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Nigerian President Accepts U.S. Help in Kidnapping; Deadly Crashes in Eastern Ukraine; Veterans Dying While Waiting for Care; FDA Questions Use of Aspirin for Heart Attacks

Aired May 6, 2014 - 13:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington.

New this hour, the Nigerian president has accepted an offer of U.S. support in the effort to rescue hundreds of kidnapped schoolgirls. Parents and protesters have demanded that the government do more to resolve the crisis.

Eight more girls were abducted from a village today. That's in addition to the more than 200 still missing from kidnappings at a school last month.

Nicole Lee is a human rights expert, the outgoing president of the policy group TransAfrica. Bob Baer is a CNN national security analyst, a former CIA operative.

Guys, thanks very much for joining us. What's your response, first of all, President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria accenting this U.S. offer for all sorts of assistant including intelligence, military, other technical assistance?

NICOLE LEE, OUTGOING PRESIDENT, TRANSAFRICA: I think it's welcomed but frankly it's not enough. I think people really want to see tangible results first. For 2 1/2 week, the parents, the mothers, the fathers, the protesters felt like they are being completely ignored by their government. Now here the international community have come together to back up what Nigerians are saying, which is they deserve a solution to this. They deserve their government to really serve them.

I think until they see something tangible, we're going to continue to see mounting pressure.

BLITZER: Practically speaking, Bob, what can the U.S. do? This group, Boko Haram, which is a Muslim extremist group, they kidnap girls and sell them, whether they're Christian girls or Muslim girls, any girl that's even getting an education, they want to kidnap them and sell them off for marriage or whatever.

What can, practically speaking, the U.S. military intelligence community do?

ROBERT BAER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, first of all, we can start turning the big ears of the national security agency on northern Nigeria, start intersecting phone calls. There's somebody who's seen these girls, where they are, even if it's accidentally. So that would be very important help to Nigeria. We can do things like turn on satellite coverage, thermal images.

There's -- the United States has no sources in Boko Haram but you know once we start focusing on an issue like this, it's hard to hide 250- plus hostages. And I think the United States can contribute to this and I hope it does.

BLITZER: I hope it does, too.

And, Nicole, the international outrage is really -- you feel it here in Washington, obviously.

LEE: Absolutely.

BLITZER: But you're feeling it all over.

LEE: No, absolutely, and I think it's amazing. This really started because Nigerians went to Twitter. When they couldn't get a response from their own government, they went to Twitter, they went to social media. It then grew. And the whole idea of the hash tag is so powerful, this idea of "Bring back our girls."

When I tweeted from Washington, I'm really claiming those girls. London, the car, people around the world are tweeting "Bring back our girls." The world is now claiming these Nigerian girls for their own. I think it's going to be very careful and I don't think the protests are going to end until really we see these girls returned safely home.

BLITZER: Yes, if you use the #bringbackourgirls, it's really resonating out there. I know for my own Twitter account, it's the same thing.

Bob, Boko Haram. Tell us about the relationship it has with al Qaeda affiliated groups not only in Africa but elsewhere.

BAER: Well, Wolf, they're not really al Qaeda, they're fellow travelers. They take some of the ideology from al Qaeda, from bin Laden. But it's an indigenous group. It's part of the chaos that comes in Sub-Saharan Africa. You know, you could off ties between the head of al Qaeda, Zawahiri, wouldn't make any difference.

The problem is they're well armed. And they make their money from raiding villages, stealing oil, kidnappings, ransom and the rest of it. So it's a difficult -- it's going to be a difficult group to suppress. We don't even know the size of it. Is it in the hundreds or the thousands? And it's operates in a part of Nigeria which is cut off from the rest of the world. So it's going to take a long time before we get to the heart of this thing.

