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Mary Barra Grilled, Faces Senate Today; Flight 370 Investigation Deemed Criminal

Aired April 2, 2014 - 08:00   ET


KATE BOULDAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome back to NEW DAY, everyone. It is Wednesday, April 2nd, eight o'clock in the East.

We're going to begin with the mass evacuations underway right now in Chile after a devastating 8.2 magnitude earthquake hit late last night just off the country's northern coast.

There are reports of widespread damage and also tsunami waves of up to seven feet high crashing into coastal areas. At least six deaths are being blamed on the quake so far.

Let's get over to CNN's Rafael Romo who has been tracking all of the latest developments of this earthquake. What more are we learning at his hour, Rafael?

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, it was just about an hour ago that Chilean officials told us that about 900,000 people had to be evacuated, this as authorities were waiting for daylight to learn the extent of the damage caused by the earthquake.


ROMO (voice-over): Sirens blaring, people running into the streets as a powerful 8.2 magnitude earthquake hits off the coast of northern Chile causing landslides, power outages, and triggering tsunami watch and warnings.

Watch the moment of impact as the shelves in this pharmacy rattled, items crashing to the ground, the initial jolt sending shoppers and employees running for the door. The massive quake proving deadly and forcing officials to evacuate the nation's entire coast line. Tsunami waves approached according to Chile's interior minister.

The minister also saying about 300 prisoners escaped in the immediate aftermath of the quake, putting police on high alert. In a news conference Chile's president warning that officials would not know the full extent of damage until inspectors are able to assess during daylight hours, though initial reports show Chile might have dodged a major catastrophe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The key point here is that this magnitude 8.2 is not the large earthquake that we were expecting for this area. We're actually still expecting a potentially even larger earthquake.

(END VIDEO TAPE) ROMO (on-camera): In an update on those 300 inmates that escaped from a women prison, authorities telling us now that only 39 of them have escaped. Also, Chris, President Michelle Bachelet is traveling to the area, and overnight, she's dispatched the military and the national police to help people there. Back to you.

CUOMO: They're going to need all hands on deck to be sure. Rafael, thank you very much for that.

So the 8.2 magnitude earthquake that shook Chile overnight comes just five days after this 5.1 magnitude quake that rocked Los Angeles. That has a lot of people asking if there's a possible link between the seismic events, and could it suggest something about what could happen going forward? We put those questions to our meteorologist, Indra Petersons. Do you have answers?

INDRA PETERSONS, METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, I mean, the most important thing everyone needs to remember is these are two of the some of the most siesmologically active places in the world. But nonetheless, they lie on two completely separate plates. You can see the NAFTA (ph) plate right by South America, and just the completely different Pacific plate right by, look like California, of course, southern California being the most active region there.

What are we looking at? Well, we want to be looking at -- keep in mind how active it's already been in South America. Just there right in this region in Chile, they've already had five quakes over 5.0 in just the last month. So keep in mind, including a 7.0. The only thing they have common here is they're both here on this ring of fire, which is the seismologically active region in the world.

Let's go back. Let's talk about what we know about this quack. A very shallow quack, only depth about 12.5 miles. So keep in mind with that, as it was just close to the coast line. They still felt the shaking on land, in fact, a very shake on land.

And then came the concern, of course, since it was in the water with the tsunami. They did see wave heights up to almost seven feet. And remember, tsunamis, you talk almost like a bull's eye with that water expanding outward. So on the other side of this, now we're still seeing that energy cruising across the Pacific.

So right now we're still watching the tsunami waves progressing out towards even Hawaii. So right now, currently just a few hours away. That threat is still there, not as strong, but nonetheless we still have a tsunami advisory for the Hawaiian islands. That means the tsunami waves are expected. They are imminent. So definitely a situation not over with just yet. Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right, Indra. Thank you so much.

Let's turn now to the search for flight 370. Overnight, a stunning confirmation from Malaysia's police chief. He told reporters the search is a criminal investigation and also acknowledged that hijacking, sabotage and psychological issues have been the focus of their investigation for weeks. And new this morning, CNN has learned Malaysia Airlines has tightened cockpit security as another day of searching ends off the coast of Australia.

