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Time to Tighten Global Air Traffic Control; Benghazi Controversy Reignites; Jay Carney Interview; NBA Owners Meet

Aired May 1, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, we're learning new information on the timeline of Flight 370's disappearance. We're also hearing the clearest audio so far, the communication between the cockpit and ground control. It's all part of a brand new report that's been kept out of the public eye until now.

Right now, the controversy over the Benghazi attack reigniting up on Capitol Hill. We'll bring you some of the fiery exchanges about the newly released e-mails from the White House and the U.S. response to the attack.

Also right now, NBA owners are considering whether they'll force Donald Sterling to sell the Clippers. We'll get live updates this hour from Los Angeles.

Hello. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. How can a plane disappear from radar for 17 minutes without anyone, anyone noticing? And why did it take four hours for the official rescue operation to even begin? These are troubling questions and they're raised by the preliminary report on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 released today. The report also includes the clearest audio so far from the plane's last contact with air traffic control.


TOWER: Malaysian 370 contact Ho Chi Minh 120 decimal nine. Good night.

PLANE: Good night Malaysian 370.


BLITZER: We have in-depth coverage of the report from our experts, our Aviation Analyst Peter Goelz, our Law Enforcement Analyst Tom Fuentes. But let's begin with our Aviation Correspondent Richard Quest. Richard, you've described this report as the barest possible they could get away with. Does it explain the time gaps between the plane's disappearance and the start hours later of any search effort?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: No, it doesn't. And the preliminary report is designed as a barebones statement of facts. Peter will be well familiar with the very shortened three-page form the NTSB uses. But, of course, the NTSB gives a lot more details in press conferences and various briefings on the way to the preliminary. And that is why, I believe, the prime minister in Malaysia, having authorized the release of the preliminary report made it clear to officials it had to be more than the barebones report. They had to give more information.

So, we've got this wealth of documents this morning, the passenger list, the cargo list. We've got maps. And we've got, Wolf, the transcript of air -- the tick tock, if you like, of air traffic control. And the unpalatable truth is that for four hours, a series of misinformation, miscommunication and downright delay, four hours' worth of it, meant that nobody called and pulled the alarm.

BLITZER: Yes, it is pretty shocking when you read the report. I got a copy of it myself. It says at 1:21 a.m., their time obviously, the plane disappeared from the radar screen and it wasn't until 5:30 a.m. Kuala Lumpur rescue coordination center was activated. Did they give us any explanation at all why it took so many hours to begin preliminary search operation?

QUEST: Yes. This is the document that does that. This goes into the four hour delay. First -- we had a situation, first of all, where Malaysia Airlines told the air traffic control they thought it was over Cambodia. Well, that was untrue. Then we had a situation where somebody else wondered whether it was somewhere else or had radio failure.

Wolf, there are gaps when nobody seems to have been saying anything. In some cases, 37 minutes. In another case, 44 minutes, two minutes, 16 minutes, 13 minutes. These are gaps between where one air traffic control is calling another, Ho Chi Minh or K.L., K.L. or Mass (ph). Everybody is looking.

Now, look, I'm prepared to be marginally charitable and say an hour and half because planes do go off radar. There is a bit of delay. But four hours before somebody said, this is urgent. This is a crisis. Frankly, the traveling public has a right to expect better.

BLITZER: Let me bring Peter in. Peter, what's your takeaway, your main takeaway, from this report?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it is a little more detailed than I expected. And I think that's because -- Richard is absolutely right. The prime minister ordered the detail out there. I mean, the idea of putting out a barebones report was simply unacceptable at this time. And the report really is kind of disappointing. I mean, the idea that it was a slow night, the air traffic controllers were asleep, but what were the Malaysian military doing and what were they thinking when this unidentified plane came hurtling back towards their country?

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting because I went through the whole report, went through the appendices, the index and all that stuff, most of which I didn't understand but that's another matter. But I didn't see anything in here, and you're a former assistant director of the FBI, telling us why this happened. Was there an individual or individuals responsible? Was there a mechanical failure? Did you see anything in this report at all that gives at least any indication what happened? GOELZ: No, the report doesn't indicate what happened to the plane. But the take away from the report is the lack of response from the civil aviation authority and their defense ministry. And I think -- I think it just gives me the impression that they just could not imagine that this plane disappeared or that something sinister had happened to the plane or that it was going to possibly be hijacked and used as a weapon and maybe come back and crash into the towers of Kuala Lumpur. It just -- it just seems like, no, there must be something wrong with the radios. There must be something wrong with the equipment. The plane is well on its way to Beijing. Everybody is safe. It can't be a bad thing.

