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Tornado Threatens Detroit; L.A. Clippers CEO Reacts; New Clippers CEO: Apology 'Too Late'

Aired May 12, 2014 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Jake, thanks very much.

Happening now, breaking news. Tornado warnings -- severe weather is bearing down on Detroit right now. Millions may soon need to take cover. We're tracking the fast-moving storms.

The NBA strikes back. The embattled LA Clippers' owner, Donald Sterling, tells CNN exclusively he's sorry for his racist rant and wants to keep his team, even as he unleashes on league legend, Magic Johnson. We'll go live to Los Angeles. We'll hear from the man now in charge of the Clippers.

Terror shootout -- al Qaeda militants try to abduct two U.S. embassy workers in broad daylight.

Are Americans across the Middle East right now at risk?

We have new details on a growing threat.

And breaking news -- a wildfire burning out of control, forcing thousands of people to flee. An entire town is now at risk.

Can fire crews keep the flames at bay?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking news stories this hour, including a tornado warning from major U.S. city, Detroit, Michigan right now in the path of severe and potentially deadly weather.

We're also standing by for reaction from the NBA to Donald Sterling, who's given an exclusive interview to CNN.

And more breaking news -- a bold attempt by terrorists to kidnap American embassy workers.

And a wildfire burning out of control. One hundred homes burned so far. Thousands of people are evacuated.

Our reporters and expert analysts are covering all of these stories and much more this hour. They're getting new information on the latest details for the kind of coverage you won't see anywhere else.

Let's get the latest first on the severe weather threat.

Our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray, is tracking a very dangerous storm system for us -- Jennifer, what do our viewers need to know?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, they need to know it's coming up on rush hour. And they don't need to go anywhere. They need to stay right where they are, especially if they're right in Detroit, trying to leave work, trying to get home.

We have some nasty storms headed your way. Even if they aren't producing tornadoes, they're still producing hail up to half an inch in diameter, and, also, winds up to 60 and maybe even 70 mile per hour gusts. We've a funnel cloud reported just on the west side of Taylor. And this storm just on the southwest side of Detroit. This tornado warning in effect until 5:30.

Brownstown and headed for you, so get into that safe spot we always tell you about -- the lowest floor or your home away from windows, an interior room. Also, Frenchtown and Monroe Junction to the south of Detroit, you have a very nasty storm also headed in your direction.

A tornado warning means that these storms are capable of producing a tornado. So a radar indicated tornado has been spotted with these storms. And they're very, very dangerous and they are headed just to the southwest side of Detroit right now, knocking on your back door -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jennifer Gray, thanks much.

Jennifer Gray, we'll stay in close touch with you.

I want to go out to Los Angeles right now. The new CEO of the L.A. Clippers, Richard Parsons, a former CEO of Time Warner, is speaking out, reacting to the Donald Sterling interview.

RICHARD PARSONS, CEO, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: -- and then move on to what I think is going to be a very exciting challenge and an interesting time for everybody.

As you just heard, my name is Dick Parsons. And I am -- I have been asked by the league, and have accepted, the role of being the new interim CEO for the Clippers.

And so let me first -- let me start by telling you what that role is, you know, what we've been asked to do and what we've not been asked to do, and then talk to you about how we're going to go about it.

I spent a fair amount of time with Adam and the lawyers and the senior management of the league trying to sort of sort through where we are in this adventure and how I could be helpful and what it was that the league felt it needed. And essentially, it sort of comes down to two things. One, given the suspensions and the sort of indefinite leaves of absences that have taken place, the team right now finds itself without executive leadership or the compass, the business finds itself without executive leadership. And that's not something the NBA can tolerate.

So they need someone to step in and take hold of this thing and be, on an interim basis, the leader, and make sure that no value is lost, make sure that the enterprise continues to function in an appropriate way, perhaps even, you know, help it move to the next level, but certainly help it move through this period of transition that we're in, because at the same time, the league has announced that it's commencing a process by which it seeks to terminate the ownership of Mr. Sterling, and those affiliated with Mr. Sterling. And that's a process that has lots of, you know, sort of due diligence and -- and other protections, if you will, for league owners and involves the participation of other league owners.

