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Challenge Of Identifying Flight 17 Victims; An Optics Problem?; No Survivors Found In Air Algerie Crash; Dutch Anger Targets Putin's Daughter

Aired July 25, 2014 - 16:30   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Australians, who lost 37 citizens on the flight have also sent investigators to Kiev.

JULIE BISHOP, AUSTRALIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: We are determined to find who was span for this act and who is responsible for creating the circumstances that gave rise to it.

BROWN: The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board sent one person to London and another to Ukraine, but not to the crash site. Both investigators are coming home, but the NTSB says support will continue. Boeing which built the 777 and Rolls-Royce, which manufactured the engines are also part of the investigation. Russia says it too is joining the effort despite being accused by Ukraine of having a hand in shooting down the plane.

JOHN GOGLIA, FORMER BOARD MEMBER, NTSB: They're going to get a seat at the table and watched very closely by the world community.

BROWN: In fact, when the Soviet Union shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007 in 1983, the USSR was part of the international investigation. Air accident investigators only tried to determine what brought a plane down. A parallel criminal investigation is also taking place. The FBI sent at least two agents to Ukraine to assist with that.

RON HOSKO, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, FBI CRIMINAL DIVISION: I have confidence that we'll know what happened to get the names of those who might be involved assuming that's what happened, a little bit harder.


BROWN: So here we are eight days after the plane crash and the prime suspects are still in control of the crime scene. As shocking as it may sound, the rebels are even giving indications that their patience is wearing thin when it comes to letting investigators into that crash site to do their job. That's according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which was the first to get investigators to that scene.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: It's unbelievable. Pam Brown, thank you so much.

By now, 198 coffins carrying remains from the crash of Flight 17 are either in the Netherlands or on their way there. For many of the victims in those coffins they're finally back in their homeland because so many aboard the plane were Dutch citizens. But as our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports, it could still be a very long time before those remains are released to the families.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After more than two days of lying in fields covered with debris with temperatures in the high 80s, the first shreds of dignity finally appeared Monday. Some 200 body bags to be placed in simple wooden caskets according to Ukrainian officials. How many souls inside? No one can say for sure.

A 160 plus miles on rail through the plains of Eastern Ukraine before flying another 1300 miles to the Netherlands where the plane originally departed. They were greeted by the king and queen as casualties of war. Two hundred and ninety eight casualties from a war they never fought.

(on camera): Forty simple wooden caskets on Wednesday, 74 more on Thursday. Dutch officials now saying all of the remains will be brought here to Hilversum Military Base over the next few days. A team of 75 investigators, they represent countries, they represent the passengers who are aboard that plane. Those investigators now with that awful task of going through remains trying to identify them.

They will rely on basic things, clothing, jewelry, anything unique about the person, but also dental records, medical records, and finally, the gold standard, which will be DNA analysis.

JOS VAN ROO, CHIEF, DUTCH FORENSICS TEAM (through translator): There are a lot of the bodies and body parts coming our way. All bits must be examined and it must be very precise. You must make sure you don't give the wrong body to the wrong family.

GUPTA (voice-over): Eight years after the Oklahoma City bombing, a woman was discovered to have been buried with another victim's leg. Just 60 percent of those who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11 were ever officially identified.

Nine years after Hurricane Katrina hit, the city of New Orleans still has 31 unidentified remains. It is a science, but not a perfect science. In the direct aftermath of the crash, emergency workers, volunteers, even rebels move freely about the site.

DR. VICTOR WEEDN, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: We don't know where each set of remains actually were recovered from and that will hamper some of the information that might otherwise be gleaned from the remains themselves.

GUPTA: None of this is easy for the families, or the investigators. We know some of the remains may be charred or fragmented. That degrades the quality of the DNA. Also if entire families were traveling together, their DNA pool may be gone forever. Making matches nearly impossible. No, none of this is easy but all of it necessary. The primary goal isn't investigative, legal, or even medical for that matter. It is to return the remains home to the people who love them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a tremendously important humanitarian effort.


GUPTA: Now, it is worth pointing out that because of some of that contamination that we talked about in the fields, it could be harder to analyze that DNA and make sure that it's a positive and consistent identification. Also, this whole process could take weeks if not months. Remember after that plane crash in Tripoli back in 2010, it took one month to identify the 104 bodies.

KEILAR: Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much for that report. Coming up, flash points of conflict erupting all at once around the globe. So what was the president doing out in California fundraising yesterday?


KEILAR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Brianna Keilar in for Jake Tapper. The Politics Lead, the White House is facing foreign policy chaos on multiple fronts from failed attempts at a cease-fire in Gaza to the explosion of a passenger jet over the Ukrainian war zone to the rise of ISIS in Iraq to a crush of Central American migrants at the U.S. border.

