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Bergdahl's Journal Shows Fears, Plans; Militants Gaining Ground In Iraq; Eric Cantor To Step Down As Majority Leader

Aired June 12, 2014 - 06:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking this morning, a new video from the militants battling in Iraq, vowing to take Baghdad. The Iraqi government now asking for U.S. help in fighting them back. Will American airstrikes be called in?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: New questions about Bowe Bergdahl's past. Why was he discharged from the Coast Guard before joining the Army, and what do his diary entries reveal about his motivations for leaving base?

CUOMO: Heroism caught on tape. Look at this. A car crashes into a gas station, vehicles catch on fire, an off-duty cop struggles to free a passenger just moments before this. Look at that explosion.

Your NEW DAY starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan and Michaela Pereira.

CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to NEW DAY. It is Thursday, June 12th. 6:00 in the East. Kate Bolduan not here today, on vacation. Next to me, the lovely and charming Michaela Pereira.

We have news from Iraq, and you will not like it. Terrorists are taking over major cities there. They're doing it swiftly and efficiently, and now those militants are heading towards their ultimate target, Baghdad, making matters worse, this morning Iraqi officials are asking the U.S. for help to fight them back. We're covering all angles this morning beginning with senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson. He's following the developments from Amman, Jordan. Nick, what do we understand now?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The government in Iraq is meeting right now to decide if they're going to declare a state of emergency. They also, through state TV, say they've retaken the important town of Tikrit. It's far from clear whether or not that's true and accurate. ISIS, on the other hand, threatening more and more violence to come.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): The battle is not yet raging, says an ISIS spokesman in a chilling new message, reportedly uploaded by the terrorist group. "Don't give up a hand's width of ground you have liberated," he says. "Only over your dead bodies and march towards Baghdad because we have scores to settle there."

ISIS already closing in 100 miles north seizing Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein, Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, and parts of Baiji, an oil refining town, Iraq's foreign minister said, urgent action is needed.

HOSHYAR ZEBARI, IRAQI MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS: I hope this incident really will lead all Iraqi leaders to come together to face this serious mortal threat to the country.

ROBERTSON: The strategic can swift surge suggesting a wider aim by the terrorists. Seizing Baiji means having control over the main highway leading into Mosul, making it more difficult for the Iraqi government to enforce its troops. And in Tikrit, the terrorist group overran a military base. American supplied Humvees, weapons and ammunition, now in their hands. The former American ambassador to Iraq says if the fight reaches Baghdad, it will destabilize the country and undercut global oil supplies.

JIM JEFFREY, FORMER AMERICAN AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: This is no longer a messy situation. This is a catastrophe for the people of Iraq, for American policy, and for the entire region. This is an extremely dangerous situation. It appears that no force can stop these people.

ROBERTSON: A country in crisis, 2-1/2 years after American troops lowered the flag of command over Baghdad, officially ending the U.S. military's presence in Iraq. An operation that took the lives of over 4,000 U.S. troops.


ROBERTSON: No indication yet the Iraqi government is about to make the political compromises necessary to win this fight. At the same time, sectarian militias are growing. Shia community gathering militias to protect their shrines -- Michaela.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Nic, thanks for giving us an idea of what is going on there right now. Meanwhile, the White House is debating new levels of assistance as the Iraqi government asks for more help including possible air strikes against these Islamic radicals. Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon with more on this and what the U.S. is willing and able to do.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Michaela. Well, Jim Scuitto has been told by a U.S. official, our colleague, Jim Scuitto, that indeed the Iraqis have told the U.S. they are open to U.S. air strikes over their territory to repel the militant. But would that happen?

Would President Obama, who from the beginning has been opposed to the war in Iraq, got the U.S. out of Iraq, would he really authorize U.S. air strikes over Iraq either by manned aircraft, putting a pilot at risk, or drones, that is a very significant question and a lot of people doubt that he would.

Right now from the White House you're seeing statements of concern. But right now all of the language appears to be -- official language appears to be limited in the concept of helping with additional equipment training, intelligence sharing, perhaps helping the Iraqis with some intelligence sharing about where these militants are located.

