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THE SITUATION ROOM

Twenty Million at Risk of Severe Weather; NBA Bans Sterling for Life; Tornado Survivors Share Stories; 70 Million at Risk of Severe Weather; Possible Debris Found Outside Search Area; Families Hear Cockpit-to-Tower Recording; Pro-Russian Demonstrators Seize Building; Bodies Found in Ukrainian River

Aired April 29, 2014 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Jake, thanks very much.

Happening now, breaking news.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Unprecedented punishment for the owner of Los Angeles Clippers after racist remarks.

Will he be forced to sell his team, as well?

Tornado threat -- extreme risk of more deadly storms, even as victims still reeling from the latest disasters.

Will they face more in the coming hours?

Wreckage found -- an Australian company claims to have spotted plane degree far from the current Flight 370 search area.

Could the missing jet have crashed into the ocean thousands of miles away?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following two major breaking news stories this hour.

An unprecedented punishment handed down by the NBA against the LA Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, for racist remarks. The league has now banned him for life.

More on that in just a few moments. But first, there's another breaking story we're following. Severe weather warnings right now covering 70 million Americans. And a threat of killer tornados. The risk right now is extreme in some of the very same areas that had been devastated only two days ago.

Let's go straight to our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray.

She's tracking the storms in the CNN Severe Weather Center -- so tell our viewers, Jennifer, what they need to know right now.

JENNIFER GRAY, ATS METEOROLOGIST: Well, if you are in the south or even in North Carolina, you need to be on the lookout for today. We have that moderate risk of severe weather.

However, Wolf, most of the tornado warnings we've seen today have actually been right around the Raleigh, North Carolina area.

Here are the tornado watch boxes that are in effect right now -- Mississippi, Alabama. A lot of these areas were hit yesterday. You have the possibility of being hit with these strong storms again today.

And now we're looking at Raleigh. And this is where we have seen these tornado warnings over the past hour or so. And they are crawling up Interstate 95. That is not where you want to be right now. And some of the power -- more powerful storms that we've seen outside of the Fayetteville area, Dunn. You can see this tornado warning heading to the north and east in effect until 5:15 Eastern time, affecting Dunn and Erwin. They just keep going up as you crawl up 75, more and more of these warnings.

And so these are very powerful storms. They have a history of producing damage.

If you're in the cities of Bentonville and Four Oaks, you have a tornado warning for your area -- and, so, Wolf, these storms are not letting up. They're also starting to fire up again in Mississippi and Alabama, places similar to where we saw yesterday. We had a couple of tornados touch down right outside the Jackson area. We're starting to see some strong storms develop outside of that city once again. And then also in Southern Alabama we're seeing some showers and storms starting to fire up once again there, too, just on the south side of Montgomery.

Here's the severe thunderstorm warning in Mississippi, just on the north side of I-20. That's going to cross into Alabama, coming up within the hour or so. And we're still under that risk of severe weather for today -- moderate risk. It covers places like Jackson, Birmingham, two places that were hit very hard yesterday, possibly again today. We're getting into...

BLITZER: All right...

GRAY: -- the heat of the day, Wolf, where we're going to see these showers and storms start to take off in the next couple hours. BLITZER: Jennifer, we're just getting some video into THE SITUATION ROOM. Look at this. This is out in Stedman, North Carolina. Look at this funnel cloud that has developed.

Explain to our viewers who aren't familiar with this how serious, potentially, this is.

GRAY: Yes. This is not your garden variety afternoon thunderstorms. These can be deadly. We have had deaths yesterday and we also had deaths on Sunday.

This is something you want to take very seriously. It's a life or death situation. They can touch down at a moment's notice. They can be very unpredictable on the ground. They can make a little shovel to the north or the south with little to no warning. So when you see a tornado warning in your area, if you are anywhere in that vicinity, anywhere in those boxes that pop up, you need to immediately get to your safe spot, a small interior room away from windows, and stay there until it is safe. You don't want to be on the road, for sure. And you don't want to be in a building that is not sturdy, because we've seen the damage. We've seen the pictures and they are mind- blowing, what we've seen in the past couple of days.

