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Militia Group Clashes with Police; John Kerry Discusses U.S. Prisoner Swap with Taliban; Syrian City of Aleppo Devastated by Civil War Fighting; Interview with Rep. Jeff Miller on VA Controversy, Proposed Bills

Aired June 9, 2014 - 07:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's first just begin with the fact that we don't know a whole lot about this couple this morning. Investigations underway, though. A source did tell CNN that this couple had extremist views towards law enforcement, specifically. Apparently, the woman, at some point during this whole rampage, yelled "This is a revolution".

On a superficial level, Mark, how do you read this?

MARK POTOK, SENIOR FELLOW SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: Well, there are also reports out of Las Vegas saying that the couple apparently having swastikas in their apartment, as well as having apparently visited the Bundy ranch standoff a few weeks ago when the rancher Cliven Bundy was faced off with a lot of militia people around him versus the BLM police force.

You know, it looks like they indeed come out of the world we cover. We know very little at this point. Obviously, we don't even know their names. But I will say that the Bundy standoff, in a sense, may be taken by these people and others as the beginning of a war. It was after all, from the point of view of militias and other extremists in the United States, a victory. They faced down BLM and SWAT teams from Las Vegas a mere 60 miles away from where this latest incidence has happened, and they won. The BLM backed off. Cliven Bundy's horses were released, and the militia movement very much celebrated a victory. I don't know the details. This is very much unfolding quickly. But it looks like this couple may well have taken that as a signal as indeed, as they said reportedly, the revolution has begun.

BALDWIN: That is frightening to hear you use the word "war." everything that we covered and everybody covered with Cliven Bundy would serve as a catalyst for this kind of movement. Can you just remind us, Mark, who are these kind of people? These are the folks who don't feel they need to pay taxes, who have to some degree this hit tread towards law enforcement. What else?

POTOK: Well, a lot of people who came out to the Bundy ranch were part were part of the militia movement, the so-called patriot movement. But these are people who believe generally among other things that law enforcement above the level of the county sheriff is illegitimate. They grow out the old county supremacy movement which in turn has its roots in white supremacist groups. They do, many of them, also believe the federal government has not

right to tax them, to enjoin in criminal laws, to insist they carry licenses, and so on. Of course, we saw this play out in a very specific way on the Bundy ranch in the sense they felt the government had no right to charge Bundy of the same grazing fees that every other rancher in the United States pays.

Generally, they are held together, these people, by a belief that the federal government is engaged in a secret conspiracy to impose martial law on the United States, to take all Americans' guns away from them, and ultimately to force the United States into a kind of socialistic world government, so-called, new world order.

BALDWIN: But, Mark, it's one thing to see someone of the ilk of Cliven Bundy saying, no, this is my land and I'm staying put right here and then quite another to see a couple armed, shooting and killing police officers.

POTOK: Well, that is true. But let's not forget that we have all seen a great many pictures of these so-called militiamen point scoped sniper weapons at the heads of law enforcement officials. The reality is that the Bundy standoff came perilously close to a bloodbath, and I think really pretty much caused by the militia people who went there and created a really dangerous situation. So I'm not accusing the Bundys supporting the murder of law enforcement officers, but I am saying that that event, the way it was played out, the way it was taken by the militia movement and other radicals on the far right, they have put wind into the sails of this movement in a way that ultimately in some sense may have led to this latest bloodbath.

BALDWIN: That is incredibly frightening to think about that, Mark Potok. Thank you so much from the Southern Poverty Law Center. Appreciate your time this morning.

POTOK: Thanks.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: It's amazing, in the interest of doing what you believe is right you wind up doing everything that is wrong.

Now, this morning, we want to talk about Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. He is recovering after five years in Taliban captivity. Back in Washington, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are going after the trade that freed him, specifically criticizing the decision to trade Bergdahl for five high-level Taliban prisoners. CNN's Foreign Affairs reporter Elise Labott spoke exclusively to Secretary of State John Kerry about the controversy and she joins us now with more. Elise?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Chris. Well, it was an unapologetic defense of the deal both from Secretary Kerry as a veteran and as America's top diplomat.


LABOTT: We're told that these five can roam around the country, pretty vague on what the restrictions and monitoring are. How confident are you that the Qataris are going to be able to keep an eye on these guys?

