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Clippers' Financial Fallout; Obama: Why So Eager To Use Force?; News Team Takes Cover In Studio; Tornadoes Hit Community Three Years Apart

Aired April 28, 2014 - 16:30   ET



We are still tracking those storms making their way through the South. Nothing new to report at this minute. We'll check back in the next segment.

Until then, let's turn now to the money lead. Racism has been called this nation's original sin but because racial bigotry is something civil society today deems unacceptable, often the bias rears its head in hush tones with a nod of the head, not spoken words. Sometimes even those who harbor those ugly thoughts can hide them with political donations or other acts. Let us not forget Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling had received not one but two awards from his local NAACP.

But then, this weekend came the tapes. Ugly. Racist. And you can bet there's going to be a price to pay. Literally a price to pay. State Farm, CarMax, Red Bull, Kia Motors, Virgin America, even P. Diddy's water brand Aqua Hydrate have all reportedly dropped sponsorships with the team. And that could just the beginning of the fallout.

I want to bring in Howard Bragman, he's vice chairman and founder of, sport's contributor Terence Moore for more on this.

Howard, I want to start with you. When this story broke, you tweeted, "Donald Sterling is toast. It's over. He made Paula Deen look like Rosa Parks." That sounds like a public relations' death sentence.

What can he do now?

HOWARD BRAGMAN, REPUTATION.COM: You know, part of being a spin doctor is being a diagnostician. And when I saw this, it's over. All this guy can do is transition over the ownership or leadership of the team to someone else and get out of the glare as quickly as possible. That's his only option.

I -- Jake, I can't see anything else. And I'm a pretty creative guy. I can't see how you would back out of this one.

TAPPER: Terence, Yahoo Sports reports that former Laker and Hall of Famer Magic Johnson may be interested in purchasing the Los Angeles Clippers. Do you think that could turn things around for the team with a snap of a finger?

TERENCE MOORE, COLUMNIST, MLB.COM: You know, that old commercial back in the '60s or '70s, nobody doesn't love Sara Lee. Nobody doesn't like Magic Johnson, however that goes. Magic Johnson is beloved by everybody particularly in Southern California. When it comes to business ventures, everything he touches turns to gold.

Remember, right now he's a part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and he's basically the face of the franchise. The only thing is, once you buy a franchise, you still have to be successful. I don't care how big you were as a player. Michael Jordan is proving that with the Charlotte franchise.

This is the first year that they have been in the playoffs under Michael Jordan and they are about to be swept out as we speak. That being said, if Magic took over, he still has Chris Paul and he still has Doc Rivers as the coach, great things.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Now Howard, you think that this scandal is tied directly and only to Mr. Sterling. This has nothing to do with the Clippers and that if he goes or at least announces some sort of transition, sponsors will come back. Is that how it works, do you think?

HOWARD BRAGMAN, VICE CHAIRMAN AND FOUNDER, REPUTATION.COM: Absolutely. L.A. loves the Clippers. They love that we have this winning basketball team that was never a winning basketball team. We like the players. We like the coaches. We like everything but Donald Sterling and severing Donald Sterling, it's like cutting off a malignant body part. That would save the rest of it.

TAPPER: Terence, do you think that the players can force anybody's hand or is this really up to the NBA and the owners at this point?

MOORE: One of the dirty little secrets is that the players have always had more power than they've known. It's like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz with the ruby slippers. But they never use that power as much as they should. I mean, you take a situation that happened yesterday when they had Kevin Johnson, the former NBA all-star and now the mayor of Sacramento, coming out, giving the list of demands as sort of the current impromptu player association head.

Great demands that he wants the NBA to use to try to get rid of Donald Sterling or just to keep him in check. They've got a lot of power. There's a situation such as, say, the Washington Redskins. If RG3 came out tomorrow and said he's not going to play as long as Washington has that Redskin's nickname, watch how quickly Daniel Snider would react. So yes, they have more power than they perhaps think.

TAPPER: Howard, the NAACP, the local branch, has given Mr. Sterling two awards despite past instances of allegations of racial discrimination. Do they have any explaining to do?

BRAGMAN: They did. And I didn't see it, but I heard they had a press conference today and it was not as smooth and elegant and why stand up there and get beat up? They did not vet their honoree properly. Some of the stuff he said in depositions is egregious and this only added to it. All they had to put out a statement and say we will not be honoring Mr. Sterling. We're investigating this and at this point it's on hold. Yes, they have a lot of explaining to do.

TAPPER: Howard Bragman and Terence Moore, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Coming up on THE LEAD, time to duck and cover, a tornado emergency in three Mississippi counties. As we speak, we are watching the skies for you. President Obama went out of his way today in addition to defend his foreign policy. Is that because his track across Asia did not go as planned? We'll talk about that.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We're monitoring the tornado that was declared in Mississippi right now and we will return there in a moment. But now let's turn to the "World Lead." Things got even uglier in Eastern Ukraine today. Hundreds of demonstrators chanting down with Putin were attacked and beaten with batons and bats by pro- Russian groups in Donetsk.

