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Taliban Commanders Speak out about Bergdahl; U.S. Officials Say Qatar is Unreliable

Aired June 5, 2014 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jake, thanks very much. Happening now. Bergdahl execution threat. As President Obama defends the secret prisoner swap, a source says the U.S. Army sergeant would have been killed by his Taliban captors if word of the deal had gotten out.

Bergdahl's captors speak. Taliban commanders are jubilant at the prisoner exchange and the return of five hard-core leaders. But why did they give a gift to Sergeant Bergdahl?

Plus, Putin's new partner. Russia's leader cozying up to Kim Jong-un, offering billions -- billions in financial help to nuclear- armed North Korea.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're getting some stunning new details on the deal that freed Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. A Senate aide says the United States was warned that if word of the deal leaked out, Bergdahl would be executed by the Taliban. While many senators were shocked by a proof-of-life video from Bergdahl's captivity, critics still say the price was too high.

President Obama says the prisoner swap controversy was whipped up in Washington, and he's making no apologies for trading five Taliban detainees for Bergdahl.

Our correspondents and analysts are standing by with full coverage. Let's begin with our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Pentagon's bottom line remains the same. They leave no one behind on the battlefield. But there are plenty of questions for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.


STARR (voice-over): Bowe Bergdahl may have tried to escape his Taliban captors on at least two occasions, a U.S. official tells CNN. But until the Army can talk to Bergdahl directly, they won't know for sure.

However, a U.S. official says we do have reason to believe there were times he tried to escape. Bergdahl may not have fully talked about his five years in Taliban captivity, but he is recovering after nearly a week under U.S. military medical care. The Pentagon says he is now speaking in English to the medical staff treating him, participating more in his recovery treatment, and is resting better.

The administration continues to insist Bergdahl's health and safety were at risk and to make the point, showed senators a classified video of Bergdahl from December 2013.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: He looked terrible, and I think that video should be released at some point. He could barely talk. He couldn't focus his eyes. He was downcast. He was thin. He looked like a man. He looked around the room as that video was shown, and I think it was clearly effective. And, you know, when the video stopped -- it wasn't very long, maybe 30 seconds -- there was dead silence in the room.

STARR: An Afghan security official who was on duty near where Bergdahl was captured in 2009 told CNN when local villagers spotted Bergdahl after he left his base, they tried to get him to leave the village, telling him the area was dangerous. The official said Bergdahl appeared to be under the influence of hallucinogenic substances. CNN has spoken to several U.S. officials who could not independently confirm those accounts.


Now, the Army and the Pentagon have looked at the allegations that six soldiers may have been killed in missions searching for Bowe Bergdahl. This is an allegation we have seen emerge over the last several days.

An official is telling me they 've looked at it, and right now they have no evidence to directly back that up. Right now, at least for now, they are not planning to review those cases further -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thank you.

President Obama says he's making no apologies for the prisoner swap, and officials are indicating there was a very good reason to keep it all secret. Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, has details.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the White House is not backing down on the deal to free Bowe Bergdahl. A senior administration official said if the president had to do it all over again, he would, quote, "in a heartbeat." And one congressional source tells CNN Bergdahl could have been killed if the deal to free him had become public.


ACOSTA (voice-over): For President Obama, there are no regrets over the deal that set Bowe Bergdahl free, even as it's touched off another firestorm for the White House.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm never surprised by controversies that are whipped up in Washington. We saw an opportunity, and we seized it; and I make no apologies for that.

ACOSTA: And new details are emerging about why the White House kept the POW exchange such a secret. One Senate aide tells CNN administration officials explained to lawmakers in a closed-door briefing Wednesday that the U.S. had credible information if the swap had been leaked, Bergdahl would be killed, an account confirmed by Maine's independent senator, Angus King, on CNN's "NEW DAY."

KING: They had intelligence that had the -- even the fact of these discussions leaked out, there was a reasonable chance Bowe Bergdahl would have been killed.

ACOSTA (voice-over): At a news conference in Brussels, the president brushed off complaints that he didn't comply with the law and notified Congress before the exchange that freed five Taliban prisoners.

