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Underwater Search Almost Done; Distraught Families Sit Down; U.S. May Impose New Sanctions Against Russia; Divers Found Cabins Crammed With Bodies; Nevada Rancher Denies He's Racist; Bushes Disagree Over 2016 President Race; Emergency Beacons

Aired April 25, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the initial underwater search for the plane about to end. So, what happens now?

Also right now, tensions escalate and so do the words between Russia and Ukraine. And President Obama now threatening Moscow with new sanctions. We're live from Kiev.

Also right now, a land dispute suddenly so much more. A rancher's stance rallying the political right but that was before his racist rant. Today, he tries to defend himself in an interview with CNN.

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. The initial underwater search for missing Flight 370 is now almost done and it's turned up, so far, nothing. The Bluefin went down for its 13th mission today. And if it keeps coming up empty, the search area will likely be expanded.

In Beijing, distraught families held a sit-down at the Malaysian embassy for 17 hours. They marched there late Thursday night and stayed until this evening demanding a meeting with the Malaysian ambassador.

Our Correspondent Erin McLaughlin is following all the latest search efforts for us from Perth, Australia. She has the latest.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as of this morning, the Bluefin 21 was on its 13th dive, having completed about 95 percent of that narrowed search area, basically their best guess as to wear the black box may be. The majority of that ruled out. Plenty of people wondering, well, what next in the search?

Today, Australian authorities putting out a statement saying that the Bluefin 21 was going to then search the adjacent areas. No mention though of any other underwater submersibles which is something people have been talking a lot about, considering there are submersibles out there that have better capabilities than the Bluefin 21 that are capable of going deeper in the ocean and traveling and staying down there for longer.

Something that Australian authorities, at the moment, are not commenting on but we know they're in discussions with Malaysian authorities about a longer-term prolonged search agreement. They're hammering out the details as we speak based on a Malaysian proposal to broaden out the search area and introduce those additional underwater assets. That agreement should be wrapped up by the end of the week. Perhaps we'll hear an announcement then -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Erin McLaughlin, thank you.

Later this hour, our panel of experts is going to dig into the big question the families have, why didn't the plane's emergency beacons, there were four of them, send any signals at all like they're supposed to do when there is a crash?

The U.S. May impose new economic sanctions against Russia as early as today, that according to senior U.S. Officials. Both Kiev and Washington blaming Moscow for stirring up trouble in the eastern part of Ukraine. Russian military drills just across the border have everyone on edge. President Obama on a state visit to South Korea said it's a carrot and stick approach to discourage Russian aggression in the region.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's important for us not to anticipate that the targeted sanctions that we're applying now necessarily solved the problem.


BLITZER: Phil Black is joining us from Kiev right now. Phil, we just heard the president say sanctions won't necessarily solve the problem. Are they having any effect based on everything we could tell right now?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the sanctions so far are targeting individuals, the influential, the powerful, those close to president Putin and his inner circle. And those individuals have largely laughed off the sanctions publicly. But there is no doubt that the broader Russian economy is taking a big hit through economic and political isolation, through the loss of confidence in Russia as a business environment. We're seeing that in the tumbling ruble, the tumbling stock market, capital flare (ph) in the many 10s of billions of dollars just in the year to this point, in the last few months. The Russian economy was already slowing down, barely any growth before the economy crisis. It is slower now still. So, considerable economic pain as a result of the international reaction to Russia's actions in recent months, but it is pain that the Russian government so far has indicated it is prepared to endure -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What are the Ukrainian forces still doing now to try to restore order in the eastern part of their country?

BLACK: What we are seeing from the Ukrainian military there is the most assertive actions they have taken perhaps since the very beginning of this process. Just in the last 24 hours, we've seen them deliberately challenging pro-Russian checkpoints, particularly around the town of Donetsk which is a pro-Russian stronghold in the region. They say that is phase one of their current operation. Phase two they say is really drawing a circle around that town, cutting them off from supplies, ensuring that their control (INAUDIBLE) expand any further.

