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Maya Angelou Remembered; Interview With Florida Congressman Jeff Miller

Aired May 28, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: On the same day that President Obama spoke to the military's new generation, a damning new report revealed sins against those who came before them.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The politics lead, allegations of mismanagement, sexual harassment, bullying. Apparently, the Phoenix VA had a whole lot going on, except caring for 1,700 veterans in a timely fashion. Now many critics who were holding back on the VA secretary, including a Democratic senator, says it's time to fire him.

The national lead. He had mental health and he committed half his murders without a gun. While many are asking, what could be done to have stopped the Santa Barbara killer, what if the answer is nothing?

And the pop culture lead. In her death, we can take comfort in the fact that she left behind so many words for us to live by. Today, we say goodbye to poet, author, civil rights icon Maya Angelou.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We will begin with the politics lead. As bad as we thought it was, it turns out it was even worse. The internal watchdog for the Veteran Affairs Department today released a scathing preliminary report. It follows up on a story that CNN first broke about excessive wait times, even secret waiting lists and cover-ups at the Phoenix VA Hospital.

And it just so happened to surface today, the very day that President Obama spoke to the next generation of men and women officers who could serve on the front lines.

CNN senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin broke the story of the scandal at the Phoenix VA. He joins us now.

Drew, what is in the report?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Let's just start with what's in the report about Phoenix.

The Office of the Inspector General identifies an additional 1,700 veterans who were waiting for primary care appointments, but were not on any electronic waiting list. Jake, they weren't on any list that would get eventually them an appointment with the doctor. They also found this, a sampling over 200 Phoenix veterans, just a sampling. The administration was reporting that those 200 had been waiting about 24 days for an appointment, 43 percent of the vets waiting more than the 14-day standard of care target.

In reality, what really was happening on the ground says the actual wait on average 115 days; 84 percent missed the 14-day target. That is cooking the books, just one of the many schemes outlined in this report and now confirmation of a nationwide problem, the Office of Inspector General looking at 42 medical facilities. The bottom line, the OIG has confirmation that inappropriate scheduling practices are systemic throughout the VHA.

TAPPER: And, Drew, the inspector general says at the beginning of report that they're looking at two things, one, whether or not there were these excessive wait times and books that were instructed to be cooked and, two, whether any deaths were tied to these excessive delays. What is the conclusion about number two?

GRIFFIN: No doubt, no doubt that veterans were harmed, but as to deaths, they have not released any information on that. And here's why.

They have to go look at medical records. They have to look at death certificates. They need to find the families of these dead people and get the story together, and then make a medical determination as to whether or not the delay in care actually is what triggered the actual death.

TAPPER: And what are they recommending? I know it's just an interim report, but considering the fact that so many veterans, they're saying outright were denied care, what are they saying needs to be done?

GRIFFIN: It's so sad, it's almost silly.

The recommendation is the VA secretary take immediate action to review and provide appropriate health care to the 1,700 veterans we identified as not being on any waiting list. What they're saying here is, get these guys a doctor appointment.

TAPPER: Right.

GRIFFIN: They need to get care. And if you don't know who they are, VA, if you don't know who your own clients are, your own patients are, we will provide you the list. It's unreal.

TAPPER: It's Incredible.

And they say also, check out, make sure that this is not a nationwide problem. They say they need to make sure that there's a -- they assess that.

GRIFFIN: Yes, national review, right away.

TAPPER: Incredible. Drew Griffin, great reporting. Thank you so much. So, how does the VA secretary, former General Eric Shinseki, feel about this damning report? In a statement just released, he says -- quote -- "The findings are reprehensible to me, to this department and the veterans. I'm directing that the Phoenix VA health care system immediately triage each of the 1,700 veterans identified by the Office of Inspector General to bring them timely care."

But the secretary himself is also very much under fire here. Until now, many lawmakers had been waiting for the facts to come to light before calling for his resignation. And today, for many lawmakers, that changed.

Here what is Senator John McCain told my colleague Wolf Blitzer earlier today.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I haven't said this before, but I think it's time for General Shinseki to move on.


TAPPER: McCain's fellow Arizonan Senator Jeff Flake, another Republican, just echoed that call for Shinseki to go.

