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Veterans Affairs Secretary Not Stepping Down; Blade Runner Murder Trial Resumes; NBA Owners Want Sterling Out

Aired May 8, 2014 - 06:30   ET



MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to NEW DAY. Let's take a look at your headlines now.

The death toll stands now at 300 after an armed assault by the militant group Boko Haram in Nigeria. It happened in a village troops are using as a base as they search for hundreds of schoolgirls abducted by the group. The U.S. and Britain are sending teams. China is offering satellite assistance.

To the Ukraine, where the referendum will go on as planned. Pro- Russian separatists in a major hotspot have decided to move forward with a vote to potentially succeed. Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for a delay. This morning, the head of NATO says there are no signs that Russia has pulled back. Despite Putin's claims, they're moving away from the Ukrainian border.

It's been exactly two months since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished with 239 people aboard. This morning, no active search is under way. Instead, an international team is reviewing satellite data and re-evaluating the mission to find that missing plane. Meanwhile, new ideas are being floated to require longer battery lives in black box pingers and real time data tracking of planes over open oceans.

Just some of the changes that we were wondering would come, Chris, after the disappearance of this flight.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: That's an important part of this story, also, is what is able to change.

So, we understand that Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki is doubling down on his refusal to step down after deadly delays in V.A. hospitals uncovered exclusively by CNN. And on Wednesday, Shinseki finally did decide to break his silence. Take a listen.


INTERVIEWER: Are you willing as secretary of veterans affairs to accept full responsibility?

ERIC SHINSEKI, VETERANS AFFAIRS SECRETARY: I am. I have. And that's the reason the I.G. is down there doing the investigation.

INTERVIEWER: They want you to resign or be fired. Will you resign?

SHINSEKI: I will say I serve at the pleasure of the president.


CUOMO: CNN has been working on this story since last fall, uncovering these shocking allegations. So, listen to this:

More than 40 veterans did die while waiting to be seen at V.A. hospitals cross the country, including in Arizona, South Carolina, Georgia, and Texas. An elaborate cover-up scheme at a V.A. hospital in Phoenix put more than 1400 veterans on a secret waiting list. And the V.A.'s own reports that it somehow cleared 1/2 million backlogged records for patients seeking consults.

All right. So, joining us now is Daniel Dellinger, the national commander of the American Legion.

This is nothing new to you. You're aware of this stuff. What is your reaction to what was uncovered?

DANIEL DELLINGER, THE AMERICAN LEGION: It's been a growing situation. We have seen flags across the country and Phoenix is just the newest flag. It's been, you know, one death is tragic, preventable deaths are just unforgivable.

And for them to try to cover it up, we just can't forgive -- forgive deaths of veterans here at home. You know, battlefield is one thing. But when they come home, seeking medical care that they have earned, then there's a real problem.

And we've been seeing this. We have what's called a system we're saving that goes into the hospitals and we've been monitoring this for 10 years. We're the veterans' organization that goes in and really sees what's going on. And with the bonuses and the secretary's unwillingness to hold anyone accountable for these is just something we can't tolerate.

CUOMO: One of the things that I think people need to know the most is and probably most troubling is, this is not new. Fair, Mr. Dellinger, that Shinseki, it was on his watch and his job to clean it up and clearly he's not getting it done. But the worst part is it ain't new, is it?

DELLINGER: No, it isn't. That's why we started what's called a system we're saving ten years ago. And as we've been reviewing the hospitals, we go into about 15 hospitals per year and regional offices about the same amount per year to try to understand what they're doing and why they do certain things.

And try to -- we're partners in this. We're here. This is not partisanship. This is all about the veterans. We're just here to make sure that veterans get the best care possible by the V.A.

CUOMO: And you could argue that that's the promise that America makes, right? That these fighting men and women deserve the best of everything. And not only they're not getting the best, but the question to you is, do you believe that treatment at the V.A. is actually worse than you get in the other public and private parts of the system?

DELLINGER: I can't say that. I mean, there's a poll out from last week. Once you get past the administrative snafus and the scheduling issues, once you see a doctor, most veterans are very satisfied with the care within the hospitals. 85 percent say that they're satisfied, 95 percent of veterans say if they had to go to a doctor their next visit they would visit a V.A. doctor, which says wonderful things about the system.

The system is not broke. The system needs to be revamped, especially giving bonuses to failures and promotions, it's just not acceptable.

