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Interview With Maine Senator Angus King; Gunman Killed in Nashville Theater; Iran Debate; MH370 Wreckage Found?; GOP Rivals Preparing to Take on Trump; Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 5, 2015 - 18:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: theater shoot-out. A gunman carrying a hatchet and pepper spray is killed by police inside a Nashville cinema. A bomb squad called in to detonate his backpacks. What was his motive? And what might police find as they search his home?

Hard sell. President Obama warns skeptics of the Iran nuclear deal they must choose between diplomacy and war. Can he win over enough support to get congressional approval of the historic, but controversial agreement? I will be asking Senator Angus King, who just announced how he will vote.

Flight 370 confirmation. Malaysia's prime minister verifies that this wing debris is from that jumbo jet that vanished almost a year-and-a- half ago. But French officials are less definite. Now investigators are getting their first up-close look at the part. What will they find?

Taking on Trump. The Republican presidential front-runner is the man to beat tomorrow in the first GOP debate of the 2016 campaign. How are his rivals planning to steal his spotlight? We are getting new information tonight.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Brianna Keilar. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: We are following breaking news.

An attack inside a movie theater near Nashville, Tennessee. Police say the gunman was also carrying a hatchet and pepper spray that he used before he was killed in a shoot-out with police.

Also, Malaysia's prime minister is now confirming that a piece of debris that washed ashore on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean is a flaperon from the wing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. It is the first piece of physical evidence from the missing jumbo jet.

And, tonight, as President Obama ramps up pressure on lawmakers to back the nuclear deal with Iran, we are learning of a disturbing incident. A source tells CNN an Iranian warship briefly pointed a weapon at a U.S. helicopter that had just landed on a coalition ship in the Gulf of Aden. The incident lasted about a minute. And no shots were fired.

We're covering all of that and more this hour with our guests, including Senator Angus King. He's a member of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees. We have our correspondents and expert analysts as well.

We begin with CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown. She is following the breaking news for us.

Pamela, what do you know about what has happened and what's known about this shooter in Tennessee?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We are learning, Brianna, that the shooter was a white male who was 51 who lived in the area. According to police, this all unfolded at 2:00 clock p.m. Eastern time. The shooter walked into a theater. Theater-goers were watching "Mad Max."

He was, as you pointed out, armed with a gun, pepper spray, wearing a surgical mask and he also had two backpacks. Right after that, apparently, a 911 call was placed. People ran out to police who were actually working the crash right next to the theater. One of those officers went into the theater. There was an exchange of gunfire. Then the gunman went out the backdoor, where the SWAT team waited. And the gunman, as we know, was shot and killed at that point.

Here's what police had to say about what unfolded.


DON AARON, NASHVILLE POLICE SPOKESMAN: The two women had been doused with chemical spray by the suspect. Their faces were blasted with pepper spray.

Back to inside the theater of "Mad Max." The gunman apparently unleashed this pepper spray throughout the theater. As additional officers, the SWAT team, entered the theater, it was very thick with chemical spray, with irritant. Gas masks were brought in to those officers as they attempted to get this person into custody.


BROWN: And police say it appears that one of the theater-goers had had a minor injury from the hatchet that the gunman had on him. We know the FBI and ATF are working the scene right now. Investigators want to know what the motive was here, trying to answer the questions, was this terrorism it?

It is too early to know that. But, Brianna, police said they're looking into a report that the gunman had uttered something in a public space just before going to that theater -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Do we have any idea, Pamela, what is in those backpacks that police were so concerned about?

BROWN: Yes, that's a big question. And we know that the bomb squad was there on the scene and apparently, from what they saw, they were not comfortable with, according to officials there on the scene.

And so they said that they would detonate the two backpacks. We know the gunman had one in front of him as well as a satchel. As far as we know, they're securing the scene, neutralizing the threat with those backpacks -- Brianna.


KEILAR: Pamela Brown, thanks for your report.

A short time ago, we heard from a man who was inside the theater. He was slightly injured by the gunman's hatchet. He asked to be identified only as Steven.


STEVEN, VICTIM: I am eternally grateful -- excuse me -- for the Metro Police Department, for their fast response today and the fact that no one else got injured other than the person who did this.

