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Nevada Rancher Says He Is Not a Racist; MH370 Families Outraged, Stage Protest; Bluefin-21 to Expand Search Area

Aired April 25, 2014 - 11:00   ET


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CO-ANCHOR: I'm Michaela Pereira. It's 11:00 a.m. in the East, 8:00 a.m. out West. Those stories and much more, right now, @ THIS HOUR.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR: A dispute over grazing rights has now morphed into a discussion about fairly overt racism with a side order of a debate over guilt by association.

This truly is a remarkable thing and this is the background. Cliven Bundy, Nevada rancher, became a conservative darling recently during his standoff with the federal government.

The issue? Bundy's cattle have been grazing on public land for 20 years while he paid no taxes, no fees, no nothing.

PEREIRA: Now, he claims the land has been in his family for generations. Some people on the political side rallied -- on the political right, specifically, rallied to Bundy's side after he was taking a stand against big government.

Well, then this happened.


CLIVEN BUNDY, NEVADA RANCHER: I want to tell you one more thing I know about the negro. They abort their young children. They put their young men in jail because they never learned how to pick cotton.

And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves picking cotton and having family life and doing things, or are they better off on a government subsidy?


PEREIRA: As you can imagine, those comments drew all sorts of condemnation from right and left. Suddenly a story about grass and land turned into a giant grass fire consuming the political landscape.

Bundy has been defending his comments since then. Our Chris Cuomo had a long talk with him earlier today on "NEW DAY."


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": I understand that the government was aggressive you and many people think it was wrong. I understand that people are upset with the government.

The question is, what is our reaction? Your reaction was to say that you wonder if negroes weren't better off as slaves? Now, are you a racist?

BUNDY: No, I'm not a racist, but I did wonder that.

But let me tell you something. You know, I thought about this this morning quite a bit.

CUOMO: Please.

BUNDY: And I thought about what Reverend Martin Luther King said. And I thought about Rosa Park taking her seat at the front of the bus.

Now, Reverend Martin Luther King did not want her to take her seat in the front of the bus. That wasn't what he was talking about. He did not say go to the front of the bus and that's where your seat was.

What Reverend King wanted was that she could sit anywhere in the bus and that nobody would say anything about it. And you and I can sat by her, anywhere on the bus. That's what he wanted.

And that's what I want. I want her to be able to sit anywhere in the bus, and I want to be able to sit by her anywhere in that bus. And that's what he wanted.

He didn't want this prejudice thing like media tried to put on me yesterday. And I'm not going to put up with that, because that's not what he wanted. And that's not what I want.

I want to set by her anywhere in that bus, and I want anybody to be able to do the same thing. That's what he was after, is not a prejudice thing, but make us equal.

CUOMO: Mr. Bundy, nobody --

BUNDY: Do you understand what I'm saying?

CUOMO: You know what, I kind of do. I'm not sure that I understand it. I understand that Martin Luther King's message was one of peace and freedom.

When you suggest that you were wondering if blacks were better off as slaves, that's the opposite of freedom and very offensive to people and I think you probably know that.

BUNDY: Let me tell you. I took this boot off, so I wouldn't put my foot in my mouth with the boot on, but let me see if I can say something.

You know, maybe I sinned, and maybe I need to ask forgiveness, and maybe I don't know what I actually said.

But, you know, when you talk about prejudice, we're talking about not being able to exercise what we think and our feelings, but we don't have freedom to say what we want.

If I call -- if I say negro or black boy or slave, I am not -- those people cannot take those kind of words and not be offensive, then Martin Luther King hasn't got his job done yet.

They should be able -- I should be able to say those things, and it shouldn't offend anybody.


BERMAN: So our friend Chris Cuomo is here to talk a lot more about this. I know Chris was as surprised as all of us about these 15 minutes of television.

Also joining us, Dan Simon in Nevada, just a few miles from Bundy's ranch. And, Dan, I do want to start with you.

