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Wildfires in Texas; Donald Sterling Breaks Silence; Will Nigerian Government Negotiate?; Sterling: "I Was Baited"; Is Ukrainian Secession Vote Valid?

Aired May 12, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: From the frying panhandle into the fire. Crews are racing to stop the flames in Texas.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead, 100 homes destroyed, thousands of Texans forced to flee, all this destruction in just 24 hours. How much more damage will be done before this wildfire is contained?

The world lead. Finally, a supposed glimpse of some of those kidnapped girls in Nigeria, terrorist captors releasing video and offering to trade them back for something of a heavy price. Will the Nigerian government submit?

And the sports lead.


DONALD STERLING, OWNER, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: Well, yes, I was baited. That's not the way I talk.


TAPPER: Donald Sterling sits down exclusively with CNN's Anderson Cooper. He asks to be forgiven for racist statements he was caught making on tape, but he's also claiming he was set up.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We will begin with the national lead. A whole city in Texas is in danger of turning to ash. Already, about two full square miles have been scorched in the area of Fritch, Texas, about a half-mile north of -- half-hour north of Amarillo and the bone-dry Texas Panhandle.

The wildfire has destroyed at least 100 homes in the area so far and forced more than 2,000 people to drop everything and flee, run for their lives. Strong winds have spread the flames with incredible speed, all of this destruction in the span of just about one day.

Our own Ed Lavandera is standing by near the scene in Fritch, Texas.

Ed, you have met some of those displaced by this wildfire. What have they told you? ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There have been several shelters set up with all of the people that had to be quickly evacuated last night, Jake.

And one of those witnesses was a woman who described it as a tornado of fire that approached her house. At about 6:00 last night, they had very little warning, almost no time to grab up any kind of belongings. The woman had four children. She grabbed her four kids and they left.

Just a little while ago, she had gotten word that her home made it intact, did not burn down, but her father-in-law's house next door to her did burn down. So, what we're hearing from people repeatedly, Jake, is that this was incredibly quick-moving, not a lot of time to react at all, much less be able to gather any kind of special belongings or personal belongings to get out of there. It was a very dangerous situation, to say the least.

TAPPER: Ed, describe the destruction that you have seen out there.

LAVANDERA: Jake, it's really difficult to get to. A lot of this terrain is rolling, rocky hills, very dry.

It's actually much chillier out here than you would expect to kind of see, and a lot of the roads have been cordoned off and emergency crews aren't letting in. But we have managed to get around to some of the areas, and we saw some of those structures. And you could just basically tell how quickly the burn patches go through the terrain as the wind pushed it.

And so, as the winds shift, the smoldering that you see on the ground also shifts very quickly. So, that's what we saw out there, although I don't think we have been able to get to where the hardest-hit areas have been so far.

TAPPER: All right, Ed Lavandera, thank you so much. Stay safe, my friend.

In other national news, there's no vaccine for it, no special treatment for it even. A killer viral illness, one that has claimed 145 lives across 17 countries so far, has now appeared in the United States for the second time. First was in Indiana, now in Florida.

It's called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS. It may not have the recognition yet of SARS or swine flu or even monkeypox, but give it time.

I want to bring in our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen.

Elizabeth, what are the symptoms of MERS and what is the risk to Americans?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: The symptoms actually start out as symptoms that are very common to a lot of illnesses, like a cough or chills or a fever.

But then it can progress and when it gets bad, it gets bad quickly. Jake, the mortality rate for this illness is 30 percent. That is very high. That's the bad news.

The good news, you asked, should we be worried? If I was the wife of one of these patients, the husband of one of these patients, I would be worried. If I was their doctor or nurse, I would be worried.

But this disease does not spread easily. So, basically, if you're sort of not part of that inner circle, you really do not have a high chance of getting this illness.

TAPPER: Well, that's good to know, because this Florida patient, we have been told, flew on four different flights. You're saying that those passengers should not necessarily be worried. Is that right?

COHEN: You know, the CDC says that out of an abundance of caution they are going to contact folks who were on these flights.

