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New Report Says Search for MH370 in Wrong Place All Along; Nigerian Girl Abductions Hit Close to Home for NBA's Masai Ujiri; Could Lewinski Scandal Hurt Hillary Clinton Run in 2016?

Aired May 9, 2014 - 13:30   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. The investigation focusing in on veterans who have died while waiting for care at VA hospitals across the country now expanding. Investigators are checking records at the VA Hospital in San Antonio, Texas. There are allegations that scheduling clerks, in San Antonio, were cooking the books to hide the fact that some veterans had to wait weeks, if not months, for simple appointments. The Senate veterans affairs committee will hold a hearing on the state of the VA Healthcare system around the country. The embattled Veteran Affairs secretary, Eric Shinseki, has agreed to testify, he will be among the witnesses.

Senator Bernie Sanders is the chairman of the committee, one of the biggest supporters of veterans on Capitol Hill. Joining us now live from Burlington, Vermont.

Senator, first of all thanks very much for all the good work you're doing to help veterans. It's pretty shocking - I assume you are as outraged as so many other people right now, when they see these reports of cover-ups and that veterans dying while waiting for treatment.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), VETERAN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Okay, let me just say -- make a couple of points. No. 1, when men and women put their lives on the line to defend this country, it is our very deep moral obligation to make sure they get the best quality health care that they can. That's -- I hope every American accepts that. No. 2, where there are problems, those problems have got to be thoroughly and independently investigated.

Now, what I did and what the VA did, as soon as the allegations were made about phoenix, is the VA Inspector General. And, Wolf, you have to understand, they are independent of the VA, they went out, they are doing an inspection, an investigation right now. I just spoke to the I.G. this morning. I said, do you have the resources to do it. He says, yes, we do. It's going to be a comprehensive investigation. The day after the results of that investigation are made public, we are going to move aggressively on hearings in the Senate veterans committee. But this is what I also want to say, Wolf. If you go out and you talk to veterans all across this country, what they will tell you is that the V.A. provides good quality health care. Many independent studies suggest that the health care provided at the V.A. is as good or better than in private hospitals or in nonprofit hospitals. V.A. has been cutting edge in a number of important areas like telehealth and so forth and so on. Here's the other important point. The V.A. today -- Wolf, do you have an idea of how big the V.A. is?

BLITZER: We know there are a lot of veterans in the United States. You're right. They rely on the V.A. Hospitals and by and large they're doing excellent work. When you hear about some of these -- some of these outrageous allegations and you've heard --

SANDERS: You're right --

BLITZER: -- Senator, you're going to have a whole hearing on it, they can do better.

SANDERS: You're right.

BLITZER: I just want to get your reaction. The American Legion, which, as you know, is a pro veterans organization --


SANDERS: I know. Absolutely.

BLITZER: The American Legion is now calling on the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki to step down.

SANDERS: I am more than aware of that. I have talked to --


BLITZER: Just listen for a second --


BLITZER: Hold on one second. Just listen to the commander.


DANIEL DELLINGER, AMERICA LEGION NATIONAL COMMANDER: One death is tragic. Preventable deaths are just unforgivable. And for them to try to cover it up, we just can't forgive deaths of veterans here at home. The battlefield's one thing. But when they come home seeking medical care that they have earned, then there's a real problem.


BLITZER: Do you have confidence in Eric Shinseki?

SANDERS: Let me just say this. Here's one of the concerns I have. Every member of the Senate, certainly my committee, wants to make sure every problem at the V.A. is more thoroughly dealt with and addressed. Veterans languish and die on V.A.'s hospital secret list. At least 40 died waiting for appointments, et cetera, et cetera.

Did you read "The Arizona Republic" this morning?

BLITZER: Did I? I didn't.

SANDERS: Because what "The Arizona Republic" suggests -- and this is what it says. This is important, Wolf. It says, quote, "Dr. Foot's allegation that 40 people died sometimes has been miscast by other media as an assertion that those deaths were attributable to delayed care. Foot said information provided to Congress and the inspector general did not indicate how individuals died." Et cetera.

In other words, before we rush to judgment, you want to know the truth, I want to know the truth. Right now, the inspector general is in Phoenix talking to Dr. Foot, talking to everybody else there. We are going to get to the root of the problem. But apparently now, Dr. Foot is not quite so sure that it was 40 people. Maybe it was 20 people. Maybe it was no people. Maybe it was more. I don't know. You know what, we need an independent investigation to get to the truth of the matter. And once we have that information, I promise you, we will have all the hearings.

