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Calls for Clippers Owner To Be Suspended; Obama: Russia Encouraging Tension in Ukraine; Millions Cheer as Two Popes Become Saints

Aired April 27, 2014 - 08:00   ET


CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Sunday is upon us. And we're so glad to be sharing it with you. I'm Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. Eight o'clock here on the East Coast and this is NEW DAY SUNDAY.

PAUL: We want to take you to see what is happening in Vatican City right now. What a celebration and truly historic as two new saints are canonized. These are live pictures from Vatican City, in fact, right now. You can see how many people are there.

BLACKWELL: Millions of people there. And beyond the historical relevance, the pomp and circumstance, the spectacle is amazing.

Now, last hour, Pope Francis made his way through the crowds, greeting the faithful who gathered to witness Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II become saints. So, we'll have more on this in just a moment.

But, first, we want to start with the controversy getting attention outside the NBA, the root of it, but also, from the athletes, the fans and politicians, including President Obama. Today, during his visit to Malaysia, he spoke out about the firestorm here in the U.S.

This man, Donald Sterling, we got his photograph, you can see him behind us there, the long-time owner of the L.A. Clippers, he's at the center of this.

Now, the team is a contender for the NBA championship. But Sterling is not the focus because of that, but instead because of some remarks he's accused of making, some racial remarks.

PAUL: Some very slanderous racial remarks. These are very strong words.

Sterling's comments -- alleged comments, we should say, it's not been confirmed to be him, but they're part of a conversation with his girlfriend made public by TMZ and allegedly sparked after his girlfriend posted a picture with magic Johnson.

Now, please let me forewarn you, I want to give you a heads up because I know it's Sunday morning. You have kids in the room. Some of this language here is indeed offensive. Here we go.


GIRLFRIEND: I saw someone I admire. I admire Magic Johnson.


GIRLFRIEND: I'm sorry.


GIRLFRIEND: He's made a lot of changes for his committee, for the world, for the people, for the minorities. He's helped a lot of people.

STERLING: Why are you forcing this down my throat? I'm finished talking here. I have nothing more to say.

GIRLFRIEND: And I took a picture with someone I admire.


GIRLFRIEND: He happens to be black, and I'm sorry.

STERLING: I think that's nice that you admire him. I've known him well and he should be admired. And I'm just saying that it's too bad you can't admire him privately, and during your entire (EXPLETIVE DELETED) life, your whole life admire him, bring him here, food him, (EXPLETIVE DELETED) him, I don't care. You can do anything. But don't put him on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don't bring him to my games. OK?


BLACKWELL: As you might imagine, the reactions are pouring in, not just from current and former members of the Clippers, other members of the players in the NBA, but also from the president of the United States.

Here is what President Obama said during his Malaysia stop of the Asian tour.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don't really have to do anything. You just let them talk. And that's what happened here.


PAUL: Magic Johnson, the subject of part of Sterling's rant, airing his thoughts on Twitter, in fact, calling the remarks, quote, "a black eye for the NBA." And adding, quote, "My wife and I will never go to a Clippers game again as long as Donald Sterling is the owner", unquote. Another NBA hall of famer and TNT Sports host Charles Barkley says that NBA commissioner Adam Silver should not wait to take action against sterling.


CHARLES BARKLEY, NBA HALL OF FAMER: This is the first test of Adam Silver. He's got to suspend him right now.


PAUL: So let's go to Oakland, California, where CNN's Dan Simon has more on the NBA's response here.

Dan, good morning to you. What are they saying?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning. First of all, some think the clippers should boycott this game this afternoon. Coach Doc Rivers said it was discussed in the locker room and quickly dismissed. They are going to be playing this game. He said that the play will be the protest.

So, in terms of what the NBA commissioner is saying, he spoke out about this during a news conference last night. He said, number one, they need to determine that, one, that the tape is authentic, and number two, try to understand the context in which these highly offensive comments were made. Take a look.


ADAM SILVER, NBA COMMISSIONER: The audio recording posted by TMZ is truly offensive and disturbing. And we intend to get to the bottom of it as quickly as possible. All members of the NBA family should be afforded due process and a fair opportunity to present their side of any controversy which is why I'm not yet prepared to discuss any potential sanctions against Donald Sterling.


