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V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki Resigns; Shelly Sterling Makes Deal to Sell Clippers; Christian Woman on Death Row in Sudan; Jay Carney Resigns

Aired May 30, 2014 - 13:30   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Washington.

More than 100 lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, called for his resignation. Today, they got it. After a speech to a homeless veterans group, the V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki met with President Obama and he formally tendered his resignation. The president praised Shinseki for taking action.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This morning, I think some of you heard Ric take a truly remarkable action. In public remarks, he took responsibility for the conduct of the facilities and apologized to his fellow veterans and to the American people. A few minutes ago, Secretary Shinseki offered me his own resignation. With considerable regret, I accepted.


BLITZER: Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut, serves on the Veterans Affair Committee, also on the Armed Services Committee. He's a veteran himself. He's joining us from Hartford, Connecticut.

Are you happy the president accepted his resignation?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (D), CONNECTICUT: I think the president did the right thing, as regretful as he may have been about it. And I regret as well that a man of Eric Shinseki's immense contributions to our nation as a combat veteran, as a wounded warrior, and a leader of supreme excellence had to tender his resignation. But it became a distraction. I agree with the president and with Secretary Shinseki that all of the second guessing was about what happened in the past. Very little looking forward into what needs to be done in the future. And that's the key point here. The challenge to the V.A. health system is not about replacing one person. It is about fixing what's wrong. And there is a need for top-to-bottom fundamental reform in the way health care is delivered to eliminate the delays, the calcified bureaucracy, the rigid rules and lack of accurate information. Essentially, the employees of the V.A. lied to Shinseki and the American people. They ought to be held criminal culpable where appropriate but certainly people should be shown the door.

BLITZER: Looking back -- we're more smarter with hindsight. We know more than we did months ago, years ago. Here's the question, did the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and the House Veterans Affairs Committee, for that matter, do enough oversight to try to determine the extent of these problems? Because as you know, they're pretty -- they're not just in Phoenix, they're emerging, similar problems, all over the place.

BLUMENTHAL: There are more than 40 facilities now involved in the I.G., inspector general, investigation, by the Veterans Administration. And my feeling is that whatever was done before there needs to be much more searching and penetrating oversight going forward by both committees of the United States Congress. And I think, for our part, Chairman Sanders is dedicated to improving health care provided by the V.A. And that's the reason I have urged so strongly, in fact, wrote the attorney general of the United States on Wednesday of this week, that there be a Department of Justice investigation. Only the Department of Justice can convene a grand jury. Only the FBI has the resources, expertise and authority to reach those 40 centers. And now there will be more, I'm sure. And impose the kind of investigative resources that are necessary and appropriate. We need a prompt and effective investigation by the Department of Justice, now more than ever.

But also, let's keep our eye on the ball. This resignation is only a beginning. Our priority has to be improving health care offered to veterans. In the short term, that means giving them access to private facilities, clinics, doctors, hospitals. And then having the V.A. provide vouchers and reimbursement. And in the long term, hiring more doctors. There are vacancies unfilled. Making sure that we have providers and new structures. Investment in the hospitals, which are aging. One in West Haven, Connecticut, dates from the 1950s. And so the nation really has its work cut out for it. Because there will be more and more veterans with post traumatic stress challenging our mental health care facilities. There has to be an investment. And the nation owes it to these veterans because they put their lives on the line. We should not be putting them at risk in anything but the best this nation has to offer.

BLITZER: The work is only just beginning on this day.

Senator Blumenthal, thanks very much for joining us.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

BLITZER: Death by hanging. That's what one woman who just gave birth is facing in a prison in Sudan. We have an exclusive interview with the husband of the woman who was sentenced to die after being charged with leaving her religion. She refused to give up her Christianity, and so they want to kill her.

And there's a deal in place to sell the L.A. Clippers, but is it a done deal? And who has the final say?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: There's a deal, but will there be a sale? Shelly Sterling has accepted an offer from the former CEO of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer, to buy the L.A. Clippers for record $2 billion. But yesterday, in "The Situation Room," Donald Sterling's lawyer told me, hold on, this is no done deal, at least not yet.


MAXWELL BLECHER, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD STERLING: We don't think the team can be sold without Mr. Sterling's consent. Mr. Sterling is not going to consent unless the NBA does something about the legal charges they filed against him.


BLITZER: Brian Todd has been following this.

Where does this stand right now? There's a sale but he has to sign off on it, Donald Sterling?

