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Selling Of The L.A. Clippers; President's Blackberry; Scandal Hits Mississippi GOP Primary; Planes Nearly Collide over Houston; Flight 370 Data

Aired May 23, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, a possible conclusion to the Donald Sterling controversy. CNN has confirmed Sterling is letting his wife, Shelly, negotiate the sale of the L.A. Clippers.

Also right now, a bizarre twist in a Mississippi Senate race. Supporters of Senator Thad Cochran's challenger were arrested after one of them goes into a nursing home, takes pictures of Cochran's very ill wife.

And right now, an inside look at President Obama's unique Blackberry. He can have top-secret conversations but the President can't play Angry Birds.

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. We start with what looks like the end for Donald Sterling. The disgraced owner of the L.A. Clippers has agreed to let his wife sell the team. Now, it's up to her to work out the details with the NBA and prospective buyers.

Our Brian Todd has been digging into this story. He's got the very, very latest. And it looks like he has capitulated. It looks like he has blinked.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is the appearance right now, Wolf. And what's the information we have right now? We have, from a source familiar with the situation, that there has been a deal between the two Sterlings, an agreement for Shelly Sterling to negotiate the voluntary sale of the L.A. Clippers. This source tells us there have been discussions between Shelly Sterling and the NBA.

But, again, this does appear, like you say, to be maybe the beginning of the end of the Sterling's ownership of the L.A. Clippers and maybe just some resolution, some final resolution to this case. Maybe taking it to a point where the -- you know, the NBA and the Sterlings might be satisfied with the end of the agreement. Maybe neither side necessarily wanted it to go further however further it may go.

But, again, a source familiar with the situation tells us that there has been a deal between Donald and Shelly Sterling for Shelly Sterling to negotiate a sale of the L.A. Clippers, a voluntary sale of the team.

BLITZER: Yes, Shelly Sterling's lawyer seem to be suggesting, for days now, that they were going to fight and fight --

TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: -- and fight and challenge this. Donald Sterling, himself in that interview, exclusive interview with Anderson Cooper, he seemed to be going back and forth, whether to fight or not fight. Let me play this clip for you.

TODD: Sure.


DONALD STERLING, CO-OWNER, LOS ANGELOS CLIPPERS: Yes, I got to maybe somehow make them believe I'm a good member who made a mistake. And I'm apologizing and I'm asking for forgiveness. Am I entitled to one mistake? Am I -- after 35 years? I mean, I love my league. I love my partners. Am I entitled to one mistake? It's a terrible mistake and I'll never do it again.


BLITZER: But other parts of that interview, he seemed to be saying, well, OK, if they want me to leave, I'll leave. If he does, if this goes ahead now, she gets full control of the team. He walks away. She sells it. Then the league would not, presumably, have to take a vote, 29 other owners would not have to vote to get rid of him.

TODD: That's right. And that vote, I believe, would be coming up in June, sometime early June. And maybe the league didn't want it to get to that point. And maybe some of the league owners did not want to get to the point where maybe something would be decided in court where Donald Sterling might have information or just some -- maybe just even some uncomfortable things to say about some the other owners. It could have been an effort to maybe preempt some of that.

And you're right, look, just a couple of weeks ago, to Barbara Walters, Shelly Sterling said, it's -- you know, part of this is my team and I'm going to fight for it. Donald Sterling has indicated that himself not too long ago. He just hired a very prominent antitrust attorney, Max Blecher, which would presume that he was kind of girding for a legal fight here. But now, it looks like there's a real turn.

BLITZER: Yes, the owners are scheduled to be in New York June 3rd, all of the owners, to vote --

TODD: Yes.

BLITZER: -- on the termination of his ownership of the L.A. Clippers.

Brian, stay with us. I want to bring in Stephanie Elam. She's been covering the story from Los Angeles. Also, our CNN Legal Analyst Sunny Hostin in New York.

So, legally, what do you think? This would be a very dramatic development if he now hands over the team to his wife, Shelly, and she agrees to what the NBA and Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, have been demanding that they sell the team? SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, it's pretty masterful, I think, because no one really wanted to see this in court, right? I mean, I think we all can agree that this was going to be an epic legal battle if there was one to occur.

But I will say this, you know, I've said from the very beginning that Shelly Sterling has always been the wild card. She's always been 50 percent owner of this team. And I think that it is very smart for Donald Sterling to transfer his ownership part over to Shelly Sterling.