OBAMA: This is not some abstraction. This is not a political football. You have a couple of parents whose kid volunteered to fight in a distant land, and as commander in chief of the United States armed forces, I am responsible for those kids.

ACOSTA: White House officials say they knew the deal would create controversy, just not like this.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: Bergdahl walked away from his men and left them in a bad spot.

ACOSTA: Administration officials say the attacks on Bergdahl and even on his father for the long beard he grew to try to understand his son's captors caught the White House off-guard.

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: The reason I said that Robert Bergdahl looked like a Muslim is that he looks like a Muslim.

ACOSTA: But Republicans note Democrats, including former administration officials, have also questioned the wisdom of releasing Taliban prisoners.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: These were dangerous people. That's why we held them in captivity for so long.


ACOSTA: Questions have also been raised about the so-called proof-of-life video of Bergdahl cited by administration officials as part of their concern for his health to bolster its case the White House is now considering releasing that video to the public -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim. Thanks very much. Jim Acosta is traveling with the president.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now. Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here; our chief national correspondent, John King; and CNN political commentator Ryan Lizza, the Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker" magazine. Gloria, you've been speaking with some former top national

security advisors, and they are friends to the president, if you will. What are you finding out?

Well, when this issue was first raised in 2011, there was a very powerful group of people who were opposed to this notion of a prisoner swap. And that included Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta, and now we know former secretary of defense Bob Gates. I'm told that he was, quote, "very uncomfortable" from a source who's familiar with this and that the fundamental discussion at the time that made him uncomfortable and made the others so uncomfortable was about the negotiating with terrorists and hostage takers. They did not want to do that.

They're all gone. Something else transpired, and we have this deal. But I can tell you that early on it was something that I was told that they didn't even consider.

BLITZER: If Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta and Bob Gates, John, would have accepted this deal, would there have been such a political backlash?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think if you had Bob Gates, a Republican hold-over from the Bush administration, out there publicly defending him now, it would be a little different.

If you had a Hillary Clinton and a Leon Panetta, who had a lot more service, a lot more friends, if you will, in Congress, including some Republicans and a lot more standing, especially on some of the national security issues -- not criticizing Secretary Clinton but in Congress -- perhaps.

Part of this is because, Wolf, a lot of Republicans and some Democrats look at this new team, and they view them as more liberal, less cautious and less likely to stand up to the president, less likely to have a debate in the Oval Office about these big decisions. They think Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel and President Obama are three people who -- forgive me, this is a Republican perspective -- who think they can talk you into just about anything. They can tell you a used car is a new car. They think that they -- they think there's power in their persuasion.

And frankly, they think of Susan Rice, the president's national security advisor, as a political person. They don't view her as someone who's actually security standing.

I'm not saying any of those criticisms are fair, but that's how Republicans and some Democrats perceive this team as being, essentially, the "B" team.

BORGER: And they also view this from another prism, which is this is a president looking at his legacy. End the war in Iraq. End the war in Afghanistan. Got Osama bin Laden. No man left behind.

Also, there's another context here and that is, how does this affect the closing of Guantanamo? Did the administration see this as a way to potentially, OK, empty out -- start emptying out Guantanamo?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think that that's the difference between 2011 when Gates and Panetta and Hillary Clinton were against this. In 2014 when there's sort of light at the end of the tunnel in terms of the war in Afghanistan.

And look, when they reviewed all the detainees back in 2009, these were the five easiest cases. They were clearly POWs, and they were clearly legal to keep. But everyone knows when the war is over, the international community is going to come back and say, "Wait, they are POWs, and they have to be given back."

So these are the five that were definitely, at some point in the future, going to -- we couldn't hold them indefinitely. They're legally POWs. International law was eventually going to kick in. That was certainly putting pressure on President Obama to say, "Well, let's get something for it."

KING: And if there's a big White House calculation, I think it's that very point. They thought this is what the argument would be about, the five to one and that they would make the case, "We would have faced pressure to let them go anyway. They've been off the battlefield for more than 10 years. The Qataris have promised us they'd keep an eye on them. We do not think at least for years they could be effective again on the battlefield, and we're going to watch them."

