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THE SITUATION ROOM

Crisis in Ukraine; Deadly Tornadoes; L.A. Clippers Owner Banned for Life; Pro-Russian Demonstrators Seize Building; Kerry Backing Away from 'Apartheid' Remark; Private Firm Says It May Have Found Flight 370; Extreme Tornado Risk

Aired April 29, 2014 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: severe weather danger; 70 million Americans are now at risk. Parts of the South are in the bullseye right now for another possible outbreak of deadly tornadoes.

Banned for life. The NBA comes down hard on the owner of the L.A. Clippers after confirming he did make racist remarks. Stand by for new reaction to this unprecedented punishment.

Also, first on CNN, the secret recording of Secretary of State John Kerry making a stunning remark behind closed doors. You're going to hear for yourself the words that are sparking some serious international outrage.

And is it the missing plane? A private firm claims it's found wreckage that could be, could be the Flight 370.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

Let's get to the breaking news this hour, round three of an intense outbreak of violent storms. We're getting reports that several funnel clouds have been spotted in North Carolina. A tornado warning is now in effect. Also right now, Mississippi and Alabama, they are also bracing for tornadoes, hail, and high winds.

About 70 million people in the eastern half of the United States, they are at risk for severe weather in the hours ahead. Our correspondents are in the danger zone right now. We're tracking the storm in CNN's Severe Weather Center.

Let's check in with CNN severe weather expert Chad Myers. He's just arrived in Macedonia, Alabama.

What are you seeing there, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Moving away from Mississippi, Wolf, and into Alabama, I believe the energy of this system has shifted to the east, but some good news.

This is maximum heating. We're 5:00 here Central time. This is the hottest part of the day, and it never really warmed up, not like yesterday, so, therefore, we may be seeing a slight decrease in the potential for these storms.

I just don't see them all going as supercells right now. They are bunching together. And think about this. If you have one bowl of food and you have one dog, if you let that dog eat all that food, he's going to be a big dog. If you have the same bowl, but six dogs, they share the same food, you have six little dogs, not one big one.

And so if you have to share the food, share the moisture, the storms don't get as big. That's what we're hoping for tonight, that these line up, these clump together, and they don't become the supercells that we had yesterday.

BLITZER: Well, we will soon find out. Chad, stand by.

I want to go to Athens, Alabama, right now, where residents took a serious hit from the storms. They're now bracing for more.

Brian Todd is on the scene for us.

What's going on over there, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they are bracing for more storms here and we can illustrate some of the danger, just over my right shoulder, some of the dangerous and dark storm cell clouds building here for the first time today here near Athens, Alabama.

Officials here talking about all sorts of dangers that residents face, not only from the storms today, but just coming back to these areas and trying to pick through the rubble of their homes. They have gas leaks that have been reported in these areas and those are very dangerous because of the obvious factor of, you know, when you poke around these areas and you're going through wreckage, you're not going to necessarily detect a gas leak right away, it may come to you later, but it may present a danger later.

Also, downed power lines. The sheriff of this county told me a short time ago that there are a lot of downed power lines still in this county. People -- it's very easy to stumble upon them when you're in these areas and possibly hurt yourself. Another big danger, and this is one we can attest to for our crew here, look at this, like this 2x4, a lot of nails sticking up out of boards and planks in this area.

A couple of members of our crew got slightly injured today stepping on these. These are not as visible as these nails. You can't see a lot of them popping up out of there. Still, people are determined, Wolf, to come back here and salvage any part of their lives. Check this out, a family came to salvage some toys for their kids, toy motorcycle, and you have got trophies over here. Look at these yearbooks. These are priceless items their kids want to save and they are willing to undergo some of those risks just to come back and get some of this stuff, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, stand by.

We have the governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley, joining us right now.

Governor, thanks very much for joining us.

Give us an update. What's happening in Alabama?

GOV. ROBERT BENTLEY (R), ALABAMA: Well, of course, we went through a very rough night last night. Unfortunately, we lost three of our citizens, and we had a lot of damage, especially around Athens and Limestone County and other parts of the state also.

