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Kentucky Senate Showdown; Three Deadly Blasts in Nigeria; Battle for the Republican Party; Veterans Hospital Outrage; Blast Rocks Nigerian City; China Upset over Spying Charges

Aired May 20, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, six states, one of the busiest days in the primary calendar. It all equals high stakes, control of the United States Senate.

Also right now, smoke fills the air and debris litters the streets of Jos, after the Nigerian city is rocked by three deadly blasts. We'll get a live report.

And right now, the man reportedly responsible for the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut may be living in the United States. Not only that, there's a new book that says he may be protected right now by the CIA.

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. Tea Party versus the Republican establishment. High profile showdowns, two Georgia races with some famous political names. Those are just some of the story lines in today's primary elections. We're taking a look at five races from the west to the northeast to the south.

We begin with the Kentucky Senate race. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, facing Tea Party challenger Matt Bevin in the race for the Republican nomination.

Our Chief Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash is joining us from Louisville right now. Dana, McConnell's challenger was well financed, backed by the Tea Party, other conservative groups. But it looks like that certainly might not be enough. What is the sense over there? How are things shaping up?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Senator McConnell certainly appears confident, as does his campaign, about today's contest. They feel like they did what other Senate Republican incumbents didn't do in years past when they were toppled by Tea Party opponents which is attack it early, attack it with a lot of -- a lot of money.

And also, he has had the help of his junior Republican senator, Rand Paul, would signed on with McConnell. And he, of course, is a Tea Party darling. So, the drama, at this point, Wolf, is going to be how much Republican support Mitch McConnell lose and whether or not that is going to affect his chances against the big challenge that he has which is the Democrat in the fall.

BLITZER: Because that's going to be -- assuming McConnell does win today and the assumption is he will win, it's unclear by how much of a margin, he's going to have a major contest on his hands come the general election in November.

BASH: No question about it and he knows that. There has not been a public poll between Mitch McConnell and his likely Democratic opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, that has not shown them within a margin of error. It is going to be his toughest challenge yet. And she is running kind of the classic challenger campaign against somebody who's been in the Senate for 30 years as McConnell has, saying that he is part of the problem, the big problem, with Congress. And I had a chance to ask Mitch McConnell about that yesterday. Listen to this conversation.


BASH: Your likely Democratic opponent says you're exactly what's wrong with Washington. You're the personification of gridlock.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY) MINORITY LEADER: Look, we'll get into the debate in the general election tomorrow. But I think what Kentuckians have to decide is which direction they want the country to take. You know, do we want to go in a different direction or do we want Harry Reid to continue to be the majority leader? Do we want to vote for Barack Obama in a state that he carried four out of 120 counties? That's what's really at stake in the fall election.


BASH: And, Wolf, what's been fascinating in watching McConnell's race and the strategy that he has is it's kind of really antithetical to what you would think for an entrenched incumbent which he is which is he's running on it. He's running on his seniority. He's running on his influence and his experience. Something many of his colleagues ran away from in this Tea Party era. But he is saying, look, this is the big picture here. This is about making sure that Republicans win the Senate. And if they do, he, personally, would be the majority leader and he would be able to combat the Democrat's agenda.

I asked his Democratic opponent, likely Democratic opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, about that and about the sort of big picture strategy that he has against her.


BASH: Mitch McConnell has made it clear that he is not so much running against you, that his Democratic candidate is almost besides the point. He's running against the idea of a Democratic-controlled Senate.

ALISON LUNDERGAN GRIMES (D), KENTUCKY SENATE CANDIDATE: Well, this election, no matter who, you know, Mitch McConnell thinks he's running against, it's going to be about what has occurred on his watch. This election is not a referendum on the president, nothing about this election is going to change who our president is, but we can actually finally change who is in Washington, D.C. and put someone there that fights for the people of this state instead of just looking out for his own job.


BASH: Now, this race is going to be the one to watch for so many reasons, Wolf, obviously, just the personal drama, the story line of a 35-year-old woman who's never been to Washington running against a 72- year-old, 30-year incumbent like Mitch McConnell. And that, obviously ,the basic idea that he is the guy who could, if the Senate is taken by Republicans, be the next majority leader -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, we'll see what happens. First of all, today, they start closing polls during the 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour in parts of Kentucky so we'll start reporting results in "THE SITUATION ROOM" later today. Dana, thanks very much.

