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Latest Information on MH-370 Search; Rescue Under Way after Mt. Everest Avalanche; Fate of Missing Nigerian School Girls Still Unknown; Jay Carney Talks About Anti-Semitic Leaflets in Ukraine; Impact of Religion on Politics

Aired April 18, 2014 - 13:30   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Is it a technical problem if you have more than one or two working at the same time?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: They need to keep them separate and out of each other's ways. If you've got two, it's not like you're listening for the ping. You just need to be able to manage the search under water. It will make it go twice as fast. But I'm not disappointed that they haven't found anything in four dives. I think this is going to take some weeks. If they're in the right spot, they'll find it.

BLITZER: They're looking for a relatively small black box --

GOELZ: That's right.

BLITZER: -- in a huge, huge area, but what they assume is that if that black box is there, Tom, they assume there's other wreckage not that far away, right?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Exactly.

BLITZER: They haven't seen any wreckage in the first four or five dives.

FUENTES: It is a short time, so we'll just have to let this go forward. But if they need more equipment, it will take a while too get it. They can't just dial it up and send it out there and put it in the water. There's a lot of logistical support that goes with it, preprogramming. Everything involved with trying to coordinate multiple underwater vehicles is going to be difficult.

BLITZER: Sure.

Australia's top transport minister, Peter Martin Dolan, he raised the possibility of expanding the search, saying that the Inmarsat satellite picked up a handshake along that long arc. Is it premature to start expanding or simply focus in where the pings were coming from?

GOELZ: No, I think you've got a plan for all options. They've got the plan that this may not turn out. This was based on some assumptions. The assumptions might have been flawed. If you're going to search the length, you have to do it with a towed array. You have to do it with a new vehicle. And you better start lining that up now.

BLITZER: I assume they've searched a much wider area on the surface with the planes and the ships, right?

FUENTES: And that's proven negative, so they found nothing from doing that. Again, with looking at a wider area of search, they're assuming that it's in this area, not just on the pings, but also the fact of how much fuel they think that plane consumed based on their guess at altitude, their guess at air speed, you know, so really they're going by the pings in the water and that's the best way now to look.

BLITZER: Because, Peter, earlier in the week, we heard Malaysian officials, Australian officials, including top leaders there, suggesting they're going to wrap up by this weekend presumably the aerial search. You don't think necessarily that's a good idea?

GOELZ: Well, I think you've got to keep searching until you find something. But they've got a lot resources developed on the air side that hasn't panned out. I don't think it's going to pan out. So it's probably time to phase that back.

BLITZER: You agree?

FUENTES: I agree.

BLITZER: Let's talk about these questions the families have now submitted to Malaysian authorities. They want answers. 26 questions. Among them, can we listen to the conversation between the pilots and the controllers? They've released a transcript. They want to hear the audio. What's in the flight's log book? Can we review the plane's maintenance log?

Are these realistic? Should they be made available, the answers, to the family members?

GOELZ: Some are, some aren't. In terms of looking at the maintenance log, that's going to become public at some point. I'm not sure what they would see in the maintenance log. But listening to the tower tape, to the communications, I see nothing wrong with that.

BLITZER: There was an ongoing criminal investigation. Tom, you're a former FBI assistant director. Any of cress questions, if they give the answers to the families, could that undermine the investigation?

FUENTES: We just don't know. It's hard to say on the outside whether it would or wouldn't, based on what they know they haven't released. I think the feeling is they want to keep the families informed but it's not a participatory event for them to be involved in the investigation.

BLITZER: Tom Fuentes, Peter Goelz, thanks very much.

Today, Mt. Everest proved to be one of the most dangerous places on earth. We'll tell you what happened when a massive avalanche hit, hitting Nigeria. It's dangerous just to be a girl who wants an education. Islamic militants kidnap more than 100 school girls. We'll tell you what the government did to make the situation even more painful for the parents.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: "On this Day in History." April 18th, 1906, an earth- shattering quake rocks the San Francisco area. The 7.8 magnitude quake killed 3,000 people, displaced 225,000 others, "On this Day in History."