BLITZER: Yes. And North Carolina, as you point out, in the bull's eye right now. We're standing by. We'll be speaking in a little while with the governor, Pat McCrory, of North Carolina.

We're watching all of these severe thunderstorms, potential tornados. Much more on that coming up.

There's other news we're following, including some breaking news.

The most severe punishment ever handed down by the NBA against a team owner. The league is now banning the billionaire Clippers' owner, Donald Sterling, for life over racist remarks secretly recorded in a phone call. Sterling also faces a $2.5 million fine. And NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says he will do everything in his power to force Sterling to sell the team.

We have in-depth breaking news coverage this hour with our reporters, our analysts, our special guests.

Let's begin with our national correspondent, Susan Malveaux -- this was very dramatic, a powerful, decisive statement by the new NBA commissioner.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it was very dramatic, because this action, it was swift, it was necessary. It has become a huge distraction in the height of the play-offs. Twelve sponsors have dropped or suspended their sponsorships with the team.

So now that Sterling is persona non grata, where does that leave the LA Clippers, a team that is now worth an estimated $575 million and this firestorm that is in the NBA?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MALVEAUX (voice-over): LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling is out.

SILVER: Effective immediately, I am banning Mr. Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers' organization or the NBA.

MALVEAUX: After interviewing Sterling and wrapping up its lightning speed investigation, the NBA's commissioner, Adam Silver, delivered the blow.

SILVER: Mr. Sterling may not attend any NBA games or practices. He may not be present at any Clippers' facility. And he may not participate in any business or player personnel decisions involving the team.

He will also be barred from attending NBA board of governors meetings or participating in any other league activity.

MALVEAUX: Sterling was also fined $2.5 million, the maximum allowed under the NBA constitution, money which would go to charity.

Justice was swift, as well as the reaction.

MAYOR KEVIN JOHNSON, FORMER NBA PLAYER: I believe that today stands as one of those great moments where sports once again transcends, where sports provides a place for fundamental change on how our country should think and act.

KAREEM ABDUL JABBAR, FORMER NBA HALL OF FAME PLAYER: It's going to be a new day here in this city. And a whole lot of Clipper fans are going to have a lot more to smile about.

STEVE NASH, LOS ANGELES LAKERS PLAYER: Let's hope this is an opportunity for all of us, as players, former players, as a league, as a community, to help educate and help take one step further to eradicating racism in our communities.

MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI, LOS ANGELES: We may be a two team town, but today, we are behind one team.

MALVEAUX: The ban comes after TMZ released audio clips of a racist rant which Sterling acknowledged was his own in an exchanging with his girlfriend, V. Stiviano.

DONALD STERLING: Yes, it bothers me a lot if you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people.

Do you have to?

MALVEAUX: Sterling still owns the LA Clippers. But Silver says he has the three fourths majority necessary from the other NBA owners to force Sterling to sell the team.

The National Basketball Players Association said players threatened to boycott the games if Sterling didn't get the maximum penalty. Now, they're pushing the franchise owners to act quickly. ROGER MASON, FIRST VP, NBA PLAYER ASSOCIATION: We're not content yet. We want immediate action. We want a timetable from the owners as far as when this vote is going to happen.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MALVEAUX: Silver also issued an apology to the legendary figures of the league who were offended by Sterling's comments, including Magic Johnson, who had been specifically targeted by Sterling in those tapes. He implored sponsors, as well, to come back.

Well, tonight, all eyes are going to be on the Clippers, game five against the Golden State Warriors, to see how they play, but also whether Coach Rivers or anyone from the league addresses the history that was made just hours before -- Wolf, we'll all be watching.

BLITZER: We certainly will. A powerful day, indeed, in the history of sports in the United States.

Stand by.

I want to get some more on the breaking news.

Joining us now, the former NBA player, Len Elmore.

He's now a sports a lot with CBS Sports.

Also joining us, our senior legal analyst, Jeffery Toobin, and CNN's Rachel Nichols -- Rachel, so how does this work?

