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New Audio Recording of Donald Sterling; Russia Celebrates Victory Day; New Allegations of V.A. Cover-Up; Did Flight 370 Go Down in Ocean; Democrats Threaten Benghazi Committee Boycott; Racism in the NBA

Aired May 9, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, shocking new allegations against another V.A. hospital. A clerk tells CNN he was told to cook the books to cover up long wait times for sick veterans. Now there's a new federal investigation.

Also right now, another new audio recording, purportedly from Donald Sterling. In it he says he knew he was wrong when he made racist statement and that he did it out of jealousy.

And right now, a group of scientists and engineers is reportedly challenging the idea that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went down in the Indian Ocean. They say that assumption is based on fate (ph) not fact and that it's time to rethink the plane's path.

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. More shocking allegations today in the scandal involving veterans who died while waiting for care at V.A. hospitals across the country. Investigators with the Office of Inspector General are now at the V.A. hospital in San Antonio, Texas. They're checking appointment records after allegations from a whistleblower, a clerk who handles veterans' appointments. Our Drew Griffin spent months uncovering these allegations at V.A. hospitals across the United States. He's in San Antonio with this exclusive report.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIONS CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Wolf, while the V.A. secretary and his staff try to answer the questions in Washington, there's yet another investigation under way. This one right here in Texas.

(voice-over): San Antonio, Texas is the latest location where investigators from the V.A.'s Office of the Inspector General are on the ground, trying to determine if managers at this sprawling V.A. hospital were trying to hide the fact veterans had been waiting months to get care and if any veterans died as a result. The allegations come from this clerk who works in the hospital's medical administrative services and is speaking publicly for the first time.

Brian Turner says his job is to help veterans secure appointments. He says he was told to fudge the numbers. He was to meet the V.A.'s own national time line goal for setting appointments. That goal, no more than 14 days from when a veteran wants an appointment, called the desired date. The problem, he says, the appointment deadlines cannot be met. So, he says he was instructed to simply schedule the appointment months and months in advance, while making a note that this is the veteran's desired date.

BRIAN TURNER, SCHEDULING CLERK, VETERANS ADMINISTRATION: What they're saying and what we've been instructed was that the -- they're not saying fudge. There's no secret wait list. But what they've done is come out and just say, zero out that date. We're just (ph) going to report the following day if someone has a wait period that's longer than the 14 days. The standard is the one to 14 days within the time line of a desired date.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Irregardless of when the appointment --

TURNER: It doesn't matter when.

GRIFFIN: -- took place?

TURNER: Correct.

GRIFFIN: So, it could be three months and it looks like 14 days?

TURNER: Hey, look, it could be three months and look like no dates. It looked like they had scheduled the appointment and got exactly what they want.

GRIFFIN: So, fudging the books is my --

TURNER: That's your --

GRIFFIN: That's my --

TURNER: I would call it that. You could call it that. The V.A. doesn't call it that. They call it zeroing out.

GRIFFIN: Zeroing out.

(voice-over): In a statement to CNN, the V.A.'s Public Affairs Office says Turner's allegations were investigated. And that based on our internal fact finding conducted April 25th through 28th, we found the claims by this employee were not substantiated. But Turner questions just how much fact finding went on. He says no one asked him about his allegations and, in fact, he says when he began e-mailing his concerns to other staff members, he was told to stop it.

TURNER: They sent me up the very next day.

GRIFFIN (on camera): The very next day.

TURNER: The very next morning, I was called into an office and told not to e-mail another person.

(voice-over): Turner, an Army veteran himself, has asked for whistleblower protection and became a witness in an investigation now being conducted by the V.A.'s Office of Inspector General. The investigation focusing on delayed care, alleged falsification of recordings and possible medical harm to veterans at the San Antonio, Texas V.A. Hospital.

(on camera): Wolf, Brian Turner isn't the only person inside a V.A. facility coming forward with these types of allegations. We're hearing them from all over the country. As Congress continues to investigate why veterans have been dying waiting for care -- Wolf.


