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EARLY START

Plane Search Moves 684 Miles Northeast; Obama Travels to Saudi Arabia; Obamacare Cracks 6 Million Marks

Aired March 28, 2014 - 05:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight: the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 shifted, moved nearly 700 miles northeast from where investigators had been searching for days. New clues indicating the plane was flying much faster than previously thought and may have gone down sooner.

Now this morning, planes and ships searching for the vanished jetliner.

We have live team coverage on all the latest breaking developments.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Poppy Harlow.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Christine Romans. It is Friday, March 28th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

HARLOW: And we begin with major breaking news, a shift in the hunt for Malaysian Flight 370.

The search has moved to a new area of the Indian Ocean, 680 miles to the northeast, based on what Australian officials say is new, credible evidence. Aircraft and ships are now being deployed to the new search zone. Officials say new radar analysis suggested the plane was traveling faster than previous estimates, in the process burning more fuel and flying a shorter distance in the Indian Ocean.

Let's get straight to Andrew Stevens. He is live for us in Perth, Australia.

Andrew, the only positive part of this seems to be the fact that this new search area is pretty significantly closer to land, which means that those aircraft, the P-8, P-3, et cetera, will have more time over the search zone. Is that correct?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's correct, Poppy, and that is crucial, because the more time they get on, the more eyes they get on in this area, the better chance they have of actually finding something. At this stage, no satellite information at all. Satellites are being repositioned to look in this area, which is some 700 miles north of the earlier zone. There are aircraft there and there are ships on the way. This is an area the size of Poland. It's about 120,000 square miles, so it is still a very big chunk of ocean. But it has been quite an extraordinary day here.

The focus, as we all know now, has been so much on this far southern end of the southern corridor. We've had numerous satellite pictures showing some sort of objects on the surface of the sea. You know, descriptions have been like bright objects, solid objects, which could be associated with MH370.

Now, the Australians, when they released this information about this massive search change, they were asked about -- well, what does it mean, about all this debris, all that time spent looking in the wrong area, effectively? This is what they had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN YOUNG, AUSTRALIAN MARITIME SAFETY AUTHORITY: We have not seen any debris, and I would not wish to classify any of the satellite imagery as debris, nor would I want to classify any of the few visual sightings that we made as debris, and that's just not justifiable from what we have seen. So --

REPORTER: The search to date has been a waste of time, given that it's been focusing on that southwest area?

YOUNG: The search to date has been what we had at the time. And I might add, that's actually nothing usual for search-and-rescue operations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEVENS: Now, what he's saying was the search was based on the information they had at the time. Someone asked him, do you mean that that search down there was a complete waste of time? And he says, well, no, because we have to work on what we have at the time. As information continues to trickle out so slowly -- as we now know, this radar information, the Malaysians picked up that plane by radar. They didn't see it in real time, they told us weeks ago, but they did after Flight 370 went missing from the usual transponder information, they did pick up this image of an unidentified plane flying back across in the direction of the Indian Ocean.

That information, as far as we understand here, Poppy, that's the information which has now been reanalyzed, and the information coming back from that is the plane was flying faster, burning more fuel. Hence, it went into the sea short of that initial search target.

Heartbreaking, of course, for the families. They must be wondering, well, what can we trust? We've been told, the Australian prime minister was saying this is credible information 10 days ago. It turns out, that information wasn't credible. How credible is this new information? Only time can tell at this stage.

HARLOW: Yes. And just more agony and questions for all those left behind.

Thank you, Andrew. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: So, does this shift in the hunt for Flight 370 put the 21-day search and investigation back at square one?

CNN's Jim Clancy live in Kuala Lumpur.

And you know, they've moved the square, quite frankly. When you look at our screen, you look at our graphics, you can see 700 miles is where they've moved this search zone. So, does it feel as though investigators are at the beginning again, Jim?

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is that sense that we're going back to the original data. We are perhaps, perhaps -- we don't know this -- adding new data, new satellite handshake information, whatever, inputting that and then determining this is a better place to be looking.

But, you know, as Andrew was pointing out, and as you pointed out, Christine, this is really tough on the families. Right now we understand that they are getting a briefing from Malaysian Air officials, perhaps from Malaysian government officials as well at one of the hotels here -- excuse me, one of the hotels here.

