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Tracy Morgan Critically Hurt In 6-Car Crash; Obama Defends Taliban Swap For Bergdahl; Walking In Restaurants With Rifles; Lawmakers Slam President On Bergdahl Trade; Lawmakers: Obama Broke the Law; Tracy Morgan Hurt in Six-Vehicle Crash; Chasing History: The Triple Crown Quest; "The Fault in Our Stars"

Aired June 7, 2014 - 08:00   ET


CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Comedian and former "30 Rock" star, Tracy Morgan, we know is in intensive care in a unit there at a New Jersey hospital right now.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: State police tell us the limo bus that he was on collided with the tractor-trailer along the New Jersey turnpike about 1:00 a.m. There is at least one fatality. CNN national reporter, Nick Valencia is tracking the latest on this story from many different angles. Nick, I wonder, I asked the officer if alcohol was a factor. He said no. But is there any cause yet?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN NATIONAL REPORTER: No. We're still trying to determine that cause, very preliminary information coming out. We're still beginning to piece together all the details. Six-car accident on the New Jersey turnpike about 1:00 a.m. Tracy Morgan was traveling with several others in that limo bus.

As Victor said, you're looking at it right now. According to Sergeant Greg Williams with the New Jersey state police that limo bus overturned after it was involved in a wreck with two tractor-trailers and an SUV. Again, to reiterate, one person confirmed killed. Seven other hospitalized. Tracy Morgan in critical condition.

Let's have you listen to what Sergeant Greg Williams of the New Jersey State Police Department said about the incident.


SGT. GREGORY WILLIAMS, NEW JERSEY STATE POLICE: Six-vehicle accident. Two tractor-trailers involved. Comedian/actor Tracy Morgan was involved. He is in intensive care at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in New Brunswick. Looks like two tractor-trailers, limo bus, SUV, limo bus overturned. Tracy Morgan was in the limo bus, but he is alive. He's in intensive care at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in New Brunswick. Preliminary right now that possibly one fatality.


VALENCIA: Here is what we do know about where Tracy Morgan was last night. He was scheduled to perform at a casino in Delaware and earlier, we saw a comedian alongside Tracy Morgan who actually opened for Morgan last night, they performed in front of a crowd of about 1500 people and it went well, posting on his Facebook page they had a great night and went off in a luxury car. We don't know if he was in that vehicle, but we tried to make contact with him to see sort of how Morgan was last night, glean any more information from that.

PAUL: Just to reiterate, these are some of the first pictures from the scene this morning. Let's bring in Nischelle Turner who is joining us via phone. Good morning you to. Morgan is so well known in Hollywood circles. I looked at his Twitter page today. He's got almost 3 million followers. Tell us more about him.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Yes. Good morning to you, Christi and Victor. Not a great way to start our Saturday morning. You're right. Tracy Morgan one of the funniest guys in Hollywood. In fact, he is on tour right now as part of the stand-up comedy tour. He was performing last night in Delaware as part of this tour. He is scheduled to perform tonight in Charlotte, North Carolina, as part of this tour but, of course, we expect that not to happen.

You know, Tracy is an Emmy-nominated actor for his work in "30 Rock" and also for NAACP Image Awards. He spent a lot of years with the cast of "30 Rock" because he first started with" Saturday Night Live" kind of where he met and got a really great relationship with Tina Fey going so when she developed "30 Rock" she wanted to bring him on. Of course, he was so funny on that show.

He's also apparently in the process of creating a new show, working on a new show right now, the title hasn't been announced, but it is apparently with the crew from "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." So he is doing work. He always said stand up is his first love like we see with so many comedians. That's why after "30 Rock" wrapped he decided to go back on the stand-up comedy tour.

By all accounts, the tour is going very well as his standup has evolved. Tracy has had a bit of a tough road in Hollywood, too. He had a drinking problem a while ago. He did stop drinking after getting a dui a few years ago. He talked a lot about the fact that he was proud that he was very sober and that he was living this entirely different life and lifestyle now.

I remember a few years back at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City he passed out and people didn't know why. It was because he is diabetic and the altitude got to him. He got very sick there. So he definitely has had a hard road going. And now, you know, there's a lot of prayers and good thoughts going out to him for being critically hurt in this car crash.

