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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Iraq Spiraling Out Of Control; Obama Says No U.S. Combat Troops To Be Sent Back To Iraq; U.S. Official: Intelligence Community Warned Of Growing ISIS Threat To Baghdad; Source: Donald Sterling Hiring Private Investigators
Aired June 13, 2014 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, thanks for joining us.
Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl back on American soil. Tonight, what he's going through now at a military medical center in Texas and what's to come on the long road ahead.
Also, Donald Sterling strikes back, hiring detectives to dig dirt on other NBA owners. What the embattled L.A. Clippers owner is trying to prove with this move.
We begin though tonight with breaking news. How fast the situation in Iraq is spiraling out of control, whether the United States should've seen it coming. The U.S. official tells CNN that the speed with which the situation of Iraq is deteriorating surprised even officials closely monitoring the country.
Tonight, however, there's word that as far back as in the spring, the U.S. intelligence community warned that ISIS was threatening Baghdad and Mosul the second largest city. That according to a U.S. counterterrorism official. Those threats have become a deadly reality now in cities throughout Iraq, countries under siege by Islamist militants as the United States government contemplates what if anything it should do about it.
The U.N. high commissioner for human rights says the full extent of civilian casualties is not yet known, but hundreds of civilians may have already been killed and half a million have been displaced by violence.
Iraqi's foreign minister says the government is taking steps to, quote, "push back the terrorists, including air strikes."
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COOPER: Iraq's state TV says the air force hit three buildings and five vehicles, killing all ISIS forces near a military base just outside (INAUDIBLE). We'll talk to our reporters in Iraq, at the White House and the Pentagon in a moment. But we want to start with the voice you have not heard, an American caught in the middle of this violent spiral. He is a contractor in a military base in Belad (ph), about 55 miles north of Baghdad. He's just been airlifted out of Belad (ph) out of that base after ISIS fighters attacked the base and the hired security at the base simply fled. For security reasons, he wants to be identified only by his first
name, Tony. I spoke with him a short time ago in a "360" exclusive.
COOPER: So Tony, I'm glad you're safe now in Baghdad. You were evacuated from Belad (ph) air base. Explain what happened over the last couple of days there.
TONY, U.S. CONTRACTOR (via phone) OK. Basically five days ago we got word that Mosul and Qatar got taken over. And we were going to have 48 hours to get (INAUDIBLE) evacuate. Basically anybody without weapons. Security personnel would be left behind. The company thought we had that much time, that in case was not the fact. The very next day, we started taking contact.
COOPER: What kind of contact were you taking?
TONY: Small arms fired. There was a couple of IDS rounds that we did hear. They didn't actually hit inside the perimeter, but we did take a lot of small arms fire on our south side and east side. A lot of the check points that the Iraqi army held were taken.
COOPER: The check points that the Iraqi army was holding, what, outside the base, they were overrun?
TONY: Yes. We had -- we had check points 2 kilometers outside of the base and they weren't very heavily manned.
COOPER: How many American contractors are on the -- were on the base in Belad (ph) and how many Iraqi security forces were on the base?
TONY: Iraqi army, there was -- I can't give you an exact number, but I know there was probably close to 1,000. They actually got out a couple days prior to go fight in couple of the cities and villages nearby. So that cut down dramatically. And then we had I'd say close to 500 American personnel as well as foreign nationals, mainly South Africans. And, yes, we had a local national security force, but as soon as we started taking contact, they left. Most of them left. So left us pretty much to fend for ourselves.
COOPER: When you say they left, do you mean they're the troops that left to go fight in other cities or they left as in they like fled?
TONY: No, they fled. Some of the local national security forces, they pretty much dropped their weapons and walked off base. The Iraqi army say they fought -- but if it wasn't for the villages on the perimeter, might not be talking to me right now. Because the villages stood up and they helped out the Iraqi army tremendously. And there was enough numbers.
So you were evacuated, finally, by air, though?
TONY: Yes. By the Iraqi air force. They actually came in and they helped us out and they got us out on a C-130 and cargo plane. There's still some Americans there. And there's still some foreign nationals there. But I think between tonight and tomorrow, hopefully we'll be able to get most of them --
COOPER: How do you see this? I mean, you have more experience in Iraq than most people, you know, how surprised are you by the advances, then, and the quickness of the speed of the advance that is have made?
