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VA Secretary Issued Subpoena; Interview with Debbie Wasserman Schultz; Vladimir Putin Visits Crimea; Detective Saves a Man Jumping into Subway Pit; US Military Experts En Route to Nigeria; Republicans Raising Money off Bengahzi

Aired May 9, 2014 - 07:00   ET


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: They want to hear from him directly. They want to see any e-mails about these so-called secret waiting lists where veterans made to wait more than the two-week period. Was it all covered up? Did veterans die because of this?

This is really becoming a growing issue across Washington. Shinseki will testify before the Senate without a subpoena next week. The president standing behind his secretary of veterans affairs so far, but make no mistake, there have been growing calls for Shinseki to resign. We will see next week what he has to say in front of Congress. Chris, Kate?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Barbara, thank you very much.

So House Democrats, they're in the spotlight today, saying they may boycott a new investigation into the 2012 attack in Benghazi. The Republican controlled House voted to establish a special committee on the attack populated by mostly Republicans. The attacks left four Americans dead, you will remember, including a U.S. ambassador. Many Democrats are push for a boycott. Why? They're saying it's just a partisan witch hunt.

Joining us is Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, also the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. It's good to have you here. Before we get to this boycott, Shinseki, you as the head of the DNC, do you believe that Shinseki should be forced to step down?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ, (D) FLORIDA: I think the most important thing here is to make sure that we can get adequate strong funding, and that we make sure that the VA has an aggressive effort that would make sure that we can get these waiting lists and the backlog reduced and get our veterans the services that they need.

And we need to make sure that we can get to the bottom of how we can get that accomplished very, very quickly, and Republicans, quite frankly, need to make sure that they step up and provide more funding to the VA so we can do that.

CUOMO: Congresswoman, the man in charge is Eric Shinseki. He serves at the pleasure of the president. The accountability has been lackluster. This stuff has been going on forever. It's why he was brought in. It's getting worse, not better. Isn't it time for there to be leadership in this situation? WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Of course. Of course there's time for there to be leadership. This is the time. And I think no one other than General Shinseki would agree with that more. And his expressions of deep concern over the problems that have arisen over the backlog have been -- have been publicly expressed appropriately. We need to work with him to get to the bottom of how we can quickly deal with the backlog.

And we need to do it in a bipartisan way and not add yet another dimension to the finger pointing and blame game. We've got hundreds of thousands of veterans now who are coming into the VA pipeline and we need to get them taken care of.

CUOMO: Congresswoman, I couldn't agree with you more about the sniping, but I have to tell you I think this is a good place for finger pointing. And you can't say that General Shinseki has been forthcoming. He's been ducking questions. He's needed to be subpoenaed. Is it a fair assumption if he were a Republican in a Republican administration you would not be so generous of his behavior up to date?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: The fair assumption is that, as a member of Congress who has a very significant 36,000 strong veteran population in my Congressional district, my number one priority is to make sure they get the care that they need and that we get these problems and this backlog ironed out. Yes, we should hold people accountable when there have been problems that go directly to that person's responsibility. We need to get those questions answered.

But the top priority for all of us should be working to make sure we reduce the backlog and get the veterans taken care of in need. That's President Obama's priority. It's my priority as a member of Congress. And politically and in terms of honoring the public service of these veterans we need to make sure we take care of them.

CUOMO: And you can't put politics on top of that by keeping somebody in the position who is not getting to job done.

Let's move on to the Benghazi committee. Let's just get right to it. Congresswoman, you can't boycott the committee. Why even suggest it? You can't boycott the committee.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, what the thing that has been lost in this farce that the Republicans have stirred up yet again is that we have four Americans who have died. Their families have been through a tragedy. And their families deserve more than the political ploy that this is, and then to be treated, for their loved ones to be treated like a political football.

