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THE SITUATION ROOM
New Terror Threat in Yemen; Interview with Mike Rogers; U.S. Military Advisers Arrive in Nigeria; Drone, Airliner Nearly Collided; Interview with Pierce O'Donnell; Drones Raising Fear of North Korea
Aired May 9, 2014 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Jake, thanks very much.
Happening now only on CNN, credible terror plot -- exclusive new details of an alleged plot against the United States Embassy. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, standing by to join us live.
Breaking at this hour, an unmanned drone nearly collides with a U.S. Airways plane in the skies over Florida. We have the latest on the shocking midair scare.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD STERLING, FORMER L.A. CLIPPERS OWNER: But I'm talking to a girl. I'm trying to -- to have sex with her.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And unbelievable new recordings of Clippers' owner, Donald Sterling, talking about other women, even as his wife fights to maintain ownership of the team. Her lawyer will join us live this hour.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We'll have more on the breaking details about a near crash between a U.S. Airways flight and an unmanned drone in just a few minutes.
But first, exclusive new reporting just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're learning new details of the terror threat that shut down the United States Embassy in Yemen, where the government is waging an increasingly deadly offensive against al Qaeda terrorists. The fighting is raging in cities across the country and the militants are vowing to bring it right to the capital, where there's extreme concern right now about the safety of the U.S. Embassy staff.
Our reporters and expert analysts are covering all angles of the story.
Let's begin with CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom -- Mohammed, you've been working your sources.
What are you learning?
MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, these are exclusive new details that I've learned from my sources in Yemen. They are telling me that the credible threat toward the U.S. Embassy in the capital of that country, in Saa'na, which caused the embassy to be closed the past several days, is actually far more serious than they initially let on that it was.
These two Yemeni government officials are telling me that this threat was so serious, they don't yet know when the U.S. Embassy will be back open for business. And it really highlights how U.S. targets and personnel there and installations in Yemen very much still a target for AQAP. That's Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based in Yemen.
All of this we also find out on a day when pitched street battles are happening between AQAP and Yemeni military in the streets of the capital of that country.
JAMJOOM (voice-over): As the fight against Al Qaeda in Yemen flares into what looks dangerously close to all-out war, the U.S. braces itself for more possible terror attacks.
CNN has learned exclusively the threat against the U.S. Embassy in Saa'na, the country's capital, is far more serious than originally thought. It's why the embassy shut its doors to the public Wednesday, closing down its operations indefinitely.
Yemeni national security officials telling us the U.S. government is taking this threat far more seriously than they've taken other credible threats against them, threats such as what happened in 2012, when protesters breached the heavily secured perimeter and stormed the building.
Terrorism experts say there's more reason than ever for the U.S. to worry.
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: The crown jewel of the organization, their master bomb maker, who keeps making these very sophisticated bombs to get on planes, there's no evidence he's dead.
JAMJOOM: Saudi born, Ibrahim al-Asiri, the man who tried to bring down a U.S. plane with an underwear bomb in 2009. Despite years of hunting him, one of Yemen's most wanted terrorists is believed still at large. And of all Al Qaeda-affiliated networks, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, based in Yemen, is considered the most dangerous threat to Americans.
Yemen's military is now battling these terrorists not just in the capital, they're also continuing ground operations against AQAP in the southern provinces.
JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: AQAP is a grave threat to both Yemeni and American security, and the U.S. government welcomes the actions of Yemen's brave forces to counter this group.
JAMJOOM: This embassy closure just one more sign the threat posed by al Qaeda nowhere close to being over.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
JAMJOOM: And, Wolf, to give you an idea of just how serious this threat by AQAP still is in Yemen, I spoke to another Yemeni government official just a short while ago. He told me the situation there is so bad, there are fuel shortages across the country. That's even affecting the military, that in the provinces in the south of the country, where they're going after hideouts of AQAP, they're afraid the military may actually run out of gas for their cars, for their tanks. He said they're go to need a lot more support from their allies, including the Saudis and the Americans -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mohammed, I want you to stay with me.
Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is here with us.
This sounds ominous. There are dozens of Americans who work at that U.S. embassy in Sana'a, Yemen right now.
What are you hearing?
