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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Obama To Putin: Pull Back From Ukraine; Teen: Change Font, Save Millions; Objects Spotted In Search For Flight 370

Aired March 28, 2014 - 16:30   ET

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


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Now what if this uncertainty does go on for too long? Because it's possible here that you never know why the plane went down and that carries its own frustrations. Does that carry this grief out kind of endlessly?

GUPTA: It can. It's probably the most heart breaking part. I think consciously, if a lot of people don't have closure, consciously, they still might have closure subconsciously. Even though they don't vocalize it or can't recognize it themselves. There's also this notion that the pain of not knowing, the pain of lack of closure may at some point be greater than the pain of the loss itself. That's a hard concept to understand. I'm not even sure I'm explaining it that well. But when the tipping point occurs, that is a form of closure as well -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, it's just a heart breaking thought. Thanks so much for coming on. Valuable to hear that and our heart goes out to those families and loved ones.

Grief and the pain of waiting days on end to learn the fate of loved ones. If there's anybody else who understands what the families of those on Flight 370 are feeling, it's the people of Snohomish County in Washington State.

In our "National Lead," officials are expected to announce this afternoon a higher death toll in that massive landslide that smothered a whole square mile. Police have confirmed 17 deaths and CNN has reported at least seven other bodies have been located though not recovered yet. As many as 90 people are still unaccounted for. The fire chief warns the death toll will likely change, in his words, quote, "very, very much." Rainy, windy conditions have hampered the search effort up to this point, but crews are working on the east side today and they catch a break there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEPUTY CHIEF TOM COOPER, ARLINGTON FIRE DEPARTMENT: The water is starting to recede in the flooded areas now so we're able to get into new areas that have not been able to search and to get out into.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: It was rain saturation that probably loosened the ground in the first place that caused this. This could end up being the wettest March on record for that area in history.

Coming up, starting from scratch, what seemed like an impossible job just got a lot harder. Next, we'll take a closer look at this new search area to see why teams are having such a hard time finding the missing plane.

Plus, Vladimir Putin basically saying, in your face to the U.S. as he increases the number of troops on the Ukrainian border and goes to Russian TV to brag about it? What is he planning next?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto. Continuing our "World Lead" and the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The search area has moved nearly 700 miles northeast of the previous search site, which is closer to Australia's coast. Five planes in the new area have already spotted possible debris. Does this mean we're any closer to knowing where Flight 370 is?

Our Tom Foreman is in the virtual studio to explain. So Tom, talk us through the challenges they face in this new search area now that it's moved a good 700 miles north and a little closer to Australia.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The first challenge, Jim, is precisely that. This search area has been moving and moving and moving and in that way it's significantly different than the nearest thing we have like this, which was the Air France crash back in 2009. Look, here's Perth over here. The search area is over here. Yesterday, they were searching very hard in this area. It was about 1600 miles away, 47,000 square miles. Now they've shifted up to the red area up here.

It's closer and they say they are more confident, but here's a huge difference. We have talked about millions of square miles. That red square is roughly the size of what the Air France entire search area was from very early on and it stayed that way. Here's another big difference. The reason they were able to define Air France that way is because they found evidence on the water quite soon and it wasn't evidence spread out as suggested by the satellite photos spread out over hundreds of miles.

This was about a three-mile track. When they were eventually able to find after two years of searching, almost $45 million worth of searches when they finally found the debris in the bottom, it was only enough to cover a few football fields, very self-contained. So let me bring that out of the wall as a little cube here and give you a point of reference so you can see the different challenges that they are facing.

If I were to fly that out here to the room and drop it down on that red square, look, it sinks away to nothing but a pinpoint. That's the target they are looking for. Again, this is just the latest search area, Jim. They have been looking at so many others. This is a fundamentally different search than what we found in Air France, the one that took two years. SCIUTTO: Tom, that's incredible comparison. The other thing is, the blue looks stationary. In fact, you have a thousand little washing machines going on. How do the currents here compare to the Air France site?

FOREMAN: That's a very good thing to look at. If you look back here, Jim, you can see, we have a red dot to represent the actual area where the Air France wreckage was found, South America over here and Africa to the other side. It looks pretty turbulent. Let's rotate to where they are searching now and it becomes something of the luck of the draw. If you look at the area -- this is time lapsed photo from NOAA, by the way. If you look at the satellite area, look at that, incredibly turbulent. Much more so the place they are looking at right now, much calmer. It all presents challenges. That's the only way to put it.

SCIUTTO: A big difference. Let's hope for the sake of the searchers it's in that quiet area. Tom Foreman, thanks very much.