I would ask anyone to pray for his family because he obviously has some mental problems or something else.


KEILAR: Want to get more on this now, on this breaking news with CNN justice reporter Evan Perez and former FBI Assistant Director and CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes.

Tom, you see what this guy was armed with. Do you have any sense of what his intention was because of it?

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: To me, Brianna, it looks like his intention may have been to be killed by a police officer and not actually kill anybody else.

I think other than the hatchet attack on this gentleman, and spraying pepper spray, but having a firearm in a crowded theater, that is as easy as could be to kill people. We have seen that in the prior theater shootings. The fact that he didn't makes me wonder if he didn't want to or wasn't trying to specifically, but did engage in gunfire with the police. And the police killed him.

KEILAR: How sophisticated is this attack?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Look, this is something that anybody could pull off. It's what they call soft targets. That's the reason why they call them that.

At this stage, I think what the ATF and the FBI want to make sure of is that this man's home is secure, that there are no booby traps there that are waiting for him. But one of the things they're going to do is search through that. They're going to look through his computers, his telephone, talk to his family members if he has any that know him, and talk to friend to see if there is any indication of what was coming here. But really it is indefensible, some of these things.

KEILAR: We breathe a sigh of relief when we see that victim who is just going by Steven, by his first name, to know he was the one who was injured by the hatchet. He looks like he is doing fine.

But this is the sort of a string that we have seen, in Lafayette, victims there not as fortunate, a deadly attack there in a movie theater. What is with these attacks? Are these copycat attacks? What do you read into that?

FUENTES: I think they probably are to some extent copycat.

But it is just that the person who does the attack knows there are so many people in a confined dark area that it is going to be easy if they choose to try to kill a number of people. It is not going to be that hard. But I think if you tighten down the security on these theaters, they could switch to the regular shopping malls, or churches during main services.

There will be other soft targets available to do that if they prevent this from theaters.

KEILAR: At a certain point, is there -- do officials say we need to tighten security or implement certainly awareness in these soft target areas?

PEREZ: One of the things they do, Brianna, after incidents is they do warn law enforcement that there might be copycats. I think that's what perhaps might have inspired this one.

But really it is impossible for us to live our lives and go around doing the things that we do, going to the mall, go into stores and have to put up with additional security. I don't think the American public wants to deal with that. There are some countries, Israel, for instance, where you might encounter this before you go there.

But I don't think the U.S. public is really there yet. At this point, you have to go on living your lives. I thought about this before I went to the movie theater on Sunday. And I definitely thought about it, but I went out and did what I wanted to do.

KEILAR: I think about it whenever I go to a movie theater now.

PEREZ: Right.

KEILAR: We will have much more on this story in just a moment. Evan and Tom, thanks so much to both of you.

Want to begin with CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

He has -- actually, let's talk about the Iran deal. That's what we are going to discuss here.

President Obama, he had a sharp rebuttal to critics of the Iran nuclear agreement. Jim, what did he say?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, in a fiercely anti-war speech, President Obama sounded more like Ted Kennedy than John F. Kennedy. His message on his controversial nuclear deal boils down to this: I was right about Iraq, so trust me on Iran.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of the United States.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Raising the stakes in the debate over his nuclear deal with Iran, President Obama warned if Congress rejects the agreement, the U.S. will begin the march to military conflict.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy or some form of war.

ACOSTA: In his toughest language to date on the Iran deal, the president likened his GOP critics to the ruling clerics in Tehran.

OBAMA: It's those hard-liners chanting death to America who have been most opposed to the deal. They're making common cause with the Republican Caucus.

ACOSTA: And he blasted skeptics who claim a better deal could be had.

OBAMA: Those making this argument are either ignorant of Iranian society or they're just not being straight with the American people.


ACOSTA: A nuclear armed Iran, he added, would be even more dangerous for Israel, dismissing complaints from its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

OBAMA: I do not doubt his sincerity.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Because the deal makes it far easier for Iran.

OBAMA: But I believe he is wrong.

ACOSTA: The president described the upcoming vote on the nuclear agreement as the most important decision facing Congress since lawmakers authorized the Iraq war, a move Mr. Obama said he correctly considered a mistake. Diplomacy, he cautioned, deserves a chance.

