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Search Continues for Commercial Jetliner; Repairing U.S.-Muslim Relations; Dick Cheney Defends Bush-era National Security

Aired June 1, 2009 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, the search for a huge commercial jetliner that vanished over the Atlantic. What happened to the plane and more than 200 people on board?

This hour, a terrifying mystery and what it says about airline safety.

Dick Cheney unplugged, again. The former vice president offers his insight and no excuses on torture allegations, secrecy and same- sex marriage.

And the price of GM's bankruptcy, new information about factories closing, jobs lost and billions more in taxpayer dollars to keep the automaker running.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world.


It's hard to imagine a plane about 200 feet long, packed with more than 200 people in the sky one minute and gone the next. Air France now says it's likely that the flight from Rio to Paris crashed into the Atlantic Ocean today, but the Airbus A-330 still has not been found.

Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd. He's been investigating what's going on.

What a mystery this is, Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. And of course, you have to point out in a situation like this, a lot of speculation, we don't know what's happened specifically. So, with the information that we're giving, we have to talk about possibilities.

What Air France officials are saying is that there were turbulence in the area, that electrical problems were reported. Now, that points to some possibilities for what could have gone wrong here, but there is also the possibility that we may never find out.


TODD (voice-over): A massive air and sea search that may never provide definite answers on the fate of Flight 447. Air France officials say the plane experienced turbulence and electrical problems before it vanished. Experts say a lightning strike is a possibility. But...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On average, every airliner is struck at least once a year by a lightning strike. They don't go down.

TODD: Experts say when lightning strikes a plane, the bolt typically hits a sharp part of it, a wing tip, or a tail surface. Millions of amps of energy run through the aircraft and usually exit out another sharp point. But sometimes, if components aren't well grounded, high voltages can cause electrical damage.

This plane, an Airbus-330, is equipped with a fly-by wire system. Unlike standard aircraft, where the pilot's controls are manually attached to control surfaces like rudders and flaps, with fly-by wire the pilot's controls in the cockpit are linked to the movable services by electrical wires and computers, so essentially a signal is sent to move those devices. Experts say there are backup fly-by computers and wires, but a lightning strike could possibly disable those as well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you have a massive electrical problem, it's possible that you could cut off all the commands out of the control surfaces.

TODD: Still, even if those commands are cut off, aviation experts say the A-330 has a manual flight control system, so-called trim tabs, that allows the crew to manipulate the rudder and the surface controls.


TODD: Now, we asked Airbus for a briefing on possible causes on the electrical warning system, what protections are built in for lightning strikes. An Airbus spokeswoman said it's way too early at this stage, and the company does not want to engage in speculation, Wolf. Of course, that's the responsible thing to do.

BLITZER: Yes, of course. But let's talk a little bit about the weather off the coast of Brazil in the Atlantic Ocean. There's a source of potentially real serious complications.

TODD: Absolutely. Whether experts, aviation experts call this the Intertropical Convergence Zone. We're going to show you this area on a map. I'll step over here to it.

It's essentially where the Northern Hemisphere meets the Southern Hemisphere. Weather experts say a lot of warm, moist air moving upward. It's essentially a perfect kind of machine for starting thunderstorms.

Some of the worst thunderstorms in the world, Wolf, are in this region of the world, you know, essentially across the line of the equator, in the Atlantic Ocean. They say that makes some of the thunderstorms in the continental U.S. look very tame by comparison, and this could have been a real factor.

One expert told us that a lot of the thunderstorms in this area, the storms are so high that it's almost impossible for a plane to fly over them. Now, a plane could fly around them, but there's also a possibility here that the radar could have been disabled on this plane, possibly like a lightning strike. So, I mean, it could have been just a disaster all the way around, as far as the radar warning system, the disabling of the -- potential disabling of the electronics on this plane. And we may never know because they may never recover the black box.

BLITZER: Well, we're praying for the best. Let's hope that these people potentially are still alive out there. We can only pray for that.

TODD: Of course.

BLITZER: All right, Brian. Thanks very much.

Only two U.S.-based airlines fly the Airbus A-330, the model of the Air France plane that disappeared. The merged firms of Northwest and Delta together have 32 Airbus A-330s. US Airways has nine of them in operation right now. Several internationally based airlines fly the Airbus A-330 in and out of the United States all the time.

Let's talk a little bit more about this plane, its safety record.

CNN's Richard Quest joins us. He covers aviation stories for CNN and CNN International.

Richard, you're in London right now. What's the track record of this plane?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The track record is simply excellent in terms of fatal accidents. There's only been one major incident, and that was in 1994, and it wasn't even part of an airline fleet. That was a different incident completely.

There was a very odd incident with an air transit plane which actually lost power and then glided for 65 miles to a safe landing. There have been numerous other bits and bolts (ph), but Wolf, the fundamental point to make tonight is that there is no serious or systemic problem that has ever been revealed about the A-330.