So my job is the former. My job is to be the CEO of the enterprise and to make sure the enterprise is, you know, the boat still floats, the boat is still headed in the right direction and maybe even we pick up a little speed.

Adam and the league's job is to prosecute the second part of that process I talked about, which is the question of ownership, and bring in new owners.

So that may help you in terms of shaping some of your questions as you go further into this press conference.

The other thing I'd like to say is so -- so, you know, well, what are you going to do?

And the answer to that is I'm only beginning to get my arms around what I'm going to do. But the first step was to come out here and to meet with the management and staff of the team. I've talked to Doc, but I haven't yet met with the players. It just seemed to me that the players have other things on their mind right now and need to be focused on -- on that and I don't want to be a distraction.

But I did want to come out here and meet with the people who have been keeping this thing afloat and who we're going to count on to keep it going on a go forward basis. So we spent the morning with the management and with the staff, just letting them know that we appreciate not only what they've been doing, but the way they've been doing it. Frequently, people overlook the fact, because there's this -- all this turmoil going on at the top, but it leaks down into the rank and file. And a lot of these folks have felt beleaguered, beyond disappointed in terms of the way the franchise has been characterized, and their role in it.

And not only did I want to sort of say to them that, you know, we're here to help stabilize, but to find out from them, most importantly, what do we need to do to do that?

You know, what needs, what balls are in the air, what needs to be caught, what needs to be moved forward, and begin making, you know, sort of decisions as to how we're going to run the franchise going forward.

So that was very rewarding. And it's kind of just given me a lot of ideas, some of which I had already. You know, I'm pleased to say not only was I impressed with the team, I'm impressed with the opportunity in front of them. You know, this was something I said to the staff earlier today, that this sort of reminds me of the Chinese symbol for crisis, danger and opportunity. I think there's -- obviously, there's huge danger and pitfalls in front of us.

But there's tremendous opportunity, I think, for this franchise. And the exciting part, to me, is going to be to help realize some of that.

So with that, the only other thing I would say is -- because I expect it will be a question, so I'll just answer it for everybody, folks say, well, why are you doing this?

I mean you were purportedly happy in your semi-retirement with your grandkids, which is actually true. I was.

But when Adam reached out and reached out -- and I've known Adam from my days in Time Warner, because we were team owners. We owned the Hawks. And we had a lot to do with the NBA and we also owned TBS and TNT and we had -- so we were on all sides of the equation and I've known Adam. I he's a good man.

But I've got to know him better. He is -- he's a good man trying to do an important job and trying to do the right thing. And it struck me that maybe I could be of some help to him and to the league, and, frankly, to all of us, in terms of bringing some calmness and order to this side of the equation, at least, as the big fight over ownership goes forward.

So there you have it, as simple as that.

With that, let's roll.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jim right here.

JIM HILL, CBS-2 CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Parsons, I'm Jim Hill, CBS-2 in KCAL down here in Los Angeles.

PARSONS: How are you?

HILL: Welcome under these trying circumstances.

With the potentiality of players and even coaches maybe asking the league to void their contracts because of the statements that have been said by the owner, what is the urgency to find a new owner?

And, also, your reaction to Donald Sterling saying that he -- he is sorry and he is asking for forgiveness?

PARSONS: OK. So I think that the actions that the league has taken already, the clarity and the swiftness with which they've taken those actions, has kind of tamped down this notion that people want to say, look, I mean, you know, all bets are off, I don't want to play for this team, I don't want to be with this league, because I think people have seen that the commissioner and the league are lined up in the right place and are intending to do the right thing. I think there's real urgency, for that reason and others, to get about the business of moving through this transition period, because it's created uncertainty and, you know, Jim, you know as well as I do that it's -- this is bigger than the Clippers. This is bigger than the NBA. All eyes, actually around the world, are on this.

