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NTSB Live Press Conference; Kim Jung Un's Uncle Pushed Out?; Dylan Charged With "Inciting Hate"; Seth Rogen Should Thank Rob Ford?

Aired December 3, 2013 - 16:30   ET


EARL WEENER, NTSB BOARD MEMBER: Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us. It's been a very busy but quite productive day for our investigative team.

Today, investigators from the recorders group sat down with a Metro North official familiar with the accident route and this territory and reviewed the data from the cab car. From that meeting, we've determined the Metro North mechanical department performed a proper brake test prior to the accident train leaving the station, and there were no anomalies noted. In addition, the crew conducted what's called a running air brake test shortly after leaving the station and, again, no anomalies were noted.

We also looked at the data for each of the station stops along the route and saw no anomalies or degradation of the braking performance as the trip went along. Simply put, based on these data, there's no indication that the brake systems were not functioning properly.

Also today, investigators began a more detailed inspection to each of the railroad cars and a locomotive. These cars were moved late yesterday to secure rail yards, and investigators spent the day documenting and inspecting the mechanical systems. In addition, we're continuing to continue -- we're continuing signal testing and to date, no anomalies have been found. The operations group continued interviewing the members of the crew today, including the engineer whose interview is currently underway. In addition, they interviewed first responders to the accident scene.

As required by federal regulation, following the accident, each member of the crew was drug and alcohol tested. The results from the alcohol breath tests were all negative. The results of the other tests are still pending.

With regard to the engineer, he has worked for Metro North for 15 years and been an engineer for 10 of those years. This was his regularly scheduled route, making two round trips each day with a typical day lasting approximately nine hours. The engineer had been running this particular route full time since November 17th. This was the second day of a five-day work week. On the day of the accident, he reported to work at 5:04 a.m., was scheduled to leave at 5:54 a.m., and left on time.

Now, many of you have asked about whether or not positive train control would have prevented this accident. What I can say is that for more than 20 years, the NTSB has recommended the implementation of PTC technology. Broadly speaking, we know that human error can't be eradicated and that PTC is capable of supplementing the human operation. These systems provide a safety redundancy by slowing or stopping a train that's not being operated in accordance with signals, speed limits or other operating rules. PTC is proven technology that can prevent train-to-train collisions, overspeed derailments, and incursions into work zones.

Since this is a derailment involving a high-speed train, it's possible that PTC could have prevented it. While this is our last on-scene media briefing, our work on this investigation is far from complete. Investigators will continue interviewing the crew and employees of Metro North and will interview passengers on the train and additional first responders as necessary. They will also complete some testing of the signal system and documentation and inspection of the rail cars and the locomotives.

I'd like to express my sincere appreciation to all the responders and officials from state and local New York government. At every turn, they've made our jobs easier, and we really appreciate their support.

Finally, before I take some questions, I would like to set some ground rules. If you have a question, please raise your hand, and I'll call on you. I want to make sure that as many of you as possible have a chance to ask a question. I'd also ask that you identify yourself and your outlet. With that, I'd be happy to take a few questions. Yes?


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: I want to bring in John Goglia. He's a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board. So, no brake problems found. Are there any other mechanical issues that could have caused this?

JOHN GOGLIA, FORMER NTSB BOARD MEMBER: The only thing that's not mentioned so far is the link, the communications link from the cab at the front of the locomotive, the front of the train, to the locomotive. That is a rather remote possibility of it causing problems. But it needs to be checked out, and I'm sure they are going to do that as they do the detailed inspection of the cars and the locomotive. It's beginning to look more and more like operator had a problem, an error of some kind. Whether he dozed off or something else.

TAPPER: And in your experience, sir -- the sources have told CNN that the engineer says he was, quote, "in a daze." What does that imply to you? Fatigue? They made clear there they said he was on day two of a five-day shift. Which one would presumably means he wouldn't necessarily be fatigued. What do you take from what we've heard so far in terms of possible operator error?

GOGLIA: My initial reaction to hearing that daze off comment was that possibly he suffers from sleep apnea. And you get in a comfortable position in the cab and maybe it was nice and warm and he dozed off.

TAPPER: All right. John Goglia, thank you so much. We appreciate it. Nic Robertson, thank you as well. Coming up next on THE LEAD, he's often pictured standing next to the North Korean leader. But now Kim Jong-un's uncle is reportedly out of a job. And his buddies are dead.

Plus, a Paris prosecutor charges Bob Dylan with "inciting hatred" for something he said in a "Rolling Stone" article a year ago. What did he say that's getting him in trouble now? When we come back.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. In our World Lead, paging Dennis Rodman. The world needs you to check in with your friend Kim Jong-un and find out what's going on in North Korea.

