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U.S. Military Helps in Search for Nigerian Girls; New Audio Recording of Donald Sterling?

Aired May 8, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: strong storms threatening millions of Americans right now. We're just getting word of a tornado on the ground.

Plus, we're learning how terrorists are arming themselves to brutalize innocent children, as the U.S. military is about to hit the ground to find hundreds of kidnapped girls.

Plus, Donald Sterling in denial, the Clippers owner apparently caught on a secret recording insisting he's not a racist. He's also lashing out at the NBA legend Magic Johnson. There's a lot more to discuss in this huge sports sandal.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's get to the breaking news right now, severe, severe storms. We're the tracking them, threatening about 50 million people from Texas up to Minnesota. We're just getting word of a tornado on the ground.

Let's go right to our severe weather expert, our meteorologist Chad Myers, for the very latest -- Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: What we have, Wolf, setting up now is a superstorm-type event, which means we don't have lines of weather. Now, there are some lines out here, but we're not worried about those. We're worried about the individual cells, one, two, three, another north of Kansas City, four.

Let me take you to and zoom right on to the one in Minnesota. This is what it looks like, not that far, just to the north of St. James, Minnesota. You have to understand now Minneapolis is still 100 miles that way, but this storm now has intensity.

It has rotation and it's all by itself. It is that mesocyclone. It's the supercell that we always dread looking at when -- especially when it comes to going toward a big town or big city.

Here's Tim Purington from Severe Studios. He had a picture of this tornado on the ground a little bit ago. He had to move to get out of the way. We will watch this event all night long for you. There will be multiple tornadoes on the ground. We know that this was the ground now. Let me kind of focus on what we have here, probably a wall cloud right through here. I don't see a tornado on the ground just yet. But if you want to hang with me, he's now getting very, very close.

Something else, I don't know if you can see this on television or not, but that right there is green. Think about the top of an old Coke bottle. You look at it and it's green. That's the hail. The hail core of the storm turns green. So if you see a storm, you go, that doesn't look gray, that looks like a weird color.

That's what you're seeing is the hail inside the storm. Here's the wall cloud right through here, the base of wall cloud here and likely still on the ground. If we get this live and show it to you, we will break right in, Wolf. Let's get right back to you.

BLITZER: Those are live pictures you're showing our viewers, right, Chad?

MYERS: Yes, they are. They are.


BLITZER: If you're driving and you see that, you see something like that, what do you do? Do you keep on driving or do you park the car? What do you do?

MYERS: You absolutely park the car. Storm chasers, though, have radars in their car. They know what this storm is doing. They know what direction it's going. And they also know what roads are available. They have been doing this for years and years and years. We talk about these storm chasers.

They relay this data to the National Weather Service, because this storm was so far away from a radar, it was difficult to see the rotation. This was relayed in by radio to the Weather Service, and the rotation there, it was a funnel cloud at the time, was put out with a tornado warning because of those spotters, possibly saving lives even as we speak, Wolf.

BLITZER: And these live pictures, Chad, where are they?

MYERS: This is just now to north of St. James, Minnesota, southern Minnesota, almost center of the state, south and west of Minneapolis itself, 100 miles South of Minneapolis, but a big cell like this that's already rotating, that's all by itself, can go for 100 miles.

So we will keep you up to date as the show goes on, Wolf.

BLITZER: That's pretty frightening when you look at those clouds, you look at those pictures over there, Chad. All right, we're going to get back to you shortly. Let's hope for the best.

But there's other breaking news we're following this hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM: the U.S. military right now ramping up its role in one of the most urgent fights against terrorists that's happening. We're learning more about efforts to find hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamic terrorists in Nigeria and how those brutal terrorists are getting their weapons.

Let's go straight to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She has got new information -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, military officials insist the Pentagon is only going to offer advice and assistance to the Nigerians, but when you hear how Boko Haram operates, it is bone-chilling.


STARR (voice-over): Boko Haram's deadly arsenal in full view. Look at the armored vehicle here. CNN has learned U.S. intelligence believes Boko Haram stole vehicles like this from the Nigerian military. U.S. officials say the terror group's lucrative kidnapping enterprise also earns it enough money to buy whatever it can on Africa's illegal weapons market, a web of crime and smuggling, weapons used to terrorize and kill the innocent.