OBAMA: Resist the conventional wisdom and the drumbeat of war.

ACOSTA: The president neglect to mention that his vice president, secretary of state and former secretary of state all supported the Iraq War and that even some of his fellow Democrats are now wary of the Iran deal. SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: Madam Secretary, this agreement

or war, is that the choice? Simple yes or no?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think it is a simple yes or no.

ACOSTA: The White House chose American University as the backdrop of the speech to invite comparisons to President Kennedy's historic address at the school in 1963. Kennedy's adversary? A nuclear Soviet Union.

JOHN F. KENNEDY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal.

ACOSTA: The president urged the nation to follow Kennedy's lead.

OBAMA: Now, more than ever, we need clear thinking in our foreign policy.


ACOSTA: With the White House giving up on attracting much GOP support, this speech was really aimed at nervous Democrats. But Republicans are outraged that the president compared them to Iranian hard-liners.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called on the president to retract that comment. Their fight moved to social media this afternoon, as the president was tweeting at McConnell, arguing that killing this deal would accelerate Iran's nuclear program -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Jim Acosta at the White House.

And I want to talk more about all of this with independent Senator Angus King of Maine. He's member of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees.

And worth noting, certainly, Senator, you do caucus with Democrats and you just recently have said that you are in favor of this Iran deal. Tell us...

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: About two hours ago.

KEILAR: About two hours ago.

Tell us how you came to that decision.

KING: Well, first, this is literally the hardest decision I have ever had to make. And I think it's one of the most important, probably the most important vote any of us will take.

So, I took it really seriously. And the way I approached it was in two paths. One was to dig into the agreement itself. The first thing I did was read the whole agreement, make dozens of notes in the margin, and then chase down my questions. Then the second piece was to talk to outside people, not necessarily

the administration, but outside experts on arms control, inspections, nuclear -- nuclear inspections and all those kinds of issues, and then finally to talk about alternatives. It's really easy to take an agreement like this or any other agreement and say, oh, it is terrible, it's got this hole and that hole.

The real question, though, is, compared to what? What are the alternatives? And that's what led me finally to my conclusion to support it, because there are really only two alternatives. One is, we walk away and the opponents basically say, OK, we will walk away, we will increase sanctions, and then the Iranians will come back to the table, we will get a better deal.

The problem with that is that our partners in the sanctions have already agreed to the deal. And they have indicated -- we met yesterday with all the ambassadors of the P5-plus-one countries. And they basically said, we're not going to necessarily stick with these sanctions. We could up with the worst of all worlds, Iran unfettered by the restraint of the agreement and weaker sanctions.

I don't know how that is going to get us where we want to get.

KEILAR: You are confident that inspections will be where they need to be in order to verify that Iran is not moving towards weaponization?


KING: There's a really important point about inspections that I haven't heard mentioned very much.

Everybody talks about the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA. But on top of that, we have the intelligence services of half- a-dozen countries who are going to be watching Iran all the time. It is really a two-tiered inspection system. And I can't reveal the contents, but part of our review was a classified review of the agreement by our intelligence community, the whole -- all 17 agencies. And I can tell you that that conclusion was reassuring to me.

KEILAR: As you listened to the president's comments today, I wonder in particular what you thought about one thing he said, especially as someone who is an independent.

He said that those chanting death to America -- he's talking about hard-line Iranians -- have found common cause with members of the Republican Caucus. Is that smart when you are trying how to -- or is he just -- is that just a sign that he has completely given up on Republicans, so he can take that shot?


KING: I wouldn't have taken that shot. I don't think that aids the cause. In fact, I think there are Republicans that are really thinking hard about this agreement.

I was talking to one this afternoon. And it doesn't -- I don't think it helps. You know, I think we have got to reach across partisan lines here to solve any of these problems. But I have to say, from his point of view, there were people on that side of the aisle who came out dead against this agreement within an hour of its announcement. They hadn't read it. They didn't have the background on it.

And that's pretty frustrating. As I said, if those guys were in a jury pool, they would have been disqualified for prejudice from voting on the case.

KEILAR: Indeed, some are rejectionist of the concept of a deal, and there's also some Democrats who are still waiting and they're on the fence trying to decide what they're going to do.

