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Democrats Debate Benghazi Committee; New Allegations of V.A. Cover-Up; American Help Arrives in Search for Girls; Sterling's Wife Wants to Keep Clippers

Aired May 9, 2014 - 08:00   ET


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: But what is this conversation amongst Democrats, floating the idea of minimal participation? It seems like they're either trying to split hairs or some fight on the playground to be quite honest.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It does seem that way. It is unfortunate when you're talking about how big and important this is.

What we're talking about is something that has been floated by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, who is a very close ally of Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. She's pushing a third option, which is instead of fully to impanel all five Democrats, just to put one Democrat in the room, to be there to beat back anything that is blatantly political and not fully endorse the panel.

Not clear if that's going to have much headway amongst Democrats. If you look at it, maybe it's sort of being a little bit pregnant, something you can relate to. Either you're in or you're out. It is part of the discussion I'm told, to maybe do this sort of halfway, minimal participation idea.

BOLDUAN: You're exactly right. That was a very perfect example to bring up right there, Dana. Thank you so much.

Dana Bash, great to see you. See you soon.

BASH: You, too.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We have stunning new allegations of cover-ups and fatal delays that should have us taking a hard, hard look at how we're treating our veterans.

Clerks at a V.A. hospital in San Antonio are accused of cooking the books to hide dangerously long treatment delays, the kind of delays that are being blamed for at least 40 patient deaths at V.A. facilities.

Now, the Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki is facing a House subpoena after the CNN investigation discovered secret wait lists that may be to blame for these 40 deaths.

So, let's bring in CNN correspondent Drew Griffin. You're joining us from San Antonio. That's where the story took you.

What have you found there?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a brand new investigation now opened by the V.A. office of inspector general. It basically started yesterday with the outing of a clerk, Chris.

This is a guy who actually schedules medical appointments for vets coming in. He says a vet will come into San Antonio, needs to see a doctor right away. Because there are no appointment times, they will schedule him out three, four months in advance, but when he goes to write in the book, into the V.A.'s keeping track list of when the appointments are made, he says he has to put in that that vet was seen within two weeks, within the allotted national time frame that the V.A. is trying to reach. He says it's nothing more than cooking the books.

Take a listen.


GRIFFIN: So, it could be three months, and it looks like 14 days?

BRIAN TURNER, V.A. CLERK: It could be three months and look like no days. It looked like they had scheduled the appointment and got exactly what they wanted.


TURNER: That's your --

GRIFFIN: So, that's my --

TURNER: I would call it that. You can call it that. The V.A. doesn't call it that. They call it zeroing out.


GRIFFIN: The V.A. calls it zeroing out. That policy now supposedly is part of this big national review, Chris. Brian Turner is filed for whistle-blower status. He's still at the V.A. in San Antonio. He met with investigators yesterday.

This is yet another investigation under way now looking at delayed care, denied care to our veterans who as you say have been dying waiting to get care.

CUOMO: Good questions, Drew. Zeroing out. Is that in any way an industry practice that's accepted anywhere? If it isn't, who is on top of this clerk? The clerk isn't the one setting the policy. Who is responsible?

GRIFFIN: He would not name his superiors. He said he shared that with the inspectors from the office of inspector generals yesterday. He's a very nervous guy. He's trying not to get in trouble. He feels empowers by others across the country who have now come forward and outed this.

But he said it was his supervisors who came in and told him to do this. And when he rode it up the chain, when he internally tried to take care of this, he told us don't e-mail anybody, don't say anything, just shut up and do your job.

CUOMO: Look, the most troubling thing for us, drew, as you know all too well, the more you dig, the more you'll find. It's leading you in all these different directions. You have to keep going. It's the only way this will come out. Hopefully, your investigation will fuel the questions that are asked of the secretary by this House committee.

Thank you for doing the reporting, my friend. We'll be back to you soon.

BOLDUAN: So, the clock is ticking in the search for the abducted girls in Nigeria as help is beginning to arrive. U.S. military experts will be arriving today, amid new reports that the nearly 300 missing girls may have been split up by their captors. And also, new emotional accounts coming from girls who are believed to have escaped the mass kidnapping.

CNN's Isha Sesay has more from Nigeria.

So, Isha, what are we hearing about the help on the way?

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Kate. As you mentioned, time is of the essence. We're hearing a U.K. team, a British hostage rescue team has arrived in Abuja. We're hearing that that team is made of counterterrorism officials, military advisers and international development specialist here on the ground in Abuja to advise the Nigerian government.

Of course, as you mentioned, they will be joining the U.S. team that is arriving as well, although there's also a number of American personnel already here that have been here for some time. But what we're really seeing a ramping up of the international effort.