Residents say Boko Haram arrived in armored personnel carriers wearing military uniforms to this village, killing more than 300.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Our interagency team is hitting the ground in Nigeria now.

STARR: More U.S. assistance is on the way to help find the hundreds of kidnapped girls. A small U.S. military team is scheduled to arrive Friday to join other military, law enforcement, and intelligence personnel already on the ground.

The U.S. is talking to Nigeria about providing surveillance assets. U.S. drones operating out of nearby Niger could be the centerpiece.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They can help pinpoint the location of the Boko Haram kidnappers, as well as potentially the hostages.

STARR: If drones spot Boko Haram operatives:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They would also be able to very quickly relay data down to the ground to special mission units that could then take care of the mission and to actually potentially free the hostages.

STARR: But no decisions have been made about what to do, and the latest intelligence shows the girls likely have already been broken up into small groups and some may even have been moved across Nigeria's borders.


STARR: If the girls have been moved, especially across international borders, it is only going to make it even more difficult to find them, rescue them, and then get them back to their families -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a heartbreaking story this is. All right, Barbara, thanks.

Let's bring in our military analyst, the retired U.S. Army Major General Spider Marks, and our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

If these girls have been broken up, nearly 300 of them, and they have broken up into small groups, five here, five here, 10 here, that makes it almost like a mission impossible, given the terrain there, given the geography, what's going on.

BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, the real issue is, if they have been dispersed like that, now we have multiple pockets, lots of targets.

And, as has been described, this is really an intelligence collection requirement, and it requires the full cooperation of the Nigerians. Now, the problem there obviously is, their military is horribly corrupt, as is their entire government. And you have exceptionally wealthy, and you have got amazingly poor, and, really, you have a couple Nigerians.

You have got on the coast, where the oil is located, and then you have got essentially this hell, which is really desert, where these folks are located. So, the good news is, if they're in that part of the country, they're easy to find, yet still very difficult to get to if you want to do something about them.

BLITZER: Last hour, I spoke to Lisa Monaco, the president's top counterterrorism adviser. She confirmed that U.S. troops, law enforcement, intelligence, military, they're going in there, about a dozen right now. She also said they are deeply worried about this connection between this terrorist group, Boko Haram, and al Qaeda.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. And this is the new al Qaeda. Right? It's a franchise operation. Right?

It's not just al Qaeda in Pakistan, core al Qaeda, the most familiar al Qaeda, I think, for our viewers. It has these relationships with groups in Syria, groups in Iraq, increasingly, groups in North Africa. We talk frequently about al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula operating out of Yemen. Now you have another one.

And that's the problem. Maybe -- when I speak to intelligence officials about this new kind the franchised al Qaeda, maybe not as ambitious as the old core al Qaeda, but more difficult because it's more dispersed to snuff it out, to extinguish it. It's a bigger threat spread out around the world.

BLITZER: There's a limit to what the U.S. military, law enforcement, intelligence, what they can do in Nigeria if the Nigerian government and military aren't up to the job themselves, because the U.S. can advise, but they can't really get -- go in there, take charge.

MARKS: Wolf, that's exactly it. The intelligence collection piece is only a part of it. Intelligence is an active verb. What are you going to do about it once you get this intelligence? And if the Nigerians aren't cooperating at all in terms of how you're going to go after these targets -- and, again, the targets now are intermingled.

You have got terrorists, as well as hostages. That becomes a lot more precise. But I would imagine also there are probably some special mission units that are available if there is a target, and they can strike very quickly.

BLITZER: Is it possible this group, Boko Haram, which has basically been focusing in on targets inside Nigeria, maybe a little bit in some of the neighboring countries, going after schoolgirls -- they don't believe any girls should have an education, whether Christians, Muslims, or any girls should be educated -- could they now divert some of their attention to go after U.S. targets?

SCIUTTO: It's possible. We have seen this happen before in Africa. Right? Al-Shabab in Somalia was largely focused domestically inside Somalia. Then it started staging attacks in Kenya, some horrible attacks, remember, in the Kenyan mall attack.

It's possible. Boko Haram is different, though, to some degree. It's often described as something of a cult more than a typical organization, sort of like the Lord's Resistance Army. Traditionally, it doesn't have much organization. It kind of goes after any target, that kind of thing. That doesn't mean that it may not begin to set its sights abroad. And, of course, now terror groups love international attention. They're getting a lot of international attention right now.

