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Ukraine on the Brink; Signal from Co-Pilot's Cell Phone; Police and FBI Calling Deaths a Hate Crime; Russian Plane Flies Near U.S. Warship; Killings at Jewish Facilities

Aired April 14, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, Ukraine on the brink, pro- Russian demonstrators seizing more government buildings with no sign of a promised crackdown by the Ukrainian government. This as a Russian military plane flies provocatively close to a U.S. Navy warship in the Black Sea.

Also right now, a brand new clue in the search for Malaysia Flight 370. It involves a signal from the first officer's cell phone that was detected hundreds of miles away from where the flight's transponder was turned off.

And right now, police and the FBI, they are calling the deaths of three people outside the Jewish Community Center in Kansas a hate crime. We're learning more about the 73-year-old white supremacist accused in the shooting.

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from New York. We start with Ukraine where pro-Russian militants are gaining ground. This was the scene today in one eastern city. Demonstrators there attacked and overran that police station. In many cases, police have stepped aside to let demonstrators in. This violence comes after a deadline said by the Ukrainian government passed with no action. The acting president had warned of an anti-terror operation if militants didn't surrender.

And now there's this news coming from the Pentagon concerning a Russian fighter plane and the USS Donald Cook. That's the American warship in the Black Sea near Ukraine. Our Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr is joining us with details. Barbara, what happened?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this happened on Saturday. One of the most significant encounters between the U.S. military and the Russians in years. Two Russian fighter jets, two Su- 24s flew near a U.S. Navy ship. One of the fighters stayed a fair distance away, but the other one made 12 passes on Saturday near the Donald Cook in the eastern Black Sea. That Su-24 flew at various times just 500 feet off the surface of the ocean and 1,000 yards off the side of the ship. So, think of it this way, very low, very fast to the side of the ship. This was an encounter that the U.S. Navy is now calling provocative, unprofessional, aggressive. Those are the words we're hearing around the Pentagon hallways right now.

The U.S. believes that the Russians were clearly trying to harass them, send a message. But this is not the kind of thing they want to see happen because accidents can happen, things can go very wrong. The Navy captain tried to call the Russian fighter jet several times and got no response. After about 90 minutes of these passes near the Donald Cook, the Russians finally broke off and flew away -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Are the Russians saying anything? Are they explaining why they would do anything like this?

STARR: Publicly, so far, we're not hearing anything from Moscow. But you can believe this was at the direct orders of the Russian military. They don't fly near Navy ships just -- U.S. Navy ships just because. They would have had orders to do this. The U.S. Navy, the Pentagon interpreting this very much as a harassing action by the Russian military, saying we know you're out there. We -- we'll fly near you if we want to.

But, look, Wolf, no one thought that the Russians were going to start anything. The problem is this kind of provocation is very open to misinterpretation, accidents at sea. It's just too close. And the U.S. sending the message to the Russians, back off -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. All right. Well, that's a significant development right there. Barbara, thank you.

Ukraine's former president is now speaking out about the worsening situation in his country. In his speech Sunday, Viktor Yanukovych blamed the United States, saying that the CNN director, John Brennan, went to Kiev and sanctioned the use of force against pro-Russian militants. The CIA responded with a statement. We have no comment on director Brennan's travel itinerary as we do not speak publicly about the CIA director's travel. But the claim that director Brennan encountered -- encouraged, I should say, Ukrainian authorities to conduct tactical operations inside Ukraine is completely false.

Let's turn to our Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour. She's watching this story very, very closely. You know, it's not every day that a Russian plane effectively buzzes a U.S. warship in the Black Sea. That U.S. warship has every right to be there.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it's absolutely imperative for us to understand that all the aggressive moves are coming from Russia, even though in the Security Council in their press, they are accusing the west of being the aggressors and the authorities in Kiev of being the aggressors. But from the moment this has started, the Russians have been the aggressors.

