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Mystery of Flight 370: Report Controversy; Obama Hosting Merkel; Violence Escalates in Ukraine; Clippers Vs. Warriors

Aired May 2, 2014 - 04:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight: investigators on the record for the first time since releasing their controversial report on what happened to missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, explaining what comes next in the search for the vanished jetliner. And this morning, promising to answer questions about the report. Family members of those onboard say it raises more questions than it answers.

We have live, team coverage, coming up.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning. Pro- Russian protesters and Ukrainian troops battling it out in the streets as the fight over eastern Ukraine intensifies, this as President Obama prepares for a high-stakes meeting on how involved the West should get. We're live on the ground with the very latest.

BERMAN: And then, while you were sleeping, what an intense, edge-of- your-seat playoff game. The Los Angeles Clippers in a nail-biter, taking place as NBA owners decide what to do about banned Clippers owner Donald Sterling. There's new drama in that, drama in the game, a lot of drama ahead.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to drama Friday. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: And I'm drama-free Christine Romans. At least, that's not what John thinks.

It's Friday, it's May 2nd, it's 4:00 a.m. in the East.

We begin with the fallout from Malaysian government Flight 370 report. Seventeen minutes, that's how long it took for air traffic controllers to realize the plane had disappeared from radar. Then, Malaysian authorities failed to initiate any kind of search for four hours. Overnight, government officials in Malaysia held a news conference, their first since releasing those findings.

Will Ripley live from Kuala Lumpur this morning.

What are Malaysian authorities saying, Will, about that report?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, they're not saying much overnight about the report, although we are expecting another, more formal news conference happening possibly within the hour, although that comes with a caveat, that conferences have been called and canceled multiple times here in Kuala Lumpur.

So, we'll just have to wait and see. If it does happen, we'll be closely monitoring what's said. But what has been announced is the new phase of the underwater search happening off the coast of Western Australia.

Specifically, there is big meeting, a trilateral meeting happening in Australia on Monday between Malaysia, China and Australia. They're going to be mapping out a blueprint for the months that lie ahead, this search that could take up to a year and cost $60 million.

Listen to what the acting transport minister here in Malaysia has to say about it.


HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN ACTING TRANSPORT MINISTER: We are responsible in our approach and going forward with that lead. We also have to understand the emotions of the family. Now, in the event that we do spend money, which is going to be expensive, getting more vessels out there, it's going to take time, which is going to affect the operations of our present search in the area that we have identified. And thirdly, it's going to impact on the emotional roller coaster of the families of the passengers.

That is something that we take into consideration when we put assets into confirming or disproving what has been announced by that particular company.


RIPLEY: Hishammuddin Hussein there joined by the Australian search chief, Angus Houston, and a new public figure in this from France, the lead investigator for Air France 447, Jean-Paul Troadec. These three men are going to be meeting in Australia, talking with experts about new technology that could possibly be brought in to search for this missing plane.

Eight weeks in, Christine, still no sign of it. Then of course, that report that shows wasted time in those crucial first hours.

ROMANS: Yes, some this morning asking why wasn't the Flight 447 chief investigator included weeks ago? So, we'll explore all those questions.

Will Ripley, thank you.

BERMAN: Of course, this report matters most to the families aboard Flight 370, and this morning, they are not satisfied one bit with the findings of this preliminary report. And on top of that, they're being told to go home.

Authorities in Kuala Lumpur announcing assistance centers where the families have been gathering for weeks, they are closing.

Sarah Bajc, whose partner was on board Flight 370, insists Malaysian officials used the closing of the centers as a distraction. Listen to what she told CNN's Michael Smerconish.


SARAH BAJC, PARTNER OF PHILIP WOOD: The average Chinese person, when they go home, they will have no other means of communication. So, Malaysian Airlines is sending everybody home, but they haven't actually created any kind of interim step for them.

But you know, I think there's something very important to raise here, is that the timing of this was almost too perfect to distract from the release of the ICAO report, because that report raises far more questions than it answered. It is riddled with discrepancies. It contradicts itself, even between the maps given and the document of the report as well as the list of actions taken. There are actual contradictions between what they've put in those three documents.


BERMAN: You can tell how unhappy they are.

So, let's talk more about this.