BLITZER: And which complicate this is mystery altogether. But what about this notion that horrible turbulence in this bad area off the coast of Brazil, in the Atlantic, that it was just even worse than normal?

QUEST: I think you have to put that into a certain -- take it with a certain pinch of salt. It was certainly bad, but there were other aircraft and other airliners flying that night from Latin and Central America, up on that same route towards northern Europe. So, you know, you can't put too much store by this.

What invariably the experts always tell us is that it is a cascading series of events. It's never one simple single event.

For instance, let me sketch one scenario for you. Something happens, whether it's lightning, whether it's turbulence, the crew becomes overwhelmed by problems. There's an electrical failure. We know there's been that problem, there's a pressurization problem. And all of a sudden, what seems very simple to start with gets completely out of control.

Continental Airlines and a Continental Express accident up in Buffalo earlier this year was a classic example. It's never one simple thing, Wolf, that you can extrapolate from.

But this, of course, is serious. And it's serious, Wolf, because it's a world class airline with a first class safety record on a brand new aircraft, just four years old. That's the seriousness of this tonight.

BLITZER: We all remember Sully Sullenberger and that US Airways that made that emergency landing on the Hudson River, and everyone walked away just fine. What's the possibility that this plane could have made an emergency landing on the Atlantic Ocean?

QUEST: Wolf, I hesitate to answer that, and my hesitation tells you all that you need to know about my answer. Sully made that landing in the most perfect of scenarios -- perfect weather, perfect water, perfect conditions. He had -- he lost control of the engines, but he had total control of the actual aircraft and its various, if you like, control surfaces. He made an early decision, which he executed with perfection.

Now extrapolate the North and south Atlantic, in the middle of a storm, with high cumulous clouds, lots of power, electrical problems, and a dark, dark night.

BLITZER: Richard Quest, thanks very much for joining us.

As I said earlier, we're praying for the best.

We're going to be speaking with a former NTSB, National Transportation Safety Board, director. He's standing by to answer more questions about this mysterious plane disaster, why it may have happened. He's going to be joining us. That's coming up later this hour.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, welcome back.

President Obama made good on yet another campaign promise on Saturday night. He took his wife on a date here to New York City. The president says he promised his wife that he would "take her to a Broadway show after it was all finished," meaning the campaign.

Mr. Obama and the first lady flew from Washington to New York on a Gulfstream jet, then took a helicopter from the Marine One fleet from JFK into Manhattan. The first couple ate in the village, they headed to Times Square, where they saw "Joe Turner's Come and Gone," a Broadway show about a man coming to terms with a history of slavery.

New Yorkers seemed to love it all. The crowds were eight deep in places. But critics are accusing the president of a certain amount of insensitivity.

The Republican National Committee -- who else? -- says as the president prepared to wing into Manhattan's theater district, GM prepared to file bankruptcy and families across America continue to struggle to pay their bills. The Republicans added that if President Obama wanted to go to the theater, which wasn't the presidential box at the Kennedy Center good enough?

The president paid for dinner and the show tickets himself, but the rest of the bill, well, that's on us, the taxpayers. The White House hasn't said how much it is. Published reports put the cost in the tens of thousands of dollars. The White House cited fuel efficiency, saying that instead of taking Air Force One, the president and first lady took a smaller airplane, there were two other airplanes carrying media and staff.

The question is this: Should the taxpayers pick up the bill for the Obamas' date night in New York City?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

You were out last Friday. People calling in sick on a Friday, that's suspect, especially in the summertime.

Do you have a doctor's note?


BLITZER: I had a little cold. You know, that stuff happens, Jack.


BLITZER: But I feel good right now.

CAFFERTY: All right. Well, good. We were concerned about you.

BLITZER: I know you were. But fortunately, everything worked out, Jack. Thanks very much.

Intense reaction coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now of the killing of an abortion provider while he was attending church. We're going to have the latest on the case, the suspect of this controversy surrounding the victim's clinic.

Also ahead, a trailblazer in the Middle East peace process has some advice for President Obama before he heads to the region. Stand by for a new CNN interview with the former president, Jimmy Carter.

And Dick Cheney's dark side. The former vice president spoofs himself while talking about secrecy and national security.


RICHARD CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would not ordinarily be leading the charge to declassify classified information. Otherwise, they wouldn't call me Darth Vader for nothing.



BLITZER: President Obama travels to the Middle East this week. He'll give a major speech in Egypt on Thursday designed to repair U.S. relations with the Arab and Muslim world. The former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, is now speaking out about the challenges Mr. Obama faces.

He spoke exclusively with CNN's Campbell Brown.


CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: If you look at the U.S. relationship today with the Muslim world, you could argue that there's been a lot of other -- have been a lot of other issues that have caused a lot of damage. One of those being the images of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib when they became public, and now we're hearing or learning that there are more pictures of detainee abuse. Many arguing they should also be made public.

President Obama wants to keep them under wraps. Do you agree with his decision?

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, but I respect what his decisions are. I don't have the responsibility to deal with the consequences. But I think most of his supporters were hoping that he would be much more open in the revelation of what we have done in the past.

But he has made a decision with which I really can't contend that he doesn't want to resurrect the past, he doesn't want to punish those who are guilty of perpetrating what I consider crimes against our own laws and against our own Constitution. And the revelation of those pictures might very well inflame further animosity against our country, causing some harm to our soldiers. So I don't agree with him, but I certainly don't criticize him for making that decision.

BROWN: But you don't agree with that point? Because he's made it, many in the military have made it, that it does fuel anger at American troops and could endanger them more.

CARTER: Well, I think it's hard to realize how much anger there already is based on the revelations that have already been made. And any knowledgeable person within the Arab world or around the rest of the countries on Earth knows that these pictures exist, they can now only imagine how bad they are. And maybe the actual publication of them wouldn't exacerbate an already bad situation. BROWN: Weigh in if you will on the torture debate. What about prosecuting Bush administration officials who approved waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics? You know, there's a real split in your party about this issue.

What do you think?

CARTER: Well, I think "prosecuting" is too strong a word. What I would like to see is a complete examination of what did happen, the identification of any perpetrators of crimes against our own laws or against international law. And then after all that's done, decide whether or not there should be any prosecutions. But the revelation of what did happen I think is what I would support.


BLITZER: And you can see much more of the interview with the former president, Jimmy Carter, later tonight. Campbell Brown returning from maternity leave. Catch her at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney said today he does not believe Saddam Hussein was involved in the planning or execution of the 9/11 attacks, but he argued that Saddam Hussein's previous support for known terrorists was a serious dangerous and a justification for the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq. Cheney spoke to the National Press Club here in Washington earlier today.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Gloria, you listened to his presentation today. I'm going to play a little clip of what he said about Guantanamo Bay and the detention center there.


CHENEY: It's a good facility, and if you're going to be engaged in a world conflict such as we are in terms of the global war on terrorism, if you don't have a place where you can hold these people, your only other option is to kill them. And we don't operate that way.

I think the administration made a mistake of the president issuing an order that he wants it closed within the year but didn't have a clue as to how to proceed. And now they're having trouble because they're having to come up with a plan of some kind that will allow them to achieve that objective. It's going to be hard.


BLITZER: That was the first time I heard him say you either put them in Guantanamo Bay or you kill them.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, he was very strong on that, Wolf. He also made the point that George W. Bush actually spoke about closing Guantanamo back in 2006. And he said the reason we decided not to do that is because we didn't know what to do with them either. And he called the prisoners the worst of the worst and said, look, I don't exactly see a lot of members standing up on Capitol Hill and saying, hey, I'll take a dozen of those folks in my district. So it's very clear...

BLITZER: He was totally unrepentant, basically, throughout that presentation today at the National Press Club.

BORGER: Totally. Absolutely on every single issue.

BLITZER: On everything. He said even if he could do whatever he did over again, he would have done exactly the same thing.

BORGER: Exactly. On invading Iraq most of all.

BLITZER: Let's talk about another issue that came up during the Q&A when he was at the National Press Club, the issue of gay marriage. Listen to this.


CHENEY: Freedom means freedom for everyone. And as many of you know, one of my daughters is gay, and something that we have lived with for a long time in our family.

I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish, any kind of arrangement they wish. The question of whether or not there ought to be a federal statute that governs this, I don't support. I do believe that historically the way marriage has been regulated is at the state level, this has always been a state issue. And I think that's the way it ought to be handled today.


BLITZER: That was a fascinating little insight into where he stands, but he basically believes that there should be gay marriage.

BORGER: And he always has. In 2000, 2004, he's always used the phrase "Freedom means freedom for everybody," which we also heard him use today. But this really puts him in a different position from Barack Obama, because Barack Obama talks about civil unions, George W. Bush has talked about civil unions. And what we heard the vice president say today is, if a state decides like Iowa that gay marriage is OK, it's fine with him.

BLITZER: And he made it clear this is a very personal issue for him and his tire family.

BORGER: His daughter Mary is gay.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much.

Gloria is not going to go away. She'll be back. There are new details coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now in the killing of an abortion provider. Police arrest someone on suspicion of murder.

And we'll also have more on that Air France plane that simply has vanished. With bad weather and turbulence, how might the pilot have gotten through it?

I'll ask a former director of the National Transportation Safety Board.