TONY: I'm not too surprised because when I was here, I was in the marine corps. And I was deployed here twice as a dog handler. And they can be very smart and they can be very fast. And they can be very threatening.
When the U.S. forces were here, obviously we put up a resistance. And it was a lot easier because they're not organized that well. They will -- they do have a lot of fire power, but they're not too organized. They'll push fast and hard. And if they don't get resistance, they're going to get going.
COOPER: Tony, I'm glad you're safe. And I wish you the best. Thank you so much for talking to us.
COOPER: He is a U.S. contractor evacuated from the base in Belad. President Obama said he's looking at a number of options in Iraq, but American boots on the ground is not one of them. The U.S. official tells CNN, the United States is planning to move an aircraft carrier into the Persian Gulf to give the president options for possible air strikes. Here's what the president said earlier.
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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq, but I have asked my national security team to prepare a range of other options that could help support Iraq security forces. And I'll be reviewing those options in the days ahead.
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COOPER: Now, the president went on to say that any military action or other work with the Iraqi government will not happen overnight, but will at least take several days.
Joining me live is Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr and chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.
Barbara, so no U.S. troops on the ground. The administration is considering other options. What are they? I assume air strikes, drone strikes?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: You bet, Anderson. Topping the list is, in fact, moving the carrier George W. Bush. Right now, it is in the north Arabian sea, and we have just been told that if and when the order comes to move it, it can be inside, in position in the northern end of the Arabian gulf. Just outside of Iraq within 30 hours. It can move into position in 30 hours once the order comes. That carrier, its aircraft could conduct air strikes against targets inside Iraq.
But they -- that's going to be problematic, you've got to find the targets to strike. You have to know what you're going to hit. It also could function if the U.S. embassy in Baghdad was to be evacuated. It can use its aircraft to gather more intelligence, conduct (INAUDIBLE) try and get a better idea of where these fighters are located.
COOPER: And Jim, I understand, your intelligent sources say they've been warning the Obama administration on attack on Baghdad by ISIS since the spring.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, a counterterrorism official tells me that, yes, in the spring, the intelligence community warns that is had the ISIS set on Baghdad. And in fact, over the last year, they had multiple assessments describing ISIS' growing strength and also the aspirations to take and old territory inside Iraq. So this gets at this idea, was it a surprise?
Now, I'm told by officials that the speed at which ISIS moved in the country was a surprise and also the speed at which the Iraqi military gave up its arms. But in terms of what ISIS wanted to do and its capabilities, that was not a surprise. They've been warning about that for some time.
COOPER: And Barbara, there's more than, I think, 5,000 U.S. citizens in Iraq right now. Do we know much about the security situation for them? I assume most of them are in Baghdad.
STARR: Well, I think that's right about 2,000 Americans attached to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. And as you just pointed out with that contractor you interviewed, there are a number of Americans working at military installations, working around Iraq. If Baghdad does become threatened in the coming days and all indications are that ISIS is moving toward Baghdad, the U.S. would have to make a decision if the embassy was so threatened that it would have to evacuate it.
This is one of the most secure if not the most secure U.S. embassy in the world. But it is also one of the largest that makes it a target. There are evacuation plans as there are with all U.S. embassies, very detailed. But it would be the state department's decision to make that security call if and when the time comes, Anderson.
COOPER: And Jim, how did the force just really a couple thousand make such quick gains of territory. I mean, the idea that they can be threatening Baghdad when you realize the size of the Iraqi army itself is extraordinary.
SCIUTTO: Well, this is what the intelligence community believes. They believe that ISIS had help inside Iraq, specifically from Sunni tribes, Sunni nationalist groups in the north. And that without that help, ISIS would not have been able to move so quickly. And here's the thing going forward, they believe that as long as ISIS
keeps that support, they will be able to hold the territory, the cities they've already captured, Mosul and others short of a major counteroffensive by the Iraqi army, which is something in light of the performance so far, you know, we're not certain that's possible.
COOPER: Fascinating days. Barbara Starr, Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.
