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Interview with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont; V.A. Secretary Under Fire Over Backlogs, Long Waits; Sterling's CNN Interview; Shelly Sterling vs. Donald vs. the NBA

Aired May 12, 2014 - 09:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Anyway, a lot of news to get you this morning, so we get you to the "NEWSROOM" with Ms. Carol Costello.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And I hear you, Chris, because I was on the free lunch program when I was in grade school and just being on the free lunch program was so embarrassing to me for a time. So, kudos to them for fixing the problem.


COSTELLO: And you're right, the school system is like, what were you thinking? Thanks so much.

NEWSROOM starts now.

Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me.

Disgraced NBA owner Donald Sterling breaks his silence and pleads for forgiveness, yet he also found a way to insult a beloved icon of the NBA and even shift some of the blame for his racist rants that may cost him his team. Here's some of the exclusive interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper.


DONALD STERLING, OWNER, L.A. CLIPPERS: I'm a good member who made a mistake and I'm apologizing and I'm asking for forgiveness. Am I entitled to one mistake in my -- after 35 years? You know, I love my league. I love my partners. Am I entitled to one mistake? It's a terrible mistake and I'll never do it again.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, "AC 360": The vice president of the NBA Players Association, Roger Mason, he said that the players won't accept anyone in the Sterling family owning the Clippers, not you, not your wife, not your son-in-law, not your daughter. Do you believe it?

STERLING: I really don't know. The people that are going to decide my fate I think are not the media and not the players union, but the NBA.

COOPER: The owners?

STERLING: Pardon me? COOPER: The owners?

STERLING: The owners. If the owners feel I deserve another chance, then they'll give it to me.

COOPER: But there is a path for you to fight their decision, isn't there?

STERLING: Of course. But if you fight with my partners, what at the end of the road - what do I benefit, especially at my age. If they fight with me and they spend millions and I spend millions, let's say I win or they win, I just don't know if that's important.

COOPER: Why wait so long to apologize? It's been a couple of weeks. You could have come out --

STERLING: That's a very good question. I just -- I'm so emotionally distraught. And the reason it's hard for me, very hard for me is that I'm wrong. I caused the problem. I don't know how to correct it.

COOPER: Do you trust people? I mean there -


COOPER: There have been a couple of phone recordings just in the last week or two that have come out of people you've talked to on the phone, or seems to be your voice, who have then sold it to, you know, Radar Online or TMZ. And I hear that and I think, do you have anyone you trust around you?

STERLING: I don't give interviews. The only one that I know that I talked to is Magic Johnson.

COOPER: You have talked to him?

STERLING: Twice. And then - yes, he's --

COOPER: Did you apologize?

STERLING: He knew the girl. He said -- he knew the girl well. He --

COOPER: Did you apologize to him or -

STERLING: Well, if I said anything wrong, I'm sorry. He's a good person, and he -- what am I going to say? Has he done everything he can do to help minorities? I don't think so. But I'll say it. I'll say it, you know, he's great. But I just don't think he is a good example for the children of Los Angeles.


COSTELLO: Anderson Cooper is here with more on his exclusive interview.

Anderson, he seems to have some sort of fixation with Magic Johnson? COOPER: Well, there's clearly some issues he has. He actually goes into a lot more -- he says a lot more about Magic Johnson and I think it's going to really probably anger a lot of people. That will obviously be on tonight. And he claims that he's had two conversations with Magic Johnson. I haven't been able to confirm that with Magic yet.

But, you know, it's a wide-ranging interview. I mean we spoke for well over an hour and really covered everything there is to talk to him about. He answered all the questions. He was very - you know, his main point was he wanted to apologize and he did so in a lot of different ways and he's clearly -

COSTELLO: But not to Magic Johnson clearly.

COOPER: Well, clearly not to Magic Johnson. That is correct. And I think after what he'll say tonight, there's, you know, even a lot more that people will be kind of shocked by.

COSTELLO: All right, so Shelly Sterling says that he's suffering from early onset dementia. In your mind, was he completely present during that interview?