Now, up until this point, the Ukrainian military, its security forces, their response has been, well, less than certain, less than strong. Certainly not a great deal to seek comfort -- confidence from. So, it's the early days of this renewed operation difficult to get a sense of just how committed it is. But the Ukrainian military says they are determined to crack down on those they still continue to describe as terrorists -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Phil, what about representatives from the organization for security and cooperation in Europe? These are monitors who were sent in to observe what's going on. I understand some are being detained in the eastern part of the country. What do we know about that?

BLACK: There are reports, Wolf. So, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. These are the guys that are responsible for being aware of what's going on the ground and the degree to which the Ukrainians, the pro-Russians, and so forth, are adhering to the terms of the Geneva agreement that is supposed to see everyone give up their weapons, leave those occupied building, and so forth.

There are reports which we are pursuing that a team from that organization or acting under the umbrella of that organization have gone silent, have lost contact with their office. We are pursuing that to try to determine just what truth there is in that, at the moment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Phil Black in Kiev for us. Thank you.

Other news. Divers searching the wreckage of the capsized ferry off South Korea make a heartbreaking and very brim discovery. A cabin packed with the bodies of 48 girls all wearing life vests. And now, they're encountering major obstacles in trying to recover them, poor visibility, high water pressure, debris and weather all to blame for the slowing the process. One hundred eighty-five bodies have been recovered, 117, mostly teenagers, are still missing.

Investigators are looking at a sister ship owned by the same company as the ferry to get an idea how it may have been operating. They found multiple safety concerns, 40 of its life rafts weren't working, emergency slides were inoperable and equipment to tie down cargo either was nonexistent or didn't work very well. Four more crew members were issued arrest warrants today. Fifteen of the 20 who survived, crew members, have now been charged.

We turn now to Nevada where a fight over federal grazing fees is being overshadowed by racist remarks from the rancher at the center of the dispute. Some of the right initially had some sympathy to the man who grazed his cattle on federal land for 20 years without paying fees, like all the other ranchers, clearly was breaking federal law. But support for him now dwindling because of Bundy's racist remarks.


CLIVEN BUNKER: The question is, are they slaves the way they are, for where way they live, to slaves to charity and government-subsidized homes. And are they slaves when their daughters are having abortions and their sons are in the prisons? And you know, I -- this thought goes back a long time.


BLITZER: Dan Simon is joining us from Bunkerville, Nevada with more. Dan, given Bundy trying to explain his clearly racist remarks on CNN this morning doesn't seem to have helped his case very much, if at all. What is he telling you?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's not apologizing, Wolf, I can tell you that much. And he's certainly had ample opportunity to do so. You and I both know that the way these things usually goes down is that when somebody says something insensitive or offensive, they usually apologize. They do a Mea Culpa and then they shun the spotlight for a while. Cliven Bundy, he is doing just the opposite. And, you know, for unknown reason, perhaps it was because he found this newfound fame enticing and felt like he had the opportunity to talk about race in America or social issues, he waded into these very inflammatory waters. As I said, he had the opportunity to clarify his remarks. He didn't really back down. Take a look.


BUNKER: Reverend Martin Luther King wanted us to get over that type of stuff. And I said -- yesterday, I said it's time for a discussion about this. We need to be over -- get over there. I don't care what your race is or whether -- we need to get over this prejudice of so that those words are not offensive. They're not offensive to me. You can say them to me and I wouldn't be offended.


BLACK: Well, it appears that Mr. Bundy is going to be holding another press conference this afternoon so we'll see what he says. But at this point, Wolf, he's not backing down. How we went from talking about land rights to black slavery is a mystery. And he really put his foot in his mouth and he's -- and he's paying the price.

BLITZER: What's the status of the federal government's case against him?