There is a laundry list of human agony abroad for the administration to grapple with right now all with massive implications back home and none, easy answers. So what was President Obama doing out in California yesterday fundraising in the middle of all of this?

I want to bring in Peter Baker, White House correspondent for the "New York Times." He is also the co-author of "Kremlin Rising, Vladimir Putin's Russia and The End of Revolution."

Peter, good to have you. I want to talk about this really great story that you wrote this week in "The Times." In it you talked how President Obama is facing what you called geopolitical whiplash. Explain that to us.

PETER BAKER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": You kind of summed it up nicely. Everywhere he looks these days, the world seems to be kind of you know, flaming up in some fashion or another. You got to imagine some mornings he wakes up and says you know what could possibly happen today that hasn't already happened.

What's interesting is it seems disparate what's happening in Ukraine is different than what's happening in Iraq. What's happening in Iraq is certainly different from what's happening in Central America. But a lot of these do seem to have some interlocking features to them that make it even more complicated. For instance, he's trying to you know pressure Vladimir Putin in Russia to stop intervening in Ukraine at the same time he's working with Russia to pressure Iran to give up its nuclear program. They extended the deadline this last weekend. It's a very, you know, tough time I think for the president to try to keep -- to play whack a mole with all these different crises at once.

KEILAR: Yes, it is -- that was what I thought was so fascinating. Certain players are not on the U.S. -- they may be on the U.S.'s side in one instance and not on another. I want to ask you, you heard me mention President Obama out in California. He was in San Francisco yesterday trying to raise funds. Does that create at optics problem for the president?

BAKER: Well, it does. For the simple reason that we've been discussing it a lot this week and he would rather that not be the kind of thing that the media focuses on. It does create a question of whether he's paying full attention to these sorts of problems. Of course, when you're president, you know, the presidency moves with you.

You have all the communications apparatus, the aides and the ability to react to events on the road as you do at the White House. Certainly he was making phone calls to world leaders while he was traveling. And the White House argue that it didn't make any difference that he was in fact paying a lot of attention to these problems as he travelled.

But it does, you know, create an optics problem and one that the opposition is more than happy to jump on just as the Democrats were when George W. Bush was president and he did some of the same things during moments of crises.

KEILAR: Sure. And he would argue obviously that if Democrats don't hold onto the Senate, things will be even tougher for him. Hillary Clinton --

BAKER: That's a crisis of another sort, right?

KEILAR: Yes, exactly. And it was interesting to hear Hillary Clinton. She just sat down with CNN's Fareed Zakaria. When she was asked about the reset with Russia during her time as secretary of state, here's what she said.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I was among the most skeptical of Putin during the time that I was there in part because I thought he had never given up on his vision of bringing mother Russia back to the forefront. I certainly made my views known in meetings as well as in memos to the president.


KEILAR: This is fascinating, Peter. She's positioning herself as one voice and perhaps not the prevailing one on the view of Russia when she was in the administration. But how much distance can she really claim from what's going on right now?

BAKER: Well, she won't be able to completely disown her service obviously in the Obama administration. She did carry out the reset policy and she's going to have to explain and defend it, which she's certainly, you know, capable of doing. But there is some truth to this. You know, even at the time we were told that she was more skeptical of the notion that they could forge a constructive relationship with Russia than some other people were.

But, you know, she was the secretary of state who is charged with making it happen. She wants to be the one out on the campaign trail we've presumed having to explain and defend it.

KEILAR: Yes, Peter Baker, thank you so much. Really appreciate you being with us. Also, you can catch more of Fareed's interview with Hillary Clinton on Sunday at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.

Coming up next, a plane disintegrated, every passenger gone. Wreckage found from that other major plane crash this week. But why has France sent military troops to guard the site?

Plus a new target of anger in the Netherlands, Vladimir Putin's daughter. Why one mayor is mad at her over the nearly 200 Dutch nationals who died on Flight 17? That's ahead.


KEILAR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Brianna Keilar in for Jake Tapper. They have found the plane and the flight recorder, but sadly no survivors. French forces have now secured the crash site of the Air Algerie flight that crashed in Mali yesterday. While weather seemed to have played a role in this, the third flight to go down in a single week, there are still many questions.

I want to bring CNN's Joe Johns. There's a question here, Joe, because this is an area of conflict if terrorism may have played a role.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: There is a question and I don't think they've ruled that out conclusively. Frankly, authorities said one of the two flight recorders a so-called black box that could yield clues about what happened in the plane's final minutes has been recovered from the scene. Right now, the working theory is that storms in the area contributed to the crash though it's too early to conclusively rule out other causes.