So we need to move through it quickly.

Fortunately for me, my job -- I have the simplest job. My job is just to sort of work with the management of the team and the team itself to sort of move through and keep a steady hand on it.

The commissioner has a tough job. He knows that there is a thing called process. It's articulated in the constitution of the NBA. He's got to be -- he's got to be scrupulous to observe the process. But I think he is bound and determined to move with all deliberate speed.

So I think that's important. And I think he knows it's important. And I think that's what you'll see.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The left front row?

ALEX MICHAELSON, ABC-7 EYEWITNESS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Parsons, my name is Alex Michaelson from ABC-7 Eyewitness News.

Shelly Sterling says that she wants to fight to keep her 50 percent. She says that she will take it to court if needed.

If this becomes a prolonged legal battle, are you worried about what that will do to the business side, to sponsors, to players?

And have you had any conversations with Shelly Sterling or do you plan to?

PARSONS: OK. So to answer the latter first and then work my way back up. And then I realized, you asked me one other question, Jim, which I didn't answer and I'll get back to it.

I have not had any conversations with Shelly Sterling yet, nor Donald. I don't know either and I've never spoken to either.

I would anticipate that as we go forward, unless something else changes, that, in the fullness of time, when we get to it, we'll have some conversations and get to know Shelly. Not so with Donald, because he's sort of been banned and the only thing we would have to talk about is the team and he can't do that.

If this -- I think a prolonged legal battle is in no one's interests, literally no one. It's certainly not in the league's interest. It's going to keep the -- if I can use the term media circus -- media circus going, which may be good for the media, but not good for the team, not good for the franchise and I don't think good for the perception, frankly, not to -- not to over exaggerate, but for the perception of our country in terms of -- of, you know, the dragging out of this issue. So -- and I don't think it's good for the Sterlings. That's my own view.

So I would hope that we could avoid that. But that, again, is not my job. That's going to be the commissioner and the league working on one side and the Sterlings working on the other. And so I have not much that I can do there except try and keep the team from losing value.

And if it goes on, if it's prolonged, I think that's, as I say, not a good thing, but part of my job will be to tell the folks here stay focused on the business. Let's stay focused on the business. I believe the outcome is inevitable. And certainly, we have to manage the business as if the outcome is inevitable, and that, ultimately, we'll get to the end of this transition and there will be a change in ownership and management.

And so someone once asked me, you know, what the legacy of a good CEO is. And I will give you my sort of adapted version for interim CEO. I want to leave this place in good shape and in good hands. And then the good shape is as important as the good hands. So that's -- that will be the focus going forward.

You asked about Donald Sterling.

Would you just repeat the specific question, because I --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir. I wanted to get your reaction to Donald Sterling apologizing and saying that he --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- he asked to be forgiven.

PARSONS: Yes. You know, the Donald Sterling questions are hard for me to answer, because I don't know this man. And I haven't heard -- I guess -- I guess that was today?

Some sort of a (INAUDIBLE). I would -- I would observe, as most Americans, I think, would observe, that he's a little late, for sure.

But beyond that, you know, I'm here to help turn one of the burners off under the pot, not to turn it up higher. So I think I'll keep my personal views personal and just stay focused on what are we going to do to keep this team on the ascend, as it is right now?

BLITZER: All right. So there you have it. Richard Parsons, the new CEO of the L.A. Clippers, the former CEO of Time Warner, CNN's parent company, making it clear he's got a mission now to take charge of the L.A. Clippers and to move on, make sure the L.A. Clippers as a business survives.

We're going to have full analysis of what we just heard from Dick Parsons. We've got a lot more coverage of the Donald Sterling scandal coming up, CNN's exclusive interview with Donald Sterling: his apology, the outrageous new remark he made about Magic Johnson. We're going to get a lot more.