But it's not just Republicans. Senator Mark Udall of Colorado is also on board. He's also up for reelection this year. The senators aren't alone.

Let's bring in Congressman Jeff Miller, Republican from Florida, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us. You, a few days ago, said that this is much bigger than the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, but now you're calling for Shinseki to go. What changed?

REP. JEFF MILLER (R), FLORIDA: It is much bigger than one person, that person being the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

But I will tell you this, Jake. What changed was the interim report that came out today. And I had always said we'd wait and see what information the OIG was able to provide. And to have this kind of damning information come out in an interim report, you can only imagine what they're going to be able to come up with if they have several more months to work with.

TAPPER: What about those who say, sure, firing Shinseki will make us feel good, but the next guy will have to get up to speed, the system won't simply be changed by removing the secretary?

MILLER: That's been my concern all along, and I want to be very clear.

Even if the secretary decide that it's time for him to leave, it doesn't change the fact that we have got a broken system out there, and there will be no honeymoon period for whoever the new secretary is. This has got to be fixed. Veterans are being harmed. We're only focusing right now on Phoenix, when it's a systemic problem throughout the country, and we already know that 23 veterans have died because of delayed care.

TAPPER: You're calling for a criminal investigation. Apparently, the Justice Department has not launched a criminal investigation, though we're told by our Justice Department reporter, Evan Perez, they have been gathering information.

Specifically, Congressman, what laws were broken?

MILLER: Well, manipulation of wait times that have caused harm to individuals, and people have died? I would believe that that would be breaking the law. Not telling the truth to Congress, that is breaking the law. Not being honest to the American people darn sure ought to be against the law.

TAPPER: There are more than 1,700 various VA facilities across the country from Alaska to Guam. How widespread do you think this specific problem with cooked books and false waiting periods, how long do you think that -- how widespread do you think the problem is?

MILLER: I think you're going to find that this is a pretty prevalent problem throughout the department, because what the department does is they provide bonuses to individuals and 50 percent of many of those bonuses that are paid are geared specifically on the wait times that are out there.

So it behooves them to make those wait times look good. Sure, the person at department gets a bonus, but the veteran gets harmed while they're waiting.

TAPPER: A second ago, when I was asking you about criminal charges, you referenced lying to Congress. Who specifically do you think lied to Congress?

MILLER: Well, tonight, we're going to have a hearing at 7:30. We're going to talk to three of the people that in fact have been subpoenaed and we're going to ask them, why are we waiting so long to get the information from the department?

I have over 110 requests for information, some going back over two years, trying to find out answers to questions like, why are there wait times? Why have you had deaths occur in hospitals that were preventable deaths? And who's been held accountable for it?

TAPPER: So, those individuals coming to the hearing tonight are potentially criminal; did I understand you correctly?

MILLER: Any of the people within the department could, in fact, be brought up on criminal charges, should the facts bear out.

I think you're going to see that there are going to be individuals that are in supervisory roles that in fact told their subordinates to cook the books. The subordinates followed the rules, but it was the people who were getting the bonuses and the promotions to keep the wait times low that cannot be allowed to skate on this issue.

TAPPER: Congressman, you have been chairman of the House Veterans Affairs committee since 2011.

A veteran, former Army Specialist named Alex Horton of Texas, who covers a lot of stories in various media, he wants to me ask you, why hasn't your committee, why hasn't the House Veterans Affairs Committee, been effective at curbing these -- these problems?

MILLER: Well, first of all, let's talk a little bit about oversight.

In this Congress, the 113th Congress, we have had 70 committee hearings; 42 of those were oversight. From those oversight hearings, we asked the department to give us information. We wait and we wait. We don't get any answers.

It shows an arrogance by the administration, and certainly the department, to not want to give Congress the necessary tools to do our oversight responsibility. But let me tell you this. The secretary's been secretary almost twice as long as I have been the chairman.

He has had the ability to fix this problem, and he hasn't done it. Congress has passed laws. Rules have been written, but if they don't follow those rules, somebody's got to pay the price.

TAPPER: Congressman, a conservative group, Crossroads GPS, is using this VA scandal in a new political ad. Take a listen.


