Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Sterling Agrees to Sell Clippers; Crews Struggle with Arizona Fire; Deadly Clashes Ahead of Ukraine Elections

Aired May 23, 2014 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, breaking news -- Sterling agrees to sell the LA Clippers. The owner is getting ready to get rid of his team and to let his estranged wife do the negotiating.

Is that good enough for the NBA?

Deadliest moment -- bloody clashes in Ukraine on this, the eve of a critical election.

Why is Russia's President Putin now blaming the United States?

And terrorists go Hollywood, but their brutal new video, with sophisticated scenes of killings and bombings, is all too real.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's go out to the breaking news.

Donald Sterling may be bowing to the inevitable. Weeks after his racist rant was recorded and released by a girlfriend and facing a looming deadline from the NBA, which has vowed to strip him of his team, a source now says the LA Clippers' owner has agreed with his estranged wife to have her work out the sale.

Our analysts are standing by to give us the kind of coverage that only CNN can deliver.

Let's begin, though, with CNN's Brian Todd, who has been working on breaking the latest details on this story -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT:

Wolf, new information tonight and a crucial turning point in this story. Donald and Shelly Sterling now sending the first signals that they may be giving in and may sell the team that both of them had vowed to fight for.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Donald and Shelly Sterling have reached a deal for Shelly Sterling to negotiate what they would likely consider a voluntary sale of the LA Clippers. A source tells CNN there have been discussions between Shelly Sterling and the NBA.

DOUGLAS ELDRIDGE, SPORTS AGENT: This does look like it will effectively be the beginning of the end.

TODD: Attorneys for both Sterlings would not comment. Publicly, the NBA is holding to its central points in the case, the league saying in a statement it's going ahead with its own process of terminating the Sterlings' ownership and proceeding toward a hearing on this matter on June 3rd, where owners will vote on the matter.

But the league may not wait for 10 days. Privately, analysts say, the NBA may want to avoid the vote or any possible court proceedings.

DOMENIC ROMANO, SPORTS & ENTERTAINMENT ATTORNEY: It's going to be very expensive. It's going to be politically disastrous for the NBA if they have to go through a prolonged fight with the Sterlings. And this is a best solution for everyone.

TODD: Just a couple of weeks ago, Donald Sterling told Anderson Cooper it would be hard to give up ownership.

But he hedged.

DONALD STERLING, OWNER, L.A. CLIPPERS: Settling sometimes is better than fighting. And maybe I have to settle for whatever they want to do.

TODD: But Shelly Sterling, in an interview with ABC, showed no signs of giving in.

SHELLY STERLING, DONALD STERLING'S WIFE: I think half the team is mine and I'll fight for it.

TODD (on camera): What changed things?

ELDRIDGE: Perhaps it's simply the Sterlings' resolve that's changed. And one thing that always benefits over time is perspective. And the longer this drags out, I think the more crushing and the more sinking the reality of we're not going to win.

TODD: Analysts say the Sterlings are also likely motivated to maximize the value of the Clippers and the potential billion dollars from the sale. But if they were to drag this out...

ROMANO: Chances are sponsors would continue to leave the team. Chances are players would not renew their contracts. Some players would boycott.

What would that mean, as well?

It -- when the team visited certain arenas, people might not show up. The value of the team would go down.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: One thing that's not yet clear, whether Shelly Sterling would sell all of the Clippers or if she's hoping to keep part of the team. Her attorney, a couple of weeks ago, said she wanted to be a passive owner -- not have a role in running the Clippers, but maybe own a little bit of the team.

For its part, the NBA has said they both have to go completely -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Are you getting a sense that either way, this is going to be resolved relatively quickly?

TODD: We do believe that from people we're talking to. The NBA vote to remove the Sterlings is scheduled for 10 days from now, June 3rd. The analysts we spoke to say look for this process to move very quickly so that the NBA can resolve this between now and then, some of them saying this may not be a holiday weekend for many in the NBA.

BLITZER: We'll see if the lawyers are very, very busy, or not so busy.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Brian, for that report.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now.

Joining us, CNN anchor, Don Lemon; our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin; and CNN commentator, L.Z. Granderson -- does it look to you, Don, as if the Sterlings have blinked?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I don't think so. I think -- listen, I'm very skeptical about this, Wolf, about him turning ownership over to her, because -- I guess I'm a conspiracy theorist, I'm always looking for the angle or the out.