KING: And that's where I have been for the last month. But I finally decided I feel like it is in the national interest to do this agreement.

KEILAR: All right, stay with us. I have many more questions for you, including about the recent AQAP bomb-maker, one of the most dangerous terrorists in the world.

We will be talking more with Senator Angus King after a quick break.



KEILAR: We're following a dramatic move by a master al Qaeda bomb- maker.

Ibrahim al-Asiri is one of the world's most wanted terrorists. He's believed to have made a rare public statement in a letter urging supporters to launch attacks inside of the U.S.

We're back now with independent Senator Angus King of Maine. He's a member of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committee.

Senator, have you been briefed on this letter? And can you tell us, are you pretty confident, are officials, government officials pretty confident that this is indeed Asiri?

KING: Well, I can't confirm that.

But I think there is reason to believe that. And I have got to say, he may be the most dangerous person in the world. And he is somebody that we have been after for years. And he is the guy that is working on building bombs that can't be detected. And it goes to the continuous threat that we are under.

I don't want to be a fearmonger and frighten people, but there are out people out there that want to do us harm.

KEILAR: He is. He is on the cutting edge of technology, experts attest to this, trying to find undetectable bombs that can go through -- really to get on a plane is certainly his goal. Is there a concern seeing him come out and give this message, even

acknowledging that there is some risk in it, because couriers have to be used in order to deliver a message like this? Remember, we know bin Laden was found tracing through a...

KING: I wished he had used his iPhone. We could have traced it.

KEILAR: Yes. Bin Laden was traced through a courier.

KING: Yes.

KEILAR: Seeing him take that risk, does it make you think or are you led to believe that there could be an attack on the way?

KING: Well, I think these people are determined.

And there has been a debate recently in the intelligence community as to who is worse, ISIS or AQAP, al Qaeda? My answer to that is yes.

KEILAR: Both, right?

KING: They're both. And they're dangerous in different ways.

This guy, he is an al Qaeda guy. And their orientation is toward plots like September 11, sending people bombs on airplanes, airplanes into buildings, that kind of thing. ISIS is dangerous in a different way. They don't necessarily hatch plots. They send out what amounts to a terrorist APB that says, go and kill some Americans, like the

KEILAR: Smaller scale, but unpredictable.


KING: Smaller scale, but very unpredictable, hard to disrupt, hard to know that they're going to happen, because there may not be a plan.

It's just, somebody out there, go to a recruiting center and shoot some Marines. That's almost impossible for us to cope with, except by local law enforcement.

KEILAR: So you think al-Asiri may be the most dangerous man alive. What priority is there on getting him? And how has he evaded U.S. intelligence, U.S. attempts to attack terrorists overseas?

It seems like there have been questions about whether he was alive and then it turns out he appears to be. How much of a priority is it to get him?

KING: It is like -- it's one of the highest priorities of the United States government.

He is, as I say, I think one of the most dangerous people in the world. And this letter simply underlines the fact that he wants to do us harm.

KEILAR: Senator Angus King, really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us today. Thanks so much.

KING: Glad to be with you.

KEILAR: Just ahead, Donald Trump's Republican rivals prepare to go face to face with the GOP front-runner in tomorrow's first presidential debate.

Plus, the breaking news on missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Why are French officials hedging after Malaysia confirms that a part from the missing plane has been found?



KEILAR: Fumbles, fireworks and fighting words all likely tomorrow in the first Republican presidential debate.

The pressure is on those nine candidates who are sharing the main stage with front-runner Donald Trump trying to steal at least some of the spotlight that he has monopolized for weeks now. Can they do it?

CNN chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash is in Cleveland, where all of this, where this big show is going to take place.

All the attention, Dana, has been on Donald Trump, but what are you hearing from your sources about the other candidates?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That the other candidates, probably not surprisingly, for the most part are going to try to focus on themselves, on their own records, on trying to really introduce themselves to the Republican electorate in -- in a way that they haven't been able to do before.

But, of course, the "X" factor, the Donald Trump factor is very much front and center, literally. He's going to be in the center podium. And, as much as these other candidates try to kind of prepare for how to deal with that, it's not going to be easy for them to do, particularly when it's, maybe not so much what Donald Trump is going to say about them. Because he's at least made clear that he wants to not focus on others. And he's going to focus on issues and what he's been talking about.