JOHNS (voice-over): The first pictures from the scene show a trail of charred debris out of place on the African landscape. An understated official described the plane as in a disintegrated state. To preserve evidence, military units from France and Mali restricted access to the area.

There was seemingly not much to work with for investigators as they tried to determine the identities of the victims and what caused the crash. There were more citizens from France on the plane than any other country, French President Francois Hollande.

PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, FRANCE (through translator): What we already know is that the plane's debris is concentrated in a limited area. But it is still too early to draw any conclusions. They will come in time. There are hypothesis including weather conditions, but we are not putting any of them aside because we want to find out everything that happened.

JOHNS: The open questions included whether an act of terror was responsible though authorities were skeptical that Islamist rebels in the vicinity had the technology to bring down a plane at high altitude.

Meanwhile, families of the victims still in shock, continue to wait for details. Among the missing the wife and two sons of Mamadou Zougrana of Quebec in Canada. He bought tickets for them on Flight 5017. They were headed from Burkina Faso to join him after two years apart.

When he spoke here, the airline had not confirmed whether they had boarded the ill-fated plane, but he hasn't heard from them. My wife said she would prefer to come soon per. I didn't want to change the flight. I said, it will be OK.

Authorities also said ten members of the same family from France perished in the crash, including four grandchildren. They were on what was described as the trip of a lifetime to celebrate the wedding of a relative in Africa.


JOHNS: As the work on the ground continues, Boeing, the company that inherited MD-80 airliners after a merger with McDonald Douglas issued a statement offering its condolences and technical assistance to the government authorities investigating the crash -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Horrible story. Joe Johns, thank you so much. When we come back, an angry mayor demanding one resident of a small town in the Netherlands be deported. Why? Her father, Vladimir Putin is enemy number one in that country right now.


KEILAR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Brianna Keilar in for Jake Tapper. Hearse after hearse rolled through Amsterdam's streets yesterday as the Dutch continue to look for someone to pin their grief on. Vladimir Putin is the obvious target, but some of that animus is shifting to his daughter, Maiya.

She didn't have a public upbringing and details about Russia's modern day grand duchess remain few and far between. What we do know about her, the private schooling, the wealthy Dutch boyfriend paint an incomplete picture.

So our Erin McLaughlin went to the town of Hilversum, just 20 miles from where the doomed MH17 took off and where Maria Putin apparently lives to look for the woman who now finds herself the most hated woman in the Netherlands.


ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the coffins roll through the streets of the Netherlands, the Dutch grief is turning to anger. And their latest target is Vladimir Putin's daughter, Maria. People here say her partner is from the Netherlands, 34-year-old Yurit Fassen.

Both figures are shrouded in secrecy. We don't know the how they met or if they're still together, but they have been seen in Holland walking hair dogs and shopping at the local supermarket. Now, many here hold Russia responsible for MH17.

The mayor of Hilversum, a town which lost 13 of its citizens, told a local radio station that Maria Putin should be kicked out of the country. He later tweeted an apology saying at the time, he was angry.

(on camera): Here in this exclusive neighborhood near The Hague, neighbors tell me Yurit Fassen owns a penthouse apartment in that building just over there. They say that he doesn't actually live there, but that from time to time, they do see him and Maria Putin.

(voice-over): Ironic that the neighborhood is called Krim Vike, and Krim is Dutch for Crimea. We ring the doorbell. No one answers and the neighbors are camera shy. But they tell us they've seen the couple. Journalist Sylvan Shonhoven broke the story in 2013, of Maria's presence in Holland.

(on camera): So this was big news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, turned out to be pretty big news and everybody wanted to talk to me and was like warning me like, what are you going to do? Are you going to go in hiding or -- aren't you afraid of the FSB?

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): There's plenty of fury in the Netherlands for President Putin, but it wasn't always this way. After all, Holland was one of the few European countries to send its highest dignitaries to the Sochi Winter Olympics. Here's the country's king having a beer with the Russian president.

(on camera): Do you think people here are angry at Vladimir Putin?

SILVAN SCHOONHOVEN, JOURNALIST: That's for sure, but the question is are they also angry with his daughter. She's Vladimir's daughter doesn't make her guilty.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Maria's close ties to a country reeling from the loss of MH17 simply a bizarre coincidence in a tragic story. Erin McLaughlin, CNN, Amsterdam.


KEILAR: That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Brianna Keilar. Jake Tapper is back on Monday and I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer who is live from Jerusalem in "THE SITUATION ROOM."