Over the years, since the U.S. got involved in Iraq, the U.S. has given Iraq $15 billion in arms and equipment. On the way F-16s, Apache helicopters. The question is can the Iraqi forces really look after their own security -- Chris.

CUOMO: Barbara, I know you're hearing the same things that I am, this does not feel good. This was the worst fear of pulling out, what they're dealing with right now. We will come back to you with more reporting on this.

Let's switch to the political situation more centered at home. It's been called a scale 8 earthquake. Sticking with that metaphor, Congressman Eric Cantor's shocking primary defeat led to a major aftershock yesterday. The Republican announced he is stepping down as majority leader.

The question is, have the tremors stopped or does cantor's departure signal a seismic shift for the GOP between now and November? CNN's Athena Jones is following the latest developments from Capitol Hill. Good morning, Athena. What's going on?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Congressman Cantor was seen as the most conservative member of the House leadership team and a likely successor to Speaker John Boehner. Now the focus is on who will be the next majority leader and what this defeat will mean for the party.


REPRESENTATIVE ERIC CANTOR (R), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: While I intend to serve out my term as a member of Congress in the 7th District of Virginia, effective July 31st, I will be stepping down as majority leader.

JONES (voice-over): The stunning defeat of Majority Leader Eric Cantor has left the GOP reeling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm like everybody else, I was shocked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're all heartbroken. He's heartbroken.

JONES: The number two Republican in the House lost to Dave Brat, a Tea Party backed economics professor who painted the seven-term congressman as out of touch and pro- immigration reform.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will you tell us --

JONES: After dodging reporters' questions for hours, House Speaker John Boehner, shared this praise for his good friend. Democrats said Cantor's defeat was another sign of sharp divisions within the GOP.

REPRESENTATIVE STENY HOYER (D), MINORITY WHIP: I think we have seen on display over the last three years a party that is deeply divided and dysfunctional. I think that last night was evidence of that.

JONES: Brat is the latest Tea Party candidate to defeat a so-called mainstream Republican. Tea Party darling Ted Cruz beat Texas establishment-backed lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, in a primary in 2012 and went on to win. Senator Cruz said Cantor's loss shows voters are frustrated with Washington.

SENATOR TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: It is the power of the people to remind every elected official that we work for the American people and not the other way around.

JONES: Just hours after Cantor's defeat the jockeying to replace him is in full swing. Number three Republican, Kevin McCarthy, the House majority whip, is just one of several lawmakers eyeing the number two post.

CANTOR: If my dear friend and colleague, Kevin McCarthy does decide to run I think he would make an outstanding majority leader and I will be backing him with my full support.


JONES: Now, you just heard that Cantor endorsed California Congressman Kevin McCarthy for that number two spot. McCarthy is seen as something of a moderate. Since Cantor was the most conservative member of the House leadership team, there is going to be some pressure to elect a red state conservative to replace him. That leadership election takes place a week from today -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Athena, thank you very much. Let's bring in John Avlon, CNN political analyst, editor and chief of "The Daily Beast" and Margaret Hoover, CNN political commentator and Republican strategist. Help me first Margaret with what's the headline here. I don't get the headline. Is the headline, is Tea Party is back or is the headline something like, not as catchy, as small turnout presents opportunity for hard liner to expose anger towards Washington?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Ding, ding, ding. I think that's far closer to it. This is Cantor's loss, not the Tea Party's win. You couldn't get not one Tea Party group can point to this victory and say that was us, this is our win. The people who are pointing to it are radio hosts, television radio hosts and conservative right wing.