We're bracing for another line, as you know, that's coming across, and we will just have to wait and see, but we're well prepared. We have a lot of safe rooms that were built after the 2011 tornadoes, and people are well prepared.

BLITZER: We know one of those lost was a University of Alabama student, a swimmer. Tell us about that if you can, Governor.

BENTLEY: Yes, that's so unfortunate. We lost one of our students at the university of Alabama. He was a swimmer. And it's just unfortunate that we lose anyone in this state, but especially a young person like that.

BLITZER: Tell us what you expect in the next few hours, Governor.

BENTLEY: Well, we're awaiting the -- actually, the National Weather Service felt like if it warmed up a lot over the next few hours, that we would have more storms.

It has remained cloudy today, so I think that has helped us. And the National Weather Service thinks that may have helped us also.

BLITZER: Do you need federal aid?

BENTLEY: We have applied for federal assistance on the -- not on the top level, but a level so that it will help with debris removal and for emergency services and this sort of thing.

BLITZER: What advice, Governor, do you have for the folks in Alabama?

BENTLEY: Well, just tonight to be aware of the surroundings, listen to the weather radio, listen to television, be prepared, go to a safe place. Certainly, go to some of the community safe rooms that we prepared and, of course, individual safe rooms, invite your neighbors in.

BLITZER: Governor, good luck to you. Good luck to everybody in Alabama. Good luck to everyone in the area, in the South, especially who are facing these serious thunder -- these thunderstorms and even tornadoes. Robert Bentley's the governor of Alabama. Good luck.

BENTLEY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

(WEATHER UPDATE) BLITZER: Joining us now on the phone is Myra Hilliard. She saw the tornado in Stedman, North Carolina.

Myra, tell us what it was like. What did you see?

MYRA HILLIARD, TORNADO VICTIM: Well, first of all, I have never been so scared in my entire life.

It had been raining very, very hard here in (INAUDIBLE) neighborhood in Stedman. And I heard it and I got up and I looked out my front door and it had started hailing. And I had come and sat back down and was playing on my iPad, and then just a few minutes later I heard a lot of ruckus outside.

And I wasn't really sure what I was hearing, and I got up and went back to my front door again, and when I looked out, I have a large river birch tree in my yard and it had almost bent double touching the ground

And I looked back over to my right across the street, behind the wood line, and up in the air I seen a dark funnel cloud and it was just whirling, and at that point of time, I got so scared. I slammed my front door, grabbed my cell phone, ran and jumped in the bathtub and hid for cover and I called my husband, because I was at home alone. And it was just so frantic.

BLITZER: You actually ran and hid inside the bathtub, which is what they say -- that is one of the safe zones. And how long did that fear last, really, as it was going over your house?

HILLIARD: I looked back on my phone later after things kind of calmed down out here.

I made the phone call to my husband at 3:56 this afternoon, and I want to say three or four minutes, maybe less than that. I mean, you know, when you're involved in hearing that and you're seeking shelter, you know, everything's just so crazy.

And you're so scared, but when I was in the bathtub, things kind of got quiet. And I told my husband on the phone. I said, honey, it sounds quiet, I'm going to go look out. And he was scared and said, no, don't leave that bathroom. But I kind of peeked my head out my door and I could see through a bedroom window and things kind of seemed calm outside.

So I went back to the front door and opened the front door again and I was looking out the front door, and one of my neighbors next door had come out, David Dawkins (ph), and he was coming towards my yard picking up debris as he was going, and looking at the damages in the neighborhood.

And in that same wood line, again, across the street, I hollered. I said, oh, my God, David, look. There's another funnel cloud. You know, and it was just crazy. That funnel cloud, I don't really know what happened to it. I don't know where it went. It did not come back our direction, but it was -- I just have never been so scared. I just thank God that, you know, there was no immediate damage, you know, no homes were just toppled or anything like that. It was a lot of debris, a lot of trees down, a lot of roofs damaged, but thank goodness that nobody was injured in our neighborhood.