But perhaps if the moderators try to mix it up among the people on the stage, particularly when you're talking about maybe the three in the center: Donald Trump, Jeb Bush to his right, stage right, and then Scott Walker, stage left.

KEILAR: And Dana, you have Jeb Bush. He's in the No. 2 spot right next to Trump. He's been stumbling a bit lately. How much focus is going to be on him?

BASH: You know, he I think, really has the most to lose in this kind of debate. Because the expectations are high when it comes to Jeb Bush. He just raised over $100 million. He is still the favorite among most in the Republican establishment. And they want to know that they're getting their money's worth and that he really can deliver, particularly, Bri, after he has -- had been out of the game for so long. He certainly has been campaigning like gang busters all over the country. But it's a whole different thing when you're standing on the stage with all of these people, especially since he hasn't done it since 2002, any kind of political debate like this.

One thing I'm told by Bush sources is that he is very much focused on the idea that he knows that people know his name. But not necessarily who he is. They hear from his opponents about common core and other issues that conservatives don't like. So he's going to try to fill in the blanks on what he says is his real conservative record.

And actually, if you go back to 1994, for example, he was a popular conservative governor. He was one of the most conservative in the country. So he's going to go back in time and remind people of those positions that he held back when he was governor of Florida, Bri.

KEILAR: All right, Dana Bash. Stay with us. I am going to bring in now CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger; CNN senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny; and CNN senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein, the editorial director of "The National Journal." So if you're the nine other Republicans...

KEILAR: That's a crowded stage. It's so crazy, isn't it? But if you're these nine other guys, and they are all guys, how do you prepare for this with Donald Trump?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Are they all wearing bracelets that say "What would Donald do?" You know? No.

I think each of them has to make an early strategic decision. And as Dana was saying, I've talked to a couple of campaigns today. What they seem to be saying is, "Look, I know I have to present a contrast to Donald Trump in some way, shape, or form. But how -- I have to tell the American public how that contrast is a part of what kind of president I would be."

Because most of these people are actually introducing themselves to the American public for the first time, so they can get kind of a -- kind of a good look at him. Jeb Bush has the name. But people don't know who he is, right? And Scott Walker is a governor. But people don't know, really, who he is. He's a young guy. Bush and Walker have had different challenges ahead of them. But you know, I think Trump, if he doesn't attack them, basically, he's going to just sort of just be one of the gang.

KEILAR: Overall I hear so many people say "Republicans need to channel the disaffected Republican voter that Trump is attracting. Don't attack Donald Trump, but speak to the folks that he's attracting." What I don't always hear is how do you do that?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, keeping an eye on the general election. Because one of the ways he's attracting them is through very vitriolic language on immigration, which could pose enormous problems in general elections, particularly bringing in the Hispanic vote. Look, I think the other campaigns still do not expect Donald Trump to

be the ultimate nominee, the ultimate winner. They think that, in the end, that he will face the same kind of fate as many early front- runners in national polling.

You go back to 2007. Rudy Giuliani led in all 10 CNN/ORC polls, all 21 "USA Today"/Gallup polls, and all eight ABC/"Washington Post" polls. He did not win a single primary.

So in the end, I think they have to make their calculation both about whether they want to inherit the Trump support that they think will ultimately be there. But also, if you're Jeb Bush, it's a very different calculation. Because I think their campaign firmly believes the longer Donald Trump remains a viable force, the more it ultimately helps them because it gets in the way of candidates like Walker who could ultimately prove a potent threat.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Providing, of course, he has a good night. I mean, there is a burden on Jeb Bush, higher expectations for him because he has not had a strong week. And campaigns are not won and lost day by day, week by week. It's the long haul. But Jeb Bush, I think, has a bit of a burden there to show that he has some fire in the belly and that the...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... Republican establishment.

[18:35:11] KEILAR: I do -- I do want to bring Dana into this conversation. Because there is a big issue ahead of this debate, Dana, that Jeb Bush is dealing with. And that is that he said he's not sure the U.S. needs what he said "half a billion dollars for women's health issues."