BLACKWELL: His health has been a concern for some years. Now we know he is in intensive care again at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in New Brunswick. Nischelle Turner, Nick Valencia, thank you both. We'll continue to follow this and bring the viewers the latest as soon as we get it.

Now to that political firestorm over the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five top level Taliban detainees. It will no doubt heat up on Capitol Hill again this week as it was last week. PAUL: Right. President Obama insists this prisoner swap was the right thing to do. He is defending his decision not to tell Congress about it before hand, defended it actually in an interview with NBC News. Listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The main concern was that we had to act fast in a delicate situation that required no publicity. By definition you don't do prisoner exchanges with your friends. You do them with your enemies.


BLACKWELL: The former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is also coming to the support of her former boss on the Bergdahl prisoner swap. Listen.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I think this was a very hard choice, which is why I think my book is so aptly named. If you look at what the factors were going into the decision, of course, there are competing interests and values. I mean, one of our values is we bring everybody home off the battlefield the best we can. It doesn't matter how they ended up in a prisoner of war situation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It doesn't matter?

CLINTON: It does not matter.


BLACKWELL: Bergdahl was in the hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. We're learning some alarming details, though, about what he went through from those five years. A U.S. official tells CNN that the sergeant was physically abused. He's suffering psychological trauma, and was locked in a cage after he tried to escape his captors.

PAUL: We are covering this story from every possible angle, CNN's Erin McPike is with us from Washington right now.

BLACKWELL: And CNN's Martin Savidge joins us from San Antonio, Texas. Martin, I want to start with you. Sergeant Bergdahl will be flown to the San Antonio military complex there in Texas. Any indications of what will happen once he arrives?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Victor. A lot of people wonder why San Antonio. San Antonio and the U.S. Army South is tasked with the job of bringing back all soldiers that have been held in captivity. Fortunately in recent conflicts there haven't been that many, but of course, Bowe Bergdahl fits into that category. Right now he is in Landstuhl, Germany.

They are working to medically and mentally stabilize him. You go through three phases. One, get him into friendly hands. That happened last weekend. Two, get him to a regional medical center to be checked out. That's going on right now. Three, bring him here, because here they specialize in everything it takes in every way to bring you home both mentally and physically.

Your question, Victor, no timetable has been set. No word on when he will come here. We know his personal recovery team, as they're referred to, is in Germany ready to receive him and bring him here, but they haven't got the green light.

PAUL: Martin, quickly, a lot of people are wondering why he hasn't been reunited with his parents yet. Have you gotten word as to why that is being delayed and when it might happen?

SAVIDGE: Well, we don't necessarily know if it's being delayed. He does have access to a telephone and access to speak to his parents. We're told if his parents wanted to go there they could indeed do that. Let me just point out. After decades of experience the military has had all the way back to World War II with returnees it is the reunion with family that turns out to be the most emotionally overwhelming, which is why it is so carefully handled.

It's been studied for decades. So, it'll happen not plane side rushing into the arms of family. It'll happen probably inside of a hospital room here and the first meeting is only going to be for a few minutes because the returnees have said, it is so intense, so emotionally powerful, they can only take it for that time. They step out for a couple hours and then they come back. It's a very slow process to come home.

BLACKWELL: Let's go to Erin at the White House now. Erin, we know senators has got a classified briefing about Sergeant Bergdahl's time and the swap this week. We'll see hearings on Capitol Hill this week. Who should we expect to see?

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Victor, it is first going to start on Monday afternoon with another briefing but for House members. And that briefing will be led by deputy national security adviser to the president, Tony Blinken. He's been on our air in the past week and he'll be joined by two, high ranking Defense Department officials, as well as a State Department official, and an intelligence official.

Then on Wednesday what we're going to see is a hearing in front of the House Armed Services Committee that's led by Buck McKeon who has also been on our air in the past week and has been critical of this deal. The person they're calling to testify is Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel who is going to have to defend them. We're going to be seeing a lot of this activity on the House side this week -- Victor.

PAUL: All righty, Erin McPike and Martin Savidge, we appreciate you both. Thank you.