Happening now, every second is agony. They wait an eternity. That's the families and the loved ones of the passengers on that plane that has vanished.

How's the airline handling their suffering? Stand by.

Also, officials think North Korea could be readying to test-fire another long range missile. Pyongyang's recent activities are igniting a new fear. Could they spark a new arms race in the region?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The world's largest car company files the fourth largest bankruptcy in U.S. history. General Motors hopes to become leaner. Until then, taxpayers will end up with a 60 percent stake. President Obama pledges $30 billion more in aid on top of the almost $20 billion already provided by U.S. taxpayers.

Also, GM is driving four brands off the cliff -- Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer and Saab -- closing more than 2,000 dealerships and shutting 14 plants and three parts centers by the year 2011. While the government is stepping in, President Obama points out what he won't -- what the government won't do.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are acting as reluctant shareholders because that is the only way to help GM succeed. What we are not doing, what I have no interest in doing, is running GM.

GM will be run by a private board of directors and management team with a track record in American manufacturing that reflects a commitment to innovation and quality. They and not the government will call the shots and make the decisions about how to turn this company around.


BLITZER: Let's go to CNN's Deborah Feyerick. She's at a GM plant in Warren, Michigan, right now.

Thousands and thousands of workers and their families, they're going to be affected by this -- Deb.


In the words of one longtime auto worker -- quote -- "Today is not a good day." Everybody here understands that they need to do what the president is asking, and that is make the sacrifice today for future generations. However, it doesn't make it hurt any less.


FEYERICK (voice-over): Though GM workers knew bankruptcy was inevitable, it did not make the news any easier, not at the Fairfax plant near Kansas City.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want to keep building cars. We want to keep making money, and we want to keep surviving.

FEYERICK: And not at plant in Warren, Michigan, where GM workers got word their plant was OK, at least for now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's been a long time coming, but I have seen a lot of changes in my lifetime in General Motors. And it's like -- it's just an unseeable situation. You don't know what's going to happen. It's hoping we will be going for the better.

FEYERICK: The human toll under the restructuring plan, 20,000 U.S. employees to be laid by the end of next year, 12 plants to shut down in nine states, three more to sit idle until such time GM gets back on its feet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have got assembly plants, stamping plants, power train plants, and service -- parts and service plants.

FEYERICK (on camera): Pretty much everyone?

GERRY GILLESPIE, UNION CHIEF, WARREN, MICHIGAN: That's everything. That is the whole ball of wax. This -- this is a tragedy right here.

FEYERICK (voice-over): Gerry Gillespie is the union chief in Warren, Michigan.

(on camera): What takes its place?

GILLESPIE: That's a very good question. We don't know. That is the question. What's going to take its place? Not working in China, Mexico, Brazil.

FEYERICK (voice-over): The impact of the loss affecting lifelong workers like Paul Gediantz (ph), who spent 24 years at GM and who hopes he's lucky enough to get a package and maybe get out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's so bad that the community, that each -- if you drive around, the restaurants in this area are a disaster. They are closing the doors, not only the repair shops. I did heating and cooling. I had a business on the outside close a few years ago. Right now, nobody's able to do anything in business.


FEYERICK: Well, right now, the workers who remain behind, they're going to have to build the right cars, make sure that those cars sell, that stock prices go up, so that the U.S. government can get out of the car business -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Deb Feyerick in Warren, Michigan -- thanks, Deb, very much.

Let's get to the governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm, right now. She's joining us.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: A very, very sad day for everyone, basically, but a lot of experts thought this was long in coming, as you know, the bankruptcy. We spoke about this back in February, and I asked you if it was time for GM to file for bankruptcy. This is what you said.


GRANHOLM: Putting a company into bankruptcy that sells the biggest consumer product that you buy -- 80 percent of consumers say that they will not buy a car from a bankrupt company -- putting them into bankruptcy is -- is -- ends their term, basically.


BLITZER: All right. You want to revise or amend your assessment then? Because today they're in bankruptcy.

GRANHOLM: Well, yes, I have not been a fan of the bankruptcy strategy, but what I am a fan of is the fact that we now have strong backing by the U.S. government and a path to ensure that, when they emerge from bankruptcy quickly, that they'll be successful.

And that -- you know, this is a terrible day in Michigan; there's no doubt about it. I mean, GM has -- is part of our DNA, as are the other auto companies. And people move to Michigan to be able to work on the line, and it's been for generations. It's just part of our identity. So it's a tough day for those families that are affected and the seven plants and the communities that surround them.

But I can say this, Wolf, that we have been in this slide now since the year 2000, Michigan has. And so now, with this bankruptcy filing and with the experience that we've seen with Chrysler, of turning it around quickly, we know that there is an end point. We can see that there's light at the end of the tunnel. So while this terrible news -- and, you know, if you had asked me this a year ago, would they have gone into bankruptcy, I mean, nobody would have suspected...

