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THE SITUATION ROOM
Flames Threatening Thousands of Homes; Sterling to NBA: Won't Pay, Won't Go Away
Aired May 16, 2014 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Jake. Happening now breaking news, raging infernos, thousands of homes are in danger. Clouds of smoke across Southern California. There are new concerns about arson and looting. Donald Sterling fighting back. He hires a lawyer, tells the NBA he won't pay his fine. Rejects his lifetime ban for racist remarks.
And word that Iran is defying the United Nations by secretly developing ballistic missiles, building new launch sites. Will that derail a nuclear deal?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news the wildfires burning out of control across San Diego County for a third consecutive day. Evacuation orders are in effect right now for 11,000 people with about 20,000 acres burnt so far. The charred remains of one body has been found. Damage at this point is put at around $20 million. And there's now growing concern about looting.
Let's begin with CNN's Ted Rowlands. He's been working the story for us. He's at the area of the Cocos Fire in San Marcos, California.
Ted, it's doubled in size, we're told, over the past 24 hours. What's the very latest?
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the winds have kicked up within the last few hours here, which is of grave concern for firefighters. They've been attacking this fire all day long. There are 11 fires. There were 11 fires total in Southern California, all in San Diego County. Now it's down to five, and three are of concern.
This one here, we're in Escondido, the San Marcos fire, and then there are two fires burning in Camp Pendleton. All three of those are still out of control. This was only 10 percent here. They had a great day early on attacking from the air.
But now the last two hours the wind has picked up. This fire has increased in size. We've seen air drops throughout the day. They're trying to get a headway here. The good news is that Mother Nature should help out in the back end of this into tonight, into tomorrow. But this is a crucial time here with the winds picking up. BLITZER: All right, Ted, stand by. I want to get right back to you. But Ted [SIC] Berlant is joining us. He's the information officer for CAL Fire.
Ted [SIC] Berlant, thanks very much for joining us. So what about the weather? Is it helping contain these fires today, or is it too early to tell?
DANIEL BERLANT, INFORMATION OFFICER, CAL FIRE: Absolutely the weather is definitely cooperating with us today. Over the last several days we've seen strong Santa Ana winds, low humidity and high temperatures. That combination is what allowed these fires to grow so quickly.
Now today the winds shifted overnight. That allowed us to start seeing an onshore flow bringing cooler temperatures and also higher humidity. Definitely aiding us in this fire fight.
But conditions here in California are dryer than we have really ever seen them, especially so early in the year. And as we move into the summer months, unfortunately conditions are only going to get drier. The likelihood of more fires like this will only increase.
BLITZER: That badly burnt body, Daniel, that was found, can you confirm that it was directly related to these fires?
BERLANT: You know, that's still being investigated. Obviously, when you have Santa Ana winds that are blowing 60, 70 miles an hour, a fire moves very quickly, and it's hard to outrun that.
We are very fortunate that the sheriff's department, the police department, they worked very hard to get as many people, thousands of people out of harm's way before this fire approached. Obviously, very devastated. But investigators still determining exactly how this body, you know, was burned and how they died.
BLITZER: There's still plenty of people out there who have been evacuated, right?
BERLANT: There still are evacuations primarily on the fire outside San Marcos. That fire continues to give us a little bit of trouble. Now, as I mentioned, the cooler weather is definitely helping us out.
But that fire was very aggressive yesterday. We saw fire activity that we would often see in late summer early fall. Santa Ana winds in San Diego County are really no stranger, but to have them this early in the year in May, it just goes to show you just how dry it is.
BLITZER: Do you have the resources to fight these fires that you need?
BERLANT: You know, we started staffing up in January. In fact, in Southern California fire season never really ended. Now, just this week before these Santa Ana winds blew, the governor here in California gave us the ability to hire 300 additional firefighters. Those are above and beyond our normal staffing. So the extra staffing and even the preposition of resources, moving fire engines and crews down into Southern California, heavy Santa Ana winds, all allowed us to make a quick attack.
Now, the story nobody heard was we responded to over 120 fires over the last several days. Now ten of those were able to be major ones due to the winds. Only five, though, remain very active.
BLITZER: Five remain active. What about this notion that arson may have been responsible at least for some of these fires?
BERLANT: You know, investigators are following up on several leads. Whenever we have conditions like this, with Santa Ana winds, there's always the concern that arsonists will take advantage, intentionally set fires.
Now, right now we're trying to get information on all the fires, making sure that anybody in the area who may have seen something, who may know something, one of our fires near Rancho Bernardo, we did -- were able to determine that the cause was actually powered equipment from a construction site. It doesn't take much for a fire to spark when conditions are this dry. And really, one less spark means one less wild fire. So we're really trying to make sure the public does their part to help prevent fires.