Coming up at the top of the hour, we're going to hear from former NATO supreme allied commander, retired Marine Corps General James Mattis, the former head of the U.S. Central Command. He's also been pretty critical of President Obama's decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by 2016. BLACKWELL: That's right here on CNN at the top of the hour on "SMERCONISH" right here on CNN.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you bring your gun to a restaurant, do calmly inform the other patrons that you are there just to eat and not to shoot anyone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And when you bring your gun to a restaurant, don't be black. Because -- even if you tell them you're not going to shoot, they're probably not going to believe you.


PAUL: I'm sorry. I know it's not supposed to be a funny subject, but that's funny.

BLACKWELL: Comedy is often rooted in truth. That was "The Daily Show" this week. A humorous spin on a story that a lot of people just don't find funny at all.

BLACKWELL: You may have heard by now about the group called "Open Carry Texas." They're these young men armed with rifles and they walk into restaurants like Chile's flaunting their firearms to advocate what is already legal in Texas, openly carrying long guns.

BLACKWELL: Now they're moving from restaurant chains to retail chains, and Target is their newest, well, target.

PAUL: Yes, exactly. Understandably a lot of patrons and parents say, look. I'm scared straight about this. The gun control group, "Moms Demand Action," successfully lobbied Chipotle and Starbucks to issue statements that they no longer welcome guns in their establishments and now they are urging Target to do the same thing.

BLACKWELL: Joining us to talk about this now is Toy Henderson. He is a member of "Open Carry Texas." It's good to have you this morning. You know, I'm not in for the shouting back and forth. I'm really trying to understand here. The point here and how you get to that end by walking into a Target, Chipotle, Chick-Fil-A, with this semiautomatic rifle strapped to your back.

TOV HENDERSON, MEMBER, OPEN CARRY TEXAS: Well, I see this entire situation as very, very simple. I continue to hear about the feelings of people who see firearms. I want to talk about the feelings of moms who want to be armed so they can protect their children. I want to talk about my wife who needs to be armed so she can protect my children from being in a situation where she cannot protect them.

Because we all know good and well that gun control when it comes to signs, criminals don't read signs. They don't care if the sign says you may not carry in this establishment. We've seen that time and time again that whenever law-abiding citizens are not armed and not able to protect themselves they become victims and quite often they die.

So this situation really is not just about people's feelings at seeing a gun or knowing people are armed. Let's talk about the ones they don't know are armed, the criminals. No one talks about the criminals who you can't see are armed. I want my wife to be armed. I want her to be able to protect my children.

I want to be armed so I can protect my family. It is a simple concept and there are millions of moms and dads across America feel the same as me. We want to be empowered to not be victims.

PAUL: You're right. I am a parent. I get that on a very real level. We will do whatever we can to protect our kids, but this is something that's already legal in Texas. So a lot of people are looking at this and saying, what is the point? I wanted to ask you from a parent's perspective because you said you're a parent.

If there is a parent who has a small child in one of these establishments and comes up and says, you know what? I know you got your rifle here, but that's really scaring my child, making me feel threatened. What do you do in that instance? Do you leave? Do you take the gun away?

HENDERSON: We have not been in that instance. That's the whole thing. Every time we've gone to a restaurant we have been invited in. We respect private property rights every bit as much as we respect our rights.

PAUL: What would you do if a parent came up and said, this really makes me uncomfortable and is scaring my child?

HENDERSON: I would explain to them the same thing I'm explaining to you right now. I would explain, look, there are people armed around us all the time, concealed carrying. Some legally, some illegally and the fact of the matter is we don't know where those people are. We can't see them. It doesn't change the fact they're armed. We continue to run into the same situation over and over where armed assailants walk into gun free zones and they gun down victims and there is no one there who is able to stop the attacker.

All that we see is a situation where they become victims and they die. No one wants to talk about those people. No one wants -- everyone wants to talk about the feelings of these people who see guns, but no one wants to talk about the victims who were not given the opportunity to take down the attacker. That's why we continue to see mass killings happen in gun free zones like Fort Hood, like the massacre October 16th, 1991 in Texas.

That's why we continue to see Newtowns, Columbines, we continue to see these things happen because there are not legally armed, law-abiding citizens able to take down these evil people. We continue to do the same thing over and over. It's insanity.

