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Obama Says Misconduct in V.A. Scandal Will Be Punished; Pelosi Appoints Democrats to Benghazi Select Committee; New Information Emerges in NBA's Case Against Sterling; Prince Charles Talks Politics

Aired May 21, 2014 - 13:30   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: As you heard earlier, President Obama talked about allegations against the Veterans Administrations, specifically extreme wait times for some veterans trying to get care. In his remarks, the president said if the allegations are true, he will not tolerate it. He also said any evidence of misconduct will be punished.

Let's bring in two of the hosts of CNN's "Crossfire," Van Jones, and former House speaker, Newt Gingrich.

Guys, thanks for joining us.

The president is holding out hope Shinseki can get the job done. Do you have confidence?

NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST, CROSSFIRE & FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: No, I think it's almost silly. Obama himself campaigned on the veteran scandals in 2008. Shinseki's had five years to fix it. We have an interactive map at Gingrich Productions that has 34 different sites, most of them based, by the way, on CNN investigations. All over the country, there are problems. They need -- they both need a new leader but they also need really big systems changes, which means Congress is going to have to do its share to really change the law. I mean, there's some really destructive regulations.

BLITZER: The president's keeping Shinseki on the job. Every time he said that, he added the word "but," meaning he's waiting for the audit, waiting for the inspector general report. Let's see what happens.

It wasn't exactly a ringing vote of confidence and what struck me also, Van -- you used to work in the White House -- why wasn't Shinseki standing next to the president? Why wasn't Robin Nabors, his deputy chief of staff, appointed to help deal with this, why weren't they standing behind him?

VAN JONES, CO-HOST, CROSSFIRE: Are these rhetorical questions?

BLITZER: No, I'm asking you.

JONES: I would say this. If I were Shinseki, I would use the time during the investigation to get my resume in very good shape. That was not a ringing endorsement. He was not there. If he had been there, that would have been a certain sign. Obama was doing everything he can to signal we're going through a process and this guy's going to be out of here. I think that Obama is shaken by this. I think -- actually did a bunch of good stuff. The homeless crisis, which was a big deal for him, they actually fixed that. I think because he thought of the great job he had done on the homeless issue, he's going to get real credit for that. That's been totally swamped by this scandal. I don't think Shinseki will survive.

BLITZER: Let me play a little clip. Here's the president speaking earlier today about the secretary, General Shinseki.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Rick Shinseki I think serves this country because he cares deeply about veterans and he cares deeply about the mission. And I know that Rick's attitude is. If he does not think he can do a good job on this and if he thinks he's let our veterans down, then I'm sure he is not going to be interested in continuing to serve.


JONES: That's at bad as it gets.


Honestly, I think if you listen to the president's words, he's opening the door in some ways for a resignation. And I think that's probably what you're going to see.

GINGRICH: But look at the total absence of serious presidential authority. Does Barack Obama after five years, with 34 different sites around the country a mess, does he think rick Shinseki can do this?

BLITZER: The argument they make is, yes, maybe there are problems at 34 V.A. hospitals. There are about 1,700 V.A. hospitals, facilities around the country, most of them, not a mess.

JONES: It is important we have a full investigation. The House is going to give it. How systemic is it? How much criminal wrongdoing there was? Obviously, if you have 30, that's different than 3,000. You've got to give the process a chance to go forward. If you're looking for is Shinseki going to be there in six months, I think the answer is no.

GINGRICH: But to be fair to Shinseki, the problems here are systemic and much deeper. Congress needs to change very dramatically the laws which govern the V.A. Exactly the problem the government cited in his own Obamacare website where he said, I couldn't do in the government what I did in the campaign. It's even truer at the V.A. The V.A. has a totally obsolete system. It is mired down in processes that don't work. It's not enough to say, gee, they're not crooks. The question is, is this the best service for our veterans? And the answer is no. BLITZER: And as the president points out, in the next few years, given the drawdown in Afghanistan, the end of the war in Iraq, the drawdown of the military, there are going to be a million more veterans who need this health care in the years to come. They have to fix this problem and they have to fix it right away.

Stand by because there's more to discuss.

Newt and Van are still with us. We're going to talk about the primaries yesterday. Mitch McConnell cruises to an easy win. Is that what we're expecting when establishment Republicans face off, at least nowadays, with Tea Party candidates? Stick around.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader, in the House of Representatives, has just named five members of the caucus in the House of Representatives to participate in the upcoming Select Committee investigating the Benghazi terrorist attack that killed four Americans, including the United States ambassador in Benghazi. The five Democrats named to this panel -- there will be seven Republicans on the Select Committee -- five Democrats, including Elijah Cummings, Adam Smith, Adam Schiff, Linda Sanchez and Tammy Duckworth.

Van Jones, Newt Gingrich are here.

