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V.A. Orders Review of Medical Centers; Sterling States He's Not a Racist; Sterling Says He Is Not Selling the Team; Violence Escalates in Ukraine; Kidnapping Overshadows Economic Forum

Aired May 8, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, the Veterans Administration orders a review of all of its medical facilities after CNN's reporting on deadly delays sparks outrage.

Also right now, it's been two months since Malaysian Flight 370 disappeared. Today, the families are still demanding answers. They want officials to reexamine all, repeat all, of the information.

And right now, quote, "You know I'm not a racist." End quote. Those words allegedly coming from Los Angeles Clippers owner, Donald sterling, in new audio recordings. He also says he won't sell his NBA team.

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. Big news today as the Veterans Administration orders a national face-to-face audit at all V.A. Hospitals in the country in the wake of issues at the Phoenix V.A. That moves comes just hours after a House committee voted to subpoena e-mails from the Veterans Affairs secretary, General Eric Shinseki. All of this stems from a CNN investigation that found 40 veterans died at the Phoenix V.A. while awaiting treatment, that according to sources.

Our Senior Investigative Correspondent Drew Griffin has been all over this for months. He's joining us now from San Antonio with the very latest. Drew, what about this audit? What's going on?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we first heard about it through Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick's office out of Arizona, and it's now been confirmed through the Veterans Affairs Committee. It's going to be what they're calling a nationwide access review which they're going to try to determine just how quickly or maybe not quickly veterans are getting access to their medical care.

And from what we determined, this is going to be a face-to-face audit at every V.A. facility and clinic across the country. That is going to be a pretty widespread and a lot of work to be done by the V.A. but much called for, I guess, by the people who have been calling for this for over a year now at the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Wolf.

And, today, that committee really brought up the angle of this whole secret waiting list that we've been reporting on out in Phoenix where managers may have hid the fact that veterans were waiting up to 21 months for care. Today, we learned from Congressman Jeff Miller, the chairman of the House Veterans Committee, that he, he has proof that an alternate list did exist in Phoenix and he believes evidence of that list was destroyed.

BLITZER: Well, is that raising criminal questions?


REP. JEFF MILLER (R), CHAIRMAN, VETERANS AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: -- come to this decision but we did not do this without some substantial justification.

The last few weeks have been a model of V.A. stonewalling which precipitated the need for this subpoena.

First, on April 24th, our staff was briefed and informed on the existence of an alternate wait list and how that list was subsequently destroyed.

Yesterday, May 7th, I received a response from V.A. that does not, does not, fully answer the very simple questions that I asked. Therefore, the time for request for this matter is over. Today, we will vote to issue a subpoena. It's historic vote. This committee has voted once before to issue a subpoena, the first time ever in the history, and we worked with V.A. and actually we did not deliver that subpoena but we ultimately got the information that we were asking for. But I trust the V.A. will have the good sense to not further ignore the requests that this committee has made.


GRIFFIN: Wolf, you mentioned just before we heard from Congressman Jeff Miller, does this raise criminal allegations? I can't answer that but I can tell you that immediately upon learning that evidence may have been destroyed was when the director of that V.A. facility in Phoenix and two of her staff were put on administrative leave. There is an inspector general's investigation going on there. Everybody's kind of waiting to see what takes place there.

But what they're asking for in Congress now, what they're asking for in these subpoenas is all the e-mails, all the potential evidence that there may have been a full-on cover-up and evidence destroyed in Phoenix, to hide the fact that thousands of veterans had been waiting and waiting and waiting for care -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's raising very, very serious questions, as you correctly point out. I know Secretary Shinseki is starting to speak with other news organizations. He's still declining CNN's repeated request to do a sit-down, right?

GRIFFIN: Yes. I don't know why he's picking and choosing to whom he's talking to and which kind of questions he seems to be being asked. We have very specific questions we want to ask Mr. Shinseki. I have never met the guy but we'd like to sit down with him. We've been asking for an interview for six months now. I've been asking for an interview again this morning, Wolf. We're just not getting any response at all on that request. BLITZER: Are any of his top aides at the Department of Veterans Affairs willing to sit down with you?

GRIFFIN: No. All we get is little brief statements every now and then from the Public Affairs Department. We've been asking in Phoenix. We did get a sit down interview with the director there before she was placed on administrative leave. She denied there was a secret list, said there was some confusion among the staff. That's as far as we've gotten. But we have these questions, as you know, Wolf, in V.A. facilities across the country where we know veterans have died and died because of delayed care, 23 of them by the V.A.'s own accounting. But insiders and sources are telling us the number is way higher than that. Those are the questions we want to ask Erik Shinseki or, quite frankly, anybody at the V.A. who will talk to us. We just have not gotten a response -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All Right. Drew Griffin working this story as he has been for several months. We'll see what happens next. Thank you.

