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EARLY START

Bluefin-21 Nears End of Mission; Ferry Death Toll Rising; Obama in Japan; Three American Dead in Afghanistan Shooting; NFL Schedule Released

Aired April 24, 2014 - 05:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: an underwater search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The search is nearly complete, and so far, nothing has been found. So, what happens next if search crews turn up empty-handed?

This coming as Malaysian investigators reveal they have finished their report on the vanished jetliner, but they're refusing to tell anyone what they know. Why is that?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Also, the death toll is rising in the South Korean ferry disaster. Divers pulling more bodies from the sunken ship as the investigation into what went wrong turns on the ferry's billionaire owner. We're live with the very latest on that.

BERMAN: And breaking news overnight. President Obama revealing what the U.S. may do if North Korea continues its nuclear program. We're live in Tokyo with what the president has been saying overnight.

Good morning, everyone. Great to see you today. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

HARLOW: And I'm Poppy Harlow. It is April 24th, 5:00 a.m. here on the East Coast.

Let's begin with the latest in the search for missing Flight 370 and the disappointing news in overnight, that the latest lead, a piece of metal that washed ashore on the Australian coast turns out not to be from the jet, missing now for more than six weeks. That as an unmanned sub is now very close to finishing the entire scan of that search area on the ocean floor. So far, too, it has come up with nothing.

Let's get straight to Erin McLaughlin in Perth. What can you tell us this morning on this? Obviously, very disappointing for all of those people wanting answers, in this turned out not to be part of the flight at all.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy.

I think officials here in Perth are disappointed but not exactly surprised. They were very cautious when they made that announcement that that object of interest had been discovered about 190 miles to the south of Perth. And sure enough, a further analysis of photographs of the object turning out to be seemingly nothing more than sea junk, the kind of junk that has really muddied the waters all along for this ongoing visual search.

Today, another 11 planes and 11 ships out scouring those waters, trying to find any signs of missing Malaysian Flight 370. And it has to be said, despite hours and hours and hours of their searching, they have so far yielded nothing more than garbage.

And even Australian officials saying that it's looking very, very unlikely that they're going to find a piece of the missing plane from that visual search, the focus very much on the efforts under the water.

As of this morning, the Bluefin-21 was on its 12th mission, having scoured some 90 percent of that very critical area, that narrowed search area that authorities have identified as the most likely place where they'll find the black box. But so far, again, they have found nothing. At this point, Australian and Malaysian authorities looking towards a next phase -- Poppy.

HARLOW: All right. I appreciate the reporting this morning, Erin. As you suspected, and you know, we were cautious yesterday, wondering, could this be the lead that people have been looking for, and it turns out not to be.

BERMAN: And officials were cautioning all along that it seemed unlikely.

Meanwhile, there are new demands this morning that Malaysian authorities make clear what they know about why Flight 370 disappeared. The transportation minister there has revealed that a preliminary report has been completed. So, the families are saying go ahead and release it, let the world see what you know about what happened onboard. However, Malaysian officials say no.

Sumnima Udas live in Kuala Lumpur with that part of the story.

Sumnima, what's the latest?

SUMNIMA UDAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, Malaysian authorities are required or mandated by ICAO, which is the International Civil Aviation Organization, to submit this report within 30 days of the accident, but Malaysia was given a little bit of extra time, given the complexity of this particular case.

Now, Malaysia, with all countries, has the option to not make this report actually public, but most countries do release this information. That was the case with Air France, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean a few years ago, but Malaysia has opted to make this report confidential.

Now, the authorities were asked if and when they plan to release this report to the public, and they said that has not been decided. For the families, of course, who are still trying to figure out, still looking for answers to what exactly happened to their loved ones, this is even more frustrating. They say they keep saying that the authorities, they feel, are hiding something, not being transparent enough, and this is yet another example, perhaps, of the authorities perhaps not being transparent enough -- John.

BERMAN: Sumnima, how do officials there justify this secrecy, or do they even bother trying to justify it at this point?

UDAS: That's a question that keeps being asked at the press conferences, and we keep saying, you know, why aren't you able to give more information to the families? We were at a briefing just a few days ago. The families walked in with about 25 very specific, very technical questions, and the authorities just keep saying, well, we don't have the answers to that. We understand the frustration, but we're still trying to figure out all of this ourselves.

This is an unprecedented situation, and we don't have the answers at the moment. Remember, this is a government that's not used to being transparent. You've had the same political party rule this country for more than 50 years. It's the media that's not exactly free over here.

