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Ready for Hillary?; Confidence Growing in Search for Flight 370?; Malaysian Government; "Everyone Under Suspicion"; Ready for Hillary PAC Makes Big Haul

Aired April 11, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The Australians say they are very confident that they are closing in on the black boxes, but distraught loved ones say they will believe it when they see it.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead: Australia officials sounding more certain that they are on the right trail, but Malaysian officials don't sound very certain of anything, frankly. Several days after claiming they cleared all the passengers, the Malaysians now say that everyone on board is a suspect.

Also, if these pings are from the black boxes and if crews can pull them out, who gets dibs on examining them? The Malaysians may have a claim to them, but can they really be trusted to handle them right?

And the politics lead, much like the shoe hurled at her noggin from the audience in Las Vegas yesterday, the push to get Hillary Clinton to run for president, it's gaining velocity -- how a scrappy group of upstarts turn 25 bucks here, 50 bucks there into millions of dollars to support a Clinton presidency.

Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We will begin with the world lead. Very confident, that's the opinion of Australia's prime minister about whether four signals picked up by U.S. Navy equipment are from Flight 370's black boxes. It's now been five full weeks since the plane vanished with 239 people on board, 227 of them passengers.

Nine days ago, Malaysia's police inspector general announced that all those passengers had been cleared of any role in the disappearance. Yet, today, in the umpteenth contradiction of this investigation, Malaysia's defense minister told Sky News -- quote -- "Everyone on board remains under suspicion as it stands."

Families met with Malaysia Airlines and government officials today and not surprisingly they came away unconvinced of any real progress.

Sarah Bajc, whose partner, Texas native Philip Wood, was a passenger on the flight, she told CNN all this back and forth is taking a serious emotional toll on the families.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SARAH BAJC, PARTNER OF MISSING PASSENGER: Every time some official gives one of those absolute statements that we're sure it's the pings from the black box or we're sure it's in the ocean, we all crash. Our -- the family members, our feet get knocked out from underneath us.

But then it always ends up reversing itself and then they step back from it.


TAPPER: I want to bring in our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh.

Rene, the Australians, they have a tough line to walk here. They're the driving force now in the search for the plane. If they find what they think they are on to, of course, that means that all hope is lost and the families have bad news.


You know, it's really tough because as much as these families want to know what happened to their loved ones, if and when those black boxes are found in the bottom of the Indian Ocean, their worst fear will be confirmed. And speaking of the black boxes, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in China today to update China's president on the search for Flight 370, but it's Abbott's tone about how things are progressing that's receiving a lot of attention.


MARSH (voice-over): Forget cautious optimism. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is oozing confidence.

TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: We have very much narrowed down the search area, and we are very confident that the signals that we are detecting are from the black box on MH370.

We are confident that we know the position of the black box flight recorder to within some kilometers.

MARSH: His tone stronger and more upbeat compared to the careful wording two days ago from the man coordinating the search.

ANGUS HOUSTON, CHIEF SEARCH COORDINATOR: I think that we're looking in the right area, but I'm not prepared to say -- to confirm anything until such time as somebody lays eyes on the wreckage.

MARSH: But with rumors flying the black boxes were located overnight, Angus Houston released a statement saying -- quote -- "There has been no major breakthrough in the search for MH370."

Over the past week, Ocean Shield detected four pings within about 15 miles of each other. Excitement over a possible fifth ping vanished overnight. The signal a sonobuoy picked up was not from the plane's black boxes.

ABBOTT: The signal from what we are very confident are the black boxes is starting to fade.

MARSH: It's now 35 days since the plane went missing, five days beyond the battery's required shelf life.

ANISH PATEL, PRESIDENT, DUKANE SEACOM: We call it bonus time. The battery is going to start to degrade. It sounds like we're in that period right now.

MARSH: As we prepare to enter into week six, no wreckage, no debris, no tangible evidence, just four pulsing sounds fueling hope. Crews were once searching all over the Indian Ocean. Now they are looking for debris in zones the size of New Hampshire and Vermont combined.

Searching the ocean floor with an underwater vehicle could be days away.


MARSH: They have moved on from the area where one of their patrol boats picked up pinging sounds. They are now focused on the 18,000- square-mile search area where crews are now looking for debris, Jake.

TAPPER: Rene Marsh, thank you so much, as always.

And as Rene mentioned, in just days, more equipment could be deployed underwater to try to find those blacks boxes. We have mentioned some of them before. You have heard of the towed pinger locator. What else will be used and what do they all do?

Let's bring in Tom Foreman. He's at the magic wall for some clarity.

Tom, a lot of equipment to go through. Help us understand what is what here.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the first thing is, Jake, is understand that they try to clear off the top of the water. They just don't want anything out there not involved in the search because it just complicates matters.