REP. MIKE ROGERS, CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, first of all, this is not the first serious threat to the embassy. There was a plot that was believed to be disrupted back in April of this year.
And what's concerning is that the tempo of our counterterrorism operations slowed for a period of time. During that time, we think that they've been able to reconstitute and gather up in strength.
So last April, a pretty effective counterterrorism effort between the Yemenese government and, which was -- it turned out to be highly effective.
But there were decisions made afterwards to suspend an aggressive counterterrorism campaign...
BLITZER: Decisions by whom?
ROGERS: The administration.
BLITZER: The Obama administration?
ROGERS: The Obama administration -- that I do believe added to the tension and the threats that you see to the embassy today.
This, I think, once again, proves tempo in counterterrorism operations is incredibly important.
And for any reason, political or otherwise, you can't back down on these forces. They are -- they feel like they've -- they are in the driver's seat in this. And they're going to continue as long as they feel that they're making progress, they being AQAP in Yemen.
BLITZER: You've been to Sana'a, the capital of Yemen. That embassy is like a fortress.
Is it time to pull those Americans out?
Is it too dangerous right now for them to be there?
ROGERS: Well, when you have fighting in the streets of the capital, obviously, you need to be extremely careful for the diplomats that are at that particular facility. It may be too early to pull them out completely, but they'll -- they're probably already down in a scale- down -- and not probably, they are, in a scale-downed version.
I would hold that scaled-down version of embassy personnel as long as is possible to make sure that we have our hands and the ability to help the Yemenese government push back.
BLITZER: These Al Qaeda terrorists, they're -- in addition to threatening U.S. and other Western interests in Yemen, they're going directly after the Yemeni government, which has worked closely with the United States.
What are you hearing about attacks, for example, on the -- on palaces and other vital, strategic Yemeni targets?
ROGERS: Well, we're seeing reports today that the palace, in fact, has been at least under siege temporarily throughout the day.
BLITZER: The Yemeni government palace?
ROGERS: The Yemeni government palace. And that is a -- that's a huge problem for them. And it keeps getting close to home. So anyplace where there's cooperation between the Yemenese and the U.S. government, they are trying to make sure that those are targets of opportunity. And they're taking advantage of it.
BLITZER: Mohammed, when you hear -- you've been to Sana'a. You've been to Yemen. You've reported for CNN from there.
When you hear that Al Qaeda is going after Yemeni palaces, potentially the United States embassy there, this is an escalation. It's pretty dramatic, what's going on.
JAMJOOM: Absolutely. You know, Yemeni sources I'm talking to are calling this open warfare. They're very concerned, because what AQAP has done, they vowed to take the fight against the government to the capital. They've attacked vital installations in the capital many times in the past few years. But the intensity, the frequency of this, is just increasing. And the fact that today you have the presidential palace come under attack at one point, you had the political security headquarters come under attack, and the fact that I'm hearing several Yemeni military personnel have been killed as a result, and that at least 20 of these militants have escaped, that really shows just how bad the situation has gotten.
BLITZER: And one problem, the sources have told CNN, Mr. Chairman -- and you know about this, I'm sure -- that the U.S. intelligence community is now having much greater trouble tracking Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula terrorists because they're not using communications the way they used to, is that right?
ROGERS: Well, I can tell you that the leaks surrounding AQAP that happened last year have had an impact, a negative impact on the U.S. intelligence committee's -- community's ability to track certain individuals, certainly.
We do still have some acuity there, but there's a different problem now. We need to make a political decision that we need to be engaged in a high-tempo disruption activity when it comes to counterterrorism in Yemen. That hasn't -- that threshold hasn't been crossed yet. We need to cross that threshold.
Great success in April. We should take advantage of every opportunity we have to provide a disrupting activity.
BLITZER: To go in there with drones and just kill these people, is that what you're saying?
ROGERS: Well, I can't talk about specific types of targeting and how that -- what that might look like. But I can tell you that the April event, wildly successful. Subsequent to that, the decision was made not to take opportunities where we found them. That was a mistake. I hope today is an example of why we shouldn't make that mistake.
BLITZER: When it comes to threats to the United States, what keeps you up at night the most?
