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V.A. Delayed Care to Post-War Troops; Battle Over Benghazi; Military Coup in Thailand; Shells Fired Near South Korean Patrol; Dems Join Benghazi Panel; Benghazi Attack Probe; Hackers Attack U.S. Public Utility; Interview with Rep. Adam Schiff
Aired May 22, 2014 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, a slap in the face, that's how one veteran is describing delays in V.A. health care. Now, CNN is learning the long waits even affected troops fresh off the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Right now, the shooting deaths of two Palestinian teams getting worldwide attention. The Israeli military says it used only rubber bullets. Doctors say the bullets were real. The whole thing was captured on video.
And right now, unrest and protests plaguing Brazil just weeks before the World Cup is set to start.
Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. Disturbing new details are coming to light today regarding the scandal plagued V.A. hospital in Phoenix. Troops coming home from combat were allegedly kept waiting for 10 months for follow-up at the facility. The director of the post-appointment clinic says these were not run-of- the-mill medical issues that could be delayed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. KATHERINE MITCHELL, DIRECTOR, PHOENIX V.A. POST-DEPLOYMENT CLINIC: We're talking about people that were injured by being blown up by IEDs. We're talking about people who had a mental breakdown and have severe PTSD and can't -- are having trouble functioning. We're talking about veterans that were severely injured by some means in the -- while in the military, even if it wasn't in actual combat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: CNN Senior Investigative Correspondent Drew Griffin was the first to expose the extent of the problems inside the V.A. facility in Phoenix and elsewhere. Drew, the White House chief of staff, Rob Nabors, he has now arrived in Phoenix where you are. He's gone there. The president directed him to go there to try to deal with this crisis. What does he hope to accomplish?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: We asked him that on his way in this morning and Rob Nabors didn't have any comment as he arrived, meeting Steve Young, the Interim Director there. He is just about wrapping up, in the next half hour or so, Wolf, an executive briefing after which he is going to roam that hospital, we are told, talking to the health care providers and vets themselves, trying to assess what is going on on the ground there. And I hope he'll meet doctors like Dr. Kathryn Mitchell who will tell him exactly what their concerns are.
And then, later in the afternoon, he will sit down with some of the veteran service organizations and hear those complaints. And then, at the end of the day, he's going to go back, presumably, to report to the President. So, it is a very quick trip for Rob Nabors but he will plan to spend the whole day there at the hospital.
BLITZER: As you know better than anyone, Dr. Mitchell's allegations strike right at the heart of what the V.A. is supposed to be about caring for, wounded service members. Has the V.A. responded to her charges?
GRIFFIN: We asked specific questions to -- related to the allegations that she's brought up. The V.A. has told us they have been advised not to respond to any of those allegations while this current inspector general investigation is going on. So, I guess, the comment is no comment right now while they still try to sort out this mess -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Excellent reporting by Drew. Thanks very much.
Republican Congressman, Jim -- Jeff Miller, I should say, Chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee in the House told CNN the V.A. scandal over wait lists is quote, "the tip of the iceberg."
There are some 1,700 V.A. facilities all over the country, 26 of them are now under investigation because of CNN's reporting. Three senior V.A. officials were invited to appear this morning before Congressman Miller's committee but last night they informed him they couldn't make it. Miller's annoyance was obvious.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JEFF MILLER (R), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE VETERANS AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: I will ask one thing real quick because I don't see any faces, familiar faces from V.A. and the central office. Is anybody here from V.A.?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: No one there from V.A. While some in Congress are demanding that V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki step down, here's what the House speaker, John Boehner, said about that when asked by our own Chief Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOENER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I've not called for General Shinseki to resign although, I have to admit, I'm getting a little closer. But here's the point. This isn't about one person. This isn't about the secretary. It's about the entire system underneath him. And, you know, the general can leave and we can wait around for months to go through a nomination process and we get a new person but the disaster continues. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger is here with me. The President was very specific yesterday. He wants to see the investigations go forward.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
BLITZER: Wants to get a report from Rob Nabors, his Deputy Chief of Staff. Only then, will he decide, if heads, if you will, will roll. Does that approach surprise you?
