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Interview with Sen. Angus King; Controversy Continues over U.S. Prisoner Swap with Taliban; Military Plane Crashes into Southern California Neighborhood; General Motors Report Due Out Today

Aired June 5, 2014 - 07:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Elise Labott, thank you for helping us get more of an inviting into how this went down. Appreciate it. Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Chris. Joining us now to discuss is one of the senators who was in that closed door meeting last night and saw that proof of life video. Senator Angus King, an Independent from Maine, he also serves on the Senate's very important intelligence committee.

Senator, it's good to see you. Thank you so much for coming in.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Thank you, Kate. Nice to be with you.

BOLDUAN: Of course. So you were in this meeting, this two-hour closed door meeting, last night. From what you've heard so far, was this a good deal?

KING: Well, I think that's really hard to say. I think you have to start, Kate, with the premise that we bring our soldiers home. That's an inviolate principle going back to George Washington and it's just something that we do.

So the issues that flow out of that, what -- you know, what kind of soldier was he, what was his -- how did he leave? All of those kinds of things. And then was it a good deal -- I think you start with the premise we get our people home.

That was accomplished. Now, how you weigh it, you know, I got to say, Kate, I'm a little bit amused about all the -- we got 535 secretaries of state and presidents around here. This is an outfit that can't decide its way out of a wet paper bag. And, all of a sudden, everybody is saying, well, I would have done it this way and I would have done it that way. And, meanwhile, we are not getting anything done.

But, aside from that, I think, you know, obviously you do have to look at the deal but we don't know what the alternatives were. We don't know what the demands were. We don't know what the options were, other than this deal to get this P.O.W. back. And I think, you know, it remains to be seen.

The one thing we know for sure is we got him back. What happens in the next year, we don't know what's going to happen and there's some argument, anyway, that there's an opportunity here to create some level of reconciliation because, ultimately, the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan are going to have to reach some kind of accommodation, otherwise, it's an ongoing war.

BOLDUAN: With that, and where you are today, I mean, it seems this clearly has moved quickly into being a political battle. But do you think what you've heard so far, that this is a good deal because you don't think there was an alternative?

KING: Well, I went into the meeting yesterday with a lot of questions, frankly, and a lot of skepticism. A lot of those questions were answered, and so I'm bit a more reassured today.

BOLDUAN: What were your big questions, Senator?

KING: Well, the big questions were, you know, what were the conditions -- what was his condition? Why now? What was the pressure toward doing it now?

Of course, the other big question from the point of view of Congress was the 30-day notification requirement, why didn't we do that? I think, frankly, a mistake was made there. I can understand the administration's argument. And, by the way, I pressed in the hearing on opening some of this information up. They had intelligence that, had even the fact of these discussions leaked out, there was a reasonable chance Bowe Bergdahl would have been killed. And that was one of the pieces of information that we learned yesterday that gave it some credence in terms of why it had to be kept quiet so long.

Now the question is, was there something between a 30-day notification to Congress in a formal way and informing, you know, the leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committee, for example, or the armed services committee? There could have been notification that would have been somewhat more secure than a widespread notification to Congress. I think that's where there was -- there were mistakes made.

But, you know, the president also has some inherent powers as commander in chief. And this wasn't releasing prisoners in Guantanamo in order to close Guantanamo; it was releasing prisoners as part of a prisoner swap, which, as I say, goes back to George Washington, the Civil War, World War II. That's what you have to do, particularly as hostiliities are winding down.

BOLDUAN: A couple of questions on what you just said there. In terms of the notification to Congress. I mean, essentially what the administration is saying is that they didn't think they could notify any of you without it leaking out. They don't think even the members of the very important Senate intelligence committee can keep a secret. Do you believe that reasoning?

KING: No, I don't buy that, and I think -- that's why I say I think it was a mistake. You know, Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss, who are the chairs and the ranking member here, they know a lot of things that they're keeping secret and they are able to keep secrets. And I think the administration made a mistake in not at least notifying some limited people in Congress. I think clearly that was -- I think clearly that was something that they should have done. So, you know, I now understand better the sense of urgency that they had.