We have to make sure that we focus on the priorities of this country, creating jobs, getting the economy turned around. And the Republicans are now turning to Benghazi because the affordable care act repeal obsession that they've had has lost its luster. It's not quite as getting their base quite as ginned up as it was. So they need something that they can get their folks latched on to --

CUOMO: So go fight the good fight. So let's say everything you're saying is true. Go fight the good fight. Go ask about yellow cake and ask about the weapons of mass destruction and where the anger was and outrage from these same people of so outraged now about Benghazi?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Let me be clear. I have not called for a boycott. What I said is that the leader, if there is not equal representation of Democrats and Republicans and that this is not a fair process, then not participating in a sham select committee after 13 investigations, 50 briefings, 25,000 pages of documents for what is essentially a political ploy is something that should be considered.

It is also perfectly legitimate for us to participate and make sure that we can get our questions answered and help make sure that, to the best of ability, even though this process is clearly not going to be fair and the Republicans have decided exactly where they are on it, that we make sure that we can at least try to balance the outcome. That's a reasonable position as well.

I just said that not participating and sanctioning a political ploy and what is essentially a turnout operation for their GOP plan to get their Republican Tea Party base ginned up is something reasonably considered as well.

CUOMO: But you know that these committees are always imbalanced based on who has the leadership position.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No, they're not always imbalanced. No, they're not.

CUOMO: It's very common, very common.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: When they -- when it is essential that there is fairness, like with the budget -- like with the budget hearings, when we are dealing with the debt ceiling crisis, that committee was balanced.

CUOMO: By accommodation. By accommodation.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No, by decision, at the beginning of the process. Republicans and Democrats --

CUOMO: I'm just saying it's not unusual. I'm not saying it shouldn't be balanced. I'm just saying it's not proof that it's not fair.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: What I'm saying is in a case like this, if the Republicans are truly interested in quote, unquote, "getting to bottom of what happened," they aren't, but if they were truly interested, then in those times when the have something as deeply serious as making sure that we prevent this from ever happening again and ensuring that we get to the bottom of it so we can find the perpetrators and bring them to justice, then an evenly split committee is reasonable and an appropriate thing to do. We've done it before when we are trying to make sure we put politics aside.

But this is 100 percent pure politics. They don't have the ACA that's ginning up their base anymore. They tried to latch on to Cliven Bundy and that blew up in their face. And now they have to go back to Benghazi, which has been, even by their own leader's admission, even by Speaker Boehner and Buck McKeon, the chairman of the armed services committee's admission, they've exhausted multiple witness, multiple times, 25,000 pages of documents. We've had a commission that has met, that the secretary of state put together led by Admiral Mullen, 29 recommendations, all of which are in the process of being implemented. We've got to work together to focus on the nation's problems.

The Republicans are doing everything they can to keep something in the news, and they are really abusing the tragedies that these families have gone through and dragging these four tragic deaths back into the spotlight just to be able to try to get their folks to turn out a little bit more on Election Day.

CUOMO: I'm just saying, congresswoman, if you're not there, then there's no one to argue those points.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: We're going -- Chris, we're going to discuss that this morning. And the Democratic caucus will give the leader our advice and our opinion and we'll make a decision. Both positions are reasonable.

CUOMO: Look forward to what comes out of the meeting. Thank you for joining us as always, congresswoman. Happy mother's day to you.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you very much.

CUOMO: Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: American help is finally arriving to help the search for the hundreds abducted schoolgirls in Nigeria. A team of advisers and military experts arriving as new intelligence suggests the girls may have been separated already by the Al Qaeda affiliated group who took them. And emotional, devastating accounts from girls believed to have escaped the mass kidnapping. CNN's Vladimir Duthiers is in Nigeria with much more. Vladimir?

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kate. In fact, we've not only been able to obtain video of girls who describe the terrifying ordeal as they escape the clutches of Boko Haram when they stormed their campus in the middle of the night while they were sleeping. Several of them managed to get away.

With the new information that's coming out, Kate, people that we have spoken to on the ground in Chibok say that this is their worst fears. Perhaps these girls may have been split up. The parents are saying to us they've been talking about that since the beginning, that this was something that they were worried about. They had seen convoys filled with young girls when militants on those convoys on a road leading out of Nigeria into neighboring Cameroon. And now clearly the fact that the United States is saying that these girls may have been broken up has made their worst fears come to pass, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Vlad, stay on top of it for us. Thank you so much for an update on that horrible situation. Now to eastern Ukraine. Fresh fighting has broken out this morning between pro Russia separatists and government forces. There are reports of fatalities unfortunately, and just in to CNN, Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived in Crimea, the region annexed by Russia from Ukraine. He's there celebrating a pivotal World War II victory. Phil Black is in Crimea with more on this situation. Phil?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, good morning. Vladimir Putin started to day in Moscow at a big annual military parade in Red Square next to the Kremlin there. They're marking victory day, a big, imposing display of military might.