Let's get to Jim Clancy who is live in Kuala Lumpur for us yet again this morning. Jim?

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we didn't have a press briefing today on what the investigation may have produced, but the inspector general who's in charge of the probe did talk with reporters and tried to outline to them some of the things that they've been looking at, noting that it's been a criminal investigation since March the 16th.

He said, as you noted there, all of the passengers have been cleared of any involvement in the four areas that he says mattered, sabotage, terrorism, psychological problems, as well as personal or financial problems. There is a step forward perhaps.

He said it has been a thorough investigation. They're going every way possible. They even investigated -- there was a shipment of thousands of mangosteen fruit aboard that flight. He said he went to the people that picked it. They're checking everybody who packed it, put it a board the plane, even the people who were receiving it in Beijing and how much they were going to pay for it.

By way of illustrating how thorough, he said they were also checking on the people who prepared the food. He didn't say that they were specifically looking at food poisoning, though, as a possibility here.

The bottom line is, though, that he says they may never solve it, at least on their end on the ground as they try to look at motives, as they try to look at the people that might be involved.

They do need the information from the flight data recorders to unravel what happened inside the cockpit to that. And the prime minister, of course, of Malaysia is in Australia today thanking those people that have been working around the clock on the search teams trying to locate the plane.

Back to you, Kate.

CUOMO: All right, Jim. I'll take it.

You know the force, the pressure to come up with answers is pushing investigators to go down more roads. The question is, what should they disclose, what should they not.

For some more analysis on this we're gonna bring in aviation analysis, Mr. Miles O'Brien, science correspondent for PBS news hour, and Ms. Fran Townsend, CNN national security analyst, former Homeland Security advisor for President Bush.

Thanks to both of you. The -- the light criticism this morning coming from the mouth in the middle of my face has been that calling this a criminal investigation, saying that there's certain things they can't disclose does seem to suggest, especially to families, that more is known.

Fran, do you believe that that's the context for the statement at this point? Or are they just basically going on what is their process?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, you know, Chris, we've gotten so much bad information out of the Malaysians, we can debate whether that's intentional or not, right? But there's been so much bad information I think we're all rightly skeptical of what they're saying presumably.

So here in the United States, if they made that sort of a statement that there was a criminal investigation, you wouldn't say why, what your -- what the facts were behind that, but there would be facts. You could be confident that if the U.S. government said it's was a criminal investigation, there was a reason for that.

I think when you look at what their statement is, that it's a criminal investigation, they say they've cleared the passengers, right? They -- what's obviously missing is the pilots and the crew. They've cleared the passengers, and we know about this release of this -- this policy about not leaving anyone alone in the cockpit. We know that.

When you take those things together, what you're -- what you can surmise from that -- but that's what it is, it it's surmise -- that there might -- there must be some sort of information in the investigation that's led them to have criminal concerns over pilots or crew.

CUOMO: Or they're just pretending to be productive because there's so much pressure on them.

Miles, let me come to you about this. One thing I've never heard is someone who's investigating something of a criminal nature say we may never know what happened here. I don't think I've ever heard an investigator say that. It's always about when they'll figure things out.

Do you think this is a situation where, unless it has to do with third parties, something that you can discover that isn't on board that plane itself, you will not know anything until you find the recording devices and evidence of debris. Fair point?

MILES O'BRIEN, AVIATION ANALYST: I think that's a fair point. And we probably should give the Malaysians at least a little bit of credit for a brief moment of candor when they said that. We don't get a lot of candor from them. And to this point of do they know more? I certainly hope they know more than what we've seen on the outside of this investigation. They haven't shared very much with us, have they?

CUOMO: No. And the question is why. And again, you know, we have David Soucie as one of our experts in the rotation here. And he says, well, you know, if it's a criminal investigation, you don't reveal it. Everybody respects that. We've all dealt with it as journalists and security experts. Fran's been on the side of not revealing the information. So we all know that that is proper because you don't want to spoil anything going forward. But the question then becomes, is that really what's going on here? I mean, -- and one of the reasons I ask, Fran, is this. You worked on the government side. People like to brag about what they know, especially when they're in multi-national situations, OK?

