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Judgment Day for Owner of Los Angeles Clippers; Private Company Says It May Have Found Plane; United States Bracing for More Possible Storms; Possible Explosive News Conference; Investigators Refute Claims Plane is Elsewhere; Communications Released; President Obama's Approval Numbers Slip

Aired April 29, 2014 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, it's judgment day for the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. The NBA commissioner about to announce what the league found in its investigation of racist remarks Donald Sterling allegedly made.

Also right now, a major twist in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Now, a private company is saying it has found possible wreckage, and it's nowhere near the area the search has been focusing on so far.

And right now, one-third of the United States bracing for more dangerous weather. It's coming from the same storm system that's already killed 29 people and ripped apart homes, trees, cars all along the way.

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. We start with the countdown to what could be an explosive news conference from the NBA commissioner, Adam Silver.

In an hour from now, Silver will talk about the scandal involving the Los Angeles Clippers', owner Donald Sterling. Offensive racist comments on tape are being attributed to Sterling. He's been quiet about it to this point but there have been so many calls for the commissioner to kick Sterling out of the league. At the top of the hour, we expect to hear what Silver has decided to do.

Joining us now is Rachel Nichols, the Host of CNN's "UNGUARDED." So, what can he do? How far, Rachel, can he actually go? Can he force Sterling, for example, to sell the team?

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN HOST, "UNGUARDED": That would be extremely, extremely difficult. Adam Silver has broad powers, as he said in his press conference the other day. But he doesn't have unlimited powers. And right now, the commissioner does not have the power to unilaterally just kick an owner out of the league and force him to sell his team.

There's a couple provisions in the NBA constitution which, by the way, is a secret document. But enough has leaked out that we know there's provisions to remove an owner from his team if he can't pay his bills, for example, or he puts the team in certain positions but not ones that have been met in this case. He would need Adam Silver to separate Donald Sterling from his team completely financially the backing of three quarters to even more of the other owners. And we're not sure that he would have that.

But what he does have the power to do, he does have the power to fine Donald Sterling. Now, for a guy who has a $1.9 billion net worth, a $1, $2 million fine is not going to mean much. He does also have the power to suspend Donald Sterling. And this is where it could hurt Donald Sterling. He could suspend Donald Sterling indefinitely, remove him from day to day operations of the team, forbid him from being in the building when the team is playing. Basically take away all of the cache, other than the money of course, of being the owner of L.A. Clippers.

And hope -- which is what baseball was able to do with former Reds' owner, Marge Shot, that after being suspended (INAUDIBLE) that as she lost interest in owning that team. And they convinced her it was best for baseball and best for the Reds and best for her if she eventually sold it. The hope would be that they would eventually convince Donald Sterling to sell. But, as you know, Wolf, that would be a difficult battle. He is a litigious guy and he holds on to everything.

BLITZER: He certainly is. You know, Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, he told ESPN these words and I'll put it up on the screen. He said, there's no excuse for what he, Sterling, said. There's no excuse for anybody to support racism. There's no place for it in our league. But there's a very, very, very slippery slope. What do you think he means by that, slippery slope?

NICHOLS: Yes, Mark Cuban was talking in the locker room before the game last night. And this is sort of what I was getting to about he would need backing of ownership that I, personally, just don't think Adam Silver has. Adam Silver would need three quarters of the other owners to help him completely remove Donald Sterling from his team.

And from talking to people around the league, it seems that not that many other owners want to give Adam Silver that power because then he could turn around and remove any one of them from their teams. And that is exactly what Mark Cuban is talking about. Cuban is actually one of the more progressive owners.

So, if you have to figure, if he's concerned about that, some of the more conservative owners are definitely going to concern -- be concerned about that. Orlando Magic owner, Rich DeVos, has made statements in the past, on the record, that have people -- a lot of people have taken issue with. Comments that have been seen as homophobic, comments against gay marriage saying that gays are asking for, quote, "special favors" wanting to get married in this country. What if people turn on him and he's the next person that Adam decides to separate from his team?

So, I think that owners are going to be reluctant to give Adam Silver that power, that slippery slope that Mark Cuban is referring to. But it will be interesting to see how much Adam Silver uses this as an opportunity, Wolf, because we saw, a couple years ago, the commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, take the public outrage that was happening over all of the player arrests and bad behavior that was cropping up all around the country. He basically used that as a power grab. He made a whole bunch of new rules. He was able to put himself as judge, jury and appeals hearing.

And Adam Silver could use the public outrage we're seeing now to grab some power for the owners. That would be very, very interesting this early in his tenure, don't you think?

