Return to Transcripts main page


Bowe Bergdahl Released by Taliban; Seven People on a Private Jet Killed in Plane Crash in Boston; Phil Mickelson Investigated Over Allegations of Insider Trading; Shelly Sterling Agreeing to Sell L.A. Clippers to Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion

Aired June 1, 2014 - 06:00   ET



OBAMA: After nearly five years in captivity, their son, Bowe, is coming home.

BERGDAHL: Four years, 10 months and 30 days, he's been released on the 30th day.

(UNKNOWN): His mother was crying when she answered the phone.

BERGDAHL: I think everybody burst into tears or couldn't get a silly grin off their faces.

(UNKNOWN): It was an extraordinary and unprecedented negotiation.

(UNKNOWN): This is standard operating procedure for the Taliban to take prisoners and exchange them for their own prisoners.

(UNKNOWN): And this is truly a tribute to the professionalism of our military across the board.

BERGDAHL: I didn't give up hope. Bergdahls certainly didn't ever, ever give up their hope.

BERGDAHL: I'd like to say to Bowe right now who's having trouble speaking English, (speaking in foreign language) I'm your father, Bowe.


CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, my goodness. We all heard those words and thoughts, wow.


PAUL: We are watching something really extraordinary happening. Thank you so much for spending your time with us. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell, 6:00 here in the East. This is "New Day Sunday."

PAUL: And of course, the very first thing we've got to get to is the stunning release of an American soldier. BLACKWELL: This story really is incredible. There are so many angles of it. We're going to unpack a lot of them this morning.

And it starts with Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. He spent five years -- the past five years held captive by the Taliban in Afghanistan. But overnight, he has been flown to Germany, 28 years old.

He was the only member of the U.S. military still held captive from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

PAUL: So yesterday, U.S. Special Forces went into Afghanistan and they got him. The Taliban freed him in return for the release of five terror suspects being held at Guantanamo Bay.

Now, a short time ago, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel responded to criticism that the U.S. did something they say they will not do, that they negotiated with terrorists.


HAGEL: Could this embolden terrorists? Again, I remind you, this was a prisoner of war exchange. He was a prisoner.


PAUL: Bergdahl's parents, you saw there, by President Obama's side at the White House in the Rose Garden, let's go to CNN Pentagon Correspondent, Barbara Starr, for more on that.

Good morning, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Victor, Christi, it was an extraordinary negotiation, five Taliban for one American soldier.


BERGDAHL: I'd like to Bowe right now who's having trouble saying English, (speaking in foreign language). I'm your father, Bowe.

STARR: An emotional moment as Bowe Bergdahl's parents stand with the President.

BERGDAHL: I just want to say thank you to everyone who has supported Bowe.

OBAMA: After nearly five years in captivity, their son, Bowe, is coming home.

BERGDAHL: Release me, please. I'm begging you. Bring me home, please. Bring me home.

STARR: Behind the scenes, a secret choreography had quickly been worked out in just the last several days. A U.S. command center was set up at an undisclosed location.

U.S. commando secretly flew to a point near the border where the Taliban said they would be waiting to turn Bergdahl over. Back at Guantanamo Bay, officials from Qatar were on standby, waiting to take custody of the five Taliban detainees the U.S. was releasing in return for Bergdahl.

That was the guarantee the Taliban needed to let the American soldier go, after five years a prisoner. The Pentagon will not disclose if it was Navy Seals or Army Delta Force teams.

They were taking no chances. Several dozen of America's most elite forces were involved. Other troops stayed at a distance. Plankton drones flew overhead, keeping watch.

The heavily armed U.S. troops landed facing 18 Taliban and Bergdahl. A senior U.S. official says Bowe Bergdahl was able to walk. And they quickly got him on board the helicopter.

Once in the air, an extraordinary moment. Bergdahl wrote down the letters SF, with a question mark, asking if these men were U.S. Special Forces?

The men replied, yes, they were Special Forces. And they told Bergdahl, they'd been looking for him for a very long time. At that point, Bowe Bergdahl broke down.

Christi, Victor?

BLACKWELL: Some of the details of the story. Barbara Starr, thank you so much. Just phenomenal to -- to hear them and so soon -- so soon after this recovery.

A senior defense official tells CNN that Sergeant Bergdahl will now undergo a reintegration process at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

PAUL: Yes, and when he's ready to leave there for the U.S., he'll likely going to go the Brook Medical Center in San Antonio. We want to bring in CNN's Nic Robertson by phone.