Adam Silver, he makes the announcement. He bans this guy for life.

But how, in effect, does it work?

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN HOST, "UNGUARDED WITH RACHEL NICHOLS": Well, the ban is going into effect now. That's within Adam Silver's power. So Donald Sterling will not be around an NBA team ever again.

Now, in terms of forcing him to sell the team, Adam Silver made a little bit of a power play here by announcing to the public before going to the owners and saying I am going to push and do everything in my power to get the owners to make this vote and force Sterling to sell the team.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shortly...

NICHOLS: He's putting it out there in front of the public. And now the owners are going to feel tremendous pressure. You heard Roger Mason there saying we want accountability. You've already heard fans and the public saying we want to know how our owner of our team in our city is voting.

During the press conference, I asked Adam, I said, have you done a poll?

Do you know that you have the votes? And he said no, I haven't yet.

He made a decision to put this out to the public first, instead of going to the ownership first. And by doing that, the pressure is going to come in a groundswell from the public and the players on each of the teams, pressuring these guys to vote, frankly, one of their old cronies out.

BLITZER: You know, Jeffrey, he's a very, very legalistic or litigious kind of guy. He likes to sue people. He gets sued all the time himself.

So what if Sterling decides to sue the NBA right now and say, I own this team, if I want to go to a game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, I have every right to go to a game?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He can sue, but he has very little chance of success. Remember, this is not the government enforcing a penalty. This is not something where you have "The Constitution" involved.

This is simply a contract. There is a contract between the -- all the owners and the NBA. And the powers of the commissioner and the powers of the other owners are laid out there very clearly.

And as far as we know -- the contract itself is secret -- but based on what's come out and what Silver said, this action today, both the penalties and the attempt to get him out as an owner, are well within the commissioner's rights.

So, you know, he can sue. Anybody can file a lawsuit. But the chances of success seem basically zero.

BLITZER: Len Elmore, Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban, he Tweeted this. I'll put it up on the screen. He said, "I am 100 percent with Commissioner Silver's findings and the actions taken against Donald Sterling."

Do you expect all or almost all of the owners of NBA teams to follow suit?

LEN ELMORE, FORMER NBA PLAYER: Oh, absolutely. I mean, this is a situation where you can't fall on another side of this issue. The only right side of the issue is the way that it's been presented by the players and by Adam Silver and by the rest of the nation.

So from that standpoint, I think every owner has to look at themselves, take a look at Donald Sterling and say, is this the type of person with whom we want to be associated?

BLITZER: What did you think, Len, of the actions announced today by the new NBA commissioner?

ELMORE: I thought it was outstanding leadership. I thought it was a great job and sure, swift and certainly severe punishment. And that's what you need in these types of situations, so that there's no room for anyone to debate whether or not there's a true commitment to having an NBA that is free of this type of racism.

Now, you know, of this outward racism. We can't control or legislate what's in someone's head. But we certainly, from an NBA standpoint, can control how it's presented. And I think it was very important for Adam to do what he did.

I also believe that from the standpoint of the players -- I know Kevin Johnson mentioned this is a defining moment. And you look at the unified voices of these players on this particular subject. I think they need to look at themselves, leverage those voices and the power that they have in other areas, particularly issues, again, that you cannot fall on the wrong side of, such as childhood obesity, such as gang violence and things of that nature.

I think they can leverage their voices in that respect and move on and be a greater force in society.

BLITZER: All right. You make excellent points, Len Elmore, thanks very much.

Rachel, Jeffery, guys, stand by.

We're going to have more of this conversation later.

But in the meantime, we're following other breaking news.

A fresh tornado outbreak threatening the same areas just hit by killer storms. Some 70 million Americans are at risk for severe weather. We're tracking the storms live.

And a grim discovery has tensions soaring right now. We're watching the escalating crisis in Eastern Ukraine. We're going there live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We are following more breaking news, a severe weather warning in effect right now covering some 70 million Americans, and there's a threat of killer tornadoes. The risk right now is extreme, and some of the very same areas that have been devastated now two days in a row.

