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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Las Vegas Killings; Bowe Bergdahl Controversy; How Did Six Die After Bergdahl Disappeared?; Tracy Morgan "Critically" Injured
Aired June 9, 2014 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: They talked about a revolution. They had a suicide pact, and now we're learning even more about their warped plans.
I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.
The national lead, red flags and swastikas, what police are now saying about the husband and wife cop killers who went on a shooting rampage in Las Vegas and their possible white supremacist ties.
Also in national news, the truck driver in a crash that critically hurt funnyman Tracy Morgan, well, he may have been awake for 24 hours before that horrific wreck. So, why are some in Washington trying to relax rules that require drivers to rest?
And the politics lead. It's Hillary Clinton book week. She says she and Bill were dead broke after leaving the White House. And Republicans say, if you believe that, I got a mansion to sell you in Chappaqua.
Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We will begin with the national lead and how officials are describing the hateful anti-government ramblings of Jerad and Amanda Miller, the husband and wife duo who took three innocent lives in Las Vegas on Sunday before killing themselves.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEVIN MCMAHILL, LAS VEGAS METRO SECOND ASSISTANT SHERIFF: I can tell you that there's no doubt that the suspects have some apparent ideology that's along the lines of militia and white supremacists.
We believe that they equate government and law enforcement fascism and those who support it with Nazis. In other words, they believe that law enforcement is the oppressor and they are associated with -- with the Nazi movement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Witnesses say the killers shot two Las Vegas police officers point-blank in a pizza parlor and then covered one body with a swastika and a Gadsden "don't tread on me" flag. On the other policeman, they pinned a note that said, "The revolution is beginning." The killers then ran to a Wal-Mart, where they gunned down another innocent victim who tried to stop them. As the police closed in, the killers then took the coward's route and took their own lives.
According to "The Las Vegas Sun," the couple had told their neighbors they wanted to commit the next Columbine and they handed out white power propaganda. Their social media pages were filled with red flags.
As early as 2011, Amanda Miller had posted -- quote -- "To the people in the world, you're lucky I can't kill you now, but remember one day I will get you because one day all hell will break loose, and I will be standing in the middle of it with a shotgun in one hand and a pistol in the other."
Our Stephanie Elam is in Las Vegas with the latest details.
Stephanie, the couple had apparently just moved to Nevada, but they had a checkered past. What more are you learning about this rampage?
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is true, Jake.
We do know that they had -- especially him, that he had run in with the law several times. And that may be the reason behind the rampage that they went on here Sunday morning, and just going out as cold- blooded killers, killing those two officers at point-blank range and then taking down another man who tried to intervene.
AMANDA MILLER, SUSPECT: We're on our way to Vegas, baby.
ELAM (voice-over): The seemingly happy couple are behind Sunday's deadly shooting rampage in Las Vegas that left three dead.
JERAD MILLER, SUSPECT: I love you so much.
ELAM: But Jerad and Amanda Miller were anything but happy, Jerad seen here crying about going to jail and missing his wife.
MILLER: I just wish they could understand.
ELAM: The two claimed to have been involved in the standoff at Cliven Bundy's ranch that made headlines a few weeks ago, that incident a standoff that rallies supporters from around the country who felt the government was unfairly persecuting the rancher.
With the last few days, their anti-government stance seemed to take a chilling, deadly turn. Jerad Miller's Facebook page includes this post on Saturday -- quote -- "The dawn of a new day. May all of our coming sacrifices be worth it."
MCMAHILL: There's no doubt that the suspects have some apparent ideology that's along the lines of militia and white supremacists.
ELAM: Sunday morning, their plan becomes clear. It begins at this pizza place about 10 miles from the Vegas Strip. Witnesses here the Millers declare a revolution and begin shooting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They had a backpack and I saw their gun within their hand. And he just told me to tell the cops that it was a revolution.
ELAM: The first two victims, police officers killed at point-blank range, 41-year-old Alyn Beck and 31-year-old Igor Soldo, each leave behind wives and young children.
MCMAHILL: The suspects pulled the officers out of the booth and on to the ground, where they placed a Gadsden flag, which is a don't tread on me yellow flag, on the body of Officer Beck.
They also threw a swastika on top of his body. At that point, Mr. Jerad Miller then pinned a note to Officer Soldo that basically stated that this is the beginning of the revolution.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What precipitated this event, we do not know. My officers were simply having lunch.
ELAM: But the couple wasn't done. They dart across the street to this Wal-Mart, where they encounter 31-year-old Joseph Wilcox at the entrance and shoot him dead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joseph died attempting to protect others. His death is completely senseless.
ELAM: Police arrive, then a shoot-out. But before police can get to them, Amanda Miller shoots Jerad and then kills herself.