They thought that would be the debate, and they were willing to make that debate. What has stunned them is the idea that people have gone after Bowe Bergdahl and saying, was he worth it, making it personal to him. If he walked away from his base, was he a traitor, was he a deserter, did the president give up too much for someone who wasn't worth it? That part has surprised the White House.

BORGER: And that's why they put him -- and that's why they did the Rose Garden with him. Because they thought they were going to get the national security pushback, which they're getting. And they wanted to put a face on this soldier and say, look, here are his two parents. They love him.

KING: They criticized the president.

BORGER: Right. And they love him, and they were worried about him and leaving no soldier behind. So they had that Rose Garden ceremony. And what it ended up doing was backfiring.

BLITZER: Ryan, you've been doing some reporting on the fact that it was so quick the intelligence community apparently couldn't get a complete reading on the impact of all of this. What are you learning?

LIZZA: Well, part of the problem with the blowback that the White House is experiencing is it's all about keeping it so tight. They don't have a real response from Congress. Don't really know what the reaction's going to be from Congress, because they have experience in the leak (ph). And then I think one question that really hasn't been looked at

is who in the wider intelligence community was insulted about the impact of releasing these five people and what it would do both -- you know, both their impact once they're gone but also what it would do to encourage future terrorists to kidnap Americans.

And that's an important question that...

BLITZER: Are you hearing that they regret that Rose Garden appearance, maybe almost seen by the critics as a victory lap?

KING: That is what they're being criticized for, but that's where you have the parallel universe of Washington. They believe that it's the right thing to do. The Obama people will have an eye up here. They'll have an eye up here, to Gloria's point. We're ending the war in Afghanistan, and this is a piece of that final chapter, getting that last soldier off the battlefield and getting him home. They view it as part of an arc of history, of Barack Obama keeping his key campaign promise and turning the page, if you will.

What they underestimated was the personal story about Bergdahl, the many questions Barbara Starr just talked about that will be answered by the military. That that would become a focal point for the critics. Not the five for one.

LIZZA: Yes, the president had the military saying, look, whether he was a deserter, or whatever crime he may have committed as a soldier, that's not our policy. That doesn't matter. You know, we got him into Afghanistan, we get him out. And so I think they thought that just would not be an issue.

BORGER: John McCain says it. You know, John McCain, the former prisoner of war, says that. He said, "Look, I don't like this deal. I'm not arguing with the concept that we leave no soldier left behind."

LIZZA: Right. He's not. That's true.

BORGER: It certainly, you know, is an argument of that. But I think...

LIZZA: Even if it's a bad deal.

BORGER: He thinks it's a bad deal, and to John's point, if the administration, like, could do it all over again and change the Rose Garden ceremony...

KING: Or consult -- or consult more quickly and given answers. One of the frustrations has been that it's like trying to get water from a rock, to get answers from this administration. And their story has changed a little bit over the several days. They didn't want to give briefings. They don't give answers at the briefings. Starting to get more blowback, give a little bit more information. And that's not isolated to this issue. It's not isolated to this president, frankly. That happens from time to time, just the disdain many presidents have for the oversight of Congress. LIZZA: One final point. The administration sees a genuine

difference between al Qaeda and the Taliban. The Taliban has no interest in harboring al Qaeda in Afghanistan. They want to separate themselves.

The modern Republicans, the way they talk about this, they're still talking about the relationship between al Qaeda and the Taliban like if it's 2001 or 2002.

BLITZER: And there's al Qaeda and then there's the Haqqani network.

BORGER: Haqqani network.

BLITZER: He was held, Sergeant Bergdahl, by the Haqqani network. So it was a negotiation with the U.S. to Qatar to the Taliban to the Haqqani network.

LIZZA: A network that had allegiance to the Taliban.

BLITZER: A network is affiliated with al Qaeda, and it is seen by the State Department, Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state in 2012, designated as a terrorist organization. So the argument is, the U.S., in effect, was negotiating with terrorists.

BORGER: And I think what the White House has to do now, and what the White House has to do now, and it's starting to do it, is to explain the reasoning, the rationale, the reasoning for not informing Congress. They say it could have endangered his life, for example, if it could have leaked. I don't know if Dianne Feinstein, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is going to think that's a good enough explanation.