BLITZER: And they might be getting emboldened. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

General Marks, thanks to you as well.

Still ahead: the L.A. Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, apparently caught on a secret recording talking about the infamous rant that got him banned by the NBA.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How can you be in this business and be a racist?


BLITZER: Our panelists standing by, they're passionate about the story. And they have a lot more to say about Sterling, the secret audio, and the fight over the Clippers.


BLITZER: We have got some severe weather going on, including a tornado on the ground.

Let's bring back our meteorologist Chad Myers with the very -- you have got some live pictures you're showing our viewers as well, Chad.

MYERS: From the same chaser as earlier, was near St. James, now kind of moving up toward Judson and Nicollet into southern Minnesota. And eventually, if this continues to evolve, and be strong, it could get to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area in the next few hours.

Typically, storms don't last that long, but here's what we have. We have been watching this tornado chaser right there. Have that rotation right through here, but the tornado base is here. Lots of rising motion, but nothing spinning on the ground. We always look down here to see if there's something down here, because not always will a tornado look like it's making its way to the ground.

Sometimes, it looks like it's stopping here. But then you notice on the ground there's the spin and then all of a sudden you know that there's a tornado.

As he turns to the left, this is the secondary part of the storm, I think. Move it up a little bit farther so you can see it just a little bit better. This is lowering of the cloud base right through here, and this is likely rotating as well as he looks off to the left. He's on a highway. He's well out of the way. He's a professional storm chaser, knowing where the storm is, knowing the right part of the storm to be in and the part not to be in.

So, great pictures here, but the driver right now is safe. The storm chasers are safe. But if you are in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, don't go to bed tonight without knowing where this storm is or even go to a baseball or whatever's in town tonight without knowing what's on the way, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good advice from Chad, as he always gives us. Chad, we will get back to you.

Other news we're following, new evidence that the L.A. Clippers' owner, Donald Sterling, and his estranged wife plan to fight demands to sell the team, Shelly Sterling's lawyer telling CNN she wants to keep her 50 percent ownership, Donald Sterling saying he can't be forced to sell his property.

And according to a secret recording released by Radar Online, he's saying a lot more, the Web site saying the audio captures Sterling talking to a friend about the rant that got him banned from the NBA and denying that he's a racist. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You think I have anything in the world but love for everybody? You don't think that. You know I'm not a racist.

(END AUDIO CLIP) BLITZER: Let's bring back our panel, our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, CNN's Rachel Nichols, the host of "RACHEL NICHOLS UNGUARDED," and our anchor Don Lemon.

So, what's the next formal step the NBA is going to take that we will learn presumably, other than these alleged recordings, we will learn directly from Sterling, what he's planning on doing?

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the NBA advisory committee has met twice now over the phone, conference calls. That's a third of the league's owners.

And they have decided to -- quote -- "continue the discussions" about removing Donald Sterling from ownership of the Clippers. The pace of this has some players around the league, frankly, a little bit concerned, because, remember, we're now coming up on two weeks from when these audio recordings first surfaced.

And, yes, Donald Sterling has been removed from day-to-day activities or any association with the team, but the big idea, the idea of completely separating him from the L.A. Clippers, that process hasn't even started yet. The NBA has not notified him yet of their intention to do that.

And part of it, let's be honest, may be as they try to cross all the T's and dot all the I's, trying to anticipate the legal wranglings of the Sterlings, of which we are finding out there are multiple fronts that they may be fighting on. Donald and Shelly may not be fighting together. They may be fighting separately. And let's face it. That's going to complicate things.

BLITZER: And I want you to listen, Jeffrey, you particularly, listen to Shelly Sterling.

This is not her. Listen to Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, speaking about Shelly Sterling when he was asked some pointed questions at that April 29 news conference.


QUESTION: Have there been any decisions about whether the immediate members of Mr. Sterling's family, including Rochelle, and his -- will be allowed to remain in an ownership or a managerial position in the league as well?

ADAM SILVER, NBA COMMISSIONER: No, there have been no decisions about other members of the Sterling family. And I should say that this ruling applies specifically to Donald Sterling and Donald Sterling's conduct only.


BLITZER: Go ahead, Jeff.


One, remember, what Silver did at that news conference was suspend Donald Sterling.

BLITZER: Banned him. He banned him for that.