We've heard nothing from any terrorist organizations. All they like to do is talk trash about what they were able to pull off. No sovereigns are stepping up and saying, "We know more. We know more." That's unusual. We have the FBI who's looked into the passenger manifest. They say they see no flags. They've looked into the pilots. They say, "We have nothing." That has to mean something.

TOWNSEND: It does. But I do think because you've seen -- you know, early on, there was misinformation released. There was conflicting information from other governments. It seems like, at least what we would have done when I was in government, is you would have tacked this down. You would have told everybody, "Look, nothing good is going to coming out of leaks of information, the misinformation."

And I also think what you find is because of kind of how this has unfolded, the governments are reluctant to share their most sensitive information with each other. And the only thing that suffers then is the overall progress of the investigation.

CUOMO: That is a very important point. I have Diego Garcia on the brain. Anybody who watches the show knows that.

The only reason, Miles -- you know, I'll start with you on this -- is that if you look back, there's been so much talk about why Diego Garcia needs the resources that it gets, you know, how it's our big outpost in the area, started as a logistics base, but now has tremendous surveillance capabilities.

And this plane, if you understand the assumptions and believe the assumptions, basically did like a fly-by over Diego Garcia, and they didn't see it. We had a military man come on, Michael Kay, and he says, well, it's only pointing up; it's not really looking for this kind of radar thing. Is that a fair explanation of how it missed, to dismiss the intrigue of just not giving out word of what the U.S. may have detected?

O'BRIEN: Yeah, there -- there is -- there are a lot of reasons they may not have seen it, and there's probably a reasonable theory that they did and they're not sharing that. Again, you get into this whole area of explaining to the world where your weaknesses might be, where your strengths might be when it comes to military defenses. Couple that with the natural suspicions that these nations have for each other in the region, and then underneath all of that, an apparent lack of expertise and credibility to the investigation, and what you have is a big mess.

CUOMO: It does seem a little suspicious though that you have people offering assets. The U.S. has had some of its planes out there, had one ship, took it back, has given them the pinger locator.

But there's not a lot of manpower put in this. And again, it's just the idea of what we're calling a blind corridor. If this plane goes past India, which is totally paranoid about what's happening with Pakistan (ph) and many would argue with good reason. They see nothing. It goes past Indonesia. You know, you have the Banda Aceh outpost right there. It goes right down there, nothing, nothing. Diego Garcia, nothing. And it just seems odd in this age of technological surveillance that we know everything about everybody, and yet this huge steel jumbo jet goes by, and nobody saw anything.

TOWNSDEND: Yeah, it's very odd, Chris. And like Miles, I'm suspicious that it may be that governments who may have information are not making it public.

And that would be -- look, when I was in government, as you point out, we wouldn't have revealed all that we knew until we could make sense of it. What you do, is you make the information that you've got public once you have resolved the questions you have related to it and you've done a complete investigation. And so, I think we have to try and withhold some judgment because it may be that they've not yet revealed all that they know.

CUOMO: And I'll tell you, Miles and Fran, I did have a source who works on the defense side who said to me, if the U.S. had definitive information that they had tracked this, they'd want it out there. Because they'd want bad guys to know, don't think you'll be able to get something past us. We saw where it is. We don't know it, but we know it. They'd want to brag on that information.

But anyway, look, the questions have to be asked because it's not about speculation, it's about testing the understanding of the situation. And this one doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense right now, certainly as a criminal investigation.

Miles O'Brien, thank you very much. Fran, appreciate it, especially you because you're a double agent. Because you were on the other side of the people who might not have been telling us what was going on.

Always good to have you. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, more on the search for flight 370. Search teams shift their focus closer to the coast. Our expert will be walking us through the tactics and the continued challenges for searching for this wreckage in the water.

