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Obama Stands By V.A. Secretary; Aiken: Buck Stops With Obama; Democrats Join Benghazi Inquiry; U.S. Troops Searching For Abducted Girls; Thousand May Have Been Exposed To Hepatitis A

Aired May 22, 2014 - 07:30   ET


JOHN KING, CNN HOST, "INSIDE POLITICS": But the -- it sounded to me more like, well, we've got this investigation going on and I'm going to keep this guy around to catch the harpoons for a while and then he's gone.

JULIE PACE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: The president has left the door open to the possibility that Shinseki could be out. I think he almost had to do that. There is a view that unless something comes out of these reports, that these reviews that are under way that directly implicates Shinseki, that the White House is going to air on the side of leaving him in this job to oversee this process.

There are a lot of people who would argue that this is a guy who has had 5-1/2 years to oversee this process and we're still dealing with this. You know, but the White House would be in a position of having a tough confirmation hearing in a midterm election year on an issue that is becoming deeply political. They're weighing that concern as well.

RON FOURNIER, "NATIONAL JOURNAL": That is their view and it's pathetic. The president came into office knowing this was a systemic problem.

KING: He campaigned on this in 2008 and the Bush administration and the problems with the Bush administration. They warned him during the transition, this is a problem we're passing on to you.

FOURNIER: He knew it was getting much worst because he is winding down the wars and he knew this had to be a radical overhaul. And what did he do? He didn't pay attention. He didn't govern. Now he's holding nobody accountable. If you're an American sitting out there and know a veteran, drive by a VA, if you like to have your government actually function, if you saw the president of the United States come out yesterday and say, way to go, Sheki, you've got to really serious problem. The idea they're going to keep this guy on and he comes out after a month --

KING: Priority one should be the polity problem because the veterans are heroes and they volunteered and they deserve today, tomorrow, and for as many years as they need it care. That's the policy problem they have on their hands. They also have a political problem because it's playing out in election year. The president's approval rating at 43 percent. I was talking to a lot of Democrats yesterday who say they believe this, especially because as it comes after and some other problems for the administration.

But this is a break on him changing that number. When people look at Washington they see this dysfunction. How is his approval rating going to go up? Clay Aiken you may know him from "American Idol," but he's a Democrat running for Congress in North Carolina. This is going to happen in every competitive race in the country. Candidates are going to be asked, Eric Shinseki, should he stay or go and how is the president handling this?


CLAY AIKEN (D), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I certainly think the president is responsible for it at the end of the day. I mean, he is the commander in chief of the military. He is the executive and so the buck has to stop with him.


KING: That's what makes Democrats nervous. Unless they see decisive action from the White House that they are going to have too well this and they will pay the political price in the short term.

PACE: Sure. I would say though there is a difference between being a candidate running for office and I think Clay Aiken, we have to give him some credit, that was a smart political line and I think we will hear Democrats repeat that. There is a difference between being a candidate running for office and being a president.

This White House leans more on the side of caution saying we're not going to throw somebody under the bus because there's public outrage, media outrage. We're going to go through this process that may be smart in some ways but I think it leaves people including Democrats, very unsatisfied.

FOURNIER: You throw them under the bus because they're not getting the job done. That's the problem. They look at everything politically first instead of policy first. This is a problem. Clean it up. He has six years of cleaning it up. He doesn't have it done. You fire them. You fire everyone who is not getting it done.

KING: Perhaps the Senate race is Kentucky. The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell thinks he has a chance to be the majority leader after this November's elections. He thinks Republicans are going to pick up enough seats. But first he has to win his general election. Alison Grimes is his opponent. Kentucky is a red state. The president is not popular there. Listen to this first ad from her in the general election. She doesn't like anybody in Washington.


ALISON LUNDERGAN GRIMES (D), SENATE CANDIDATE: Nothing gets better in Washington. It only gets worse. A lot of that is because of the people at the top in both political parties. If we keep sending them back, nothing will change. And no matter who the president is, I won't answer to them. I'll only answer to you.


KING: So if she comes to Washington she's going to need a dog because she's not going to have any friends. That's an ad that not only criticizes her opponent, Mitch McConnell, who is one of those leaders in Washington, criticizes the president, criticizes Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat leader in the House. But probably smart?