TOOBIN: Banned him for that.

And we know that Rochelle Sterling has been to games since then. So, that did not apply to her. What he did not say is whether they had moved to remove both of them from their ownership position from the team. I anticipate that that process is already under way.

NICHOLS: Jeff, the question said ownership. In the question, it said ownership.

TOOBIN: That's right. He said that decision had not yet been made, but the decision to exclude her had been made.


TOOBIN: She was not excluded from going to games and whatnot.

BLITZER: Is there any way, Don, she can become the effective, principal owner of the L.A. Clippers, even if he walks away, he's banned for life?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Listen, Wolf, I think anything is possible.

And, you know, when you -- you would think the law would be final, but it seems to be squishy when you talk to Jeffrey. And when I talk to Sunny Hostin and all of our legal experts, they say it appears to be kind of squishy. I think anything is possible.


NICHOLS: Is that a legal term?

LEMON: Yes, right.

But, practically, I don't think so. And speaking to someone in Los Angeles last night who's very close to this said Donald Sterling really has the ability to take down the league if his family continues to own the Clippers, because players, not just Clippers players, but players from around the league will possibly drop out or not show up for games if this family continues to own.

And you heard, when this all started...


LEMON: ... big names denouncing. And so if that happens, there could be a snowball effect.


LEMON: Go ahead. I'm sorry, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: Don, I don't think it's -- I apologize for interrupting.

But I don't think it's squishy at all, Sterling gone, Shelly gone. They're never going to own this team again. I think the power is all in the hands of the NBA owners, and they're going to get rid of them both.

BLITZER: All right, guys.

LEMON: I defer to you. You're the legal expert. So, I defer to you.

BLITZER: He's not just the legal expert. He's the senior legal expert that we have.



BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.

NICHOLS: He knows from squishy.



BLITZER: Just ahead, we have some surprising new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. There are new payouts for Flight 370 families. They're getting millions of dollars while making new demands today of the investigators. We will update you on that front.


BLITZER: Let's go right back to the breaking news, severe weather, a tornado on the ground.

Let's bring in our severe weather expert, Chad Myers.

Chad, some amazing live video we're seeing.


BLITZER: Show our viewers.

MYERS: Yes, this is the live video of the pictures that I'm going to show you in a second. This is about 15 minutes ahead of the video you're about to see, the lowering of the clouds. There you go. It's still lower.

I can take you to a different shot from a different angle, the lowering of the clouds here. But at one point in time, that lowering made it all the way to the ground. And this is what the video looked like. You can see almost what looks like a stovepipe or a hat all the way to the ground underneath the words breaking news. There is a tornado on the ground. I think that breaking there, that breaking news sign is going to have to leave there. But there is the tornado on the ground. This was just to the northeast of St. James into Minnesota. This storm is still organized. It's still all by itself. Even though the tornado may not be on the ground immediately at this moment, this still has the potential.

This is like a cycling storm. It's tornadoing. Then it stops, like an ice skater with her arms out. And when she spins and pulls her arms in, it spins. The tornado comes down. The arms go out, the spinner slows down, the skater slows down and the tornado slows down.

So this is in and out and in and out. And as it gets all the way up closer up into Minnesota, there's even more twist to the atmosphere. We will keep watching it for you, because this is going to be a dangerous cell as it heads farther and farther to the northeast, a much more populated area as we get farther and farther to the northeast.

Here's that live picture again. I have it back here from Tim Purington. This is what he has. This is really called scud, misidentified as tornado sometimes. This is just rapidly rising air, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Chad, stay with me.

Tim Purington is joining us on the phone right now. He shot the video of the tornado on the ground.

Tim, first of all, where are you? Tell our viewers what you're seeing?

TIM PURINGTON, SEVERE STUDIOS: We are just north of Lake Crystal, Minnesota. Currently, I think it's Blue Earth County. The stand is definitely -- we're not getting any rotation. We have still got a real lowering, good base, rising scud in front of us.

BLITZER: Chad, go ahead and ask him a question, because I know you have got some good ones.


We saw as you turned the camera, I believe, to the left of the vehicle, what we appeared to see now is a kind of a stovepipe tornado on the ground, maybe an F-1 or F-2. Is that what you saw physically or was that just on the video? Did you put on eyeball on that tornado on the ground?

