bail.

ROMANS: Now, formally punished, a Montana judge that rose to national attention in a teacher rape case. Judge G. Todd Baugh said a 14-year- old girl who was raped by her teacher, quote, "seemed older than her chronological age", and was, quote, "as much in control of the situation", end quote, as he was, and then sentenced the teacher to just 30 days in jail. The victim later committed suicide.

Baugh has now been censured and suspended without pay for the next 31 days. He is not seeking re-election.

BERMAN: It took a long time for that to happen.

We could find out today whether Mississippi's hard-fought Senate Republican primary will be headed to a runoff. It certainly seems like it will. With 99.5 percent of the vote in, six-term incumbent Thad Cochran and challenger Chris McDaniel, each have about 49 percent of the vote, plus change. The final count should be completed by this evening. The runoff would be held on June 24th, where many people say that McDaniel's strong Tea Party backing would give him an edge.

ROMANS: This morning, same-sex marriages continue in Oregon after the Supreme Court rejected a request to put a stop to them. Last month, a federal judge struck down the state's ban, and Oregon's attorney general said there was no rational basis to defend it. Instead, the request for a stay came from an antigay marriage group. The Supreme Court did not issue a reason for rebuffing that request.

It appears Donald Sterling is finally ready to move on. The banned L.A. Clippers owner has agreed to the sale of his team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, and reports say he also plans to drop his suit against the NBA. Now, the sale was negotiated by Sterling's wife, Shelly, for a record price of $2 billion. The Sterlings are co- owners of the Clippers through a family trust.

NBA owners still have to approve the deal, but, John, I think it's pretty clear that they will approve that deal, especially since the NBA and owners just saw the value of their own franchises rise.

BERMAN: Exactly! Gosh, do I want my franchise to double in price? Yes. That's an easy vote.

ROMANS: Ka-ching. Ka-ching.

BERMAN: Speaking of Ka-ching, Colin Kaepernick will now be kissing his wallet along with his biceps. He is now one of the highest paid players in the NFL. The San Francisco 49ers franchise quarterback signing a six-year contract extension that could be worth as much as $126 million.

The thing in football is that it's all about the guaranteed money, but he's doing pretty darn well there, too, $61 million in guaranteed cash. That's more in guaranteed money than Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Drew Brees. All three of those dudes, by the way, have won super bowls. Colin Kaepernick, not so much. Yet at least. It is the largest guaranteed contract in NFL history.

ROMANS: And money you and I will never, ever, ever see, except in a script on EARLY START.

BERMAN: Do not (INAUDIBLE) my NFL prospects. You don't know. I have a long way to go.

ROMANS: You have a lot of talents, Berman. I'm sure you could turn any one of them into $61 million in guaranteed money.

BERMAN: If only.

ROMANS: In a board game.

BERMAN: Happening now, millions are waking up to the threat of severe storms, when and where they're expected to strike, we will tell you, right after the break.


BERMAN: As the Central Plains clean up this morning from serious storms, millions are also bracing for more potentially dangerous weather today. The most serious threat stretches from the Southeast to Colorado.

ROMANS: That's a good part of the country right there.

You can see the power of the storms in Nebraska. You can blame hail for this damage. Yes, that's 4,000 brand-new cars, pretty much all but destroyed in a dealer's lot, pelted with baseball-sized rocks of ice. The windshields shattered. And not far from there, rain, wind and hail responsible for this damage at a home.

BERMAN: Look at that!

ROMANS: Look at that. It was so intense that the paint was stripped off the house.

BERMAN: That's like an intense power washing or sand washing.

This image also nuts. This is from Kansas. That's a train that was pushed from its tracks near Kansas City. The winds were so strong, it forced 52 cars from a train loaded with coal off the tracks. Crews are working to move those cars out now. And wow, that's crazy.

ROMANS: What a mess.

BERMAN: The wind's also blamed for this damage to a home near Topeka. Thankfully, no serious injuries reported.

ROMANS: How do things look today?

Chad Myers has a closer look at the forecast.

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 really 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? The 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: Thanks, Chad. You, too.

BERMAN: All right, here's a question for you. How big of a paycheck would it take to make you happy? We will have the surprising details of a new CNN Money poll when we get an early check of your money, next.


ROMANS: Let's get an EARLY START to your money this morning.

Futures in the U.S. slightly mixed right now after a record close for the S&P 500 on Wednesday. You know, we've had 16 record closes, I think, this year, and two of them have happened this week.

So, for the S&P 500, never has it been this high. You could enjoy that. Take that right to the bank in your 401(k). All right. The other big story that we're following on CNN Money right now, how much money would it take to be happy? That's what we asked that in our American dream poll. More than half Americans say it would take less than $100,000. A quarter of you, 23 percent of you say you would need to make between $100,000 and $200,000. And look at that, 11 percent of you are not satisfied with anything less than $1 million.

BERMAN: Greedy, greedy, greedy.

ROMANS: The median household income in this country, by the way, is 51 grand. Worth noting, 6 percent of people said money can't buy happiness, period. Six percent of you said money can't buy happiness. The rest of you said it can.

BERMAN: Those are all really, really unhappy rich people, by the way, who said that. All those wealthy people complaining.

ROMANS: Or they have a lot of money and a lot of debt.

Meantime, the American dream may not necessarily mean buying a home these days. Fewer young Americans are buying houses, but the homes we are living in, they are getting better. The average size of the American home is 2,600 square feet. That's up from 2,330 just a decade ago and just 1,725 in 1983.

Big mega-homes are helping to drive that price up, that average up. About 9 percent of homes last night were more than 4,000 square feet. 4,000 square feet! Wow. That's a big heating bill.

BERMAN: How many bathrooms do you need?

EARLY START continues right now.