COOPER: You know, look, I clearly don't know him in the way that she does or a close friend of his would. You know, I certainly, in my talks with him, I met with him about a week - a week or so ago and obviously met with him on Sunday when we did this interview yesterday. There wasn't anything that gave me pause in terms of, you know, actually sitting down and doing an interview with him. I didn't feel he wasn't in control of himself. He certainly, you know, is a very capable and smart guy. He's a smart attorney. He clearly has - you know, he's in a situation. He isn't trying to figure his way out of at this point.

But during the conversation, for instance, you know, if I would ask something and then I'd ask something on another topic based on where the conversation went, he would often bring the conversation back to the previous question. So, I mean, he clearly remembered things and, you know, was certainly competent to do an interview.

COSTELLO: To have his talking points, right. Why did he agree to talk to you?

COOPER: You know, I -- my - I don't know -- you know, when I met with him a week -- more than a week ago, you know I simply said, look, I think you need to get your voice out there, you know, rather than being defined in the public sphere by V. Stiviano, by people who are selling tapes of phone conversations you had, people should hear from you and you can say whatever you want to say and, you know, we'll have a conversation and I'm a fair guy to talk to. So, you know, he was willing to sit down and talk and that's what we did.

COSTELLO: All right. So the full interview, an hour long, will air 8:00 p.m. Eastern tonight, right?

COOPER: Yes. COSTELLO: All right, Anderson Cooper, thank you.

Be sure to watch Anderson's full interview with Donald Sterling, as I said, tonight at 8:00 p.m. on CNN.

For her part, Donald Sterling's wife Shelly says she isn't giving up on giving up her half of the team without a fight. And in an interview with Barbara Walters, as I just said, Shelly suspects her husband has early dementia. She also talked about their relationship and what the team means to her.


BARBARA WALTERS, ABC NEWS: Mrs. Sterling, you own 50 percent of the L.A. Clippers. There are reports that the NBA wants to oust you completely as a team owner. You will fight that decision?


WALTERS: What does the team mean to you?

STERLING: It means a lot. And it's my passion. And I love it. And it's my legacy to my family. It was horrible when I heard it. I mean it was just degrading and it made me sick to hear it. But as far as a racist, I don't really think he is a racist.

WALTERS: Have you discussed these remarks at all with your husband?

STERLING: He saw the tape and he said, I don't remember saying that. I don't remember ever saying those things.

WALTERS: What did you think then?

STERLING: That's when I thought, he has dementia.

WALTERS: Really?

STERLING: Yes. I don't love him. I pity him and I feel sorry for him.

WALTERS: What is your relationship today with your husband?

STERLING: We're estranged. We've been estranged for about a year.

WALTERS: Why not divorce your husband?

STERLING: I've been thinking about it. I filed these divorce papers. I signed them. I was all ready to file. My attorney and my financial adviser said now is not the time.


COSTELLO: But the NBA says if Donald Sterling is voted out, Shelly's interest in the Clippers would automatically end as well. And that has her attorney gearing up for a fight. In a statement he writes, quote, "we do not agree with the league's self-serving interpretation of the constitution, its application to Shelly Sterling, or its validity under these unique circumstances. We live in a nation of laws. California law and the United States Constitution trump any such interpretation."

With me now, CNN's Stephanie Elam, who talked with Sterling's attorney, and Clippers' season ticket holder and criminal defense attorney Brian Claypool.

Welcome to you both.


COSTELLO: Actually, I want to talk first about Donald Sterling's interview with Anderson Cooper. Brian, why do you think he agreed to do that?

CLAYPOOL: Well, Carol, first of all, I want to tell both Donald Sterling and Shelly Sterling they need to get a better acting coach because that was a pathetic attempt at trying to win over the public. First of all, Donald Sterling, and this alleged dementia, he's losing his memory? You have to be kidding me. He has visited nearly eight law firms in California, Carol, over the last week or two. That's why he hasn't given an interview. He's been out lobbying, trying to find lawyers to sue the NBA.

