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EARLY START

Mystery of Flight 370; Obama Hosting Merkel; Violence Escalates in Ukraine; Clippers Versus. Warriors; Malaysia: "We Have Nothing to Hide"; Authorities Hold Press Conference on MH370

Aired May 2, 2014 - 05:00   ET

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


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight. Investigators on the record for the first time now since releasing their controversial report on just what happened to missing Malaysia Airlines 370, explaining what comes next in the search now for the vanished jetliner. We have live, team coverage ahead.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We have major, developing news to tell you about. Pro-Russian protesters and Ukrainian troops battling it out in the streets, this as the fight over eastern Ukraine intensifies, and President Obama prepares for a high-stakes meeting on how the West should be involved. We're live on the ground with the very latest.

ROMANS: While you were sleeping, an intense, edge-of-your-seat playoff game between the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers. The nail-biter taking place as NBA owners decide what to do about banned clippers owner Donald Sterling. We are bringing you all the game drama ahead.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman.

What day is it?

ROMANS: It is Friday!

BERMAN: It is Friday. May 2nd, 5:00 a.m. in the East. We begin with the fallout from the Malaysian government's Flight 370 report.

Seventeen minutes -- 17 minutes, that's how long it took for air traffic controllers to realize that the plane had even 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 their findings.

Let's get the latest now from Will Ripley, who's live in Kuala Lumpur. Will, I do understand there's another news conference scheduled any minute from now, and we will take that live as soon as it happens.

In the meantime, how are they justifying this report?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, this report, the prime minister actually tweeted it out, a link to it, earlier today, saying that it was being put out in the interest of transparency. It's almost eight weeks since MH370 disappeared, and families have been asking for this report, literally for weeks, John.

What contains in it, not a lot of surprises, but certainly some revelations about the true extent of the time that was wasted and the confusion in those initial minutes and hours, when MH-370 disappeared. Seventeen minutes before anybody even noticed that the plane dropped off radar. And then during those four hours before search and rescue was activated here in Kuala Lumpur, you saw a lot of miscommunication, you saw a growing amount of panic.

But the thing that you saw the most was relative inaction in the sense that nobody made the call, OK, we've got a problem, let's get someone up in the sky to look for this.

And at the same time, the report also highlights the lack of communication between the civilian air traffic control and the military, because we know, while the civilian air traffic control had realized that they lost this plane, Malaysian military radar, at least for a time, was tracking this aircraft. And that was confirmed by the prime minister to our own Richard Quest.

So, the press conference overnight didn't really touch too much on this report, but we were expecting this new press conference, which could happen at any moment, to possibly address some of those questions. And this is going to be one of the press conferences that we've seen traditionally over these last eight weeks now, where we're going to have not only the acting transport minister, but the department of civil aviation, the CEO of Malaysia Airlines, also ministers representing next of kin, the families of Flight 370.

So, it will be interesting to see what happens. We certainly do have a lot of questions that we would like to ask.

BERMAN: Indeed, we do. And again, we will bring you that news conference the minute it happens. Will Ripley in Kuala Lumpur -- thanks so much.

ROMANS: Let's bring in Jeff Wise, CNN aviation analyst.

You know, so much is being made of the 17 minutes, this gap before they realized the plane hadn't checked in with the Vietnamese air -- and then four hours before they even started to sort of look for it. Is that just the way the system is set up, or is this, you know, a lack of oversight on the part of the Malaysians?

JEFF WISE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, you're going to expect that it takes a certain amount of time, first of all, to realize that they're not where they should be, and then to try to figure out, OK, well, where are they then? So, when you look at the transcript of the proceedings, you see that air traffic controllers in Ho Chi Minh called Malaysia, the Malaysian air traffic people called the Malaysian Airlines, and there's calls going back and forth, basically saying, has anybody seen this? And then there's a rumor that they're in Cambodian air space. That took a little while to be disproved. So, basically, imagine like if you were supposed to meet a friend for dinner and they didn't show up, then maybe you called their wife, you start to call around. It would take a while before you realized, oh, this person is actually missing, and I think something similar's happening here, it just took a while.