We have reporters in the danger and disaster zones, plus, a critical real-time forecast.

Let's begin this coverage with CNN's Brian Todd. He's in Athens, Alabama, right now. What are you seeing there, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, take a look at this neighborhood. This is off Seven-mile Post Road, which is west of Athens. This was a complex of duplex apartments and single-family homes. Not much of it survived. Even the homes with strong foundations and support beams like this one got blown away, and unbelievably, these folks are not out of danger yet.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's moving to the right.

TODD (voice-over): A pummeling on an historic scale.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's just houses all over the road.

There's a floor mat of a car.

TODD: Dozens of strong tornadoes have just kept coming, battering southern states in waves over three days. Northern Mississippi, northern Alabama have taken the brunt.

And strong storms are once again back in the region today. Officials are bracing for more hits while trying to handle dangers from the last round.

SHERIFF MIKE BLAKELY, LIMESTONE COUNTY, ALABAMA: You know, our main thing is clearing all our roadways. Of course, we've got a big problem with power poles down in the western portion of the county.

TODD: Power lines which could still be hot, Sheriff Mike Blakely says and could injure people who are now picking through the rubble of their homes. That's not deterring 13-year-old Colin Emerson. Colin, his mother and stepmother were all inside this house, and all somehow survived. Colin showed us the area of the broom closet he jumped into, which like the rest of the home, isn't there anymore.

COLIN EMERSON, TORNADO SURVIVOR: I got a blanket and pillow to cover up to be a little more comfortable in case it did hit, to save me from debris. As soon as I just got down, not even getting to cover myself up with a blanket, it just hits and I black out.

TODD: Sandra Davis and her husband, James, saw most of their home pulverized. Sandra was in the duplex with daughter, son-in-law, and grandchild when she heard that terrifying roar. They held on and made it out.

SANDRA DAVIS, TORNADO SURVIVOR: I was in the bathroom with my dog under a big old futon and laid close to the floor.

TODD (ON CAMERA): What is your feeling now, coming back here and living in this place?

DAVIS: I won't live here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And no shelter as they're trying to assess damage. This neighborhood is in a wide-open area. And if some of these residents are back here when the next round of storm cells hit, they're going to be exposed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, you're getting new information about the strength of Monday's tornadoes?

TODD: That's right. We just heard from the National Weather Service. They issued a preliminary finding of two of the tornadoes, one that had hit Winston County, Mississippi and one that hit Rankin County, Mississippi. The one that hit Winston County, they believe, was a strength EF-4, which is 166- to 200-miles-an-hour assessment of wind damage. That's the second highest strength tornado possible. The one that hit Rankin County was EF-3 just below that. Again, these are preliminary findings from the National Weather Service, Wolf, so the final readings of these tornadoes might be a little bit different. But those are two really strong tornadoes that hit those two counties in Mississippi yesterday, if these hold.

BLITZER: That's devastating, devastating information. Brian, thank you.

Let's go back to the danger zone right now and our weather expert, our meteorologist Chad Myers. He's right in the middle of it. What are you seeing? Where are you right now, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We are very close to Columbus, Mississippi, very close to the Columbus Air Force base. And we are traveling to the south, staying ahead of the storm. That's very close to Starkville, Mississippi, or Mississippi State University where all the meteorology majors go, pretty much, now that they want to be on TV.

So we're going to stay south of here. We're going to go south of those storms so that we can look back at it to see if it's rotating. I don't want you to do this. But if you're going to take a look outside, please, if it's hailing, don't go out and look at anything at all. But to be safe, you need to just be aware that there's something called, Wolf, the calm before the storm. And this is about the storm. It's about -- I should say the calm before the tornado.

If a storm is wrapped up like it was yesterday in Mississippi and Alabama, you will, as it comes over you, you will get a hail storm, and it will hail on your house for a few bits. Then it will stop. That's the calm before the storm. The storm itself is the tornado on the back side of that hook. There is almost a small eye on the back side of a super-cell thunderstorm, and that's the eye you're in for a while. That's the calm before the tornado.

