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Interview with Congressman Adam Schiff; Greek Official: Plane Wreckage Not Found; Clinton: Trump Not Qualified To Be President. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 19, 2016 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: A reminder, that as I said at the top of the show, often the early information given by authorities immediately after tragedies needs to be updated and sometimes it's contradicted by other authorities.

[16:30:03] After the Paris attacks, security was stepped up at Charles de Gaulle Airport. But our next guest says that if this plane crash turns out to be terrorism, it shows that the extra precautions were insufficient. The ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee will explain that, next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

The breaking news at this hour, the crash of an EgyptAir jet in the Mediterranean Sea. The U.S. is working on the early theory that a bomb may have blown up this plane with 66 people on board. Next comes the investigation.

Joining me now to shed more light on that is Congressman Adam Schiff, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks for being here.

[16:35:00] REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: A pleasure.

TAPPER: So, U.S. officials believe that it's likely that it was an act of terrorism. They say that they are not sure yet but it's likely, they believe. Why? Why do they think that?

SCHIFF: Well, in fact, I think some of those officials who have been quoted are getting ahead of themselves. At this point, we still can't corroborate the theory that terrorism brought it down or there was some structural problem with the plane. Certainly, the backdrop is suggestive of terrorism in the sense that we have the Russian plane in Sharm el-Sheikh and we have the aspiration we've seen time and time again not only of ISIL now but of AQAP still very potent and still very determined to bring down aircraft.

But the reality is we don't have hard evidence that this was terrorism yet. We don't, for example, have either wreckage to examine or photographs that are dispositive or intelligence that is specific. So, while we all have suspensions, I think it's premature to say that is the lead theory.

TAPPER: Even before this accident -- and this accident notwithstanding what caused it, do you think that security at airports in Europe is adequate?

SCHIFF: Well, I still have real concerns about our security at home and I think our security is the best in the world. They have tried before Paris, after the Paris attacks to harden the defenses at those airports to take a second look at airport employees, to look at access to aircraft of people who work at airports.

TAPPER: They just had to fire a bunch of employees for suspected ties to experienced groups.

SCHIFF: Exactly. They have taken steps if in fact this turns out to be terrorism, then I think it will have to call on us and probably regardless of what happens, to re-examine our own security procedures. The challenge for us is to make sure that we have the best defense possible but we're not having excessive delays that are unrelated to security.

But I'm still concerned, frankly, with the fact that we don't have a better track record when we test TSA going through security and I still think there are vulnerabilities in terms of airport employee vendor access to aircraft without a thorough vetting of all of those people with access.

TAPPER: There are a lot of Americans are wondering -- again, we don't know if this was terrorism. But even if it weren't, there have been a number of major and horrific acts of terrorism in Europe in the last year, in France, in Belgium and elsewhere.

There are many Americans who wonder if it's safe to travel to Europe. What do you tell them?

SCHIFF: I tell them that I still go to Europe. I brought my family to Europe just about a month and a half ago.

TAPPER: And it's just you. It's not secret service agents surrounding it.

SCHIFF: It's just me. My family and my wife and kids, I felt it was safe enough to do that. There is certainly risk. There are people within ISIS that are plotting, their foreign fighters within Europe, but I think we have to put those risks into perspective. I always say that there's a greater risk every time I get on the L.A. freeway than whenever I get in an aircraft or go somewhere like Europe.

TAPPER: Let's take a look at the list of previous stops that this specific aircraft made before arriving in Paris. The day before, the plane had been in Cairo, in Eritrea, which is in eastern Africa, and in Tunisia. Do those places ring any bells for you?

SCHIFF: Well, absolutely. And really up until now -- and again, we're awaiting the results here, but our primary concern was in airports in just those places. TAPPER: Right.

SCHIFF: You know, coming out of the Middle East, out of North Africa, we had a lot of questions about airport security. We've tried to work with our partners overseas to help them harden their defenses. But if in fact this was an explosive not placed in one of those places, but placed on the bomb in Paris or a passenger that got through security, maybe with one of these bombs it's more difficult to detect and AQAP has never stopped working on those, if that's the case, it says a lot more about ISIL or al Qaeda's capabilities, it says a lot about the work that we have yet to do to harden our defenses. That would be quite a shocking conclusion.

TAPPER: We haven't heard a lot about AQAP, al Qaeda and the Arabian Peninsula, in a while. ISIS has really been in the forefront of media discussions and American's fears. But AQAP is still very, very feared. There's still a lot of concerns about it among American national security official, specifically for their bomb-making ability.

SCHIFF: Absolutely. They still have the premier bomb makers in the world. And there are clips in the news, as of late by ISIL, there's still very active. In fact, they have more territory than in a long time in places like Yemen, although they just lost Mukalla.

But nonetheless, very lethal, very determined to attack. The only reason I would say that AQAP or al Qaeda is a less likely suspect than ISIL is the fact of the choice of the Egyptian aircraft. That is, I think, more of a target for ISIL perhaps than AQAP. AQAP is much more interested in blowing up one of our aircraft.