Senior international correspondent Arwa Damon in Iraq. She joins me now live from the city of Arbil about 55 miles east of Mosul.
What's the latest from the areas that is has gained control of in recent days? What are we hearing?
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they've really managed to advance towards Baghdad fairly quickly just four days after they took over Mosul and saw the vast majority of the security forces not even bother putting up a fight. The front lines right now as far as the information we're receiving in the province. The battle's taking place just about an hour north-northeast of the capital Baghdad.
Video emerging from the province showing is fighters reportedly stomping on the uniforms of Iraqi soldiers. Another video emerging from there, as well, showing something of an ISIS military parade with vehicles where they're brandishing various missiles that are on the back of trucks.
ISIS, at this day, Anderson, not just gaining key territory, but also, getting its hands on U.S.-made humvees, that the Iraqis purchased from the Americans, a number of other vehicles, not to mention the vast arsenal that they've managed to capture as those Iraqi security forces effectively disintegrated not even bothering to put up a fight.
COOPER: And incredibly prominent and well respected cleric within Iraq, (INAUDIBLE). He urged Iraqis to take up arms against ISIS today. That would certainly bolster the Iraqi army or the other side of that is, also, increase the threat of sectarian violence.
DAMON: And that sort of sectarian violence already exists and those -- those flames are really just being fueled as every single day goes by. For many, this is an existential battle between Sunni and Shiite for power and control over Iraq.
But the volunteers, the potentially be joining the Iraqi security forces heeding the call, not just a grand (INAUDIBLE), but various other Shia leaders. We are seeing the real marchers of Shia militias that existed during the days of the U.S. occupation. At least that would give the Iraqi government the predominantly Shia Iraqi government a fighting force that had a motivation at its core.
The big problem with the desertion, the abandonment we've been seeing throughout all of this of the Iraqi security forces in this predominantly Sunni areas, is that they effectively don't feel as if they have that much to fight for. A force that is made up mostly of Shia would be fighting because they were truly motivated, believing they're fighting for their very existence, Anderson.
COOPER: Arwa, appreciate it. Thanks very much.
A quick reminder, be sure you set your DVRs so can watch "360" whenever you would like.
Coming up, more from Iraq, the road to Baghdad, as other cities fall under Jihadist control, We'll take a look at what could happened as they take aim at the capital.
Also, later, sergeant Bowe Bergdahl back here in the United States. The latest on his arrival at a military medical facility in Texas. And also, what comes next for him.
COOPER: Welcome back. We have this video just in. Take a look.
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COOPER: The Iraqi military's official You Tube channel taped from an Iraqi helicopter firing at an alleged ISIS convoy in its seclude (ph) area. Militants are continuing their push toward Baghdad after catching other cities including Mosul, the second largest city where both residents and soldiers fled. The soldiers leaving behind weapons. Some half a million civilians displaced.
Tom Foreman has more on the best and worst-case scenarios as ISIS sets its sights on Baghdad.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Anderson.
Let's talk about the worst, best and most likely scenarios. We'll bring in the map here and talk about this area where ISIS had been able to seize a lot of territory. And notably, where they've been able to launch this march, day by day by day closer and closer to Baghdad, bringing them within 50 miles of the city here.
Worst-case scenario, this continues, and importantly, Sunnis who have been supporting them already because they're angry at the Shiite government here continue supporting them in a broader scale. So the 800 or so ISIS fighters are multiplied by millions of angry Sunnis who in fact keep moving to topple the government in Baghdad. Worst-case scenario.
Best-case scenario. The Iraqi army expands well. They're able to fend off this attack by the ISIS fighters. And just as importantly, the ISIS fighters become more isolated. They don't really have all that territory. They just have little pockets here and there. And they can't sustain it.
So with their supply line spread out, they essentially have to grind into something much less effective than what they had before. And ultimately they are defeated.
So, what the most likely thing, well one military analyst says something in between. Yes, the ISIS fighters may want to push in toward Baghdad. But if they are stymied, they are buying Iraqi, they may have to turn to a long, slow campaign of terrorist bombings in the city. That's where the sort of thing smaller attacks. It's a painful grind, it is difficult, but it is not the toppling of the government they may want nor is it the establishment of the Islamic state that they want -- Anderson?
