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Passengers Cleared in Flight 370 Investigation; Search Moves Closer to Coast; Chile Quake Zone a Disaster Area; Campaign Donations

Aired April 2, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, investigators are narrowing their focus and searchers are shifting their search, once again, this time to the east as we near the end of day 26 in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Also right now, the death toll is rising after a powerful 8.2 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Chile. The quake triggered small tsunamis and landslides. And more than 2,500 homes suffered serious damage.

And right now, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down one of the limits on political donations. Supporters say, it's a victory for free speech. Critics say, it's another step on the road to ruination.

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Washington. There have been plenty of developments today in the case of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Malaysian's police inspector general says all 227 passengers have been cleared of any wrongdoing. The investigation looked at hijacking, sabotage, any personal or psychological problems that would have been in play.

Also today, the families of 18 of the passengers met with investigators and government officials in Kuala Lumpur. This meeting was supposed to clear the air and answers -- answer families' question in the investigation.

Meanwhile, this search zone moved a couple hundred miles closer to the Australian coast. The HMS Tireless, a British Royal Navy nuclear submarine, has joined the search. It's there to help search for any pings from the plane's black boxes.

Let's get more now on the investigation and what police say is the next step. For that, we turn to our Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson. He's in Kuala Lumpur.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, 170 reports taken by the police so far as part of this ongoing investigation, ongoing criminal investigation. But now, saying that all 227 passengers are cleared of the four aspects of the investigation the police are looking at. This, of course, not the mechanical investigation of what could have gone wrong with the aircraft. The issues of hijacking, sabotage, personal issue, psychological issue on board the aircraft, all 227 passengers now cleared. The focus does seem to be turning, as far as the police investigation of those aboard the aircraft, towards the crew. And we now hear as well from Malaysian Airlines, tightening up security procedures aboard the aircraft. They now say that their -- that the pilots cannot be left alone in the cockpit. But if one of -- but if either the captain or the first officer leaves the cockpit, another senior crew member must take their place. So, there must be two people inside the cockpit at any time.

The police have said this is a criminal investigation. Officials have said whoever steered the plane off course knew what they were doing, was very capable in flying this particular aircraft.

So, we can really begin to see how the police investigation focusing down on what's taken place in the cockpit. Malaysian Airlines themselves concerned about what goes on in the cockpit, if only one of the -- one of the pilots who's in that cockpit. Although no one is joining those dots together, it does seem to indicate which way this part of the investigation is going.

But all those passengers now cleared of any involvement. This should make the investigation a little easier, although the police chief saying still a long way to go yet -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson in Kuala Lumpur, thanks very much.

Let's bring in our panel to talk about today's dramatic developments. Mark Weiss is a CNN Aviation Analyst, former 777 pilot for American Airlines; Peter Goelz, is our CNN Aviation Analyst, former NTSB managing director; and Tom Fuentes is our CNN Law Enforcement Analyst, former assistant director of the FBI.

Tom, let me start with you. They say they have cleared all 227 passengers. So, what does that mean? They're just looking at the pilots, the crew members, who else are they looking at?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, that's what it means. But I don't know why, you know, they would clear the passengers, unless you've developed a really strong suspect from either the crew members in the plane, the other crew members, or the pilots or ground crew personnel. So, to clear the passengers, I'm not sure that you can investigate for three or four weeks and clear everybody when this investigation, you know, is going on in 14 different countries considering the background of all of the passengers, international passengers.

BLITZER: Yes, that's the only explanation I have. They've cleared the 227 passengers, Peter, because they are really honing in on someone or some others, some -- at least one individual or a few individuals right now. But they're not sharing all those details with us.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Right, they're zeroing in on the flight crew. That's where they are.

BLITZER: The pilot, the co-pilot? GOELZ: That's -- there's no indication that there's --

BLITZER: There is no indication, is that what you're saying?

GOELZ: Yes, there is no indication there's anyone else in there. And that's where they're zeroing in. And I think there's a foreshadowing of that over the last week from police spokespeople.

BLITZER: And the other foreshadowing of that, Mark, is that Malaysia Airlines now, all of a sudden, they have said, we've got new security protocols for anyone coming into the cockpit. There's not going to just be one person in the cockpit any longer. There's always going to be two people in that cockpit. The timing of that also suggests this the suspicion focusing in on either the pilot, the co-pilot or both of them or others who may have gotten in there.

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Yes, it certainly does. It certainly leads suspicion to the -- to the crew, but it also is a bit disturbing that it's so many years past 911, of course, Malaysia didn't suffer a 911 like the United States did, that it's now stepping up to what most countries in this world determine to be standard security procedures for a cockpit.

