Return to Transcripts main page


Source: Ballmer Agrees to Buy Clippers For $2 Billion; V.A. Hospital Scandal: Outrage Growing; NSA: Snowden Never Raised Concerns; Hillary Clinton's Lunch with Obama

Aired May 30, 2014 - 04:30   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: 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.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Edward Snowden, patriot or liar? New e-mails reveal that the NSA leaker may not have raised concerns about U.S. surveillance programs before he exposed them to the world.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Great to see you this morning, Friday morning. It's 30 minutes past the hour.

ROMANS: Say that again?

BERMAN: This Friday morning. It's 30 minutes past the hour.

And this morning, there is a deal in place to sell the Los Angeles Clippers. A source tells CNN that former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, a very, very wealthy man, has signed a binding agreement to buy the Clippers from the Sterling family trust for $2 billion. That is $2 billion. The sale was negotiated by Shelly Sterling. This comes just days before the league is scheduled to meet and possibly vote on terminating Sterling's ownership, Donald Sterling's ownership, for his racist comments.

Now, the NBA has not agreed to the sale yet, but it is likely they would. And Donald Sterling's attorney says he hasn't agreed either.


MAXWELL BLECHER, DONALD STERLING'S ATTORNEY: Mr. Sterling does not believe she has the authority to, quote, "sell the team." He believes he gave her authority only to negotiate an arrangement and bring it to him for approval.


BERMAN: Now, this attorney also appeared on "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer, had a lot to say to Wolf, including that they're still considering taking the NBA to court. They're just waiting to see what the league does at next week's meeting.


BLECHER: We have an option of filing it before Tuesday or we have an option of filing it after Tuesday. There is no detriment to our filing it either way.

So, we'll make that decision. We haven't made it yet. We did not want to interfere. I'll be very candid with you. We did not want to interfere with Mr. Sterling's efforts to sell, to try to arrange for a sale of the team.


BERMAN: So, he wants to sell, he doesn't want to sell, he wants to interfere, he doesn't want to interfere. Some mixed signals there from the lawyer, which really could all be posturing, because if the reported $2 billion deal goes through, it would be the most ever paid for an NBA franchise. The Sterlings bought the team in 1981 for about $12.5 million.

OK, chief business correspondent, do the math there. How much profit is that?

ROMANS: I mean, it's a big profit. It's also a big tax bill. Let's be honest. One of the things that the financial planners for this family no doubt have been looking at is how to transfer ownership to foundations or transfer ownership to other parts of the family so that you can lower your tax bill, you know, because they're going to be paying a huge tax bill to the state of California.

BERMAN: You are very concerned about the Sterling family's accounting.

ROMANS: No, I really like the fact that the state coffer will receive so much money. California needs some money, don't you think?

BERMAN: Absolutely.

ROMANS: I'm not concerned at all about that. That's going to be a big profit for them, no question. I wonder how much of all this that you're hearing right now is a strategy to either drive up the price, drive up the price or drive down their tax bill.

BERMAN: My personal feeling is roughly 100 percent of what you're hearing right now is posturing to do just that.

ROMANS: I think you're right.

All right. This morning, we're set to hear publicly from V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki as he fights to keep his job. He is set to speak to a homeless veterans advocacy group a day after he went to Capitol Hill for private meetings with top lawmakers. This amid the shocking revelations in the inspector general's report that, yes, a CNN investigation was correct, hundreds of veterans in phoenix were kept off the official waiting lists, a situation that may have led some veterans to die.

More and more members of Congress, including nearly a dozen Democrats now in the Senate, say Shinseki should resign. And now he seems to be losing the support of his boss, the president.

Our Jim Acosta has more from the White House this morning.


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.


ROMANS: All right. Jim Acosta, thanks for that.

All this comes at the same time more Democrats are joining the chorus, calling for a larger investigation, including Congressman Steve Israel, the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

He tells Jake Tapper on "THE LEAD," he's now asked Attorney General Eric Holder to launch a criminal probe to find out just what happened.


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.


ROMANS: 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's right, financial bonuses to managers and then the vets suffered. There may have been incentive for them to cook the books.

BERMAN: You heard Steve Israel talking to Jake there on "THE LEAD." The real significant issue there is Steve Israel's a member of the Democratic leadership in the House, and he is now calling on Eric Shinseki to resign, which shows you just how difficult the situation is now for the secretary.