COOPER: All right. Tom Foreman, thanks very much.
Joining me now live, former CIA and FBI senior official Philip Mudd, a retired major general James "Spider" Marks, former commanding general of the U.S. army intelligence center.
General Marks, let me start with you. You think air strikes are more or less the best option in terms of a U.S. military option if there is one on the table. Why?
MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it is the best option right now. Maliki's government has very few options. His military is collapsing. Clearly, the best units that he has are probably in the vicinity of Baghdad as Tom just laid out. Those units have to get engaged. You can't win defensively. So in order to get any type of momentum to regain or try to establish some momentum for the ISF forces, you've got to be able to stop the ISIS in their tracks. You've got to be able to do that from the air and the United States. And some other coalition partners could achieve that. Whether that's manned aircraft or that's drones.
COOPER: Do the Iraqis themselves have -- we've seen some aircraft --
COOPER: Being used, but do they have large air assets?
MARKS: They have a capability, they sure do. Sadly, their number one air force base is Belad. That's now been taken over by ISIS. That becomes a challenge. But in advance of that, I'm certain those aircraft were scrambled someplace else so that they can remain in the fight. There are plenty of airfields south of Baghdad that have not been threatened. But our intelligence folks know all that. I think what's most troubling is the president says he's still going to consider options over the course of the next few days. I mean, you've got to be kidding me. Options have already been laid out. You've got to make a decision one way or the other.
COOPER: Phil, one of the challenges for air strikes as I understand it is figuring out obviously who and where the targets are. And doesn't that require great U.S. intelligence on ISIS? And some of that doesn't that need to be at least intelligence on the ground?
PHILIP MUDD, FORMER SENIOR OFFICIAL, CIA/FBI: Sure. I don't think we have very good options here. And it's because we're looking at this the wrong way. Look, with drones, you are going against a point target. A car, a person, a house, you need a good intelligence picture to do that. And I can't believe we would have one at this point. If you're going to use aircraft, you're going to kill civilians. Ad I'm not sure that is the position we want to be in.
The reason we're looking at this the wrong way is because we're looking at this as an opportunity for the U.S. to intervene against Islamic extremists. From an Iraqi perspective, what this would be was U.S. intervention in favor of a Shia prime minister in Sunnis. We don't have a good option.
COOPER: And Philip, the reason it's become that, the conduct is largely due to Maliki. I mean, all the gains that were made during the surge, Maliki basically kind of reversed all of those. He stopped paying the Sunni groups who the U.S. was paying, didn't he?
MUDD: I think that's true. But I would, you know, hold off for a second here. If you look, I spent 25 years at the agency looking at terrorists and insurgents. Easier to gain ground and to hold it. Look at insurgents trying to gain ground in Yemen, in Somalia, they were pushed back when the government got a bit of backbone. So before we sort of get breathless here and say the insurgents are going to move on Baghdad, let's see what the Iraqi military can do.
I think the insurgents, while they have some local support, are going to have challenges holding ground here. One more quick comment, I'm not sure it's a bad idea for the president to be saying I'm going to look at this for a few days. Here's the reason, let's go inside baseball in Washington. He's unhappy with what Maliki is doing. Maliki has kept the Americans at arm's length. What do you think the White House is doing now into Baghdad? Let me tell you, they're going into Maliki saying, look, son, you want help, you better do what we tell you to do or else we won't show up.
COOPER: General marks, what about that? I mean, the threat of not getting involved in order to try to get some sort of political change on the ground to have Maliki actually reach out to more moderate Sunni groups, something he's been resistant to do.
MARKS: No, Phil absolutely spot on. The challenge is, I don't know we have the time in order to achieve that kind of an in state and that type of dialogue with Maliki right now. We've been -- we've had him in place, he's been the leader in Iraq for quite some time. We either have a relationship or we don't. The alternative might be preferable, but we don't know who that's going to be because Maliki, may, in fact, be a government in exile some place because Baghdad might be challenged.
I don't disagree with Phil this is a very long slog for any insurgent to try to have a really strong foothold and really gain what's going on in Baghdad. Look, they've already had a presence. ISIS has been in Baghdad for quite some time kind of fighting around and making their presence known. That has to be a concern.