What happens if they say, OK, legally, he doesn't own the team anymore?

You said it first, that this only applied to Donald Sterling. And now that she owns it, we don't need to go through these proceedings.

So I'm a little bit skeptical about this. I don't think the NBA -- and they have said as much -- is going to accept it. They still see Donald Sterling as a principle owner. And if I were the NBA, that's the way I would look at it, too.

BLITZER: L.Z. How do you see it?

L.Z. GRANDERSON, CNN COMMENTATOR well, you know, Donald Sterling has kind of done this routine in the past. Back in '82, he says some racist things in regards to a draft pick. About 10 owners got together and wanted to vote him out. He apologized and promised to sell back in 1982. And he waited until the firestorm went down.

So if I were the NBA, I would stay on top of him...

LEMON: Right. GRANDERSON: I would continue to push toward this June 3rd meeting...

LEMON: Yes.

GRANDERSON: I would continue to say all the things that Commissioner Silver has been saying in public...

LEMON: Yes.

GRANDERSON: -- to remind the Sterlings that they're not getting out of this by trying to move -- by playing some sort of shell game.

LEMON: Right.

BLITZER: What do you think -- Jeffrey?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think it's over. They're selling the team. And -- and if you look at what we've reported, it's not that Donald Sterling is turning over ownership to the -- to his wife, Shelly, he's saying she can handle the sale. They are selling the team. That's the goal of the NBA.

And who is negotiating is irrelevant, as long as the end result, before June 3rd, is that both Sterlings are out the door. And I think that's precisely where we're headed.

BLITZER: You know, there is a history, Don, as you well know, of the Sterlings getting involved in lawsuits, litigious. But you know what, they're in a different stage in their lives right now. He's, what, 80 years old. She's getting up there, as well. He supposedly has been suffering from some ailments. There have been reports he has prostate cancer.

Maybe he's just ready to take the billion dollars and move on.

LEMON: Maybe he is. And let's hope that he is. But you heard what he said. And he said, you know, I'm not going to sell my team and he waffled on it a little bit, oh, you know, my partners, I'll do whatever they say.

Shelly Sterling has said explicitly that she does not want to sell the team.

Why would they have a change of heart all of a sudden?

I don't know how much age has to do with it, especially if you are someone -- or two people -- who have -- who are not used to other people telling you what to do, that you have done, pretty much in your life, exactly what you wanted to do. And as L.Z. said, you've had lawsuits before. You've been caught at a similar game before.

So I just don't trust this deal. I understand what you're saying, Jeffrey, about, you know, she can do the negotiating. I still don't trust it. I don't -- there's something that stinks to high heaven about this whole thing for me. BLITZER: There's one argument, L.Z., and I want you to weigh in because it backs up -- it sort of backs up what Jeffrey is saying and others are saying, that it's basically, for all practical purposes, over. The Sterlings have capitulated. They clearly have gone ahead and they've blinked, if you will. That's one argument.

And the argument being that their lawyers and other advisers have told them they have no case, that the legal argument is on the side of the NBA. They're going to lose. And in the process, they may have to walk away with a lot less than that billion dollars. That's one of the arguments that I've heard all day, L.Z.

GRANDERSON: Absolutely. And, you know, the league -- I was with a high-ranking NBA official yesterday. And after Mark Cuban made his comments regarding to race tied to Don Sterling, I asked them if they could comment, they said absolutely not. They're focused in on Donald Sterling.

So the league is not blinking in terms of what they want to have happen.

I think one of the other things that we need to talk about is the report that came out in the "L.A. Times" in regards to the investigation that the NBA did. And at first, it looked as though Shelly Sterling could pretend as if she's estranged and not committing to all the racist actions of her husband.

But more and more reports are coming out linking her to him, not just in the housing discrimination, but her behavior within the Clippers organization, as well, employees saying we don't want her involved, as well, because of racism and things that she has done.

I think perhaps the NBA presenting this information, as much as the oral argument, the legal argument, just knowing this information is there, as well, also might have pushed them to just make this move.

BLITZER: Right.

GRANDERSON: I would keep pushing. I wouldn't stop pushing.

BLITZER: And, you know, Jeffrey, the NBA has made it clear, they don't want him involved in the team, they don't want her involved in that team. In the summary of the Sterling termination charge, the legal document that they filed with the Sterling lawyers, remember it said if the NBA board of governors sustains the charge, the ownership interests of Mr. and Mrs. Sterling in the Clippers will be terminated.

