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Reaction to Shinseki's Resignation; Clinton Takes on Critics; Sale of L.A. Clippers; Obama's Challenges; President Obama Accepts Shinseki Resignation; Hillary Takes on Benghazi Critics in Book
Aired May 30, 2014 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Anderson Cooper. This is CNN.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, reaction to Eric Shinseki's resignation is pouring in. In just a few minutes, I'll speak to the chairman of the Veteran's Affairs Committee in the Senate. We'll get his assessment on what should happen next. Senator Sanders standing by.
Also, Hillary Clinton's book doesn't release until June 10th. So, why was the chapter about the Benghazi attack released before the book itself?
And right now, a deal to sell the L.A. Clippers for $2 billion seems to be in place but it also seems like one signature may be missing, the signature of Donald Sterling.
Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. The secretary of Veterans Affairs resigns over the scandal at the V.A. hospitals across the country. Secretary Eric Shinseki met with President Obama at the White House earlier this morning. The president later explained Shinseki's decision to step down, praised him for the work he has done.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am grateful for his service, as are many veterans across the country. He has worked hard to investigate and identify the problems with access to care, but, as he told me, the V.A. needs new leadership to address it. He does not want to be a distraction because his priority is to fix the problem and make sure our vets are getting the care that they need. That was Rick's judgment on behalf of his fellow veterans. And I agree. We don't have time for distractions. We need to fix the problem.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: In a speech before his meeting with the president, Shinseki apologized for the problems at the V.A. and he took responsibility.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. ERIC SHINSEKI, SECRETARY, VETERANS AFFAIRS: I was too trusting of some and I accepted as accurate reports that I now know to have been misleading with regard to patient wait times. I can't explain the lack of integrity amongst some of the leaders of our health care facilities. This is something I rarely encountered during 38 years in uniform. And so, I will not defend it because it is indefensible. But I can take responsibility for it and I do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Our Senior Investigative Correspondent Drew Griffin is joining us now. Drew helped break this story wide open. You were working for months and months and months on it. Today, we see result, at least as far as this part of the story is concerned. When he says he was too trusting, what does he mean by that?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: He means that he was believing what his own staff and these V.A. administrators at various hospitals were telling him in regards to making these appointment wait lists. Even though that myself, the House Veterans Affairs Committee, the OIG, and the Government Accountability Office, were telling a completely different story.
BLITZER: He said in his speech this morning before the formal resignation was announced, he promised several steps. He said he promised to remove senior leaders from the Phoenix hospital, the V.A. hospital there, eliminate wait times for employee preference review so no one benefits financially by manipulating the system. He also promised to accelerate veterans' access to care both inside and outside the V.A. Here's the question, does this begin to get at the problem?
GRIFFIN: This begins to get at -- the crisis over with. The veterans waiting for care, we just learned another 700, overnight, in Pittsburgh V.A., they are racing to get these people in to see doctors. But the bigger problem is, who manipulated the data? Who reported that? And who lied to Secretary Shinseki about it? Those people, in my mind, need to be fired, removed and have more honest people put in place who can give honest assessments of not only what the wait times are but how to fix them by actually seeing the veterans.
BLITZER: What do we know about the new acting secretary, Sloan Gibson? He was the -- still is the Deputy Secretary.
GRIFFIN: We know he's a career banker. He has a long history with the military from both himself, his father and grandfather. So, he has a very strong love of the military.
BLITZER: He's a West Point grad.
GRIFFIN: He's a West Point grad, 1975. And he ran the USO. Well respected. Is he up to speed on all these issues? He's only been at the V.A. since February.
BLITZER: Yes, the president, himself, says he's got to get up to speed.
BLITZER: But the president seemed to indicate he would not become the candidate to become the secretary. He was looking for someone else. At least that was the impression I got from the president's remarks. Drew, excellent reporting. Thanks very much.
Let's get some more perspective now on Secretary Shinseki's resignation from the lawmaker who's very much involved in veterans' issues. Senator Bernie Sanders is the chairman of the Veteran Affairs Committee in the Senate. He's joining us from Burlington, Vermont. I know, Senator, correct me if I'm wrong, you were reluctant to formerly call on Secretary Shinseki to resign. What's your reaction to what has happened today?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, CHAIRMAN, VETERANS AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: I'm saddened. In Eric Shinseki, you have a true American hero. And that's not just the purple hearts that he won in battle or his role as Army chief of staff. This is a guy back in 2003 that did something unprecedented in modern history. He told Don Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense at that time, in his rush to war, that occupying Iraq was not be all that easy. You would need more troops. So, this is a guy that has an enormous amounts of guts. He's a well-respected military leader. So, I am saddened by his loss.