BLITZER: It certainly would be. And he just took over from -- to be the commissioner on February 1st so this is a huge, huge issue. Huge crisis for the NBA for the new commissioner right now. Rachel, stand by. We're going to talk to you again later this hour. Much more on this story coming up.

And don't forget, right at the top of the next hour, 2:00 p.m. Eastern, you'll see live, right here on CNN, the news conference, the new NBA commissioner, Adam Silver. He'll announce what he's planning on doing to Donald Sterling, the owner of the L.A. Clippers. Stand by for that.

In the meantime, let's move on to the search for Malaysian Flight 370. Investigators are now refuting claims by an exploration company that possible plane wreckage found in the Bay of Bengal is from the flight. The Bay of Bengal is thousands of miles away from the current search area. The CEO of the company spoke on CNN's "NEW DAY" and said he's not claiming Flight 370 has been discovered but he believes plane wreckage is there and said he went public because he thinks it needs to be investigated.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DAVID POPE, DIRECTOR, GEORESONANCE: We would like the Malaysians to organize perhaps, you know, the Indians or perhaps the Bangladesh Navy to send a boat out and have a look at the exact coordinates that we've given them because it's not guesswork. We've actually given them a precise coordinate. And have a look down there with sonar.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BLITZER: Earlier today, CNN Safety Analyst David Soucie suggested this company's claims shouldn't be dismissed too quickly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: As far as this company and their credibility, it's very high and they do have information that something was -- is there shortly after the accident that wasn't there before, including metals. They sense metals. That's what they're there for. So, they're sensing titanium. They're sensing aluminum. They're sensing these metals that were not in that particular spot before the accident. So, far as that, it does have credibility.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Malaysian officials also briefed family members today and played never-released audio from the cockpit.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TOWER: MAS370, morning, level two five zero Malaysian 370.

PLANE: MAS370, morning, level two five zero Malaysian 370.

TOWER: Malaysian 370 climb flight level three five zero.

PLANE: Flight level three five zero Malaysian 370.

PLANE: Malaysian 370 maintaining level three five zero.

TOWER: Malaysian 370.

PLANE: Malaysian 370 maintaining level three five zero.

TOWER: Malaysian 370. Malaysian 370 contact Ho Chi Minh 120 decimal 9, good night.

PLANE: Good night Malaysian 370.

(END AUDIOTAPE)

BLITZER: Those are the final words heard, good night Malaysian 370. The air search for the plane has now officially been called off. Most of the international crews are now being sent home.

Let's bring in Richard Quest. He's just back from Kuala Lumpur. He's back in New York. Richard, you heard David Soucie say he thinks this company does have credibility. Other authorities seem to be dismissing these claims outright. What do you think of the technology they use to find these signatures of a possible plane wreckage from some sort of plane in the Bay of Bengal?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: The company, GeoResonance, describes their technology as proven and says that they have found, in that particular area where the top of the block, number four, you can see on the screen, residues of aluminum, titanium, copper, steel alloys, jet fuel and several other substances that make up a Boeing 777. And the pictures that they have put out as well, the satellite pictures showing the resonance of what they've found also do show pictures very -- and structures very similar to an airline.

Now, of course, this is in direct, and I mean direct, contradiction to the direction of the Inmarsat pings and the refinement of that data which you're now seeing on the screen which would suggest into the south Indian Ocean. Follow the plane on the screen. And what you're talking about here is just about at this point now, the plane would have continued northwards when Inmarsat believes the plane continued south down into the Indian Ocean of Perth. So, Wolf, does this have to be investigated? Absolutely. They've got to see -- this -- you cannot ignore something of this magnitude from a reputable company that says they've discovered something of worth.

BLITZER: And I'm -- we just heard the air traffic control recording. We saw the transcript earlier. What did you make of actually hearing the audio? QUEST: It is chilling when you hear the audio, particularly when you bear in mind that one of the parties is -- you know, did not survive. But it backs up what we've been told, there is no sign of any distress. There's nothing untoward about it, except a rather sloppy final read back. And it doesn't really -- obviously for the families, it gives an element of piece, they've heard that which they wanted to. And incidentally, the investigators gave them serial numbers, they gave them details that they've been seeking. They answered questions blow by blow. So, the families got a lot more detail, but I'm not sure the investigation went any further as a result.

BLITZER: Richard Quest reporting from New York. Richard, thanks for the terrific work in Kuala Lumpur last week as well. We're going to have more coverage of this new twist in the search for the missing plane coming up later this hour. Our panel of experts will join us in a few minutes.

