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V.A. Cover-up; Sterling Cover-up; Donald Sterling Controversy Continues; Mayor Says Bullying Victims Need to "Grow a Pair"

Aired May 21, 2014 - 12:00   ET


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: That's it for us today. Thanks so much for joining us AT THIS HOUR. He's John Berman. I'm Michaela Pereira. "Legal View" starts right now.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: After years of deadly delays at veterans hospitals, a new sense of urgency at the White House today. The president himself now promising accountability and punishment. And he's deploying a top aide to investigate the cover-ups at the V.A. hospital first exposed in a CNN exclusive investigation.

And also this hour, just when we thought we'd heard it all in the Donald Sterling scandal, allegations of destroying and falsifying evidence now surface. Did he really urge his girlfriend to (INAUDIBLE) doctored that recording of his racist rant? You'll find out.

And then more fighting words from the "grow a pair" mayor, defending his controversial advice for bullying victims. Here what he just told CNN just ahead.

Hello, everyone, I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It is Wednesday, May 21st. And welcome to LEGAL VIEW. President Obama made two things crystal clear at the White House last hour. He means to punish anywhere found doctoring the waiting lists at veterans hospitals and, at least for now, he says he plans to keep his secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, in his job. Here is just a small sampling of the president's statement.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful and I will not tolerate it, period. Here's what I discussed with Secretary Shinseki this morning. First, anybody found to have manipulated order falsified records at V.A. facilities has to be held accountable. The inspector general at the V.A. has launched investigations into the Phoenix V.A. and other facilities. And some individuals have already been put on administrative leave. I know that people are angry and want swift reckoning. I sympathize with that. But we have to let the investigators do their job and get to the bottom of what happened.


BANFIELD: Joining me now with much more on all of this are my CNN colleagues Drew Griffin who blew the lid off of this secret V.A. wait list, White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski, and senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Drew, first to you. I watched you in real time as you reacted just after the president left the podium. And I can only assume that this was not exactly what you were expecting to hear.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: now that I've thought about it a little bit, it seems what this president and this administration is trying to do, Ashleigh, is contain this crisis in Phoenix with a wait list and hidden lists and kind of try to micromanage this out of Phoenix. The problem is, the president said he won't stand for this. Out here in the real world, the perception is he has been standing for it for five years.

These problems have existed. Veterans have died waiting for care. That is a known fact. Not in Phoenix, where that's still being investigated, but around the rest of the country. We know that these delays in care exist. We know there are major problems in the V.A.

And what I think a lot of veterans looking for guidance, looking for help heard today from the president is, hold on, we're going to do some more investigating, even though we've already investigated this and we know it's a problem for 10, 15 years, and then we're going to get to the bottom of it and we're going to take action. That is not the kind of action many of the veterans that I've been talking to, and especially the whistle-blowers I've been talking to, wanted to hear. This is a problem that needs to be fixed, not studied.

BANFIELD: Well, and it's definitely, Drew, after your remarkable reporting, has become a very big political problem as well.

I want to bring in Michelle Kosinski on that angle of the story.

You know, you're at the White House every day and it's rare that the president himself comes out into the Briefing Room, but clearly this is important. This has become very ugly. We're already looking at a tweet that's come out from John McCain. He tweeted out, quote, "glad he finally spoke, but remarks totally insufficient." So, Michelle Kosinski, can you read into the fact that the president came out by himself, not with the person who's going to run this show and run these investigations, and not with the person who's at the center of the hot seat, Eric Shinseki himself?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, I think he didn't want Eric Shinseki necessarily to be this lightning rod. But this is tough to ignore. I mean he's at the head of this administration and these problems were known. It would be one thing if this was some widespread cover-up at some middle level of the large bureaucracy that is the V.A. and things only started to trickle out and really no one knew about them.

But this becomes very difficult to explain when over the course of many years these kinds of very specific problems were spelled out by the V.A. itself. I mean, you could explain, and the White House has tried to explain by saying, look, we have tried to reduce wait times. There's been some discrepancy between which wait times were really reduced. And the White House has really relied on its explanation that we've poured money into the V.A., unprecedented funding, and we've expanded services for veterans.