All right. Thirty-six minutes after the hour.

This morning, the NSA insists Edward Snowden never complained to them, refuting Snowden's claims in an NBC interview that he repeatedly raised concerns about the agency spy programs when he worked for them as a contractor. He says he was told to stop asking questions. The NSA made public one e-mail he says he sent, asking about the legal power of an executive order but says it has no records of showing any other communications from Snowden. In this e-mail, the writer invites Snowden to get in touch with any additional questions he may have. Snowden called the e-mail release incomplete.

ROMANS: Weeks after the U.S. alleged Chinese military officials were responsible for stealing trade secrets from U.S. companies, we're getting a new sense this morning of just who else might be working to break into U.S. computer systems. "The Wall Street Journal" says it appears many of those trying to get access to systems in this country are Chinese contractors, not government employees. Security experts say that makes it difficult for the Chinese government to stop them, even if they're doing work for state-owned firms.

Time now for an EARLY START to your money. Record number 13 for the S&P 500, 1,920, a record high.

Futures slightly lower today. All three major indices here, they're ending the month higher. The NASDAQ up about 3 percent this month. Stock market records have helped out your bank account.

One thing you could spend it on? How about a trip to space? Virgin Galactic has been given the go-ahead to start planning commercial space flights. Flights will leave out of New Mexico and are expected to start later this year. The cost, a cool $250,000. So maybe your 401(k) is not going to be able to fund that, but it hasn't stopped the rich and famous. Nearly 600 people have signed up, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Ashton Kutcher, Justin Bieber are all on the list.

There's a joke in there somewhere about a space case. I'm not sure.

BERMAN: You know, I've covered the Virgin thing and their plans for privatization for a long, long time. It always seems to be getting pushed back, though. I feel for ten years, it's always been next year.

ROMANS: But now, they have FAA clearance.

BERMAN: Now, it really is next year.

ROMANS: This is the FAA clearance.

You know, I talked to Richard Branson about this recently. He's convinced and committed that they're going to be able to do it. They've got the funding. They're going to be able to do it, and Justin Bieber's going to go to space.

BERMAN: Will he come back? Stay tuned.

Thirty-eight minutes after the hour.

A real fight on Capitol Hill right now about the issue of school lunches and the program backed by First Lady Michelle Obama. A House committee has just advanced a bill that would let schools opt out of the new rules for a year if serving healthier meals causes them to lose money. The measure also, as I said, gives the schools a 12-month grace period to comply to the regulations.

Under them, schools have been adding more fruits and vegetables and cutting salt and fat.

ROMANS: Guess who stopped by for lunch at the White House? Hillary Clinton sharing a private meal Thursday with President Obama. It's not clear if little smokies and mac and cheese from the school lunch program were on the menu.

The power lunch was not on the president's official calendar. So, what did the current commander in chief and perhaps the future commander in chief discuss? The White House won't tell us.

BERMAN: It was just lunch.


BERMAN: Just lunch.

ROMANS: A college student who survived a California massacre that left six others dead is sharing his story for us this morning and why he thinks something can be learned from this tragedy. You're going to hear from him after the break.


ROMANS: Welcome back. Forty-two minutes after the hour this Friday morning.

California police say they were told of Elliot Rodger's disturbing online videos back in April, when deputies performed a welfare check after his mother and therapist raised concerns about these video clips. But during the visit, they concluded Rodger was not a threat and they chose not to put on a mental health hold on him. They also did not look at the videos, the videos that had caused the mother and therapist to be so concerned. That was just three weeks before the rampage that left six people dead and 13 wounded.

And now, we're hearing from one of those survivors run down by Rodger's car while he was riding his skateboard.

Nick Pasichuke suffered two broken legs, multiple facial fractures. He told Anderson Cooper he hopes others learn from what he went through.


NICK PASICHUKE, SURVIVOR: I just kind of want to come out here and, you know, not, you know, not, like, shed light on the situation, but really just, like, show kind of a positive side to it, you know? It's a time where a lot of people are feeling sad, a lot of people may be feeling down, but I just don't want people to be so distracted by that whole side of it that they forget, like, that people are still alive, people survived this thing.