Now, he was talking about the Planned Parenthood debate. But he's had to clarify since then and say, "Look, I misspoke."

Tell me about how he's going to deal with this, how he's going to try to atone for this as he tries to attract some female voters.

BASH: Look, it's not going to be easy. I'm not sure how much of a factor it's going to be in the debate tomorrow night. But certainly big picture, long term, absolutely it's going to be a factor.

And the fact that some Bush sources were saying to me, you know, "Look, the fact that they clarified it in an hour and not in five days with lots of different variations like what happened when he stumbled on Iraq, shows that he is learning."

But it also does show that he's got some cobwebs. Whether it's that he still is kind of figuring out how to campaign in today's day and age. Or whether the fact that he's actually been campaigning pretty hard. He's human. And God forbid he's actually tired. Or who knows what the reason is?

But, yes, on substance, you know, he says that he was talking specifically about Planned Parenthood. You can expect him tomorrow night in to talk about the fact that he cut Planned Parenthood spending, funding when he was in Florida. But it is a soundbite. And it's a soundbite that they know as much as anybody else can be used over and over and over, if he is the nominee, by the Democrats.

BORGER: You know, I think what people, voters, Republicans want to see from Jeb Bush is a passion. He said he wanted to campaign joyfully. He doesn't really look particularly joyful to me. They want to know that he just doesn't want to be the new CEO in the family business, right?

KEILAR: He looked a little more energetic before. And now he does -- he seems a little tired. He seems a little nervous. What's your observation?

ZELENY: I think the race has been upended. He didn't expect this was going to happen. I mean, no one necessarily, as Ron was saying earlier, we could go through primary by primary. No one wants to be the candidate of the summer.

But Jeb Bush did not want to be questioned. There is, you know, we're not sure if the same playbook is going to be in order here. The sixth year of the Tea Party. Something has been happening in the Republican Party, largely caused by President Bush and his brother and his father. So this is a tough burden for him. That's why.

BROWNSTEIN: There is a lot of resistance to him in the Tea Party populist side of the party. And that has been a consistent theme throughout this campaign. His campaign is impressive in many ways.

But this performance has been singularly inconsistent. And at times, he has been engaging, and he's kind of showed kind of a personal side that is, I think, stronger than George W. did. But he has -- he has stumbled. The cobwebs is a good word. This is someone who has not run for office in over a decade, who's running in a kind of a hyper- caffeinated modern politics. And I do think he -- and I agree with Jeff, he has the most at stake. And I think at least as much as Tom.

BORGER: He started out with such a rush. You know? And there's a lot of money. You know, over $100 million have been raised, and he was on Facebook. And he was tweeting, and he was...

And suddenly now it is probably because Trump has sucked up all the oxygen. But suddenly now, there's this kind of plateau for Bush. And he has to get himself out of it. And he has to tell those voters, "You know what? I really understand you," because the feeling about Jeb is that Trump is more in tune with the Republican base than Jeb is.

ZELENY: A hundred and two million reasons to not count Jeb Bush out.

KEILAR: Exactly right. You know what?


KEILAR: Well, the race is young yet we will see. Ron, Gloria, Jeff, Dana, thanks to all of you. Great conversation. We could go on for hours and hours, I think.

BORGER: We will tomorrow.

KEILAR: Oh, we sure will.

Breaking news next. The first piece of physical evidence from missing Malaysia Flight 370, or is it? Tonight French and Malaysian officials seem a little bit at odds.

Plus, the search for more debris from the missing plane. It's intensifying tonight. We have some breaking news straight ahead.


[18:43:39] KEILAR: We're following breaking news in the mystery of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The country's prime minister is now saying that a wing part that washed up on a remote island is, in fact, part of the Boeing 777 that disappeared 17 months ago. But French officials who are now looking at the debris are sounding less definite about this.

I want to bring in CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh. She's been working the story.

Sort this out for us, Rene. What's the latest?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, today Malaysia's prime minister uttered the words for the very first time that families of the 239 people on board have been waiting for 515 days to hear. Take a listen.


NAJIB RAZAK, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER: An international team of experts have conclusively confirmed that the aircraft debris found on Reunion Island is indeed from MH-370. We now have physical evidence that, as I announced on 24th March last year, Flight MH-370 tragically ended in the southern Indian Ocean.