The other point I want to make, Wolf, and this is important, you know better than anybody in America how politicized Washington is now. There's some of folks, some of my Republican colleagues who honestly believe ideologically we should end Social Security, we should end Medicare, Medicaid, the postal service. They don't believe the government should do much. Then you have this big V.A. system, 151 medical centers. They don't like that idea. So suddenly, I feel -- not all, I don't want to suggest all -- but some of this is being politicized.

The bottom line here is, where there are problems within the V.A., this huge system, which is dealing with 200,000 people every single day, we're going to get to the root of it. But before we cast --

BLITZER: Senator --

SANDERS: -- let's get the facts.

BLITZER: I couldn't agree with you more. The American Legion is not the Tea Party. It's not the Republican Party. The American Legion, as you well know -- and you have helped more veterans than most other Senators. You're very passionate about this, as am I, as are so many Americans. When the American Legion says they don't have confidence in the secretary any longer, they want him to step down, that's not the Tea Party, that's not the Republican Party.

SANDERS: You're right.


BLITZER: I just ask a simple question, do you still have confidence in Eric Shinseki?

SANDERS: I think based on the five years of work he's done, in transferring, for example, a paper system, in terms of the backlog to a digital system, in terms of several other innovations, yes, I do. If the facts prove me wrong, then I will rethink that. As of this moment, if you're asking me, do I think Shinseki has done a good job, far from a perfect job, far from a perfect job, but has he done a good job, I do. Do I think we should ask for his resignation today before we even have the facts about what went on in Phoenix, no, I don't.

BLITZER: That's why I like interviewing you, Senator, because you don't mince words. You tell us how you feel. You answer the questions. I wish all of our guests would do that.

I want to stay in close touch. I'm very passionate on this subject. I want to make sure we do the best for our veterans. God knows they suffer for all of us. They do important work.

SANDERS: You're right.

BLITZER: They deserve only the best medical care.

SANDERS: Wolf, can I just make one last point?

BLITZER: Go ahead.

SANDERS: Today -- today, the V.A. is going to see 200,000 veterans. If it is -- if they do well by 95 percent of those veterans, a very high number, 10,000 people will be unhappy. But that's true in every medical facility in this country. We're not perfect. The V.A. is not perfect. Let's get to the problems with the V.A. But let's recognize overall they're doing a good job for our veterans.

BLITZER: Senator, thanks very much for joining us. We'll continue this important conversation.

SANDERS: Thank you.

BLITZER: More questions for the families of those missing on Malaysia flight 370. There's now a new report that claims the experts may have been searching in the wrong place all along.


BLITZER: After what seemed like an eternity, the families of those missing on flight 370 want the experts to reanalyze all the information collected so far. Repeat, all the information. Now a new story in "The Atlantis" magazine questions whether the signal sent to the plane from satellites can be trusted. Experts based their search on that information. So have they been looking in the wrong place all along?

Joining us now, the author of that important article, Ari Schulman, the executive editor of "The New Atlantis"; and our aviation analyst Peter Goelz, former managing director of the NTSB.

Ari, in relatively simple terms, you conclude -- and the headline of the article is "Why the Official Explanation of MH370's Demise Doesn't Hold Up." Why do you believe they may, repeat, may be looking totally in the wrong place?

ARI SCHULMAN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE NEW ATLANTIS: Well, the point of the article that I wanted to get across is that the math of the satellite pings is actually somewhat straight forward. Described it as being like a game of Marco Polo played across 22,000 miles of space. You've got the satellites sending these pings to the plane and it's responding. You have basic characteristics of what you expect the responses to look like. One of those, for example, is the plane is stationary on the runway before takeoff. The satellite isn't moving relative to that position. You would expect there to be no what they call Doppler frequency shift. You expect that shift to be zero. If you look at the beginning of the graph they published, it's up about 85 hertz. So what it showed is the plane is moving on the runway. Something is off with that interpretation.

BLITZER: You and the other experts you spoke with, you think they may be looking in the wrong place?