ELAM: And in those backpacks that they had with them, police say they found multiple rounds of ammunition. They believe that they were planning on having a massive shoot-out with police, but because of some quick action, police were able to encounter them by going into the front of the Wal-Mart and coming from the back. They encountered them. They had nowhere to go and that's why they took their own lives, Jake.
TAPPER: Stephanie, police are looking into a visit that Jerad Miller made to the Cliven Bundy ranch for a possible connection, the visit that you referenced in your piece. What are you learning about that?
ELAM: Well, we do know that police are looking into this.
What is interesting is that Dan Simon, our Dan Simon, reached out to Cliven Bundy. And he says, there are a lot of people that came through the ranch. He can't say for sure that they were actually there.
But while that conflict was going on, it was kind of a magnet that attracted people who had issues with government and law enforcement and that's exactly what we're hearing about this couple here, Jake.
TAPPER: Stephanie Elam in Las Vegas, thank you so much. Another story in national news, it's its own sort of epidemic. More than 57,000 veterans have been waiting for 90 days or longer to get medical appointments at VA hospitals across the country. That new statistic is according to a new audit from the Department of Veterans Affairs released today.
It also shows that over the past decade, tens of thousands of veterans who enrolled for VA health care never even got to see a doctor.
CNN senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin and his team broke this story two months ago. Drew joins me now.
Drew, this isn't just about wait times, this audit. This is also about people working at the VA and being told to falsify these records. How widespread was that?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: You know, and that's what is really troubling takeaway from this report that I'm reading.
It's the fact that the supervisors were basically directing and telling people to lie about how to put down these wait times just to hide the fact that these waits were so long. It was really a scandal being held in secret by the VA.
And when we're talking about these secret lists, what we have been reporting on, I want to read this to you. This is from the VA's own report that pressures were placed on schedulers to utilize unofficial lists or engage in inappropriate practices in order to make waiting times appear more favorable.
Jake, that is the secret lists. Those are the secret lists, lists that were off the books, and off the books for one reason, just to make the numbers look way better than they are. Now we know the numbers are way worse than we thought.
TAPPER: And, obviously, there was a bonus incentive worked into that as well.
Drew, what is next for these 57,000 veterans who have been waiting 90 days or longer?
GRIFFIN: Well, the VA is already trying to tackle these wait lists, get everybody seen who wants to be seen.
Clearly, some of these people have probably moved on already to try to find health care somewhere else, but anybody who wants to be seen, they are going to get seen by a doctor or a clinic. And if the VA can't handle them, they are already in the works to try to farm them out into the private sector just to get the immediate wait lists taken care of.
And then it's on to trying to rework the entire VA system, scheduling practices, et cetera, to make sure this never happens again.
TAPPER: And, Drew, there's another congressional hearing this evening. What are we expecting? GRIFFIN: We're going to get a briefing from the inspector general, the independent inspector general for the VA.
I expect we're going to hear a lot more questioning about criminal element involved here, whether or not crimes were committed, whether or not the Department of Justice is going to get involved in this, and just what the extent of the lying was and what evidence there are that this was some kind of an actual crime, be it civil or criminal.
TAPPER: All right, Drew Griffin, thanks so much.
Coming up on THE LEAD: It's been five years since he's seen his family, but despite being free from his captors, Bowe Bergdahl still has not spoken to his parents. Why not?
Plus, comedian Tracy Morgan facing a long recovery after he was critically injured in that crash over the weekend. We will have an update on his condition coming up.
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
The world lead now. It was five years in hell. We're now learning new details about the suffering, torture, and isolation Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl endured during his time as a prisoner of the Taliban.
According to "The New York Times," Bergdahl told medical staff he was kept in a box that was pitch black and like a shark cage for weeks at a time. We're also learning that nine days after being freed from captivity, Bergdahl still has not chosen to speak with his parents.
So, what is the psychological damage from years of being beaten and treated like a caged animal by the Taliban?
Back with us on THE LEAD is Chris Voss. He's the former lead international kidnapping negotiator for the CIA. And he's now the CEO of the Black Swan group, a private negotiating group.
Chris, good to see you again.
You have been personally involved in the debriefing of released hostages. How can these situations change or even break a person, especially after five years?
CHRIS VOSS, CEO, BLACK SWAN GROUP: Well, that's it exactly.
And I think that Sergeant Bergdahl was shattered by this, I mean, not just him, but his family has been done quite a bit of psychological harm also. He's almost lost who he was in this entire experience. It's hard to describe how horrific this was.
TAPPER: What do you make of the report that he has not chosen yet to speak with his parents? Is that unusual?
VOSS: No. I mean, the amount of stress and the changes coming back, it's been likened to having been all by yourself on a dirt road, and suddenly being put in the middle of the worst rush hour traffic in New York City with everybody honking at you and yelling at you.