But that frankly, this is a low turnout election, as you mentioned, and Cantor maybe just didn't mend the fences at home. It looks like Al Gore in 2000 who couldn't win his own home state. I think he just didn't have the support he needed in that low turnout election.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a given that as Tip O'Neill said, all politics are local. It fits under a larger theme of GOP civil war. For this unprecedented situation, Republican leader in the House to lose the primary is a big, big deal. So that's why people use terms like Tea Party versus establishment. It fits. The fact that talk radio opposed Cantor so much. The fact that his opponent ran on saying this guy was favor of "amnesty," quote/unquote when he's never even backed comprehensive immigration reform. The danger here is that it shifts the entire House GOP out of a fit of fear further to the right when we get even more gridlock.

CUOMO: I get you on the logic. I'm just saying on the practical outcome that we're seeing, embolden Laura Ingraham and all these other ground fighters for the Tea Party.

HOOVER: If you look at every single elected member of the Republican House caucus, they are all deeply disappointed that Eric Cantor lost. The conservatives, maybe not the Tea Party, but all the rest of them are actually like, as you saw in the package, heartbroken. Eric Cantor actually was the Tea Party guy in the House leadership.

He was considered that, but for all -- except for the caucus and 50, right? The Tea Party caucus, but he was the conservative guy. This guy is an outsider. No one endorsed him or said they wanted him to upset Eric Cantor.

AVLON: The caucus is thrilled and so is Ted Cruz.

HOOVER: This is a fringe.

AVLON: Fifty is a significant factor in government.

HOOVER: Out of 217 is a quarter. It is not a GOP civil war.

AVLON: Beyond the map lesson though it's enough to block off progress in politics.

HOOVER: That's true.

CUOMO: The narrative matters to you guys.


CUOMO: If you're coming from the Republican side, you do not like this Tea Party wins headline. If you're coming from the left it's all you want to talk about.

HOOVER: It is that's not true. I mean, you looked Lindsey Graham who beat off six primary opponents and he was a sponsor of the immigration bill in the Senate. He won his primary. The immigration vote didn't hurt him. He's running to a swift re-election.

CUOMO: You are not making the opposite point you made originally, which is that Cantor lost this because he didn't take care of home. Lindsey Graham won not because it shows the Tea Party isn't strong, but he really campaigned at home.

HOOVER: Exact same point is that you have to take your election seriously. You have to take your voters seriously. And I'm making the point that this is not a Tea Party upset. Cantor's loss was his own fault, not a national resurgence of the Tea Party. AVLON: Lindsey Graham did win a primary with six people running against him from the right the same night that Cantor loses. After courageously backing immigration reform in the Senate. The Republican Party is going focus on the fear factor of the Cantor losing in the House and one of the rationalizations they're going to make is good, God, we can't touch immigration reform because we'll be called amnesty by the talk radio crowd. Lindsey Graham stepped forward. Which person, which lesson does the GOP continue to take going forward this year?

CUOMO: So then that takes us to the insider question of the day, which is, who gets Cantor's job as the majority leader? What do you think?

HOOVER: Look, everybody looks automatically to Kevin McCarthy, but the truth is Pete Sessions is going to give him a real run for his money because Pete Sessions ran the National Republican Congressional Committee, the NRCC, for several years. He helped elect the majority of those guys. What it's going to come down to is, guys and gals, specific relationships that each person has with the caucus in general.

CUOMO: So you think it's about the people, not about what they represent in terms of direction?

HOOVER: It's about the relationships. Sessions helped get them elected. McCarthy helped recruit them. It's just -- you got to believe McCarthy and Sessions spent all night last night on the telephone talking to all the people they thought would vote for them, racking up their numbers.

CUOMO: Don't you think that Boehner and other big shots at the top of the caucus have to say we need to make a statement with who this is? It can't just be a popularity contest, we have to say who we are with who we pick.

AVLON: You're buying an outside rationality to the optics of politics that don't occur. Ultimately it comes down to relationships. That's especially what these races for House leadership.

CUOMO: So in a way you don't think it affects this inside battle?

HOOVER: Actually I think what this number two position could change the calculus entirely on whether the GOP caucus can get anything done over the next two years. And not just this lame duck but really over the next two years.

AVLON: That's why this isn't just a beltway story. When Eric Cantor came out yesterday and talked about the importance of common ground, after basically led total obstruction --

CUOMO: Why did he do that?