BLACK: Well, in terms of the background, we know that federal authorities had two court orders to come to the Nevada desert and take his cattle, because he hadn't been paying his fees for 20 years. He owes the federal government a million dollars. Well, when that happened, you had these armed marshals come in to try and enforce this order. That's when you saw his supporters go absolutely nuts. You saw armed militia members come in from all over the -- all over the country to try to help Mr. Bundy. In the wake of that facedown, federal authorities, to be perfectly honest, they got spooked. They didn't want a bloody confrontation. They backed down.

But they're saying that they're still going to continue to press these charges against Mr. Bundy through other means. They haven't made that very clear in terms of what they mean, they just say administratively and judicially they're going to try to go after Mr. Bundy. We'll see what happens in the months ahead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Simon, thanks very much. (INAUDIBLE) more on this story. Cliven Bundy certainly lost support just about as fast as he gained it. One of our political commentators, Paul Begala, says conservatives should have known Bundy was bad news from the very start. Paul is standing by.

And some high-profile parents apparently not seeing eye to eye when it comes to what's best for their son. A debate within a political dynasty over the 2016 presidential race.


BLITZER: We return to that controversy over the rancher, Cliven Bundy, who is in a fight with the federal government over federal grazing fees. His racist remarks have clearly blunted that message, caused so many of his supporters to simply bail out.


BUNDY: You know I -- maybe I sinned, and maybe I need to ask forgiveness, and maybe I don't know what was - what I actually said, but, you know, when you talk about prejudice, we're talking about not being able to exercise what we think and our feelings, we don't have - we're not freedom to say - we don't have freedom to say what we want. If I call -- if I say Negro or black boy or slave, I'm not - I'm not -- if those people cannot take those kind of words and not be offensive, then Martin Luther King hasn't got his job done yet.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash and our CNN political commentator Paul Begala, who's just written a very, very tough piece on Some of it very funny.


BLITZER: But you're on fire when it comes to the fallout from this whole incident. And give it - give us a little nugget.

BEGALA: Well, I think the more interesting thing is not that this rancher has said this racist stuff, which is newsworthy and it's reprehensible, it's how before he said that right-wing pundits and politicians jumped to his side and his defense. And my argument is, they should have known better. I mean there's a pattern here. They keep finding these folk heroes. Ted Nugent or Joe the Plumber, the "Duck Dynasty" guy or, more notoriously, George Zimmerman, and they rush to their side and then they're shocked, shocked when they say outrageous things. They just ought to know better, candidly. And if they'd applied their real principles, conservative principles, to this situation and just changed the facts a little, what, for - and I argued this in the piece, what if, instead of a rancher out in Nevada, it had been the New Black Panther Party and they'd holed up in a city in a federal facility and for 20 years have been taking federal property and not paying for it. Do you really think Sean Hannity would be out there in sympathy with them or any of these right-wing politicians? Of course not. So my interest is more in the right-wing politicians and pundits who seem duped every time by these eccentric characters.

BLITZER: What's been the political fallout from all of this, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you're certainly right, that many of those, not surprisingly those who maybe need viewers (ph) and those who want Republican-based voters, amid those who are thinking about running in 2016, many of them ran to his defense. Those are the people who are quickly saying that -- distancing themselves from him. The Rand Pauls, the Rick Perrys, people like that.

But it should be noted for the record that the major Republican organization, the RNC, the NRSC, which is a group that tries to help Senate get elected, which is the big money prize this fall, they didn't say a word about him. In fact, one of my sources at one of those groups said to me, I was asked by reporters many times and I don't want to talk about that yahoo because he just had a feeling about it. So, you know, there is sort of a difference within the Republican party about who runs to these folk hero's defense.

