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@THISHOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

LeBron James Now Free Agent; World Cup Viewership Up; Primary Day in Eight States; More Shocking Revelations at Phoenix VA

Aired June 24, 2014 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CO-ANCHOR: It is the national fever that won't break. The U.S. soccer men get ready for a match that could break TV viewing records. Does big-time soccer finally have a foothold in the U.S.?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR: A decorated U.S. Marine languishing in a Mexican jail for almost three months still waiting for his day in court.

Two congressman pay him a visit but will this do any good? The Marine's mother joins us @THISHOUR.

PEREIRA: Fantasy mixes with history, the Queen visits the set of "Game of Thrones," how happy is John Berman? But did she actually sit on the Iron Throne? That's the question.

BERMAN: She's the fantasy in my book.

PEREIRA: We are learning so much about John Berman @THISHOUR.

Hi there, I'm Michaela Pereira.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman, 11:00 a.m. in the East, 8:00 a.m. out West, those stories and much more @THISHOUR.

PEREIRA: We have breaking news @THISHOUR about the NBA's biggest star, one of the biggest names in all of sports, LeBron James, about to be a free agent.

BERMAN: A source close to Mr. James telling CNN he has decided to exercise the early termination clause in his contract. He is on the market.

Andy Shoals joins us now. So, Andy, we remember the decision, what a big deal it was last time he was a free agent. What's going on here?

ANDY SHOALS, CNN SPORTS: This doesn't really come as much of a surprise. We thought LeBron was going to opt out this summer, if anything just to put the pressure on the Miami Heat to improve that roster.

We just saw them get creamed by the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals, and LeBron was probably thinking this team is not good enough anymore to compete and win an NBA championship. So, by doing this, he puts some pressure on the Heat to make some moves to add to the roster. It's still likely in my book, at least, that he goes back to the Miami Heat once they do make some moves.

But anything is possible now, LeBron, a free agent, so July 1st anyone can knock on his door and talk to him.

PEREIRA: So, is this strategy a little bit like playing hard to get? Like when you are a guy who isn't putting a ring on it, and you say, well, fine, I'll break up with you? Is that what he's doing? Is this strategy here?

SHOALS: That could be part of it. By opting out, he clears his cap hold on the Miami Heat's salary cap, so they can go out and make some moves.

There were all those rumors and grumblings that the Heat were actually going to go after Anthony Carmelo, who's a free agent, and a try to sign him and make a bid for, but to do that, they would need Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to also opt out of their deals.

They're both owed two years, $40 million over the next two. That's big time money to opt out of, to take a pay cut to try to add a Carmelo Anthony.

But Pat Riley snuck the big three under the door last time, underneath all of us, and surprised us all, so who knows what could happen with the Miami Heat this time around? It's going to be very interesting to see.

BERMAN: Let's talk about possible destinations besides Miami, Andy. You know, you look at New York here. Everyone in New York thinks that they have the right to every good player who ever played the game, as if they'd want to come to the Knicks, for some reason.

But Knicks, Cavaliers, who else?

SHOALS: Well, the Knicks have no money. They're cash strapped until at least next year, so unless LeBron's taking the minimum, he's probably not coming to the New York Knicks.

You've got the Houston Rockets and the Chicago Bulls who can both make some maneuvers to get enough money to sign LeBron and make their own big three. In Houston, you'd have Dwight Howard, James Harden, LeBron James.

Or in Chicago, you'd have Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose and LeBron. Both of those would be great situations. Good chances to win, Houston and Chicago.

The Mavs, the Cavs, the Lakers, all could also sign him. They have some money this summer. And of course everyone wants to talk about him going back to Cleveland. I can't see it.

How do you leave South Beach and a villa that he lives on at the beach, probably, and going back to Cleveland? I don't know. PEREIRA: It's not so much that. I just can't imagine that after the way he left --

BERMAN: I think they would take him back. Although Andy Shoals just did diss Cleveland right there.

Andy, good luck. Enjoy your Twitter feed. Thank you so much for joining us @THISHOUR.

PEREIRA: Bye, Andy.

BERMAN: The subject of sports right now, you know what's drawing a whole heck of a lot more viewers than the NBA Finals did? The World Cup! It is the big deal, folks.

The U.S. men's soccer team getting ready for the next big test, 49 hours from now -- but who's counting -- against Germany, the game is at noon Eastern time on Thursday. We'll have full pregame right here @THISHOUR on Thursday.

You know the guy in your office who wears the soccer shirts to work on casual Friday? He's taking a very long lunch on Thursday.

PEREIRA: You mean, you, is what you're talking about, right?

So if Sunday's TV ratings for Portugal versus U.S. are any indication, the next match will be huge. The thrilling tie with Portugal set a U.S. ratings record in TV, 25 million viewers.