And you're the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
ROGERS: The list is pretty long, everything from cyber attacks. But when it comes to terror, we have a whole diverse group of organizations, affiliate organizations, all who are expressing an interest to do operations external to where they operate, meaning Europe or the United States; Boko Haram included; Al-Shaba; certainly Al Qaeda pooling in Libya.
And what really worries me is the lack of discussion on the pooling of Al Qaeda elements in the east of Syria, at a rate we've never seen before, including literally thousands, with an S, of Western-passport holding individuals who are there getting -- we call it Jihadi Disneyland -- getting training, getting radicalized, getting combat training and eventually will come back home.
That is a huge problem we're going to face in the very near future...
BLITZER: Don't go...
ROGERS: -- and a deadly one.
BLITZER: Stay with us, Mr. Chairman.
We have a lot more news to report on.
We're getting new information about terrorists in Nigeria. They are holding hundreds of schoolgirls. General Carter Ham is coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. He was the Pentagon's former Africa commander.
General, stay with us.
Mr. Chairman, stay with us.
We're going to expand this conversation into what's going on in Nigeria right now, where nearly 300 schoolgirls have been kidnapped.
Also, we're learning new details about that near collision between a U.S. passenger jet, a U.S. Airways plane, and a drone aircraft over the skies of Florida. We'll update you on that.
BLITZER: A human rights group is slamming Nigerian military commanders. Amnesty International alleges top Nigerian officers had at least four hours -- four hours warning before Islamic militants abducted hundreds of girls from a boarding school but failed to adequately protect them. U.S. military advisers are now on the ground. They're trying to help find the girls. But there's growing concern about how well armed the terrorists might be.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is looking into all of this for us.
What are you picking up -- Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the U.S. is trying to manage expectations about what the U.S. military might be able to do in Nigeria and trying to get the Nigerians to step up to the plate.
STARR (voice-over): The names of the missing schoolgirls go up for all to see.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no question that we're racing against the clock here. They've been gone for a long time.
STARR: Three weeks after the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls, U.S. military advisers are on the ground, being joined by FBI and other personnel. The Obama administration insists it's been pressing the Nigerians to act.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had made repeated offers of assistance and it was only just this week when the Nigerians accepted the offer of this coordination. So, you know, within 48 hours, people were moving.
STARR: U.S. officials caution they are only offering advice. The Nigerian military will have to conduct any rescue mission.
A rescue mission that may encounter Boko Haram militants armed with Libyan machine guns, rocket propelled grenades and other weapons grabbed hundreds of miles away in Libya after the fall of Moammar Kaddafi.
PAUL CRUIKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Boko Haram may have got hold of surface to air missiles, including SA-7 missiles. There's significant concern about that, not absolute proof that they've obtained these, but significant concern.
STARR: Now, a claim from Amnesty International that Nigerian security forces were aware of a planned attack on the school four hours before it happened, but failed to deploy enough troops.
Nigerian security forces knew about Boko Haram's impending raid, but failed to take the immediate action needed to stop it, the group said in a statement.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
STARR: Now, the Nigerian government is adamantly denying that it had any advanced warning, knowledge or information about the impending attack on the school.
The U.S. is talking to the Nigerians behind the scenes about sharing satellite imagery and electronic intercepts.
But with every day that goes by, these girls are in more jeopardy -- Wolf.
BLITZER: They certainly are.
Barbara, thank you very much.
Let's dig a little bit deeper.
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Congressman Mike Rogers of Michigan, he's still with us.
Also joining us, General Carter Ham. He's the U.S. former commander of the U.S. military's Africa Command, retired right now.
General, first to you.
What do you make of this Amnesty International report?
The Nigerian military had four hours advance warning that these Boko Haram terrorists were going to kidnap these schoolgirls, but apparently failed to do anything.
GEN. CARTER HAM, FORMER COMMANDER, U.S. AFRICOM: Well, Wolf, it's obviously a very serious allegation. And it is one that the Nigerian government has to take seriously and investigate and answer.
But my hope is that in addressing that allegation, it will not distract them from the immediate mission at hand, which is find those girls and get them back to safety.
BLITZER: Because a lot of people are concerned. You worked with the Nigerian military when you ran the Africa Command.