So, yes, there were problems that everybody knew about before. But, of course, they're only going to get bigger when more veterans come into the system and we've expanded services. The thing is, when you're at the head of this organization, as Shinseki is, aren't those specific known problems that could have devastating consequences the ones that you're going to make sure don't balloon? And they did balloon. So the president is talking about accountability and heads will roll, without using those words.


KOSINSKI: He seemed to make this an opportunity for him because there have been multiple calls every day in the Briefing Room for the president to come out and speak about this. It has been one month since this story broke. So I think that he wants -

BANFIELD: And now he's been there. And what's critical here is he said, Michelle, ultimately, as commander in chief, I - I am responsible.

However, I want to bring in Jeffrey Toobin on this issue. I like to always look for the defense in certain issues. He certainly did lay it out. He said there are 85 million appointments made every year within the Veterans Administration. He also said that this is a compounding problem because we've been at war for a decade and many of our existing veterans are also aging and therefore needing more care.

Ultimately, is this any defense, given what Drew has been able to very clearly lay out, is there anything that could be considered criminal here? Are there any laws that are broken? Is there any recourse for those people who have been so badly affected?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the -- you have to draw a distinction here between an overwhelmed bureaucracy, which simply can't treat everyone who needs treatment, which is a big problem, but it's not a criminal problem. That is not something the criminal law is designed to address. If, on the other hand, you have individuals who have falsified documents, who have put incorrect information intentionally into the system, filed false reports, that is potentially criminal. Those two are very different and they call for different kinds of solutions. Fixing the system won't prosecute the guilty and prosecuting the guilty won't fix the system.

BANFIELD: Won't fix the system.

TOOBIN: But both of them may need to be done.

BANFIELD: And I think there's a lot more that lies ahead. The president himself said, I want the facts before I can really go ahead of the facts. And ultimately, as Drew Griffin so aptly put, we have so many facts already.

Drew, you've been absolutely remarkable on this story. And the fruits of your work have borne out today, seeing that the president came out to address this, you know, this group of reporters specifically on this issue. Congratulations to you and your CNN team that's done this. Michelle Kosinski, thank you for you as well adding to this, and Jeffrey Toobin, as always, your thoughts and your perspectives are valuable, very valuable. Thank you.

I want to take you to our other top story that's develop, the saga of NBA owner Donald Sterling. Every day, something new. Now, new allegations coming to light of an attempted cover-up of his racist comments that were caught on tape and leaked to the media. We're going to dig in exactly as to what he's accused of doing and how he's trying to get out of trouble and how that man right there is having no part of any of it, except the part of getting rid of him. That's next.


BANFIELD: I'll read the quote, you name the speaker. "It's a terrible mistake and I'll never do it again." It's an easy one, right, Donald Sterling in the CNN interview that many now consider a master class in how not to defuse a scandal. But weeks before he sat down with my colleague, Anderson Cooper, the L.A. Clippers owner allegedly took a very different tact on those racist remarks to his gal pal V. Stiviano. The "Los Angeles Times" got a hold of the NBA dossier that lead to the charges that were presented to Sterling on Monday and to which he's supposed to formally respond to by May 27th, next Tuesday.

Reportedly the league claims Sterling asked Stiviano to say that he wasn't the one on the taped conversation that was leaked to TMZ. Basically asking her to lie. Further, the league claims that Donald and his wife of 58 years, Shelly, quote, "are not in any sense estranged." Allegedly, Shelly Sterling, who's' fighting to keep her half of the Clippers, helped to draft a, quote, "false and misleading press statement," when the scandal broke. These are the allegations from the NBA.

The league is also claiming that the team's president, who just so happens to now be on indefinite leave, told one of the employees to delete an audio file of the Sterling/Stiviano conversation. And while you're at it, maybe you should delete some of those related text messages too.

And so I turn to my very clever, very accomplished attorneys. Defense attorney and HLN legal analyst Joey Jackson and CNN commentator and defense attorney Mel Robbins.

So, Mel, first to you. None of this is good news, as if there has been any along the way for Donald Sterling.

MEL ROBBINS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, it's good news for us because it's a fantastic story that just keeping getting better. But for him, what do they say, it's not the crime, it's the cover up. Ironically, it's actually the behavior that happened after the tapes were released that almost are going to sink him even further than the tape itself.

BANFIELD: That's a great point.

And, Joey, we heard Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban say, hey, look, this is a slippery slope. If you start indicting people -- and I'm using the term indicting within the NBA -

ROBBINS: Right. Right.