David McKenzie's been spending so much time with the families. He joins us live from Beijing this morning.

Good morning, David.


And that's right, the family members have said that they're disappointed in that report. In fact, they called it irrelevant more than once to me. They are in that hotel, but for how much longer, we're not entirely sure. Certainly, it appears they've been given a deadline to get out.

In the coming hours, I suspect many of them will be leaving. As one man put it to me, he said, well, they don't have much of a choice.

You know, it's not as simple as that all of them want to stay. Many family members have privately said they wanted to get out, but wanted to keep that strength in their numbers, have that leverage with their dispute with Malaysian Airlines. And now, it appears that the Chinese government's on board for them to leave, and when that happens, there's not much they say they can do.

So, we do expect them to leave in the coming hours, going back to their homes all across China. Malaysian Airlines says that it set up an assistance center, that they will be able to talk to significantly Chinese authorities, telling family members that they will have a legal team assigned to them if they wanted, from China, that the government here will pick up the tab on that.

So, certainly, the officials are trying to say we are still going to be here to answer your questions, to give any assistance you need, but they were very emotional scenes when they did find out that they had to leave. But at this stage, I think that might be also because, in a sense, it's the end of a chapter and it's not the answer they wanted. They wanted some kind of closure before they left the hotel.

BERMAN: Nothing beginning to approach closure in this.

David McKenzie, thanks so much for being with us.

ROMANS: All right, the crisis in Ukraine front and center when President Obama hosts German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House today. Tougher sanctions against Russia could be on the table as the violence in Ukraine escalates.

CNN monitoring a large-scale anti-terror operation being launched by the Ukrainian military, all while Russian President Vladimir Putin calls on Kiev to withdraw its troops from southeast Ukraine if it wants to keep the peace.

For more on today's meeting between Obama and Merkel, here's senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John and Christine, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit to the White House comes at a critical time. Both the U.S. and Germany have tried to apply pressure on Russia to try to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine, the U.S. taking the lead on sanctions, while Chancellor Merkel has tried to use her closer relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin to resolve the crisis, but it's not clear whether those closer ties are helping.

In a phone conversation that the two leaders had on Thursday, Putin told Merkel that he wants to see Ukrainian troops pull out of the southeastern part of their own country. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney called that suggestion preposterous.

Now, the White House expects both leaders, both President Obama and Angela Merkel, to talk about another round of sanctions against Russia. That next round would likely be targeted at Russia's economy, key sectors of the Russian economy, such as banking and energy sectors, but that would hurt the German economy as well, so expect that question to come up at a news conference with President Obama and Chancellor Merkel later today.

Also, one other big question to expect will be about those revelations that the U.S. has been spying on foreign leaders, most notably Angela Merkel -- John and Christine.


BERMAN: Our thanks to Jim for following that reporting -- magical daylight surrounding the White House at all hours.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government launching a large-scale anti- terror operation to recapture the eastern city of Slaviansk as the violence in Ukraine escalates and threatens to erupt. It may have erupted already in some places.

Let's get the latest from Arwa Damon, live from Donetsk, where Ukrainian riot police, Arwa, have been clashing with pro-Russian activists.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the situation most certainly is not looking very well for the government in central Ukraine and Kiev.

In Slaviansk, according to the ministry of defense, two helicopters have been shot down, two military officers dead as that operation does continue. The Ukrainian government reportedly capable or already having taken back a number of the barricades that the pro-Russian camp has set up outside of Slaviansk and Kramatorsk.

Here where we are in Donetsk, yesterday, yet another building falling to the pro-Russian camp when clashes erupted between pro-Russian militants and riot police, but the riot police very quickly forced to retreat from the prosecutor's office. We arrived on scene just as the pro-Russian militants were ransacking the entire building, going room to room, breaking down doors, looking for anyone who they believe might be hiding out within, burning photographs of those who used to work there before them, really going through very aggressively, asserting their own authority, saying this was all part of their effort to try to ensure that a referendum did, in fact, take place on May 11th, John.

BERMAN: All right, Arwa, thank you so much. Keep an eye on things there because we know developments are moving fast and furious this morning.

As for basketball, it seems like nothing these days is easy for the Los Angeles Clippers. It will take a game seven and a win in a game seven to advance in the playoffs. This after they dropped game six to the Golden State Warriors overnight in heartbreaking fashion. The final score was 100-99.