But I guarantee you that they're not going to have an immediate success in Baghdad, but the worst option is the United States now is going to see Iran get itself -- the revolutionary guard, in some cases, probably going to saddle up next to Maliki if it has not already and Iran then ultimately could become the big winner here and the United States, ironically, could be providing air support for revolution, Iranian revolutionary guard forces fighting side by side in Iraq. That's just a terrible --
COOPER: But General Marks, when you talk about air strikes, are you also talking about air strikes at ISIS positions inside Syria?
MARKS: Well, that would probably have to take place. Syria is, in fact, where the training and the logistics and support has originated. So United States, I would say, you know, Phil's been in the Intel business. I've been in the Intel business. I understand the challenges of targetable intelligence, infusing the other forms of intelligence together to get yourself a big picture. But there are probably fixed sites that we can go after, very precisely and effectively. Some of those may be in Syria. That's a challenge.
COOPER: Yes. I mean, to say the least.
But Phil, what's to make the U.S. believe that they're going to be able to get Maliki to start, you know, changing his tune, reaching out to other groups? We had 100,000 troops in Iraq and Maliki wouldn't do then.
To phil. Phil, can you hear me? I think we lost Phil.
All right. We'll end it there. General Marks, appreciate it. Philip Mudd, Thanks very much.
Up next, ISIS maximizing terror with shocking propaganda videos that showcase their brutality.
Also tonight, Donald Sterling's bold move here in the United States, how far he's willing to go to uncover dirt on other NBA owners, hiring private detectors. We will be right back.
COOPER: As President Obama weighs options for U.S. military intervention in the rapidly deteriorating situation in Iraq, he's made it clear that it will not involve ground troops. As you know, the U.S. led the 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein and there's still concerns about whether that was the right move, whether or not the U.S. military should get involved again. I asked dormer defense -- deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz about that a short time ago.
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COOPER: To those looking at the pictures coming out of Iraq and say, look, this is the Sunni/Shia divide playing out. We should not get in to the middle of it. And in fact, this is exactly why we shouldn't have gone there in the first place. What do you say to that?
PAUL WOLFOWITZ, FORMER DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, I think first of all, we'd be looking at a much worse situation today if we had Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Assad in Syria and the Iranian thugs in Iran. And I don't know how people think we would have got from where we were in 2003 to the Syrian revolution two years ago with Saddam Hussein in power to better off. We have got to deal with this. But I think to assume that is just Shia versus Sunni, it's something obscure. People should remember it was a Sunni group that hated us, hated the West, that attacked us on 9/11, that still hates us and carries these black flags of hatred and that, I think, poses a real threat to the United States.
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COOPER: Well, White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski joins me now live. Administration officials said they were surprised this escalated as quickly as it has. You heard Jim Sciutto's report that the intelligence community apparently warned administration officials in the spring about the threat. Those two reports seemed to be at odds with one another. What does the White House have to say?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there are a couple of things here that really don't seem to gel, Anderson. There's that you mentioned, the report about this supposed warning. Also as recently as November, we heard the president seeming to praise Al Maliki and what he'd been doing in the country and his progress that he's been making. That was the short time ago.
However, that was while he was visiting the United States here. It was one of those kind of nice diplomatic welcoming speeches. But what the administration has said is that they did know that this was a threat for some time and the evidence of that is that the U.S. has been steadily ramping up. That's the phrase the administration keeps using here.
Ramping up its assistance to Iraq especially in the last year. There is evidence of that, that is true, I mean, $15 billion to Iraq. Everything from fighter jets to rounds of ammunition, and that's because they wanted to make sure Iraq was safe. They say they knew there were elements there that were threatening.
I think no administration wants to say this was a surprise that they didn't see it coming. Same thing with what happened in Ukraine with Russia. But, behind the scenes, yes, intelligence officials, even Department of Defense officials are telling CNN that there are surprises here.
What's surprising is how fast ISIS was able to move through the country steadily toward Baghdad. And also, how quickly Iraqi security forces fell. And today, the president was pretty tough on them. I mean, saying that so much money and U.S. training has gone into those forces.
And when they're not willing to stand and fight and defend their positions, that is a problem, and that Iraq needs to stand up and needs to step up and ultimately is responsible for its own problems -- Anderson.