BLITZER: So what do you expect in the next few days? Will people have to heed more evacuation orders?
BERLANT: Well, fortunately, the weather has been cooperating. We're expecting much of the same in the next several days. Cooler temperatures. Higher humidity. So the likelihood of a lot more bigger fires this weekend is going to diminish from where it was.
Now in just week or so, we are expecting again more Santa Ana wind conditions in Southern California, so come the holiday at the end of the month here we could be racking back up. We could see more fires. With the dry conditions, the likelihood of more fires is pretty high.
BLITZER: This could be a serious problem throughout these summer months that are upcoming. Thanks very much. Daniel Berlant, CAL Fire information officer.
Let's go to our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray. She's tracking these conditions in what's called the fire zone right now. These crews, they're facing some serious problems, even if the weather does improve a bit, Jennifer.
JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Still a huge problem. It's still very, very hot. We still have breezy conditions.
However, those winds should start to shift as we go through the weekend, should get more of an onshore flow. We've been talking about that the past couple of days. That should push more moisture, more humidity into Southern California. These are images from space, and you can see the smoke just coming in off of those fires blowing offshore. It is blowing into more of those heavily populated areas. But these are the winds I was telling you about. We've been getting those strong Santa Ana winds, east and west winds. Now we're going to start to get more of an onshore flow. It will increase the humidity, and it will increase the moisture and that's exactly what you want when you're trying to battle these blazes.
Of course, temperatures are still going to be warm. They will be coming down, though, and that is good news. We're running 20 to 30 degrees above normal. Now, as we enter into the weekend, temperatures should slip back down into the 70s, mid-70s, still above normal but still cooler. And then San Diego 72 on Sunday and possibly in the upper 60s as we go through Monday or so.
So we are still in store for a long weekend. It is still going to be hot and still going to be breezy but the onshore flow, Wolf, should help things considerably.
BLITZER: We've really seen a lot over the past couple of days of what are called these firenadoes, Jennifer. And we're showing some video to our viewers right now. This is terrifying. Explain this phenomenon.
GRAY: Yes. These firenadoes, we've seen a lot of them. We've seen them on Twitter, Facebook and all these video images. Basically, you have got intense heat. And it is rising and you're pulling in all of that brush and all of the dry vegetation around it.
Those winds are very, very strong. It is going to spiral inward. And then, as we see this debris and this brush pulling in, it creates that column. It's combustible. It's searching for oxygen. And so it's going to create that long column that you see, and so it looks just like a tornado.
Imagine an ice skater, when they start to spin, and they pull their arms in. You get all that momentum, and that's where we get that spiraling, that intense spiral that you see with those firenadoes.
BLITZER: Jennifer, thanks very much. We'll, of course, continue to check in with you.
Ken Pimlott is joining us right now. He's the director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. He's joining us from CAL Fire's northern operation center, where firefighters are being mobilized to help with these fire fights in Southern California.
Ken, we've been talking to you the past couple of days. What you're seeing today. What's the most important message you want to convey to our viewers?
KEN PIMLOTT, DIRECTOR, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY AND FIRE PROTECTION: Good afternoon, Wolf. Well, you heard Daniel Berlant say it earlier: the key is the message, defensible space. And we need property owners to be aware of what's going on around them. They need the ready, set, go. They need to be prepared for their evacuation planning. You listen to -- you've seen in San Diego where they have a reverse 911, a very aggressive system to notify homeowners as to what they need to do in terms of evacuations. Pay very close attention to all of those things very closely.
BLITZER: If people resist these requests for evacuation, what can you do about that?
Ken, can you hear me? I think we lost our connection with Ken. Ken Pimlott, the director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. We're going to check back with Ken.
Ted Rowlands is still with us. He's on the front lines of this battle. Maybe you know the answer to this, Ted. If people resist them, they say, "You know what? I'm not leaving my home. I'm not leaving my possessions. I'm not leaving at all. I'm afraid of looting, because that potentially could be a serious problem." What can law enforcement do and firefighters do about that?
ROWLANDS: Nothing, Wolf. In the state of California you have every right to stay and protect your own home. And we've met a lot of people, in fact, neighbors here. We're at a house that, as you can see, is completely demolished. It was wiped out by the San Marcos Escondido fire yesterday right around this time when this blaze was coming through.