The other piece of --

BOLDUAN: Can I ask you about that, though? The sense of urgency. Because his condition, Bowe Bergdahl's condition, is a big question, a big factor in all of this. And you were -- you saw this video. It's classified and has not been released. Can you describe how he looked in that proof of life video you saw in that meeting?

KING: He looked terrible. And I think that video should be released at some point. He could barely talk. He couldn't focus his eyes. He was downcast. He was thin. He looked like a man -- I looked around the room, as that video was shown, and I think it was clearly effective. And when the video stopped -- it wasn't very long, maybe 30 seconds -- there was a dead silence in the room. And I think, you know, there are people now saying, well, he didn't look that sick and all that. I got to say --

BOLDUAN: You know, Senator Manchin thought he may have looked drugged and that doesn't really speak to a dire health situation.

KING: Of course not. And I'm not going to diagnose this guy's health from 3,000 miles away on a 30-second video. I'm just saying he looked pretty bad.

But I think the urgency was -- there were a couple of things going on. One was the idea that he could be killed. Now, you know, let's turn this story around. What if this deal hadn't been made and the story today was American P.O.W. dies in Taliban camp? He's beheaded in Kabul and the president didn't take a deal that was offered?

We'd be having all of the same criticism coming from the opposite direction and, you know, that's why I say, you know, the administration made it a very difficult decision. I'm not sure I would have made the same decision, but, on the other hand, I'm not sure -- you know, I'm a little uncomfortable sitting up here and saying, well, we would have done it differently and we would have sent four people instead of five or three or, you know, whatever.

BOLDUAN: Senator, you absolutely make a fair point and that gets to a very important question that is starting to come out, the question of how this has become so political so fast? And I would venture to say it has gotten very ugly very fast.

Do you think that the White House botched this? Or do you think, as the White House is beginning to frame it, that they blame Republicans for complaining only because it's the president that pulled this off?

KING: Well, you know, I think there's -- as I mentioned, I think the White House did make a mistake in not briefing at least the leadership in Congress earlier. So, OK, there's a mistake.

On the other hand, I got to tell you, it's really tiresome to see everything turned into a partisan issue. Let's take a deep breath and look at the facts. And, you know, it's very disturbing that people are trying this guy in the press about did he desert or what do his men say? Americans are entitled to due process; that's one of the things we fight for! That's one of the reasons we're out in the world. And the principle is, A, we bring our soldiers back and, B, we don't try them in the press. We give them due process when they get back.

So I got to say, all this firestorm of what looks to me like pretty much political criticism is pretty tiresome. And, you know, let's take a deep breath, get the facts so we know what we're talking about, and then assess. And we will have plenty of time to assess, A, what kind of soldier he was and, B, whether this was a reasonable deal.

You know, the Israelis several years ago traded 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for one Israeli soldier.

BOLDUAN: The difference here is the United States does not do that as policy. Of course, you know that. One final question though, Senator --

KING: Well, we swap prisoners. We do swap prisoners. We've always done that so let's be clear about that.

BOLDUAN: Correct. One final question. Did you receive -- do you think that you received assurance or a guarantee from administration officials in this briefing that these five detainees will not return to the fight? Most importantly, will not pose a threat to the United States and its allies?

KING: No. Absolutely not. There was no such guarantee. In fact, they explicitly -- the intelligence people explicitly said that was a risk. And I think it is a risk.

You know, this is one of those situations where, you know, a year from now, the president will look like a genius because he got our P.O.W. home, or people will say, look, those guys went back and got back into the fight. I don't think there's any way to make that call right now.

Clearly it's a high-risk deal. Would I have made the deal? I don't know. I can't answer that because I don't know all of the facts and I don't know what the other options are to get this man.