NARRATOR: A national disgrace. Veterans died waiting for care that never came. Senator Mark Begich sits on the Veterans Affairs Committee. His response? If there's a problem, they need to fix. If there's a problem?


TAPPER: Is that appropriate, that kind of -- using this scandal, these deaths, in politics?

MILLER: No, I wouldn't use anything like that politically.

I will tell you this. I have tried since I have been the chairman of this committee to work with both sides of the aisle. My ranking member, Mike Michaud, and I have received briefings together.

We have worked on the subpoenas that the committee has, in fact, passed, only two, because we have been waiting for Congress -- for the department to do what they're supposed to do. But this is a bipartisan issue. We're talking about Americans, people that have worn the uniform. It should not be a political football. And we on the House side have not done that.

TAPPER: Chairman Miller, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

MILLER: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up: What's the president's next move after this explosive new report and more and more calls for his VA secretary to resign? I will ask one of the president's top advisers ahead.

But, first, for years, he talked about his hatred for just about anyone living a normal life, even violently assaulting strangers kissing on the street. So, why wasn't law enforcement watching him closer?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

The National Lead now. You know, he didn't just snap. For three years, the Santa Barbara killer had been plotting what he called the day of retribution, fantasizing in his sick journal about punishing, quote, "all of the popular kids and young couples for a crime of having a better life than me." He also posted online videos, putting his sickness and hatred of women on display.

The killer's mother saw his latest video posts in late April and called police to ask them that they check on her son. Seven officers knocked on his apartment door, after an interview they walked away, convinced he was not a threat.

But the killer obviously was violent. He had been in several altercations with total strangers. He had bizarrely thrown coffee on a group of girls that he felt (INAUDIBLE) and a couple kissing in a parking lot. He even tried to push a woman off a ten-foot ledge in a drunken rage. This is all according to his own writings and ramblings.

Now, after taking six innocent lives, this killer stands as an example when warning signs go unnoticed or potentially unheeded.

Let's bring in forensic psychologist Kris Mohandie.

Kris, thanks so much for joining us.

So, the killer wrote in his rant, "The police interrogated me outside for a few minutes, asking if I had suicidal thoughts, I tactfully told them it was a misunderstanding and they finally left." We also that if they had gone into his bedroom, they would have seen guns and ammunition, they didn't do that.

What should the police have done?

KRIS MOHANDIE, FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGIST: Well, there's a lot of questions. And I think we need to reserve final judgment until we get that important information as to what actually occurred.

We don't know what parents may have told the police. Did they tell them everything? Did they tell them about what was online? Did the police look at what might have been online? Did they have reason to do that? What questions did they ask him? Did they query the Department of Justice system to see if he had firearms registered to him? And did think ask whether they could consent search or feel like they had enough to do to get a search warrant?

We don't know the answers to these questions about information seeking. The point is, is that people brought forward information to them, we just don't know how much, and at some point you know, whether a threshold was reached in order to be able to look for more information.

But information seeking is going to be a big question mark on this case. What information was sought, and should more have been sought? I think that's a question we need answers to in the future.

TAPPER: I'm no officer of the law, but it seems to me that if you're asking somebody if they are dangerous to themselves or others, they might not actually be the mote reliable source of that information.

But it sounds like, and you're right, we don't have all of the information, it sounds like the police took his word for it.

MOHANDIE: Well, there is that concern. When you do threat assessment kinds of activities, you don't take the person's word for it. You need to have a look at what it is that's precipitating the concern in the first place, so you can compare that to what they're telling you. And usually weighing more heavily the data that's out there that may be discrepant from what they're saying, which is usually self-serving.

So, the collateral data that was present online, that the parents and others may have been aware of, we need to know if it got to the police, if they sought it, because that would have been an important thing to anchor their opinions about whether he was or he was not a danger, because you're right, he is not going to be a reliable source of information. He's the guy that's plotting this and does not want to be interrupted.

If you read his journal, he was -- he was definitely not wanting to be interrupted. And so, he's going to mislead and misdirect, and that's why you need this additional information, that's why you have to seek it.

TAPPER: I want to get your take on this op-ed I read in this morning's "New York Times," Dr. Richard Friedman at the Weill Cornell Medical College wrote, quote, "The sobering fact there is little we can do to predict or change human behavior, particularly violence."