So they don't want her at all involved, even as a minority owner.

TODD: And I certainly recommend people go to latimes.com and read this incredible story about the machinations and the panic and the lying and the obstruction of justice by both Donald and Shelly Sterling...

LEMON: Right.

TODD: -- as crazy as you think they are, they, in this story, are even crazier.

LEMON: Crazier, right.

TODD: So, you know, they're -- this thing is going to be over June 3rd one way or the other. And the only thing the Sterlings have to decide is whether they decide to leave or they're kicked in the pants and thrown out. And I think, you know, they're -- they appear to be moving in the rational direction of selling the team voluntarily rather than being fired.

BLITZER: Key words -- appear to be moving -- Don.

LEMON: Yes.

BLITZER: They -- what appears to be happening today could change very quickly tomorrow. That's the way you see it, right?

LEMON: Yes, because just yesterday, we were having a different conversation with you, Wolf. And the day before that, we were having a different conversation. And the day before that, it was a different conversation.

As I said, I just -- you know, when you read that "L.A. Times"' article that Jeffrey pointed out -- and, also, that L.Z. pointed -- then you realize just how underhanded, allegedly, these guys can be.

So that's why I say, you know, you fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me, because they -- their stories keep changing.

So if I were the NBA -- I agree with L.Z. -- I would keep pushing, but I would push as Donald Sterling as the principal owner, not as Shelly Sterling as a principal owner, because you never know with the law, Jeffrey, I'm just saying you never know.

BLITZER: Let me ask L.Z., because you cover sports. You know what's going on in the NBA.

As you know, back in 1981, when the Sterlings bought the Clippers, moved the team from San Diego to LA, they paid, what, $11 million or $12 million for the team. Now there are estimates it could be worth a billion -- $1 billion.

But one of the writers for ESPN is now suggesting if they get a real bidding war going, it could go for $2 billion -- L.Z., is that realistic at all?

GRANDERSON: I don't think so, if you shake down the numbers. You've got to remember, this isn't the LA Lakers. This is the Clippers, who just got good. And they haven't proven they can sustain the success that they just recently have.

Success, by the way, that was greatly helped by the previous commissioner, Commissioner Stern.

So it's not as if this is a franchise that, one, has a large enough base to compete with the New York Knicks or the LA Lakers, nor has it sustained success or credibility to make you think they're going to have the success 10, 15 years from now.

So I think that's a little hyperbole that the other writer was talking about there.

TODD: And if I could just make one point about the sale of this team. You know, a lot of people always get mad at the players -- oh, they're so overpaid.

You know, look at how much money Donald Sterling is going to make...

LEMON: Thank you.

TODD: -- for being an incompetent, horrible...

LEMON: Right.

TODD: -- racist owner. And

LEMON: You took the words out of my mouth. Look, all of those black people...

TODD: And...

LEMON: -- he didn't want to come to his game or whatever, look how much money those black people are making him. Making him even a multi -- a billionaire twice over now, if he sells this team.

TODD: And none of those fans -- none of those fans come to the game to see Donald Sterling. They come to see Chris Paul. They come to see Blake Griffin. I mean this is why the players make a lot of money and they don't probably make enough money.

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.

Don't go too far away, as I like to say, because you will be back later in THE SITUATION ROOM.

More major developments moving ahead.

Our panel will be here.

Also, I'll speak live with James Rainey. He's one of the "L.A. Times"' writers who has obtained some very dramatic new details about the audiotape that started it all. He'll be joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But up next, a popular tourist area threatened by a massive wildfire, just as this holiday weekend gets underway.

We're going live to Arizona.

And Russian's President Putin blaming the United States for what he calls -- what he calls a dangerous civil war.

Dozens are dead in the latest violence in Ukraine. CNN is on the ground. We'll go there. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get to a very serious situation right now in Arizona. Enormous wildfire burning out of control between Flagstaff and Sedona. Hundreds of firefighters are trying to contain it. People have been forced to evacuate their homes, and this popular tourist area could be paralyzed as Memorial Day weekend is just beginning. CNN's Ana Cabrera is at the firefighters' command center.

What can you tell us, Ana?

ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf, this is still a very active firefighting situation. We have seen, for the most part, cooler, calmer temperatures and weather conditions today, which has helped firefighters make progress, but you can see that big, brown cloud of smoke behind me. We had a chance to go into the fire zone today. We saw the fire fight was far from over.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CABRERA (voice-over): The heart of the fire is an inferno: powerful, unpredictable, no match for man. To confront these flames, crews are fighting fire with fire.

(on camera): The smoke around the bend here is from burnout operations: controlled burns to get ahead of the wildfire by eliminating the fuel.

(voice-over): Nearly 1,000 firefighters are battling this blaze between Sedona and Flagstaff, Arizona. The Slide Fire has already charred more than 75 hundred acres of rocky forest lands.

(on camera): How challenging is this for you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is extremely challenging.

CABRERA (voice-over): This is the northeast flank of the fire, where trees are torching. We watched as a fire made a run up a canyon wall. It's still a challenge to keep the fire from crossing the road, edging closer to hundreds of homes.

(on camera): This makes it too dangerous. That's why they've got these helicopters.

(voice-over): Nine helicopters are part of the air attack dousing the flames with 2,000 gallons of water in each run. The elite, highly trained hot-shot firefighters are on the ground, cutting the fire line and doing back burns while watching the weather, especially the winds.

It wasn't even a year ago the deadly Yarnell fire in Arizona claimed the lives of 19 colleagues.

(on camera): Any lessons learned from that fire that you're implementing here?

TONY SCIACCA, INCIDENT COMMANDER: Again, back to those basics: be prepared and make sure that their escape routes and safety zones are in line. Every time they're evaluating them, so if they do get those out, they have a place to go.

CABRERA (voice-over): Over-communication is the rule of thumb. Safety reigns supreme, both for firefighters and evacuees.

(on camera): Are you worried about your house?

SERENA CHESMORE, EVACUEE: No, not at all.

CABRERA: Why is that?

CHESMORE: Those things are material. They can be replaced. The kids, the pets, the photos, those can't be replaced.

CABRERA (voice-over): So far, no homes lost and no injuries. No small feat in the ongoing fight to control the flames.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CABRERA: Still, just 5 percent contained. At least that's what they're saying right now. We should get an update on those containment numbers in the next few hours. We hope to see those numbers go up, and the conditions today are looking good.

But Wolf, because of the challenges of where this fire is burning, that steep area is tough to get those ground crews in there, and it could be seven to ten days before this fire is fully contained.

BLITZER: It's going to ruin a lot of people's Memorial Weekend plans in that area.

All right. Ana, thanks very much.

Firefighters are also dealing with weather -- weather and rough terrain as they try to get the situation under control. Let's discuss, get a little bit more information from Holly Krake. She's with the U.S. Forest Service in Flagstaff.

So does it look like it's going to be contained any time soon, Holly?

HOLLY KRAKE, U.S. FOREST SERVICE: Today we are winning the battle, Wolf. And that's through the use of air support. They are doing burnout operations aerially, which means they are dropping incendiary devices to help the burnout operations in that rugged terrain.

BLITZER: What about the wind? Is that a major factor today?

KRAKE: The winds have actually been calmer than expected. However, we are always cautious with the low pressure systems that can bring thunderstorms and erratic winds and downdrafts. So again, safety remains our No. 1 priority.

BLITZER: I assume one of the complicating factors is the drought that has been in the area for some time now, right? KRAKE: That is correct. Northern Arizona has about 25 percent of our normal snowpack. So in addition to the existing drought, that's led to extremely dry and very flammable fuels across the forests.

BLITZER: Do you know the cause of these fires? Because there's some suspicion it could be arson.

KRAKE: Right now it is human caused. However, the exact cause is still under investigation.

BLITZER: When you say human caused, does that mean some sort of criminal or just the mistakes, somebody threw a cigarette out of the car? I mean, what do you mean by human caused?

KRAKE: It's still under investigation. However, the only other reason that fires start in this northern Arizona area is due to lightning, and we have not had any lightning in the area. So it is human caused but still undetermined at this time.

BLITZER: It seems to be pretty early in the season for these kinds of fires. Is there anything else going on this year that you can sense?

KRAKE: We are about a month ahead of schedule due to the lack of snowpack and ongoing drought, like you mentioned earlier. So this is earlier in the year than normal. But we are prepared for it, and we brought on crews and did our training earlier than normal, as well, to prepare.