So, perhaps it's not surprising that the Malaysian government is not being more transparent. As one analyst said, it's a government that's trying to show it's being transparent when it's never had to be transparent in the past.

BERMAN: I think those are really important points, Sumnima, you know, the tradition of transparency, the tradition of the free press, perhaps lacking in some parts of the world right now, and that's coming to bear.

Sumnima Udas in Kuala Lumpur, appreciate it.

UDAS: Now to South Korea, where divers are making slow progress working their way through that capsized ferry looking for victims, looking still for any possible survivors there, still calling this a rescue mission. This morning, we know that more than 130 people are still missing. Nearly 170 have perished. Divers have been removing bodies as they can from that ferry.

Many of them high school stud students, and today classes resume at this high school, just south of Seoul, this as investigators are digging into the history of the owner of the ship, reported lay a reclusive billionaire with a complex past. Let's talk about all of this, the latest developments with Nic Robertson. He's live in Jindo, South Korea, for us this morning -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, Poppy. Well, the latest we have here, 14 crew members have now been arrested. It was 11 yesterday, 14 have now been charged with abandoning the ship. That's what we're finding out just now.

As well as you say, the billionaire owner of this shipping line, who's known locally as the faceless millionaire -- perhaps he got that name before he made a billion -- but he has had his home searched, his offices searched. Twenty other of his senior employees are also facing an investigation by the police. They're not allowed to leave the country at the moment.

However, having said that, he hasn't been charged. This owner of the shipping company has not yet been charged, but we do know from some of the crew members aboard Sewol ferry that when they were going to court, they talked to journalists outside and said the ship had a history of steering issues. It had also undergone from renovations that recently, that they weren't sure whether or not they were legal.

So, it does seem the police are casting their net very wide, charging 14 out of the 20 surviving crew members so far, but also not excluding the shipping company from their investigation here, Poppy.

HARLOW: You know, it's interesting to see that the question is what could have happened. I think the belief is not that it could have hit something in those waters, Nic, but in terms of talking about renovations, we just dot news in from Will Ripley, our colleague on the ground, saying an South Korean opposition lawmaker who represents Jindo says renovations last year expanded the top floor of the ferry to make room for 117 more passengers, this at the same time, though, that authorities are saying it doesn't appear the ship was overloaded.

Do we know anything more about that? Any of these renovations?

ROBERTSON: What we know from the coast guard is, and they're obviously looking at whether or not the ship was overloaded -- they've taken a look at the manifest, and on the face of it, the manifest shows that by weight, the ship wasn't overloaded. It had a few more cars than it was permitted to take, but it had less of the big trucks that it was permitted to take and it had less shipping containers, albeit a large number, still, than it was permitted to take.

When you add that up, and the coast guard also advises, they say, look, whatever is on the manifest, that may not actually match what went on to the ship. So, they're saying until you salvage the ship, the rescue operation is over, you salvage the ship and get it up, you're just not going to know what was on board and what the weight before they can look at that, Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes, and still the big question about why a young boy passenger was the first to call rescue authorities before the crew even sent its first distress signal. So many disturbing questions still in this as the families continue to mourn. Appreciate it this morning, Nic. Thank you.

BERMAN: Just about 10 minutes after the hour right now. We have more breaking news this morning. President Obama revealing what the U.S. might do if North Korea keeps on building its nuclear weapons program. We're live with what the president said overnight.

HARLOW: Also new this morning, a big change in the market for electronic cigarettes. The FDA issuing a ban for some smokers. We'll break it down, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: Happening now in Japan, President Obama preparing for a pretty rare event, formal state dinner with the emperor, after meetings focused on the issues facing that region, including the newest provocations from North Korea about possible nuclear tests.

White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski is live for us this morning in Tokyo.

What did the president have to say on that front, because that and Ukraine and Russia seem to be dominating this trip?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, definitely. And in fact, this is the first state visit by a U.S. president to Japan in two decades.

And President Obama just got back from visiting a shrine as well. And while he was there, he was able to sign what's called a wish board.

So, what is President Obama's wish? He said that the people of the world join together to promote peace, justice and shared prosperity.

One of our Japanese colleagues really liked that. She said that kind of summed up the point of the whole trip, including security issues and trade deals, all in one sentence.

Well, on this security issue, yes, we've been hearing mostly about Ukraine lately, but in this region, the big security issue is North Korea.