So this passenger went from Jeddah to London, to Boston, to Orlando, Florida. So, that's a lot of people. The CDC is trying to contact more than 500 people who were just on the domestic flights alone. But they can't really say whether this disease spreads easily in a plane situation.

They just don't know because it's so new. But, really, what they have seen is they have seen it spread when it people living together day after day or people who are in a hospital setting together day after day.

TAPPER: And, Elizabeth, do we know of any possible connection yet between the Indiana case and the Florida case?

COHEN: You know, there doesn't seem to be a connection. It seems to be that these were two health care workers working in Saudi Arabia. One flew to Indiana. Another flew to visit family in Orlando. There doesn't necessarily seem to be a connection.

TAPPER: Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much.

Turning now to some good news, at least if you're a stock broker -- the money lead, the Dow kicked off Monday's trading day with a record high, jumping 100 points, as investors showed some love for stocks that had been in recent slides and they cheered on some corporate deal-making.

Joining me now from the New York Stock Exchange, CNN business correspondent Alison Kosik.

Alison Kosik, good to see you, as always. The day started off well. How did it finish?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The bulls took off running and they didn't look back, the Dow recording its third record close of the year, Jake.

And not to be outdone, the S&P 500 had its ninth record close of the year. The bulls look like they got a boost from M&A activity, including Hillshire's deal to buy Pinnacle Foods for $6.6 billion, Pfizer's continued push to acquire AstraZeneca. That helped the green arrows today as well.

And the reason why is because sees deals like this as a big plus because they are a big sign of conference -- confidence in corporate America. But you know what? Don't be surprised if you see caution suddenly kick in because we're on the cusp of traditionally the worst season for stocks.

I'm talking about summertime. You know the old adage, sell in May and go away? That could happen, because in the past 50 years, the S&P 500 gained only 1.3 percent from May to October. Compare that to the average gain of 7 percent the rest of the year. But, for now, it looks like investors, Jake, are focusing on the positive -- Jake.

TAPPER: Alison, you and I talk a lot about how, while the stock market continues to go up and up, average Americans are not seeing the impact when they look at their checking accounts. But there might be some good news on that front today.

KOSIK: We can only hope.

What economists are saying lately, Jake, is that this year, this could be your year for your paycheck to get bigger, because the thinking is that as the unemployment rate falls, the pool of prospective workers is going to get smaller. That's going to wind up pushing employers to give fatter raises.

This is coming from a "USA Today" survey of 40 economist. And some say these increases will start to push around 3 percent. But that's only after wages, they haven't really budged for a while. Look at this. Over the past month, average hourly earnings rose less than 2 percent. That's not a lot. And it's been stuck in that range since 2009. So, it's really just been not going anywhere.

Part of the problem with this is that many jobs that had been available have been low-wage jobs. Economists are also saying, as we see the economy pick up steam, so will pay hikes. We can only hope -- Jake.

TAPPER: We can only hope. Alison Kosik at the New York Stock Exchange, thanks, as always.

Coming up, two CNN exclusives. He says he's sorry, but he also claims he's a victim, the "apology" -- quote, unquote -- from Donald Sterling, one you have to hear for yourself.

And the school where 276 girls were kidnapped in Nigeria, CNN is the first to take you there to hear the terrifying firsthand account from one girl who got away.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Sports lead now. It was supposed to be quick, clean, final, like ripping off a Band-Aid. Adam Silver, the head of the NBA, dropped the guillotine on Donald Sterling's professional basketball life.

But nothing is ever that simple in Hollywood. And now that two weeks have passed since Sterling's banishment from the league, Sterling sounds like he's holding out hope for a second act.

In his first interview since being forced into basketball exile, the disgraced owner sat down with our own Anderson Cooper and said that he is banking on another shot.


DONALD STERLING, OWNER, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: The people that are going to decide my fate, I think, are not the media and not the players union, but the NBA.


STERLING: Pardon me?

COOPER: The owners?