Also ahead, the investigation intensifies into those deadly G.M. ignition switches. Today, it's round two as G.M.'s CEO faces Congress again. What we're expected to learn straight ahead.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

In Washington today, round two of testimony for General Motors CEO Mary Barra who took a bit of grilling from both sides of the aisle Tuesday in the House side, apologizing for G.M.'s decades-long delay in addressing faulty ignition switches; 2.6 million vehicles have now been recalled because of it. And 13 lives, the company says, have been lost.

CNN's Poppy Harlow is on Capitol Hill with much more. So round one yesterday. What are we expecting today in the Senate today, Poppy?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, another tough round of questions as she faces the Senate panel. You know, less than three months into her job as CEO of General Motors, Mary Barra is facing her toughest fight yet. But, you know, apologies -- and we're investigating, many families say that is not enough.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Had the airbag support (ph), she would have been alive today.

HARLOW (voice-over): Families in pain demanding answers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I close my eyes and think about how he died, and it's not fair.

HARLOW: Like Sherry Sharkey (ph) who blames a faulty General Motors ignition switch for the death of her 21-year-old son Michael in 2012 when his Chevy Cobalt veered into a rock wall.

G.M. admits 13 deaths and 31 accidents are related to the defective switch, which can turn off when bumped cutting off the airbags, brakes, and power steering.

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN, (R ), TN: Who knew what when? And Ms. Barra, that includes you.

HARLOW: Lawmakers grilling G.M. CEO Mary Barra following a recall of 2.6 million vehicles tied to the problem.

MARY BARRA, CEO, GENERAL MOTORS: As soon as I learned about the problem, we acted without hesitation.

HARLOW: G.M. now admits it knew about the defect as early as 2004. Barra testified she doesn't know why it took a decade to recall the cars, but vowed to find out. But her answers often lacked detail.

BARRA: We are doing an investigation that spans (inaudible). And that's part of the investigation.

HARLOW: Lawmakers pushed back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What you answered is gobbledygook. It's your own specification.

HARLOW: A House report finds one possible reason G.M. chose not to act sooner was, according to G.M. documents, quote, "tooling costs and piece price are too high."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you believe from what you know now that the financial state of G.M. back then was a contributing factor? BARRA: We've hired Anton Valukas to do a complete investigation. We'll learn from that. We are definitely moving to a culture that is focused on the consumer.

HARLOW: Before testifying, Barra personally apologized to those who lost loved ones in crashes involving recalled cars.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm fighting for my family, and I'm fighting for my son.


HARLOW (on-camera): Now the head of NHTSA, which is the agency tasked with protecting drivers, regulating car safety, is also on the hot seat. They're testifying in these hearings. The question is are they culpable? Did that agency drop the ball and not thoroughly investigate General Motors over this decade-long period?

And also Chris and Kate, what I think is very important is will General Motors accept liability? Because the company went bankrupt in 2009, they actually technically don't have to accept any financial or sort of civil liability for anything that happened in the old G.M. pre-2009. Whether they will or not is a key question that she was asked yesterday, the head of G.M., and she would be asked, I would bet, again today because that has to do with victim compensation in all of this. And I think that's a big part of this.

BOLDUAN: She seemed to open the door to the possibility.

HARLOW: She did.

BOLDUAN: But definitely didn't commit to it. So that will continue to be the question, and an important question obviously for families.

Poppy, thanks so much.


CUOMO: It may be done for her. If federal prosecutors are looking into this find that how they did this broke a law, then bankruptcy is no longer a protection.

BOLDUAN: Then it's not civil.

CUOMO: That's right.

All right, so let's take a break here on NEW DAY. When we come back, search teams are looking for flight 370. Right now, they're shifting focus closer to the coast. Why? Is it going to make their chances any better? Could it even make them worse? One of the men who searched for Air France 447 is going to show us what they're up against.


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Here we go with the five things you need to know for your new day.

At number one, devastation in Chile. A deadly 8.2 magnitude earthquake triggering landslides and fires. Six are dead. Hundreds of thousands forced to evacuate along the coast line.