Jeffrey Toobin, Rachel Nichols, Don Lemon, they are all standing by.



PARSONS: I would observe, as most Americans I think would observe, that he's a little late, for sure.


BLITZER: Dick Parsons. That was the new L.A. Clippers' CEO saying that Donald Sterling's apology was, in his words, "too little too late."

Let's discuss what's going on, get some analysis from what we just heard. Our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, is here along with CNN's Rachel Nichols. She's the host of "UNGUARDED WITH RACHEL NICHOLS" and CNN anchor Don Lemon.

Rachel, let me get your reaction first. I think Dick Parsons made a pretty compelling statement.

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely. And you can see here behind me, I'm at the arena here in Brooklyn. They're getting ready for the next heat game. And if you talk to players around the league, and I have talked to several today, they feel much the same way.

They wanted to hear what Donald Sterling has to say certainly. They're interested in his interview with Anderson Cooper, but nothing they heard made them feel any better about the ousted Clippers owner. And certainly, they want him now separated from his team completely, not just banned but to sell the team. That feeling is stronger than ever.

And I've got to tell you, the biggest shock is from players that I talked to today, they said, "Wait a minute. He insulted Magic Johnson again? He did that again? They can't believe that." And as far as they're concerned, that is the final straw.

BLITZER: Yes, that was really amazing, Don. For those of us who know Magic Johnson, he's a gentleman. He has done so much for minority communities all over the country and for Sterling to diminish him once again, that was outrageous.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Well, know when to stop, right? You have to know when to cut your losses and know when to show humility and to be contrite.

Listen, I think it's great that CNN got the interview. I think it's great that Anderson sat down with him, but I am, quite frankly, shocked that he is still talking, because the more he opens his mouth, the more he puts his foot into his mouth. And I don't think he helped himself with this interview. I think most people see it as a PR stunt to try to save his reputation and to try to win over public support and opinion, and it's just not going to happen. These interviews are not helping him. They're hurting him.

BLITZER: Let me play that little clip. Here's Donald Sterling, speaking exclusively to our own Anderson Cooper and speaking about Magic Johnson.


DONALD STERLING, L.A. CLIPPERS OWNER: Has he done everything he can do to help minorities? I don't think so. I just don't think he is a good example for the children of Los Angeles.


BLITZER: All right. Jeffrey, I don't know what he's talking about there, but he's an excellent example. He's a real gentleman, and he's a real humanitarian.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Wolf, the full quote is even worse, because he talks about the fact that he has AIDS and that's not a good --

LEMON: Oh, my God.

TOOBIN: Or AIDS-related symptoms. I mean, it's just appalling. What do you expect with this guy? I mean, what he proved in this conversation with Anderson is that off-the-cuff statement with -- that was taped was not an aberration. We saw the real person. And, you know, I don't think there is anything he could have said that would allow him to keep the team but certainly, he didn't say it.

LEMON: There was another thing he could have said that would have -- I don't even know if that would allow him to keep the team -- was weeks ago when this came out, that, "I am really sorry."

And what you said, Wolf, I will work the rest of my life to try to correct it, and I'm going to start it from now. I'm going to show you how I'm going to do it.

But even then, I don't know if that would -- if he should keep the team after that. But I don't think there's anything that he can say. And again, I'm actually surprised that he is still talking. He keeps just screwing it up even more the more he talks.

BLITZER: Rachel, I think you'll agree with me that Adam Silver --

NICHOLS: I made one -- yes --

BLITZER: I'm sure you'll agree that Adam Silver was brilliant in his initial reaction, banning Donald Sterling for life from the NBA, but another brilliant move: getting Dick Parsons in to become the CEO of the Clippers. That will totally reassure the fans, the team, and everyone else.

NICHOLS: Absolutely. This is a guy who has a ton of experience running business. He's reliable. He also plays basketball at the University of Hawaii. So he's got a little experience in the game, too. He wants to be in a partnership with Doc Rivers, who's going to be working the basketball side while Nick Parsons runs the business side. It really seems like a great fit for someone who has a sensitivity to the issue at hand.