Are these guys up to the job in Nigeria?
Do they have the will?
I think they could do it, but do they have the will, the political leadership, to go out there and save these girls?
HAM: Well, they haven't yet, obviously, effectively countered Boko Haram. And I think you hit it exactly right. It is a combination of capability and will.
President Jonathan yesterday talked about whether this incident would be the beginning of the end of Boko Haram. I hope with all of my heart, that that is true. But it is now up to the Nigerians to act and make it so. The mission is large enough that it does require international support, but the Nigerians are primarily responsible for handling this situation.
BLITZER: Because so far, Mr. Chairman -- and you know this well -- the president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, he hasn't really stepped up to the plate. Maybe he'll change, but so far, he has not really done what is necessary.
ROGERS: Well, in this particular incidence, I would say yes, but also much before this, as well. So he has huge corruption problems. His military is not up to the task. It also has some corruption problems. There has been some U.S. effort to try to counter the professionalism of his troops.
But when you look at the home areas of Boko Haram, they have done very little over any period of time to stem the tide and the growth. Even with the neighboring Chad, who has been eager to try to push back on Boko Haram, but doesn't have the capability.
So this is a multination problem and it should be an international problem.
ROGERS: The U.S. should lead this.
BLITZER: How worried are you that some of these schoolgirls may already have been sent out to some of these neighboring countries where Boko Haram has a presence, whether in Niger or Chad or Cameroon, and it's going to complicate their rescue dramatically?
ROGERS: Yes, it -- we have information that a lot of that already happening, that they're selling off some of these girls, they're marrying some of these girls. It is pretty horrific the way these young girls are being treated. And it is likely that a number of them are outside of the country. And remember, this is a group -- I mean this is not the first event. In 2012, they blew up, in Abuja, the U.N.. Headquarters there and killed, I think, 23, wounded 80. They blew up a newspaper organization the following year.
After they kidnapped the girls, they slaughtered another 300 people. These are some bad, brutal characters. And they need addressing. And, again, they have now connected with Al Qaeda and Al-Shaba, which is a dangerous recipe for all of us.
BLITZER: You had a deal with Boko Haram when you were commander of the Africa Command. You know this group. These are brutal terrorists.
What can the U.S. credibly do in Nigeria right now, militarily speaking?
HAM: I think there are a couple of roles that are appropriate for the United States. The first and foremost is the ongoing activity of not just military, but across the U.S. government, FBI, the intelligence community and others, offering their support to the Nigerians to, again, first find these girls and then help craft a solution.
But it is now, as the chairman mentioned, it is now bigger than Nigeria. I do believe that the girls are likely outside of the country. That necessitates a broader regional approach, so Niger, Chad, Cameroon. I think there's a role for the African Union here, to help coordinate efforts across the region. This will be very, very complicated in the coming days and weeks, to coordinate this effort.
BLITZER: Back in 2012, correct me if I'm wrong, Mr. Chairman, after they blew up that U.N. facility in Nigeria, you wanted the United States State Department to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization, but you got resistance from the State Department. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was still in charge over there.
What was their resistance?
Why wouldn't they declare Boko Haram a terrorist organization?
ROGERS: Well, there was an internal debate at the State Department and also Representative Frank LoBiondo was a big player in trying to get them designated on the Intelligence Committee.
But there was some resistance in the State Department believing that if you designated them, it gave them status. If you gave them status, they were more likely to gain international terrorist support, both finances and other, and it would create a bigger problem than you had.
I didn't believe that. I believed they had well crossed that threshold. They were already, at that time, working with Al Qaeda. We saw a reaching out to Al-Shabab, as well. And so we, I believe -- and I -- that terrorist designation is important. It allows us to do so many (INAUDIBLE)...
BLITZER: Would it have made a difference if they had accepted your advice today, as far as those nearly 300 girls?
ROGERS: Well, it would have allowed us to reconfigure what our policy was to Boko Haram, not only from help from Chad and Cameroon and Niger, we could have, I think, stepped up our ability and helped those host nations gain the capability to push back on Boko Haram.
BLITZER: Were you involved in that debate, General Ham, when you were active duty?