So please don't go out and look at it. We don't need your pictures tonight. This is going to be a dangerous night. And, Wolf, many of these storms will happen after dark anyway. So maybe keep a NOAA weather radio on, please, because at least that radio will wake you up at night if you're sleeping.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Chad, how extreme, unusual is it, three days in a row for these tornadoes?

MYERS: Well, it happens probably once every other year. There have been much bigger outbreaks than this, no question about it. Especially the day that Tuscaloosa, Alabama, three years ago got hit. That was a much bigger day or much bigger series of days than the three we have here.

But we do still have the opportunity for a fourth day. And that fourth day may be the most unprecedented as it moves into Wednesday a little bit farther to the east. This storm was a large bowling ball, in the middle of the country, and had this been colder, we would have been talking feet, three feet, of snow in many, many big cities. We're kind of glad it's only rain, but we're not glad that, when you get it warmer, like in the spring snowstorms turn into tornado storms.

BLITZER: Be careful over there. We'll keep checking back with you. Those images are very, very ominous.

Our crews are monitoring the severe weather. Stand by for more on this very dangerous situation. It's hitting Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, now moving towards North Carolina. That's coming up.

Also a huge surprise in the hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Has a private company found debris, where nobody's been looking? Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In the hunt for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, today brought an important milestone for the aerial search, plus a surprise nobody expected. Let's go live to CNN's Miguel Marquez. He's outside the search headquarters in Perth, Australia. He's got the very latest.

What are you learning over there, Miguel?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The search has come to an end, Wolf, which is bittersweet for the folks who are doing it. It was a lot of work for them, but -- and they were frustrated they weren't able to find anything from the missing airliner.

This as we're learning from a company that says that they may have found it a very long way away, but those who know something about spectral analysis say their claims don't just add up.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ (voice-over): As the underwater search off Australia enters a new phase, a private company is raising the possibility that Flight 370 may actually have crashed several thousand miles away in the Bay of Bengal. The Australian firm called Geo Resonance says it detected metals consistent with a large aircraft that could be from the missing plane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not saying that it definitely is, however, we believe it should be followed up.

MARQUEZ: Geo Resonance says the metals appeared in the Bay of Bengal sometime between March 5 and 10. Flight 370 went missing on the 8th.

The company launched its own search for the lane, using technology originally created to find nuclear warheads and submarines.

The Australian-led search team is dismissing the company's claims, saying it's satisfied the jet went down in the southern Indian Ocean, based on its analysis of satellite and other data.

Flight 370 families are urging investigators to explore every possible lead.

SARAH BAJC, PARTNER OF FLIGHT 370 PASSENGER: We would like to see the government follow up on this. It seems valid.

MARQUEZ: Many relatives of the missing passengers attended a briefing today in China and heard new details about the investigation. For the first time they were allowed to hear the actual recording of the final words between the tower and the cockpit before the radio contact was lost.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Malaysian 370 contact Ho Chi Minh 120 decimal 9, good night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good night, Malaysian 370.

STEVE WANG, SON OF FLIGHT 370 PASSENGER: Finally, they have given to us. I think it is a good beginning and we want them to keep on giving some more scenes. More acquired.

MARQUEZ: Back here in Australia, more than 600 military personnel marked the end of the air search, posing in front of the planes they used to scan the social surface for six weeks. Without finding any trace of Flight 370.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: Now a couple of things about the GeoResonance information there, Wolf. One, the JACC center here in Australia says that the place where they put that plane is not even on that northern arc. The Malaysian government says they will look into it. But the folks that we've talked who know about spectral analysis said it's just impossible to see any of the things that they said they saw under the ocean, under any sort of water much less 1,000 meters down -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Miguel Marquez in Perth, Australia with the very latest. Thank you, Miguel.

There's lots to discuss with our panel. Let's bring in our CNN aviation analyst, the former NTSB managing director Peter Goelz, our law enforcement analyst, the former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes, and in Denver, CNN safety analyst, David Soucie, the author of the important book, "Why Planes Crash."