And it's, like, although we still should mourn those people, it should be something that we kind of look towards to better ourselves in a way.


ROMANS: Wow, very well said. He's recovering at home this morning. He's out of the hospital. Two broken legs, multiple facial fractures and, you know, just unbelievable what that town is going through. Santa Barbara is just really grieving still.

BERMAN: We wish him well. We wish them well and the town needs people like him to move forward.


BERMAN: Forty-four minutes after the hour.

Suspected Colorado movie theater shooter James Holmes doesn't want the public to see how his jury is picked. His lawyer's making that request in court and prosecutors agreed to bar the public and media during individual questioning but said the last step when 12 jurors and 12 alternates are chosen should be open. Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in the 2012 massacre that left 12 dead and dozens wounded. Jury selection is scheduled for October 14th.

ROMANS: Opening arguments in the case of a San Francisco giants fan who was nearly beaten to death at a Los Angeles Dodgers game. Attorneys for Bryan Stow, who is now disabled and brain-damaged, they claim that ex-Dodgers owner Frank McCourt cut corners on security at the time of the incident. They're seeking $50 million in damages. McCourt's attorneys claim stow was aggressive and drunk before the brawl broke out.

BERMAN: Texas prisons will not have to reveal the sources of their execution drugs now that the attorney general, Greg Abbott, says doing so could put the pharmacies that makes those drugs at risk. Abbott was responding to multiple requests for information and reversed his earlier findings that public knowledge outweighed privacy. His decision will likely be appealed to the courts.

ROMANS: The measles is making a big comeback, 288 cases have been reported this year, the most since it was all but eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. This morning, health officials say it's time for a wake-up call, warning that the disease could be deadly, urging people to get vaccinated. This year, it was adults who made up more than half of all those infected, and almost all the cases have been linked to transmission overseas.

BERMAN: New federal oversight is coming to tanning beds. The FDA is reclassifying the devices so manufacturers will have to seek federal approval over their designs before they're sold. The agency is also now requiring so-called black box warning on the devices, saying they shouldn't be used by anyone under the age of 18, but federal health officials stopped short of prohibiting minors from using tanning beds.

ROMANS: Same-sex marriage becomes the law in all of Illinois this weekend. Starting Sunday, couples will be able to tie the knot statewide, months after a court said marriages could begin in some of the counties, including Cook County, which includes Chicago. One think tank expects same-sex marriage in Illinois will generate up to $75 million a year in new wedding business.

BERMAN: So, a major scare hundreds of feet in the air over Chicago after one of these glass boxes hanging off the observation deck of the Willis Tower seemed to start to crack. Crazy, right? Well, those standing inside were terrified and ran out.


ALEJANDRO GARIBAY, TOURIST: I hear the crack and I feel the crack on the palm of my hand and on 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.


BERMAN: So, officials at the tower insist no one was ever in danger. It was just the protective coating on the glass, they say, that cracked, not the underlying structure. So, it was the good kind of cracking of the glass box 1,300 feet in the air, not the bad kind of cracking 1,300 feet in the air, apparently.

ROMANS: You know what's so scary about it? It's just so hard -- it's against all of your intuition to stand on nothing over the streets of Chicago. I mean, it really is. You can, you know, standing on a ledge, but it's --

BERMAN: Do you want to know what chief business correspondent Christine Romans just told me? She said it's going to increase business. ROMANS: I think it will.

BERMAN: More people are going to want to go in this glass box.

ROMANS: It makes it more daring and scary, right?

All right. So, how good were the two teens who tied for the Scripps National Spelling Bee title? Thirteen-year-old Ansun Sujoe and 14- year-old Sriram Hathwar were so good, they were so good, the judges ran out of words in a very tense final round. They had to declare them co-champions. It's the first that's happened since 1962.

For the record, Sujoe's clinching was, John Berman?

BERMAN: Stichomythia.

ROMANS: Meaning, alternating lines of dialogue like in a play.

And Hathwar got --

BERMAN: Feuilleton.

ROMANS: That's a feature section from a newspaper. Basically, they were human dictionaries. So good, they beat the humans.

BERMAN: They beat the dictionary.

ROMANS: They had to beat the dictionary. Well done, gentlemen.

