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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Arizona Wildfire Grows To 7,500 Acres; Top Democrat: Senate In Jeopardy; Source: Sterling's Preparing To Sell Clippers; Master Of The Comics Universe

Aired May 23, 2014 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So we had a chance to talk to him today about how things have changed since then.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: You talked about the erratic winds. That was also the case in the Yarnell fire. Any lessons that you're implementing here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Continuing to have a meteorologist, being able to call those guys and explain my leader's intent is that they are working on the rim. Make sure that they are in line every time they are evaluating them so they have a place to go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: So extra communication has been key in keeping everybody safe. No injuries, no damages so far and we're all keeping our fingers crossed that Mother Nature cooperate -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Ana Cabrera, in Flagstaff, Arizona, thank you so much.

Coming up next, Democrats one by one saying that they don't agree with the president when it comes to the VA secretary keeping his job. But are they more worried the scandal could cost them their jobs?

Plus, he is the biggest name in the sport in the United States and he was just cut from the team. Some are wondering if Landon Donovan's dismissal from the U.S. World Cup team is part of a personal vendetta.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Time now for the Politics Lead. President Obama's commitment and the apparent commitment of his party to stand by his Veterans Affair Secretary Eric Shinseki, at least for now, does not extend the Democrats fighting for office on the campaign trail. A number of them now calling for Shinseki's resignation including Republican turned Democrat, Charlie Crist, who is running for Florida governor again.

Alison Grimes who is challenging Senator Mitch McConnell's re- election bid in Kentucky and Michelle Nunn, a Democrat running for the U.S. Senate in Georgia. Shinseki says he has no plans to resign over the scandal involving the alleged cover up of excessive wait times from our nation's VA hospitals.

CNN of course has been at the forefront of this story. We were the first to report that at least 40 veterans died while waiting for appointments through the Phoenix VA system. Many of whom have been allegedly placed on a secret waiting list.

On Wednesday, President Obama defended both his record on Veterans and Shinseki's vowing accountability, but only after the investigation is concluded. Let's bring in Dan BalZ, chief correspondent at "The Washington Post." Dan, always good to see you. Thanks for being here.

DAN BALZ, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": My pleasure.

TAPPER: So a senior Democrat told me earlier this week that he thinks Shinseki is toxic if he's still in his job by November. This Democrat says it could cost Democrats the Senate. Is that too stark?

BALZ: Probably a little too stark. We're in the heat of this moment and things always can be described in the most dire, possible ways and we're several months away from knowing that that is the case. He's toxic right now and we can see it in a number of candidates running for office, running away from him and calling for his resignation.

We can see what the immediate reaction is, but we have a ways to go in terms of the investigation and how the White House handles it and what more we may learn or not learn about the problems of the VA, which are both chronic and fresh.

TAPPER: It comes at a time for President Obama when there are questions about his leadership, although not according to the Democratic National Committee, which earlier today tweeted out this new possible bumper sticker for Democrats like a boss although I do have to say there was a lot of mockery of that bumper sticker on Twitter as you might imagine. Does this fit into a larger narrative that is problematic for the president who is not yet lame duck but not strong?

BALZ: He's not lame duck but he's not strong. His approval numbers are consistently below 45 or may be brushing 45, but they go from 44 to 42 to 45. That's tough for Democrats. Any time a president at a midterm election is under 50, it's problematic. If you're under 45, it's more problematic. The White House goal is to push him into the 47, 48 range. They have not been able to do that so far this year.

And when you add on to the problems that he's had, the latest V.A. scandal, it makes it all the more difficult. Democrats know that it is a big weight on their shoulders collectively and they are hoping that the president can do something about it, but so far he hasn't been able to.

TAPPER: Well, he certainly didn't the other day when he came out and gave that press conference remarks about Shinseki. A lot of people thought it was a milk toast statement that didn't accomplish much. BALZ: It was not a decisive statement other than I'm not going to tolerate this. It was very Obama-esque. He does not rush to judgment. Everything he has done so far with the VA is in keeping with the character of his presidency and it does make some Democrats and probably more and more Democrats nervous as they look towards the fall.

TAPPER: I want you to take a listen to this. It's a heated exchange between two senators, Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia and Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, talking about Obama and his opposition. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll be able to dig up some e-mails that make part of the affordable care act that doesn't look good, especially from people who have made up their mind that they don't want it to work they don't like the president. Maybe he's of the wrong color, something of that sort.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is regrettable and I would say it is offensive. Seems I'm the only one here in the room that talks about opposition, that you would play the race card, that it must stream from inherit racism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What does Rockefeller gain from a comment like that?