Explaining why they -- you know, there are reasons that they could not effect a rescue of him. And I think and declassify some of those documents about who these guys are. So that the American public -- if you lift the veil, the American public is perfectly capable of looking at it and making a decision.

KING: That well was already poisoned, the consultation well this time.

BORGER: Yes. No.

BLITZER: John, Gloria, Ryan. Guys, thanks very much. The next hour, right at the top of the next hour, I'm going to be speaking with the president's deputy national security adviser, Tony Blinken. He's been briefing members of the Hill. Now that he's briefed them, he's going to brief all of us, as well.

Up next, Bowe Bergdahl's Taliban captors are speaking out. We're going to learn why they're ecstatic about the prisoner swap and how they are now celebrating.

Plus, Bergdahl's captors gave him what they now call a parting gift. We're going to explain what they say had made him -- they had made especially for him.

And tracking the freed Taliban leaders. They're supposed to be monitored for a year in Qatar, but why does that worry some top U.S. officials?


BLITZER: There are stunning new details on Bowe Bergdahl's captivity and the prisoner swap, as seen through the eyes of Taliban commanders. They spoke exclusively with Aryn Baker. She's the Middle East bureau chief with "TIME" magazine. The new issue of "TIME" asked this question -- You can see it on the cover -- "Was he worth it?"

Aryn Baker is joining us now from Beirut.

A really amazing bit of reporting you've done, Aryn. A great article. Among other things, you had a chance to interview some of these Taliban commanders who had kept Bergdahl in captivity, one of whom said to you -- and I'll put it up on the screen -- "It's better to kidnap one person like Bergdahl than kidnapping hundreds of useless people. It has encouraged our people. Now everybody will work hard to capture such an important bird."

In effect, this guy is telling you, Aryn, that they're going to try to capture more American soldiers, because they now see they can free other Taliban leaders from -- from Guantanamo Bay. Is that the gist of what he was saying?

ARYN BAKER, "TIME" MAGAZINE: I think the gist is that they realize the currency value of an American soldier. But to be perfectly honest, this is not a new discovery. They've been targeting and trying to kidnap American soldiers for a long time, probably since the beginning of the war. Everyone knows the value of a POW.

But it's a very difficult undertaking to kidnap a soldier. They were lucky in that circumstance.

BLITZER: But the -- but the fact that they did get five of their Taliban detainees out, did you get the sense from those conversations you had with these Taliban leaders that this will encourage them even more to go ahead and find American soldiers?

BAKER: I think it's going to trickle down to all levels, instead of just commander level or super high levels. You're going to see the foot soldiers who are going to be on the lookout for American soldiers or anyone who looks like American soldiers, because they know that it's a valuable get.

BLITZER: You also got some reaction. They were pretty excited, pretty happy about this deal. What did they say to you?

BAKER: They said there was celebrations across Afghanistan and in parts of Pakistan where they have control. People were roasting goats, cooking goats with Rice, a typical celebratory meal. People who were bringing the news of this exchange were gifted with phones, computers, and cash. This is a huge celebration amongst the Taliban and their supporters right now.

BLITZER: How did they describe Bowe Bergdahl, especially his mindset? What did they say about him during his five years in captivity?

BAKER: Well, most recent -- my most recent conversation did not really talk about his psychological state. But we have been in contact with these commanders since 2012 when the negotiations first started.

And back then, they said that he went up and down. There were days where he was friendly, outgoing, trying to speak a little bit of Pashto, learning, and other times when he completely tried to run away.

What's difficult to understand is was he faking the kindness or faking an interest in Islam in order to protect himself and to escape, or because he had Stockholm Syndrome or because he was genuinely interested? We won't be able to tell that until we talk to Bowe Bergdahl.

BLITZER: We saw that video released by the Taliban of the handover of Bowe Bergdahl to the U.S. Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan near Koztuk (ph), if you will, and he was wearing a tunic.

You spoke with one of the commanders close to the negotiations who told you this. He said, "We wanted him to return home with good memories," and they described that white tunic as -- the tunic, the shawl, if you will, as a gift they gave him. Tell us about that.