What still, though, doesn't make sense to me, Wolf, is that this report that Shelly Sterling is so willing to sell the team because, again, we've had every indication that she's a fighter. We've had every indication that she's in love with this team. She's been front row center even after this scandal broke. She was attending all of the games. She was calling the coach. She was calling Doc Rivers and asking to be a part of the festivities. So, I think it's odd that, all of a sudden, she is just going to give up the team.

What I see that seems to be more in line with what the Sterlings have always done is for Shelly Sterling to remain an owner and to sort of be a passive owner. Maybe not involved in day to day operations but somehow still to have some sort of involvement with this team. And so, I think this is a step, it's a turn, but I don't believe, at this point, that Shelly Sterling is just going to divest herself of this team.

BLITZER: Well, Stephanie, you've been covering this story. Maybe Shelly Sterling and her attorneys, they now recognize they're going to lose if they go to court on this, that they're not -- they don't have -- necessarily have a good case. On the other hand, they are getting ready to walk away with a ton of money. All of the Sterlings, if they sell that team, for $1 billion, and some suggesting it could be even more than $1 billion. They bought the team in 1981 for, what, $11 million or $12 million.


BLITZER: So, maybe that's the incentive. You may lose. Take the money and run.

ELAM: Well, here's the thing, her quality of life as a co-owner has changed. She used to sit court side. In the last few games, she was sitting up in the box. She was not coming down on the court, because I'm sure she knows there's a lot of people who don't want to see any Sterling there at the helm, at the ownership of the team.

At the same time, I do believe that the Sterlings have enjoyed making money. That is what they've been about and they have done this together through the 50-some years that they've been married, mainly through real estate.

When you look at what this franchise is worth and what they're going to be able to get out of it, and you heard Adam Silver say this, too, earlier. And he said, we owe it to the Sterlings to get the best value that we can for the Sterlings in the sale of this team. They are going to get a lot of money. They've got a lot of stars. It's not like they're going to sell in, say, like 1983, right after they purchased it. This team is worth a lot. They've superstar power now. They were in the playoffs.

So, the numbers that they're going to get are much different here. And I do -- you know, when we looked at that interview before, she said -- Shelly Sterling said that she wanted to get the value -- she wanted to stay on as an owner because she had helped build up the team and that's what she wanted to be, a passive owner is what her lawyer told me. This would change that.

But you're still looking at the sale going through because they do know that the pressure is just so huge. And we don't know what the NBA completely uncovered in their investigation. But for them, they're saying that they know that both Sterlings have to go and they know that pressure's there and that may be changings situation.

BLITZER: And Brian Todd, you've been covering this in a formal legal document that the NBA released to us. The termination charges against the Sterlings. And one line says, if the NBA board of governor sustains the charge, the ownership interest of Mr. and Mrs. Sterling in the Clippers will be terminated. It later goes on to say, termination of the Los Angeles Clippers entire membership, including Mrs. Sterling's interest in the team, is called for by the constitution of related agreements and is the only viable means for bringing Mr. Sterling's interest in the Clippers to an end.

So, the NBA is making it clear, they are no longer differentiating between Mr. and Mrs. Sterling.

TODD: Which is -- which is new from that document this week, Wolf. Because the beginning of this, if you remember, Mr. Silver, Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, left a little bit of wiggle room, saying this really only applies to Donald Sterling here. It does not apply to his wife. Now, they're unequivocal. They want both of them out. And this is -- this seems to be what --

BLITZER: All right, Sunny, very quickly, if they both capitulate right now, accept the terms that the NBA has put forward, sell the team, make as much money as you possibly can and walk away. There's no legal battle. They just sign the documents, sell the team, whoever wants to buy it for the highest bid. You would be surprised if that happens. Is that what you're saying?

HOSTIN: I really would be. I mean, this would be totally out of line with what their plan has always been. These are very litigious people. They've sued people for, you know, $5,000, $10,000, even though they're multi-billionaires. And so, I think it would be very odd.

That being said, I still think this is a masterful move because as Brian just said, it was very clear that Adam Silver -- the NBA commissioner says, this is all about Donald Sterling. This has nothing to do -- the suspension, the fine, anything has nothing to do with Shelly Sterling. So, if you transfer the ownership now over to Shelly Sterling, I would say that I don't know that the NBA has a basis, at that point, for forcing the sale. And so, that's why even legally, Wolf, this is a masterful move.

