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VA Secretary On "Thin Ice" With President; Officials Say Flight 370 Not In Search Area; Edward Snowden Speaks Out

Aired May 29, 2014 - 06:00   ET


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: The suspect has done this before.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Your NEW DAY starts right now.

Good morning. Welcome to NEW DAY. It is Thursday, May 29th, 6:00 in the east. Up first, the sickening scandal at Veterans Affairs is breaking wide open. Forty two VA medical centers across the country now under investigation. A new report confirms 1,700 veterans waiting for treatment in Phoenix were routinely duped. They were never even scheduled or put on a waiting list.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki calls that reprehensible. He's right about that, the problem is he is responsible, and a White House officials tells CNN he is on thin ice. Meanwhile, lawmakers from both parties roughed up VA officials at a rare hearing on Capitol Hill last night.

Let's bring in White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski. Michelle, few things as angry as a lawmaker who is not responsible. So I'm sure they all had their hackles up last night.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right, Chris. Wow, this hearing lasted four hours. It was just anger, frustration, at times emotion, these members of Congress toward representatives of the VA. They were asking these great relevant questions and for some reason the VA just could not answer. In part, it was concerning this new official report on the Phoenix VA where the scandal broke. And now reaction to it is just exploding.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How you can stand in a mirror and look at yourself in the mirror and shave in the morning and not throw up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's unforgivable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's question about destruction of documents and you don't even know who did it or the motive.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): The anger from Congress overflowed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is nearly a decade of excuses.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The house is on fire, and nobody is going to survive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of you, I think, got to find somebody else to do.

KOSINSKI: And the VA bureaucrats at times squirmed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know, Congressman. I don't know the specifics. We hope to get that done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, no, that's not what you said a minute ago. You said we're going to do that. I think I heard you say that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congressman, we are going to get that done.

KOSINSKI: The House VA Committee detailed veterans' stories, one who tried to get a hearing aid for two years. Another in need of urgent care sent home for months.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They waited on a list, languishing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congressman, I was focused on trying to improve the process. Believe me --

KOSINSKI: The scandal only seems to get worse. This inspector general's preliminary report on the Phoenix VA spells it out. Systemic patient safety issues, possible wrongful deaths, significant delays. Lists all of the way to schedulers manipulated the system to hide the delays, secret waiting lists, documents that disappeared.

In Phoenix, there were 1,700 veterans waiting for appointments, but never entered into the computer system. More than 1,100 veterans waited an average of 200 days. Now fallout.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's time for Secretary Shinseki to step down.

KOSINSKI: Numerous calls now for the VA secretary's resignation. The president briefed on the latest developments found them deeply troubling. One White House official described Shinseki as being on thin ice. Some lawmakers are calling for a criminal investigation. The Department of Justice has been reviewing the new information.

Shinseki himself has weighed in on the Phoenix report saying the VA will aggressively and fully implement the recommendations and calling the findings reprehensible.


KOSINSKI: It turns out the VA does have and has had the ability to sort of farm out care to doctors outside the VA system when it's overwhelmed. Why it was not doing this while it has been overwhelmed it's not really clear. The VA says now that's what it is going to start doing for its veterans system wide -- Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: This is just the preliminary report. The full investigation, that whole review not expected until later this summer, can only imagine what more we'll learn then. Michelle, thank you very much for starting us off this morning.

Also breaking overnight, another blow to families hoping for any sign of Flight 370. The agency leading the search says the plane is not in the 330-square mile search area off of Western Australia where that Bluefin submersible has been looking. That's where pings had been detected last month.

But really stunning about face, that promising lead, as they described it, is now in doubt as well. A U.S. Navy official telling CNN the pings were not from the plane's black boxes at all. CNN's Will Ripley has more from Tokyo for us this morning -- Will.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, certainly a punch in the gut for the families of Flight 370 who this whole time had been thinking that there was a promising lead with these possible pings detected in the Southern Indian Ocean. This is the area the Bluefin-21 has been spending hours and days searching. The Bluefin-21's mission is now over.