CUOMO: So, what do you want from Secretary Shinseki? Should he be removed? Should he take some specific action? What do you want?

DELLINGER: At this point, if this was the military, you would be relieved of duty. If you were in a private sector, you'd be fired. And we need the V.A. to be the best it can be for our veterans. And if it means him stepping down, yes. And if it means revamping, the I.G., this should have been going on a long time ago.

Now, he's just -- he's not being proactive. He's being reactive. The only reason he's being reactive to this point is because we've come out and said enough is enough.

CUOMO: Daniel Dellinger, national commander for the Legion -- thank you for being with us.

DELLINGER: Thank you.

CUOMO: As the secretary says himself, though, he serves at the behest of the president. So, it comes to the White House to decide what happens. The pressure is on them, to be sure. Thank you, sir.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up next on NEW DAY, did Oscar Pistorius just help the prosecution's case? We're going to tell you what he said when court was not in session that could cause him some very serious trouble. We're going to take you live to South Africa for that.

And also this ahead, the woman who recorded Donald Sterling's racist comments is now reportedly under investigation herself. Did she try to extort money from the embattled L.A. Clippers owner? Plus, reports that she's trying to adopt. The latest, all ahead.


BOLDUAN: It's money time. Chief business correspondent Christine Romans is in the money center.

Obviously, a lot going on. Look at all the stuff moving behind you. CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I know, there's lot going on this week, you guys. A government-backed students loans are going to cost more this fall. Last year, Congress passed a bill tying student loan rates to the treasury market in theory to keep rates lower. The latest auction has rates jumping to 4.66 percent for undergraduates, 6.21 percent for graduate loans.

Walmart may hurt Whole Foods' bottom line. Whole Foods is going to sell less healthy food because of stiff competition from other chains jumping in with similar healthy options at lower prices. Remember, Walmart just pledged to offer organic food for 25 percent less? That's hurting Whole Foods.

Tesla proving that cool cars really do have a high price tag. The company says its costs are skyrocketing. The CEO Elon Musk plans to invest more than half a billion dollars this year spending a large chunk of that on research. That also hit that stock, guys.


CUOMO: All right. Christine, thank you very much.

Let's turn to the latest of the Oscar Pistorius trial. On the stand right now, a social worker who met with the Blade Runner at his home after he shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. She says Pistorius was a, quote, "heartbroken man", and is not, quote, "putting on a show."

Let's bring in Kelly Phelps. She's CNN's legal analyst in Pretoria, South Africa.

What do you make of the social worker? How relevant?

KELLY PHELPS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's certainly very surprising. I think even to the defense it was surprising because we heard that the social worker only actually contacted them on Tuesday this week to volunteer herself to testify. And this was after she had read media reports essentially repeating suggestion in court in cross- examination to Pistorius that he was in some way manufacturing his emotions or hiding behind them to avoid taking responsibility for what he's done.

And therefore, it is a useful witness for the defense in that regard because they now have the opportunity to place evidence on the record by someone who should be added actually works for the state who speaks to the authenticity and voracity of his emotional response, thereby detracting from the claim that he's manipulating his emotions to avoid getting into trouble legally.

CUOMO: Is that with Kim Myers, a friend of Reeva's filed a report with the National Prosecuting Authority, alleging Pistorius approached her and whispered, how can you sleep at night in a sinister tone. What is the context and what do you think the impact is?

PHELPS: Well, clearly, the reason that that phrase in a sinister tone has been included in the press release is because that is what brings it within the purview of the South African law and intimidation. They need to be a threat of harm.

However, having said that, this is not directly relevant to this particular trial at all and therefore the national prosecutes authority issued a statement distancing themselves from it making it clear that if ms. Myers would like to pursue it she needs to essentially open another case and pursue it as a separate matter because Kim Myers is no longer going to be a potential witness for this case. So it has no bearing on the outcome of this trial and the judge is not permitted to consider it when reaching her determination.

CUOMO: And unlike having a jury where you don't know what bleeds through, you only have an audience of one here, the judge. So, you're heaping for better control of what's supposed to be relevant and allowed in trial and not.

So let's end it this way, though, Kelly. There's a -- this is very complex in a way. There are multiple charges. You know, this is a very protracted trial at this point. What do you think is the best thing that the prosecution has going for them at this point?