So, we have been talking about the towed pinger locator for some time, about half-mile off the ocean floor. This has been the one device that so far that has produced real results. All four of the legitimate pings they're talking about were recorded by this. It's a very robust piece of equipment. It moves slowly, but it's been the sole source of promise so far, especially since they wrote off the Japanese readings there.

The sonobuoys that they dropped out there, this is kind of experimental. These are dropped into the water. They drop down to about 1,000 feet and they listen for sounds. These are really made for trying to track submarines and figure out if submarines are there. It's been modified to see if it can listen to pings.

One of these seemingly picked something up, but now they say, no, that's not the case. Beyond that, you certainly move into things like the Bluefin. This is that robotic sort of torpedo-like device we have talked about. When you get to that point, as Rene mentioned, they're going to turn these loose. This can go down and take a sonic image of the bottom of the ocean. It's not listening for the black boxes.

It's not listening for the flight data recorders. It's just making a sonic map of the floor. We talked about it, sort of mowing the lawn down there, so you can look at the map and see anomalies that might be part of the airplane. Beyond that, you're going to go to something like maybe the Alvin, which is a deep submergence vehicle. Basically, it's a submarine that can go very deep and take people down there with lights and can look around and maybe see something.

That could give you the eyes on that they want in the search, in the official leadership of the search if that happened. And finally, you talk about something the Remora 6000. This is what was used in the Air France crash. This is a robot that can go very, very deep, can actually pick things up and bring them to you.

But we're nowhere near this part yet. Right now we're still stuck at this level and with work on the surface to map the bottom before they go to the next levels, Jake. But they do have a great army of technology out there waiting to descend when the moment comes and they think they are close enough to let it loose -- Jake.

TAPPER: Tom Foreman, thank you so much.

Let's bring in our expert panel to talk about all of this equipment and today's developments. David Soucie is a CNN safety analyst, author of the book "Why Planes Crash." Captain Tim Taylor is a submersible specialist and president of Tiburon Subsea Services. And Miles O'Brien of course is a CNN aviation analyst and he's a pilot and science correspondent for "PBS NewsHour."

Tim, I want to start with you. Let's talk about one of the vehicles that Tom pointed out, the Alvin. You're not certain that will be used. Why not?

TIM TAYLOR, PRESIDENT, TIBURON SUBSEA SERVICES: Manned submersibles, you have got to put a man in there and as soon as you start doing that, you are limited. We have to eat and sleep and have other bodily functions.

And it's just -- your time on bottom is limited, where robotics are just the way to go. You can replace shifts. That robot, the Phoenix 6000 there will get down and stay down and you can just alternate operators on the topside and it can work for days without ever coming to the top.

TAPPER: Miles, the Australian prime minister saying that he's "very confident that signals we are detecting are from the black box on MH370."

That's a very strong statement. Do you think he's overreaching at all?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It wouldn't be the first time, would it, Jake, and it wouldn't be the first time that politicians in more than one country to do the same thing.

My general feeling is, when politicians get involved in the technicalities of an airplane investigation, you should be very skeptical. What is awful about this though is that you're toying with the emotions of the families here. You're giving them confidence and in this case a great deal of sadness, because many of them are holding out hope that in some way their family members could be alive.

Now, admittedly, the evidence is stacking up that those black boxes are there, but the approach that Angus Houston has taken, just laying out the facts and letting the families and everyone else make their own conclusions I think is a better way to go.

TAPPER: And Angus Houston seemed to -- he didn't disagree with the prime minister, but he certainly didn't give him an amen. He said he doesn't know of anything new today.

O'BRIEN: Well, he's more Jack Webb. Just the facts.

TAPPER: Just the facts.

O'BRIEN: Which is the way it should be.

TAPPER: And, David, Steve Wang, whose mother was on the flight and is a family representative, he pointed out that the prime minister said confident. That is not the same thing as confirmed, and that families are waiting for confirmation.

But besides wanting to know for sure if your loved ones are gone, there are also some -- not to be crass about it, but there are some insurance issues for these families with this investigation still being open. Tell us about that.

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Well, there's a couple of things going on with the insurance part of it.

One is that there has to be a proof of loss. And once that proof of loss is filed, then you can say, yes, there's an insurance claim to be had. Another thing goes along with that, on two parts of the insurance, one is that, one, there has to be an accidental and sudden loss of the hull.

And so that's where it's a little questionable, too, because is this accidental or was it with intent? If it was, there's some other subrogation that would go on along with the claim. So, there's a little bit of complexity.

Now, Annex 13 says that the country or that the airline is responsible when there's multi nations involved, that the airline is responsible to pay for the damage to the passengers and families. But, again, there has to be a proof of loss. So we're still waiting for that proof of loss.