BLITZER: And that they have no obligation, Richard, as you know, to tell us, you know, who is responsible, if an individual responsible or some sort of catastrophic mechanical failure occurred. But did we get any hints at all from this report about that?

QUEST: No, nothing at all. There is nothing nor would I expect it at this stage. That is part of the much wider investigation. And, frankly, that is why the search is so crucial because it is only finding the plane that will answer that one. This is not, per se, a Malaysian issue. We saw this with Air France, a six hour delay before the alarm was sent between Rio, between Dakar, between Paris. We've seen it before time and again.

Peter is probably much more familiar with these delays and the rules and regulations around it. But these delays where nobody really gets their hands around the neck of it and says, hang on, everyone, we haven't heard from this plane for several hours. Now, following France 447, it shouldn't have happened again. But there's no question that air traffic control, IKO, are going to have to ask the serious issue about whether it's time to tighten up on global air traffic control.

BLITZER: I'll give the answer, the answer is, yes, it is time to tighten up.

All right, Richard, we're going to have you back. We're going to have much more on this story, Peter and Tom Geist. Thanks very much. Much more coming up later this hour.

There is other important news we're following including new controversies over the Benghazi attacks. It reignites after White House e-mails on the issue are released 18 months after the assault. Republicans are crying foul. They're demanding answers.

And banned for life from the NBA, Donald Sterling may be forced to sell his team and big names may want to buy it. We'll get a live report from L.A. Stand by.


BLITZER: Fireworks up on Capitol Hill and over at the White House for a second straight day. Republican lawmakers are outraged over newly revealed White House e-mails about the terror attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, Christopher Stevens, were killed in that 2012 attack. You may remember Susan Rice, who was then U.N. ambassador, got a lot of heat for blaming the attack on a protest over an anti-Muslim movie during her appearances on five Sunday morning talk shows.

Now, e-mails from top White House aide, Ben Rhodes, sent two days before those appearances showed that the White House made a hard push for Rice to relay that account which later proved to be inaccurate. One e-mail states one of the goals for the prep session with Rice is, quote, "to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video and not a broader failure of policy."

Our own Jim Acosta asked the White House press secretary, only moments ago, Jay Carney, about the controversy.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In November of 2012, the president said, I think it's important to find out what happened in Benghazi and I'm happy to cooperate in any ways that Congress wants. We have provided every bit of information that we have.


ACOSTA: That e-mail was not provided.

CARNEY: Have you read the e-mail, Jim?

ACOSTA: I have it right in front of me.

CARNEY: OK. So, here's the thing. Back a year ago now, roughly, when Republicans on Capitol Hill were feeding information to reporters about what was in a bunch of e-mails that had been given to Congressional investigators, feeding false information about what was in those e-mails and in those talking points that were produced by the CIA, we voluntarily released all the information regarding those talking points, causing these organizations to have to correct what they reported because it turned out to be false because they were lied to by folks on Capitol Hill about what was contained within them.

You've seen the deputy director of the CIA testify repeatedly, including, I believe last week, that he produced those -- the CIA produced those talking points. He made the decisions about what, ultimately, would go in those talking points. And that he felt no political influence from the White House or anywhere else about what should go in. The talking points that were such a focus of conversation.

The talking points that were provided to members of Congress of both parties and by this administration to our representative, who was going out on the Sunday shows to talk about Benghazi and everything else that was happening in the Muslim world at the time, which included huge protests outside of numerous diplomatic facilities. Violent protests that included, you know, scaling of walls, taking down the American flag, pipe -- you know, Molotov cocktails and the like. Right? The talking points that Ambassador Rice used -- again, produced by the intelligence community for members of Congress and in the interest of having everybody use the same information, used by the administration and Ambassador Rice on those Sunday shows were divulged. And like so many of the conspiracy theories that have been promulgated by Republicans from the beginning of this, this one turned out to be bogus.


BLITZER: So, the oversight committee is holding a hearing on the issue today. Here's the Republican chairman, Darrell Issa.


REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CHAIRMAN, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: The White House produced the talking points that Ambassador Rice used, not the intelligence community. In pushing the false narrative that a YouTube video was responsible for the deaths of four brave Americans, it is disturbing, and perhaps criminal, that these documents -- that documents like these were hidden by the Obama administration from Congress and the public alike.