SIMON: Well, Silver says that Sterling will have his due process and that the investigation will take place quickly. That, of course, is going to need to happen because right now you're seeing this major uproar across the NBA.

So, this investigation he says will take place in an expedited manner -- Victor, Christi.

BLACKWELL: Hey, Dan, one of the Clippers' players, Chris Paul, one of the top players in the league, frankly, he's also president of the players association. What are we hearing from him?

SIMON: Well, he actually issued a statement, and we have a full screen of that, and I'll read it to you. It says, "On behalf of the National Basketball Players Association, this is a very serious issue which we will address aggressively. We have asked Mayor Kevin Johnson to expand his responsibilities with the NBPA to determine our response and our next steps. As players, we owe it to our teams and our fans to keep our focus on our game, the playoffs and a drive to the finals."

I can tell you, back here in Oakland, this game taking place at 3:30 Pacific Time. It's going to be very interesting to see how the players react. Of course, they're going to have to do something, one would think. Of course, they're going to be playing this game.

They're not going to boycott it. But you wonder if there's going to be some sort of symbolic gesture at least at the beginning of the game or at least the end -- Victor, Christi.

PAUL: All righty. Dan Simon, good to see you this morning. Dan, thank you so much.

BLACKWELL: So, we know NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is not ready to disclose what punishment could be handed down to clippers owner Don Sterling. He did say the league has broad powers to decide what to do.

PAUL: Yes. So, for that part of the story, we're joined by Andy Scholes.

And, certainly, you listen to that and you think -- what are their powers? Could they remove him, do they fine him? What are the parameters here?

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's highly unlikely he'll be removed as owner of the Clippers, because the NBA constitution, while it's confidential, no one knowing exactly what is in there, but the only way you can remove an NBA owner is if they basically go broke and can't pay their bills. We actually saw that kind of happen with the New Orleans Pelicans a few years ago where the NBA took over the team and ended up selling them.

Now, there's no -- apparently, no language in there to remove an owner based on his behavior like we're seeing now with Donald Sterling allegedly. So, what's likely to happen here is a hefty fine and a suspension. Now, no NBA owner has ever been suspended. That would be the first time that would happen.

Now, a fine -- Donald Sterling is reportedly worth about $1.9 billion, according to "Forbes" magazine. So, that's not going to mean anything.

But if he's suspended indefinitely, maybe all of next season, he's in his early 80s. He doesn't have much basketball left to watch. So, that could be the much likely scenario, fine and suspension.

BLACKWELL: And what is that even? I mean, you still own the team and reap the rewards of the black players running up and down the court, wearing on their knees --

SCHOLES: Exactly. And you know what the nightmare scenario would be I think for the NBA, I hate to say if, but if the Clippers won the NBA. BLACKWELL: And you've got to hand the mic to Don Sterling.

SCHOLES: Right when the team wins, the first person to get the trophy and everything is the owner.

PAUL: What if that changes? What if they don't allow that to happen? It sounds like when you listen to the tapes image is everything to this guy.

SCHOLES: You're right. I don't know what they will do in that circumstance. But you hate to say that because these players -- Doc Rivers said, you know, these players have worked -- this is what they dream for, to win an NBA championship. That's why they're not going to boycott the games. They're playing for themselves and they're playing for the fans.

But it's definitely an interesting dynamic because you know they don't want to win a championship for Donald Sterling now.

PAUL: They go out and win it for themselves, for the fans, you hand the mic to one of the players or somebody else.

BLACKWELL: Doc Rivers likely. But, you know, Clippers fans have been waiting a long time, a long time.

SCHOLES: You know, they were the running joke of the NBA for nearly 20 years, losing 50-plus games every year. Clippers fans have had it worse probably than any team in league history.

And now, they've got the best team they've had in forever. You hate to see this story taking away from the team. They're playing probably the best out of all the Western conference teams. Legitimate chance to win an NBA championship and now we have to talk about this.

It's such a distraction, game four today at 3:30 against the Warriors. We'll see what happens.

BLACKWELL: Andy Scholes, thanks so much.

PAUL: Thank you, Andy.

So, we also have to talk about the 15,000 Ukrainian troops surrounding a key city held by pro-Russian troops. Is the crisis in the region headed toward a military face-off? We can't get away with that question.

