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Press Conference Analysis

Aired April 3, 2014 - 16:34   ET


BILL WEIR, CNN ANCHOR: That is Lieutenant General Mark Milley, commander of Fort Hood. His mission is to, quote, "prepare soldiers for combat and take care of soldiers, families, and civilians at the post known as the great place."

Those words take care looming larger than others. And some bit of crumbs of information there, including the moments of the shooting just after 4:00 Central Time when two wounded soldiers called 911 and within four minute, a female MP -- military police at Fort Hood, unidentified, even her rank not revealed yet.

She confronted Specialist Lopez there, pulled her firearm, he pulled his gun out of his waistband, that .45 Smith & Wesson. She fired her weapon. That was a new fact that I hadn't heard before and that's when specialist Lopez took his own life.

Unlike Nidal Hasan back in 2009 who had so many red flags that in hindsight should have warned of what he was capable of. He considered himself a holy warrior, a soldier of Jihad. There was no signs, according to General Milley, no links to terror. Of course, the U.S. Army will now shift the investigation into his cell phone records, into his internet habits and conversations and marital stress, all of the like.

Let's go to Barbara Starr, our Pentagon correspondent. They say, Barbara, he is looking for a trigger event. Now help me out on this. We've been reporting that Specialist Lopez passed his last psych exam, but he says he was in the system, was under treatment.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, some pretty stunning words, Bill, from General Milley there because I think what really jumps out is the general said -- and I'm quoting him pretty close here, that there was strong evidence that this soldier had an unstable psychiatric and psychological conditions, strong evidence of mental instability.

So the question that -- and he was undergoing psychiatric treatment. So he's in the system, but clearly this is someone -- the Army now can identify as having very serious mental health issues. Far beyond some sort of posttraumatic stress or traumatic brain injury, unstable psychiatric conditions.

We know also that he was taking multiple prescription medications including Ambien. So these are all of the medical factors that will be looked at. But what is on the table here, unspoken, is the military regulations and laws about all of this. If someone is undergoing military mental health counseling and treatment, their mental health provider perhaps missed something here.

Because they are required to ask the person, are you a harm to yourself or others, are you planning to buy a weapon? Do you have a weapon? We know that he bought a weapon on March 1st. We know that he passed a psychiatric evaluation. What we do not know is what the course of events were. Did he see a military mental health provider after he bought that weapon? We just don't know and that's the real -- maybe one of the real unanswered questions, how did all of this get missed?

WEIR: All facts to be determined going forward. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you for that.

We're going to take a break and shift gears. We have huge breaking news from the world of entertainment. Our Brian Stelter has the scope. You'll hear that next on THE LEAD.


WEIR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Bill Weir pinch hitting for Jake today. Breaking news in our "Pop Lead." Get used to the idea of light without your top ten list every night. In another seismic shift in the world of late night television, David Letterman, host of the late show on CBS, says he is retiring next year. I want to get our senior media correspondent, Brian Stelter to give us the very latest. How did this get leaked?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": This leaked out because there was a performer at the theater where Letterman was taping his show who heard it and then put it on Twitter and I think CBS will very shortly come out and confirm the news, but they are letting David Letterman finish taping his show. He usually tapes around this time of day here in New York before they come out and confirm it. They want to let him have the stage and explain it for himself.

WEIR: This is -- for somebody who grew up eating dorm room pizza while watching stupid pet tricks, this is sort of a poignant moment, Brian, but it has a lot to do with the changing landscape, right, the two Jimmys?

STELTER: I don't think it's a coincidence that just a few weeks ago, we saw his arch rival, Jay Leno step down for so many years on "The Tonight Show." Now Jimmy Fallon has taken his place. Jimmy Kimmel. Both those Jimmys are examples of a younger generation in late night. David Letterman, on the other hand, is 67. He will turn 68 in about 10 days. He's the older generation. He's who so many people as you are describing grew up with. I've got to imagine there are times where he doesn't want to get out of bed to do it anymore.

WEIR: Right. You know, Johnny Carson was happiest that one hour. Dave is much the same. I can imagine him sort of heading up to Connecticut or going down to the islands and just disappearing. But what do you think of a successor? STELTER: To your point about his privacy, I don't think anybody was expecting this announcement today. I'm not sure if CBS was even expecting it today. He keeps his plans close to the vest. He renewed his contract last fall through 2015. There was no indication at the time that it would be his last contract, but now we know it will be. He'll be leaving sometime in 2015. We don't know when.

Speculation will immediately start about Craig Kilbourne also people like Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert and maybe even, I don't know, I'm going to throw a random name out there, Chelsea Handler. Her contract is up at E! at the end of the year. She's the only woman in late night and she's going to be going somewhere. But you know, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have always been the names that have come up most often when talking about Letterman's slot.

WEIR: It will be interesting to watch this because Fallon is burning up the ratings and now you've got the Letterman sort of nostalgia. What an interesting epic time at late night TV. Brian Stelter, thanks for that scope.

And coming up here on THE LEAD, day 28 of the search for Flight 370, and a quote, "major announcement" expected today from search teams, what does that mean? What areas are possibly left to scour and is time to just focus underwater? We have the latest on the search, next.