You have been following this story from the beginning now, so based on what happened overnight and this morning with Chris, what's the reaction out there been?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I can tell you that he still has his share of supporters. A lot of them have backed away. There is one gentleman in particular that you couldn't help but notice that he's standing by Bundy's side, and that's one of his bodyguards.

His name is Jason Bullock. He was in the Army for six years, and we noticed him quite simply because he's African-American, and I wanted to ask him about his thoughts about Bundy openly speculating about whether African-Americans would be better off as slaves and this is what he told me.


JASON BULLOCK, CLIVEN BUNDY'S BODYGUARD: I would take a bullet for that man if need be. I look up to him just like I do my own grandfather.

I believe in his cause and, after having met Mr. Bundy a few times, I have a real good feel about him, and I'm a pretty good judge of character.

He's shown me nothing but hospitality and treats me as his own family.


SIMON: The irony with that one obviously is super thick, but the broader thing is that, when Bundy talks in these sweeping anti- government tones, it appeals to certain people who live in Nevada, certain people who live in Las Vegas. That gentleman is one of them.

He's not changing his opinion about Mr. Bundy since Bundy has always treated him with respect.

How he got into this situation is a really mystery, how he went from talking about land rights, et cetera, and now talking about race relations is a mystery.

Mr. Bundy simply wasn't asked about this. He started talking about it during a news conference and found himself in this predicament.

PEREIRA: I think, Dan, that's a good point that have many people scratching their heads.

I want to bring Chris Cuomo in. Dan, we'll ask you to stick around with us.

Chris, I know it was sort of a risk assessment deciding to have him on our show today on "NEW DAY," but I know you really wanted to let him speak to the comments is that he made earlier.

CUOMO: Yeah, I mean, I think that I was hoping that the race stuff would be a distraction. That's what it is.

I think you can probably chalk -- how do we explain the African- Americans standing by his side, the man who's his bodyguard. Maybe it is generational. Maybe if you know him, this is more about cultural literacy and sophistication than what is in his head and his heart.

We don't know. Maybe this man does. But it's certainly something that has to be rejected, this type of notion. We all know that, and you have to hold him to account because he's become relevant in another way.

The bigger concern for me was, I didn't expect him to bring a dead calf onto the show. I almost killed the interview when I saw him coming out with that, because I didn't want to horrify the viewers.

I thought it was a stunt, and it was a stunt, and frankly if anyone is to blame for that calf being dead, it's him. He's the one who created this situation by not paying his fees. He's as wrong on the law as he is on race in this situation.

But I think that you move through the race as quickly as you can because you don't want to give too much air to that kind of sentiment because it's not worth it.

But, John, as we often see in these stories, when you play to the extreme in politics, and that's what happened here, they liked this narrative, certain members of the right, of being anti-government, being hostile toward overreaching.

When you play with extremes, you get extremes.

BERMAN: You say it's a stunt. The big question is, is he just a stunt? Don't answer that now, because we're going to come back and talk much more about this in just a second here.

PEREIRA: All right, we will take a short break. Stick around. We're going to have more of this interview with Cliven Bundy.

We know it took a rather bizarre turn. We'll play more of that interview when we come back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: We're back now with Chris Cuomo @ THIS HOUR discussing what was really a remarkable interview, more like a moment, not an interview, that Chris had with embattled rancher Cliven Bundy.

And this interview got off to a strange start, the likes of which I have never seen.

PEREIRA: I think bizarre may be the word I would use.

Let's take a look, and I also want to warn you, you might find a little disturbing the sight of a dead calf.

If it bothers you, you should know it's part of the clip.


BUNDY: This dead calf died this morning. He's been without his mother two weeks and we found him -- actually, the Fish and Wildlife people down in Overton, Nevada, found this calf and called us.

We picked this calf up last night and tried to save his life, but he had been too long without a mother. He's been badly abused. You can see his tongue here. Let me lay the calf down.

CUOMO: That's probably a good idea given that it's a little early and a lot of families are watching, Mr. Bundy. We don't want to upset them too much.