But now just in the last few minutes Russian state media has confirmed that President Putin as expected has traveled here to Crimea, this territory that was annexed by Russia so recently and which much of the international community does not recognize as Russian. He has come here to mark perhaps this most significant of national holidays for Russian people that marks Russia's role in defeating Nazi Germany during World War II.

He clearly believes that this is Russian territory as does the huge crowds we are seeing here that have been cheer for a smaller military parade, waving Russian flags. The celebration here is supposed to get even bigger with a big display by warships from the Russian black sea naval fleet. Vladimir Putin is expected to show himself here shortly. He hasn't done so yet. But there's been some more cheering from the crowd just in the last few minutes as news of Putin's arrival clearly is beginning to spread. His appearance here will be very much interpreted as a triumphalist statement to the international community, an act of defiance given the international condemnation that he and Russia has received since taking over this territory which was, until recently, part of Ukraine. Michaela?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Phil Black in Crimea, thank you for that.

Let's take a look at some other headlines right now. The Clippers and Thunder play game three of their playoff series tonight in Los Angeles as Donald Sterling's wife says she will fight the effort by the NBA to force her out of an owner of the team. In a new audio recording said to be of Donald Sterling, the disgraced L.A. Clippers owner denies the charges that got him banned for life from the NBA.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You think I'm a racist? Do you think I have everything in the world but love for everybody? You don't think that. You know I'm not a racist.


PEREIRA: That tape was released by Radar Online. CNN has not confirmed that recording.

I want to tell you an amazing story of heroism out of Massachusetts caught on camera. A man tries to end his life by jumping on to the subway tracks only to be pulled back by a very quick-thinking officer.


DETECTIVE SEAN CONWAY, TRANSIT POLICE: He wanted to go in the pit.

PEREIRA: This heart-stopping moment caught on camera, a man teetering on the edge of a subway platform ready to jump.

CONWAY: He struggled with me a little bit further to get himself into the pit.

PEREIRA: Luckily transit detective Sean Conway was there and quick to act, grabbing the man just in the nick of time and pulling him to safety.

CONWAY: I just know I didn't want to go into the pit. I committed to grabbing him and I just committed myself to not going with him in the pit.

PEREIRA: The unidentified man was just feet from the rail when Detective Conway came to the rescue. Despite his actions, Detective Conway says he's no hero.

CONWAY: I was just lucky to be there at the right place at the right time for the gentleman.


PEREIRA: Talk about being at the right place at the right time, we're going to actually speak with him about that very thing. That detective is going to join us later on NEW DAY. We can talk to him about that moment, how quick thinking, quick acting saved that man's life.

BOLDUAN: Oh, my gosh.

CUOMO: Right place, right time.

BOLDUAN: It gives you chills.

CUOMO: Can't wait to have him.

Coming up on NEW DAY, Boko Haram is a name you now know well. Most here had no idea who they were before this horrible kidnapping of hundreds of girls. We're going to take you inside the group to show you why the international community is gathering to take it on.

BOLDUAN: And the family of four killed in a former tennis star's home that goes up in flames, unbelievable. Why investigators are now taking a closer look at the father of that family.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

American military experts are on their way to help Nigeria in the search of the abducted schoolgirls. The kidnappings have raised the profile of the militant group Boko Haram, that's for sure. And we're racing to learn more, the U.S. is, about the group, including who they are and how Nigeria and international partners, including the United States, may be able to bring the girls home safely. Safely is the key.

Joining us now to discuss foreign editor for "The Daily Beast", Christopher Dickey.

