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Malaysian Officials Say They Have Cleared All Passengers of Any Role in Disappearance; 8.2-Magnitude Quake Rocks Chile; G.M. CEO Faces Congress on Faulty Switches; SCOTUS Removes Individual Donor Limits; Chinese Relatives Meet With Malaysian Officials; Family Believes Daughter Died Due to GM Safety Issues

Aired April 2, 2014 - 11:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Digging through the rubble after the massive 8.2 magnitude earthquake rattles the coast of Chile, six people are dead. That number could rise. Thousands evacuated.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Malaysian officials clear passengers of any role in hijacking or sabotage of flight 370, this as a top official there admits that investigation may never determine why that jetliner disappeared.

BERMAN: And is it a question of money before life? General Motors may have saved very little by not fixing an ignition problem that it knew about for years. At least 13 people may have paid with their lives.

Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman.

PEREIRA: And I'm Michaela Pereira.

It is 11:00 a.m. in the East, 8:00 a.m. out west, those stories and much more, right now, @ THIS HOUR.

We are getting confirmation out of Malaysia that all passengers have been cleared of any role in the disappearance of Flight 370.

BERMAN: That announcement coming just a short time ago from Malaysia's police inspector general.

He reveals that the criminal probe he has led has focused on four specific areas -- hijacking, sabotage, personal and psychological issues.

And, again, his investigators are now saying that all the passengers have been cleared.

We're also learning that the criminal investigation into the plane's disappearance started on March 16th. That's about eight days after the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing vanished with 239 people on board.

Of course, that criminal investigation, despite the fact that all the passengers have been cleared, is continuing.

PEREIRA: New developments, also, in the search for the wreckage. Authorities have again shifted that search zone. This time, they've moved it eastward, closer to the Australian coast.

Let's get more on the criminal investigation. Nic Robertson joins us from Kuala Lumpur.

Nic, we see the passengers have been cleared of any criminal involvement in the flight's disappearance. So what about suspicious of the crew? Where does that leave that?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, 12 crew members on board, including, of course, the captain and the first officer, and the investigation's continuing.

According to the director general of the police, he said that they had talked to the wife and daughter, at least, of the captain, he said.

Answering reporters' questions whether or not those two members of the captain's family had indicated that he was having -- suffering some sort of psychological issues, the police chief denied that, said that that wasn't the statements that they've had from those close family members.

But the investigation continues to focus on all members of the crew, all 12, but of course, it's the captain and the first officer who were most capable of flying the aircraft.

The police inspector general said that he'd taken 170 statements so far, but he made it very clear that there's a long way to go on this investigation, investigating things like the cargo, who loaded it; investigating things like who prepared the food on board, who was responsible for that, was there any tampering with the food; looking at ground crew, as well.

But we do know from officials, it is obviously, and they say someone on board the plane took control of the plane and was therefore taking it and this is what's leading to this criminal investigation, Michaela.

BERMAN: Yeah, the food aspect really caught my attention, seemed like they're really grasping for things there.

Nic, Malaysian authorities met today with families of the Chinese passengers. This has been a contentious relationship for weeks. How did it go today?

ROBERTSON: I would say it's a little less contentious. The families came out and said, OK, we've made some progress.

This was a briefing given by high-level officials. The head of civil aviation was there, for example. The families were shown data that's been discovered along the way, explained how the data is being used in the investigation, these sorts of things. They were told that the process was very complicated.

The families have complained they haven't been able to ask questions. Today, they were able to ask some questions. The head of the civil aviation said that the families have been -- the officials have been able to answer all those questions.

But the families came out afterwards and said, yes, progress, some questions answered, but not all.

Clearly, they need to know a lot more at this stage, John, Michaela.

BERMAN: All right, Nic Robertson, following the investigation for us in Kuala Lumpur, thanks very much.

We'll have more on the missing plane in a moment, but first, look at this, in Chile, sirens going off, the ground shaking, people running out of buildings, this as a huge 8.2-magnitude earthquake rattled the coastal city of Iquique.