Malaysian police say the search for flight 370 is now classified a criminal investigation. Malaysian officials met with passenger families today. The airline has stepped up cockpit security in the wake of this ongoing mystery.

More testimony on Capitol Hill from General Motors CEO Mary Barra who apologized Tuesday for G.M.'s ten-year delay in addressing faulty ignition switches that are linked to 13 deaths.

Twenty-eight people have been declared dead in the mudslide in Washington State; 20 other people remain missing. Officials say receding flood waters are now aiding in the search.

President Obama returns to one of his top economic priorities today, raising the minimum wage. In a speech at the University of Michigan, he'll renew his call to Congress for an increase to $10.10 an hour.

We always update those five things to know, so be sure to go to new day dot -- for the very latest.


BOLDUAN: Gets me every time. Thanks, Michaela.

This morning the search area for flight 370 has shifted further to the northeast to a new area that had not yet been searched. They're calling it an adjoining search area. Officials are now looking closer to the coast of Australia after saying few objects were sighted in the other area's search.

Scientists had to deal with similar problems when it came to the nearly two-year search for Air France's flight 447, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009 and was finally recovered back in 2011.

Let's discuss this search effort with Dave Gallo, the director of Special Projects at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He was the co-leader for the search for Air France flight 447.

Dave, great to see you.

DAVE GALLO, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution: Hi, Kate, nice to see you.

BOLDUAN: So the search -- how you go about the search I think is one of the most important things when you're dealing with -- the missing plane like this.

GALLO: Sure.

BOLDUAN: From the air and from below the surface as well. Let's walk through this a little bit. So the search area is in red. The way they've described it is from the air it's called mowing the lawn.

GALLO: Right.

BOLDUAN: And you can kind of see how it's working the grid. How does this all fit together? Why is that an effective strategy from the air? And how does that fit then with the search under the surface?

GALLO: You don't want to miss anything. That's the most important thing. So the last thing you want to do is be in a place, look there, and say there's nothing there and have it really be there.

And the best way to do that is not to -- like, when you -- when you lose your keys at home or a television remote, you start lifting up pillows on the couch, and that's not the way to do when you're at sea. Everything is moving always. So it's got to be very organized, especially when you have multiple ships and airplanes out there.

BOLDUAN: And when you -- especially when you say these objects are moving all the time.

GALLO: Always. Always.

BOLDUAN: It does make me wonder, once one area, one grid is combed over from the air and also if you're looking under the surface as well, do you rule it out? Do you just move on?

GALLO: Well, I think in some cases they say we don't see anything here, let's move on, but you have to know which way the packets of water are moving.

BOLDUAN: Correct me if I'm wrong, they searched some areas twice in the Air France investigation?

GALLO: Yes, very true, on the surface and underwater. In fact, when we moved to the underwater search for Air France 447, we looked at every spot on the sea floor at least twice just to be sure that there was nothing there.

BOLDUAN: The key there they were dealing with a much smaller area than we're talking about now.


BOLDUAN: And let's talk about, as we said, these parts, this debris is moving at all times. Let's bring up our next animation. You see the current there. Those yellow dots are just an example, a representation of how debris could move. This is a huge challenge. How do you account for this?

GALLO: Well, it's a complicated area. You know, if you move further south, it's just crazy with wind and weather, the roaring 40s and further down even more crazy. This is a little bit more -- less intense, but still in a way it's -- it's about -- fairly stormy, about as predictable as any weather. So it's a little bit better here than further south but still complicated.

BOLDUAN: Is it simply math? Is it simply knowing the currents, where you would expect debris to move? And how do you --

GALLO: It's part of oceanography. You know, it's part of the people that are dedicated to studying the wind, the waves, how they interact and currents, and tides, and all of that.

It's complicated. It's heavy math, but we're getting better and better at it.

BOLDUAN: And the U.K. has now announced that they're -- they've moved one of their submarines into the area. Many countries pride themselves on keeping the movements of their submarines very secret.

GALLO: Sure.

BOLDUAN: So we can't assume that that's the only submarine that's in the area. Is that the direction you think the search needs to move, moving those kinds of assets in?