BLITZER: The crews have a tough, tough job, and we know that it's a dangerous job. A lot of us remember what happened when a year ago, 19 firefighters died in that Yarnell Hill wildfire that was going on. I guess for some of these firefighters, maybe all of them, it's an emotional moment right now.

KRAKE: Our No. 1 priority is safety, and that goal really means that every firefighter comes home safe every night from every incident. And we do that in part by learning from previous incidents.

BLITZER: Holly Krake, fire information officer for the U.S. Forest Service. Thanks, Holly, very much. Good luck to you, all the men and women who are fighting these wildfires. Thank you.

KRAKE: Absolutely. Thank you, as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, Russia's Vladimir Putin blaming the United States for the escalating violence in Ukraine. But does he already have his eyes on another target?

And terrorists go Hollywood. A group that's even too brutal for al Qaeda puts its kidnapping and kidnappings and killings on video for the entire world to see.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: It's now become the deadliest moment in Ukraine. Dozens are killed in bloody clashes as the deeply divided nation prepares for weekend presidential elections.

Pro-Russian separatists are making an all-out effort to block the voting through violence and intimidation. But Russia's President Putin is blaming the United States for the unrest.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is in Ukraine. He's joining us now from Donetsk. That's a rebel stronghold. What's the latest, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I'll tell you, in Ukraine today, the contrasts are just jarring. In Kiev it's calm. Even on this main street in Donetsk, it's calm, but we went 20 minutes outside of this town and found Russian -- pro- Russian militants operating with impunity.

Now, Ukrainian officials place the blame for that firmly on Russia. They say Russia is directing them or even accusations of Russian mercenaries on the ground here. And Ukrainian officials say all this is a direct threat to elections on Sunday.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): It's a new explosion of violence in eastern Ukraine that has the United States on edge. This is the bloody aftermath of several clashes between the Ukrainian military and pro- Russian militants. Across the volatile region, it's the new flashpoint between the west and Moscow. More than 30 people were killed. Witnesses here expressing fear and confusion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): What is happening here? For a person who understands politics, I can't believe it.

SCIUTTO: The challenges to Sunday's presidential vote are growing more severe. Here the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic destroyed ballot boxes, and as we traveled east, we saw even worse.

(on camera): This is an election headquarters that was meant to be running Sunday's vote in this area, but eyewitnesses say that armed pro-Russian separatists came and gathered up all the materials -- This is an election manual and these are I.D. cards for election observers -- and burned them up, and they shut the headquarters building down.

(Voice-over): The election commissioner told me that some of the masked men armed with machine guns and grenades appeared to be Russian soldiers.

NIKOLAY MANZYAK, LEGAL ELECTION COMMISSIONER (Through Translator): They came in suddenly armored into our office and began shouting at us to gather in one place and put our cell phones in one pile and then they began to ask us where all the election stuff is. Two women fainted.

SCIUTTO: All 116 polling stations in this district, serving some 360,000 people, are now closed.

(On camera): Do you think that Donetsk and this area can hold a free and fair election on Sunday?

MANZYAK (Through Translator): There will not be an election. There is no one who can provide an election. The central government does not control the situation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin was back on the bully pulpit today in a conference in St. Petersburg taking aim at President Barack Obama asking, who is he to judge what's happening here in Ukraine, even saying that he should find a position on a court somewhere but President Putin also saying that he wouldn't respect the results of Sunday's election, even this as U.S. and Ukrainian officials accuse him of continuing to try to influence and disrupt that election, perhaps keeping his options open.

But administration officials now say that they will wait until after the election to consider any new economic penalties against Russia -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Because earlier they said that if there -- there was evidence Russia was directly interfering with free and fair elections, the U.S.-led sanctions would immediately be intensified. That was the threat that was made by the president a couple of weeks ago. But what you're saying now they're going to wait until after they count the ballots before deciding whether more sanctions should be imposed?

SCIUTTO: That's what administration officials are telling me. They say they don't want to prejudge the results of the election on Sunday, and they say that in the vast majority of the country there's some truth to this that people will likely be able to vote. But I think the problem was that that standard left a little bit of wriggle room right, impeding the election was the new standard, the new red line, if you will, and the question that was never defined, when impeding the election would then trigger new sanctions. Now they're saying that would only happen after Sunday.