PEREIRA: We know that it triggered landslides, fires and power outages. At this point, six people are dead. Thousands of people were forced to evacuate along the coastal line there. And as rescue efforts get under way, more bodies, we know, may be found in the rubble.

CNN Chile's senior vice president Rolando Santos is in Santiago, Chile. That's where it stands right now, Rolando. They know that there are six dead, but I anticipate -- they anticipate that the death toll could climb here.

ROLANDO SANTOS, CNN CHILE SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT: That's absolutely right, Michaela. The situation here right now is that the two main cities, which is Iquique and Arica, are fine in general.

There is damage, but most of the buildings in those areas, because they're bigger and more modern, have a lot of earthquake-proof buildings.

The problems that have occurred is that between those two cities are a series of small towns and villages, one-, two-story buildings that really don't have any kind of earthquake proofing, and so that's where the biggest concern is.

Two of those areas are already cut off and they're trying to get that. We will have more on that in a couple of hours when the teams are able to get into that region.

About an hour ago, the president of Chile arrived in the region, along with five of her ministers. We had a CNN Chile anchor on that plane with her.

Now, the anchor told me that the president was calm, outwardly calm at least, waiting to see what the situation was.

When she landed, one of the first people she met with was the daughter of one of the six people who died. They spent a private moment together. She hugged her, shared a few words.

She was visibly emotional, as you would expect under that kind of situation, and then she continued her tour to see what the situation was in the entire area. Also, this morning, the pope, Pope Francis, sent a letter to the archbishop, actually the cardinal, Ezzati, here, who is the archbishop of the diocese -- as you know, the pope, is from Argentina, our neighboring country here -- in which the pope said that he was profoundly saddened and praying for God to give eternal rest for those people who died. He also was asking for the loving protection of Nuestra Senora del Carmen, the patron saint of Chile.

PEREIRA: Rolando Santos, reporting on the latest conditions there in Chile, we will be watching and waiting to hear more information, as you say, as they get to some of those areas.

Folks that are watching at home, if you would like to help those that are affected by this recent earthquake, go to

@ THIS HOUR, senators on Capitol Hill with more tough questioning for General Motors CEO Mary Barra and a highway safety official, Barra, the CEO of G.M., asked to explain why her company dragged their feet for years replacing faulty ignition switches in some of their vehicles.

The problem would cut off the engine and deactivate the air bags, power steering and power brakes. More than 2.5 million vehicles have now been recalled, but it all comes too late for at least 13 people whose deaths are being blamed on the problem.

Senator Claire McCaskill called G.M. out for what she called a culture of cover-up.


SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: But even under the new G.M., the company waited nine months to take action after being confronted with specific evidence of this egregious violation of public trust.


BERMAN: This just in to CNN, the Supreme Court has removed ban on individual amounts donors can make to political campaigns, giving the nation's wealthy donors more freedom to influence elections.

The divided five-four ruling could have an immediate impact on congressional mid-terms in November.

I should say the distinction here is they did not change the limits that you can give to an individual campaign. What this ruling affects is the total amount you can give spread out over all campaigns. If you are very, very wealthy, you can give to a very large number of campaigns now with no limits.

President Obama leaves from Michigan this hour. He's set to make a pitch for raising the federal minimum wage, which is one of his top priorities. He wants it raised to $10.10. He has been pressing business owners to unilaterally raise their own wages if Congress does not act.

We do have some sad news that just crossed. The confirmed death toll in the Washington state mudslide has now risen. That number is now 29.

And, again, they are still searching, and that number could go up for sure, the conditions there simply not optimal.

PEREIRA: Not optimal, they say that the water and the floodwater has receded so they are able to get to some of the areas, but, again, some three stories of mud and debris they're having to get through in some areas.

BERMAN: All right, back to the search for Flight 370, 26 days now into that search and the search area shifted again, this time, slightly eastward.

Malaysia Airlines is stepping up security in the cockpit area, changing some of their rules, and all 227 passengers, as we just reported, Malaysian officials have ruled them out as suspects.