And we understand from Sara Sidner, who's been covering those families, that some of them have begun to leave. These people are exhausted. Some of them are at the point of sickness, just because they have been trying to follow this story, trying to get the information they need, and it hasn't been forthcoming. After three weeks, some are giving up and going home.

But we're hoping to hear in a briefing coming up in about 30 minutes time, exactly what this new data means. How much faster was the plane going? Is there new radar imagery that is perhaps giving us a better indication of what happened aboard the aircraft? Because once again, this really opens up all of the options, once again -- a hijacking, a catastrophic mechanical failure, pilots taking it, diverting it off course, or perhaps, even a combination of issues inside the cockpit, which somehow, some way explain what happened to Flight 370.

Back to you, Christine.

ROMANS: And again, in about 24 minutes, we're expecting, Jim, to have that press conference. We didn't have one yesterday, but this has become sort of the rhythm, quite frankly, of the last 21 days, these 5:30 a.m. press conferences. It's evening time there.

So, we'll have you monitor that and we'll watch it as well. Thanks, Jim.

HARLOW: Well, the Flight 370 families have been told the flight crashed in the Indian Ocean, but 21 days into the search, there is still no tangible proof of it.

As we were just talking about, a meeting between Malaysia Airline officials and the families has just wrapped up in Beijing.

Let's go to our David McKenzie, live in Beijing.

What do we know from what happened at that meeting? You know, that's interesting that that happened right ahead of this expected press conference coming up in less than half an hour. So, you'd assume they want to brief the families first before holding that press conference.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, and these meetings also have been a rhythm of this process, and the interesting thing that's developed here is that the meeting was cut short because hundreds of family members stood up and walked out, leaving the rather unfortunate image of rows and rows of empty chairs with the Malaysian officials briefing nobody.

The family members, one at least, said that the people responsible for this will receive their, quote, "due punishment." You know, there's been a great deal of criticism of Malaysian Airlines and the Malaysian authorities. They say they're doing their bit.

But earlier today I spoke to Sarah Bajc, who is the partner of American Phil Wood, who was on that plane, and she says it was a real shock when she received the news that the plane went down via text message.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH BAJC, PARTNER OF PHIL WOOD: I don't know a better way to explain it but that I felt like I was just pushed, pushed over the edge of the cliff and I was falling. So, it was an extreme shock. And then to watch the press conference -- because I mean, to me, it was the message that it was over, that everybody was dead and all of this hope that I had been putting forward and all of the energy I've been pushing forward to be positive and hopeful had just been wasted, and it was done, you know? So, I think I crashed into a point of crisis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCKENZIE: Well, certainly, now it appears the families have banded together. They have leaders here in Beijing, and they're putting up a united front against the Malaysian Airlines and Malaysian authorities. So, certainly not giving an inch, as it were and they just demand answers, answers, it seems, that no one can give them -- Poppy and Christine.

HARLOW: David, I do wonder -- we'll learn more during that live press conference, but were you able to be in the room to hear what was said that caused so many of those family members to leave? Or you weren't allowed in and then they left and told you just how frustrated they were?

MCKENZIE: Well, the media is not allowed in now. They were shuffled out. But certainly, I was in there prior to the people leaving.

And it's mostly been a technical discussion, an explanation of what a black box is, an explanation of the latest search area and why they are doing it. So, they are at great pains to give information to the family members, and it appears this walkout was a predetermined decision by those family members.

HARLOW: OK. OK. Understood.

Thank you very much, David. We appreciate it and we'll get back to you soon.

ROMANS: All right, more on the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 throughout the morning and this new search area.

But first, President Obama just hours from what could prove to be a tense, difficult meeting. He is sitting down one on one with the leader of Saudi Arabia. We are live as the president heads from Rome to Riyadh.

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HARLOW: We're going to bring you much more on that search and the big development in the search for Flight 370 in just a moment.

First, though, President Obama wrapping up his week-long overseas trip today after his one-on-one with Pope Francis on Thursday. The president heads from Rome to Riyadh and meet with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah.

Our Michelle Kosinski is traveling with the president. She's been with him all week. He joins us live from Rome.