BRIAN TODD, CNN ANCHOR: It looks like he probably does have to sign off on it, Wolf, and whether he's going to is the huge question right now. The NBA just minutes ago issued a statement on this. It's also taking a bit of a wait-and-see stance on it. I will read the statement now. Quote, "Commissioner Silver has consistently said the preferred outcome of the Clippers' proceeding would be voluntary sale of the team. Shelly Sterling advised the NBA last night that an agreement has been reached with Steve Ballmer and the NBA advisor and finance committee met via conference call this morning to discuss these developments. We await the submission of necessary documentation from Mrs. Sterling. In the meantime, the June 3rd special meeting of the NBA Board of Governors remains as scheduled."

Wolf, that means they need to see the documents before they can sign off on it. We've been told all along by sources that Shelly Sterling's side and the NBA for that matter really wanted to get some kind of deal done before that Tuesday deadline when the NBA Board of Governors meets and votes as to whether to throw the Sterlings out or not. This is a wait-and-see. Donald Sterling's not signed off on it. His lawyer's indicating he's not going to unless and until the NBA does something about those charges. We may have a standoff here as we approach Tuesday.

BLITZER: Because his lawyer, Maxwell Blecher, told me yesterday, Donald Sterling wants, quote, "vindication from the NBA," but he wouldn't tell us what that means.

TODD: Well, that's what's going to have to be negotiated here. The NBA, I mean, you saw the document, the charging document, and you saw Sterling's response to it. Both lengthy documents, point-by-point refusals. It is a very combative set of documents that really just completely contradict each other. How this is going to be negotiated before Tuesday, I'm not sure. But it's going to have to take some intense negotiations.

BLITZER: I've been told the NBA will go ahead with that meeting Tuesday. All 29 other members of the Board of Governors, the other owners, will get together. If 23 of them vote to kick him out of the NBA, then it's over. To avert that meeting, they need a purchase agreement, which they now have.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: But they also need a settlement agreement between Donald Sterling and the NBA, which they don't have. And they also need Donald Sterling to pay that $2.5 million fine, which he so far has refused to pay.

TODD: What are the odds of those last two things happening before Tuesday? I'm not sure they're so good right now.

BLITZER: If they don't happen, then there will be that meeting. We'll see where they go from there. You never know. That deadline could put pressure and maybe --

TODD: Look, what we have to remember here, look how fast this sale moved along. They had high-profile bidders, some really big players offering what we obviously know now is huge money for this. Usually, that's not such a fast process, but this played out over just a few day. That was a break-neck pace of negotiations for that team.

BLITZER: Quickly, these are reports he may have some mental issues right now, I know you've been checking on that.

TODD: We're looking into that. We don't have that confirmed yet. We're looking to get some additional information about what that might have meant and what his lawyer is saying about that. Hopefully, we'll have some of that later.

BLITZER: We'll check back with you.

Brian, thanks very much.

Another story we're following, a tragic story. A new mom sits on death row in Sudan. Now her husband, a U.S. citizen, is speaking out. We'll have that straight ahead. Why is she on death row? Simply because she wants to maintain her Christian faith in Sudan.


BLITZER: We have an update on a horrific story from India. I must want you, the videos you are about to see are very disturbing. Two brothers are under arrest in the rape and murder of two teenage girls who were left hanging from a tree in a northern village this week. One police officer has been arrested. Three others suspended for negligence of duty. A third brother accused of the rapes and murders is still at large.

A mother sentenced to death by hanging in Sudan. Now her husband, an American citizen, is speaking out. Meriam Ibrahim was convicted of refusing to give up her Christian faith two weeks ago when she was eight months pregnant. She gave birth to a baby girl this week in prison. Her 20-month-old son is also with her in jail, though authorities say he is free to leave at any time.

In his first sit-down interview, Meriam's husband, Daniel Wani, spoke to CNN's Nima Elbagir.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Five years ago, Daniel thought he had it all, a beautiful wife, a new future. This is his new reality, the first glimpse of his baby girl inside a jail cell, his wife's shackled just out of view.

Daniel told us his wife, Meriam Ibrahim, was accused last September of apostasy, abandoning her Muslim faith. It's a crime punishable by death under Sudan's harsh interpretation of Islamic law.

(on camera): When you met her, she told you she was a Christian?

DANIEL WANI, CHRISTIAN WIFE SENTENCED TO DEATH: She is a Christian. She is a Christian.