David, you knew -- you're familiar with this Australian company, GeoResonance, and you've suggested it has a pretty good track record. Do you think it's worthwhile actually going into the Bay of Bengal and looking for wreckage?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Well, you know, the experience I have with this technology is on land, it's not in water. So I really can't speak to whether or not the -- it can reach into the water. But it is something that we've used before in our mining company and to locate metals within the earth. So that's not new. What is new that it's in water. So there's that. So, with that, I think that it is -- it does have credibility, but why it's coming out at this point, why it hasn't been vetted properly before this, that's why I still hold in question.

BLITZER: And that's a good question, Peter, because apparently this Australian company said they notified Australian authorities, Malaysian authorities four weeks, once again two weeks ago. They got no response. As a result they decided to go public with this information.

Is it time to go look in the Bay of Bengal?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, the investigators are in a terrible bind. I think they probably responded to the company or should have responded to the company, and say, listen we don't think there's anything here. We don't think the technology is applicable and as they announced today it's not even on the arc. But at this point, since there's not a shred of evidence, they have to track down every suggestion.

BLITZER: Even if it's -- goes against the grain, do you think they should go in the Bay of Bengal, Tom, and take a look over there?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I think they're stuck. I think having this come up now, as Peter mentioned, not having any other evidence except the satellite information, they're almost going to have to do something or stall long enough to hope that the current searches come up with something first and they don't have to go up there.

BLITZER: Because, David, everybody seems to think that satellite information from the Inmarsat satellite, those so-called handshakes, the arc going into the southern ocean, coupled with those four pings that were detected from what they thought were one of the two black boxes, that was it, but they found nothing. So here's the question to you, how reliable is Inmarsat data and those four pings?

SOUCIE: Well, I'm still confident, Wolf, that those are coming from that aircraft. I've stayed firm with that. I think that the pings are undeniable in my mind. I think that the search has to continue. They went to the most probably ping but now they need to expand that search up to the north, to the south.

And the reason I feel so strongly about that, Wolf, is because no one has given me any evidence to the contrary. No one has said, well, then, it's this, or then it's that, or maybe they did something wrong. No one has been able to prove to me or show me that there's anything else in the ocean that would have produced those signals. So until that's shown to me, I'm going to stick with that and say that I'm still very confident that the aircraft will be found down there. They just need to continue searching.

BLITZER: Yes. They've given up the surface search but they're going to expand the search underwater, at the bottom of the Indian Ocean over there.

You heard the audio now, Peter. We heard -- we got the transcripts earlier today. They released the audio. It sounded relatively routine. Here's the question. What took them so long? Why couldn't they have released that audio several weeks ago and dealt with the anguish of those passengers' families?

GOELZ: It's inexplicable. This was clearly a routine communication. It should have been released weeks ago. It would have calmed the families at a critical point. I have no idea why they didn't release it.

BLITZER: Do you have any idea, Tom? You're a former FBI assistant director.

FUENTES: No. No, this is just their policy to hold everything close like that, whether they need to or not. Even when it's against their best interest to do it. They should have released it earlier. It would have been much better for them with the families, with the public, with all the criticism they were getting. With everybody assuming they're hiding something, we now see they weren't hiding anything. Just, you know, they do things that hurt themselves and that was one of them.

BLITZER: David, did you hear anything unusual in that audio, the -- between the cockpit and ground control?

SOUCIE: No, I sure didn't, Wolf. Nothing new, nothing unusual. Now there is some information that can be gained from the recording itself by, you know, assessing the engine speeds. The volume of the -- the noises in the cockpit can give you clues as to how fast the aircraft is going, but at that point during the transmission we already knew that, we knew that information. So there's really nothing to be gained there. But the fact that they hung on to it this long and didn't release it, again that's inexplicable.

BLITZER: Peter, the prime minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, he says they're ending the surface search now. It's a waste of time. Do you agree?

GOELZ: Absolutely. I think it should have ended a few days earlier. These crews have worked hard. They didn't find anything. It's now time to expand the underwater search, bring in some new equipment, retest the theories to see if they're in the right place and get ready for the long haul.