What can we expect from today's meeting? Do we have many details?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Not much has been discussed by the White House in terms of what exactly will be discussed, and it will be in private, and we also don't expect to hear a press conference afterward. There had been several along this trip. It almost feels like a world tour, because the president has met with so many world leaders, not only in Europe, but in Asia, and now, obviously, the Middle East.

But we're hoping the White House will provide a readout. We know Saudi Arabia has been such an important ally in that region, not always an easy relationship, especially as the U.S. role has changed in the region. The U.S. has drawn troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, striving for energy independence now.

And in other ways, like reaching out diplomatically to Iran, which Saudi Arabia doesn't agree with, and Saudi Arabia was also hoping to the U.S. would intervene militarily in Syria. That's been another big issue.

So, it's been talked about much, these sort of tensions that haven't exploded into the forefront or anything like that, but definitely have strained the relationship in some ways. It's been said, in fact, if you asked the two powers what the biggest, destabilizing concern in that region, the U.S. would likely say Iran, but Saudi Arabia might say the Muslim Brotherhood.

And, of course, America's relationship has changed with other nations in that region after the Arab Spring.

So, there's a lot of difference of opinion within the region also, and that's one reason why the U.S. isn't going to meet with a number of Gulf States at once, just Saudi Arabia on this trip. So, again, we'll have to see what is talked about and what the White House reveals later. Human rights also another issue that Saudi Arabia and the U.S. do not agree upon.

HARLOW: Let's discuss that, and as we do, I want to bring our viewers live coverage of the president's plane, Air Force One, there parked in Rome awaiting the president. It will shortly depart and land in Riyadh thereafter.

I also know, Michelle, you'll also be taking off shortly to go as well with the president. But let me ask you this, on the human rights front -- as you mentioned, Saudi Arabia the only place in the world where women are not allowed to drive, so you have that as a major difference between the United States and Saudi Arabia, also the issue of gay rights in the two countries.

KOSINSKI: Yes, and a couple of things have come up, just sort of in tandem with this trip, the fact that that protest goes on every year where a few women take to the streets and drive, and sometimes that video turns up on YouTube. I mean, it really is shocking sometimes in the U.S. when we're reminded that that is the case there and that continues. And this is one of our allies.

And we were just talking about that amongst ourselves. Sometimes it's funny when there are issues in a region that need to be dealt with right away, how we sometimes put human rights, and big ones like that, longstanding human rights differences kind of on the side bar.

Also, there's been a former Saudi Arabian diplomat in the U.S. who's been fighting for asylum here because he is gay. The State Department did a study recently to see if Saudi Arabian textbooks really did remove what some would consider to be hate speech or extremist content from those books, as the kingdom promised that it would, and it found a lot of that material still in there. There have just been a couple cases like that.

And I think most surprisingly, Saudi Arabia denied a visa to one journalist on this trip, the guy who happens to work for "The Jerusalem Post" and is Jewish.

Back to you guys.

HARLOW: Yes, those are big, overhanging issues in this meeting. We'll see what we hear from the White House, if there is a detailed readout or not following this private meeting between the two leaders.

Thank you, Michelle.

ROMANS: All right, back at home, big news on Obamacare. Enrollment figures have now cracked the 6 million mark. And just to give you a sense how important that is to the White House, the president himself broke the news in a phone call with volunteers.

Although the original target was 7 million, so this figure beats lowered expectations, expectations lowered after the disastrous rollout last fall. There's still time. Open enrollment ends Monday. And of course, after enrolling, people have to start paying their premiums. That's the other part of this, paying the premiums once enrolled.

HARLOW: Right.

Also, political junkies, hold on to your hats. News coming today, more Clinton White House documents on the way. The National Archives will release 2,500 pages at about 1:00 Eastern today.

The records are expected to include papers from the president's speech writer, and a domestic policy adviser, as well as documents regarding his farewell address. Some 8,000 pages have been released since February.

And Christine Romans has read every single one of them.

ROMANS: Have not, have not, but yes, we here at CNN will be poring over all of them, I'm sure.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie heads to Las Vegas today, where he's hoping to hit the jackpot with some of the GOP's top donors. The likely 2016 contender riding high after an investigation by his own attorneys cleared him of wrongdoing in the so-called bridge-gate scandal. They announced their findings on Thursday, but federal prosecutors, state lawmakers say it's not that easy. Their investigations, of course, are still ongoing.