BAKER: Well, it's a part of Taliban and Pashtun honor. They still consider Bowe, even though he was a captive, as a guest. And it's very important in this culture to treat all guests well. So in that way, they want to adhere to Taliban honor codes.

But at the same time, it's a dig at how the Americans treat their detainees in, say, Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo, in which they are dressed in orange jumpsuits and chained up. So I think they were trying to make themselves look better than the Americans in this case.

BLITZER: When they say they wanted him to go home with, quote, "good memories," we know how brutal the Taliban are, and especially the Haqqani network. We remember he was being held these years by the Haqqani network in Pakistan, and they are brutal. There's no doubt about that.

What do they mean they wanted him to go home with, quote, "good memories"?

BAKER: Well, I think part of it is this warrior ethic. There's been a war going on. The officers said, like, "Look, you killed us," meaning Americans. "We kill Americans, and that's part of the war. But on a human-to-human level, we're still people, and we're going to treat humans the way they do -- the way we want to be treated." So I think it was an attempt to make the best of a bad situation and acknowledging that it's uncomfortable. BLITZER: You've done excellent reporting from inside

Afghanistan/Pakistan. You're now in Beirut. What do you anticipate in the weeks and months to come. Are we going to see more of this?

BAKER: Out of Afghanistan, the opportunities for kidnapping on this scale are going to be very, very limited, especially as the number of troops go down. There's also probably going to be, probably, a higher security attention paid to this.

But you know what? I think with the war next door in Syria, we'll definitely see this risk as an American journalist, as we've seen already in quite large numbers or should Americans start getting involved in the war, we'll see more soldiers as well kidnapped.

BLITZER: Aryn Baker of "TIME" magazine. Thanks, Aryn. Thanks so much for your excellent reporting, as well. Appreciate it. We'll stay in touch with you.

The five hardcore Taliban leaders freed in the prisoner swap are supposed to spend a year in Qatar, and that nation has promised to keep an eye on them, but can America count on Qatar to keep that pledge?

Eli Lake is the senior national security correspondent for "The Daily Beast." You've been looking into this part of the story. You're hearing from some of your sources that top U.S. intelligence officials are very nervous that authorities in Qatar are really going to do what they say they're supposed to do.

ELI LAKE, SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, "THE DAILY BEAST": Well, there are huge red flags. One is that, at the end of the Bush administration they released a Qatari citizen back in Qatar, and there was an explicit understanding that he was not allowed to travel. And then within four or five months, he was on a speaking tour in the United Kingdom with a group called Caged Prisoners, and they basically, according to cables released by WikiLeaks at the time that the U.S. diplomat said the Qataris had broken their word.

Also, Qatar is a place where they still allow a great deal of terrorist financing, including financing for al Qaeda, and this has been a major concern. There is some hope that the new emir there will start to crack down on that.

And finally, even though the U.S. will be allowed to monitor themselves these prisoners, which is important, and assuming their communications, all of that has to be approved by the Qatari security services.

BLITZER: So what does that mean? That if U.S. agents or whatever, or CIA clandestine officers are in Qatar, they have to coordinate with the Qatari intelligence service how much they monitor these five guys?

LAKE: They'd have to be approved by the Qatari service. So it's not like the U.S. can do this unilaterally. They can in themselves kind of get -- and I didn't get the specifics enough to say, but one would assume things like monitor their e-mail or things like that. But, at the same time, all of that is at the discretion of Qatari services.

Now, I think a lot of this comes down to an important phone call that was mentioned when all this went down. It was a phone call between the new emir of Qatar and President Obama. President Obama said, "Listen, I have the word of the King of that country, and therefore, I think that that's going to be good enough at this point, and we'll see if it is. But in the past, there have been a lot of -- a lot of concerns on this very issue.

BLITZER: Eli Lake, thanks for coming in.

LAKE: Thank you.

BLITZER: When we come back, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl's likely road to recovery. We're digging deeper on what the key stages of that recovery could look like.