The hope is that will be the turning point in this search and rescue mission. As we get more details as to how that horrific night played out for these girls. As you mentioned, some 200-plus girls missing now for over three weeks.

We're hearing from some of the girls who tell us they escaped. Kate, it is just terrifying as they describe these armed militants coming into this school, rounding them up, setting fire to the buildings all around them, emptying the school store of all the food items they had and loading them into these vehicles and taking them out of Chibok and into surrounding areas.

The belief is they were taken into the nearby Sambisa forest and that's where they were kept for some time. The big concern now is that so much time has passed that as you, yourself, have mentioned, they have broken these girls up into smaller teams. That's going to make it much harder to find them -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Thank you very for following that up. All eyes are on that situation. Let us know when there are more developments.

So, today is Victory Day. That's the day Russia celebrates defeating the Nazis in World War II. But where it's being celebrated is raising concerns.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Crimea which he thinks is part of Russia now. And most of the world does not agree.

Meanwhile, in other parts of Ukraine, fresh gunfire and black smoke as they continue to battle back Russian separatists.

Let's get to Phil Black. He's also in Crimea for us. Phil, what's the situation?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chris, Vladimir Putin has arrived. All day we've been wondering will he, won't he, the rumor, the expectation was that he would. And just a short time ago, he pulled into the bay here at Sevastopol aboard a boat, and there's a huge crowd lining the shore here and they've really erupted into applause.

What we're seeing here in Sevastopol today is a huge celebration of patriotism and really specifically Russian patriotism.

We've seen a parade through the city streets of Russian military vehicles. What is about to happen now is a big naval and aviation display. Vladimir Putin has traveled from Moscow after marking Victory Day already in Red Square, next to the Kremlin, with that classic military parade there.

He's now here in Crimea to do it here as well. This territory that was annexed by Russia, he's doing it in the face of enormous international condemnation. This appearance here by the Russian president, very much one of defiance to the international community, but it will be very popular with Russians. It appears to be very popular here with this big crowd in Sevastopol as well.


CUOMO: Phil, let me stay with you for a second here. Any indication of how the presence of Putin in Crimea is resonating throughout the rest of the country? Is there more violence and response? What are you hearing on the ground?

BLACK: Well, it's an interesting comparison really. Here, we have the celebration of Russian patriotism with Vladimir Putin here. Just north of here in Ukraine, in the southeast corner of Ukraine, the region currently in crisis, there are on going clashes today between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian and Ukrainian military forces.

So, there's a bigger question here. Vladimir Putin's arrival here is not just an act of defiance but also has the potential as a statement, as a symbol, as a gesture to create a further destabilizing influence into southeastern Ukraine, that region around Donetsk where Ukrainian government forces are still desperately trying to reassert their authority on entire regions that have fallen under pro-Russian control. CUOMO: Well, Phil, to be certain, there's no mistaking what the message is for Vladimir Putin to show up in Crimea, clearly putting a stamp on the territory.

Thank you for being here for us. We'll check in with you later.


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Ten minutes after the hour. Let's get a look at more headlines right now.

President Obama is set to talk energy efficiency at a California Walmart today. This comes after a speech at a DNC session last night where he was repeatedly interrupted by an audience member.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to hear from you. I love you back. You kind of screwed up my ending, but that's OK.


That's OK. And we've got free speech in this country, which is great, too.



PEREIRA: The heckler was yelling about his freedoms as a voter. No word on the identity of that man.

The Ringling Brothers Circus is back open after Sunday's horrific accident that send acrobatics crashing to the ground. Last night's show returned in Hartford, Connecticut. Seven more shows are scheduled through Sunday. For now, the circus goes on without the act, the human chandelier, the stunt performed at the time of the act and several performers remain in the hospital.

A study reveals genes that make bacteria resistant to antibiotics are literally everywhere. Researchers examined environmental samples from the around the world. The findings raising concern that the prevalence of resistant genes could contribute to a major health concern. The World Health Organization has said the abundance of resistant genes threatens the achievement of modern medicine.

Those are your headlines -- guys.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Michaela.

Coming up next on NEW DAY: in the search for those hundreds of kidnapped schoolgirls, is the public campaign, some are suggesting, hurting the chances that these girls will be found? We'll discuss.

CUOMO: Think the NBA forcing the sale of the L.A. Clippers is a done deal? Think again. The wife of Donald Sterling says half the team belongs to her and it's not for sale. We have the inside on what may happen next.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

Members of the U.S. military arriving in Nigeria to help find almost 300 girls abducted by Boko Haram. But the girls' location isn't the only thing in question. Also at issue, why did it take so long, some would say, to recognize the al Qaeda affiliated Boko Haram as a terror group? That's criticism coming at the government this morning.

