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Wife in Hot Car Death Breaks Silence; Vargas Released; Bowe Bergdahl Hires Lawyer

Aired July 16, 2014 - 08:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Many people thought that was odd. And perhaps suspicious as well. But, again, I really don't think you can read that much into it.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Loni, her husband not mentioned in the letter. A man is mentioned in the letter and his name is Richard Jewell, who we'll all remember was a man falsely accused in connection with a bombing where you are right now in Atlanta. And what do you think that meant both the exclusion of the husband and the inclusion of Richard Jewell?

LONI COOMBS, FORMER PROSECUTOR: Well, let's start with Richard Jewell first. I think this is an attempt for her attorney to cloak her in this, you know, cover of righteous indignation of being unjustly accused, like Richard Jewell was, you know, trying to associate her name with that type of scenario.

The lack of his -- her husband's name is a very telling point to me. Very different from her comments at the funeral where she was a stand by your man woman. You know, I love him. He's a wonderful husband. He's a wonderful father. I trust him. Now she's not saying anything. And I think there is something to be said for reading between the lines here. As a prosecutor, you know that there's things going on behind-the-scenes.

The prosecution is looking at two potential suspects here. It's very clear in the probable cause hearing they went out of their way to put on evidence about her when they didn't need to. It wasn't her probable cause hearing, showing that they are working towards mounting a case against her. They're still trying to decide, are we going to use her as a cooperative witness, is she going to be charged, or is there a possibility that they might turn her against him or him against her. The fact that this statement was so vague about the case, in fact, no mention of the case itself at all, lends the credibility that these discussions are going on.

CUOMO: But why would she mention the case in the statement when her position is she doesn't know anything about how it happened?

HOSTIN: Yes, but I - but I - you know, I think Loni makes a valid point because, in Georgia, and not in all states but at least in Georgia, you can compel a spouse to testify against the other spouse.

CUOMO: You can?

HOSTIN: You can. There's no really marital privilege, especially because the victim in this crime, alleged crime -

CUOMO: Is the child.

HOSTIN: Is a child. And so I think prosecutors are determining whether or not she's a target of their investigation, whether or not they're going to compel her to testify.

CUOMO: Oh, so is that the right call? You're both prosecutors. Let me present the defense side. You said what she said in church. I wouldn't bring him back if I could. Why isn't that explained by her being a strong Christian and believing he's in the afterlife and that's a better place for him anyway? Contextually, couldn't that be it?

HOSTIN: Absolutely. Absolutely.

CUOMO: And then that has nothing to do with the case.

HOSTIN: I think that's true.

CUOMO: Her saying, did you say too much, couldn't that go to, in the absence of context, why did they arrest you after what happened?

HOSTIN: Absolutely.

CUOMO: What did you tell them?

HOSTIN: Absolutely.

CUOMO: Couldn't that be what it means, Loni?

HOSTIN: There are all these innocent explanations.

COOMBS: Yes. Yes. Exactly. And, Sunny, I agree. With the comment at the funeral, I don't think, you know, having gone to a funeral myself and given a eulogy, you can't really hold statements made during a grief time like that.

CUOMO: Right.

COOMBS: But these other statement, one by itself, maybe not anything. But when you put them together, the statement about the arrest, the statement at the daycare center when she assumed immediately that the baby was left in a car, you put all these things together, you start to say, hmm, what was (ph) her state of mind?

CUOMO: See, I haven't heard that statement yet. I've only heard from the local police official that she said to them that this was something she had always feared. I haven't read or seen any evidence that she told the daycare center what we're told. You know, I would need to actually see that as opposed to it being an opinion. Have either of you actually seen the statement to the daycare?

HOSTIN: No.

COOMBS: No. But in the probable cause hearing, the detective testified that when she went to the daycare center - CUOMO: Right.

COOMBS: And other people were saying, no, no, that's not possible. There's other things.

CUOMO: Right.

COOMBS: And she was pretty adamant.

CUOMO: Right.

HOSTIN: It is part of the record.

CUOMO: Yes. Yes. And that's what - I just want to see that part because we always know that things change.

Well, look, Loni, Sunny, you're making the right points. I'm trying to offer the other side because I believe we just have to go slow when it's the mother of the dead kid until we know what the case is. The father, he's got trouble. There are charges coming.