And you have to look back at who he's apologizing to. He's not apologizing to Doc Rivers. He's not apologizing to the Clipper players. He's not apologizing to the black and Hispanic tenants that he was prejudiced against. He's not apologizing to the season ticket holders. He's apologizing to one set of people, that's the board of governors. That's the 29 owners who are going to vote. It's absolutely disgraceful and pathetic.

COSTELLO: And, Stephanie, it's interesting that Shelly Sterling also agreed to an interview on national television, this with Barbara Walters, and she talked about how she wanted to hold ownership of the team and she went into the dementia thing, right? But she also went into, like, yes, I'm going to divorce him and I've been thinking about it for 20 years but I haven't done it. What do you make of that?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it all comes down to finances and whether or not this was going to be a beneficial decision financially is what was the most important thing. Now, how perception plays into this is probably a huge part of that. What's also interesting in that Barbara Walters interview is that, when she was asked whether or not she thought that the - that the NBA did the right thing by banning her husband, she said no comment. But after this first happened, she put out a statement through her lawyers saying that she had talked to Commissioner Silver and that she fully supported what he had done. So there's a bit of a mixed message here on what is happening. And I - you have to keep in mind, even if they are estranged, she says she doesn't love him, they still have a family together and you have to care about that you would imagine in her position. So it's hard to extricate the two, whether or not she's seriously talking about this because of how she feels personally as a woman or whether or not she's looking at this as a bigger financial issue.

COSTELLO: Brian, is there anything the Sterlings can do at this point to repair their reputation, to make people think they really, truly are sorry that all of this has transpired?

CLAYPOOL: Are you absolutely kidding me? There's zero that they could ever do. Did you hear the comment that Donald Sterling made to Anderson Cooper? He said - he said, Carol, if I said something wrong to Magic Johnson. Are you - are you serious, Donald? Do you really mean that? He said, also, it's a mistake. It's not a mistake, Donald. Mr. Sterling, hear me, it's a mentality. It's a 30-year mentality of being a racist. And you can't claim that's a mistake. That's engrained in your brain. You need help. You need to move on because there is nobody in the city of Los Angeles, including the mayor, who I saw at the game yesterday, Carol, who I happen to be personal friends with, Eric Garcetti, and he reiterated that we will do everything in our power to make sure that no Sterling family member has ownership in that team.

ELAM: Well, and I think another thing --

COSTELLO: And, Stephanie, I want to get into this Magic Johnson for just a second, because he seems to have this fixation on Magic Johnson. And we haven't heard the full extent of his remarks about Magic Johnson yet. That will air at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on Anderson Cooper's show. But what does he have against Magic Johnson?

ELAM: What boggles the mind is now we've heard three different recordings, one that we know about with Anderson, right, and the other two that were surreptitiously done, or so we've been lead to believe. All three of them, he has mentioned Magic Johnson. That is really bizarre. He seems to be obsessed with Magic Johnson.

Now, Magic is a larger than life personality. When you're in a room with him, you know he's there. It's not like you can - and it's not just because of his height. He's also known because of his basketball skills, of the businesses that he's opened outside of basketball, outside of sports. Let's remember that he opened up a bunch of Starbucks all throughout southern California as well. He's a businessman. He's opened up theaters in Harlem as well. So he does have some sort of issue with him. And I think the fact that he keeps bringing up - bringing up Magic Johnson does not help his case at all.

And also this idea that if he has dementia, that that could somehow help his case, I actually think it hurts him more because it would show that he is not in the right sound mind to be owning an operation and running it.

And the other thing that I've learned since I've been covering this story from the beginning is that when you spend time at the Staples Center around people who cover the Clippers all the time, how Donald Sterling has conducted himself, how he has spoken about people of different races, this is not new. Maybe this is a bigger extent of it. Maybe this is the first time he was caught on a recording. But apparently, to a lot of people down there, this is not new that he has said things that are inappropriate racially. COSTELLO: All right, Stephanie Elam, Brian Claypool, thanks for your insight. I appreciate it.

I'm back in a minute.