BLACKWELL: Let me get in here about this NRA statement. I guess a reversal is the kind way to say it. On the 30th of May they condemned what you were doing calling it, quote, "dubious, weird, and downright scary." This week after threats from your group and I'm sure a lot of your supporters to withdraw your and their support the NRA has retracted the statement saying they now support you. Do you buy the explanation that their rebuke was a mistake and came only from one staffer's opinion, or do you think they felt some pressure?

HENDERSON: I can't get into the mind of the National Rifle Association, but what I can say is groups like the National Rifle Association and "Gun Owners of America" and other gun organizations have stood behind us in trying to get open carry legislation passed in the state of Texas and, yes, whoever wrote that did make a mistake.

Look, this is what I keep telling people. You can't control everyone inside your organization. We've made plenty of mistakes. The National Rifle Association has made plenty of mistakes. What we all learn is it's not about the mistakes you make, it's about how you react to them.

I'm sure you guys as reporters, as correspondents, you make mistakes and sometimes you have to go back and correct those issues because no one is perfect. As an organization, we're learning just like the National Rifle Association is, but I do have confidence they're going to stand behind us all the way to the finish line when we get open carry legislation passed in the state of Texas.

PAUL: OK. Well, Tov Henderson, we are so grateful that you talked with us this morning. Thank you. Again, he is with the "Open Carry Texas." We want to bring in now, and, Tov, glad to have you with us, Shannon Watts is with us now. She is the founder of the group "Moms Demand Action," so first of all, I want to get your reaction to what Tov said.

SHANNON WATTS, FOUNDER, "MOMS DEMAND ACTION": Well, what you just heard was a creation by the NRA leadership. All that paranoia, all that fear, all those inaccurate statistics, none of that is true or happening. You know, I have a right as a mother in this country to take my children to Target and know they'll be protected from people who think that they are somehow vigilantes.

These guys may not have had a background check. There is a 40 percent chance they haven't. They don't have to have a license. They don't have to have any training. Is that the person you want standing next to you and your child at the checkout line at Target? I don't.

BLACKWELL: I think it is often easy especially for people in this seat and in media to easily kind of dismiss what Tov just said, but I want to challenge you on something, Shannon. Wayne Lapeier, Executive Director of the NRA, after Sandy Hook, said the only thing that stopped a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun and I think essentially when he says he wants his wife to be able to carry, he wants her to be the good person with the gun.

Is there an example in which maybe school shootings or mall shootings or these public facilities where that has been wrong, where this bad guy with a gun has been stopped in any other way by something other than or a person other than a law enforcement officer with a gun or him killing himself? WATTS: It's never happened. Data shows it doesn't happen. Data shows that actually a gun in the hands of a woman is more likely to be used against her or by one of her family members to commit suicide. We had an example just the other day in Seattle of a mass shooter who was taken down. He intended to be a mass shooter. He was taken down by a student with pepper spray.

You know, Congress and the leadership of the NRA believes that we should put students and teachers on the front lines and yet they don't allow guns in the halls of Congress or even in the headquarters of the NRA. It's time for women and moms to stand up in this country and say even though we're the majority of the electorate.

But a minority in Congress and in our state legislatures, we are going to have a role in shaping these policies. This madness will stop and it will stop when women and mothers say, enough. We will not sacrifice our children for the profit of the gun lobby.

PAUL: So, Shannon, we know that your group started this Twitter campaign called "Off Target." Have you realized that had any real impact thus far?

WATTS: Absolutely. You know, we believe that very shortly we'll see Target make some kind of announcement based on the pressure we're applying online and off line, because our moms are, so to speak, up in arms. We are not going to allow companies where women are 80 percent to 90 percent of their customers have policies in place that actually endanger our children.

If you see these pictures, it's very alarming that they're allowing people with assault rifles inside their store. This is clearly not meant to defend themselves. You know, they're not going to be met with armed resistance in the baby toy aisle. This is meant to create intimidation and fear.

There's got to be a stop put to it. It starts with American businesses saying, just like smoking or proper attire, we're going to have a gun policy. We're not going to allow these extremists to show up at our door step.

PAUL: Shannon Watts founder of the "Moms Demand Action," thank you so much. Great conversation between the two of them.

BLACKWELL: Never enough time though.