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: They're not the only ones keeping an eye on them.

LABOTT: The U.S. is going to be monitoring them?

KERRY: I'm just telling they are not the only ones keeping an eye on them. And we have confidence in those requirements. And if they're violated, then we have the ability to be able to do things.

LABOTT: What kind of things?

KERRY: Elise, I'm not telling that they don't have some ability at some point to get back and get involved. But they also have an ability to get killed doing that. And I don't think anybody should doubt the capacity of the United States of America to protect Americans.

LABOTT: Meaning you will kill them?

KERRY: No one should doubt the capacity of America to protect Americans. And the president has always said he will do whatever is necessary in order to protect the United States of America. So these guys pick a fight with us in the future or now or anytime at enormous risk.

LABOTT: Some people say Bowe Bergdahl is being swiftboated? Do you agree with that? Did he serve as honor and distinction as national security has said?

KERRY: Elise, there's plenty of time for people to sort through what happened, what didn't happen. I don't know all the fact --

LABOTT: Sounds like you're not sure if he served with honor and distinction?

KERRY: Not what I'm saying, Elise. What I'm saying is, there's plenty of time for people to sort through that. What I know today is what the president of the United States knows, that it would have been offensive and incomprehensible to consciously leave an American behind, no matter what, to leave an American behind in the hands of people who would tortured him, cut off his head, do any other thing, and we would consciously do that? That's the other side of this equation. I don't think anybody would think that is the appropriate thing to do.

And, you know, it seems to me, we have an ability, we know we have the ability, to be able to deal with people who want to threaten Americans or threaten the United States. And if that's what they go back on their word to do or if the Qataris don't enforce what they've done, we have any number of avenues available to us to be able to deal with that.

LABOTT: One of the members of the Taliban, these detainees from Guantanamo, has already vowed to return to Afghanistan, return to the fight, and kill Americans. And the head of the Haqqani Network who was holding him said, look, we have a pretty good idea here now. Let's kidnap more Americans. What do you say to that families of American soldiers that perhaps these guys can go back and kill Americans again?

KERRY: Well, first of all, propaganda is propaganda, and they'll say whatever they want to stir the waters. So people should not be lured in with their propaganda, number one. Number two, we are ending our combat role. Our combat role in Afghanistan is over. We're going to have, you know, very few people in that kind of position, on occasion, where -- but I honestly -- I just think that's a lot of baloney, because to whatever degree it may be truth, they will wind up putting themselves at the mercy of those people who are very effective, who are there, who will deal with those matter.


CUOMO: Very interesting, though, Elise. You pushed him about the swiftboat, and the skepticism justified, because over the weekend Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein questioned whether those freed Taliban can be monitored at all. Take a listen to her.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D) CALIFORNIA: I heard John Kerry this morning say don't worry about them in Doha. You can't help but worry about them in Doha. And we have no information on how the United States is actually going to see that they remain in Doha.


CUOMO: The price of a political calculation, Elise, a fellow Dem coming out and raising the same question that Republicans are. What does this mean?

LABOTT: I think in the coming days, the administration, and in fact there's a briefing on the Hill later today, a classified briefing, in which senators will receive more information. The administration is going to have to be clear with Congress about what this agreement with the Qataris is. They're going to be holding them for one year, not going to be under house arrest, as we reported, free to roam around. But their activities, we're told, will be restricted. They won't be able to do fundraising. But the question is, what happens in a year when they go back. What Secretary Kerry was pretty much saying is, look, not only the Qataris, we're going to be keeping a close eye on these guys now and when they go back to Afghanistan, and if they try any funny business, they're toast.

So I think that's the administration is going to say, that we've been able to have surveillance on many people in the past. You see what happened to Usama bin Laden. I don't know if the Taliban are really going to go back and join the fight, but the expectation of the administration is they can monitor it and minimize the risk.

CUOMO: That is certainly an unknown fraught with risk. But one thing we know for sure, Elise, is that they are paying the price, the administration, for not doing the 30-day requirement rule on notifying Congress. They've got people on both sides upset at them. Good interview, thank you very much for bringing it to us. Brooke?

BALDWIN: Yes, a great interview, Elise. Thank you so much for sharing that with us this morning.

