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VA Secretary Faces Senate Grilling; Christie: Bridgegate A "Footnote"; McCain: Consider Military Operation To Find Girls; Flight 370 Search Postponed

Aired May 15, 2014 - 07:30   ET


JOHN KING, HOST, CNN'S "INSIDE POLITICS": Worrisome about management, worrisome about competence. Jonathan, in an election year, but let's remember also what this is about. This is about the care of people who have served this country, who have gone to war for this country, who have worn the uniform for this country.

I talked to a top Senate leadership this morning who say they are beginning to get nervous that the Obama administration is trying to spin this, wait, we'll take care of this. Forgive my language. This isn't about covering your ass it's about taking care of guys who went to war so you didn't have to. The temperature rising on Capitol Hill when you involve veterans.

JONATHAN MARTIN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Both parties, too. And that's sort of the challenge for the Obama folks. They can dismiss Benghazi and investigation over that, some kind of partisan effort by the Republicans to energize their base in an election year. This feels very different. I think it's going to be a real problem for the Obama folks, which is why I think you see them moving to install one of their people over at the VA. Is that going to be enough? I'm not sure.

KING: General Shinseki gets grace on the Hill because he is a retired four star, because he was wounded in Vietnam, because he was the chief of staff whom Donald Rumsfeld shoved the side where he raised questions about the Iraq war strategy, but Grace I think is beginning to come out because they want answers on Capitol Hill. So watch that one today as Secretary Shinseki now testifies.

Let's move on, Bill Clinton was out publicly yesterday defending his wife and responding to Karl Rove's suggestion that Hillary Clinton perhaps when she got that concussion a couple of years back still has some traumatic brain issues. But Bill Clinton in a way complemented Karl Rove saying he's now made Hillary's health part of the discussion. Bill Clinton said this is just beginning.


FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: I don't know, but if it is you can't be too upset about it. It's just the beginning. They'll get better and better at it. I mean, you know. It's -- I'm still waiting for him to admit there was nothing to whitewater. You got -- it's just part of the deal.


KING: I could listen to that voice. I could listen to Bill Clinton -- I have lived through that decade. But he's trying to make a point, too, right? It's part of the deal. There are pros and cons of that, I think, that it's part of the deal that if the Clintons, the Republicans are going to hyper ventilate and attack them. Also, raises serious issues, not all attacks. Does the circus of the Clintons hurt the Clintons?

PACE: You can unpack that simple comment from Bill Clinton in so many different ways, which is why we love him. The circus comes along with the Clintons. What's interesting is that they recognize it and they are open about it and admitting it publicly. When you look at what he said it's clear they thought about what this would entail if she does run.

But interesting and also in 2008, when Hillary ran there were a lot of questions about whether the Clintons missed the changes in the media and how fast things moved the way they responded to what Karl Rove says shows they understand the need to get out in front of a lot of these criticisms.

MARTIN: The combination of both Hillary Clinton spokesman and Bill Clinton yesterday responding to this so forcefully, to me, is the most remarkable and telling indication yet that she's moving towards a campaign in 2016. The voracity with which that spokesman hit back and Bill Clinton yesterday, I don't want to say reveling, but sort of that look of, we've all been here before and seen this before. And recognizing that this is an opportunity for them, unmistakable.

KING: He loves it. He loves it. A lot of people shy away from the big political fights. Bill Clinton thrives on them. A lot of people say he is at his best when on the high wire.

MARTIN: He loves to be in the fray, and by the way, every two years since -- last 14 years he's been on the campaign trail in is what he does. It's who he is. This is what he knows.

KING: You mentioned perhaps a telling sign they're getting closer to saying, yes, she is running. She's not just thinking about it. Another guy who made much more clearer yesterday that he's thinking about running is Chris Christie. Remember, he's the governor of New Jersey. Damaged somewhat of this bridgegate investigation. Cloud over he's head and the U.S. attorney look into just what happened when they shut down the traffic lanes of the George Washington Bridge. Chris Christie seems to think this will soon be behind him.


GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: As far as the impact on my political future, I think it will have none because I didn't do anything. Now you've had all kinds of people looking at this for nearly 4-1/2 months now and there hasn't been one suggestion that I knew anything about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: He's right. There's been no public evidence he knew anything about it, Jonathan. Does he know something we don't know because we don't know much about the progress, the status of the U.S. Attorney's investigation, which I think is the much more important one. Does he know that maybe they're wrapping up or is that wishful thinking?