FOURNIER: Yes, if you're a Republican or a Democratic candidate and looking at the polls to see how people don't trust government now or any institution and are fed up with all of their leaders in every sector of society, that's the ad you run. When you get to Washington, actually govern like that.

PACE: She thread the needle well. She has to prove to people in Kentucky by putting a Democrat in the Senate that she's not just going to be voting for everything that the president wants and she also has to give people who are on the fence about McConnell a reason to oust someone who potentially could become senate majority leader.

FOURNIER: Just make my point. That could be a Tea Party ad. You can do that as effectively as a Republican as well.

KING: We'll keep our eye on that race. A decision we were waiting for a couple of weeks is would Democrats participate in the new Benghazi select committee in the House of Representatives. A lot of pressure on Democrats to boycott that committee, but the leader, Nancy Pelosi decided yesterday the Democrats would appoint five members. Seven Republicans, five Democrats.

Nancy Pelosi is saying she's putting serious Democrats on this committee to help with the Republican questions here. Most of these members have been on other committees that have already investigated Benghazi. Nancy Pelosi says in the end this is why she decided Democrats needed to play.


REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: I could have argued this either way. Give any validity to this effort, but I do think it is important for the American people to have the pursuit of these questions done in an open and balanced way as possible. That simply would not be possible leaving it to the Republicans.


KING: I'm told she had a one-on-one meeting with Speaker Boehner. She wanted seven and seven, equal representation, and he flatly said no. "Politico" is reporting this morning that among the Democratic pressure saying be on this committee were the Clintons. Hillary Clinton was concerned if you left us to the Republicans, it could hurt her. That's interesting.

PACE: Yes, well, Clinton is going to be very much at the center of this. What this does is it puts Democrats in the room when key decisions are made, when documents are gone through, the idea is to avoid Democrats having to be completely surprised by something that might pop up.

FOURNIER: Smart politics, smart policy.

KING: Smart politics, smart policy, all right, we'll watch that committee rolling and finally, Conan O'Brien as we get back to you guys in New York, talking about a new potential candidate and here I go. I'm just going to throw my non-partisanship right out the window here. If she runs, she's got my vote.


CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, "CONAN": In a new interview that just came out, Angelina Jolie said she would not rule out running for office someday. Yes, she said she will wait until her children are grown up and make up 51 percent of the voting population.


KING: That's not bad, right?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: There you go. If you can't win over voters, just create them.

KING: You know, it works, whatever works. Demographics, demographics, power politics, baby.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Thanks, John. You're so funny.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: A lot of kids out there need love. That wouldn't be my knock on her.


CUOMO: Too many tattoos to be in office though.

BOLDUAN: That was pre-kids though.

CUOMO: That's a strong point. Once you become a parent you get a clean slate?

BOLDUAN: Yes. My tattoo is going to compost kids.

CUOMO: No. The little one will grow up and hold you responsible for everything you did in your life before them.

BOLDUAN: I can't wait.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, nearly 100 U.S. troops are on their way to help find -- help in the search to find the Nigerian schoolgirls taken by a terror group, Boko Haram. Will that bring them any closer to finding the girls they've seen little evidence of where they are this point? We're going to talk to the Pentagon and the mission ahead.


CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY. This morning 80 U.S. troops are on the ground in Chad helping search for those kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls. The president ordered their deployment and because they're armed informed both Houses of Congress as law requires. The White House says the troops are there to help out with surveillance efforts only and will stay as long as needed.

Joining us now with more from the Pentagon is Rear Admiral John Kirby. He is the Pentagon press secretary and is the main spokesman for Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. It's great to have you with us, Admiral. Can you give us an overview of what is the strategy here for the U.S.? Why is it going into Chad instead of Nigeria? What is its role here?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Sure, thanks, Chris. There's kind of two tracks here to what we're doing. The first is a small team that's participating in an inner agency government down there at the embassy in Nigeria. They're there to advice and assist, to do what we call a gap analysis to find out what the Nigerian armed forces need to do to go after -- to find these girls. And we're sort of helping them figure out what their requirements are. That's one.

Two, the continuous search effort from the air. And we're going to do that in this case based out of Chad. We appreciate the support of the government there to allow us to do this. These will be a mix of man and unmanned aircraft but you need people on the ground to help service the aircraft, to support them, maintain them, fuel them, and fix them when they break.