And it definitely has players around the league happy about this. I know some of the Clippers players have expressed that they're happy about it. And they're also keeping an eye, by the way, on the overall situation. Wolf, it's been two weeks since these reportings came out and mind you,, the NBA has not officially notified Donald Sterling that they are going to move to remove him as an owner. And Dick Parsons is getting in there is certainly a good step, but players want to see the movement.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, what do you think about what he said about Shelly Sterling, the wife? He said he's not going to have any communications with Donald Sterling, but he left open a conversation with Shelly Sterling.

TOOBIN: He did. Frankly, you know, we all have a certain bias where Dick Parsons is concerned, because he used to be our ultimate boss here, but I thought he was just pitch perfect in that press conference.

He said, "Look, my job is to calm things down, get this franchise moving in the right direction, and we'll see about the larger questions about the franchise."

Who owns it? That's going to be under the control of Adam Silver and the NBA. Parsons is just going to run the team, keep the wheels on, and I think that's fully appropriate. Later on, we'll see what else he does.

LEMON: Jeffrey, I was sitting here watching. He was just so plain- spoken and he made so much sense, and I was like -- I'm not being sexist, but it's like, "Daddy's home." You know, like someone is home and in control of the situation and the team.

And I have to tell you, Wolf, I was in the barber shop on Friday, and people were talking about this, about Dick Parsons being named interim CEO. And they were like, "What does he -- he didn't run a team?"

And I said, "You forget, he ran TNT -- TNT, TBS, also the Hawks. That was under Turner and Time Warner. So he knows a little bit about it, but I don't think, you know, most people, the larger society knows it.

BLITZER: Those days at Turner -- Turner Broadcasting, not only the Atlanta Hawks, the Atlanta Braves but a few other teams, as well. So he certainly knows a lot about sports, and he's going to do a brilliant job.

Guys, I want all of you to stand by. We're going to have a lot more on this story, coming up later. By the way, you can see Anderson's complete, exclusive interview with Donald Sterling. That comes up later tonight, 8 p.m. Eastern -- 8 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Coming up, CNN is about to take you inside two of the most dangerous places in the world where the threat from violent extremists is growing at alarming rates.


BLITZER: The sight of some of the deadliest fighting in Syria. The city of Homs is beginning to pick up some pieces after a fragile truce, even as fierce fighting tears the rest of the country apart. CNN's Frederik Pleitgen was the first Western TV reporter on the ground. He has an exclusive look inside the city of the ruins.


FREDRIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In the city of ruins in the old town of Homs, a mass migration as thousands enter this battle-scarred neighborhood either to come back in or to get their belongings out. Very little seems salvageable, but that doesn't stop many returning residents from trying.

Hasan Deshash (ph) and his workers are clearing out what is left of his shoe store. They had to flee the area more than two years ago. "Of course it was awful," he says. "When the fighting started, I had to get out of here. I have not been back in two-and-a-half years."

Only a few days after rebel fighters left the old town of Homs, the clean-up effort is already underway. Even as the Syrian army says it is clearing streets and buildings of improvised bombs in (INAUDIBLE).

This is the main square in Homs, and the authorities are moving very quickly to open this place up again. Behind me, you can see that they are already starting to clean up. But if we look around, we can see that all of the buildings around this main square and this entire neighborhood are absolutely destroyed. They are flat, and it shows the tragedy of what happened here in the past few years. And it also shows just how long it's going to take to rebuild the old town

Homs was one of the first towns with large demonstrations against Bashar al Assad in 2011. They were crushed by Syrian security forces. But soon, defectors from Syria's military started fighting to protect the protestors. Homs became the epicenter for the uprising against the Assad regime.

Then, government forces launched a brutal campaign to win back the territory, including heavy shelling and a siege that cut off residents from food and water. Finally, both sides agreed to a truce, and the rebels withdrew from Homs last week, a deal these government solidiers say they endorse.

