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Remains of Crashed Marine Helicopter in Nepal Found; House Republicans Criticized for Cutting Amtrak Budget in Wake of Train Crash; Blues Legend B.B. King Dies; Stephanopoulos Apologizes for Not Disclosing Donations. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired May 15, 2015 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[08:00:16] WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Michaela, right now we are learning that the weather at the crash site is becoming more and more treacherous and it's making it difficult for helicopters to get in there to bring back the remains of the three people who were discovered near the wreckage of this U.S. marine Huey helicopter that we now know went down about 21 miles east of the Katmandu airport, the command center where I am right now.

This has been where searchers have been taking off for the past several days, and now crews have moved out to the scene. We're told it's 11,200 feet up, very treacherous, a very steep mountainside where this helicopter went down. It is wreckage, the helicopter not in good condition. There is an indication of the fire. But still unclear what has happened to the other five people onboard. There were six U.S. marines and two Nepali soldiers. They were conducting a humanitarian aid mission trying to bring supplies to the thousands of people in the mountains in the remote villages cut off by the earthquake that are in badly need of help. But now at least three names added to the list of more than 8,400 people who have been killed in this country in to two very powerful earthquakes. Back to you, Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: All right, Will, and the search continues for everyone on board there. So what do we know about the U.S. marines that have been discovered so far and who are also attendants on the helicopter? We have CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr digging into that part of the story. And Barbara, what can you tell us?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. There had been a lot of hope here at the Pentagon and with the Marine Corps that they would find them alive, that maybe they had some trouble, put the helicopter down on the ground and simply couldn't get a locater signal out over those 11,000-foot mountain peaks. Now we know today that six U.S. Marine Corps families across the country are being notified that the loved ones perished in the incident.

Their belief is that nobody is alive at this point. They will continue to search for the bodies in the wreckage. This Marine Corps had come from Camp Pendleton in California, and one of his friends of the pilot, Chris Norgren, spoke a day or so before this incident about his friend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MARK BELL, FAMILY FRIEND OF MISSING PILOT: He is a great guy with a lot of passion, always had a lot of passion in everything he had done. And he was doing what he loved most, and that's being a pilot for the marines. I will just say a prayer real quick and hope everything is OK, and so, it's hard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: Now, to be clear, until they find the remains of all of those on board, the search will continue. The belief at this point given the condition of the aircraft, signs of a fire on the ground when the aircraft hit the ground in whatever condition it did, all the indications are that all those onboard perished, but until they actually locate the remains, this very much remains an open search. Michaela?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN HOST: A sad outcome to this story. Barbara, thank you for that.

We turn now to Philadelphia. Big questions emerging about this deadly Amtrak crash. Why did that train accelerate from 70 to 100 miles per hour in the final minute before that crash? CNN's government regulation correspondent Rene Marsh joins us this morning once again from Philadelphia. Rene?

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Michaela, that is the key question. What we do from federal investigators is they've looked at the tracks, they've looked at the signals, and so far they don't see any problems with either the track or the signal. But what we do know, new data from the train's video cameras is that this train was not slowing downs as it approached the curve. In fact, it was speeding up.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: Overnight the crews continue to move the seven cars one by one from the crash site as the NTSB is eager to interview 32-year-old Brandon Bostian, the engineer at the controls of ill-fated Amtrak train 188.

ROBERT SUMWALT, MEMBER, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: We're very excited that he's agreed to talk to us. We plan to do it in the next few days.

STEFANIE MCGEE, FRIEND OF BRANDON BOSTIAN: He is a sweet guy. He is a good and decent person.

MARSH: Friends of the engineer speaking out, saying he would never do anything with negligent intent.

MCGEE: Just knowing how much he loves this job and what this means to him and to have this happen, this has got to be devastating.

MARSH: According to Bostian's attorney, the five year veteran engineer did not have a preexisting medical condition, was not impaired by alcohol or drugs, and his cell phone was off as required by Amtrak.

SUMWALT: The train should not have been doing anything other than 50 miles an hour go into the curve.

MARSH: This as the NTSB says according to their initial investigation the train bizarrely accelerated from around 70 miles per hour to 100 in under a minute, just before reaching the sharp turn.

[08:05:00] What happens next caught on surveillance camera from a nearby building. Watch as sparks fly at over 100 miles per hour, the deadly speed catapulting seven train cars and the engine off the tracks.

JOSEPH BOARDMAN, AMTRAK CEO: We will have positive train control on the northeast corridor section by December 31st.