There's one other very important point that needs to get out there. There is a reasonable legal argument that these five guys would have had to be released any way within the next year under the law of war. They were being held in Guantanamo as enemy combatants. Under the law of war, when hostility cease, enemy combatants have to be released. Now, we could have argued we held them under other authority or civilian authority, but there's a reasonable argument this may have been the last chance to get Bergdahl where these guys had true value to us as a negotiating tool, because if they had to be released anyway, we'd be in the same situation without Bowe Bergdahl home.

BOLDUAN: That goes -- that clearly goes into the White House's calculation of this.

Senator, it's always great to get your honest take. Appreciate the time.

KING: Thank you. Good to talk to you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Of course. Chris?

CUOMO: Kate, some really frightening video to show you. Imagine this happening on your street. In southern California, a military plane crashes into several homes, setting them on fire. At least three houses destroyed and several others evacuated. So what caused this horrific crash? CNN's Rosa Flores is here with more. Rosa?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, this is something you can't prepare for. Imagine just hanging out at home on what appears to be a normal afternoon and then a plane falls out of the sky, plunging into homes. That's exactly what happened here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A fighter jet just crashed into this house here.

FLORES: Smoke billows into the air as flames engulf a military plane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get out! Get out! Get out of the way!

FLORES: After crashing into a residential neighborhood in Imperial, California. Last month, a different AVAB harrier jet from the Marine Corps air station in Yuma, Arizona, also crashed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You saw it falling in the sky spinning out of control, and when it exploded we ran out there.

FLORES: The blaze destroyed three homes and forced the evacuation of an entire block. Ammunition can be heard exploding from inside one of the burning houses. Remarkably, no one in the neighborhood was hurt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about the guys supposed to be in there?

FLORES: In this cellphone video, residents can be seen rushing to help the plane's pilot who ejected from the jet shortly before the crash.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As soon as I saw the pilot hit the pavement, he hit really hard. At first when I got there, he was unconscious. They told him not to move.

FLORES: The marines say the pilot is currently being evaluated at a local hospital for minor injuries.


FLORES: We should also add that this is the second time a harrier jet has crashed within the past month. In the previous crash, the pilot also ejected successfully and no one was hurt. Now the cause of this crash is still under investigation. Michaela?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: That could have been so much worse, although the families that lost their homes, I'm sure they are struggling to understand it all. Rosa, thanks so much.

Let's take a look at our other headlines right now.

An intense manhunt is under way in New Brunswick, Canada, for a suspect who authorities say fatally shot three officers in a residential neighborhood. The suspect has been identified as 24-year- old Justin Bourque. Police released this picture of him. He is dressed in military fatigues and seemingly carrying two rifles. Take a look at this video posted on Facebook. It actually captures the first terrifying moments of that shootout.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my god! Did he go down?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is shot. Call 911!



PEREIRA: Two other officers were injured in the shooting and are now listed in stable condition. Residents in the area are being urged and warned to stay indoors.

President Obama is meeting with G-7 leaders today in Brussels. The Russians are being excluded for their actions in Ukraine. Obama will meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron, and then he'll head to Paris where he'll sit down with French President Francois Hollande. The meetings come as the administration deals with fallout from the deal to get Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl released.

Today acting V.A. Secretary Sloan Gibson visits the Phoenix hospital where the names of 1,700 vets were left off a waiting list for medical care. Those patients have now been contact. They are working to get them help. CNN was first to report on treatment delays. In the meantime, the Senate will not be able to vote on a veterans aid bill today because a dozen senators are leaving for France to attend D-Day ceremonies.

Those are your headlines at this hour.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Michaela.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, GM about to go public with an internal report on why it took 10 years to recall cars with defective ignition switches linked now to at least 13 deaths. What we expect to hear.

CUOMO: Plus INSIDE POLITICS gets inside the Bergdahl backlash. Did the White House get caught by surprise here?

And all the outrage from politicians, some have been caught red-handed changing their tune, Tweets being deleted to cover tracks. Details ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CUOMO: A cop killer is on the loose right now. Police say this man, dressed in military fatigues and openly carrying rifles, opened fire on police in a residential neighborhood, killing three officers. We have been telling you about this story throughout the morning. It's happening in Eastern Canada. And we've had Rosa Flores reporting on it. We will tell you more as we learn more about it.