MARSH: Well, a definitive statement from him. But a French prosecutor working on behalf of families of four French citizens used more cautious language, saying there's a strong suspicion it's from the missing plane.

[18:45:01] Tonight, sources tell me crash investigators are calling the prime minister's announcement premature. I'm told experts actually looking at the debris have not found anything yet to definitively link it to MH370.

We should also point out, Boeing put out a statement today that made no mention. Its representative on the ground has confirmed without a doubt that this is from the missing plane.

I should point out most would agree this is probably from the missing plane. But experts looking at the piece say they don't have that definitive proof just yet. We do know that tests will continue on the piece tomorrow -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Rene Marsh, thanks so much.

Let's get more now with CNN aviation analyst, Miles O'Brien, CNN aviation correspondent, Richard Quest, former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board and CNN aviation analyst, Peter Goelz, and former FBI assistant director and law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes.

Richard, first off, your reaction to what we heard from the Malaysian officials and then also what we heard from the French officials?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: My understanding is that the word "conclusively" came from the Malaysian people at the Toulouse investigation and they accounted that back to the prime minister's office. And that's why it was included. Malaysian airlines officials there believe that they have seen certain

elements of that flipper -- flaperon that pretty much definitively for them -- we don't know what it is, that's the problem. They haven't revealed that important point. But I can't believe that the P.M. would have used the word conclusively if he didn't have something more than just a hope and a prayer.

KEILAR: Miles, what could they see on this small piece of the plane that would tell them definitively, yes, this is from 370?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, definitively, a serial number. If they did in fact find a serial number, it wouldn't take long to cross check that, and then there wouldn't be any confusion what we are seeing right now.

What you have here is the prime minister saying what we all know to be true, it's very likely. He is saying it conclusively. But the French are saying what we have been saying all along, is that there is a strong presumption here that stand to reason given the fact that there's only one 777 missing anywhere in the world much less the Indian Ocean.

So, we are, kind of mystifying frankly. But it does lead me to believe there must not be a serial number evident at the moment.

KEILAR: And it's mystifying, Tom, because as we went through this process initially really the whole world was watching as the plane disappeared. There was a lot of criticism about coordination, everyone being on the same page.

Do you look at this and see any of that?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, a little bit. The French have a different investigative system than we do here in the states. They put an investigative magistrate in charge. And that person runs the investigation. Not the police.

And in this case, we are not hearing from a spokesperson for the federal government. We're not hearing from a spokesperson from the French equivalent of the NTSB, you are hearing from those local investigative magistrate who has taken over the case. So, it's a little bit different system, and why they're not being more definitive, I really don't know.

KEILAR: Peter, weigh in on this as you have seen what transpired today. I mean, I know you assumed all along it is a piece of a 777. It's got to be this plane, right? But at the same time there is this caution that we are hearing.

PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: Well, I think what happened you have a group of individuals who are going to look at this piece of the wreckage. They probably said, "This is it. It looks pretty good."

The Malaysians, they want to be out in front on this. The prime minister has the responsibility, really, the right, to make this announcement. He made it. While he was making it some of the other investigators are like, well, let's take a slower look. Walk it back just a little bit.

I don't think it is a big deal.

KEILAR: It's not.

GOELZ: I think they're going to lock this in in the next day or two. And we'll move on.

KEILAR: All right. Much more to talk about. Peter, Tom, Miles, Richard, stand by. We have more questions with our panel of aviation experts and correspondents after a quick break.


[18:53:51] KEILAR: We're back now with more on the breaking news. Malaysia's prime minister now confirming the piece of wing debris being examined in France is, in fact, from missing Malaysia Flight 370.

And I want to bring my panel of aviation experts back in. We have Miles O'Brien, Tom Fuentes and we have Peter Goelz.

Peter, I think one of the questions is: will there be more debris? And it seems like that's possible, but it's not necessarily going to be the case. But also, the ideal debris that investigators are hoping to find is the black box.

But is there a situation where they find the black box and we never really are never able to find out what happened here?

GOELZ: Well, then first -- the first answer I've got is, there may be more wreckage, but it's not likely. I mean, that's a big ocean. We may come across it. But the currents are not regular.

