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THE SITUATION ROOM

Crisis in Ukraine; Donald Sterling Controversy; Spy Plane Debacle

Aired May 5, 2014 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: bloody new battles for control of Ukraine. I will speak with a journalist who was captured by pro-Russian forces. He says they blindfolded him and threatened to kill him.

Plus, key players in the Donald Sterling scandal are now speaking out about the future of the L.A. Clippers and whether Sterling is in fact a racist. Stand by. Our panel has some provocative things to say about that.

And a U.S. spy plane causing a major disruption in air travel in the United States. We have details ahead.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now, Russia is pouring more fuel on the crisis in Ukraine, accusing the Kiev government of waging a bloody war on its own people. Ukrainian forces are intensifying their fight to reclaim pro-Russian strongholds. It's a very deadly situation that's forcing the United States to consider new moves against Moscow.

Let's go live to Ukraine. Our own Nick Paton Walsh is standing by, along with a journalist who was recently freed by pro-Russian fighters.

First, let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr for the very latest -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, all the talk by the Obama administration has been about sanctions against Moscow for its actions in Ukraine. The question now, is there anything else the U.S. could do?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Ukraine is now spinning out of control, the violence spilling into Western Ukraine, where in Odessa a police station is attacked. Rioting continues in Eastern Ukraine by pro- Russian militants.

One woman in Slavyansk describing a war zone, saying:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The petrol station blew up right there. The bullets were flying above, and it was impossible to raise your head.

STARR: The U.S. is talking sanctions against Moscow. But critics say it may be too late.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Putin has successfully dismembered the Ukraine by using special forces and intelligence agents.

STARR: There is no U.S. military option to stop it all, but thousands of U.S. troops in Europe will join seven major military exercises in the coming weeks in Germany, Georgia, the Black Sea, the Baltics, and in Ukraine, where, in July, 11 nations, including the U.S., will train together.

CNN has learned the Pentagon plans to fly B-2s and B-52s in a Baltic Sea exercise next month. A U.S. official insists the heavy bombers would not fly in the immediate region. That would be too provocative, but a message still the same. The U.S. will defend Eastern Europe.

There is other help. FBI personnel in Ukraine are helping the government search for stolen assets from the previous regime, and the U.S. intelligence community is sharing some satellite imagery about locations of the 40,000 Russian troops still on the other side of the border.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And a new CNN/ORC poll shows just how little Americans want to get involved in Ukraine. Just 6 percent, 6 percent said they would favor immediate U.S. military action, and less than one-third said they would favor action if diplomatic and economic efforts failed to work, giving the White House very little reason to change its current policy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr, thanks very much.

Let's go to Ukraine right now. CNN is on the ground witnessing the fighting and the bloodshed firsthand.

Let's check in with senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh. He's in the flash point city of Slavyansk.

What's the latest there, Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're seeing violence across the country from the west in Odessa, to here, Eastern Ukraine, which has always been the seat of unrest, but particularly the town near where I'm standing, Slavyansk, into which the Ukrainian military did their best to make a move today, but in the end many civilians it seems caught in the crossfire.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALSH (voice-over): On the way into Slavyansk, we passed Ukraine's army edging closer to its center and were told to hurry on. Just around the corner, pro-Russian militants were clearly massing, ready, the green van driven by their best-equipped nearby.

This day, the probing by each side of the other stopped and broke into chaos of open conflict, a procession of ambulances to the hospital, this man's wife shot in the head, he said, while still on their balcony. She died moments later.

The random suffering and intimate moments of loss of what's fast becoming a civil war -- four militants brought in, too. On the other side, Ukraine said it lost four soldiers and a helicopter, whose pilot survived. Here, closer to the front line, they look for snipers, up close, the masked are less mysterious, more human in their fury.

"They shoot at the people to blame it on us," one said, another saying they fought not the army, but far-right militants, urging us to film the toll on civilians. Slavyansk fears only worse can come.

The self-declared mayor hours earlier showed me how Ukraine's army had the town encircled. He will only negotiate if they withdraw and sleeps in his office under guard. He has one message for Washington.

"To Barack Obama, I would like to say following," he said. "Please stop supplying fighters with money and weapons, with military forces and mercenaries like Blackwater" -- rhetoric that feeds loathing, fomenting bloodshed, and the fear this is not the climax of recent unrest, but the start of whole troubles new.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALSH: Well, Wolf, Barbara was referring to a poll there. And I think those 94 percent of Americans who don't want to see American involvement here have a point.

It's extraordinarily messy on the ground, the Ukrainian army not particularly experienced in combat, let alone fighting a complex insurgency like this, the pro-Russian militants very well dug-in. And this is probably going to spiral increasingly bloodily in the week ahead.