Chris, great to see you. Thanks for coming in. So let's talk about this. First, let's show viewers the area we are discussing. All right? So obviously we're talking about an area in Nigeria. And if we can advance the animation, I want to make sure we see some of the towns where's these attacks have taken place.


BOLDUAN: First and foremost, when you look at how this is all laid out, and you know this area better than many people do, how are they hiding these girls? Why is it so hard to find them?

DICKEY: Well, there are a lot of reasons. First of all because the area. That whole region up there in northeast Nigeria is essentially out of government control. It's become kind of a no-man's-land where Boko Haram can move around very, very freely. There is a big forest there; part of it is a national forest, but it's a lot of forested land. There are caves in the mountains in that region between Chibok where these girls were kidnapped and -- and Cameroon.

And then you have all these borders, slivers of borders and countries coming together. So jurisdictionally, who is in charge? Who should be looking for these girls where? Cameroon, Niger, or Chad, or, for that matter obviously, Nigeria?

BOLDUAN: And is that why, because some would wonder, why they believe that the girls have been separated and why there are some suggestions some of the girls may already have been moved to other countries.

DICKEY: Well, almost certainly some of the girls have been moved into Cameroon.

BOLDUAN: Why almost certainly?

DICKEY: Well, because it's nearby, because it gets them away from the authority of any Nigerian military or police who want to come looking for them, because it complicates the situation. That's the way guerrillas operate. Complicate the situation, break up into small groups, hide, and then coalesce and attack when that is appropriate.

BOLDUAN: So if they are separated, what does that do to the search effort? Because everyone will wonder what can the U.S. do in coming?

DICKEY: The U.S. can gather intelligence. It can try to find these people. It can use satellite imagery. It can use drones, it can use overhead imagery, depending, of course, to some extent on how much Nigeria wants to cooperate, which is something of an issue. BOLDUAN: Still a question, right?

DICKEY: Something of an issue. But the U.S. isn't going to put any boots on the ground there. It's not going to put people there.

There is a chance that the French will move into those border regions. There's been some talk about that. The French have deployed a lot of troops in Africa recently, in the Central African Republic, in Mali.

BOLDUAN: In Mali, yeah.

DICKEY: Their main goal is to fight terrorist groups, Islamist terrorist groups. So they have an interest in getting involved, too. But they're not going to find 220 something girls. Those girls are not together. They are not going to be rescued in a dramatic operation all at once. This is going to be a long protracted process, not only looking for them, but very possibly trying to negotiate their release, and although people are not going to say it, possibly to ransom them.

BOLDUAN: And then bringing the people who did this to justice is then another question.

DICKEY: Well, bringing them to justice is going to be a question of hunting them down and killing them if the Nigerian government is on board for that, if it wants to get involved with that. In the past, it's hoped to negotiate some kind of solution, some kind of end to this conflict.

BOLDUAN: Now, you have an interesting take. You actually believe that the public campaign really trying to draw the world's attention to the kidnappings of these girls, the #bringbackourgirls, you think that actually might be hurting their chances of being recovered somehow?

DICKEY: Well, there's two elements. One is that the Nigerian government was trying to sweep this whole thing under the rug for the longest time.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, it's been going on for three weeks.

DICKEY: It's been going on for three weeks.

BOLDUAN: Well, and years. Let's be honest.

DICKEY: And immediately, immediately after these girls were kidnapped, the Nigerian government, military, put out world that all but eight of them had been rescued. Why -- why would it do that? Basically to drop the number down so it didn't make headlines.

The problem now, though, is that the head of Boko Haram has realized that he has -- these girls are a valuable commodity. The whole world is paying attention. So he goes on YouTube. He says, "I've got them. I'm going to sell them into slavery."

This is a man, this is a group, that has ransomed people before. Before they kidnapped Europeans. They kidnapped a European family in Cameroon and ransomed them for more than $3 million. These girls, who he talks about selling as wives for $12, these are now valuable commodities to him.

BOLDUAN: But -- but then, Chris, what's the alternative, though, ignore it?

DICKEY: I'm not saying you should ignore it.


DICKEY: And I think that the campaign, which "The Daily Beast" is a part of --


DICKEY: -- is a good campaign for a lot of reasons, partly to make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen again, partly to make sure that people do pay attention, that hundreds of girls can't be kidnapped and forgotten. That's good.

