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Calls for Shinseki's Resignation Grow; U.S. Navy Says Pings Weren't From Flight 370; Next Steps for Flight 370 Search

Aired May 29, 2014 - 11:00   ET


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CO-ANCHOR: The man in charge of overseeing the care of America's veterans is now on thin ice with the president, a scathing new report of treatment-deferred as calls for Eric Shinseki's calls for resignation intensify.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR: So it turns out the pings that carried so much promise in the search for Flight 370 may have been from something else.

Wrong pings, wrong search area, no plane, now what?

PEREIRA: Can you imagine that? Hit by lightning. We're going to speak with a storm chaser who got a little too close to the action, an unwelcome jolt and how he managed to catch that frightening scene on video.

Hello and good morning. I'm Michaela Pereira.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It's 11:00 a.m. in the East, 8:00 a.m. out West, those stories and more, right now, @THISHOUR.

And we do begin with the V.A. secretary on thin ice with President Obama, those words coming directly from the White House.

This is a stunning new report, reveals a ballooning list of deficiencies by the agency charged with caring for the nation's veterans.

PEREIRA: The review of the inspector general found that. in Phoenix alone. at least 1,700 veterans were never scheduled for an appointment or even put on a waiting list.

It also indicates the investigation has expanded now to include 42 V.A. medical centers.

Now the Justice Department is reviewing the report as the American legion calls for a criminal investigation.

BERMAN: Now, as this scandal widens, pressure is mounting on V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki and his deputies. This is just a tiny shred of the criticism lodged last night by members of Congress.


REP. PHIL ROE (R), TENNESSEE: How you can stand in a mirror and look at yourself in the mirror and shave in the morning and not throw up --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a question about destruction of documents and you don't even know who did it or their motive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is nearly a decade of excuses.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The house is on fire, and nobody's going to survive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of you, I think, have got to find something else to do.


PEREIRA: I want to bring in our senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin, who first broke this story right here on CNN.

Saw a lot of outrage there. What is the key finding at this point in the preliminary report, Drew?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Michaela, I think the key finding is, not only is it as bad as we thought it was, it is even worse.

And the report actually, this precursor of a real report, leads to the fact that there's going to be plenty, plenty more bad stuff yet to come.

This is a huge and growing scandal. The fact that they have announced in this Office of Inspector General report that now 42 different facilities are facing scrutiny really says to me exactly what the OIG said. This is a systemic failure throughout the V.A.

BERMAN: Drew, you know the system now, I think, better than any reporter in America. It seems almost inevitable at this point that the calls for Eric Shinseki to resign will force him out of office eventually.

My question to you -- and this was posed by my friend, Rick Klein, at ABC -- what does that fix? What does that fix in the V.A. system if and when Eric Shinseki steps down?

GRIFFIN: Well, I don't know what it's going to fix in the V.A. system, to be quite blunt, John, but what it's going to fix for the president is an end to a political crisis that's just getting worse and worse and worse.

I was at that four-hour hearing last night. It started at 7:30, went till 11:30. Both sides of that hearing room, Democrats and Republicans, it was packed and overflowing with extra congressmen not even on that committee who wanted to come in there and rail against the V.A.

This is a political bomb for the president, and both sides don't think he's handling it very well.

The other thing is, do you need to get beyond this political crisis for the V.A. to really begin to heal itself and move in the direction it needs to move? I'll leave that up to the politicians, for the pundits, to decide.

But you know, if you don't get rid of Shinseki and these reports continue to come out, every time one comes out, there is going to be another political headache for the president and his administration.

PEREIRA: That is to be sure, and we're going to explore that right now. But of course the question also goes to, what happens to those veterans who are needing care?

What is being done for them? That's a question we'll continue to explore.

But adding to the fray, House Speaker John Boehner just said this morning, not too long ago, that President Obama, quote, "should be held accountable for the problems at the V.A.," stopping short of calling for Shinseki's resignation.

BERMAN: The chorus of those who do want the secretary to step down is growing in Congress, Democrats, Republicans.

This is what Senator John McCain, a combat veteran, told Wolf Blitzer.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Phoenix V.A. is not an island. It's not immune to other influences.

Every other V.A. is probably going to have these same influences on them, because they were trying to comply with guidelines that were laid down from the headquarters of the V.A. which they couldn't meet. That's what this whole phantom waiting list and stuff is all about.