BLITZER: Yesterday, we were speculating, we were talking right here, wondering, are they going to move the search zone again? They moved it from the southern part of the Indian Ocean. They moved it north about 700 miles. And now they're moving it to the east, closer to Australia, another 200 or 250 miles. That does not -- I'll start with you, Tom, once again, instill a whole lot of confidence that these people know what they're doing right now.

WEISS: No, it doesn't. But as we said yesterday, we wouldn't be surprised. It happened today and we're not surprised.

BLITZER: You were -- we -- none of us are surprised. But, you know, the fact that they have now for a third time said, you know what? We didn't find anything in the south. We didn't find anything in the new location. So, we're moving the search to a new location. What does that say to you?

WEISS: It just -- it just reaffirms that the data is very soft that they're working on. And it means that they're trying everything they can to take one last shot before the 30-day clock runs out. And, you know, god love them. I hope -- I hope they had the right data. I hope it proves fruitful.

BLITZER: It's every other --

WEISS: But it's clearly desperation.

BLITZER: I -- and remember, this is really the fourth time they have changed the search area. Originally, it was in the South China Sea between Vietnam and Malaysia, that whole area that proved to be not an area that they really wanted to search. Then they went to the southern Indian Ocean, moved it up north and now back east. So, really, four major search areas. WEISS: Well, we don't even know, Wolf, really, what the altitude swings were. If there, in fact, were any altitude swings.

BLITZER: There have been a lot of reports it went up to 45,000, down to 12,000, 35,000.

WEISS: Right. I mean, and this all has to do now with fuel consumption and distance it would have traveled. There's so much we still don't know.

BLITZER: And presumably, I can only assume, and I'll ask you, Peter, you were involved in a lot of these investigations, they have information that they're not sharing, whether it's sensitive information that submarines may have collected, other information, Tom, from interrogations that they're not sharing, because this is now, as they say, a criminal investigation. Does that, by the way, rule out mechanical? If they say this is a criminal investigation?

FUENTES: Well, it could be a crime to tamper with the airplane and sabotage it. So, it could be both still.

BLITZER: You agree?

GOELZ: I do. But I think they're looking at the cockpit. And I think one thing with the new policy of not leaving a pilot alone in the cockpit, it may foreshadow something they picked up on the tower tapes and why the tower tapes have not been released.

BLITZER: And I'm glad the International Air Transport Association has now said they're going to have a review, complete review of international experts and come up with lessons learned, recommendations. They want this report out by December. This is a very significant development.

All right, guys, we're going to have much more on this coming up.

There are new details coming in, in the meantime, right now, about that massive earthquake in Chile. The 8.2 magnitude quake hit just off the country's northern coast last night and it triggered a tsunami and several small landslides. Six people are now confirmed dead. Three of the victims were crushed to death. Crews are out in force to assess the damage but it appears this powerful quake could have been much worse. It could have done a lot more damage.

Rolando Santos, the Senior Vice President of CNN Chile, has done just a tremendous job covering this disaster for us, is joining us now live from the capital of Santiago.

Rolando, so give us a sense, how destructive was this quake?

ROLANDO SANTOS, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, CNN CHILE: Well, given the magnitude of the quake, actually, not very destructive. And I'm not minimizing in any way the six people who lost their lives. By the way, of the six people, four of those lost their lives through heart attack. The other two as a result of the earthquake. But if you look at the damage in the region compared to when you and I talked during the quake four years ago here in Santiago, you don't see the wide scale kind of destruction where you have tall buildings burning overnight and all of that. A lot of that has to do with the region, Wolf. As you know, it's in the very northern region, desert country, not very many tall buildings. The biggest problem turns out to be the smaller buildings in the small towns between the two major cities because they're not as earthquake-proof.

BLITZER: Given the enormity, 8.1, on the -- a magnitude, 8.1, a lot of folks are saying, you know what? This really wasn't the big one that Chile had expected, others had expected. They're still waiting for what they call the big one. What are folks there saying?

SANTOS: Well, the big question is here, what is the big one? If you look at the history of the country, this country back in 1877, had an 8.3 earthquake, at that point. The biggest earthquake in the history of the United -- in the history of the world, actually, occurred here in Santiago in 1960 which was a 9.5. And 5,000 people died there.

So, what is the big one? You could argue that the 9.5 was. A lot of the scientists are saying that, basically, it has a lot to do with how far out in the ocean it happens, whether or not the energy has built up or dissipated. We've had 94 aftershocks. And people are saying, well, that's good because it's dissipating the energy. And some scientists are saying, no, that's not necessarily true.

So, I don't think anyone has a right answer about that. I think Mother Nature is going to do what Mother Nature does. And, quite frankly, and at the risk of being subjective about it, I've lived here for, you know, seven and a half, almost eight years, I think we escaped with very little damage, considering the magnitude of the earthquake.

BLITZER: 8.2 magnitude is a huge, huge earthquake. And I'm glad to hear that from you, Rolando. Thanks very much. Rolando Santos, reporting for us from Santiago.