COOPER: Has there been any sense of when air strikes could come if the administration actually chooses to go down that road?
KOSINSKI: Probably not this weekend. I think we've heard a little bit of evidence either way it could be very soon, that it could be next week. I think that the president and administration officials have been spelling it out pretty consistently. That this is going to take several days. That this is not a decision that's going to be made overnight.
And more of a time frame was hammered out throughout the day, through the weekend. Keep in mind that this has not reached the level of urgency as of yet for the president even to change his weekend plans, he's going to spend the entire weekend in California. They did say, though, he's going to continue to get updates from the national security team, through the week.
He's going to be contacting world leaders, which he's already started doing through the weekend. So I don't think we're likely to see any stepped up U.S. action until at least early next week -- Anderson.
COOPER: Mischelle Kosinski, thanks very much. One of the tactics that ISIS uses is producing graphic propaganda videos. Mohammed Jamjoom has the story. A warning some viewers may find the images in this report disturbing.
MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A chilling sight. Residents of Mosul, Iraq, cheering on the takeover of their city by the Islamic Estate of Iraq and Syria or ISIS, a terrorist organization so brutal even al Qaeda has disowned them. But it's not just portions of the population this group has won over. Far more worrying, they now control an arsenal of weapons left behind when Iraq's army fled the scene.
Here, you see a terrifying display, ISIS proudly showing off missiles they promised to use on their march toward Baghdad. Scary scenes like this are nothing new when it comes to ISIS. The group has perfected propaganda techniques that showcase their strength. Like this recent video, over an hour long highlighting horrific killing sprees in Iraq deliberately recorded on video.
Bombings. Executions, kidnappings, and worse -- this production displays glossy camera work and high-level production techniques. As though were taking cues from Hollywood films such as "Zero Dark Thirty" and "The Hurt Locker" to maximize the terror. Analysts say how effective a threat is becoming.
NADIA OWEIDAT, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: There's money behind it. Not just idiots. These idiots have someone 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 check points. 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 sign of abating, which is exactly what is wants even at the risk of their tactic backfiring. Mohammed Jamjoom, CNN, Washington.
COOPER: Sickening to see.
Up next in the United States, Donald Sterling's battle with the NBA just got even uglier. I'll talk with one of his attorneys about his client's new legal strategy.
Plus, Bowe Bergdahl is spending his first night on U.S. soil. The next phase of his recovery at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. The latest on his condition, why his parents weren't there to greet him when his plane touched down.
COOPER: Just when we thought Donald Sterling's battle with the NBA couldn't get any stranger, it has. From the moment his racist remarks were made public, this story has been filled with intrigue and a lot of different characters. Now it's taken another turn. The embattled Clippers owner, who has been banned from the NBA for life and fined $2.5 million is taking a new legal tact that could drag this whole thing deeper into the mud. Brian Todd has the latest.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's ready to unleash an even nastier fight. A person familiar with Donald Sterling's legal strategy tells CNN, Sterling's hired multiple private investigators to dig up dirt on other NBA owners and the league itself. The source says the investigators will look into several cases of alleged race and gender discrimination brought against the NBA dating back many years.
DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Make no mistake about it, Donald Sterling has threatened mutually assured destruction. He's essentially said if I'm going down, everybody else is going down with me.
TODD: Our source says Donald Sterling will give each private investigation firm $50,000 and a month to do its work. The source says sterling's team already knows of cases where pregnant employees were allegedly discriminated against by the league. Sterling's lawyers have publicly called the NBA a bunch of hypocrites.
BOBBY SAMINI, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD STERLING: Why are they beyond reproach? Why can't the NBA come clean and tell us about their indiscretions?
TODD: Donald Sterling was reluctant to investigate other owners according to the source, but his side has called out other owners and players, including Kobe Bryant being caught on TV calling a referee an expletive and anti-gay slur. The source says they'll also highlight the Phoenix Suns, settling a lawsuit that alleged the team wouldn't hire women to do trampoline dunks and fire t-shirts into the crowd during the breaks.
(on camera): While this is an increasingly bitter fight, there are strategic and legal reasons for Sterling to pursue his own investigations.