BERMAN: And I understand that and I understand the natural level of confusion that emulates from this. But the problem is, it's not your girlfriend for dinner.

WISE: Right.

BERMAN: It's 239 souls --

WISE: For sure.

BERMAN: -- in a giant 777 there. So, some people aren't surprised by the confusion, Jeff. But I guess the question is, should we be surprised and should there be a better system in place to make sure this doesn't happen again?

WISE: Well, bear in mind, too, that you know, the leading hypothesis that investigators have is that this was an intentional act, meaning somebody deliberately absconded with this plane. And as I pointed out before, the plane took its diversionary turn to the left, that famous westward turn, in a place in its flight path when it was just leaving radar coverage.

So, it was no longer under radar surveillance from air traffic controllers. This would have been the perfect time for it to slip away. You know, normally, air traffic controllers see a symbol of that plane moving across their screen, and that's based on the radar returns. When radar coverage slips away, that symbol keeps moving across their screen.

ROMANS: Right.

WISE: And this is something we saw in Air France 447.

ROMANS: Right.

WISE: And if this was deliberately done, it leads you to maybe suspect that they were very cleverly turning at just that point where they would have slipped away from surveillance and taken advantage of that gap.

ROMANS: I mean, I think when you talk about the time gap here, I mean, there's a lot of people saying this was conscionable, this shows authorities are not watching this plane, this should never have happened. But what you're saying is the system is built on the presumption that a plane is going to keep going where it said it's going.

WISE: Exactly. No one has ever anticipated this kind of action before. And so, the system isn't designed to prevent people from absconding with planes. BERMAN: After Air France 447, though, fell into the Atlantic Ocean, there were protocols that were supposed to have been put in place to make this type of situation at least run more smoothly. That did not seem to happen.

WISE: Right. The technology exists to allow planes to be tracked via satellite, you know, instead of being based on ground radar, as it currently is. It wouldn't be such a hard objective to have planes automatically communicating their position and other crucial information. That, though, could also be turned off as the position equipment seems to have been turned off in this case.

BERMAN: Jeff Wise, great to have you with us. Again, we are awaiting a news conference from Kuala Lumpur, where they will talk about this report at great length, and we hope in new detail, because there's a lot of questions still that people have from this report.

ROMANS: No question.

BERMAN: Six minutes after the hour.

The crisis in Ukraine will be front and center today when President Obama hosts German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House. Tougher sanctions against Russia could be on the table, all this happening as the violence in Ukraine escalates dramatically overnight.

CNN has been monitoring a large-scale military operation being launched by the Ukrainian military, all while Russian President Vladimir Putin is calling on Kiev to withdraw its troops from southeast Ukraine, withdraw its troops from its own country, if it wants to keep peace.

Let's get more on today's meeting between the president and Angela Merkel.

Senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta filed this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government is launching a large- scale operation to recapture the eastern city of Slaviansk, as the violence in Ukraine threatens to erupt.

I want to get the latest now from Arwa Damon. She's live for us this morning from Donetsk, where Ukraine riot police have been clashing with pro-Russian activists.

What's the latest, Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, those clashes happening yesterday at the prosecutor's office when the pro- Russian camp tried to storm the building, eventually forcing the riot police out and taking control, asserting their own authority. And then in the early hours of the morning, Ukrainian troops in the cities of Slaviansk and Kramatorsk launching, what they're calling an anti- terror operation.

According to the ministry of defense, two helicopters shot down, two soldiers possibly dead, nine barricades taken back. And driving into these various cities that are in the control of the pro-Russian camp, you do see a number of barricades, tires that the pro-Russian camp has established. Those, now reportedly, some of them being taken back by Ukrainian forces.

But moving forward in the antiterrorism operation, if they do, in fact, decide to really go on the offensive, it's going to be incredibly difficult, because these various buildings that are in the hands of the pro-Russian camp, they're in residential areas, they're in the very heart of these various cities. The potential for even more bloodshed, street-to-street combat very much out there, very much of great concern for a number of civilians that we have been speaking to throughout all of this.