HOSTIN: He's got trouble. But again I've said, I'm not convinced yet from what I've heard that this wasn't a tragic accident.

CUOMO: Yes. And I'm with you on that, Sunny. Loni, thank you very much as well. Appreciate the perspective of both of you.

Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Chris.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, two big exclusives for you. The first live interview with Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who was just released after being detained by border control. We're going to find out what happened.

And also this. Days after returning to regular duty, Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has hired an attorney. We're going to talk exclusively with Bergdahl's lawyer about questions surrounding his capture.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: A man who has made the immigration debate a personal cause has just been released by the border patrol after being detained at a Texas airport on the Mexico border. He is Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who was profiled in the CNN film "Documented." Now, officials said they let him go because he had never been arrested before, but he could now face an immigration judge. Jose joins us on the phone right now.

Jose, can you hear us?

JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS (via telephone): Yes. Hi, Chris, how are you? Good morning.

CUOMO: Good morning to you. Tell us the obvious, what happened? VARGAS: Well, what happened is, you know, like I was boarding - I was

trying to board a plane to go to L.A. and actually to visit my family and then it went by pretty fast, getting handcuffed after they asked me about my passport and then being taken to a border patrol station. And it was interesting because, you know, I came down here on Thursday, this past Thursday, because I really wanted to kind of chronicle what's happening with the humanitarian crisis, particularly with the kids, and ended up being at the border patrol station where many of these unaccompanied Central America minors were actually also being detained. So that was really surreal and kind of ironic. But, yes --

CUOMO: Well, I want to ask you what you learned about these kids and what their story is. But let me ask you just one matter of fact question.

VARGAS: Yes. Yes.

CUOMO: You of all people, how were you not aware that going to this part of Texas would avail you of this type of scrutiny because you know this is what they do there? And did you anticipate that this was going to happen?

VARGAS: Actually, that's exactly the point. I did not anticipate it. I've been traveling around the country for the past three years. I've never been to the Texas border. I've been to the California border. I've been to Arizona. I didn't know that Texas, you know, that border basically within the 45 mile radius of that area is a militarized zone, right? I knew that there were checkpoints, but I always knew that I could fly out because I had a Latino passport. That's how I've been flying around the country for the past three years.

CUOMO: So it wasn't a stunt. This is what -- this is what actually happened. You were ignorant of the process until you went through it?

VARGAS: Exactly. I'm sorry, what was that? I was what?

CUOMO: You were ignorant of the process until you went through it?

VARGAS: Well, I was - of this airport.

CUOMO: Right.

VARGAS: Of this area. Because when you fly through JFK, through LaGuardia, through San Francisco Airport, all they do is TSA check your ID, check my Filipino passport.

CUOMO: Right.

VARGAS: There's no border patrol agent there checking your passport when you go through JFK. That's not what's happening, right?

CUOMO: Right.

VARGAS: But here - but there in south Texas, that's exactly what happened. And, you know, people need to understand that if you are undocumented in this country, that's the risk you take everywhere you - you know, that's the risk you take when you get on a plane to travel within the country.

CUOMO: How did they get the video of you?

VARGAS: I'm sorry, what was that?

CUOMO: How did they get the video of you being detained?

VARGAS: I have no -- for some reason, there was actually a reporter there. And I don't even know from what publication because I had to get out of Texas. I mean people have been asking me if this was some sort of a stunt.

CUOMO: Right.

VARGAS: Is it a stunt to get on a plane to leave, to try to get out of south Texas. Actually, I had to get out one of two ways, either somebody driving me, right, or I fly out. Well, either driving or flying out, I was - I was going to be checked -

CUOMO: Right.

VARGAS: Either through a checkpoint or through TSA or border line (ph). So I had to make a choice and my lawyers advised me that I should actually just try to fly out in the same way that I flew in. So that was the risk I had to take. But again, that's the risk that undocumented people take every day. (INAUDIBLE) important (ph).

CUOMO: All right. So now let's get to the heart of the matter about why you went down there. First, you got to meet with the kids.

VARGAS: Yes.

CUOMO: And I think they're really getting lost in this except being used as a tool.

VARGAS: Absolutely. Absolutely.

CUOMO: What did you learn about these kids that you were there with? Did you get to talk to any of them? Did you get a sense of whether they're gang members or highly diseased or what it is that brought them here?

