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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Flight 370 Transcript Released; Communication Problems Hurt Flight Search; President Reacts to Sign-Up Surge; Live Coverage Of President's Rose Garden Address

Aired April 1, 2014 - 16:00   ET

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


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Distraught families of those on board Flight 370 will soon get a closed-door update. Maybe Malaysian officials can avoid reducing them to tears this time.

I'm Jim Sciutto, and this is THE LEAD.

The world lead. Relatives furious at the way Malaysian officials has handled this mystery will meet in private in the coming hours with tech experts after the Malaysians revise, then reveal the full flight transcript.

Also, if searchers never find the plane, we will never know what may have brought it down. What if the next plane you board has the same safety issue?

And the politics lead. After the glitchy Web site rollout, and vastly lowered expectations, a surprising finish. The White House says that with a surge of sign-ups, the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, has met its original target. The president is expected to claim victory live this hour.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, filling in again for Jake Tapper again.

And we begin again with our world lead.

They have been accused Malaysian officials of holding back vital information, of wasting precious time in the search for their loved ones. They have even called the Malaysian government and the military murderers. And now, on the 26th day since Flight 370 disappeared with some 239 people on board, families of the Chinese passengers on that plane may finally get some of their questions answered in a closed- door briefing in Kuala Lumpur.

A number of technical experts will reportedly be available to answer their questions about all the data crunching that informed the search or, at several turns, completely misinformed the search.

These families need something to hold on to after another day filled only with frustration.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): They are scouring the Indian Ocean from the air and from the sea. But all the clues so far have turned out to be false leads, ocean trash and dead jellyfish.

And today the Australian officer in charge of the search for Flight 370 made clear the end is nowhere in sight.

AIR CHIEF ANGUS HOUSTON, JOINT AGENCY COORDINATION CENTER: This could drag on for a long time. It's not something that's necessarily going to be resolved in the next two weeks.

SCIUTTO: Equally stalled is the investigation into why Flight 370 vanished. Today, authorities released the full radio chatter between air traffic control and the cockpit, the back and forth perfectly routine: "370, 32 right, cleared for takeoff. Good night." "Malaysia Flight 370, 32 right cleared for takeoff." "Malaysia 370, thank you. Bye."

This has led Malaysian authorities and experts to declare the transcript neither abnormal nor suspicious.

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: The transcript has absolutely no clues of any criminal activity. As transcripts go, and I have read a lot of trash transcripts, this was pretty clean.

SCIUTTO: Still, Malaysian officials' belated correction of the pilot's last communication to "Good night Malaysia Flight 370" from the previous reported "All right, good night" have critics again pointing to continuing confusion and contradiction in the investigation.

Now Malaysian authorities are set to ask for more help, Malaysia's defense chief arriving in Hawaii, where he will meet U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and possibly ask for more U.S. military assets designed for deep-water search and recovery.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: So are the Australians now taking a more realistic approach to the time it will take to find this plane, if it's even in the area where they are now looking?

We want to bring in our expert panel again. We have Captain John Gadzinski. He's a commercial airline pilot who flies Boeing 737s. He's also an aviation consultant for Four Winds Consulting. And we have Miles O'Brien, CNN aviation analyst, science correspondent for "PBS NewsHour," also a pilot himself.

Look, Miles, I want to start with you because both you and I noticed this comment from the Australian commander who is in charge of the search today. He said -- quote -- "We are working from a very, very uncertain starting point," in effect, an admission that there -- these are educated guesses, right?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Yes. And I think it's reminding people why they are where they are and why it is such a big guess.

First of all, this is the so-called last partial handshake. This is the last time that the device on the airplane which communicates with Inmarsat over the center of the Indian Ocean communicated with the aircraft back and forth.

And so that is where the logical location would be for the search. And that's where we're seeing all the search activity right now. How did they come up with this? Recall those Inmarsat satellite pings in essence created a big arc on the planet, actually, an entire circle. You can discount the other quadrants of the circle. This is the place we're concerned about.

So, this is the location on the arc that they have picked. However, it's based on one other factor which involves an awful lot of guesswork, the last known altitude and speed. And that tells them a little bit about the power settings and altitude and that tells them about the range of the aircraft.

Now, assume for a minute they held whatever that altitude was, and we have heard all kinds of information about that altitude and speed, whatever that was, for seven hours. That's a big assumption. That's what puts them there. But what if the speed changed? What if the power settings changed. The aircraft could be there, it could be there, it could be down there.