But we have to recognize that there is a flip side to this, and that in terms of actually freeing those individual girls, those 220 some girls we believe to be still held captive, the campaign is not going to be able to do very much.

BOLDUAN: And the more we learn about it, the more we learn about Nigeria and the area that these girls are, that very large forest, the tougher it seems that this is going to end well.

DICKEY: It's going or very tough. It's going to be very prolonged, I'm afraid.

BOLDUAN: Chris, it's great to see you. Thanks so much.

DICKEY: Thank you.


CUOMO: Coming up on NEW DAY, incredible video: a man trying to jump to his death, saved at the last minute by a quick-thinking cop. How did it all happen? We're going to speak to the police officer coming up.

And on Inside Politics, who is your favorite first lady? A new poll ranks your opinion of presidential spouses. The results, guess what, might surprise you.


PEREIRA: Welcome back. Let's look at your headlines.

The House Veterans Affairs Committee voting to subpoena V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki, this as CNN uncovers news accusations against a V.A. hospital in San Antonio for allegedly cooking the books to cover up long and potentially deadly treatment delays for patients. Appointment delays at V.A. hospitals are blamed for dozens of deaths.

U.S. personnel arriving in Nigeria today to help search for the nearly 300 girls abducted by Boko Haram. An American team already in Nigeria has started advising on the search already. Early intelligence points to the girls being broken into groups, some of them even taken across the border into Cameroon.

Breaking news in the Ukrainian crisis. Gunfire and black smoke in the streets as fighting erupts. In eastern Ukraine, the national guard reportedly entering the city, Amaropol (ph). This as Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrates Victory Day in Crimea, the region annexed by Russia. It marks a key World War II victory. The celebrations have Ukrainian officials on edge.

We'll keep an eye on that situation there in Ukraine and Crimea for you right here on CNN.

CUOMO: A lot of politic on the watch as well, so let's get inside them on NEW DAY with Mr. John King.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Happy Friday, ladies and gentlemen.

CUOMO: To you as well.

BOLDUAN: Hello. Hello.

KING: TGIF. There is a lot of politics to talk this morning, so let's get straight to it and go inside politics.

Maggie Haberman of "Politico," Molly Ball of "The Atlantic" with me this morning.

The Democrats today, ladies, face a big decision, whether to take part of in this new select committee on Benghazi. The Democrats say this has been overinvestigated. They say that most of these House investigations, in particular, have been very partisan.

And the big controversy at the moment is, and I think this is ridiculous and in a word, stupid, even before this new committee was officially launched, Republicans are raising money, trying to raise money in this election year. The House speaker John Boehner was asked about this yesterday. Is it right to raise money off Benghazi, ad he was asked very pointedly off the death of four Americans? Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Speaker Boehner, four Americans died in Benghazi. Should the NRCC fund-raise off of your efforts of a select committee?

JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Our focus is on getting the answers to those families who lost their loved ones, period.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should the NRCC do fund-raising off it right now? (inaudible)

BOEHNER: Our focus -- our focus is getting the truth for these four families and for the American people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But the campaign committee, which you are very involved in, did fund-raising off of this. Why is that happening?

BOEHNER: Our focus is on getting the truth for the American people and these four families.


KING: That's the speaker of the House, the top-ranking Republican in the land. That was not a robot.

Maggie, I'm sorry, I get a little crazy about this one. But he's the leader. Leaders are supposed to lead. He could at least answer the question as to whether or not it's appropriate, right?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, "POLITICO": He could. His answer probably seems more politically astute for him, whether it's an actual answer to the -- to the question is a different issue.

But look, it's always dangerous when you fund-raise off of a tragedy, as you point out. This is a very delicate thing. I'm not sure that leadership was necessarily thrilled that that happened, but they don't see a way to walk it back.

And remember, their base, the party's low-dollar base is very interested in this. It does help them fund raise. I'm not saying that makes it OK, but that's what's happening.

KING: Right. It's perhaps inevitable in the world we live in, Molly. And maybe the Democrats would do the same thing if they were in power.