Joining me to discuss from Washington is Fran Townsend, CNN national security analyst, former Homeland Security adviser for the Bush administration, also on the external advisory boards on the Department of Homeland Security and the CIA.

Fran, good morning.


BOLDUAN: Let's talk about where things are right now. They say they believe the girls have been split up, maybe even that some of them have been moved out of the country. Why is that the working theory?

TOWNSEND: Well, it would be easier -- if you're the terrorist organization and you have a group that large, it's easier to locate them -- the larger the group, the easier to locate, the larger the footprint, the larger the force to keep these girls together. So, it makes sense, if you disperse them, one, they're more difficult to find, and two, it's easier with the necessary security to hold them. And so, that is the operating theory because it makes the most tactical sense of our enemies, Boko Haram.

BOLDUAN: With that in mind, what is the most important thing as U.S. experts, U.S. military get on the ground, what's the most important thing they need to establish?

TOWNSEND: Oh, there's no question that what you're looking to provide them is tactical intelligence related to location and the sort of health and well-being of the girls. What intelligence can you help them gather and how can you use that intelligence to be able to actually locate and put a plan together to rescue these girls.

BOLDUAN: Fran, a bit of a complication in here is the Nigerian government needs to be open to receiving this assistance. We know they want them to be on the ground. Talk to me about that struggle.

TOWNSEND: Well, you know, look, each -- as we look around the world, for example, with Malaysia and the missing plane, governments can be slow to respond. There can be missteps in the beginning. Then, they're anxious to get outside expertise.

But the problem with that is once you invite people in to help you, you also reveal perhaps what mistakes you've made and these governments understandably worry about leaks. And so, while they want the help, what they don't want to do is lose control of the information related to the investigation and the rescue effort because, of course, they have their own domestic political issues they're trying to manage.

BOLDUAN: What do you think the chances are that these girls will be able to be located, so many of them, if they've all been split up? The leader of the group knows that the world's attention is on this crisis right now. What do you think?

TOWNSEND: Look, you want to be positive about this, and the more sort of international help you get in, the odds go up.

But the longer these girls are held, you really worry about the conditions they're being held, under what sort of abuse they're having to deal with. And as you say, because they're split up and don't have the support of fewer of themselves in the group, you do worry about the long-term prospects for being able to get these girls back healthy and alive.

BOLDUAN: Now, a lot has been made in recent days about U.S. terror designation of Boko Haram. This was made in November of 2013. A lot of Republicans criticizing the administration saying why wasn't this done sooner? We know that Nigeria has been dealing with Boko Haram since 2009.

Would a terror designation pre-November 2013 have changed this situation do you believe?

TOWNSEND: You know, Kate, this is an issue that's dogged this administration going back to al Shabaab, the Somali al Qaeda-related terror group, that they also waited and hadn't designated. I don't understand it.

There's no downside from the U.S. government's perspective to designating them. In fact, there are tools that then become available to them to prohibit travel, to prosecute cases of material support to those who may profound money or training or weapons. I mean, there are tools at their disposal that come with the designation, there's no downside.

And, look, this isn't -- Boko Haram is not the first one, al Shabaab was also criticized. I mean, this is -- I don't understand really why they're still dealing with this problem.

BOLDUAN: When you talk about no downside, Fran, some of the concerns we've heard is the administration was hearing from both Nigeria, even the former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, there was concern the designation would serve as a recruiting tool, make the U.S. more of a target of this terror group, in a sense kind of -- hurt more than help.

Is that a possibility?

TOWNSEND: I just don't buy that. Look, Boko Haram, you know -- by the way, so the taking of all these school girls isn't the first time they had this sort of action. They took a group of boys and did the same thing.

This is a very violent group. They have very violent aims. They share the ideology of al Qaeda.

The notion that a designation was going to legitimize them in some way I really think is nonsense. There really is no legitimate excuse in my mind for not having acted against Boko Haram sooner, just as there was no excuse for not having acted against al Shabaab more quickly.

BOLDUAN: And, of course, then, there's always a question -- hindsight is 20/20, where were the missteps if missteps were made? The fact of the matter is and where the focus can be right now, that discussion can happen later. But I know finding these girls is first and foremost what needs to be the focus. And the chances seem more grim as the days progress.

Fran, thank you so much. Good to see you.

TOWNSEND: Thanks, Kate.


COUMO: All right. Kate, coming up on NEW DAY: Shelly Sterling says she owns 50 percent of the L.A. Clippers and she intends to keep it that way. Can she prevent the NBA from making a sale? The answer may be yes. And we'll tell you why.

Plus, give us the data. The Flight 370 families are begging for those searching the data to let someone else take a crack at it. Will they agree?