And that is why, when the Australians say we are operating on a lot of guesses, that's a big part of the guesswork. It's on a giant arc, but how far did it fly? Did it fly to fuel exhaustion or was it flown into the water with still fuel in the tanks?

And that's why the frustration grows, because this area could be hundreds of miles away from where the airplane impacted the ocean.

SCIUTTO: It's a great point.

And I want to bring in John Gadzinski now, because the Australian who is in charge of the search is a former military chief there. He made this admission today about another thing that they are not certain about yet. Let's listen to that. And it's about altitude. Let's play that sound right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOUSTON: We don't know what altitude the aircraft was traveling at. We don't really know what speed it was going at, other than obviously we have some information that gives us some idea of the speed. So it's a very inexact science at the moment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: So, John, walk us through why that's so important. If they are not sure about the altitude of the speed, they really don't know, as Miles was making the point, where the plane ended in the Indian Ocean.

CAPT. JOHN GADZINSKI, PRESIDENT, FOUR WINDS CONSULTING: Well, the fuel flow varies a great deal between the altitude that you're at.

If you're up there at your normal cruising altitude at 35,000 feet, you're using a very small amount of fuel in comparison. If you're down closer to the ground, 10,000, 8,000, or 5,000 feet, you're burning three times as much, if not more, depending on the speed you're going and your flap configuration.

It could have a dramatic effect on where the airplane is. One of the things you would want to get, an aircraft performance group, a group of subject matter experts in, and say, OK, look, this is how much fuel they started with. This is where the last ping was, so that you get that time and you say what is the fuel flow required to have that aircraft fly for that amount of time?

And then you can maybe extrapolate from there. But that is something that you would need the aircraft manufacturer's help with.

SCIUTTO: And, Miles, the problem with these guesses, right, about these figures is that 10 miles an hour up or down in a speed, a few thousand feet up or down in altitude translates into hundreds of miles, does it not, as to how far the plane went?

O'BRIEN: It can. And this is the problem for searchers. This is the only information that is available and it involves a tremendous amount of guesswork. You just heard the Australian official say, we don't really know the speed or the altitude. They have taken basically the last known position, and it was based on primary military radar, which doesn't give you the full kind of transponder-enhanced radar return.

And so that's why we're seeing what amounts to a big guess.

SCIUTTO: Well, there's a good "Wall Street Journal" story today. We are going to talk to the reporter later, because they make the point that there was a miscommunication about this data which led to that original incorrect search area much further south in the South Indian Ocean.

But I want to go to you, John, because the other news today was we finally got the full transcript of the last communication between air traffic control and the cockpit, some changes in here, but when you look at that transcript, does anything stand out to you? Really, the biggest change was just noting that their last communication was pretty much standard. Was it not?

GADZINSKI: Yes. It was completely standard. It's exactly what you would expect. You hear it every day. I have read it and there wasn't anything outstanding on it.

Normally, if you want -- something might be wrong, air traffic control would call you, and then you would hear back, stand by or just a moment, and then you would know that they are busy with something in the cockpit, they are running a checklist, they're looking at a problem, or they're trying to fly the airplane.

But, in this case, everything looks completely normal. And there is nothing -- there is nothing that would tell us that there was any problem whatsoever.

SCIUTTO: Miles, the one detail that was different from air traffic control, they say "Malaysia 370, contact Ho Chi Minh," in other words, the next radar system as they move towards Vietnam, and then it gave a radio frequency. That's the one detail that was missing from the last communication with the plane.

Significant, in your view, or just a minor...

O'BRIEN: Not significant. It could be minor. It could be the captain got on at that point. He knew the frequency by rote after flying for 30 things.

What I'm really interested in is hearing what Ho Chi Minh City was doing. There are persistent reports that they attempted to relay to that aircraft. And I'm very curious what happened on that...

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: To say, where are you? Why haven't you checked in?

O'BRIEN: Well, let's see those communications, either in transcript form, or, better yet, I want to hear this.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes, for sure, it would be nice to hear, because then you can also hear tension in the voice perhaps.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: There's all kinds of things, yes.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it's much harder reading it off the page.

Well, thanks very much, Miles O'Brien, as always, John Gadzinski joining us in New York.