Well, behind this house, we met a guy by the name of Al Saeed (ph). He did stay. And he stayed and fought the fire with his garden hose for a while. He was wetting down his roof. He said he was just about to leave when three fire trucks pulled up, and then they saved his house. He said he pushed it to the limit.
And this is the problem that the authorities have, is people say, "Well, I'm going to sit here and save my own home." Then when they need help, they're calling, "Please get me out."
If a few people do that, it isn't a huge concern. If everyone were to do that, it would be a massive problem. So by law people do not have to leave, but they are strongly encouraged to leave, because it could end up saving their life.
BLITZER: Yes, certainly. All right, Ted, thanks very much. We're going to have more on these fires later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
There's other news we're following, including defiance from Donald Sterling, the L.A. Clippers owner telling the NBA he won't pay his fine; he won't accept his lifetime ban.
And is Iran secretly developing ballistic missiles as it negotiates with world powers on a comprehensive nuclear deal?
BLITZER: Donald Sterling is fighting back. Fined and banned by the New Brunswick for racist remarks, the L.A. Clippers owner has now informed the league he won't pay, and he won't go away. Our correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, has been digging into this story for us.
What's the latest?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's really curious, Wolf, because despite Sterling's admissions to Anderson Cooper that he made a mistake, he heard the league, and that he's terribly sorry, he is not giving up his team without a fight. His attorney has now officially notified the NBA that Sterling has no intention of accepting any of the league's terms.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): While the Clippers failed to advance to the next round of the NBA playoffs Thursday night, it's game on now between Clippers owner Donald Sterling and the NBA. CNN has learned Sterling has hired prominent antitrust lawyer Maxwell Blecher, who's fired off a letter to the NBA, rejecting Sterling's punishment on all fronts. First, on the lifetime ban.
ADAM SILVER, NBA COMMISSIONER: I am banning Mr. Sterling for life.
MALVEAUX: Sterling is threatening to sue the NBA if the lifetime ban is not lifted, insisting he's done nothing wrong.
SILVER: I'm also fining Mr. Sterling $2.5 million, the maximum amount allowed under the NBA constitution.
MALVEAUX: Second, Sterling is refusing to pay the $2.5 million fine.
Two likely arguments Sterling's lawyer will make is that Sterling's racist rant did not violate any article of the NBA constitution. And that he was denied due process before he was punished.
DARREN KAVINOKY, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: His position is that the NBA did an inadequate investigation. They reached this conclusion without giving him, really, an opportunity to be heard.
MALVEAUX: Sterling was heard with CNN's Anderson Cooper, contradicting himself numerous times over whether the league's punishment is appropriate.
DONALD STERLING, L.A. CLIPPERS OWNERS: Well, I think it's a little bit harsh, you know, but what is the league supposed to do? Every -- they're in a storm. And a stupid owner has created all these problems. Maybe it's fair. I mean, for all the aggravation, all the embarrassment, all the humiliation I caused them maybe it's fair. MALVEAUX: What is fair could soon be debated in a court of law. Now, one sign that Sterling is serious about his fight with the NBA is his pick of Maxwell Blecher as his attorney. He's considered a leader in antitrust area of litigation, having taken on and won against another major sports franchise. We're talking about the NFL. So this is the real deal.
BLITZER: Yes. This could be a huge legal battle. Suzanne, stand by. I want to bring in CNN's Don Lemon. He's joining us from New York. Also our CNN commentator, L.Z. Granderson. He's joining us from Chicago.
Quickly, what's your reaction to these late developments, L.Z.?
L.Z. GRANDERSON, CNN COMMENTATOR: We knew he was going to fight. We didn't know he was going to fight the fine. But I guess you can't pay the fine and then try to say then that you're innocent, because if you pay the fine that's sort of some level of admission of guilt.
But he's coming with the heavy guns, and I'm assuming Commissioner Silver knew that when he -- when he came down with the decision.
BLITZER: Are you surprised at all, Don?
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I'm not surprised at all, Wolf. When we first reported this breaking news last night, if I could take a moment, and I wish we had one of our legal analysts here. Because I want you to hear this.
And this is a side, as I said, we have not heard. Someone with knowledge of the NBA, as a matter of fact, a former WNBA owner, and says, Don, this is what's going to happen now in their estimation. Said the NBA will now vote to disenfranchise the Clippers.
He said, "Now that the loss of the Thunder and the Clippers are out of the contention, the board of governors can now take action without being accused of distracting the team while in the play-offs. Sterling can fight the NBA for requiring him to sell his property. I'd argue the NBA's ruling is unconstitutional,: according to this person.