BLITZER: With hindsight, though, should they have gone into bankruptcy a year ago?

GRANHOLM: Well, but they didn't have a debtor-in-possession at that point. They didn't have a government that was willing to back them. This is -- this bankruptcy is a restructuring and not a liquidation. If you don't have the government or another debtor-in- possession who's willing to back you, then it ends up being liquidation.

So this is a total new mind-set, a different frame. The president does not want to be running an auto company. The Treasury doesn't want to be in the business.

So hopefully what this does is allows them to emerge with a light -- a light debtor sheet, a light amount of credit, ability to be competitive globally and stronger in the end. And that's what we're shooting for.

BLITZER: As you know all too painfully, Michigan has the highest unemployment rate in the country right now, approaching 13 percent, and it's about to get even higher as a result of what has happened today. How high is it going to go?

GRANHOLM: Well, we don't know. I mean, it will -- it will go a bit higher, as we know, because the suppliers are going to be impacted, too. Just today's announcement and these seven plants mean almost another 9,000 jobs.

So there is no doubt that we have got to continue our efforts to add new sectors. I mean, Wolf, we've been the auto capital for 100 years. And you can't balance your whole economy on one leg of an economic stool, which is why we're really focused on adding alternative energy, the green economy, life sciences, homeland security and defense. Those are part of our strategic plan to bring in new sectors.

But I do know this: We have an administration that's committed to an energy plan that will allow for America to become independent of foreign oil and fossil fuels. Well, you've got to have a state that has businesses that make those products. We are great at manufacturing, and we want to be the poster child from how you can go from a Rust Belt economy to a Green Belt economy.

BLITZER: It's interesting that you say that, because Michael Moore has an article in the "Daily Beast" today in which he makes the case, forget about GM, forget about Chrysler, maybe even Ford, if you will, but GM specifically. He says it's time to take those workers and start building high-speed trains or energy-efficient buses.

He writes this: "Please, please, please don't save GM so that a smaller version of it will simply do nothing more than build Chevys or Cadillacs. This is not a long-term solution. Don't throw bad money into a company whose tail pipe is malfunctioning causing a strange odor to fill the car." What do you say to Michael Moore? GRANHOLM: Well, I mean, Michael Moore, bless his heart, he's had a long standing beef with GM since he did his movie, "Roger and Me." But this is not about the company; this is about the people and the future. These are not the same leaders in General Motors as the leaders that were there when bad decisions were made. These employees want a chance to show the world that they are the best in the nation.

We've got manufacturing in our DNA. We know how to do the machining. We can make both cars, electric cars, the batteries for those electric cars, those green automobiles of the future, and we can build the wind turbines that are going to help to lead an increase in our reliance on renewable energy.

So you better believe it: We are going to focus on diversifying our economy, Wolf. And in the end, we will be a stronger state, as well.

BLITZER: And very quickly: Can Ford avoid following GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy?

GRANHOLM: Well, they -- they made a different bet. They borrowed a lot of money a couple of years ago and were able to make some strategic investments.

You know, what's really necessary right now, Wolf, is a creation of demand. First of all, people should buy cars that are made in America, especially now that your taxpayer dollars are supporting these industries. But in addition to that, Congress should pass that cash-for-clunkers bill that will really create demand and pick up the sales for automobiles across the board.

BLITZER: Good luck out in Michigan, Governor. Thanks very much.

GRANHOLM: Appreciate it, Wolf. Thanks.

BLITZER: We're going to more on our breaking news story -- hope now fading for the passengers aboard a missing jet. Is there any possibility that the plane could have landed somehow, somewhere? I will ask a former NTSB director who is standing by live to join us.

And in our "Strategy Session": Will President Obama's trip to the Middle East later this week be little more than an apology tour?

And the State Department says it's a big deal, a new move by Cuba to improve a line of communication with the United States.


BLITZER: Let's get back to the breaking news, our top story, the search for an Air France jet that has vanished over the Atlantic Ocean.

Joining us, a former National Transportation Safety Board director, Peter Goelz.


BLITZER: What's your working assumption of what happened?

GOELZ: Boy, this is a real mystery.

But this plane must have catastrophically broken up at altitude. There was no mayday call by the crew. And it's off radar all of the sudden. This is a very tough one. And I think it's going to take a long time -- if ever -- that we're going to figure out what happened.

BLITZER: What could cause a plane to simply crack up at 40,000 feet?

GOELZ: Well, it's -- it's extraordinary. We had TWA, which was a flammable fuel tank. We have had a couple of other mysterious explosions, but nothing like this.

BLITZER: You're talking about the TWA plane over Long Island...

GOELZ: Long Island, exactly.