And I think many potentially in the days coming may be looking to the Russians, perhaps, to try and stabilize the situation. It's unlikely Kiev can do that, and that may be exactly what Vladimir Putin was hoping was going to happen -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh on the ground for us in Eastern Ukraine.

BuzzFeed correspondent Mike Giglio was among a group of journalists detained, threatened and finally released by pro-Russian militants. Mike is joining us now from Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.

So, tell us what happened, Mike. What it was like and how long were you being held captive?

MICHAEL GIGLIO, BUZZFEED: Thanks, Wolf.

Yes, I was headed down to Slavyansk from Donetsk on Friday with my translator, and we were stopped at a pro-Russia checkpoint and detained for about 30 minutes there, while they basically tried to find out what to do with us.

And after about 30 minutes, we were greeted by one of the people who was in charge of area from the pro-Russia side. They decided to abduct us. So, I was blindfolded, put in a van with the other journalists, and we were driven to a military headquarters of the separatists about an hour away. and held there for about two or three hours and then finally released when they decided that they could trust us that we were not spies.

And I think, frankly, they got orders from above to let us go.

BLITZER: How were you treated during that two-hour period when you were blindfolded?

GIGLIO: I think the way we were treated really shows the confusion and amateurism of the rebels here.

So, on the one hand, they were threatening us. They were pretty rough with us. One of my colleagues was punched a couple of times pretty hard while we were blindfolded. But then, on the other hand, they were trying to reassure us that everything would be OK. They were -- you know they removed all our possessions, but they told us we'd get them back.

And in between threats, they were sort of whispering, don't worry, this is going to be fine. And when they finally did make the decision to release us, the tension lifted. And actually, at the end of it, they served us tea and gave us by way of an apology a sort of halting explanation for what had happened, which, in short, was just that they just panicked.

There was a military operation going on and they were taking some casualties from the Ukrainian army. And I think they just freaked out. And they -- you know, they reacted on the scene and finally I think they found some logic and decided to let us go.

BLITZER: So you don't necessarily think there were orders from Russia, from Russia, from Moscow, to these local pro-Russian separatists, if you will, to go ahead, threaten, intimidate, cajole, get these Western journalists, American journalists in particular, worried?

GIGLIO: See, I think that's implied from the propaganda coming out of the Kremlin right now and from the pro-Russian media.

Western journalists and particularly American journalists are the problem. They're part of the problem. And there's really rabid anti- Western, anti-American sentiment coming out of Moscow right now, and filtering down through the media, which is really the only thing that the separatists are paying attention to right now.

BLITZER: So, how worried, how worried, Mike, are you?

(CROSSTALK)

GIGLIO: -- when it's a -- you know, I was very worried at the time. And I did receive special attention for being an American. And now I think, you know, how worried I am depends on how tense the situation is.

So, days like today, journalists can travel around pretty freely. And other days, when things are really, really reaching a boiling point, I think the emotions could get the better of people. And I think that they're so intensely set against Westerners right now that it becomes very dangerous for us.

BLITZER: Do you have a feeling that the place where you are right now in Ukraine, they may be on the verge of a major civil war?

GIGLIO: I have actually been struggling with myself what to call it right now.

I think what I would say is, anyone I speak to on either side of this right now calls it a war. It's just in their minds, that's what this has become. You know, I spoke to a very sensitive and, you know, well-connected pro-Russia separatist leader here in Donetsk today.

And he has friends on the pro-Kiev side. And I asked him how he feels about people being kidnapped. They have been holding hostages. They have been beating people, maybe even torturing them. And he said, "I feel bad about this, but it's war, it's dirty business."

And that's pretty much where they're leaving it right now.

BLITZER: Are you going to stay there or are you going to get out of there?

GIGLIO: I will be here for a while.

BLITZER: Well, be careful over there, Mike Giglio of BuzzFeed. Good luck to you. Be careful, as I like to tell our own reporters in these dangerous situations. And I know you have been in dangerous situations before. We will stay in close touch with you. Good luck.

Still ahead: Is Donald Sterling's wife sending a message to the NBA about the future of the L.A. Clippers and whether the family will fight to keep the team? Our panelists standing by. You're going to hear from Rachel Nichols, Don Lemon, Jeffrey Toobin.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following new developments in the scandal surrounding the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers and his racist remarks.

Donald Sterling's estranged wife, Shelly, says she supports the NBA's decision to ban him for life and she's promising the team will work with the league to find a new CEO for the Clippers, which she co-owns.

But notice what Shelly Sterling didn't say, no word about selling the team. The NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, is pushing for that, asking other team owners for support.

Let's bring in our CNN anchor Don Lemon, CNN's Rachel Nichols, the host of "UNGUARDED WITH RACHEL NICHOLS," and our CNN legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

What do you make of Shelly's statement, Rachel, that she supports a new CEO, but she's giving no indication she, herself, is ready to sell the team, and she is a co-owner?

