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How Flight 370 Hit The Water A Key Factor In Amount of Debris; Equal Pay For Women Becomes Forefront Issue In Washington; White House And GOP Tussle Over Equal Pay; Malaysian Government's Mixed Messages

Aired April 8, 2014 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Australia's defense minister made clear that the search for above-water debris is still vital, but there is more to finding the debris than calculating ocean currents or search areas. It also depends upon on how the plane hit the water. Our Tom Foreman explains.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Malaysia Air 370 crashed into the sea. Authorities are not wavering on that. But how it hit could make a big difference in the debris field they are seeking. If the plane cartwheeled in, like this hijacked Ethiopian jet in 1996, the destruction would be tremendous. How does that happen? One wing dips lower than the other and catches the water first. CNN aviation analyst and former pilot Mark Weiss --

(on camera): If it goes into a cartwheel, what does that depend on the debris field.

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, it depends on the conditions of the water. Remember, that water was very, very choppy. So it would break it up, and it would take some of the pieces and actually just wash it away. And some of it would absolutely -- it would have broken it up in lots of different areas, and it would have just thrown it really all around.

FOREMAN: Still, that does not necessarily create a wide debris field. For that, a midair explosion is a more likely cause. Investigators say when a fuel tank erupted on TWA 800 as it climbed to 14,000 feet leaving New York, the result was three separate debris fields and a tireless search to find all of the parts. Weiss says the same thing could be true if Malaysia Flight exploded or caught on fire.

WEISS: Because that fire would lasted for a time in the cargo department, perhaps could have gone through the aircraft, and things would have come out. So you would have had more debris along the longer flight path.

FOREMAN: A hard-landing or crash into the water is no less destructive, but it may produce a smaller target for searchers. When that Air France jet fell into the Atlantic, the debris on the water surface spanned only a few miles. And on the ocean floor, the bulk of the plane covered just a few football fields.

And, of course, a soft landing remains a distant but real possibility. If the Malaysia Air flight landed like that U.S. Airways' plane on the Hudson River, it would have slipped under by now. And unless people were alive to scramble out with life rafts, there might be few clues it was ever there -- and only a small target far beneath the surface.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


TAPPER: Our thanks to Tom Foreman. So which scenario seems the most plausible at this point when it comes to Flight 370? Let's bring in our panel to discuss. Rob McCallum is a CNN analyst and ocean search specialist. And of course, Miles O'Brien is a CNN aviation analyst, pilot and science correspondent for PBS Newshour.

Rob, let me start with you. You heard all the scenarios that Tom Foreman laid out. Mid-air explosion, soft water landing, hard water landing, this thing called cartwheeling. If you were heading up the search for underwater wreckage, which one would make your job the easiest? Which would make it the most difficult?

ROB MCCALLUM, OCEAN SEARCH SPECIALIST: Well, the -- the two that would make it the most easy, I guess, would be the midair explosion or the hard landing because both of those would produce a great deal of debris. And debris on the surface is much easier to find than debris underwater.

If you look at perhaps the most extreme example of a midair explosion, one of the space shuttles, you know, debris was spread over a great distance, indeed. And that really gives you almost an extreme example of what we would like to find in this search.

TAPPER: Miles -

MCCALLUM: The harder.

TAPPER: Sorry, go ahead. Please go ahead.

MCCALLUM: The harder version is where an aircraft has a very high vertical speed and therefore a relatively small crash footprint. That makes our job very hard because you have a single point for a debris origination, and it makes it easier actually once it's underwater. But on the surface it doesn't leave a lot of debris at all.

TAPPER: And Miles, do you think at this point we can eliminate any of these scenarios?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, I think given the fact that we've had this extensive search and seen no debris, this midair explosion idea is pretty hard come up -- the scenario that works for that. I suspect that, given as he puts it, the footprint of the debris field, we would have seen it by now. So the two options that seem to make sense would be a high-velocity vertical impact, sort of straight in, or a Sully-style ditching where the hull is largely preserved.

TAPPER: Rob, is there a difference in the wreckage layout depending on these two scenarios? One, the pilot flew into the water purposely versus what might happen if the plane ran out of fuel and then crashed? Is there a difference?

MCCALLUM: My understanding is that if the aircraft runs out of fuel, the autopilot is disengaged and ends up producing a nose-down vertical dive. If it was a controlled ditching, then you -- if you had a very good pilot and ideal conditions, you might end up with a Sullenberger- type scenario. But most likely, you'd end up with what you just saw with the Ethiopia crash.

TAPPER: Miles, let's assume that there was some sort of mechanical error and the pilot was trying to land the plane in the water. Can you talk about as a pilot, can you talk about the difficulty of attempting a water landing?

O'BRIEN: Well, it depends on how big of a mechanical situation he's facing, of course. But putting that aside, just landing in the water is something we all think about and we don't train for and don't actually do it, but we practice the idea. One of the key things is to look at the sea state. Which way are the swells falling? How big are the swells? You don't ever want to fly into a swell. You want to either fly -- land parallel to them, which would provide a crosswind. You don't want a crosswind if you can avoid it. If go you into the wind, you land slower. And you'll come down at a speed that would be a little above the stall speed. It's a difficult thing to do when the sea state is high.