PAUL: I know. Never fails.

BLACKWELL: Shannon, thank you. We're back in a moment.


BLACKWELL: It appears the White House is paying a heavy price for Bowe Bergdahl's freedom. The POW's rescue has morphed from this crafted, feel good moment in the Rose Garden at the White House when his release was announced to now, something the president has to talk about every time he is in front of the microphone. PAUL: Administration officials say they anticipated some criticism over the terms of the trade, but they've been pretty taken aback by the personal attacks on Bergdahl, himself. The full incident has left the president in a pretty uncomfortable position.

Let's talk to CNN political commentator, Ryan Lizza about this. He is also Washington correspondent for the "New Yorker." Ryan, it's so good to have you with us.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

PAUL: Thank you. So these men we know were top ranking Taliban leaders.


PAUL: A lot of people are looking and thinking, how can you, President Obama, guarantee that they're not going to plan attacks on the U.S. again?

LIZZA: I think the truth of the matter is he can't. Right? A prisoner exchange is a prisoner exchange. We don't get to control these guys anymore. We don't get to keep them locked up. We have a one-year deal it looks like. We don't know all of the details of the deal but from what has been revealed, for one year, the Qatari government will make sure they don't travel outside of the country and there are a few other restrictions on them.

But after that, as far as we've learned so far, they can do what they want. That is the nature of a prisoner swap, right? You don't get to control these guys anymore. The president the other day was relatively honest. He said, look. Yes, there is some danger they could threaten the United States down the road.

So, you know, he believed it was worth it to get Bergdahl back and, yes. I think this is probably one of the most controversial and difficult decisions he's had to make as president.

BLACKWELL: You know, there are people who say, yes, absolutely the president broke the law here by not notifying Congress 30 days in advance. Some people in the gray area there.


BLACKWELL: Do you believe that there will be some formal consequence on Capitol Hill for the president?

LIZZA: I don't know. Look, there is no doubt the law says you have to tell Congress 30 days before you remove someone from Guantanamo. It's very hard for me to look at that law and I think a lot of legal commentators have made the same case and say he did not break that law. He did not follow the letter of that law. They have a very artful, sort of legalistic explanation for why they were allowed to do this, but the letter of the law says 30 days and they didn't follow it, no doubt. The only thing Congress can do frankly is impeach him, right, if the president breaks the law. The only thing, only recourse Congress has is impeachment. I don't think that's going to happen. Certainly not with the Senate in Democratic hands. But it makes it very, very difficult for the president moving forward to do this again.

If he wants to get Guantanamo prisoners out of there, he's going to have to work a lot more closely with Congress. I think politically it's going to be more difficult because there's so much outrage among Republicans, but more quietly among some Democrats over this deal.

PAUL: Well, and that's the part of what I wanted to ask you about, too. Do you think or is there talk that perhaps there was an ulterior motive of some sort for President Obama to release these men? Because from day one --



PAUL: -- he's wanted to close Gitmo anyway.

LIZZA: Absolutely. There's been pressure on the President to find a way to get these prisoners -- I think there's about 160 left now. And so there's been pressure to find some avenues to get them out. Now, these five prisoners under international law I think most people agree were P.O.W.s. So we had a very clear legal authority to keep them locked up but in another year we're going to be out of Afghanistan and then the pressure would be to treat P.O.W.s under international law as no longer allowed for us to keep them. So in other words these five prisoners were the ones most likely to have to be given back to their host country, their home country after the war is over.

So you could -- so I think some people in the administration said, you know what? We were going to have to get these guys out of there once the war is over in a year anyway. Why not get something in return? I think that is one justification that they had. You know, if we're going to have to get rid of these guys anyway let's get Bergdahl back. So that is not sitting really well with Congress because I think you have some folks in Congress who didn't believe they were P.O.W.s.


LIZZA: And didn't believe that they ever had to be given up.

BLACKWELL: Yes there are some who just believe they're enemy combatants and what do you do with them? Ryan Lizza --


BLACKWELL: -- thank you so much for unpacking this for us.

LIZZA: Hey, thanks for having me, guys.

BLACKWELL: And the breaking news we're following this morning, actor Tracy Morgan involved in this terrible accident. PAUL: Rushed to a New Jersey hospital. We know at this hour he is in

critical condition after this six-car crash. We're going to let you know what we know that has happened so far this morning. Stay close.


