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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Serena Williams Appears Disoriented During Match; UNC Chapel Hill in Hot Water Over Student Athletes; Blackwater Back On Trial; College Cheerleader and Lion Killer

Aired July 01, 2014 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to the LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

To "sports lead" now, she is one of the most physically gifted women to ever play the sport with a serve like it was shot out of a howitzer. So needless to say it was a strange and scary sight today to watch Serena Williams' body seemed to give up on her as she was trying to serve in a double smash with her partner and sister, Venus.

The top ranked woman in the world hit four straight weak double faults before pulling out of the match and walking off the court nearly in tears. She couldn't even bounce the ball before her serves. Wimbledon's official twitter account said she's suffering from a viral illness that made her weak.

Joining me now to discuss it all is Ben Rotenberg. He is contributing writer for "The New York Times" and co-host of the "NCR Tennis podcast."

Ben, thanks for joining us. Serena released a statement after the match saying quote "I'm heartbroken. I'm not able to continue in the tournament. I thought I could rally this morning because I really wanted to compete but this bug just got the best of me."

Now, she was checked out before by doctors before the match. ESPN announcer and former Wimbledon champ cache Chris Evert said that she shouldn't be on the court and even suggested she could be on something. What do you think? Was this a virus?

BEN ROTENBERG, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, THE NEW YORK TIMES (via phone): I have no reason to believe it was not a virus. But it was very clear, from the very early stage, she has not business taking the court. I mean, even during the warm up, the ball kids were trying to bounce her balls to take practice serves and she couldn't even catch them. The balls were rolling past her, just no hand-eye coordination, no motor skills working whatsoever. It was a bizarre sight so-to-see, like you said. There is a great champion unable fell unable to do the most basic things out there.

TAPPER: It is really strange watching. And she's obviously the top ranked woman in the world but she does have a string of early exits now in grand slams. This is her earliest Wimbledon exit since 2005. Is it possible that it's more than a virus affecting her game?

ROTENBERG: I mean, I think in a way, this was a tough weekend for her after losing in singles which is her main focus as the top seed metro to come back a few days later and play doubles. She wants to play with Venus and obviously it's something they enjoy doing together. But it's not where her heart is really. It had to be a tough moment for her especially after also losing early at the French open. She is definitely in her emotional distress. Did that affect her physical health otherwise? I can't be sure. But that is why hasn't been an easy few days for Serena.

TAPPER: Right. And as we know, many of these sports are more psychological than they are physical at moments like there. Serene and Venus are each five times Wimbledon champions. They are as biggest stable in England as brass courts. How much better is the game, do you think, when the Williams sisters are at their best?

ROTENBERG: I really think it's a whole lot better. I mean, they just bring so much energy and personality and charisma to the game and it's a very not diverse sport in a lot of ways. They bring a whole new energy to it, started in the late 90s, as 10 years today. And obviously they're getting older like all athletes do and probably have more good years behind them than in front of them. But I've seen them stick around and continue to be relevant threats to the tournament so they can only be good for the sport of tennis.

TAPPER: It is really heartbreaking to watch.

Ben Rotenberg, thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it.

ROTENBERG: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, bogus classes for student athletes. CNN's investigation into how one prestigious university covered for athletes who could barely read. Why the school did nothing till now.

Plus, after seven years of sticking by her, Amanda Knox's ex-boyfriend is changing his story about the night her roommate was murdered. What he's now saying about Knox's alibi and her strange behavior that night.


TAPPER: Welcome back to the LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Other sports news, this is a story we reported months ago, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one of the most prestigious colleges in the country acting like a diploma mill for some of its students athletes.

Mary Willingham, a long time adviser of UNC blew the whistle on its worst kept secret -- no show classes, shadow scholars, writing papers that football and basketball players then passed off as their own.

Today, in part because of CNN's reporting, the NCAA announced it is reopening its investigation to try and finally get some answers about how this went on for so long. And CNN's Sarah Ganim who has been tracking the story, who broke it, joins me now.

Sarah, how deep did the flagellant practices at the school run?

SARAH GAMIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, one expert calls this quote "the mother of all academic fraud cases." But the NCAA barely looked at it at all until now.



GANIM (voice-over): Hundreds of UNC athletes were enrolled in bogus classes getting credits and good grades for doing little work.

MARY WILLINGHAM, UNC WHISTLEBLOWER: The reason they had to take paper classes was because they couldn't do the work. They needed to stay eligible.

GANIM: Whistleblower Mary Willingham helped expose those paper classes after years of being part of the system.

WILLINGHAM: A couple of the most obvious difficult and challenging for me was a student who really couldn't work anywhere close to a middle school level.

GANIM: The NCAA never interviewed Willingham as part of its original investigation into academic fraud and relied on UNC's explanation of the scandal which pinned all the blame on a single professor named Julius Nyang'oro, seen here in this You Tube video.

WILLINGHAM: That's not just Julius Nyang'oro. It's what we, the university used to keep athletes eligible.