Another strong earthquake hit today and shook southern Mexico. The quake packed a powerful punch with a 7.2 magnitude. It was centered along the Pacific coast, not all that far away from the resort town of Acapulco. So far, there are no reports of major wide-spread damage. But the quake was powerful enough to damage this building in Mexico, a city 170 miles away, cutting power to some parts of the capital.

On Mt. Everest, meanwhile, rescue teams are looking for any survivors after a powerful avalanche hit the world's tallest mountain today. It's the single deadliest accident on Everest, which reaches 29,000 feet into the sky in Nepal.

Sunlen Serfaty is here with me watching this story.

A pretty amazing story, Sunlen. Tell our viewers.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's just an awful accident. One of the world's most dangerous places. 15 Sherpas, these guides, are killed, six are injured, and four are still missing. These ethnic Sherpas are often called the heroes of the Himalayas because they mostly act as guides for foreign climbers. They do the dangerous work. Basically all the grunt work before the actual climbers will come up the mountain next month. Today, this group of about 50 Sherpas was going out well ahead of the climbers to clear the trail for them and fix some of the ropes. They left base camp at about 6:30 this morning. They hadn't gone very far when they were hit by the avalanche. It hit them right here, about 19,000 feet.

This spot is nicknamed for climbers as Popcorn Field, an area known to be one of the most dangerous, an area filled with giant chunks of ice.

Now, the rescue mission today pulled out those 15 bodies from the snow and ice, but there are also a few successes. This is video of one of the survivors. The families of those still missing are of course waiting word while the crews search for them. There are 334 climbers given permission to climb Mt. Everest over the next couple of months. Of course, with about 400 Sherpas helping them. The Sherpas were really laying the groundwork for the hike which is set to launch next month.

BLITZER: A dangerous climb to begin with. There have been other deadly incidents in the past. This may be one of the worst?

SERFATY: Absolutely. It is one. There have been many. This is the worst one. In 1996, there was a snowstorm that killed eight hikers. Then again, in 1970, there were six Sherpas that were killed with another avalanche.

4,000 hikers have conquered this mountain over the years since 1953 when it was conquered by New Zealander Edmund Hillary. Of course, he was accompanied by his own Sherpa.

BLITZER: All right, let's hope for the best.

All right, thanks very much, Sunlen Serfaty, reporting for us.

Meanwhile, a frantic search is under way for more than 100 Nigerian schoolgirls who are in the hands of a violent militant group, while the government leading the operation makes a stunning retraction about the attack. We'll get the latest from Nigeria.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The fate of more than 100 Nigerian schoolgirls is unknown five days after being kidnapped by Islamic militants. Their parents now getting confirmation of something that they knew to be true, that in spite of initial reports by military officials in Nigeria claiming most of the girls had been freed, almost all are still missing.

Vladimir Duthiers is on the scene in Nigeria right now.

Vlad, tell our viewers what happened. Why did the Nigerian government issue that story that turned out to be so false?

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's a stunning retraction, a humiliating turnaround of events for the Nigerian military and the Nigerian government. Just when you and I spoke yesterday, we were talking about how on Wednesday the Nigerian military released a statement saying that all but eight of the girls taken from their dormitory in Borno State. While they were sleeping in their beds, in the middle of the night, armed attackers stormed the campus after a shootout with guards, took these girls away in buses and vans. Military made a statement saying almost all the girls had been freed, all but eight of them. As you can imagine, had the parents in Borno State jumping for joy, the jubilation, elation they must have felt to know their daughters were coming home.

Then yesterday evening, around this time, maybe an hour from where we are right now, the military comes out with a statement saying although they had good sources on the ground, had reliable information, they were retracting that statement. And they said they did not intend to deceive the public, this was done in good faith, but they're leaving it to the school principal, the governor of the state, to provide us with information as to the whereabouts of these girls.