So, how does the Kentucky Senate race play into the bigger picture? What are the other key races we're watching? Our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger is here with some answers. Kentucky potentially could affect --


BLITZER: -- the majority in the United States Senate.

BORGER: Yes. I mean, you heard what Dana was saying. I mean, Mitch McConnell was running not only for re-election but he's running to be Senate majority leader. I mean, the Republicans need six seats. His seat is going to be a very close race. If he wins his primary today, we expect him to win his primary.

So, I think what you're going to see in his Senate race down the road is sort of this gauge of anti-Washington sentiment. As Dana says, he's not running away from being senior. He says he can do things for people in the state. He wants to be majority leader. If people really hate Washington and what's going on in Washington, the state of Kentucky, he won't win. But he's not running away from who he is and what he wants to be.

BLITZER: We've seen a major development this election cycle.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: The Republican establishment really going after the Tea Party move. You see it in Kentucky.

BORGER: The empire strikes back.

BLITZER: You see it -- you see it elsewhere. The Republican establishment, they think they have a chance of becoming the majority in the Senate. They don't want these Tea Party guys to get elected.

BORGER: No, here's what happened. Over the last couple of elections, the establishment saw, Republicans saw that they lost about a half dozen seats that they could have won. If they had won those seats, they might be in control.

BLITZER: If a more moderate Republican would have been the nominee.

BORGER: So, this time, you have, for example, on today alone, the chamber of commerce has spent $4 million in races, OK, that you've probably never heard of. Lots of small races and lots of big ones. And they -- what they're trying to do is discount the challengers, number one, as completely unqualified.

And the other reason they're succeeding is because they've adopted some of the Tea Party issues on their own, most notably, being anti- Obamacare, OK? So, the Tea Party issues and their issues are not that -- are not that different. So, they've kind of co-opted the issue set. They've discounted the challengers. And they're saying, you know what? These are the people we need to win control of the Senate. Keep your eye on the ball. Forget about parity.

BLITZER: And we're seeing some -- an interesting phenomena in Georgia right now.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Michelle Nunn, she's the daughter of the --


BLITZER: -- former Senator Sam Nunn. She's running for the Democratic nomination for the Senate --

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: -- in Georgia. And the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, Jason Carter, he's running to be the next governor, if you will, of Georgia.

BORGER: It's funny how that works.

BLITZER: What do you make of these develop -- you know, children, grandchildren?

BORGER: Let's see, the Bushes, maybe the Clintons, maybe the Nunns. You know, look, people in America, we like to say we're for change but we also like political lineage. We like celebrity. These people are people whose names we recognize. In the end, will a lot of the younger voters recall that Jimmy Carter was the governor of Georgia or how he served as the governor of Georgia before he was president of the United States or that senator Sam Nunn was an important senator in the United States Senate? Probably not.

But these candidates are putting their more well-known relatives in their ads because they want to remind people of their family's history of public service. It won't hurt them, and it will help them in one big way, Wolf, and that is raising money. These candidates will have a distinct advantage there.

BLITZER: You're going to be with us throughout the day and night --

BORGER: Yes. BLITZER: -- watching the races. Important day in the world of elections. Thanks very much --


BLITZER: -- for that. And, remember, the polls start closing around the time we're on the air in "THE SITUATION ROOM" during the 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour. We'll have special coverage of the races later tonight, 6:00 p.m. Eastern in "THE SITUATION ROOM" and, of course, throughout the night right here on CNN.

The White House now responding to the growing scandal over long wait times for appointments at veterans' hospitals. The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, saying President Obama first learned of the problems at the Phoenix V.A. hospital from CNN. Our reports revealed efforts to cover up lengthy wait times. Sources say some veterans actually died while waiting to receive critical care.

Let's go to the White House. Our correspondent Michelle Kosinski is standing by. Michelle, the president has not really commented, publicly, on this controversy over the past few weeks. But I'm hearing, and I suppose you are as well, we should be hearing from him about this fairly soon, is that right?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Maybe even today because he was meeting with some business leaders. He did deliver some remarks. We thought maybe he would throw something in there about this scandal that seems to be growing by the day, but this just wasn't the time for it. And the White House has said that we should hear from President Obama soon.

And, lately, it seems he'll come into the briefing room and he'll make some remarks when there is something happy to announce or something that's positive. We saw him giving news about the Affordable Care Act several weeks ago. We saw him announcing sanctions on Russia. But it has been really tough to hear from the top on this matter.