MARTIN: I think it's him trying to start putting it behind him and he is a former U.S. attorney himself. I think he understands the depth with which they take their investigation and the length of times that those investigations last and he recognizes the seriousness, too, of what that threat means to him politically. But of course in public, he has to put on that face. That's the challenge for him, that cloud of suspicion that stems from the mere fact of the investigation into him that is apparently not going away.

KING: I want to change topics because this is important. Take me inside the White House's thinking one of the president's judicial nominees, Michael Boggs is his name. He is up in a Georgia judicial federal judgeship. Democrats have turned on him including now the leader Harry Reid. Jay Carney at the White House saying, wait a minute, this is a deal we cut with Republicans. The president needs to stand by this guy.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Our choice is clear, do we work with Republican senators to find a compromise or should we leave the seats vacant? Judge Michael Boggs was recommended to the president by Senators Isakson and Chambliss as part of a compromise to fill six judicial vacant seats in Georgia.


KING: Democrats questioned his views on confederate flag, on abortion right, on civil rights. Will the president stand by and demand this vote or will he pull this? I asked this in the context of this is a federal judgeship. Michelle Nunn, a Democrat who has nothing to do with this could be the victim of this if African-Americans in Georgia are mad at the president and don't come out and turn out and vote in high numbers this year she loses.

PACE: They're weighing both sides of this right now. This is really a fascinating insight though into how Washington works. You've had the president of the United States having huge issues getting judges through Capitol Hill. He goes and decides to try to work with Republicans in Georgia, make sure that the two senators there back this nominee. And now he's having problems with Democrats getting the nominee through. So they say you want us to work together, you want us to reach across the aisle and then this is the result. Sometimes when you actually do that.

KING: Think maybe they should have done this in an odd year, not in an election year. Could hurt them with the base back home. Julie, Jonathan, thanks for coming in this morning. As we get back to you guys in New York, I wish I were there today. I had a tour a couple years ago, Kate and Chris, you're dead right. It's like walking to the Vietnam Memorial here in D.C., takes your mood down, makes you stop think and reflect. I hope everyone gets a chance to wander through and watch that today.

BOLDUAN: Take that it is. It is a massive space. It's vast. They expect it to be a two-hour tour, two-hour experience for the average visitor. Take your time. Take your time. Thanks, John.

CUOMO: We're not much, you know, lecturing isn't our thing but is this is a lit bit of a point of responsibility, too. We say we will never forget. The ceremony today is important to watch it, I think. I think this is one of those points of reflection that matters. So hopefully if you have time in your day to throw on the tube, any channel, just to keep it objective, you should try to watch it. Many people will be covering it.

BOLDUAN: It changed the country.

CUOMO: Yes, correct.

BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, could the United States add new tools to the search for hundreds of missing schoolgirls in Nigeria? John McCain, the senator of Arizona, says the United States has an obligation to. But what more? What are those additional tools? What more can the United States do? We're going to look into it.

CUOMO: We found the man who found "The Titanic." He's going to join us live. You're going to want to hear what he had to say about the search for Flight 370. We have that straight ahead.



SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I would utilize every tool that we have to rescue these young girls.


CUOMO: Senator John McCain advocating a surgical strike by U.S. Special forces to free those hundreds of kidnapped girls in Nigeria as part of those tools. Is that a good idea politically? Practically? Now after a month with no sign of the girls. Here to walk us through it is CNN military analyst, General James "Spider" Marks, the former commanding general of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center.

General, thank you for joining us. There's a little bit of how we have the CSI effect in trials now where juries often think this should be an easy solution. A lit bit of that bleeds over into our understanding of Special Forces that they can just do anything. How difficult a mission would this be?

MAJOR GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: This is extremely difficult. And clearly, in this particular case, the grotesque nature of what has occurred really leads us into the position of doing something. But this is a very precise operation that requires a lot of intelligence preparation, which is taking place right now in the form of the deployment of intelligence assets.

But after you've painted a pretty clear picture you have to make a determination of what you're going to do about it. I would suggest that we're probably going to find that the girls are in multiple locations, maybe even in Cameroon, Chad, and Nigeria. And you have multiple targets. Then you're going to have to do something with those. This is not antiseptic. This is very, very difficult to execute.