Still to come, if investigators are correct, Flight 370 went down in one of the world's least explored oceans. An expert in underwater recovery joins us to explain the huge challenges ahead.

And a new United States Supreme Court ruling that equates money with free speech. We're taking a look at how all of this will affect political races, including the contest later this year.


BLITZER: A new Supreme Court decision today that will affect how money flows to political candidates. The court struck down current limits on the total amounts a person can give to various political campaigns. The House speaker, John Boehner, says the decision is a win for free speech.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: What I think this means (ph) is that freedom of speech is being upheld. You all have the freedom of to -- to write what you want to write. Donors ought to have the freedom to give what they want to give.


BLITZER: Wile Democratic Senator Charles Schumer had this to say, and I'm quoting. "This in itself is a small step, but another step on the road to ruination. It could lead to interpretations of the law that would result in the end of any fairness in the political system as we know it." So two very different assessments of this U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Joining us now are political commentators Kevin Madden and Maria Cardona are here, as well as our chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

Politically, this is a very, very significant rule.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. It's very significant in the sense that it allows a wealthy donor to kind of spread the wealth and to say, OK, if I like these 10 candidates, I can give the maximum amount to an unlimited number of candidates. I also think, quite frankly, that it helps political parties because you can give more money to political parties and that it may take some of the emphasis away from the super PACs that we heard so much about during the campaign. So if it's issues you care about, like Obamacare, maybe you'll give your money to a super PAC that wants to stop Obamacare. Otherwise, you may decide to give it to candidates and committees.

BLITZER: Because, Kevin, as you know, until today, and I want to be very precise, the limits in a political cycle that you could give to candidates, you could give $2,600 or whatever individual candidates, but the total would be $48,600.


BLITZER: The limit as far as political parties and political committees was $74,600. So that $48,600 number you throw away. You can give a million if you want.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Just find enough candidates you can give the maximum amount to. The $74,600, you throw that away. You can give a lot more money.

MADDEN: Right.

BLITZER: So in other words, rich people, they can really unload if they want.

BORGER: Spread it around.

MADDEN: And what happened was -

BORGER: Spread it around.

MADDEN: That those limits before, what they did was create an incentive for a lot of donors who had reached those limits to then go to outside groups. And as a result, the outside groups became more powerful.

What we saw today with this ruling was the pendulum swing back a little bit more towards the party committees, not only the federal parties but also the state parties, as well as individual campaigns, federal candidate campaigns. It didn't swing a lot, but it swung enough. I think that the outside groups are still going to remain relevant, but donors aren't going to have to rely on them as much now that they can go right to candidates.

BLITZER: So if you're a really rich person, Maria, and you love the Democratic Party, and I know you love the Democratic Party, you can give the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee unlimited sums of money now as a result of the United States Supreme Court. So you're thrilled by this decision, right?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, there's still -- there are still limits that you can give to the committee, but you can give to all committees and you can give to as many candidates.

I do think it's a bad trend for politics, Wolf, because it continues the notion that you can buy access. And, you know, the supporters of this law will say, this is great for free speech and the First Amendment. I don't think the First Amendment was made to essentially give the wealthiest donors the ability to buy as many candidates and committees as they want. And this is what's happening today.

But I will say this, and Gloria sort of mentioned this, and Kevin as well. What I think is good about this is that it does, I think, to the extent that it will give donors emphasis to give to the committees where there is accountability and where you know exactly who's giving the money, which I think is the big problem with what was happening with super PACs and all these shady groups. I think that is a good thing.

BORGER: You know, the Democrats, like Chuck Schumer, are portraying this as a complete disaster. And the Republicans are saying it's a huge win. I don't really think it's either one of those because, as you pointed out, Wolf, you have those individual limits to candidates that still remain in place. If those caps had been removed, then we're talking a different ball game here. But those caps still remain.

MADDEN: Right.

BLITZER: The specific caps. But you can spread your money around.




BORGER: So if you want -- if you have 25 candidates you like, go ahead, give to all of them.

CARDONA: But if - I think where this is really negative, though, is, I think in the public perception. The public already believes that their single vote doesn't count. And, you know, 99 percent of people don't make more than, you know, $80,000.

BLITZER: It's better to throw a lot more money into politics after Citizens United -

CARDONA: Sure. Absolutely.


BLITZER: After that decision.


MADDEN: I don't know if it's necessarily going to be a lot, but there will be more money in politics. And I think this just brings up the fundamental debate, which is, is there too much money in politics?

CARDONA: Yes. Absolutely.

MADDEN: I think if you consider the fact that, you know, cola companies spends $2 billion a year just marketing their product and we spend $2 billion a year on a presidential election, well, which one's more important? So I think that's a fundamental question that we still have to debate. I would argue that the political - that the direction of the country is important enough that there is that sort of investment.