BLITZER: ... that simply exploded or whatever.

GOELZ: Right. And that -- that one went down only nine miles off the shore in 200 feet of water, you know, and it took us four or five days to find out where it was.

This one, it's the size of -- two or three times the size of Europe. I think they're going to have a real tough time.

BLITZER: Can lightning or turbulence cause a plane to explode like that?

GOELZ: Well, let's look at each one of those.

Turbulence, these pilots are certified to fly through tough weather. Other flights from South America were traveling the same airway. They reached -- they hit some turbulence, but nothing extraordinary, tough stuff, but nothing extraordinary.

And, in terms of lightning, planes are hit by lightning virtually every day. They're designed to dissipate the charge. Sometimes, there -- there are problems with their electronics systems, but nothing catastrophic -- on lightning, nothing catastrophic since the 1980s.

BLITZER: So -- so, when we say -- when you say breaking up, the plane could have broken up, does it necessarily mean an explosion that would cause that?

GOELZ: Well, it could have been a structural failure.

But this was a new plane. It was manufactured in 2005. You know, if it -- if it were a 30- or 40-year-old plane, you might look toward some sort of fatigue issue, but this was relatively a brand-new plane.

BLITZER: Here's what I don't understand. With the GPS technology that is out there, how it is possible we don't know where this big plane is right now?

GOELZ: Well...

BLITZER: Because with all the pings and the pongs, you would think they would have an idea.

GOELZ: Well, that's -- that's one of the questions.

You know, we -- many of these planes are not flying on GPS. That's the whole issue of next generation that you might have heard about. That's going to satellite -- you know, use satellite technology to traffic planes in air traffic control.

But, even today, on transoceanic flights, we don't have a very good picture of where these planes are precisely at all times. And, this one, boy, I don't -- I think we're going to have a hard time.

BLITZER: And could this plane have landed safely on -- on the Atlantic Ocean?

GOELZ: No, it's virtually impossible.

And what we're going to have to do is track down whatever radar we have got, then put some ships in the area with listening devices to see if they can pick up the pinging noises from the flight data and voice recorder. They issue a tone on a certain frequency when it's submerged. It will last for about 30 days. They have got to get those search vessels out there as quickly as possible.

BLITZER: If you were running an airline now that had a flight over the Atlantic Ocean, what would you be doing, if anything, differently?

GOELZ: I don't think -- I think I would be watching what this investigation turns up. I would be making sure that the crew and the maintenance guys were all doing their jobs.

But, boy, there isn't anything you can do.

BLITZER: Does the U.S. get involved in this investigation at all, since it's -- it's an Air France plane flying from Brazil to France, a plane that's made by not the United States?

GOELZ: The -- the U.S. will be participating, because the engines were GE engines. They were -- they were U.S.-manufactured engines. So, the NTSB will offer support, as will the FAA.

And there's good working relationships with the French investigative agency, the BEA. This will be a worldwide effort to try and -- try and uncover this.

BLITZER: The last communication, we're told, between the plane and ground control was something along the lines that they have an emergency under way. Is that right?

GOELZ: Well, it's not clear yet.

What -- what we do know is that there was a signal sent, an automatic signal sent to the operations base that said that there was an electrical issue. Now, these -- these are sent periodically, so that the plane can be maintained. It could also signify that -- that the plane was in real distress and perhaps starting to break up.

BLITZER: And this was the kind of plane where the pilots are sitting there, but it's basically automatic. It's all on -- it's all on -- you know, just mechanical, if you will?

GOELZ: Yes. This -- this is a fly-by-wire plane. The pilots, during cruise altitude, are sitting there charting numbers off the flight control system. They usually do not have their hands on the -- on the stick. And this -- this plane is a first-class aircraft...


BLITZER: We have all been in -- on planes where the -- the turbulence starts. You have been over there, especially over the Pacific or the Atlantic. And it gets a little nerve-racking when your -- your plane is moving along, especially if it's a big one, a jumbo jetliner...


BLITZER: Or a huge commercial jetliner like this one.

What do the pilots normally do? Do they try to go up even higher and fly over the turbulence?

GOELZ: Well, they -- they -- they have forward-looking forward that -- that they try to pick a way through the storm cell, where -- where it's least intense.

And they can go up. They can go left. They can go right. They can go drop down. But they try to pick a path through it that -- that looks less intense...


BLITZER: But, the higher the storm, usually, the -- it's more intense, the storm, right? And, sometimes -- you know, can a plane go over 50,000 feet...


BLITZER: ... flying over the Atlantic?


The maximum altitude for -- for a plane like this is in the low 40s. So -- and the usual crew's altitude, somewhere between 32,000 and 39,000. So, I mean, that's -- that's -- that's where you have your maximum efficiency.

BLITZER: Is it possible we will never know what happened to this Air France plane?