I -- you know, if you're is missing , if you're coming in without power at all, for example, fuel exhaustion, you would want to come in a little faster and then bleed off the speed and get that kind of Sully landing. So it's not inconceivable that this could be pulled off. In very high seas, it's very difficult.

TAPPER: All right. Miles O'Brien, Rob McCallum, thank you so much.

Coming up on THE LEAD, a month since Flight 370 disappeared and two weeks since families were told there were no survivors. So why are Malaysian officials now telling families to hold out hope for a miracle?

Plus, President Obama is taking action, he says, to ensure equal pay for women. But now the White House is taking heat for its own perceived gender pay gap.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. The Money Lead now. What's more taboo than talking religion or politics at the workplace? How about comparing paychecks? According to a recent study, half all of workers say discussing salary information is either discouraged or completely forbidden on their jobs. Many believe it puts women at greater risk of being paid less than their male counterparts. But today President Obama, signed an executive order that would increase the penalties against federal contractors who discipline workers for talking about their pay. He's also pushing Congress to pass a bill aimed at preventing the same kind of retaliation across the board.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Republicans in Congress want to prove me wrong, if they want to show that they in fact do care about women being paid the same as men, then show me. They can start tomorrow. They can join us in this, the 21st century, and vote yes on the Paycheck Fairness Act.


OBAMA: Vote yes.


TAPPER: President Obama also signed an order providing federal contractors to provide salary information broken down by gender and race.

But according to Republicans, what the Obama administration is touting is an equal rights issue boils down to little more than election year strategy. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell today called the issue, the "less, latest bizarre obsession," while other Republicans noted that according to one study, women who work at the White House make 88 cents for every male White House employee's dollar. The pay differences are also evident among congressional staffers.

Earlier today, I asked Republican Senator Marco Rubio about why women in his office are paid, on average, less than men.


SEN. MARCO RUBION (R), FLORIDA: A man and woman working in our office in the same position make pretty much the same amount of money. What we do have is a disproportionate number of women in our office who are working at the legislative assistant level, for example, but we've also promoted people from that position so is upward mobility within our office.


TAPPER: Not completely unlike what the White House says. Joining me now to talk more about this is former White House communications director, Anita Dunn and Genevieve Wood, senior contributor for "The Foundry" at the conservative, Heritage Foundation.

Anita, some have argued that the legislation the White House is putting forward is unnecessary because it's already illegal under the National Labor Relations Act to punish somebody for talking about pay. What do you say to that? ANITA DUNN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, let's look at what the White House is putting forward. They are basically putting forward an executive order that says, if you want to do business with the government --

TAPPER: Right.

DUNN: -- OK, you are going to obey these rules and they are using the power of their enormous purchasing power to encourage contractors to do what they really should be doing, but that is what is still very difficult. I think if you look back at Lilly Ledbetter and look at the circumstances here, it's clear that maybe it's illegal, but it's certainly not easy in the workplace to have these conversations as you said in your lead in.

The other thing the White House is doing, which I think is equally important, if not more so, is where they are going to be asking for the reports from the secretary of labor on gender and race, breakdowns in summaries, not by individual employee. This is important because most contractors probably aren't even aware that they have these disparities and after you control for seniority, if you still have a disparity, you want to ask yourself, why is it?

TAPPER: Genevieve, the White House's message has been modeled somewhat by this study showing that women at the White House make less than men at the White House. What does that have to do with the national debate on this issue?

GENEVIEVE WOOD, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR, "THE FOUNDRY" AT THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Well, the problem for the president on this is, look, because if you take everybody together and average all men and women salary, you have a problem at the White House. But if you compare women to men in the same job with similar background, similar experiences that they brief to the table, the wage gap all but disappears. Women have made great strides. Instead of celebrating that, this is a political year, the White House wants to portray this war on women.

Not only are the numbers wrong -- young women today in metropolitan areas, for example, are actually outperforming males in that same category all over the country but the problem with that is, they hear this kind of rhetoric. That discourages young women, makes them have a lack of confidence and prevents them from doing the one thing that would get them to where they need to be, which is to have the confidence to ask for a salary. We ought to be celebrating where women are.

DUNN: I'm going to jump in a little on that because I think that it's true that women are making enormous progress, but you know, as well as I do, that as they get older in the workforce, that those disparities start to grow and there are all kinds of reasons that that happens and an important discussion across the board is how do we continue to make sure that the progress continues and how do we --

WOOD: I absolutely agree.

DUNN: Let me address the White House --

WOOD: No, let me --

TAPPER: Finish your point.

DUNN: Let me finish my point, which is that the reality here is that in almost any workplace right now, in the private sector, you're still going to have -- you're going to have more men at senior levels. If you look at corporate boards, for example, women are still only 17 percent of corporate boards. If you look at corporate CEOs, and we're making progress. The debate we're having is, how do we make sure women have equal pay in the workplace and how do we make sure that corporations are looking for ways to --

WOOD: Here's the reality. We have equal pay in the workplace. According to the Department of Labor who did the study in 2009, if you compare job to job, experience to experience and you break the same experience to the table, they are making the same and the problem that the president wants to do is come in and say to employers, look, you have to pay -- regardless if it's sex discrimination or not, we already have laws on the federal and state level to allow anybody to sue whether it's a woman or any other reason that you're being discriminated against --

DUNN: That is not true.