BLITZER: Thank goodness, indeed. You're OK, your family's safe? Everybody's OK?

HILLIARD: Yes. I was just scared. That's all I can say, I was just scared.

BLITZER: I don't blame you. Myra Hilliard, thanks for sharing your story and thanks for the pictures, too, that you shared for our viewers.

CNN's Martin Savidge in Birmingham, Alabama. He's on the lookout for more storms.

What's going on over there, Martin?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, so far it's been quiet, but the weather does appear to be building up to something. We have gone from what were sunny and pleasant skies now to what are looking gray and far more ominous. The wind's picking up and the radar is indicating there are storms coming this way.

It's the second night for Birmingham and much of Alabama. They are ready for storms. Last night came and there was damage in several parts of this state, including a number of deaths. Birmingham not so bad, a few brushes with tornadoes, but tonight they are much more on edge, and they're keeping an eye on the radar and outside their windows, but right now, no severe weather in sight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Martin Savidge in Birmingham for us, we will check back with you and check back with our all of our reporters, a lot more coming up on the breaking news as these tornado threats continue to escalate.

Other news we're following, still ahead:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADAM SILVER, NBA COMMISSIONER: The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful. That they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The NBA commissioner comes out swinging at the owner of the L.A. Clippers after confirming he made racist remarks. Will the punishment stick? We're going to talk about the possible legal fallout.

And the man who exposed some stunning remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry standing by to join us live. He's sharing the secret recording of Kerry's comments. You will hear it for yourself first right here on CNN. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: "CROSSFIRE" won't be seen tonight so we can bring you several breaking stories we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

There's a huge sports story breaking today with important national implications for race relations in the country. This afternoon, the NBA commissioner banned the Los Angeles Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, for life for making racist comments that the commissioner calls "deeply offensive and harmful."

Sterling's former girlfriend recorded the racist rant earlier this month. Ever since Sterling's comments came to light over the weekend, major sponsors have been disassociating themselves from the L.A. Clippers, and just a few hours ago, the NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, announced an unprecedented punishment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

I am also fining Mr. Sterling $2.5 million, the maximum amount allowed under the NBA constitution.

As for Mr. Sterling's ownership interest in the Clippers, I will urge the Board of Governors to exercise its authority to force a sale of the team and will do everything in my power to ensure that that happens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Powerful words from the new NBA commissioner.

Rachel Nichols was at the news conference today when he made those comments. She's joined now by our CNN anchor Don Lemon and our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

So he's being fined the maximum, Rachel, $2.5 million. Obviously, for a guy who is worth about $2 billion, that's not a huge sum of money, but what's much more important is that he is banned for life from going to NBA games, doing anything with the team he still owns.

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's truly hitting him where he hurts, because this guy has a huge ego, he loves being the one who sits in the front row on the side, he loves having everyone come up to him and know him and see him as the owner of the Clippers.

And the fact that that will not happen anymore, there is no question that is a huge blow. But there are still some questions here, Wolf, because the woman sitting next to him at those games is the woman you see on the video on screen right now, and that is his estranged wife, so to speak, Shelly. She doesn't look so estranged there, does she?

That's TMZ catching them going to dinner just last night. And I got to tell you, she denounced him publicly as a racist, yet in this video, the photographer asked her if her husband is a racist and she says, no, it's not true.

This is all relevant, because Adam Silver said today in his press conference that no members of Donald Sterling's family will be banned from the team. And there are questions about whether Shelly can gain controlling interest in the team, because she is a part owner.

So this is a woman who has been supportive at times over the years of her husband's activities, including some very questionable participation in his discrimination in the housing issues that he was slammed for by the U.S. Justice Department. And she may still have a role in this team, so there's still some questions to be answered here, especially in light of that video shot last night.

BLITZER: She is a part owner, Jeffrey Toobin. Legally, where does she stand right now as far as the future of the Clippers, assuming he's kicked out?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, she is not banned from association with the team, but, historically, she has had no leadership role with the team.