Also today, the Syrian city of Aleppo has been one of the biggest hot spots in the country's war. Now, CNN is the first American TV network to return to the rebel areas. You see it here. The scene is just absolutely haunting. The city, basically empty, regime forces using deadly tactics to kill civilians and strike fear into those who choose to stay. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh was part of the crew to return there. He joins us live thank you very much from Beirut. Nick, tell me what you saw.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: For tactics used to empty that city, devastating in how random they are and how crude. Barrel bombs, big barrels filled with explosives and shrapnel dropped by helicopters onto civilian areas. And now, a new tactic, they drop one bomb, wait for people to rush in to rescue those hurt, and then drop another to kill those rescuers. We spoke to many of the people just trying to stay alive in that madness.


WALSH: Head to Aleppo and the scale of its catastrophe quickly dawns. The future comes from it. This is what the edge of humanity looks like, ground to dust, the smell of burning plastic at every turn. The Syrian regime is trying to encircle those remaining areas of Aleppo still held by the rebels. But months of pounding by heavy artillery and barrel bombs mean that in streets like this, life has already been extinguished.

Here's how. This building was hit in the dead of night by a barrel bomb, huge crudely made scrap metal and TNT randomly dropped from a helicopter. Survivors look up fearing them and look through what they have done. When there is so little left to live from, even the remains of murder are prized. Seven died here, we're told.

Aleppo is dying, a city of 2 million, now in rebel areas down to mere thousands. We meet a British doctor working in Syria for two years now with severe burns to his leg from being bombed six weeks ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The planes come. We duck down, and they just hit us with a bomb. I didn't feel anything. Next thing, I was waking up and I couldn't feel my legs. We cannot bear it anymore.

WALSH: Some are so young, this will be among their first memories. Why a sniper shot five-year-old Mohammed, he will never know. What can his mother say? "What's wrong with the sniper's eyes," she says? "Was he blind? Could he not see it was my child?"


WALSH: Now, the real fear, as I said, that the Syrian regime are trying to encircle that remaining area held by the rebels and the population of that city. Syria's biggest commercial hub, the largest city in the country, now halved by the violence, the vast majority living in the regime areas, and one aid official saying to us there are only 300,000 people left in those rebel areas, simply a ghost town. Brooke, Michaela?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: I'll take it here. Really powerful stuff. Thanks so much for getting in there and telling us these stories Nick, we appreciate it.

Let's get a look at more of your headlines. At about 13 minutes past the hour, the death toll in an attack on Pakistan's main airport we're told has now climbed to 28, 10 of the dead are militants. This begun late Sunday at the international airport in Karachi which was stormed by men wielding guns, grenades, and wearing suicide vests. The Pakistani Taliban said it carried out the attack as retaliation for an American drone strike that killed their leader.

Nuclear talks between Iran and the U.S. set to resume today, this as Iran's interim deal with the permanent U.N. Security Council member nations nears an end. These talks appear to be an effort to overcome major road blocks to accompany the deal. But officials tell CNN these talks aren't a substitute for continuing larger talks with other nations in Vienna.

Here's an interesting update to a story that we've been following here on NEW DAY. The identity of the man, or person rather, hiding money across California has finally been revealed. It is Jason Buzi. He is the man behind the hidden cash operation. Turns out he's a real estate investor and entrepreneur from San Francisco. He started the hunt a few weeks ago, sort of leaving clues on Twitter where the money drops would be found. Folks were lining up and crowding out to try to find these stashes of cash. Cash prizes ranged from $40 to 100 bucks.

Well, guess what? He's going to swing by NEW DAY tomorrow and we'll talk to him. We've so many questions. We can't wait for that. I'm really looking forward to that conversation.

BALDWIN: We do have so many questions. We -- I'm not trying to be cynical, but who gives away free cash?

CUOMO: He does. My question is, where's the money at?

PEREIRA: Right. Maybe he'll bring a little secret stash and hide it here.

BALDWIN: Show me the money, baby.

CUOMO: Put that science (ph) to work.

BALDWIN: Yes, she's taking look at incessant twisters out west.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it's that time of year we're talking about on Friday. Take a look at what we saw right south of Denver. We're talking about a huge twister out there. Keep in mind, this guy stayed on the ground for 35 minutes, guys. Just imagine that sight. Really feeling like it's not moving at all. And it was a good quarter-mile wide. If you're curious, this was actually an EF-1 tornado -- perfect science to tell you it's not always how big the tornado is, it's all about just the strength. So this one packed winds about 100 miles per hour.