In terms of, you know, the black boxes, there is a probability of some level that the voice recorder may not have anything on it because it records back over itself every two hours.

[18:55:01] And the data recorder, if this was a deliberate act and he did turn off the transponder and the ACARS, he might have also turned off the black box. The mystery could continue.

KEILAR: So, think about that, Miles. The idea that going through all of this, all of this time, all of this search, the fact that there are family members, hundreds of them waiting to figure out exactly what happened, for some of them perhaps this is a clue that is important, for others they want answers, that's so important to them.

What do you think about that, the idea that we may never have the answers?

O'BRIEN: It's really a heartbreaking thought when you start thinking about it, especially if you put yourself in the position of those families that you may play that black box, that cockpit voice recorder back and hear nothing but whirring of engines and ultimately the sudden end for that flight. It's -- there is no black box for the human mind. And, you know, when you look at a deliberate act, we have to think about what was going on in a human mind. We don't know whose human mind.

Maybe just maybe just who is in that cockpit and the absence of other evidence, maybe that will tell us somebody, if we can get to it. So, let's hope that will happen someday.

KEILAR: Certainly.

And, Tom, it does seem to be the prevailing thought, theory right now that this was intentional, which therefore would mean that it is criminal. But if you're not able to determine that, that's really a setback, isn't it?

FUENTES: It is. And I think the problem with this is, the big part of that theory is that since we can't prove something else, it must be that. So, it's really more of a process of elimination than proof. As Miles said, if that voice cockpit recorder looped over itself and you only hear engines whirring and you do get the data recorder separately, it may tell you what happened to the airplane but it may not tell you why or who did it to the airplane. And it will still be a mystery.

KEILAR: There's a liability issue here, right?

FUENTES: Yes. The liability -- if the pilots were at fault or the Malaysian maintenance was at fault, then it's their responsibility. If it's a mechanical --

KEILAR: Malaysia Air's responsible for hiring the pilot or not being up to par on maintenance.

FUENTES: Right. But if it's a mechanical defect, it's Boeing's problem. Boeing has deep pockets and can be sued in the United States court system. So, that's a different set of liability for who is going to pay out in the long run. KEILAR: And not only that, Miles, if there is some sort of defect,

talk about how important it is to find that out. When you're talking about that air France flight and the pitot tubes, that was important for pilots, for airlines, for people constructing airplanes to know about for other situations, right?

O'BRIEN: Yes. You know, the term is that the rules are written in blood. Or another way of putting is in tombstone mentality.

But the fact is, aviation is safe because accidents happen and we learn from them. We learn about flaws in the machine, in procedures, in how planes are flown.

And if there is something to this crash which leads in that direction, here we are 515 days later, and we can't say for certain. And we presume the 777 fleet is safe to fly. All signs led to a deliberate act. But we can't say that with absolute certainty.

KEILAR: If you are looking at the recent crash in the Alps and then you look at this where the prevailing thought is that this may have been intentional, do you think, Peter, that airlines or oversight entities need to institute better rules about background checks on pilots?

GOELZ: Well, airlines and air -- you know, the Civil Aviation Medical Authorities are wrestling with that problem. It is a serious one. They are concerned about it, particularly after Germanwings.

And I think you'll see some steps to be more inquisitive on the pilot's mental health and being able to report more on it.

KEILAR: You think there's a way to do that?

FUENTES: I think there is. You know, I consult for a company that does that. So -- for aviation and law enforcement and other entities. So, it is possible.

There are systems out there to do those kind of background checks, not just on the aptitude to mechanically handle the airplane but the other issues of character profile and mental health issues and reasons that someone -- you know, the Germanwings didn't commit just suicide, it was mass murder. If that's what happened in this case, again, it's more than pilot suicide. It's mass murder.

KEILAR: And there were so many red flags in that case that officials should have been able to see. And, certainly, if they could have seen them, they would have been able to determine some very important information.

Tom, Peter, Miles, thank you so much to all of you. Great insight.

And, remember, you can follow us on Twitter. Tweet the show @CNNSitroom and be sure to join us tomorrow in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks so much for watching.

I'm Brianna Keilar. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.