Another round of dangerous storms now moving through the country, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast. Some 75 million people potentially are at risk. That's about a third of the country. The violent weather has already left 29 people dead in six states. Mississippi bore the brunt on Monday when several tornadoes touched down in that state. At least eight people were killed there. In Tupelo, the winds were so powerful, they picked up this SUV and stacked it on top of a car. About 100 miles south in Louisville, Mississippi, another tornado was caught on camera. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stay here. Oh, my god. No, no, no. No, no, no. Stop. Sh, sh, everyone, listen. Everyone listen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We'll check in with our severe weather expert, Chad Myers, in a few moments. He's on the ground. He's watching all of this unfold. Stand by for that.

And once again, we're only minutes away from a press conference from the NBA commissioner. Adam Silver will address the racist comments allegedly made by the L.A. Clippers owner, Donald Sterling. And what? What, if any, punishment might be in store? We will find out at the top of the hour.

But up next, could the wreckage of Flight 370 be thousands of miles away from where they are currently searching? Our panel of the experts will discuss the new claims.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's quickly get back to that new development in the search for Flight 370. Investigators are refuting claims by an exploration company that possible plane wreckage found in the Bay of Bengal is from Flight 370. The Bay of Bengal is thousands of miles away from the current search area. The CEO of the company says he's not claiming Flight 370 has been discovered, but he does believe plane wreckage is there and he also says he went public because he thinks it needs to be investigated.

Let's bring in our plane panel. Peter Goelz, our CNN aviation analyst, the former NTSB managing director, is joining us. And our law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes, former FBI assistant director.

Peter, what do you think about this claim that possibly, they don't know for sure, possibly this wreckage that appears to have been spotted in the Bay of Bengal may be wreckage from Flight 370.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, we had a very similar situation after the crash of TWA flight 800 off of Long Island in 1996. Absent any really solid information, you have to check everything out. And in this case -- you know, in TWA's case, we looked at missiles, we looked at space junk, we looked at electromagnetic interference. None of them proved out and we solved the accident after a long investigation. But in this case, you have nothing. So you have to look at it.

BLITZER: This is a reputable firm, though, this exploration firm from Australia. So you would support - you would advise all of those searching, at least go to the Bay of Bengal and take a look?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I think they have to. I think when you get any kind of information in a case like this, any major investigation, even if you're pretty sure, you know, it doesn't add up, it can't be, it's probably not true, you can't just ignore it. And in a case like this, if they had found one shred of debris in the Indian Ocean that said, OK, here's from the plane, here's where it crashed in the water, we'll look for the rest of it now, then maybe you could dispute something like this.

BLITZER: But they -

FUENTES: But when you're absent that, they're kind of stuck having to follow this up.

BLITZER: But you say they can't ignored it. Peter, they've ignored it for four weeks or so. This firm came to the authorities four weeks ago and said, look, this is what we spotted, check it out. They went back two weeks later. Only now are they going public because nothing was done about it. So for all practical purposes, the Malaysians, the Australians, the U.S., everybody seems to have ignored this information.

GOELZ: Well, I know the investigators feel strongly that their analysis of the Inmarsat pings and the track that they have laid out, they feel strongly that that's correct. But, I say, as Tom said, without a single shred of physical evidence, you have to check everything out.

BLITZER: (INAUDIBLE). They clearly have to check it out now. There's enormous pressure to do so.

Quickly, on the audiotape, we heard - we had a transcript earlier, but now we actually heard the voices. What did you make of that? FUENTES: Well, I think it helps the Malaysians arguments that they just hold everything close to the vest. You know, by not releasing this weeks ago, like they should have and could have, they created these conspiracy theories, they're hiding something, there's something in that audio that's going to be sinister, and now they release it and it's totally innocuous. And it just shows that that's their policy. It gives them actually an increased credibility that all of the things that they're holding close to the vest, just because that's their policy, that's the way they work, and not they're trying to hide things from the public.

BLITZER: Did you hear any nervousness in the voice? Did you hear anything different, unusual?

GOELZ: I heard nothing. It was standard. A late night flight. Little sloppy. But late night flights tend to be.

BLITZER: Peter and Tom. Guys, thanks very much for joining us.

So, once again, we're waiting for the NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, to hold a news conference. He'll do it right at the top of the hour. He's getting ready to announce the results of the league's investigation into L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Coming up, we'll speak with a panel of experts, including a former NBA player, about what is at stake right now.