BORGER: No, not at all. This is a president who doesn't believe in sort of immediate sacrificial lambs and he also is not -- he's no drama Obama. Remember during the BP Oil spill, people were saying, where's the outrage? Where's the outrage? That's just not -- you know, that's just not who he is. And so, we saw it with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. That was complete disaster. Did he fire Kathleen Sebelius right away? Is she leaving now? Yes. And IRS, did heads roll over that right away? No. Did people resign eventually? Yes. Did he leave the door open yesterday for Shinseki to be fired or to be allowed to resign? The answer is yes.
But don't forget, Eric Shinseki is a war hero. He has two purple hearts, four star general. I think this is a president who kind of wants to wait, take the lay of the land. But he did publicly say, you know, I told Erik directly, as he told us yesterday, that, you know, I've got to see what's going on here. So, when Nabors reports back to him, if the president's upset, Shinseki could go. Left the -- left the door open but decided not to do it immediately. That's very much in keeping with President Obama we've seen throughout his term.
BLITZER: And it's certainly left the door open for Shinseki himself to say, I'm resigning because --
BLITZER: -- there's too much commotion right now. For the good of the country, let someone else take charge. That --
BORGER: With a little nudge maybe.
BLITZER: -- yes, that was -- that was clearly --
BORGER: But its accountability.
BLITZER: -- left open by the president.
BORGER: Yes, the President said, I'm demanding accountability.
BLITZER: And there are even more Democrats, not just Republicans.
BLITZER: But Democrats putting some pressure on the president to fire him. BORGER: Right. Look, there are -- it's not what I would call a ground swell. There are some Democrats saying, we ought to -- we ought to get rid of him. But I think there's a larger issue at stake here for the president, Wolf. And that is he's under pressure because this goes to the core of his presidency. This is a president who promoted big government solutions to problems. And every time big government seems not to work, as in the rollout of the health care plan, it hurts what he's about. When he ran for election the first time around and when he was a senator, he put streamlining the V.A., making it work better as a top priority, making government work.
And now, he's having to defend the -- a V.A. that obviously doesn't work. It goes to the question of competency in the administration and a lot of Republicans are going to be using it saying, see, we told you, this was an inexperienced manager, an inexperienced first-term senator should never have been president of the United States. So, I think he has a lot on the line here, in terms of his managerial skills and also in terms of the core of his presidency which is about government solutions to problems.
BLITZER: When he took office, he knew there were problems. He had been on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee when he was a United States senator. During the transition, they told him about these problems.
BORGER: That's right.
BLITZER: So, I'm sure he is now looking back and saying, what could we have done better?
BORGER: Right. And Republicans who are saying, the Bush administration told you that this was getting out of control.
BLITZER: Yes. Gloria, thanks very much.
BLITZER: Up next, the coup in Thailand as the military there announces it is now in charge. So, what's going on on the streets of Bangkok?
And later, the political battle over Benghazi. Reluctant Democrats have joined a Republican select committee investigation. I'll speak with Democratic Congressman, Adam Clift. He was named to the panel yesterday. He's standing by, live.
BLITZER: Some international headlines right now beginning in Thailand where the Army chief now says he is in charge. The military there has officially take over after two days declaring martial law. Our Paula Hancocks is in Bangkok.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A military crew has taken place here in Thailand. The Army chief has been on national television just a couple minutes ago and he confirms that they have taken control of the country. Now, we know that he has created a development agency called the national peace and order committee. That is now what is running this country.
Just about half an hour ago, we saw some of the leaders and some of the protest leaders that were meeting inside to try and hammer out a deal with the Army chief, being escorted from the place itself. We know that one of the -- we know that all the participants, in fact, have been detained. This is information just now coming into me now here on CNN that those participants, we know that they were members of the caretaker government. We know that there was Suthep, the anti- government protest leader, there was the pro-government protest leader. And, certainly, at this point, we understand, from officials, that all of those participants have been detained. So, confirmation here on CNN that there has been yet another military coup here in Thailand.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Disturbing information there.