Here's what the president had to say on that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can continue to apply more and more pressure on North Korea so that at some juncture, they end up taking a different course. In the meantime, they're dangerous, and we have to make sure that we are guarding against any provocations getting out of hand. We are not surprised when they engage in irresponsible behavior. That's been their pattern for the last couple of decades. And what we have to do is to continue to try to contain and mitigate the potential damage that this behavior has and continue to put pressure on them so that we can see a shift.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSINSKI: And President Obama used some strong language there in that statement, calling North Korea provocative, irresponsible, dangerous, also urging China to step in and contribute to efforts to further isolate North Korea because of its actions.

I will say, during this trip so far, President Obama has sent a couple of messages to China, that it needs to abide by international law. The president keeps emphasizing that. And that the U.S. firmly sides with Japan in a dispute it is having with China over some islands.

So, these territorial disputes with China figure in heavily to this region. These countries want to know how the U.S. reacts to that, how the U.S. will deal with it. Basically, they are looking for a reassurance of a continued U.S. presence and commitment here, not necessarily that the U.S. is going to set up this stance of us versus China. The U.S. wants to cooperate with China as well.

But these are the issues that we see coming up again and again and will continue throughout this trip, Poppy.

HARLOW: Appreciate the report this morning, Michelle. Thank you.

Also some breaking news out of Afghanistan, where three Americans are dead after being shot by a security guard outside an American-run charity hospital in Kabul. The three were doctors, we are told. Officials tell CNN the security guard tried to turn the gun on himself, but apparently survived, so is now being questioned. Another U.S. citizen, a woman, was also shot. She is being treated at this hour for her wounds.

BERMAN: Doctors killed. Such a tragedy.

Cuts in store for the U.S. Army we're learning about this morning. Chief of staff, General Ray Odierno, telling reporters that the Army plans to ask about 20,000 troops, mostly captains and majors, he's going to ask them to retire. This as the service trims down to meet budget demands.

Overall, the Army plans to slash about 30,000 positions by next year.

HARLOW: And you can throw Jeb Bush's name on the list of those officially considering a 2016 presidential bid. The former Florida governor and son and brother of two former presidents told people at an event in New York that he is thinking about running. These are his most direct comments so far about future plans. Not sure you can qualify them as direct, but they are some comments.

In the past, Bush had said that he would make a decision about running later this year. I guess he's also probably considering not running, and a lot of people could be on that list.

BERMAN: That's right. His most direct comments about considering the possibility of perhaps entering the race some time before next year.

HARLOW: Without saying much at all.

BERMAN: Exactly. So glad he cleared that up.

Some nonviolent felons could receive clemency under a Justice Department proposal aimed at reducing the high costs and overcrowding in prison. Those who have served at least 10 years in federal jail and have clean records are eligible to apply for early release. Officials expect many to be drug offenders sentenced under tougher guidelines, the mandatory sentencing that was in effect for a while that is no longer.

HARLOW: Well, breaking news overnight. For the first time ever, the FDA will impose new rules on electronic cigarettes, how they can be sold and who they can be sold to. It would require makers to seek FDA approval and ban their sale to anyone under 18. Some states already have the age limit, but other states, anybody could buy these, but manufacturers will still be able to market them online and also sell flavored versions of that liquid nicotine. That has been very controversial.

Sales of e-cigarettes are expected to top $2 billion in the U.S. This is big business and now it is regulated.

BERMAN: Yes, other mammoth news when it comes to regulation. So, it now seems all Internet data is not created equal. The FCC is announcing a new proposal to allow companies to pay Internet providers for faster lanes to distribute content. This could be a huge blow to the concept of net neutrality. This is a big deal to a lot of people, the idea that users should have equal access to any legal content online.

Consumer groups warn that rising prices could come out of diminished competition. The rules will likely be voted on by the end of the year.

HARLOW: Meantime, quick check of the markets. European stocks higher right now. U.S. future is pointing slightly higher after some good news from Silicon Valley last night, big earnings from Apple and Facebook out with their earnings yesterday, wowing Wall Street.

Also making some news yesterday, Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha, we sat down with him yesterday, talk a lot about a lot of key questions, one certainly facing businessman, investors, politicians, minimum wage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Should the federal minimum wage be raised?

WARREN BUFFETT, CHAIRMAN & CEO, BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY: That's the toughest question you can ask me because I've thought about it for 50 years and I don't know the answer --

HARLOW: Really?

BUFFETT: Well, I just don't. In economics, you always have to say, and then what? And the real question is, are more people going to be better off, you know, if it is raised? I don't know the answer to that. I know that if you raised the earned income tax credit significantly, that that would definitely help people that got short sticks in life. But you do lose some employment as you increase the minimum wage. If you didn't, I'd be for having it $15 an hour.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: What's so interesting about this is that he is a Democrat, a huge supporter of President Obama, who is pushing for $10.10 an hour federal minimum wage, and Buffett did not back that. He agreed that there should be changes, that you can't live on, quote-unquote, "$7.25 an hour", but not fully supporting the president's push to raise minimum wage pretty significantly because of his arguments that it can cause jobs. BERMAN: Really interesting comments from him.