BLITZER: I'm joined now by our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

Dana, you've been monitoring what's going on up on Capitol Hill. When Darrell Issa uses the word "criminal," what is he talking about?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He's talking about the fact that Republicans are jumping on this like nobody's business, which is probably not so much of a surprise. But what they're jumping on are two things. First of all, the fact that this e-mail wasn't revealed long ago when they asked for documents and it was only revealed because this outside group got it through a foyer (ph) request. In fact, it turns out that his committee actually got this two weeks ago, the same time as that group did, but also because of the content of what it said, that they're jumping on the fact that it backs up the whole idea that the administration was trying to make it clear that this was not terrorism because Republicans accused them of trying to cover it up because of politics.

BLITZER: So, but is he saying that because the e-mail a year ago or so wasn't made available, the White House was breaking the law? Is that what he's saying?


BASH: Yes, covering up. And, I mean, I haven't talked to him about exactly what he means by "criminal," but the concept of these people who are U.S. citizens ultimately were killed without getting help from people around -- armed forces around the region. That was a big issue.

But I want to tell you what -- play for you a sound bite from Lindsey Graham, who has been a Republican who's been among the chief accusers of the White House in covering it up.

BLITZER: He's in the Senate, not the House.


BASH: In the Senate. Listen to what he said.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This is the closest thing to a smoking gun I've seen to prove beyond any doubt the White House was trying to shape the Sunday appearances by Susan Rice to get it away from a coordinated terrorist attack that would show a broader part of foreign policy failure, reassure people that we'd done everything we could to secure our folks before the attack. But this was an e-mail trying to shape the story away from what would have been a damaging admission of failure of foreign policy seven weeks before an election. That's why it's important.


BASH: So what this does is it gives people like Lindsey Graham, who, by the way, have a primary election next month and is very much using this because this is a raw meat, red meat issue for the Republican base, but it also gives other Republicans who are really focusing on this issue another excuse to say, look what the administration did again both on timing and on the subject (ph).

BORGER: You know -

BLITZER: So here's the question, Gloria, what's the White House strategy here because they released a lot of -

BORGER: Well, changing the subject. How about that?

BLITZER: They released a lot of documents a year ago.

BORGER: Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: Why didn't they release this one?

BORGER: Well, because this came from another direction, they say. You know, this was a different request than the original request. So they say it went through kind of a different procedure.

And what the White House is trying to say, and this is where people are kind of incredulous, is that this memo itself, Jay Carney is saying, was not actually about Benghazi per say but was actually about the strife ongoing in the region. Now, that's kind of a hard explanation for Darrell Issa to accept because, of course, it's all part of the same subject. So the question is, is the administration being venal, as Lindsey Graham would say, this being a smoking gun, that they're trying to - there's a full-blown cover-up going on here, or were they either, a, just not trying to be forthcoming or was it just kind of stupid, right? I mean we just -- we really can't get the answer to it. But it does look like that this is a White House that wasn't anxious to sort of unload every document in the interest of full disclosure. But again, you know, Jay Carney says, that's not what this document was about. If you read this e-mail from Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor, it's about what was going on in the region at the time. It is also clearly, the implication is, Susan Rice was going on TV to talk about what happened in Benghazi. So it's very hard to separate one from this other. Very hard.

BLITZER: I want to play a little clip. Jason Chaffetz, the Republican congressman, had this exchange with U.S. Army Brigadier General Robert Lovell from the U.S. military's Africa command, who was directly involved in dealing with this at the time. Listen to this.


REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: We didn't run to the sound of the guns. They were issuing press releases. We had Americans dying. We had dead people. We had wounded people and our military didn't try to engage in that fight. Would you disagree with that?

BRIG. GEN. ROBERT LOVELL, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): Four individuals died, sir, we obviously did not respond in time to get there.

CHAFFETZ: Could we have?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gentleman's time is expired. Go ahead.

LOVELL: We may have been able to, but we'll never know.


BLITZER: He's a retired U.S. brigadier general. It underscores the tension that was obviously very evident during this hearing.