He said, "However, the board of governors, Wolf, can vote to kick the team out of the NBA. My prediction is that many NBA players say they will boycott next season if Sterling owns the team. The league will cite Sterling as negatively impacting the entire NBA's franchise, and for that they can and will vote the Clippers out of the NBA. Sterling will own a team with no club in which to compete. No club in which to compete. He will have a team, but he won't have players. Players are contracted to play on an NBA team. If Clippers no longer are in the NBA, players are no longer under contract and become free at. Next move, NBA will move franchise to Seattle."
And again this is according to a source who has great knowledge of the NBA, as a matter of fact is a former WNBA owner. And says if Donald Sterling continues on the path that he is, that he looks to be continuing on, this is what will probably happen next.
BLITZER; That would be a huge, huge development. L.Z., what do you think about that?
GRANDERSON: Well, it sounds, you know, sound. I don't have the legal knowhow to know how the nuances of that would work.
But I think what is intriguing is the notion that, if they are, you know, disassociated from the league, you have all these fantastic players then that become available through free agency, and that could spark a whole new conversation within the NBA. Maybe your Wizards can accommodate some of that scoring out there.
So I think, if nothing else, you know, it's interesting -- it's an interesting sort of debate to have, but in terms of just being an NBA fan, it's one in which you go, wow, that would be really great, because all of a sudden we get to pick all these good players and maybe to add to our team.
BLITZER: He does seem, Suzanne, Sterling, to go back and forth. In that interview alone with Anderson, it was an hour and 20-minute interview. He basically said, yes, it's time move to on, but then he said it's time to fight. And he keeps going back and forth, even in his own mind. What's the sense? Is this a letter that was written by his new attorney to the NBA? Is that really the final word or is it just negotiating posture?
MALVEAUX: There are some people who I spoke with today who believe that this is somewhat of a peacocking move, that this is just something to show his hand. You know what? If you're going vote me out, you're going to vote me out, this is what I've got. This is what I've got. So it really is kind of a threat, if you will.
But they have this letter. They have it now. They have to deal with it. The folks that I talked to said, look, you know, they're going to point and use article 13-B of the constitution in the NBA to make the argument that he's a detriment to the team, he's damaged the league and that he has signed agreements in the past, contracts in the past that he's now violated because of his bad behavior. You've got the advance -- the advisory committee that's going to meet again next week. They met this week to talk about the TV appearances. Next week, this is on the top of their agenda, the litigation.
BLITZER: Don Lemon wanted us to bring in a legal advisor, a legal analyst, so Jeffrey Toobin is joining us now, our senior legal analyst. What do you make of this latest legal step by the Donald Sterling new legal team?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, certainly it was to be expected. He's not someone who was going to go quietly without hiring a lawyer.
I think fundamentally, it's a negotiating tactic. He -- a lot of people want to buy this franchise. He can now say to prospective buyers, "Oh, you know, I've got this great legal claim. This franchise is not for sale." That will induce a higher price. They'll say, "Oh, no, no, please take -- please take our money. Please take our wheelbarrows full of money," and ultimately, he's going to wind up selling the team. I'm confident.
Primarily because, if this case ultimately goes forward, he's going to lose. This is the NBA's candy store. They wrote the constitution. They decide who gets to own teams and who doesn't. And their players won't play if he's the owner. So the question is when.
LEMON: Wolf, what about this idea, though, because if this all -- if this all drags out in court, it could drag out for a number of years. I think this possibility of de-franchising the Clippers maybe a real one, because they don't want these players waiting that long, and the players don't want to -- don't want to play under Donald Sterling.
This may be -- this is probably the thing that's going to happen if Donald Sterling stays in court. They're going to try to figure out, the NBA owners, whether or not they should disenfranchise the Clippers. And if they do, these members become free agents. And so that's the next step here, and the team will move somewhere else.
TOOBIN: I think that is -- that is posturing on the part of the NBA. There is a perfect solution to this problem. Don Sterling is going to get an enormous amount of money for this franchise. There's going to be a lot of posturing by both sides in advance, but when you have lots of people out there with money burning holes in their pocket, and they want to give it to Donald Sterling, at the end of the day, he's going to sell.
BLITZER: L.Z., as you know -- hold on a second. I'll give you -- there was a value. He bought the Clippers back in, what, 1981 for about $12 million. He could easily get, I think, a billion dollars right now, a hot media market like L.A. If Milwaukee went for $650 million -- they recently sold the Bucs there, a much more modest media market -- L.A. could get a billion dollars.
Why not just take the money from his perspective, split it with his wife, give to it his kids, give to it charity, do whatever he wants and move on? He's already a billionaire.