Also interesting, you're sitting with me at 4:00 in the morning, sitting with Warren Buffett at night. You're living large.

HARLOW: Who needs to sleep, Bermantor?

BERMAN: No one needs to sleep.

HARLOW: No one.

BERMAN: Your dance card is full.

All right. This is the story that I care about this morning, caught in the act. Cheaters will never prosper. A Yankees pitcher ejected. Why? Because he cheated so obviously that the world could not stomach it. It's not the first time he's done. We will tell you all about it, next, in the "Bleacher Report".

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right. Time for our lead story. A Yankee pitcher ejected after he's caught cheating in the middle of the game.

I think this isn't about pine tar, Joe Carter. It's about idiocy. Please explain to us in the "Bleacher Report."

JOE CARTER, BLEACHER REPORT: It's about being obvious and not too obvious, being slightly discreet. Using pine tar is against rules in baseball. You can't put pine tar on a baseball.

Two weeks ago, cameras caught Michael Pineda with pine tar in the palm of his hand. Nothing was done about it two weeks ago. And that was because he was discreet about it.

Last night, the same illegal substance showed up on his neck. It was so obvious, even Mr. Magoo could have spotted the shiny goo on the side of his neck. Now, the home plate umpire, you see, touched it, smelled it, knew it was it. No doubt pine tar on the neck. So, he was ejected.

After the game, he admitted to cheating. He said he did it to get better control of the ball on a cold 50-degree night in Boston.

Yankees say they are very embarrassed about the situation. By the way, the Red Sox, they went on to beat their biggest rival last night, pine tar-free, 5-1.

Trending this morning on BleacherReport.com, Trailblazers big man LaMarcus Aldridge is playing the best basketball of his life. He scored 46 points in game one and last night, in game two, he scored 43 points. He joins the likes of Kobe, LeBron and Jordan. All have scored 40 or more points in consecutive playoff games.

Last night, after a seven-point win, the Trailblazers now take a commanding two games to nothing series lead into Portland. Well, the Charlotte Bobcats, they gave the Miami Heat all they could handle and then some last night. Late in the game, LeBron James took a wicked elbow to the throat from Josh McRoberts. Can you believe they only called that a regular foul, not a flagrant foul?

The Bobcats had a chance in the game. They were down by three. Time running out, but Dwyane Wade rips the ball away and they beat the heat hang on to take a 2-0 series lead.

All right. Football fans, are you ready? 2014 NFL schedule was released. Only have to wait four or five months.

As usual, the Super Bowl champions will kick off the season with a Thursday night game. Packers/Seahawks. It should be a great night.

Now, as far as strength of schedule goes, the Oakland Raiders have the toughest 2014 schedule. This, of course, is based on last year's records. The Denver Broncos and the St. Louis Rams have the second and third hardest schedule. Now, the easiest schedule goes to the Indianapolis Colts.

How about that? That's followed by the Titans and the Texans.

Now, for those counting down the days, the NFL season officially begins in 133 days, 14 hours and about 30 minutes and change.

HARLOW: Who is counting? Not Berman.

BERMAN: Exactly. Joe is not counting.

Why do the Raiders have such a tough schedule? When was the last time they won anything?

CARTER: Right. And they have a new quarterback. It's going to be interesting.

I mean, obviously, guys, the schedule is based on last season's record. This year's strength of schedule. But it changes every year. Just the way the teams -- look at the Falcons last year how good they were the year before that. So, it can change very quickly. So, I wouldn't hold a lot to that.

HARLOW: Joe, Vikings or Pats?

CARTER: Who do I like?

HARLOW: Yes.

CARTER: Automatically got to go with the Vikings. I can't stand the Patriots.

HARLOW: That means do you like me or Berman?

CARTER: Boston fans and the New England Patriots make me have mouth sweats when I think about them.

HARLOW: Mouth sweats, thank you.

BERMAN: Joe Carter, thank you for your last ever appearance on EARLY START. We really appreciate it.

CARTER: All right. You bet. You're welcome.

HARLOW: All right. Well, on a much more serious note now, one of our top stories this morning happening right now. The underwater search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 nearly complete. In that search zone, still nothing has been found. Is it time for a shift in strategy?

We'll bring you live team coverage straight after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)