Now, Peter, I know you've read the article not once but twice. Very long article, very technical. What do you think?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I think that this is the absolute -- you know, you can expect this to cap it. Because the Malaysians and Inmarsat have not released all of the data from the beginning. I thought it was a pretty compelling article. The investigation is going to have to respond to it. I spoke to sources at the NTSB. They said they remain confident in the work they've done. But they're going to look at the article, as are the people in Australia. Everything is on the table at this point.

BLITZER: Do you sources at the NTSB think it's possible they may be looking in the wrong place in that southern Indian Ocean, the plane could have gone somewhere else?

GOELZ: They're still confident in the work they've done with the Australians and with the Brits, that they're looking in the right place. Clearly, they haven't found anything. There is no trace of this aircraft. They're open to all suggestions.

BLITZER: They did find what they believe to be four pings from the supposed black box of that jetliner in that area where the -- which coincided with the Inmarsat satellite data. What do you say about that?

SCHULMAN: I think -- I'm not as versed in that technology. But from what I've read, basically those pings should only transmit over a mile or two of ocean --


BLITZER: That's what they did say they transmitted over a mile or two --

SCHULMAN: But they've been outstretched --


BLITZER: -- looking within that radius and they haven't found anything. SCHULMAN: Much larger than that radius. If their technology works, for scanning the ocean floor works, you think they would have found something by now.

BLITZER: That's the most compelling evidence. They haven't found any wreckage at all. Ari is completely right.

GOELZ: That's right.

BLITZER: They did hear those four pings and that's what they're basing their search on.

GOELZ: And there was something odd about those pings. They were not pinging at the right frequency.

BLITZER: They were slightly off.

GOELZ: Slightly off.

BLITZER: But they're arguing that could have been caused by the water the environment, stuff like that.

GOELZ: I've heard arguments both ways, Wolf. So we're not sure. That's what the reassessment is going on right now.

BLITZER: The article is entitled "Why the Official Explanation of MH370's Demise Doesn't Hold Up." The last sentence, "Searchers have yet to find any hard evidence, not so much as a shred of debris, to confirm they're looking in the right ocean."

Ari, thanks very much for writing the article, thanks for coming in.

Peter, thanks to you, as well.


BLITZER: Coming up after the break, international assistance now arriving in Nigeria to help find the nearly 300 kidnapped schoolgirls. Our guest, the Nigerian-born Masai Ujiri, the general manager of the Toronto Raptors of the NBA, he's standing by to join us, live. This situation strikes close to home for him.


BLITZER: A half dozen U.S. military advisers arrived today in Nigeria to help find nearly 300 schoolgirls taken last month by the terror group Boko Haram. Amnesty International claiming it has evidence Nigerian forces had evidence of the impending attack but failed to act. The abducted girls are now believed to be split up into smaller groups and possibly taken out of Nigeria altogether.

One girl who escaped tells what happened. CNN cannot independently verify the video's authenticity, but watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translation): They us to gather around. They said it's nothing. There's nothing that will happen to you. Then we gathered and asked us where was the food and said if we didn't tell them they would kill us.


BLITZER: The plight of the girl certainly hits home for Toronto Raptor's general manager, Masai Ujiri. He was born in northern Nigeria, leaves his native country, loves Africa. He's joining us from Toronto.

Masai, I know this hits very close to home for you. What can we do to bring those girls back?

MASAI UJIRI, GENERAL MANAGER, TORONTO RAPTORS: I think one of the cruxes of the issues, Wolf, is honestly not identifying this thing on time. I think for us to actually accept help from outside is a great step. I think it's an atrocity that we waited this long. And it's -- this thing happened April 14th and it's taken so long to get the needed attention that it has gotten now.

BLITZER: When you see what's going on -- you grew up actually not very far away, correct me if I'm wrong, Masai, and you and I have known each other for a long time. You grew up not that far away from where these kidnappings occurred. What was it like when you heard about it?

UJIRI: I grew up in the area, Wolf, as we've said and we have always talked about, and the terrain is hard there. It's difficult. I think in society, a good percentage of good people and some not so good people. For me, growing up was enjoyable. I was happy. With all of those problems coming, you need to step up and sometimes where they don't know as much and we need to seek help. We call ourselves one of the biggest rising economies. I think we have to step up and take care of all the little things like security, hospitals, roads, and getting into a terrain like that in northern Nigeria, which I know is full of good people. It's unfortunate with this situation, but we need to step up as a government and as a people to go find these girls.