BLITZER: And one of the really heartbreaking parts of this, Nicole, and you know this, is that the parents of these girls, they're afraid to release pictures of these 14-year-old, 15-year-old, 16-year-old girls because they're afraid there will be retribution, if these pictures of these girls are seen on television, these terrorists will go out and punish them even more. LEE: Right. They're afraid of retribution while they're in the hands of Boko Haram. They're also afraid of retribution when they return home. I mean, it's the whole idea, do we publish the names of rape victims? No, we often don't in this country. So, you know, both, we want to bring them home. The parents want them home. At the same time, they want to keep them safe.

It's every parent's worst nightmare, the idea that your child is out there. And for them, in Nigeria right now, no one has actually been even trying to find then, so it's been very concerning.

BLITZER: Yes. Now what do these girls do? They wanted to get an education. Their parents wanted them to get an education. And this group Boko Haram says these girls should not be allowed to get an education. They should only be married and that's it.

LEE: Yes.

BLITZER: Hey, Nicole, thanks very much for coming in.

LEE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Bob, thanks to you as well.

Up next, options in Ukraine. While Ukraine's troops move in, Russia starts flexing even more military muscle. We're about to take a closer look.


BLITZER: Europe's foreign ministers gather in Vienna today to discuss the unrest in Ukraine. Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, blamed the problems on Ukraine's government in Kiev, saying they have to step back from battles with pro-Russian forces. But others like Britain placed the blame squarely on Russia.

All this comes after several days of deadly clashes between pro- Russian militants and Ukrainian troop in southern and eastern Ukraine.

Here's another important development. A top U.S. general now says Russia has gotten more active in the Pacific by flying long-range bombers all the way over from the California coast. It's believed it's a bit of posturing with the U.S. strongly backing Ukraine against Russia right now.

Joining us now from New York is CNN political commentator Peter Beinart.

Peter, thanks very much for coming in. Quickly what's the significance of these Russian flights, if you will, approaching the U.S.?

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think what you've seen since the beginning of this crisis is that Vladimir Putin has tried to respond in a kind of tit-for-tat way with the goal of establishing a parity between the United States and Russia. This is a way of building up Russia and suggesting that Russia is America's equal. Clearly Putin is someone with a lot of nostalgia for the Cold War and this allows him to suggest that whatever the United States can do intervening near Russia, Russia can do intervening near us.

BLITZER: Pretty worrisome. What about the crackdown in eastern Ukraine, and Slavyansk? That region, I assume, you believe this is something the Ukrainian government, the military, the security forces, needed to do?

BAER: Well, perhaps, but it's also very frightening. I mean, we are really seeing these may go down as the early days of the Ukrainian civil war. Certainly Russia is intervening and Meddling there. But there's also seemed to be a whole range of different shadowy groups that have emerged there in the eastern part of Ukraine that are hostile to the government in Kiev. And the blood has already started to spill terribly in Odessa. And now there's been quite a lot of people killed in the east, in Slavyansk. And the more death there are, the harder it's going to be to find any kind of diplomatic resolution to that.

BLITZER: Yes, that Geneva agreement from last month, that's forgotten, I'm sure by now but as you point out, Odessa, that's not eastern Ukraine, that's more central Ukraine. And the fact that there's a deadly confrontation going on there between Ukrainian forces, pro-Russian demonstrators, that's is extremely worrisome.

Tell our viewers why.

BEINART: Well, just as few days ago this was mostly being discussed as a problem in eastern Ukraine. With the idea that they Ukrainian government was having trouble keeping control in one part of eastern Ukraine. But as you said, Odessa is really in the center of the country, quite far south. If the government in Kiev cannot control Odessa, you're talking about a much larger swath of spiraling, indeed most of the country potentially spiraling out of its control.

And also there's the possibility of Russia creating an entire swath of -- of Ukraine, all the way cutting across to a breakaway region called Transnistria which is part of Moldova where the Russians have troops in which basically you would see most of Ukraine taken out of the control of the government in Kiev.