And some are saying, they are testing, testing, testing to see what the response from the west will be. As you know, it's sanctioned so far. But tomorrow, General Philip Breedlove, who is the top military commander of NATO, is set to report to NATO alliances what he recommends in terms of upped military proposals to confront Russia, including, he told me, the possibility of putting ground troops inside NATO countries to give Russia a very strong signal.

BLITZER: But the key question, right now, and it's a source of significant debate in Washington, should the U.S. provide at least defensive weapons to Ukraine?

AMANPOUR: Well, you know, this is going to be something that everybody's going to be judging and trying to analyze as much as they can. But what clearly happening here, according to all the allies, is that Russia, they believe, is behind all these so-called spontaneous eruptions of discontent in eastern Ukraine. The pro-Russians there, you know, saying that they want Russia to come in and do what they did in Crimea.

People believe that Russia is stirring that up as a possible pretext for either invading or for standing there, to keep this very hard warning to the Kiev authorities while they go through their presidential election which is due for May and to try to influence what happens on the ground there. But it's clearly getting really dangerous as they start, you know, sort of messing around with close military calls. That is going to be something that becomes increasingly hard to control.

BLITZER: Do you sense even stepped-up sanctions, U.S., European, other sanctions, NATO sanctions, economic sanctions, political sanctions against Russia in the end will make a difference?

AMANPOUR: Well, look, the western allies are saying that today, that the only stepped-up action will be more sanctions if this continues in this way. But as I say, there are other kinds of military defensive maneuvers that can be done by NATO. They already have stepped up their air surveillance. They have already stepped up their air patrols.

But, as I said, the SACEUR, the supreme allied commander, has said that he is going to propose to governments the possibility of putting ground troops in some of those NATO countries that are very close to Russia as a double and triple-down signal to Russia, don't mess around with us.

BLITZER: Are the Europeans and others really ready to sacrifice themselves? Because if these sanctions -- if the Russians retaliate, cut off energy supplies to Europe, that could be very painful.

AMANPOUR: It could be very painful. Again, foreign ministers have told me that we are going to have to start to wean ourselves off Russian energy. We're just going to have to, if we don't want to be held hostage like this in the future. Russia, as you know, has already -- President Putin has sent letters to some 18 members of the European Union saying, watch out, you know, this thing with Ukraine may jack up your energy prices or may threaten your energy.

They have, again, very crudely and outside of any kind of market demand jacked up the price of natural gas to Ukraine which they use as sort of a hostage situation to Ukraine. And they keep playing this game. What they want is a friendly government in Ukraine. They are trying to manage whatever political transformation happens in Ukraine to make sure that whoever comes in in this next election is friendly to Russia. And they want a federalized system which has much more, you know, ability to -- for Russia to wreak its influence there.

BLITZER: The temperature is really going up and up.

AMANPOUR: Yes, definitely.

BLITZER: This is a tense situation. Christiane, thanks very much.

The search for Flight 370 is about to enter the next phase. And authorities are now warning, we could be in it for the long hall. Here are the latest developments. The search for pinger locator ships is all but over. The belief is that the batteries of the plane's so- called black boxes have likely died. The Blue Fin 21 unmanned sub will now slowly scour the ocean floor for signs of the plane.

We're also learning an oil slick was discovered a few miles from where the last week's pinger signals were detected. A sample of it has been taken and is now being analyzed. Should get the results fairly soon.

And the search on the ocean surface for signs of debris is winding down. Planes and ships doing a visual search of that part of the Indian Ocean could be called off at any time.

And now some breaking news. Sources are telling CNN Flight 370's co- pilot had his cell phone on while the flight was midair.

Pamela Brown is in Washington, and she's following this development for us. Pamela, what are U.S. officials telling you about the co- pilot's cell phone use?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're learning that Malaysians have shared data with U.S. investigators indicating that the co-pilot's cell phone made contact with a cell tower about 250 miles away from where the transponder turned off, in an area near Penang. It's believed that a cell tower made connection with the co- pilot's cell phone, similar to the way the satellite made that handshake with the plane.