He's at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

Nic, thanks for being with us here. What do you know about specifically the negotiation that made this happen?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that this was something that was going on over -- over an extended period. For several years, the Taliban had made demands that in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl, they had five of their senior figures being held in Guantanamo Bay.

This is typical of the Taliban to take prisoners. They've done it in Pakistan. They've done it in Afghanistan with Afghans and Pakistanis in order to get some of their own prisoners released from the jails in those countries.

So this is sort of standard operating procedure for the Taliban. They'd made these demands. There had been efforts in the past over the past couple of years to try and organize the release of these five men, one of them a former -- former deputy defense chief, one a former interior minister, one a former deputy head of intelligence.

Another one had been a governor for the -- for the Taliban in several provinces in Afghanistan. Senior figures were inside the Taliban that they wanted released. It hadn't happened.

There had been snags along the way. And this -- this time, it worked. And these men have now been freed. And they're on their way back to Qatar, not to Afghanistan.

And the Qatari authorities have undertaken to make sure that these people do not reengage in the fight in Afghanistan. Quite how they will do that, how will they limit them perhaps, raising funds for the Taliban and that sort of thing, again, none of that clear at this stage.

Christi, Victor?

BLACKWELL: Nic, Afghan president Hamid Karzai, didn't know about the release until after the fact. That's what we're hearing. How is that possible?

ROBERTSON: I think it's very simply a precaution, because the -- there is very little trust between U.S. authorities and -- and President Karzai. That trust has broken down over the past few years.

There would certainly be a sense that if the -- if Afghan authorities at any level got any sense that this operation was under way, it could be compromised. There could be leaks -- very hard to know precisely who could be trusted.

And in these situations, very typical to keep that circle of trust absolutely limited to as few people as possible. So this again, this is sort of standard operating procedure.

You just don't tell people that don't need to know. That -- and that's what seems to have happened in this case.

PAUL: Nic, I mean, obviously, being held for five years, I think a lot of people are wondering, we see -- because we've been seeing the video here of -- of different videos of him eating and the proof of life videos that they released over the years. Do you have any sense of whether he was moved around a lot during those five years, if he was kept in one place?

I had read that he was captured by the Taliban. But the U.S. believed he was held by the Haqqani network. I don't know if I'm saying that properly. Do you know who they are and -- and what's that about?

ROBERTSON: Sure. The Haqqani network are a tribal group, a clan group, if you will, that have long held sway over parts of Pakistan and into Afghanistan. Indeed, they were -- they were an organization that the CIA was doing business with during the '80s when the -- the Soviets were inside Afghanistan. They've been around for a long time. This is a group with power, with reach. The terrorist groups, where it operates that (ph) holds (ph) sway (ph), it's most left north Waziristan in Pakistan.

Even though Bowe got moved around between various, different locations, they've held prisoners captive in that area for a long time before. It's a no-go area even for Pakistani authorities, let alone for the U.S. military.

So the fact that Bowe Bergdahl would have been held inside Pakistan would have made it almost impossible to mount a rescue mission easily inside -- inside that country. So this again would have been a reason why the Haqqani network would have kept him there.

He would be doing, if you will, a service for the bigger -- for the bigger Taliban organization. He is one influential, large part of it. The organization, itself doesn't represent all the Taliban, however.

PAUL: All right, Nic Robertson, we so appreciate all the information this morning. Thank you.

Now, of course, Bowe Bergdahl is free. But who are the men who were given up in exchange for him? A lot of people are asking about them. Was this price of freedom too high, some are asking?

We're talking to a military expert about that angle.

BLACKWELL: Another story breaking overnight, flames in the middle of darkness there, a plane crash near Boston, no survivors. We'll tell you what happened here.


BLACKWELL: We'll have more on the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in just a moment. But first, to other news we're following this morning, a breaking overnight from Massachusetts, all seven people aboard a private jet were killed in a -- a fiery crash about 20 miles north -- northwest, rather of Boston.

Officials say the plane apparently caught fire. You see here photos appearing on social media purporting to be of the crash site. There are flames there.

There's also a lot of smoke. And the victims have been identified -- or have not been identified, rather. The NTSB is still investigating.

Let's get more on this remarkable story that's developed over the last 24 hours, the release of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. The Taliban released him yesterday in exchange for five Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Question is who are these five men? Well, they are top Taliban commanders the group has tried to free for more than a decade.