BLITZER: What new equipment should they bring in?

GOELZ: Well, either the REMUS 6000, which an automated underwater vehicle or a towed array. Let them make the decision on what the task is. Are they going to be looking in the three remaining pinger areas or are they going for the extended search?

BLITZER: Very quickly, David. If they go to the Bay of Bengal and do a quick search where this Australian company says they've seen some wreckage, it looks like a plane, how long will it take to either confirm or deny that it's something valuable?

SOUCIE: It will take very little time. We have an Orion aircraft sitting there. Fly them up there, find out what happened or call Bangladesh, have them check in. It won't take long to check. Go check it, the families will know that it is or isn't that aircraft.

BLITZER: David Soucie, Peter Goelz, Tom Fuentes, guys, thanks very much.

We're watching dangerous storms developing across the deep south right now. Our reporters are in the field. They're responding to the latest threat. Stand by for a live updates.

Also ahead, disturbing new evidence, the violence in Ukraine is now getting even more deadly.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Look at these pictures just coming in. Violence spreading to more Ukrainian cities today. Just gotten this video showing pro- Russian demonstrators seizing another government building in eastern Ukraine.

At the same time a top Russian official lashing at the United States and Europe today saying, the West should be ashamed. He says because its policies are inviting anarchy and outrages in Ukraine. But that isn't what U.S. intelligence shows.

CNN's chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He's watching this very ominous developments.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No, no question. A short time ago, the U.N. Security Council called into a special session. This is the request of the U.K. to discuss the crisis in Ukraine specifically the continued detention by pro-Russian militants of seven European observers there.

At the same time Russia firing back after new economic penalties from the West today. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that Russia may block Western participation in its multibillion dollar energy sector.

The war of words matched more and more by violence on the ground.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): This, say U.S. officials, is not what de- escalation looks like. Hundreds of pro-Russian protesters, seizing yet another Ukrainian government building in the east. Local riot police tried and failed to diffuse the standoff.

U.S. officials say every day there is growing evidence that Russia is orchestrating the unrest even as Russian officials repeatedly deny it.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: They somehow want to assert that these people moving in disciplined military formation to take over buildings and then bring the local separatists in to occupy the building while they move on to another building. They assert that these people are merely local activists. As we have made clear, those kinds of claims are absurd. They defy any common sense.

SCIUTTO: With Moscow continuing to brush off American and European economic sanctions, Republican and Democratic lawmakers continue to urge stronger action including accepting repeated requests from Ukrainian leaders for lethal military aid.

In Washington today, I asked Senator John McCain what that support would look like.

(On camera): You send weapons now. What kind of weapons specifically?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Defensive weapons. Look, they don't even have body armor, they don't even have night vision capability. If it's all they ask for light weapons I would give them some anti-armor weapons as well and set up a long-term military assistance program.

It's a morale thing with them. We're should be helping them as we helped the Afghans, as we've helped other countries in the past.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): One area of the administration is making clear its military commitment is to its NATO allies. Secretary Kerry issuing a sharp warning to Russia if its interference extends beyond Ukraine.

KERRY: Most important, together we have to make it absolutely clear to the Kremlin that NATO territory is inviolable. We will defend every single piece of it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Now when Kerry made those comments he was speaking to foreign ministers from the NATO allies closest to the crisis in Ukraine, the Baltic states, Poland and others. They're also the most nervous about Russia's potential next steps infringing on their own territory. And in another more brutal pushback, you might say, the U.S. sanctions, Russia's deputy prime minister said today that new sanctions aimed at Russia's rocket program might strand U.S. astronauts who are dependent on Russian rockets to reach the International Space Station.

The deputy prime minister saying, Wolf, that they might want to use a trampoline to get to space instead.

BLITZER: The U.S. pays the Russians a lost money, hundreds of millions of dollars for that shuttle service to the International Space Station. Let's see if that continues.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely.

BLITZER: All right, Jim, thanks very much.