BUNDY: Well, you know, they ought to be upset. America can't even stand a dead calf? We got a lot of dead calves around here.

I want to show you these bottles right here. These bottles here, they are going to feed calves if mothers are dead or gone. We got about 27 calves. This dead calf represents one of many. America is too darn soft hearted to see a dead calf?

CUOMO: Let's talk about that, Mr. Bundy, who is being soft hearted and who is being hard hearted.

Why do you think that calf is dead? Is that calf dead because somebody killed it, or is it dead because of your reluctance to follow-through with the laws that every other rancher in your state complies with? Who is responsible for the dead calf?

BUNDY: I'll tell you who is responsible for it. This calf would produce something for America, and now this half is dead.

We produce for America. They are producers. We're not out here just having fun and having a party. We're out here trying to produce food for you people. That's what we're doing.

I had a legitimate business here in Clark County, Nevada, following all of the Nevada state laws and tried to produce for you people.

Now you're hollering about I'm not equal and not keeping up with the rest of the ranchers. The rest of the ranchers are tired of this also.

CUOMO: I understand what you're saying in terms of ranchers frustrations with the government. I'm not hollering. I think you know that.

What is the point of complaint about you, Mr. Bundy, is that you don't do what other ranchers do. You haven't done it for 20 years.

You're supposed to pay for the use of the land. Your state constitution says that you should pay for it. The constitution in your pocket that you have inside your jacket says that the government, the federal government, can own land. You know all of this, but you're resisting the rules.

BUNDY: How much land does this say they can own? How much land does it say they own? You tell me how much land it says they can own. That's a very good question.

They said in five minutes you can figure out how much land they can own. You tell me.

CUOMO: The Constitution in Article I, Section VIII, and in the Fifth Amendment gives the federal government the right to appropriate and purchase land.

Your state constitution recognizes --

BUNDY: For what person? For what purpose?

CUOMO: For purposes it deems appropriate.

BUNDY: For what purpose can they do it?

CUOMO: And it specifically -

BUNDY: No, it don't say that.

CUOMO: Oh, absolutely it does. You should read the book instead of just holding it in your pocket maybe. But when you look at your state constitution, it says that it respects the federal law. And that's why your ranchers, your brother and sister ranchers, pay the fees that you refuse to.

Now you come on the show, you hold up a dead calf and that makes everybody upset. But you should look at yourself for why the calf is dead, because if you paid the fees, this wouldn't have happened. Isn't that a fair point?

BUNDY: No, it's not.

CUOMO: Because?

BUNDY: It's not a fair point at all. This is the United States of America. I live in a sovereign state, the State of Nevada, and I abide by all the state laws. And I'll be damned if this is property of the United States. They have no business here. They have no business harassing my cattle, abusing this calf to the point he's dead. They left this calf for two weeks without a mother.

CUOMO: Mr. Bundy --

BUNDY: And now we happen to find it and we wasn't able to save it last night.


BERMAN: All right, Chris, so he brought a dead calf. He also bought a boot with spurs. Then he carries around with him every day that pocket Constitution. You talked about stunts. Those are stunts. Those are side shows here.

There is a central issue though that in some ways, legally speaking, isn't particularly ambiguous.

CUOMO: Not where he's concerned. The federal government, the Constitution is clear. The state adaptation of it in Nevada in this case is clear. That's why over 10,000 ranchers are paying the fees and very often the fees are submarket fees, lower than what private sector would charge.

So there's that. However, you said something that I think is very instructive. Is he being used as a stunt? Politics comes into play. So automatically there's jaundice in terms of how clean this all is. When you attach yourself to someone like him, no judgment involved, I'm sorry to put him out there this way. I don't want to make him a judgment for his thoughts on race. That shouldn't be why he's relevant. But when you put him out there, you play with extremes. And when do that without knowing exactly who you are dealing with, you're going to get extreme behavior and often it's unproductive and hurtful. That's what happened.