BLITZER: Is it to early - and we need to go quickly around the table, Maria first --


BLITZER: Is it to early to see how this Supreme Court decision today, following four years ago, Citizens United, will impact the midterm elections this November?

CARDONA: I think it will actually hugely impact them. And as you said, as a Democrat, I hope that now these wealthy donors will focus their money, not on outside groups, but on the committees and on good candidates.

MADDEN: And I think you will - I'd agree in that it will have an impact. I don't think it's going to be huge impact. But the campaign committees are going to be very well-funded this year as a result.

BORGER: And, you know, they may actually have candidates, if they get a bunch of money from these donors, may actually have more control over their ads -

MADDEN: That's right. That's right.

BORGER: That are going to appear on television. MADDEN: That's right.

BORGER: Because you often hear them complain about these super PAC ads that come in -


BORGER: That have nothing to do with the message of their campaign.



BORGER: So if they have this money themselves, they can hone their campaign just the way they wanted to.

CARDONA: More accountability.

BLITZER: Citizens United (INAUDIBLE) said they could give unlimited sums to these super PACs. This decision today will remove and excuse that rich people have when politicians come to them and say, you know what, we need money. They won't have that excuse anymore.

CARDONA: Yes. It sort of - it sort of -

MADDEN: That is, if you are a big donor -

CARDONA: It sort of - it sort of levels the playing field for a very (INAUDIBLE).

BORGER: If you're a big donor, your phone is ringing.

MADDEN: Well, I would tell you, if you are a big donor right now, your e-mail is going to double and your mail solicitations are going to triple and your phone is going to ring (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: Obviously.


BORGER: And you're not answering your phone.

BLITZER: Because you won't be able to say, I'm maxed out. I'm sorry, I'm maxed.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Now you're not maxed out.

BORGER: Yes, I'm not maxed out.

CARDONA: But the day to day voter is going to say, my vote doesn't count, I'm not going to participate. And that's not a good thing.

MADDEN: Day to day voters (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: It's a major - it's a major decision by the Supreme Court.


BLITZER: We don't know the complete fallout. But it obviously opens the door to a lot more money getting involved in politics.


BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.

CARDONA: Thank you.

MADDEN: Thanks.

BLITZER: Just ahead, high-tech underwater equipment will soon be available to help find Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, but time could run out before they can use it. An expert in underwater search is standing by to join us live.


BLITZER: High-tech underwater equipment will arrive tomorrow in the search area off western Australia to help hunt for Flight 370. Today's designated search area has actually moved a few hundred miles closer to Australia. A top priority is trying to find the flight data recorder before the batteries die in its locater beacon. But before they can search the ocean bottom for the Boeing 777 and its black boxes, searchers first need to find some floating wreckage that can help pinpoint where to look. Arnold Carr has intimate knowledge of how these searches are done. He's president of American Underwater Search and Survey. His company is not involved in this search, but they have been part of many missions like it.

Arnold, these searches, they go through distinct stages. We're now 26 days into this incident. What stage are we at right now?

ARNOLD CARR, PRES. AMERICAN UNDERWATER SEARCH & SURVEY: You're really in the first stage of a three-stage event. The first stage being trying to find the debris in this case. Unfortunately, you don't have GPS information and good radar tracking information as to where it went down. But the debris is always a clue and a very important clue. And that's the stage we're in right now, stage one.

BLITZER: This new area, they've moved this search, as I say, a couple hundred miles to the east, closer to Australia. We're told it has an enormous -- what's described as an enormous underwater trench near this area that's actually deeper than the Grand Canyon and they're trying to find that pinger. They're trying to find that beeping coming from the so-called black box. They've got a pinger locater device that's on the way, should get there sometime tomorrow. What do you think? Is this really a doable process right now?

CARR: It's an extremely difficult process. The pinger is a great advance in technology, but it's limited, as you well know, and in time and range. And they really, when you get into this deep water, you really have to, in this case, fly that (INAUDIBLE) over the locater down low near the bottom to cover the bottom laterally. It's really difficult. The key, really, is to find where the plane went and tighten up the area of search.

BLITZER: And if you don't find any wreckage, though, how do you do that?

CARR: Well, it's a process of continued analysis. If they can really analyze the radar better and get better information from it, that's a key. And then the debris, hopefully the sooner you find the debris, the better because it's more accurate in hind casting and getting back to the most probable site of the crash.

BLITZER: Arnold Carr, thanks very much for joining us.

CARR: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Up next, we'll have more on the mystery of Flight 370, including a new search zone for the planes and the ships that are scouring the Indian Ocean. We'll also take a closer look at why they've actually moved the search zone closer to the Australian coast.

Plus, earthquakes rocking both North and South America. Are both continents overdue for what they call the big one? We're going to hear what the experts are predicting. Stay with us.