BLITZER: A shocking story. Drew Griffin on the story for us, thank you.

At the half hour, I'll speak live with Senator Bernie Sanders. He's the chairman of the Senate Veterans Committee which will hold a hearing next week on this growing V.A. hospital investigation. Bernie Sanders joining me live later this hour.

House Democrats faced a tough debate among themselves today. Should they join Republicans in a new probe into the attacks in Benghazi or should they boycott the special panel? The House voted Thursday, largely along party lines, to form a special committee to investigate, once again, what happened in Benghazi, a terror attack that led to the deaths of four Americans.

Let's bring in our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger and our Chief Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash. Dana, Democrats, what, they've just wrapped up a meeting amongst themselves. What are you hearing?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. House Democratic leaders just are coming out of Nancy Pelosi's office saying that they don't feel that they are anywhere closer, in fact, maybe they've taken a step backwards, in terms of what they've been asking for to be able to participate in this select committee on Benghazi.

It's all about process but it is -- that process is incredibly important because it is about access to witnesses. It is about participation and consultation with regard to interviews that they're doing and subpoenas.

So, what we're told is that the offer that the House speaker, John Boehner, and his staff gave to the leadership just moments ago was simply not OK because it says that they will do all of this to the extent possible but makes no promises about Democratic participation.

Now, I want you to listen to what Nancy Pelosi said earlier today about why Democrats are so resistant to participating without those promises.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Either people have gotten tired of Benghazi but they never knew about it in the first place. So, let's not be accomplices to this diversionary tactic. It's all subterfuge because they don't want to talk about what our responsibilities are here. And we have to make a judgment as to how dangerous we think they can be with their misrepresentation of the -- of the -- of the facts of the committee.


BASH: So, Wolf, this is -- there's no substantive division amongst Democrats. This is about tactics and whether or not politically it makes more sense for them to be in the room or not be in the room. And right now, they say that is really going to be determined by how much, again, access the House speaker gives to them. And we're expecting, possibly, a meeting between Nancy Pelosi and Speaker Boehner which could happen down there in a little bit. That's at least what Pelosi has asked for.

BLITZER: We'll stand by for that. Gloria, you wrote a column on Among other things, you write this, if the Democrats decide to boycott the committee, it's at their own risk. They will lose out on the conversation, no matter how silly they think it is. They will be uninformed about witnesses, strategies, subpoenas. So, what's at stake? This is a critical decision the --


BLITZER: -- Democrats have to make right now.

BORGER: -- a very critical decision because it's clear. Nanny Pelosi called this a stunt. They believe it's a witch hunt if they participate. They give the committee some legit legitimacy which they don't want to confer upon the committee.

But I would argue, if they stay away, Wolf, then they're out of the picture and they can't get their message across. I mean, make in mistake about it. This is about appealing to partisans in the 2014 midterm elections. It's a short-term strategy which could backfire on Republicans if they overdue it. We've seen that kind of overreach with Clinton and impeachment in 1998.

But this is about getting your partisans out to vote. Republicans are hoping -- this isn't about changing minds. Republicans are hoping this will motivate and mobilize their base. And the Democrats can't just sit back and say, oh, by the way, we're not going to participate. Because Hillary Clinton, I would argue, would probably be subpoenaed to testify. Susan Rice. Don't the Democrats want to be there so they can be on that committee, asking her questions?

BLITZER: You make a fair point. Dana, a lot of Democrats think this is all about Hillary Clinton, that Republicans see this as an opportunity to attack her especially if she runs for president of the United States again.

BASH: Absolutely, there are a lot of Democrats here on Capitol Hill I've talked to all week. And especially this morning, as they've been debating internally who think it's all about Hillary Clinton. And to Gloria's point, I've had some pretty senior Democrats opposed to participating in this, saying they do think it's about Hillary Clinton. But that she's a -- she's a big girl, that she can handle it if she's sitting in a room with seven Republicans. She -- you know, she can sort of take care of herself. We don't need five Democrats sitting there to help defend her. Same goes with Susan Rice and other potential witnesses that they expect will be subpoenaed to come before the committee.