I think -- also, I think he also does not get the credit he deserves. Wolf, when he came into office in 2009, do you know how the V.A. was processing claims? They were processing them by paper. If you can believe it. He had to transform that whole system into an electronic one. And right now, they have cut waiting lists in half and they're on their way to almost end waiting lists in the next year. That is no insignificant accomplishment nor is dealing with the horrendous nightmare of veterans' homelessness which has been reduced by 24 percent since he has been in office.
So, he's done some good things. I think, in many ways, he was betrayed by people, as he indicated, who were not honest to him. Clearly, right now, short term, we've got to make sure that every veteran on a waiting list gets health care as quickly as possible.
We've got legislation that's coming up this week that I think can facilitate that, getting people into private care, into community health centers, DOD facilities, Indian health service. Longer term, not only do we have to bring accountability into the V.A. and end this reprehensible behavior that we have seen, we have got to make sure that in every part of this country, we have the doctors and the nurses that we, in fact, need so that you don't need long waiting periods for our veterans.
BLITZER: Did the president do the right thing in accepting his resignation?
SANDERS: I would have preferred otherwise, to be honest with you. I think this guy is a very gutsy guy who, I think, wanted the opportunity to clean house and make the changes that he now understood was necessary. But I can understand -- you know, one of the things that's going on, and I hope we can end this, there is a lot of politicization going on right now.
The Koch Brothers and Republicans are running ads all over this country on this issue. I think that that's unfortunate. I would hope that everybody can focus on how do we make sure that every veteran in this country gets the quality health care that he or she needs and does it in a timely manner? The other point I make, and this doesn't come out enough, if you talk to veterans in Vermont and around the country, what most of them will tell you is that once they are in the system, Wolf, the quality of health care is good. The problem is accessing the system in a timely manner.
BLITZER: But you know, it wasn't just the Koch Brothers, Republicans, at least a dozen of your Senate Democratic colleagues, in the past 48 hours, said it's time for him to go.
SANDERS: Yes, I am more than aware of that. I disagree. But, you know, some of them are responding to ads that are on television. And some of them feel that way and I understand that. I just don't agree.
But be that as it may, my job now, as chairman of the committee, is to work with the committee and the Senate to make sure that we introduce legislation, that we work with the new V.A. leadership to provide the best quality health care to all our veterans in a timely manner.
BLITZER: I know the Department of Veterans Affairs does wonderful things out there. But you have really studied this. You've been on top of this. You're the chairman of the committee. How shocking, how surprised -- surprising has it been to you, Senator, to see these inspector general reports, these internal audits, suggesting that there is really some bad things going on, and maybe, maybe even criminal activity? And here is the question, should the Justice Department, the FBI, launch a formal criminal investigation?
SANDERS: The answer, absolutely. I believe, if I'm not mistaken, and I don't think I am, the Justice Department is already involved in this. If people have committed criminal acts, they should be punished. No ifs, buts and maybes.
But I want to reiterate one point here. At the end of the day, we are serving in the V.A. 6.5 million veterans. This is a life and death issue to them. Our moral obligation is to make sure that we have the staffing and the accountability all over this country. Because after the media walks away, you're still going to have 230,000 veterans walking into V.A. facilities every single day. They deserve the best quality care that we can provide for them.
BLITZER: Senator Sanders, thanks for coming in.
SANDERS: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Coming up, Hillary Clinton addresses the Benghazi attack in her new book. Ahead, the choice words she has for her critics.
Also coming up, has the bureaucracy let President Obama down? Gloria Borger makes the case for why that's exactly what has happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHINSEKI: So, given the facts I now know, I apologize, as a senior leader at the Department of Veterans Affairs. I extend an apology to the people whom I care most deeply about, and that's the veterans of this great country, to their families and loved ones who I have been honored to serve for over five years now. It's the call of a lifetime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Veterans Affairs secretary, Eric Shinseki, apologizing for the scandal involving long wait timings at V.A. hospitals and efforts to cover them up. Just a little while ago, after those remarks were made, Shinseki met with the president at the White House, submitted his resignation and the president accepted it.
Joining us now, our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger and our CNN Political Commentator Alex Castellanos.
Gloria, the handwriting was clearly on the wall. With all these, more than 100 members of the House and Senate, the Republicans and Democrats, plenty of Democrats, saying he must go. The president really had no choice.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No, he had no choice. And he all but said that today. It's clear that he has a great deal of respect for Shinseki who is, after all, a war hero. The president went out of his way to say he's a really good man. But the president's point was clear and that is that Shinseki himself had become a distraction. And you can't have that when somebody has to go to Congress and ask for money, as the -- as the V.A. will have to do to solve some of these problems, that he had to sort of get out of the way so they could get on with the business of making the V.A. start to work in certain ways.