Every day here in the SITUATION ROOM we get new pictures of demonstrators clashing with police in Ukrainian cities. Our senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh found some extremely disturbing new evidence of the killings that haven't been caught on camera. He's joining us now from one of the cities that's been racked by violence.

What's the latest? What are you seeing over there, Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I'm coming to you from near Slavyansk. The kind of hot bed of much of that unrest that's now spread to the neighboring region Luhansk, as Jim was just telling you. But here in the east Slavyansk, we've been looking at in detail some of the more recent deaths on both side of this crisis and quite what it's doing to raise emotions and hatred, frankly, in this part of Ukraine.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALSH (voice-over): As the daily tallies turn from protest sizes to how many dead and injured outside the seat of unrests, Slavyansk, the river keeps yielding grim news.

First, the naked bodies of a pro-Kiev politician and an activist grabbed by suspected pro-Russian militants nearby 12 days ago. And then Monday a third body, still to be identified.

(On camera): Well, police have told us the bodies were found about two meters out into the river, weighed down with plastic bags of sand. The third one, though, not found until later because it was weighed down with a military-style backpack.

(Voice-over): Here, away from the surreal synthetic sense of revolt, there was a chilling repeated brutality. A pattern that's changing how Ukrainians will live with each other, each man killed, we're told, by a large knife wound to the chest. They wouldn't talk at the morgue but investigators told us off camera all three bodies had torture marks from knives and were being treated as one case.

Death has enraged both sides, though. Days earlier, we saw Aleksandr Lubenets mourned after being shot at a checkpoint during an army raid. He was buried where he always lived, a sprawl of farmland, rich in beauty, but not in opportunity, for a man who would have turned 22 this day. His father was a Soviet soldier.

"We're all fighting for our land," he tells me. "There will be no fascists here. The Donbass region won't be put on its knees. Some fight for their wallets, others die here. He was fighting to live with dignity, born when the Soviet Union collapsed and then he died. What did he die for?"

Alexandr's brothers and friends stopped the interview. We're intruders to a grief they never expected, so public, so incendiary, so central to Ukraine's bid to stay home.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALSH: Now, Wolf, the key thing really is that weeks ago we were talking about how many government buildings were in control of these pro-Russian protesters. Now, sadly, most days we talk about a number of injured or dead here. What's so important about what happened today in Luhansk that this is an entirely separate region. It's the region between Donetsk where all of this trouble has been happening over the past few weeks and the Russian border.

Perhaps completes that territorial grip if you view this as a bid by Moscow to annex this part of Ukraine. And I think people are really wondering quite what happens next in the rest of that Luhansk area. So far until today comparatively quiet -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh, be careful over there. We'll stay in close, close touch with you.

Other news we're following, including breaking news. New extremely dangerous storms. They're rolling across some of the same areas already devastated by killer tornadoes. We're there live. We're tracking the storms.

Plus, the other breaking new story we're working, the unprecedented punishment handed down against the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. He is now banned from the NBA for life.

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BLITZER: We got a picture of a funnel cloud courtesy of our affiliate WRAL in Raleigh, North Carolina. Look at how ominous that looks right now. This is part of the breaking news. We're watching the severe tornado threat, a severe weather warning right now covering about 70 million Americans.

Our meteorologist Jennifer Gray is tracking all of it over at the CNN Severe Weather Center.

What are we seeing, Jennifer?

GRAY: Well, some of the most powerful storms we've seen this afternoon have been in North Carolina, right outside of Raleigh, where you are just talking about. We have one tornado warning right now that was just issued. You can see just to the south of Rocky Mount, heading towards the Hamilton area.

This tornado warning is for the county of Edgecombe and it includes cities of Princeville and Tarboro, so be on the lookout for this. This lasts until 6:45 Eastern Time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we'll stay on top of the breaking news. Jennifer, don't go too far away.

Our reporters there in some of the areas already under a tornado threat right now. Look at these pictures just coming in, plus the other breaking news story we're following. The owner of the L.A. Clippers banned from the NBA for life over racist remarks.

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