This was a tough decision Pelosi had to make, because there were a bunch of Democrats saying just ignore this whole Select Committee, let the Republicans do whatever they want, we're not going to participate and give it legitimacy. Although other Democrats said, we should be involved in there to try to keep the Republicans honest. What do you make of this decision?

GINGRICH: First of all --


BLITZER: First of all, the decision by Nancy Pelosi to appoint five Democrats and these five names?

GINGRICH: She did the right thing. After Iran/Contra Republicans had to participate. You can't have the House, as a body, make a decision like this and then say we're not going to play. She did the right thing. The five people she has picked are all smart. They will be very solid and they will do a good job representing their side. But hopefully, people will also say, let's try to find out what we really think and see if we can get to a serious unified vote on the final report.

BLITZER: What do you think, Van?

JONES: Absolutely. The danger of trying to stay away and say we're going to deligitimate this thing. That sounds great, but then Monday comes, and they have a big hearing and they're not there. Then Tuesday comes, another hearing, they're not there. And you're not even there to ask questions of what's happening. Now you're on the outside. You're still participating but from a position of complete weakness and you look stupid. So it was good I think for hem to drag this out a little bit, to call in the question the differences of this whole controversy. My view is this has been litigated over and over. But if it's going to happen again, especially in the middle of the midterms, you've got to be present --


BLITZER: Because I had heard from a whole bunch of demarcates who wanted to participate. They weren't happy they only got five. But forget about Republicans are the majority in the House of Representatives. They kept saying, let's assume they call Hillary Clinton to testify on Benghazi. You just want seven Republicans to ask questions? Don't you want a Democrat or two or five to ask some questions? So it makes sense to have Democrats on the panel.

JONES: And to underscore what Newt just said, Elijah Cummings in particular, I think has been very effective.

BLITZER: He's the ranking member of the Darrell Issa committee.

JONES: Exactly. Very effective, not only in challenging some of the assertions here but also bringing into question the whole politics and politicalization of this whole thing. I remember when terrorists killed Americans and Americans came together. This particular thing is in real danger of becoming politicized way beyond what I think is healthy for the country. I think at least you got somebody like Elijah Cummings there, who is familiar with this stuff. He's been there the whole time. He's a good statesman for the Democrats on this. I think it's a good outcome.

It's not just him. It's Adam Schiff, the House Foreign Affairs. He knows a lot about Benghazi, what happened. There have been several investigations already, as you well know. But this is going to be another one.

GINGRICH: This is another one, and this is the one, in the end, will count and bring together the initial four investigations. I think there is just part of the American process. Back in Watergate, the Republicans participated when the Democrats were in charge. During Iran/Contra, the Republicans participated when the Democrats were in charge. There's a certain part of the American system that says, look, the election's over, this is an official body of the U.S. House, both teams have to be on it. I think, in essence, it's fine for Nancy to wait a while and to negotiate. But in the end, she did exactly the right thing. I agree with Van. These guys are very smart. Trey Gowdy will be a good chairman. These folks have a chance to be really good participants.

BLITZER: Trey Gowdy of Georgia --

GINGRICH: South Carolina.

BLITZER: South Carolina -- he is going to be the chairman of this Select Committee, former prosecutor. He, I'm sure he will be tough, and these Democrats I'm sure will be tough as well.

Later tonight, "Crossfire," what's the subject?

GINGRICH: We'll be talking about the Veterans Administration and Shinseki and the whole process of --


BLITZER: We got a little preview today, is that what you're saying?

JONES: I think so.

BLITZER: We'll see you 6:30 p.m. eastern in "Crossfire."

Guys, thanks very much.

Up next, new details on the NBA's case against Donald Sterling. And now there are allegations about what he did supposedly to try to cover up the tape of him making those racist comments.


BLITZER: New information emerging in the NBA's case against the Los Angeles Clippers owner, Donald Sterling. "The L.A. Times" saying the charges include evidence tampering and Sterling tried to get V. Stiviano, his girlfriend, to lie to NBA investigators.

Brian Todd is here and working the story for us.

The allegations are very serious, not only lying, but evidence tampering. Now "The L.A. Times" has specific details of what was in that 30-page legal charge that the NBA submitted to Sterling and his lawyers.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If that "L.A. Times" report is accurate, Wolf, it could damage his attempt to keep his team.

The gist of it is with "The L.A. Times" saying the NBA charging documents say Donald Sterling tried to persuade his companion, V. Stiviano, to tell the investigators that he was not responsible for that now infamous audio tape where he made racist remarks. According to "The Times," Stiviano said that on May 2nd, Sterling approached her and asked her to tell NBA investigators that she lied in her previous meeting with the league, to say that she had altered the tape and that voice on the tape was not his.

We reached out to Donald Sterling's new attorney to respond to "The L.A. Times" report about the NBA's charging documents. We have not heard back at all since we first tried to reach out to him.

Also, Wolf, "The Times" quotes an associate of Donald Sterling claiming this is all a smear by the NBA, that they're throwing mud up against the wall to see what sticks. Once associate is responding.