A lot depends on what precisely the owners do at this point, because three-quarters of them can vote to order him to sell the team. Now, I suppose they could try some legal mumbo jumbo that might sell the team to her. I assume -- Adam Silver's a lawyer, and they have very good lawyers. They are going to make sure all the T's are crossed and they get the team away from the Sterling family.

How precisely that works and when it works, I don't know, but that family is not going to own the team.

BLITZER: Don, what did you think of the punishment?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: She's got 1.9, almost two billion reasons not to speak ill of this man. She should have come out immediately and said, that is my husband's voice on the tape. She could not have been married to him all those years and have kids with him and not know that he's a racist. It's ridiculous.

While I sat up on my couch today watching you and Brooke and cheered, I was upset because the family can still own the team. The brother- in-law works for the team. The wife can still own the team. It's ridiculous. I know, according to the NBA bylaws, it's only $2.5 million. It would be great if it was $2.5 billion and the family could no longer own the team.

BLITZER: Because that's the maximum financial punishment.

LEMON: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Go ahead, Rachel. You want to make a point?

NICHOLS: Yes, there's a report in "The Daily News" right now that just surfaced within the last hour citing sources saying that she might get temporary stewardship of this team, running the team, while they are in this in-between period while they're waiting to see what the Board of Governors do.

The Clippers have said officially so far today after Silver's announcement that they are basically going to wait until after tonight's game, and then spend the next day or two sorting out who will run the team, but there are some reports starting to surface that she's going to try to step into that role, and I think there will be people who are very concerned about that.

Not only is there that video from her last night. As Don mentioned, when she was asked to authenticate her husband's voice on that tape, she said, gee, I don't know if it's him.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: She said nothing. But she said nothing.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: Look at the praise that Adam Silver has gotten from everywhere, from Magic Johnson, from Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, who's been a frequent -- who frequently tangled with the management of the NBA. They are not going to allow the Sterling family to run this thing.

I just think this is ultimately a false worry that the Sterlings are somehow going to keep a hand in. He has the united world of basketball behind him, the owners, the players. He's not going to jeopardize that so Mrs. Sterling can continue running the team.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Mrs. Sterling is still going to the games. She was at the game this weekend, which everyone was thought was in poor taste, still going to the games.

If you know what's happening with your husband, I think most people who had any couth would say, you know what, this is a very tough time for the team, the team is out there to win a game, I'm going to be in the crowd and possibly a distraction. If I care anything about the team, I would sit my butt at home and watch it on television.

TOOBIN: Well, you can't legislate couth, Don.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Rachel, the Clippers put out a statement, and I will put it up on the screen.

"We wholeheartedly support and embrace the decision by the NBA and commissioner Adam Silver today. Now the healing process begins."

So what do you make of that? I don't know who at the Clippers put that out. Obviously, the owner of the Clippers didn't put it out. The general manager, the president? What's your sense? NICHOLS: Yes, you know, the Clippers were asked that and the P.R. people said it's from the whole organization. So there's just a lot of confusion back there right now about what is going on, who is running things.

The good thing is, the coach of the Clippers, Doc Rivers, is one of the most respected people in the NBA. Certainly, Wolf, you know that, and he also has a management title with them as well. So he is going to have a strong hand going forward. No matter who ever is officially in charge, he's going to have a lot to say about the direction of this team, and that's a good thing, because those players look up to him.

They have been very dependent on him throughout this entire crisis, and they were willing to follow him in or out. Doc Rivers said that there was some discussion about whether they should boycott their games, and there was definitely discussion pending Adam Silver's announcement today.

If those players didn't like what Adam Silver said, they were going to walk out and not play the game, but it was Doc who basically brought them in the other day and said, wait, give the commissioner a chance. Just give him a day or two at least to figure this out and to do an investigation. They were ready to walk out a few days ago, and he sort of calmed everybody down and said it was smart to trust the NBA to do the right thing, and according to the same players, that trust was well-placed, because they like what the NBA did today.