And, meanwhile, North Korea fired two shells at a passing South Korean patrol boat in the yellow Yea earlier today. They shells missed the South Korean ship by more than 600 feet, but South Korea then returned fire. North Korea has promised retribution after South Korea fired several warning shots at three North Korea patrol boats earlier this week.
It's a deal that took a decade to finalize but Russia's natural gas agreement with China takes on even more significance now because of the crisis in Ukraine. Under the new deal, Russia's state-owned gas company, Gazprom, will supply China with natural gas for 30 years. The amount of gas is equal to about 10 percent of Gazprom's annual sales. The gas will be shipped from Eastern Russia through more than 4,000 miles of pipelines. The agreement comes as Europe tries to reduce its dependence on Russian gas because of Russia's takeover of Crimea.
First, there were violent protests, now a crippling bus strike rocking Brazil. All this raising new questions about whether the country will be ready to host the World Cup in just about three weeks. Take a look at this. Worse than rush hour anywhere, right? Look at this. A two- day strike by bus drivers paralyzed Brazil's biggest city, San Paulo. The strike is over but it's just the latest problem affecting Brazil ahead of the World Cup. We hope they get their act together by then.
Political flash point, reluctant Democrats join a new committee to investigate the deadly attack on U.S. diplomat compound in Benghazi, Libya. We're going to hear from one of those Democrats live when we come back.
And a public utility right here in the United States compromised by hackers. We're going to tell you what happened. We're also going to find out just how vulnerable the grid is to a potential attack.
BLITZER: House Republicans are meeting today to discuss how a new select committee on the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, will operate. Democrats have announced they will take part in the committee, despite some initial objections. Yesterday, the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, appointed five Democrats to the 12 member panel. Representatives Elijah Cummings, Adam Schiff, Adam Smith, Linda Sanchez and Tammy Duckworth.
Congressman Schiff is also a member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. He's joining us now live from Capitol Hill.
I assume you were totally on board with Nancy Pelosi's decision, right, congressman?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: I am on board with it. You know, you have -- we were certainly united in thinking that the select committee was unnecessarily, that the questions about Benghazi has been asked and answered many, many times and were divided for a time about the strategy once the speaker changed course and decided to establish this committee.
But we are united again. This is the approach we're going to take. It was felt very important by the leadership that we have people in the room that could make sure that the subpoena process isn't abused, that the witnesses aren't abused and hopefully that we can try to direct this to something that might be productive, like looking at the security of our embassies now, look at how we're implementing the recommendations of that accountability review board.
I don't know if that's where the Republicans want to go. It doesn't appear that way. But we're certainly going to try to steer this in a direction that may be productive.
BLITZER: Because the initial reluctance to join this committee was that it would give legitimacy to the select committee. But the other reasons you just explained clearly overruled that concern.
The Republicans say their biggest question that they want answered is the president of the United States, what was he doing during those critical hours? Was he directly involved? Was he not directly involved? Do you have answers to those questions? Is that legitimate query material subject that they should get answers to?
SCHIFF: Well, I think the Accountability Review Board really went over who had responsibility for the security, what lapses led to the death of four Americans. They made a series of recommendations on the basis of that. They looked at how high the responsibility went and made a nonpartisan determination about that. So I think we have had a pretty extensive look at that.
But, Wolf, what you're suggesting I think is exactly what the Republicans want to do, and that is not get to the basis of any new facts, which have already been plumbed time and time again, but see if they can embarrass the administration, see if they can score political points against the president, see if they can raise money off of Benghazi, which is a blight but nonetheless something that they're doing. It's all about motivating their base, Wolf, and a lot less about any of the actual events in Benghazi any more.
BLITZER: But there are congressman -- to be fair, there are legitimate questions that need to be answered to make sure that everyone learns from the mistakes that occurred so that this kind of tragedy doesn't happen again, right?
SCHIFF: Oh, absolutely. But, you know, Wolf, that presupposes we haven't had eight investigations already, and we have. And precisely those questions were raised. Where we are lacking is, we got good recommendations about what needs to be done. But there's nobody on that new select committee that can tell us where we are in implementing those recommendations.