Of course, you need security personnel to protect those aircraft. They're very expense assets. That's what the 80 folks are going to be doing. They're going to be supporting and operating the aircraft and protecting the personnel and aircraft themselves.

CUOMO: What's the word about why this is proving so difficult from a surveillance perspective to find these girls?

KIRBY: It's a combination of factors, Chris. One is geography. It's a large area. We don't even know for sure where the girls are. But the guesstimates have it roughly at the size of West Virginia. That's so it's the size of the area. Number two, it's the topography. As you know this is dense jungle. Lots of cover from trees. And we believe the girls have been broken up into small groups. It will be very difficult to see them from the air.

It doesn't mean we're not going to try but it's going to be very, very hard. Of course, you know, you have weather issues there in that part of the world. So you always have to factor that in. Look, we think the girls are dispersed. They're in tough terrain. It's a wide, wide area. And so far we just haven't seen any indication, but it doesn't mean we're not going to keep trying.

CUOMO: If you spot them what's the chance a boots go on the ground, American boots, to engage the enemy?

KIRBY: That's always a call for the commander in chief to make, Chris. There's no plans right now for a U.S. military operation on the ground.

CUOMO: Admiral, while I have you let me switch topics to the VA. I've been listening to politicians on now. Banging the president saying we want to know more, we should have known and we had the Republican leader of the Veterans Affairs Committee. This isn't new. How much of what we're hearing about the VA now have veterans been trying to bring up for years and years to different politicians, from different parties and we just stayed in the same problem zone?

KIRBY: Secretary Hagel has talked about this many times. Some of these problems are not new. You're right, Chris, they go back quite a ways. Some of them as a result of this investigation we may find out are more new. It doesn't really matter. What matters is and Secretary Hagel is committed to do an all we can to make sure we take care of our troops, families, and veterans. He and secretary Shinseki speak all the time.

They were just on the Hill this week talking at electronic health records. We're trying to get at some of these problems. While it is certainly issues -- these are issues that the veterans administration have got to work out and investigate we recognize that the Defense Department creates veterans in this country and that we need to do all we can to pitch in as well.

CUOMO: The Representative Miller was making the point this morning that more veterans should be allowed to go outside the VA and get private service. Is that something you hear from the fighting men and women? Is that something they want?

KIRBY: As part of our tricare system, a lot of care that active military folks and their families get are going through private contractors through a system called tricare. Not all of the medicine and medical care that our folks get are in U.S. military hospitals. So we have sort of a blended system. I really can't speak for the Veterans Administration and what they might be looking at.

CUOMO: I appreciate your perspective as a veteran yourself and you have so much contact with the fighting men and women. To go back to the effort in Nigeria here or Chad, specifically, right now, you know, please know that we're going to stay on this story. We know a lot of bad things happen in that part of the world. We know this is getting special attention because it involves such a large group of girls.

As you organize and get over there, if there's a reason to be on the ground, keep us in mind because we want to be there to tell the story, Admiral. And any opportunity we have to do that with you guys, let us know.

KIRBY: Thanks, Chris. I want you to know and your viewers to know that we, too, the U.S. military, will stay on this issue. Resident said it's a priority. We're going to do what we can to help find these girls and, as you pointed out right when you led into my interview, they're going to be there as long as they are required.

CUOMO: Make sure if I go over there you come to keep me safe as you always do. Thanks. KIRBY: All right, thank you very much. Kate over to you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, a massive beef recall, a massive one expanding over E.Coli concerns as millions gear up for holiday of barbecuing. We know which stores may have sold it, but officials are not saying which restaurants may have served it. Makes a lot of people wonder why. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here to discuss.


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: New information now on that huge recall of E.Coli-tainted ground beef. Food inspectors naming five stores in at least nine states that may have received this tainted meat. However, they're not naming the restaurants that it could have sold the beef.

Chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here with us this morning. What do we know? We see it's expanding more nationwide now.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: We haven't heard about more illnesses yet. You're absolutely right. It started in four states. They're basically saying the whole nation. It's affecting them because this meat goes to these distribution centers and goes out from there. It's a real medical investigation, Michaela. It's a real medical investigation account.