BALZ: Probably getting something off his chest that he believes is the case and put it out into the public sphere. We know there are some Democrats who believe the same thing. Every time the president has addressed this kind of issue, as you know better than I, he has always said I get some votes because I'm African-American and I lose some votes because I'm African-American.

But there are people on the left who genuinely believe that part of the broad opposition to him is race-based and a lot of Republicans will say, as Ron Johnson did, you are playing the race card, not us.

TAPPER: And Jay Rockefeller, of course, stepping down. There's an open Senate seat that the Republicans right now are favored to pick up. Dan Balz, always a pleasure. Thank you so much. Have a good and meaningful Memorial Day weekend.

BALZ: Thank you. You too, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up in sport, Donald Sterling, remember him? You may remember him for his racist rant and, I did it but only for the sex. But now a move that could bring an end to the scandal that nearly shut down the NBA.

And in pop culture, he's the guy "Spiderman," "The Incredible Hulk" and "Iron Man" all call dad. Coming up, Stan Lee talks to THE LEAD about how his comic books have exploded into million dollar movie franchises.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. The Sports Lead now. He said he wasn't a racist and he promised to dig in and fight. Now it turns out the Sterlings are ready to surrender. Sources tells CNN Los Angeles Clipper's owner, Donald Sterling, gave control of the franchise to his wife, Shelly, who is negotiating the voluntary sale of the team with the NBA. The move would let the league's other 29 owners off the hook and avoid what was sure to be a costly legal battle. So does this now all go away or are the Sterlings and Adam Silver destined for a court date?

Joining me now is sports columnist with "The Washington Post" and veteran NBA reporter and friend of the show, Mike Wise. Thanks so much for being here. So why the sudden change of course by the Sterlings?

MIKE WISE, CNN SPORTS COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think for the first time in this whole saga, Jake, these guys have gotten sage PR advice. Which is, nobody wants them in the league including their workforce and why would you drag this out? I think for the first time they got some good PR advice and the notion is that this franchise would be very valuable on the open market so it's time to cut bay for Donald Sterling.

He was not going to be the owner of this team irrespective of what he did legally. There was nobody who wanted him in the league including most American public. So I think this was just the right time to get out and you're right, it saves face for a lot of NBA owners whose votes against for or against keeping Donald Sterling would have been made public.

TAPPER: And you know that the Sterlings and the NBA are talking, but the league will not acknowledge that they are talking to the Sterlings. They said we continue to follow the process set forth in the NBA constitution regarding the ownership interests in the Clippers. They have to say that, right, legally?

WISE: Right. There are things that are done behind closed doors with the main counsel for the NBA, Donald Sterling's attorneys and Shelly Sterling's attorneys in this case will look at the paperwork and say, OK, how are we going to divest you of this and I don't think there's any question that this thing will be resolved with the attorneys before it's in the public.

TAPPER: I've heard Bill Simmons, for example said, that he thought that the team could sell for as much as $2 billion. Really?

WISE: Well, Bill travels in more well connected, but I would be shocked if it were that much only because I don't think Real Madrid, the New York Yankees are worth $2 billion at this point, or at least that's not what "Forbes" has valued them at. So the notion that somehow -- the Los Angeles Clippers have won two playoff series in last millenniums would somehow be go for more than the Los Angeles Lakers is almost ludicrous. Now the Milwaukee Bucks just fetched $500 million. I could see the Clippers going for over a billion dollars, but 2 billion, a little much.

TAPPER: When we talked a couple weeks ago about this, we are talking about names like Magic Johnson, Oprah Winfrey, Larry Ellison of Oracle. Who is real?

WISE: Magic Johnson and his Guggenheim partners, they somehow have emerged as a favorite and in some way it bothers me. I mean, can you Magic taking over the Clippers. It would be like Derek Jeeter retiring and taking over the Mets. The greatest Lakers should not own the cross town rival team. If it happens, fine. There is a small part of me that would like to see an African-American own this team after what happened with Donald Sterling.

TAPPER: And this issue has ignited some more race talk when it comes to the NFL and the Washington Redskins and the refusal of the owner, Dan Schneider, who was used to be the least popular sports owner in professional sports now, second maybe. Fifty senators, all Democrats wrote a letter to the league, to the NFL, asking the commissioner to force a name change. There were some notable omissions including the two Democratic Senators who represent Virginia.

WISE: Right.

TAPPER: Why?

WISE: I think this is clear on many levels. One, it's politically expedient to be with the team and its name if the team basically has his practiced headquarters in your state and its training camp headquarters in your state. There's so much of a fan base there. More than that, a little research will do that Terry McAuliffe was given $25,000 by Dan Schneider, a lifelong Republican from what I've gathered.