BLITZER: Yes, I tend to agree. They do have a history of lawsuits and stuff like that. But remember, a lot of that was done when they were in their 40s or 50s. He's now in his --

HOSTIN: Very true.

BLITZER: -- 80s. And he's got a history -- apparently, he's got some serious illnesses that he's dealing with at the same time. So, when you're 80, you see things a little bit differently than you do when you're 30 or 40 or 50, for that matter. We'll see what he does. I've always, myself, thought, if there was a way that they could just walk away, take the billion and leave quietly, get out of here, they would take the money and run. But we'll see if this is the final chapter. Guys, thanks very, very much. Sunny, Stephanie, Brian Todd doing good reporting for all of us.

We'll have much more on the sale of the Clippers later this afternoon right here in "THE SITUATION ROOM." That starts, as you know, 5:00 p.m. Eastern.

Ahead this hour, another near collision between two passenger planes. I'll ask our aviation panel how often this happens and how can it be prevented?

But up next, a contentious race for the United States Senate gets downright ugly after an illicit photo of the incumbent's wife is posted online.


BLITZER: A Republican Senate primary race in Mississippi has gotten especially ugly. The battle between the incumbent Senator, Thad Cochran, and a Tea Party challenger, Chris McDaniel, took a bizarre turn, when in a final stretch of the campaign, several of McDaniel's supporters were placed under arrest for allegedly conspiring to take an illegal photo of Senator Cochran's bedridden wife who has dementia and is in a nursing home, has been there for years.

Our own Athena Jones is following the story for us. Athena, this is a very, very ugly story. Give us the very latest.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is an odd story. I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised about things happening in politics. But this is already odd, the plot seems to be thickening with these additional arrests. We have three more men who were arrested last night in connection with this political blogger, Clayton Kelly, who was arrested last week, accused of taking this photograph of Thad Cochran's wife who is bedridden.

Now, we know that the McDaniel campaign, Cochran's opponent, said, We had nothing to do with this. We know that Kelly has been a supporter of the McDaniel campaign but the campaign says he no -- he's not a volunteer. He's not a staffer. We know that one of the additional three men that were arrested yesterday, one of them is a local lawyer. He's a local Tea Party leader.

McDaniel's campaign had gotten a lot of support from the Tea Party. So this is all involved - very involved here. I can tell that the McDaniel's campaign says they're not involved in this. Here's the statement that they released last night.

They said, "as we have said since day one, the violation of privacy of Mrs. Cochran is out of bounds for politics and is reprehensible. Any individuals who were involved in this crime should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law." So they claim no involvement.

Now, I should tell you that we just got a statement from the Cochran campaign and they say that this McDaniel campaign has been changing its story virtually every day, sometimes several times a day, and that these latest arrests raise even more questions that the McDaniel campaign has to answer. So, it's definitely not looking pretty right now down there.

BLITZER: So is the -- Thad Cochran's campaign suggesting that it could go higher up?

JONES: Well, they're certainly suggesting that the campaign, the McDaniel campaign, must have some sort of involvement. There was a lot of discussion when this first man was arrested a few days ago about when the - when the Cochran - when the McDaniel campaign apologized to the Cochran campaign, did they apologize before the police report came out? So there have been a lot of accusations back and forth. Clearly a lot of distrust in this very, very ugly and tight race.

BLITZER: Thad Cochran, as a lot of us know, he's been the Republican senator from Mississippi for years and years and years. He's widely considered to be a real, real conservative. How close is this race in the polling that you've seen?

JONES: Well, we -- we don't have any polling since this scandal broke over the last couple of days, but we know that the folks down there have been bracing for a pretty tight race. This was a race that the Tea Party hoped to make a real impact in. They were hoping that if they could get rid of this incumbent, not just an incumbent, a six term senator, Thad Cochran, if they could get rid of him, they could make a big impact. So we'll have to see what happens. The race - the primary day is only less than two weeks away, June 3rd. So we'll be watching closely to see how it shapes up.

BLITZER: It certainly will be. What an ugly turn of events sneaking into that nursing home like that. All right, thanks very much for that. Allegedly sneaking into that nursing home, I should say.

Athena, thanks very much.

Up next, another close call in the skies. I'll ask our aviation experts about the latest near collision involving two passenger planes.