Overnight, several relatives of the plane's Chinese passengers met with Malaysian officials, demanding answers. Some are still clinging to hope.


STEVE WANG, MOTHER WAS ON FLIGHT 370: I have to say that it might be one percent or even less than one percent, but it was very little. But I think there is still hope.


PEREIRA: Steve Wang, there, a family member of one of the people that is on board -- that was on board that plane.

Joining us CNN aviation analyst and former Transportation Department inspector general Mary Schiavo and our friend, aviation analyst and Slate contributor Jeff Wise. Good to have you both here.

Mary, why don't we start with you? Let's talk about these new rules. Should we be reading into this? Do they feel that they have to be reactive to something specific to you?

SCHIAVO: Are you talking to me? I'm sorry. I didn't hear.

PEREIRA: Yes, Mary. I'm sorry.

SCHIAVO: Oh. Well, they are being reactive, and I think they are being reactive to the situation.

But the rules, the new rules, are good rules, and they are rules that the U.S. airlines has followed. Each has implemented their own variation of the rules/

But they were guidelines and they were suggestions and directives from the Federal Aviation Administration after September 11, 2001. They're common-sense rules, and they do add to security.

So, in some ways, Malaysian Air is playing catch-up with the other airlines that have these kind of rules in the cockpit already.

BERMAN: So, Jeff, one other thing we learned today that caught a lot of people's attention, Malaysian officials saying they are investigating everything on board that flight including now the food.

They say they have to investigate every little thing, but when they brought up the food, to me that sounded like they got nothing. They're just grasping now at this point.

JEFF WISE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: That's really what's characterized this incident from the beginning. There's just been no hard evidence of any kind in terms of motive, in terms of who's really behind this, why, where they went.

And, yes, I mean, I agree. Once you start looking at the cutlery or what color the clothes that people were wearing, it just -- they're grasping for straws. Any potential lead they'll turn over that rock to see what's under it.

PEREIRA: And part of the frustration, too, is that this would be things that you would think would have been looked at early on in the investigation.

Mary, you've been involved in countless investigations like this. Another piece of news that we talked about right here is the fact that Malaysian authorities ruled out all of the passengers.

Yet, they still are talking about it being a criminal investigation, so that, again, loops us around to territory we have looked at before and seems to point at the pilots, once again.

SCHIAVO: Well, once again, and I think that was what was behind -- you know, early on, we'd heard that on the flight -- or on the air traffic control transcript and the recordings that they said it was the co- pilot, which is perfectly normal. The pilot not flying usually handles the communications. And now this week, they said they're not sure who was speaking.

Again, if you're doing a criminal investigation, identifying the voices on the tapes as to who's in the cockpit is pretty basic, and you do that right away, and you do that by listening, having other people who know them and you know it.

So now it does seem like they pronounce it as a criminal -- it's a criminal investigation, probably because they just don't have anything else, but now, they are searching for whatever they can find to explain this. I just don't think they have anything.

BERMAN: But, Mary, on the one hand, they rule out all the passengers. They make a sweeping statement like that. Then they make the same sweeping statement that they think it's a criminal activity, likely in the cockpit.

It just seems to me they make these broad, sweeping statements, and they don't give us very much to back it up. SCHIAVO: Right. And that's a problem for investigations. Usually, you don't issue the conclusions. You can have daily briefings. You can tell the families of the passengers what's going on.

But it's really risky in any investigation to make a conclusion like that for two reasons. One, it can often be wrong. And, two, what happens when investigators make preliminary conclusions like them and announce them, there are several psychological effects that kick in, not the least of which is you try to make your evidence fit your conclusion.

And they might be having that problem right now. There's a number of things that you have to guard against in an investigation so that does not happen.

It seems like it may be happening. They are trying to make the facts fit the conclusion that it's a criminal act.

And it may very well be a criminal act, but there's just no evidence.

PEREIRA: Right, no evidence at all.