AVLON: People like to think well of themselves in the rearview mirror of history and he has been somebody who stood for common ground within the GOP caucus. Within Washington in general, that's a lifeline if you have any sense of what's been going on in Washington over the last six years.

Here's a problem, if the House GOP takes this is a lesson that Cantor was too moderate to win his primary, if you think we've got dysfunction in D.C. right now, watch out, it's going to get worse.

HOOVER: That's not what it is. The issue is if you got somebody more conservative than Eric Cantor like somebody who is closer to the Tea Party caucus, this really was a house of cards. There was a very delicate balance of power between Eric Cantor and John Boehner. If you get a Jeb Hensarling in there or somebody really conservative you thought you had a do nothing Congress before, you're definitely going to have a do nothing Congress.

CUOMO: That's a nice way to end the conversation.

HOOVER: Good morning.

CUOMO: What happens here is very important because it winds up affecting what gets done.

HOOVER: National politics and national policy, immigration reform, forget about it.

CUOMO: Thank you very much good people. Appreciate having you on NEW DAY always.

A lot of other news this morning, let's get right back to Michaela for that.

PEREIRA: Certainly there is. Thanks so much, Chris. Let's take a look at those headlines right now. Breaking overnight, the U.S. taking aim at militants along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. Pakistani officials claim U.S. drones hit four compounds overnight in the tribal areas leaving at least ten militants dead. These were the first drone strikes in that region in at least six months. And they come days after the Pakistani Taliban attacked the international airport in Karachi killing 36 people.

Officials say back here at home, new video shows it was a police rifle that killed Jerard Miller after he and his wife rampage on Sunday that killed three in Las Vegas. Police had previously said that Amanda Miller had shot and killed her husband. The video shows them there pointing weapons at each other on the floor of Walmart but not firing. The tape stops just before police say Amanda raised the gun to her head and fired.

A White House investigation says the troubling leak of the CIA Afghanistan station chief's name was inadvertent. Last month, during the presidential visit to air base, the intelligence officer's name appeared on a list given to some 6,000 journalists. The White House says nobody will face disciplinary action for that leak and that new procedures are in place to keep national security staff names from being released to the public.

I want to show you a piece of frightening video, really frightening explosion and an amazing rescue at a gas station, White Plains, New York. A car slammed into a gas pump when the driver somehow blacked out. The man filling his tank there was an off-duty state police officer.

John Vescio ran away at first but then came back pulling the driver from his car, likely saving his life. And just as the pumps burst into flames. Vescio insists he is not a hero. He was merely doing what he is trained to do. But, boy, seconds later --

CUOMO: Wow. Look, picture tells the story.

PEREIRA: It really does.

CUOMO: This guy does the smart thing. Gets away. Clears. But for anyone to make the decision to get involved and pull somebody out when they know what's going to happen with an open flame is just an extraordinary piece of --

PEREIRA: Men and women, police line of duty, of course, I always marvel at the fact they run towards trouble when the rest of us runs away. That's an incident where it shows that his training paid off.

CUOMO: Maybe we have poisoned the word hero somewhat.

PEREIRA: You think?

CUOMO: Maybe it does get applied sometime when it shouldn't because it certainly should be applied here. So, I have to think of something else. But this was certainly doing the right thing when all of your instincts are telling you --

PEREIRA: Are you arguing we need to invent a new word?

CUOMO: We need a new word. Let's get on that in the break.

We'll give you some time also. You tweet us #NewDay. What's the new word for hero, if people don't like that word.

Coming up when we come back, after the break, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visibly angry after a lawmaker asks about Bowe Bergdahl, why he is still in Germany? The implication bothered the secretary. We'll tell you why and we'll follow through on what was learned.

PEREIRA: Also, police ID the Oregon school shooter who they say was armed for war. That community mourns the loss of a student and hail a teacher they call a hero.



REP. JEFF MILLER (R), FLORIDA: You're trying to tell me that he's being held at Landstuhl, Germany, because of his medical condition?