And now Mark Warner, he's also gotten contribution from Dan and Tonya Snyder in his campaign. So I'm not saying that Dan Snyder is buying Mark Warner's silence. It's a little curious, even though the donation is less than $10,000, it's a little curious that he would say the exact same thing that Terry McAuliffe said, which is government should be butting out of this issue. I don't think they want to take on --

TAPPER: So you're not saying that he is buying it, but maybe he is renting.

WISE: Yes, I'm saying he's renting them and that they are a little gutless.

TAPPER: Mike Wise, thank you so much. If you have heard of one United States' soccer player, it's probably Landon Donovan, but you will not be hearing that name being belted out by an over dramatic announcer at this summer's World Cup because the all-time leading scorer in U.S. history was cut from the team.

Now everyone wants to know if it was just business or personal. Donovan is 32 years old. That would not be the oldest player on the squad, but the not so friendly relationship between Donovan and the head coach is not a secret. The coach's son tweeted this Donovan I didn't even notice until my phone notified me."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JURGEN KLINSMANN, U.S.NATIONAL TEAM COACH: He got the biggest lesson you can imagine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The son later deleted his account and called the tweet classes.

Coming up next, without him, some of the biggest movies of all the time would never exist. Next the Marble mastermind, Stan Lee, talks about his newest creations as "X-Men" film hits theaters this weekend.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. The pop culture lead now. There is something almost super human about how well these films have been doing at the Box Office. The new X-Men flick, "Days of Future Past" brought in about $8.1 million just last night and it's expected to keep shredding it like Wolverine at the Box Office this weekend. There is super strength, telepathy, laser vision. But Stan Lee, their creator, that guy has an imagination and showmanship literally worth billions.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): He's the man behind the mask, the muscles, and the metal of Marvels most popular heroes. And Stan Lee is working to expand his repertoire.

STAN LEE, FOUNDER, POW, ENTERTAINMENT: Every day I learn something that I wasn't aware could be done before. That makes it exciting in this business.

TAPPER: Lee is a legend in an industry that has extended from comics to animation and now high-budget films and digital.

LEE: At the early days of marvel, whatever I could come up with, we put in a comic book so I wasn't concerned with, am I doing something that a movie studio would want to film? In a sense, it was easier.

TAPPER: But movies are the backbone of a mighty franchise that every hot actor wants a piece of, whether Andrew Garfield or Robert Downey, Jr. or the Avengers. It's one of four new movies just this year. Such success is a long way from then Stan Lee's humble beginnings in New York City, graduating from filling the ink wells to create the character Jerry Headline Hunter, foreign correspondent.

LEE: I just hoped that my comic books would sell so I could pay the rent. I never thought I'd come out to Los Angeles and be in the center of the entertainment industry. I love it.

TAPPER: In some ways, it's just that Hollywood special effects. LEE: When I was writing Spiderman, I never thought there would be a way that someone was running on a web.

TAPPER: Lee partnered with Arthur Lieberman to launch POWE Entertainment in 2011.

LEE: I'm sure you've figured out that POW stands for Purveyors Of Wonder.

TAPPER: While some in comics pursue more boutique personal stories even if the audience is small, Lee is unrepentant in his goal.

LEE: Will this be popular all over the world? There should be a superhero for every type of person. We've already done a Chinese superhero, which will be out soon. We've done an Indian superhero and we're working on a Latino superhero now that I'm very excited about.

GIL CHAMPION, CO-FOUNDER, POW! ENTERTAINMENT: By creating superheroes that are geared to these and building on these, it's providing a whole new cast of relatable characters that this audience will enjoy and relate to.

TAPPER: Franchises such as "Spiderman" attributes 60 percent of Box Offices sales to international audiences, making it a demographic well worth its own characters.

LEE: "Spiderman" is popular all over the world. It doesn't matter the color of his skin or what he looks like, you can imagine that is you.

TAPPER: What a legacy Stan Lee has created. Thought that's not a subject that he particularly likes to talk about.

LEE: I figure once you're no longer here, it doesn't do you any good if you're no longer remembered or not. I guess I'd like to be remembered as a guy who co-created a lot of these characters.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: "Days of Future Past" is the seventh film in the "X-Men" series and there's no sign that it will stop there. Join us watching "The Sixties" from executive producers, Tom Hanks and Gary Getsman for a fresh look at the decade that changed the world.

On Monday, I'll have a special Memorial Day interview with Vietnam veteran and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Please be sure to tune in on Memorial Day and make sure to follow me on Twitter @jaketapper.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Wolf.