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's pretty fascinating to watch this play out, because it appears that Shelly Sterling is playing both sides.

On the one hand, she makes conciliatory remarks. She issues these statements denouncing her supposedly estranged husband. On the other hand, video cameras and paparazzi out in L.A. have caught her having dinner and out and about with her so-called estranged husband, Donald Sterling, and defending him to paparazzi. Asking if he was racist, she says, no, of course not.

So, it's interesting to see her involvement in this, whether she's in some ways a go-between between Donald Sterling and the team or the league, sort of feeding back any information. And, meanwhile, we hear from TMZ that Donald Sterling is lawyer-shopping. So, he's going to definitely fight to hold this team, it looks like. It's definitely an interesting balance over there.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, legally speaking, let's say Adam Silver gets his way, all the owners, or at least more than owners, more than three- quarters of them, vote that he must give up the team, sell the team. Could she emerge, legally speaking, as someone who would emerge as the sole owner, if you will, of the team?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Legally, I suppose it's possible that she could make a bid, but it's not going to happen.

Adam Silver has bet his entire commissionership on resolving this situation in a way that is satisfactory to the players, to the other owners, to the larger community, which wants Sterling out. Getting her in as an owner is not a satisfactory solution. The NBA will definitely not sit still for that. And they have control over--

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Go ahead, Don.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: -- franchise.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Jeffrey, what -- I heard, though -- and I'm not sure if you talked about this, but what if it's in a trust? I heard that the team may be in a trust, and if it is, that Adam Silver really can't do anything about it. If it is really in a family trust, then it has to remain with the family.

TOOBIN: No, that's not true.

The NBA -- this is their candy store. They decide who can own the teams and who can't. You can call it a trust. You can call it community property. You can call it anything you want. If three- quarters of the owners vote that the current owner's situation is unacceptable, they're all out. And you can tie whatever label on it you want. But they are in charge of who owns franchises.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And, remember, Adam Silver already has banned Sterling for life from participating, attending, doing anything with the NBA.

Rachel, V. Stiviano, the supposed girlfriend of Donald Sterling, spoke to Barbara Walters. I want to play this exchange. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARBARA WALTERS, ABC NEWS: Is Donald Sterling a racist?

V. STIVIANO, EX-GIRLFRIEND OF DONALD STERLING: No. I don't believe it in my heart.

WALTERS: Had you heard him say derogatory things about minorities in general and blacks in particular?

STIVIANO: Absolutely.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, what's been the reception, the reaction to what she is saying?

NICHOLS: Well, first, I think there was amazement she didn't do the interview in her visor, because that's the only way we have seen her the past few days.

(LAUGHTER)

NICHOLS: So, that -- that all in itself was exciting.

And, of course, the idea that she is his -- quote -- "silly rabbit" was part of the interview as well. And my favorite part of that was Barbara Walters asking her, is that his pet name for you? And her answer was, no, that's my pet name for me. So --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: -- favorite thing was when Barbara Walters goes, his what? The way she said it, it was--

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: It was like she said the same thing I said as she was doing the interview. When she said, he called me his silly rabbit, I said, his what? And Barbara said, his what? (LAUGHTER)

LEMON: It's ridic -- she's crazy.

(CROSSTALK)

NICHOLS: I got to tell you guys, I spent this--

BLITZER: Go ahead, Rachel.

NICHOLS: Yes.

I mean, I spent this morning with a bunch of the members of the Miami Heat at their practice. And they're obviously focused on their upcoming playoff series. But there's chatter about this among the players. They think this is a sort of crazy sideshow. They heard that comment as well and some joking around about that.

But I will say, as this sideshow and circus act of V. Stiviano plays out, the players are still pretty focused on this idea of Donald Sterling and how fast or slow the process is moving. And a couple of the players I spoke to were concerned that the NBA's advisory committee hasn't yet notified Donald Sterling of their intention to have a vote to try to force them out.

LEMON: Right.

TOOBIN: Actually--

NICHOLS: And, Jeffrey, you were talking during the break about the lawyers that Donald Sterling is talking to. They seem like pretty sharky and confident lawyers.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Glaser and Weil.

You know Patty Glaser, right?

TOOBIN: I do indeed.

LEMON: She represents Conan O'Brien, Keith Olbermann, and also Paula Deen with the famous N-word deposition.

And what is this Quinn Emanuel?

TOOBIN: Yes, Quinn Emanuel is really one of the finest law firms in the country, very highly regarded.

But, look, the -- everything the NBA has done since the day Adam Silver decided to get rid of -- to get rid of Donald -- this ownership has been designed to defeat an attempt to stop the sale. So they know what's coming. You can get the best lawyers in the world, but if the NBA constitution says what it says, and it's pretty clear, it is up to the NBA, and Donald Sterling is forbidden under the NBA contract from challenging it in court. (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You know, I spoke in the last hour with one of the co-owners of the Atlantic Hawks, an NBA team, Bruce Levenson, and he told us here in THE SITUATION ROOM this process is going to move fairly quickly right now. He has no doubt about that.