We're going to continue to press on these questions later in the broadcast.

Coming up on THE LEAD: days reportedly wasted in this search for Flight 370. Could it have made a difference in finding that missing plane? We will speak to the reporter who broke that story.

And the White House is talking it up like it's a bigger comeback than Kentucky's win over Louisville. We're moments away from the president's remarks on his signature health care law. See it here live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

And more now on our world lead. Despite a number of inexplicable setbacks, mistakes and flubs related to the search for Flight 370, Malaysian authorities still insist they wouldn't have done anything differently in this investigation. On Friday, the search zone abruptly moved again, about 700 miles northeast, when radar revealed the plane likely flew a much shorter distance than estimated. According to a "Wall Street Journal" report, Malaysian authorities admit this latest change only came about when the two international teams trying to pinpoint the crash site actually started talking to each other.

So why weren't they working together from the start?

Joining me now, John Ostrower, he's a "Wall Street Journal" aerospace and Boeing beat reporter.

So, John, reading this -- I mean, it's a really incredible case of mismanagement, right? Because you've got one team working on the radar data, another team working on the satellite data, apparently not speaking to each other. You know, the data is already incomplete as it is. Why weren't they talking to each other?

JOHN OSTROWER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, a lot of this speaks to the enormity of what this investigation has become. You know, certainly from an investigatory perspective, rather, is really something we haven't seen since really 9/11 as far as the number of agencies that are coordinating all at once on a global basis to try to figure out where this jetliner went.

SCIUTTO: International and countries and agencies that don't normally work with each other, right?

OSTROWER: Exactly. And part of our reporting, we spoke to a former ambassador to Malaysia and spoke to the fact that the way that the intergovernmental and interagency cooperation in Malaysia really isn't up to the same kind of part that we've come to expect.

SCIUTTO: I mean, that term even must be something unfamiliar. It's something we hear in Washington all the time. What's the interagency like, you know? But is that -- is there a history of that, really, particularly there when you have so many countries thrown into the mix?

OSTROWER: So, you take that dynamic and you add a crisis dynamic on top of that. Where you don't know where this airplane is, you have very little data at all to figure out where the bread crumbs have led to the southern Indian Ocean, and you end up with a recipe for what essentially lost time against these black boxes which have about 30 days of battery life left on them.

SCIUTTO: Exactly and a lot of wasted resources. This is costly stuff. You've got a lot of planes, a lot of ships flying over there advancing.

What was Inmarsat's involvement? Because you mentioned in your story that Inmarsat, one of your sources said was, quote, "a long way removed". Meanwhile, Inmarsat had arguably the best information that put this plane on the map in the first place, right? Why were they not involved more closely?

OSTROWER: Well, certainly, early on during those first two or three weeks of the investigation, Inmarsat was combing their databases trying to figure out where this airplane may have actually ended up, started off with these two north and south corridors. One going massively up to Kazakhstan, now down to the --

SCIUTTO: It's really our first lead to figuring out where the plane went?

OSTROWER: Exactly. And that first lead was calibrated around March 15th against Malaysian radar data, as kind of where the aircraft was last seen officially by military radar. Not where it was seen on civilian radar, but the last sort of national security radar that Malaysia has. And that calibrated the initial model.

But what was absent from that was the speed data that we now saw at the end of last week which was later incorporated by the British and U.S. investigators who are involved in this to really kind of hone in a more precise area within the southern Indian Ocean that, again, 700 mile readjustment of the search area.

SCIUTTO: It is incredible after all of the hiccups, you just hope that cooperation much better now in light of how many mistakes they made. Actually, it was two wrong search areas, right? One way up here and then one down here.

Thanks very much to John Ostrower.

We're going to go live to the White House where the president is coming out to speak celebrating reaching 7 million in Obamacare enrollment. Here's the president.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, everybody. Thank you. Everybody, please have a seat. Thank you so much. Welcome to the White House.

Six months ago today, a big part of the Affordable Care Act kicked in as Healthcare.gov and state insurance marketplaces went live. And millions of Americans finally had the same chance to buy quality, affordable health care and the peace of mind that comes with it, as everybody else.

Last night, the first open enrollment under this law came to an end. And despite several lost weeks out of the gate because of problems with the Web site, 7.1 million Americans have now signed up for private insurance plans through the marketplaces -- 7.1.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

The truth is, even more folks want to sign up. So, anybody who was stuck in line because of the surge over the past few days can still go back and finish your enrollment.