MARSH: Amtrak's CEO says that safety mechanism to prevent human error will be in place by the Congressional mandate, but some say too little, too late.

Why isn't it done now? It is an issue of cost? Does it just come down to the bottom line?

BOARDMAN: It's a time issue and also a cost issue.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: All right, we're back out here live where you see they are actively working to repair the tracks. We do know that service between Washington and Philadelphia, it's modified. However service between New York and Philadelphia, that's expected to be suspended for a few more days. CNN has also learned on the opposite side of the tracks, opposite from where the accident actually happened, there was an older braking system that was in place that could have stopped a speeding train that was going way over the speed limit. That system was not in place on the side of the tracks where the accident occurred. The reason is Amtrak says that the speed limit on the side where the accident occurred is much lower than the opposite side. Back to you, Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Rene, raising all the right questions. We're going to get answers from the man heading up the investigation for the NTSB in just a moment. But obviously what is motivating all these questions is what was lost in this. And now we do know the identity of all those eight people killed in this horrible train crash. The information is public, and let's get to CNN's Sunlen Serfaty live in Philadelphia with what we now know. Sunlen?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chris, that's right, all eight passengers killed in that crash now have been accounted for and identified, including 45-year-old Bob Gildersleeve. He was a father of two from Baltimore, Maryland. His body was found yesterday morning at the crash site by a cadaver dog. Also among those killed, a 47- year-old Laura Finamore. She's a commercial real estate agent from New York. And Giuseppe Piras. He was here visiting the U.S. on business, an Italian national, a wine and oil merchant. Now today marks the first funeral among the victims of this crash,

20-year-old Justin Zemser, 20-year-old midshipman from the U.S. Naval Academy. He will be laid to rest later this morning in Long Island.

Now, as some families start to mourn, some here are still fighting for their life. There are six patients still here at Temple University who remain in critical condition. Michaela?

PEREIRA: We will continue to watch that, and we wish all of those victims well.

Less than 24 hours after the train crashed a Republican-led House committee voted to slash a quarter of a billion dollars from Amtrak's budget. Democrats pounced, claiming those kinds of cuts are what caused the disaster. And that has Speaker John Boehner doing a slow boil. Let's bring in CNN senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns. Hey, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Michaela. The speaker of the House reacting strongly, perhaps angrily to a reporter's question about attempts to link reduced funding for Amtrak to the crash in Philadelphia. That question came just a day after the House appropriations committee voted to reduce funding for the rail system by more than $200 million a couple days after that crash in Philadelphia, it's such a sensitive political issue because Democrats want more funding for Amtrak at a time when Republicans are trying to reduce government spending. Speaker Boehner taking the position it is simply too early to make a connection on cause. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: Are you really going to ask such a stupid question? Listen, you know, they started this yesterday, it's all about funding, it's all about fund. Well, obviously it's not about funding. The train was going twice the speed limit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Democrats pushing back on that. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer in New York responded in a statement saying "Speaker Boehner's comments are patently false. Experts have made clear that positive train control could have prevented the tragedy in Philadelphia. It's simply a fact that insufficient funding for Amtrak has delayed the installation of PTC."

Now overnight there have been reports including reports from CNN that the train control technology was installed at least on part of the tracks near the crash site but was not turned out. President Obama took the opportunity last night to highlight the need of the need for infrastructure, though pointing out the reason for the crash has not been confirmed. Michaela?

CUOMO: I'll take it, Joe. To be clear, whether or not more money is the answer, that is for the politicians to decide. But it is not debatable that this crash could have been avoided. We are going to discuss that now with somebody who knows the answers well beyond the political back and forth, the man in charge of the investigation for the National Transportation Safety Board, member Robert Sumwalt. Mr. Sumwalt, it's good to have you with us.

[08:10:08] Let's put politics to the side for a second and let's deal with the latest. We understand the engineer has said he will volunteer for an interview with investigators. We understand that the police are securing cellphone records, and through his attorney the engineer has said his phone was off. What can you tell us about what you know and when you expect to learn more?

ROBERT SUMWALT, MEMBER, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: Chris, good morning. We do very much look forward to the opportunity to get the engineer's firsthand account of what he can tell us.

CUOMO: And when do you think you're going to get that, and what do you make of the suggestion that he was not on his phone and that he offers that to you that voluntarily as well?

SUMWALT: Well, we, as a matter of course, always at the NTSB get cell phone records because we have seen it in so many crashes. So we will conduct our own independent investigation, and that's just part of what we do.

CUOMO: What is the policy? Was his phone supposed to be off? And will you interview him today?

