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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN
Process Starts for Sterling to Sell Clippers; Update on Phoenix V.A. Hospital Controversy; Nigerian Parents Ask for Help in Finding Missing Girls; Malaysia Releases New Report on MH370
Aired May 2, 2014 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I spoke to one divorce attorney. He says, if they file for divorce, this could drag on for two years. By that time, who knows where we're going to be in this case.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We'll see what happens. There is a history here, as you point out, three decades or so ago. He had a huge legal fight with the NBA.
TODD: He did. That's right. 1982, Sterling was ironically captured on tape talking about the team possibly tanking to get a big draft pick. The "L.A. Times" reported a special committee voted to oust him as an own of the Clippers in 1982. One source telling "The L.A. Times," quote, "He's as good as gone." Then, Sterling, a few days after the vote, announces, I'm going to sell the team, want to sell the team. Well, he says that, and then apparently not much happened. A stalling tactic apparently is what it was. In February of 1983, then-Commissioner David Stern announced he thought the Clippers were being operated in a first-class fashion and the NBA wouldn't pursue it anymore. So Sterling's been faced with this before. He has stalled before. He's gotten away with it before. This could happen again.
BLITZER: He's never faced, though, a national uproar, an international uproar, as he's facing right now.
TODD: Not like this. That's right.
BLITZER: And remember, he was much younger, 32 years ago, than he is right now. If these reports are true that he's got prostate cancer, you know, maybe at this stage in his life, he'll have a different attitude.
TODD: He may very well do that. He's 80 years old. Apparently, his marriage to his wife is more than 50 years old. And so this is -- he may be looking for some angles and ways to divest himself of this trouble, so maybe he'll go along with it this time. This history, as we're learning now, some of these cases, suggest he's not like that. So we'll see what happens.
BLITZER: Maybe he's changed.
BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much.
BLITZER: I know you'll have more lately in "The Situation Room."
They volunteer to serve their country in war time, but is their country letting them down? More of our CNN exclusive investigation about the U.S. vets waiting and waiting for health care. We'll speak to a 20-year veteran.
And more than 200 girls missing for weeks. Relatives are demanding action. So what can be done? We'll ask an expert.
BLITZER: An update now on our series of exclusive reports about military veterans dying, yes, dying, while waiting to see doctors at a V.A. hospital. The head of the Phoenix Veterans Hospital, Sharon Helman, has been placed on administrative leave along with two other staffers. She's seen here in an interview with our own Drew Griffin, who's been doing amazing work on all this. There are also new allegations the Phoenix facility had a secret waiting list and claims more than 40 veterans died waiting for care. The report prompted President Obama to order an investigation. And yesterday the Veterans Affairs secretary, Eric Shinseki, called for a complete review, saying, quote, "These allegations if true are absolutely unacceptable and if the inspector general's investigation substantiates these claims, script and appropriate action will be taken." Shinseki's office, by the way, has repeatedly denied requests by CNN over six months to interview the secretary about these allegations. An outstanding request for Shinseki to join us continues.
Let's bring in Jessie Jane Duff right now, organizing committee -- part of an organizing committee that's involved in all of this. She represents Concerned Veterans for America.
Jessie, thanks very much for coming in.
JESSIE JANE DUFF, ORGANIZING COMMITTEE, CONCERNED VETERANS FOR AMERICA: Thank you for having me.
BLITZER: You served in the military for a long time?
BLITZER: You have a personal stake in what's going on.
BLITZER: I'm outraged. I assume you are as well.
DUFF: I served 20 years in the United States Marine Corps. I retired a gunnery sergeant. It is long been known among veterans there's a problem with the V.A. medical system. The biggest reason I joined us with Concerned Veterans for America. We've been very aggressive about this. Over a year ago, we addressed them on their million-veteran backlog they thought they were going to hit and not even getting the claims addressed. We've seen deaths all over the nation. This isn't the first time. It's gone on in South Carolina, at the Doren medical facility. Five men are dead who couldn't get in for colonoscopies because the wait times were so long. Ohio, you've got 700 veterans ill from Legionnaires Disease that the executive failed to report and several veterans died. So this has been a systemic problem within the Veterans Administration.
BLITZER: How can this -- in the United States of America, where we honor our veterans, how is this possible? How does this happen?
DUFF: Well, it's due to mismanagement. In 2009, they opened up the doors for Agent Orange illnesses, PTSD, and always Desert Storm Syndrome. They were never veterans who never had a claim submitted until 2009. They get a flood of claims from our Vietnam era and all the veterans since then, and they're not prepared to handle it. So they're immersed with appointment requests, immersed with backlogs to get their claims addressed, and they have not fixed it up until now. We're looking at manual claims that weren't even automated over a year. 97 percent of a lot of their data was being done manually. It's not a surprise to me that this has happened.
