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Undersea Mission Almost Complete; New Russia Sanctions Expected; Obama in South Korea

Aired April 25, 2014 - 04:00   ET


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Happening right now: the underwater search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 nearly complete. In that search area so far, crews have found no sign of the vanished jetliner. Is it time for a shift in strategy?

This as Malaysia's prime minister reveals exclusively to CNN when investigators will tell the world everything they know about the plane's disappearance.

We are live with the very latest.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: There is a rising crisis in Ukraine. Soldiers are fighting pro-Russian separatists in the streets, battles turning deadly. The U.S. blaming Russia for the uprising and escalating violence, giving the Kremlin a major warning. We are live in Moscow with the very latest.

HARLOW: Also breaking overnight: President Obama arriving in South Korea, less than one hour from a major news conference, facing tough decisions on North Korea's rising nuclear ambitions and Russia's stronghold on Ukraine. We are live in Seoul with what he is expected to say. Michelle Kosinski will join us in a moment.

Good morning, everyone. Happy Friday. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Poppy Harlow.

HOWELL: And I'm George Howell. It is Friday, 4:00 a.m. on the East.

HARLOW: Good to have you here.

HOWELL: Very good to be here. Good to have you with us.

HARLOW: We begin with breaking news: a scare on a flight from Australia to Indonesia. The pilot reported a hijacking. The plane landing in Bali.

But I want to clear this up. This is very important. We here at CNN have just in the last few moments heard directly from Virgin Airlines. There was no hijacking. No hijacking.

I want to read you a statement coming to us from Virgin. Let me read it to you. This comes from Virgin Australia. This was a Virgin Blue Flight originating in Brisbane, Australia. Here's what it says, "There are incorrect reports that a Virgin Australia aircraft was hijacked en route to Denpasar. That is not correct." It goes on to say, "The aircraft in question has landed safely, and at no point was the safety of our passengers ever in question. There was an unruly passenger on board and the authorities are removing him on the ground."

Again, the key takeaway here from Virgin, saying that there was an unruly passenger on this flight, the flight has safely landed. The passenger is being removed at this moment. Again, it appears, and Virgin Australia saying that everyone is safe.

HOWELL: Now on to the very latest in the search for Flight 370 and the new defense of that investigation by Malaysia's prime minister.

In an exclusive interview with CNN's Richard Quest, the prime minister says a preliminary report on why the jet disappeared will be released after family outrage boiled over.


NAJIB RAZAK, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER: I have directed an investigation, internal investigation team of experts, to look at the report, and there's a likelihood that next week we could release the report.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Why not release it now, prime minister? Is there something in it that's embarrassing to Malaysia?

RAZAK: No, I don't think so, but I just wanted to be -- you know, this team to go through it. But in the name of transparency, we will release the report next week.

QUEST: You will?

RAZAK: We will release it.


HOWELL: A lot of people want to know what's in that report. This news coming this morning as an unmanned sub is on its 13th mission scanning the ocean floor. But with 95 percent of the search zone now covered, there is still no sign of that plane.

Erin McLaughlin is live in Perth, Australia, with the very latest on this search.

Erin, good morning.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, George. That's right.

As of this morning, it was completing that 13th mission, about 95 percent, as you say, of that narrowed search area completely combed. No signs of missing Malaysian Flight 370. That narrowed area really represents their best guess as to where the black box may be.

So, what do you do when you essentially have ruled out the majority of your best guess? We understand that is something that Australian and Malaysian officials are discussing, talking about perhaps a long-term agreement, a long-term search agreement based on a Malaysian proposal.

And what the Malaysians are proposing is perhaps broadening out the search area. What they're doing right now is they're searching in a six-mile radius around the point of the second ping that was picked up by that towed pinger locator, and they're there because it was the strongest of the four signals detected, but you would think that they might find something if they searched six miles around that point, but of course, right now they've found nothing.

So, some analysts suggesting -- well, maybe they should look in the other three areas, the other three pings for a possible black box, maybe they should broaden it out along the arc, that half hands handshake, that so-called half handshake between the Inmarsat satellite and the plane.

So, those are all possibilities potentially on the table. The other thing Malaysians are proposing is introducing more power submersibles into the mix, underwater equipment that can go down for longer periods of time and search deeper into the ocean.

So, we understand that that agreement they could reach within the week, and some shorts saying that they're talking about a search operation that will last through July, George.

HOWELL: Erin, look, you broaden that search, and one U.S. defense official saying this could take years. What are you hearing from officials about that? These families, obviously, hoping for some answers here.

MCLAUGHLIN: Absolutely. Well, at the moment, Australians not giving a timetable for that. And even in terms of this last remaining portion of this more narrowed search area, we're hearing some conflicting things, some Australians saying that -- Australian authorities saying that it would take them just a few days to finish up wrapping this potential search area. It seems like they're on track to be able to do that.

But earlier this week, the Australian defense minister was quoted as saying that they could take a couple of weeks to finish searching this particular area. So, it really remains to be seen just in terms of timetables. No solid dates given from Australian authorities just yet, George.