While that was going on, a panel of NBA owners met, unanimously agreeing to proceed as expeditiously as possible to oust clippers owner Donald Sterling from the league, that for his racist comments. Now, three-quarters of the owners need to approve his removal. I guess that smaller panel, by the way, was unanimous in recommending that he'd be removed.

The president of the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP, meanwhile, he's resigned. Leon Jenkins stepped down for his decision to honor Sterling. This happened -- he was going to be honored very soon for his civil rights work. The NAACP in Los Angeles, you know, no longer honoring Sterling, but the leader of that group is stepping down.

ROMANS: All right. Happening now, the East Coast cleaning up after this historic flooding. Simply, you know, inundated communities. And this morning the rain isn't over. We're breaking down the very latest right after the break.


ROMANS: Fourteen minutes after the hour. Breaking news out of South Korea. Two subway trains in Seoul colliding. We're getting reports, that's right, over 170 injuries. At least one of these subway cars derailed.

We're tracking developments. We're going to bring you updates throughout the morning, but again, the casualty list is growing. Originally, it was 40 people hurt. Now, it's more than 170.

BERMAN: You know, I think it goes without saying, this is not a country that needs to be dealing with another transportation disaster.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

BERMAN: All eyes on Seoul. Two subways crashing, at least 170 people injured.

All right, let's move on to news back here at home. One more day of severe storms in the Southeast. The worst of the extreme weather has cleared out, but torrential rains are in the forecast today for Florida.

Now, it was once called the Sunshine State. I do not believe that applies any longer.

ROMANS: No, not today, at least.

There is historic flooding in the panhandle area, the water not receding enough to start a serious cleanup. Many homes and businesses destroyed. Local insurance agents inundated with flood claims. Two inmates at the county jail in Pensacola were killed by a gas explosion.

More than 180 others hurt. Officials say the facility was flooded with 2 feet of water when the blast ripped through the building. And look at this.







BERMAN: I do not think I've ever seen anything like that.

ROMANS: That's in Baltimore. That's, like, right there in Baltimore.

BERMAN: That is incredible video of a retaining wall collapsing, a landslide that really just swallowed up 10 cars and that retaining wall. It dropped them on to railroad tracks below. That was in a Baltimore neighborhood.

Wow! That city is suffering its worst flooding in decades.

ROMANS: I can hardly believe those pictures.

Flooding also a big problem in parts of Pennsylvania. So much rain fell. The Schuylkill River actually crested higher than it did during Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy.

BERMAN: More grim news in Mississippi. The death toll in that state from this week's tornadoes rising to 14 with the discovery of the body of a missing boy. And we're getting new images from the devastation in Jackson.

At least nine twisters touched down in the state on Monday. And look at the flooding they're getting. Two rivers are so far over their banks that residents had to use sea-dos, whatever they are, to leave their homes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's been kind of crazy. I woke up at 7:00 and head to school for a final and saw the water was above our mailbox in the front yard. There's a Papa John's car that's completely flooded.


ROMANS: Let's get an early look at weather now with Jennifer Gray.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: John and Christine, the big story today still the rain in Florida, not in the panhandle, but more in central Florida. We could see anywhere from four to six inches along the coast. That includes Daytona Beach, all the way down to West Palm Beach area. Central Florida, the interior sections could see two to four inches. That includes Orlando, and one to two up in portions of the panhandle, especially east of Tallahassee.

Temperatures are going to stay in the low 70s across the Southeast, slightly cooler temperatures in place, 69 in D.C. and New York City, not bad for a Friday afternoon.

As we go through tomorrow, still rain, but it's moving down into portions of south Florida now, mostly sunny across much of the country's midsection. Just a couple of showers moving into the Northeast.

Temperatures will gradually warm up. Look at Dallas, 90 degrees by Saturday, 74 in Atlanta, 79 in Memphis, so warmer air moves in quickly over the weekend -- John and Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Jennifer Gray. Thanks for filing that report for us.

All right. For the first time, the Education Department has revealed a list of 55 colleges and universities under investigation for how they handle campus sex assault claims. Small colleges, state universities, some of the Ivies are included. The White House says it's part of an effort to bring more attention to the issue of sexual violence and that there is zero presumption of guilt.