BLITZER: Stand by for a moment, Jim. I'm going to get back to you but I want to bring in Josh Rogin, the senior correspondent for "The Daily Beast" who is here in Washington with me.

What do you make of Putin directly blaming the United States for the violence in Ukraine? He says, they just want free and fair elections and if some folks want to be reunited parts of Ukraine with Russia, they should have that option.

JOSH ROGIN, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, THE DAILY BEAST: Right. There's a huge gap between Putin's words and his actions. And this has been going on since the start of the Ukrainian crisis. He has effectively prevented these two regions, about 6.5 million people, 15 percent of the population, from being able to participate in the election. That allows him to preserve influence in those regions. And after Sunday, this will be the beginning, not the end of a process. And that's why the sanctions will be delayed because the U.S. administration wants to give both sides time to understand what the new normal is after the election and maybe there's an opening for diplomacy. But based on what we're hearing today, there doesn't seem like a big opening at all.

BLITZER: We know there are a lot -- Jim, there are a lot of international monitors who have come in to try to monitor the elections, including a lot of high-profile Americans. How safe are they right now?

SCIUTTO: I think they have been safe. We spoke to one of them, Jane Harman, as you know former U.S. congresswoman, yesterday. They feel safe and they feel like the administration, that in the vast majority of the country, Ukrainians will be able to vote on the weekend.

But I will tell you, in our experience today, just 20 minutes from where I'm standing right now where you saw and heard accounts of these militants acting with impunity, threatening local, shutting down these stations, they certainly would also keep monitors in their sights as well, anything to disrupt the elections, I'd say it's risky there. Thankfully not in large parts of the country but in some parts of the country, very risky.

BLITZER: You're reporting, Josh, that Moldova, and that's right over there, right next to you, next to Ukraine, that borders Ukraine, Moldova could, what, be next on Putin's target list?

ROGIN: Right. So Moldova which has 2500 Russian troops on its territory in Transnistria, against this, well, faces a June 27th decision to join the EU with an association agreement. The same trigger that caused the Russians to push back so hard in Ukraine late last year. So what the Moldovan leaders have been telling me, some of them were in Washington this week, that the Russians are pouring in intelligence forces, pouring in propaganda, and threatening to do all sorts of economically destabilizing things in Moldova in order to try to influence the process there so that their friends, the communist party, can defeat the liberal democrats.

BLITZER: Just show our viewers, right over there, that's where Moldova is, right over there, right next to Ukraine. Moldova, like Ukraine, not a member of NATO. So technically, there's no automatic trigger that the U.S., the other NATO allies would have to come to Moldova's defense.

ROGIN: And this is the problem for small states like Moldova. They don't have formal alliances with the United States. At the same time they recognize that the international system of checks and balances has gone by the wayside now that Putin doesn't seem to be respecting it so they are looking for new assurances. They're coming to the U.S. and saying we may not be in NATO or the EU but we need to push back against the Russians and we need your help.

BLITZER: So if this goes on like this, Jim, and you know this as well as anyone, Crimea, eastern Ukraine, Moldova, that would clearly, totally, I suspect, poison what is even left of a semblance of a normal U.S./Russian relationship.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely. And you heard from administration officials in the last several weeks that they know and acknowledge that they are entering a new phase, that that phase in the last 20 years after the fall of the Berlin wall of cooperation has come to an end. It doesn't mean no cooperation. There are certainly issues that they are still working on. One of them being nuclear negotiations with Iran. But this friendly, warm and fuzzy, if you will, period between the U.S. and the western Russia is over, really, and they've got to change, change relationships including with countries like Moldova.

And as Josh said, those countries, Moldova, the Baltics, they are truly worried and you'll hear from their leaders, they are looking for real reassurance, not just in words but also in actions, in troops, in new relationships and alliances with the West so that they can feel safe from the same thing that happened here in the Ukraine.

BLITZER: Because a lot of concern, very quickly, Josh, even NATO allies like Poland, the president is going to be going to Poland in the next couple of weeks to reassure the Poles. Even though Poland and the Baltic states, Latvia, Lithuania, they're NATO allies, they are still concerned as well.

ROGIN: And you saw Vice President Joe Biden visit Romania last week, another NATO ally. These are largely symbolic measures. That's not to say that they are not very important, what will be the test is over weeks, months, and years whether or not there's actually increased commitment by the NATO allies to bolster defenses and come up with a common strategy to combat Russian aggression. We don't know that yet. We'll have to wait and see.