However, even while you do have a lot of people thinking it's about the long-term strategy to try to damage Hillary Clinton for 2016, I just asked Nancy Pelosi that same question and she agreed with Gloria. She said she doesn't think so at all. That if Republicans who were worried so much about presidential politics and about 2016, they would be doing things to help their potential Republican candidate, like pass immigration reform. She said she believes this is all about getting out the base in 2014 in November. And, you know, she of course had to take a whack at Republicans by saying it's because she doesn't think that their main strategy, which is Obamacare, is working.

BLITZER: And, you know, Gloria, the controversial Republicans have been out there, the National Republican Campaign Committee. They've been raising money --

BORGER: Raising money.

BLITZER: -- on this whole issue

BORGER: Yes, that's --

BLITZER: -- of Benghazi, which is a -- you know, obviously a sensitive subject.

BORGER: Yes, and that's the problem with this because Trey Gowdy, who's part of this investigation, came out and said, look, I -- to Jake Tapper, I don't think we ought to be raising money off of this. I mean, once you start raise money overtly off of this, it plays into the argument, as Democrats would argue, that it's -- that it's completely political.

Look, there are questions that need to be answered on this. We've had a lot of investigations. We've spent a lot of time. The State Department did an exhaustive investigation. Everybody agrees it was botched. Four people died who did not have to die. The question is whether there was a cover-up. And Republicans are convinced there was. Democrats are saying, no, there wasn't.

In the grand scheme of things, what this does, in terms of 2016, is if they can put a nick in Hillary Clinton's armor as a way of getting their base out to vote in 2014, all the better for Republicans. But, you know, I think, Wolf, there's a danger of overreach for them so they have to be very careful.

BLITZER: We'll see what the speaker and the Democratic leaders, the minority leader, decide to do in the next few hours. Gloria, Dana, guys, thanks very much.

Yet another audio recording now surfacing purported to be that of the disgraced NBA owner, Donald Sterling. In it, he has a new explanation for his racist rant.

And later, I'll ask the Toronto Raptors general manager, Masai Ujiri, about racism within the NBA. Is there really any racism?

We'll also talk about the abduction of more than 200 -- nearly 300 schoolgirls in his native Nigeria.


BLITZER: There's new audio recording purportedly of Donald Sterling, in which the disgraced owner of the LA Clippers explains why he went on a racist rant with his assistant V. Stiviano. In the recording, released by Radar Online, Sterling allegedly attributes his comments to jealousy, claiming he just wanted to have sex with Stiviano, but he also admits he was wrong to say the things he did.

Listen to this.


DONALD STERLING, OWNER, LA CLIPPERS: I have a girl here who has black kids, and is partly black, I think, myself. I love the girl. And so she's telling me, you're wrong. I know I'm wrong. What I said was wrong. But I never thought the private conversation would go anywhere. Out to the public. I didn't want her to bring anybody to my game because I was jealous. I mean, I'm being honest. And, uh, doesn't matter. No one's going to hear it but you and me so.


BLITZER: He was wrong on that front as well. CNN's Brian Todd is following the story for us here in the SITUATION ROOM. So Brian, what do we know about this new audio tape?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We know Radar Online put this out. We can not independently verify that the voice on that audio recording is that of Donald Sterling. And we don't know who he is talking to. But as you mentioned, on the audio tape the person, purportedly Donald Sterling, does talk about really what was at the core of this, his base emotion, and why he made the racist comments to V. Stiviano which broke the scandal wide open. This, according to Donald Sterling, was at the very heart of it. Take a listen.