BERMAN: Really shining the spotlight on that this week.

Meanwhile, the reports of sexual assaults in the military are up by half, but the Pentagon says they are still underreported. In 2013, there were just over 5,000 sex assault claims. The Defense Department says the uptick likely reflects recent steps to encourage victims to come forward. They say it's not likely an increase in actual incidents.

ROMANS: The director of Oklahoma's Corrections Department is recommending an indefinite stay of executions following the botched execution of an inmate earlier this week. According to a timeline report released Thursday, Clayton Lockett died from an apparent heart attack 43 minutes after his attempted execution began and 10 minutes after it was halted. The report also reveals Lockett had been tasered by prison staff earlier in the day. Formal autopsy results are expected in eight to 12 weeks.

BERMAN: We're learning more this morning about an alleged plot by a Minnesota teen to murder his family and bomb his school. Police say the 17-year-old is an admirer of the Columbine killers, kept a detailed journal outlining his plan and was less than two weeks away from carrying this plan out. Police uncovered this plot after receiving a phone tip. They found three fully functioning bombs and numerous firearms in the teen's home and in a storage locker. He faces four counts of attempted murder, also explosives charges.

ROMANS: And prosecutors say he kept detailed records and is going to -- wanted to kill his parents, too.

BERMAN: Lucky, they got this guy.

ROMANS: A Connecticut teen charged with stabbing his classmate to death inside their school is expected to be arraigned today. Sixteen- year-old Christopher Plaskon charged with murder as an adult. Hundreds gathered Wednesday for the wake of his alleged victim, 16- year-old Maren Sanchez. She is an honor student and president of her class.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She would have accomplished anything she wanted to do. She was a go-getter. She would never leave anyone behind. She is -- she was the greatest person I ever met.


ROMANS: Many of the mourners wearing Sanchez's favorite color, purple. Police say Plaskon confessed to the killing just minutes after it happened. Their investigation reports that Sanchez had rejected him recently from an invitation to the prom.

BERMAN: So sad.

We do have a clearer picture this morning of exactly who signed up for Obamacare. New data from the White House shows that 28 percent of the 8 million enrollees are in the 18 to 24 demographic. Federal officials say that they are comfortable with that figure -- White House officials, mostly -- but many analysts say that figure is short of the ideal and might not be enough to keep policy prices down. Insurers who are setting 2015 rates right now say that that age data, the mix is a key factor.

ROMANS: Today, General Motors heads back to federal bankruptcy court amid a flood of class-action suits stemming from the recent recall of 2.6 million cars because of an ignition switch problem linked to 13 deaths. Gm will ask the judge to enforce part of its 2009 bankruptcy that protected the company from lawsuits arising from past accidents, but it might not be that simple. Gm now admits to knowing about the problem for more than a decade before the recall.

BERMAN: That's a key hearing for that case.

ROMANS: It really is.

BERMAN: All right, Amanda Knox on the record in a CNN exclusive. In case, you missed this overnight, this is really interesting, reacting to her latest Italian court conviction. Why she says the evidence proves she didn't kill her friend. That's coming up next.


ROMANS: Welcome back. Twenty-five minutes past the hour.

Amanda Knox is speaking out exclusively to CNN with her murder conviction restored in Italy. Knox vehemently denies killing her roommate, Meredith Kercher, telling "NEW DAY's" Chris Cuomo there's no evidence to back up the conviction, and she is determined to see her name cleared.


AMANDA KNOX, CONVICTED OF MURDER IN ITALY: I had truly believed that this court was going to find me innocent. No new evidence had been presented, and I did not expect this. And I'm incredibly hurt and disappointed to read what they're saying is true but is so clearly not. And I guess my only hope is that people are going to see all of the flaws that are throughout the entire document that justifies this verdict.


ROMANS: Knox tells Chris she is still haunted by how people perceive her. Earlier this year, a court in Florence reinstated her murder conviction and sentenced her in absentia to 28 1/2 years in prison.

BERMAN: Such an interesting, interesting decision.


BERMAN: All right, we do have breaking news this morning. A very dangerous situation right now on the streets in Ukraine. Troops and pro-Russian protesters, they've been battling it out all night. We'll bring you the latest from the scene, just ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)