WEIR: Welcome back in the "World Lead" now as we close in on four weeks since Flight 370 vanished with 239 people on board. Those in charge of the search effort have vowed to keep looking not just for months or years, but quote, "until hell freezes over." Our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh, has more.


RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A new ship searching for new leads. The British ship, HMS Echo, will do a specific Friday, it's unclear what they are zeroing in on, but what the ship can do is detect pings from the flight data recorders and take detailed images of the ocean floor, like these. It detected something Thursday, but it was a false alarm. After nearly a month, the search zone continues to shift.

TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: It is a very difficult search, the most difficult in human history.

MARSH: The prime ministers of both Australia and Malaysia standing side-by-side in Perth, the center of the search operations, both vowing to keep looking. But a distinct shift in Australia's tone suggests that hope that the plane will be found may be evaporating.

ABBOTT: We cannot be certain of ultimate success in the search for MH370, but we can be certain that we will spare no effort, that we will not rest until we have done everything we humanly can.

MARSH: The search zone remains vast, about 86,000 square miles of deep sea.

NAJIB RAZAK, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER: I can promise them that we will not give up.

MARSH: In Kuala Lumpur, the last scheduled daily briefing is Monday. It's unclear how long the search can go on without finding wreckage. But there is a deadline, the pingers on the plane's recorders are required to last 30 days, designed to last 35. Key equipment to find them is arriving on board Australia's ship the "Ocean Shield," but it won't be used until debris is found.


MARSH: Well, the pinger manufacturer tells CNN, Flight 370's pingers were due for a maintenance overhaul and new batteries in 2012, but they were never returned for the fix. That could mean three things. Malaysia Airlines got brand-new pingers or may have had maintenance done someplace else or the airline had outdated pingers. That latter would be problematic if they are outdated. That would mean that they were not working at all. Of course, we've reached out to Malaysia Airlines just yesterday and haven't received a response as to what the situation is with those pingers.

WEIR: Just keep hoping that the batteries are there.

MARSH: Make it very difficult if they are not working.

WEIR: If they are not, right?


WEIR: Thank you, Rene Marsh. We appreciate that. And what about this Australian announcement, a special big announcement coming up. We'll get into that when we come back.


WEIR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. The Australians have called it the most difficult search in human history. Soon a ship with advanced U.S. technology will finally arrive to help searchers try to locate the black box recorders from Flight 370, which disappeared 28 days ago. By the time it arrives, the batteries in the pingers will nearly be out of power, if they are still working at all.

So let's talk about this with CNN aviation analyst, Miles O'Brien and Jeff Wise. Jeff, what can you tell us about this HMS Echo and what's its tagging and what that means?

JEFF WISE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, what it's there to do is to go out and to listen essentially for these pings. Ideally, what you'd want to do first is have located a debris field on the surface, work backwards against known currents and winds and have a place to look for it that you would be more likely to hold the remains. But having not found anything on the surface, it sounds like they are going to go out and have a go because time is running out and if they don't use these assets now, there is not going to be any point. WEIR: Does that sound right to you, Miles? They are just sort of crossing their fingers? I know they had one -- I don't know if this was on the "HMS Echo," but there was a false alarm. It could have been another ship or a whale.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It could have been anything. This is a technological equivalent of a Hail Mary pass, Bill. You know, why not at this point, with time expiring as far as the weather goes and no place to search, but the asset is in place, you might as well get them at least in the ballpark of where you think, based on some really big guesses where you think it might be, you might get lucky. I think you'd probably have a better shot at winning Powerball, but it's worth trying.

WEIR: Right. It's so vast. There's so much space out there. Jeff, this big announcement we are anticipating. I'm not sure which of the Australian search supervisors announced that. But after 28 days of such a dirt of actual facts, what do you think this could be?

WISE: Well, you know, it could be anything really at this point we've gone through such an emotional roller coaster. Based on past searches, we would have expected to have found something by now and we started this search with high hopes that the Australian prime minister did a lot to encourage and gradually we've seen a deflation of optimism. It might just be something more like they are going to change the search area. I would still love to find a break in this case, but I think my expectations have become tempered like everyone else has.

WEIR: At this point we wouldn't be surprised if they switched oceans on this search. Miles, school us on black box pingers and I heard people say they last 30 days, the batteries maybe 40, maybe less.

O'BRIEN: It's like the batteries that you buy and put in your devices. They can go a little longer and they can come up short. We've had reports that these batteries might not have been handled properly. They might have been stored in a hot storage facility, which might have reduced their life. Rene Marsh has had a report that raised questions about exactly what kind of batteries were in those pingers.

Again, we don't have the actual factual information from investigators on this. Let's assume for a moment that it's 30 days. We're just about at that point and you still have to be within a mile and they are at a depth of maybe below that. It's not like you're going to just hear it from the surface.

You have to drag something underneath and get closer to it and even then it's not an exact science. You may recall with Air France Flight 447, they dragged the hydrophone over the black boxes and didn't find it until two years later.

WEIR: Well, it's orange. At some point that will be the only hope. At some point maybe someone will see it. Miles O'Brien, Jeff Wise, thanks so much for your insight. And that's it for THE LEAD today. Jake should be back tomorrow. I'm Bill Weir. You can find me on Twitter. Let's turn it over to Wolf Blitzer with the very latest on the day's happenings. He's in "THE SITUATION ROOM."