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L.A. Clippers: $2 Billion Deal; V.A. Hospital Scandal: Lawmakers Furious; Edward Snowden: Patriot or Liar?

Aired May 30, 2014 - 04:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It could be game over between Donald Sterling and the NBA. The L.A. Clippers owner, or the L.A. Clippers set to be sold to former ex-Microsoft CEO for a record-breaking $2 billion. Details of this signed deal and why it may not be a sure thing, that's ahead.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: New calls this morning from top Democrats for V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign, as new details emerge of widespread problems and cover-ups at medical centers across the country.

BERMAN: Edward Snowden, patriot or liar? Newly released e-mails are raising questions on whether the NSA leaker raised concerns about U.S. security procedures to his bosses before exposing them to the world.

ROMANS: Two very different versions of events there.

BERMAN: Indeed. Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's Friday, May 30th. It's 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Let's begin with the Donald Sterling saga. Could it soon be over? A source telling CNN former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has signed a binding agreement to buy the Clippers for $2 billion, $2 billion. The sale was negotiated by Shelly Sterling, the team's co-owner, must be approved by the NBA board of governors.

The question now is, will Donald Sterling give it his approval? Overnight, his lawyer said no, at least for now.


MAXWELL BLECHER, DONALD STERLING'S ATTORNEY: There is no sale, and he is not yet agreed to sign off, period.


ROMANS: And earlier on "THE SITUATION ROOM's" Wolf Blitzer, he said the NBA went too far in painting Sterling as a racist and he wants some form of vindication.


BLECHER: Mr. Sterling is entitled to his views about Magic Johnson, and they don't have to conform with your views or my views. The fact that he doesn't like Magic Johnson or doesn't have a lot of respect for him does not entitle the National Basketball Association to confiscate his team, fine him and banish him for life. Those are draconian remedies.

No one has ever, no sport has ever imposed remedies like that for a man expressing his personal opinion, however reprehensible the rest of us may think those opinions are. This is still the United States of America.

We don't think the team can be sold without Mr. Sterling's consent. Mr. Sterling is not going to consent unless the NBA does something about the scurrilous and legal charges they filed against him. And so far, we've heard nothing to indicate that will occur.


ROMANS: A feisty position from Donald Sterling and his attorney. Now, if the reported $2 billion deal goes through, it would be the most ever paid for an NBA franchise. Sterling bought this team in 1981 for just about $12.5 million. Imagine the tax bill to the state of California, the real winner if there's a sale here.

BERMAN: The Sterlings is going to do OK, too, at $2 billion.

ROMANS: They will.

BERMAN: Yes, they will have to pay capital gains taxes, but that's a hefty profit. Shed no tears for them, Christine Romans.

ROMANS: Every NBA owner is looking at that going, whoo, new peaks reached in the NBA.

BERMAN: No doubt about that.

All right. Let's move on now to a serious story. A new developments in the scandal at the V.A. as more and more lawmakers call for V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. He speaks today before a homeless veterans group, a day after going to Capitol Hill and speaking privately to lawmakers. This as he seems to be losing the support, perhaps, of his boss, the president, all after the V.A.'s own probe found a CNN investigation was true. Hundreds of vets in Phoenix were kept off the official books and not given appointments, possibly with deadly results.

Now, many people are asking, how long can the secretary keep his job?

Jim Acosta has more from the White House.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John and Christine, the writing may be on the wall for V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki. For the first time since the V.A. scandal broke, the White House is declining to say whether Shinseki has the confidence of the president.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney refused to answer that question of whether Shinseki has the president's full backing. Instead, Carney said the president wants to see the findings of an internal audit Shinseki is expected to hand over to the president any day now.

How does he run the department if he doesn't have the full confidence of the president? How does he conduct this investigation if he doesn't have the full confidence of the president?

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president looks forward to the preliminary review that he asked the secretary to provide to him.

ACOSTA: A growing list of senate Democrats, many up for re-election, are calling for Shinseki to go. The last straw for those senators? An inspector general's report pointing to systemic issues in the V.A. system, noting in Phoenix, 1,700 veterans were never put on a waiting list and were likely lost or forgotten.

As for the White House, an official cautions, the president's loyalty only goes so far. Mr. Obama stood by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius because officials were confident here that the broken Obamacare Web site could be fixed. The White House is not so sure about Shinseki's ability to repair the damage at the V.A. -- John and Christine.