And officials I'm speaking with, Wolf, are saying that at this point, there is no evidence to suggest that an emergency call was made or a call of any kind was made from the co-pilot, from the captain or anyone else on the plane. We know investigators have been looking through the phone records from the very beginning of the investigation.

So, there's no evidence, according to sources, that a phone call was made. But it is interesting to note here, Wolf, that the fact that that cell tower made a connection with the co-pilot's phone is an indication that the phone was on. It reaffirms what we have been reporting that that plane made the westward turn to the straits of Malacca and that it was likely flying at a low enough altitude in order for the co-pilot's phone -- Fariq Hamid's phone to be detected by that cell tower.

BLITZER: Do we know if any of the other passengers or crew members may have activated their cell phones around the same time?

BROWN: At this point, sources I'm speaking with, Wolf, say it was only the co-pilot's cell phone that connected with that cell tower, that there is that transmission, a detection, only with the co-pilot's phone. But, again, I want to reiterate here that this is according to data that was shared by the Malaysians with U.S. investigators, so there could be more information we're just not privy to. But the information shared was just the co-pilot's phone. And we know that standard operating procedure is for, not only the passengers, but also the crews to turn off their cell phones when a flight takes off. So, of course, this opens up the question, why was the co-pilot's phone turned on?

BLITZER: Pamela Brown reporting with the latest news for us. Thank you very much.

Just ahead, we'll dig deeper into this new phase of the hunt for Flight 370 as investigators hope an underwater sonar device will help locate the plane on the ocean floor.

Also coming up this hour, the Southern Poverty Law Center calling him a raging anti-Semite. Now, this man is charged with the shooting deaths of three people in front of the Jewish community centers outside of Kansas City.


BLITZER: The latest clue in the hunt for Flight 370 is an oil slick a few miles from where underwater pings were detected last week. Analysis of the water sample will determine if the slick possibly, possibly came from the missing Boeing 777. No wreckage has been located on the ocean surface. So now the search shifts to below the waves.

Let's bring in our panel of experts, CNN safety analyst David Soucie, who's a former FAA accident investigator, CNN aviation analyst Les Abend, a veteran pilot of the Boeing 777, and Tim Taylor, president of RV Tiburon and an expert on unmanned submersibles.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Just first of all the fact, Les, that the pilot -- the co-pilot's cell phone had been activated as he was flying around close to Indonesia at some point searching for some cells, what does that say to you, if anything?

LES ABEND, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, first of all, I'm kind of skeptical of anything. We talked about the track for a while now and now this cell phone thing. OK, I'm a little skeptical. But let's say it was and that's a true indication. On our checklist, it says to shut - and we shut off personal devices. So he ignored that, possibly. Could be one of the things -- or just left it on by mistake.

BLITZER: But if he ignored that, I'm sure a passenger probably kept their cell phones on, too.

ABEND: I agree. I agree. So that is kind of curious. There had to be at least - at least one passenger that did the same thing. So it's very curious to me.

BLITZER: David, what does it say to you?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Yes, I think it's very suspicious because of just that fact. If other cell phones - I mean I've sat - I've flowing in the back sometimes - I usually fly in front. But when I'm in the back doing - there's -- people are leaving their cell phones on all the time. You'd think that would hit. But it's his that hit. It's very strange to me.

BLITZER: And this notion that they may have found some oil that potentially could be related to the plane. They're doing an analysis right now. That would be significant if, in fact, they found it, because that's actually where those four pings in that general area.

SOUCIE: It's very significant. And there's a lot of information we can get from that. If the oil is - it's a very specific kind of oil that's used in aircraft. It's not used in ships typically. It's not used in anything else. It's in that aircraft. And the hydraulic fluid as well. If it's a hydraulic fluid, it will also be very tell -- tell a lot of tales about it. Then thirdly you have fuel mixed with it probably if it's with that aircraft.

BLITZER: And they should be able to determine relatively quickly if in fact that oil came from the plane.

TIM TAYLOR, SEA OPERATIONS SPECIALIST: Yes. Yes, they should be able to.

