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President Defends Bergdahl Decision; Senators Remain Unconvinced; GM to Reveal Internal Investigation Details; Intense Manhunt in Eastern Canada; How Much Money Would It Take to Make You Happy?

Aired June 5, 2014 - 05:30   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: New questions, new outrage, new details on the deal that freed the captured American soldier and sent five terrorists back home.

This morning, President Obama on the defensive as Senate leaders deride his deal with the Taliban as dangerous. And this as we learn more about just how the controversial prisoner swap really went down.

We have a team of reporters covering this big story right now.

Welcome back to EARLY START. Great to see you this morning. I'm John Berman.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Christine Romans. Thirty-one minutes past the hour.

This morning, they say they're not convinced. 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, both sides of the aisle, took part in that closed-door briefing say the price for that man's release, for Bergdahl's release was just too high.

And while they say the U.S. should do all it can to release any American POW, they worry about the fallout of this deal.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We are glad that Sergeant Bergdahl is home, but the exchange of five hardcore -- hardest of the hardcore 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.


ROMANS: The White House says that's not true and there is little risk these men will rejoin the fight, but the president is likely going to have to answer questions about this again today as he meets with world leaders at the G-7 Summit.

Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is in Brussels.

And Nic, this is the story. This is what people want to hear about from the administration, even as he's trying to press on with a much bigger, sort of economic story in Europe.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, sure. We've had a few ideas about what the administration is thinking about this, this morning as the G-7 meeting gets under way again. Administration officials telling us that they say that they always knew winning the freedom of Sergeant Bergdahl was going to be complicated. The questions about how he came to be captured were going to be an issue.

They always expected there would be some blowback. They expected the criticism to be about the nature of the trade, the five Taliban leaders for Sergeant Bergdahl. They didn't expect the harsh criticism of Sergeant Bergdahl and his family. And the assessment is that this is mostly about political point-scoring in Washington, that this is par for the course in Washington, and the president really expects that the issue of bringing home a captured soldier, not leaving somebody out on the battlefield, is the issue that's going to win out on the long run.

So when there is an opportunity for President Obama to face journalists' questions later today, when he has a bilateral meeting or following his bilateral meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron, they'll hold a press conference, we expect that this is the line that he will take, that is, the issue of bringing a soldier home is important. They really didn't expect that this harsh criticism of Sergeant Bergdahl and his family -- Christine.

ROMANS: And there's so many things they want to be talking about. This was a G-8 meeting until Russia was essentially kicked out. They've got Ukraine. They've got European ECB meeting. So many things to talk about, but it is the Bergdahl controversy in the U.S. that is taking all the oxygen out of the room.

Nic Robertson, thanks for that.

BERMAN: The president's defense of the situation comes at the same time that 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" -- who claimed to Jake Tapper on "THE LEAD" that Bergdahl was a deserter, also claimed that Bergdahl was responsible for six deaths.

Now the Pentagon disputes that. All soldiers he and others claim were killed searching for the POW. That was the claim there. And as I said, the Defense Department denies that.

This as former Afghanistan Commander Stanley McChrystal is defending the sometimes dangerous missions undertaken as they searched for the captured soldier.


GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL (RET.), FORMER U.S. COMMANDER TO AFGHANISTAN: Anyone who serves has a responsibility to the people they serve with, but also, we as a nation have 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.), 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.


BERMAN: The military has made clear it does plan to talk with Bergdahl once he's well enough to recount what he went through.

This morning he's still at a U.S. military hospital in Germany where we find senior international correspondent Matthew Chance live in Landstuhl at the medical facility there.

Matthew, again, any sense of his current condition and how long he might be staying in Germany?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's interesting, John, because we haven't had an update from the medical teams inside this Landstuhl regional medical facility in southern Germany for two days now about the medical condition of Sergeant Bergdahl. And of course, the issue of his health is central to this controversy, one of the reasons the White House said it had to act when it did was because they were worried his life might be in jeopardy from the proof of life videos they viewed.

That's certainly not been the message that we've been getting from the medical teams who have been treating Sergeant Bergdahl over the course of the past several days since he was brought here at the weekend. They're describing his condition as stable. They're not going into any detail about what exactly is wrong with him, but they are saying that part of his in-treatment is involving addressing dietary and nutritional needs as a result of being in captivity in Afghanistan and Pakistan for nearly five years.

But the sense you get is that this is not life-threatening, that he's not on his death bed. Now of course, there are going to be psychological issues. That's all part of his reintegration, as they're calling it here, before he goes back to the United States.

How long that's going to take, again, they're not telling us. It's something that they say will be determined by the pace of Sergeant Bergdahl's recovery -- John.

BERMAN: I am sure the medical professionals there want to be a million miles away from the controversy. Their concern, as you know, Matthew, is getting this man well and home.

Matthew Chance in Landstuhl. Thank you so much.

General Motors today set to reveal new details of an internal investigation into the long delays before that company finally recalled cars for a dangerous defect. We're talking about the 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 General Motors and how it may have worked to keep the danger under wraps for a decade.