PHELPS: Well, the best thing that they have going for them at the point is certainly now to show a consistency in terms of the major arguments that they've put forward and specifically, the evidence pertaining to having heard a woman screaming. That really was the first time in the trial that we had some foundation laid, some basis laid from which the judge could infer intention to kill on Pistorius' behalf.

And therefore you saw Nel yesterday and earlier on in the week when he was speaking to the other neighbors that the defense has put forward, you saw him very carefully putting a time frame on record by referring to the cellphone records, essentially setting up the opportunity to argue at the end of the case that the male screams that the defense witnesses heard were, in fact, a completely separate set of screams from those heard by his witnesses. And it will be crucial for him that the judge essentially believes that argument put forward.

CUOMO: We all remember that as the somewhat bizarre moment in the trial when the defense argued that Oscar Pistorius sounds like what may be mistaken for a woman when he screams because of the emotion in that incident. But it will be interesting to see whether the prosecution can tie that together with what happened in the room where only Oscar Pistorius knows the absolute truth at this point. Kelly Phelps, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up next on NEW DAY, new revelations about Donald Sterling's mistress. V. Stiviano under investigation now over allegations of blackmail. Our legal expert weighing in.


CUOMO: Houston Texans are on the clock. The NFL draft starts tonight. Who is going to be first picked? Who is going to be last picked? A lot of intrigue. Andy Scholes, a huge fan of the Texans, by the way, joins us now this morning's "Bleacher Report." What do you have my friend? ANDY SCHOLES, "BLEACHER REPORT": Hi, Chris. You know, I've been waiting for tonight since the end of last season when the Texans called off a last season losing 14 in a row at the end. Now the consensus is the Texans are going to select South Carolina defensive end, Jadeveon Clowney who is being called a once in a generation type player.

Now there is also lots of talk about Texans could take the most polarizing figure in the draft, Texas A&M quarterback, Mr. Johnny Football. Also lots of talk that the Texans could be looking to trade the pick. We will found out tonight at 8:00 Eastern when the first round kicks off in New York.

Turning on this morning is the NBA playoffs. We have a Roy Hibbert sighting. The Pacer's all-star center finally snapped out of his block going for a season high 28 points in game two last night against the Wizards. This after putting up the dreaded double zero in game one of the series. In the end would win it, 86- 82. This series tied at a game apiece.

In Oklahoma City, Kevin Durant received his MVP trophy before game two with the Clippers and he quickly showed everyone why he is the MVP, scoring 17 points in the first quarter. His running buddy, Russell Westbrook with the monster slam.

Those two combined to score 63 points in the game. Thunder get the big win, 112-101. The series shifts back to L.A. for game three on Friday night with it all tied up at one game apiece. Michaela, we're just getting started.

PEREIRA: They're going back home. And also Mel Robbins who is here said you look like Tom Brady. Complement for you now.


SCHOLES: I've heard it before.

PEREIRA: Heard it before.

Let's talk about the Clippers. The Clippers owners making their push to oust Donald Sterling. Looks like it's going to take a legal fight to pry the team from the owner and now his wife who is getting involved, and the woman who recorded Sterling's racist comments being investigated for extortion and also, trying to adapt two children.

So much to discuss with our CNN commentator and legal analyst, Mel Robbins. You did make Andy blush. Not hard to do apparently. The owners met. They have a committee. They met yesterday discussing the removal of Donald Sterling, ownership from the team. I want your thoughts right off the bat. What do you think? Is it fair, is it just?

ROBBINS: He should be removed. It's completely fair because he's operating under contractual guidelines that he signed, that he's been approving for 30 decades, for crying out loud, and he had behavior, whether it was obtained legally or not, that had a direct impact on the NBA financially. So this is a slam dunk as far as I'm concerned.

PEREIRA: Now, there are some potential complications.


PEREIRA: It's interesting. Wolf Blitzer's reporting that since 1981 Sterling has also signed separate agreements with the NBA including within the last decade that contain moral clauses. How is all of that going to stand up legally? He signed that there are morals that he will live up to or not.

ROBBINS: This is going to stand up because in the world we've got this huge body of laws that the governments pass that you and I and everybody else have to follow. However, he lives in this world. This is the NBA. When you want to live with the flowers you've got to sign a contract and you've got to behave a certain way. And when he said something, excuse me, when he said those words and they got out in the public space, those words had a huge impact on that world and they also violated the laws that he said that he would live in by being a part of the NBA.