BLITZER: I have no doubt, at least someone who's watched the NBA, Don, for so many years that at least a dozen owners have already come out with strong statements endorsing what Adam Silver said today. I have no doubt that three-fourths of the owners, they are going to support what he did and they will try to force Sterling to sell the team.

LEMON: I think you're probably right.

And to pick up -- you know, much more about basketball than I do, because you're a big Wizards fan. We know that. But to pick up on what Jeffrey Toobin said, Jeffrey, it's not about -- I'm not talking about Adam Silver here. He did a very good job, he dropped the hammer, and he acted quickly and concisely, and he did the maximum of what he could do.

What I'm voicing is, I think what most people would like to see happen, most people would not like to see that family in control of that team, and I think you're right, Wolf. I think when it all comes down to it, I think that most of the team owners will vote for him not to have the team, but I also think he's probably going to sell it before they get to that point to save face.

BLITZER: If he does sell it, this consolation prize is he will probably get close to a billion dollars for a team he bought in 1981 for about $10 or $11 million.

We will see what happens. We will see what tonight. The Clippers are playing the Golden State Warriors at home at the L.A. Staples Center. We will see who shows up from the family sitting in that front row. We will be watching. All right, guys, thanks very much.

Other breaking news we're following, including in Ukraine right now, violence spreading to another city, and it's brutal. Look at this. Pro-Russian activists took over a government building as well as police and TV facilities. At the same time, a top Russian official lashed out at the U.S. and Europe today for imposing another round of sanctions.

The Ukrainians are preparing for a Russian invasion, they say.

Our senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, is along the Russian-Ukrainian border.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, all along the Ukrainian-Russian border, there are indications of a nation readying itself for war, but at the same time, the pro-Russian camp appears to be digging in and gaining even more ground, despite the Ukrainian troop buildup.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAMON (voice-over): Amid eastern Ukraine's fertile farmlands and a Soviet-era abandoned tractor warehouse, the men are called to attention. They are part of a troop buildup that began in March, after the speed of Russia's annexation of Crimea caught Kiev by surprise.

There are possibilities it could also happen here at the border with Russia, Lieutenant Colonel Vasily Polevoy (ph), the No. 2 in charge tells us.

These border guards, the first line of defense, deployed from their base in central Ukraine. Half of them are still in training. Border crossings throughout have been re-enforced with massive concrete barricades and sand bags. A gaping trench snakes through the landscape.

(on camera): In that direction, this trench extends all the way to the Sea of Azov. It's about 100 kilometers or 60 miles. And trenches similar to this one are being dug by Ukrainian authorities all along the border with Russia as they continue to get ready for a war Ukraine hopes it will be able to avoid.

(voice-over): Perched on a hilltop but not visible from the road, a paratrooper unit that also deployed in March. We spot their men in the field but are not allowed to film.

(on camera): Camouflaged into the landscape is a small unit of Ukrainian paratroopers. And less than a two-minute drive down the road, one of the barricades set up by the pro-Russian camp.

(voice-over): The threat from within Ukraine's borders, more immediate and menacing. As we were out filming, Kiev lost control of yet another government building, this time in Lugansk. The police doing nothing to stop the pro-Russians as they smashed windows and declared themselves the authority.

For the people living along the border, it was a boundary in name only. Now potentially, these scenic, tranquil hills could become just one of many front lines.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DAMON: And the actions by key players are really not helping the situation, only seeming to further polarize it. The government in Kiev deciding to fire the police chiefs in Donetsk and in Lugansk, rather than trying to somehow reach out and look for a political solution -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon, thanks very much.

The Europeans sent observers to Eastern Ukraine, only to see some of them captured by pro-Russian demonstrators. Let's discuss this very dangerous situation in Ukraine.

Right now, joining us, Daniel Baer. He's the United States ambassador of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Also joining us, Julia Ioffe of "The New Republic" magazine, Josh Rogin, senior correspondent from "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast."