Now Ken and Beth Melton say it was a faulty switch that 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 GM hid evidence from them. That is something that General Motors denies, but the Meltons are unconvinced.


BETH WELTON, 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.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you willing to settle this time?

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

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Any amount of money?

K. WELTON: Right.

B. WELTON: 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 been there a long, long time, in many positions. She has repeatedly said she was not informed about the switch problems until she became CEO earlier this year.

ROMANS: And you know, NHTSA has said they think that the final number of fatalities because of that ignition switch default is likely more than 13. You know, the government thinks that that number is going to rise, but GM has said it's sticking by that 13 number for now. But certainly, families like the Meltons are saying, hey, wait, we know that number is higher.

Time for an EARLY START to your money this morning. Sweet 16 to the S&P 500. Another record high, the 16th for stocks yesterday. Higher futures this morning as well, so we'll watch to see if it's another one.

Today's big deal news, of course, 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 make the two better able to compete with Verizon and AT&T. It's not a done deal yet. There are obviously clear hurdles -- or hurdles to clear to getting it done, including that, if announced, it has to get through regulators.

When AT&T tried to buy T-Mobile, that deal was stonewalled. For consumers, the combined company would have more cash to invest, helping it compete.

BERMAN: That would be the hope, at least.


BERMAN: Thirty-nine minutes after the hour. Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson travels to Phoenix today. He will be visiting the scandal-plagued medical center where CNN first reported dozens of veterans died waiting months to be seen by a doctor.

Nearly 1700 veterans who were intentionally left off a waiting list for treatment in Phoenix have now been contacted by VA officials, but 725 of them are asking for medical care within 30 days.

Now Senate leaders were hoping to pass an emergency bill to help those vets today, but that does not now seem likely to happen. It's because a dozen senators are leaving for France to attend D-Day ceremonies. That's tomorrow, the 70th anniversary.

ROMANS: That's kind of an irony there, isn't there?

BERMAN: You know, that's a really good point.

ROMANS: Kind of an irony there.

Out-of-date federal records being blamed for a new Obamacare problem. About 2.2 million people who signed up for coverage could lose coverage because the information they supplied about income and immigration status doesn't match a federal database.

The conflict apparently confuses the computer systems. I hate that when computers are confused. The White House hopes to have the problem mostly ironed out by the end of the summer.

BERMAN: Happening right now, millions are waking up to the threat of severe storms. A dangerous system in place has already left a path of destruction across the United States.

Indra Petersons back from the storm, here in the studio, tracking where these storms are coming, that's after the break.


BERMAN: All right, after plains clean-up this morning from serious storms they're also bracing for more of potentially dangerous weather today. The most serious threat stretches there, you can see, from Colorado to the southeast, that area in red.

ROMANS: Well, you can see the power of these storms in Iowa, where the roof of a motel torn clean off in the western part of the state. The beds there covered in debris.


ROMANS: Windows blown out. Witnesses say they saw what looked like a tornado.

BERMAN: In nearby Nebraska, you can blame hail for this damage. Wow. About 4,000 cars all but destroyed in a dealer's lot. It was baseball-sized rocks of ice. The windshields there, looks like bullets riddled the windshields there. Not far from there, rain, wind and hail responsible for the damage at this house. So intense you can see the paint --

ROMANS: Look at the shutter.

BERMAN: Ripped off. The paint is stripped the house and the shutters there. That's crazy.

ROMANS: We'll take a look at this image from Kansas, a train pushed from its tracks near Kansas City. The winds so strong it actually forced 52 cars from a train loaded with coal right off the tracks. Crews are working to move those cars out. The farmer apparently is going to have to replant right there. The wind also blamed for this damage to a home near Topeka. Thankfully there no serious injuries reported.

BERMAN: Indra Petersons is tracking today's storm threat for us, more on the way -- Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: These videos are all perfect examples because everyone hears tornado, that's all they really think about.


PETERSONS: But most of this damage is straight-line winds and large hail. And that's still out there today and even the threat for a tornado. So definitely going to be looking for a lot of action out there. Notice the northeast, now seeing the system that was really plaguing the Midwest just a few days ago, but the Midwest, nope, it's not over with quite yet because more systems are in place. So back with the first one, the lows hanging out in the northeast, hanging out throughout the day but clearing by tomorrow.

Meanwhile, check out these two systems because they're not going to be moving. Notice high pressure moves in, makes it a beautiful weekend for the northeast. Hardly the case once you take a look at the south. These systems hang around day after day, and they have a severe weather threat along with it. So look at places like Denver today, Wichita, Oklahoma City, even up toward Little Rock and Memphis.

That's where we have that threat for, yes, those straight-line winds and tornadoes, of course, large hail could be out there. Notice tomorrow almost the identical region still looking for severe weather. That's going to be the concern. Of course, we had the winds out there, but think about all the rain. We talked about several days of heavy thunderstorms. Three to five inches, that's what we'll be looking at there, kind of in the southern plains going down into the southeast, about two to four inches northeast.