A few notes from the report. The official who ordered those politically motivated closures on the George Washington Bridge says he told Christie about them at the time. Christie says he doesn't recall that.

And adding a little spice to the scandal, an alleged romance between two former top aides, Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Stepien, who both refused to turn over subpoenaed documents.

Today, Christie holds his first press conference since January.

HARLOW: And the confirmed death toll in the Washington landslide is 17, but apparently not for long. Authorities expect to announce a significant increase in that number later this morning. Right now, 90 people remain unaccounted, missing.

The University of Washington seismologists say there were actually two separate landslides last weekend several minutes apart there. They devastated a square mile, one whole square mile area. This is just north of Seattle.

ROMANS: All right, to the stock market now. Global stocks trading at this hour, they are up around the world. Asia is booking its best week since last spring, and that is despite signs that China's economy is slowing.

Here's why stocks are up. Investors are betting weak data from China means the government will intervene to stabilize growth.

Here in the U.S., it's another story. The Dow dropped three of four days this week. Futures are up a few points, so we'll watch that for the end of the week.

Two Dow stocks to watch, Wal-Mart and Visa. Wal-Mart's suing Visa for $5 billion, saying the credit card company was charging unfair swipe fees, and those are the fees that Wal-Mart pays to Visa when you shop on a debit or credit card. Walmart alleges it was forced to pass high costs on to consumers and lost business as a result. Watch those two.

HARLOW: Yes.

ROMANS: We've got futures not moving too much here, a little higher. But global markets are up right now.

HARLOW: Also, possible tornadoes touching down in the Midwest. Jennifer Gray tracking the severe weather and what you can expect. That is straight ahead.

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HARLOW: Welcome back.

We are following breaking news this morning in the search for Flight 370. Overnight, Australian officials announcing a major shift in that search to a different area of the Indian Ocean based on, quote, "new credible information." The new search zone is 680 miles northeast of where search operations had begun and been going for days. New radar analysis suggests the plane was traveling faster than previously thought, therefore, burning more fuel and shortening the possible distance it flew south into the Indian Ocean.

ROMANS: All right. They're cleaning up this morning in and around Trenton, Missouri. A powerful storm, possibly a tornado, sure bears those hallmarks, striking near that town.

Several homes were damaged or destroyed, but no one seriously injured. Crews are now working to restore power to residents and to businesses in the area.

HARLOW: Wow, devastating.

ROMANS: Could be straight-line winds, but boy, that looks ugly there.

HARLOW: Right.

ROMANS: No one was hurt. That's the good news.

HARLOW: That's amazing.

ROMANS: Well, Jennifer Gray is in for Indra Petersons today, has a look at your forecast. Powerful images.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Those are nasty pictures. We had eight or nine preliminary tornado reports yesterday in northern Missouri and southern Iowa, and we could see more severe weather today and tomorrow as this storm system continues to push to the East. Actually seeing rain anywhere from Upstate New York all the way down to the gulf coast, even seeing some snow at some of the higher elevations.

Severe weather possible again today, and the bull's eye is going to be on the gulf coast, anywhere from south Texas all the way to the Florida panhandle and up to northern Arkansas, possibility of severe weather.

We have that very warm gulf air colliding with that cold front. We could see the possibility of large hail, damaging winds, even an isolated tornado for the Gulf Coast today. It pushes to the east coast tomorrow. And as we track this storm system, you can see rain all along the coast, but then this low continues to push off, so we'll get a second wave.

And the rain just lingers Saturday into Sunday, all over the East Coast and to the Northeast. If there's any good news in all of this, it doesn't look like there's going to be very cold air behind it. Temperatures are going to stay pretty mild, but it's a trade-off, because we're going to get the rain for the weekend.

HARLOW: Lovely weekend ahead.

GRAY: Yes, exactly.

ROMANS: Thanks.

HARLOW: Lovely weekend ahead. Thank you, Jennifer. Appreciate it.

We have ore breaking news ahead for you this morning. A pretty dramatic shift in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. We're going to bring you a live update from the Malaysian government in just minutes.

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