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EARLY START

Mystery of Flight 370: Black Box Search; Pistorius Details Fights; Crisis in Ukraine: Will Russia Invade?

Aired April 8, 2014 - 04:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning: the search for missing Malaysia Flight 370 intensifies one day after investigators detected signals possibly coming from the vanished jetliner's black boxes. Now, the water has now gone silent. Did the black box batteries die? Has time run out to find this wreckage?

We have live team coverage on the very latest this morning.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good to see you this morning. I'm John Berman. Thirty-one minutes past the hour.

And it was called the best chance of finding missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, but overnight, word came from Australia, there have been no new sounds heard under water that could possibly be from the plane's black boxes. It was just yesterday that officials said they were optimistic. They picked up those two noises. U.S. equipment did, on a ship called the Ocean Shield.

They were hoping these sounds might point them to the jet, but we're now 32 days -- it's been 32 days after that plane went missing, and it does appear that time might be running out. Crews today are narrowing their search with more than a dozen planes, 14 ships scouring an area of roughly the size of South Carolina, but still no new pings heard.

Erin McLaughlin live in Perth with the latest.

Good morning, Erin.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.

That's right, they have so far not been able to find any debris associated with this missing plane, nor have they been able to reacquire those audio signals, but there has been absolutely no letup in this search. Today, Australia's defense minister, David Johnston, briefing reporters about the day's operations.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DAVID JOHNSTON, AUSTRALIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: We have a positive lead. Today, we have 14 ships and 14 aircraft over those sites, flat out trying to enhance that lead and to deliver up something more tangible. But again, of course, as you've heard me say in the past, this is an herculean task, it's over a very, very wide area, the water is extremely deep. This is day 32.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCLAUGHLIN: Right now, all eyes on the Australian vessel, the Ocean Shield, still out there combing the waters in a ladder-like formation, trying to reacquire that signal, and it's absolutely critical to their search operation. They say right now they need to be able to narrow down a potential search field, and they need a third acoustic event in order to be able to do that.

So, time really running out. We are at the 32-day mark. The batteries on those black boxes expected to expire in some 30 days. But officials say they are going to continue searching. The Ocean Shield will continue to use that American-provided towed ping locator in an effort to pick up a signal until they are certain there is no possibility that that black box pinger is still working -- John.

BERMAN: Erin, I understand they want other vessels to steer clear right now of the Ocean Shield to give this ship some space. Why is that?

MCLAUGHLIN: That's right. Those 14 other vessels that they have out there, they're searching the waters for debris, chasing up leads that may be called in by the 14 aircraft overhead, but they want them to stay away from the Ocean Shield.

They want quiet waters. They don't want anything to interfere, to possibly give them false signals. And this is a very delicate operation. This is some 2.8 miles deep, the waters that the Ocean Shield is combing through right now, and they want absolute silence to be able to reacquire this signal -- John.

BERMAN: There are reports that some of the other ships were hearing each other and that's what they want to avoid. Erin McLaughlin for us in Perth -- thank you so much, Erin.

MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Now to Kuala Lumpur, where Malaysia Airlines is stepping up security on its jets, even though there is no sign yet of terrorism behind the disappearance of Flight 370. That has some crew members upset, insisting, look, they did nothing wrong here.

Nic Robertson live in Kuala Lumpur for us this morning. Nic, what are they saying? First, how is the airline changing procedures inside the aircraft? And what are the airline workers saying about it?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, what the airline has done is told now that whenever a pilot leaves the cockpit, that somebody of the air crew on board has to take his place inside the cabin. And also, they need to do sort of blocking procedures, if one of the pilots is leaving the cockpit to go to the bathroom or whatever. They're saying, the crew members are saying that they haven't been trained for this sort of security procedure, that they are trained to help people get off the aircraft in the case of an emergency.

