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VA Cannot Investigate Itself; President Obama Pushing For Paid Maternity Leave; White House Sending Millions South; Egypt Convicts Three Al Jazeera Journalists

Aired June 23, 2014 - 16:30   ET



DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Citing a troubling pattern, the letter from the office of special counsel to President Obama says veterans' health and safety has been unnecessarily put at risk because the VA refuses to admit that problems reported by whistleblowers could impact the health of patients.

That is something CNN learned firsthand from whistleblowers across the country like Brian Turner. As a scheduling clerk in San Antonio, Texas, he saw how appointment times were being manipulated to hide excessive waits for care. He also saw how some veterans were suffering because of it. Yet, when he blew the whistle, he says he was shut up.

BRIAN TURNER, SAN ANTONIO VA CLERK: There was never a response back except for to get a direct order to say anything else to anyone.

GRIFFIN: Shut you up?

TURNER: They shut me up the very next morning. The very next morning, I was called into an office and told not to e-mail another person.

GRIFFIN: The office of special counsel said it is currently investigating 50 whistleblower cases that allege threat to patient health or safety.

In Jackson, Mississippi, whistleblowers brought forth a laundry list of complaints including unlawful prescriptions for narcotics, unsterile medical equipment and chronic staffing shortages.

In Grand Junction, Colorado, the drinking water was tainted with Legionella bacteria.

In Montgomery, Alabama, a lung doctor just copied over patient readings from previous appointments in 1200 records instead of putting in current information.

Yet, in case after case, the VA's internal medical review agency refused to admit any patient was harmed. And failed to use information from whistleblowers to identify and address systemic concerns that impact patient care. (END VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN: And John, I think that is the bottom line here. That the office of special counsel basically is saying the VA cannot investigate itself and the VA probably cannot fix itself. That's why it's gone to the White House.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You know, and that's the important issue here, Drew, is what happens going forward? I guess my question is, is this report focused on the pre-Eric Shinseki era? Because there's obviously been some big changes in the VA in the last few weeks. This was mostly focused on before the last three weeks.

GRIFFIN: Yes, absolutely. That's what I think is most troubling that these reports have been around. They've been around for years, John. The VA has not acted. It took this crisis, this public relations crisis, this airing of the dirty laundry before the nation, before the VA even realized it needed to fix this problem. And that is really what is the most troubling here.

BERMAN: It's troubling. We'll see if it fixes itself or can be counted on to fix itself and what the White House does to respond to the report.

Drew Griffin, thanks so much for reporting on this.

Coming up for us on THE LEAD, Hillary Clinton says she and her husband are not like the truly well off when it comes to money. And Republicans offer to play the world's smallest violin for her. And guess wholes may be in on the game here, the vice president. Our politics lead next.


BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD, everyone.

Time for our politics lead. Not sure if you heard, but Hillary Clinton it turns out is on a book tour right now. "The Guardian" published an interview this weekend. They asked her if Americans see her as part of the problem when it comes to income inequality. And here's how the article described her response. Look at it.

But they don't see as part of the problem, she protested, because we pay ordinary income tax unlike a lot of people truly well off. Not to name names, and we've done it through dint of ward work, she says, letting off another burst of laughter.

All right. This seems like it might be problem, talking finances. People are going to bring this up, right? I want to bring in senior political correspondent, Brianna Keilar. She covers Hillary Clinton for us.

And Brianna, once again, the Clinton camp on the defensive about the issue of the Clinton family finances.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And rich isn't necessarily the problem, John, as you know. It's really the out of touch that is the problem here. A lot of Americans think that Hillary Clinton, that Bill Clinton, they've been in public service for the right reasons. But she's in danger here of damaging that when she's not acknowledging, you know what, they are pretty well off at this point. And the big issue with "The Guardian" comments is that they come right on the heels of thing she said to ABC's Diane Sawyer. Listen.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: We came out of the White House not only dead broke but in debt. We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to you know, piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses, for Chelsea's education.


KEILAR: Houses, plural, and that is really sort of talking to the out of touch thing that we were discussing, John. That's not something is, having multiple houses that a lot of Americans connect with. And so, she has to be very careful saying things like that.

BERMAN: So, you know, we say Republicans have been criticizing it. But it's just not Republicans in on this game today. Vice president Joe Biden said some things that really caught some people's attention including mine about his own personal finances. Let's play this.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don't hold it against me that I don't own a single stock or bond. Don't hold it I have no savings account.


BERMAN: So he said this type of thing before, but to say it today when these issues are swirling around Hillary Clinton, this guy's been in the game for an awful long time for this to be a pure coincidence.

KEILAR: Yes. And that's something, I think, that raises the antenna of a lot of folks like yourself. But for instance, and his folks are right. People in his camp say look, he's said this before. But he's saying this today as this is becoming a big story.