Rumors are swirling, courtesy of South Korean lawmakers, that Kim Jong-un's uncle has been hurt. Two of his aides have been executed. The uncle is a well-known top adviser to the leader and vice chairman of North Korea's top military body. We should be clear that CNN has not independently verified any of this, and the State Department says it has no information to share.

And we're semi-serious about Rodman's diplomacy. He's going back to North Korea in a couple weeks to train his basketball team - with a documentary crew in tow, of course.

But when it comes to Kim Jong-un, what should we make of his ousting his uncle if it's true? Is it sign of an internal political power struggle of Kim Jong-un separating his reign from his father's?

I want to bring in Christopher Hill. He's a former ambassador and assistant secretary of State. He was also the lead U.S. delegate during the six party talks with North Korea from 2005 to 2009.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks so much. As we said, CNN has not verified this. How trustworthy is information coming from South Korea when it comes to this sort of thing?

CHRISTOPHER HILL, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, it varies. But I think with respect to this, I'd give it a greater probability of being true than some of the other stuff that comes out.

I mean, uh, Jang Song-thaek has not been seen now for a couple of months, maybe more when it comes to actually standing next to Kim Jong Un. And he -- he's a bit of an irascible fellow and has had his problems in the past. So this wouldn't be the first time that he's been purged.

TAPPER: Why do you think that Kim Jong Un would remove his uncle, and unfortunately with so -- as with so much about North Korea, it -- it's -- we have to theorize and speculate, because it's -- it's we don't know much about what's going on there.

But as somebody who has experience in the region, why would that happen?

Is it about separating himself from his father's reign, perhaps? HILL: Yes, I think that's -- that could be part of it. But it's clear that at the beginning of the Kim Jong Un rule, where he had Jang Song-thaek at his side the whole time, that it sort of opened up a question whether Kim Jong Un was really in charge.

And one thing we know about this boy king is that he very much wants to show he's in charge.

So it could be that he simply had a falling out with Jang Song-thaek as his father did at various times. And, uh, he is also always at pains to show he's a different kind of guy from his father.

And he's also the kind of guy who makes these kind of impetus decisions and certainly last spring, when he was threatening war on the rest of the planet, you didn't see much of Jang Song-thaek involved in that.

So I suspect that, you know, there are some substantive disagreements and he's -- he really wants to show North Koreans especially that he's in charge.

TAPPER: Well, that's interesting. If Jang Song-thaek, the uncle, was not visible during that very heated period in the spring, when Kim Jong Un was threatening the world, what are we to make of what role Jang Song-thaek, the uncle, who is believed to have been purged, played since he -- is he in any way -- I hate to hesitate to even use the term, but is he a moderating force at all?

HILL: Yes, good for you to hesitate to use that term, because I was about to say the same thing.

TAPPER: Right.

HILL: I mean there is -- there are indications that he was sort of more aware of market forces in economics than maybe Kim Jong Un was. There certainly has always been the view that Jang Song-thaek, you know, erred on the side of being more moderate than the rest of the leadership.

But that said, he's obviously a pretty hard-nosed guy who's been very much a part of that miserable leadership for many, many years.

So, you know, it is hard to say if he is -- if he is leaving the scene, what that really means. But I -- I have a feeling it doesn't mean anything good and could, in fact, mean that Kim Jong Un is very much on his own, along with some of these new military people that he has appointed himself.

TAPPER: And, of course, Mr. Ambassador, we can't have a conversation about North Korea without talking about the two Americans being held prisoner, Merrill Newman and Kenneth Bae.

Can you walk us through the difficulties of getting Americans released in countries such as North Korea, Cuba, Iran?

HILL: It's a -- it's a very painstaking process. And I think rule number one is not to talk about it too much in public, except to state the obvious, that they ought to be released immediately.

But I am sure -- I have no doubt that the U.S. government is doing what it can to get these people released. But the more they talk about it publicly, probably the more difficult it is.

I recall very well the Iranian situation where we had these three hikers who were caught for no apparent reason. And what these issues often descend to is the internal politics of the country in which they're being held captive. And so the more we say publicly, the more that could be used by whichever side.

So I think it's important to work quietly behind the scenes. And I suspect we're doing that. And I do hope the Chinese are stepping up in this regard.

TAPPER: Ambassador Christopher Hill, thank you so much.

HILL: Thank you.

TAPPER: When we come back, two weeks ago, he was receiving the highest honor in France. Today Bob Dylan is being sued in Paris for inciting hatred?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Now it's time for the Pop Culture Lead. As a young man, he was the Shakespeare of the protest movement who penned unflinching songs that forced a changing America to confront racial tensions and social injustice. During the 1963 march on Washington, when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I have a dream" speech, Bob Dylan was there leading thousands in songs.