BLITZER: Josh Rogin, thanks very much. Jim Sciutto, be careful over there in Ukraine. We'll check back with you obviously as we get ready for this critical election on Sunday.

Up next, tens of millions of Americans getting ready to head to the roads right now to start the holiday weekend. Our reporters are out there with the latest on gas prices, traffic, the weekend weather forecast.

Stay with us. We'll update you with information you need to know.

Plus, terrorists taking cue from Hollywood but their brutal new video with sophisticated scenes of killings and bombings is all too real.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Summer is now off to an unofficial start for so many Americans out there. Millions of people are hitting the roads right now. We have full coverage.

CNN's Athena Jones has the latest on gas prices, meteorologist Jennifer Gray has the holiday weekend forecast.

Let's begin, though, with CNN's Alexandra Field who's out in the middle of the holiday traffic. What is going on on the roads, Alexandra?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if you like rain and gridlock in your travel companions, you're in pretty good shape. Otherwise, we hope that wherever you're going is going to make all this worth it because really it's truly pretty slowly moving out here.

We've been stuck in gridlock. We left midtown Manhattan at 4:20. That was an hour and 20 minutes ago. We've gone the distance that it would usually take us to travel in about 20 minutes just getting on to I-95 North. This is the route that most people would take leaving New York City and heading north into parts of New England. So a popular road to travel this holiday weekend and for anyone who's on the road right now, Wolf, they probably left at the very worst time.

AAA says leaving at 5:00 on a Friday is just about the worst step that you can take. That's when you're going to hit absolutely the heaviest traffic. It's of course when most people are getting out of work and there are a lot of people who are on the road this year. 36.1 million people traveling for the holiday. That's up from last year. And again, you're going to hit heavy traffic if you leave on Monday any time between 6:00 and midnight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm not surprised. Alexandra, thank you.

CNN's Athena Jones is at a gas station in Maryland. Looking to the prices at the pump.

What are you seeing, Athena?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. We've been at this station just a few miles north of D.C. for several hours watching a steady stream of folks coming to fill up.

Let me show you the prices here. You can see up on that sign right up there on the board, $3.67 a gallon. That's actually really good for this area. It's just 2 cents above the national average. Many other gas stations in this region are seeing prices 10 and 20 cents higher.

I can tell you that the Washington, D.C., region, along with New York and Connecticut, are the places that have the highest gas prices on the East Coast up here. Getting ready to fill up and hit the road this week, you might want to fill up somewhere else -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Athena, thank you.

Our meteorologist Jennifer Gray has a look at the holiday forecast from the CNN Severe Weather Center from Atlanta -- Jennifer.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Wolf, for Memorial Day, it is going to be a mixed bag across the country. We're really not expecting much in the form of widespread severe weather. We could see severe weather across portions of southwest Texas and in west Texas as we go through the next couple of days.

San Antonio, you're going to have rain on Sunday and possibly Monday. Warm, though, leading up to Memorial Day. Temperatures tapping out at 87 degrees on Sunday. Chicago, the place to be, look at that. Temperatures warming up to the mid-80s. Up in the northeast could see a little bit of rain Saturday and Sunday. And then that should be pushing out by Monday. Boston, you have a gorgeous Memorial Day, 76 degrees, partly cloudy skies. Of course, Miami is going to stay sunny and nice but warm.

Could see a few showers in Minneapolis on your Memorial Day as well as well as Austin, Texas. And then as we move into St. Louis, 82 degrees and sunny on Sunday. Looking good in D.C. all weekend long. Atlanta, we could see showers on Sunday, clearing out on Monday, though, and staying warm -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sounds pretty good all around.

Jennifer Gray, thank you.

President Obama also planning to mark the Memorial Day holiday. The president will participate in Memorial Day observances at Arlington National Cemetery including the laying of the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown. Just a short while ago, by the way, President Obama announced he will nominate Julian Castro, a rising star in the Democratic Party, as his next secretary of Housing and Urban Development, replacing Shaun Donovan.

Castro is serving his third term as mayor of San Antonio. His name is often brought up as a potential candidate for vice president in 2016. He's 39 years old. You might remember he appeared on the national stage two years ago when he delivered a keynote address at the Democrat National Convention. His twin brother is a congressman from Texas.