And I should also point out though, he does have a savings account. His wife holds stocks. He was when he was in Congress, one of the least wealthy members of Congress. So, we'll give him that.

But I think what you can't really -- what can't escape you here is that we're seeing a lot of times on issues that have to do with how in touch are you with the middle class. There's a little bit of call-in answer going on with Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. Here's an example from January.


CLINTON: Last time I actually drove a car myself was 1996.

BIDEN: There's a lot of reasons to run for president but there's one overwhelmingly reason not to run for president. I like to get that Z06, was 0 to 60 in 3.4 seconds.


KEILAR: So, she said that in January. It seemed like he kind of replied there a little bit in the February. So he's not exactly giving her a pass. But, John, you look the polls and he is trailing behind her something fierce.

BERMAN: Just more of coincidences.

Brianna Keilar, thank you so much. Great to have you with us.

In other political news, President Obama continued his fast food tour. Today's stop was Chipotle. Just don't tell the first lady how many calories if you can stuff in one of those delicious burritos. In his defense, it was a working lunch with parents from the working family summit a White House event to promote more family friendly workplace policies. One idea that will isn't universal yet is paid time off for one of the most important moments in a parent's life.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Many women can't even get a paid day off to give birth. That we should be able to take care of.


BERMAN: It is an issue the president says is close to his heart as he told CNN's Kate Bolduan in a sit down interview.


OBAMA: I was raised by a single mom who had to work, go to school, raise two kids. I didn't come from a wealthy family. We were helped by my grandparents and the primary bread winner there was my grandma, who never got a college education but worked her way up from a secretary to being a vice president of the bank, but also hit a glass ceiling. I've got a strong successful wife who I remember being reduced to tears sometimes because she couldn't figure out how to juggle everything that she was doing. And I've got two daughters that I care about more than anything in the world. And so this is personal for me.


BERMAN: "NEW DAY" anchor Kate Bolduan joins me now.

And Kate, you know, the president seemed to be speaking from the heart right there. How much does he intend to push on these initiatives? How much does he think he can get done in the next two years? KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST, NEW DAY: That's two different answers to that

one, how much he wants to get done and how much he can get done are two different answers.

I mean, he laid it out in very personal terms. You see why it's important to him. He even points to a study by the U.N. that laid out, and in terms of the maternity leave, the issue of the 185 countries that the U.N. has data on, only three of those countries do not offer some kind of paid maternity the leave. Those countries are Oman, Papa New Guinea and the United States. And he says very clearly and very simply in the interview, it just doesn't make any sense why we're on that list.

But what he wants to do and what he can get done in this environment; that is a very different thing. There is -- he's pushing forth a memorandum, presidential memorandum, what he can do within his staff on the staff level, where true he has really control off. But when it comes to the bigger issues having a big impact; that is going to take Congress.

There are some -- I guess there's bipartisan sentiment on Capitol Hill. Everyone's got families. Everyone got mothers and wives that they want to help out most of them. But what they can get done, they're totally idea logically different.

BERMAN: Now, you care about this because you care about public policy. But you also care maybe a little bit more because, you know, a little something's on the way. Who better to go to for parenting advice than the president of the United States.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. You -- I was surprised to see how personal he got in the interview. Which is why not ask, and also, because that baby was doing can-can (ph) the entire interview, why not ask for what kind of advice the president himself has for first time parents.


BOLDUAN: Mr. President, we need to wrap up. But since she has been kicking throughout our interview, the little miss would want to know if you have best advice for first time parents, this one included.

OBAMA: You know, you're going to do great. Michele and I talk about this. Kids are more resilient than you realize. You give them unconditional love, and then you give them some structure and some rules. And they usually turn out really, really well. And they'll bring you a lot of joy.

But you know, we were pretty big believers in as early as -- as soon as they could understand words, you start giving them some assignments. Nap, eat your peas. You know, pick up the toys off the floor. And you know, by the time they're 16, they turn out pretty good although they don't always give you as much time with them as you want.


BOLDUAN: So, I mean, that's good advice for all of us, nap and eat your peas. (INAUDIBLE).

BERMAN: The president thinks you're going to do a good job.

BOLDUAN: And you know, the presidential seal of approval on that doesn't hurt. But you know, no matter what, don't forget the politics surrounding this no matter if they get it policy or not, this isn't bad for the president to be putting them forward.

BERMAN: Kate Bolduan, thanks so much for being here. See you tomorrow on "NEW DAY."

BOLDUAN: That sounds good.

BERMAN: Coming for us, thousands of children sitting in detention centers on the border. I will speak with the mayor of the U.S. border town who says it is time for the federal government to step up.

And in the Money Lead, what time is it? Time to get a watch. Kobe Bryant becomes one of the first people on earth to test out something probably hundreds will be lining up for soon. We'll tell you what it is. Stay with us.