BERMAN: All right, as the president waits to see the internal report from the V.A., for the first time, a top House Democrat is calling for a criminal investigation, and for the first time, a member of the House Democratic leadership is calling on Secretary Shinseki to resign.

Congressman Steve Israel tells Jake Tapper on "THE LEAD," there are simply too many questions right now about who did what at the V.A. and why they might have been encouraged to manipulate the wait time for veterans. He's now asked Attorney General Eric Holder to look into it.


REP. STEVE ISRAEL (D), NEW YORK: Anybody, anybody at the V.A. doctored papers, engaged in a cover-up, withheld health care for veterans. They need to be investigated. They need to be prosecuted. They need to be fired.


BERMAN: The inspector general's report finds the V.A. awarded bonuses to top officials based in part on performance goals, including shorter appointment wait times. That may have been an incentive for some to cook the books.

ROMANS: The NSA this morning firing back at Edward Snowden's claims that he tried to blow the whistle on the agency's spying practices when he worked there. During his interview with NBC News, the former contractor said he raised concerns on multiple occasions in writing and verbally. The NSA says it only has one e-mail, one e-mail from Snowden to its Office of General Counsel, asking about the legal power of an executive order, but nothing about the spy programs. Snowden called the e-mail release incomplete.

BERMAN: New details this morning of just who in China is responsible for hacking into servers in the U.S. "The Wall Street Journal" says U.S. officials believe many of those hackers were contractors for hire and worked for defense companies created on the fly to do the dirty work of state-owned firms. Security experts say because they aren't government employees, it would be very difficult for the Chinese government to stop them.

ROMANS: All right, time for an EARLY START on your money this Friday. Here's a look at stocks around the world.

U.S. futures are slightly lower but still near these records! I sound like a broken record. The S&P hit a record high of the year yesterday, topping 1,920. This despite news the U.S. economy actually shrank last quarter. Revised data showed a 1 percent contraction in the winter, the first in three years. Most economists say it's likely a weather-related fluke.

Meantime, Ford -- big news from Ford, issuing a monster recall, 1.4 million vehicles. The bulk of that, 1.1 million, are very popular SUVs. Here they are, the Ford Escape, the Ford Explorer, the Mercury Mariner, all being recalled for a steering issue. Ford says at least 20 accidents and eight injuries may be tied to the steering problem. Another 200,000 Ford Tauruses recalled for a potential corrosion issue that likely caused 18 fires.

I say this is the year of the total recall for car owners.

BERMAN: Nice, nice. Are you going to open your shirt and see a little man out of the stomach there? Because that's what I think when you say "Total Recall." Sorry.

ROMANS: Oh, jeez.

BERMAN: I digress.

House Republicans are trying to slow down the new school nutrition standards backed by Michelle Obama. The House committee advancing a bill allowing schools to opt out of the program, actually, it would give them a one-year waiver, to opt out for one year, if serving healthier meals to children is causing them to lose money.

The measure, as I said, would give schools a 12-month grace period to comply. Under the current rules, schools are adding more fruits and more vegetables and cutting salt and fat. School systems say kids are throwing away food and also it's very, very expensive.

ROMANS: Talk about a power lunch, Hillary Clinton stopped by the White House Thursday for a meal with the president. The low-profile meeting was not on President Obama's calendar, but when word leaked out on Twitter, the White House ultimately confirmed the visit, but they're not saying much else about it, except to say this was a normal lunch between two very powerful people.

BERMAN: Isn't "it's just lunch" a dating Web site or something? Like you see the ads on TV, it's just lunch, it's just lunch.

All right. Nine minutes after the hour.

Attacked on the street by a stranger. A college student describes how he survived a massacre that left six others dead.

ROMANS: And tourists sharing their story of an incredible scare nearly 1,500 feet in the air. What happened when the glass -- I have been in that platform -- what happened when the glass below them began to shatter?

BERMAN: The question is, will you go again?

ROMANS: Negative.


BERMAN: Chilling, new details this morning about Elliot Rodger. In the weeks leading p to the deadly rampage that left 6 dead and 13 wounded in California, police now say deputies questioned him about the disturbing online videos during a welfare check in April, but after speaking with Rodger, they concluded he was not a threat and they did not bother to view the videos.

Meanwhile, we're hearing from a survivor of the attack run over by Rodger while he was riding a skateboard. Nick Pasichuke tells Anderson Cooper he had no warning.


NICK PASICHUKE, VICTIM: It was one of those things where I'm on a long board and I'm not really thinking like, oh, the car behind he's just going to come up and veer right into me, so I didn't really think about it. I was just talking with my friend.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: So, the car came from behind and hit you?