A voice purported to be that of Donald Sterling is now talking for the first time about racist comments that got him banned from the NBA for life. In a phone conversation, obtained by RadarOnline, the embattled owner of the NBA Los Angeles Clippers defiantly says he's not a racist and can't be made to sell his team. On the recording, we hear Sterling talking with someone else. We don't know who that is but for the first time we think we hear Sterling in his own words. Listen to this.


DONALD STERLING: Do you think I'm a racist? Do you think I have anything in the world but love for everybody? You don't think that. You know I'm not a racist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know I got -- I got the -- when I -- I mean, when I heard the --

STERLING: I can't hear you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about when I hear the --

STERLING: You know --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I hear that tape, though, that tape I heard.

STERLING: I grew up in east L.A. East L.A., you die to get out of there. I got it out of east L.A. I was the president of the high school there. I mean, if you -- and I'm a Jew and 50 percent of the people there were black and 40 percent were Hispanic. You ever been to Boyle Heights?

UNIDENTIFIED: Yes, yes, I've been to Boyle Heights.

STERLING: So, I mean, people must have a good feeling for me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you talk to Griffin or anybody yet? Did you talk to --

STERLING: I didn't talk to anybody. I'm in my house in Beverly Hills.


STERLING: I mean, how could you think I'm a racist, knowing me all these years? How can you be in this business and be a racist? Do you think I tell the coach to get white players? Or to get the best player he can get?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The best player he can get.

STERLING: I mean, you -- I don't expect anything from anybody but I do from you. I mean --


STERLING: It breaks my heart that Magic Johnson, you know, my -- a guy I -- a guy that I respect so much wouldn't stand up and say, well, let's get the facts. Let's get him and talk to him. Nobody tried. Nobody. I'm here on Beverly Drive in Sunset across from the Beverly Hills Hotel. You know?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they're -- I mean, I think they're trying to -- they're going to -- they're probably just trying to -- they're trying to force you to sell it. That's the thing.

STERLING: They don't -- you can't force someone to sell property in America. I'm a lawyer, that's my opinion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I'm just saying, I think they got a -- have Sean Combs, Diddy, he's the one that's really seeking to buy. Him and Oprah.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Diddy, Sean Combs and Oprah are the ones who are trying to --



BLITZER: Let's talk about this audiotape. Brian Todd is here. Also joining us, our Legal Analyst Sunny Hostin. Another secret recording, Brian. First of all, what do we know about this tape? How did RadarOnline get it? Do we have any of those details?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, RadarOnline is not revealing its source. It says this is a secret audio recording. Now, RadarOnline did say that its source provided an affidavit confirming that the phone call was made by Donald sterling. That's an interesting nugget that you have to remember. We cannot independently confirm that the voice on the recording is Donald Sterling's. We also don't know who he's talking to but RadarOnline says it's a long-time friend of Donald Sterling's.

But I think it's interesting when radar online says that its source gave it an affidavit saying that the call was made by Donald Sterling, it raises all sorts of questions, you know, what was the purpose of the call? What was the purpose of the recording? Who did the recording and for what purpose? That raises a lot of questions about this and maybe implications there that everybody can -- everybody can see, at this point.

BLITZER: Is he on any solid legal ground, Sunny, when he says he can't be forced to sell his team?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I think that it is very telling that he said that. He said, I'm a lawyer. It's just my opinion. You can't force someone to sell their team. I think he is really letting the world know, in many respects, that he is not going down without a fight. He intends to fight this. He is litigious by nature. He uses lawsuits as sport. There is no doubt, Wolf, in my mind, that we are going to see so many legal suits coming out of this. And what I've said from the very beginning is the real player that we need to think about here and watch is Shelly Sterling, of course.

BLITZER: Well, and that's interesting because she's spoken to the "L.A. Times." The "L.A. Times" article, Brian, let me ask you to get information on this. I'll put it on the screen. This is from the "L.A. Times." Her intention to hold onto the team is a wrinkle apparently not contemplated by NBA officials when they moved to strip her estranged husband of ownership. How much of a potential problem is this if she wants to fight it, assuming he doesn't fight it. Well, he indicates he will fight it.

TODD: He's going to fight it.

BLITZER: But assuming she wants to hold onto the team, she's half owner.