GANIM: The NCAA did punish one athlete for cheating. Former football player, Mike McAdoo. McAdoo says his advisors push the him and his fellow athletes into the fake classes.

MIKE MCADOO, FORMER UNC FOOTBALL PLAYER: They made a big deal saying they didn't know. They didn't know he was taking these classes but they tried to make it seem like I was the only one taking these classes. I didn't make these classes up.

GERALD GURNEY, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA: It is the mother of all academic fraud cases in athletics.

GANIM: That's University of Oklahoma professor Gerald Gurney. He worked in athletics for 20 years and now researches academic fraud.

GURNEY: There's no doubt in my mind the cooperation of friendly faculty, the cover-up and the excuses for this kind of behavior is egregious.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go, baby.

GANIM: After a flurry of reports including a CNN investigation on the literacy rates of college athletes nationwide and mounting pressure from Congress and the public, UNC responded by ordering a new investigation and offering to share the findings with the NCAA. They hired a former federal prosecutor who for the very first time, talked to key players involved in the scandal and is he looking at transcripts going back to the '80s.

GURNEY: It's quite likely that if it is shown that this is a long- term systemic scheme on the part of the university that UNC will need to vacate wins.

GANIM: That could mean giving up two national basketball championship titles.

As for Willingham, the university demoted her. She filed a lawsuit on Monday saying UNC attacked her character and retaliated against her for blowing the whistle to CNN.

WILLINGHAM: You will see the story. It will be framed for you perfectly in the transcripts.


GANIM: Jake, another development in the last few days, the Orange County prosecutor who charged that professor, Julius Nyang'oro, told me he's thinking about actually dropping the charge because he said he believes it's more important for that are community to understand what happened at UNC than it is for this one professor to be punished criminally.

TAPPER: Sarah Ganim, thank you so much.

And when we come back, four security guards on trial charged with killing more than a dozen civilians and now a secret memo alleges one of them even threatened the life of the American investigator. That's coming up next.

And later, she sparked outrage for her self-described adventures in hunting. Why are thousands calling on facebook to take a stand against this Texas teenager?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. The Buried Lead now. The prosecution's case played out like the opening scene of an Oliver Stone flick, the smoky haze from the burning sun shrouding an ominous looking convoy, unmarked mercenaries barreling down on innocent civilians before unleashing a torrent of bullets and extinguishing 14 lives.

Except this is not some tale of faceless boogeymen in a bad spy thriller. It's the trial few are talking about. After years of delay and legal issues, four American men, one charged with first degree murder, the other three with voluntary manslaughter face decades behind bars, all of them are ex-contractors for Blackwater, the private security firm.

State Department documents say it believed it was Bob the law. Seven years after the massacre as the president reopens the Iraq conflict and dispatches more troops, new allegations are lending a whole new level of evil to one of the ugliest chapters of U.S. history.


TAPPER (voice-over): Private guards who worked for Blackwater are finally facing trial in federal court in Washington, D.C. for a deadly shoot-out in the streets of Baghdad in September, 2007. Blackwater said their convoy came under attack. But witnesses said the guards fired without provocation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I remember people strewn on the streets, children, elderly men. This is what I saw with my own eyes, the street turned into the street of the dead.

TAPPER: Prosecutors say 14 Iraqi civilians were killed that day at Nisour Square including a 9-year-old boy. Now a bombshell revelation by the "New York Times" this week. The top Blackwater employee in Baghdad allegedly threatened the life of the State Department investigator. Looking into the group's activities just weeks before the shooting.

The State Department memo revealed by "The Times" accused a Blackwater manager of allegedly telling the investigator who was looking into the work Blackwater did that, quote, "he could kill me and no one could or would do anything about it while we were in Iraq." He was reportedly stunned when officials at the embassy in Iraq allegedly sided with Blackwater and told him to leave the country.

Blackwater had a $1 billion government contract to protect American diplomats. The State Department investigator, Gene Richter could not be reached for comment when CNN reached out to him, but his investigation of Blackwater concluded that the company had insufficient oversight and created an environment full of liability and negligence.

The State Department this week was asked if the investigators' review was canceled because of the alleged threats made to him.

JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: As I understand, there were -- there were steps taken at the time given threats that were people faced, but I don't have any additional information.

TAPPER: In 2007, congressional hearings were held on possible misconduct by Blackwater and then owner, Erik Prince, was vilified by Congress.

ERIK PRINCE, FOUNDER, BLACKWATER USA: I believe we acted appropriately at all times.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: Blackwater appears to have fostered a culture of shoot first and sometimes kill and then ask the questions.

TAPPER: Prince sold the company in 2010 for $200 million. Blackwater has since undergone two name changes including a merger. But the trial and this newly revealed memo bring up new questions. JOHN HUDSON, REPORTER, FOREIGN POLICY MAGAZINE: Blackwater officials are facing the U.S. justice system. The same can't be said for state department officials, some of whom faced to see the red flags of all of this negligent behavior taken on by the contractor that could have alerted us that these guys needed to be fired.

TAPPER: That State Department memo threatening an investigator came out days before the slaughter in Nisour Square.