PEREIRA: It's that point that it got out in into the public space because he has behaved this way before and he has -- there's been reports of the way he behaved, et cetera, et cetera.

ROBBINS: Yes. The only thing that I disagree with, the mob mats that's wanting him out, I'm part of that mob saying get him out, get him out, get him out, is that there is no way the NBA could have kicked him out for the prior behavior because it had zero impact on the NBA. Elgin who was on with Anderson last night, his racial charges were dismissed so the NBA did not have a leg to stand on in terms of being able to rally the support necessary to kick him out.

PEREIRA: The other thing that we heard, Shelly Sterling, wife, estranged wife, et cetera, we don't know exactly, she believes she's legally entitled to maintain ownership of the team. She's going to fight to do so.


PEREIRA: She's part of the family trust, which would essentially give her equal ownership of the team. So here's the question.


PEREIRA: That's a massive complication. Do you think fans are going to be welcoming of it?


PEREIRA: Do you think players are going to stand for it?

ROBBINS: No. I think she's the "x" factor. As much as we have the "v" factor in this thing. We have the "x" factor. With Shelly, what does the document with the NBA say between Donald Sterling, vis-a-vis the ownership? If Donald Sterling, let's say you have a car and I buy a car, but we put the title of the car in a family trust. If my name is the only thing on that title, I still own it. If I sell it, my husband may be entitled to half of it, but he doesn't legally own the car. He just is a beneficiary of it. Until we actually see the contracts between the NBA --

PEREIRA: Fine-tuning with a legal comb.

ROBBINS: -- she can put out a press release saying I'm a co-owner.

PEREIRA: Let's dig into the relationship at the center of this entire thing, the woman who put out the -- well, the woman that was on the other side of that infamous recording. We don't know who put it out to be fair. She is now being reportedly investigated for extortion.


PEREIRA: Thoughts on that, first of all.

ROBBINS: Well, I wouldn't be surprised. And the reason why is if you will recall last weekend TMZ was report that Sterling muttered to a reporter, I should have just paid her off. Remember you I said we have the "v" factor and the "x" factor. The "x" factor, Shelly Sterling sued V. Stiviano using divorce law to say, you've been with my husband, you've been sleeping with him. He gave you $1.4 million mansion in Beverly Hills. He's given you four cars. That stuff is mine and we're going to go through a divorce and I need that back.

So she sued V. Stiviano and V. said, to Sterling, and to some of her friends, I'm going to get back at her. Some people are speculating that this tape leak is retaliation for the fact that Shelly -- this is such a drama. Follow the bouncing ball, but Shelly is upset that V. Stiviano was treated the way she was by her husband.

PEREIRA: And sort of another area of this "L.A. Times" is reporting that V. Stiviano is also trying to adopt two children.


PEREIRA: I'll admit. I work with at risk kids. I get my back up when I hear a story like this. I went beyond the headline a little bit. These are kids that are distant relatives to her. There are going to be people who say she's been arrested for petty theft, DUIs. Do these people get vetted to be foster parents? I do get my back up. Talk me down from the ledge or should I be talked down from the ledge?

ROBBINS: I'm with you on this. Any kid that's in the foster system, anybody that is seeking to have custody or have guardianship or somebody or to adopt somebody should be scrutinized at the highest levels, but --

PEREIRA: Apparently she's been given special dispensation in terms of her past.

ROBBINS: She doesn't have a lengthy criminal record. As far as I'm concerned these are relatives of hers. She's been going through the process for well over a year. She already has been taking care of these kids. And this is just weird timing where all of the final stuff was, you know, coming down.

There are people on this planet who have done so much worse that still have their kids and if she can give these kids a great home even though she's a screwball in terms of who she is hanging out with and the way she conducts herself, if there's nothing to prove those kids are in danger, I don't think it should have any bearing on whether or not she's fit to take care of these kids.

PERIERA: Mel Robbins, always great to talk to you. Thank you for digging through all of this for us -- Chris, Kate.

CUOMO: Screwball, legal term of art there.

All right, there are some big stories to tell you about to help start your NEW DAY. Russia says it's pulling back troops from Ukraine's border. The U.S. Says, no it isn't. Nigeria's president said this is the beginning of the end of the terrorists who took them. And Monica Lewinsky took Hillary Clinton to task for blaming herself for the affair. Let's get after all of it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vladimir Putin has made a remarkable U-turn in his stance on Ukraine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So far we haven't seen any indications they are pulling back their troops.