I think it was the best thing to do, he says. It gives the people a chance to come back and start rebuilding their lives.

With so many killed and wounded and so much of the historic town destroyed, there are no winners in Homs. But many people now returning back here are still optimistic that maybe there is a chance for a new beginning.

Fred Pleitgen, Homs, Syria.


BLITZER: Heartbreaking images indeed. Joining us now to discuss Syria and more is the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius. Foreign minister, thanks very much for coming in. You've seen those heartbreaking pictures of what's going on. An Iranian parliament member just said Assad has won in Syria. The regime will stay, the Americans have lost. It certainly looks like Assad, at least for now, has won.

LAURENT FABIUS, FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, I don't think so. In fact, everything started in Homs. And it's because of the reaction of Assad, which was a foolish reaction, very violent, that everything has started. And then today, you have 150,000 people who are dead.

BLITZER: But he's still in power.

FABIUS: Yes, unfortunately, he's still in power. Through terror, through the help of the Iranians and Russian and Hezbollah. And what do we have to do? A, to support moderate position because we don't accept the dictator can be the future of its people, and inaction is not an option.

BLITZER: You know, last week, Mike Rogers, the congressman, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was very knowledgeable. He was on, sitting exactly where you are.


BLITZER: He said that he is most worried about Syria right now because there are thousands of what he called "terrorists involved in a jihadist Disneyland there" -

FABIUS: That's very true.

BLITZER: Westerners have foreign passports. They are training now, and they're getting ready to come to France, the United States, and elsewhere.

FABIUS: That's very true. That's very true. And that's a tragedy. You have on the one hand, Bashar, who is a dictator. On the other hand, but with sort of objective (ph) lines, the terrorist groups, and we can't support either. And therefore, we have to support the moderate position. President Aljaba (ph) was there in Washington a few -


FABIUS: First. On the other hand, we have to put this mass crimes and crimes against humanity through the International Criminal Court. France today has asked the Security Council to put it into the International Criminal Court.

BLITZER: But the Russians will veto any of those resolutions.

FABIUS: You will see that -- it can veto, OK. But it means that they have no consideration for any human life, and we cannot accept this. BLITZER: All right, bottom line in Syria, Bashar al Assad at least for now is there to stay?

FABIUS: Yes. And this is -- in a few days, this tragic mockery of the election -- because it's supposed to be reelected. How can you organize an election in those circumstances?

BLITZER: All right, let's talk about Ukraine right now. That's a huge mess. Obviously not on the scale of Syria, but potentially could be a real problem. There's been some criticism of France because it's going ahead with military sales to Russia, even at a time of Western sanctions against Russia, including two warships.

FABIUS: Well, first, France has done what it has to do. Now, our hope in Ukraine is to organize presidential election on the 25 of May because when you have such sort a crisis, you have to organize an election. Then you know the action of the Russians and therefore, we have decided (INAUDIBLE) sanctions. And all of us --

BLITZER: But you're going to go -- look, we're showing you pictures of these warships. These are pretty sophisticated. This is a billion- dollar deal.

FABIUS: Yes. These warships, the order dates from 2011. And we have a rule when there is a contract, it has to be implemented.

BLITZER: So finally Putin is going to get control of these warships?

FABIUS: No. The decision would be taken in next October. But if we come to new sanction, it has to apply for defense to finance and as well and to energy. It's not only to defense.

BLITZER: Are you on the same page as the Obama administration when it comes to future tightening of sanctions against Russia because of Ukraine?

FABIUS: I think so, provided that everybody does those same sacrifices. It's not a sanction against Europe. It's a sanction against Russia. You must not forget it.

BLITZER: But there will be a price Europeans will be paying, obviously.

FABIUS: Yes. Well, two figures. Out of 28 members of Europe, you have six member states who are depending by 100 percent on Russian gas. And you have seven other countries depending more than 50 percent. That means that you have 13 countries depending on Russian -- each one of them problems, and everybody has to make sacrifices.

