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Pope Francis Meets with Sex Abuse Victims; 63 Women, Girls Escape Boko Haram; Donald, Shelly Sterling Face Off in Court; Delay Over Parliament in Baghdad

Aired July 7, 2014 - 13:30   ET


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But it is things like this, the very big differences over the constitutional power of the president and, let's be honest, the fact that John Boehner wants to remain House Speaker and there's an election coming up. This is a raw-meat issue for conservatives. That's a big part of what's playing.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: To generate the excitement.

BASH: Absolutely. No question.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thanks very much.

The deadline for reporting final results from that bitter Mississippi Senate race is later today, 6:00 p.m. eastern. Once the results are certified, the Tea Party candidate plans to challenge the results in court. Chris McDaniel lost to the veteran Republican Senator Thad Cochran. McDaniel says some African-American Democrats who voted for Cochran had previously voted in the primary, and that's against the law. Cochran's campaign disputes the claim. The spokesman says the McDaniel campaign should, quote, "Put up or shut up."

Other news, Congressman Darrell Issa wants 28 years of documents involving the former IRS administrator, and he wants those documents today. This is the deadline set by ISSA for the records from the Federal Election Commission. He has subpoenaed all communications involving Lois Lerner from January 1, 1986 to the present day. Issa and Congressional Republicans are investigating where the IRS singled out Tea Party and other groups for extra IRS scrutiny. Lerner ran that division that targeted those groups.

Still to come, reports of a daring dash to freedom for some Boko Haram kidnap victims in Nigeria.

And a first for the pope. Meeting with victims of the church sex abuse scandal. What he said.


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

For the first time since he became leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has now met with victims of the sex abuse scandal. The pope received each of the six victims separately, then celebrated a private mass today with the three men and three women who were all from Europe. During a sermon, Pope Francis expressed sorrow for the crimes and he asked for forgiveness. Then he added this.


POPE FRANCIS (through translation): I beg your forgiveness also for the sins of omission on the part of church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members as well as by abuse victims themselves. This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our Vatican correspondent, Delia Gallagher.

Delia, tell us more about how the victims were selected, how this meeting was arranged.

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the pope in March created an eight-person commission on sex abuse. Part of that commission is a Boston cardinal, Sean O'Malley, who many people know. There are four women on that commission. It was the commission's job to identify and select together with the diocese of Great Britain, Ireland and Germany who the representatives would be. They arrived yesterday at the pope's residence. The pope said hello to them briefly at dinner time and then, this morning, as you mentioned, celebrated the private mass with them and then was able to meet with them one on one with an unlimited amount of time. It worked out to about a half an hour for each victim -- Wolf?

BLITZER: A lot of the critics, Delia, they believe this meeting should have happened a long, long time ago. What's the reaction? What's the fallout? What are you hearing?

GALLAGHER: Yes. Surprising, Wolf, for a pope who has been praised in this first year. This is the one area where he has received criticism, that it has taken so long for him to meet with abuse victims. Father Lombardi, who is the pope's spokesman, said in a briefing after this meeting that that was really not a criticism as far as they were concerned because the pope has been outspoken on this issue during his pontificate. And the fact that he gave them as much time as possible this morning showed how seriously he takes their stories, and that he wanted to sincerely listen to them rather than say anything in particular to them. The pope's spokesman, also, Wolf, importantly, leaving the door open for future meetings. Because one of the things said is, these are all Europeans, from Great Britain, from Germany, from Ireland, so the pope's spokesman leaving the door open for future meetings with victims from other parts of the world.

BLITZER: What about reparations to the victims? Any details? The pope has promised reparations.

GALLAGHER: Wolf, he did speak about reparations. Let's put it into context and say he was speaking in a sort of biblical sense, talking about the church, having the grace to weep and make reparations for its children. So in that sense, he wasn't speaking about any particular monetary reparations. Although, we know in the last 10 years, a lot has been paid out by the Catholic Church, particularly in the United States, in terms of reparations. But reparations can happen in many ways. One is a psychological and healing reparation. Perhaps, the most important, as you pointed out at the top of this segment, Wolf, is the idea of future accountability and ensuring that the measures that the church has put in place and have been working on for the past 10 years are going to be enforced. It's one of the things that victim groups are calling for. It's something which the pope made sure to mention today. He pledged better procedures and policies to ensure the future of minors would be safe -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Delia Gallagher in Rome covering this story. Thank you.

Coming up, a CNN exclusive. Our own Arwa Damon is on patrol with an elite militia force in Iraq as they try to keep ISIS troops at bay. Stand by for that.

And 63 women and girls escaped from their captors in Nigeria. How did they flee? Where are they now? Nima Elbagir will join us with the latest.


BLITZER: Take a quick look at the markets. The Dow made history last week by closing above 17,000 for the first time ever. The Dow off to a slower start today, down about 51 points. Still above 17,000. Today marks the beginning of the earning season on Wall Street. That's expected to be the focus for Wall Street for the remainder of the week. We will watch it closely together with you.