HAM: I was, Wolf. Obviously, it was part of the conversation. I was supportive of designation, frankly, because we had seen the violence, the increasingly violent nature of Boko Haram. But there's a practical aspect to this that the chairman refers to. And that is designation brings with it tools, more tools that the U.S. government can use, not just militarily -- in fact, not -- primarily not military, but financial tools and access to banking records and a number of different tools that are effective, that have proven effective in countering terrorist organizations.
BLITZER: Because I know the intelligence community, the FBI, the Pentagon, according to you, the Intelligence Committee in the House of Representatives, you all wanted that. The State Department, under Hillary Clinton, didn't.
Is she to blame for that failure to designate Boko Haram a terrorist organization?
It only happened last November, when John Kerry was already secretary of State.
HAM: Well, let me be clear. I -- as the commander of Africa Command, I was supportive of designation. I didn't then and certainly do not now speak for the Department of Defense.
I understood the arguments of why designation might not be the right time, might be right at the time. But to me, it was a matter of practicality. And I think they fit the -- met the category of terrorist organization.
BLITZER: Do you blame Hillary Clinton?
HAM: I'm not sure it's blame. I think it was a terrible decision. And it was a terrible decision based on what we knew at the time, not even what we know now.
Again, they had engaged in vehicle IEDs, meaning that those are the most lethal. And they used that in the U.N. bombing that killed, I think, 23 and wounded 80, then the subsequent killings. They were becoming more violent by the day and they had this relationship with Al Qaeda.
I just didn't think the other argument carried the day at all. And I think, you know, sometimes timidity causes huge problems. These are -- this is a serious problem, these 300 girls. But it can't be just about these 300 girls. It has to be about all the women of Northern Africa and the problems that they're causing. BLITZER: Mike Rogers, thanks very much for coming in.
General Ham, thanks for coming in.
Coming up, breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. A commercial airliner nearly collided with a private drone over the skies of Florida. We have new information.
And a new push by Donald Sterling's wife to hold onto the LA Clippers. I'll speak with her attorney, his first live TV interview just as new tapes of Sterling are revealed that reveal a rather provocative motive for that racist rant.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STERLING: If you were to want to have sex with a girl and you're talking to her privately and you don't think anybody is there, you may say anything in the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: There is breaking news coming here in the SITUATION ROOM right now. Close calls over the skies of Florida where a commercial airliner and a drone nearly collided.
Our aviation correspondent Rene Marsh is joining us.
Rene, what happened?
RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is simply stunning. It appears this is the closest a passenger jet and a drone have ever come in the skies. Sources tell CNN the plane was a U.S. Airways regional jet flying near Tallahassee, Florida, airport. Now the pilot of the plane tells authority he saw what he believed was a fixed-wing drone. The drone was some 2300 feet in the air, far higher than something than amateur might be flying and the pilot says it was painted in camouflage.
Now the pilot also told authorities it came so close that he thought he had actually hit this drone. But once they got on the ground, they did not see any damage. U.S. Airways just told CNN that they are aware of the reports. They are investigating but, you know, this really could have been catastrophic.
What may be more concerning, though, Wolf, is that this happened in March and was never publicly reported until an FAA official told people at a special drone conference on Thursday -- Wolf.
BLITZER: That's pretty shocking. I don't know why we didn't know about that earlier. How catastrophic could it have been, Rene?
MARSH: Well, you saw what happened when a flock of geese -- you saw what happened or what problems that caused with that U.S. Airways flight known as Miracle on the Hudson. Well, just imagine a drone getting sucked up in one of the plane's engines. Again, Wolf, in that own FAA official's own words, it could have really been catastrophic there.
BLITZER: All right. So what could be done to fix this problem?
MARSH: Well, you know, over in the next five years, the FAA is estimating that as many as 7500 drones could be flying in the U.S. air space at any given time. So there's some urgency in figuring out how to safely integrate these drones with the air space. We do know that the FAA has been working on a plan to safely integrate drones into the air space so that you don't have incidents where you have passenger aircrafts crashing into drones that are also sharing that same space.
BLITZER: Shocking information. Let's hope they fix this problem. Work on it. It looks like it's going to be a bigger problem down the road.
Rene, thanks very much.