And what we know right now, is that the military has said is this is an attack by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. Since 2009, this group says they have killed more than 5,000 people across the country. And it's getting increasingly bad. Just this year along, the first three months of this year -- it's sort an astounding figure when you think about it. Any country in the world, you know -- people here say to me, President Obama flies to Boston when, you know, three people are killed in Boston. This is 1,500 people killed in Nigeria in the first three months of this year alone by Boko Haram and through heavy- handed tactics by the Nigerian military. The president has instituted a statewide state of emergency in three northeastern states. That gives the military a wide latitude in dealing with Boko Haram situation. They've been accused by human rights groups of carrying out what rights groups say are crimes against humanity -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Vladimir Duthiers, reporting for us from Nigeria. Thank you very much. We'll stay in constant touch with you.

Let's bring in retired U.S. Army General Carter Ham, the former commander of U.S. forces in Africa, the so-called Africa Command.

This is not just a problem in Nigeria, General, is it? It's spreading regionally.

GEN. CARTER HAM, FORMER COMMANDER, U.S. ARMY AFRICA COMMAND, RETIRED: It is, Wolf. It is becoming increasingly a regional problem in West and West Central Africa.

BLITZER: When you were in charge of the Africa Command, how big of a problem was this Boko Haram group, this Islamic militant group that the word literally means, Boko Haram, "Western education is sin."

HAM: It's hard to determine how large Boko Haram is. Because like most terrorist organizations, it's loose knit, it's factions, it's not a hierarchical organization. But certainly over the last very years Boko Haram has become increasingly violent, increasingly operating, starting to operate outside, or at least it's started to operate outside of Nigeria.

BLITZER: That's why, for example, the U.S. military Africa Command would be focusing in on it, especially if it established ties with al Qaeda-related groups.

HAM: That's right, Wolf. But Africa Command's primary purpose is to strengthen the defense capabilities of African security forces so they can increasingly provide for their own security. The U.S. and AFRICOMM and the entirety of the U.S. government has long been guided by a principle that's simply stated but difficult to implement is we seek to support African solutions to African challenges. And I think that ought to be our guiding principle.

BLITZER: The U.S. has good relations with Nigeria, right?

HAM: Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

HAM: One of our most trusted partners in all of Africa.

BLITZER: How so do you explain this blunder on the part of Nigeria? They tell the families of these 100 little schoolgirls who were kidnapped -- who knows what's going on with these girls now -- that most of them, all of them basically have been freed. They know that's not true. They don't have their loved ones in their arms. Now they have to retract a statement like that. How does that happen?

HAM: I have no idea. It's obviously a breakdown somewhere in -- at a significant level in communication, to give that -- that kind of a report. As I recall, reported with a high degree of certainty that most of the young girls had been -- had been released, offering false hope to the families and creating a sense that this matter was largely behind them. I think it's inexcusable.

BLITZER: Because there have been suggestions -- we spoke to Christiane Amanpour the other day here on CNN, and she said there have been suggestions in the past that when Boko Haram kidnaps these schoolgirls, they sell them eventually as sex slaves. Is that what's going on?

HAM: I don't think we know exactly what's happening. That certainly does happen. But also young girls are married off, married into families of Boko Haram members and supporters of Boko Haram. It's a horrific humanitarian rights or a humanitarian situation and a human rights situation that I think does cause the United States and others to pay attention to this.

BLITZER: So what can the U.S. do? What can the U.S. military do, specifically the Africa Command, which you used to have?

HAM: Well, first of all, Wolf, I think, as recognition, this is not simply or exclusively a military or security problem. There is a military component to it, to be sure. But until such time as the Nigerians, the African Union, the economic community of West African states address the underlying causes of a largely disenfranchised population in the northern part of Nigeria, then the security activities I think will be inconclusive at best. The U.S. Africa Command is guided by the same principle as the rest of the U.S. government. And that is we want to help the Nigerians in ways that they would like for the U.S. to help. I think that doesn't mean, and should not mean U.S. boots on the ground trying to counter Boko Haram, but rather seeking ways where we can offer some of our unique U.S. military capabilities, training and experience to help the Nigerians with the types of forces they need.

BLITZER: Nigerian troops do come to the United States for training, right?

HAM: They absolutely do. And Nigeria is a significant, often the largest African contributor to U.N. missions around the world as well. So they have the architecture for a sound military.

BLITZER: What about intelligence cooperation?

HAM: I think there's cause for that. And I am -- obviously, I'm no longer connected, but I believe that the U.S. intelligence community and the Nigerians are well connected in a very helpful way.