Nearly a homemade bomb exploded taking the life of one Ukrainian soldier and injuring another according to Ukrainian officials. The violence comes as the president of the United States who is wrapping up a seven-day trip to Asia is trying to defend his foreign policy to his critics.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Typically, criticism of our foreign policy has been directed at the failure to use military force. And the question I think I would have is why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force after we've just gone through a decade of war at enormous costs to our troops and to our budget. And what is it exactly that these critics think would have been accomplished. My job as commander in chief is to deploy military force as a last resort and to deploy it wisely.


TAPPER: This defense comes as the White House announces new sanctions against Russia. Let's talk about this with CNN political commentator, Peter Beinart, contributing editor for the "Atlantic" and the "National Journal" and Nile Gardiner, director of the Heritage Foundation's Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.

Peter, let me start with you. Does refraining from using force and not even having it on the table make the United States look weak to other powers?

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. First of all, the United States does have it on the table in certain circumstances. But I think Obama's context is very important. Obama took power after the Bush administration had launched two disastrous wars that have cost the United States terribly in money and blood, leaving a situation in the United States where the American people and the American military are very drained of military -- very, very drained from those very, very expensive endeavors. And in those circumstances, Obama's reluctance to use military force I think is entirely appropriate. In fact in Ukraine, nobody is even on the Republican side is suggesting military force.

TAPPER: Well, I think that is one of the questions, Nile, which is nobody really is proposing boots on the ground, but Republicans are proposing more aggressive aid to the rebels in Syria, more aggressive aid, lethal aid to the Ukrainians. Is the president employing a straw man?

NILE GARDINER, DIRECTOR, MARGARET THATCHER CENTER FOR FREEDOM: I think nobody is advocating that U.S. troops go into Ukraine. Without a doubt, I think this president has projected significant weakness on the world stage. I think his foreign policy so fat has been a little short of disastrous. The entire Russian reset, for example, is collapsing in flames at the moment as Russian insurgents stir up trouble in Eastern Ukraine.

Bit by bit, the entire Obama doctrine is falling to pieces and so President Obama has been putting forward this artificial straw man, as he's done in Asia, but I think that his critics are absolutely right. This is a president that has not projected any world leadership on the stage. Vladimir Putin is walking all over President Obama with regard to Ukraine.

This is a president who looks extraordinarily weak on the world stage and I think the American people deserve better. I think the world needs stronger American leadership than we're getting at the moment.

BEINART: Wait a second. If Vladimir Putin is walking all over Barack Obama because Barack Obama is not sending U.S. troops to confront him in Ukraine, what about what when he sent his troops into Georgia and George W. Bush did exactly nothing? The reality is that under neither President Bush nor President Obama nor any other president, is the United States going to risk war on Russia's border. That has nothing to do with Barack Obama. It has to do with the fact that those countries are a lot closer to Russia than they are to us.

GARDINER: Pete, it's important to note that immediately following the invasion of Georgia, you have a new government in the United States, the Obama administration. They did not impose any cost whatsoever actually.

BEINART: Nor did the Bush administration before that.

GARDINER: And the whole Russian reset was premised on this idea that you could work together with some kind of ally of the United States.

BEINART: Which president said he looked at Vladimir Putin's soul and saw someone who he could do business with? That wasn't Barack Obama. That was George Bush.

GARDINER: President Obama hasn't bought frankly on the policy of the appeasement of Russia. The Russian reset was all about basically handing over all sorts of goodwill initiatives to the Russians. The Russians have responded with aggression and force and they view President Obama as weak-kneed. This is not a President Reagan here in the White House.

BEINART: Under President Reagan, the border between American and Soviet power was Berlin. The border is now Eastern Ukraine. The American power has moved massively forward in the years between Reagan and Obama. To suggest that the United States is appeasing Russia when under Ronald Reagan it was inconceivable that the U.S. would ever have troops even in Eastern Germany, let alone on soviet soil is a complete loss of contact.

GARDINER: Pete, let's not forget that President Reagan built up America's military. He made America into a tremendously strong world power. Barack Obama, in contrast, is cutting down America's military. He's sending completely the opposite signal.

BEINARD: President Reagan was bitterly attacked by people like you when he signed the deal with the same power that President Barack Obama is using than many of the conservatives who now speak in his name.

TAPPER: Let me just interject for one second because I do want to get your thoughts on one other thing. According to "The Daily Beast," Secretary of State John Kerry said that if Israel does not make peace soon, it could become, quote, "an apartheid state such as the old South Africa." Quote, "A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state."

Peter, a lot of condemnation of this statement by Jewish groups today. What do you think of what Secretary Kerry said?