Also, want to remind all of you about a special show coming to CNN, a new series from executive producers Tom Hanks, Gary Goetzman, "THE SIXTIES," it's the decade that changed the world, the space race, the Cold War, free love, civil rights, much more.

Be sure to watch or set your DVR for the premier, that's next Thursday night 9:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific, only here on CNN.

Just ahead, airliners coming within just seconds of catastrophe. So what's behind the latest near collisions?

And next, a brutal new terrorist video stunning in its violence and its sophistication. These killers may be taking a cue from Hollywood but their images are all too real.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're getting a first look at a chilling new video, a terror video by a group so extreme even al Qaeda doesn't want anything to do with it. And what sets this video apart is not only its sheer brutality but also some remarkable production.

CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom is here with details.

Mohammed, what do we know about this video?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the film is called "The Clanging of the Swords." It was released just days ago. It's by far one of the most horrific and bloodiest terror videos that I or any of the analysts I've spoken with have ever seen.

Now this was produced by the Islamic State of Iraq in Syria. This is a group that's so extreme, al Qaeda has disowned it. This is a film that runs over an hour long and it's shocking not just because of what it shows, but because a lot of the techniques that are employed in it look like they're straight out of Hollywood movies.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMJOOM (voice-over): This is real-life terrorism. Not a Hollywood movie. But designed to look like one. Horrific killing sprees in Iraq. Deliberately recorded on video. Bombings. Executions. Kidnappings. And worse.

A far cry from the grainy, shaky, unfocused terrorist videos we're used to seeing, this production displays glossy camerawork and high- level production techniques. As though ISIS were taking cues from Hollywood films such as "Zero Dark 30" and the "Hurt Locker" to maximize the terror.

This hour-long graphic and disturbing new video is by the Islamic State of Iraq in Syria or ISIS, a group so extreme even al Qaeda has disowned them. Analysts say the video shows ISIS is becoming an even deadlier threat, waging an extremely effective propaganda war.

NADIA OWEIDAT, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: There's money behind it. It's not just idiots. These idiots have somebody controlling them and providing them with equipment that is very expensive. You can't just get in a cave.

JAMJOOM: One frightening sequence shows ISIS fighters disguised as Iraqi soldiers setting up fake checkpoints. This man, accused of being part of Iraq's security forces, is hauled off and executed. In another scene, a man is hunted down. After being shot, he pleads for his life. "I'm just a driver," he says, "just a driver."

What appears to be the man in an Iraqi uniform is shown. Then sheer brutality. A hail of bullets shot into his back.

And that's not the worst of it. This man was accused of working with the U.S. He and his two sons forced to dig their own graves.

OWEIDAT: What happened to these people to lose their humanity? Their propaganda is the tool, the only tool that can defeat them.

JAMJOOM: Experts say to judge by this video the reign of terror shows no signs of abating which is exactly what ISIS wants even at the risk of their tactic backfiring.

(END VIDEOTAPE) JAMJOOM: Now whether or not this propaganda tool backfires on ISIS or not, that's yet to be determined. But one of the things that this video really showcases is just how much the situation on the ground in Iraq has deteriorated. And to that end, yesterday we learned that over 30 people killed across Iraq in sectarian attacks so getting much worse there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, we haven't paid a lot of attention to Iraq. But after the U.S. pullout, the whole place seems to be on fire right now or at least it's brutal.

JAMJOOM: Yes, the sectarian attacks are getting much worse. And many of them blamed directly on this group and other al Qaeda-related groups that are still there. So really getting worse. These groups taking the fight not just to who they consider to be their enemies, whether it's the U.S. or whether it's the Iraqi government but it's those innocent civilians that are caught in between this crossfire.

BLITZER: The story is (INAUDIBLE). All right. Mohammed, thanks very much. Mohammed Jamjoom working his sources for us.

Coming up, so what caused the Donald Sterling scandal to explode in the first place? I'll speak live with a "Los Angeles Times" reporter who's just broken new details.

And another shocking near collision. Are there too many airliners, too few air controllers -- air traffic controllers working right now?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, Donald Sterling surrenders. We have new information about secret negotiations to sell the L.A. Clippers and the leading role played by Sterling's wife.

Plus, seconds from disaster. Another near collision between two jets adding to passengers' fears raising new questions about the air traffic system.