Return to Transcripts main page
THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Interview With Ted Koppel; Republican Debate Demands; Plane Crash Investigation; Terror Not Ruled Out in Plane Crash; N.H. Poll: Trump Holds Commanding Lead Over Rivals. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired November 2, 2015 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: A mysterious plane crash over a hotbed of ISIS terrorism.
THE LEAD starts right now.
Two hundred and twenty-four people are dead, and we still don't know why, U.S. officials not ruling out that ISIS may have shot a passenger jet out of the sky, as we wait to hear what's on the black boxes.
Taking action, some Republican contenders making their demands on future debates, though one candidate is breaking out the world's smallest violin, saying, hey, guys, whining is not winning.
Plus, a nation unprepared. Legendary journalist Ted Koppel visits THE LEAD to talk about just how vulnerable our nation is to the threat of cyber-attack with one congressional commission warning, only one out of 10 of us would survive.
Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD.
We're going to begin today with the world lead. Officials here and abroad still do not know, they say, what brought down a Russian airliner, killing all 224 people on board. And at this point, no one, not even the director of U.S. intelligence, is willing to rule out terrorism. The Russian airliner was on its way from the Egyptian resort area Sharm el-Sheikh in the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula to Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Just 23 minutes after taking off Saturday morning, the flight vanished from radar and within hours debris was found. Pieces of the plane continue to be scattered across the Sinai as investigators try desperately to figure out just what happened.
CNN has correspondents around the world covering this tragedy. Arwa Damon is in Cairo. Matthew Chance is in Saint Petersburg.
But we're going to start with CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh.
Rene, we know the black box has been recovered. How soon until we know what exactly is on the black box?
RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we should get the details very soon. The black boxes could answer whether the sound of an explosion was picked up and whether a certain part of the plane's mechanics failed, because as it stands now, the wreckage alone does not tell the full story of why this passenger plane would crash during the safest phase of flight.
MARSH (voice-over): Investigators hope data on the plane's black boxes will help explain what caused the Russian passenger jet to suddenly plunge from the sky with 224 people on board; 20 minutes after takeoff from Egypt Saturday morning, the Airbus 321 reached a cruising altitude of about 33,500 feet, then almost immediately plummeted at 67 miles per hour, disappearing from radar with no distress call from the pilot.
As the victims' bodies are recovered and flown to Russia, airline officials quickly seem to rule out human error and technical problems with the plane.
LT. COL. TONY SHAFFER (RET.), FORMER U.S. ARMY INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: The airlines are blaming anything except them. So when they talk about outside influences, it could be either a technical problem not caused by them, by the manufacturer or in the case what I think they're implying here is terror.
MARSH: But Russian investigators say it's too early to make any conclusions. Former head of the NTSB Peter Goelz agrees.
PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: We have the company speaking, I think, out of line saying that their aircraft was in perfect condition and there was no problems. Then you have the Egyptians who are saying, well, it broke at flight, but there's absolutely no sign of terrorism. I think all of those statements are inappropriate and ill- timed.
MARSH: ISIS is active in this part of the Sinai Peninsula. And the group has claimed responsibility.
JAMES CLAPPER, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: It's unlikely, but I wouldn't rule it out.
MARSH: But based on initial reading of radar satellite information and photos from the crash site, U.S. intelligence sources say there is so far no evidence of terrorism or the plane being hit by something like a missile.
Investigators continue to search the massive crash debris field for evidence. They will also explore whether an accident 14 years ago involving this exact aircraft played a role. The tail hit the runway during landing causing substantial damage. It was repaired and has since flown hundreds of flights. The airline adds that the aircraft passed a full inspection in may.
GOELZ: You want to see whether that repair was done right and whether the maintenance over the years was done correctly.
MARSH: U.S. investigators point to the crash of a Japan Airlines flight, a 747, in the 1980s. You're looking at video of that situation there. Its tail struck a runway on landing too. Despite repairs, seven years later, the plane crashed. It was later determined improper repairs caused the plane to experience metal fatigue and cracking.
And that essentially compromised the aircraft. But, Jake, while we wait for the readout of the black boxes, the wreckage also tells a story. Investigators are going to be able to look at that, inspect it for potential bomb residue and also look at the tears to see if they can make a determination as to what went wrong here.
