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More Startling Revelations in V.A. Scandal; John Kerry Interview about Iraq; Congressional Hearing on Halting Undocumented Children Entering U.S.

Aired June 24, 2014 - 13:30   ET



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

This just coming in to CNN. Safety investigators say the action by the pilots caused the deadly crash of Asiana Airlines flight 214 last summer. Today, the NTSB said the flight crew mismanaged the descent on approach to San Francisco International Airport. The Boeing 777 fell short of its approach, crashed on the runway. The NTSB also says a pilot accidentally deactivated the automatic air speed control. It says flight crews didn't monitor air speed closely enough and delayed aborting the landing.

More startling revelations, uncovered by CNN, pointing to another cover-up in the ongoing V.A. scandal. CNN has now learned the records of dead veterans may have been changed or physically altered, some even in recent weeks, to make dead patients look alive and to hide just how many patients died while waiting for care at a Phoenix V.A. hospital.

Our senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin, has broken the story for all of us. He has new details of the latest developments.

Drew, what are you learning?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, these allegations are coming from one of our original sources on this story. The actual keeper of that secret list, Pauline DeWenter is coming forward now because she believes a cover-up is continuing there.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): Pauline DeWenter, a scheduling clerk at the Phoenix V.A., is coming forward, because she believes she knows something that is, frankly, unthinkable. She says someone now is trying to hide the number of U.S. veterans who died here waiting for care. In seven cases so far where she has determined a veteran on a witting list was, in fact, deceased, she says someone above her has changed the record back. The veteran suddenly listed as alive.

(on camera): Somebody is going on that electronic wait list, and where people are identified as being dead, somebody is changing that and saying, no, they're not dead. PAULINE DEWENTER, SCHEDULING CLERK, VETERANS ADMINISTRATION HOSPITAL,

PHOENIX: Correct.

GRIFFIN: To hide the fact people died on that list?

DEWENTER: That's my belief.

GRIFFIN: What would be the -- any other purpose?

DEWENTER: There wouldn't be any other purpose.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Why? DeWenter says the numbers of dead in this V.A. wait list scandal may be even bigger than first reported. And someone, she says, is trying to cover up the record.

(on camera): And that has been happening fairly recently?


GRIFFIN: That is a cover-up?


GRIFFIN: Do you feel that the investigators are on to that?


GRIFFIN: Because you told them?

DEWENTER: I have surrendered evidence, yes.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): If there ever was a doubt there was a secret waiting list at the Phoenix V.A., DeWenter says she's here to lay those doubts to rest. There simply were not enough doctors, not enough appointments to handle new patients, backlog patients and, yes, very sick patients. DeWenter, a scheduling clerk, was making life and death decisions.

DEWENTER: And that really overtook even the wait list, because now I have a consult or veterans are very sick. So I have to ease up on the wait list -- it sounds so wrong to say, but -- and work these scheduled appointments so at least I felt the sickest of the sick were being treated.

GRIFFIN: And you're making basically those triage decisions?



GRIFFIN: Wolf, we asked the Veterans Administration directly to respond to the allegations made in this report. They only gave us a generic statement, saying that they are working hard to reduce the wait list and try to fix the systemic problems at the V.A. But apparently, this investigation could get very nasty out in Phoenix as a cover-up may be continuing there. BLITZER: It's hard to believe, Drew. Just when you think you've

heard it all, more comes out. I suspect we're just beginning to hear some of these huge, huge problems.

You're staying on top of this story for our viewers throughout the day, and the coming days and weeks, right?

GRIFFIN: Yes, absolutely.

BLITZER: All right, Drew, thanks very much. Thank you for the important work you're doing.

Coming up, more from the Secretary of State John Kerry as he talks about whether the president is really prepared to use military force in Iraq. He spoke with our own Jim Sciutto.

He's also trying to solve the humanitarian crisis. Actually, that's a separate story we're watching, about a flood of children crossing the U.S. border. Lawmakers are hashing out the options. We'll have the details.


BLITZER: Now for "This Day in History." The beginning of the Cold War. On this date, Soviet forces blocked off West Berlin from the rest of the world. The allies responded with the Berlin Airlift flying in two million tons of supplies over the next year to keep isolated residents alive. 41 years later, the Berlin Wall fell, ending the most visible division between East and West Germany.