So I haven't said this before, but I think it's time for General Shinseki to move on.


PEREIRA: All right. Let's bring in our political panel, political commentator, Republican consultant Margaret Hoover, political analyst and editor of The Daily Beast, Mr. John Avlon.

John, has Eric Shinseki become an albatross around the president's neck? Is it time for him to go?

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He's absolutely become a political liability, and this is a political, pile-on moment.

The key question is this, does a political scalp help solve the problem? Now, nothing focuses the mind like the prospect of being hung, and Shinseki is a man with a very respected record. He's clearly lost the confidence of Congress. The question is, can he actually, given his understanding of the V.A., switch into high gear to really start dealing with the systemic problem --


AVLON: -- or is this such a political pile-on that it's time the president's got to go against the narrative that he's not -- doesn't hold leaders accountable in his administration, fire him and put a fixer in who can get the job done fast.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The problem, too, is that General Shinseki has been so politically weakened that he may lack the political clout to actually get change done within the V.A.

BERMAN: And that's the point that Drew Griffin, I think, made there. It may not be any one fix that's made by his absence, but maybe fixes can't happen while he's there.

Margaret, I want to ask this to you, because you have worked in a White House before. I've never heard a cabinet secretary be told he's on thin ice before.

That's shocking to me. That was leaked overnight by White House officials to the media, on thin ice.

You know, what does that mean? Either you fire the guy or push him out or you don't, but what do you gain by saying a cabinet secretary's on thin ice?

HOOVER: Because you're demonstrating to the American people that you're on top of this, and you're willing to make cuts where you need to, you're willing to let somebody go.

And I think that's what President Obama needs to do because, frankly, he was late to this political scandal. Because he didn't get on this early and fast and with enough, I think, emotion, it got out from under him, and it became a political scandal.

This didn't need to be political. I think if they had handled this seriously and effectively at the beginning, and this has gone -- this is a trend, I think, with President Obama's administration. There are a couple of things that have gotten bigger than they needed to be before he got there.

Remember the BP oil spill? It took him a long time to get down there and sort of acknowledge that people were looking at the administration. Where are they?

The IRS scandal, the ObamaCare Web site, there have been several things that he's been late to the game on, and I think this has made it unnecessarily political. But I do think the secretary is probably not going to decide this.

PEREIRA: Is there danger beyond this administration just for both parties that this becomes such a game of political football? We know that our veterans are very important to us, very dear to the American public. We all believe they should be taken care of.

When you look at what an important year this is, politically, if this becomes too much of a political football between the two parties, is that going to upset too many of the voters that say, look, you're not getting to the business at hand?

AVLON: Look, it should because the focus should be on solving this problem. The problem is, of course, that we've had had decades of reports showing systemic problems in the V.A.

We had a whistleblower say to The Daily Beast the other day that the organization resembles a crime syndicate to some extent with regard to the sort of endemic corruption and avoidance of confronting these issues.

But the rush to the gates right now in Washington is all political. It's not about necessarily solving that problem. And that's where the American people need to set a clear message.

Because the fact that all the red state Dems are now calling for Shinseki's resignation, that's not a coincidence, folks; that's politics. They need to create distance. Veterans are mom and apple pie, and no one wants to be on the wrong side of that equation.

HOOVER: And -- you made me laugh, mom and apple pie.

But the truth is, maybe it takes a political crisis to get it done, but this isn't a political crisis; it's a bipartisan political crisis.


HOOVER: Democrats and Republicans are equally rushing to the door, so I don't think there's squabbling between the two. There's a uniform call for change to happen. And maybe -- maybe -- it just takes a political crisis to force real reform on the V.A.

BERMAN: Everyone's within their rights to be plenty angry. They're in their rights to point fingers. If they want to make a political fight of this, they can, as long as they follow up when the fight is over.

HOOVER: Can't rearrange the deck chairs.

AVLON: And that follow-up almost never happens because political theater takes a back stage to solving problems.

PEREIRA: You know when you have fights with somebody, arguments, you forget what the argument's about because you're just so busy fighting? That's the concern, right?

BERMAN: John, Margaret, great to have you here. Really appreciate it.

Ahead for us @THISHOUR, so the news was just shocking to so many people and heartbreaking for the families of those on board Flight 370. Those pings that held out so much promise, it sounds like they could be false leads.