Seven-point-one million, that's on top of the more than 3 million young adults who have gained insurance under this law by staying on their family's plan. That's on top of the millions more who gained access through Medicaid expansion and the Children's Health Insurance Program. Making affordable coverage available to all Americans, including those with pre-existing conditions, is now an important goal of this law.

(APPLAUSE)

And in these first six months, we've taken a big step forward and just as importantly -- this law is bringing greater security to Americans who already have coverage.

Because of the Affordable Care Act, 100 million Americans have gained free preventive care, like mammograms and contraceptive care under their existing plans.

(APPLAUSE)

Because of this law, nearly 8 million seniors have saved almost $10 billion on their medicine because we closed a gaping hole in Medicare's prescription drug plan for closing the donut hole.

(APPLAUSE)

And because of this law, a whole lot of families won't be driven into bankruptcy by a serious illness because the Affordable Care Act prevents your insurer from placing dollar limits on the coverage that they provide. These are all benefits that have been taking place for a whole lot of families out there, many who don't realize that they've received these benefits.

But the bottom line is this: under this law, the share of Americans with insurance is up and the growth of health care costs is down. And that's good for our middle class and that's good for our fiscal future.

(APPLAUSE)

Now, that doesn't mean that all of the problems in health care have been solved forever. Premiums are still rising for families who have insurance, whether you get it through your employer or you buy it on your own. That's been true every year for decades.

But, so far, those premiums have risen more slowly since the Affordable Care Act passed than at any time in the past 50 years. It's also true that, despite this law, millions of Americans remained uncovered because governors in some states, for political reasons, have deliberately refused to expand coverage under this law.

But we're going to work on that. And we'll work to get more Americans covered with each passing year.

(APPLAUSE)

And while it remains true that you'll still have to change your coverage if you graduate from college or turn 26 years old or move or switch jobs or have a child, just like you did before the Affordable Care Act was passed, you can now go to Healthcare.gov and use it year- round to enroll when circumstances in your life change.

So, no, the Affordable Care Act hasn't completely fixed our long broken health care change system, but this law has made our health care system a lot better. A lot better. (APPLAUSE)

All told, because of this law, millions of our fellow citizens know the economic security of health insurance who didn't just a few years ago. And that's something to be proud of. Regardless of your politics or your feelings about me or your feelings about this law, that's something that's good for our economy. That's good for our country. And there's no good reason to go back.

Let me give you a sense of what this change has meant for millions of our fellow Americans. Just give you a few examples.

Sean Casey (ph) from Solana Beach, California, always made sure to cover his family on the private market, but pre-existing medical conditions meant his annual tab was over $30,000. The Affordable Care Act changed that. See, if you have a pre-existing condition, like being a cancer survivor, or if you suffer chronic pain from a tough job or even if you've just been charged more for being a woman, you can no longer be charged more than anybody else.

So this year, the Casey family's premiums will fall from over $30,000 to under $9,000.

(APPLAUSE)

And I know this because Sean took the time to write me a letter. "These savings," he said, "will almost offset the cost of our daughter's first year in college. I'm a big believer in this legislation and it has removed a lot of complexity and, frankly, fear from my life. Please keep fighting for the ACA." That's what Sean had to say.

Jeannie Goal (ph) is a bartender from Enola, Pennsylvania. I think most folks are aware that being a bartender, that's a job that doesn't offer health care. For years, Jeannie went uninsured or under insured, often getting some health care through her local Planned Parenthood. In November, she bought a plan on the marketplace.

In January, an illness sent her to the hospital, and because her new plan covered a CAT scan, she wouldn't have otherwise been able to afford, her doctor also discovered that she also had ovarian cancer and gave her a chance to beat it.

So, she wrote me a letter, too. She said, "It's going to be a long, tough road to kill this cancer. But I can walk that road knowing insurance isn't an issue. I won't be refused care. I hope to send a follow-up letter in a few months saying, I am free and clear of this disease but until then, I know I will be fighting just as you have been, fighting for my life as a working American citizen."