BLITZER: That's not that complicated.

TAYLOR: It isn't. I don't know about the search planes if they drop fuel sometimes, but they shouldn't and -

SOUCIE: Not oil like that.

TAYLOR: But, yes, they should be able to trace (ph) it.

BLITZER: They should be able to figure that out if it came from a 777, which probably has -


BLITZER: And they could see -- if it was fueled up, you know, in Kuala Lumpur, they might be able to get a match if they did that. That would be significant.

TAYLOR: Possibly, yes.

BLITZER: So take us through this next phase. They assume the batteries for the black boxes are dead, so they're not going to hear any more pings. So now they have a relatively small area that this submersible has to go back and forth and see if they can find at least one or both of these black boxes and maybe some wreckage.

TAYLOR: Right. Well, what they're going to do is they'll send the AUV down. And in order to take sonar images of the bottom, you have to get close to the bottom. That's a fact. So you either tow it down there and the AUV, in this case, will drive down there and run a pattern. And it's limited. It's 16 square miles a day plus or minus. And that's not exact. That's if everything works perfect because they'll have to - it's two hours down, it's two hours back, it's four hours of downloading data, changing batteries, reprogramming the system, firing up the initial navigation systems.

BLITZER: So this could take a few weeks at least?

TAYLOR: Yes, every dive is problematic.

BLITZER: Unless they're lucky.

TAYLOR: Exactly. I mean this system is designed to come back. So if it hits a problem, it hits a depth it's not supposed to or if it hits something that tells it stop, come back up, it's not safe, it will come back up. So the 16 hours could be eight hours, could be four hours. You know the -- it's just a - it's not rocket science, but it kind of is.

BLITZER: You're a 777 pilot. It would be unusual if they found a black box but no wreckage anywhere near there. Wouldn't that be crazy?

ABEND: I would think there's got to be some wreckage. I mean the black boxes are in the (INAUDIBLE) tail.

BLITZER: I say that because a black box is small, but there could be some big chunks of wreckage -

ABEND: Oh, yes.

TAYLOR: Oh, yes.

ABEND: It's in the -

BLITZER: Nearby that would be presumably easier for those submersibles, that Bluefin-21 for example, to find.

ABEND: It's in the empennage of the airplane, basically the tail section of the airplane.


TAYLOR: If they find the - excuse me, Les. If they find the bigger section, they can actually change payload or change sonar frequencies and go down and fly closer, fly 10 meters off the surface maybe and then get real high resolution pictures where you can actually see definition. You can see shapes of item. And then - then they can change the payload, send it back down and take pictures.

BLITZER: I'm told, David, oceanographers say that the water, the floor of the Indian Ocean there, is relatively, relatively smooth. They've got some silt, but it's not like huge rocks and boulders and canyons and stuff like that, which would make it a lot easier.

SOUCIE: Right. Tim and I were talking about that earlier, about the fact that with this sonar, if it's in silt, it could actually help because you don't have various rocks that appear to be pieces of the aircraft. That it's underneath. It's got a smooth place to look. So it's - I think it, from what Tim and I were talking about, it makes it a lot simpler to find.

BLITZER: And all of you agree, the batteries almost certainly are dead on those two black boxes?

SOUCIE: Yes, there's no question about that in my mind.

TAYLOR: It's time to move into the - into this phase.

BLITZER: It's time to send out the Bluefin-21 down and some other submersibles. We'll see what they can find. It's, obviously, a risky, complicated mission, but it's a new phase.

TAYLOR: It's time.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, guys, thanks very much.

TAYLOR: Thank you.

BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more on the investigation into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. That's coming up later this hour.

Also ahead, this isn't the first time the suspect in the Kansas City shootings has been in trouble. He was once the focus of a nationwide manhunt. We have details on the latest emerging.