STERLING: The owners. If the owners feel I deserve another chance, then they'll give it to me.


TAPPER: For their part, the league office says Sterling has no legal standing.

So is the team's sale a foregone conclusion or are we looking at round one of the heavyweight legal battle?

Let's bring in our own Anderson Cooper.

Anderson, congratulations on the get.

The part of the interview I found most intriguing was when Sterling not only insisted that he's not a racist, he's never been a racist, but he acted like he was almost blameless in all this and that V. Stiviano set him up. Take a listen.


STERLING: They are Clippers. And they are mine and I am theirs. That's how I feel. I would do anything for them.

I made a mistake. I hope it's in their heart to forgive me for that mistake. I don't know why the girl had me say those things.

COOPER: You are saying you were set up?

STERLING: Well, yes. I was baited. I mean, that's not the way I talk.


TAPPER: "I was baited."

Anderson, what does that mean? How was he baited?

COOPER: Well, he insists he did not know he was being recorded, that he thought this was a private conversation, and that he feels she was sort of leading him, bringing up these topics, repeatedly coming back to them, and saying, even if he said he didn't want to talk about it anymore, she would continue to bring it up so, he would continue to talk about it.

That being said, he does repeatedly apologize. It's going to be up to the viewers whether or not they believe it's a sincere apology or whether they believe he's sorry for being caught. There certainly is obviously a history with things he's been alleged to have said by others that are sort of echoed in these comments that were caught on tape, which is why I think this story has continued and gotten so much traction.

TAPPER: And, Anderson, what impression did you get of his relationship with Ms. Stiviano? Is she his girlfriend? Was he trying to make her his girlfriend? What -- what is the deal?

COOPER: My impression is certainly he would have liked her to be his girlfriend or liked to have had some sort of an intimate relationship. When I asked him point black, he would not, you know, talk about what exactly had happened. But clearly, he had an interest in her. You know, she has made public claims that she was his right hand, his protector, his silly rabbit, I believe was her phrase.

Also, her lawyer at one point said she was also his archivist. He said to me he doesn't know what an archivist is, nor does he need one, and she certainly wasn't that.

So, you know, he certainly believes that she betrayed him. He does not trust her any longer. Although, interestingly, Jake, you know, I first met with him for the first and only other time, one when I did the interview, about a week and a half ago, and he was actually with V. Stiviano at that time.

Clearly, since then, he says they have not been together. That was the last time he saw her and he feels a sense of betrayal, obviously. He'll talk a lot more about that tonight.

TAPPER: Sterling's estranged wife, Shelly, she told ABC she has no intent to sell her share of the team. Clippers say they will not play for either Sterling. Is it your impression that he wants to fight this out?

COOPER: I don't think Donald Sterling -- in fact, I know Donald Sterling does not believe that about the Clippers not playing if he continues to be the owner. He talks about that extensively tonight and that's going to be very surprising to a lot of people, what his perception is.

You know, he's very careful about saying -- about whether or not he will actually fight this legally. I think he doesn't want to send a message to the owners before the owners actually vote. We go round and round on this tonight in the interview. We spent a lot of time on exactly what happens now.

But it's very clear he believes there is a path forward and Donald Sterling wants to remain, you know, involved with the clippers in whatever capacity he can. He believes there are deals to be done, that only he can really do and that there's a life for Donald Sterling as owner of the Clippers moving forward.

TAPPER: Sterling's estranged wife Shelly also said, Anderson, that she thinks her husband is suffering from the onset of dementia. You spent a great deal of time with him twice. How did he seem to you? Did he have all of his faculties?

COOPER: Look, certainly, you know, to know onset dementia, you need to know somebody well and be able to, you know, know what they have always been like and what they're like now. I certainly had no concerns about his ability to conduct an interview. I certainly had no concerns about his ability to conduct a conversation.

He's a very sharp guy and can be very charming. He's charming to a lot of the women around him, you know, very cordial. He certainly seems aware of the situation he is in. He's certainly aware of the situation he was in.