Now, the State Department say they're making progress. But, unfortunately, progress isn't often good fodder for a select committee. And I haven't seen much interest among the select committee members to explore how we can improve security. I've also seen, and this is even more astonishing, very little interest expressed in where we are in the hunt for the people who killed these Americans. And that has to be a top priority.
BLITZER: That's a - that's an important - it certainly does because as far as I know, no one really has been called to justice yet for the killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens and the three other Americans.
Here's a question. I don't know if you have the answer to this. Maybe you'll get the answer. Do you know why Ambassador Chris Stevens was even in Benghazi during those days after there had been other terrorist attacks against the British facility, against the International Red Cross, so many other international organizations that abandoned Benghazi? Why was he there to begin with?
SCHIFF: You know, that issue has been explored, Wolf, and I think that Ambassador Stevens was someone who really loved the Libyan people, wanted to be close to the Libyan people, understood the risks, understood that diplomats can't live in bunkers, wanted better security, but at the same time he knew to do his job he couldn't completely live in that bunker. So, you know, we might question that call right now, but, frankly, this is a dedicated public servant that gave his life ultimately for his country. And I have to respect the fact that he wanted to be where he was, that he felt it was important to the execution of his mission and his responsibility. And, regrettably, we lost a great American.
BLITZER: So that was his decision to go to Benghazi. No one in Washington ordered him to go there?
SCHIFF: No, I haven't seen any evidence that he was ordered to go there.
BLITZER: We'll be watching the hearings together with you, congressman. Do you think Hillary Clinton will be called to testify?
SCHIFF: I don't know. I think if she is, it's a pretty telling indication what the committee is really about. She's already testified, she's already answered the questions they had for her. If they want to drag her back now with a subpoena, I think it's far more about the elections in the future than it is about any conduct in the past.
BLITZER: Congressman Adam Schiff, thanks very much for joining us.
SCHIFF: You bet. Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: A U.S. public utility compromised by hackers. You're going to hear how they did it and what the attack says about the vulnerability of the country's entire electrical grid.
Plus, outrage growing over the shooting deaths of two Palestinian teens in the West Bank. A surveillance camera captures the shootings. We're going to show it to you. We'll have Israel's response to this escalating controversy.
BLITZER: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington.
The director of the FBI now says al Qaeda terrorists training in Syria right now poses a direct threat to the United States. James Comey delivered that warning to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He told lawmakers there are training complexes in Syria where militants are learning new tactics and then returning home to plot terror attacks. Comey says the U.S. does have a plan to place the - in place to counter that threat, but he didn't release any details, saying the information, at least for now, is classified.
It's no secret a U.S. power grid is a potential target for terrorists. But a new report from the Department of Homeland Security reveals hackers have already staged an attack on the computer network of public utility right here in the United States. Brian Todd is following this story for us.
So, Brian, what have you learned?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we've been speaking all day with officials at the Department of Homeland Security. They are not going to name the company involved, they're not going to say what kind of public utility was involved. It could have been a power station. It could have been a water purification plant. Maybe a gas pipeline, a telecommunications firm. Those are the possibilities.
But this did recently happen according to a report from the Department of Homeland Security. Hackers recently compromised the computer network of a public utility in the United States. They apparently got into it via what is called an Internet facing host. In layman's terms, that's a system that's kind of accessible from either someone's home or other remote location via the Internet. Possibly an e-mail system, something else like that.
A Homeland Security official does tell us, though, that the cybersecurity emergency response team at the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the company in question, worked together to mitigate this attack, to repel the attack and that there was no impact to operations.
But we have seen examples in the past of what hackers can do. We have some video to show you of a test in 2006 where researchers at the Department of Energy were able to demonstrate how a hacker could instruct an electrical generator's turbine engine to basically self- destruct. You see it there. Smoke is coming out everywhere. It's just poured out. This is an example of what hackers can do. This is the turbine engine of an electrical generator.