TAPPER: It's a horrible story. Rene Marsh, thank you so much.
Let's go to Egypt now, where the plane went down. Our senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, is in Cairo.
Arwa, what's the latest there on the ground?
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the investigators, which include teams from Egypt, Russia, as well as Airbus, are having to comb through an area that's about eight square kilometers.
According to one of the Russian state-run media agencies, they are quoting a source of theirs, a Russian source who was on the ground in Egypt, part of the investigation, and saying that so far all of the parts of the plane that they have tested have not tested positive for any sort of explosive residue, bearing in mind though that there is still a lot of debris and wreckage that is out there.
An Egyptian military source we spoke to when it comes to the notion that this plane may have been shot down dismissed that, saying the militant groups that operate in the area have a maximum capacity of being able to fire a surface-to-air missile that would hit something that was at about 15,000, 16,000 feet, nowhere near the 31,000 feet that this particular aircraft was traveling at, so still a lot of questions, still a lot of effort being undertaken on the ground right here, the cause of this crash at this stage very much a mystery.
TAPPER: And, Arwa, obviously, the limitations of the terrorists, their ability as to what they can carry out, is one thing, but other airlines have announced that they're going to avoid flying over the Sinai Peninsula just in case.
DAMON: They are.
And they're taking precautions, and understandable ones, of course, at this stage. But amongst those airlines, you have Air France, Lufthansa who came out very quickly and said they would be diverting routes over the Sinai. And now you have three airlines that are based in the Emirates saying that they are avoiding those routes as well. So, airlines, yes, taking necessary precautions, even though at this
stage no indication that it was any sort of missile strike. But no one wants to see this happen again. So it is to say the least better to be safe than sorry at this stage.
TAPPER: All right. Arwa Damon live in Egypt for us, thank you so much.
Now let's go to Matthew Chance. Here's near the airport in Saint Petersburg, Russia, where this crashed plane was headed.
Matthew, obviously in Russia, this is a national tragedy.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is.
Actually, Russia is no stranger to airline disasters. Its had more of its fair share over the years, but there's something about this crash that really seems to have struck a chord and touched people, and that's evidenced by this scene behind me.
You can see that even nearly three days after this catastrophe, people are still coming, they're laying flowers, they're lighting candles, they're putting children's toys here as a mark of how many children were on the plane. And perhaps it's because of that that it's been so resonant here.
The fact that this was a tourist flight, it was to a destination that many Russians go for a bit of winter sun at the start of what is expected to be an extremely long and cold winter in this country, taking their families with them for the most part. There were 25 children on board that flight, one of them just 10 months old. There's a photo of her looking out of the window here at Saint Petersburg Airport before she boarded that flight with her parents to go for that beach holiday in the Sinai Peninsula.
So that photograph has really summed up just why so many people are so saddened and why so many people now are looking for answers. Those answers, as we have been saying, haven't been forthcoming yet. Was it terrorism or was it a technical error? These are the questions that the investigators now have to answer.
TAPPER: Matthew Chance, thank you so much.
That photograph, so sad, image posted by the mother who died as well.
As investigators comb the wreckage site, what clues are they specifically looking for? What are on the black boxes? That's next.
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
You're looking now at live pictures from Saint Petersburg, Russia, in tribute to those who perished in that horrific downing or crash or whatever, this mystery what brought down the Russian passenger airliner in Egypt, killing all 224 people on board, 25 of them children.
Was it a terrorist group? Did a terrorist group cause the crash? Or was it some sort of a catastrophic mechanical failure? Several official investigations are currently under way.
Let's convene our own makeshift group.
CNN aviation analyst Mary Schiavo joins me now. She's the former inspector for the U.S. Department of Transportation, former inspector general. Also with me, CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd, who worked for the CIA, among other organizations.
Thanks to both of you for joining me.
Phil, I will start with you.
ISIS was quick to claim responsibility. The director of national intelligence, General James Clapper, said that ISIS has an aggressive chapter in the Sinai Peninsula. Does ISIS have the capability of doing something like this?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: My guess is, I doubt it.
Look, remember, when we saw that airliner go down over Ukraine a year, year-and-a-half ago, you're talking about in that case Russian equipment with the trained battery of people to take down an aircraft over 30,000 feet. This plane itself was over 30,000 in Sinai.