Is this a slap on the wrist for those that got behind him? Yes, it is. And not because they adopt his racist thoughts. I don't believe it they do. But when you pick someone and play to the extremes and make politics about that, you're going to get bit. The question is only when.

PEREIRA: Dan Simon, I want to bring you back into it, because I'm curious. You know, we talk about the political aspect of this and how certain folks are hanging onto this although they're starting to back off. I am curious if on the ground you're hearing from people in the community who are suddenly not quite as supportive given the comments that he's made.

SIMON: At this point, no. They're standing by him. And Chris makes an excellent point in terms of why people rallied around him.

One thing I will say is that the reason why this resonated with so many folks in this neck of the woods is because the background in all of this. It was 1993 actually when Bundy stopped paying fees. He actually did pay fees before then. But the government came in, in 1993, and said they wanted to protect the desert tortoise in this neck of the woods. And Bundy said he wasn't going to abide by that. They wanted to limit the amount of cattle that could be in the land. And so Bundy said I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to pay the fees. And so the government decided, well, we're just going to yank your cattle because you haven't been paying fees for 20 years.

As soon as the armed marshals came in, that's when you saw all these militia members come in and come to Bundy's side. And that, you know, argument that Bundy was making resonated with them. He won. The feds backed down. But then, for some unknown reason, and it's never been made clear to me, he just started spouting off about race and that's why he finds himself in so much trouble.

PEREIRA: You go from a desert tortoise to a land right issue to racist comments. I think a lot of people are having a hard time following the bouncing ball. There may be a discussion at the very center of it that is worth having, I don't know, but to go to this point, I think that's what a lot of people are struggling with.

BERMAN: But there's a fundamental irreconcilable point her, which he has a hard time with government subsidies for some people for some programs, yet he is willing to graze for free on federal land. So that is irreconcilable.

PEREIRA: Right. That's a bit of hypocrisy, absolutely.

BERMAN: Chris Cuomo, great to have you here with us. Thank you for sticking around. Dan Simon, our thanks to you as well.

PEREIRA: Short break here. Ahead @ THIS HOUR, the underwater search for Flight 370 is set to expand. We're going to take you live to Perth, Australia, and give you the latest on the plans are for next week's search.


BERMAN: We are now beginning week eight in the search for Flight 370. And the talk now is about expanding the deep sea search area. As we speak, the robo sub, the Bluefin-21 is scanning the final 5 percent of the underwater area where authorities believed is the most probable place that that flight ended. So far though the sub keeps coming up empty.

Now, the families of the 239 people missing on that flight today staged a protest.


BERMAN: They gathered outside Malaysia's embassy in Beijing to demand answers about their loved ones.

PEREIRA: And they might just get some answers. Malaysia's prime minister tells CNN that his government will release a preliminary report on the plane's disappearance. We're told that will happen next week.

Our Richard Quest pressed the Malaysian leader to find the plane regardless of the cost.


NAJIB RAZAK, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER: We owe it to the families. We will search. We will spend as much as we can, as much as we can afford to find the missing plane.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Could I ask you for a yes or a no on that question?

RAZAK: It would be a yes, but as I said it has to be on the basis of our affordability. But we owe it to the families to find answers that they're looking for.


BERMAN: The families of those on board Flight 370 say they're not giving up hope on their loved ones, even if they can't get answers, they say, from Malaysian officials.

Overnight I spoke with Sarah Bajc, whose partner, Philip Wood, was on the plane and she says, as you know, she's just fed up with the way things are being handled.


SARAH BAJC, PARTNER OF FLIGHT 370 PASSENGERS: Actions speak louder than words. The briefings both in Malaysia and in China have been a joke. They have their officials -- at the beginning they actually had officials at those meetings who would sleep in the meetings, they would laugh at the questions produced by families, they would not answer the questions. It's been a recurring theme. And the patience level of the family group is just gone.