Now there's talk of using another kind of technology to solve this mystery.

Also, a TV icon, Dickey Smothers will join us to talk about "THE SIXTIES," the decade that changed the world.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone.

Those pings in the Indian Ocean were supposed to be such important leads. Officials had placed so much hope on the idea they were coming from Flight 370's black boxes.

Well, now we've learned really the shocking news. A U.S. Navy official says the pings probably were not from the missing Malaysian airliner at all.

PEREIRA: Plus, officials say the plane is not in the area where the Bluefin-21 has been searching.

Our aviation correspondent Richard Quest joins us now. And, well, how much of a setback is this, after all -- we're nearly at three months -- three months and now we're looking in the wrong place, and these are not the pings?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: It is obviously a major setback. It's devastating in one respect that it is not where they thought it should be.

But of course, the announcement that it's not the pings is an ex post facto announcement because they've searched the grounds and it wasn't there, so, you know, it's almost like it's a logical conclusion of the fact that the search has taken place. They haven't found anything, ergo, they weren't the pings.

But it is no question it is a serious setback, because it was the best hope they had, and it did give them the most -- and they talked about it at the time back at the middle of April with such encouragement as it being not natural, as it being -- having the right consistency and components of a locator.

BERMAN: Richard, you bring up an important point. You say it is ex post facto that they're deciding this after they searched this area that they weren't the pings so the pings weren't really what they thought they were.

Is that really the case, or should they have doubted the quality or the veracity of these pings to a much greater extent much earlier?

QUEST: All right. So here's the problem. If you're right -- and of course they did -- we musn't treat these people as idiots that did this. You're talking about the Australian Defense Center of Excellence of Acoustic Research, so they know what they are doing. And they came up with some extremely strong reasons. Now, throughout there have been those people that said, yes, but the frequency wasn't right. Yes, but it was a long way apart. Yes, but there were four of them in different areas. But here's the real point, John and Michaela, they had nothing else. They had towed, they heard, they analyzed, and they searched.

Now, you can arguably say they should have been more skeptical, but then you and I and everybody else would have been saying why aren't you following the pings? Why aren't you following the pings? So you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. And they were doing it all in a very short period of time, before what they knew and believed was the 30-day limit.

PEREIRA: OK. So fine, let's put all of that aside. But where do they go from here? What is their next course of action?

QUEST: Right. That's really interesting because today we also had this announcement from the Australians down in Canberra. Now, what they're going to do is they are refining it. They are going back to the original Inmarsat data. They're going to look and they're going to define an area -- wait for it -- a search area of up to 60,000 square kilometers. Still vast. They're going to conduct the survey, learn what the underwater -- what the topography is like, and then they're going to put out a tender to get a single operator, a single contractor, to do the search.

Where are they going to search? They're going to go back to the Inmarsat handshakes. They're going to start looking again at that seventh handshake, the partial handshake, because that's where they believe the plane entered the water. I'm going to anticipate your question, if I may be so bold.


QUEST: Your next question is how do they know the Inmarsat data is correct?

PEREIRA: Read our minds.

QUEST: Well, the answer is it's been checked. It's been checked many times. It's been checked by many organizations. If the Inmarsat data is wrong, please turn off the lights on the way out.

BERMAN: Richard Quest, great to have you with us, both answering and asking questions for us. A full-service operation.

PEREIRA: Cut out the middle man.

BERMAN: Great to have you here, sir.

Ahead for us @THISHOUR, there is another possible lead in this search. Could underwater microphones have heard Flight 370 crash? We'll discuss that just ahead.



SARAH BAJC, PARTNER OF FLIGHT 370 PASSENGER: As a family member, I mean, I'm still hoping. This is a really sad commentary on the state of our circumstance, but I am desperately hoping that Phillip is being held hostage by a hijacker. And, you know, only in this situation could I possibly say that.

But, you know, the ping frequencies were wrong from the beginning. I'm a serious scuba diver. I know that frequencies don't change under water, and they don't change from a deadening battery. They might not go as far when the battery goes down, but they don't change frequency. So I'm astounded that they put as much credence on those as they did.


PEREIRA: That was Sarah Bajc whose partner, Phillip Wood, was aboard Flight 370. We both had a chance to talk to her earlier about this news, that apparently those pings were false leads and that the Bluefin search was, in hindsight, a bit of a wild goose chase.