We have some more world news now, President Obama sending a message directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin that his next move should be away from the Ukrainian border.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: It may simply be an effort to intimidate Ukraine or it may be a big additional plans and in either case, what we need right now to resolve and de-escalate the situation would be to Russia to move back those troops and to begin negotiations directly with the Ukrainian government as well as the international community.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: That was the president sitting down in Rome with CBS News. And right around that time we learned from U.S. officials that Vladimir Putin was in fact doing the exact opposite, doubling his troop presence on that eastern border of Ukraine from 20,000 to 40,000 troops. And today instead of talking de-escalation, President Putin went on Russian television to brag about how the quick takeover of Crimea showed off the new capabilities of the Russian military.

Our Karl Penhaul is live on that border of Ukraine and Russia. Karl, so tell us is there a build-up on the Ukrainian side of the border as well of Ukrainian forces?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, just to put it in perspective, this is the Ukrainian border and beyond that is Russia. We spent most of the day obviously on the Ukrainian side trolling alongside the border areas and, yes, there is a build-up of Ukrainian troops. We've seen armored personnel carrier. We've seen T-80 tanks dug in as well. The Ukrainian troops there, it must be said, do seem -- do have a sense of disbelief.

They say that during Soviet times and after they trained alongside the Russians. They still see them as brothers in arms and so they are a little bit worried about if this does turn into a war. That said, the tanks that we saw positioned alongside bridges and the troops there said they had orders to either defend that bridge or to blow it if Russian tanks do advance -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: It's a sobering thought. A war in the middle of Europe, really. You know, the president, European leaders have said repeatedly that we stand with the Ukrainian people, we support them. Are those promises -- are Ukrainians beginning to lose confidence in those promises as the Russians continue to beef up and really got away with in effect taking over Crimea?

PENHAUL: In this corner of north eastern Ukraine, the population very much disbelieves any promise by America or the western powers. They say we are on our own in this fight if the Russians do roll in and to that point today we have seen civilian volunteers coming together to form self-defense committees. They have been digging trenches. They have been building barricades alongside some of the main highways using sandbags and car tires.

They say we will be the last line of defense even if the Ukrainian troops don't stand and fight like they didn't in Crimea. We civilians will fight with Molotov cocktails and from the trenches it's a red tag band for they certainly very patriotic -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Karl Penhaul in the border between Russia and Ukraine right in the middle of a big buildup of forces on both sides.

Wolf Blitzer is here with a preview of "THE SITUATION ROOM." So no smoking gun in the investigation of the pilots. But I know you guys are digging in deeper.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": We're trying to figure out what has been going on. We're going to get the latest from the Pentagon spokesman, Rear Admiral John Kirby will be joining us and find out what assets are involved, what is the U.S. military doing to try to find some of the wreckage assuming it's wreckage out there in this new location in the Indian Ocean. He'll update us coming up in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

SCIUTTO: Great, 700 miles away. Wolf Blitzer.

Coming up on THE LEAD, objects spotted from the air. Our own CNN reporter is with the search crew just hours ago when they found several items floating in this new area in the Indian Ocean. She'll tell us exactly what they saw ahead.

But first, he's barely out of high school, but he says he knows how the federal government can save hundreds and millions of dollars. I'll talk to the teenager about his simple idea, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD. And time for our "Money Lead." What were you doing when you were 14 besides figuring out the awkward years of puberty, maybe babysitting for some extra cash, working a paper route? How about proposing a way to save the government hundreds and millions of dollars? I know I wasn't but that's what this boy has done. He's just published a report in the "Scientific Journal of Emerging Investigators" -- yes, he's a teenager and has already had his work published.

The government could save $234 million by switching the type of font that they use in printed materials. So with Congress constantly bickering about what could be cut from the budget, saving money, this sounds like what they need to hear in Washington.

Suvir, thank you for joining us. This is going to be exciting moment for you at 14. You've got to tell us how you came up with this idea and explain to our viewers how you do it just by changing fonts in official government documents.

SUVIR MIRCHANDANI, YOUNG SCIENCE FAIR WINNER: Well, thank you so much for having me and definitely it's very exciting. So what I've proposed is that the government switch the font that they are using for all of their documents to a particular font called Garamond. This particular font can save a lot of money and a lot of ink and my research led me to conclude that the government could save almost $234 million by switching to that one font. It's thinner, lighter, it simply uses less ink. Just simply looking at it, you wouldn't be able to tell that it actually saves 30 percent of ink cost. So those are my conclusions.