PASICHUKE: Yes, it did.

COOPER: Wow, so you had no warning at all.

PASICHUKE: None. Didn't even hear anyone yell, like hey, look out, or anything prior to that. We were just hit by the car.


BERMAN: Pasichuke broke both legs and has multiple facial fractures. He's out of the hospital now and recovering at home.

ROMANS: Really wish him the best in his recovery. All right. Lawyers for James Holmes are asking for closed jury selection. Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to killing 12 people, wounding dozens more at a 2012 massacre at a Colorado movie theater. Prosecutors agree that the public and media should be barred during individual questioning but they want the last step to stay open when 12 jurors and 12 alternates are chosen. Jury selection is slated for October 14th.

BERMAN: A San Francisco Giants fan nearly beaten to death at a Dodgers game in 2011 is taking the team on in court. In opening arguments, lawyers for Bryan Stow claimed former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt was too cheap to provide adequate security at the time of the brawl. The incident left Stow disabled and brain-damaged. McCourt's attorney claims Stow was aggressive and drunk and responsible for the fight that broke out.

ROMANS: The top law enforcement official in Texas says the state doesn't have to reveal the sources of execution drugs. Attorney General Greg Abbott responded to multiple requests for information about which pharmacies make the drugs that they use in executions. He says those facilities could face harm if their identities are revealed. It's a reversal of what he has said in the past and likely to be appealed to the courts.

BERMAN: This morning, the CDC is warning of a dangerous surge in a disease once pretty much eliminated in the United States. I'm talking about measles. It is on the rise with 288 cases reported this year. That is the highest number since 2000.

Now, more than half of those cases are among adults, which is interesting. Almost all are linked to travel overseas. Health officials warn that measles can be deadly and are urging people to get vaccinated. If you do not know your status, they say it's safe to get another shot.

One of the issues here is people are not getting vaccinated anymore. A lot of people on all economic spectrums are looking at this and deciding not to get vaccinated. So, measles is on the rise.

ROMANS: There is this question when I had my third baby, I remember my doctor in the hospital said you don't have measles immunity anymore, you're going to have to have a booster before we'll let you leave, so I couldn't leave without getting a booster. So, a lot of people who had the first shots 30 years ago, maybe they should revisit it.

BERMAN: Vaccines are a contentious issue in this country like never before.

ROMANS: All right. New safety warnings coming to tanning beds. The FDA now requiring manufacturers to put a so-called black box warning on those devices, saying they should not be used by anyone under the age of 18, but the agency stopped short at prohibiting minors from using tanning beds. The FDA also reclassified the devices so they can have stricter oversight. That gives federal regulators more power to review their design before they're sold. BERMAN: Just six days away now from same-sex marriage becoming legal in another state. Starting Sunday, some same-sex couples across Illinois will be able to say "I do." Some of the counties there have been issuing marriage licenses for months after a court ruling, but a state law officially takes effect June 1st.

One think tank expects same-sex marriage in Illinois will generate up to $75 million a year in new wedding business.

ROMANS: All right. Also in Illinois this morning, part of the biggest tourist attraction in Chicago will be open again for visitors. One of these glass boxes hanging off the observation deck on the Willis Tower -- there are four in total -- one had to be shut down after this. The glass seemingly started to crack, terrifying those inside.


ALEJANDRO GARIBAY, TOURIST: I hear the crack and I feel the crack on the palm of my hand and my hand, I feel like glass just completely shattered or cracked, however you would like to say it, and I just feel that. And as soon as I feel it and I hear it, I look down and I'm like, oh, my God.


ROMANS: Officials at the tower insist no one was ever in danger. It was just the coating that cracked, not the underlying structure. Those ledges, by the way, hang some 1,300 feet above the ground.

I recently went on this, as a matter of fact. It was so funny. My three kids, one of them went right in and was looking around. The other two got to the edge and went right back. You know? It's terrifying!

BERMAN: The question is will you go again?


BERMAN: No. I mean, I guess it's just the coating there?

ROMANS: I have an extreme fear of heights. I'm not going because I think it's unsafe. I'm not going because I did it once and it's really scary. I jumped out of an airplane once because I'm scared of heights. I never have to do it again.

BERMAN: The cracking is a little bit of a deterrent to me, even though it's not like the bad kind of cracking, apparently, it's the OK kind of cracking.

ROMANS: Before the cracking, it was the 1,300 feet down that was the deterrent for me.

BERMAN: Eighteen minutes after the hour. Let's get an early look at our weather now.