HOWELL: So, Erin, 5 percent left in this narrowed search. A lot of people hoping that they find something.

Erin McLaughlin, thank you for that live report.

Overnight, the frustration of families of those from Flight 370, they marched to the Malaysian embassy looking for answers. We will take you to Beijing for what it was like in just a few minutes. HARLOW: Now to the crisis in Ukraine and new word into CNN this morning that new sanctions could come as early as today against some in Russia, also possibly some of Putin's key allies. Russia says the U.S. is behind what is happening in eastern Ukraine, talking about it as a pawn in this geopolitical situation, but the White House is insisting that it is Russia that is stoking the unrest, a lot of finger-pointing here.

The administration promising action. Listen.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Let me be clear: if Russia continues in this direction, it will not just be a grave mistake, it will be an expensive mistake.


HARLOW: Our Diana Magnay is live in Moscow this morning.

Hello to you, Diana.

I know that our Elise Labott did get word that sanctions from the White House may come as soon as today. You know, up until now, these sanctions haven't been directly against Putin.

Do we have any sense of what these may be, if they do come down?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not specifically, but they will certainly ratchet up the tension here in Russia, or the problems for Russia. But Russia doesn't seem to care about sanctions. It knows that they're teed up and it knows that they're about to happen. And yesterday, we see Russia ramping up military drills along the border with Ukraine in response to this anti-terror operation that the Ukrainian government has re-launched.

So, frankly -- and President Obama admitted that on his Asia tour. He knows that however much he threatens sanctions, they're probably not going to change the situation on the ground. Russia constantly repeats this position, that it's not its problem, the southeast of Ukraine, that it's not up to it to exert its influence, that Kiev has to make the first move.

And yesterday, John Kerry said exactly the same thing in response, that Kiev has every step of the way shown concrete, definitive steps to try and implement the Geneva agreements and that Russia has done nothing in response.

And these military exercises are a huge concern, because of course, once you start moving troops around, you can do all sorts of tactical maneuvers, getting your people into position, effectively, and that's why whoever conducts military exercises around the world, whether it's the U.S., whether it's Russia, whoever it is, it is always a concern for those who are watching, because what are you putting into place whilst doing it? That is why the West has constantly asked Russia to pull back its troops from the border, some 40,000. Now, you're in a situation where not only are they ramping them up, but they're also operating controlled flights along the border with Ukraine, and the situation in the Southeast of the country does not seem to have dissipated in any way -- positions seem to be reinforced and more violence overnight, Poppy.

HARLOW: And every day that this continues, de-escalation seems less and less likely, at least at this point.

Diana Magnay, appreciate the reporting this morning. Thank you.

HOWELL: President Obama is in South Korea touching down just a few hours ago in Seoul, where he has yet another busy day ahead.

Michelle Kosinski is traveling with the president and she joins us live.

Michelle, what is in store today?


Well, quite a bit, and I think most importantly, we're going to hear a press conference in just about an hour, so we're going to wait and hear what topics President Obama will touch upon. Certainly, North Korea has been a big deal, kind of an overshadowing subject of this trip, since it is the most pressing security issue for this region.

For the past many, many weeks, we've been hearing almost nothing but Ukraine and how the U.S. is responding to and dealing with that situation, or trying to. Well, in this region, Ukraine isn't such a pressing topic. I mean, the world is watching and waiting, really, and Japan, South Korea have responded and also come out in opposition to Russia's actions in Ukraine, but here they are most concerned about North Korea and what seem to be provocative actions or a kind of build-up to provocative action, probably not coincidental with the president's trip here.

That's another thing that's being watched. And already, the U.S. is responding, saying that it's in complete solidarity with its ally, South Korea. That is such an important ally in this region. And it is also working on trilateral defense talks between the U.S., South Korea and Japan.

So, as North Korea acts like maybe it will launch another missile, the U.S. is firming up support among the allies and also talking about its continued strong military presence in this region -- George.

HOWELL: Michelle Kosinski, thank you so much for that live report.

HARLOW: All right, straight ahead here on EARLY START, new information this morning after three Americans were killed at a Kabul hospital. We are hearing from the wife of one of the victims.

HOWELL: And a rising conservative hero, a Nevada rancher on the record after making some very controversial comments? What he's saying now, next after the break.


HOWELL: We now know a Chicago pediatrician was among the three Americans killed at a shooting at a charity hospital in Afghanistan. Dr. Jerry Umanos moved to Afghanistan in 2005 after practicing in inner city Chicago, saying he felt called to be there.

His wife says she forgives the man who killed him.


JAN SCHUITEMA, WIFE OF CHICAGO DOCTOR KILLED IN KABUL: Our family has suffered a great loss. Our family and friends have suffered a great loss, and our hearts are aching. While our hearts are aching for our loss, we're also aching for the loss of the other families, as well as the loss and the multiple losses that the Afghan people have experienced.


HOWELL: Umanos also trained Afghan doctors. He died when an Afghan guard opened fire. The guard apparently tried to take his own life but survived and is being questioned. Officials say two of the other victims were father and son.

