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Reflections and Outrage Over Prisoner Trade; Bergdahl Facing Long Recovery; GM Investigation Revelations; Obamacare "Inconsistent Data"; Heat Versus Spurs in NBA Finals Rematch

Aired June 5, 2014 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: reflections and outrage surrounding the prisoner trade that freed a captured American soldier that 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 that deal dangerous. We're bringing you live team coverage of all the angles right now.

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

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. Great to see you today. It's Thursday, June 5th, it's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And we do begin this morning with new anger in Washington, really all over the country and new doubts directed at the White House over the 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 that Bergdahl's health was in jeopardy and the administration had to make a deal to save his life, but many of those who are in the room, many of these senators say they were not convinced and they worry that U.S. security now may be at risk.


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.


BERMAN: 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.

Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is live in Brussels this morning. The president in Brussels today for key meetings with European leaders.

But, Nic, it does seem like the situation surrounding Bowe Bergdahl will once again overshadow these meetings.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It sure does. And these meetings are beginning already there. There are two phases to the meetings. In the morning, a working lunch, then a bilateral meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron, a press conference where President Obama can likely face much more questions based on what we've heard overnight now. So, he can expect that there will be questions coming about Sergeant Bergdahl's release, particularly on the issue of what other soldiers have been saying about the circumstances of his disappearance from the base.

But he will be essentially having his whole morning very full of international and G-7 issues. Perhaps, he'll have a little bit more time free this afternoon European time, morning time East Coast, of course, to deal with the issue of Sergeant Bergdahl -- John.

BERMAN: It does seem like the White House is trying to move this ball forward. They met -- White House staff met with senators last night on Capitol Hill. Is there a sense that the president will say anything different today in public to try to change the perception of this deal?

ROBERTSON: It doesn't appear that he will change what he has said. What he's been very clear on is that he would take the opportunity, if he had it, and he said this is a discussion that's been had in Congress before, that if he had an opportunity for a prisoner swap to bring a soldier home, he would do it. He has said as well that he believes that by doing this, he will initiate more debate about the end of the war in Afghanistan, more debate about closing down Guantanamo Bay.

Perhaps he didn't anticipate the scale of reaction, particularly coming from soldiers about Sergeant Bergdahl's disappearance, but there's no indication so far, at least, that he would change. His feeling on this has been a soldier was behind enemy lines. There was an opportunity to bring him back, and he wasn't going to miss that opportunity, even if knowing that he was going to do that, it would spark debate when he was trying to focus here in Europe on Ukraine and Russia, which are very big issues here in Europe, bolstering European allies for what is happening on the eastern edges of Europe, John.

BERMAN: One complicated factor, Nic, is that many of the people, including conservatives who were calling for the release of Bowe Bergdahl, are now criticizing it. So, that makes the White House position even more difficult.

Nic Robertson in Brussels, thanks so much.

ROMANS: One person now defending the efforts to find and free Bergdahl is retired Army General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, tells Yahoo! News they had to take sometimes risky steps to try to find the soldier, something he has no apologies for.

This as even more of Bergdahl's former comrades come forward to blast his actions, including his former squad leader, who tells "THE LEAD", Bergdahl was a deserter, in his view, whose actions led to at least six deaths. That's something the Defense Department denies.


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.


ROMANS: But we may not hear Bergdahl's side of the story for some time. This morning, he's still in a U.S. military hospital in Germany with no sign yet of when he might return home.

Senior international correspondent Matthew Chance live at Landstuhl Medical Center.

And it's so interesting when you talk about, you know, all of this consternation about what led to his capture. There's also five years of captivity. That's what doctors and medical professionals are dealing with right now, the physical health and well-being of this soldier after five years.

What do we know, any details of Bergdahl's condition?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, his reintegration is what the focus is with the view of eventually returning him back to the United States. He's here in this medical facility behind me here in southern Germany, at Landstuhl.

Of course, there are medical issues that are a result of his nearly five years in captivity in Afghanistan. They're not being too clear about what they are, but saying part of the treatment involves addressing nutritional and dietary needs. After so long in captivity, you can understand what that might be, shortage of food, dehydration, perhaps.

He said he didn't look in the best of health when he was in that video being transferred to American Special Forces at the weekend. Although he was walking, of course, and his health is a central issue in all this, because it's the reason the White House has given for having to move right now, saying they were worried that his health, his life, even, may be in jeopardy.

That's certainly not the message we're getting from the medical officials who were getting statements about the condition of Sergeant Bergdahl from his medical facility. They're saying he's stable, his condition is not deteriorating, it's not life-threatening, they're saying. Again, but they're not going into detail as to exactly what the situation is.

They're giving him a raft of tests, of course. He's been out of the care of the U.S. Army for nearly five years, and so, there's a raft of tests they have to do. Plus, the psychological stuff to make sure he's fit and well to be reinstated back before he goes home to the U.S., Christine.