Yes, it's raining, but only an inch. I think you can handle it. Either way, it's going to be warming up. It clears out, looks beautiful for the weekend. Look at these 80s. New York City goes to above normal, about 84, Boston 80 for the weekend, even out towards D.C., about 85 degrees. Southeast also staying nice and warm.

So, yes, we have rain for a day in the northeast, but talk about a beautiful weekend. Can I say I'm excited? Just a bit.

BERMAN: And we will never disrespect straight-line winds again.


PETERSONS: Thank you.

ROMANS: Yes. Tornadoes get all the headlines, but --

BERMAN: Do not disrespect straight-line winds. Some serious stuff.

On the subject of respect, our deepest respect goes to Chris Cuomo and "NEW DAY."

Chris, what's going on?

ROMANS: Good morning, Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, NEW DAY: Appreciate it, JB, Christine.

We have two big stories we're following this morning. The obvious questions surrounding the release of Bowe Bergdahl. Here's the latest. The White House is trying to deal with the questions head on, making the case to these angry senators -- what did they do? They showed them the proof of life video. Why was that important? Because the administration is saying we had to do this now because of the condition Bowe Bergdahl was in.

That's what the tape goes to, proof of life tape. Did the senators buy it? We'll have their reaction.

Also, the conditions around the five Taliban members who were traded in exchange. Were they able to make a compelling case about that? What do we know? We'll tell you everything we do. Plus, today GM releases its internal report into the delayed recall of those ignition switches. You'll remember it led to a major recall. At least 13 deaths. Why did it take so long? Who is to blame? We're going to break that down with the best we have, one of whom you're watching right now. Not me. Not the guy with the bright tie -- Christine Romans.


ROMANS: And you know, sales are up and the stock is up at GM since this whole debacle started in February. Can you believe that? All of the pain and suffering of some of these families, all the questions about the safety of the cars, and the stock and sales are up.

We'll talk about that, Chris. Thanks.

BERMAN: All right, we also have an amazing scene to show you in California. A military jet crashed right there in the middle of a neighborhood in California. The homes destroyed. Some chaos on the streets there. We'll take you to that drama, next.


BERMAN: Incredible pictures to show you this morning. It was after the crash of a military jet into homes in Southern California. It happened in Imperial, California. That's about 120 miles east of San Diego. It was a harrier jet from an air station in Yuma, Arizona, that plunged into this neighborhood. Look at those flames up there.


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.


BERMAN: At least three of the homes there were destroyed. Several others evacuated. Amazingly, no one was hurt on the ground, and the pilot ejected and is also said to be OK.

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





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He shot the cop.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my god. Call 911.


ROMANS: Two other officers were wounded in the shoot-out. Police in the city of Moncton have locked down the neighborhood and are telling residents they should lock their doors, leave their lights on and call 911 if they see anything.

BERMAN: A lot of concern up there.

All right, it does appear that Donald Sterling is finally ready to move on. The banned Los Angeles Clippers owner has agreed to the sale of the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Reports say he also plans to drop his lawsuit, Sterling does, against the NBA.

This sale was negotiated by Sterling's wife, Shelly, for the record price of $2 billion. Not bad for a scandal. The Sterlings are co- owners of the Clippers through a family trust. NBA owners still have to approve this deal.

I can bet you they will, given that the values of their franchises just skyrocketed.

ROMANS: Can you imagine? And the fact that this guy has basically doubled his net worth because of a controversy over bad behavior and just --

BERMAN: Racism. The racism paid off for Donald Sterling.

ROMANS: Bad everything going around.

All right, how big a paycheck would it take to make you, John Berman, happy? The surprising details of how much money it really takes to be happy. A new CNN Money poll, next.


ROMANS: All right, three minutes to the top of the hour. Let's get an EARLY START on your money. It was a record day for the S&P 500 yesterday. That's right, good news for your investments. The 16th record high of the year, 2nd just this week. You can see futures right now mixed.

The big story on CNN Money this morning, how much money would it take for you to be happy? We asked that question in our American dream poll. More than half of Americans say it would take less than $100,000. Nearly a quarter of you say they'd need to make between $100,000 and $200,000 a year to be happy. 11 percent of you need a lot of money. You need $1 million or more to be happy.

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. Just 6 percent of you.

ROMANS: Six percent of very, very rich people whose Ferraris don't work this morning.

ROMANS: Six percent of people and John Berman say money doesn't buy happiness.

Meantime, home ownership, long identified as part of the American dream, fewer people are owning homes, but the homes they're living in, they're getting bigger. Much bigger. The average size of the American house, 2600 square feet. Look at that. It's up from 2330 a decade ago, it was 1725 square feet back in 1983.

Big mega homes are helping to drive that average up. About 9 percent of homes built last year were bigger than 4,000 square feet.

BERMAN: People were a lot smaller in the early '80s.

ROMANS: So paychecks are either moving sideways or shrinking, student loans are getting bigger, and our houses are humongous. Square that circle for me.

BERMAN: I'm bad at math, thankfully. Also it would depress me.

Great to see you today. "NEW DAY" starts right now.