Plus, some horrifying video captured moments after a U.S. military plane crashed into the middle of a suburban neighborhood. We'll have details coming up. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl likely has a very long road of recovery ahead of him after nearly five years in captivity.

Our Brian Todd has been taking a closer look at the various phases of what that recovery could look like. Brian is joining us from the Pentagon where he just attended a briefing.

What's going on here, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I just finished speaking to Pentagon officials. They have thoroughly planned out reintegration for Bowe Bergdahl. This is going to be a very careful process. As of now he hasn't even spoken to his parents over the phone yet.


TODD (voice-over): He's been out of reach in isolation, five years in the hands of America's most bitter enemies. Now Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is in the middle of a carefully engineered emotional and physical recovery program planned to prevent him from suffering further psychological damage. His father equates it to a deep sea diver returning to the surface.

BOB BERGDAHL, SGT. BOWE BERGDAHL'S FATHER: If he comes up too fast, it could kill him.

TODD: Sources tell us Bergdahl isn't just sitting in a hospital bed. He's undergoing examinations and psychological counseling, a three-phase reintegration process designed by the Army. Phase one is called initial recovery, it includes emergency medical care, early psychological support and meetings, debriefing him on any specific information he can share about where and how he was held. Sources say, that's already taken place at a forward operating base in Afghanistan.

Bergdahl is now in phase two in Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany. Something called decompression. It involved more thorough psychological and medical treatment to make sure Bergdahl is ready for regular social contact.

DR. ELSPETH RITCHIE, FORMER U.S. ARMY DIRECTOR: Decompression, almost as it sounds, is a chance between the intense captivity period of the fear of death all the time and the intense period he's about to go into with the pressure of the media scrutiny.

TODD: Once the 28-year-old's doctors say he's ready to return to the U.S., Bergdahl will be accompanied by doctors trained in the military's SERE program. It stands for Survival, Escape, Resistance and Evasion. A program I've talked to special ops commandos.

(On camera): Why do SERE specialists have to move with him?

RITCHIE: Nightmares, flashbacks, some difficulty of reconnecting with other people, they have been through that and they have studied other prisoners of war and they can help him prepare for those symptoms.

TODD: In phase three, Bergdahl will finally be able to have a family reunion. Most likely at the San Antonio Military Medical Center. It's the longest phase of reintegration, connecting emotionally with relatives.

Keith Stansell was held for more than five years in the jungle by Colombia's FARC rebels. A year after his release he told us about his first meeting with his family saying he was only given a few minutes with them.

KEITH STANSELL, FORMER HOSTAGE IN COLOMBIA: It is an emotionally taxing moment that it's tough. It is emotional. I'll be honest with you. I loved them and I missed them but about 20 minutes into it, I needed to retreat.


TODD: After that family reunion and that last exhaustive reintegration phase, it won't be over for Bowe Bergdahl. In fact, it might just be getting started for him, with the most difficult part. An army investigation into how he ended up in enemy hands -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Which raises the question, the stuff that he's saying during these psychological debriefings, could that potentially, Brian, be used against him if in fact he's prosecuted by the military?

TODD: We asked Pentagon officials about that, Wolf. Their answer was a little bit cagey. They say that an offer of confidentiality will be made but also there are going to be lawyers present at just about every phase of this reintegration. They are also going to be there to warn him and to possibly be there to protect him from incriminating himself so there will be people there kind of seeing him through that process.

BLITZER: Brian Todd at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

Let's bring in Roger Aldrich. He's the principal and executive vice president for training and education development with the Center for Personal Protection and Safety.

Roger, he was freed last Saturday. It's now, what, Thursday night. What stage -- where do you see him in this process right now potentially?

ROGER ALDRICH, CENTER FOR PERSONAL PROTECTION AND SAFETY: Well, I think he's probably in the stage one still because after five years of being a hostage, he is really learning how to be in charge of anything again. I mean, he hasn't been able to make a personal decision and it was really out of control in his hands other than what was going on in his mind. He didn't decide what to eat, when to drink, when to go to the bathroom. Anything like that. So he's got to really come back into the 21st century.

BLITZER: This notion that, you know, it's already been several days, not that -- he hasn't even seen his parents. Certainly, we just heard from Brian, he hasn't even spoken to them on the phone. Is that normal in a situation like this?