BLITZER: You have a good column on CNN.com, Gloria.
Let me read a line or two. "The president is living his own version of "Alice Through the Looking Glass," staring down a rabbit hole of government bureaucracy and inefficiency. The government he has studiously tried to grow, manage and change has become his own personal nemesis."
So how does he turn that around, five and a half years, nearly six years, into his presidency?
BORGER: Well, you know, it's difficult because this is a president who came into office saying trust government to do the right thing. He understood that government was broken, but he said, you know, I can fix it and I can make it work for you.
The problem this president has, not only with the V.A., but also with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, with the problems at the IRS, even with questions of NSA overreach is, is government actually working for you?
And my question is, does this president even trust government anymore, or does he need to start managing it more effectively, if anybody can actually do that?
BLITZER: You have a column on CNN.com, Alex, as well. You say the president is responsible for this V.A. mess, although some parts of it may not necessarily be his complete fault.
You write this: "For decades, Democrats, Republicans, and even veterans, including General Eric Shinseki, a man of unquestionable commitment and proven leadership skills, have tried to reform the VA's endless bureaucracy. At best, some have transformed the terrible to the merely awful. At worst, they have all failed wretchedly."
Why is this?
Is this too big of a problem?
CASTELLANOS: Well, it's just a limit on what government can do. Government can do big simple things. But our health care is very complex.
Here's what's happened. Imagine that there's a big ship and we've overloaded it.
Washington has overloaded it with bureaucracy and rules and regulations. The ship is sinking. Oh, my god, Washington is shocked to find out that the overloaded ship is sinking.
And so what do they do, they fire the captain.
No, Washington has created this overburdened regulatory nightmare.
And you know what their answer is now?
More regulations, more bureaucracy, more programs.
No. The V.A. is an old closed Washington knows best system.
There's one answer -- open it up. Give veterans a choice in access, equal opportunity to access the same health care other people do. They could stay in the V.A. and do that. But that will lighten the load on the V.A., that will allow us to cut the bureaucracy and that will give veterans the help they need immediately.
The old factory health care system doesn't work at the V.A. and I think, as you noted, and I think it's a great column, it doesn't work on a lot of our complex problems today.
BORGER: But it doesn't mean that you need to throw away government.
What you need to do is make it smarter and more efficient, which, by the way...
CASTELLANOS: Well, that's the debate. BORGER: -- reinventing government goes all the way back to...
CASTELLANOS: That's the debate we should have...
BORGER: -- Bill Clinton days.
CASTELLANOS: -- isn't it?
By the way. It does mean that government can't do some things. The more complex the problem is, the more personal it is, the more intimate the job is, the less Washington can do it.
Hey, look, you and I are not going to enforce justice alone. We're not going to fight wars alone by ourselves. We're not going to build highways by ourselves.
Some things Washington has to do. Got it.
But look what it's done -- Republicans, Democrats, even veterans themselves, people who are -- we're not going to get somebody better than Eric Shinseki. And by the way, everybody in this town knows that.
BORGER: I think...
CASTELLANOS: They know he's a good guy and a great leader. But they're pointing the finger at him when they're the ones who overloaded the ship...
CASTELLANOS: -- and nearly sank it.
BORGER: Look, you know...
BORGER: -- we elect presidents to be CEOs. So I think you can manage the inefficiency and you can prosecute the corruption. But you have to have an early warning system in place that doesn't blindside you so you're surprised...
BORGER: By these...
CASTELLANOS: The old way doesn't work anymore.
BLITZER: The president was blindsided on this, presumably blindsided on the HealthCare.gov Web site.
BLITZER: So there have been past...
(CROSSTALK) CASTELLANOS: He has ignored it for five, six years now.
CASTELLANOS: He said this would be a priority and he didn't reinvent the V.A. He didn't streamline the bureaucracy. That's the guy we thought we elected. It's not the president he's turned out to be.
BLITZER: All right, Alex, Gloria, guys, thanks very much.
BORGER: We can go on in agreement.
Coming up, we're going to get reaction to the house cleaning over at the V.A. in the wake of the scandal from one of the Democratic senators who sits on the Veterans Affairs Committee.
Also, Hillary Clinton's new book hasn't even hit the bookstores yet, but in it, she does address directly the attacks in Benghazi.
What she is saying, the reaction. Stand by.