That search has turned up nothing. The Australians confirming overnight that they do not believe that MH-370's final resting place is in that several hundred square mile area where the Bluefin has been scouring and searching for closure for these families.

At the same time, the U.S. Navy telling our very own Rene Marsh that in fact the pings detected in early April may not have even come from an airplane black box, but perhaps could have been caused by the search ships in that area. It's a stunning about face and certainly a big change from the cautious optimism that you and I saw in Western Australian when searchers at one point thought they might just be days from finding this wreckage.

Now we know they have to wait another two months before private companies come into this area and begin the new massive phase of this search that could take up to a year. They're going to scour 60,000 square miles, Kate. Meanwhile, all these families can do is wait for the closure that they so desperately want.

BOLDUAN: That's two months just to get this operation started up once again. Will Ripley, thank you. Let's get perspective on all the new developments and what this means with CNN's aviation analyst, Mary Schiavo and David Soucie. Mary, what does this news mean? It's been described by a couple of people to me as really devastating.

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Certainly it's devastating to hear. I think what it means in terms of the search is they've done what they can do with the area. One of the thanes they can say definitively is the pings were not from the black box is that the U.S. Navy has finished their search in the area.

So what this means effectively is they still come back to the only thing they have, which is the Inmarsat data, which put them in this location in the first place. That makes that a little bit more shaky, but I think they will continue to pursue search areas based on those Inmarsat, as we've been calling them handshakes. BOLDUAN: Let's talk about what's next in just a second, but on where things stand right now, we have a deputy director of ocean engineering for the U.S. Navy telling CNN that the pings are not from the black boxes. Likely not from the plane's black boxes, David. But then you also have the U.S. Navy coming out and saying that view is speculative and premature and the Australian search authority is saying that they aren't as confident in that as well. What is going on here?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: I tell you what's going on. It's incredibly infuriating for us, let alone for the families of what they're going through right now. My question is when did they know this? I've been hearing this all along, which took us to having to do our own destructive testing on some of the pingers ourselves to try to see if we could replicate this 33.3 kilohertz frequency and we could not.

Every time we crack one of these things, it went up and not down. I'm extremely disappointed because what this means to me is that someone knew early on these were not from the aircraft. We learned over a month ago from our own testing that it was not in the aircraft. Why did they continue the search? Why did they spend all of this money continuing the search? I'm a little concerned. I'm very concerned about what's going on out there.

BOLDUAN: You know, Mary, kind of to David's point, to be fair though, and I heard Richard Quest talk about this yesterday. In hindsight maybe folks should have been more skeptical. But the reality is this is even though maybe they couldn't match the frequencies, this is all they had to work with. What else were they supposed to do?

SCHIAVO: Well, skeptical or not, this was the best location, the best lead based on the Inmarsat data and when they raised out there to start looking for the pings, remember, this is all they had. Still all they had. But when they picked up the pings it is unthinkable they would say, well, it's 33.3 instead of 37.5 kilohertz. We're not going to search. That's just not an option when 239 people are missing. So I do give credit to the U.S. Navy. There was no choice. They had to look once we had the Inmarsat data and picked up pings. They had to look.

BOLDUAN: So now the focus is even more on the Inmarsat data, David. What does that mean, how is that going to change the search effort going forward and how much confidence do you have in the location where even though it's some 23 plus thousand square miles that they're going to be searching that it's going to be there?

SOUCIE: Well, I think that it is somewhere in that 23,000 square miles. But because I have some confidence in that Inmarsat data after looking at what they released and talking with other professionals --

BOLDUAN: Why do you have confidence in Inmarsat data? What's different about the Inmarsat data than the data that was brought in that detected the pings? How is that different?

SOUCIE: The Inmarsat data that detected the handshakes?


SOUCIE: That what you're referring to? I worked with Michael Exner to find out what that meant. Even at that, even if we took in those -- considered those variables that we had that we don't know now, it still puts it in that very same area. The only thing we don't know is north or south. That could open up more. I think we're going to get information about that.

Back to Mary's point. They did have a choice. They had the choice of putting the right tool out much, much sooner than right now. Now they're just negotiating. They may be three months or more before we see the right tool out there.