Now to a daring escape in Nigeria. 63 women and girls kidnapped last month by Boko Haram have fled the militant group, returned to the village that was burned down during their capture. But more than 200 schoolgirls abducted in April are still being held by Boko Haram. The Nigerian government has come under criticism for not doing enough to rescue the girls.

Nima Elbagir is joining us now from London.

Nima, what do we know about what's going on? The school girls still being held.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are. These women and children were from a different group, Wolf, that was taken at the end of last month from a slightly different part of northern Nigeria. It's a ray of hope in an unrelentingly dismal situation. Have had almost daily attacks. Finally, these women have managed to come out with their extraordinary story. They saw their opportunity, they say. The Boko Haram militants were holding them in a camp. They had to go back out to do another raid or to hold off a government attack that was coming towards them. And they left them unattended. Threatened them with death if they tried to escape. After a few hours, the women say they decided it was worth trying. Though broke the door down and walked for hours and hours. They described that it took them almost a day to get back to where they were originally abducted from, Wolf. They found, as you said, just ashes where their homes had been. They kept walking until they finally made it to a safe spot where they were taken in by villagers. And search parties were sent out for some of those too weak to make it to safety. But most of the women that were taken, 17 total, most of them are home with their families.

BLITZER: They are safe, those 63 women and girls, is that right?

ELBAGIR: Yes. Absolutely. There are still five more of the original abducted group, they are still held. We don't quite know whether they refused to come out or whether they were lost when the original break for freedom was made. It does just give a sense that perhaps after all this bad news and all the criticism of the Nigerian authorities for not quite being able to penetrate Boko Haram's security, that some pressure is clearly being felt by the organization. Otherwise, they wouldn't have had to leave the women unattended.

BLITZER: Has there been official reaction from the Nigerian government, which has been bitterly criticized for not doing enough to help these women and girls?

ELBAGIR: Absolutely, they have been. For good reason, because there is a sense the government at the moment, all it can do very much is hold the positions that they have. They don't seem to have the capacity to go into the forest. We know where the school girls were being held. We know they are being held somewhere. We have heard it from sources. We have heard it from the government. They don't have the military capability to go into these areas. The worry is as we come up to the 100th day that -- we're on day 83 or 84 now since the girls were taken and the worry is that the girls will start falling off the adeathda. If these women could get away, perhaps there is hope that the schoolgirls can be rescued.

BLITZER: The Nigerian government, they have a military. They have police. What's the problem? Why don't they send forces into these areas and at least try to free these girls?

ELBAGIR: They have a military. They have a police. They have a training agreement with the U.S. They have all that you would imagine they would need. The reality on the ground is very different, because there are allegations of corruption, of financial mismanagement. There's a lot of concern about what the reality on the ground actually looks like and what those in the ministry of defense headquarters are being told the reality looks like. What we saw when we went was very different from what the Nigerian authorities are told us, which is that they were spreading out, they were sending airplanes, they were sending helicopters. We didn't find any of that. They seem to be outstripped and out-maneuvered by the militants. The worry is that they don't feel the urgency in spite of all the reporting that has been done, in spite of all the talk that we have all been speaking, and we have all heard, that the military authorities on the ground aren't yet willing to do all that it takes to rescue these women and girls who are still extraordinarily vulnerable. Abductions are still going on as are attacks -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Yeah. Our hearts go out to those women and girls, their families. Let's hope that they are found and returned safely soon. Nima Elbagir, reporting for us in London, thank you.

On patrol with a special militia force. They were once outlawed. But they are back in action. They are trying to fight ISIS. Our exclusive report. Arwa Damon is standing by.

And later, Sterling versus Sterling. A court battle begins over plans to sell the Los Angeles Clippers for a record $2 billion.


BLITZER: On "This Day in History," July 7th, 1981, President Reagan announced his nomination of the Arizona judge, Sandra Day O'Connor, to become the first female justice on the United States Supreme Court. In her retirement, O'Connor founded a nonprofit organization and website to teach students about the U.S. government.

A husband and wife square off in court today in the case of Shelly Sterling versus Donald Sterling. A $2 billion deal to sell the L.A. Clippers basketball team hangs in the balance. Shelly Sterling negotiated the deal to sell the team after the league banned her husband over racist comments. Donald Sterling says his wife did not have the authority to make the deal.

As CNN's Brian Todd reports, the attorney taking on Donald Sterling in court is no stranger to high-profile cases.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A dramatic courtroom confrontation between two Hollywood heavyweights. Super lawyer, Burke Fields, squaring off against then-Disney chairman, Michael Eisner. Eisner accused of not paying former Disney big wig, Jeffrey Katzenberg, what he owed him.

Fields' question to Eisner, "You said you think I hate the little midget?"

Eisner, with visible anger, "I just want to say that is ill advised. And if you pursue this line of questioning, it will put in the public record those things I think are not necessary to be in the public record."

Fields, "And did you say to Mr. Schwartz, I don't care what he thinks, I am not going to pay him any of the money."

Eisner, "I would say, again, in anger, I said that."

Eisner and Disney reportedly paid Katzenberg more than $250 million.

Now Burke Fields will face off against Donald Sterling.