We want to talk about the fever with our Shasta Darlington. She's been at the team's training today and joins us by phone.

And guess who is here in studio all the way from Los Angeles? Stephanie Elam is with us in studio.

We'll start with Shasta first since we've got you on the phone. We don't want to burn up that line too long. Give us an idea of how the players are getting ready? They're a few days away from the big game. What are their preps like?

SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): The pressure is really on, Michaela. This is the game that they have been anticipating the most since it was first announced who they'd be playing.

Germany is a powerhouse. Unfortunately, we had some bad news today from Coach Jurgen Klinsmann, himself a German national. He said that Jozy Altidore will not be for this game.

Now, he's the striker who had that hamstring injury in the first game. We've all been waiting pretty excitedly to get him back. He said that, once they are done with this game, successfully, they think they will have him back but not for Thursday.

On the other hand, the team players just keep on telling us how hungry they are, how excited they are, and they were out on the pitch today. They were on the field practicing, joking, smiling. I mean, I think the draw the other day was tough for them, but they bounced back. They really worked together as a team. They have got the positive attitude, and they just keep telling us, over and over, we are in this to win this thing.

And, really, they've come so much further than people did expect. It's made them optimistic and driven, Michaela.

BERMAN: You know, Shasta, they have come further and farther, because they have a brutal travel schedule all over that country. Brazil is like -- what -- the fifth largest country in the world right now.

They played in the jungle. They have to fly somewhere else. How are they handling the fatigue?

DARLINGTON (via telephone): You know, you are right about that. In fact, they are one of teams that have to travel the most, and I think a lot of people are pointing out that it is a bit unfair.

Maybe it's because I'm a Team USA supporter, but Germany did not have to travel as far, doesn't have to play as many games in the heat, and in the end, they got an extra day off, so this is -- it's hard on the team.

On the other hand, they say we come from the United States, which is a huge country. We're used to traveling. We're used to playing in places like Houston, training in South Florida, so they keep on insisting, we can take it. We can take it probably better than all these European teams where the country's are stronger, where the climate is a little more moderate. And, again, they say they can handle it, John.

PEREIRA: Shasta Darlington, we appreciate that.

Look, I've spent time in both places, Houston and in Florida, and I've also spent time in Brazil. That humidity is no joke and put that in with an exclamation point.

Let's bring in Stephanie, because one of other things we're watching is the reaction here in the United States, viewing parties, we've seen the number of people tweeting. You can block some of the tweets about World Cup.

But the ratings from the TV, it almost seems that the U.S. has caught not just World Cup fever but soccer fever.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Totally, and it's evident in the numbers, it's evident in the broadcasting, it's evident when on a Sunday in the afternoon you listen and there's a goal and you can hear it throughout the neighborhood, which I did as I was packing to get ready to come here.

You can tell that people are engaged in this, more so than they were the last World Cup, and so they are watching it. The numbers are going up, and as far as the business side of this is concerned, these folks are giving up a huge marketing opportunity, and companies are taking note because soccer or football, depending on where you are, I live in L.A., it has a lot of people who are interested and galvanized now and therefore the numbers keep going up.

One marketer told me it's like the Holy Grail of marketing opportunities because it's so huge around the world but not so much here that it can only grow.

And these younger people as they come up and growing up, they are all about it. And I have to tell you I went to L.A. Live. Michaela knows this. This is downtown L.A. They have the conga room. They have the match-up of Mexico versus Brazil. It's so much fun to watch it in Spanish. I don't know why. The screaming, the yelling, that goal was nineteen zeroes wasn't it? It was pretty awesome, so it's fun. It's fun to watch.

BERMAN: Soccer is here. It's been here for a while. I think the time zone, frankly, is a big part of it. It's a lot easier to watch a game at 6:00 at night than 2:00 in the morning when it's in South Korea or something.

PEREIRA: When was that next big game?

BERMAN: The next big game is Thursday at noon right after the pregame, right here, @THISHOUR. So join us first and then if you want to watch the game on your little screen while you're watching Ashleigh at noon --

PEREIRA: Are you going to have a jersey underneath with a tie?

BERMAN: And nothing else.

ELAM: He's going to have the soccer shorts. That's what he's going to wear underneath the anchor desk, right?

PEREIRA: Done and done.

BERMAN: You'll come back for that, I'm sure.

ELAM: Oh, I'm going to be here.

BERMAN: Stephanie Elam, thank you so much.

PEREIRA: So great to have you hear.

Shasta Darlington, we appreciate it.

BERMAN: And for us, @THISHOUR, a primary race so intense, it is being called a battle for the soul of the GOP. Seriously, this faceoff is happening in Mississippi. It's a big deal.

We've got what you need to know about this race and the other big ones coming up today.