[16:40:02] That doesn't make it impossible, but I would put ISIL at the top of the suspect list that this was terrorism.

TAPPER: All right. Congressman Adam Schiff, good to see you as always, sir. Thank you so much.

Earlier today, EgyptAir said that they had found the wreckage of this plane, life jackets and pieces of plastic floating in the sea. But now, the top safety official of Greece says in fact they have not found anything. So what happened? What is the mix-up about? We will ask the vice president of EgyptAir, coming up next.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

I want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

Breaking news out of the Mediterranean, where a plane carrying 66 people, including three children, crashed overnight. Contrary to an original report from EgyptAir, the top Greek safety official just told authorities that -- just said that authorities have not found wreckage from the plane.

So, the vice president of EgyptAir air, Ahmed Adel joins us now to clear this up and answer some questions.

Mr. Adel, it sounds like the information has changed. Is this wreckage not in fact from the missing plane?


AHMED ADEL, VICE PRESIDENT, EGYPTAIR (via telephone): Yes, sir. We stand corrected on that. We have received some initial information right before I was going into an interview with Christiane Amanpour through some official channel that the found the wreckage and then later on after they got close to what they thought was the wreckage of EgyptAir, they realized it is not our aircraft.

TAPPER: What are you learning? What is the latest in the search for wreckage?

ADEL: The latest is we stand corrected on finding the wreckage because what we identified now was not parts of our plane. The search and rescue is still going on and it will continue early morning tomorrow.

TAPPER: How large an area are you looking at where the plane might have gone down?

ADEL: We are not -- EgyptAir is not conducting the search and rescue. I got that information from the Greek authorities and from our military authorities that are involved in the search and rescue. So we will have to wait until they give us any new information to come up with.

TAPPER: We're told that the working theory right now with U.S. officials is that this is possibly and maybe even likely the result of a bomb on the plane. Does the evidence you have, as of now, back that up or contradict it?

ADEL: Neither nor. It does not back it up or contradict it. Everything is on the table. We are waiting to gather all of the information that we can and then we'll move forward from there to see what really happened.

What I can tell you now, the chairman of the EgyptAir and myself, we were at the gate waiting for our Paris flight today. It had 14 of the rest of the relatives of the lost aircraft and they were put into their hotel rooms right now and we're going to have an early morning meeting for all of them tomorrow morning.

TAPPER: Were there any passengers on board the flight that raised any red flags in retrospect with American officials, European officials, Egyptian officials, anyone?

ADEL: On which plane, on the plane that arrived today?

TAPPER: No. The one that is missing. ADEL: No, not that I know of.

TAPPER: How extensive was the security that the plane went through and the sweep after it landed in Paris before it took off again?

ADEL: As I mentioned, with Christiane earlier today, we have very tight security procedures that we have to do when we land in the base and before taking off from our base, which is Cairo and when we land in Paris and before taking off from Paris.

It's done by the cockpit crew. They have a check list that they have to go through. The cabin crew has a check list that they have to go through. The security on a board has a check list that they have to go through and then the ground personnel.

So it's business as usual. We did not get any red flags before the aircraft took off from Charles de Gaulle.

TAPPER: You just mentioned some relatives of those who were on board this missing flight, arriving in Cairo. Have you met with them? What are people from EgyptAir telling these poor souls?

ADEL: Yes, we have met with them. I would rather not disclose anything that we are telling them now to respect their privacy. We're going to have a full briefing with them tomorrow about all of the information that we know and then we're going to make a press release right after the briefing.

TAPPER: All right, Ahmed Adel, vice president of EgyptAir, thank you for your time and best of luck in your search.

ADEL: Thank you, sir. Good-bye.

TAPPER: Let's bring in CNN correspondent, Tom Foreman, from our virtual room. Tom, such a tragic story and there are still so many unanswered questions surrounding this crash. Tell us what we do know at this hour.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here's what we do know right now. Look at what happened. This was a plane that took off at 11:09 in the evening from Charles de Gaulle Airport. It's supposed to be about a four-hour flight, simple enough, over here to Cairo.

At 1:24 it went into Greek air space. At 1:48, a Greek air traffic controller spoke to the pilot and said he sounded cheerful like everything was fine. About 40 minutes later, as it passed into Egyptian air space, they could not reach the plane anymore.

And then we had these reports of these erratic movements by the plane as it disappeared from the radar. The official you just spoke to, Jake, talked about the idea all of the information we can gathering that.

He said that very casually, but it's a tremendous amount of information that they have to look at. First of all, they have to review with this plane exactly what you were asking him about. Where was it on the ground over the past several days, who had access to it, did anybody find a way to circumvent all of those security measures if, in fact, this is what happened, if it was some sort of an attack on the plane.

Then they have to look inside the plane as well. They have to look at the people who were on board. He mentioned the crew that they have there. You have a cockpit crew, of course, two people up there.