BLITZER: General Ham, thanks very much for coming in.

HAM: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Carter Ham, retired U.S. Army general, former commander of the Africa Command.

We will stay on top of this story for all of our viewers. It's an awful, awful story.

Still ahead, a new CNN special takes a closer look at how religion impacts the presidency. A preview just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Just moments ago, the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, spoke about those anti-Semitic leaflets that were distributed to Jews outside of Passover services in Eastern Ukraine this week. Here's Carney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think Secretary Kerry and Ambassador Rice addressed our views on the existence of such fliers. I don't think that we have specific confirmed information about who produced them but their mere presence is highly disturbing. And that view was expressed by Secretary Kerry to Foreign Minister Lavrov. And we expect that everyone in Ukraine and in the region should, if they haven't already, make clear that they oppose that kind of really disturbing and highly provocative action.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Much more on this story coming up later today in "The Situation Room."

Christians around the world will be celebrating Easter this Sunday. While there is a division between church and state in this country, history shows that religion certainly does impact politics.

Here's a clip from my up-coming special documentary, "Popes and Presidents."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because I am a Catholic and no Catholic had ever been elected president, the real issues in this campaign had been obscure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER (voice-over): John F. Kennedy's Catholic debate nearly derailed his presidential bid. To quell fears about his faith, he gave a major address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in Texas.

THEODORE MCCARRICK, CARDINAL, FORMER ARCHBISHOP OF WASHINGTON: He had to really make peace with different parts of our country.

KENNEDY: I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president, who happens to also be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters and the church does not speak for me.

NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST, CROSSFIRE: Gave such an eloquent explain nation on how you could be a patriotic American, a Catholic and you could serve as president. He kept a great deal of the poison out of the water.

KENNEDY: But what together we can to --

BLITZER: Kennedy won the White House and became the first and, so far, only Catholic president of the United States. He kept a careful distance from the Vatican. But when the world was on the brink of nuclear war, he turned to the pope for help.

In October, 1962, the Soviet Union started stockpiling nuclear missiles in Cuba. U.S. Navy ships formed a blockade around the island. Kennedy was in a stalemate with the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev.

KENNEDY: I call upon the Chairman Khrushchev to halt and eliminate his clandestine, reckless and provocative threat to world peace.

BLITZER: Through a back channel, the Kennedy White House reached out to the Vatican for help. Pope John XXIII agreed, delivering a message to Moscow and taking the microphones of Vatican Radio in French.

POPE JOHN XXIII (through translation): I beg heads of state not to remain insensitive to the cry of humanity. Peace, peace.

MCCARRICK: I've heard that Dr. Khrushchev said that the pope is looking for peace and he said, OK, I'll be the man of peace.

ANNOUNCER: Missile sites have been dismantled.

BLITZER: Days after the address, Khrushchev withdrew the missiles, putting an end to the crisis.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: You can catch my documentary "Popes and Presidents," this Sunday, 2:00 p.m. Easter, right here on CNN. I hope you tune in. If you can't, I hope you DVR it. I think you will enjoy it. And you will learn something about the relationship between American presidents and popes over the decades.

Hillary Clinton's new book has a particularly timely title. It's called "Hard Choices." And it details her work as secretary of State. Perhaps her next hard choice will be whether to run for president of the United States. And the book, which is due to come out in June, will undoubtedly keep her in the spotlight through the summer months.

Secretary Clinton is already on cloud nine with news that her daughter, Chelsea, is pregnant. Hillary Clinton has made no secret of her desire to be a grandparent. If the family knows whether it's a boy or a girl, no one is saying, at least for now.

Toronto's troubled mayor is running for re-election. Mayor Rob Ford made the announcement last night. Ford admitted to smoking crack cocaine while in a drunken stupor and admitted buying illegal drugs. He has been stripped of most of his mayoral duties. Ford told supporters, "I won't back down." It doesn't matter, he says, what challenges lie ahead.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I will be back 5:00 p.m. eastern, another special two-hour edition of "The Situation Room."

NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thank you much.

Great to be with you on this Friday.