I mean, the mental overload here is very difficult. And it's particularly difficult with his family, because he knows that they love him, and he has difficultly responding and is even overwhelmed by that much love.
TAPPER: CNN's Barbara Starr reported, that according to an official, Private Bergdahl who was promoted to sergeant while in captivity, he is asking to be recognized as a private, the rank he knew when he went missing. He didn't know obviously that he had been promoted in his absence. What do you make of that?
VOSS: Well, part of that -- it's actually, it's a good sign because it's an attempt by him to regain who he was. And a very hard thing for people to come to grips with is that who they were before something like this happened to them is probably pretty much gone entirely. So, he has a memory of that and he's trying to regain his identity. So I see that as a very good sign.
TAPPER: Being kept in a small space for that long, one intelligent source told me it was like he was in a dog kennel. It can really eat away at your muscles and your bones, I would imagine, serious atrophy. What about the mind?
VOSS: Yes. Every bit as much atrophy to the mind. Maybe even more in more ways and that's part of what is so overwhelming for him because in order to survive, he almost basically stops thinking and withdraws into himself. And so, now, not having been used to this external stimulation, I mean, it's very overwhelming for the mind to try to handle.
TAPPER: What do you think is waiting for Bergdahl -- how is he going to react when he comes back. He's obviously been on a U.S. military base. He might not know anything about the controversy surrounding his release, the stuff about the swap, his former soldiers, and other questions how is he going to respond when he learns those details?
VOSS: Well, all of this is going to be very overwhelming to him as well. Regardless of the controversy over the swap, Sergeant Bergdahl -- neither Sergeant Bergdahl nor his family deserve any of the negativity directed at this. And I think, as a country, we should take it easy on this guy. He has more than paid for any bad decisions he made and he's got to come to grips with all of those consequences as well and that's going to be very difficult for him.
TAPPER: Chris Voss, thank you so much for your insight.
VOSS: Thank you, Jake.
TAPPER: One of the biggest questions to emerge since Bowe Bergdahl was freed, besides how and why he actually vanished, is one made by some of his fellow platoon mates, that he is partly to blame for the deaths of six soldiers killed in the months after Bergdahl disappeared. It's a charge that needs some serious unpacking, but also one that doesn't really have a clear answer and might never have one. It was initially shorthanded. Six soldiers killed searching for Bergdahl. That is not accurate, even though it's making the charge acknowledge. It's much more complicated than that.
But the mission that summer and fall always focused in at least some way on finding Bergdahl and that these searches antagonized the locals, contributing to a deteriorating security situation. That group includes Bergdahl's former team leader, Sergeant Evan Buetow.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SGT. EVAN BUETOW, BERGDAHL'S FORMER TEAM LEADER: The fact of the matter is, when those soldiers were killed, they would not have been where they were at if Bergdahl had not had left. Bergdahl leaving changed the mission.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: I spoke with more than 20 members of the 501st battalion in an effort to determine what the specific missions were, where are those six soldiers were killed, and how related the missions were to the search for Bergdahl.
So, let's break it down. Bergdahl disappeared in June 30th, 2009. An intense search throughout Paktika province followed in July.
On August 18, some troops from Comanche, in the same battalion, were told to check out security at polling sites before the Afghan election. On that mission, Staff Sergeant Clayton Bowen and Private First Class Morris "Mo" Walker were killed by an IED.
Now, this mission was not specifically narrowly focused on Bergdahl, but one former officer with the battalion says he believes the intense search for the missing soldier in this rough part of the province had led to a more dangerous security situation there.
The same argument is made about an explosive in another village where, on September 5th, Staff Sergeant Michael Murphrey was part of patrol tasked with handing out supplies and meeting with local leaders to win them back over after that tough summer. Murphrey stepped on a pressurized plate that unleashed an IED, he died the next day. That mission was not in exact search. It was a keep your eyes out for Bowe Bergdahl kind of thing, one specialist told me.
Other missions had more obvious connections to Bergdahl. On August 26th, the battalion received information that an insurgent commander thought to have ties with Bergdahl's captors had effectively taken a local clinic hostage. The insurgent commander was important as part of the mission to get to Bergdahl, an intelligent source tells me. Staff Sergeant Kurt Curtis, he was killed in the firefight to get this insurgent leader.
Finally, there was the mission on September 4th, when men from Bergdahl's black foot platoon went to the village of Palau, also in Paktika province, and the general area where Bergdahl was believed to have gone after he disappeared, according to local Afghans and intercepted insurgent chatter.
Now, according to several sources and black foot company, the soldiers were there to get a sense of what was going on in Palau, and among the many questions that they wanted answered were, where is Bergdahl? Where are the guys who have them? Is the village connected with the insurgents who by then it was believed had transported Bergdahl to Pakistan?