BERMAN: The National Lead now. The surge of undocumented children streaming across the border into packed detention centers in the U.S. is now both a humanitarian crisis and a political hot potato. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a potential presidential candidate blames the influx squarely on the White House.

Senator Cruz and the Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott spoke today at San Antonio's Lackland Air Force Base where several unaccompanied minors are being held now in a temporary shelter.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: When the president of the United States announces to the world amnesty for those who have broken the law, the consequence is, people respond to that.


BERMAN: The White House hasn't announced amnesty to everyone that's broken the law. Still the problem is very, very real still and having major consequences for American border towns.

I want to bring in Raul Salinas, the Democratic mayor of Laredo, Texas. He spent 27 years as an FBI agent. You know, Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for being with us right now. You are seeing firsthand just what a crisis this is. I wonder if you can paint a picture for us of what you're seeing every day.

MAYOR RAUL SALINAS (D), LAREDO, TEXAS: We're seeing approximately 1,500 undocumented individuals from Central America coming into the U.S. through the Texas borders. Twenty percent of those are unaccompanied children, minors. It's a very critical and serious situation. And what we're asking is for help from the federal government, maybe to set up a facility to process these individuals.

There's no facilities for showers, for interviews. These individuals need to be interviewed, but I think I know that FEMA, there's FEMA presence, but I think we should step it up to try to take care of the situation. This is a very critical situation. According to some of my friends in the government, they're telling me that if this surge doesn't stop, we'll probably have at the end of the year more than 300,000 undocumented individuals coming in from Central America.

This is a very serious issue and it does put a burden on the cities. We've had an opportunity to talk to folks in the White House and they're willing to, trying to find out ways that they can help. But this is a humanitarian issue. I've met with some of the individuals that came in, moms with their kids at the bus station in Laredo, Texas. It's really a horrible situation.

But you know, we need to step up to the plate and provide them with some assistance at least. The folks at the bus station, they're family members here in the United States are providing them with bus ticks to get to their destination. It's a horrible situation. It's really a difficult situation. It is -- it is not only a political issue, but is also a health and perhaps a security issue.

BERMAN: You say you want to see more assistance I think from the federal government. The White House announced a plan last week to give some funding to Central American nations to stop the problem there. I asked your attorney general, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott about this last week. Listen to what he said.


GREG ABBOTT, TEXAS ATTORNEY GENERAL: Vice President Biden was in Central America announcing almost $100 million of funds for Central American countries as opposed to spending a single dime helping out either A, the humanitarian effort that we need here in Texas or B, spending any money to help secure the border here in Texas.


BERMAN: Do you wish that money $100 million was coming partially to you?

ABBOTT: No, not to us, but I can tell you that we're doing the best we can. I think the people stepped to up to the plate. Catholic Church organizations are providing food, clothing and whatever people need, all the help. But we also need help because I really think we really do need a one-stop shop to try to handle this process.

I remember a few years ago when the mayoriolitas came from Cuba. We really do have to organize. I am concerned because there's health issues, security issues, but I have to tell you we need to work together in a positive way to try to resolve this matter, but I think we also have to have the heads of governments in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala take care of business at home because this is a very difficult situation. One of the things in talking to some officials this morning that we need to identify, we need to know who's coming into the United States. If there's a way we can help. I don't think we're a country that's going to allow people to starve. I mean, I think we can do a good job. There's got to be a positive conversation between Democrats and Republicans, all of us together to try to resolve this issue.

BERMAN: Let's hope we can have that conversation because sometimes on immigration, that is a difficult conversation to have. Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas, thank you so much for at least talking to us today. I really do appreciate it.

SALINAS: Thank you, sir.

BERMAN: Coming up, the iWatch. A device for society now too lazy to pull our phones out of our pockets. But could it whip us into shape, too. One of the most athletes in the world now testing its capabilities. More on the Money Lead next.


BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD. In World News, a judge in Egypt sentenced three Al Jazeera English journalist to prison for doing their jobs. The three reporters were arrested and locked up back in December. They've now been sentenced to more than seven years behind bars for allegedly aiding the Muslim Brotherhood, spreading false news and endangering Egyptian security. All three of these reporters vehemently deny these charges.

Finally, the Money Lead, wires and breathing tubes lashed on to every muscle fiber or a lead athletes gauging their performance down to the most minute detail, Apple wants to take all that and put it in a watch. Apple's first piece of wrist bling reportedly will have ten sensors to monitor vital signs.

So who better to put the time through the wringer than Kobe Bryant, the Lakers star reportedly is taking the watch for an early spin. Apple probably hopes the move can score a few extra bucks even at 35, Kobe still had the third highest selling jersey in the NBA this past year. Let's hope the battery life is good on that watch.

Make sure you follow us at theleadcnn on Twitter. That is all for today. I'm John Berman in for Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, WOLF: John, thanks very much.