BERMAN: We'll have more from that interview in just a few minutes, including what she thinks the truth may be on what happened to that plane.

PEREIRA: I think it's mind-boggling for a lot of people that not a single piece of debris has been found in the 49 days since that jet vanished. I want to take you live to Perth, Australia, right now. Erin McLaughlin is there.

Good to see you with us again, Erin. So let's talk about this initial search for Bluefin-21 is nearing its end, some 5 percent left of the area that was set for it to search. But we know that there's an expansion plan in the works, more resources and expanded area and maybe even some fresh eyes.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Michaela. Today Australian authorities putting out a statement sort of responding to some of those questions about what next. What happens when and if they actually end up ruling out this most -- the current search area, which is basically their best guess as to where the black box may be. And they're saying now that the Bluefin-21 will then start searching some of the adjacent areas. Interesting, though, no mention of any additional submersibles being added to the mix, something that people here are wondering about considering there are more powerful submersibles out there like the Orion, which can go about a mile deeper into the ocean. It can stay down there for weeks on end.

And we asked them that question. So far we're not getting any answer but we know it's something that Malaysian and Australian officials are discussing.

PEREIRA: Erin, we want to take advantage and talk to you about another situation, a bit of a turn here that does involve another airliner. This one was an Australian plane that had a bit of a hijack scare. Can you tell us more about what happened there and what we know now?

MCLAUGHLIN: Yes, it sounded pretty - it actually sounded pretty scary. We know it was a Virgin Australian flight from Brisbane, Australia, this morning to Bali and apparently an unruly passenger disrupted things onboard that flight according to local media. The pilot actually turned on the emergency transponder more than twice. Thankfully, in the end, the plane landed safely. That unruly passenger was taken into custody at the airport and the passengers were able to proceed as normal, Michaela.

PEREIRA: I can imagine, given how much MH370 has been in the news, I can imagine that caused extra panic for those folks aboard that flight and certainly for folks in Australia.

Thank you so much, Erin McLaughlin.

BERMAN: Let's bring in our safety analyst, David Soucie, author of "Why Planes Crash." And David, let's start by talking about that flight right there, that Virgin Atlantic flight, or that Virgin flight. A passenger starts banging on the cockpit door trying to get in. Maybe he was just drunk. Still, how dangerous a situation is that?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Extremely dangerous. Not only just from the fact that he's trying to get in and it excites the passengers, becoming unmanageable within the cabin, but then you also have the worry of the distraction of the pilots from flying the aircraft and having to deal with that emergency as opposed to flying the aircraft.

PEREIRA: All right, let's turn to Flight 370, David. It seems to be the topic that we are sticking with and need to because obviously we're into, what, Day 49 of this search. Australians are talking about the need to expand the search area for the Bluefin-21. Is that the way to go at this point, in your estimation? Or is the idea to bring in new tools, new eyes, do new math and start from there?

SOUCIE: I think that there's a step before we bring in new eyes and new tools. Not new tools though. The new math, I think we're in the right direction, the Inmarsat data to calculate where they're at, that's good data. The pings are definitely good data as well. So expanding the search makes a lot of sense.

What doesn't makes sense to me is that they haven't called in additional equipment which can go deeper because new areas they're talking about are much deeper than where they've been.

BERMAN: Hey, David, I want to press you on that. Because sometimes I'm left with the sense here that analysts, people looking at this, say we have to search there because it's the best information we have. Just because it's the best, does that necessarily mean it's the right information? At this point, can you still be 100 percent confident that it's correct?

SOUCIE: Well, the pings, yes. The fact that it's the best - we've heard that from the very beginning. This is the best lead we have, the best information we have. And that is kind of a copout because the fact is there's no other information. This is all they have. So it's kind of a nuance as far as how it's being said.

But, nonetheless, the confidence that I have in those pings is extremely high because of the fact that I've investigated several different possibilities of what else it might be, including Woods Hole itself has monitor beacons that they use in the ocean on various species to try to track them and those do operate in that same frequency.