So dust off your old man's records and listen to tunes like "Chimes of Freedom," "Poor Hattie Carol and the Hurricane" and then let this headline sink in, the French are charging, Bob Dylan with inciting hate. It all stems from a year-old interview Dylan gave to "Rolling Stone" in which he likens Croatians to Nazis, kind of, sort on.

Here's the quote that's causing the raucous. Quote, "If you have a slave master or clan in your blood, blacks can sense that. That stuff lingers to this day, like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood."

Let's get some perspective on this from CNN's senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin and editor of the "Wall Street Journal" entertainment blog, the "Speakeasy," Christopher John Farley.

Jeff, I'll start with you, it was the representative of the Croatian community in France that first cried foul, and the French government followed through. What does incitement of hatred even mean?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this is crazy, but I want to make the point that it's not 100% crazy. You know, we have a tradition in this country of the first amendment. We're virtually absolute freedom of speech. After World War II, France and a lot of other very civilized countries said, you know, out of Adolf Hitler, we're not going to allow hate speech anymore. We are going to outlaw it, and in Canada you can't deny the holocaust took place.

They have a different tradition than we do. Someone clearly overzealously decided that what Dylan said in this interview amounted to hate speech. It's not going to go anywhere. It's not going to -- he's not going to have to pay a fine. I think people should just understand where this comes from. It's not an act of pure insanity.

TAPPER: Well, and we see in Europe they don't have the same freedoms we do when it comes to a lot of things. France, I think Muslim girls can't wear hijabs, and in the U.K. they're going after the "Guardian" today, the House of Commons. Chris, what happened to Bob Dylan, is there any substance to this charge, you think?

CHRISTOPHER JOHN FARLEY, EDITOR, WSJ'S "SPEAKEASY" BLOG: Well, you know, I don't want to discount the pain that this group may be feeling or may or may not be feeling about what Bob Dylan said. But having interviewed Bob Dylan and spent some time with Bob Dylan and met Bob Dylan's son, Jacob, and spent time with him, I got to say flat-out, Bob Dylan is not a racist.

I can't believe I even have to say that, but we know this in a way that we know that Martin Luther King is not a racist, Nelson Mandela is not a racist. We know this from their work. This guy has a track record, "Lonesome Death," "In the Wind," "Hurricane," about standing for human freedom and human dignity.

It's threaded throughout the fabric of who he is as an artist. This whole thing just seems insane. I'm saying that with all due respect to whatever pain the people are bringing this charge are feeling.

TAPPER: Jeff, Dylan was in Paris to receive the Legion of Honor award when he was charged. The government is not trying to fine him. They're apparently just looking for an apology. If you were his legal adviser, would you tell him to give one?

TOOBIN: You know, Bob Dylan operates by his own rules. He is a truly great man. I don't think there is any dispute about that. He is a major cultural figure in American history and he has been on the right side of all these issues. It is possible that what he said was misinterpreted. I think it would be a good thing for him to explain what he meant.

But certainly the government should not be involved in punishing him, fining him in any way. It would be a good idea for him to talk about these issues. He has done nothing but bring positive attention to these sorts of issues so, apology probably not. He's not that straightforward a thinker or speaker, but he probably should maybe clarify what he said.

TAPPER: Chris, we always talk about the new Dylan and pop culture. Does anyone even approach Dylan when it comes to raising social consciousness?

FARLEY: Well, there's no new Dylan. Obviously the people that are direct descendants, some of the social conscience of U2 is directly from Dylan, of course. Bruce Springsteen, some of his social energy comes directly from Bob Dylan, the people that sound like Dylan like the Lumineers, Mumford & sons.

But I think when you hear a rapper like McLamor rap a song like "Same Love," which is all about same-sex marriage and unions and celebrating that, that comes directly from Bob Dylan. That's a kind of thing that he used to do in standing up for the little guy, disenfranchised, people on the margins. We do see that same string still flow through pop music. But, again, it's hard to find, but it was always hard to find.

TAPPER: Christopher John Farley and Jeffrey Toobin, thanks so much. Sorry I have to cut you off there.

Coming up, he tried to sell a script about a crack smoking mayor. No one was interested. That was before Rob Ford was all over our TVs. Why Seth Rogan should send a gift basket to the Toronto mayor, coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Finally from us in Pop Culture news, Seth Rogen and writing partner had a crazy idea for a movie a few years ago. A politician smokes crack and gets into zany trouble. The idea so whack, so edgy, so out there, Hollywood wouldn't touch it. What kind of politician smokes crack and finds himself in the middle of a hot mess?

Right, that guy. Rogen tells Canada's "Globe and Mail" the script has sold now after years of rejections. He believes Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's recent misadventures helped turned his old script into a hot commodity.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Mr. Blitzer.