TODD: This could be a real potential problem, Wolf. The "L.A. Times" sight sources are saying she holds equal control of the team, equal to Donald Sterling. And a telling comment from Adam Silver when he announced their attempt to ban him and to make him forfeit the ownership of his team. Adam Silver said this applies specifically to Donald Sterling and Donald Sterling's conduct only. That may be some kind of a loophole that Shelly Sterling could exploit saying, hey, you meant him. You didn't mean me and I'm a co-owner of this team. That could be a legal avenue that she could take to try to win control of the team, maybe keep it in the family somehow and, you know, the (INAUDIBLE) which the NBA clearly would not want.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the law a little bit, Sunny. I've spoken to a bunch of legal experts who know the NBA. They know the NBA constitution. They have full details on the agreements over the years, since 1981 when he bought the Clippers. The agreements he signed. The morals clauses that were contained at that time that he signed, several times since then including over the past decade or so. I assume they could get him up, but what about her? HOSTIN: You know, I -- and I'm not going to go so far as to say they can get him out. I mean, morals clauses notwithstanding, those clauses are often interpreted in a court of law. And so, that still means there is going to be a legal challenge by Donald Sterling.

In terms of Shelly Sterling, I've said it from the very, very beginning when this story broke, she is not only a co-owner, she's also -- my understanding, is an alternate governor of the NBA on this team. And so, when you look at that set of facts and you look at what I believe is the misstep by commissioner Silver and basically limiting all liability just to Donald Sterling, she is a real player here. When you look at the fact that this seem is held in a family trust, that not only protects Shelly Sterling, it protects the family as well.

And so, once we find out, sort of, the percentages of ownership in the family trust, I think we're going to see that Shelly Sterling has not only, I think, a very good chance of making an argument in court, I think she has a good chance of winning.

BLITZER: Because if you go to the constitution of the NBA, and I know you have Article 13, Clause D, the whole article involves termination of ownership or membership. It says, you could be terminated of ownership of a team if you fail or refuse to fulfill its contractual obligations to the association, its members, players or any third party, in such way as to affect the association or its members adversely. And the argument they're making is all those morals' clauses, all those separate agreements that he signed over the past 32, 33 years represents a failure of Article 13, Clause D. But we'll continue the legal aspects down the road. Sonny, thanks very much. Brian Todd, I know you will have more on this later in the "SITUATION ROOM" as well.

TODD: Sure.

BLITZER: Meanwhile, the State Department is issuing a warning to citizens about Ukraine. We're going to bring you that and the latest of the deadly confrontations between pro-Russian Militants and Ukrainian forces. That's coming up.

And later, their affair almost brought down his presidency. Now, Monica Lewinsky reveals details of her relationship with Bill Clinton.


BLITZER: The State Department is now urging U.S. citizens to postpone all non-essential travel to Ukraine. The warning follows a spike in violence in the eastern part of the country where Ukrainian forces are cracking down on pro-Russian separatists. And the situation could deteriorate even further as separatists in two regions prepare to hold independence votes.

Our senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh is joining us. He's near the militants' stronghold of Sloviansk.

Nick, there have been several deadly confrontations over the last couple of days. What's happening now?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there was much surprise in Sloviansk today. People still reacting to the comments of Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, yesterday who said, guys, don't hold the referendum just now, delay it and you need to respect the presidential elections later on this May. But in fact shocked more than just those pro-Russian militants, much of the world wondering quite what this turnabout could be for the Kremlin head.

But today, they passed a vote in Donetsk, the main -- sort of central body of the pro-Russian protest, to say they're going to go ahead anyway and hold the vote on Sunday.

A sense of, I think, foreboding inside that town. You don't hear much other than the pro-Russian voices on the street. People don't really want to come up to you and talk about how unhappy they are. It's not an entirely universally content town, far from it. But there are pro- Russian militants who are clearly parading their weapons to us very shortly after the decision to continue with the referendum. And a sense I think that the Ukrainian military massed around the town may move in in the days ahead to try and stop the vote from happening.

And of course I think also a little bit of concern as to quite where Russia stands in this. Many see Putin's comments as a bit trying to get a bit of distance between him and what Moscow -- sorry, what Washington and Brussels say as something which is Russian created and fermented, the unrest here in this first place, but has left some of his supporters inside that town wondering quite where he stands in all of this. They're going ahead regardless but there's uncertainty in their voice now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Any indication he has actually started or has removed some of those 40,000 troops from along the Ukrainian border?

WALSH: He says he has but NATO says they've seen no sign of it. And in fact the head of NATO said he'd welcome any such move. But there's been no indication.

All signs really point, Wolf, to no real change in the Russian strategy here. The pro-Russian militants are going ahead with their referendum as they had previously planned. There was a hiccup of yesterday's seemingly U-turn but it's very politically convenient for the Kremlin because they can now say we tried to stop that referendum and it's actually an expression of homegrown popular will rather than something we synthetically created.

So, yes, the troops are still there. There's still a very sincere and real threat here the Ukrainian military will intervene. There'll be a substantial loss of life, then you have to wonder, did Moscow make good on their pretty much constant threat. They'll send troops and to protect their compatriots here if there's substantial loss of life. Very tense days ahead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh, on the ground for us. Be careful over there as I tell you every day, Nick, thank you very much.

We're getting word of an earthquake in Mexico. Chad Myers is working the story for us, our meteorologist.

