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Rep. Mike Rogers Interviewed; IRS Employees with Tax Problems Get Bonuses; U.S. Sends Paratroopers to Poland, Baltic States over Ukraine Crisis; Was Bomb Maker Killed in Yemen Air Strike; 200 Nigerian School Girls Still Held by Boko Haram; Answering Viewer Questions about MH-370

Aired April 23, 2014 - 13:30   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The IRS is back in damage control mode. This, after an audit revealed IRS employees who were having trouble with their own tax issues still were being paid bonuses. Some of those employees had underreported their income, made late payments, or lied about their tax liabilities.

Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here.

Gloria, what's going on here, how does this stuff happen?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It's crazy. It's hard to explain because it defies rationality. Some of these people who received performance bonuses received these bonuses after they had been disciplined for intentionally underreporting their tax liabilities. It's absolutely crazy. So the inspector general of the treasury issued this report. It said, "While not specifically prohibited by IRS policies" -- and I'll get back to that -- "providing awards to employees with conduct issues, especially the failure to pay taxes owed to the federal government, appears to be in conflict with the IRS' charge of ensuring the integrity of the system of tax administration." Ya think? Of course. Of course, it's in conflict. Here's the problem. Here's the IRS' explanation, which is that linking conduct to your bonus for rank and file is a union matter. And it is prohibited for union employees. This doesn't mean that people at higher levels, their bonuses are ranked to conduct. But at lower levels, that is not the case. The IRS says obviously they're taking another look at these rules, Wolf. But it is a matter, still, that they have to negotiate with unions.

BLITZER: There's some serious money involved in these bonuses, too.


BORGER: Yeah. Millions of dollars of tax money, our money.

BLITZER: This follows about a year or so ago the other controversy involving the IRS, that they allegedly, at least some elements, were targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny for tax exempt status. BORGER: Right. This is one thing on top of another. The House Oversight Committee, led by Republican Darrell Issa, just earlier this month voted, top IRS official, former top-list official, Lois Lerner, in contempt of Congress. That was a party line vote in committee. It has still yet to go to the House floor because --

BLITZER: Because she refuses to testify.

BORGER: She refuses to testify. So the question that's still out there about the IRS generally is, is this banality? Were they targeting these tax exempt groups and challenging their tax exempt status, these groups who did political work, or were they just stupid and only targeting Republicans? Democrats say both sides were targeted. So, you know, the question here is, it's a balance between stupidity and banality, and neither one is a good answer.

BLITZER: Not a good one.

Gloria, thanks very much.

Let's take a quick look at the markets, how they're doing today. Right now, see the Dow Jones Industrial, down a little bit, down six points or so. Investors have been cautious about lackluster new housing numbers and mixed earnings reports.

It's almost unthinkable. Frantic parents searching for their daughters. Now more than 200 school girls taken hostage as their school is burned to the ground. We're going live to Nigeria for a special report.

Also, the U.S. sending troops to Poland and the Baltics as the crisis in Ukraine escalates. We'll talk to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, about that big step.


BLITZER: Time now for a quick check of the headlines crossing the CNN news desk.

Divers say they've found no air pockets in the sunken ferry off the coast of South Korea. More than 140 people are still missing. Chances of finding survivors are now described as slim.

Authorities are examining a piece of sheet metal recovered on the west coast of Australia to see if it's from that missing Malaysia Airlines 370. An underwater search has failed to find any sign of the Boeing 777 on the ocean bottom. Still ahead, we'll try to answer some of your questions about the mystery.

While tensions remain high in Ukraine, U.S. troops arrive in neighboring Poland for military exercises. Russia's foreign minister complains the U.S. is calling the shots in the region.

NATO estimates Russia has deployed 40,000 troops near its border with Ukraine. This is making former Soviet states very nervous. The U.S. is trying to reassure its NATO allies in Eastern Europe and flexing its muscles by sending paratroopers to Poland and three Baltic States, all NATO allies.

Representative Mike Rogers is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He's joining us now.

Good idea to have these exercises in Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, all NATO allies?

REP. MIKE ROGERS, (R-MI), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It's a great idea. You need to reassure our allies we will be there and we're not walking away from our NATO commitments. Do I think we should be more robust? I do. Do I think we could do larger NATO exercises in a place like Poland? I do. This is a very good start and a very good sign to let Putin know that we won't tolerate, the United States won't tolerate any incursion into NATO states. I also think and hope we can get to a better position, a U.S. position, in Ukraine.

BLITZER: Putin knows that an attack on a NATO ally, whether Poland or these Baltic States, that's an attack on all NATO allies, given Article 5 of NATO, he's not going to be that reckless.

ROGERS: Again, we're not dealing with somebody who has the same rationale thought process that we may have thought even two years ago. He's made decisions based on what he thinks the position of both NATO and the U.S. are. And currently, he is not certain that that will evoke a NATO response. We're having a hard time getting our European allies even centered around sanctions on what his actions in Ukraine and Georgia -- they've walked away from the NATO talks with Georgia because of the invasion in South Ossetia in Georgia.