(voice-over): Analysts say Sterling could be building a legal case to show inconsistencies in the way the NBA treats different owners or he could be trying to make his fine go away.
ELLEN ZAVIAN, FORMER SPORTS AGENT: If he wants to shake them up, he would follow the investigation and basically say, OK, behind closed doors, I have this evidence. Are you now going to remove the $2.5 million or do we have to make this public?
TODD: Other information that could be made public, our source says the private investigators will also look at the NBA's finances and compensation pay to top league executives. A source with knowledge of the NBA's position responds to all this by saying, this is a strategy of intimidation that obscures the real issue of Donald Sterling's conduct. The source says the strategy won't work and only further demonstrates that Donald Sterling is unfit to own a team. Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.
COOPER: Bobby Samini, one of Donald Sterling's attorneys joins me now along with senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, also former prosecutor. Mr. Samini, thanks for being with us. These are reports that your client has hired multiple investigation firms to look into conduct by other team owners in the NBA itself. Can you confirm that? And if so, what's the reason? What's the point?
SAMINI: Right, thank you, Anderson. First of all, I'm not going to talk or, you know, discuss speculation in the media that he's done something. I think the bigger picture here, the real issue is there's inconsistency in the conduct. Hiring private investigators in the course of a litigation is something which is very normal, it's not spectacular. It happens all the time.
But the purpose here is -- and I don't mean to confirm or deny any of this, but something we've been talking about for a long time is that the NBA has come out and said, we are the ones to establish the standard. The standard is zero tolerance. But the problem is, their own conduct is inconsistent with that. So if you're going to apply a standard to Donald Sterling, you should apply it to everybody equally and certainly to yourself.
COOPER: Kobe Bryant, though, was fined for the word he said. If some owner supports, you know, against gay marriage, there are plenty of people in the United States against gay marriage. That's not something which, you know, is necessarily harmful to the NBA as making racist comments is. No? SAMINI: Well, I'm surprised to hear that from you, Anderson. You know, personally, I feel, you know, opposite of that. I think it is harmful. I don't think that's a commonly accepted view in our society now. I think we're moving to a more progressive place. But that aside, I'm not even talking about looking at some other owners. I'm talking about the NBA itself.
They have several cases, and these are not things which need to be dug up by any investigators. These are matters of public record where there have been courts that have held that there's been a systemic culture of discrimination. Whether it's against gender, whether it's racial discrimination.
Now, many of these cases were settled by the NBA and in several of the cases, the court records were sealed. So my point again was, if there's going to be a standard then it should apply equally to everybody.
COOPER: Donald Sterling has settled discrimination lawsuits, as well. In fact, and he's paid the largest fines in history in the housing discrimination lawsuit.
SAMINI: Anderson, that's a very good point. That issue was raised by the league. I think it was Adam Silver that came out, you know, waving the papers saying we should've done something sooner, you know. Sterling has this history of doing this. It wasn't something we raised. We're responding to what the league is saying. The league is saying we should've done something sooner because of some conduct of Sterling in an unrelated business that was a settlement.
But look at the league's own cases. They've settled many cases. In fact, not only have they settled many cases, but they've gone to trial on two of them that I'm aware of. In one of the cases they went to trial on, there was a six-day jury trial. And they were -- they were awarded punitive damages. The plaintiffs were in that case -- so why the double standard?
COOPER: Let me bring in Jeff because to me, it seems like you're throwing stuff up to see what sticks. Does this matter at all in the case of Donald Sterling?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: No, this is just pathetic. And, you know, in Donald Sterling's interview with Anderson, he said, look I don't want to hurt the owners, I don't want to hurt my wife. What he's doing now is in this pathetic last spasm of, like degradation to all around him, he's trying to embarrass his fellow owners and in effect, he's suing his wife because she's giving the NBA an indemnity for any lawsuits. He's suing his partners, his wife. What could be more pathetic than that?
SAMINI: I'm not sure what kind of response you're looking to that. I completely disagree with you. I think these are very relevant points. I think the league is sincere about the position that this is a greater social issue that's impacting the league and it needs to be dealt with, it's certainly an important issue. And in the legal fight, it's a critical issue. And, you know, every case I've ever seen where a standard is applied whether it's a government agency or a private organization, it has to be applied equally.