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Congressman, I hope that you're not implying anything other than that.

MILLER: I'm just asking the question, Mr. Secretary. You won't answer.

HAGEL: I'm going to give an answer, too.

MILLER: Answer it.

HAGEL: I don't like the implications.

MILLER: Answer it, answer it.

HAGEL: He's being held there because our medical professionals don't believe he's ready. Until they believe he is ready --


CUOMO: New definition of going ugly early. That was Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel getting it into with Congressman Jeff Miller, heated hearing over the Bowe Bergdahl swap.

We're also going to get a glimpse this morning into what Bowe Bergdahl was thinking in the days leading up to his disappearance. Journals and e-mails just now coming to light.

We're joined by Major General James "Spider" Marks, and Captain Matthew Hoh. General Marks, as you know, CNN military analyst and former commanding general of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center. Matthew Hoh, a friend of the Bergdahl family, former Marine Corps captain, State Department official in Afghanistan.

We have two paths on this story right now. Why did we make the deal? Right, the U.S.? And what's going on with Bowe Bergdahl in terms of how this all began.

Let's start with what we just saw though. General, what is going on with that? The secretary is no joke. We all know that. That seemed very personal, very pointed and arguably, misleading from the congressman. How did you take it?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY: It is misleading. I think it's a goofy question. This soldier is being -- he's not being held at Landstuhl. He was sent to Landstuhl to get medically evaluated so he can be reintegrated back with his family, hopefully with his unit. Unlikely that's going to happen.

But he needs to get his act together. This is five years of captivity that he's been held. So there is a long process. It's unprecedented in that regard in, unprecedented that we haven't seen it most recently. Certainly, we've had Vietnamese POWs that have been returned like Senator McCain.

CUOMO: Proof that it was politically motivated, the congressman follows up by saying, Jessica Lynch was brought home sooner.

MARKS: That's crazy. That's absolutely crazy.

I'm intimate with the Jessica Lynch situation, completely. She was held for days. She was with a unit. She was ambushed. She lost a number of her partners and her fellow soldiers.

Then, she was rescued by a very aggressive Ranger, Delta Force operation that took place. That was days.

This is five years. There's a significant difference. In that comparison is -- that's ridiculous. It should not have been made. It doesn't dignify a response. I think the secretary could have said I'm not going to respond to that until you get your act together.

CUOMO: You don't see this as fact finding, you see this as playing politics with the situation.

MARKS: That question was a really politically generated question.

CUOMO: So now we go to what's going on with Bowe. We get these journals and some understanding of his past.

The first thing that checks up is procedural. He was in the coast guard. He was discharged from the coast guard. They don't assign any reason for it. It's not honorable or dishonorable.

On the digging side, it seems it had to do with psychological -- his psychological disposition but that's not in the official recording of it. So, therefore he winds up being eligible for the army. On the procedural side, that's not unusual, if there's no designation of discharge, there wouldn't be there's no barrier of entry.

MARKS: There's usually a designation of discharge. It's called for the good of the service. And it happens as a matter of routine.

CUOMO: Is that a red flag?

MARKS: No, no, not at all. Not at all. The military says, you know, we've got an issue here. The manner of performance is fine. It doesn't deserve anything other than we need to get this guy, this gal out of the service because it's not just working out. It's not a UCMJ action.

CUOMO: Seems to have been something else. The question is, Matthew, does the family have any knowledge of what was going on with him in the coast guard and why, if it was psychological, what was it about?

MATTHEW HOH, FMR. STATE DEPT. OFFICIAL: Thanks for having me back, Chris.

CUOMO: Always.

HOH: Real quick. Go back to Jeff Miller's comments. What concerns me so much is that this is man who is the chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee.

As a veteran you look at this and everything, this whole big picture, the family wants more attention on is the forest and not so much the trees. So, this big -- if we're having these problems with veterans affairs, while look at the guy who is running the committee. He's making these statements about our son being kept hostage for political purposes.