All right, Mary Schiavo and Jeff Wise, we're going to ask you to stand by because we have more questions coming your way.

In fact, some of our viewers, you've been great about tweeting us questions. If you would still like to get in on that action, you can tweet your questions to us, hash tag, 370Qs.

We're also on Facebook/AT THIS HOUR.

Ahead @ THIS HOUR, lessons learned from the missing airliner, why is it that we can't keep track of all of the airplanes on every flight, every one that's flying across the world's oceans?

We're going to ask our experts when we return.


BERMAN: In light of the mystery surrounding Malaysian Flight 370, decades old aviation technology is really being called into question. There are many suggestions from a lot of places out there about what they could do, from putting cameras in the cockpit to streaming flight data in real time.


TONY TYLER, CEO, INTL. AIR TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION: If 100,000 flights around the world every day, if they are all streaming all the data from all the way from pushback to on blocks at the destination, we may just end up swamped in an ocean of data.


PEREIRA: An ocean of data. Once again with us, CNN aviation analysts, Mary Schiavo and Jeff Wise. Jeff, Mr. Technology, let's start with you. Why can't we just track every plane in the sky? Is this just a question about dollars and cents the airlines would be forced to spend on all that technology?

WISE: Well, we could do it. We are already swamped in a sea of data. I mean we've got stream--

PEREIRA: But this would multiply it a lot.

WISE: Look, what we've got right now, we've got tiny, minuscule, microscopic amounts of data. We've got these seven pings and from that we've been able to more or less reconstruct a lot, not everything but a lot about where this plane went. Imagine just like that tiny amount, it's like a fraction of a period in your text message that you are sending. It wouldn't require that much. The technology exists. It's available. Don't forget the problem, though. There was a lot of technology tracking this airplane. It was turned off. That's a major difference.

BERMAN: Isn't there a little bit of irony here? We are calling for more and more tracking, more and more identification on the one hand. It seems to me all the press and P.R. and political debate over the last few months have been about privacy and hiding. I know you're talking about commercial airlines, that's something separate, but we're asking for something more intrusive here.

WISE: Well, absolutely. I mean I think it does sort of speak to the same issues. I know a lot of pilots don't want to be surveyed all the time and don't want cameras and microphones that are running 24-7, that's why the cockpit voice recorder is limited to two hours.

The question ultimately becomes, what problem will it solve? This -- people talk about using statistics to solve a case. Every case has to be involved on its own merits, on the clues that are unique to its particular situation. And this is a unique -- we have to never lose sight of the fact that nothing like this has ever happened before. We don't know what happened here.

BERMAN: Mary, I want to shift gears and quote Jeff, something he said during the break. He said it's fascinating how the expectations here in this search have changed. We've gone really from thinking that they're going to spot debris connected to Flight 370 to I think everyone being in a situation we would all be quite surprised at this point if one of those planes came back or a boat came back and we saw debris. It's just been too many days of nothing here.

So you have been through these investigations. When do you wind down? How do you wind down if you are just not having success?

SCHIAVO: Well, I think at some point, I mean I hate to be bearer of bad news, but at some point it will wind down. They'll keep it up through the time that the black box is supposed to end. And I think probably what will happen is the weather will start playing and wrecking havoc as well.

But at some point, they are going to have to call it off because it's just the intensity in keeping up the search and endless search. And at that point they will say, what will happen is they will say, we're regrouping. We are going to research what we have thus far. We are going to look at the data and see where we can go from here. And that probably will be the signal that they're going to sift through what they have and then maybe when the weather clears up again and it would mean stopping through the winter, they will start again like they did with Air France 447. I don't think that means all is lost.

PEREIRA: No but we should also point out this is a very expensive multinational proposition to conduct this search. The U.S. alone has pledged some $4 million. And that's just a drop in the bucket when you look at the larger cost of it all.

Mary Schiavo, Jeff Wise, will you stick around? Because we want to put some of those questions, they're coming in on Twitter. Don't forget, you can tweet your questions to our experts, #370Qs That's 3- 7-0-Q-S. Also on Facebook/@THISHOUR.