Now the world is focused on calls for the unification of Iraq where Sunni ISIS forces are rampaging against Shiites and Kurds.

The Secretary of State, John Kerry, has been pushing the unification message over the past few days in Iraq, where he also sat down with our chief national correspondent, Jim Sciutto, to talk about the next steps for the United States and Iraq.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: June 12th, the president said -- he was appearing with the Australian prime minister -- that my team is working around the clock on options to respond. During that 12 days since, we calculated, ISIS has captured an additional 11 cities and towns, a key refinery, crucial roadways and border crossings. Hasn't the delay in the administration's response here on the ground, military action, strengthened ISIS during that time?

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: I think -- I think the real question, Jim, is not sort of what happened in those days. The question is, what can happen going forward, a strategy that's really going to work. The reason the president sent me out here is that if he were to make the decision -- I mean, he may have to, ultimately -- but if he made the decision without trying to see whether or not you can have a government that can work and reconstitute the military, then you have a whole different set options.

SCIUTTO: But you said yesterday the president was prepared to act before there was political compromise.


KERRY: He's always prepared to act, under any circumstance. He reserves the right to use force, if he has to, that's going to accomplish a goal. But the primary effort is to get the government to form so that you have something backing up what you're doing. So that you have a military here which can be reconstituted. So you have political leadership that can pull people together and they will feel invested in their government and prepared to push back. Why did you have a whole, what, six divisions, fold in front of several thousand, you know, terrorist fighters come in? Because they weren't invested. Because they cut their own deals. That's a failure of governance. And if you can reconstitute that government, then you have a strategy that you can begin to implement where a strike might be more successful. You may be able to accomplish more. You can actually have a holistic approach to the solution. I think the president is wise to be thoughtful about that, to measure it, but to reserve the right, if he needs to, to do something, which he does.

SCIUTTO: I just wonder how you feel personally, because more than two years ago, you were advocating for more robust support for moderate rebel groups inside Syria. When the president was considering military action in Syria, some said you gave the speech of your life, advocating for that action, explaining for it. Of course, it didn't happen. Since then, the war. And, again, we have to speak cross border, Syria and Iraq, has only deteriorated. I just wonder if you're personally frustrated to watch that.

KERRY: Let's be crystal clear, Jim, the reason that the decision to strike Syria didn't happen was because we ultimately came up with a better solution after the president made his decision to strike.


KERRY: The purpose of the strike was to send a message to Assad, don't use chemical weapons. Not a strike that was calculated to end the regime or to get involved in the war directly. It was to end the use of chemical weapons.


BLITZER: The secretary of state speaking with our Jim Sciutto in Iraq today. More of the interview coming up throughout the day today here on CNN.

Meanwhile, calls growing louder for the Obama administration to do something to curb the flow of tens of thousands of undocumented and unaccompanied children crossing the border into the United States. We're going to tell you if any progress was made at a congressional hearing today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Lawmakers are trying to find a solution to what's being called a humanitarian crisis. A huge crisis indeed. This year alone, more than 52,000 unaccompanied children have cross the southwest border into the United States. Now, what to do with them? That was the question on capital hill today.

Listen to this exchange between Republican Congressman Mike Rogers and the Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.


REP. MIKE ROGERS, (R), MICHIGAN: Why aren't we putting them on a bus like we normally do and send them back down to Guatemala?

JEH JOHNSON, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Because the law requires that I turn it over to HHS, sir.

ROGERS: Well, the law required Obamacare to be kicked in two years ago and that hasn't stopped the administration before when it wanted to do something different. This is a humanitarian crisis.


BLITZER: Let's discuss what's going on. Polo Sandoval is joining us. He monitored this hearing.

It got pretty tense. I must say, it is a humanitarian crisis, what's going on. There are separate rules for children who come across the border unaccompanied, undocumented, as opposed to adults.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That was a huge talking point that was discussed today, Wolf, and that was the process that the kids go through on a daily basis after they are apprehended. After they hit a certain age, they fall under the adult category. They are held as children for 72 hours as the law requires. After than, they are eventually released into several detention facility across the country. And eventually, after that, new reports from our congressional sources are reporting about 85 percent of them are eventually turned to their parents likely in the United States.