ROMANS: And we assume that he was held alone without other Americans, and other cases of people held in captivity, Tom Sutherland, Terry Anderson and others who were held in the '80s and '90s in Beirut. They were together, so at least they had that ability to connect.

We don't know what kind of absolute isolation he had or what kind of absolute -- what experience he had, quite frankly. For him, the circumstances of what got him into the hands of the Taliban may be ancient history for all we know.

CHANCE: Yes, we don't know what the treatment was at the hands of his captors, either. I mean, he could have been tortured, kept in solitary confinement, he could have all sorts of terrible things happen to him. So, there is little doubt this guy would have been traumatized by his ordeal nearly five years in the hands of Afghan militants on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But, you're right. The other big issue is his side of the story, mentioned before. Investigators are very keen to learn how he fell into the hands of the Taliban in the first place.

ROMANS: All right. Matthew Chance for us in Landstuhl, thank you.

BERMAN: In Bergdahl's hometown, many are celebrating, but a party has now been called off.

George Howell reports from Hailey, Idaho.


GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, 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, you know, 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.


BERMAN: This politics, it will be interesting to see how they continue to react there.

Ten minutes after the hour.

Happening today: we are set to hear new details of General motors' internal probe into its delayed recall of ignition switches, switches linked now to at least 13 deaths. Former federal prosecutor Anton Valukas has been poring over the company's 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 accident. Her family says it was a result of a faulty ignition switch on her 2005 Chevy Cobalt. They settled their initial claims against the company but have asked to reopen the case, saying that GM hid evidence from them.


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: GM denied the allegation it hid evidence. The investigation is expected to exonerate 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's worked at GM for a long, long time, senior positions.

ROMANS: She has. Her entire career there. But it's interesting, John. When you talk about people who study G.M., they say it's like a company full of silos. They say it is possible that safety could have been separate from engineering and other parts of the company.

The recall came just a month into her tenure as CEO. She has met behind closed doors now with lawmakers. She has promised transparency. She's making good on that promise today, talking to employees and the press immediately after the release of this report. This will be the big business story this morning.

And bottom line, while recalls are always bad business and bad PR, and some of these, wow, some of the stories of the victims are so sad, this has not hurt GM's numbers so far. Remember, GM car sales up 13 percent in May, twice the jump analysts were expecting, the best month since August 2008, and GM's stock is up 2.7 percent since February when that recall was announced. Unbelievable.

I mean, the company has really shaken this off, even as we await this, even as we await this important study, important internal investigation today.

Here's an EARLY START on your money this morning. European stocks are lower right now. Futures are flat.

Watch for headlines from the European Central Bank this morning. We could see an announcement of negative interest rates. What does that mean?

Negative interest rates. It's meant to stimulate the economy. Banks in Europe would have to pay the central bank there to accept their deposits.

BERMAN: That sounds crazy.

ROMANS: It does sound crazy, doesn't it?

BERMAN: All right, you have to look at these pictures. Caught on camera. Who's that? That's the president of the United States working out in his hotel gym in Poland.

These pictures, the video of the president lifting weights, they were leaked online. The Secret Service says the images were not the result of any security breach. A spokesman says hotel guests were never asked to leave the gym or refrain from taking pictures of the president while this is happening.

Take a look at this. What do you think of the pictures? What do you think of the presidential workout there? There is the elliptical right there, doing some cardio work, obviously concentrating very hard.

You know, this requires a fair amount of balance right there, those leg lifts. And then there's this. This is the most impressive, the grimace.

ROMANS: What does this do? What particular part of the body is that working?

BERMAN: You know, we have to ask Cuomo. He's like an anatomy teacher. These are the ones I refer to them.

I don't know, the one's up here where I refer them as.

ROMANS: Can we put the magic wall and have Cuomo with a little pointer?

BERMAN: That is the x-muscle, the gluteus pectoralis.

ROMANS: Never too early to pick on Cuomo.

BERMAN: Never too early.

All right. Fourteen minutes after the hour. A scene of chaos and destruction after a military pilot ejects as his jet crashes into a California neighborhood. We'll show you these pictures and take you to the scene, ahead.

ROMANS: And the L.A. Clippers finally set to leave Donald Sterling's hands. He signs off on a sale for a record-breaking price, but what else did the Sterlings get from this very big deal? That's next.


ROMANS: All right, I want to show you this fireball in southern California. A military plane crashed into some houses there. This happened in Imperial, California, about 120 miles east of San Diego. It was a harrier jet from the air station in Yuma, Arizona, suffering, obviously, some sort of problem and then slamming into this 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: At least three homes were destroyed. Several others were evacuated. The pilot that ejected, he is OK.

And this is the amazing part -- there were no injuries on the ground.

BERMAN: Lucky.

Dangerous storms that are already causing widespread destruction in the Central Plains are heading East this morning. There is a major threat for millions today from the southeast to Colorado. Look at that area in red there.

ROMANS: Wow. In Nebraska, look at these new cars. Don't look so new anymore. They won't be rolling off that lot any time soon, unless it's going to be to get fixed or dumped. About 4,000 of them all but destroyed by the hail, shattering windshields, leaving those vehicles essentially worthless.