BLITZER: And I assume, Masai, that you welcome the United States, Britain, other countries, including China, now telling the Nigerian government we're ready to help.

UJIRI: Yes. I saw that and I think it's huge. I think the government should really accept this and we should get this thing moving because our borders are loose. Those are things we need to step up on and actually address the situation, some of this militia that is happening over there. With the insertion of these countries coming in for help, I think we need to accept it and move quick.

BLITZER: It's hard for us to understand. And you lived there, grew up there. Boko Haram, this group, they go after these little girls because they're simply getting an education. They don't believe girls should get an education. It's hard for us to grasp the brutality of the concept right now. I wonder if you want to comment on that notion. They go after Christian girls, Muslim girls. They don't care. If a girl is getting an education, they have got to go and grab them and effectively sell them into slavery.

UJIRI: I grew up with Muslims, Wolf. It was unbelievable. They are great and good people. They all went to school and we had a good education in primary school, high school. I grew up in university town. It's tough to see because I grew up around smart, very smart girls, very smart Muslim girls. They deserve -- they really deserve at least an education, an opportunity to go and express themselves. And for me, growing up in my -- in the environment that I grew up, and to see this, I think it's very harsh. We really need to step in.

BLITZER: I know you're a proud son of Africa. We've spend quality time talking about in the NBA in Africa. We'll continue this conversation, Masai, down the road.

Masai Ujiri is the general manager of the Toronto Raptors. Next time we'll talk about what's happening in the NBA, your Raptors and my Washington Wizards. We have got a lot to discuss.

Thanks very much for joining us.

UJIRI: thank you.

BLITZER: Good luck to all of those little girls in Nigeria and their families. We hope they are back with their families very, very soon.

Masai, thank you very much.

Just ahead, the Lewinski scandal was nearly 20 years ago but will it come back to haunt Hillary Clinton if she chooses to run for president in 2016. Political host, political commentator, Michael Smerconish, standing by to join us live.


BLITZER: A lot of people expect the former first lady, former Senator and former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, to make a bid for the White House again in 2014.

Our political commentator, Michael Smerconish, the host of "Smerconish" Saturday mornings here on CNN, is joining us live.

I want to get to your brand-new book, "Talk" in a second. But what do you think? Is it a done deal? And if she does, will the whole Monica Lewinski scandal be a source of serious problem for her? What do you think?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, SMERCONISH & POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: She seems, Wolf, to be going through all those steps that one would go through if one where running, so my expectation is that she gets into this. The net-net of Lewinski reemerging is only positive for Secretary Clinton because it portrays her once again in a very sympathetic light. I can't imagine a voter who looks at this set of circumstances and thinks less of Secretary Clinton. BLITZER: She'll have her own new book coming out next month. I assume she's going to be asked about it. A subject, I also assume, she really doesn't want to discuss.

SMERCONISH: You would think not, but I'm sure to have this re- litigated publically only makes her look victimized, and to the extent that plays a role politically, I guess it's a better thing than a worse thing.

BLITZER: Talk again about "Talk," your new novel just coming out. We'll put a book jacket up on the screen. There it is right there. Tell us about this book.

SMERCONISH: I wanted to write a book about the polarized media world. I'm a strong believer that the instability in Washington that inability to get along in D.C. among elected officials stems from the rise of the polarized media. I initially set out to write it as a work of nonfiction. I thought maybe it will get more notice if I take a few liberties and write it as a work of fiction. There's a lot of truth in jest. It's a bawdy read. I think it tells a very real story. And it has got a serious message, a message of the need for people to take into account their entertainment choices masked as news.

BLITZER: What does "bawdy" mean, from your perspective?

SMERCONISH: "Bawdy" means -- and some of the language might raise your eyebrow. Might make you rub that beard and say, wow, I didn't know he was capable of those thoughts.

BLITZER: You have got a beard, too. You're going to talk bawdy.

The book is entitled "Talk." It's a novel, a good read, and I recommend it to our viewers.

Don't miss "Smerconish." It airs tomorrow morning -- every Saturday morning -- 9:00 a.m. eastern only here on CNN.

Michael, congratulations. Thanks for joining us.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Wolf, for having me.

BLITZER: That's it from me. I'll be back, 5:00 p.m. eastern, in "The Situation Room." I'm Wolf Blitzer, in Washington.

NEWSROOM with Brianna Keilar starts right now.