BLITZER: Can they really have free and fair elections on May 25th as they're now scheduled, given the violence exploding around the country?

BEINART: Well, this is really the tragedy. It seems to me if there's going to be some kind of reconciliation in Kiev, maybe some kind of greater autonomy for those regions where most people speak Russian, what you need to do is have people be able to really express their points of view in elections so you can have a political process.

And yet this violence is making those elections very, very difficult in the eastern part of Ukraine, which makes it harder, I think, to have a government, a Ukrainian government is going to be able to be in legitimate way try to solve the political problems of the country. BLITZER: Peter Beinart, thanks, as usual, for that excellent explanation.

Peter Beinart joining us from New York.

There's new fallout from our reports about veterans dying while waiting for medical care at the U.S. VA hospitals. Prominent veterans groups are now calling for the Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to step down. We're going to fill you in on the latest developments.


BLITZER: The White House has just responded to calls by the nation's largest veterans group, just asking for the Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. And it all stems from the story we've been reporting for months.

Now more fallout to what CNN has uncovered. Among other things, there are allegations that a VA hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, up to 40 veterans died there waiting to simply see a doctor. That, according to several sources. And the hospital also allegedly kept a secret list of wait times, that was a list that reportedly tried to keep hidden from the public, and from the VA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Our reporting on the story has garnered quite a bit of attention from veterans groups, from members of Congress, even to the president of the United States.

Our investigations correspondent Drew Griffin has done this reporting together with his team for us.

For months you've been working on this. I understand there's now new word of this alleged secret list, this waiting list. What are you hearing?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, what's happening in Phoenix really is begging the question of whether or not records -- these records for care were literally purged from the system. A deliberate attempt to eliminate the backlog by eliminating the records themselves.

The VA reported that just in the last year, it cleared 1.5 million backlogged orders for patient care or services, which they call consults. We asked the government's watchdog at the government's own accountability office if there's any way to tell if the VA is telling us or Congress the truth. The answer is no.


DEBRA DRAPER, GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE, DIRECTOR OF HEALTH CARE: Which is, you know, a little disconcerting that 1.5 million records were -- you know, were closed. We can't determine whether they did a review, a clinical review, and appropriately closed out the consult. GRIFFIN: If you don't know how these wait times and consults were cleaned up, does anybody at VA headquarters know?

DRAPER: Well, you'd have to -- you know, they did not require these local facilities to keep records of how they were -- how they closed out the consults. So it would be really, as I mentioned, that you'd have to really go back to each individual patient record to see how the consult was -- why it was closed.

GRIFFIN: So the V.A. itself, I would assume, does not know.

DRAPER: Not -- no.



BLITZER: That's pretty shocking stuff. How could anyone, including the VA, confidently tell us that these veterans are getting the medical care, the appointments, the kind of need, the kind of assistance they really need.

GRIFFIN: Wolf, the answer is they can't. Debra Draper says the record keeping, the data collection is so bad, and the oversight at the VA is so bad, that nobody at the VA really knows what happened to this backlog of 1.5 million. These are patients looking for care. They've simply just vanished.

We reported in Phoenix that at the VA hospital, the backlogged doctors' appointments were taken off with a secret list that allowed those records, Wolf, to simply be deleted.

BLITZER: And as we've been reporting, the American Legion, which is not some splinter group.


BLITZER: The American Legion now saying Eric Shinseki, the secretary of Veterans Affairs, should resign. He's an important member of the president's Cabinet, obviously.

I want you to listen to what Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said just a little while ago.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president said last week, we take the allegations around the Phoenix situation very seriously. Now that's why he immediately direct Secretary Shinseki to investigate. And Secretary Shinseki has also invited the independent Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General to conduct a comprehensive review.

We must ensure that our nation's veterans get the benefits and the services that they deserve and they have earned. The president remains confident in Secretary Shinseki's ability to lead the department and to take appropriate action based on the IG's findings.