GOELZ: If we don't get the flight data recorders or the voice recorder back, I think it's -- it's likely that we will never know.

BLITZER: And, given the depth of the Atlantic Ocean, it's possible that that stuff is at the bottom of the Atlantic right now.

GOELZ: Well, you can recover it. We have recovered things since as deep as 10,000, 12,000 feet.

But the point is, you know, the -- locator device only works for 30 days. We have got to find it.

BLITZER: So, it's pinging right now?

GOELZ: It is pinging right now, hopefully.

BLITZER: And it doesn't -- and it's not floating?

GOELZ: It is not floating. It's in the -- it's at the bottom of the sea.

BLITZER: Peter, thanks very much for coming in.

GOELZ: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Some conservatives are attacking President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, but one line of attack may be especially hard. Wait until you hear why in our "Strategy Session." That's coming up today.

And the president takes his wife on a date, and you might be footing much of the bill. Jack Cafferty is asking what you think about that.


BLITZER: Let's get right to out "Strategy Session."

Joining us, our CNN political contributor Donna Brazile -- she's a Democratic strategist -- and Republican strategist Trent Duffy, a former deputy press secretary for President Bush.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

E.J. Dionne -- Trent, let me start with you -- writes this in "The Washington Post" today. I assume you read his column.


BLITZER: "In 2004, so many on all sides just knew that cultural and moral issues were the wave of the future. But a funny thing happened on the road to the revival tent. The crash of the economy has concentrated the minds of Americans on other things. Moral conflict just isn't what it used to be."

He's writing in the context of this debate over Sonia Sotomayor.

DUFFY: Right. Exactly.

Well, I think what he's saying is that, sometimes, the economy and other things can get in the way of cultural issues. I think what President Obama has to be careful is, is not to start a culture war from the other side. I mean, what we have seen the judge say are some issues that President Obama was able to escape during the campaign, because he didn't have to talk about it.

Now he's being forced to talk about them. And I think the Republicans need to explore these issues and get -- and get...

BLITZER: Which -- like, which issues, for example, are you talking about?

DUFFY: Well, the -- the quotes about the Latina woman can make a better decision than a white man or somebody else, that's a legitimate quote that she said. And the White House felt compelled to dial that back over the weekend.

BLITZER: And she's going to have to do some explaining on that when she testifies.

DUFFY: That's exactly right.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, I hope she doesn't apologize, because I would never apologize for something that was said in the context where she was talking about her life experiences.

She wasn't saying that she's better or superior to anyone else. What she was saying was that her own set of unique experiences has prepared her for perhaps putting herself in the shoes of other people. It's -- it's nothing different than what Judge Alito said during his hearing before he became Justice Alito, when he talked about his own immigration past.

I'm sick of this apology tour...


BLITZER: Well, you're -- you're referring to Lindsey Graham, who yesterday said she should not only say she was wrong, but she should apologize for those comments.

BRAZILE: Absolutely. And it's nonsense, Wolf. I mean, there is no reason...

BLITZER: But the president himself has already said she should have phrased it better.


BRAZILE: Well, the president reserves the right to say that maybe she should have phrased it better.

But, if you read the entire speech, not the one sentence that some critics are taking out of context, but read the entire eight pages, you will get a better understand not just of the judge, but also about her own life experience.


BLITZER: I have read that whole speech. And Donna makes a fair point. What do you think?

DUFFY: No, absolutely. I mean, I think that is a fair point. And I don't know that she needs to apologize.

But, again, the White House and the president felt compelled to offer some qualifications as to those remarks. She's going to have explain them. What I'm kind of interested in is, she didn't feel the need to qualify her remarks, but, yet, the White House did. So, there's sort of a split developing. And she's going to get a chance to talk on this. And she will have to handle it very...

BRAZILE: There's also a split developing between the Republican senators and the critics of Justice Sotomayor...


BRAZILE: ... who, clearly, the -- the senators are not out there saying: Oh, she's a racist. Let's go ahead and brand her.

DUFFY: No, they're not. I think they're reacting very fairly.

BRAZILE: They understand that they must conduct a very careful and deliberate search of her record, so that they can put these questions before her. That's what the process is all about.

BLITZER: All right, let's...


DUFFY: I think that's right.

BLITZER: Let's look ahead to later in the week. The president heads to Saudi Arabia, will meet with the king. Then he goes to Egypt to deliver his promised major address before the Arab and Muslim world.

Here's what Mitt Romney said today about this upcoming trip.


MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: With all due respect, that I take issue with President Obama's recent tour of apology. It's not because America hasn't made mistakes -- we have -- but because America's mistakes are overwhelmed by what America has meant to the hopes and aspirations of people throughout the world.


BLITZER: A tour of apology, that's how he's -- he's framing the upcoming trip.