But it does seem at this stage as if the central government in Kiev's at the very least attempting to try to reinforce its own authority, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Arwa Damon, thanks for that, Arwa.

Wow.

BERMAN: Dramatic developments overnight in Ukraine. And again, very much on the table as the president meets with Angela Merkel today. There will be a press conference live at about 11:30, 11:40 between the two leaders. CNN will be taking that live. ROMANS: All right. Now, a heartbreaking loss for the L.A. Clippers and their fans last night. They're going to need a game seven to advance in the playoffs after losing game six to the Golden State Warriors, 100-99! Oh, my goodness.

Meanwhile, a panel of NBA owners met Thursday, unanimously agreeing to proceed as expeditiously as possible to oust clippers owner Donald Sterling from the league for his racist words. Three-quarters of the owners need to approve his removal.

And the president of the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP has resigned. Leon Jenkins stepping down for his decision to honor sterling for promoting civil rights.

BERMAN: And happening right now, the east coast cleaning up after historic flooding just covered communities with water. And this morning the rain not over yet. Oh, no!

Indra Petersons tracking the storms, right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back this Friday morning.

One more day of severe storms on tap for the Southeast, the worst of the extreme weather has moved out, but you know, there are torrential rains in the forecast again today for Florida, the Sunshine State, as it's supposed to say on the license plate.

BERMAN: Yes, you've got to be kidding me.

ROMANS: Yes, it's been tough.

BERMAN: There's been historic flooding in the panhandle. The water still not receding enough to start a serious cleanup there. Homes, businesses destroyed.

ROMANS: Oh, look at that.

BERMAN: Wow. Local insurance agents have been inundated with flood claims. And then there's been serious consequences. Two inmates at the county jail in Pensacola were killed by a gas explosion. Over 180 others were hurt. Officials say the facility was flooded with two feet of water when the blast ripped through the building.

And then you have to take a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SCREAMING)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God.

(SCREAMING) (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: That is unbelievable. Incredible video of a landslide swallowing up ten cars and a retaining wall, then dropping it all on to railroad tracks below. This is right in the middle of a Baltimore neighborhood. That city suffering its worst flooding in decades.

It happened so slowly. I can't believe it!

BERMAN: Whoever's shooting it showing a huge amount of faith that the rest of the road will not fall in there.

ROMANS: Wow.

BERMAN: We could loop that for the next 45 minutes or move on to this.

ROMANS: Yes.

BERMAN: Flooding is also a big problem in parts of Pennsylvania. So much rain fell in the Schuylkill River that it actually crested higher than it did during Hurricane Irene or Superstorm Sandy.

ROMANS: More grim news in Mississippi. The death toll in that state from this week's tornadoes now 14 with the discovery of the body of a missing boy. We're getting new images of the devastation in Jackson. At least nine twisters touched down in the state on Monday.

And just look at the flooding. Rivers so far over their banks, residents, look at how they have to get in their homes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's been kind of crazy. Woke up at 7:00 to head to school for a final and saw the water was above our mailbox out in the front yard.

There was a Papa John's car we saw over there that was completely flooded.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Wow.

BERMAN: The pizza's in jeopardy, you know it's serious.

ROMANS: I was thinking the same thing. That means it's Friday. We're hungry.

BERMAN: It's Friday.

Indra Petersons has decided to join us this Friday with a look at the forecast. And hopefully, some good weather for the weekend.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. Good morning. We've been talking about that same frontal system, right, all week long. You can see it's still out there on the map this morning. Very easy to see this huge frontal system, very tail end of this cold front still hanging over Florida even this morning.

But the other system I wanted to show you, you can see the contrast here, much lighter. You can see almost a hint of a spin out here. That will be the next story with just light rain into the Ohio Valley and Northeast over the weekend.

First, let's take them one at a time. Here's the cold front we've been watching. Notice it stalls out and pretty much lingers or very slowly exits out of Florida. That's where we'll be watching for more rain in that area today. Of course, here's the next system making its way across with just light showers for a lot of you in towards the weekend.