If they knew this information was wrong they should have stopped with the -- or continued even with the Bluefin, but brought some other tools in if they knew these pings were not from the airplane. I disagree with Mary on that point.

BOLDUAN: Go ahead, Mary.

SCHIAVO: Well, it's back up one more thing. The reason they had precious few days. Remember, by time they went out to look. They were two days before the batteries would allegedly die. The reason it took so long to get out there in the first place is not the fault of the United States Navy or the Australians.

It's the fault of the Malaysians whose military sat on data that they had for at least four days, maybe longer. They knew it was not in the South China Sea. They knew the plane headed back out over Malaysia and most likely over the Indian Ocean. From seeing it on radar, allegedly. That's what they tell us now.

So the fact that there was no time to search and the pingers were running dry was not the fault of the searchers. Don't shoot the messenger. It's the fault of the Malaysians and we can't lose sight of that. That's why we had no time to go find what we needed to find.

BOLDUAN: Fault or not, this surely is --

SOUCIE: They searched for months after that though.

BOLDUAN: This surely is a stunning about-face about where things are in this point and the confidence going forward. Now, as Will Ripley is pointing out, they're going to map the ocean floor, getting back in the water in about two months.

And then we're going to be starting the search with other specialized equipment of an area many, many, many times of that specialized focused area they just completed and found nothing. So it does continues. Mary, David, thank you very much.

SCHIAVO: Thank you.

PEREIRA: Let's take a look at some of your headlines right now. Suicide bombing in Syria has been carried out by someone with an American connection. The attack came Sunday in Northern Syria. Insurgents say the bomber was part of a group linked to al Qaeda. Most reports say the man was an American citizen. CNN has not been yet able to confirm that detail.

A U.S. Marine that's been held in a Mexican prison for two months will have to wait another week to tell his story to a judge. Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi appeared in Tijuana court Wednesday, but his hearing was postponed until June 4th apparently after he fired his attorney. The Afghanistan war veteran is accuse of illegally entering Mexico with three firearms and ammunition. He claims he didn't know he had crossed the border and calls it all an innocent mistake.

The NTSB investigating another close call. This one a near collision over Anchorage, Alaska. It happened on Tuesday involving an Alaskan airlines flight and a cargo plane. Investigators say air traffic controllers asked the Alaska airlines flight to perform a go around to avoid the cargo plane. But both planes veered in the same direction coming within a quarter mile of one another. This is the fifth incident we've learned about in the past two weeks.

It appears there is no shortage of groups interested in buying the Los Angeles Clippers. CNN has learned there's as many as five bidders with offers said to be as high as $2 billion. The team's beleaguered owner, Donald Sterling, claims the NBA is violating his constitutional rights by trying to force a sale. His attorney says Sterling will, fight, quote, "to the bloody end" to keep the team. NBA owners will meet next week to vote on ousting Sterling for racist remarks.

Let's talk weather because it is Friday eve, very important day. Indra Petersons is keeping track of the forecast for us.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You're stealing my line, Michaela?

PEREIRA: I debate on that.

PETERSONS: California.

PEREIRA: It's a California thing.

PETERSONS: It's Friday eve and feels like groundhog day because again in the south we are still talking about the same thing, guys. More rain. Thunderstorms are out there right now. Look how much rain they have already seen. Now, keep that in mind and talk about what is still expected. This shows you how active it is in the gulf.

All the moisture still fueling. Here comes more rain. Not a little bit. Another three to five inches in the exact same place. That is the concern here. Flooding concerns extremely high today. Notice in the northeast. Two fronts, not one, but two. Mild air dealing with. It's going to stay for some time in D.C. light showers are already out there.

Here's the second cold front. That's only going to re-enforce the cold air. Colder air. Either way, temperatures the next couple of days. New York City, 67, going to the 70s. Not too bad. D.C., 61, going up to 78 as soon as that system kicks out of here. Feeling good. Finally summer, I've been waiting a long time. Kind of happy now.

BOLDUAN: It is back. Thanks, Indra.