WOOD: It is true. What a factual here --

TAPPER: What are you saying that is not true?

DUNN: Well, the president is not ordering contractors to pay everybody the same wage because of gender.

WOOD: I'm talking about the paycheck fairness act.

TAPPER: What he's pushing Congress to pass.

WOOD: It would allow an employee to sue an employer if they are not getting the paid the same in the same position or title that they have. That encourages -- maybe you worked a little harder. Let's say you're a woman and you have more experience than the guy sitting next to you. Your employer is going to be discouraged from giving you performance raises and bonuses.


WOOD: Because the guy next to you can say I'm not making the same. I'm in the same position as you are. Employers are going to be discouraged from giving those bonuses and raise in pay because --

DUNN: This is an argument that, you know, is being made right now because they really don't want to talk about the real issue here. I'm a little surprised because I think Genevieve has made very good points about the progress women have made and in terms of going into the higher paid professions. But the reality is that it does not force everybody to pay everybody the same amount regardless of experience, regardless of seniority. What it does say, if you have a man and woman and they are performing at the same level, same job, they should get the same salary.

WOOD: No, that's not what it says. It empowers employees who say that they are in those positions to be able to sue their employer when they can already do that. And Jake, let's be clear --

DUNN: So what's the problem if they already do it?

WOOD: This is about pay in the workforce, right?

TAPPER: Right.

WOOD: We have fewer people today either with a job or looking for a job that we have had since 1978 in this country. My point is, that's what we ought to be focused on. If you don't have a job, forget the pay.

TAPPER: I want to ask you very quickly, you worked at the White House. Did you sense there was unfairness when it came to how women and men were paid for the same job?

DUNN: No. And actually the transparency that the president has suggested for federal contractors is why we are having the discussion. You can look at it. What we need to do is we need to -- that's a false static and you know it.

TAPPER: OK. I'm sorry to say. We have to go. Fantastic job by two women. Anita Dunn and Genevieve Wood, thank you for joining us.

Coming up, first they declared all hopes are lost and then they say that miracles do happen. We'll look at how the Malaysian government's mixed messages are affecting the families, next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. With so much influx over the past 33 days in the search for Flight 370, one thing that has remained constant is that Malaysian officials just cannot seem to put out a clear message regarding the investigation into the plane's disappearance. And for those family members so desperate for answers about their loved ones, these mixed messages have caused increasing frustration and a growing lack of trust.


TAPPER (voice-over): To many critics, it was not just bizarre, it was downright irresponsible. As crews continue to look for Flight 370, which all data suggests plunged into the Indian Ocean, 31 days ago, Malaysian authorities say they might still reel in a miracle.

HISHAMUDDIN HUSSEIN, ACTING MALAYSIAN TRANSPORTATION MINISTER: Miracles do happen and we are still hoping against hope. We continue to hope and pray for survivors.

TAPPER: Survivors? Well, some of the families insist they are holding out hope and we certainly respect that. Survivors seems unlikely more than a month after the plane went missing. The search crews, after all, are looking underwater. And that certainly was not the message from the Malaysian government on March 24th when they told the world all hope was lost.

NAJIB RAZAK, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER: It is, therefore, with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you, Flight MH-370 ended in the Southern Indian Ocean.

TAPPER: Malaysia Airlines actually delivered the devastating news to family members by text message. MH-370 has been lost and none of those on board survived. This latest statement is not the only time Malaysian officials have been stung by the smack of critics around the world. Remember when the country's top cop floated the idea this could all be part of an elaborate life insurance scam?

KHALID ABU BAKAR, ROYAL MALAYSIAN POLICE INSPECTOR GENERAL: There may be somebody there on the flight who has bought huge sums of insurance who wants the family to gain from it.

TAPPER: There was the Malaysian politician who got in some Twitter trouble for tweeting that Flight 370 may have vanished into a new Bermuda Triangle and early on there was the huge error that said that two men who had stolen passports resembled this black soccer player. Except, of course, the two passengers looked, well, nothing like that.

Another misstep? For weeks authorities were adamant the last words from the cockpit were "all right, good night" and then last week that suddenly changed to "good night, Malaysia 370." Now the Australian ambassador to the U.S. reprimanded me when I raised some of these issues.

KIM BEAZLEY, AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: It's a little country. They could be overwhelmed with the attention, overwhelmed with the problem of the search.

TAPPER: Now, Ambassador Beazley has a point. On the other hand, how merciful is false hope?

HUSSEIN: As long as there's a remote chance of a survivor, we will pray and do whatever it takes.


TAPPER: Malaysia's government has defended its handling of the investigation. At times blaming the foreign media for putting its on spin on how things have played out. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I'll see you back here at 9 p.m. Eastern for a primetime edition of THE LEAD. For now, I'll turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Wolf.