That threat is still not over with yet. We're still talking about from Memphis all the way the down through San Antonio today, still the threat for even tornadoes. Keep in mind, if you're out towards Dallas, might want to take a look at what it looks like out there, because we're talking about heavy rain in the forecast for the next several days. And here is instability. Already there, talking about delays right at the airport. That's going to be affecting a lot of you today, especially as we go through the afternoon.

Keep in mind, northeast, yes, we're seeing the rain. Nothing like what we're seeing there, but it is the morning, it's our commute and from D.C. to New York City, we are talking showers right now.

Temperature-wise, though, it was such a nice weekend. Don't worry, at least it's going to warm. Yes, it's a little bit rained out, sorry about that, but at least you're talking about temperatures still above normal the next several days. Also, in the Southeast, kind of warm and soupy. So sorry, Brooke, it looks like you came in from the good old ATL and now thank you for the rain.


PETERSONS: I'm blaming you this time.

BALDWIN: It's peachy. You're looking beautiful.

PETERSONS: I know. Michaela and I have a little Central Park (ph); she showed me how it's done.

BALDWIN: I heard.

PEREIRA: I want in on this. Bring the sunshine at some point.


BALDWIN: Thanks, Indra.

CUOMO: Coming up on NEW DAY, the leaders of the V.A. getting a well- deserved grilling on Capitol Hill. Today, a House committee demanding answers on why the nation's heroes went without care for so long. The man in charge of that committee joins us live with a preview. We will ask him what he is doing to make a difference.

BALDWIN: Also coming up this morning on Inside Politics, Hillary Clinton in the middle of this whole media blitz for her new book, what she said about when she will make a decision about running for the White House.


CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY. This morning, members of the Department of Veteran Affairs are heading to Capitol Hill and they're going to have a hearing and it's going to be a grilling. What is the agenda? Explaining how the V.A. deprived veterans from care for so long, that's the agenda. The acting secretary of the VA says the department will release its own internal audit today, hoping it will start to bring change to the troubled agency.

Let's bring in Congressman Jeff Miller, joining us now on set. He's the head of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and a Republican from Florida. Thank you very much for being with us, Representative.

BALDWIN: Good morning.


CUOMO: We appreciate it very much.

So we have a hearing today. But, of course, you want to be careful to not let process get in front of progress. We haven't seen this internal audit yet. Are you concerned about that going into the hearing without knowing what they say?

MILLER: No. In fact, it's very interesting. We had already scheduled the hearing to talk about the GAO report and the OIG, which is the Office of Inspector General. It just so happened that timing also allowed the V.A. to also participate in the hearing tonight to talk about their nationwide survey, and so we're looking forward to seeing -- we've seen the interim report. Now we'll get an opportunity to talk about the complete report.

BALDWIN: You've been talking about the activity secretary thus far. We now know the gentleman who had been the leading candidate, head of the Cleveland Clinic, has bowed out for now. What's the update as far as that's concerned?

MILLER: Well, obviously, the White House is looking for the right person to put in that position. Toby Cosgrove would've been a great choice but the Cleveland clinic, obviously, is taking up a lot of his time. So there are a lot of candidates out there that I'm sure the White House is going through the vetting process on.

BALDWIN: Should that person come from within the V.A., do you think? I know it's up to the president. But, or should they come from outside?

MILLER: I honestly think it needs to come from outside the V.A. Sloan Gibson's doing a great job right now as the interim. He's only been in the position for about a week. He's only been at the V.A. for about three months. He's got the capability, and he certainly has the attitude, I think, to get in and shake things up inside this culture within the system.

CUOMO: The bar's high for the V.A. but also for all of you as lawmakers, especially on this particular committee. You have to show that you're going to change this and not just complain about it, because then it gets dismissed as politics. I know you understand that.

The Senate has a bill they're putting together that funds and addresses the needs for change. The speculation is you all in the House will shoot it down because of the interior politics. What's your take on it?

MILLER: No, I don't think the House is going to shoot down anything. In fact, today, you'll see the bill that I've been talking about now for the last about ten days that talks about opening up access for the veteran population to go out onto non-V.A. care.