STERLING: I'm talking to a girl. I'm trying to have sex with her. I'm trying to play with her. What -- you know, if you were trying to have sex with a girl and you're talking to her privately and you don't think anybody's there, you may say anything in the world. What difference does it make? Then if the girl tapes it and releases it, my god, it's awful. Who thinks anybody's going to tape something? What the hell? I'm talking to a girl. The girl's black. I like her. I'm jealous that she's with other black guys. I want her. So what the hell can I, in private tell her, you know, I don't want you to be with anybody. I mean, do I have -- can I -- am I a person? Do I have any freedom of speech?

(END VIDEO CLIP) TODD: Now V. Stiviano has said she was not the person who leaked the audio to the media and she also said she did not have a physical relationship with Donald Sterling. The NBA, we just found out, is not commenting about this audio tape. It is not clear -- what is key here is who made the recording? Who did it and what was their motivation to do it? That's not clear.

When we know more about that, a lot of this will kind of fit together as to why we're hearing some of this now. We're also trying to reach Donald Sterling's attorney, Douglas Walton, for comment on this recording. We've not heard back from him yet.

BLITZER: We are hearing from Doc Rivers, the head coach of the Clippers, about the possibility that Shelly Sterling, the wife of Donald Sterling, she says she wants to remain the owner of the team.

TODD: She wants to remain a 50 percent owner of the team. What Doc Rivers said, he was asked if he wants to remain as coach if that happens, if she gets that 50 percent stake in the team. Rivers said, quote," I think it would be very difficult. I guarantee you every person would not be on board with that." End quote.

Here's another quote from Rivers. "I think it would be a difficult situation. We wouldn't know who was really in charge."

We have asked people close to Shelly Sterling for comment on that, on those remarks by Doc Rivers. We've not heard back from them. Again, Doc Rivers is being a little bit cagey about it, saying not everybody is going to be on board with this. He didn't say he wouldn't be, that is important to distinguish. But he said not everyone around here is going to be on board with that.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Brian. Brian Todd reporting.

Still ahead, we're going to talk a little more about Sterling and the NBA. The general manager of the Toronto Raptors, Masai Ujiri, will join us live. We'll talk to him also about a subject very close to his heart.

The arrival of some U.S. military advisers in his home country of Nigeria. The desperate search for hundreds of kidnapped girls. Masai has very strong views on what's going on in Nigeria right now. And pomp, circumstance and controversy. Why Crimea's v-day celebrations are making more people very upset.


BLITZER: Today is victory day. The day Russia celebrates defeating the Nazis in World War II. But where it's being celebrated is raising some concerns. The Russian president Vladimir Putin is in Crimea. His first visit to the peninsula since Russia annexed it from Ukraine. The White House reiterating its rejection of the annexation, saying Putin's visit just fuels tensions in the region.

Our own Phil Black is in Crimea for us, he is joining is now live. Phil there's a serious question of whether or not the Russian president would attend the celebrations. He obviously has. What was the mood like when he arrived?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The crowd was incredibly happy, Wolf. This has really been a celebration throughout the day. Not just of World War II history, but clearly a celebration of more recent history. Russia retaking Crimea. So when Vladimir Putin arrived on boat, came into view on the bay, the crowd really erupted. But they've been loud through the day. We've seen military parades through the streets. They've been partying along the shoreline of this port town. We saw a very impressive fly over involving dozens of military aircraft. It was all very big in scale. A very large celebration indeed. Vladimir Putin spoke to the crowd as well. Citing a lot of Russian history and congratulating them on what he says was a great victory. Promising that together Crimea and Russia would be stronger. Wolf.

BLITZER: Phil Black watching this story for us. We'll have much more coming up later today in the SITUATION ROOM as well.

The investigation into veterans who have died while waiting for medical care at VA Hospitals across the United States is now expanding. Coming up next, we'll have a live interview with Senate veterans affairs committee chairman senator Bernie Sanders. We are going to find out his reaction to word that investigators are now digging into records at a VA Hospital in San Antonio.