Don, I want your reaction to what V. Stiviano, the supposed girlfriend, said about Donald Sterling. She says, "The things he says are not what he feels." What do you think about that?

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: I never really say anything I don't feel, especially when you're in the heat of a conversation like that. And supposedly, according to her, there are hours of tapes where they have conversations like that.

I don't -- how many -- Wolf, how many times have you gone on hours about something you didn't feel, negating and contradicting yourself? Most people don't do that. Usually, in the privacy of your own home, when you're speaking to the person you're having a relationship with, when you're speaking to your beautiful wife, who I know, you're speaking from the heart. You're talking about things you know about that's closest to you and your inner feelings.

I don't believe her. I think she has 1.9 billion reasons as well to say that she doesn't believe Donald Sterling is a racist and to say that she doesn't believe that that's what's in his heart. I think she's still motivated by money that she can possibly get from him; therefore, she's going to say what she said to Barbara Walters.

TOOBIN: In these scandals, there's a requirement to have colorful subsidiary characters. You need a Kato Kaelin. You need a Linda Tripp.

(LAUGHTER)

TOOBIN: And V. serves that function in this case.

But, regardless of what she says, it's not going to make any difference, because she's -- the tapes say what the tapes say and the league's made up its mind and Sterling is gone.

BLITZER: And you have no doubt -- I assume you have no doubt, I have no doubt that, when the vote finally comes, Rachel, it's going to be nearly, if not completely unanimous that this guy must sell the team.

NICHOLS: Well, as I said, players are a little concerned that the pace of this, while everyone has used the words like expeditiously and we're going to do this as quickly as possible, the pace of it has slowed in recent days.

And part of that may just be concern of having all the T's crossed and I's dotted so that if there is any outside legal involvement, everything does hold up if there is a lawsuit. But that pace is starting to raise some eyebrows around the NBA. And they're going to let the playoffs play out and see how this process goes on.

But there's definitely talk if we reach the off-season, if we reach the summer in the NBA, and there isn't significant movement here, players are going to get concerned again. And, remember, we had talk of a boycott at one point and talk of maybe, hey, NBA games might start up again in the fall. So, a lot of interest in how this plays out and how quickly it plays out.

BLITZER: Rachel, Don, and, Jeffrey, guys, we will continue this conversation. Thank you.

And, Don, we will see you at 10:00 tonight. Is that right?

NICHOLS: Thank you.

LEMON: Yes, sir. We will be talking about this as well.

BLITZER: OK. Excellent.

Just ahead: how a spy plane created an air traffic nightmare for thousands of American travelers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Surprising details are emerging about the air traffic mess over Southern California last week and a spy plane best known for Cold War fights over Russia was apparently the culprit.

Let's bring in our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh.

Rene, what are you learning?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, you remember last week we talked about the flights delayed, diverted, some even canceled at LAX, the third busiest airport here in the United States. They saw more than 100 delays.

And now today we have a better idea as to what caused the problems there. According to a U.S. official, FAA's computers, they were overwhelmed by the flight data of this U.S. spy plane. So the question that comes, how did a spy plane, you know, essentially, its flight plan create a problem with the computer system?

Well, two things happened. Number one, this spy plane had to input a lot, numerous waypoints. And waypoints are different points that it's going to hit throughout its flight path. It imputed many of them. That coupled with an outage for the communications and radar system, those two things colliding together, it created a mess for people who were trying to get from point A from point B.

And so that's why we saw the problems, because without those computer systems essentially, they're not able to safely space out the aircraft that are in the air. So, out of an abundance of caution, they made sure all of these flights were grounded or not taking off while they dealt with that problem.

BLITZER: That U-2 flies at a very, very high altitude too. So, here's the question. Could this happen again?

MARSH: Well, if all of those circumstances were exactly the way they were last week, in a short answer, yes, it could. And the FAA, right now we know they're working on trying to get a fix so that this doesn't happen again. But, again, if those circumstances are the same, it could very well happen again.

BLITZER: Because that altitude is, what, 50,000, 60,000 feet, right?

MARSH: They fly extremely high, well above commercial air traffic, about 60,000 to 70,000 feet.

BLITZER: Wow.

MARSH: Yes.

BLITZER: Yes, well, the U-2 has got a long, long history. Rene, thanks very much with that update. Let's hope it doesn't happen again, because it caused lots of disruptions.

Remember, you can always follow us on twitter. I hope you do. Tweet me @WolfBlitzer. You can always tweet the show @CNNSITROOM.

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That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Let's step into the CROSSFIRE right now with Newt Gingrich and Van Jones.