Other news we're following, Donald Sterling says he was jealous. New audio recordings released today allegedly reveals Sterling trying to explain why he made those original racist remarks and the answer is very provocative.
CNN's Brian Todd has been digging through these audio recordings.
Brian, tell us about them.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they sound like something out of a frat house conversation. A man purported to be Donald Sterling is trying to link racist comments with sexual conquest, as you might imagine. These are fairly bizarre ramblings.
TODD (voice-over): He says he wasn't full of hate but was full of testosterone.
DONALD STERLING, L.A. CLIPPERS OWNER: I'm talking to a girl. I'm trying to have sex with her. I'm trying to play with her. What can -- you know, if you were trying to have sex with a girl and you're talking to her privately, you don't think anybody is there, you may say anything in the world. What difference does it make?
TODD: RadarOnline which released the recordings says this is Donald Sterling explaining why he made those racist comments to V. Stiviano. CNN cannot independently verify that the voice is Sterling's and we don't know who he's speaking to.
STERLING: I have a girl here who has black kids and is partly black, I think, myself. I love the girl and so she's telling me you're wrong. I know I'm wrong. What I said was wrong but I never thought that the private conversation would go anywhere out to the public. I didn't want her to bring anybody to my game because I was jealous.
TODD: V. Stiviano has denied leaking the racist comments from Sterling to the media, has said she did not have physical relationship with him. We couldn't get comment from the NBA or anyone representing Sterling to this latest audio release.
Sterling's estranged wife Shelly is facing her own backlash against her plan to keep her 50 percent ownership of the L.A. Clippers. Doc Rivers, the team's coach, said if Shelly Sterling remains part owner --
DOC RIVERS, L.A. CLIPPERS COACH: I think it would be very difficult. I guarantee every person would not be on board with that. Whether I would or not, I'm not going to say. But I just know that that would be a very difficult situation for everybody.
TODD: Shelly Sterling's attorney responded in an e-mail to CNN, stressing her ownership would be passive, that someone else would control the Clippers. And we also find it improbable that players and coaches under contracts for millions of dollars a year would boycott their teams because of concerns that a 79-year-old woman would rock the boat.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver insists the league only wants to force Donald Sterling out as owner but one sports attorney says that may change.
BRADLEY SHEAR, SPORTS ATTORNEY: It sounds like at this point things just keep getting worse. The Sterling name appears that it may be too toxic for the NBA.
TODD: But Shelly Sterling's camp remains in talks with the NBA over how this is all going to play out and Wolf, you're going to get some details right now from Mrs. Sterling's attorney so back to you.
BLITZER: All right. Brian, thanks very much.
Pierce O'Donnell is joining us right now. He's the attorney for Shelly Sterling.
Pierce, thanks very much for joining us. First of all, your reaction to Doc Rivers, the head coach of the Clippers, who says it would be very difficult for the team is Shelly stayed at least as part owner. What do you say to that?
PIERCE O'DONNELL, LAWYER FOR SHELLY STERLING: Well, Doc Rivers and everyone doesn't really know her position until today which is that she wants to remain a passive owner. She's not going not going to want to manage the team. She wants a very skilled, professional, well-heeled new owners to command and replace Donald. She only wants to own the team in her lifetime. She's 79 years old. And at this point she's earned it. She's been an owner for 33 years. She's an avid fan.
And, you know, in America we don't dispose of people's property rights by public opinion. I think Doc and everyone understands that she'll retain her interest during her lifetime I think we might have a different reaction.
BLITZER: Well, I just want to make sure I understand. She wants to stay as a part owner, 50 percent owner, but sell his 50 percent to someone else? Is that what I'm hearing?
O'DONNELL: Well, his interests may very well be sold involuntarily by the league. She is not going to buy his interest. She wants to retain her interest for her lifetime. What happens to Donald is a saga we're going to see soon.
BLITZER: All right. Pierce, I want you to stand by because we have a lot more to discuss including some new revelations about Shelly Donald Sterling's relationship. Much more coming up right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back. Let's continue our conversation with Shelly Sterling's lawyer Pierce O'Donnell.
Pierce, thanks very much.