That seems surprising to me. It seems to me that there were red flags everywhere. What do you think?

MOHANDIE: Well, I strongly disagree with what he's saying, that's just dead wrong. The fact of the matter is, is day in and day out in America, and other places, through the pro-active responses of citizens, you become aware of disturbing information, when they report it to authorities and there is successful interruption of these kinds of violent pathways. So, anybody who says that every single incident can be prevented would be wrong. But similarly, if somebody says you can't prevent most of these episodes that are as predatory as this one was, they would be absolutely incorrect.

People can and do take notice, they report it to the authorities. And every day we hear about incidents in which they're interrupted, but there's many, many more that we don't hear about that are successfully intervened and don't come to pass.

So, this kind of fatalism is not helpful.

TAPPER: Kris Mohandie, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

MOHANDIE: Thank you.

TAPPER: When we come back, her voice might be silenced but her words live on. Next, Maya Angelou in her own words as we remember the legendary author, director, actor, and activist.

And later, he's been called a whistle-blower and a traitor, but was Edward Snowden actually a spy? His latest claim and the Obama administration's response, coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In the Pop Culture Lead, a quote from the amazing Maya Angelou, who passed away today at the age of 86. Quote, "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

Now that quote, while beautiful, I must take some exception to on this day because those words may be true for most of us but certainly not true for her. As we mourn Angelou today, it's clear that people will not forget what she did and they most certainly will not forget what she said.


MAYA ANGELOU, LEGENDARY AUTHOR/POET: I will go. I shall go. I'll see what the end is going to be.

TAPPER: Her voice, booming. Her poetry, soaring.

ANGELOU: Lift up your eyes upon this day, breaking for you.

TAPPER: Maya Angelou confronted America's leaders, laborers and history-makers with lyrical, hopeful poetry, born from some of the nation's most painful truths.

ANGELOU: The hells we have lived through and lived through still have sharpened our senses and toughened our will.

TAPPER: But today, Angelou's voice is silent. But even upon her death, at age 86, Maya Angelou's words are still emerging. The author was working on a new book when she passed away at her home in North Carolina today.

ANGELOU: Being a natural writer's like being a natural open heart surgeon. It's just not natural. It's hard work.

TAPPER: The three-time Grammy winner, famed author, and American poet laureate worked tirelessly.

ANGELOU: I will never cease. I mean to say, I want to see a better world. I mean to say I want to see some peace somewhere.

TAPPER: Her public passion for change began with her first and famous autobiography, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings", detailing trauma of being raped as a child.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ain't nothing to protect you and us.

TAPPER: "The New York Times" best-seller-turned-film was banned in some schools as the realities of Angelou's upbringing, racism, violence, proved too graphic for some. For others, the work became an instant classic.

ANGELOU: I know what the caged bird feels.

TAPPER: As an adult, Angelou became a symbol of strength and artistic expression. First, as a song stress, in 1957 film "Calypso Heat Wave."

And later, more famously, of course, as a poet, director, actor, and leading civil rights activist. A friend of Martin Luther King and his family as well as Malcolm X. Even some of the most powerful women in the world consider her a hero.

OPRAH WINFREY, TV HOST: I actually do feel like your daughter.

ANGELOU: You are my daughter.

TAPPER: Oprah asked Angelou to host her "Oprah and Friends" radio show after interviewing her many times on her own series.

WINFREY: You have, over the years, continually surprised me.

TAPPER: Senator Hillary Clinton linked with the author for her 2008 presidential campaign ads.

ANGELOU: A president who can make a difference in our country.

TAPPER: But Angelou did not focus her attention or energy on the powerful. Rather, on the powerless.

ANGELOU: Courage is the most important of all of the virtues. I believe, because without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently.


TAPPER: It turns out one of the last things Angelou ever wrote was on Twitter. Five days ago, she tweeted, "Listen to yourself, and in that quietude, you might hear the voice of God."

When we come back, President Obama defending his foreign policy decisions and laying out his vision for the future. Will the U.S. still be the go-to nation when the world needs help?

Plus, maybe it was the first time he's ever thrown a baseball? Rapper 50 Cent tossing out what just might be the worst first pitch ever. But he does have an explanation for it. That's coming up.