PEREIRA: And her majesty enters a fantasy land. She visited the set of the HBO drama "Game of Thrones." We'll tell you about her tour, what it was like, and did she sit on the throne?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERMAN: You can smell it in the air, primary day in eight states, and there are a few races you need to be watching.

First of all, the Senate run-off in Mississippi, this has been a brutal campaign. Senator Thad Cochran seeking a sixth term, facing one of his toughest challenges in decades from tea party upstart Chris McDaniel.

PEREIRA: New York Congressman Charlie Rangel says he wants just one more term after 44 years in office. Rangel has been weakened by ethics violations. He could be ousted by fellow Democrat Adriano Espaillat.

BERMAN: Really interesting race in Oklahoma, Republican primary could be headed to a runoff there, T.W. Shannon has the backing of tea party stars like Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin.

If elected, Shannon would become the second African-American senator right now. He faces a rising star in the house, James Lankford.

PEREIRA: In Colorado, former congressman Tom Tancredo is running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. You'll likely remember Tancredo for his short run in the 2008 presidential election and his hard line stance on immigration.

BERMAN: And in South Carolina, Republicans are choosing their nominee for lieutenant government, state Attorney General Henry McMaster going up against businessman Mike Campbell.

They are getting support from two former presidential candidates. Rick Santorum stumped for Master. Mike Huckabee campaigned for Campbell.

PEREIRA: Get that all? Let's bring in our political commentators, Donna Brazile and David Frum. Good to have you both with us @THISHOUR.

Ran through it, but now folks that have it, one of races that we're watching and there's kind of an interesting development going on with, is this race -- and Donna, I'll start with you -- is this race that's going on in Mississippi.

Thad Cochran reaching out to a voting bloc rather that traditionally associated with Democrats, African-Americans, talk about that a little bit.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Thad Cochran is a former Democrat turn Republican. He hasn't had a real tough race since 1984.

I was down in Mississippi last week for two days in the Pine Belt region. Look, there's no question, that Mr. Daniels is an alley cat. He's going after this Southern gentleman with all his claws out. But in order to win, Cochran needs some crossover votes. He needs Democrats who didn't participate in the earlier primary to come out, he has been wooing African Americans, he has been wooing independents. He needs their support.

I don't know if these voters will be able to bail out Mr. Cochran because his opponent is rather clever. He's a far right conservative. He's a radio talk show host. He has a lot of momentum. But let me just say this, you cannot ever predict what will happen in a state like Mississippi where people will not even get their voting groove on until after they have their evening supper. And if that ice tea is cold enough, who knows, they might go out there and change their mind and decide to send that old southern gentleman back to Washington, and leave that alley cat down in Mississippi.

BERMAN: It is the ice tea corollary that could decide this election.

David, I want to bring you in right here. We've been talking about the battle for the heart and soul for the Republican party. We saw house majority leader Eric Cantor lose unexpectedly in a primary race in Virginia. Could this race put an exclamation point on what the tea party has been trying to do against the so-called Republican establishment?

DAVID FRUM, CNN POLITICAL COMMNETATOR: It could and it very likely will. Republican voters don't like their leaders. They don't like them both for ideological reasons, they think their leaders are not conservative enough, but also for more fundamental reasons. Republicans are as effected as anybody else by the grinding slow recovery, from the catastrophe of 2008 and 2009. There's a lot of discontent in this country. Elections is the way Americans express hope for something better, hope for something different.

PEREIRA: I want to turn a little bit further north to New York. And Donna, let's talk about Charles Rangel. He says he's not worried. But look, he is in the political fight of his life, one could say.

BRAZILE: Well, let me just say this. With the robot calls that my aunt in Harlem got from Bill Clinton. She called me and said Bill Clinton called me. I was trying to explain to her, cause she is well over 85, I said that was -- you know what I said, if that's her magical moment, let it be. She is going out to vote.

I think Charles Rangel will pull it off. Here's why. He's a known staple. There is no question that Charles Rangel, who announced to his constituency, he said look this is my last term. Here's a guy who understands that district. He's served them well for over 44 years and despite all of the rumblings about what happened in the house of representatives and ethical issues, Charles Rangel has always been a fighter for middle class families, working people. I think Charles Rangel will win tonight and guess what, he will retire in style. He says he wants to serve out his last term to he will be there with president Obama. Guess what, I think my aunt will support Charles Rangel.