PAUL: Want to show you their pictures here. Let me mention, these photos, though, were obtained by Wikileak, and matched the names released by the Department of Defense. The Department of Defense neither confirms or nor denies their accuracy.

But there they are just so you know.

BLACKWELL: CNN Military Analyst, Major General James 'Spider' Marks joins us on the phone.

General, good to have you this morning.


Christi, good morning to you.

PAUL: Good morning, General. I want to start by asking you, obviously, your reaction first and foremost to Bowe Bergdahl's release.

MARKS: Oh, it's a wonderful day not only for the Bergdahl family, obviously, but the personal face of this is unbelievable and just incredibly emotional on multiple levels.

As a soldier, a former soldier, it really is magnificent to have been a part of an organization that can not only stand by its -- its comrades completely in all conditions but can then bring those great young patriots home. So it really speaks from top to bottom just speaks wonders of our administration, who got this accomplished, our military who executed this task and this great young soldier and his family who stood by each other.

So it's a great story, obviously.


MARKS: But obviously, as -- as you know, there's a downside to this, a critical challenge as well.

BLACKWELL: Well, General, let's talk about what some perceive as that downside. Members of Congress, leaders in Congress, the Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Buck McKeon and -- and Ranking Member Senate Armed Services, Senator James Inhofe, both Republicans, issued a statement.

And I'm going to read two sentences. "Our terrorist adversaries now have a strong incentive to capture Americans. That incentive will put our forces in Afghanistan and around the world at even greater risk."

The question is how can one reconcile the long-standing, quote- unquote, "policy of not negotiating with terrorists with the mantra of leaving no soldier behind?"

MARKS: Well, those -- those two are not necessarily connected, Victor. In this particular case, they are, because that was the ultimate price that had to be paid to get this soldier back.

In all cases, that is not necessarily relevant in the discussion. However, in this case, these five folks that were released are extremely bad people. These guys will, no doubt, try to find a way to reintegrate. They will be welcomed back into the Taliban. So the key issue is, what can the United States, in concert with the Afghan government, and the Afghan government is going through a transition -- what can they do together to ensure that there might be some form of a reconciliation between both Taliban and the Afghan government.

That's kind of step number one. In the interim, however, you've got five extremely bad guys in Qatar under the watchful care of the Qatari government. Now, clearly, the United States, as a condition to this, will be a part of that surveillance to ensure that these -- these Taliban that were just released do not immediately fall over the horizon, disappear and get back into the -- get back into the fight.

But I would anticipate that there will be every effort to get them back into the fight. These are inspirational leaders. These are not guys taken off the street.

These were founders of the Taliban. This is the former intel chief, communications chief, the former chief of staff of the Taliban, the senior military commander.

So these guys will have to be watched very, very closely in Qatar over the course of the next year.

BLACKWELL: And we'll continue that conversation about the morning (ph) about reconciling those two and making sure that they are not as well- integrated as they would hope to be moving forward.

General'Spider' Marks, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

MARKS: Thank you so much to both of you.

PAUL: Thank you, General.

All right, another story that is still in the headlines. More twists and turns in the clash between Donald Sterling and the NBA. We will tell you what is new. Stay close.


BLACKWELL: San Antonio Spurs just earned themselves a shot at redemption. Last night, they knocked off the Thunder in overtime, setting up an NBA finals rematch with Lebron James and the Miami Heat.

The big fundamentals, Tim Duncan helped lead the way, 19 points, 15 rebounds. This Saturday, San Antonio will host game one of the finals.

PAUL: Professional golfer, Phil Mickelson, being investigated over allegations of insider trading now. The FBI is looking into trades that Mickelson made apparently back in 2011 that may have been made based on information that was not public at the time.

Mickelson maintains that he did nothing wrong.


MICKELSON: You know, I -- I can't really go into much right now. But as I said in my statement, I -- I have done absolutely nothing wrong. And that's why I've been fully cooperating with -- with the FBI agents.

And I'm happy to do so in the future, too, until this gets resolved. But for right now, and hopefully it'll be soon. But for right now, I really can't talk much about it.


PAUL: Investor Carl Icahn and sports better, Billy Walters also being questioned in that same investigation.

BLACKWELL: So this story, I mean, everytime you turn, there are two more turns ahead of you. We're talking Donald Sterling and the NBA. This is far from over.

PAUL: Yes, the embattled L.A. Clippers owner member is suing the league now for more than $1 or should I say, $1 billion, because of its decision to ban him for life and force him to give up his franchise.