PURINGTON: It actually tornadoed twice, once south of St. James and then re-wrapped up and dropped again east of there, not very long, not as long as it did the first time.

MYERS: We're seeing that video now. So, this storm, you would consider to be cycling up and down, up and down?

PURINGTON: Yes, exactly. Right now it's -- you know, we're hoping it's going to wrap back up, but it's definitely still, you know, looking decent.


BLITZER: Hey, Tim, it's Wolf. Is it pretty rural, that area? Are there some -- any village, towns, cities nearby?

PURINGTON: No, we're in all farm country right now right here, farm fields all over, so just small rural towns.

BLITZER: You have any idea where the severe weather is heading?

PURINGTON: I'm sorry, what was that?

BLITZER: You know where the severe weather is heading?

PURINGTON: Well, we -- you know, the supercells are forming off in southwest Minnesota and moving, you know, rapidly to the northeast.

BLITZER: So what does that mean, Chad? Chad, what does that mean? Where is it going? Is it going toward Minneapolis/St. Paul?

MYERS: It is, Wolf, but we're hours, or at least an hour away from that. The cell is all by itself.

It is that super cell using all of the energy, not battling any other storms. Remember the game battling tops when we were kids. If you pulled one string and let the one battling top go, it would go forever. You pulled a bunch of them, they'd battle each other and then they would fall down.

This is battling nothing. This is going to be moving on up toward the north and northeast, about 100 miles, maybe a little less now into the Minneapolis suburbs. It will be from the southwest first. We'll keep an eye on it as it makes its way that way. There's nothing at this point to stop it. There you go. Probably around 48 miles, moving at 30, 35 miles per hour. You can do the math. That's at least an hour out, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll stay on top of this story for our viewers obviously. Tim Purington, be careful over there, one of the storm chasers right in the middle of all of that. Chad, we'll stay in touch with you.

We're also following new developments in the search for Flight 370. Passengers' families are making new demands for raw data from the investigation while some of those relatives are starting to get insurance payouts. Our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh, has the very latest.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, millions of dollars have been doled out to these families. It is giving them the financial footing that they need to begin to move forward, but for some of these families, accepting this money means accepting the harsh reality their loved ones are no longer alive. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH (voice-over): Even with no sign of the plane or proof of the passengers' fate, Malaysian life insurance companies are starting to pay out.

ARTHUR ROSENBERG, AVIATION ATTORNEY: I think the presumption of death under these circumstances is appropriate, and it allows some of these families to at least financially move forward.

MARSH: Citing extraordinary circumstances, the company shelled out $4 million U.S. dollars to families. This is from personal life insurance policies, separate from airline compensation.

ROSENBERG: The airline really should be sprinkling out and paying up the maximum amount.

MARSH: But payouts aren't enough. In a new open letter, families demanded the raw data that led search teams to the south Indian Ocean and input on what happens next. Australia, China, and Malaysia are currently reanalyzing the data and planning the next search phase.

DAVID GALLO: The most important thing they can do is stop and think. Before you engage a dozen companies with their ships and vehicles to go out there and start mapping.

MARSH: The families called for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute to lead the search. David Gallo was a part of their team which found Air France 447. That search also far from perfect, highlighting why the current reanalysis is critical.

GALLO: The modeler said that we're 95 percent sure that the plane is in that box, and they were 100 percent wrong.

MARSH: But in the case of Malaysia airlines, investigators say all of the data they have points to this area. It's where the Ocean Shield and Bluefin-21 will continue searching soon.

And where pings believed to be from black boxes and the final satellite connection from the plane were detected. But even before any wreckage is found, some governments already taking action.

India just issued new rules requiring real-time tracking of passenger planes. And a new proposal for a May European air safety agency would require black box pingers last longer and cockpit voice recorders capture 20 hours instead of 2.


MARSH: Under international agreements, the airlines must pay these families a certain amount of money, but if the families do want to sue, they can get even more money on top of that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Rene, thanks very much. Rene Marsh reporting. That's it for me. Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Tweet me, @WolfBlitzer, tweet the show @CNNSitRoom. Please be sure to join us again tomorrow right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can watch us live. You can always DVR the show so you won't miss a moment.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Now let's step into the crossfire with Newt Gingrich and Howard Dean. They're following breaking news. Congress has just voted to create a select committee to investigate Benghazi.