BLITZER: You've been doing all the breakthrough reporting on this explosive story. I know you have repeatedly asked for Secretary Shinseki to sit down and talk to you, and in fact, talk to the American public. You've been denied repeated requests. What's going on there?

GRIFFIN: Six months now. I was standing over in front of the VA again this morning. That's what it's come down to. The answer is either no, or we'll get back to you, or simply they refuse to answer.

But I want to tell you something that really bothered me that I learned last night. We heard from families of vets who died unnecessarily, who asked for a meeting with Eric Shinseki. They have not heard back from Eric Shinseki.

You know, you can ignore a reporter, you can tell us to go pound sand. But really, I find it shameful that a veteran's family who had a veteran die in a hospital at one of his hospitals, unnecessarily, isn't even afforded the response to a request. I find that rather shameful.

BLITZER: Yes. He's -- you know, and he's a retired U.S. military general. He should go out, he should speak to you, sit down, explain his side of the story, what's going on. And if he can fix it, fix it. Otherwise, he's got to move on.

GRIFFIN: Get out.

BLITZER: Yes. All right. Thanks very much. Excellent reporting. We're very proud of your work. I know veterans all over the country are grateful to you.

Thanks, Drew.

GRIFFIN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Still ahead, Aspirin, it has received a lot of attention over the years. So-called miracle drug, to prevent heart attacks, among other things. But now you might want to listen to what the FDA is saying about Aspirin. Our own doctor, Sanjay Gupta, he's got new information. This is information every one of you needs to know.


BLITZER: We've all heard that taking an aspirin, a baby aspirin once a day can help prevent a heart attack. But the Food and Drug Administration is saying hold on, not so fast.

Let's bring in our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He's joining us.

Sanjay, all of a sudden there's some new information. What's going on here? DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the FDA would say this isn't new information. It's kind of an interesting backstory. The makers of the low-dose Aspirin Bayer, they wanted to be able to put on this bottle that this can prevent heart attacks, prevent first-time heart attacks. And the FDA said after looking at the data, looking at all the studies out there over a long time, they're not prepared to say that.

They think that a baby aspirin, which is 81 milligrams, can potentially prevent someone who's already had a heart attack or a stroke, from having another one, but not as good necessarily at preventing the first one. So that's sort of the genesis of this whole thing was this labeling issue. But it's re-stirred up this whole question.

BLITZER: There's one argument that people say, well, take aspirin. They might not help, but can't hurt. But the argument -- counterargument is for some people it could hurt, right?

GUPTA: Yes, I mean, everything in medicine is a risk-benefit analysis. And sometimes it can be confusing even within the medical community because how much value do you give to this benefit, how much to this risk. The concern is that, when you take aspirin, you're thinning your blood a little bit. So you'll be able -- more likely to bleed. If you have ulcers, for example, in your stomach, they may be more likely to bleed.

So that's a potential risk. Compared with the small benefit, at least the people who have never had a heart attack or never had a stroke, the small benefit of preventing that from happening. They thought that the risks outweighed the benefits. Again, if you've already had a heart attack or a stroke in the past or you have significant heart disease yourself, not your family, but yourself, then an aspirin may be good for you.

BLITZER: So the bottom line right now, who definitely should be taking at least a baby aspirin every day?

GUPTA: It's really -- so I'm (INAUDIBLE) myself. I'm 44 years old. You know, according to the guidelines out there, next year, I turn 45, they say I should start taking a baby aspirin. That was what you heard from a lot of the people who make up the guidelines. What the FDA is saying, look, Sanjay, you have a family history of heart disease but you've never had a heart attack or stroke, you shouldn't take an aspirin. It's should only be for people who already have those problems in the past.

BLITZER: Sanjay, with excellent advice as he always gives us, no one better with this kind of information.

Sanjay, thanks very much.

That's it for me. See you at 5:00 p.m. Eastern in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

"NEWSROOM" with Briana Keilar starts right now.