BLACKWELL: OK, so this comes right after his estranged wife, Shelly Sterling, agreed to sell the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, for $2 billion, the most ever paid for an NBA franchise.

PAUL: Let's talk to criminal defense attorney Janet Johnson about all of this.

So his lawsuit states that, and -- I want to quote this here, "The forced sale of the Los Angeles Clippers threatens not only to produce a lower price than a non-forced sale but more importantly, it -- it injures competition and forces antitrust injury by making the market unresponsive to the operation of the free market."

So -- so he's saying look, you're forcing me to sell this so I can't make as much money as I should have made.

BLACKWELL: It could have been $2.5.

PAUL: I was going to say. What more money are you going to make?

JANET JOHNSON, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, you know, and as a lawyer, that's like, I love hearing that language. I'm sure everyone else of you guys fall asleep. But the buzzwords that they were hitting on were forced sale, because you don't have capital gains.

The IRS may not tax you if you're forced to sell something because...

PAUL: So...

JOHNSON: wasn't your choice. But that isn't what's happening here.

PAUL: OK, thank you, because I'm (ph) saying (ph), wait a minute, this is a voluntary...


PAUL: on Shelly's part.

JOHNSON: On Shelly -- yes, and you know, I think in the end, Shelly is going to end up being a character that we're really going to want to hear about because Adam Silver must have gotten to Shelly. He is the NBA commissioner.

And they must have had a discussion early on to say, look, get him out of the picture. Get your husband out of the picture and sell. You know, they only paid $12 million.

It's still a good profit for them. And they're billionaires. They have the money.

PAUL: Right.

JOHNSON: You know, and when he gave that interview to Anderson Cooper on CNN, I thought, you know what, his racism, that's a longstanding issue. The NBA's known about that for 30 years.

It's his mental incompetence that I think is going to force him to sell.

BLACKWELL: You know, and I -- I watched the interview. And I don't have any medical training. I'm a writer. But to -- to -- to watch it, I didn't think the man has lost his faculties or he was mentally incapable.

But there is this diagnosis by two neurologists according to sources...

PAUL: Who were hired by?

BLACKWELL: ...telling CNN.

JOHNSON: Well, the trust (ph).

BLACKWELL: That's the question.

JOHNSON: Right, I think the trust because the trust has a clause. The family has a trust. And they own this trust. That's a normal procedure when you're talking about this much money.

And in the trust, it says if one of the trust members becomes incompetent, the other will take over. That means Shelly will take over. And apparently, she wants to sell.

And she wants him out. You know, when I saw the interview, first I thought, as the lawyer, I would never let my client do that. But you know, he's a lawyer.

Sterling is a lawyer. And I'm assuming he thinks he knows better. I thought he was a little incoherent, I have to say. And afterwards, I thought, he's going to say or someone's going to claim he has Alzheimer's.

And apparently, that's part of the diagnosis. It's early Alzheimer's. Shelly is stepping in to make the $2 billion.

BLACKWELL: I don't know. I just thought that -- I thought it was -- seems racism to me is illogical. The -- the argument seemed illogical. I didn't think that he's lost his...


JOHNSON: No, that's a great point. That's a great point. And when I read the pleadings, you know, one of the things I think that is a good defense on his part, and you know, they didn't put it in the pleading.

But I think you could argue, he's been a known racist, you know, for lack of a better word, for years. The NBA has known that. He's the longest tenured owner in the NBA.

And he's been sued for racist practices and settled for millions of dollars. So there is a defense to say in the law, we call this latches (ph).

You didn't (ph) know that I'm a racist for 30 years. You could have gotten rid of me years ago. But you didn't know that I was mentally incompetent.

That's something new. And I think that was plan b for Silver. And that's ultimately what the NBA is going to use. They canceled the hearing Tuesday because they're not forcing him out.

It's going to be a voluntary sale.

BLACKWELL: At the end of whatever this is, they still walk away with billions of dollars, right?

PAUL: Dollars.

JOHNSON: Yes, but they might owe $500 million in taxes.


JOHNSON: And that's worth suing over. And I think...


JOHNSON: ...that's what the lawsuit's really about.

BLACKWELL: All right.

PAUL: All right, Janet Johnson, it's always good to See you. Thank you for being here.

BLACKWELL: Good to have you, Janet.

JOHNSON: Thank you. BLACKWELL: Of course, we have so much more on the -- the major story that's really making headlines around the world, the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, including a live report from Qatar, where the government will handle Gitmo detainees and their eventual repatriation, I guess, back to Afghanistan.