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Memorial Day Overshadowed by V.A. Scandal; Post-Election Battle in Ukraine; Wounded Vets Inspires Others; Malaysia Government to Release MH370 Flight Information.

Aired May 26, 2014 - 13:30   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: You heard Secretary Hagel saying we need to figure out what's going on and then fix it. There's not a lot of time to figure this out, right? This needs to be done soon.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR & REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Right. I think that's one of the things that's frustrating for a lot of people watching this, the idea that there's going to be an investigation upon another investigation. I think people want -- they want action. They want to see a level of accountability and responsibility from the White House. And they want to see the problem fixed versus another investigation or, you know, looking into it more.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR & DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think that's absolutely right. But I also think that people -- what they don't want and our veterans don't deserve are knee-jerk political reactions. We do need to get to the bottom of it. I'm glad the president and General Shinseki have said this is going to be one of their highest priorities. They need to be done to make sure that we find the people accountable, hold them accountable, and make sure whatever happens ensures this never happens again. We owe that to our veterans.

KEILAR: So the president pops up in Afghanistan over the weekend. In a trip like this, where he goes to an active combat zone, it's a logistical feat unlike really anything. He really needed to go, didn't he, do you think?

MADDEN: Oh, of course. You won't find any partisan analysis from me on this. The fact the president went there is a really good sign. It's also a good reminder for any Americans celebrating Memorial Day this weekend, just the reminder that men and women right now are engaged in active service in defense of liberty and service around the globe.

CARDONA: I think that's exactly right. It had been a couple of years. The last time he went was in 2012 to celebrate the one year of having got Obama. It was time to go back again. These veterans are coming back and so I think even in light of what's going on with the V.A., it was good for him to go there, to make sure that everybody understood, the American people understood, this is not something he's running away from, that, in fact, he's putting more of the focus on our duty to make sure the veterans, the ones that are here, and the ones that are coming back, as we draw down in Afghanistan, both in his administration and continues to, we need to make sure that whatever is going on at the V.A. gets fixed.

KEILAR: Something that -- the sort of controversy over the rollout of the Obamacare website had me thinking, and now this is, how the idea of faith in government plays into the midterm elections. Obviously, Republicans in general are sort of selling an idea of smaller government, more limited government.

I mean, Maria, how do Democrats -- we you're looking at kind of these back-to-back situations, how do Democrats fare against that in what's a pivotal election year?

CARDONA: I think they have to look at it and run the campaign they need to run. For example, we're already seeing red state Democrats run away from this president on the V.A. issue and others as well. They need to do what they need to do in order to win. I also think we need to peel back the political nature of all this. There will be Democrats who will be touting Obamacare, who will be touting the more than 8 million people who have signed up, who have been able to get medical care, and the millions more, of children, of folks who are able to get the care, that would not have gotten, if not for Obamacare. We also need to be careful. When you talk about smaller government, you're also talking about slashing government programs that our vets depend on. Republicans need to be very careful. They slash foot stamps, they slash employment benefits. They slash from medical care.

KEILAR: OK, then that's the focus --


MADDEN: We've seen the V.A. budget increase during the Obama administration. What's important to remember is the problem that Obama has here is it's a confidence issue. This isn't about a smaller government. This is about having the government work that we have right now, work better, work efficiently. It's not even meeting some minimum standards. I think that's the real danger for this president as he heads into the midterm. It fights in it the narrative, fits into the common criticism, Obama, IRS scandal, now this. All of it fits neatly into the criticism we've had of the president. You are seeing bipartisan criticism of this president and his lack of accountability right now on this issue. So I don't see it as partisan. I see it as people who are very frustrated with the detached president and an incompetent administration, and a lot of voters are feeding back that same criticism.

CARDONA: I think a lot of people would see it as partisan because, I agree with you, the president --


MADDEN: These are Democrats that are criticizing the president's --


CARDONA: Democrats that are running in red states, which again --


MADDEN: That has nothing to do with it.