And later, the Democratic congressman, Elijah Cumming, talks about race and politics, a lot more. He explains why he's joining the Republican backed (INAUDIBLE) committee to investigate what happened in Benghazi.


BLITZER: The FAA is now investigating another frightening close call between two passenger planes. This latest incident happened May 9th in the skies near George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. An air traffic controller tells United Flight 601 to turn right. Moments later, the controller appears to realize the United jet is on the path of another plane.


TOWER: 601 just stop your heading, stop the turn right there, sir.

United 601 stop your turn, stop your climb and stop your turn United 601.


BLITZER: Peter Goelz is a CNN aviation analyst, a former NTSB managing director. David Soucie is a CNN safety analyst, an accident investigate, author of the important book "Why Planes Crash."

Peter, let me ask you, how does this kind of stuff happen, because we're hearing more and more about these midair close calls.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, the numbers on this would belie that. I mean there were 132 million flight operations last year, 41 incidents that made it into the record books as a close call.

BLITZER: That's 41 too many.

GOELZ: That is 41 too many. The system works, but, in this case, the pilot -- the controller told the plane to turn in the wrong direction.

BLITZER: So it was a human error by the air traffic controller.

GOELZ: It was a human error. That's what it appears to be. And they will retrain the controller. They'll look at the process. And they will move on. The key is, we have the safest system. And it works almost this way because it's non-punitive. People who make a mistake, they don't get fired right away.

BLITZER: A lot of people are going to be flying, especially this weekend, David, and they hear these kinds of reports, close calls, midair close calls, they get nervous. How nervous should the folks out there be?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Well, remember, that there's -- as Peter was saying, that there -- it is a safe system. That also the reason that it's safe is not just because of the fact that the -- they get retrained and put back into the system and because of the fact it's non-punitive. But in addition to that, there's collision avoidance systems on board the aircraft as well. So, when aircraft are heading into collisions with themselves, they get something that's independent from the air traffic control system that says you might be in danger of intersecting the path of another aircraft. So, it is a safe system, but it doesn't - it still underscores the fact that this system is overloaded right now and that their -- something needs to be done for the overcrowding of these air wave. And next gen (ph) is the answer to that and we need to keep pushing that through, although it's been sequestered (ph).

BLITZER: What's next gen?

SOUCIE: Next gen is the next generation. It's the modernization of the airspace system. And it's critical because the system we have now was designed back in the '40s and '50s. We're still doing it the same way. It needs to be modernized, it needs to be changed so that we can put more aircraft in the sky safely.

BLITZER: Let me shift gears quickly, Peter, get your thoughts on the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. We've been waiting and waiting these last several days for Inmarsat to release all the ping data, if you will, all those handshakes, as some people call them. We thought they would be released earlier this week. What's the delay?

GOELZ: I think they are deathly afraid that just putting out the raw data is going to generate thousands of more conspiracy theories, thousands of people -- of, you know, Internet monitors who say they've got it wrong. I've rechecked with my sources. They say they have reached out. They've gotten the best people worldwide. The best satellite people. They've done the work. This is the right location. I think they're going to issue a report sometime soon that's going to give a lot of the background data and a lot of the justification.

BLITZER: But not all of the information. They're going to just release a summary, if you will?

GOELZ: I think it's going to be a summary. All of the information is going to cloud the issue.

BLITZER: But you know, David. the families won't be happy with another summary. They want access to the initial -- all that data out there.

SOUCIE: And they will get it. I talked with McLaughlin, who's the vice president of Inmarsat, and he supplied all that raw data to the AAIB, who in turn gave it to Malaysia. And they're analyzing it now. And as Peter said, they will give some more information, but it will not be a summary from what they're telling me. They're telling me they gave the raw data and it will come out, even though, as Peter said too, that they -- there will be all kinds of conspiracy theories. But there's only one group that I know of that's showed their credentials and said, we're willing to step forward and these are the real deal people and this is Michael Esner (ph) and his group.

BLITZER: Let's see what happens. All right, guys, thanks very much. David Soucie, Peter Goelz, always good to have you here.

SOUCIE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, new developments in the Benghazi investigation. The ranking Democrat of the House Select Committee standing by to join us live. Congressman Elijah Cummings, he's here.

And later, the Senate passed a sweeping immigration bill last summer, so why hasn't the House of Representatives followed up? Senator - the speaker, I should say, Speaker John Boehner blames it on Obamacare. You're going to hear what he says.