TAPPER: Tim, they seem to be ruling out the fifth ping as coming from the black box beacon. So now we're back to the square where we had four pings. Those were picked up days ago. How realistic do you think it is that that they're going to pick up any more pings, especially now that they have had resources in the search area for a while now?

TAYLOR: Well, it's not looking great, but they have to give it a few more days here.

I would imagine, again, if I was running this operation, I would exhaust the potential for getting pings, because I think we talked about it yesterday, that these AUV and these ROVs can be working forever after this. They are not predicated -- basically, weather is their launch issues.

So the pings are -- narrowing down the search area is going to be the most efficient thing to do. Now, one thing on that AUV, it has a camera payload. Once you map the bottom with sound, you can change that payload and go down, fly real low and take pictures with that AUV, and actually do a whole mosaic of what is on the bottom. And you can see pictures of wreckage and then you can plot a plan on how you can salvage it with the ROVs at a later date.

O'BRIEN: All right, Tim, David, Miles, stick around. We're going to come back to you.

When we come back, Malaysia officials changing their tune again, now saying everyone on board the missing flight is a suspect, just days after we thought they cleared all the passengers. So, what led to this new scrutiny of those on the plane?

Plus, assuming the black boxes are found, can Malaysia really be trusted to lead the investigation into what is inside? Our panel will weigh in on that coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. More now on our world lead.

The investigation to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is now zeroing in on possible suspects -- 239 of them, to be exact. According to a new report, the criminal investigation into what happened to the plane is ongoing, and now, we're told everyone on board is under suspicion. It would make sense given the mystery surrounding the flight's disappearance. Except for the fact that this new revelation from the Malaysian government is the exact opposite of what we were told by Malaysian authorities last week.

CNN's justice correspondent Pamela Brown joins me now with more.

Pamela, how is the Malaysian government explaining the inconsistency this time?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you're just hearing different statements from different agency. That's the bottom line. So, once again, here we are, Jake, conflicting statements coming from Malaysian authorities about this investigation into the passengers and crew on board Flight 370 and this as CNN is learning an internal investigation is under way in Malaysia to figure out why officials from different agencies missed key opportunities to track the plane.


BROWN (voice-over): The defense and acting transport minister making it clear once again to Sky News Thursday that, quote, "Everyone on board remains under suspicion as it stands."

But just last week, the police chief suggested that the investigation is much more narrow.

KHALID ABU BAKAR, ROYAL MALAYSIAN POLICE FORCE: Only the passengers have been cleared. The rest, no.

BROWN: The mixed messages from different agencies out of Malaysia compounding the confusion about the missing plane, and stumping both law enforcement and aviation experts in the U.S. As far as U.S. officials are concerned, no one has been ruled out, including the passengers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a little bit surprised that they stopped at two or three weeks and said, yes, we don't have a problem with anyone on board the plane.

BROWN: The Malaysian defense minister acknowledging to Sky News lessons have been learned, calling the plane's disappearance, quote, "an unprecedented situation."

HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN DEFENSE & ACTING TRANSPORT MINISTER: There are cultural differences and sometimes we are lost in translation and basically I'm not saying that we were -- we must handle it perfectly.

BROWN: Malaysia's government says it's now investigating itself, trying to figure out how different agencies completely dropped the ball on tracking the plane, according to "Reuters", missed opportunities that may have wasted precious time searching the wrong ocean, far from where they believe the plane to now be. But at the same time, Malaysian authorities are refuting CNN's reporting that the air force failed to inform search and rescue operations for three days that the plane had made a westward turn.


BROWN: And both Malaysian and U.S. authorities are still digging into the hard drives of the captain and co-pilot. But as of right now there is nothing too suspicious jumping out of them but they're still looking to put everything in context. So, this investigation is still ongoing in the U.S. and Malaysia.

TAPPER: All right. Pamela Brown, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Coming up, while she's dodging shoes in Vegas, a team of Hillary Clinton's super fans are working behind the scenes on her 2016 campaign, assuming she decides to run. So, how did a few unknowns raise so much money? Also, how complicated will the underwater search for Flight 370 be once it does get started? The rules that could make things tricky for all of the countries involved, coming up.


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

Sure, one woman threw a shoe at her. Sure. But many, many, many more are throwing money. For months, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been dodging the question of whether she's running for president.

Last night, while speaking in Vegas, to the good folks of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Clinton dodged something else -- flying footwear.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: In about two -- what was that, a bat? Was that a bat? That's somebody throwing something at me? Is that part of Cirque du Soleil? My goodness, I didn't know solid waste management was so controversial. Thank goodness she didn't play softball like I did.