And he had come into the interview with definite ideas of what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it and was open to answering any questions I had. And we went on for more than an hour in a very free-changing interview. There were not any ground rules. There was not an elaborate media team behind him propping him up in any way.

As you know, sometimes we go to these interviews with a high-profile figure and you have a lawyer present and a media strategist. There was none of that. He had two friends over, a man and a woman, and it was him in his home.

TAPPER: In fact, perhaps he could have used a media strategist because he made some comments about Magic Johnson. Let's play a little bit of that from Anderson's exclusive interview with the embattled Clippers owner Donald Sterling.


DONALD STERLING, CLIPPERS OWNER: Has he done everything he can do to help minorities? I don't think so. I just don't think that he's a good example for the children of Los Angeles.


TAPPER: Now, I know, if people want to find out what exactly Donald Sterling meant by that, they will have to tune in tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern and watch your special.

But how did, Anderson, how did Magic Johnson come up?

COOPER: Yes. Well, I initially mentioned Magic Johnson because he was on the original tape that V. Stiviano and Donald Sterling talking. She had been photographed with Magic Johnson. She put it on her Instagram. He had complaints about that, concerns about that. He said, you know, don't bring them to the games, why do you have to be photographed and put it on your Instagram? So, that's how it initially came up.

He also had said that Magic Johnson has called him twice since the whole situation has broken. He clearly has some impressions of those phone conversations and you'll hear more about that tonight that Donald Sterling is not happy with and, you know, clearly has some very strong things to say, some things that will be deeply offensive to a lot of people, not just to Magic Johnson but to all of those who love Magic Johnson, which is about everybody one can talk to who knows him certainly, and knows of him.

And I think that's one of the things a lot of people will be shocked about tonight that he has to say. I mean, he really seems to repeatedly talk about Magic Johnson in a way that I found surprising, very surprising.

TAPPER: Not exactly the best media plan, but I look forward to the interview tonight. Anderson has an exclusive interview with embattled L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling. It's his first since being banned from basketball for this rambling racist reportings.

Make sure to watch "AC360" tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Thank you so much, Anderson.

Coming up, in world, asked the separatists and it was a landslide. Asked the rest of Ukraine, the numbers don't add up. The latest on a controversial referendum in Ukraine.

And in politics, the president himself says Democrats don't vote in midterms. And with the midterms looming, a new poll has some in the party worried that the president may end up being right.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In the world lead, some new CNN polling casts doubt on the eagerness of the people of eastern Ukraine to join the Russian Federation. Only 37 percent of people surveyed in three major eastern Ukrainian regions favor an alliance with Vladimir Putin.

So, is it possible -- and I'm just throwing this out there -- that pro-Russia separatists may have been exaggerating when they claimed 90 percent of people in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region voted in favor of seceding.

Our Atika Shubert was in the area for the referendum vote.

Atika, it seems to many that this voted had a foregone conclusion.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, I don't anyone is surprise by these official results from the referendum. Nearly 90 percent in favor of independence, but they are certainly a lot of people questioning the validity of the referendum.

We were at a polling station yesterday where we saw numerous examples of voting regularities, several of them were caught on camera -- people voting twice, or putting multiple ballots, you know? So, a lot of people asking whether or not it even matters, these kinds of numbers.

Kiev is saying that they reject the referendum, they reject the results, but the Donetsk People's Republic has used it to declare officially independence from Ukraine and appeal to Russia to become a part of the Russian Federation. So they are clearly looking to Moscow for an answer.

In the meantime, Kiev says the only way forward is through a general election on May 25th. And that's something that the pro-Russian Donetsk People's Republic says it will not participate in.

So, in the meantime, a growing standoff here on the streets of eastern Ukraine. People are worried that there could be even more violence and lawlessness as they move forward to that election date -- Jake.

TAPPER: Atika Shubert, thank you so much.

Coming up in the world, they took hundreds of girls hostage. Now, they want to negotiate. But should the Nigerian government play ball with terrorists? A dangerous situation in that African nation. That's coming up.