You know, this war is opposed by 84 percent of the people. That really doesn't get any play during the hearings yesterday. So, I think that's what the family wants people to concentrate on is the bigger picture aspects. With regards to this coast guard, no, I did not ask them about that. You know, I think --

CUOMO: Do you think it's news to them?

HOH: It may be for psychological reasons.

CUOMO: No? You know they would know.

HOH: They would know he's discharged, absolutely. As far as if this is for psychological reasons, maybe they didn't hear that from Bowe or others or rumors.

But in terms of these journal entries, I think it's a good thing. The young lady who released it said she was doing this because she wanted people to learn about Bowe. What they do is provide a very -- it's a very humanizing effect. It provides a glimpse into the life of a young man who is going to war and at war.

He's a 22-year-old kid. He's read a lot, he's got dreams, he's probably been in love once or twice in his life. He's conflicted by love and hate.

CUOMO: He seems troubled.

HOH: He seems troubled. But he also seems like he's a dreamer. If you go and look back and think about what you were like at that age as late teenager, early 20s going to war, and we've had 2 1/2 million service members serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And General Marks will be the first to agree with me, war is just complete madness. So what this does is give you a glimpse into the mind of someone who may have been troubled, who may have been trying to mature, who just may have been a romantic dreamer because some of his ideas are big picture, he's going to walk the world.

CUOMO: But the themes, the thematic consistency, General, of this kid seems like he was in trouble there and whether or not that was being managed right on the ground, it's going to be hard to know.

But, you know, the line that he puts in code, OK, I think this crosses a little bit of a line. You know, he says the lines are not good here. I'll tell you when I have a secure line about plans. He did it in a way where he was trying to not be detected. Who knows if he had a reasonable suspicion of being looked at?

But isn't this the kind of thing that leadership on the ground should be aware of, General, that someone is harboring this type of instability?

MARKS: Absolutely. It's all about leadership. It starts with leadership. It ends with leadership. That unit, I don't know. I was not a part of that unit. That unit

apparently had issues, but it has to do with leadership on the ground and it's multiple layers of leadership. You have a buddy that has an obligation to look over his shoulder and make sure everything is fine. You have someone who is in charge of those two soldiers, et cetera.

So, you've got this layering effect of leadership that should being looking at this young man who apparently is a bit delusional and at the end of the day if you're struggling with this stuff do your duty. Let's make this simple. Let's narrow the task. Let's focus in on doing what you're doing to do.

CUOMO: However, you can't focus in your head is not right. It's not just, oh, I have questions about what we do, it's I've got some dark thoughts.

MARKS: He's got some plans.

CUOMO: He defines it as the darkness, this ultimate reality he's fighting against. This is heavy psychological need treatment kind of stuff. That's without being a clinician. You don't need to be.

The question is plans, plans. Any kind of insight from his family what these plans could have been --

HOH: No.

CUOMO: -- and he communicated?

HOH: No, it doesn't seem like his friends have any idea either. Who knows? There is a late report that he had talked with platoon mates about wanting to become an assassin or gang member.

But General Marks is right, this is about leadership. We know from the army investigation he had left base previously. You know, I mean, we know that he was befriending local folks. So, it goes back to the central issue here of --

CUOMO: Not that he was changing sides but that he seemed to be on some kind of journey. Is that the right interpretation?

HOH: Yes. Exactly, some kind of a journey, and he was doing things that may have been putting himself at risk and then his -- the other soldiers in the unit at risk. So, I completely agree with general marks because this is an issue of leadership. Why was he not removed from this platoon? If this was known, understood he was doing things like this, why was he still there in the midst of the Paktika Province?

CUOMO: That's something that, General, you know all too well -- does not make Bowe Bergdahl special.


CUOMO: There are a lot of kids struggling in the situations with we put them into. The question is how do we manage it? So, we'll leave this story here for now. The advances on both levels

of this story is that we see people in trouble. Bowe Bergdahl was in trouble and, frankly, these politicians are in trouble in terms of how they are treating this story.