CUOMO: And Boko Haram, a group, that's usually about numerical superiority, right, so you wouldn't be dealing with small groups of people, you would be dealing with big groups of people. When you look at it from the large view, the overview, do you think this is the right call, to send in Special Forces?

MARKS: No, it's not. I think ultimately you're going to have a bad outcome. When you have an operation that looks like this, Chris, you're going to put American troopers at risk. You're going to put American reputation at risk. You're going to put Nigeria's reputation at risk. Irrespective of what happens Nigeria pretty much stands to lose.

And then you're going to put these young girls at risk and if we can get in there and we can kill a bunch of Boko Haram, there's nothing wrong with that at all. These guys need to go away. We can make them disappear, but in the process of accomplishing that, girls are going the get killed. If multiple targets are not taken down simultaneously.

Then you have no clue what Boko Haram is going to do and you'd have to assume that the worse outcome is going to happen that they are going to start to slaughter these young women. So an outcome is not going to be anything like we would want it to be and American service members are going to be put at risk as well.

CUOMO: And obviously you're reading in the information that Boko Haram has in the past killed hostages when there's been a move to free them. It's not speculation there. Senator McCain, lastly, not the best example of this proposition, but are we seeing here a little of the danger when politicians weigh in on military, you know, military use and what makes sense. Is that a little bit of this? Again, qualifying Senator McCain knows what he's talking about when it comes to the military.

MARKS: Yes, exactly, Chris. Any American who understands the costs of engaging with American firepower and American soldiers, American service members, it's Senator John McCain. I mean, truly, we would all acknowledge that he gets it and he gets it in spades. I think what he's doing is probably being a bit provocative here and trying to move this administration to action and some action is taking place, primarily in terms of trying to increase the clarity of the picture that we have on these potential targets.

KING: You said to me before, General, with your understanding of our intelligence systems, there's plenty of tools that we have that we can use before we go to Special Forces. General, thank you very much for the perspective this morning. Appreciate it.

MARKS: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: All right, a lot of weather issues going on around the country. Not just those terrible fires out west, but let's get a look at all of it with our meteorologist, Indra Petersons -- Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Chris. We are still talking about this huge threat for flooding especially out towards the Mid-Atlantic. Look. We're talking about the mid-Atlantic down in through Florida. Look at the position of where we have the flood watches out and now take a look at the cold front. This is the same frontal system we've been watching for days.

It is so slow moving. Look at the position of where this front is. Look at all of the available moisture. It lines up in that exact same corridor. This is the concern as more heavy rains are expected to increase through the region. Anywhere from three to five inches expected out towards the mid-Atlantic. Eventually spreading into the northeast where we see several more inches of rain in through the region.

The other side of this, looking at a severe weather threat. Threat for tornado warnings out even this morning. Anywhere from Virginia down through the Carolinas. Monitor that closely. Of course, the flooding concern will be especially high as we make our way forward over the next several days.

BOLDUAN: Indra, thank you so much. Coming up next on NEW DAY, new reports that the key equipment leading the search for Flight 370 that it has been damaged. What does that mean for the search effort at the end -- at the bottom of the Indian Ocean? We're going to ask someone who knows ocean searches well. He found the "Titanic." Bob Ballard joining us after a break.


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to NEW DAY. It could be days until the search resumes for Flight 370. The Bluefin 21 unmanned sub, it's out of the water. It was damaged as the ship carrying it was as well. Both are heading back to shore now for replacement parts. Why is the Bluefin so critical to the search? Because scientists know very little about the ocean floor.

Our next guest knows more than most of us do. Bob Ballard is an ocean explorer. This is the guy that discovered the "Titanic," among other wrecks. He shared an intimate glimpse of his research trip in "Caribbean's Deadly Waters" going to air on Nat Geo Wild this Sunday at 10 p.m. Eastern. We'll talk about that in a second.

This is such a delight. Quite a life and quite an adventure you had. Can we use your expertise to talk about this? I'm calling it the poor Bluefin 21. It seems to be having challenges, trouble after trouble. It is finicky? Is it the condition --

BOB BALLARD, DISCOVERED TITANIC WRECK: No, this is normal operating procedure. They have a communication issue which, by the way, had nothing to do with the detection of the pings a month earlier. That was a totally different communications issue. This is very normal. And when you're recovering a vehicle like this and the seas get rough, you can bang against the ship.

PEREIRA: That's what happened here, it sounds like.

BALLARD: You can do damage and typical electronic communication. This is standard operating procedure.