PAUL: Thirty-five minutes past the hour right now -- so glad to have you with us. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Let's get you up to date on that breaking news we have been following.

Actor Tracy Morgan is in intensive care at a New Jersey Hospital, he was rushed there after being involved in a six-vehicle crash.

PAUL: Reporter Marcus Solis from our New York affiliate WABC is at the hospital. Robert Wood Johnson University in New Brunswick, where we know Tracy Morgan is as well -- Marcus.

MARCUS SOLIS, WABC: And the comedian was on his way back from a standup comedy performance in Delaware when the limousine bus he was traveling in was involved in that multi car pileup in the New Jersey turnpike. It happened after 1:00 this morning near Cranberry Township. Straight away a particularly dangerous part of the New Jersey turnpike where vehicles are known to speed. There were several vehicles involved, as many as six, including a Wal-Mart truck that may have rear ended Morgan's limo. One person inside of the limo was killed. Three others including Tracy Morgan brought here to Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center in New Brunswick.

Now, Morgan is 45 years old. Of course, best known for his many seasons as a regular on the sitcom "30 Rock." He was in the midst of a comedy tour and it performed last night at the Dover Downs Hotel and Casino. He had a performance scheduled for tonight in Charlotte, North Carolina, which has been canceled. Again, comedian Tracy Morgan in intensive care as a result of a multicar pileup on the New Jersey turnpike that has also left one person dead.

Marcus Solis, New Brunswick.

PAUL: And we'll obviously we're getting information slowly but surely this morning as comes in to us and we'll continue to keep you posted throughout the morning as well.

BLACKWELL: Certainly will.

Tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union came to a head in the '60s with the Cold War, of course, add in Vietnam and the Cuban missile crisis and you have the world on the brink. That's the focus of tonight's installment of CNN's original series "THE SIXTIES".


JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A supreme national effort will be needed to move this country safely through the 1960s. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seven minutes past 1:00 this morning, a man went

around the world. The space ship was built in Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you can put a man into space, you can put nuclear warheads into space.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The temper of the world is crisis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was palpable fear in the United States and in the Soviet Union that the two sides were going to get into a nuclear war.

KENNEDY: I do not shrink from this responsibility.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twenty-five Russian ships are en route to Cuba on a collision course.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The next 48 hours will be decisive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shall we bomb? Or shall we invade? Back and forth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think unless something is done that humanity will destroy itself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is going to blink first?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "THE SIXTIES" -- Thursday night at 9:00 on CNN.


BLACKWELL: And some are calling what's happening between the U.S. and Russia now the new Cold War. You watch tonight's installment and see if you agree. The new CNN series "THE SIXTIES" airs tonight beginning at 7:00 Eastern with television comes at age. And that's followed by "The World on the Brink" at 8:00.


BLACKWELL: Sound the post time. Almost -- not yet though. California Chrome -- that is the horse to watch. Possibly could make history in just a few hours.

PAUL: Oh my goodness. People, 36-year drought we've been watching here. So we know that you fans around the world are hoping this thoroughbred can achieve some glory. Time to win the Triple Crown.

BLACKWELL: Yes but it's not just the record books this team is after. The total prize money if this colt wins today could be millions upon millions of dollars.

CNN's Richard Roth joins us now and it's not just the Triple Crown prize. It's also the breeding after. Big day for this horse.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Hundreds of millions of dollars could be at stake should California Chrome win the Triple Crown. And it's just ten hours away from that potential crowning achievement.


ROTH (voice over): California Chrome has been training fast for the Triple Crown, even at 6:30 in the morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd love to see it. It's history in the making.

ROTH: California Chrome was quickly installed as the heavy early betting favorite for the third leg in the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes. He has already won the first two pieces of the crown, including America's most famous race.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: California Chrome shines bright in the Kentucky Derby.

ROTH: In the Belmont he will start from post position number two, the same gate that racing immortal Secretariat shot out of en route to a Triple Crown romp in 1973.

(on camera): Do you expect him to win Saturday?

STEVE COBURN, CO-OWNER, CALIFORNIA CHROME: Yes I really do. As I expect him to win Saturday I really do.