GRANDERSON: Well, you know, I was thinking the one thing that we haven't really talked about is the ego. And this is a man with an ego.
Back in the '80s he was also being pushed by owners sell his team or be kicked out of the league, and he fought that off. He's a fighter. He has the ego. He's the oldest owner in the league right now. In a lot of ways...
BLITZER: He has nothing to lose.
GRANDERSON: He's -- I mean, he's 80 years old. He's the oldest owner in the league. Why wouldn't he fight it considering his ego? You're right, he has plenty of money, so why sell the team? Why not try to prove something?
BLITZER: Hold. I know Don and Suzanne, everybody wants to weigh in. We're going to continue this conversation.
One reason he may decide, in the end, not to fight it, he is almost -- I think he's 81 years old right now. He's not in his 40s, as he was 40 years ago.
All right. Stand by, everyone. We have a lot more to discuss: Donald Sterling's possible new legal strategy. Could this case actually, as some have suggested, wind up before the Supreme Court?
Plus why critics are now accusing Hillary Clinton of rewriting history when it comes to sanctions on Iran.
BLITZER: Defiance from Donald Sterling. The L.A. Clippers lawyer hires lawyer, tells the NBA he won't accept a lifetime ban, won't pay a $2.5 million fine. The battle lines are already now being drawn.
We're back with Jeffrey Toobin, Suzanne Malveaux, Don Lemon, L.Z. Granderson. When we left the last part of this conversation, Don, you were anxious to weigh in. Go ahead.
LEMON: Well, I just don't -- you know, Jeffrey keeps saying it's not going to happen. I think it's a real possibility. I think in this particular situation, this is unprecedented. And I think the easy way to get rid of Donald Sterling, who has all that money, who has $2 billion and can fight to the tooth, and he's 80 years old -- 81 years old, and he has nothing to lose, the easiest thing to do, I think the NBA would say, is we're going to kick the team out of the league.
But the NBA even if they kick the team out of the league, Jeffrey, they're not going to leave those players hanging without jobs. So the quickest and easiest way is to get rid of Donald Sterling is to get rid of the team itself and start anew with Donald Sterling. He will essentially have a franchise but no team.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: John, I don't think the NBA constitution necessarily allows for the solution you're proposing. There is a very simple solution which is forcing the NBA to conduct an auction for the franchise. Basically forcing him to put it up for sale. That's what we've been discussing since this story broke. The idea of disbanding the franchise and starting it again I don't really know what that accomplishes, and the NBA, especially the players, they want jobs for these players so they don't want this team to go away.
LEMON: What it accomplishes is, the Clippers are still there. Donald Sterling still owns the Clippers.
L.Z. GRANDERSON, CNN COMMENTATOR: Right.
LEMON: But there are no team members on the Clippers. The Clippers players -- former Clippers players can go somewhere else and play for whatever team that's to start up.
BLITZER: So potentially what -- potentially, LZ, this proposal that Don is talking about could wind up costing Sterling and his family a billion dollars if they lose the team, they can't sell it, they have to walk away, the team moves someplace else, the franchise is gone. He doesn't even get that billion dollars, LZ.
LEMON: There you go. There you go.
GRANDERSON: Well, you know, I think we're getting way ahead of ourselves. I mean, it all sounds fantastic. Almost sound like an episode of "Scandal" at this point. I think right now the best thing --
The best thing for us is try to figure out what's going to really happen. I think is one is the public still going to be interested in this story after the end of the NBA Finals. That's an important part of it. Two, because if the public is no longer interested then the advertisers maybe ought to start sneaking back money to the clippers without us even noticing or caring. And then three, how long will the players are going to stay focused on this conversation as well.
Those are variables that's going to help us decide whether or not the NBA is going to still have that kind of wind power to go towards Donald Sterling to try to force a sale. Because if the players start saying, well, he said he was sorry, well, as long as we don't see him, if they start wavering on that, and the public stops caring, then what's to prevent the dollars to continue flowing in as it had happened the last 30 years. And so it's really important that we the public stay focus as well as the players.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think we already have case. I mean, don't they already have enough? I mean, I'm going to ask Jeffrey this. But don't they already have enough evidence from him to begin with that he's made all these statements to Anderson Cooper that he's sorry, he realized he damaged the team, you know, that he's done wrong here. I mean, do they really need much more? I mean, can't they just vote and get this over with? I would imagine that that could be moved pretty quickly.