PEREIRA: Easy to fix?

BALLARD: Easy to fix and will be back in the water.

PEREIRA: But it is a setback.

BALLARD: It is a setback because time is so precious.

PEREIRA: Is it concerning to you that it's the only submersible in the hunt currently?

BALLARD: I think they should be having other assets. There are other assets that could be in the game. I would bring more assets into the game.

PEREIRA: Let's talk about the pings and the locations. If they're not the -- there's some discrepancy. Could these be the pings? Could they be from other sources? Are these in the right location? What do you make of the pings?

BALLARD: Well, you know, from what I see and from the -- these pings seem to be coming from the black box. So I'm confident that they feel confident that this is the box. The problem is, it's a big box.

PEREIRA: Yes. That is a problem.

BALLARD: That's the game. With "Titanic," it was 150 square miles, Bismarck was 200 square miles, Yorktown was 500 square miles. These are big pieces of the ocean that are totally unexplored. They don't have maps. They don't know really what the terrain is like. This is not easy.

PEREIRA: It's a perfect segue, my friends, to this. This is cool stuff we're going to show you. Darn it, I went to the very -- can I rewind this? How do I rewind that? Maybe I just press play. I want you to see some of the great stuff Bob has been doing. You have this great documentary coming out. And it's really important, the work that you're doing is talking about exactly what you just said. We know more about outer space than we do about the ocean floor.

BALLARD: We have better maps of Mars than even half of our own country.

PEREIRA: What can we know? What can we learn?

BALLARD: Well, we need to have more undersea exploration, 72 percent of the earth is covered with water. We're not going to escape planet earth. This is where we're going to live the rest of our lives.

PEREIRA: This is where we are.

BALLARD: And we'd better understand the planet where we're living because it's really angry with us. Certainly where we're working here. In the Caribbean and this particular dive area was right where the same fault line that hit Haiti. So this is an area where the earth can really -- has a bad rap sheet. You can have huge earthquakes that can be generated by it. You can have certainly volcanic eruptions in the lesser Antilles.

And what people don't realize is you can also have massive underwater landslides and the research of Puerto Rico, potential for massive underwater landslides that can create tsunamis. So this is an area of the world we need to better understand because a lot of people are living in that area.

PEREIRA: OK. So now, not only were you one of the first people to see some of this stuff and to go to these places.

BALLARD: Some pretty cool stuff.

PEREIRA: But you also got to see some pretty interesting creatures. Tell us about some of the underwater life you encountered.

BALLARD: We had some big surprises. Naturally, the last few days of a six-month deployment, we came across a whole new ecosystem. It was created by landslides, which blew us away.

PEREIRA: Mind boggling.

BALLARD: We never thought that a landslide could create a whole new ecosystem. And you'll see in the show, we found these giant mussels that have humanlike blood in them.

PEREIRA: What's next for you? Next adventure?

BALLARD: Back to sea. Go to, June 11th and watch it year round live 24 hours a day.

PEREIRA: I can't thank you enough. This has been really interesting. Amazing imagery we're seeing. Again, "Caribbean's Deadly Underworld" airs on Nat Geo Wild this Sunday at 10:00 p.m. I'm setting my TiVo, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Everyone should. Thanks so much.

Coming up next, California on fire. Thousands of people evacuated. Homes destroyed as flames burn through San Diego County. We'll have the very latest on the developing situation ahead.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is extreme. This has gone from dry conditions to volatile conditions.


CUOMO: Happening now, California burning. Thousands evacuating as fast-moving wildfires tear through Southern California. And look at this. It's a firenado in the middle of it all. Firefighters out in force today as temperatures rise.

BOLDUAN: CNN exclusive, Donald Sterling speaking out again. Will he sell the team? As Lebron James talks to Rachel Nichols, does King James standby his call to boycott if Sterling doesn't leave?

PEREIRA: Cat versus dog. Amazing video everybody's talking about. A dog attacks a little boy. Then the family cat springs to the rescue. We hear from that little boy this morning.

CUOMO: Your NEW DAY continues right now.

BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY, everyone. Breaking overnight, fire crews in Southern California's stretched very thin as they battle nine different wildfires this morning. Drought conditions and near 100- degree temperatures are expected to make it even tougher. Overnight hundreds of new mandatory evacuation orders were issued in San Marcos as firefighters try and, of course, just look at that video. They're trying to save homes from this fast-moving flames. That's where --