ELBAGIR: And she was a practicing Christian?

WANI: Yes. She would practice. She would go, perhaps, she was even more committed than me.

ELBAGIR: Courts here in Sudan's capital have ruled on May 15th that Meriam was guilty and sentenced her to death. The ruling has sent shockwaves both in Sudan and around the world.

(voice-over): Daniel now faces losing not just his wife but life as he knows it.

(on camera): How did it feel for you to hear they said your marriage wasn't valid?

WANI: An "illegitimate" marriage does not result in legally recognized offspring, which means my son and the new baby are no longer mine. There is pressure on her from Muslim religious leaders that she should return to the faith and she says, "How can I return when I never was a Muslim?" Yes, my father was a Muslim but I was brought up by my mother." So saying "return," I doubt it. I know my wife. She's committed. Even her words, she said, "I'm pretty sure I'm not going to change by religion.

ELBAGIR: Your children were baptized?

WANI: Yes. Martin, yeah. Martin was.

ELBAGIR: And your new daughter?

WANI: Not yet. She's only a day old.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): Daniel's case is being closely watched. The Christian community here says they are praying for him, praying that he will be able to keep his family.


BLITZER: CNN sought comment from Sudan's government but was denied an interview with the justice ministry. We're told that the justice minister will not count it because a final judgment has not been reached in this case. CNN also reached out to prison authorities regarding the treatment of Meriam Ibrahim and was told it's standard procedure for inmates sentenced to execution to be shackled.

Around the world, women and girls face horrible discrimination and often are treated like property or denied an education. How can you help? Go online to CNN's Impact your World. Our site provides ways to become more aware and make an impact.

BLITZER: Are you a nosey neighbor? Maybe not. But one company wants your help. A move is underway now to track every person on the streets of New York. We're going to show you the plan and then tell you what it means to you.


BLITZER: The president is in the briefing room. Let's listen in.

OBAMA: -- but I do and it's bittersweet. It involves one of my closest friends in Washington. In April, Jay came to me in the Oval Office and said he was thinking about moving on and I was not thrilled, to say the least. But Jay has had to wrestle with this decision for some time. He has been on my team since day one, for two years with the vice president, for the past three and a half years as my press secretary. And it has obviously placed a strain on Claire, his wife, and his two wonderful kids, Hugo and Della. Della's little league team, by the way, I had a chance to see the other day and she's a fine pitcher, but he was not seeing as much of the games.

Jay was a reporter for 21 years before coming to the White House, including a stint as Moscow bureau chief for "Time" magazine during the collapse of the Soviet Empire. So he comes to this place with a reporter's perspective. That why I think he will miss hanging out with you, including the guys on the front row.




OBAMA: But, Jay has become one of my closest friends and is a great press secretary and a great advisor. He's got good judgment. He has good temperament. And he's got a good heart. We're going to miss him a lot. I will continue to rely on him as a friend and an advisor after he leaves to spend as much of the summer as he can with his kids before he decides what's next for him. Whatever it is, he's going to be outstanding at it. Of course, that means I had to make a decision which is who succeeds Jay. And we've got enormous talent around here but I've decided that we're going to put in this slot somebody is also a friend and advisor. So today, the flack jacket is officially passed to a new generation, Mr. Josh Earnest. (APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Josh is the coach's son from Kansas City. He still routes for the Royals, I guess.


As you know, his name describes his demeanor.


Josh is an earnest guy and you can't find just a nicer individual, even outside of Washington. The country, of course, knows him for his golden voice and dulcet tones on "West Wing Week," the biggest viral Internet hit since "Between Two Ferns."


But Josh and I have an incredible history going all the way up back to Iowa caucuses. Josh was my communications director. And even when he was in that role, you'd find him spending an extra hour to help the young staffers to make phone calls, knock on doors. There was no task that was too small, no detail to unimportant for Josh to attend to.

At the White House, he has been a mentor to many of the young people here who I know are thrilled for him today. He is of sound judgment and has a great temperament. He is honest and full of integrity. And I'm sure you will, as some point, get frustrated him as well.


But it's going to be hard. He is a straight shooter and a great guy.

So my request is that be nice to Jay on his farewell tour. And be nice to Josh during his initiation, which I am sure will last maybe two days or perhaps two questions.


So we're going to let him hang around a little bit to milk it for all it's worth. All right?


Thank you, guys.