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

The L.A. Clippers return to action tonight for game three of their NBA playoff series with Oklahoma City. There's still plenty of drama surrounding the clippers off the court as the NBA continues to try to force Donald Sterling out. His wife Shelly Sterling says she'll fight to keep her stake as co-owner.

And just in to CNN, more secret recorders believed to be Donald Sterling have surfaced.

More now from CNN's Stephanie Elam.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a shocking new audio recording, a man said to be Clippers' owner Donald Sterling stands his ground. Sterling says he's not a racist -- in a secret recording posted by gossip Web site "Radar Online".

DONALD STERLING: You think I'm a racist? You think I have anything of the world but love for everybody? You don't think that. You know I'm not a racist. ELAM: CNN cannot independently confirm the voice is Sterling. Radar says the call was between Sterling and a long-time friend and that their source provided an affidavit that the proof was Sterling.

STERLING: I mean, how can you think I'm a racist knowing me all these years? How can you be in this business and be a racist? Do you think I tell the coach to get white players or to get the best player he can get?

ELAM: Sterling's outrage an apparent response to a fallout over another recording posted online last month. In that audio, Sterling is making racist comments in a conversation with V. Stiviano.

The harsh words apparently triggered by this Instagram photo of her with NBA star Magic Johnson.

STERLING: It breaks my heart that Magic Johnson, you know, my -- a guy -- a guy that I respect so much, wouldn't stand up and say, well, let's get the facts, let's get him and talk to him. Nobody tried. Nobody.

ELAM: This as the NBA's finance committee is deliberating on a forced sale of the team.

STERLING: You can't force someone to sell property in America. Well, I'm a lawyer. That's my opinion.

ELAM: Shelly Sterling, Donald's estranged wife, wants to keep her half of the team.

PIERCE O'DONNELL, SHELLY STERLING'S ATTORNEY: Well, the truth of the matter is that Mrs. Sterling has denounced in the strongest terms possible her husband's racist comments. And while they share business, you know, business properties, he's out of the team, has nothing to do with it, and she's the owner in charge.

ELAM: Stephanie Elam, CNN, Los Angeles.


CUOMO: Is the court of public opinion going to be an easier sell for the NBA than the court of law in this? Let's dig in deeper.

Doug Eldridge, sports agent, managing partner at DLE Agency, and Rob Abcarian, columnist for "The L.A. Times".

Good to have you both.

Let's start with new information here. There's a new recording of Donald Sterling. Let's put to the side the intrigue in this fiasco of how these tapes just keep coming out which is a neglected part of it. Let's play the new tape from Donald Sterling where he's explaining himself about the call. Go ahead.


STERLING: I know I'm wrong, what I said was wrong. But I never thought a private conversation would go anywhere, out to the public.


CUOMO: OK. Robin, let's start with you. Does that make it better or worse?

ROBIN ABCARIAN, L.A. TIMES: Well, that's a good question, Chris. I think what I -- you know, the cynic in me says that at some point Donald Sterling said, OK, now press the record button. This is the kind of thing that feels to me a little PR-ish.

He wants this out there. He doesn't want to face the press. He doesn't want to be in an interview situation that he can't control. So, he has a conversation with somebody saying he's not a racist.

CUOMO: But let's say it's all true, Robin.

ABCARIAN: I don't think it makes it better.

CUOMO: Yes, let's say it's all true. Let's get to the substance of the matter. If he says this was a private conversation, I wasn't out there declaring my beliefs or anything like that, I was in a heated fight with this woman in my life, the ugly part of me came out, somewhat the Mel Gibson defense. Does that make it OK?

ABCARIAN: No, it doesn't make it OK. The horse has left the barn. The NBA has made its decision. He's been banned for life. He's been fined $2.5 million.

The team is no longer going to be in his control, and now, the question is who gets to control the team, who gets to own the team.

CUOMO: All right. So, Doug, try to put the saddle back on the horse and bring it back on the barn. Do you think the NBA has such an easy path of getting rid of this owner?

DOUG ELDRIDGE, MANAGING PARTNER, DLE AGENCY: I don't think this is clear-cut at all. You led off this segment by saying the distinction between the court of law and the court of public opinion. The court of public opinion has spoken and the NBA has acted in one phase at least. As we said previously, there's a difference between a suspension, and a ban and a forced sale altogether. Those are three separate forms of discipline.

So, the course they're pursuing right now, of course, being the potential forced sale, that's a completely different animal altogether. When we take a step back and look at the simplicity or complexity of that process while the court of public opinion is rather straightforward because by definition it's opinion-based, as we gradually make that transition to the court of law, we're really going to see the underlying complexities of interpreting the NBA constitution and the presumed legal opposition, Mr. Sterling's defense, as this moves forward.

CUOMO: Isn't it as simple as Donald and/or Shelly Sterling saying, hey, you can't just kick us out, this is our private property?