The other thing that I will say is that I've got a lot of frustrated phone calls from Republican sources saying, you know what, there's a double standard. We heard Sean Hannity say this on his - on his program yesterday, but some of my Republican sources were giving me specifics. For example, a sitting governor in Illinois, Pat Quinn, tweeted out something, it's an article which talked about Jewish people collaborating with the Nazis during World War II, likening that to black voters who support his Republican opponent. Now, they had to apologize for it. It's not the same kind of thing because he wasn't saying explicitly racist remark, but it's not just a yahoo from Nevada, as some would say, it's a sitting governor. And the point there is that they don't get the kind of -- Democrats don't get the kind of scrutiny necessarily that Republicans do.

BEGALA: Here's the difference. First off, it's reprehensible. That's the first I've heard of it, but of course that's reprehensible and Governor Quinn ought to be ashamed of himself. As I say, as a Democrat, he's in my party as well.

The difference is, I don't think we ought to be running to every politician every time somebody says something crazy or offensive.

BASH: Right.

BEGALA: They -- conservative pundits and some politicians, they rushed to Mr. Bundy.

BASH: Absolutely.

BEGALA: They embraced him. And then once you do that, and they did it with Ted Nugent, Greg Abbott, the attorney general in Texas, had him -- Nugent at one of his rallies introduce him. BASH: No question (ph).

BEGALA: So once you embrace these nuts, you're going to have to take what comes with it. And I -- just as a strategist they - you -- people you talk to, the national party, did the right thing.

BASH: They got it (ph).

BEGALA: They -- you could smell this guy's craziness a mile away. I mean it's, you know, there's a lot of things that you can see coming, and this one you saw coming. It's going to happen again, though, you watch. It will happen again. We'll have another right wing folk hero and the Hannitys of the world, so blinded by hatred for the president or hatred of the federal government or whatever it is they hate, are going to step in it again, you watch.

BLITZER: Because, you know, it's hard to understand all the sympathy. Even before the racist remarks came out, the fact is, he was violating federal law, didn't pay (INAUDIBLE) all the other ranchers in Nevada were paying those grazing fees. In effect, he was being subsidized for his work by the federal government and a lot of folks said, you know, that's inappropriate. So why -- if he's complaining about subsidies going to poor African-American kids in America, why was he taking those grants in effect from the federal government, which he barely recognizes if at all.

BASH: Our colleague last night did an interview with him, Bill Weir, and called him a welfare queen in a cowboy hat. So that's to your point. But I think the answer to that, and you're from Texas, you're from the area with big lands, unlike here on the East Coast, you know better than I, but there is -- there's a definite kind of feeling out there, and this is a real issue. It has been since the time of Waco back when you were covering the Clinton White House, that land issues are just kind of a different kind of beast when it comes to how people out there in the real world, in big sky country and so on feel about the government.

BLITZER: You want to weigh in?

BEGALA: And when there are those disputes, if you love your country, you obey the laws. And the laws are determined by the courts. And then when the courts say, as apparently they did in this case, you have to vacate that land or you can no longer graze, you obey that. And, to me, that's where the line was crossed. And I think, for all these pundits and politicians to have been embracing him, even before he said the racist stuff, was an enormous mistake. And if you had changed the facts ever so slightly, what if he was a Muslim and wanted to set up a caliphate there, they would have never embraced him. So I just think that this is an enormous mistake for Republicans but it is one you hide and watch, as Bill Clinton used to say, hide and watch. They're going to make the mistake again.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Dana, the speaker, John Boehner, he's causing a little bit of a stir out there. Immigration reform has sort of died lately, but I think he'd like to see it revived. And he had some strong words. BASH: That's right. He was speaking at his -- in his home district in Ohio to a local group there and talked about the fact that his members don't want to take tough votes on immigration. Listen to what he said.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: But here's - here's the attitude. Oh, don't make me do this. Oh, this is too hard.


BASH: Now, he's getting some backlash from conservative groups saying, you know, that this is inappropriate for him to be saying this. And it is the first time we have seen him do this publically. But I can now tell you, because I got approval to do so from somebody in Boehner's world, that he does this a lot, off the record, and in private. That this is something that he regularly says, I've witnessed him doing this, talking about the fact that his members don't want to take these tough votes, especially on immigration. He does it all the time, to their faces.