TAPPER: Slow reflexes but quick quips. A Secret Service spokesman says that Alison Michelle Ernst (ph), the woman who threw the black and orange athletic shoe at Hillary Clinton was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

And while hurling a running at her probably was not meant to be read at telling Clinton to run, the super PAC Ready for Hillary has reportedly been raking in some sizeable donations to support her White House bid before Clinton has even officially or unofficially, really, become a candidate.

CNN senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar is here with more.

Brianna, how much money are we really talking about here?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's quite a bit of money, $1.7 million in the first quarter of this year and the thing is, that's actually twice as much as Ready for Hillary had in the full first half of 2013. So, they are gaining momentum and also this is small dollar donations. There is another PAC that does the bigger donations.

But the idea here is putting the money back into the super PAC to build the list of supporters, potential campaign volunteers so that if Hillary Clinton decides to run, she will be far, far ahead of the rest of the field both Democrats and Republicans.



KEILAR: And she greets you as soon as you enter.

PARKHOMENKO: She does. This iconic image from the 2008 campaign, we put up here. It's one of our favorite. We wanted to make sure that everyone who came through here got a chance to see it.

KEILAR (voice-over): Adam Parkhomenko is the executive director of Ready for Hillary, one of two super PACs leading the charge to draft Hillary Clinton to run for president. But he isn't your typical political operative. Despite entry level positions on Hillary Clinton's former political action committee and her 2008 campaign, she is not on Adam's speed dial. She's on his wall.

(on camera): Are you a super fan?

PARKHOMENKO: I think there's no doubt that I'm a fan of Hillary Clinton. But at the same time, a supporter for the right reason.

KEILAR (voice-over): After 2008, Adam drifted away from politics. He became a reserve officer in the Washington, D.C., police department and went back to college.

PARKHOMENKO: I graduate this semester at George Mason, about 11 years in the making. I'm very excited to be done with it.

KEILAR: But in early 2013, Adam saw an opening and co-founded Ready for Hillary, recruiting a few people to get it going, including his girlfriend, Kirby Hoag, who is also a cheerleader ambassador for the Washington Redskins.

(on camera): Which one are you?


KEILAR (voice-over): What they lack in experience, they make up for in enthusiasm. In one year alone, this super PAC has grown from a handful of volunteers to 25 employees and 15 interns, all sharing the same key goal.

PARKHOMENKO: The mission is pretty simple, just to build a list. The secretary of state, she couldn't be political. She shot down a political operation, and we wanted to make sure if she does this, she is as prepared to go from day one as she ever could be.

KEILAR: So, while Hillary Clinton still hasn't committed to running for president in 2016, a sort of shadow campaign is already well under way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm ready. Let's start (ph). I'm ready.

KEILAR: Raising money at fund-raisers like this one in Los Angeles for gay and lesbian supporters of Clinton.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was ready for Hillary in 2008, were you?


KEILAR: Collecting e-mail addresses from potential campaign volunteers.

PARKHOMENKO: Pretty much sold out.

KEILAR: Even selling swag, along the way Ready for Hillary has morphed from a grassroots organization into a polished operation, advised by some of the biggest names of the campaign business.

(on camera): You are an Obama guy essentially working for Hillary?

MITCH STEWART, FOUNDING PARTNER, 270 STRATEGIES: I am. Yes, proudly. Proudly working for Ready for Hillary.

KEILAR: Mitch Stewart headed up Obama's strategy and the outreach to Iowa caucusgoers, where Obama's victory spelled the beginning of the end for Clinton.

STEWART: We have folks actively recruiting Latinos for a Clinton candidacy -- women, young people, LGBT, African-Americans.

We know how important it is to get to 50 plus 1 percent in the state and adding up to 270 electoral votes in a presidential campaign.

KEILAR: A presidential campaign even before Hillary Clinton has decided whether to run.

PARKHOMENKO: She's going to have an army of grassroots supporters in every corner of the country behind her, ready to go.

KEILAR: Ready for day one if it ever comes.


KEILAR: And, of course, there's always this concern that the building up essentially of Hillary Clinton's ground game puts her in a political spotlight, which isn't always a good thing, right? So, that's why you have many people who were close to Hillary Clinton who are coming in and advising this group, Craig Smith for instance who has known the Clintons for decades worked Bill Clinton on his successful '92 election campaign and there's a number of other names that have come in here to make sure that Ready for Hillary kind of channels their enthusiasm in a way that best benefits Hillary Clinton.

TAPPER: Should she decide?

KEILAR: Should she decide. That's the amazing thing. Should she decide to run and this isn't the only group.

TAPPER: It's crazy.


TAPPER: Brianna Keilar, thank you so much.