BERMAN: It had to be done, at last.

ROMANS: A half hour ago, Berman said spelling's overrated. All these people on Twitter are hating you.

BERMAN: I came out against spelling in our last half hour. I have now reversed course right now, flip-flopped, just in this one hour of EARLY START.

ROMANS: For the record, I'm very pro-math. I like math.

BERMAN: You're not anti-spelling, you're just pro-math.

ROMANS: I'm just pro-math.

BERMAN: Forty-eight minutes after the hour.

That's a brave, brave stance, Christine Romans.

New details this morning on the abuse a U.S. marine says he suffered at a Mexican prison, jailed for months for carrying his registered weapons into Mexico. What he's already gone through so far, next.


BERMAN: This morning, a U.S. marine remains inside a Mexican jail because of what he called an accident, crossing the border with three guns in his truck. So, how did this happen?

Nick Valencia along the Mexican border.


NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and John, it was about 10:00 at night on March 31st, when U.S. Marine Andrew Tahmooressi says he accidentally crossed into Mexico with three personal firearms. He says he took a wrong turn and thought that there would be a place to turn around. There wasn't, and instead, he was arrested by Mexican customs officials and has been in a Mexican prison for more than two months.

Now, his friends and family say there are allegations of abuse, that he's been chained by all fours and beaten.

Earlier, I spoke to a friend and former marine who worked alongside Andrew Tahmooressi in Afghanistan.


DANA VRAUCAR, FRIEND OF SGT. ANDREW TAHMOORESSI: He's been chained up and that he's been forced to sleep shackled and with his knees barely touching the ground. I mean, you know, it was on -- his voice yesterday live on TV, I mean, he gave details out of his own mouth about what they put him through, about, you know, him, like, almost dislocating his jaw, and you know, just pretty much beating him.


VALENCIA: Adding to the drama, before Tahmooressi's first court appearance, he fired his legal representation. Now it could take weeks before another hearing.

Meanwhile, the political pressure here in the United States on Mexico is intensifying. His mother hopes to have him home soon -- Christine, John.


BERMAN: So many twists in that story.

ROMANS: All right, thanks, Nick, for that.

All right. Good news, new graduates. I can't believe I'm saying this -- it might be a little easier this year for you to land a job right out of college. New details.

And a big surprise. You'll never guess which majors are seeing things really improve, and it's not science, technology, engineering and math, next.

BERMAN: I'm definitely coming back for this.


ROMANS: Happy Friday. Let's get an EARLY START to your Friday money.

I sound like a broken record on stocks because stocks keep breaking records, fattening your 401(k). The S&P 500 closed above 1,920 for the first time ever. Futures slightly lower this morning.

Rare, good news for college graduates. They're having an easier time getting a job this year.

BERMAN: Good for them.

ROMANS: A new study finds about 48 percent of college seniors who applied for jobs got at least one offer. That is up from last year. The biggest surprise, liberal arts majors are seeing some of the biggest jumps in offers. Offers to art majors jumped by more than 15 percent. Communications majors up more than 9 percent.


ROMANS: Meantime, it's college savings awareness week. Yesterday was May 29th, 5/29, the same name as the college savings account, planners encouraging parents to save more money. According to Fidelity, even though an all-time high number of families, 69 percent of you are saving for college, an average of $5,000 a year, most families won't have enough to meet their goals.

We're going to have more on the debate of paying for college, saving for college, this Saturday, 2:00 p.m.

BERMAN: There it is!


BERMAN: It's my favorite thing, the little Romans and the big Romans.

ROMANS: I know, you love that. You love that.

All right. Sticking with college, Evan Spiegel, CEO of the disappearing message app Snapchat, right, probably wishing he could make messages he sent in college disappear. Gawker recently published a slew of racy e-mails Spiegel sent in college. In them, he calls women sororislutes, jokes about wanting to, quote, "shoot lasers at fat girls," and yes, he spelled the word lasers wrong.

In a more P.C. e-mail to CNN via Snapchat, Spiegel apologizes. He says, "I'm obviously mortified and embarrassed that my idiotic e-mails during my fraternity days were made public. They are in no way reflect who I am today."

Spiegel, by the way, is of a ripe old age of 23. Some of the e-mails were so nasty, we couldn't even print them in our story.