I know CNN has been trying to get an interview with the V.A. secretary, Eric Shinseki, for months, I think. And President Obama has -- you know, the press has been asking to hear from him. And the press secretary, yesterday, was really hammered with questions on this. When are we going to hear from the president? Why hasn't he spoken out on this when this has really ballooned to such proportions? But the answer we got was that soon we would hear from the president on this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And so far, the president is voicing his vote of confidence in the secretary, is that right?

KOSINKSI: Yes, I mean, that's been the White House's line on this. And they list his accomplishments. It's been really tough to get him to say anything otherwise. And we even asked the question a couple of days ago. We said -- well, just when you look at the way that this has all come out, I mean, through the press, and now the administration is saying President Obama only learned of the extent of these allegations when reports came out on CNN. Doesn't that in and of itself indicate a shortfall of leadership on the part of Shinseki at least?

But they wouldn't go so far. They just said, we don't want to pass any judgment right now. And, in fact, when you ask the question repeatedly -- I mean, the question came up multiple times yesterday, asking the administration to just delineate, was Robert Petzel, he's the undersecretary who stepped down last week, was he fired or did he retire because he was set to retire anyway this year? And the administration wouldn't give any clarity on that at all. It's clear they don't want to say he was fired. But they say things like, well, he was someone who had been identified as someone that people who have an interest in this would like to take responsibility for. So, it's kind of a back way of saying it. But what they're really trying to say remains a question -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let us know if the president decides to make a statement. We'll, of course, have live coverage of that. Michelle, thanks very much.

Up next, we're going live to Nigeria where now explosions are rocking busy market areas in a central city. That's coming up.

Also, a parent's anguish. The mother of a kidnapped Nigerian girl is shown video posted by militants.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the first time you've seen this video, yes? You see your daughter here?


BLITZER: Let's go to Nigeria right now where three explosions rocked the city in the central part of the country. The blast happened in the markets in the city of Jos. A journalist at the scene says the first one was massive, leaving people screaming and running. Our Vladimir Duthiers is joining us now from Nigeria's capital of Abuja.

Vlad, tell us about the latest blast. What happened?


We know that this happened in three marketplaces in Jos, which is in central Nigeria. Now not typically a hotbed of militant activity the way we've seen in the past couple of years in northeastern Nigeria. These explosions, dozens of people wounded. Journalists on the ground showing that people were being carted away in wheelbarrows, anything that they could get their hands on to mobilize people, to move them to the hospital. At the hospitals journalists tell us that they couldn't even hear doctors talking because people were screaming so loudly, blood everywhere, bodies being carted into the hospital and -- along with many, many wounded, Wolf.

We have some pictures. Our viewers may be able to see them. But right now we're still getting detailed. And I just received this moment on my e-mail very strong condemnation of those blasts from Nigeria's president, Goodluck Jonathan, Wolf. BLITZER: Yes, it's an awful situation. The other huge story still ongoing in Nigeria, as you and our viewers know, no sign yet of those approximately 200 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by the terror group Boko Haram. You had a chance, you spoke with the mother of one of those girls. She saw the video released by the terrorists. Tell us about that.

DUTHIERS: You know, Wolf, as reporters, we try to sort of stay above it all. We tend to look at stories and try to be as objective and as fair as we can. But in this particular interview, interviewing this mother and looking into her eyes and not only seeing the fear, the terror that something may happen to her daughter, but also the absolute surprise when she saw her daughter in that video. It was -- you sort of get an emotional visceral reaction that is very hard to contain. Take a listen.


DUTHIERS: This is the first time you're seeing this video, yes? Do you see your daughter here?


DUTHIERS: That's her?


DUTHIERS: You think this is your daughter?


DUTHIERS: This is your daughter?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): The told me no. That she fainted on the way to Chibok. The next day I still asked someone and they said yes and the next day I took the bike. I went back again to the school and I asked whether she is here and they said no, she is not here. I went back home and I asked again, she was not there.

DUTHIERS: Describe for us your daughter that was kidnapped. What is she like?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): She is very popular and she is not afraid of anyone or anything. She acts like a man.

DUTHIERS: What is life like in Chibok? What is it like to live with the threat of Boko Haram?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I don't know anything except that life must go on. When we hear "Boko Haram" everyone runs out and sleeps in the bush. It's terrifying. DUTHIERS: Knowing that it's dangerous for girls to go to school because of the danger of Boko Haram, but you believe that your daughter should go to school.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): It's good. Without school, how would I be here? If you people did not go to school, you couldn't be here. School is good.