CUOMO: I feel it. I feel a little bit more.


CUOMO: Yes. I'm just a little hangover from that '60s thing last night. Berman slipped something in my drink last night.

BOLDUAN: I don't know what that could be.

CUOMO: Coming up on NEW DAY, here's the question for you. The man you're looking at. Edward Snowden, is he a patriot or is he a traitor? He says, of course, he's a patriot. He's going to explain why. He says he gave the Russians nothing and that he wants to come home. We'll debate.

BOLDUAN: Plus, Apple says bring on the Beats. Tech giant buying Beats Electronics for $3 billion. It's their largest purchase over. The spending spree may just be starting.


CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

Edward Snowden says he's no traitor, he's a patriot and he wants to come home someday to the USS. In an NBC -- what did I say? USA.

In an NBC interview, Snowden defended his decision to leak documents even though they were classified on NSA surveillance, saying the American people needed to know what their government was doing. Snowden, of course, facing espionage charges in this country. He's temporary asylum in Russia.

He was asked by NBC's Brian Williams how he ended up there in his opinion. Here's what he said.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: What has your relationship been to the host nation?

EDWARD SNOWDEN, NSA LEAKER: I have no relationship with the Russian government at all. I've never met the Russian president. I'm not supported by the Russian government. I'm not taking money from the Russian government. I'm not a spy, which is the real question.

WILLIAMS: Are you looking for clemency or amnesty, would you like to go home?

SNOWDEN: From day one said that I'm doing this to serve my country. I'm still working for the government. Now, whether amnesty or clemency ever becomes a possibility is not for me to say. That's a debate for the public and the government to decide. But if I could go anywhere in the world, that place would be home. WILLIAMS: A lot of people would say you have badly damaged your country.

SNOWDEN: I would say, can you show that? Is there any demonstration? If after a year they can't show a single individual who has been harmed in any way by this reporting, is it really so grave?

WILLIAMS: Have you performed, as you see it, a public service?

SNOWDEN: I think the most important idea is to remember that there have been times throughout American history where what is right is not the same as what is legal. Sometimes to do the right thing you have to break a law. Being a patriot doesn't mean prioritizing service to government above all else.


CUOMO: Provocative statements. Let's suss it out. Let's bring in Gary Berntsen, former CIA officer, the author of "Jawbreaker", and Mel Robbins, CNN commentator, legal analyst.

OK. I will provoke both sides of this.

So, Gary, let's start with this. It started some conversation here in the USA about surveillance, changes were made, people were upset including government.

Did he do us a service?

GARY BERNTSEN, FORMER CIA OFFICER: He did not do us a service. If he wanted to do us a service he could have downloaded 12 documents instead of a million. And he could have gone into the ACLU and filed a lawsuit against the NSA without doing all the damage he has done.

He has done irreparable damage to the U.S. government. He's cost us tens of billions of dollars to our intelligence programs. This is not a patriot.

CUOMO: Was that irreparable damage that Gary is talking about, also known as truth that needed to come out and, if so, how does that change the analysis, Mel?

MEL ROBBINS, CNN COMMENTATOR: I think it changes the analysis completely. You're talking about widespread historic changes that happened. Let's not forget that the NSA was breaking the law themselves up to a thousand times a year, that a federal judge said that there were violations of the Fourth Amendment, and the fact is, is that unless there's some kind of deal under the Espionage Act that he's been charged with, Chris, there is absolutely no defense here for him because under the act, there is no way to argue that, hey, I didn't secrets to another government, I disclosed them to the press and that led to widespread changes and most of the public is behind me on this.

By the way, how is it that the government can put him behind bars when he's revealing things that the government itself was doing wrong in breaking the law?

CUOMO: Because, Gary, isn't it true that the law was specifically designed to keep people from revealing what the government is doing when it comes to not how they do our taxes, but spy work which is inherently a dirty business.

BERNTSEN: Well, the intelligence business, of course, things are being done in election which are -- we're supposed to stay within the rule of law, U.S. law. And I don't support the collection of metadata the way it was done. But still, traveling, downloading those documents and traveling into places like China where it could have been imaged by the -- even if he didn't turn it over to the Chinese or Russians, his computers, the hard drive could have been imaged.