So, how much rain is everyone expecting? We've been talking about this. Florida already seen so much rain, a lot of flooding concerns, still looking for heavier amounts farther South, though, than a few days ago, maybe just a few inches.

I'm going to go out and toss it back to Christine and John.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, Indra.

Toss it back to us because we have some --

BERMAN: Because in Malaysia, there is a news conference, officials briefing us now on the report just released on flight 370, the official report. This is the Malaysian defense minister. Let's listen to what he has to say.

(BEGIN LIVE FEED)

HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: -- along with additional information. This is consistent with our stand in the interests of openness and transparency. All information which does not jeopardize the investigation or the search operation should and will be made public.

It must be stressed that the report made public yesterday is a preliminary report. Nevertheless, I repeatedly stressed since the beginning, we really have nothing to hide. Meeting with Angus Houston and Jean-Paul Troadec this morning. Earlier today, I met with retired air marshal Angus Houston, who has been leading the Joint Agency Coordination Center, JACC, in Perth, coordinating the search of MH-370 in the southern Indian Ocean, and Mr. Jean--Paul Troadec, the head of the French investigation team for Air France flight 447 and the former head of the aviation accident investigation bureau.

The presence of these two individuals in Kuala Lumpur is to discuss the new phase we are entering into the search operation. The meeting was a testament to Malaysia's inclusiveness in coordinating the next phase of this unprecedented search, and it reaffirms our relentless commitment as well as that of the international community in searching for MH-370.

Progress regarding the subcommittees. The three subcommittees or ministerial committees led by the three deputy ministers have been meeting and efforts have been intensified to prepare ourselves for the next phase.

Let me now update you on this progress. The technical committee -- the international investigative team, which is led by Dr. (INAUDIBLE), the former director general of the DCA and a former representative to ICAO council in Montreal, has commenced investigations on the incident as stipulated by the terms of reference laid down by ICAO.

The investigation team has convened five times so far, and progress will be reported in due course. In respects of the next-of-kin committee, yesterday, Malaysian Airlines has announced it will make advanced compensation payments as soon as possible to the nominated next of kin who are entitled to plane compensation. The compensation package is aimed to meet the immediate economic needs of the families.

I would like to reaffirm the government's stand as iterated yesterday by (INAUDIBLE), the deputy foreign minister who heads the next of kin subcommittee, that we are confident in Malaysian Airlines' commitment in assisting and supporting the families of those onboard MH370. And on that note, I would also like to record our sincerest appreciation to the Chinese government for their strong support in this matter.

I strongly urge that Malaysia Airlines continue to engage the families of the passengers as we enter this new phase. It is imperative for us to maintain and improve the communication platforms and channels which have been established between the airline and the families the past eight weeks. The designated family members of the passengers, wherever they are, must be kept informed consistently and timely on significant developments relating to the search. We owe it to the families to keep abreast with the progress and to get to the bottom of this incident.

On asset deployment, we have had detailed discussions with several Malaysian companies, namely, Petronas,(INAUDIBLE) Boustad and (INAUDIBLE) in the past few days on deploying specialized assets. These highly specialized underwater systems and platforms include autonomous unmanned vehicles, AUVs, deepwater towed side-scan sonars, remotely operated vehicles, ROVs, and support vessels to deployed assets to join in the new phase of the search mission.

It is important for all the Malaysian entities involved in this effort to be on the same page, working as one team, flying the Malaysian flag to find MH370.

My trip to Canberra. Next week I will lead a delegation to Canberra to attend the trilateral ministerial meeting, which will be hosted by our Australian counterparts on the 5th of May. The meeting will be chaired by the deputy prime minister of Australia and the minister of infrastructure.

I will be accompanied by the heads of the three subcommittees, the deputy minister of defense, the deputy minister of transport and the deputy minister of foreign affairs, along with (INAUDIBLE) and other relevant representatives from respective ministries.