BLITZER: Just a short time ago investigators announced the shootings in Kansas City -- outside of Kansas City where a hate crime. A white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan member is charged with killing three people outside the Jewish community centers on Sunday. Frasier Glenn Miller scheduled to appear in court today. President Obama called the shootings in Kansas horrific and heartbreaking.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As a government, we're going to provide whatever assistance is needed to support the investigation. As Americans, we not only need to open our hearts to the families of the victims, we've got to stand united against this kind of terrible violence, which has no place in our society.


BLITZER: George Howell is joining us now from Overland Park, Kansas. That's right outside of Kansas City.

George, authorities just held a news conference. Give us the main headlines that emerged.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the main headline from that news conference is that this case will be investigated as a federal hate crime. Prosecutors are filing hate crime charges. And throughout the course of news gathering, I mean you saw the evidence from witnesses who said that across (ph) came here on to campus and asked people if they were Jewish. You heard the neo-Nazi slogan that he uttered when he was in the back of the police car. It all seemed to add up. But keep in mind, there was an investigative process to bear and we are starting to see the results of that, that investigators are now calling this a hate crime.

I want you to listen to just a bit of that news conference. The FBI explaining their position and how they are going to move forward. Take a listen.


MICHAEL KASTE, FBI SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: In the last 22 hours, we've learned that the acts that this person - that this person committed were the result of beliefs and his action -- were a result of beliefs that he had and that he was trying to hurt somebody based on their ethnicity, race, religion, a whole number of categories under a hate crime.


HOWELL: And investigators wouldn't give much more information about the suspect, but they tell us that we will learn more, obviously, as the case continues.

BLITZER: What about the families of the victims? How are they coping right now?

HOWELL: Well, you know, we are hearing from one victim's family. William Corporon. He's a grandfather of Reat Underwood, a 14-year-old boy who was here on the campus with many other teenagers. In fact, he was here for a singing competition. Mindy Corporon spoke about losing her father and losing her son. I want you to listen to this.


MINDY CORPORON, MOTHER/DAUGHTER OF VICTIM: I'm the daughter of the gentleman who was killed and I'm the mother of the son who was killed. I want you to know that I came upon the scene very, very quickly. I was there before the police and I was there before the ambulance. And I knew immediately that they were in heaven.


HOWELL: It is hard to listen to that. You know, just understanding that that's how she's choosing to grieve in front of people to talk about her loss. And, Wolf, we also learned about Terri LaManno. Terri LaManno was shot and killed at the retirement home just about a mile away from where we are. She was visiting her mother at Village Shalom (ph) when she was shot and killed. Again, she worked here in the area for many years. People knew her, describe her as a very good person. Again, three people who were shot and killed senselessly.

BLITZER: And when he was arrested, he was shouting out "Heil Hitler." That's on videotape. You've seen that. People are reacting to that.

HOWELL: (INAUDIBLE) videotape and, Wolf, just like -

BLITZER: He has a long history - he has a long history of neo-Nazi-ism - I don't know if you can hear me -- anti-Semitism, racism, the whole history, the whole background is pretty well documented.

HOWELL: Yes, sorry about that, Wolf. The wind's (ph) tough out here. But, yes, I mean it's all documented. You see it online. He has a lot of hate speech, a lot of hate theories online. You heard it in the video from our affiliate KNBC. You heard that "Heil Hitler," the neo- Nazi slogan that he uttered. It all seemed to add up from the evidence that you hear from witnesses, from what we've seen. But again, investigators are now at the point where they've listened to those statements, they've looked at the evidence and they are now looking at this case as a hate crime.

BLITZER: All right, George, thanks very much. George Howell on the scene in Overland Park, Kansas, for us. We're going to have much more on this story later this hour. I'll be talking to John Avlon. He wrote an important article today about this guy, the hate and the fact that Hitler is being mentioned in the heartland of the country right now. We'll have that interview, John Avlon, coming you.

Also, the standoff with pro-Russian militants escalating in Ukraine. We're going to tell you what happened with today's government ultimatum.

But later, this Bluefin unmanned sub will now search the ocean floor for Flight 370. We're going to show you exactly how this cutting edge technology will work.