Now, there's another story we want to pick up on this morning, that CNN has learned that more than a dozen GM employees will be leaving the company as a result of the report into faulty ignition switches. You remember this. It was about the delay and why did it take so long, as long as ten years? And how many lives did it cost?

OK, so now we're waiting for this big report. Chief business correspondent Christine Romans is here with us. CNN's Poppy Harlow is live at GM's tech center in Warren, Michigan. That's where the report is coming out. So we're going to cover all angles of this.

Let's get right to Poppy. Poppy, what is the news about what's in this report, allowing for the obvious conflict that they are investigating themselves?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes. They did bring in an outside investigator, former U.S. attorney Anton R. Valukas to do this. But you're right, it's an internal investigation, Chris. We're going to get all of the details 9:00 a.m. when they release it here. They have held on this tightly; this has not leaked yet.

However, a source within General Motors told me within the last hour that, as you said, more than a dozen people are leaving GM as a result of the failure of this company to alert the public to a deadly safety defect in millions of its cars. We know that these are not layoffs, quote, from that source. They did something wrong.

What we want to find out -- how high did this go? Did the CEO at the time know? Did top executives know? Or was this just very sloppy work and data analysis that was never got above the engineering level? Was there a cover-up? Or was this just bad practice? That's the question.

Other question in focus is what will GM do for the victims here? How will they be compensated in all of this? Chris, I think those are the two key things we want to know from GM today.

CUOMO: Right. You know, Poppy, the first part has Christine and I looking at each other here kind of sideways because it's hard to trust what reporting comes out because it seems so obvious that they must have known going up the chain. Very little happens in a company like this where management is blind to it. Now you have the company looking at itself, even with a new CEO. Doesn't inspire confidence.

But what they'll do for the victims -- and that matters. Because right now --


CUOMO: When you look at the fallout, stock price is up.

ROMANS: It does matter and --

CUOMO: That means the street doesn't think that the fine plus the fallout will hurt the business.

ROMANS: The stock price is up 2.7 percent since the first recall was announced in February, so the stock is up. And sales are up, Chris. What the truth is about the money behind this company is that someone wants to go buy a GM car, they're buying a Chevy or they're buying a Cadillac or they're buying a GMC Acadia. And in some cases, you have customers who say, wow, that's really terrible what's happening at GM but it doesn't matter to me; I'm buying a Cadillac. I'm buying a Corvette. Or I'm buying a Chevy, you know, Suburban. It's all the same company.

CUOMO: You're saying they don't understand that they're under the umbrella?

ROMANS: Or they care about the model that they're going to buy and they think this is about 2005 models.

CUOMO: And they're used to hearing --

ROMANS: But, look, what they pay out for the victims is going to be very important from a P.R. perspective, and also from humanitarian perspective. I mean, these families are very, very upset. And some of them are only recently finding out they're included in this recall. And that's going to be really important for the image of the CEO and the image of this company.

CUOMO: But GM is saying it's 13. NHTSA saying it could be --

ROMANS: It could be higher, that's right.

CUOMO: The transportation safety.

ROMANS: That's right. And there are families, and Poppy can tell you, there are families who are not officially counted in this number who are very, very scared and concerned that their loved one died because of this ignition switch.

CUOMO: Well, Poppy, let's get to that. Because, let's be honest, that's what matters most here. The company is looking into itself, puts this number 13 out there. We know that others believe that number should be bigger. You know it firsthand from families. What did you learn?

HARLOW: We do. Even if NHTSA, the regulator in charge of keeping people safe on the roads and regulating these guys, have said they believe the number is higher than 13. GM is sticking with that number. Maybe it will change today in the report. We don't know.

But, look, General Motors, to be clear, is only counting here, Chris, frontal end crashes where air bags did not deploy. They're not counting cases where someone died in the backseat of a car that crashed because of this ignition case. There's one case where they're only counting the person who died in the front seat; they're not counting side impact collisions. That's really key.