ROBBINS: But that didn't happen.

CUOMO: Do we know?

BERNTSEN: We don't know that didn't happen.

CUOMO: We don't know.

BERNSTEN: You don't know that didn't happen.

CUOMO: Why are you so heated up?

BERNTSEN: I'm heated up on it because it puts lives at risk. Look, in addition to my service I have children that have serve to on the battlefield in Afghanistan. You know, this is serious business in terms of our collection programs, our ability to collect this intelligence saves the lives of American citizens, especially in a time of war. And there are other ways he could have done this.

ROBBINS: And there are other ways the NSA could have done this. He went to two different authorities within the chain of command. He also went to the office of the --

CUOMO: How do you know?

ROBBINS: That's what he's saying. He said he went to two different --

CUOMO: You think he couldn't have done this any other way?

ROBBINS: I actually don't. I don't. Because if you go to two different people and the office of general counsel and you basically say enough, enough --

CUOMO: Why he didn't give it to us?

ROBBINS: He gave it to us versus "The Guardian", meaning?

CUOMO: No -- well, we don't know that he went right to "The Guardian". That's what Gary's concern is.

ROBBINS: We don't have any evidence that he didn't. Right now, all that we know is that he went to the press. And under the Espionage Act, that's not a defense at all.

We also know the NSA was breaking the law in a flagrant wide spread manner. So, you've got a contractor who has got no protection under the whistle-blower act that Obama signed into law last year and he's also reported this -- sorry, and basically been blown off.

CUOMO: What have you got, Gary?

BERNTSEN: Mohammed Ali opposed the war in Vietnam. He went to court. He went to jail on principle.

The Berrigan brothers, in Catonsville, same thing, attack the draft office, they faced, you know, the court system here.

You don't run to China, Russia, and try to get into Cuba if you're a patriot.

CUOMO: Does it change the situation -- I think this is the best benefit of the doubt you can give this man. If what he was revealing were illegal things that the government was doing to its citizens, should that matter in how you treat him?

BERNTSEN: Some of it was illegal as you stated. A lot of it wasn't. A lot it were our programs that protect the lives of Americans.

CUOMO: So, had he only revealed what was illegal you would feel differently?

BERNTSEN: And if he had taken it to the ACLU and not gone to Russia and China, I would feel differently.

CUOMO: Fair analysis?

ROBBINS: Yes, I think in hindsight it's easy for us to sit here and say, yes, you should have probably gone to the ACLU but here he is accusing the government itself and I think he was very well aware of what's been done to people in the past and he was also very well aware of the fact --

CUOMO: A little bit of hubris, also? A little bit of I'm going to be the big man?

ROBBINS: I think that comes across. It also comes across that he's arrogant as you know what in that interview, as much as he's eating a little humble pie, wants to come home, feels very isolated in Russia, I do think that at the time, probably being rebuffed by his direct authorities and being told just kind of, you know, don't -- nothing to see here, move along, I'm sure that his ego was stoked in this instance and maybe he could have gone to the ACLU, maybe.

However, I think he probably was thinking the public is the one that is getting screwed here. The public has no idea how big this is. The public has no idea that their constitutional rights are being violated every single day. And there isn't a single instance that they're pointing to or that he's seen that shows that this is leading to finding a terrorist. CUOMO: Quick button.

BERNTSEN: When I read the book "Jawbreaker", I had a dispute the CIA. They were violating my constitutional rights by blocking what I was writing. I got a lawyer and you know what? I got my book published.

CUOMO: Could have done it another way.

BERNTSEN: Could have done it another way.

CUOMO: Gary, thank you very much. Mel, as always.


BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, Dr. Dre has a new gig. The hip- hop mogul now working for Apple. Details on the $3 billion deal that could change the way you listen to your music.

Also ahead, Brad Pitt attacked at a movie premier in Hollywood. One person is in custody. Police say it's not the first time this guy had a run-in with a celebrity at a red carpet event.