VARGAS: All you have to do is look in the eyes of these children to know that they've been through some sort of hell. And for - and for our politicians to say, Republican and Democrat, that we should send them back, what did -- I just heard something about Senator Tom Coburn actually saying that, you know, what if we buy them like first class seats and send them back? I remember hearing it and thinking, is that from "The Onion" (ph)? I just couldn't believe that was real.

You know, these kids came here and walked here and risked their lives to come here to save their lives, not because they wanted to go to Disneyland or take first class seats somewhere, right? All you have to do is see these kids and look in their eyes to know that they've been through some sort of hell. And to think you're going to tell them to go on right back. America does not turn its back on children. And it should not be turning its back on these children.

CUOMO: It's happening right now, though. I mean these kids have become an example of a lax law enforcement, a porous border and a bad law.

VARGAS: Chris, that - that is exactly the problem. We -- you and I both know that this is political theater. How can we say, right, that the law is not being enforced when I, as the most privileged, you know, high-profile undocumented person can get arrested and handcuffed at an airport. If that is happening to me, what do you think is happening to the 11 million undocumented people in this country who don't have the privilege that I have? How can they say that - that --

CUOMO: I hear you. The other side points to the fact that you have these tens of thousands of kids here as proof that it's not working. That's the two sides of the debate.

VARGAS: No. Actually - well, yes, I get that. But actually the fact that they're getting here, they're getting apprehended.

CUOMO: Right.

VARGAS: I was at the exact same border patrol station where these kids were being detained and being processed.

CUOMO: Right. And it's good that you got to talk to them because the more you can tell people about who these kids are, you will demystify a lot of the misinformation that's out there about them being all from MS-13 (ph) -

VARGAS: And that's - that's why - that's why I flew down there.

CUOMO: Right.

VARGAS: That's exactly what I wanted to do. Yes.

CUOMO: Well, you paid a high price for it. Let us know what happens next in terms of the process that you're going to go through now potentially seeing an immigration judge. Be safe and please stay in touch.

VARGAS: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: All right, take care.

Kate.

(COMMERICAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY. We've just learned Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, he has retained a lawyer. This is just a couple of days after going back on regular duty. Bergdahl was released six weeks ago now by the Taliban following five years in captivity. It's all been surrounded in quite a lot of controversy and the big question that has bogged Bergdahl since his released: did he desert his unit before he was taken prisoner? No one has been able to get many answers. Bergdahl has not spoken. The Army, obviously, the only one speaking with him. So let's bring in exclusively Bergdahl's new attorney, Eugene Fidell. Mr. Fidell, thank you very much for your time.

EUGENE FIDELL, LAWYER FOR BOWE BERGDAHL: Good morning, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Good morning. This is a story that has not only importance here in the United States, but really around the world and no one has really been able to get many answers about the circumstances surrounding the release of Bowe Bergdahl. First off, have you been able to speak yet to your client?

FIDELL: Yes, I met with Sergeant Bergdahl last week in San Antonio.

BOLDUAN: What, how did you come about to be his attorney? How did he find you? Do you have a relationship?

FIDELL: No. We had no prior relationship. I was very flattered when I was approached and I accepted the case with great pleasure.

BOLDUAN: So, you have met with him. He has--

FIDELL: On that subject, by the way, on that subject if I can interrupt you for once second. I want to share with you an email that I got first thing this morning. This is at 5:33 from somebody --

BOLDUAN: From him?

FIDELL: No, from somebody else. It says the following, "Thanks for helping a soldier in need. I'm an Army vet and understand the feelings soldiers have while serving." And I have to say I was very happy and encouraged to receive this from some anonymous person and I'm grateful for it. If that person is watching I want him or her to know that it's greatly appreciated.

BOLDUAN: Obviously there's an attorney-client privilege, of course, but what can you tell us about your conversations with Bowe Bergdahl to this point?

FIDELL: Well, obviously, as you say, there is attorney-client privilege and I'm going to be scrupulous about that. He's a client. He's entitled to my best professional efforts. And his conversations with me are going to remain confidential. I apologize, but you'll understand that.

BOLDUAN: How does he seem? Can you describe that?