BANFIELD: Not within the criminal (INAUDIBLE) here.

JACKSON: Not the criminal indictment.

BANFIELD: Right. He's no criminal, let's be clear. If you start, you know, taking to task and taking teams away from people who have private conversations with their lovers or their wives or their children or whomever else, then he went and sat down very publicly on the TV with CNN's Anderson Cooper.

JACKSON: Oh, yes. Oh, yes, he did.

BANFIELD: And that matters. He said some very, very bad things.

JACKSON: It matters in a number of ways. First of all, it takes away from the issue, right, because the argument was, it's a private conversation. So as a result of that, why should we be penalizing him for things he's done privately. But what did he do, Ashleigh and Mel, he went now to Anderson Cooper and he restated the disparaging, despicable and ridiculous things that he did the first time. And so it changed the conversation and it otherwise confirmed what he said in a racist way privately. And so therefore it becomes a problem.

BANFIELD: Do you - do you want to hear those comments? Do you want to hear those comments again, because I got them ready to hear?

ROBBINS: Absolutely.

JACKSON: You've got them ready?

BANFIELD: Just in case anyone's wondering if in the conduct of official business, which going on the television as a team owner -



BANFIELD: Would (ph) be considered being, he might have said anything that disparages the league or had an adverse effect on the league.

JACKSON: You've got the videotape.

BANFIELD: Let's have a look and we'll go to the tape. I feel like a sportscaster.


DONALD STERLING, OWNER, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: That's one problem I have. Jews, when they get successful, they will help their people. And some of the African-Americans -- maybe I'll get in trouble again -- they don't want to help anybody. Big Magic Johnson, what has he done?

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, CNN'S "AC 360": Well, he has -- he's a business person. He --

STERLING: He's got AIDS. Did he do any business -- I'd like -- did he help anybody in south L.A.?

COOPER: Well, I think he has HIV. He doesn't actually have full-blown AIDS but -

STERLING: Well, what kind of guy goes to every city, has sex with every girl, then he catches HIV and -- is that someone we want to respect and tell our kids about? I think he should be ashamed of himself.


BANFIELD: I just happened to be reading through Article 13-D of the constitution that says, "failure to refuse or fulfill its contractual obligations to the association, members, players or any third party in such a way as to affect the association or its members adversely."

JACKSON: Should have been a judge. I told you, Ashleigh, you have it. You've got it.

ROBBINS: There's still time.

BANFIELD: I get too angry.

ROBBINS: That's good.

BANFIELD: I can't do that. I don't have the temperament.

ROBBINS: I actually think you have the perfect temperament.

JACKSON: Yes, you do.

The bottom line here, I thought, Mel, that the whole purpose of him talking to Anderson Cooper, right, was to be contrite, to apologize, to explain himself, not otherwise re-embroil himself and reconfirm what we knew from the beginning.

What did this have to do with Magic Johnson, right? What did it have to do with him making further disparaging remarks about anyone else?

And, finally, as to his wife, I think she's in a lot of trouble too, with regard to her stake in ownership, because she may have been complicit in covering this thing up.

BANFIELD: If she helped to draft that comment and that comment was, in fact, misleading or false, then, yeah, I think you've got a really good point.

But, by the way, that they don't seem to worry about V. Stiviano's comments anymore because they have public comments made in the course of business, because when you're public and you're a leader and you go on the TV, that is in the course of business.

Call me crazy. Again, he didn't have any guidance, it seems, before that interview. I have to call it there, but don't go away.

ROBBINS: We're going to call you Judge from now on.

JACKSON: You don't need guidance, Ashleigh. You tell it how it is. Mel, you don't need guidance, right?

ROBBINS: You, on the other hand, Joey --

JACKSON: I need a lot of guidance.

BANFIELD: I need someone to get me off the ledge on a regular basis, and that's why you all are here.

But this next segment is one that's sort of perfect for that whole notion. A distraught mother posts a video of her crying 8-year-old daughter to draw attention to the pain that's caused by bullying, something we're all becoming very familiar with.

But this mayor of a California town decided to respond in a public meeting, saying that victims of bullying need to, quote, "grow a pair." Wonder how a little girl can do that? But, anyway, he's defending his remark now.

You're going to hear how he defends it to CNN in just a moment.