SUMWALT: First on the policy, not only is it an Amtrak policy to have federal phones off but it's a federal regulation that cell phones will be off while the employees are on duty. So we will have the capability to determine whether or not he was on the phone, texting or anything like that. When will we interview him? It's in the coming days, and that time has not positively been nailed down, but we were very encouraged that he has agreed to talk to us.

CUOMO: All right, and has the investigation to this point yielded anything else that could have been a cause here, a train related or operation related that doesn't involve the engineer or any additional factors?

SUMWALT: Certainly we are just collecting facts at this point. We will look at the human, we'll look at the machine, we'll look at the environments. So those are things that we traditionally will look at. We want to gather information in each of those domains and then slowly start to take things off the table. For now, Chris, everything is still on the table.

CUOMO: Now, were you surprised to hear that the cadaver dog made a discovery? We had heard from investigators down there yesterday that they thought the site was clean. Was this a surprise?

SUMWALT: Well, you didn't hear that assessment from the NTSB because by policy we do not comment on what other agencies are doing. The emergency response effort was done by another agency, and so we would not be making the comment. We are saddened to learn that yet another person had in fact perished in this tragedy. CUOMO: Eight people gone and others still fighting for their lives in

the hospital, and at least we know from just an information management perspective, everyone has been accounted for.

So now we get to the realm of how we do better going forward. We have to figure out why this happened so we can correct it. The politicians are having a nice tug-of-war over the issue of whether or not this could be avoided. They are leaning on the NTSB on one side of this debate, saying that you guys that know the business of safety say regardless of what the engineer did, this could have been avoided. Is that the simple truth?

SUMWALT: Let's look at the facts. Positive train control, one of the four things it is designed to do is prevent derailments due to speeding. That's one thing.

The second fact is we know that this train was speeding by a factor of at least two. So positive train control can prevent this type of an accident. It would have prevented this accident if it had been installed and operational.

CUOMO: So that's not debatable to you. If it were there and it were working the right way, which is a little assumption when we are talking about with the railways, it wouldn't have happened. OK, so we accept that point. And now it goes to what happens going forward. You make your recommendations. How many times do you think you recommended you need to have safety improvements and infrastructure improvements on the railways?

SUMWALT: Well, as it relates to positive train control, the NTSB has been calling for some version of positive train control since 1970 following a fatal train crash in Derry in Connecticut ion 1969. Positive train control has been on our most wanted list almost repeatedly since 1990, when the list was founded. It's on our most wanted list now. We have identified numerous accidents that could have been prevented had there been positive train control, and I'm afraid that this one that we are dealing here in Philadelphia is yet another tragic example of that.

[08:15:03] CUOMO: Now, is it fair pushback if they say this curve, this is not a place where you should need it, that this is -- this is, you know, an error in judgment and that's all this is because this is not a dangerous stretch of track?

SUMWALT: Well, Congress has, in fact, mandated that positive train control be on this section of track by the end of 2015. So they weren't required to have it at this point, but it will be required within the next seven months. So, I'm not going to say whether or not it needed to be installed on this section. The fact is Congress has mandated it be here by the end of the year.

CUOMO: You are saying it's not debatable either because they're already decided it should be there. It just isn't.

Mr. Sumwalt, thank you for distracting from the important work of gathering facts to bring us up to speed on where you are. Appreciate it.

Mich, to you.

PEREIRA: All right. Looking into some headlines, Chris.

Breaking news right now: ISIS launching an assault to retake the key Iraqi city of Ramadi. Iraqi officials say the terrorists begun their offensive last night. There are reports that ISIS seized the local government headquarters there and is flying its black flag, this as ISIS tries to convince the world that its leader is alive and still in charge. The terror group releasing a new audio recording, claiming it was made by Abu al Baghdadi. Recent report says that he had been killed -- hurt, injured, suffered severe spinal injuries during a coalition air strike.

Well, the thrill is gone. Legendary blues artist B.B. King has died at the age of 89. He made his guitar Lucille sing and had a lasting impression on a generation of musicians.

Here is a look at his story, life and career.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PEREIRA (voice-over): It's hard to imagine the blues without B.B. King. The legendary blues man released over 50 albums with hit songs such as "The Thrill is Gone" and "Let the Good Times Roll."

Born Riley B. King in Mississippi, he worked as a tractor driver in the cotton fields before embarking on his musical career. He began recording in the 1940s, and became known as Blues Boy King and then, more simply B.B. King.

In 1956, at the height of his popularity, he played an astonishing 342 one-night shows.