Karen Maginnis with that.


KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Big problems along the Gulf Coast, where for days now we have seen six, seven inches of rainfall along this Gulf Coast region. More on the way. Doesn't look like it's giving up any time soon.

Temperature-wise, at least going into Friday. Well, 74 for Friday afternoon, 84 in Minneapolis, 85 Dallas, San Francisco 63. And if you're traveling to Miami, 86.

Now, here's the problem. We start to see things clear out in the Northeast. That's good, but along the Gulf Coast, stubborn area of low pressure's still going to be triggering heavy rounds of rainfall where the ground is absolutely saturated, and the potential for flash flooding is very apparent as we go even into Saturday's forecast.

Temperature-wise, look at this, 70 New York, 81 Washington, D.C., Chicago 82, Denver 84, San Francisco in the 60s.

Back to you guys.


ROMANS: All right. Karen Maginnis, thank you for that.

BERMAN: All right, breaking overnight, it is a tie. We have co- champions in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.


BERMAN: In the end, 13-year-old Ansun Sujoe and 14-year-old Sriram Hathwar were competing against the dictionary, really, not each other. They spelled so many words correctly, the judges ran out. They got to the end of the dictionary, apparently.

For the record, Sujoe's final round winner was stichomythia, which means altering lines of dialogue, like in a play, like you all know that. And Hathwar got feuilleton, a feature section from a newspaper.

So, I say congratulations to these two. I'm going to have a Cronkite moment right now. I'm going to come out against the Spelling Bee.


BERMAN: Because everyone's always for it, everyone celebrates the winner here. I think spelling, there's too much emphasis placed on spelling in our society right now. We need to change our ways.

ROMANS: Leave it to Siri. She spells it right every time.

BERMAN: Spells it right. Sell-check.

But congratulations to these two young men.

ROMANS: I know, very smart young men. Congratulations.

Happening now, violence escalating in Ukraine. A military helicopter shut down, more than a dozen dead, bloody battles between troops and pro-Russian separatists raging on. We're live with what's happening right now this morning in Ukraine, next.


BERMAN: There are new worries this morning in Ukraine, a day after militants apparently armed with a rocket launcher took down a Ukrainian military helicopter, leaving at least 14 dead, including a top general. Tensions there are on the rise again as Ukraine promises to force the separatists from the east.

Let's get to Nick Paton Walsh live in Donetsk.

Nick, what's the latest there this morning?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, people still, I think, trying to digest the large numbers of dead revealed yesterday. Yes, you mentioned those 14 killed, according to the interim president of Ukraine, in that helicopter crash. It seems it was shot out of the sky near Slaviansk, the largest single loss of life, I think, for the Ukrainian military since this crisis began.

But also, too, the revelation from separatists that among the potential 70 dead militants on Monday's onslaught against the airport, there were, in fact, 33 Russian citizens. That's Russians who had come from Russia to fight alongside the militants in Ukraine. A big admission, because they've always said, the separatists, that they were mostly Ukrainians fighting here.

Today, too, people still trying to work out the bizarre scenes we saw last night, where another group of militants, separatist militants, came to the main building where the separatists had made their headquarters, cleaned everybody out from inside of it, used bulldozers to dismantle the barricades around it, and then tried to instill a new sense of order here.

We're reassured by all the political leaders here of the separatists, there's been no big change at the top, and that does seem so far to be the case, but certainly, people edging here because of the arrival of a new group of militants, including some Chechens, because of the strange change of scene there and also because of the rise of death tolls on both sides.

Also, we'll note we're still awaiting news or release of the four OSCE observers being held in Donetsk. Not been in contact with the headquarters since Monday at 6:00 in the evening. Tensions certainly are still around this monitoring mission here -- John.

BERMAN: Yes, delicate to say the least.

All right. Nick Paton Walsh, live for us in Donetsk this morning -- thanks so much. ROMANS: All right. Big story this morning, the fight between the NBA and Donald Sterling may be over soon. A $2 billion deal could change everything. The details, next.


ROMANS: It could be game over for Donald Sterling. His bid to keep the L.A. Clippers taking a turn. His wife selling the team for a record-breaking $2 billion.


ROMANS: Is this the end or does the Sterling family have -- Donald Sterling have any tricks up his sleeve?

BERMAN: New calls this morning for V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki to step down. Top lawmakers from both parties outraged by systemic problems at V.A. hospitals. The embattled secretary set to face President Obama as soon as today. We'll have the very latest, ahead.