ALDRICH: It really -- in the past history, it depends on about how long they have been held. If it's a matter of days or weeks, probably would have spoken to them already, in my experience. But the amount of time he has been away from civilization and his family and his colleagues, it's really going to depend on the dynamics of what his psychologist and medical personnel are -- feel he's ready to handle at any given time but it will start with that phone call because, again, he's really trying to integrate a sense from the dark ages back into civilization.

BLITZER: And the military can keep -- a lot of parents would just gone on a plane and fly to Germany, go to Landstuhl and try to at least see their son but the military is preventing them from doing it. Is that your understanding?

ALDRICH: You know, I don't know the specifics of it. I know when I handled -- and was part of the repatriation of the Navy's EP-3 crew from the People's Republic of China, 2001, I had to speak with the families about their patience and allowing this first stage to be under way to help the individuals off that aircraft reintegrate and bring a little closure to that environment and the parents, not surprisingly, in my mind, maybe to some, were very understanding that they realized that, in this case, Bowe needs to bring some closure to those five years and become ready to be integrated back, both personally and professionally into his life which typically is made easier if he has had some preparatory training.

We know I spent 33 years in the Department of Defense both in active duty and as a civilian in this arena and it is training allows the individual to have something on his mental hard drive to help him get through it and then when it's over to, realize that he helped bring himself back and that allows him to reintegrate more quickly than someone who has had to experience this without any training.

BLITZER: He's obviously got a long road of recovery ahead of them.

Roger Aldrich, thanks very much for coming in.

ALDRICH: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: The race between long-time U.S. Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi and conservative challenger Chris McDaniel ended up in a virtual draw, at least according to the state rules. After all the votes were counted on Tuesday's primary, neither Republican passed the 50 percent threshold. So they'll do it again, Cochran and McDaniel will phase off in a second time in a runoff election on June 24th.

When we come back, a U.S. military crashes and bursts into flames the middle of a suburban neighborhood. We have details on how the pilot survived.

And is Russian President Vladimir Putin teaming up with one of America's greatest adversaries, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un? We have new details. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Horrifying video captured just moments after a U.S. Marine jet crashed in the middle of the Southern California neighborhood. It was one of two military planes that crashed within hours of each other in the same area.

Our national correspondent Kyung Lah is working this story. She's joining us from L.A. with details.

What do we know, Kyung?

KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's certainly unusual timing. Two jets, one from the Navy, one from Marines, crashing just hours apart. The one from the Marine crashed right in the middle of a populated neighborhood.


LAH (voice-over): Panic in a California neighborhood.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get out. Get out. Get out of the way.

LAH: Smoke billowing as flames consume a Marine Harrier jet. The AV-8B Harrier crashing of a suburban community.

ELIAS ALARCON, WITNESS: All of a sudden I see the cab pop off and a small burst of flames. And I saw the pilot eject. I see the parachute open. Then I see the plane kind of wobbling and has start plummeting down. And it's -- at that point I said, man, this is not good.

LAH: On this cell phone video, you can see people rushing to help the pilot, his parachute still attached. He went to the hospital but was released.

The plane destroyed three homes and five others were evacuated. On this Wednesday afternoon, many were home and neighbors say some narrowly missed being hurt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was in his living room when it -- at the initial impact and he said those windows blew out and there was -- a gush of fire that came in.

LAH: This is the second accident in just a month of a Harrier jet from the Third Marine Aircraft Wing stationed in Yuma, Arizona. The Marines call the AV-8B Harrier a versatile jet used for multiple missions around the world and say it's able to hover like a helicopter and blast forward with near supersonic speeds. The Marine Corps says it will thoroughly investigate both accidents and say so far they appear to be simply two unfortunate cases timed closely together.

LT. JOSE NEGRETE, U.S. MARINE CORPS: Every incident that happens we take very seriously and we investigate it thoroughly. But until the investigation is concluded, I can't really tell you what is going to happen.