BEINART: What he said was almost verbatim as to what the two prime ministers have said. Israel in the west bank is a place where millions of Palestinians lack citizenship and lack the right to vote for the government that controls their lives while Jewish citizens have all of those rights. That's a basic reality that two past Israeli prime minister have passed and it's entirely appropriate for Kerry to acknowledge it as well.

TAPPER: Nile, your comment?

GARDINER: They sent an extremely bad message to a close U.S. ally. I think that John Kerry is going from one blunder to another.

TAPPER: All right, Peter Beinart and Nile Gardner, thank you so much.

Coming up on THE LEAD, Australia announces it's moving on to the next phase in that search for Flight 370 and the search area is growing, not shrinking. Will they bring in new tools to find the missing plane? And at least 16 people are already dead after a storm swept the south. Now we're in another belt of severe weather. We'll tell you where the worst is hitting. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. That deadly storm system that killed at least 16 people so far is bearing down on the state of Mississippi where three counties are now under a tornado emergency. A short time ago a weather forecaster at our affiliate WTBA experienced one of those rare moment where he realized he must take his own advice and take it immediately.




TAPPER: I want to get to Scott more as he's a reporter with the "Northeast Daily Journal" in Tupelo. Scott, what are you seeing where you are?

SCOTT MORRIS, REPORTER, "THE NORTHEAST DAILY JOURNAL" (via telephone): There's mainly trees down on the streets and most of the roads are blocked. So far we've had damage from really cut across from the west side of town up to the north side of town.

TAPPER: How bad is damage of downed trees? Are homes or buildings destroyed at all?

MORRIS: Just south of Highway 45 -- Highway 78, quite a few buildings are destroyed up there. There are areas where big trees are down and there's damage where we've been, but up at that intersection, it's -- the place has been wiped away. Up north -- just south and not far from where the reporter was.

TAPPER: And, of course, a reminder to our viewers to stay away from downed power lines. This is obviously very initial since the tornado just touched down within the last hour or so. No reports so far at least of any -- of any injuries in the area?

MORRIS: No. They were going house to house. People have reported glass injuries and things like that. But it's not been a massive amount as of yet and, again, where we are, there's a lot of damage, but it's like the power lines are leaning on themselves. They haven't gone too much on houses. So far where I am at, I've gotten reports of injuries except for on the scanner a couple coming across the scanner in. Somebody got hit by glass and things like that.

TAPPER: Scott, where are you right now? Are in you a car?

MORRIS: I'm on Johnson Street. I'm on the street. We parked and we're checking out some damage.

TAPPER: And so far it appears that the damage is strong, but not as bad as it could be. Scott Morris with "The Northeast Daily Journal" in Tupelo, thank you so much. Please stay safe.

Up next on THE LEAD, we will stay with Mississippi where they are nervously watching and waiting for the dangerous storm system to move through. More on which areas could be in the path of a monster twister coming up next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We are anxiously tracking severe weather in the Tupelo and Mississippi area. Right now, the storm system has claimed 16 lives in Arkansas. I want to show you pictures we just got in from Tupelo. You can see the devastation to the town of Tupelo. The tornado just roughly an hour or so ago touch downed in the town.

And we have reports of many power lines downed, lots of destruction to buildings there. We have not yet heard if there is any serious damage to individuals. We've heard reports of people with injuries involving broken grass. This same storm system claimed 16 lives in Arkansas, as you can recall, from yesterday.


GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It happened just as the sun went down, a tornado ripped through the tiny town of Vilonia, Arkansas just north of Little Rock leaving behind a path of widespread destruction. Siren sounded and people ran for shelter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was huge. It was one of the biggest that I've seen. Not that I've seen that many. Yes, it was just a huge, black cloud.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And then it just popped back up real quick and in about a minute it was over and I came outside, and what you see is what we have.

HOWELL: This drone video shows homes and businesses ripped from their foundations, snapped trees in downtown Vilonia. It's the powerful storm to hit the area so far this year. At this hour, an intense search and rescue effort is under way in the hard hit town.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got people and dogs going through the rubble and trying to find whoever we can and whatever we can.

HOWELL: Crews are digging through debris trying to find survivors after Sunday's storm, but search efforts could be hampered. Another round of severe weather is possible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This morning they started a very thorough and deliberate concentrated search and rescue effort that is going to go through most of the day today.

HOWELL: Nearly 18,000 homes and businesses were without power on Monday in Arkansas. Most of them in Faulkner County.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are going to experience a lot of gas leaks, a lot of power lines down. We did have power out for most of the city right now, but you can never be too safe.

HOWELL: Vilonia was still recovering from the last tornado that hit almost three years ago killing four people in town. Many of the buildings destroyed last night had only recently been rebuilt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The really sad thing is that there's a lot of homes that were hit this time and demolished that were the exact same homes that have been rebuilt from the last tornado.

HOWELL: George Howell, CNN, Vilonia, Arkansas.


TAPPER: That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Our coverage of this extreme storm system traveling through the south now goes to Wolf Blitzer. He is in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Wolf.