COSTELLO: The senator calling on Veterans Affairs Chief Eric Shinseki to testify about allegations of a massive cover-up by V.A. hospitals is warning people not to rush to judgment. Senator Bernie Sanders says allegations that V.A. hospitals tried to hide long wait times for sick veterans are being politicized.

But the allegations are serious. In fact, CNN has been digging into these charges since last November. And this is what we turned up: at least 40 veterans died while waiting for care in Phoenix according to multiple sources. Some were placed on a secret waiting list. Some of those veterans waited up to 21 months for care.

CNN investigations found delays in care in at least six hospitals including Wyoming and Texas. Not only that, the V.A. has admitted 23 people died because of delays in care.

Senator Bernie Sanders is chairman of the Senate committee that will look into these allegations. He joins us now.

Welcome, Senator.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Good to be with you, Carol.

COSTELLO: Nice to have you here.

Senator, these allegations are disturbing. Three whistle blowers came forward to detail these charges. What's political about that?

SANDERS: Well, Carol, let me just say this, just comment on something you said a moment ago. If you look at "The Arizona Republic" a few days ago, May 9th, is what they said about the allegations, and "The Arizona Republic" has been covering this issue pretty extensively.

I quote, "Dr. Foot," and Foot is the main source of the allegations. "Foot's allegation that 40 people died sometimes has been miscast by media that those deaths were attributable to delayed care. Foot said information he provided to Congress and the inspector general did not indicate how individuals died or whether they might have survived with more timely care."

So, what we have done, Carol, which is I think the appropriate thing, but the V.A. said, look, charges, allegations have been made by Dr. Foot. Let's go out and do an independent investigation with the inspector general which is an independent entity and get to the truth of the matter.

But what I just read you suggests, and you just mentioned a moment ago that 40 people died because of delayed care, that is not, as I understand it --

COSTELLO: Senator, I can only -- I can only rely on Drew Griffin and CNN Investigations. They've been investigating this matter since November. They put a lot of time in it.

And you can't escape the fact that the V.A. itself admitted 23 people died directly because of delays in care. They admitted it.

SANDERS: Carol, the V.A. like any large institutions, has its problems. And that's why I said we are going to do a hearing, immediately after the investigation is completed.

Second point, I want to make is do you know how many people are going in -- veterans are going to the V.A. today, and in my view as a nation we have a moral obligation to make sure every veteran in this country gets the best quality care that we can provide.

COSTELLO: I absolutely agree with that part of what you're saying.

SANDERS: Do you know how many veterans are going into V.A.'s 151 medical centers and 900 primary care facilities today? Over 200,000.

So, the point is, you have a huge system. What the veterans tell us in general is they like V.A. health care. Patient satisfaction is generally higher --

COSTELLO: But, Senator, that doesn't excuse the fact that people died because some waited up to 21 months for care. Awful.

SANDERS: Carol, you're absolutely right. Nothing would excuse that.

But I think you would agree with me that we need is an independent investigation by people who are trained to do that first. If one person died, that is one person too many. That's why we're going to get to the root of the issue.

But the broad point that I want to make is when you're treating 6.5 million people a year, that's a lot of people. And there are going to be problems. If we simply say here is a problem, here is a problem -- what I'm suggesting to you is that independent studies suggest V.A. health care is pretty good, as good or better --

COSTELLO: Well, let me run this by you, Senator. Senator John McCain is a Vietnam POW. He says if these allegations are true, it's a crime. Listen to what he said.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: If these allegations are true, they're a violation of law. It's not a matter of resignations. It's a matter of whether somebody goes to jail or not, OK?



COSTELLO: There you have it. He says it's a crime.

How is it possible that Shinseki was not aware of what was going on? Surely he knew.

SANDERS: Let's do -- first of all, if there are people who are cooking the books, Senator McCain is absolutely right, it is a crime. That's something we will deal with.

But, Carol, all I'm suggesting is that I do not want to see 300,000 V.A. employees, many of whom are veterans themselves or related to veterans, vast majority of whom are doing a good job according to the veteran's community and according to independent surveys providing quality health care to our veterans, I don't want to see everybody disparaged.