Also "The L.A. Times," another part of their report which cites the document, is pretty inflammatory. It suggests that Donald and Shelly Sterling are not estranged. They're, quote, "inextricably intertwined and worked closely together on this scandal." We just got a statement from Shelly Sterling's attorney, Pierce O'Donnell, saying that's not correct. They are estranged, have been living apart for more than a year and they are planning to file divorce. So her attorney pushing back to that part of "The L.A. Times" report.

BLITZER: A pretty serious allegation in the "L.A. Times" report that this 30-page NBA legal document that was given to the Sterlings and their lawyers contained the allegations that, weeks before any of us ever heard that audiotape, when it was leaked to the public, the L.A. Clippers had a copy of it. They had the audio but were taking steps to get rid of it.

TODD: That's right. "The Times" said the team president, Andy Rosen, got a copy of that audio recording on April 9th, more than two weeks before TMZ posted that recording, and he had gotten it from another team employee who had gotten it from Stiviano. It came from her originally, according to "The L.A. Times," but was given to Andy Rosen, then the team president, on April 9th. That's two weeks before any of us ever saw it. You're right. According to "The Times," Sterling ordered the employee to delete the recording of that from some phone that the employee had. Again, we're trying to get Sterling's reaction to all this. We haven't gotten a response from his attorneys.

BLITZER: Another element of supposed evidence tampering, if you will.

TODD: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much.

Brian will be working the story a lot more in "The Situation Room" later today.

TODD: Yes.

BLITZER: Talking politics is taboo for members of the British royal family. But apparently, Prince Charles didn't get the memo. He's reportedly weighing in on Vladimir Putin. And his comments are creating a lot of controversy. You'll find out why when we come back.


BLITZER: We've just been told that Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, right at the top of the hour, will make a statement, hold a news conference on her decision to name five Democrats to the House Select Committee investigating the Benghazi attack, the Benghazi attack that killed four Americans including the U.S. ambassador. She's now named those five members who will serve on this committee, led by Elijah Cummings.

Russia just sealed a gas deal with the world's biggest energy customer, China. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, signed the agreement with Beijing today after a decade of negotiations. Under the new contract, which is believed to be worth about $400 billion, Russia will supply China with natural gas for 30 years starting in 2018. It all comes at a critical time for Putin, who could see his European customer base shrink over tensions in Ukraine.

And that disgust with Moscow's actions in Ukraine has reportedly prompted Britain's Prince Charles to compare Putin to Hitler.

Matthew Chance is following the story from London.

What's going on over there, Matthew? What do we know?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These comments made by Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, were reportedly made at a veterans event that the prince is attending in Nova Scotia. He was speaking to some veterans, a holocaust survivor, someone telling her story about how she escaped Poland in the 1930s to escape the Nazi terror back then, when he said something along the lines of this, "Well, that's something along the lines of what Putin is doing." And that conversation, that comment has been taken, it's been blow up and it's been leading all the newspapers here in Britain. He's making this historical parallel with the horrors of Nazi Germany and what's taking place in Russia right now under Vladimir Putin. Very controversial, indeed -- Wolf?

BLITZER: What's the reaction been from Buckingham Palace?

CHANCE: The palace itself has remained tight lipped, saying it was a private conversation, and not going to comment on it. But the reaction in the press and among some M.P.s has been pretty scathing. In a constitutional monarchy, the head of state or heir to the throne is not meant to make political statements. It's always been the case that Prince Charles is a little outspoken, very strong views on things like architecture, genetically modified crops, and he's not been backward with coming forward about those views, if you follow me. This is another example of that.

One M.P. though saying that the prince should refrain from what he calls his freelance foreign policy, the monarchy should be seen and not heard. So withering criticism.

BLITZER: I'm sure there is.

Matthew, thanks very much for that report.

Here in the United States, Wall Street making some strong gains today as investors wait for the Federal Reserve to release minutes from the April meeting. All that happening at the top of the hour. Expected to give us a clue on the thinking as far as interest rates are concerned.

Let's take a look right now and see where the Dow Jones stands. You can see it's up, up, 139 points at least for now, 16,500-plus. Good numbers on Wall Street today. Clearly encouraging. Let's see what happens later this afternoon.

Let's stay in New York right now, where hundreds of sailors, Marines, Coast Guard members, airmen are kicking off Fleet Week, an annual tradition of U.S. sea forces. Fleet Week was canceled last year because of federal budget cuts. This year, the event is scaled down. Five ships, about 1,500 servicemembers are participating, about one- quarter of a typical year. Among the ships participating, "USS Cole," which was attacked in Yemen 14 years ago. It was rebuilt, returned to active duty back in 2002. Thanks to all the men and women who are participating. Thanks to all the men and women of the United States military for what they do for all of us.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm be back 5:00 p.m. Eastern in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.