I don't know of a terrorist group that has the capability to do that.
[16:15:01] That is some serious piece of equipment with some people that had a lot of training. You can't just roll something out and take a plane like that down at that altitude if you're a terror group.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: So, so just to explain for our viewers a surface-to-air missile that you put over your shoulder or --
MUDD: Can't do it.
TAPPER: -- RPG, not enough?
MUDD: Not enough.
TAPPER: Mary, the plane dropped off the radar 23 minutes into the flight well after takeoff, does that timing give you any clue about whether or not it was a mechanical issue or something else?
MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, unfortunately the timing puts it squarely into either camp. It could squarely be in mechanical issue. I can name several crashes that have a signature like that. TW-800 for one, it was a few minutes into the flight, gotten up to -- it wasn't as high as this but then a catastrophic explosion in the fuel tank brought it down. Also, the loss of a structural member, loss of a tail like American Airlines 587 of the tail fin.
But then also if it wasn't a missile it could still be a terrorist activity from an explosion, from a plastic explosive like Pan Am, and that was about this altitude, but it had a much wider scattered pattern of debris.
TAPPER: Philip, if you were leading the investigation, what are some of the possibilities you'd be exploring?
MUDD: I'd look three of them. One, somebody in the plane did something. Two, mechanical, and three, terrorists outside the plane. That is the ISIS affiliate, guys on the ground.
I would put a terror tack outside the plane lowest. But my focus right now wouldn't be what happened here. It would be a people focus. Do I have the manifest, the flight manifest so I can bounce the names off that from the names we have in our national terrorism databases here in America?
And the second thing obviously you're doing is looking at your coverage, your intelligence coverage of ISIS in the Sinai and saying, are they talking about this either positively or negatively? That is saying we did it or saying, hey, something just happened here, we have no idea what just happened.
TAPPER: Mary, officials are now reviewing the plane's black boxes. How soon might they have a hint of what might have gone wrong?
SCHIAVO: Well, I think they probably already have a pretty good idea what's on there, the cockpit voice recording is literally you download it and listen to it. Now, experts have to decide for the sounds on it. And the flight data recorder kind of looks like several lines -- many lines of an EKG, if you will. And that takes analysis.
But here's the problem -- if it was a sudden explosion or rapid decompression, a sudden catastrophic event, which according to the flight track that's what it looks like happened, the leads off of the recorders may have been destroyed and come off. And in many crashes where it is a catastrophic event midair, the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder do not contain much information other than the sound of a catastrophic explosion.
However, in many cases, our National Transportation Safety Board has been able to analyze the sounds of the explosions and compare them to other mid-flight catastrophes or explosions.
TAPPER: Phil, how legit, how credible is the ISIS presence in the Sinai? Are they a thriving terrorist group? Or is it just a couple bands of miscreants calling themselves ISIS?
MUDD: No, I'd say growing overtime. After we saw the sort of demise in the Arab spring in Egypt some time ago, right now, we have a semblance of democracy, I would call it more closely military dictatorship that led to the resurgence in the Sinai, they pledged allegiance to ISIS which means in my world one significant thing -- intent. They're not just focused if they pledge allegiance to ISIS ongoing
after local targets. What they're saying is if we're affiliated with ISIS maybe we should think about the same targets that the central ISIS organization is focused on. That's why you look at this case and you get concern because top on that list is Russia.
TAPPER: Mary, this same exact plane, the plane that crashed had an accident in 2001 when its tail hit the runway in a landing in Cairo. If there was possibly a tail malfunction this time mid-flight, could it cause a debris field like the one we're seeing?
SCHIAVO: Well, it could if the tail -- if a significant part of the tail came off or they had a rapid decompression at that flight level at 30,000 feet. And you would expect to see the plane come down in two distinct debris areas, which is the debris field that they have. And so that could explain it.
People are going to be very skeptical of that because this plane should have been through several checks what they call C checks and D checks where that tail should have been inspected. However, that being said those inspections don't often and don't usually include x- rays or sonograms, if you will, technical inspections like that on the tail that can see beneath the paint job.
TAPPER: Mary Schiavo, Philip Mudd, thank you both. Appreciate your expertise.
In our politics lead, a brand new poll shows one Republican rising. Who's now moving to the top of the field? That story next.