But really, what they're saying is they've been put in the front line of security, they don't have the training, they haven't been consulted on this, and they believe that air marshals should be doing this sort of job that the airline really isn't handling this properly. We've also heard other criticism, and this is coming from family members of air crew who were aboard Flight 370.

And what they are telling us is that they are not getting properly briefed, they're not getting a lot of help from Malaysian Airlines. Indeed, they say Malaysian Airlines is telling them very little apart from that they must stay away from the government briefings that the government is giving to family members of passengers. So, you have this issue here now, a sense of anger building against Malaysian Airlines, and some of it coming from the families of air crew who are missing aboard that flight. They're not getting the help from this airline they were hoping to get, Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Nic Robertson for us in a very rainy Kuala Lumpur this morning.

BERMAN: Nic in the midst of a torrential downpour there.

ROMANS: Yes.

BERMAN: So, the families from Flight 370, the optimism of the last few days is being tempered by the reality that today there have been no pings detected in the ocean. They still, some of them are holding out hope that their loved ones are just missing and simply lost, but it's been more than a month now.

Our Pauline Chiou has been covering every angle of the families for that entire month.

And, Pauline, I understand you've detected something of a change amongst some of the family members over the last few days.

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I have. I sense a change of tone in terms of their anger and their criticism towards the Malaysian government and the searches, the search, at least from early on, because you might remember, early on there was a lot of anger about the delays and contradictions, and we saw that big protest by the families here in front of the Malaysian embassy here in Beijing, which was highly unusual. You don't usually see that kind of protest here in the capital city.

But over the past week or so, I've seen a little bit of a change, and part of it is that the relatives are exhausted, they're tired and they're frustrated, and they need a break.

But another interesting aspect to this is that we have seen government officials from Beijing meet with the family members behind closed doors, and these are meetings that are not open to the media. The family members anecdotally are telling us that the government is kind of heavily nudging them to dial back the criticism and to step back a little bit in terms of showing anger publicly.

And after one of these meetings, I did speak with a relative, and I asked him, what are you going to do next? And he said, listen, we're individuals. We've been doing this for weeks. We've been speaking out.

But now, we're tired. We think maybe it's better for our government to speak for us, government to government, meaning China and Malaysia.

So, that was an interesting turn, I thought, with the government, you know, their hand sort of silently working into this situation here, John.

BERMAN: It is really interesting, Pauline. Now, they've had their lives on hold for a month, a month and a day at this point. Have they given you any sense of how much longer they're just going to stay there and wait?

CHIOU: Yes, it's pretty incredible when you see the numbers of relatives that are still here. There are hundreds of them still, at least 200 to 300. In the beginning, maybe it was closer to 500. They just want answers, and they feel that this is the forum where they can get more answers. There are these briefings that happen. There's one going on right now.

And they also have formed a community, so they don't want to leave. And the airline is paying for their hotels and their meals, so they don't have to worry about that. The issue for a lot of these family members is that they do have jobs and elderly relatives to take care of, so some of them have gone back to their homes, but they're asking other relatives, like uncles and cousins, to come in to occupy their rooms, because once they check out, the airline has said there is no guarantee that they will be allowed back in.

So, you do see this rotation of family members coming through, just to sort of hold their spot at the hotels and hold their spot in order to go to these briefings. But many of them say they just want answers. But at the same time, it's a struggle, because their lives are on hold and they just don't know when they're going to check out. They don't know when they're going to get these answers, John.

BERMAN: Simply overwhelming.

Pauline Chiou for us in Beijing -- thanks so much, Pauline.

ROMANS: All right. Happening right now, an Olympic hero on the witness stand at this moment for a second day. He is trying to explain why he shot and killed his model girlfriend. We are live at this dramatic testimony in the Oscar Pistorius trial. We have it for you right after the break.