BLITZER: That was back in 2008.

ROGERS: They said they wouldn't be there long. They built full-time bases for their FSB officers along the borders. I have been on the border and seen these sites. They have schools, they have playgrounds. These are not temporary facilities, they're there for good. So I think all the indicators led Putin to believe he can be more bold, a lot more aggressive. There's just not a lot NATO and the U.S. can do. Again, you don't want to push this too far. I think this is a good step by the administration to show that we will back our NATO countries and allies.

BLITZER: Let's talk about this joint U.S./Yemeni air strike, drone strike, in Yemen, aimed at al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Here's the key question, did they kill the master bomb maker, Ibrahim al Asiri, who presumably was targeted?

ROGERS: Can't talk about specific operations, but I can tell you that there's been no confirmation that the bomb maker has been killed. I can tell you that this is someone that we worry about greatly. This is somebody who has -- gets up in the morning and tries to devise methods to get around security to get bombs on airplanes, to blow them up either over a body of water or over the United States or over Europe. This is a truly dangerous human being affiliated with one of our most dangerous al Qaeda affiliates and that's AQAP. BLITZER: Because we're hearing from Yemeni sources that they did kill -- one of these strikes did kill a Saudi citizen. They're doing DNA testing. Sending the body, in effect, to Saudi Arabia to check if this is, in fact, Ibrahim al Asiri. U.S. officials are being much more cautious.

ROGERS: Until you find out who that individual is, it's right to be cautious. The United States has gone down a path of saying, yes, an individual was killed, and found out several weeks later that this individual was not taken out. So I think it's prudent to be cautious. We'll know the right answer. If this is, in fact, al Asiri, this is a big moment in disrupting al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula operations, of which we know specifically are targeted to the United States.

BLITZER: Without knowing whether or not he was killed, can you at least confirm he was targeted?

ROGERS: Well, I can't talk about a specific operation, but I can tell you that the bomb maker has been someone of interest for our counterterrorism efforts and has been on the high-priority list to take off the battlefield.


BLITZER: I'll take that as a confirmation, although you're not confirming it officially.

Was this most recent attack -- and it was pretty elaborate, Yemeni ground forces, U.S. assistance with choppers, drones, hellfire missiles going in, directly linked to that dramatic video that came out, in fact, right here on CNN, thanks to Barbara Starr and her excellent reporting. Was it linked to the release of that video, which sort of showed 100 of these guys, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, boasting on pretty dramatic video?

ROGERS: There's been a little bit of a tug in war in the administration, even those of us in the national security committees in Congress about how to get that policy right. There's been a little pullback on some of these air strike operations targeting individuals we know to be dangerous to the United States. So it's not directly related. It has an impact. So when you see that, it is a psychological boost to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. They've had these meetings before. And you have to remember, the hardest part of this is not the air strike portion of this event. It's all of the intelligence gathering that goes into it. And it is significant. Most people don't get to see that, and rightly so. But it is very sophisticated, very significant. We have people who have worked on these problems for years and years, become experts on individuals and compounds and where they go, so that you make sure that when -- if there is an air strike ordered, it is exactly right, has very little civilian collateral damage. So when you see a case like this, it wouldn't be just a short-term event. This would be something that had a long lead-up. Could be weeks, months, even years in some cases.

BLITZER: On this issue of drone strikes, you support the administration? ROGERS: Absolutely. I think they're doing exactly the right thing. Now, in some cases, I think they pulled back too far, which we can probably talk about another day.


BLITZER: We'll talk about that another time.

Congressman Rogers, thanks for coming in.

ROGERS: Thank you.

BLITZER: The search for flight 370 about to enter a new phase and that's ushering in a whole new set of important questions, many of them from you, our viewers. We're going to try to answer some of those questions.

And more than 200 girls abducted after militants in Nigeria have attacked their school. Parents have now gone on a frantic search. We're going live to Nigeria for a special report.


BLITZER: Terrified parents just want their daughters to come home. Militants in Nigeria stormed a school, taking more than 200 school girls hostage a week ago Monday, and there's still no word on where the girls are.

Our Vladimir Duthiers is joining us. He is following all these events from Nigeria's capitol.

Vlad, any details on what happened to the girls, where they were taken? What do we know?