And look at this house. The paint was stripped off by the rain - -

BERMAN: That's crazy.

ROMANS: -- the wind, the hail, and it also blew out some of those windows.


All right. In Kansas, look at this, this is a train loaded with coal. That's not going anywhere any time soon, completely blown off the tracks. The winds pushed it off. 52 cars on to the grass not far from Kansas City. The wind also blamed for this damage to a home near Topeka. Thankfully, again, no serious injuries reported there.

ROMANS: All right. How do things look today? Indra Petersons tracking the forecast for us.

Good morning.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. The rain has made its way to the northeast. We're kind of seeing that, not as strong here, but it's enough that you'll notice, especially in the morning commute, seeing some lightning around the area.

There are a couple regions where we're looking at. First, notice the Northeast. We have a low here. The difference is, we're going to have high pressure move in. So, it will move out by this evening, but there's two more lows out there.

You really want to pay attention down here to the South because these guys are staying put for days. That's going to be a concern. One section of it is going to be the severe weather threat.

Notice today, we're looking at places from the northern plains all the way back down into the South. Take a look at tomorrow's severe weather threat, almost in the identical position. That's the concern as those systems are not making their way out of the region. So, of course, two days of severe weather threat. What are you going to have? A lot of rain, heavy thunderstorms, and of course, the threat for about three to five inches of rain and flooding down to the South, anywhere from 2 to 4 inches of rain. So, that's going to be the other side of this.

Into the Northeast, yes, you're seeing the rain. We're only talking about an inch here over the next several days, so kind of scattered showers. Temperature-wise, it is going to be gorgeous, by the way. High pressure moving in, I told you that.

But look at this -- temperatures going up to the 80s in the Northeast, staying dry, meanwhile, in the southeast. So, warm, but of course, it's the Southeast, so they're going to stay a little soggy.

ROMANS: Looks hot. I see a lot of hot on that.

BERMAN: Hot's coming.

ROMANS: Summer's almost here. Thanks, Indra.

BERMAN: All right. From heat to ice, because on the ice, it doesn't get any better than this. Stanley Cup Finals, game one went into overtime, and it was game seven hero Justin Williams who did it again, this time in game one. Andy Scholes has the details in the "Bleacher Report," next.


BERMAN: What a start to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers needing overtime to decide game one of the series.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes, he's staying up late at night for a lot of reasons, and that was this one in the "Bleacher Report."


Bragging rights are on the line in this one. You know, this is the first time since the 1981 World Series that New York and L.A., they're battling it out for a professional sports title. And Rangers fans, they came out in big numbers in Bryant Park to watch this one and for our viewing party.

And they got to watch an absolute thriller. Tied at 2 with time winding down in the third, Henrik Lundqvist with the amazing diving save to send the game to overtime. In the extra period, Justin Williams comes through again for the Kings with the game-winning goal right here. L.A. takes game one 3-2. Game two will be Saturday night.

All right, it's a sad day for baseball as the legendary Don Zimmer has died. Zimmer had one of the longest careers in the game, spanning 66 years as a player, manager, executive and coach. He was still working for the Tampa Bay Rays as a senior adviser when he died on Wednesday. He had been in a Florida hospital since having heart surgery in April. Don Zimmer was 83.

Trending on this morning, the NFL is abandoning roman numerals for the 50th Super Bowl. The game in Santa Clara, California, next February will be known as Super Bowl 50. The change was made because the league reportedly didn't like the look of a Super Bowl L logo, which makes sense. However, after Super Bowl 50, the NFL will be going back to the old roman numerals.

All right. NBA finals get under way tonight in San Antonio, and it's a rematch of last year's thrilling series. The odds makers have the Spurs as the slight favorites this time around, since they have the home court advantage. The Heat, of course, is looking for their third straight title.

And game one is big when it comes to the NBA finals. The winner of the first game has gone on to win the series about 70 percent of the time. Tip-off is at 9:00 Eastern.

And guys, I've been struggling on who to pick in this one. Originally, I thought the Spurs in seven, but I've switched my pick. I think the Heat is going to win this in six and claim their third straight title. Going with LeBron.

BERMAN: I think the Heat in six, exactly right. I think the Heat can turn it on whenever they want.

But a bigger story is the NFL, sticking with the Redskins longer than roman numerals, and Romans everywhere are pissed about this, right?

ROMANS: As a member of the Romans, I would just like to say they are going back to the roman numerals next year, so dodged that bullet.

SCHOLES: This is like the only place you see roman numerals anymore, Super Bowl logo.

BERMAN: Kids everywhere, no cursive, no roman numerals. What's our future hold? Thanks, Andy. Appreciate it.

SCHOLES: You're welcome.

BERMAN: New details on the prisoner swap that freed captured Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. The deal leaving some lawmakers furious. A late-night briefing (AUDIO GAP) the president plays defense this morning in Europe. Live team coverage just ahead.