What do we know, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: 6.8 right along the coast of Mexico, about 188 miles from Mexico City itself. But there was shaking in Mexico City for about 40 seconds that we know of.

This is likely an aftershock from a 7.2 that was centered right there just a couple of weeks ago. Let me zoom in, Mexico City. There is the earthquake, it was not offshore, so there's not a tsunami threat with this. But as we zoom in again right along the shore here, kind of a rough topography area. We are going to see or we always see this type of activity along a subduction (ph) zone which means that one plate is going under the other.

There's Mexico City. There's the earthquake. Because there was the rattling weeks ago, a couple of weeks ago with the 7.2, some buildings are already damaged. So a 6.8, although it's probably an aftershock on the same fault still could cause damage in itself. A 6.8 earthquake would be a significant earthquake so we can call this an aftershock because it's in the same place. Along the same fault.

Think about it like this, Wolf. If the earth shakes because it moves that way, but moves too fast or moves too far, then it has to move back to get back into place so the 7.2 and 6.8 likely related -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So you think the 6.8 is the aftershock to the 7.2? Is that right?

MYERS: Many times you can get an aftershock very close to the same size or one magnitude about the same size -- or smaller. So 7.2 to 6.2, so the fact that this is a 6.8 probably gets adjusted a little bit by the USGS and also -- as they look at it. This is just preliminary at 6.8. We'll see where it goes but it's right along the same fault zone.

BLITZER: We'll check in with our people, with our producers and reporters in Mexico City to see what they see over there and elsewhere. We'll have more on this story coming up.

Chad, thank you.

Other news we're following, new information about the whereabouts of the school girls abducted in Nigeria. Stay with us.


BLITZER: This just coming in. The secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, has now agreed to testify next Thursday, one week from today, before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. He's responding to a request from the committee chairman, the independent senator, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the Democrats are in the majority in the Senate, that he come and testify.

He will testify before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. So far the House Veterans Affairs Committee has subpoenaed him to provide e- mails, all sorts of other information connected to the allegations of wrongdoing in the Department of Veterans Affairs, when it comes to veterans waiting for treatment. The House Veterans Affairs Committee has not formally subpoenaed or requested that he come testify there.

That's the Republican majority in the House Veterans Affairs Committee but he will go before the Democratic majority in this Senate to testify next Thursday on all of these issues, responding to Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont.

More on this story coming up later.

Meanwhile, dozens of the world's most influential economists are gathering today in Nigeria for two days of talks. Hosting the World Economic Forum was supposed to be a showcase moment for the country and its president. Instead, it's been overshadowed by a series of terror attacks including the kidnapping one month ago of more than 200 schoolgirls.

The Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, today said the brazen act will be, quote, "The beginning of the end of terrorism in Nigeria."

CNN global economic analyst Rana Faroohar is joining us from the Nigerian capital of Abuja. She's there on the scene for us. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has new information from her intelligence sources.

First of all, Barbara, what are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a senior Defense official told me a short time ago that intelligence now has led the U.S. to believe at this point that those kidnapped schoolgirls have been broken up into smaller groups. This official telling me they have in his words good reason to believe that the girls had been broken up. He is not willing to go into the details of how they know this. And many U.S. officials are also underscoring that the fact is the U.S. does not know where they are.

This complicates any sort of rescue mission, of course, by the Nigerians which the U.S. is trying to offer some advice on because unless you know where they are, unless you have ironclad intelligence, and you can go after all these locations at the same time, it is going to be very tough. Boko Haram would see this all coming.

About those U.S. military advisers, we are also told they are expected to land in Nigeria sometimes tomorrow. This is a small group of Africa specialist in the U.S. military coming out of Germany. And they are joining a number of other personnel already regularly working at the embassy in Nigeria. They will all together form a group of about 20 or so specialists to talk to the Nigerians and try and offer them advice and assistance.

One thing we are continuing to hear is the U.S. wants to offer intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance assistance. That is key to solving that intelligence problem. Where are the girls. That could include drones, you know, either tracking suspected Boko Haram militants or even trying to listen in on their telephone conversations -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Stand by, Barbara. I want to go to Rana. She's in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, at this World Economic Forum.

More than 300 people were slaughtered in a northern village, more than 200 maybe close to 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped, taken from their school simply because they were trying to get an education.

I assume international investors in Nigeria are pretty concerned about what's going on. Give us a little flavor of what's happening there -- Rana.

RANA FAROOHAR, CNN GLOBAL ECONOMIC ANALYST: I think they're very concerned. The World Economic Forum opened today with a moment of silence for these girls and was a big topic of conversation in the hallways with investors. Some of the western multinationals that I spoke to are particularly concerned. They're counting on Nigeria to be a place where there's stable growth, fast growth. It seems like it's falling more and more into sectarian violence.