Short break here. Ahead @ THIS HOUR, a cost culture at General Motors, could it have cost customers their lives? We will speak with a mother who says her daughter would be alive today if GM had made a simple, timely fix.


PEREIRA: We're going to turn now to a story that has so many of us outraged. General Motors waiting years to fix a problem with the ignition switches on some of the models of their vehicles. At least 13 deaths have been blamed on the problem. Lawmakers accusing the company of saving anywhere from 57 cents to $2 per car by not fixing it. GM officials neither confirming nor denying that figure to CNN.

Even when the company did redesign the switches a few years ago, it still didn't meet GM's own standards.

BERMAN: And this has all been coming as lawmakers ask tough questions to GM's new CEO Mary Barra. She has blamed the company's cost culture prior to its 2009 bankruptcy. Joining us now, Renee Trautwein and her son Phil. They're with us here in the studio. Renee's daughter Sarah died in an accident in 2009 after she lost control of her 2005 Chevy Cobalt. And Renee, you do now believe she would be alive if not for this ignition switch?

RENEE TRAUTWEIN, DAUGHTER DIED IN GM CAR CRASH: Absolutely. It was confirmed last Friday that her air bags did not deploy and it was a front impact.

BERMAN: This happened years ago but it took until last week for you to come to this conclusion?

TRAUTWEIN: I'm ashamed to say. I have been weak through this. I haven't sat in the car, haven't read a report, but this story has been haunting me for two weeks. So I just told my children, maybe I'm crazy, but this story won't stop. I made one phone call to my brother, who did see the car. I asked him if the air bags had deployed. And he said he does not remember seeing them.

PEREIRA: First of all, you are not weak. You are very strong.

TRAUTWEIN: Thank you.

PEREIRA: That's not the order of things, you and I both know that. So talk to me. Has GM reached out to you? Have either of you heard from GM at all through any of this?

TRAUTWEIN: No, just meeting the other night with Mary Barra.

BERMAN: So talk to me about that meeting. Mary Barra, she apologized in front of Congress. I know she had the meeting that you were a part of.


BERMAN: Were you grateful to have that opportunity? Was she persuasive?

TRAUTWEIN: No. Scripted.

PEREIRA: There was no --

TRAUTWEIN: Of course, there was "I'm sorry," after every parent. "I'm sorry for your loss, I'm sorry for your loss, I'm sorry for your loss." Didn't feel any real warmth.

PEREIRA: What would you have wanted to hear from her?

TRAUTWEIN: I would have liked to see a mother's real tears. She's a mother, as we are. She didn't even use stuff to blot once. I didn't see any real emotion at all. I can't imagine that as a mother.

BERMAN: One of the things that GM has done that she did at that hearing in front of Congress, she is appointing Kenneth Feinburg now to deal presumably or at least look into the issue of possible compensation to families of people who may have been killed in similar situations to your daughter. What does that do for you?

TRAUTWEIN: Right now, that's not even a thought. Right now, we need to get these cars off the road. There is still 2.5 million. Mary Barra needs to cut with the cover-up, own up, get the cars off the road now before we lose some more lives, some more beautiful lives. And that's what I am here for. Anyone driving the car, take it right now, take the key, don't drive it. Do not drive it.

PEREIRA: Phil, you lost your sister, and I imagine that this whole process -- John, you mentioned, it was a few years ago but grief takes its own time, doesn't it? And we certainly process it differently. This has probably dragged it all up for you again, hasn't it, with the loss of your sister? I know it has for your mom. This -- you are having to relive it all over again.

PHIL TRAUTWEIN, ISSTER DIED IN GM CAR CRASH: Yes, she was my only sister, she was 3 1/2 years younger than me. We loved each other, like brother and sister does and they would. And for us, it's a new -- it's new now. Now we really don't know what was her last thoughts before she passed. Was she struggling. Like, for us, we thought she fell asleep. So we always had that comfort that she just went, that she just went peacefully.