Plus, dozens of Chipotle restaurants closed after an outbreak. The worst part, nobody knows what ingredient caused so many people to get sick. That story as well.
[16:24:24] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.
How about politics now? Are you up for it? All right. Let's turn to the politics lead.
The Republican presidential candidates are in full scale revolt against their party and the media organizations who've hosted their debates thus far. And now, they have a list of demands. Among them equal time for each candidate to never have to raise their hands to answer a question and for the debate hall's thermometer to be kept below 67 degrees.
The debates continue to be important if not crucial in this crowded race. The next one is just nine days away. The last one appears to have at least one candidate propel to a top position in a brand new poll out of New Hampshire.
[16:25:01] CNN political reporter Sara Murray is with me here in Washington.
Sara, pundits said Marco Rubio had a good night at the last debate and looks like the good citizens of New Hampshire agree.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Jake, you can see why people are so focused on getting ahead in the next debate because these debates do matter. Look at the latest poll in New Hampshire. Donald trump may have a solid lead, but it is Marco Rubio who is surging.
MURRAY (voice-over): Donald Trump holding onto a big lead in New Hampshire. A new Monmouth University poll shows Trump with 26 percent support from Republicans, a 10-point lead over Dr. Ben Carson in second.
After a strong debate performance, Marco Rubio surges to third, tripling his support since September. Today, he also picked up an endorsement from freshman Senator Cory Gardner.
Now, the Republican field is tackling a new challenge, reforming the structure of their presidential debate.
JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC MODERATOR: Is this a comic book version of a presidential campaign?
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, it's not a comic book. And it's not a very nicely asked question the way you say that.
MURRAY: After last week's CNBC debate, representatives from several campaigns met on Sunday to determine exactly how their candidates can exert control over how the debates are run.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Find out if we can reach a consensus on what the debates should look like.
MURRAY: Now, those campaigns have drafted a letter for debate response sponsors with their demands, like keeping debates under two hours and giving candidates at least 30 seconds for opening and closing statements.
DR. BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We may not get everything in one big bite, but we're making progress. That's the important thing.
MURRAY: While there's consensus on a few issues, each campaign is using the moment to play to their candidate's strengths and downplay their weaknesses. Candidates like John Kasich and Jeb Bush want more speaking time.
JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Whatever the rules are, they should keep to them. That's all I think the candidates want. The rules were established and they lost control over the entire process last time.
GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know that Harry Truman couldn't get elected president with explaining the United States of America's health care plan in 30 seconds. MURRAY: While those competing for more conservative voters want to
see different moderators.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you have never voted in a Republican primary in your life, you don't get to moderate a Republican primary debate.
MURRAY: And some are already sick of the grumbling, saying they think the debate format is just fine.
CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're here in Iowa talking to voters instead of being in D.C. talking about debates. We've had no trouble negotiating with the networks. And my policy remains what it's always been, I'll debate anyone, any time, anywhere.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Stop complaining. You know, do me a favor. Set up a stage, put podiums up there and let's just go.
MURRAY: Now, just when you thought all the campaigns were going to get together present a united front and come up with these debate negotiations, Donald Trump has pulled out a Trump card. His campaign is confirming a report in "The Washington Post" saying they will negotiate directly with the networks. So, this sort of game of chicken between Donald Trump and the debates continues, Jake.
TAPPER: Interesting. I do want to ask you about Jeb Bush who is out on the stump with a new motto, "Jeb will fix it". Presumably he's talking about our nation's ills and not fixing his troubled campaign.
MURRAY: Well, I think it's a little bit of both. Sure Jeb will fix it. He wants to talk about policy, talk about what he'll do for America.
But look, his spokesman Tim Miller was tweeting today saying this is a reset. We know it's not going to show up in the latest polls. We're see that in New Hampshire.
So, Jeb has some stuff to do to get voters' attention and convince folks he can reset his campaign, he can fix his campaign just as much as he would fix America if people want to really give him a second look.
TAPPER: Still a long time before the first votes are cast.
Sara Murray, thank you so much.
TAPPER: In our national lead, 6,000 inmates released early from prison. The NYPD commissioner saying dangerous criminals could soon be back on the streets. What is President Obama saying? He's speaking right now. We'll bring it to you next.