BLITZER: Hillary Clinton's new memoir, "Hard Choices," won't be on the bookshelves for another couple of weeks or so. But in a newly released excerpt, she addresses the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi. It was actually the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, while she was secretary of State.
That's an issue that could prove to be a significant vulnerability if, potentially, at least, she runs for president.
Our senior political correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is here.
She's the Congressional correspondent, White House correspondent, now our political correspondent.
She's taking responsibility.
How far is she going in this new chapter?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, she says, ultimately, you know, the buck does stop with her. That's to paraphrase.
But also, she really is hitting Republicans here when it comes to Benghazi, which is what this 34 page chapter is all about, obtained by Politico, excerpts put out by Politico.
And what she does say, though, is that she stands by the intelligence at the time that she said indicated people there on the ground attacking the consulate in Benghazi were motivated by an anti-Islamic video that had created a lot of uproar, that had seen protests at the embassy in Cairo. And then she was also responding, Wolf, to this allegation that the State Department didn't provide support as the consulate was under attack. What she said was, yes, there were cables, her name was on them, but they didn't end up on her desk, which she said even though her name was on them, that's just how it worked. She said that shouldn't have happened, but that's how it did happen.
And look at how she hit on Republicans, kind of putting them on notice that she really sees this as a political game and will call it as such. She said those who exploit this tragedy over and over as a political tool minimize the sacrifice of those who served our country. She also said, "I will not be a part of a political slugfest on the backs of dead Americans. It's just plain wrong and it's unworthy of our great country. Those who insist on politicizing the tragedy will have to do so without me."
BLITZER: It's amazing how her publishers, she, they're rolling out various aspects of this book, I assume to generate a lot of sales.
KEILAR: Well, I think that's certainly part of it. And we've seen some of that before as there was a release around Mother's Day, talking about her mom, her daughter, on "Vogue." There was also the author's note explaining why she was writing the book.
But this one is sort of different, because we don't know definitively that this came from her camp. And, also, this is really the political part of it.
I actually see this as sort of blunting the effect of the Benghazi chapter, completely carrying away the book tour we saw in 2003 with the release of "Living History." That book was very much defined by one part, and that was Hillary Clinton's first time talking about the Monica Lewinsky scandal and how she handled that.
This is obviously not quite apples to apples, but certainly the most -- the part of the book that will generate the most intrigue is this part. She wants to talk about it, but I don't think it's the only thing she wants to talk about, especially as she's considering a run in 2016. So having this out there early allows it, in a way, to kind of be old news by the time the book releases on June 10th.
BLITZER: I think they've already sold in advance like a million hard copy cover...
BLITZER: -- hard -- hard copy books...
KEILAR: Another one million on order.
BLITZER: Yes. So you do the math.
BLITZER: So she's going to make a lot of money on this one. A brilliant marketing strategy by her publishers at Simon & Schuster. KEILAR: That's right.
BLITZER: Yes. It was a brilliant marketing strategy by her and her team.
Yesterday, she had lunch at the White House with the president.
What do we know about that?
KEILAR: Yes, that's right. We don't -- we were told it was a private lunch, so we don't know a whole lot about it. But I think it sort of speaks to some of the coordination that we're seeing between the White House and her camp. And there is quite a lot, especially during this book rollout.
In fact, it almost kind of looks a little bit like a campaign.
We've learned that Hillary Clinton's team has brought on Kiki McLean, who is a long time aide to both the Clintons, to do a surrogate operation. So Democrats who are talking about the book, to make sure that they're all on the same page.
Also, this is intriguing. They brought on a former White House spokesman for the National Security Council, Tommy Vietor, who was at the White House during the time when Benghazi happened. So he's obviously very well versed in that. He'll be doing a lot of the messaging around the book rollout.
And there's also a war room. There are former diplomats, we've learned from a source, who will be ready and able to respond to criticisms of Hillary Clinton's State Department tenure.
And this is really significant, Wolf, because polls show that voters really think this is a plus for her, her time at the State Department. It's one of the reasons why Republicans are really trying to tarnish that.
BLITZER: A lot of us remember the war room in 1992, in the Bill Clinton campaign for president, in Little Rock, Arkansas, when James Carville, Paul Begala, George Stephanopoulos and others, they were in that war room. And it worked well for them then. Maybe it will work well for them once again right now.
KEILAR: We'll see.
BLITZER: All right, thanks very much.
Just ahead, do the sweeping changes at the V.A. go far enough?
A senior Democratic senator will weigh in.
And the price for the LA Clippers is an NBA record.
But is it a done deal?
Is it really a done deal? We're just getting in a new statement from the NBA.