He continued a rigorous touring schedule into his 80s.

King's persistence and passion for the blues paid off, winning 15 Grammys.

B.B. KING, BLUES LEGEND: It always feels very, very good to go on stage whether you win a Grammy or not.

PEREIRA: Throughout the years, King worked with various artists like rockers U2 on the song "When Love Comes to Town", and with Eric Clapton on the album "Riding with the King".

KING: You get a chance to learn a lot of great things from people that have so much going for them today.

PEREIRA: In 1987, he was inducted into the rock 'n' roll hall of fame and was also given a spot on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1990. He was rarely seen with his black Gibson guitar Lucille.

KING: This is my girl Lucille.

PEREIRA: The gifted guitarist was the first blues musician to be honored with the Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995.

President George W. Bush also honored King in 2006 with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his musical contribution.

King's health was sometimes a concern since he was diagnosed with type II diabetes in his early 60s.

KING: To me, blues is a type of music that's like a tonic. It's good for whatever ails you.

PEREIRA: In 2012, President Obama hosted a concert celebrating blues music. B.B. King was one of the featured performers.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The king of the blues. Mr. B.B. King.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PEREIRA: We will let the good times roll.

CUOMO: Look, it's horrible he is gone, but you have to look at such a full life.

PEREIRA: Eighty-eight years old.

CUOMO: I know, and he gave us so much.

PEREIRA: So much, and his music will live on beyond.

CUOMO: For sure, will anybody do it as well? We don't know, but that was beautiful.

All right. So, w got train on the brain here right now, so, we're going to show you this situation. This happed in South Carolina. A train slams head on into an 18 wheeler. We're telling the story because it has an OK ending. Here's what happened.

PEREIRA: Oh, no.

CUOMO: Now, why did this happen? A tractor trailer got stuck on the tracks, the driver was calling to alert the railroad, there wasn't enough time. The train just came barreling through, and the operator knew that this was going to happen, he tried to stop it. We're talking about two locomotives and 59 cars. It's just too much weight, too much speed and too much momentum.

But again, no injuries to report. Just amazing video to look at, and a reminder, we are dealing with some safety issues when we are dealing with the railroads.

[08:20:03] PEREIRA: We've seen this before.

CUOMO: And we're going to see it again.

All right. So, excuse me, how bad a mistake was it for George, George Stephanopoulos, to not to tell viewers about his donations to the Clinton Foundation? What does ABC News say? The anchor took it upon himself this morning, and we'll let you decide.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Over the last several years, I made substantial donations, including to the Clinton Foundation. Those donations were a matter of public record but I should have made additional disclosures on air when we cover the foundation. And I now believe that directing personal donations to that foundation was a mistake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PEREIRA: That was ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos apologizing on the air, just this morning, for not disclosing $75,000 worth of donations to the Clinton Foundation over a three-year period. So, how damaging is this revelation?

We're going to discuss it with the host of CNN's "SMERCONISH" and CNN political commentator, Michael Smerconish.

You heard the apology -- you heard the hubbub, you heard the apology.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think the apology went too far.

PEREIRA: Really? Do tell.

SMERCONISH: Yes, I do. I think that the lack of transparency is the issue here, not the fact that he donated to a charity. And so, I'm surprised when he said, I now believe directing personal donations to that foundation was a mistake. I don't think it would have been a mistake --

PEREIRA: Why not?

SMERCONISH: Because they are doing presumably good work. Why should he need to apologize for making donations to a charity --

PEREIRA: Because of the Clinton name.

[08:25:2] SMERCONISH: Well, but I think that frankly is yielding to some of the criticism that's leveled at him regardless. Make no mistake, when he interviewed Peter Schweizer, and when he grilled Peter Schweizer, he should have said, Peter, I need to tell you something, I donated to the Clinton Foundation.

CUOMO: Why?

SMERCONISH: Because a whole part and parcel of that story is whether people were currying favor with the foundation as a means of getting to Hillary Clinton. I just think in terms of now covering that aspect, he should have put that on the table.

CUOMO: But it was foreign countries, it was people looking for corporate influence. How does he fit into this category?

SMERCONISH: Well, he's not looking -- he's got the influence, Chris. I don't think he needs --

CUOMO: Right. Whether or not he gives money to CGI, and when it comes to the Clintons, people are going to hit George with that stick anyway.

SMERCONISH: I just -- I think that it's the same as if any of the three of us were covering a story for CNN, to which we had a direct connection beyond that which people might know, we all know of his background with the Clintons, he doesn't need to disclose. I was once, you know, in the war room. We know that.