You find someone who is sick. Then you have to see what they ate, compare them to other people who also got sick and trace it back. They did this fairly quickly. May 12th is when the first person was found to be ill. By May 19th the recall was in place, but it's expanded.

PEREIRA: Here is one of the frustrations for a lot of people. We know the stores that had the meat, but so many of us now a days in this busy life they won't name the restaurants. They won't name them. Why?

GUPTA: There's an objective part to this and subjective part. The objective part is, look, when it comes to stores, people can go buy those things, take them home to their freezers, put them in there. We can't control all that. We have to make sure the people, the consumers are knowledgeable about where they bought that they can check the labels themselves, toss out that meat if it's potentially contaminated.

With restaurants they have more authority. They can remove the meat from those restaurants and say definitively no more contaminated meat is getting out. Our goal is not to put these restaurants out of business. If we simply say, look, this is the restaurant where the tainted meat was sold.

PEREIRA: Then they get the bad rap of being a restaurant that has bad meat.

GUPTA: Was it their fault? Did they get the meat from a distribution center? There's a little give and take there. PEREIZA: One has to wonder do they have the resources to get to every distribution center and take this meat out of there? Do the inspectors have the wherewithal?

GUPTA: I don't think they have the manpower to do that, but once they identified the restaurants. So difficult with chains. Remember the jack-in-the-box chain, and Burger King was named several years ago. There have been chains affected by this. But mom and pop restaurants. They don't usually name those.

PEREIRA: Another report that's also very concerning, something like 5,000 people, as many as 5,000 people could have been exposed to Hepatitis A at a Red Robin restaurant. I have to tell you this restaurant in Missouri, any number of people could have been through there. Talk about how this exposure could have happened.

GUPTA: What they found, they had an employee who had hepatitis a and was actively contagious. They didn't know at the time. They found out after the fact. The person continued to work there. They're not saying in which part of the restaurant they specifically worked. That's concerning. Hepatitis a is pretty contagious. Was this person dealing with food specifically or utensils that were dealing with food? They're not saying that. They're saying anybody in that red robin restaurant during that time period could be infected. It's a low likelihood, but they've got to be sure and that's why they're notifying these 5,000 people.

PEREIRA: So they test them and then what happens?

GUPTA: You can take a prophylaxis, a vaccine, even two weeks after an exposure. If they get people within that time period they could potentially be protected. A lot of people may have gotten the hepatitis a vaccine just because of travel, so they would already have protection. But younger people, older people, people with weakened immune systems. They have to test them, if they're in the two-week window, give them the prophylaxis, otherwise watch them and see if they develop symptoms.

PEREIRA: Great to have you here to talk to us about both of these issues. Kate and Chris, over to you.

CUOMO: All right, Mich, coming up on NEW DAY, new allegations of VA hospitals leaving you as veterans suffering waiting for appointments and then covering it up. Now the president says he is outraged, but is that enough?

BOLDUAN: Home at last, the victim of a kidnapping finally free after ten years of abuse. We're going to tell you how she found the courage to escape coming up in our next hour.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our waiting list could be six months, nine months or longer. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: New revelations against the VA doctor saying recent war vets have to wait months for care. The president has now spoken out, but was it enough?

BOLDUAN: On the hunt, 80 U.S. troops now heading to West Africa. Their mission to help find those hundreds of missing girls.

PEREIRA: Breaking free. Shocking new details on a woman kidnapped as a 15-year-old and held for ten years. She's back with her mother this morning and speaking out. How was she kept hidden for so long in plain sight?

CUOMO: Your NEW DAY continues right now.

BOLDUAN: Good morning and welcome once again to NEW DAY. It is Thursday, May 22nd, 8:00 in the east. Up first this hour, America's wounded warriors seemingly turned away. CNN uncovering explosive charges against the VA health system in Phoenix specifically showing that U.S. veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have been waiting for months, even those injured by explosives and surfing from PTS. A doctor who runs the Phoenix VA's post deployment clinic made the shocking claim to CNN's Drew Griffin who covered this from the beginning.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: You're telling me that our troops coming back from war now separated from active service -

DR. KATHERINE MITCHELL, PHOENIX V.A. HOSPITAL: Who should have priority for scheduling do not.