And after her first wellness visit under her new insurance plan, Marla Marin (ph) from Ft. Collins, Colorado, shared with me what it meant to her. "After using my new insurance for the first time, you probably heard my sigh of relief from the White House. I felt like a human being again. I felt that I had value." That's what the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare is all about -- making sure that all of us and all of our fellow citizens can count on the security of health care when we get sick, that the work and dignity of every person is acknowledged and affirmed. The newly insured like Marla deserve that dignity, working Americans like Jeannie deserve that economic security. Women, the sick, survivors, they deserve fair treatment in our health care system. All of which makes the constant politics around this law so troubling.

Like every major piece of legislation from Social Security to Medicare, the law's not perfect. We've had to make adjustments along the way and the implementation, especially with the Web site, has had its share of problems. We know something about that. And, yes, at times this reform has been contentious and confusing, and obviously it's had a share of critics. That's part of what change looks like in a democracy.

Change is hard. Fixing what's broken is hard. Overcoming skepticism and fear of something new is hard. A lot of times folks would prefer the devil they know to the devil they don't.

But this law is doing what it is supposed to do. It's working. It's helping people from coast-to-coast. All of which makes the links to which critics have gone to scare people or undermine the law without offering any plausible alternatives so hard to understand.

I've got to admit it, I don't get it. Why are folks working so hard for people not to have health insurance? Why are they so mad about the idea of folks having health insurance? Many of the tall tales that have been told about this law have been debunked. There are still no death panels.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: Armageddon has not arrived. Instead, this law is helping millions of Americans. And in the coming years, it will help millions more.

I've said before, I will always work with anyone who is willing to make this law work even better. But the debate over repealing this law is over. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: And those -- and those who have based their entire political agenda on repealing it have to explain to the country why Jeannie should go back to being uninsured. They should explain why Sean and his family should go back to paying thousands and thousands of dollars more. They've got to explain why Marla doesn't deserve to feel like she's got value. They have to explain why we should go back to the days when seniors paid more for the prescriptions, or women had to pay more than men for coverage. Back to the days when Americans with pre- existing conditions were out of luck. They could routinely be denied the economic security of health insurance.

Because that's exactly what would happen if we repealed this law. Millions of people who now have health insurance would not have it. Seniors who have gotten prescription drugs would have to pay more. Young people who were on their parents' plan would suddenly not have health insurance.

You know, in the end, history is not kind to those who would deny Americans their basic economic security. Nobody remembers well those who stand in the way of America's progress or our people. That's what the Affordable Care Act represents. As messy as it's been sometimes, as contentious as it has been sometimes, it is progress. It is making sure that we are not the only advanced country on earth that doesn't make sure that everybody has basic health care. And that's thanks in part to leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Dick Durbin and all the members of Congress who are here today. We could not have done it without them, and they should be proud of what they have done. They should be proud of what they have done.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: And it's also thanks to the work of countless Americans who fought tirelessly to pass this law, and who organized like crazy these past few months to help their fellow citizens just get the information they needed to get covered. That's why we're here today. That's why 7.1 million folks have health insurance. Because people got the word out. And we didn't make a hard sell. We didn't have billions of dollars of commercials like some critics did. But what we said was, look for yourself. See if it's good for your family. And a whole lot of people decided it was. So I want to thank everybody who worked so hard to make sure that we arrived at this point today.

Now, I want to make sure everybody understands in the months, years ahead, I guarantee you, there will be additional challenges to implementing this law. There will be days when the website stumbles. I guarantee it. So press, I just want you to anticipate -

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: -- there will be some moment when the website is down, and I know it will be on all of your front pages. It's going to happen. It won't be news. There will be parts of the law that will still need to be improved. And if we can stop refighting old political battles that keep us gridlocked, then we could actually make the law work even better for everybody.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: And we're excited about the prospect of doing that. We are game to do it.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: But today should remind us that the goal that we set for ourselves, that no American should go without the health care that they need. That no family should be bankrupt because somebody in that family gets sick. Because no parent should have to be worried about whether they can afford treatment because they are worried that they don't want to have to burden their children. The idea that everybody in this country can get decent health care? That goal is achievable. We are on our way.

And if all of us have the courage and the wisdom to keep working -- not against one another, not to scare each other but for one another, then we won't just make progress on health care. We'll make progress on all of the other work that remains to create new opportunity for everybody who works for it. To make sure that this country that we love lives up to its highest ideals. That's what today is about. That's what all of the days that come, as long as I'm president, are going to be about. That's what we're going to be working towards.

Thank you very much, everybody. God bless America. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)