BLITZER: All right.

BASH: So, for then, they're not going to be surprised, but it certainly is an issue in public (ph).

BLITZER: Let's see if immigration -

BASH: I'm sure you're - you're not that happy about it.

BLITZER: Let's see if immigration reform can be revived right now.


BLITZER: We'll see if it happens.

Guys, thanks very much.

Up next, we'll have more on the search for Flight 370. There's been a major -- one major thing missing, the beacons that were supposed to send signals in a crash, did not go off, any of them, none of them. There are four that were supposed to go off. None of them worked. What happened? Stay with us.


BLITZER: The search for missing Flight 370 appears to be hitting a wall and there are still so many critical questions unanswered. A big one, why didn't those emergency beacons work? Beacons are those emergency locator transmitters, as they're called, are supposed to send out distress signals if a plane crashes. There were four them on Flight 370. They're designed to activate on impact, but they're not designed to work under water.

I'm joined now by former FBI Agent Foria Younis, who's the founder and CEO of South Asia Middle East Consultants. Also joining us, our CNN aviation analyst, the former NTSB managing director Peter Goelz.

Now, Peter, is there a logical explanation? I can understand one or two, but all four of them not working at all?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It's unusual, but it's not out of the question. They're not accident proof. They're not like the flight data recorder or the voice recorder. They're not armor. And it's not uncommon that on an accident they'll lose their antenna, they'll lose their ability to transmit and they don't do it.

But in this case, where you had four of them, two built into the plane and two added later, I think on one of the life rafts, there's a -- it's unusual.

BLITZER: Because this adds, Foria, to the suspicion that the family members have. They still obviously are clinging to the hope that their loved ones may be alive. Maybe the plane landed some place and is being hidden for whatever reason. The fact that none of these transmitters, none of these beacons worked, is giving them some hope. And if you look at the questions they submitted to the Malaysian government, probably almost half of them dealt with these beacons.

FORIA YOUNIS, FOUNDER & CEO, SOUTH ASIA MIDDLE EAST CONSULTANTS: Yes. So they dealt with the manufacturing issue, whether it's Honeywell or Boeing. So they -- the family members are trying to find out exactly what happened. And they're looking at the fact that the beacons didn't go off. Now, you know, some of your experts have said that the fact that it crashed into the water at such a fast speed, there's a good likelihood that it did not work because they were damaged upon impact.

BLITZER: And there was - I understand there were some logical explanations -

GOELZ: Right.

BLITZER: Why one or two, maybe even all four of them, worked. But it does raise, you've got to admit, Peter, a lot of suspicions.

GOELZ: Well, and it's part of a whole picture of a lack of clarity, a lack on the part of the Malaysians, an unreal expectation on the part of the Australians that they were going to find, you know, this plane quickly and it's left the family members in a very difficult situation.

BLITZER: Because those family members, our hearts obviously, Foria, go out to all of them. They want to at least have some information, for example, what was the inspection records of these transmitters, these beacons? When were they installed? Did they have all the appropriate battery power, life expectancy? Were they on board? They're not getting answers to any of those questions.

YOUNIS: No. They deserve those answers. The families deserve to know what happened with all the maintenance records. They need to see a copy of this report. They need to see a lot of the information that they're asking for until such time that we determine exactly what happened. And maybe with debris coming up, that will be the time and we can actually find out exactly what happened.

BLITZER: Is there a legitimate explanation why they wouldn't want to share this information about the maintenance records of these transmitters?

GOELZ: Not at this point. I mean the maintenance records should have been secured within hours of the accident. The maintenance records should have been gone over by the investigators. There's absolutely no reason why that can't be shared with representatives of the family groups.

BLITZER: You know, it's almost exactly 50 days now that this planes disappeared. We have nothing. There's not even a tiny little piece of wreckage. The only thing they have, maybe some radar handshakes, of you will, from that Inmarsat satellite.