HARLOW: Meantime, Attorney General Eric Holder is staying put. The Justice Department officials saying that the 63-year-old, who was recently hospitalized for an elevated heart rate, plans to stay through the fall midterm elections, but he has made clear that he will step down before the end of President Obama's second term. Officials say that Holder plans to see through several key initiatives currently under way, including criminal justice reforms and advancing gay rights.

HOWELL: Want to buy a home? Well, here's a question, is the housing market starting to slow down? The industry newsletter "Inside Mortgage Finance" says in the first quarter of this year, lending hit its lowest level in more than a decade, as Americans decided not to seek out loans for purchases -- or purchases or refinancing. This comes the same week the government reported a double-digit decline in new home sales over the last year.

HARLOW: Well, the family of a TSA officer killed at Los Angeles International Airport has filed a $25 million claim against the city. Gerardo Hernandez was shot 12 times at point blank range last November. His family says security lapses led to his death, the first ever of a TSA officer in the line of duty to be killed. The city has six months to respond before a lawsuit will be filed.

HOWELL: This morning, two middle school students and their bus driver are in critical condition after a dangerous crash on a California road. It happened in Anaheim when their bus veered into a tree. Good Samaritans, they rushed in to free the students. Many of them suffered minor injuries. The cause of that crash is still under investigation. HARLOW: And five major brush fires raging right now across New Jersey, including one threatening about 50 homes just north of Atlantic City. You see the images there, pretty powerful.

I can also tell you that this continental fire is churning through some 300 acres and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of people. Authorities blame low humidity and high winds. We've had very high winds here for spreading the fires.

HOWELL: Oregon could soon scrap its broken health care exchange and join the federal exchange. The state's Web site has been so plagued with technical problems that no one, no one has succeeded when trying to enroll online. Tens of thousands of people have instead been told they have to apply by paper.

Now, officials say repairs could cost $78 million, much more than making the switch. A decision is expected later today.

HARLOW: And it has drawn condemnation from both sides of the aisle, but Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy is standing by his comments that African-Americans may have been better off during slavery, telling Bill Weir on "CNN TONIGHT" that he did not mean to offend anyone. I want you to listen to his reaction.


CLIVEN BUNDY, NEVADA RANCHER: What I said, I said from my heart. I didn't say it as a racial thing. I felt like that there's a group of people we're talking about, the black community. You know, my question was, I'm wondering, I'm wondering whether they're that much better off in this situation we're in now with the government overreach and these -- you know, I can see these people suffering, and my heart going out to them is not against them.


HARLOW: Bundy became famous recently for his standoff against the government over his refusal to pay grazing fees for his cattle grazing on public lands. That is something that had endeared him to many conservatives. Well, some are now speaking out against him, a lot of whom are distancing themselves from him now because of those comments.

We'll cover that more later in the show.

HOWELL: What do you say there? Not much to say except to switch over to weather.


HOWELL: Let's go to Jennifer Gray now with a look at weather. I'm sorry.

Happening now -- my apology, the search, the underwater search for Flight 370 is nearly complete. So far, no answers on that, as desperate families take their frustration to the streets. We're taking you to Beijing for that part of the story. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: Well, this morning, anger is growing by the minute in Beijing, where families that are desperate for answers about those loved ones on Flight 370 are demanding more information about what happened. They took to the streets in Beijing, marching to the embassy.

Our senior international correspondent, Ivan Watson, was with them. Look.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's shortly after 1:30 in the morning in Beijing, and we're witnessing something that's pretty unusual for this tightly controlled city -- there are hundreds and hundreds of uniformed police, dozens of police vehicles, and they have all deployed around the embassy of Malaysia in response to an unusual act of civil disobedience.

You have several dozen relatives of Chinese passengers of missing Malaysian Air Flight 370 who are holding a silent protest. We can't see it. The police aren't letting us see it, in front of the gates of the Malaysian embassy.

That protest is vastly outnumbered by the police presence.

(voice-over): Thursday's drama began with an angry confrontation with representatives of Malaysian Airlines. Relatives of Flight 370 passengers demanding an audience from Malaysian embassy officials and requesting details about the investigation into the plane.

Amid tears and fury, an elderly man collapses. The standoff in a hotel conference room goes on for nearly eight hours, until families suddenly decide to walk out into the night.

They push past police on a midnight march to the embassy of Malaysia, an unusual late-night procession followed closely by squad cars.

(on camera): What do you concretely want from the Malaysian government right now?

STEVE WANG: The truth, the thing they're hiding.

WATSON: It's around 2:00 in the morning, and the police have kept us away from the silent protests at the gates of the Malaysian embassy in what they describe as the journalist section, this roped-off-piste of sidewalk.

The next of kin have clearly been pushed to the limits by this ordeal. More than 45 days since the plane disappeared and since their loved ones went missing, and this midnight march to the Malaysian embassy feels like an act of pure desperation.

Ivan Watson, CNN, Beijing.


HARLOW: Our thanks to Ivan for that.

HOWELL: EARLY START continues, all the headlines and everything you need to know, next, straight ahead.