DUTHIERS: And your daughter was not afraid to go to school?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): She is not afraid to go to school.

DUTHIERS: When she comes back home to you, will you allow her to go to school again?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): When God brings her back, I will still allow her to go to school.

DUTHIERS: If God brings her back to you, she'll go back to school?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): When she comes back, she will go back to school.



DUTHIERS: Wolf, we had to conceal this mother's identity because she is in fear of her life on a daily basis in Chibok and, of course, of that of her daughter. But one thing I can tell you, Wolf, behind the pain and the sorrow in her eyes, she was resolute, she will see her daughter again. And when her daughter comes home, she's going back to school, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's hope that all happens. Vlad Duthiers in Abuja, Nigeria, for us. Thanks very much.

And to our viewers, if you would like to help there girls, there are various ways. Go to our website, There you can find companies that accept donations. It will help you find reputable places to give some money, some of your time. Hopefully these girls will be found.

Up next, China firing back over espionage allegations. I'll speak with our own Christiane Amanpour about the effects of all of this on U.S./China relations.

And later, there's a new report out there that says there's a new danger in the skies. Why taking a flight potentially could make you sick.


BLITZER: One day after being hit with charges linked to industrial espionage, the Chinese government is now fighting back. They've summoned the United States ambassador in Beijing, the former Senator Max Baucus. They're demanding that the charges against five senior Chinese military officers be dropped. Joining us now from London, our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour.

You had a chance to speak, Christiane, with the Chinese ambassador to the United States. What's he telling you?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you can imagine, the line from Beijing is a firm denial. And as you said, demanding that these indictments be withdrawn. The ambassador told me in an exclusive interview that the only way to get over all of this is by dialogue. But, as a condition, as a precondition, they demand that those indictments be withdrawn. That doesn't look like it's going to happen. And he also said that the U.S. has no business telling China where to get off when it comes to cyber spying. Listen to what he said.


CUI TIANKAI, CHINESE AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: You see it's really amazing to see that some people still believe they have the moral high grounds and credibility to accuse others, if we consider the Snowden revelation and so on, so forth. And people still can't (ph) do that. It's a bit incredible.

You know, the fact is, China is a victim to such cyber attacks. There has been persistent and large-scale attacks on China's Internet, on China's government institutions, schools, universities, companies and even individuals. And these attacks originate from the United States.


AMANPOUR: So the line from the ambassador was to counter accuse the United States, as you see. And when I read him the details of the indictment and the specific companies that are alleged to have been targeted by the Chinese and also read him what the FBI director sort of challenged, if you accuse us of fabrication, than come here to Pittsburgh, avail yourself of the criminal justice system and lawyers and a judgment by a jury of 12 people, and we will - we will put up, in other words. And he responded by saying, well, maybe the United States officials should come and be tried in China.

So, there was no give on that whatsoever. But there was a feeling that this has changed the tone of the relationship. That these talks that the U.S. and China used to have in this special joint group that was set up have now stopped and the joint group has been disbanded. And, of course, we're all waiting to see whether there are any further retaliatory measures by China.


BLITZER: I assume there will be some more retaliatory measures by China and that the U.S./China relationship will further deteriorate. That's the assumption here. But what are you picking up?

AMANPOUR: Well, I specifically asked him about that. He said in his diplomatic way that what we do next depends on what the United States does next. And I specifically asked him about what he told me before, that China could not afford to have a bad relationship with the world's greatest power. He said that it is in our interest, and this is when I interviewed him months ago, to have a stable and healthy relationship. So I said, does that still hold? And he said, well, it is very, very difficult now.

So you're right, the relationship is going through a very, very intense period right now and not clear how this particular issue is going to be resolved. And at the same time, Wolf, the Chinese are hosting Vladimir Putin, who, as you know, is a major thorn in the side of the U.S. administration. Hosting him to a very lavish and showy state visit right now at the moment.

BLITZER: Yes, it's interesting that there's a real serious deterioration not only in U.S./China relations, at least potentially, but U.S./Russia relations right now as well. A lot to understand on both of those fronts. Lots at stake.

Christiane, thanks very much.

After a war of words earlier this week, the Malaysian government and a satellite company now say they're ready to release data from Flight 370. Our panel will tell us if any secrets could be revealed.

Later, as violence spreads in Libya, the U.S. puts together a new plan. They put this plan in place to try to get Americans out on short notice, if necessary.