Interestingly enough, this big deal that was struck in the Senate last week -- and I also in Washington, shuttling back and forth between the House and the Senate, working with the two senators trying to reach an agreement -- encompasses a vast amount of legislation that the House has had sitting over in the Senate now for months waiting for it to be passed.

CUOMO: That's an important point because, look, that's the speculation here, is why are they going after the V.A.? Do they want to just change it? Because that would be good, but these problems have existed for a long time. And now these whispers about privatizing the V.A., to some, sounds like a tangential attack on the ACA, on Obamacare? Is that fair criticism?

MILLER: I haven't even talked about ACA as it relates to the Department of Veterans Affairs. This is an issue that we have had oversight on since I've been chairman now for about three and a half years. We're not trying to take V.A. and strip it down. You will hear from some veterans service organizations that allowing people to go out for private care is the first step in tearing about the V.A. system -- no. Because there are a lot of things that they do very, very well. And I want them to continue to do that. But if veterans are made to stand in line and wait for their care, that's unconscionable.

BALDWIN: Isn't that part of what you asked the president, though? You've asked the president for a couple of things -- one, I mean, these wait times, obviously, as we've uncovered, are ridiculous. They're ridiculous. And these veterans -- and there is amazing care, traumatic brain injury, PTSD, spinal issues, perfect for the V.A. But if somebody else wants to go to the private sector, they can under the law but there's so much red tape. It's like you have to go to DOD facilities or go to a teaching hospital before you can finally go into privatized sector. When can that change?

MILLER: Well, first of all, that's the thing that makes the problem so egregious --


MILLER: Because they had the ability to send people out into the private sector to start with. In fact, in Phoenix, they had spent $8 million allowing veterans to go out and receive non-V.A. care.

What our bill will do is allow them to go outside the system right away --

BALDWIN: Right away.

MILLER: And of course it also allows people outside of a 40-mile radius to be able to get their care outside of the system as well.

This is something that veterans have asked for for a long time -- why do I have to travel three, four, and five hours for a 15-minute appointment when I can get it done at home with my local physician?

Look, as you said, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injuries, all the things that come in the heat of the battle, those are things the V.A. is very good at. But the things that they're having trouble with is delivering just primary care issues. And then we're all -- we're finding out that there's a huge backlog in what's called consults, which are the problems that arose in South Carolina and Georgia where people died because they couldn't get their colonoscopies.

CUOMO: And he says primary care; that's a very important point. It's not about exquisite need for procedures and things that are tough to find.

BALDWIN: Primary care.

CUOMO: Yes, the guy who runs my cross-fit gym is a special forces guy. He's in the reserves. He falls off a mountain, has a dislocated shoulder, bangs up his teeth. It's been weeks; he can't find somebody to see his -- fix his teeth, fix his shoulder. And these are the guys who defend our freedom.

Last thing as you leave it out, Shinseki is gone. And the question is, is he a scapegoat for the work of government in general here? You only took over in 2011 as the head of the committee, but committees have known about these for a long time. We have people on the show all the time. We haven't heard a lot of hollering about this until CNN uncovered the wait times. Have we been dragging our feet in government on fixing the V.A.?

MILLER: Look, there's enough blame to go around for everybody. I wish I knew what the trigger was that got the media so involved in this story, because we've trying to for a number of years to get the media to pay attention to preventable deaths in Pittsburgh, Pennsvlvania; in Augusta; in Columbia; in Florida; in places that have been all over this country. But nobody has wanted to pay attention.

All of a sudden, and I don't know if it was the number 40 or what it was, the media's finally paying attention. And I hope that you won't quit because this is a very important story and there's more to come.

CUOMO: I blame him. He blames me.

BALDWIN: We won't quit, we promise you that, Mr. Chairman. Thank you so much.

MILLER: You bet.

BALDWIN: Nice to have you on.

CUOMO: Pleasure having you on the set of NEW DAY. We hope we have you back. We will stay on the story. We promise you that. All right, coming up on NEW DAY, the endless reading of the Hillary

tea leaves continues. She's now speaking out about her decision on when to decide and we are covering it as if she has decided. Inside Politics, we'll take you through it all when we come back.