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what we know is, last Monday evening, armed attackers stormed the government college in the middle of the night, carted them away in buses, vans, and trucks. Several girls managed to escape during the abduction. What we understand is that these girls are being held by an Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram, and they have most likely taken the girls to an area bordering Cameroon and Nigeria, a heavily and very dense forest. The problem with trying to storm into that forest to rescue these girls -- because the military has said they are conducting a search- and-rescue operation. But because it's been several days, now this is prime Boko Haram territory. Last year, when the president said parts of Borno State were no longer under the control of the federal government, this is one of the areas that he was talking about. This is a forest area where this is now their territory, Boko Haram territory. The military is meant to then go into the territory in an offensive maneuver while they are entrenched in a defensive position. What that means, as you know, Wolf, this has happened time and time again, that if you try to storm an enemy position that are holding hostages, typically, those hostages are killed. Now in the past, the Nigerian military has used air strikes to wipe out some of the militants within the force but, obviously, that's not an option. But that is where the military and intelligence sources believe these young girls are being held -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Vlad, this Islamic militant group, Boko Haram, it's known for bombing churches and assassinating politicians. What is their goal? What do they want?

DUTHIERS: They are seeking to establish Sharia Law across Nigeria. By doing so -- Boko Haram means that Western education is forbidden, Western education is a sin. They have attacked churches, mosques, any military barracks, any targets of opportunity that they come across is right for an attack, Wolf. The girls were taken because, in other instances, when young women have been taken from schools or from churches, they either force them into marriage -- last November, Human Right Watch said that 25 girls were rescued. Many of them had children. Forced into marriage by their captures, Wolf. That is what they're looking for.

BLITZER: Vladimir Duthiers, on the scene for us in Nigeria. We will stay in constant touch with you, Vlad, for updates. Thanks very much.

So you have been sending us questions about the ongoing search for Malaysia Airlines flight 370 and the investigation. Standby, we're going try to get some answers.


BLITZER: As the search for flight 370 entered the 48th day, the fait of the plane, all the 239 passengers remain a huge mystery. You have been sending in your questions to us. Let's try to get some answers.

Joining us once again, aviation consultant, retired Lieutenant Colonel Ken Christensen; CNN law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes, former assistant director of the FBI.

Here is a question, Tom. What independent analysis has been done of the Inmarsat data, the acoustic pinger data, why not make it public.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: That's a good question. And I don't know if there's been any independence on the Inmarsat because it's a private company and a private system. And they haven't talked about that. As far as the other, I think that they've been trying to help people evaluate that information along the way. We just don't know all the details about that.

BLITZER: You agree that they should make some of that information public and maybe get some fresh eyes to take a look at that Inmarsat data, for example. It would show where the ping came upon all of us and it was in that article.

LT. COL. KEN CHRISTENSEN, AVIATION CONSULTANT: Right. That's just like a big line position as you get from GPS. So they followed that line down to see where that area was and how much fuel was on the aircraft.

BLITZER: In fact, if they found anything, that raises questions whether that's really the right place to go. Here's another question. I'm a retired pilot, 3,000-plus hour, and know that most U.S. commercial air carriers also carry mail and cargo. Does anyone know what Air Malaysia's policy is on carrying mail and cargo?

Ben, you have any clue on that?

CHRISTENSEN: I don't. Most airplanes, Asian Air carriers and U.S. Air carriers, the mail goes back and forth, cargo, UPS, FedEx.

BLITZER: A lot of people are wondering, did they check all the cargo to make sure there was nothing potentially explosive. We did a lot of reporting on lithium ion batteries.

FUENTES: We knew they carried lithium ion batteries among others things as far as cargo, so obviously Malaysian Airlines and Malaysian authorities have the cargo manifest and know what went on that plane and what cargo was on the plane and where it was stored.

BLITZER: Why can't they release that?

FUENTES: The reason you can't release a lot of things. They don't want to.

BLITZER: Families would be reassured if they knew what was in the cargo.

CHRISTENSEN: Sure they would. But each countries controls air data like they want to. And some countries are more forthcoming on how they search that.

BLITZER: Another viewer asked this. If flight 370 landed intact and sank, is there a possibility of the pinger signals being 17 miles apart? Do you have an answer to that?


BLITZER: If the flight landed intact in the water and sank, is there a possibility of the pinger signals from the two so-called black boxes being 17 miles apart if it landed intact?

CHRISTENSEN: If it landed intact, then the boxes would be intact. A lot of that signal propagation, what's happening -- just like there's mountains around water, there are mountains underneath the ocean and those signals are bouncing off.

BLITZER: There were four pinger detections 17 miles apart, some of them. Some more serious than others, apparently. One for two hours, one for 15 minutes, a couple for five or six minutes but they were 17 miles apart. You would think if they're all accurate, these black boxes dispersed.

FUENTES: Right. Normally, I wouldn't expect them to be that physically far apart on the bottom. If they became dislodge from the tail section of the plane, they should be -- you know, maybe a mile or two is one thing, but 17 miles is a different manner. BLITZER: It's a whole different world.

All right, guys, thanks very much, Ben and Tom.


BLITZER: Good analysis.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'll be back, 5:00 p.m. eastern, another special two-hour edition of "The Situation Room."

NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf Blitzer, thank you so much, as always.