BLITZER: You've studied this obviously closely. Who's to blame?
DUFF: You know, it starts from the top. Secretary Shinseki, when he was sworn into office, he clearly stated he would get rid of the backlog. Just getting into the door, not even talking about appointments. Instead, it increased by 2,000 percent within the first few years he was on watch. I hold him accountable. This is his team. These executives must be held accountable and we need to be able to fire them. As it is right now, we can't even fire the executives.
BLITZER: We've asked the Secretary Shinseki to join us on CNN to talk about these issues. So far, he's declined all those requests. How do you -- what does that say to you?
DUFF: It tells me he's hiding. This is a general. And now he's afraid? Afraid of what? You should be coming out and leading the charge. Sharon Helman did this previously. She was in Seattle and she falsified the records --
BLITZER: She's the one that was put on leave?
DUFF: Yes, the one in Phoenix. She falsified records in Seattle. There were nine suicides she reported to headquarters when it was really twice to almost three times that of veterans. She falsified records. Instead of being moved out, she was moved up. What is wrong with this picture?
BLITZER: Very proud, by the way, that CNN really, over these past several months, Drew Griffin, the entire CNN investigations unit, they've really been focusing in on this, because this is outrageous, what's going on to our veterans. A final thought? DUFF: Well, we need to get the V.A. Accountability Management Act passed. This is going to hold executives accountable. It's Senate Bill 2013. I say to everybody, write your representative, get it passed.
BLITZER: Jessie Jane Duff, thanks very much for what you're doing.
DUFF: Thank you.
BLITZER: Still ahead, frustration mounting in Nigeria over the lack of progress in finding dozens and dozens and dozens of kidnapped young girls. We're taking a closer look. What can the U.S., if anything, do about this?
Plus, the search for flight 370 soon begins a whole new phase and part of it could take place thousands of miles from the current search area.
BLITZER: More than two weeks ago, 230 young schoolgirls were kidnapped in the middle of the night in Nigeria. Now their parents, their friends, a social campaign is under way, asking everyone to help find them. Militants dragged the girls out of their beds, herded them onto trucks and disappeared into the woods. Nigerians have criticized the Nigerian government for its handling of the rescue efforts.
I'm joined by Jennifer Cooke, director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here in Washington.
This is really an outrageous story, Jennifer. It's a shocking, shocking development. You studied this for a long time. You know Nigeria. You've seen this before. How likely is it that these girls will be free?
JENNIFER COOKE, DIRECTOR, AFRICA PROGRAM, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: It's not impossible at this point. They may still be under arms of the militant group, kind of still in one central location. There's a possibility of negotiation of some kind. Right now, a military strike against wherever they're encamped is probably going to result in a lot of casualties and nobody wants to see that. So I think we have to -- it has to be approached extremely delicately. Frankly, the Nigerian military is not known for its delicate surgical strikes.
BLITZER: Is there anything the United States or others can do to help Nigeria, which is a friendly country, deal with this issue? 230 young girls are being held by this group. This is a militant Islamist group that doesn't believe girls should get an education.
COOKE: Yes, I mean, this is an egregious group. I think we can help generally in the security response. In this particular case, where you're talking about a hostage situation, perhaps we can provide some surveillance, air support, advice on hostage negotiation, but this is going to be a delicate negotiation at this point. BLITZER: Tell us about this group, Boka Haram. We've been talking about this group. Vald Duthiers, our correspondent in Nigeria, has done excellent reporting. But tell us about this group, because they clearly represent a threat, not only in Nigeria but elsewhere in Africa as well.
COOKE: Exactly. This began as a small sect in the remote northeast of Nigeria. Initial tactics were throwing grenades into bars and police stations. It's now accelerated, expanded its targets. Suicide bombings. It's attacked dormitories and killed --
BLITZER: They don't just go after Christians.
COOKE: No, no.
BLITZER: They go after fellow Muslims as well, if they think these Muslims are letting girls get an education.
COOKE: Even boys. Boka Haram means "Western education is forbidden." They've killed young boys sleeping in dormitories in the northeast--
BLITZER: Do they have a connection to al Qaeda?
COOKE: They express some affection or affiliation with al Qaeda and there may be some linkages but, so far, they've been local in Nigeria.
BLITZER: The outrage in Nigeria is enormous. Being focused at the Nigerian government, the Nigerian military. How could they allow this to get out of control?