BLITZER: In the United States. If they are parents are there, they can go live in Baltimore or Cleveland, any place else Separate rules, as we've all come to learn, for the kids as opposed to kids as opposed to the adults.

And the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Mike Rogers, he had new numbers, huge numbers anticipating what could happen in the coming years.

SANDOVAL: The numbers are showing that it's expected to rise up to 90,000 kids by the end of this year. The chairman of that committee, he was very quick to point out that the numbers they are seeing, but he was also making it clear that there needs to be a solution here. Right now, the states -- for example, Texas, which is perhaps the busiest, now forking over some major money, about $1.3 million almost on a weekly basis, for state authorities to try to tackle this issue. But I thought the main take away here was, for the first time, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson acknowledging public that he was aware the numbers were growing. Essentially, a ticking time bomb when he took office about six months ago. Now, the numbers have ballooned into a major issue that the administration is quickly trying to especially deal with.

I can personally tell you, living along the border and reporting, this is nothing new, these families driving north. What is new now, though, is the sheer numbers that are overwhelming the system and costing major money to actually handle.

BLITZER: A heartbreaking story indeed. These little kids, some as young as six, seven, eight years old, they are being sent across the border. They are saying don't run away, when you see a police officer or border agent, go up there, they'll take good care of you, you'll be able to reunite with your family. That's a huge influx of people coming in. It's a huge story for us.

SANDOVAL: And last point, another take away that I noticed today was they also addressed the cartel issue. Remember, a lot of these children -- not only the unaccompanied children but also the family units, which is basically the adults with their children, they are using smuggling route that's are owned and operated by either the Gulf cartel or the Zeta cartel. It's heavy along --

BLITZER: These are drug cartels.

SANDOVAL: The drug cartels. And all of this money -- each of these individuals that we see as potentially a headache for the U.S. administration, those are big dollar signs for the cartel. So they addressed that as well. That's also a major concern is, how do they keep these organizations from spreading.

BLITZER: We will stay on top of the story.

Polo, thanks very much. Don't go away.

And other news we're following, members of the Boko Haram terror group attacks a remote village in Nigeria. They held the villagers hostage for several days while they looted it for supplies. After setting the village on fire, they took 60 women and girl captives. This happened almost a week ago but word is just getting out now because communications towers in the area have been sabotaged by these insurgents.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Huge excitement in Brazil these days. But as our Nick Valencia reports, you don't have to go to South America to experience World Cup hysteria.


(CHEERING) NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The epicenter of Latino culture in Atlanta, and today, ground zero for World Cup fever. Fans gathered to watch the knock out game of the day, Mexico versus Croatia. There's no question who this crowd wants to win.

(on camera): (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)? Who's going to win the World Cup?


VALENCIA (voice-over): From the kids to the pets, everyone seems to have a dog in a fight.

(on camera): For instance, they are definitely more excited about this World Cup.


VALENCIA (voice-over): While you might expect Mexican fans to be this die hard about their club --


VALENCIA: -- the excitement for the 2014 World Cup spreads far beyond the traditional fans, especially here in the United States. A record $18.2 million viewers watched the U.S. tie Portugal. The reason for all the eyeballs? The games are good. Some say it's a higher than average goal count. For others, the good-looking players make watching easy on the eyes. And the heightened interest in the country could have something to do with the U.S. fielding a teamwork cheering for.


VALENCIA: The family of U.S. soccer captain, Clint Dempsey, not the only ones excited about the team's chances but they certainly have an added incentive.

LANCE DEMPSEY, BROTHER OF CLINT DEMPSEY: This whole World Cup has been awesome because there's been a lot of upsets and surprises. I think they are getting an opportunity to surprise everyone so that they are the underdogs but they are going to come out on top.

VALENCIA: Some worried about not coming out on top? American employers who may worry about losing money because workers are watching the games played during business hours.

Those still unconvinced of their undying love for the sport still have plenty of time. Three weeks to warm up to the frenzy. But you better hurry. This may turn out to be the best World Cup of all time.

Nick Valencia, CNN, Atlanta.


BLITZER: Thanks very much. That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'll be back at

5:00 p.m. Eastern in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.