CUOMO: You could argue that, that's the barrier. You know what I mean? That's something that George has had to deal with in his career.

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: Yes, he is a very good friend of mine and I believe in George, I believe in his integrity as much as anybody. He's always have that.

PEREIRA: But question is the optics of it, and I love the work he is supporting, deforestation, AIDS research, HIV research, his intent was great. But why not, knowing the rules that we as journalist live under, why not just avoid that mess altogether and give to other groups that support those efforts?

SMERCONISH: I guess that's what he is saying in the apology. I believe had he disclosed it all along, there wouldn't have been an issue. If there had been an issue, it would come from his more conservative critics who frankly aren't going to accept anything that he has to say. He's put himself in this position. It was a rookie mistake.

PEREIRA: OK. Let's pivot -- we're going to call this a segment of "he knows better." That's what I'm calling it. You probably don't agree, but we'll talk about Jeb Bush because he's been having some challenges.

SMERCONISH: Another rookie mistake.

PEREIRA: Do you think it's another rookie mistake?

SMERCONISH: Absolutely.

PEREIRA: But he's not a rookie.

SMERCONISH: Well, he is, Michaela, on this level.

PEREIRA: Fair enough.

SMERCONISH: I think, you know, look, running for a Florida election, they play some hardball in Florida, I don't want to understate that, but it's not the same as running for the presidency. PEREIRA: He had a few people in his family that has.

SMERCONISH: That's absolutely true. The shock to me on this issue is that -- first of all, it's a question that came from FOX. It was a totally -- it was not a hit job, it was a totally appropriate question. He says he misunderstood the question, and it was not that complicated.

CUOMO: But his answer did suggest that he didn't hear the question the way it was intended, and he may have jumped the question.

SMERCONISH: OK, I will give him the benefit of the doubt, but there is no surprise here. Of course he knew very soon into this he was going to have to address his position, vis-a-vis his brother's position on Iraq.

Let me just say one other thing -- I don't believe the nation in 2016 is prepared to elect the third term of W. He needs to distinguish himself from his brother.

CUOMO: Fair point, he said that, too. He said same name, but I'm my own man.

SMERCONISH: And it's fair to ask. It's fair to ask whether you disagree with your brother.

CUOMO: Yes, absolutely, understood. Except that you also have to be mindful of what could be another analogy to the Stephanopoulos situation, somewhat of a different standard being applied. Everybody in their right mind would say, knowing what they know now, they would not have done what was done then. But it's a story when he says it because he's going against his brother. That's not a fair level of scrutiny you could argue. You know, that you are building in an expectation that others aren't being held to.

SMERCONISH: I think it's fair to ask in what subject areas he disagreement with his brother? We could ask the same question if you will decide you have to run for office.

CUOMO: But if I say, you know, I think my brother is a dope on all three things, and if all three of us say that about our brother, who's the story going to be about? It's going to be about me. So, that's the sensitivity he has to be aware of. But maybe the other side, which is yes, he should be aware of it. It's going to be coming. Be ready when it does.

PEREIRA: Also in this, we have to be fair and say that Hillary Clinton also, you know, this conversation about this is really an important question. She's got to be aware that these questions are going to be coming at here, especially given the fact that he flubbed it so badly.

CUOMO: And they were a week. I'm thinking a little bit differently. You're thinking in terms of Iraq, right?

PEREIRA: Yes. SMERCONISH: And I am thinking it's fair in what policy areas do you

disagree with Bill? And indeed when she spoke, what, 10 days ago about needing to end this era of mass incarceration, what did the people immediately say, she's now changing a different path than where Bill was in the '90s. I thought was appropriate. They are running for president, for God's sakes. All of this is appropriate.

CUOMO: When you talk about the rookie mistake, and look at organizations. Jeb's team is making the decision, and they are putting him out there and he is answering questions all the time. Hillary isn't. They're much more controlled than what they're allowing her to be exposed to and you can argue whether that's good or bad.

SMERCONISH: I don't think the media will stand for that for long. You know there is a running tally of how many questions she's answered thus far. I don't know, I think it's barely in double digits.

PEREIRA: All right. Smerconish, you have a few things you can discuss on your show this weekend?

SMERCONISH: I have Peter Schweizer on my show tomorrow, so I get to ask him what does he think about Stephanopoulos.

PEREIRA: All right.

SMERCONISH: So, added reason to tune in.

PEREIRA: Tomorrow at 9:00 a.m., Saturday. You can also hear him on Sirius XM, 9:00 a.m. Eastern as well.