COOKE: I think there's a lot of anger. Many Nigerians, this was so far away, up in the northeast, that it didn't hit them as hard. Attacks. And this outrageous kidnapping of these girls, who are going to be sold into marriage, euphemism for being raped.
BLITZER: What does that mean, being sold into marriage?
COOKE: Yeah. It's a euphemism for being sold into sexual servitude and essentially raped.
BLITZER: And these are young girls, 14-year-old, 15-year-old girls.
COOKE: These are young girls, exactly. Teenage girls.
BLITZER: They would be sold to some guys out there --
COOKE: Or they --
BLITZER: And become sexual slave, if you will.
COOKE: Or the militants themselves would take them as so-called wives. This is why Nigerians, north, south, everywhere, and the world, I think, is so outraged. Because any parent can understand the pain and anguish that they're feeling right now.
BLITZER: It's an awful situation. I hope they can fix it. Whatever help the U.S. and other countries in Africa, elsewhere, can do, to deal with this organization, would be critical.
Jennifer Cooke, thanks for coming in.
COOKE: Thank you.
BLITZER: Don't leave yet.
If you'd like to help, by the way, you can find out a lot more on our website. Go to CNN.com/impactyourworld and you will be able to do that.
Other news, Malaysia now making some new announcements on the search for flight 370. Where is the search possibly headed? And how long may it take? That's next.
BLITZER: The search for flight 370 could soon take a dramatic turn. Malaysian officials may send a ship to the Bay of Bengal to check out a new claim the wreckage of the plane could be there even though they don't think they'll find any debris. Two navy ships already in the Bay of Bengal haven't turn up anything.
Meantime, a new report released by the Malaysian government details what happened in the minutes and hours after the plane vanished.
CNN's Will Ripley is in Kuala Lumpur.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for the first time, officials here in Malaysia are answering tough questions about valuable time lost and confusion in those critical first hours. They're also for the first time dismissing possible wreckage thousands of miles from Western Australia.
HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIA ACTING TRANSPORT MINISTER: And as I repeatedly stressed since the beginning, we really have nothing to hide.
RIPLEY (voice-over): Malaysian officials are dismissing claims by a private company of possible wreckage in the Bay of Bengal, several thousand miles from the search zone.
HUSSEIN: Many of these have proven to be negative. And this is similar to what we've done before.
RIPLEY: Breaking overnight, news of a trilateral meeting on Monday between Australia, China and Malaysia.
ANGUS HOUSTON, CHIEF, JOINT AGENCY COORDINATION CENTER: We are totally committed to find MH370.
RIPLEY: The next step, a daunting deep-sea search off western Australia, eight to 12 months, an estimated $60 million and more assets joining the Bluefin-21, which so far has found no sign of the missing claim.
(BEGIN AUDIO FEED)
PLANE: Good night Malaysian 370.
(END AUDIO FEED)
RIPLEY: Air traffic control audio of those haunting final words from the cockpit just seconds before the plane's tracking devices were switched off. This new report detailing the hours of confusion that followed. 17 minutes before anyone noticed the plane disappeared from radar, another four hours of inaction in the control towers before search and rescue was activated.
DATUK AZHARUDDIN ABDUL RAHMAN, DIRECTOR GENERAL, MALAYSIA DEPARTMENT OF CIVIL AVIATION: This is what -- up to the investigation team to study, to investigate.
RIPLEY: Meantime, more heartbreak for the families of flight 370.
RIPLEY: During this meeting in Beijing, learning Malaysia Airlines assistant centers are closing in just a few days, forcing them to go home without any answers about the plane or the 239 people still missing eight weeks later.
RIPLEY: Two more pieces of new information coming out of Malaysia today. Officials say they were attacking 370 using a flight tracker like the kind of technology you use on your Smartphone. And that's what led them to believe it was in Cambodian air space when it was far away from there. Something they're now looking into. They're also looking into those 17 minutes when no one seemed to notice that the plane disappeared from radar, saying they will very closely examine the procedures to make sure that doesn't happen again -- Wolf?
BLITZER: Will Ripley reporting from Kuala Lumpur.
Let's dig a little deeper.
Joining us in Washington, CNN law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes; Steve Wallace, a former director of the FAA's office on accident investigations.