TOOBIN: And that's the process that's been going forward behind- the-scenes. Remember what Lebron James said in his interview with Rachel Nichols because I thought it was very sensible and I think a good signal of how this is going to unfold. What Lebron James said is as long as we the players see that the NBA is making every effort to get rid of this guy we're going to continue playing.
Now we understand that the legal process may slow things down but as long as the NBA is moving forward with getting rid of him we're going to keep playing. BLITZER: All right.
TOOBIN: But if they don't then all bets are off.
BLITZER: So, Jeffrey, you're an author of the Supreme Court, your excellent book, "The Nine." I take it you do not believe this case will wind up before the justices of the Supreme Court?
LEMON: Great question, Wolf.
TOOBIN: No. This case is going to wind up -- this case is going to wind up with somebody writing Donald Sterling a check with so many zeros on it, it's going to make all of us sick.
BLITZER: All right. Guys --
TOOBIN: Because that's how it's going to end not before the Supreme Court.
BLITZER: You're going to be back -- all of you are going to be back with us in our next hour. So don't go too far away. And this note, too, our viewers, please be sure to watch Donald Sterling/Magic Johnson exclusive back-to-back interviews with our own Anderson Cooper. It's an "AC 360" special report later tonight, "SEX, LIES AND BASKETBALL." 9:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.
Up next a very different subject. Is Iran secretly developing new ballistic missiles even as it negotiates with the United States and others on a final nuclear deal. And Hillary Clinton takes credit for tough Iran sanctions. Critics, though, now suggesting she's rewriting history. So who's right?
BLITZER: There's new word out of the United Nations that Iran is secretly developing long range missiles, building launch sites at the very same time that it's talking with world powers about a final nuclear deal.
CNN national correspondent Jim Sciutto has been looking into all of this for us.
What's the latest?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm told that the administration is now reviewing this U.N. report and that the latest intelligence is that Iran is continuing the ballistic missile program quite broadly even as these nuclear talks continue. Now U.S. officials have said repeatedly today in response to questions about this that these nuclear talks do cover ballistic missiles and they will have to reach agreement on those missiles for these talks to continue.
But it's another sign of how many issues still have to be worked out calling for tough concessions from both sides before reaching a broader nuclear deal. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Even as U.S. and Iranian officials negotiate Iran's nuclear program in Vienna, back home Iran is continuing to develop ballistic missiles according to a new U.N. report, missiles with ranges up to thousands of miles and the potential of carrying nuclear war heads. The report found Iran has developed a new missile launch site and is close to finishing another at the country's space center.
Just this week Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khomeini vowed Iran will never give up the missile program dismissing the possibility as stupid and foolish. U.S. officials were quick to offer reassurances that Iran's ballistic missile program remains an issue of concern for the U.S. and a key part of the ongoing nuclear negotiations.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Ballistic missiles fall into the topics under discussion that would need to be part of a comprehensive resolution of this dispute and this challenge.
SCIUTTO: Reaction from the most vocal opponent of the nuclear talks, namely Israel, however, was swift.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: We've been saying all along that Iran is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the international community. So I wasn't surprised, we must not let the ayatollah win. We mustn't let the foremost terrorist state of our time Iran develop the capability to produce nuclear weapons.
SCIUTTO: Analysts say a comprehensive deal limiting Iran's nuclear program is still possible without ending Iran's missile program.
MICHAEL EISENSTADT, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE: If we can get a nuclear -- a good nuclear deal and the price for doing that is giving up on the missiles, we should take it but it has to be a good deal. The worst of all worlds would be to get a bad deal on the nukes and have them continue with their research on missiles so that at the end they have both.
SCIUTTO: The scope of these talks and current U.N. Security Council resolutions cover only nuclear capable ballistic missiles. They do not cover ballistic missiles which are not capable of carrying a nuclear payload and that opens the possibility at least that the U.S. and Iran can reach a comprehensive deal in July that allows Iran to continue a ballistic missile program as long as those missiles do not carry nuclear warheads.
BLITZER: What are you hearing about those negotiations in Vienna right now two months before the end of the so-called deadline?
SCIUTTO: Well, it's interesting. About a week ago I heard from people with direct knowledge of the talks that there was progress particularly on some of the most difficult issues. For instance the Iraq plutonium facility. How Iran will be allowed to keep that under restrictions. Also the Frodo site, which is the once nuclear military site. That these -- they were coming closer to a deal where they -- Iran could keep them but you have monitors, restrictions on what they could produce.
But in more recent days I'm hearing some expectations management from a number of officials involved. I think it was a tough week there and it's just a reminder that you got a long way to go. I mean, one question that still hasn't been addressed is the number of centrifuges, for instance, of these 19,000 centrifuges they are spending there that Iran will be able to keep. That's going to be a tough one to resolve.