BASH: Absolutely. Now Republicans are highlighting this testimony, brought him on in order to try to make the point that the military was taking orders or at least was deferential to the State Department at a time when this is something that the military should have been focused on as an attack, not as something that was a diplomatic measure. This is the first military personnel, you know he's retired now, who was in the region to testify before this committee and so that's why they're saying that this is, you know, maybe -- from their privilege, this is another smoking gun on a different part of the Benghazi controversy, which is not about the e-mail but about why weren't these Americans -- why wasn't the rescue attempt more aggressive by the military.

Now, we should also point out that his superior, you know, ten times over, Carter Ham (ph), who was probably the guy who would have, at the time, sent the military in there, has said publicly that it wasn't clear that it would even make a difference at the time.


BASH: So there definitely are other people who are more senior who have said, look, we couldn't (ph) do it. There was really no point. BLITZER: All right, we've got to leave it there, guys.

BORGER: And this is going to be played over and over again, Wolf, in 2016 if Hillary Clinton runs. We can be sure of that.

BLITZER: Oh, it will be, yes (ph). That story hasn't (INAUDIBLE). All right, guys, thanks very much.

Still ahead, the Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling says his team is not for sale, but he may have no choice in the matter. We'll have a live report from L.A. That's next.


BLITZER: He says his team is not for sale, but Clippers owner Donald Sterling may not have a choice. A committee of NBA owners will meet today to discuss what's going on after Sterling was banned for life from the NBA for making racist comments. Stephanie Elam is joining us now from Los Angeles.

Stephanie, so what's next for the Clippers and Sterling? What's the latest you're learning?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Clippers are definitely focused on the game tonight, game six, where right now they're ahead in that series 3-2. That's their focus. As for the NBA, they said that they wanted swift action and that action begins today.


ADAM SILVER, NBA COMMISSIONER: I am banning Mr. Sterling for life.

ELAM (voice-over): Now that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has ousted Donald Sterling from the league, the question is, will the Clippers owner put up a fight to keep the team.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Sterling, to me, is not going down without a fight.

ELAM: Sterling, disgraced after his racist rant went public, told Fox Sports that the team is not for sale. But according to the NBA's constitution, if three-quarters of the owners agree that he has to go, Sterling could be forced to sell. Silver, pledging to do everything in his power to ensure that happens, saying he expects to get the backing he needs. More than 20 teams stating they support Silver's harsh punishment, but it's not yet clear if those public positions would translate into votes. And Sterling does have the right to try to convince the other NBA owners to side with him.

RICK BARRY, FORMER NBA PLAYER: Any owner who decides to side with Donald Sterling in this is a fooling. In the court of public opinion, he'll be just as guilty as Sterling.

ELAM: An all-star trio of would-be buyers is already waiting in the wings ready to pay big bucks for a contender in the league. A spokesperson for Oprah Winfrey says she's talking to entertainment mogul David Geffen and software billionaire Larry Ellison about a possible joint bid. Peaked interest also coming from boxers Floyd Mayweather and Oscar de la Hoya.

And what about Sterling's family? His wife, Rochelle, was at Tuesday's game as the Clippers beat Golden State, but only after asking for and getting the green light from head coach Doc Rivers.

SILVER: This ruling applies specifically to Donald Sterling and Donald Sterling's conduct only.

ELAM: The NBA says no decisions have been made, but the players association telling Yahoo Sports it won't accept any Sterling as an owner.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: The NBA, once they get the three-quarters votes, they are in charge of this franchise and they decide who gets to buys and who doesn't. I have zero doubt that the NBA is going to prevent anyone from the Sterling family from controlling this franchise.


ELAM: And on top of it, keep in mind that Sterling bought the Clippers in 1981 for about $12 million. The team now valued at close to $600 million. But if the wishes are to get him out as quickly as possible, any way you cut it, Sterling's going to walk away with a whole chunk of change. It could even be close to a billion dollars on the sale of the team, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, probably will be given the bidding war that will develop, the fact that the Milwaukee Bucks sold for about $600 million, a much, much smaller market in Milwaukee than Los Angeles. So, he could walk away with a billion dollars relatively easily, I suspect. All right, Stephanie, thanks very much.

Up next, Malaysian officials go public with a preliminary report on missing Flight 370, but it's raising as many questions as it answers. We'll have the latest -- a live report from Kuala Lumpur. That's coming up.

And later this hour, a former doctor at a V.A. hospital says dozens of U.S. military veterans died waiting for a doctor's appointment. We're tracking down the woman at the heart of the investigation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is public property, correct? Is it not owned by the federal government? Will she not talk to us? OK, guys, you got to listen to the police officer.