ROTH: California Chrome and his connections are not Kentucky blue- bloods. The horse was bred for a paltry $2,500 in California. The owners of California Chrome reportedly rejected a $6 million offer for the horse. The 77-year-old trainer grew up in Brooklyn.

ART SHERMAN, TRAINER, CALIFORNIA CHROME: We can win the Triple Crown, it would be a dream come true.

ROTH: Dreams of a Triple Crown have been crushed in the homestretch at Belmont many times before -- seven times in just the last 17 years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to be very close. It's going to be the winner. It's too close to call.

ROTH: It's been 36 years since a firm won the last triple crown in 1978, making this the longest drought for racing glory ever.

JERRY BAILEY: You have to have speed to win the Derby and stamina if you want the gold mine. And usually it's very rare to have that package in one horse.

ROTH: California Chrome also loves cookies and media attention, but there are competitors who will try to spoil the party.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Been trying to spoil him for the last two races.

ROTH: California Chrome will earn much more than the $600,000 share of the Belmont if he finishes first -- a jackpot of future breeding rights for his offspring, which will make his small business owners California blue-bloods. Believe it or not, there are other horses in this Belmont Stakes that will seek to block California Chrome from the Triple Crown. We talked to one of the owners a short time ago. He was pretty confident that his horse, Commanding Curb, who finished second to Chrome in the derby, would give it a good shot. And some racing analysts think that California Chrome has had his own way, as they say, with good positioning during the first two legs of the crown. So we'll see what happens here ten hours from now.

Back to you, Victor and Christi.

PAUL: Yes, you've got one of the best seats in the house, Richard. Have fun with it. Thank you so much.

BLACKWELL: Thank you, Richard.

Young love complicated by two teens who had cancer. This is the focus of a new movie out this weekend. You want to stay with us this morning. We have an exclusive interview with the parents of the young girl who inspired the character, Hazel Grace Lancaster.


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: Hey, good morning. I'm Michael Smerconish.

The night Bowe Bergdahl disappeared soldiers from his unit searched frantically for him. This morning you'll hear from one of the men who was there that night and what he has to say about Bergdahl's disappearance.

Plus, the mother of one of the men who was killed shortly after Bergdahl vanished joins me with a very important message.

Also joining me Retired Four Star General James Mattis, he ran the CentCom command during the majority of the time that Bergdahl was in captivity.

We've got a great program planned for this morning. Please join me at the top of the hour -- Victor, Christi.

PAUL: All right, Michael. You know we will. "SMERCONISH" airs this morning at the top of the hour as he said 9:00 a.m. Eastern so keep it right here.

Before that though, we want to talk about this new film that opens this weekend. It's about two teens who fall in love at the same time that they're fighting to live.

BLACKWELL: Yes. It's called "The Fault in Our Stars". Here's a clip.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your full name? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hazel Grace Lancaster.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're beautiful.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gus, I'm a grenade and one day I'm going to blow up and I'm going to obliterate everything in my way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, Gus talks about you all the time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're just friends.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm in love with you, Hazel Grace.


PAUL: This movie is adapted from John Green's best selling book of the same name. Actress Shailene Woodley plays Hazel Grace Lancaster, a teen living with thyroid cancer who falls in love with Augustus Waters who is also battling cancer. Hazel and Gus meet at a support group.

BLACKWELL: Hazel's character is inspired by the real life story of Esther Grace Earl, the Massachusetts teen who lost her battle to cancer in 2010. She was just 16 years old.

Esther's parents Lori and Wayne Earl join us now from Boston for this exclusive interview. Thank you so much for joining us this morning.

PAUL: Thank you.



BLACKWELL: First question. What did you think of the movie?

L. EARL: It was amazing. We got to see it at the New York premiere on June 3rd and being in that theater with all kinds of fans who laughed and cried together was pretty awesome.

W. EARL: It was a great movie.

PAUL: Go ahead. Go ahead.

W. EARL: I was just going to say it was a great movie and made sure we had our bucket full of Kleenex with us so we were fine.

PAUL: I think a lot of people are going to need that same thing. I know that author John Green, you know, talks about your daughter on his YouTube channel, how she was such an inspiring person. Have you talked with him about the movie? And I'm wondering what it means to you to have your daughter personified in it.