SCIUTTO: So it's ink but it also uses less paper because it takes up less space. The average federal employee prints roughly 7,200 pages per year, 30 every work day. So that's a lot of paper if you're filling up less paper with that ink. Is that part of the calculation?

MIRCHANDANI: It's not part of the calculation that I determined, but that's definitely a byproduct of switching to this lightweight font.

SCIUTTO: It's a smart idea. Have you heard back from the Government Printing Office in response to your idea now that it's been published out there?

MIRCHANDANI: Actually, I sent a query to them at the beginning of my study about some information that I might need for my study. They didn't respond until I was done. So I had to obtain that information from some publicly available research documents. But, no, right now I'm simply working to get the -- to spread the word.

SCIUTTO: It's good you're spreading the word. Did they give you an answer or say that they are considering this at all?

MIRCHANDANI: No. But my goal is to get a few individuals to change which would save their end costs.

SCIUTTO: Maybe it's something we can all follow, right? Think before you print, as they say, and this is another way to say it. This project came from a science fair last year, I think, but another fair today and you had a whole new project. So tell us what it is. You've got to be figuring out a way to move us all to Mars or cure cancer. What have you done this year? MIRCHANDANI: This year, I created a web-browsing system that the individuals with motor disabilities can use so even though they can't use their limbs, they use eye tracking and brain control to navigate through a web page so when the user concentrates at a link, the web browsing system determines which link they are looking at and navigates it to them?

SCIUTTO: It reads their minds or reads their eyes?

MIRCHANDANI: The brain control is done using brain waves so I'm just measuring attention levels using the mobile headset. It's not reading their minds, no. But I'm also using eye tracking to determine where they are looking at.

SCIUTTO: All right, so you're 14. You've already come up with two great ideas. I'm proud of you. Thank you so much for coming on. Suvir Mirchandani joining us from Pittsburgh.

When we come back, crews just minutes away from first daylight when they plan to resume their search for Flight 370. Will the planes be able to take off? We're going to go live to Perth, Australia, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD. And returning to our "World Lead." Calmer and closer. The decision to move the search for Flight 370 has given crews much better conditions to deal with and the shift yielded results almost immediately. Our own Kyung Lah went up in one of those five search planes that spotted objects on the water, which could possibly be debris from 370.

She joins us live now from Perth, Australia, where it's nearing 5:00 a.m., nearing the time when those planes go up. So Kyung, what's their level of hope today? They spotted stuff pretty quickly yesterday. Do they think that now they are starting to look at pieces from this airplane?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They don't know. They need to verify what these pieces that were spotted on the ocean actually are. On the P-8 that I was on, what they managed to see were objects on the surface of the ocean. As we were entering the search area, what the P-8 saw were some white floating objects, somewhere in those white objects there was a white circular object, almost like a ball. There was also orange rope that was spotted as well as a blue bag, almost like a blue plastic bag, but we didn't have anything beyond the description of a blue plastic bag.

So they are very reluctant, the people who are aboard this plane, to say anything other than, we spotted something. They marked the coordinates and they are asking that a vessel go there and check it out. There were five planes out of the ten that did spot something, Jim. Again, we don't know if anything that is spotted is connected with the missing plane.

SCIUTTO: So you're inside the plane. How do they mark the location when they find something like that?

LAH: When you're flying a plane, the way the pilot explained it to me is it's almost like dropping a pin. It's like you're on your phone and you drop a pin saying, this is where I am. It's far more high- tech than my iPhone. That's the way it's basically done. All of the planes up there, regardless of what government they represent, they all are in communication with the Australian government. All of the ships are coordinated and they are all going to be checked out, if possible, if that debris can be found again by sea.

SCIUTTO: So a big factor, how's the weather there today? Do they expect clear conditions to continue the search?

LAH: The conditions when we were up, it was about seven, eight hours ago, remarkably calm. It was very different than the weather forecast that we were given yesterday in the area southwest of that. That was extremely rough. The water here was unbelievably calm. We barely saw any white caps. The winds were very calm. It was absolutely gorgeous out there. As one pilot explained it to me, if they were going to see anything, it was going to be today.

SCIUTTO: We are told Tom Foreman was making the point that that part of the Indian Ocean are much calmer, much like the Bahamas. So hoping conditions are good for searchers. Thanks very much to Kyung Lah in Perth, Australia.

Now make sure to follow me on Twitter @jimsciutto and the show @theleadcnn. Check out our show homepage @cnn.com/thelead for video, blogs and extras. You can also subscribe to our magazine on Flipboard. That's it for THE LEAD today. I'm Jim Sciutto. Jake will be back on Monday. Thanks for having me. I'll turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer. He is in "THE SITUATION ROOM."