FIDELL: I'm not going to get into that. Again, I apologize. I don't want to, you know, insinuate my own views or impressions. Those are also privileged, and I know that's frustrating. In due course, you know, the country is going to have more facts in front of it as the pending investigation unfolds. For the moment I would ask that everybody sort of hold the phone. I think the one thing I might say is that Sergeant Bergdahl has had a close brush with death over a prolonged period of time. He understands that his life has been saved. He's grateful to President Obama for doing that.

BOLDUAN: The Army says that he has completed his medical care and that he's completed his mental counseling, at least enough to go back on regular duty. The Army is waiting to speak with him. There's an Army investigator looking at the circumstances of his case. Do you know when that will happen?

FIDELL: Well, the investigator you're referring to is a pretty high powered investigator. A major general, two star general, Kenneth Dahl. I had the privilege of speaking to General Dahl the other day in a very cordial conversation. And in due course my client is going to meet with General Dahl and, you know, we'll see how the investigation unfolds. Obviously an attorney, whether it's me or one of the Army lawyers, will be with Sergeant Bergdahl throughout any interrogation.

BOLDUAN: Why did he retain an attorney? He has not been read his rights. They say he's done nothing wrong to this point that would need his rights to be read to him. Why did he retain an attorney?

FIDELL: Kate, can I say -- let's give our viewers a little more credit. I mean, seriously. You know, the internet and the media have been alive with speculation about this case. It's, you know -- we Americans really believe in lawyers, thank God, and any person would want to talk to an attorney.

BOLDUAN: There's been a lot of question of how much he's been exposed to the media attention to his case. Is he aware of the controversy surrounding his situation?

FIDELL: Yes, he is.

BOLDUAN: Have you been following this story very closely?

FIDELL: Yes. I followed it from the beginning, way before I was asked to represent him.

BOLDUAN: The big question, obviously I asked it at the very top, is the question surrounding his --how he got off the base. Did he leave deliberately? What was his intent? That's a big question, obviously, that the Army is investigating. Do you believe that he's going to be able to prove that he did not desert the Army?

FIDELL: Well, I'm of course going to frustrate you on your request for my opinion on the matter. But, I do want to correct you in one respect. The burden of proof in any proceeding under the uniform code of military justice is and remains, at all times, on the United States government, not on the accused. If and when this matter enters the military justice system, the burden will be on the government.

BOLDUAN: There's a report out by "The Wall Street Journal" that so far Bowe Bergdahl has refused to speak to his parents. Do you know if that's the case?

FIDELL: I have no comment on that matter. BOLDUAN: Do you think that is important to his situation? Do you

think that's important to his case? A lot of people have made quite a bit about it, that relationship.

FIDELL: I'm just not going to go into that. It's a private matter.

BOLDUAN: Do you think -- there's also been made quite a bit of the fact that he was held for five years and after two months he's back on regular duty. Is he fit to serve?

FIDELL: I'm not an expert on that kind of thing. Obviously the Army has concluded that he is fit for duty. I don't anticipate that they are going to deploy him anywhere. You know, there's some business that has to be conducted, chiefly this investigation. And if the Army thinks that he was ready to wrap up the reintegration process and move into a regular duty status, the Army is a better judge of that than I am.

BOLDUAN: Mr. Fidell, people are waiting to hear from Mr. Bergdahl himself. What through you, since you are the only person who can speak for him at this point, what does Bowe Bergdahl want the country to know?

FIDELL: I think that I've got to put you off on that. I apologize. I know people are interested. But I would ask that everybody have a little patience here. He's gone through an extraordinary ordeal. Unimaginable ordeal. The mind boggles when thinking about spending five years in the hands of the Taliban. You know, imagine your worst nightmare. That's all I'll say on that. Obviously the hope is that he can return to a normal life, and, you know, reintegrate properly within American society, as well as the Army, and sort of get on with his life. He's lost five years in the most unspeakable way.

BOLDUAN: Does he want to speak out?

FIDELL: Actually, I'm going to defer on that. Look, I think his view may change over time. But at the moment he's asked me to speak for him.

BOLDUAN: Eugene Fidell. Thank you very much for your time. We look forward to hearing more about how this process proceeds.

FIDELL: My pleasure.

BOLDUAN: Thanks very much. Chris?

CUOMO: Coming up the latest on the Mideast crisis. Residents in Gaza warned to leave their homes before targeted air strikes. We're going to be live on the ground and bring it to you.