BERMAN: It's riveting.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROMANS: Dramatic testimony this morning at the Oscar Pistorius trial in South Africa. Pistorius himself is detailing his relationship with girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, reading from text messages and admitting the two of them sometimes fought. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OSCAR PISTORIUS, OLYMPIC RUNNER: I think maybe that's just being sensitive, maybe insecure or jealous, and she came and she stood next to me and started tickling my neck and I wasn't kind to her like I should have been.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps is live outside the courthouse in Pretoria.

Let's talk about this testimony. You know, it's surprising to hear the defense bringing up their relationship, surprising and probably important to hear Oscar Pistorius himself reading these words where she says, "Sometimes I'm afraid of you, I'm scared of you."

KELLY PHELPS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think it's very important to hear him reading out those text messages, because in a sense, it's reflective of him taking responsibility for his own issues in that relationship, but what has been very important for the defense's case, and they've spent quite some time on it in court, is putting those text message into context.

So, they've read out many of the text messages that the state chose not to read out that suggested that those fights that were eluded to in those four messages had, in fact, been resolved and they had been moved on from. And also, equally, some text messages from Reeva Steenkamp in contrast to the one where she said she was afraid of him, where she actually said that he makes her feel safe. And she said, yes, we fight, but it's not about the important things, our fundamental values are in place.

So, they are certainly trying very hard to place those important negative messages in a context and to show that this was just part of the vagaries of a normal relationship of the ups and downs, but that they had been resolved and moved on from.

ROMANS: There is no jury in this trial. It is a judge. How much has this temperament for the public and not for the judge, do you think?

PHELPS: Oh, I think this testimony is absolutely meant for the judge, because the crucial aspect of this testimony is reflects on the state's case. Before the state put forward these text messages, they had tindered no evidence on the record to try and explain why he would want to intentionally murder his girlfriend.

So, this was very crucial in terms of the state's contention, and therefore, from the judge's perspective, it is crucial to hear Pistorius try and counter that very central testimony to the state's case. ROMANS: Again, you can just hear Pistorius. He chose not to have his face on camera, as is his right in South Africa in the trial system, but we can hear him, and wow, it has been riveting, riveting so far. Kelly Phelps, thank you.

BERMAN: His voice shaking really through the entire testimony.

A lot of news happening all over the world, including with the crisis in Ukraine. It is escalating this morning. Pro-Russian troops moving into the eastern part of the country right now. Is Russia now planning to invade?

We are live with the very latest, next.

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ROMANS: We're following breaking news from Australia this morning, where officials say there have been no additional sounds heard that could be from Flight 370's black box recorders. Crews today searching an area 1,400 miles northwest of Perth. They are looking for debris, and they are listening. They are listening for anything that could point them to the plane's wreckage.

Australian officials say the pinger signals are their best hope of finding the jet, and they're going to keep looking until they know for sure that the batteries on those black boxes have run out, John.

BERMAN: There's some other important news developing right now. This morning, protesters in eastern Ukraine say they want their independence, overtaking buildings, demanding their region be allowed to leave Ukraine and join Russia, as just happened in Crimea.

The Ukrainian president says he thinks Moscow is behind this agitation. The Russians say that Ukraine needs to stand back, and frankly, stop blaming Russia for everything. Overnight, Ukrainian special forces moved in to force some of the protesters out, but they stood back in other places.

Phil Black just across the border in Rostov-on-Don in Russia, this morning.

Phil, give us a sense of the latest this morning.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, so, you're right, there have been two flash points here, one in the city of Kharkiv, in the east of Ukraine, where the Ukrainian government says it's conducted what it describes as an anti-terror operation, arresting 70 people.

That's where a government administration building was being occupied. That's where one of these crowds was hoping to declare independence and then join Russia, follow that Crimean model.

The other city is in the city of Donetsk in the southeast. There is still a crowd there. They've declared independence. They want to hold a referendum. They've even called for Russia to send in peace- keepers to help them.