LAH: Now 5 1/2 hours after that Marine jet crashed, there was another crash of a U.S. Navy fighter jet. I want to go ahead and show you a picture of it. We don't have video of the crash in the Pacific Ocean where it took place. It happened off the waters of California. You're looking at the F/A-18E Super Hornet. It was approaching the aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vincent 10:00 p.m. last night. Somehow it landed in the water. The pilot, though, Wolf, was able to eject safely -- Wolf.

BLITZER: At least he did. All right. Thanks very much, Kyung Lah, reporting.

This video, by the way, just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Check it out. The former first lady of the United States, Nancy Reagan, marking this, the 10th anniversary of her husband President Ronald Reagan's death. Laying a wreath as she does every year at his gravesite at the Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California.

President Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, died back in June 2004 exactly 10 years ago. This is the first year since his death that this event has been opened to the news media.

Up next, Putin's new partner, Russia's leader cozying up to Kim Jung-Un, offering billions in financial help to a nuclear armed North Korea. Is this a new threat to the United States?

And we're also learning what's in Hillary Clinton's brand-new book. We're going to spill some of the beans at the top of the hour.


BLITZER: There are new signs of a growing alliance between the Russian President Vladimir Putin and the North Korean leader Kim Jong- Un. The surprising bond with a key U.S. adversary coming amid the growing tensions between Russia and the United States.

Let's bring in chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, he's got the details.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is not exactly the move of a country that wants to reset relations with the U.S. Putin's turn to Asia actually began years ago as a response to President Obama's own Pivot to Asia. But it has accelerated as the West has sought to isolate Russia in retaliation for the crisis in Ukraine. The inclusion of North Korea has enormous implications since just like with Iran, Russia is a key partner in the talks to scale back North Korea's nuclear program which, again, the U.S. sees as a direct threat to U.S. national security.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Today President Obama offered an olive branch to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Putin has the chance to get back into a lane of international law. It is possible for us to begin to rebuild trust.

SCIUTTO: President Putin, however, is building trust with one of the U.S.' most dangerous enemies. North Korea. And its fiery and unpredictable new leader Kim Jong-Un.

The Russian parliament voted in April to forgive North Korea of $10 billion in debt, 90 percent of its debt with Russia, and Moscow pledged to invest $1 billion in a trans-Siberian railway line and pipeline linking Russia, North Korea and South Korea.

All this essential financial help to a regime dependent for its survival on food and financial aid from China. Russia hasn't filled that role since the fall of the Soviet Union.

"We want to use modern policies to improve our competitive advantage including economic integration," President Putin said. "This is what we are doing in the post-Soviet space."

Last month at the height of the Ukraine crisis, Russia signed a $400 billion natural gas deal with China. Together with the North Korea aid, some are calling it Putin's pivot to Asia. But it is North Korea that U.S. officials consider a direct threat to American national security. With nuclear weapons and a rapidly developing missile program aimed at hitting the U.S. mainland.

This gives North Korea a way to say, hey, look, we have an alternative, you can't treat us like dirt anymore. And so they welcome this newfound interest by Putin.


SCIUTTO: The U.S. has spent years and lots of diplomatic capital pressuring China to reduce its support for the North Korean regime. North Korea's increasingly erratic behavior recently has deeply frustrated Chinese leaders leaving some U.S. diplomats to hope that China might finally punish the North Korean regime. But of course if Russia fills that gap, Wolf, that gives North Korea the chance to live on again and continue to thumb its nose at efforts, for instance, to curtail its nuclear program. That's a real problem.

BLITZER: Yes. And as you well know, as you've pointed out many times, the Russians are improving relations dramatically with China at the same time. That new oil and gas deal very, very significant.

SCIUTTO: And it takes a lot of the economic pressure off Russia that the West and the European Union are trying to impose in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis if they can replace that, if they could backfill it, right, with China and others.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto reporting, thanks very much.

Coming up, a Republican senator who's also a physician tells CNN he's convinced that U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was drugged in that so-called proof of life Taliban video shown privately to U.S. lawmakers.

And we'll also share the details of what's inside Hillary Clinton's brand new book.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. New details emerging on what's inside Hillary Clinton's long awaited already controversial memoir. What clues does it contain about a possible White House run?