BLITZER: Foreign minister, we've got a lot more to talk about. Unfortunately, our time is limited. But welcome to the United States.

FABIUS: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM, and I'm happy that U.S./French relations are strong right now. FABIUS: They are very excellent. Very excellent.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. Laurent Fabius is the foreign minister of France.

Up next, a day at the barber shop becomes a deadly shootout. We have new details about a gun battle between U.S. embassy staff and al Qaeda.

And new signs that the data driving the search for Flight 370 may have been wrong the whole time. What are officials saying right now?


BLITZER: We're learning new details about a deadly shootout between two Americans and two al Qaeda terrorists on the streets of Yemen's capital. The news going public as the U.S. shutters its embassy there amid growing security concerns.

CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom is working his Yemeni sources for us. Mohammed, this is a dramatic development. What's the latest?

MOHAMMED JAMJOON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I've learned today exclusively from a Yemeni government official that the threat against the U.S. embassy in Yemen is as high as it has ever been.


JAMJOON: With pitched battles between al Qaeda and security forces intensifying throughout Yemen, CNN has learned exclusively the threat toward the U.S. embassy has become so critical, the embassy will be shut down for at least two more weeks. An extraordinarily long amount of time and quite rare, showcasing just how dangerous the situation in the country's capital has become.

JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: We said we'd open it when it was practical to do that, so we continue to evaluate on a daily basis.

JAMJOON: The embassy closing comes after the revelation that two U.S. embassy employees got into a deadly shootout with al Qaeda militants attempting to kidnap them two weeks ago. At a popular barbershop, the Americans were quickly moved out of the country. But last week, after street fighting between al Qaeda and the military worsened and more foreigners were targeted in Sana'a, a decision was made to shudder the embassy.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: We know from sources who used to be inside al Qaeda in the Peninsula that in late 2011 they actually conducted a video surveillance of the U.S. embassy compound in Sana'a so they have this footage on the shelf and there's been a real push by the group to try and attack it again.

JAMJOOM: The recent uptick in attacks by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or AQAP shows how strong the organization remains. Even though Yemen's military, with the assistance of the U.S., is battling the militants in several provinces. Over the weekend, AQAP attacked a security checkpoint close to the presidential palace. Elsewhere, the group ambushed and killed more than a dozen Yemeni soldiers. Now as the war against al Qaeda gets murkier, one thing remains clear. The U.S. has become an even bigger target.


JAMJOOM: Wolf, it's important to note that, although the U.S. embassy is close to the public, U.S. embassy personnel have not been evacuated from Yemen. And there's no plan to do so at this point.

Also important to note that the embassy has been close in Yemen in the past. But the fact of the matter is, at this point, there's no indication when it will reopen and that really tells just how worried U.S. personnel there are right now.

BLITZER: It certainly does underscore the threats right now.

Mohammed, thanks. Stand by.

I want to bring in two experts into this conversation. Joining us now, "The Daily Beast" senior national security correspondent Eli Lake and CNN's national security analyst Peter Bergen.

Chairman Rogers of the House Intelligence Committee told us last week the U.S.' ability to track al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been reduced over the past year or so because of leaks.

How much of a threat does -- al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula pose to the U.S. right now?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I think the most important point is the crowned jewel of the organization. I've been told by two senior U.S. administration officials, his name is al Siri, the bomb maker, there's no evidence that in the recent operations we've been documenting over the past couple of weeks that he is dead. So they've retained their ability to -- you know, a bomb maker getting highly sophisticated explosives on through American passenger jets, cargo, planes, we've see this in the past. So that part of their operation is still viable.

BLITZER: These terrorist threats obviously coming from Yemen but also now in Nigeria, these nearly 300 schoolgirls, we now see some video purportedly showing them for the first time.