BERMAN: Yes, so the big question now is are they back to square one in this search? We want to bring in our analysts, Mary Schiavo and David Soucie. Guys, David, let me ask you first off. Seven weeks now scouring this area where they heard those pings. Habe these been seven wasted weeks?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: You know, in some aspects, they have. It's hard to go back, as Michaela said, hindsight's always better. But at the same time, there's going to be some big questions to ask and some answers that I'm not sure they have as to why they continued the search as long as they did. And these questions will come out when it's time to pay the bill. And those are going to be hard questions.

But, you know, as far as whether they were wasted, I don't think so.

PEREIRA: Mary, when both John and I spoke to Sarah Bajc earlier, she talked about the fact that they had spoken, the family members had spoken with many aviation experts, and that they didn't have much credence in those pings. Are you one of those aviation experts that feels that way, that there wasn't a lot to be said for these pings, the wrong frequency, et cetera? Why was so much put on them if those were not the right -- that wasn't the right intelligence?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, and I was one of those people to say why don't we test them? It was amazing to me that we didn't have data that would show what would happen to the pingers when they're under water and under the pressure of water for more than 30 days? There was a study out of Portugal that said there could be as much as a one kilohertz variance. So you've had one either way off of the 37.5. But there wasn't any study that showed it was 33 -- that it could go to 33.3. So it was astonishing to me that, in this whole time, now almost three months, that no one checked to see if that would happen to a pinger.

But, you know, in an investigation, and again, they didn't have much to go on, I don't think it was a waste. And I think it was reasonable to do it because I'm practical about it. They didn't have anything else to go on. They simply couldn't tell the families of 239 people they're not looking. And I think they had to follow the lead. That's what you do in an investigation. You follow the leads you've got. And they exhausted the leads. It's not there. That lead's done. And they'll have to go on to the next lead.

BERMAN: Well, the next lead. Let's talk about that, because some people are now suggesting that there are these underwater microphones. There are underwater microphones all around the world that listen for nuclear explosions as these devices to test if countries are testing nuclear weapons when they shouldn't be. Some people are suggesting maybe one of these devices could have heard the plane crash. David Soucie, does that make any sense to you?

SOUCIE: It makes a lot of sense to me because, remember, these are not just looking for nuclear explosions, they're looking for anomalous activity which could indicate that the testing was under way before the explosion occurs. If they waited till after the explosion, it wouldn't be very effective. So they actually were listening more than just for the explosion itself; they're listening for activity in certain areas. And this area may just have been lucky enough to be near an area where the aircraft crashed.

PEREIRA: Mary, we talked to Richard Quest a moment ago talking about the fact they're essentially going back to the drawing board, back to that seventh handshake, that partial handshake, that seventh ping. Again, reassess the data and go from there. You said this is normal in the course of an investigation.

SCHIAVO: It is. You follow a lot of leads. I mean, there have just been many times -- even with the wreckage -- where you go back to the hangar floor where it's spread out and try for something else or look for wiring or look for cables or all of these clues.

And here it's not that they're going back, you know, starting over. They're going back to the Inmarsat data. Because, remember, it was the Inmarsat final handshake that led them to search for the pings here. And then, of course, once they picked up the ping literally on the first day they put the microphone on the water -- or the sonar, the listening devices, then they were anchored on that fact. So I think they're going back to this Inmarsat data. It's a wider area because they have no pings. There's no possibility of any pings at this late date.

So it is back to the drawing board, meaning back to the Inmarsat data. Australia has said they might try to put on traditional aviation navigation waypoints, that would be like what you'd fly if you were flying the highway in the sky to see if it's possible the plane was following those on its own or by piloting. So they still have the leads that they had before; they just don't have the ping data because it's been exhausted.

PEREIRA: Mary Schiavo and David Soucie, thanks so much for joining us and lending us your expertise, as always. BERMAN: Ahead for us @THISHOUR, there's about a 50/50 chance you've been hacked this year. Wow, that's according to a new study. We're going to speak to a hacker turned security consultant about how to protect yourself, even if that's possible.

PEREIRA: Here's some crazy video to see -- a storm chaser struck by lightning. Whew! Lives to tell the story. We'll talk to him coming up.