CARDONA: I think that has --


CARDONA: I think this has everything to do with it going into the midterms. And I agree with Kevin, Democrats and the president need to put forth a rational that government actually can be helpful. And everything that's been going on with the administration doesn't help. I do think there's a narrative there they can put forth and the Republicans need to be careful with overreach because, while Kevin is right, not all Republicans are saying that, you know, government is horrible, a lot of the tea partiers and Republican party has moved to the right on this --

MADDEN: Whenever you hear Democrats --

CARDONA: -- the Republican Party has moved to the right on this.


MADDEN: Whenever you hear Democrats say Republicans need to worry about overreach, that means they don't have a good answer.


CARDONA: No, I think it's overreach --


MADDEN: Well, we'll see in November.

KEILAR: So are you sort of saying you see in a way Democrats are the ones playing defense here? It sounds like Democrats are playing defense and Republicans need to worry about losing the ball or fumbling the ball.

CARDONA: Yeah, I mean, I think that's right. Because going into these midterms, there is a narrative that the president can put out there and Democrats can put out there about how government can help people, and in fact what's going on with the V.A. can help shape that narrative. You take a look at -- and, yes, the V.A. budget has grown, but it has also been in places --


CARDONA: where this administration has not wanted it splashed.

MADDEN: You've seen voters, time and time again, they have a diminishing level of confidence that this level, this president and the Democrats, can effectively manage the government.

CARDONA: That's the narrative Obama and the Democrats need to fight against. They need to put together a narrative going into these midterm elections and they should embrace Obamacare and embrace everything the president has been trying to get done. And, frankly, they need to go back to the fact that not just Republicans are overreaching but Republicans were willing to shut down the government and not let it work at all. And that, I think, is a message that will be helpful for the Democrats.

KEILAR: But will voters remember that? A lot has happened since --


MADDEN: You know, everybody in Washington paid a price for that, but I think the president paid a bigger price, long term, because he hasn't been able to bring people together the way he said he did when he was elected.

KEILAR: Kevin, Maria, great conversation.

CARDONA: Thank you.

MADDEN: Thank you.

KEILAR: Thanks, guys, for being here.

Up next, post-election violence flaring up in Ukraine. As Ukrainian troops fight to take back a major eastern airport that was overrun by separatist gunmen. We'll be taking you there live.


KEILAR: One day after the presidential election in Ukraine, there's a major battle going on in the eastern region of the country. Ukrainian troops are fighting pro-Russian separatists who stormed a Donetsk airport.

Our Nick Paton Walsh is in Donetsk.

What's happening there now?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're told the fighting is still going on for this key international airport. Pretty substantial sized city, one of the largest population centers. Being fought between these pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian military. We understand this morning militants burst in, took the airport, told the Ukrainian forces around it to leave. That didn't happen. Flights were suspended. 10 hours later, a deadline passed and Ukrainian forces moved in. Two strikes from a jet began this intense gunfire we saw. Heavy weapons too. We're not sure about the casualties. We know some civilian houses were hit by large caliber stray rounds. And a lot of pro-Russian separatists militants moving in, reinforcements. 200 we saw turn up in buses. Not stopped by local police from piling in towards that airport. Now the mayor of this town is warning people to stay off this main street that heads up towards the airport. An essential really of a new phase in this operation by the Ukrainian military. Pretty unsuccessful so far against the separatists. What we saw at the airport is the heaviest fighting I've seen so far of the Ukraine crisis. A lot of gunfire. A lot of heavy weaponry. Civilians seen running away. The sense of perhaps pro-Russian militants being large in numbers, although Ukrainian forces do claim they're in control, as do the separatists.

This came after the president-elect, Petro Poroshenko, talked about peace, about amnesty for separatists who didn't have blood on their hands. A decisive move against the airport, one that seems to have fallen slightly flat, given that now, as dark falls, they claim to be fighting, and both claim to be in control of it.