Eli, you wrote a piece in the "Daily Beast," Boko Haram, that's the terrorist organization. Boko Haram's bin Laden connection, what is that?

ELI LAKE, SR. NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, what's interesting there is that there is a report from the international crisis group and I've talked to some U.S. intelligence officials about this as well that suggest that as early as 2002, an emissary from Osama bin Laden distributed seed money in Nigeria, some of which went to the early iterations of Boko Haram. In addition to that, it's widely believed U.S. intelligence community that al Qaeda's North Africa affiliate trains Boko Haram and then there are some documents that pertain to communications between Boko Haram and Osama bin Laden that were captured in the Abbottabad raid in 2011. Those have not yet been made public. There are different interpretations of what they mean but there are some who have a more aggressive analysis that suggests it was certainly some strategic direction that was given from bin Laden to the group in Nigeria.

BLITZER: You see pictures of these young girls.

The Boko Haram leader, Peter, says he's willing to negotiation in exchange. Boko Haram prisoners being held by the Nigerian government exchange for the girls. Is that really realistic?

BERGEN: Well, the U.S. government wouldn't entertain this kind of negotiation. We'll see if the Nigerians are. But it would be, I think, impossible for the United States government to get involved in negotiation of this type. And that's a very sensible -- there's a very sensible reason for that which is you're just encouraging more of this behavior if you start releasing people.

BLITZER: Peter Bergen, Eli Lake, Mohammed Jamjoom, guys, thanks very much.

Just ahead, thousands of people have been forced from their homes as wildfire burns out of control. We're going live to the scene.

And new doubts that the search for Flight 370 has been looking in the wrong area for months now. We're taking a closer look at what's going on.


BLITZER: We're following breaking news. An unfolding disaster in the Texas panhandle. A wildfire that's burning out of control right now. At least 100 homes already have been burned. Thousands of people have been forced to evacuate.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is on the scene for us.

What's the latest, Ed? What are you seeing?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you can see, the windy conditions here are still very intense which might complicate matters for firefighters out there just on the north edge of the town of Ridge, Texas. But we spoke with firefighters just a little while ago who sound like they're starting to get the upper hand on this fire.

We're waiting for an update at any moment on just how much of this wildfire has been contained. But as you mentioned, 2100 people or so had to be evacuated from an area. Several evacuees that we spoke with today, Wolf, said it was a fast-moving fire and they only had seconds to react to get out of their homes.

BLITZER: So, Ed, right now, do they have enough personnel on the ground over there to deal with this? The pictures are really awful.

LAVANDERA: It sounds like they do. In fact, for the most part since we've been here this afternoon, we have had a hard time finding any flames. The terrain is a very treacherous terrain. Lot of canyons and inundations in this terrain, just on the north edge of town. But firefighters tell us that they're not seeing as many flames flaring up but that they're worried about hot spots at this point that might be able to trigger and restart with these winds that you see that are so intense.

But it sounds like here in the next while or so we'll get an update that they really made some progress in getting this wildfire under control.

BLITZER: Ed Lavandera, we'll stay in close touch with you on this story.

Ed, thanks very much. Awful situation out in Texas.

Coming up, rethinking the mystery of Malaysia Flight 370. Experts are now reanalyzing almost everything they thought they knew. Had they been searching for the missing plane for months now in the wrong place?

Plus, the Sterling NBA scandal. We'll get more of this exclusive interview with CNN and the battle between husband and wife that may just be brewing.


DONALD STERLING, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS OWNER: All the people that I've hurt and I've hurt so many people, so many innocent people.



BLITZER: Happenings now, the underwater search for Flight 370 is about to resume. The Ocean Shield is almost in position. But there's brand new reason to be deeply worried that the data is wrong. And that crews aren't even looking in the right place.

Plus, Donald Sterling tells CNN he's the victim of a setup who was tricked into making racist remarks. Stand by for more of Anderson Cooper's exclusive interview with the owner of the L.A. Clippers as well as new questions about Sterling's health and state of mind.