BLACKWELL: Also, Pope Francis greets the crowds in Vatican City. Millions gather to celebrate two new saints in the Catholic Church.



OBAMA: Russia has not lifted a finger to help. In fact, there's strong evidence that they have been encouraging the kinds of activities that have been taking place. (END VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL: That's President Obama there speaking in Malaysia overnight. The president said the world is united against Russia in its actions against Ukraine.

BLACKWELL: Well, the tension between Kiev and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, it is absolutely heating up. Russian state news is now claiming that Kiev has mobilized 15,000 troops in the suburbs of Slaviansk to, and this is a quote, "wipe out the city and its residents."

PAUL: And on the Russian side of the border, there are 40,000 troops conducting military exercising. That's according to Moscow. CNN's Phil Black is live in Kiev.

So, Phil, are the claims of troops near Slaviansk true?


We've certainly seen a buildup of the Ukrainian military over the last week or so. But we can't say for sure whether this 15,000 figure claim is true. We haven't seen anything to support that. But we have seen more Ukrainian military, set up more roadblocks around the town of Slaviansk. We've also seen them challenging the pro-Russian checkpoints around that town. Definitely an uptick in the Ukrainian government says that this is the next phase of what it's called its anti-terror operation against these pro-Russian separatists.

So, yes, definitely more Ukrainian military, but not on the scale that is alleged to exist across the border in Russia where, as you say, Russia is still thought to have somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 troops, at a fairly high state of readiness.

BLACKWELL: All right. Phil Black in Kiev for us -- Phil, thank you so much.

PAUL: Meanwhile, you know, millions of people around the world are celebrating these two new saints in the Catholic Church this morning.

BLACKWELL: A member of the CNN team is there and we'll have his impression of the historic day just ahead.


PAUL: As we say good morning to you, we say good afternoon to Vatican City. I almost still said good morning there. Did you hear?

BLACKWELL: Yes, I heard it.

PAUL: Almost a million people made the pilgrimage for the canonization ceremony installing Pope John XXIII and John Paul II.

Our Vatican analyst John Allen describes it as, quote, "Catholic Mardi gras on steroids." BLACKWELL: You know who really enjoyed this? Pope Francis. The Holy See taking to the pope mobile after the canonization finished, riding among the crowd there. You see him waving, accepted a few items from folks in the crowd. Enjoy it.

PAUL: I mean, they're saying as many as 800,000 people packed into Vatican square and the surrounding streets alone. That, of course, joining the millions of faithful around the world celebrating today.

I mean, this is his any the making we're watching here. Let's talk about that with "CROSSFIRE" host Newt Gingrich who is in Vatican City to witness today's canonization.

BLACKWELL: Newt, we saw it on CNN. Tell us some of the things we did not see and more importantly, what was the feeling there?

NEWT GINGRICH, "CROSSFIRE" HOST: Well, I think first really big moment was when Pope Benedict came out. People were not totally sure that he would show up. You suddenly realize you're in a sort of doubly unique moment -- the canonization of two popes on the same day and two popes being present for the canonization. So, in many ways this is a tale of four popes.

I think the whole crowd responded immediately when Pope Benedict showed up. That was sort of the first big wave of excitement, if you will.

Second, the scale of the crowd, the enthusiasm of the crowd, particularly the number of people from Poland who had come where pope John Paul II is a national hero for helping liberate them from the soviet empire. Think of it as a million people around the Vatican and another billion-plus people around the world all paying attention to this particular event. In that sense, it was -- you had a feeling that you were a part of history in a way that very seldom happens.

PAUL: Newt, was there anything in particular that Pope Francis said that resonated with you or with the crowd there?

GINGRICH: First of all, I think just going through -- realizing you're sitting here and they go through the formal process of saying, the recommendation is there, it is now up to you. And the pope then says, I am now canonizing John XXIII, and he says, I am now canonizing John Paul II, you suddenly realize, they both become saints at that moment. The language changes immediately. Both of their tombs will change immediately.

You realize that you were there at the moment that it happened. And the crowd was really deeply into this event and really felt that they were being allowed to participate in history.