BANFIELD: The mayor of a California town says he's sick of hearing about people getting bullied, but the words he used are not sitting well with some people in his town.

We're talking about Mayor Cameron Hamilton. That's him. His advice for people being bullied, and we're talking about kids here, as well? "Grow a pair," and that's his quote. Members of the city council reminded him they were discussing students and children at the time. The mayor was on CNN earlier today to clarify what he said.


MAYOR CAMERON HAMILTON, PORTERVILLE, CALIFORNIA: What I said was people have to speak up for themselves, didn't use the word youngsters. I didn't use the word 10-year-old girls. So I'm just saying that in today's world, we've gotten to the point where we don't take any accountability for ourselves or for those that are around us, our friends, or for what we're doing in our schools.


BANFIELD: Again, those are words from Mayor Hamilton to CNN.

And our Sara Sidner went to Porterville, California and met with this mayor, a mayor who's worried that we're creating a generation of whiners. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The sobs of an 8- year-old girl in Minnesota as she explains to her mom what it feels like to be bullied.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It makes me feel sad.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I don't like it.

SIDNER: Her mother, frustrated with the school's response, posts the video online to show the pain bullying causes children. Almost 2,000 miles away, the mayor of Porterville, California, says he is all too familiar with the problem.

HAMILTON: I think it's a huge deal these days. I was bullied as a child. My event started in the seventh grade with a guy that kept pulling a knife on me.

SIDNER: That may come as a surprise to those who were outraged over his comments at a meeting discussing safety zones for bullied children.

HAMILTON: I'm against bullying, but I'm getting damn tired of it being used as a mantra for everything that ills the world when all most people have to do is grow a pair.

VIRGINIA GURROLA, CITY COUNCIL MEMBER: It is hard to stand up and grow a pair when you're maybe a 10-year-old little girl.

HAMILTON: Then maybe the other 10-year-olds that think that they want to stop bullying will stand up for her.

SIDNER: Did you mean to sound sort of insensitive and even sexist with this comment?

HAMILTON: I don't think so. I think it was just something I was thinking about. I'd read a book a while back called "Grow A Pair," and it was in the back of my mind. And when I'm thinking, they want government to solve every issue that there is, and so I said, they need to grow a pair. In other words, be responsible for yourself. Be responsible for your friends. And it kind of went viral.

SIDNER: He worried about whether we're creating a generation of whiners.

HAMILTON: I think the people that actually stand up are getting punished for standing up. And we've seen it time and again.

SIMONE BIENNE, HUMAN BEHAVIORIST: I would like to say that the mayor is actually coming off as a bully.

SIDNER: Human behaviorist and therapist Simone Bienne doesn't think Americans are coddling their children.

BIENNE: If we put responsibility on children to do an adult's job or to do a politician's job or to do a teacher's job, then what we're basically doing is we're asking children -- children -- to be adults.

SIDNER: As for the mayor of Porterville, he took care of his own childhood bully what some might call the old-fashioned way.

HAMILTON: Finally, it came to a head, dropped him like a rag doll, everything was cool again.

SIDNER: He says he does not advocate violence but in this instance, it seemed to work for him.

Sara Sidner, CNN, Los Angeles.


BANFIELD: That's a good point that he brings up. The headline is big and makes him look like a bully, but he also added that maybe it's those older kids that need to grow a pair and stand up against bullying.

Good point, I don't know whether he was doing damage control or whether he believes it, but it is a great point, nonetheless.

There's a new law that just went into effect that's supposed to give dying patients access to experimental drugs for treatment. The law is called the "Right to Try" law. And in Colorado, they just enacted it.

But -- but -- is it going to give terminally ill patients easier access to treatment? You might be very surprised at how many roadblocks exist after you get the law on your side.

That's coming, next.


BANFIELD: For dying patients, it is a last-chance lifeline, and the state of Colorado is handing it out. That state just passed a bill giving terminally ill patients much faster access to experimental drugs.

The drugs are not approved by the FDA, but Colorado's eliminating a heck of a lot of the paperwork that requires them -- or that they're required to do, to actually get their hands on the drugs.

The governor, John Hickenlooper, signed the bill, and it is called the "Right to Try" law, though some refer to it as the "Dallas Buyers' Club" law, which is named after the movie about HIV patients smuggling in illegal drugs from abroad.