And as President Obama returns home from his weeklong trip to Asia, he returns to some bad political news for him and his party.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right, this just coming in to CNN. President Obama has just declared a major disaster in Arkansas. Fourteen people were killed when storms tore through the state on Sunday. Suspected tornadoes destroyed homes and businesses. The president's declaration makes federal aid available for the impacted areas.

As President Obama flies home from Asia, he'll soon be returning to some new poll numbers. According to a new "Washington Post"/ABC News poll, the president's approval rating has hit a new low, 41 percent. Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is joining us now.

Gloria, when we take a closer look at these poll numbers, on his -- his overall number is 41 percent, not very good.

GLORIA BORGER, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

BLITZER: Only 42 percent approve of his handling of the economy, 37 percent approve of his handling of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, 34 percent approve of his handling of the situation in Ukraine. How worried should Democrats be about these numbers?

BORGER: I think, in talking to Democrats, I can tell you they're very worried about these numbers. They think they're very ominous. And there's another number contained in this same poll that worries them even more, Wolf. And by 14 points, the poll shows that voters want Republicans to control the Congress after this next election. So what that tells you is that they see the Republican Party as a check on what they consider to be an unpopular president.

Forty-one percent is the career low for President Obama in this particular poll. And any time you see the public say, you know, we want the Republicans in charge of the Congress, Democrats worry there could be kind of a wave election against them. And, of course, this is the sixth year of a presidency. Historically, in the sixth year of a presidency, when a president has low poll numbers, that's not good for his own party.

BLITZER: And several Democrats have said to me in recent days, as low as those numbers are nationally, 41 percent job approval number, if you go to some of those states where Democrats are potentially vulnerable -

BORGER: That's right.

BLITZER: Whether North Carolina, Arkansas, Alaska, some of these other states, his job approval number probably -

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Is even lower in those battleground states, if you will.

BORGER: So they have to decide whether they stand next to him or they just say, you know what, President Obama, you can raise some money for me, but how about not coming to my state because you're not going to help me.

BLITZER: In Louisiana, for example.

BORGER: Exactly.

BLITZER: Here's a number that's good for the Democrats. who do you trust to do a better job on issues important to women.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Democrats get 55 percent. Republicans only 25 percent. Republicans have a lot of work to do in that area.

BORGER: Well, that's right. That's why -- that's one of the reasons, of course, you hear Democrats talking a lot about issues like pay equity because they want to bring out those women voters who are much more Democratic. The Republicans suffer from a great gender gap. They're also talking about issues that are important to the middle class. Minimum wage -- that's another woman's issue -- because most of minimum wage earners are women. Immigration reform, because they understand what they've got is a motivation problem.

In this kind of a midterm election, sixth year of a presidency, Republicans are out there, they don't like this president, they want a Republican Congress, they're going to be more motivated to go to the polls. Even the president himself, Wolf, has come out and said, you know what, I've got to get my voters out there in order to combat these motivated Republican voters. And that's the challenge right now for Democrats is to get Democratic voters to understand that they have a big stake in this election. And that's hard when you don't have a presidential candidate at the top of the ticket.

BLITZER: And another political -- potential political issue is the secretary of state -

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Now apologizing, in effect, for using the word "apartheid" in describing what happens if Israel doesn't work out a peace deal with the Palestinians.

BORGER: Yes. He's come under a lot of criticism for that, from Jewish group, from Republicans in the Senate and he apologized for it. He said, Wolf, that that word is best left out of the debate here at home. He did make note, however, that some Israeli leaders have used the word "apartheid" themselves to use describe the situation this Israel, but he - look, he said, I'm sorry I said it. I shouldn't have said it.

Obviously the problem for John Kerry and for the White House is that this came at a very sensitive time. The peace talks have broken down right now. They're trying to get them jump started. He's been working on it for more than - for more than nine months. And having this kind of a controversy in the middle of it doesn't do anything to help the administration at all.

BLITZER: Yes, it wasn't just Republicans who were critical, a bunch of Democrats -

BORGER: Oh, it was Democrats too, obviously. Obviously. Obviously.

BLITZER: Yes, who were very critical of Kerry as well.

All right, thanks very much, Gloria, for that.

BORGER: Uh-huh.

BLITZER: Up next, we'll have special coverage of the Donald Sterling scandal. The NBA news conference getting ready to start. We're going through every angle of the story in advance. Marc Morial, by the way, president of the National Urban League, will join us. Also, former NBA star Earl Bailey and our own Rachel Nichols, they're all here. Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)