In the course of this mission, Second Lieutenant Darren Andrews and Private First Class Matthew Michael Martinek were fatally attacked by an IED and a rocket-propelled grenade.
Six deaths by troops who volunteered to put themselves in harms' way, each one with a devastating loss to a parent, a wife and a child.
When we come back, he allegedly caused the crash that critically injured actor Tracy Morgan, after being awake for more than 24 hours straight. So, why did part of the Senate just vote to relax rules to require truck drivers like him to rest?
Plus, she's untouchable in the polls, but that does not mean voters aren't looking elsewhere. Why even those who like Hillary Clinton want more Democrats to run? Coming up.
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.
In national news, we are live in New York today because I had a chance to sit down with Seth Meyers, the new host of late night for an interview that will air here tomorrow. Our chat took a serious turn today when I asked for his reaction to the horrific car crash over the weekend that left his fellow "SNL" alum, Tracy Morgan, in critical condition.
Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: I'm talking to you today, your good friend and former colleague Tracy Morgan is in a hospital. Just wondering what your thoughts are.
SETH MEYERS, HOST, LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS: Certainly sending our thoughts and prayers, everyone here on the staff. You know, Tracy was a vet at "SNL" and always looked out for me. Yes, I'm definitely thinking of him now (ph).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Morgan remains in critical condition today. His publicist says he is more responsive and improving. Now, we're learning more about the Wal-Mart driver who slammed into Morgan's limo bus who is being charged with four counts of assault by vehicle and one count of death by vehicle.
Our Rene Marsh has all the new developments for us -- Rene.
RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION & GOVT. REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, a sleep-deprived truck driver, that is what prosecutors say that caused this deadly crash. Now, the NTSB is investigating the role that fatigue played. It was just this Friday, if you remember we first told you right here on THE LEAD, about a debate happening on Capitol Hill about trucker's rest rules. Well, Saturday's crash is bringing that debate front and center.
MARSH (voice-over): Actor and comedian Tracy Morgan remains hospitalized after surviving this deadly chain reaction crash on the New Jersey turnpike Saturday morning. Morgan suffered broken ribs, broken nose, leg, and femur. His fellow passenger, comedian James McNair, killed.
Thirty-five-year-old Kevin Roper, a Wal-Mart employee, is the truck driver charged in the crash. In the criminal complaint, prosecutors pin the blame on him. He hadn't slept for a period in excess of 24 hours.
JACKIE GILLAN, PRESIDENT, ADVOCATES FOR HIGHWAY & AUTO SAFETY: This is a wake-up call to all of us. I mean, we have these truck drivers on the road. They are driving 80,000-pound rigs, going high speeds, and they are not clearly getting enough time off and this is what happens.
MARSH: The crash highlighting an ongoing debate on Capitol Hill over truck driver rest rules, which we reported just eight hours before the crash involving Morgan. Thursday, a Senate committee voted to ease a part of a rule currently on the books. The Department of Transportation says the move will allow truckers to drive longer hours.
As it stands, once a driver hits 70 hours for the week, they are required to take at least 34 off. That must include two mornings between 1:00 and 5:00 a.m. The trucking industry calls the existing rules an overreach.
DAVE OSIECKI, AMERICAN TRUCKING ASSOCIATION: The government shouldn't be telling you when you sleep, when I sleep. We have to make those choices and unfortunately perhaps in this case the driver didn't make the right choice.
MARSH: Saturday's crash on the New Jersey turnpike happened at 1:00 a.m., during the window of time that the current rules require rest if a driver has worked excessive hours. Safety advocates say this crash is proof current rest rules need to be strengthened, not weakened.
GILLAN: We have an industry that truck drivers are not paid by the hour but by the mile, and there's an incentive to keep driving and driving and driving no matter how tired you are. MARSH: Republican and Democratic lawmakers who voted to ease the
rules say it actually created a dangerous situation. More trucks on the road during high-volume, daylight hours.
MARSH: While this issue now heads to the Senate for full vote, but it's a long way before it becomes law.
Now, Maine Senator Susan Collins, she sponsored the amendment to ease the rules. Her office told me today that this driver's alleged actions would still be illegal even under her proposal. As for Wal- Mart, we should mention we're reaching out to them about more details about this truck driver's schedule because we know he told officials, according to this complaint, he was up for more than 24 hours. What we do not know is if he was working for that entire time.
No word from Wal-Mart. However, we will say, in their previous statements, they said, if this is found to be their fault, they will take full responsibility -- Jake.
TAPPER: Rene Marsh, thank you so much.
Coming up next, her husband was the most powerful man in the country, and Hillary Clinton says after leaving the White House, she and President Clinton were dead broke. Now, Republicans are calling her out for being, quote, "shamelessly out of touch".