Steve, you think this search in the Bay of Bengal is really worth it? Is it a waste of time? STEVE WALLACE, FORMER DIRECTOR FAA OFFICE ON ACCIDENT INVESTIGATIONS: You know, to -- to put credence in these claims about what they found in the Bay of Bengal would require you to reject what I consider to be the two most solid pieces of evidence in this investigation so far. Those are the Inmarsat pings that the best experts in the world heard off of those recorders. And this technology of this company that claims to have seen something in the Bay of Bengal is used for searching for precious metals or minerals or things like that. I haven't heard any aviation expert put much credibility on that.
BLITZER: But they're going to do it because of the enormous, I guess, public pressure now as a result of this report this company in Australia released.
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Right. Even though they have little faith in it, they have little choice but to go ahead, go through the motions and try to do it.
BLITZER: We'll see what they find.
What do you make of this, taking place on Monday, a meeting of China, Australia, Malaysia? They're going to start reviewing what's going on. Maybe going back to the beginning, look at some of the initial assumptions, make sure they're on the right track.
WALLACE: Right. I don't think there's anything earth shaking likely to come out of this meeting, especially it's, again, a demonstration of the international determination to stay with this as long as it takes.
BLITZER: I'm interested. It's China, Malaysia and Australia. Where's the U.S.?
FUENTES: Well, the U.S. only had one passenger. China had 150.
BLITZER: But it was a U.S. plane.
FUENTES: Well, the U.S. made the plane --
BLITZER: A Boeing 777 is made in the USA.
FUENTES: But the U.S. doesn't own it. They made it and sold it.
BLITZER: I know. But the plane is made here. They sell it for $250 million. The U.S. knows more about this Boeing 777 than anybody else. If it's a catastrophic mechanical failure, we don't know what it was, the U.S. will be involved.
FUENTES: Well, they're involved in the search, not exactly the investigation to what happened to it. Just strictly what areas they should be searching based on the satellite information, the satellite information.
BLITZER: You want to -- (CROSSTALK)
WALLACE: Well, you know, the five-page report that came out yesterday didn't really say very much, but it did, at least, outline that this investigation now appears to be organized according to the requirements with -- and the credited representative the national transportation safety board from the country of manufacture. So the U.S. is in the investigation. They're just not, apparently, not invited to this meeting, which is more focused, as Tom said, on search.
BLITZER: U.S. military official, as you probably know, Tom, tell CNN the U.S. agrees to extend the stay of that Bluefin-21, that drone that goes around on the bottom looking for debris or wreckage or black boxes or whatever, only until the end of next week. If they pull it out, is that a major setback in the search?
FUENTES: Well, we'll see if that pullout really happens. You have the president of the United States telling the world last week or this week, visiting Malaysia, that we're very much going to stay in the search and offer the assets of the United States. I would put more faith, I think, in what President Obama said than what a military person has said at this point.
BLITZER: A lot of people are saying they should basically take a pause right now, review, give everyone a time -- some time to reflect and then restart that search in a few weeks.
WALLACE: You know, I'm not sure there's a need for a pause. This is just a massive search with technology that's kind of going very slowly just because of the geography involved, the amount of space and the speed of the Bluefin device. I don't know if you need to pause. I think you need to continually think about whether we're doing the best thing, whether we're using the best technology.
BLITZER: Because, you know, they say it took two years to find the black boxes from that Air France disaster off of Brazil and the Atlantic Ocean. It did take two years. Even though they found wreckage five days in, it took another two years to find the black box. But in the course of that two years, there were only a few weeks in those two years they were actually looking. Most of the time, they were doing nothing.
FUENTES: It was less than 10 weeks. Well, they were reevaluating and doing the thinking of it. But in this case, the pause, I think the pilots and air crews are paused right at the moment. The scientists and the mathematicians don't need to pause. They need to keep looking at the data, keep trying to figure that out. So I don't think there's -- I agree with Steve. There's no necessity for a pause.
BLITZER: We got a lot of details in that report that the Malaysians released yesterday to the ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organization. Did you learn anything significant there?
WALLACE: No, I just read the entire report. And, of course, the air traffic control transcripts, they really appear to be entirely normal. You know, the signoff, normally, if you give a frequency change, you would repeat the frequency you are given to change to. I didn't see anything of any substance.
BLITZER: Did you see anything earth shattering in that report?
FUENTES: No, but I thought it was a remarkable press conference that the Malaysians held where they basically said, well, we can't explain the gaps in time. They had all this time to be investigating that. They ought to have more information than they're reporting now.
BLITZER: Still no clue, at least they're not telling us why this happened.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
That's it for me this hour. I'll be back 5:00 p.m. eastern in "The Situation Room.
NEWSROOM continues right now with Brooke Baldwin.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thank you so much.
Hi, everyone. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Here we are, top of the hour on this Friday.