COSTELLO: I hear you. But after your initial comments on this on Wolf Blitzer's show and hundreds of veterans contacted Drew Griffin to complain, they are worried you will not conduct a thorough investigation. Can you assure them you will?

SANDERS: Absolutely. First of all, it's not me who's going to be conducting the investigation. It is the inspector general. They're doing it right now.

COSTELO: But you're holding a hearing, right?

SANDERS: I am holding a hearing on the general state of V.A. health care. The hearing on the charges in Phoenix cannot be held until we have a report from the inspector general. I think what we want to hear this Thursday is from Shinseki, is from people who are critical of the V.A. and an overall view of what V.A. is doing well in terms of health care and what they are not doing well. Once we have the report from the inspector general, we are going to go from there.

So, my point is where the V.A. has been deficient if there are serious problems like keeping two sets of books, that is very serious. We are going to get to the root of that.

Look, I just offered comprehensive legislation to make sure we improve health care and other benefits for all of our veterans. We're going to fight hard for the veterans. I'm sure you will agree with me that we need a though row independent investigation to tell us what's going on in phoenix and elsewhere.

COSTELLO: All right. Senator Bernie Sanders, thank you for joining me this morning.

I want to bring in CNN's Drew Griffin now because he worked so hard on this.

Senator Sanders didn't want to debate this issue with you on the air. He wants to talk about it in his office at some point. I wanted to bring you on to tell people what your investigation uncovered, because these are serious allegations.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: They are very serious allegations. And from Senator Sanders, to be charitable, he seems woefully uninformed on this issue.

My question to him is where has he and the committee been? The House Veterans Affairs Committee, bipartisan committee, has been looking into these problems in a year. In November, we reported veterans died at mostly southeast veterans hospitals.

Carol, these men died, mostly men died because they couldn't get a colonoscopy in time. That's the care we're talking about for our veterans.

Now, as you rightly said, in February, the V.A. admitted that 23 veterans died because of delays in care. The V.A. admits that. And 70 or more have had adverse outcomes.

Now, we're talking about a cover-up in the last month. Phoenix, San Antonio and the most recent one is Cheyenne, Wyoming, where we have actual whistle blowers, people who make the schedules who are telling us and showing us how they are told to hide the delays in care.

Take a look at this e-mail we got a hold of on Friday. This is from a clerk inside the Cheyenne, Wyoming, V.A. talking about how to game the system. You don't have to know the rules of the game you're playing. When we exceed 14-day measure, the front office gets very upset.

What this person is talking about is actually scheduling appointments months and months and months in advance but recording them so they only look like they're 14 days out. The whistle-blower came forward and said she provided that to us and to others.

Her name is Lisa Lee. Listen what she has to say, what's going on inside these hospitals.


LISA LEE, MEDICAL SUSPOORT ASSISTANT SCHEDULER: We were being told to game the system because it made Cheyenne look good. We were sat down by our supervisor in the conference room. He opened up his laptop and he showed us exactly how to schedule so it looked like it was within that 14-day period.

So, It was all verbal when I was down there. And they would keep track of the schedulers who were complying and getting 100 percent of the 14-day, and those of us that were not doing it.


GRIFFIN: The person who wrote that e-mail, General Eric Shinseki, on Friday, put that person on administrative leave, opened yet another inspector general report at the hospital in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

But this, we believe now, is systemic throughout the system, has been going on. And when we hear from Senator Sanders, his immediate reaction is to defend all this activity or not proceed, the veterans we're hearing from, they lose faith in this system of oversight, at least of the Senate.

COSTELLO: Drew Griffin, thanks so much.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM: This morning, the first image of the school girls kidnapped by Islamist terrorists. Nima Elbagir is in Nigeria and visited the town where that mass abduction happened.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's been checkpoint after checkpoint, and we have definitely, as we've been traveling north from the Nigerian capital of Abuja seen evidence of the security forces that the government is sending to combat the Boko Haram threat.