BRAZILE: Well, Mr. Romney is trying to beef up his own foreign policy credentials for the 2012 election season. So, let's put it in that context.

But let's talk about what President Obama's trying to do. He's trying to reset our relations with -- with the Muslim world at a very critical moment, not just in our war in -- in Afghanistan, but also what's going on in Pakistan and the situation with Iran and the nuclear missiles.

So, this is an important tour for the president, to go over there and to rebuild our alliances, because, after all, we need friends to take on al Qaeda.

DUFFY: No, I think that's right.

I think what Mr. Romney was also referring to was the president's first trip to Europe, when a lot of it was, you know, we're sorry for our sins.

But President Obama has not changed great direction from President George W. Bush in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in even Gitmo. I mean, the rebuke from the Senate, 90-10, that you cannot close Gitmo without a clear plan, that's exactly sort of the George W. Bush challenge that we had.

So, I don't think Mitt Romney was suggesting that Barack Obama was apologizing...


BLITZER: All right.


BRAZILE: A great nation should be able to admit its mistake...

DUFFY: And it's an important thing for him to do.

BRAZILE: ... without weakening the country.

BLITZER: It's a fine line he will be walking on Thursday.


DUFFY: That's right.

BLITZER: And we will be carrying that speech live, obviously, here on CNN.


BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

DUFFY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Former first lady Nancy Reagan reveals her advice for the current first lady, Michelle Obama. And she makes a surprising revelation about conversations with her late husband.

Plus: the heartbreak, along with the mystery. We're going to hear from relatives of the passengers who vanished along with their Air France plane.

And could a lightning strike have brought down Flight 447? Our severe weather expert, Chad Myers, is standing by.


BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker": Nancy Reagan is speaking out in a rare new interview.

The former first lady telling "Vanity Fair" that her advice to Michelle Obama when the two talked was to hold more state dinners. She also says President Obama missed an opportunity by not inviting her to the ceremony announcing the reversal of Bush policy on embryonic stem cell research.

And, on her late husband, she says that, sometimes, she sees him and talks to him.

Remember, for all the latest political news any time, you can always check out

Let's go back to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Didn't she catch a lot of hell for consulting a fortune teller?

BLITZER: An astrologer, I believe.

CAFFERTY: Astrologer.


CAFFERTY: Well, is that -- isn't that same thing?

BLITZER: No. It's different.

CAFFERTY: What's the difference?

BLITZER: I don't know the difference. I'm not an expert.


BLITZER: But I know one's a fortune teller; one's an astrologer.

CAFFERTY: But -- but she was the one that caught a lot of grief for consulting somebody besides the White House chief of staff, right?


CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: That's right.

CAFFERTY: Here's the question: Should taxpayers pick up the bill for Obama's date night in New York? A certain amount of hostility among the viewers out there today.

David writes: "This is the biggest load of garbage I've ever seen. Talk about straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel. The president can't just take off in his car, you know. It's called safety. Cafferty usually gets it right, but this is just so damn stupid, I think he's losing it."

Isabella writes: "No. Taxpayers should not pay the bill for the president's transportation to and from date night, just like they shouldn't pay when he flies off to a fund-raiser. Surprisingly, this does show a great deal of insensitivity on Obama's part. A lot of people would love to treat their spouses to date night, but, with the economy the way it is, most of us are focused on keeping a roof over our heads and food on the table."

Ethan writes: "After the U.S. taxpayers were forced to foot the bill for an entire war that now seems like a completely unnecessary waste of money, Obama's evening trip to New York City really does not seem that big a deal to me."

Ron in West Bend, Wisconsin: "Should the taxpayers pay for his date night? Hell no, not now. If he gets us out of this financial mess, then maybe, but not now."

John writes: "This is a loaded question. Did you address taxpayer money that goes to presidential vacations? Bush set a record for vacationing on the public dime. Isn't that also insensitive?"

Aggie writes: "Dine on our dime? I don't think so. Just another photo-op for the first family. They don't think twice about spending the taxpayer's money."

Larry inquires, "Did we tip, too?"

And Kelby in Houston writes: "It's a good thing you asked this question. I was going to start thinking about something important."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at Look for yours there, among hundreds of others.

They're -- some of them are a little testy today, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, sensitive.


BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Jack.

To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, breaking news: the search for a missing jumbo jet that simply vanished somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean with more than 200 people on board. Their friends and relatives around the world, they are now waiting for an answer to the mystery. What happened to Air France Flight 447?

Also, CNN's Special Investigation Unit revealing new information about the man accused of killing a doctor who performed one of the most controversial types of abortion, a killing some extremists are calling justified.

Plus, rising tension and growing concern North Korea may spark a nuclear arms race in Asia, threatening stability in the region and beyond.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.