(on camera): Do you expect him to get under Donald Sterling's skin?

MARK GERAGOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I do expect him to get under Sterling's skin. I think there are certain hot buttons, not the least of which is Magic Johnson, and those kinds of things are hard for Sterling's lawyer to control him on.

TODD (voice-over): Sterling felt betrayed by Magic Johnson after Sterling's racist remarks were leaked to the public.

When the trial over Donald Sterling's mental capacity starts --




TODD: -- with the future of the L.A. Clippers at stake, Sterling, a lawyer himself, will face a man who has a reputation as a pit-bull in court.

LAURIE LEVENSON, PROFESSOR, LOYOLA LAW SCHOOL: Burke Fields is one of the great once in Los Angeles. He is a legend.

TODD: Fields has represented superstars like Tom Cruise, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Steven Spielberg, and he's rarely lost.

At this trial, Sterling's estranged wife, Shelly, will try to prove she acted properly in removing Donald Sterling from the family trust and agreeing to sell the Clippers on her own.

BURKE FIELDS, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD STERLING: I'm certainly not going to be stupid enough to be a bully or be abusive. I hope I've never been abusive in a courtroom. And I'm sure as hell not going to be abusive to Donald Sterling.

TODD: Her side, according to court papers, will hammer at Donald Sterling's alleged mental incapacitation, which his side denies.

LEVENSON: It will be very uncomfortable. I think Burke Fields won't have any problem at all just picking at Donald Sterling just getting at Donald Sterling and having him fall apart right there in the courtroom.

TODD: But those attorneys we spoke to, experienced litigators in Los Angeles, warn that Donald Sterling himself has been through tough cross-examinations, and is a wily operator in court.

(on camera): They also say if Burke Fields is too aggressive, it might blow up in his face. If he hammers mercilessly at Sterling, it could bring about something maybe none of us thought was possible. It could make Donald Sterling look like a sympathetic figure.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: Up next, we're on the front lines in Iraq. Our own Arwa Damon is with a specially trained militia brigade as it takes up positions against ISIS. This is a CNN exclusive.


BLITZER: We go to Iraq now. And a major delay over the parliament in Baghdad, which was supposed to get back to work this week on possibly picking a new prime minister.

Our senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, joining us live from Baghdad.

Arwa, progress in parliament was what the U.S. was demanding. So many others wanted to see it. Certainly, the U.S. wanted to see that before committing air strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq. So what's going on right now as far as the parliamentary maneuvers are concerned?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, clearly, the Iraqi politicians and leadership have been incapable of coming to an agreement. This does end up being something of a package deal when it comes to choosing the speaker, parliament prime minister, and president. This is also causing great anger and frustration amongst the population who had hoped that, at the very least, at this critical stage and time, their various political leaders who would have been able to put aside their own personal gains and ambitions and come to some sort of national unity government. Because without that, moving the country forward, even beginning to make gains against ISIS is going to be incredible difficult, Wolf.

Already today, a top Iraqi commander killed in the battlefield. The bloodshed most certainly does continue as security around the capital, we are seeing visible signs of that tightening.



DAMON: Baghdad's airport is about three kilometers, 1.5 miles in that direction. This is its first outer perimeter of defense with fighting positions like this one set up all along it. The boundary that they're using is natural. It's the canal just down below.

(voice-over): There are seven similar concentric lines of defense between here and the front line about a 20-minute drive away, which we visited last week. And is, we are told, still being held by Shia militiamen that once fought the Americans.

But Baghdad has been eerily quiet this last week, and everyone is on edge, anticipating spectacular bombings and sleeper cells emerging. That is especially of concern out here this close to Baghdad's airport and the capital's western edge.


DAMON (on camera): They're seeing a lot of activity at night, especially after 2:00 a.m.




DAMON: They don't know exactly what those cars are doing.


DAMON: They're quite suspicious, because they're coming at 2:00, 3:00 in the morning. And this is one of the areas, because it is predominantly Sunni, that people are quite concerned that ISIS has sympathizers, if not sleeper cells.

(voice-over): Shia Brigadier General Abu Abdul Bazzak tells us he doesn't want to turn it into a sectarian matter, but he says --


DAMON: -- this area has safe havens. Whenever you see Sunni areas, you will have safe havens.

These men are with the Budder (ph) Brigade, Shia Iraqis trained in Iran to fight Saddam Hussein's regime. They joined U.S. forces as the Americans invaded Iraq and then announced they would become a political movement. Now, officially, at least, taking up arms for the first time in over a decade, as Iraqi security forces desperately need reinforcement.

(on camera): That house right there next to the cell phone towers, one of the locations where they have been seeing quite a bit of the suspicious activity at fairly odd hours. But they haven't yet been able to secure the permission to go in and search it.

(voice-over): So they watch and wait, bracing themselves for battle. Mosul, they vow, won't be repeated here.


BLITZER: Arwa Damon, reporting for us. Arwa, an amazing story, an amazing report. Thanks, as usual for joining us. Be careful in Baghdad.

That's it for me. I'll be back 5:00 p.m. Eastern in "The Situation Room." "NEWSROOM" with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.