TAPPER: The trial of these four former Blackwater guards is expected to last months. Federal prosecutors say at guards murdered the Iraqi civilians without provocation. The defense quns attorneys claimed in court witnesses fabricated their stories prior to the trial. In 2009, a judge threw out an indictment against the guards.

To another criminal case, one that keeps getting weirder and weirder, also seven years later, Amanda Knox's onetime boyfriend maybe torpedoed her alibi. Rafael so see the toes who is stood trial beside her told reporters at a news conference that Knox's version of what happened is imagination and hallucination and that he and Knox were not together for the whole night.

Solliceto added when Knox returned to his apartment she seemed very agitated. They were sentences by an Italian appeals court to the lengthy jail terms. Both are appealing their convictions.

Coming up next, she's a teenage cheerleader that loves to hunt, but it's what she's hunting that has so many wanting her to be kicked off Facebook. Why are so many so mad?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Time now for some more money stories. Kendall Jones is just your average college sophomore. She is a cheerleader at Texas Tech. She is working on a marketing and sports therapy degree and she travels to countries like Zimbabwe in South Africa to kill big game like lions and rhinos and elephants. She likes to post pictures with those dead animals on her Facebook page.

She's been traveling to Africa with her family since she was 9 years old. And she also describes her first kill writing the first animal I ever shot was a white rhino. I got my leopard and took down a hippo to get six of the dangerous seven at the age of 14. While it is legal in these countries to trophy hunt as it is called, her page cause an uproar.

There are petitions calling for Facebook to take down her page. Over the lion comments slamming jones calling her scum and wishing she would meet the same fate as the animals with which she has posing. It's boosted the number of clicks on her page. She was written about. Ryan, thanks for joining us.

She writes she's going to star in a show on the Sportsman Channel next year. We reached out to the channel. They will refused to confirm if she has a show. Is this kind of publicity good or bad?

RYAN BRODERICK, REPORTER, "BUZZFEED": It depends how you see it. One of the most interesting aspects about the outrage she was generating was that hunting blogs were calling it cyberbullying. They were coming to her defense and saying leave this poor girl alone. She's a hunter. People hunt. Deal with it. It's about how you look at it and what kind of person you are, I guess.

TAPPER: I want to put up another picture. She writes a defense of the killing. She writes, quote, "There are many parts of Zimbabwe where there's an abundant population of leopard. Instead of the villagers killing the leopard, precipitations are sold to hunters to do them for them. By selling the permits not only is a problem animal taken care of, but the money for the permit goes back into the community for water, schools, wells, community improvement. Talk about the reaction she's gotten online. Is it just all negative?

BRODERICK: It's mostly negative. That largely has to do with the fact on the internet, unfortunately context doesn't do you such a good job. It doesn't help you that much. When people see a photo of a smiling girl next to a dead animal. They're going to freak out and stopping them is almost impossible. I mean, one of the old jokes about the internet is that animals rule supreme.

No matter what, if you're putting up a photo of a dead animal on Facebook and it's traveling around, you can't slow that down and especially if you're smile. It jars people and you know, especially on bus feed when we picked it up, a lot of users were upset about it. We're trying to explain the context, but it doesn't do such a good job.

TAPPER: I want to put up another one of the posts. This is of a white rhino. She posted here is the South African vet administering treatment to the white rhino I darted that took body and head measurements, treated a leg injury and administered antibiotics. I felt very lucky to be part of such a great program that helps the white rhino population through conservation.

Ryan, we spoke to an expert who said what she's doing does appear perfectly legal in Africa, but there are better ways to go about conservation. She seems to be in her posts trying to wrap up her hunting in more altruistic packaging than it might deserve, don't you think?

BRODERICK: I mean, that's fair to say. In the beginnings of her going viral, she was getting into arguments in the comments saying this is why I'm doing it, it's part of what me and my family do together. As she started to get more and more snowballed she pretty much gave up and hasn't posted other than one update today saying thank you for my supporters and that was it.

It wasn't the same sort of rationalization you saw earlier in the week and there's only so much you can do. If you really believe, if this girl believes that it's OK and she's OK with it, you know, standing up to 60,000 people that don't, what's a tough thing for anyone to do especially a 19-year-old girl. TAPPER: Yes, I would think so. It reminds me a bit of when the Go Daddy CEO posted pictures of his trips and he inspired vitriol, as well. Ryan Broderick, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Also in money, it is reeling for millions of recalls. At least 13 deaths and a decade long detail in admitting deadly flaw in older ignition severe weather switches. Despite the horrific press, general motors reported its best sales for the month of June since 2007. It is the third strong month of sales in a row for GM. The news comes one day after the company announced it was recalling another 8.4 million vehicles because at this point I guess who's counting really.

We are. Worldwide, GM has recalled nearly 30 million vehicles. This year alone, that's about the population of Peru. Drive safe this holiday, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. Follow me on Twitter @jaketapper and at theleadcnn and check out our show page for video blogs and extras.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I'll turn you over to Brianna Keilar filling in for Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" right next door -- Brianna.