We spent this week talking to Beth and Ken Melton. They lost their 29-year-old daughter, Brooke Melton, in a crash that they believe was caused by this ignition switch defect. Listen to what they told me.


KEN MELTON, DAUGHTER DIED IN GM-RELATED ACCIDENT: I would gladly give my last breath just to hug her and tell her I loved her one more time. Just one more time.

BETH MELTON, DAUGHTER DIED IN GM-RELATED ACCIDENT: I kept thinking that this is not possible. It's her birthday. It can't. This can't have happened that she died.

KEN MELTON: When I touched her hand, it was cold. I knew in my heart and my gut there was something wrong with the car, that it wasn't her fault.


HARLOW: Brooke Melton, Chris and Christine, is not counted on GM's list of 13 victims. There are a lot of other families out there like this. They want some answers. We will see if we get some more answers today.

CUOMO: What am I missing here? Poppy, first of all, thank you for digging into the families and getting us to understand that perspectiv,e because that's what matters most here.

What am I missing? This company is looking into itself. How is that the solution? I know that they had to pay a fine. I was a $35 million. I mean, if we want to say it's meaningless, there's proof, because the street who measures this, Wall Street says it was nothing.

ROMANS: Their revenue is $400 million a day, Chris, and they're selling 13 percent more cars last month than they were the year before. I mean, their sales are -- $35 million is negligible.

What happens here is the reputation of this company and what kind of -- what kind of money they're going to have to pay out to these victims and how many victims there are? And what happens to the reputation of Mary Barra? She's only been their CEO for a month, but she's been at the company her whole career. Could she have known? Could senior leadership have known this is happening? This real safety lapse, sloppy safety lapse, is happening and be in their own silo and not know about it.

CUOMO: Has -- Barra has said I will take the bull by the horns here; I will look into it. This is not what GM will be any more.

ROMANS: The new safety culture of GM, yes.

CUOMO: Did she ask the government to have - -or anybody objective -- look into the situation?

ROMANS: It's interesting because she is getting very high marks on Capitol Hill right now for her transparency with people who oversee -- with Congress members, really. She's been doing a lot of outreach with Congress members and she's getting high marks from them about this -- forthcoming about what happened in the past and trying to be more safety conscious in the future.

CUOMO: What is the chance that the company will be as punitive on itself as an outside impartial investigative body would be on the company?

ROMANS: I don't know. We'll have to ask Kenneth Feinberg.

CUOMO: The answer is very small, Christine. Thank you very much for the analysis. Thank you to Poppy Harlow for telling us the story of the families involved, because, after all, that's what it comes down to.

BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW Day, a homecoming interrupted. A celebration in honor of Bowe Bergdahl canceled as the controversy over the prisoner swap with the Taliban continues to grow. We will hear from a friend in Sergeant Bergdahl's Idaho town coming up.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back. Let's get straight over to Washington and Inside Politics on NEW DAY with John King. Hey John.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST, "INSIDE POLITICS": Hey Kate. Good morning to you. Sorry, I had a little audio issue there. Let's go Inside Politics this morning.

With me to share their reporting and their insights, Christina Bellantoni of Roll Call, Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times". Let's start with the big debate over Bowe Bergdahl. Our Jim Sciutto has done some fabulous reporting, talking inside the administration, and they say they expected criticism of the five for one, five Taliban prisoners released in exchange for one U.S. military serviceman. But what they didn't expect was the personal criticism of Bowe Bergdahl. He left his post, many of the men in his unit consider him a deserter, they consider him unfaithful. And as this criticism plays out, it's also getting personal.

Listen to a Representative Duncan Hunter, Congressman from the San Diego area, himself an Iraq War veteran, on Fox News.


REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: As John Kerry threw his medals over the White House fence and turned his back on all of his Vietnam brothers and sisters, that's what Bergdahl did. Bergdahl walked away from his men and he left them in a bad spot. People lost their lives and got hurt trying to find him.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: That's pretty personal there, bringing John Kerry into the debate and his Vietnam experience. But how could they at the White House not have anticipated the record? It is part of the public record.