If you saw the size of the diplomatic delegation, including that from the White House, there were people from all over the world who had come for this canonization, and that really again gave some sense of the importance of it. I also think to a peculiar degree, Pope Francis is the right person to have done this. In many ways, he has the simplicity and the directness and the love for people that John XXIII had. At the same time, he is as committed to implementing the opening of the church to modernization that John XXIII started and that John Paul II really dramatically accelerated.

So, in many ways this was the perfect pope to preside over this. I think you had that feeling from the crowd. The enormous affection in the Catholic Church for what Pope Francis is doing and for Pope Francis as a person, this sense that this man is really trying to reach the heart of everyone and is doing it in very direct and very simple ways that are very, very effective.

BLACKWELL: Many correlations that can be drawn between those canonized today and the two popes who were there for the event.

Newt Gingrich, we appreciate it.

PAUL: Enjoy yourself, sir. Thank you so much.

GINGRICH: Good to be with you.

PAUL: You, too.

Boy, I hate to go from that to what we have to talk about next. But you need to know about these tornadoes that are ripping across North Carolina this weekend. I mean, they're knocking out power. Look at the pictures we're getting in. Flipping over homes and the threat may not be over.

BLACKWELL: Yes, we'll have your severe weather forecast. Stay with us.


PAUL: Twenty-six minutes past the hour.

New, this morning President Obama is defending the Malaysian government's handling of the Flight 370 investigation which is a flip from what most people are doing with all the criticism out there.

BLACKWELL: Exactly. Earlier today at a joint news conference, Mr. Obama says he believes the Malaysian government has been forthcoming with the information to the U.S. He also vowed to provide assistance and support to that search.

PAUL: Meanwhile the high-tech robot Bluefin-21 is scouring the ocean floor as we speak here. It's the robot's 15th mission. But so far, not a single piece of debris has been found.

BLACKWELL: Now, above the surface, the sea and air search, those have been suspended because of bad weather in the area.

Also this morning, violence in Ukraine escalates. President Obama is calling on the international community to stand together against Russia.

PAUL: Earlier today, the president said countries have to be united if sanctions are going to work.

I want to bring in CNN "STATE OF THE UNION" host Candy Crowley in Washington.

BLACKWELL: Candy, good morning.


BLACKWELL: So, Russia seems thus far unfazed by this threat of sanctions. Do you think the president's tough talk is going to work?

CROWLEY: I think probably what the president is focused on now is the general art of persuasion. It's interesting to me that he's not sending messages to Russia right now. He's sending messages to allies.

So, that says to me that they're still working on getting Western Europe in particular united fully behind the next step in sanctions, to more directly say, does tough talk work? Not unless it's followed up by tough action and the White House says, look, we've got more sanctions ready to go. But again, he's going to have to convince allies to come on board.

PAUL: OK. So, who else are you talking to this morning, Candy?

CROWLEY: We'll be talking to a member of the president's national security team Tony Blinken, and also with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Middle East peace talks, Secretary Kerry has been at it for nine months pretty intensively they've fallen apart over the Palestinian decision to unite the two factions. This has caused Benjamin Netanyahu to walk away from it. So, we want to talk to him about that, and about the U.S. rule to broker some sort of Middle East.

PAUL: All righty. Candy Crowley, thank you so much. We'll be watching.

And you can catch "STATE OF THE UNION" today, 9:00 a.m. Eastern. >

BLACKWELL: Also, you need to know this weekend and probably most of the week about the powerful string of tornadoes that ripped across eastern North Carolina this weekend. Thus far left about 200 homes damaged or destroyed. Even more severe weather could be on the way.

PAUL: Karen Maginnis, what do you know at this hour?

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We have thunderstorms bubbling up right around Oklahoma City. They were expecting to run a marathon. But now, severe weather expected to move across the region. It looks like they will run the marathon after the weather moves through. We do have several severe thunderstorm watches which have been issued. But today, the risk for dangerous, maybe deadly weather is in store right across the central U.S. We'll keep you updated throughout the day.

PAUL: We appreciate it, Karen. Thanks for the heads up.

You all go make some great memories today. We're so glad you shared it with us.

BLACKWELL: As we said, "STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY" starts at the top of the hour.

But right now, stay tuned for "INSIDE POLITICS WITH JOHN KING".