A lot of our viewers want to know what kind of marriage do the Sterlings have. Are they going to get divorced? Are they going to stay together? What can you tell us about that?
O'DONNELL: Well, I think the marriage by now is in shambles and Shelly is weighing her legal options about what she should do. She hasn't decided yet. She has attorneys advising her. They've been separated for a year. They're estranged. She doesn't talk to Donald about any of these things.
BLITZER: But we did see them come out of a restaurant the other night. You saw that video we've shown a lot here on CNN, other news networks as well. They were having dinner. They walked out. And I'm going to play a little clip where she seems to deny that Donald Sterling is a racist. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Sterling, are you a racist? Mr. Sterling?
SHELLY STERLING, DONALD STERLING'S WIFE: No, of course not.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: People want to know, Mr. Sterling.
S. STERLING: OK. You know that --
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: These accusations, are they true?
S. STERLING: Forget it. It's not true.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Not true?
S. STERLING: No, of course not.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right. She seemed to be defending him there. What is your interpretation of that videotape?
O'DONNELL: Well, I think Shelly has told me she thought they were asking whether she's a racist. Of course, it's not. But the truth of the matter is, Shelly will tell you that during their marriage he never exhibited these viewpoints and this came as a shock. She's denounced them. And, you know, she's been tarnished to the (INAUDIBLE). You know, they share the last name but not the same values on race.
And by the way, it was his 81st birthday party. It was a family gathering. People get together on family occasions even when they are divorced or separated.
BLITZER: And so that's why she went to that dinner, because it was his birthday?
O'DONNELL: Yes. She didn't go there to defend him.
BLITZER: Do you think they are going to wind up divorced? Or is it just, they are going to still remain estranged, as you say?
O'DONNELL: Well, he's 81. She's 79. They have been married 57 years. This has been a very painful process for her, all the embarrassment over the year with these mistresses. She sued V. Stiviano to get back some community property. She has said to many people, enough is enough. She's weighing her options and you're probably going to see something down the road.
BLITZER: Does he have prostate cancer?
O'DONNELL: I don't know.
BLITZER: All right. Let me bring Jeffrey Toobin into this conversation, our senior legal analyst.
You have a question for Pierce, Jeffrey?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Pierce, the NBA is a private association. No one has a right to be an owner of the NBA. They get to decide who their members are, who owns teams. Can't they just say, you know what, our players don't want any member of this family owning the team, the fans don't want it, the other owners don't want it and she should just go? What's wrong with the NBA saying that?
O'DONNELL: Because they have a constitution that list certain things that can get you terminated and the last thing I saw is being the wife of a reviled co-owner is not one of them and she's protected under the bylaws and constitution of the NBA. There are no grounds, as Silver said, to expunge her and throw her out of the league. And we also have a United States constitution which provides due process of law. You can't take property without just cause. And the courts have intervened in private association cases and said you must afford due process. TOOBIN: But no one is taking her property. She's going to sell it for hundreds and millions of dollars. It's not like it's being taken away from her for nothing. She's -- they would just put it on the market and she'd get the market value. Why is that something that we should feel sad about?
O'DONNELL: Well, I'm not asking you to feel sad or sympathetic. Mrs. Sterling has a valuable property right she's owned for 33 years. She should be the one who decides to sell it, not 29 other owners deciding that. And we will fight to the death any effort by the NBA to involuntarily sell her assets. Now at the same time, I'm in conversations with the league, with Adam Silver this morning. We hope to resolve this dispute. But make no -- make no uncertainty about this. She will defend her right to decide when and how and for what price she sells her 50 percent interest in the Los Angeles Clippers.
BLITZER: She'll have a much stronger case -- I assume you'll agree, Pierce -- if she gets divorced. Don't you think?
O'DONNELL: Sometimes what lawyers would like can't happen, Wolf. That's all I'll say.
BLITZER: The other -- the other argument I guess some people are making is, if the team, the players, the coaches, you know, everyone else, as part of the fans, if they don't want her to stay, why would she want to stay in there as a part owner?
O'DONNELL: Well, I think this is mob psychology. They don't know Shelly. They didn't know her position until yesterday. And, you know, we don't hold public opinion polls about whether you can keep your house or even your job, Wolf, and whether she can continue to own the Clippers when she is blameless. She's done nothing wrong. Everybody acknowledges that. Made no racial comments.