In addition, a Chinese delegation will also be joining us for the meeting led by the transport minister and accompanied by the vice minister of transport, his excellency (INAUDIBLE), and accompanied by the vice minister of foreign affairs, his excellency Zi Hang Shang (ph) and other senior government officials.

On the lead regarding Bay of Bengal, on the Bay of Bengal allegation, we agree with Angus Houston's statement that this claim is highly unlikely. Many leads in the past have proven to be negative, and this is similar to what we have done before. There is nothing new, but we have informed lateral states to verify this claim.

Currently, there are three ships from Bangladesh, including a survey ship in the search area, and to date, nothing has been found.

As we enter into the new phase of this search, ladies and gentlemen, we are grateful for the continued support that we have received from the international community as well as stakeholders domestically. We are also heartened by the new support from countries who have come forward but were not in the initial phase of the operation.

We will strive to overcome the new challenges facing the search operations in this new phase, which requires expensive, sophisticated and complex underwater assets. And as always, our thoughts and prayers remain with those on board MH370 and their families and the search goes on. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, ladies and gentlemen, we'll now open the Q&A session. We'll start with the local media first.

OK, ma'am, local media? Local media? OK, from this corner, please. Yes. >

REPORTER: Good evening.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could you introduce yourself?

REPORTER: Good evening. I am Su Lin (ph) from (INAUDIBLE) online.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good evening.

REPORTER: I would like to ask, when exactly did the Malaysian military spot MH370 on its turn back across the peninsula? And upon spotting it, what exactly did the military do? Did they contact with the civil aviation authorities, for example, or did they try to contact the plane itself? Thanks.

HUSSEIN: I don't have the actual details with me today. And I'm very cautious and very careful what I say in this stage. So, it is very important for me to get clarification on that. But if you guys have got anything to add on that --

(CROSSTALK)

HUSSEIN: I'll get back to you. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, the next one. First row. The lady with -- yes, please, there.

REPORTER: You mentioned earlier that --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Excuse me, could you (INAUDIBLE)

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE)

I need to ask a question. Earlier, you mentioned that China may be roped in to assist with the Bay of Bengal search. Why is that? Because since it was by Australian, why do we still have to send in (INAUDIBLE)?

HUSSEIN: Well, I haven't decided yet whether to deploy the vessel. And as our standard operating procedure in the past, whether the leads includes landing, whether satellite data from China, oil slicks, life rafts, life vests, those were all in the South China Sea, mind you. We will proceed this u uncorroborated and unverified evidence.

Secondly, you have to understand that this lead involving the Bay of Bengal, we need to deploy assets, especially Sapporo assets to be responsible to them, to be responsible in our decision to deploy it. We have to understand, it's going to be expensive.

Secondly, it is the exact vessel that we are going to use to deploy in the new phase of our search. So, any detour from that search is going to cause delay, 14 days, exactly.

And thirdly, in the event that this vessel is deployed, and the lead is negative, can you imagine the families that had to go through another episode of hoping finding closure to it?

So, these are all my considerations in having to deploy it, but I can assure you that as far as China is concerned, they're ready to deploy it, but I'm just awaiting feedback from what I've said just now on countries, neighboring countries, specifically Bangladesh and other countries that have deployed assets in that area to come back to me. Then I will then have to talk to them on whether it's actually deployed or not.

But we have not strayed away from our standard operating procedure, which is to make sure that in doing that we do not affect the present search operations, it doesn't affect the emotions and the feelings of the families. And in this case, it will affect very expensive equipment and vessel, which might have been detoured just because of this lead.

REPORTER: My second question would be, is there any specific reason on why Boeing is in the investigation team?

HUSSEIN: Boeing?

REPORTER: Yes. And because since -- would it be a conflict of interest since (INAUDIBLE) the investigation? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Boeing, yes. Boeing not in the investigation team as such. They are an adviser to the effort rep of the USA, and USA being the state of design, state of manufacture, and the National of Transport Safety Board of USA obviously needs a lot of important information from Boeing, and that's the reason why Boeing, same like Rolls Royce, representing the engine manufacturers, are in the part of the accredited rep team. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Yes, second row. The lady, please?