You have five people working the cabin back here. You have three security officers and then you have 56 passengers. We don't know where they were inside the plane.

[16:50:10]Every one of these, you have to find out who they knew, who they talked to, how they got to the airport, what they were carrying, who they spoke to while they were there to make sure that there was no breach anywhere in the system or that nobody had a reason to do anything unusual.

And then, you have to look at the aircraft itself if you can find some of the wreckage. You have to get down here to the Mediterranean Ocean, which by the way, is about a mile deep on average.

So it could be difficult to find things as they get below the surface, but you have to look at the remains of what you find if this plane in fact crashed.

Obviously, the flight data recorder, voice recorder and then you have to look at the plane. Do you see problems where the engine had something go wrong with them or the tail or do you see spoiling from some kind of explosion?

The bottom line is, it was traveling about 565 miles an hour and it went down somehow. Many, many clues to look at before they know why -- Jake.

TAPPER: Such a tragedy. Tom Foreman, thanks so much. We'll have more breaking news when we return. But first, why Hillary Clinton now says that Donald Trump is not fit to be president. That story, next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. We woke up this morning to the devastating news that EgyptAir flight had vanished from radar, 66 people including three children vanished from the face of the earth.

If you checked your smartphone or computer shortly after waking up, you may have seen the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, had a characteristically itchy Twitter finger.

He tweeted, quote, "It looks like yet another terrorist attack, airplane departed from Paris. When will we get tough, smart and vigilant? Great hate and sickness!" CNN has learned that it's the working theory that U.S. officials are operating under right now that this may have been an act of terrorism.

Hillary Clinton today in an interview with our Chris Cuomo said that Trump does not, however, make the U.S. safer. She said quite the opposite.

CNN senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny is in Chicago. Jeff, I guess what surprises me about her saying that Mr. Trump is not qualified is three weeks ago when I asked her the question she said it was up to the voter. She wouldn't weigh in. Today, she was unequivocal. It seems like there's a strategic shift here.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, there is a shift indeed and partially that is because time is getting on here. She is now fully engaged in Donald Trump. One adviser told me today she wants to stop his growth, his expansion and stop any voters who have doubts about him from changing their mind. She wants to freeze all of doubts in place.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It does appear that it was an act of terrorism.

ZELENY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton says the loss of EgyptAir Flight 804 is a stark reminder of global threats and dire consequences of this presidential campaign.

CLINTON: Once again, it shines a very bright light on the threats that we face from organized terror groups and I think it reinforces the need for American leadership, for the kind of smart, steady leadership that only America can provide.

ZELENY: Sitting down today with CNN's Chris Cuomo, Clinton saying in no uncertain terms she believes Donald Trump is not fit for the job.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Do you think that Donald Trump is qualified to be president?

CLINTON: No, I do not.

ZELENY: Her strongest words yet against Trump saying for the first time he's unqualified.

CLINTON: The kinds of positions he is stating and the consequences of those positions and even the consequences of his statements are not just offensive to people, they are potentially dangerous.

ZELENY: Hours earlier, well before intelligence officials weighed in, Trump also saying that the EgyptAir liner was a terrorist attack, writing on Twitter, "When will we get tough, smart and vigilant? Great hate and sickness." But Clinton says Trump's sharp rhetoric is making America's fight against terror even harder.

CLINTON: When you run for president of the United States, the entire world is listening and watching. So when you say we're going to bar all Muslims, you are sending a message to the Muslim world and you're also sending a message to the terrorists.

ZELENY: Visiting her home town of Park Ridge, Illinois today, Clinton made clear she has one rival in the presidential race, not two. She said her competition with Bernie Sanders is over.

CLINTON: I will be the nominee for my party, Chris. That is already done, in effect. There is no way that I won't be.

ZELENY: She says she's confident that the party will unite, despite Sanders' pledge to fight all the way to the Democratic convention in July.

CUOMO: Where does that confidence come from?

CLINTON: Well, in part, from my own experience. I went all the way to the end against then Senator Obama. So I know the intense feelings that arise particularly among your supporters as you go toward the end.

ZELENY: Sanders supporters have made their view of Clinton clearer often in angry and demeaning ways in rhetoric far hotter than eight years ago.

CLINTON: Senator Sanders has to do his part that's why the lesson of 2008, which was a hard fought primary as you remember, is so pertinent here because I did my part but so did Senator Obama. He made it clear, he welcomed people who had supported me.

ZELENY: After the final primary contest in June, Clinton says Trump will help bring Democrats together.


ZELENY: And Jake, that may well be true but Senator Sanders still has nine more contests to go. He's still fighting to win them. How their own relationship evolves here is going to answer that question if it does bring the party together.

TAPPER: Interesting. Jeff Zeleny in Chicago, thanks.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. You can follow me on Twitter @jaketapper. I now turn you over to Jim Sciutto in "THE SITUATION ROOM."