This is America and it's her property right and I think it's preposterous to think that players under contract who makes tens and millions of dollars a year are not going to show up at the arena because a 79-year-old woman, a passive owner of the team, who doesn't manage, is sitting in the stands.
BLITZER: And I want you to explain --
O'DONNELL: It's ridiculous.
BLITZER: Give you to explain that video from a few years ago where she supposedly was posing as a health inspector of buildings owned by the Sterlings. And she seemed to be saying derogatory things in that video as far as minorities are concerned. I don't know if you've had a chance to speak with Shelly about that, have you?
O'DONNELL: Yes, I have seen the video and I've read the deposition transcripts. Ultimately, the gentleman retracted his position and the court found that she did not commit racially discriminatory conduct. She said I'm here to -- check out the health and safety of the building. There were multiple violations by this tenant. He'd been cited. He had a Jacuzzi in his apartment. So she didn't pose as a health inspector, she knew the gentleman, and she was walking down the hallway. It was blown out of context and the court in that case ruled in favor of the Sterlings and that gentleman lost his case.
BLITZER: Pierce O'Donnell is the attorney for Shelly Sterling.
Pierce, thanks very much for joining us. We'll stay in close touch with you and we'll see what Adam Silver, as you point out, hopefully he's going to make a decision fairly soon on what goes next. We'll see what happens as far as the marriage is concerned as well.
Pierce, thanks very much.
O'DONNELL: All I can say is go Clippers. Go Clippers.
BLITZER: I'll say go Wizards. All right. Thanks very much.
Just ahead, small drones believed to belong to North Korea. What information were these spy planes able to collect?
Plus, damning new evidence against Russia's Vladimir Putin. We have details of what new satellite images might reveal.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news about a near collision between a commercial airliner and a drone over the skies of Florida. We'll have more on that in just a few moments.
But first, another important drone story we're following. Primitive spy drones found in South Korea apparently the latest espionage tool from the North which is now launching new racial slurs against President Obama.
Our foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott is working the story for us. She's over at the State Department.
What are you hearing, Elise?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Wolf, these are tiny unmanned aerial surveillance drones and they're not loaded with weapons but taken together with North Korea's other military moves, they are really rattling both South Korea and the United States.
LABOTT (voice-over): This is the latest North Korean tool in its war on the West. Drones. Not technically sophisticated but programmed to slip into South Korean airspace, fly over military installations and the presidential resident and bring back images. Found crashed in South Korea near the border with the North. U.S. and Korean investigators determined they were sent by Kim Jong-Un's military. Just as the North was lobbying missiles in the region and is believed to be on the verge of a new nuclear test.
JOHN PARK, NE ASIA SPECIALIST, HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL: I wouldn't read too much in terms of the material impact. I think the psychological aspect of it is perhaps more damaging.
LABOTT: The drone discovery comes as the dictator launched a personal attack on President Obama. Having his state media published a rant laced with racial slurs from North Korean citizens, referring to the president as a monkey and calling for, quote, "divine punishment to the juvenile delinquent Obama."
The Obama administration was not amused.
MARIE HARF, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: The leader of North Korea should focus more on improving the lives of his own people than in saying these kind of ridiculous things.
LABOTT: Recent satellite images indicate increased activity at North Korea's main nuclear site. And Seoul says the tunnel is being sealed. A final step before detonation. A former member in the inner circle of Kim's father, Kim Jong-Il, told CNN's Christiane Amanpour the son keeps acting out in order to consolidate his own power.
JANG JIN-SUNG, NORTH KOREAN DEFECTOR (Through Translator): But he has no one inside North Korea. He did not build up his power to get what he wants. He received it symbolically.
LABOTT: And Wolf, South Korea is so rattled by these threats, ongoing military threats from the north that the vice defense minister told reporters this week that plans from the U.S. to transfer control of troops on the Korean peninsula to South Korea are on hold indefinitely -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Elise Labott at the State Department, thank you.
Breaking news we're following. New details of a near-disaster. How a passenger jet nearly collided with a drone over Florida.