So far, though, no operation has been conducted against this group, which have barricaded themselves into this government building. The Russian government is advising the Ukrainian government not to use force, because they say it could lead to civil war. As we mentioned, they're telling Ukraine not to blame Moscow for this, stop blaming us for all your problems, they say, and they're saying there are 150 American mercenaries on the ground in Donetsk working with Ukrainian authorities, but they've offered no evidence to back that up so far.

Ukrainian position is they do not believe anything Russia is saying. They believe that Russia is coordinating this as part of a further attempt to destabilize the country, perhaps break it up, perhaps act as a pretext for further Russia military intervention in Ukraine.

Back to you, John.

BERMAN: History would say that the Ukrainians have every reason to be wary about what's happening right now.

Phil Black for us across the border in Russia -- thanks so much, Phil.

ROMANS: All right. In South Africa, dramatic, emotional testimony from Oscar Pistorius. His voice cracking as he describes his relationship with Reeva Steenkamp. More on that after the break.

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BERMAN: All right, it's up to the House now to decide whether it will take up a measure to restore unemployment benefits to millions of Americans, now that the Senate has approved a $9 billion bill to get the checks in the mail again. Six Republicans joined with 53 Democrats to vote in favor of the measure, which would restore benefits through the end of May for more than 2 million unemployed workers. House Speaker John Boehner has not scheduled the measure for a vote in the House.

ROMANS: It's been what, almost five months since they expired.

BERMAN: It's only extended until May at this point, pretty crazy.

ROMANS: Right.

All right, the pay gap between men and women is on the agenda at the White House today, where President Obama is set to sign two executive orders. The administration says it will address the issue of pay secrecy. The orders set new rules for federal contractors.

One requires them to file data with the government showing how they pay their employees. The other says contractors can't retaliate against employees who discuss their salaries with each other.

BERMAN: Another meeting for state legislators in New Jersey looking into the scandals in Chris Christie's office. There are reports that that committee could be closer to issuing more subpoenas, and now CNN has learned that one of Christie's former top aides has met with federal prosecutors who are considering criminal charges.

David Wildstein, I guess technically not an aide -- he was with the Port Authority that runs the George Washington Bridge, the one who traded e-mails with a top Christie aide about shutting down lanes on the George Washington Bridge, apparently as political payback.

ROMANS: If you have not read Ryan Lizza's piece in "The New Yorker" this week about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, you must do this, this morning. It is such a good read.

BERMAN: Homework during the commercials.

ROMANS: Read it during "NEW DAY," not during EARLY START.

All right, this story really interesting this morning, too. A Louisiana congressman says he's sorry, he is sorry after a video surfaced showing Representative Vance McAllister, a married father of five children, kissing a staffer, kissing a staffer who is also married.

In a statement, McAllister says he promises to win back the trust of everyone he's disappointed, including his wife, his kids and his constituents. He won't say whether he plans to step down from the post he's only held for four months. Consenting adults, perhaps, but he was elected on a platform of family values, and you know --

BERMAN: Theoretically, a platform of not kissing your staffer in front of a security camera.

ROMANS: Right, exactly.

BERMAN: Breaking overnight, congratulations to UConn! The Huskies, the champions of college basketball. UConn brought its final four run to an end with a big win over Kentucky, 60-54 in the title game.

It really wasn't close except briefly. This is the fourth national championship in UConn's history for the men. The win sparking celebrations at the campus in stores, not always smart celebrations. Why do people do this?

ROMANS: I don't know.

BERMAN: Thirty people were arrested. You won! Be happy! Don't fight! Don't pull down the stop signs!

ROMANS: OK --

BERMAN: Traffic still needs to run, even though you're victors.

All right. By the way, check out this unlikely duo who watched the game in Arlington, Texas. The happy couple? That's former President Bill Clinton and former President George W. Bush, also Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys and I see Laura Bush next to George W right there.

Of course, Bill Clinton and George W. both are big sports fans, and now, you know, pretty good friends. They do things like go to basketball games together.

ROMANS: Big smiles on their faces.

All right, EARLY START continues right now.