BERMAN: He will be there with President Obama, Donna. But you know one person not calling your aunt right now is the president because he refused to endorse in this race. Charles Rangel endorsed Hillary Clinton till the bitter end, really, in 2008. David, I wonder if you can talk about this race. There's so much focus on the split within the Republican party. The fight against the establishment and the entrenched interest there. What about the Democrats? You never hear about that. Charles Rangel has been around for 44 years. FRUM: I think Donna put it rather unfortunately, when she says he

hopes to retire in style. That's the problem, the style in which he's been living and how little of that he's paid taxes on. This is a former chairman of the house ways and means committee who did not pay his taxes. ON one level that is inspiring, is this a great country or what, when the chief tax raiser of the country doesn't have to pay the tax he applies to everybody else, but I think a lot of people will say, or what, it is not a great thing. And if Charles Rangel gets away with this, it's pretty shocking. And it's been pretty shocking till now. I think President Obama, who has stood For, he's been a more clean government guy than the Clinton's have been, there are reasons why he would want to stay well away from Charles Rangel.

BERMAN: All right, David Frum, Donna Brazile, thanks so much for being with us. Again, CNN will be watching these races all day. Results well into the night. So stay with CNN for the very latest.

Ahead for us @THIS HOUR. Secrets, lies and allegations of a cover up. More shocking revelations from the V.A. A whistle-blower says the V.A. tried to hide the truth by pretending dead veteran were still alive.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody is going on that electronic wait list and where people are identified as being dead, somebody is changing that and saying no, they are not dead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Correct.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To hide the fact people died on that list.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's my belief.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What would be -- any other purpose?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There wouldn't be any other purpose.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PEREIRA: Yet another whistle-blower coming out with shocking revelations from the Phoenix V.A. Hospital. That woman you just heard is a scheduling clerk and she says that vets records were altered to hide just how many of them died while waiting for care.

BERMAN: You saw Drew Griffin there, CNN's terrific investigative reporter. He got that exclusive interview and at a congressional hearing last night, Drew's reporting became part of the conversation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACKIE WALORSKI, (R ) INDIANA: I got a note from a constituent, that says that there must be some kind of CNN program on tonight, and that there is a new revelation, says records of dead veterans were changed or physically altered, some even in recent weeks, to hide how many people died while waiting for care at the Phoenix V.A. Hospital. A whistle-blower told CNN in stunning revelations that point to a new cover up in the ongoing V.A. Scandal. Deceased, quote un-quote, notes on files were removed to make statistics look better so that veterans would not have to be counted as having dies while waiting for care. The quote is from Pauline Dewinter. So you have been to the Phoenix facility four times, are you aware of this new revelations?

I'm not aware of revelation. I am aware that the OIG is looking carefully at all of the deaths that occurred. I do not know of any attempts to hide deaths congresswoman.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PEREIRA: As you heard, Drew Griffin has been leading the investigation into the. He joins us now from Atlanta. Drew I have had a chance to see more of your interview with this latest whistle blower, this lady, we should point out, she was a scheduling clerk. She was essentially forced into making life and death decisions about these vets and you can tell, in your conversation with her, how torn up she is, both about coming forward and about what she was forced to do.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: She was essentially -- she is or was the keeper of the secret list. She has been our inside source at that hospital for many months. She decided to come out now because she wants to reveal this latest cover up, but while that list was taking place, while the list was secret, while the waits were so long, she was basically hearing from advocates of patients within the V.A., move my patient up, bring this person in. This person is sicker than that person.

The scheduling clerk was trying to juggle these appoints based on which veteran needed the care more than another veteran and she was telling us she would literally have to bump one guy out of his appointment to fit in another guy and she, like you said Michaela, a scheduling clerk is making these decisions. The weight on her shoulders was tremendous. She tried to blow the whistle on the inside and no one would listen.

BERMAN: Drew, you've shined such an important spotlight on what happened at the V.A., but there is such an important question now about what is happening at the V.A. And perhaps the most important question is what will happen at the V.A. So what's the status there? What is the status of this investigation going forward?

GRIFFIN: Well, the office of inspector general, along with the FBI, right, which is leading this investigation, is being pretty tight- lipped. We don't have much information on what they are finding and what if any charges are going to be brought. We can tell you that things generally across the United States in V.A.'s are getting better in terms of wait times. That's because clinics are opened longer, people are being forced to work harder, and they have brought in extra people just to take care of all this backlog.

So things are better at the moment. The question is will that remain, and the other question is, how are you going to get rid of all the people that caused all these problems and allowed them to similar for so long while these vets were literally dying waiting for care.

PEREIRA: If you are a vet that needs help today, tomorrow, next week or next month, what health care is awaiting you. Drew Griffin, great work. Thanks so much for joining us @THISHOUR. We will keep on it with you.

BERMAN: Such important reporting. Ahead for us A@THISHOUR, U.S. strategy in Iraq, Secretary of State John Kerry speaks one on one with CNN as he tries to convince a key group of Iraqis not it to split apart from the rest of the country.

PEREIRA: And a crackdown on sex trafficking in the U.S. ends up rescuing 168 children. We'll talk about this @THISHOUR.

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