For the people of this city that have tried to stay out of the fight so far, quite terrifying to hear, around the city skies, explosions -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Yeah, this is serious. Nick, adding some intrigue to this, the winner that you referenced, the so-called chocolate king here, the billionaire candy tycoon who captured more than 50 percent of the vote, what's the reaction from Russia on this?

WALSH: They've said they're willing to talk to him. He has in the past had passable relations between Moscow and Mr. Poroshenko. Perhaps, in the back of their minds, they're thinking he is someone they can do business with. But he, too, has said he wants to go to Moscow in early June. That's what makes all this so surprising. Washington and Kiev have held out the idea that all the militants here fighting are effectively Russian proxies.

The man at the end the day calling the shots is Vladimir Putin. Now we have a new Kiev leader with a pretty impressive mandate, despite not being voted for at all in these two eastern regions where the vote wasn't allowed. He's now in power with that mandate. He wants to talk to Moscow. Moscow wants to talk to him. But strangely, rather than an atmosphere of peace and calm, there are real fears here because you've seen this unprecedented violence, jets, helicopters, heavy weapons, a lot gunfire, a lot of people fearing for their lives here. And that's nothing like what people hoped it would be like after this election -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Yeah, it doesn't bode well.

Nick Paton Walsh, in Donetsk for us.

KEILAR: There are also major political moves being made in other parts of the world. In Egypt, it is Election Day. The expected front-runner is former Army Chief Adele Fata el Sisi (ph). He was the force behind ousting President Morsy and cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood. The winner of the election will become Egypt's fourth president in the past four years.

And in India, their new prime minister, Narendra Modi, took the oath in New Delhi. Modi's party became the first to capture a true majority in parliament for nearly four decades. And for the first time, all the major leaders the region attended the event. That even included Pakistan's prime minister.

Still ahead, the inspiring story of an Army veteran who lost his arms and his legs in Afghanistan, but he has still found a way to run, to snowboard and, yes, even jump out of airplanes.


KEILAR: On this Memorial Day, we want you to meet a true inspiration. A wounded vet who could have so easily given up, but instead, he's moving forward, and now he wants to bring other vets a long for the ride.

Our Barbara Starr introduces us to Travis Mills in today's "American Journey."


TRAVIS MILLS, U.S. ARMY VETERAN: Come on. Yeah, you're about -- let's go.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Travis Mills is determined today to shave time off his run on the treadmill.

MILLS: Come on.

STARR: And he's doing it with no arms or legs.

MILLS: Up. Nice.

How I survived, I have no idea. I thought I was done, you know. I wasn't freaking out or nothing. Just accepted -- accepted the fact this could be it.

STARR: Far from it. Even though he lost all his limbs when an IED exploded under him in Afghanistan, and he spent months at Walter Reed Hospital, he quickly started living his motto, to never give up, to never quit. He'd even bring his then-infant daughter, Chloe, to his workouts. There was never any sitting around.

MILLS: Oh, it's just too boring. Can't do it. Sit around, stew about it. I mean, I'm 26, you know. I got stuff to do. So I might as well just go ahead and do it.

Can I get a kiss bye? Love you.

STARR: Now he says it's all for Chloe and his wife, Kelsey.

MILLS: Look at this technology. How neat is it, you can use both arms and legs and you can still walk. I'm running a 40 later today. I snow board. I go downhill biking. It's wild.

STARR: Travis also recently jumped out of an airplane with the Army Golden Knights Parachute Team.


STARR: He insists, despite three tours full of firefights and his injuries, he does not have post traumatic stress, but he has a rare determination. MILLS: Where the rubber meets the road. I put personal friends in body bags. They're not here. I am. That's just -- how selfish? How selfish would it be if I give up?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Head down. Head down.

STARR: Travis is doing more than just living life. He's trying to buy a camp in Maine for wounded troops. And he knows public support for the war itself is in decline but he won't talk politics.

MILLS: I know what I did over there meant something. My buddies didn't die in vain. The first time you go, because you want the excitement. The second time, you go because of the guy you trained with to your right and left. The third time you go, you go for your buddies. I hadn't cancelled. I went for the third time because I had a great group of guys and I did not want to leave them stranded. There was no way.