L. EARL: We're -- having Esther, you know, John's always said that she was really -- the story is not about her. It's a novel about a teen named Hazel, but that he was very much inspired by Esther and his friendship with her and, you know, her empathy as a teenager gave him the voice that he really was kind of looking for in his story.

BLACKWELL: You know, the story, Lori -- go ahead.

W. EARL: Go ahead. I was just going to say, you know, this --

BLACKWELL: This is going to happen because we have a delay. But I'm going to let you go ahead -- Wayne.

PAUL: You take it. You take it -- Wayne.

W. EARL: Well, I was just going to say, we're taking our son to see it this weekend and, you know, a little concerned about them seeing it beforehand but after seeing the movie ourselves, you know, our young son was six when Esther passed away, and he is certainly going to conflate Esther and Hazel Grace and that's a good thing.

BLACKWELL: A good thing. Lori, part of the story explores the character Hazel's relationship with her mother. How closely does this mirror your relationship with Esther?

L. EARL: I think there's a lot of parallels. John not only gets the voice of Esther, the teenager, Gus the teenager, but he gets the voice of the parents. Maybe he's a parent now himself and so he puts, maybe he gets, he's just more in tune with those kinds of emotions.

Yes, I think that he, one of the scenes that just really riveted me was where there's a time in the movie, no spoilers for those of you who haven't seen it yet, but there's a time when Hazel is upset at her mom and she says, she's worried about what's going to happen if she dies. And her mom says, you know, Hazel, you of anybody should know that it's possible to live with pain.

And, you know, that's just what it's like to be a parent with a child that's sick, so, yes. He gets that voice really well.

PAUL: We're so sorry that you lost your daughter. As a parent --

L. EARL: Thank you.

PAUL: -- I can't even fathom it. I'm wondering, how you feel seeing her on that screen, you know, and what you hope people will get from the story, itself.

W. EARL: It was wonderful to see the film, to read the book. You know, we had Esther for 16 years -- an amazing life. And seeing the film especially when the father is carrying his daughter, those are real life experiences for me. Yes, we don't want to give away too much. It's in the book.

But, you know, we had Esther in the hospital here and there was a time we thought we were going to lose her and the nurses seemed to be unconcerned and nonchalant and I was with her alone for a few minutes thinking my daughter was leaving us. And I sobbed and, you know, I can't tell you what we shared but I can tell you that she was the one who was comforting me. She said, Daddy, I don't want you to be sad. I don't you to go on said. And I said, well, your example of courage and bravery will give me the strength to go on. I think Hazel Grace has that same spirit and that same powerful message.

PAUL: Wow.

BLACKWELL: Wonderful to know that was included in this film. It is not just a big Hollywood premiere but it really grabs the essence of Esther.

Lori and Wayne Earl, thank you so much for spending some time with us this morning.

L. EARL: Thank you.

W. EARL: Thank you very much for having us.


PAUL: We promise we will. Thank you so much.

NEW DAY is going to be back in just a moment.


BLACKWELL: Headlines now.

Actor and comedian Tracy Morgan is in critical condition this morning after authorities say his limo bus overturned on the northbound side of the New Jersey turnpike.

PAUL: Investigators tell CNN it appears a tractor-trailer may have rear ended Morgan's bus. This crash happened in Mercer County about 1:00 a.m. this morning. It involved six different vehicles and state police say there is at least one person who has died now.

BLACKWELL: Chilling 911 audio just released from Thursday's shooting at Seattle Pacific University really illustrates the panic and terror on campus moments after a man started shooting students, barricaded in classrooms and whispered pleas of help to dispatchers. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please hurry. In the lobby. He's in the lobby.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There were two people standing there, and this guy walked up behind one of them, lifted his rifle, and shot directly into the back of the person's head.


BLACKWELL: A police source tells our affiliate KIRO the subject had an obsession with school shootings. He's accused of shooting three people killing one of them. Charges are pending against him. You want to stay with CNN this morning for the latest on Maya Angelou's memorial service. That's about to start in an hour from now. Politicians and celebrities, former President Bill Clinton, First Lady Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey -- they're now making their way to North Carolina for the service.