BLITZER: Yes. That Iraq nuclear facility is A-R-A-K.
SCIUTTO: Not I-R-A -- exactly.
BLITZER: Not the country. Iraq.
SCIUTTO: Nowhere near Iraq.
BLITZER: It's in Iran itself. Stand by for a moment.
Hillary Clinton has been taking a good share of the credit in recent days for the tough sanctions on Iran. But Josh Rogin of the "Daily Beast" writes that Hillary Clinton's own State Department seriously resisted those -- measures.
Josh is here with Jim and me right now.
Tell us what you're reporting.
JOSH ROGIN, DAILY BEAST SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Right. So Hillary Clinton raised eyebrows when she seemed to take credit for the crippling sanctions that she says brought Iran to the negotiating table. But lawmakers and experts who were involved at the time were quick to point out that the State Department along with the White House and the Treasury Department worked hard to slow the pace of those sanctions and dilute them while they were going through Congress for the entire four years that Hillary Clinton led the State Department.
The State Department had its own view on how sanctions could be implemented. They thought that Congress is going too fast. And that's a fair view to have. But looking back it's hard for Hillary Clinton to take credit for the most crippling of the sanctions that her State Department was supposed to.
BLITZER: She's taking credit this week in a major speech, a foreign policy speech here this week. But the real initiative for those sanctions, and I want Jim to weigh in on this as well, really emanated -- came from Congress where Democrats and Republicans worked hard to get those sanctions but they did face resistance from the Obama administration.
ROGIN: Often quite bitter resistance. And we see this even to this day. There are still efforts in Congress to push for more sanctions against Iran especially if they fail to make a deal or fail to stick to the deal that they make. The administration does not believe that Congress should lead the way on sanctions. They want Congress' help but only if Congress does it in a way that the administration prefers. And this is going to be an issue for Hillary if and when she decides to run for president because people will look at that record and compare it to her statements.
BLITZER: What are you hearing, Jim?
SCIUTTO: Well, listen, I think that -- I think it's more nuance than that. I mean, certainly we know that there were members of Congress even in the Democratic Party that were pushing for more stiff sanctions even as this most recent interim deal came forth -- came forward. That said, it was not just Congress. Right? The Treasury Department was very forward leaning on this and instituted and followed through on and pushed hard for some of the most punishing sanctions against Iran and also the State Department squeezed some of the most difficult allies to reduce their imports of Iranian oil.
China, for instance, which depends on it, allies like South Korea, really had to ratchet down. And that was part -- that really extracted one of the biggest economic cost from Iran. I think at the end of the day, I mean, you're going to have -- she wouldn't be the first politician in Washington to take more -- you know, to seek more credit than before but you're going to have sniping.
But when you look at the whole scope of the program, this program pushed Iran hard. And I've been there a lot of times and clearly the government there is concerned about their economic shortfall. It had an effect. I mean, you know, are there folks who wanted to push harder? No question. But I don't think it's fair to say that it was only Congress.
BLITZER: And, Josh, I think it's fair to say also that if there is a deal, and that's still a huge if, but if there is a deal it may be in part because Iranians are beginning to appreciate the benefits of some easing. It's been relatively modest but there has been some significant easing of those sanctions.
ROGIN: Exactly. I think I agree with Jim that the administration deserves credit for rallying international support, for pushing for U.N. sanctions, for implementing the sanctions once they were passed over the administration's objections. All of that is true. Moving forward what will Hillary Clinton say about the final deal when it comes out? Will she support it even if most of Congress is against it? Will she support new sanctions after that if Iran breaks the deal?
This is not over for Hillary Clinton as her book comes out, as she goes on tour and she gets asked these questions in real time. So this story is far from over and the story of Hillary Clinton's record on Iran will be a major part of her campaign --
(CROSSTALK) SCIUTTO: I agree. It's a fair point. This is going to be a difficult sensitive deal for any politician running for office to come out of because it's a risky deal for both sides involved.
BLITZER: Let's see if there's a deal first of all.
SCIUTTO: Yes, exactly.
BLITZER: And if they don't reach it in the next two months they can extend it for another six months, the negotiation. There's a clause in there, you know what, I suspect whenever they have those clauses for a second six months you know what's going to happen.
ROGIN: They usually use them.
BLITZER: They use them.
SCIUTTO: Unless there's political pressure in the midterms, right? Yes?
BLITZER: We'll see. All right, guys, thanks very much.
Just ahead a surprising confession by late-night's David Letterman about Monica Lewinsky. Stand by.