STARR: In no way does Travis want you to worry about him.

MILLS: The wounded warrior thing. I'm trying to change that now. I was wounded, but now I'm not. You know? I'm not wounded any more. They say, look at you, you're wounded. Wounded means I'm still hurt. I'm not hurt. I'm fine. So once upon a time I was a wounded warrior, but now I'm heeled. I'm just a guy living life.

STARR: Barbara Starr, CNN, Dallas.


KEILAR: What an inspiration.

And in a lighter Memorial Day moment today, Vice President Joe Biden snapped a selfie with veterans cycling in the Ride to Recovery Memorial Challenge. More than 200 cyclists met at the Naval Observatory, which is the vice president's home, before they set off. They will be pedaling for six days. They will pedal 350 miles from Washington to Virginia Beach.

And we will be right back.


KEILAR: It's the information that we have been waiting months to see. The raw satellite data for flight 370 is about to be released to the public. Malaysian officials will release the data collected by Inmarsat of the plane's flight information and this could happen at any time. Family members have been asking to see that data for weeks.

Let's bring in Mary Schiavo, a CNN aviation analyst and also an aviation attorney who represents the families of air crash victims.

Mary, you have been waiting for this and we have been talking about this for a while. What do you think the biggest revelation is going to be from this data? MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST & AVIATION ATTORNEY: I think the data will point out that it's more likely in the Indian Ocean but people will be surprised that it took a lot of computing and a lot of mathematical equations and interpretation to get these calculations. I suspect that what we will have is not just the raw, literally, numbers from the handshakes, if you will. For each handshake there will be a couple of numbers. But then will be the computer programs and the trigonometry algorithms they used to plot out. It will be like they used to say to us in school, show your work. That's what it is. But I think they will release it and release it in its entirety.

KEILAR: You're talking about tricky math and a moving plane and moving satellites to explain how they got to their end result.

SCHIAVO: Exactly.

KEILAR: So let me ask you this, do you think that any of this may change how and where the search is being conducted.

SCHIAVO: Well, I do. The search will change dramatically, but not because of the Inmarsat data and -- and they are also calling for the ping data to be released. What's going to change is they are now putting, the Australians and Malaysians, they are now putting out this search out for big. They want two private companies to bid. One, they're going to map the ocean floor. They are in talks with an ocean mapping company right now.

And two, they will ask for private companies to bid on a search. They are estimating a budget of $55 million, U.S., for both jobs but companies bidding on those jobs will certainly want to see the data for themselves because they're going to submit a bid based on, in part, this data to see if they can actually find the plane. And without a doubt, there will be a success component in the contract. You find the plane, there will be more reward. So I think those companies will be reviewing this data in great detail.

KEILAR: Do you think the private companies might do a better job?

SCHIAVO: I do. Just because they have had so much experience, I think the private companies will do a better job.

KEILAR: And real quick before we go, it just makes you think that there is still this accountability issue here. We have been waiting for this data for so long. Families have been so upset. Should we have any confidence at all in Malaysia's authorities at this point?

SCHIAVO: No. And I think the authorities are signaling that they just cannot do this kind of a job themselves that's why they're hiring private companies. I think the reluctance to release the data is they were unsure of themselves. I really don't think there is a hidden thing that will be revealed. I just think they were in over their heads and now it's very sensible. Governments can't be all things to all people. It's time to get those who can.

KEILAR: It's not an issue of hiding, perhaps it's more an issue of confidence. Thanks for breaking that down for us. We appreciate it.

SCHIAVO: Thank you.

KEILAR: And before we go, we have a programming note for you. Coming to CNN, a new series from Tom Hanks and Gary Getsman, "The Sixties," It's the decade that shaped Americans' lives that still affect us today. Be sure and watch or set your DVR this Thursday at 9:00 eastern and 6:00 pacific on CNN.

That's it for me. I will be back at 5:00 eastern on "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer."

NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Brianna Keilar, thank you so much.