STERLING: His statements, his racist statements -- his racist statements became public and advertisers fled and the players said they wouldn't play. You're looking for private investigators looking for stuff that they don't even know about it yet. So it's irrelevant because it's not public. The whole point of this is that it was public. And that's the difference. That's why the NBA had to act.
COOPER: Quick response and then we've got to go.
SAMINI: That statement couldn't be more factually untrue. My client's statements were private. They were made public illegally. The conduct that I'm talking about, it's all in the public record. I'm talking about court cases which are filed.
SAMINI: I'm not talking about things that happened in people's living rooms.
COOPER: Bobby Samini, appreciate you being on. Jeff Toobin, as well.
Just ahead, doctors at Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio got their first look at Bowe Bergdahl today. What they're saying about his physical and psychological condition.
Also, stunning video of a plane crash killing a member of the Rockefeller family, the plane ripped apart narrowly missing a house.
COOPER: U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has taken another big step on his journey home. Earlier this morning, he landed in San Antonio from a military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. His parents reportedly at his request were not there to greet him. He'll continue his recovery and reintegration at Brook Army Medical Center. He's been free for barely two weeks after spending five years in custody of the Taliban at a news conference today, his condition was described as stable. Ed Lavandera joins me now with the latest. What do you know, Ed?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the reintegration treatment continues here in San Antonio. And Anderson, for many people, it might seem something incredibly simplistic. But the experts here say he needs to learn and relearn some of the basic things, like eating, when he wants to eat, choosing what he wants to eat. For five years, he's basically been dictated everything he could do and when he had to do it.
So even as something as simple as picking out a meal that he wants for a particular meal is something that he has to kind of relearn. And it was interesting, we're told he's been asking for a lot of peanut butter sandwiches -- Anderson.
COOPER: And he hasn't talked to his parents yet. Did officials have anything to say about that? LAVANDERA: You know, this is kind of the interesting thing. A lot of people want to know and we've been told when he was rescued two weeks ago, that in the immediate days that the reunion would be very likely and all of that has been slowed down dramatically. And we asked if that was out of the ordinary that if there were something else going on as to why Bowe Bergdahl hasn't even spoken with his parents over the phone, we asked the medical experts here in San Antonio about that. And this is what they had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COL. BRADLEY POPPEN, U.S. ARMY PSYCHOLOGIST: Family support is a critical part of the reintegration process, making sure that the family understands the reasons why we do it, the necessity of decompression, and they understand and support that process. Overall, though, it is the returnee's choice to determine when and who they want to reengage with socially.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAVANDERA: So Anderson, the real key thing there is that all of this is up to Bowe Bergdahl. He can make a phone call and call for that meeting whenever he wants to.
COOPER: All right, Ed, thanks very much. Appreciate it, Ed Lavandera.
Just ahead, why Texas authorities set a luxury home on fire and watch the wreckage tumble off a cliff.
COOPER: Susan Hendricks with the 360 Bulletin -- Susan.
SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the son of billionaire philanthropist, David Rockefeller has died after his private plane crashed in bad weather shortly after takeoff from an airport north of New York City. Dr. Richard Rockefeller was the pilot and the only one on board. He was heading back to Maine after celebrating his father's 99th birthday.
And in Central Texas, a luxury home dangling over Lake Whitney was deliberately set on fire. The owners agreed to demolish the home after chunks of the bluff beneath it gave way. It could be a total loss. The owners don't think their insurance covers earth movement.
And if you are superstitious, you may be freaked out since it is Friday, the 13th. Don't worry, this won't happen again for another 35 years until 2049. That much time.
And in tonight's "American Journey," meet the inspiring Nelson of Washington, D.C. She has overcome so much. Her father was killed when she was a baby, she was also homeless for a couple of years, living in a shelter with her mother and young brother. But she graduated high school as class valedictorian and will attend college on a full scholarship. And she said any time she's had a tough time, she said the only way to go through the storm is to go right through it. She's thrilled.
COOPER: Thanks very much, Susan. We wish her the best. That does it for us. Thanks for watching. The CNN original series, "THE SIXTIES" starts now.