And more breaking news. We're going back live to the fire lines in Southern California. At least five major blazes there burning right now.
BLITZER: Very candid confession by the late-night host David Letterman revealing a surprising major regret of his long career.
CNN's Brian Todd Is here. He's got the details.
It has to deal with Monica Lewinsky. A lot of the jokes he used to tell about her.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. David Letterman says he genuinely regrets all the jokes he made about Lewinsky during the height of the impeachment scandal. Now it may seem disingenuous since Letterman built his career, made his living off that kind of humor. But this window on how feelings have changed about Lewinsky is telling.
TODD (voice-over): Monica Lewinsky's venture back into the spotlight has made David Letterman wistful as he fades from that spotlight. Nearing the end of his run as host of the "Late Show" on CBS, Letterman had a reflective chat with Barbara Walters. They brought up Lewinsky's recent essay in "Vanity Fair," how Lewinsky wrote she'd had trouble finding employment instead of a Letterman punch line.
DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE SHOW": Now I started to feel bad because myself and other people with shows like this made relentless jokes about the poor woman.
BARBARA WALTERS, TV HOST: Yes.
LETTERMAN: She was a kid, 21 or 22 or something.
WALTERS: Yes, she's 40 now.
LETTERMAN: I feel bad about my role in helping push the humiliation to the point of suffocation.
The number one possible first line of Monica Lewinsky's new book, "Me and My Big Mouth."
You have to feel sorry a little bit for Monica Lewinsky because, you know, she's a kid, just a kid right out of college, you know, looking for a good job at the White House. And --
Apparently so was Clinton. So yes --
TODD: Lewinsky ruminated on her own sense of shame in the "Vanity Fair" piece. Fifteen times she used some form of the word humiliation, a feeling she also described when she spoke to CNN in 2002.
MONICA LEWINSKY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE INTERN: It was humiliating to have to give those details under oath, so just even being deposed and being asked questions like that. But for them to be disseminated in a way knowing that people were reading them, you just -- you just feel naked in front of the whole world.
TODD: Lynne Sweet covered the impeachment scandal for the "Chicago Sun Times". She believes nearly two decades later people's views of Lewinsky have evolved.
LYNNE SWEET, CHICAGO SUN TIMES: I think people feel more sympathy for Monica Lewinsky now because years later the Clintons are doing just fine, her life has been ruined.
TODD: It's not just Lewinsky's story where Letterman seemed to reflect. Speaking about the recent incident between Jay-Z's and Beyonce's sister posted by TMZ.
LETTERMAN: Is it funny because they're just famous or overall with some perspective do you realize this is a sad human situation?
TODD: And Letterman's not alone in the angst over the Lewinsky scandal. Columnist Maureen Dowd wrote recently in "The New York Times" that Lewinsky's, quote, bullies were also the Clintons and their attack dogs who turned Lewinsky into a scapegoat.
Now we reached out to some Clinton loyalists from those White House years, excuse me, to talk about Lewinsky and the political tone in Washington at that time. We couldn't get any of them to speak to us, Wolf. It was surprising or maybe not so surprising how many of those folks clammed up over this.
BLITZER: Yes. Certainly a thunderous silence.
BLITZER: They have something to do with 2016, right?
TODD: Absolutely, it does. Political analysts are saying, you know, with Hillary possibly poised to run in 2016, no one who's in their camp is going to want to speak now about the Lewinsky era. That could be poisonous. And of course, you know, once a Clinton loyalist, always a Clinton loyalist.
You know, we tend to find the people in that circle don't want to be cut out of it. You speak about Lewinsky, you'll probably be cut out of it.
BLITZER: Yes. It's impressive, though, that David Letterman was getting reflective.
BLITZER: Right now at the end of his job over there at CBS. He's beginning to think, well, maybe I went too far.
BLITZER: Telling some of those jokes.
TODD: That's right.
BLITZER: Good for him. All right. Thanks very much.
Breaking news. We're going back to the fire zone in southern California. Evacuation orders are out right now for 11,000 people. As crews battle five major blazes.
Plus, new questions about critical satellite tracking data. Some passengers' families believe it holds the answer to the mystery of Malaysia Air Flight 370.
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Up in flames. The most dangerous fire in Southern California is twice as big, still very active. We're live in the hot zone. Thousands of people are under evacuation orders. Hundreds of firefighters are battling to save homes and lives.
Plus, Donald Sterling fighting back. He's rejecting the punishment by the NBA. He's threatening a lawsuit, but will that allow the L.A. Clippers' owner to keep the team?