All right, guys. Thanks very much for joining us.

Ambassador, first you. What's the latest on those international monitors that have been taken hostage, if you will, or being held captive by pro-Russian demonstrators in Eastern Ukraine?

DANIEL BAER, U.S. AMBASSADOR, ORGANIZATION FOR SECURITY AND COOPERATION IN EUROPE: That's right, Wolf, last week in Slovyansk, the self-declared mayor took the eight international observers who were sent out under the Vienna document, which is one of the OSC's arms control and transparency building measures and has been holding -- holding them, along with their Ukrainian escorts, in a dungeon in Slovyansk.

Obviously, one was released last week on medical grounds, but we remain deeply concerned about the remaining hostages and really decry this kind of terrorist tactic.

BLITZER: Have they made formal demands, what they want in exchange for their freedom?

BAER: My understanding is that talks are going on on the ground every day, trying to figure out a way out of this. Obviously, they should be freed, because they are international observers duly invited under the Vienna document, in which Russia, as well as all the other OSC states, is a signatory, and we're very hopeful that they will be released sometime soon.

BLITZER: Do you blame just pro-Russian demonstrators in Eastern Ukraine, Ambassador, or do you blame Russia itself?

BAER: Absolutely not. This is not -- this is not something that is spontaneous or random. We've been very clear that there's strong evidence that this is a coordinated, Kremlin coordinated, series of events, the takeover of the building in Lugansk that we heard about a moment ago, I heard a journalist describe it as taking place with military efficiency. That's not an accident. The Kremlin is coordinating this. This would not be happening without the Kremlin's involvement.

BLITZER: Julia, what's your analysis?

JULIA IOFFE, "NEW REPUBLIC": I think he's absolutely right, and especially if you contrast this with what happened on the Madon (ph) in Kiev, which the Russians are constantly asking us and inviting us to do, equating the movements in Eastern Ukraine, the pro-Russian movements in Eastern Ukraine and what happened in Kiev.

What happened in Kiev, it was guys with bats and shin guards. They didn't have this kind of weaponry. They didn't have this kind of efficiency or this kind of coordination, these uniforms. But what we're seeing in East Ukraine is definitely not spontaneous grassroots -- a grassroots movement, where people just went to the store and got these uniforms.

BLITZER: You, Josh, obtained a recording of the secretary of state, John Kerry, speaking about what's going on in Eastern Ukraine in a closed-door meeting. You got a recording. I'm going to play the audio from the recording. The words are up on the screen, and then I want to discuss what you heard at this meeting the other day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Intel is producing, you know, taped conversations of intelligence operatives taking their orders from Moscow, and everybody can tell the difference in the accents, in the idioms, in the language and so forth. And we know exactly who's giving those orders. We know where they're coming from.

I mean, this is insulting to everybody's intelligence, let alone to our notions of how we ought to be behaving in this century. It's thuggism. It's rogue state-ism. It's the worst order of behavior.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now, last week in a public statement, public speech he gave, he referred to Ukrainian intelligence making this allegation. In this particular recording, he says intel. Is he referring to the same thing he spoke about publicly the other day, or is there new information based on what you're hearing?

JOSH ROGIN, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, "NEWSWEEK": Right. A State Department spokesman again from his office (ph) said today that Kerry was referring to Ukrainian intelligence. He wasn't specific in his remarks at the Carlyle (ph) meeting. It seemed that he was talking about U.S. intel. We don't know. He said previously that U.S. intelligence agencies have produced similar intelligence, so what we know is that, according to John Kerry, there's streams of information coming in from both the U.S. intelligence collection efforts and Ukrainian intelligence collection efforts that prove Russian and Moscow involvement in what's going on in Eastern Ukraine and put a lie to the claims by Vladimir Putin and Sergey Lavrov that they're not involved.

BLITZER: Ambassador Baer, you're in Vienna. You're the representative in the United States for the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Based on everything you know -- and you get a lot of important information -- do you have any doubt that the Russian government of President Vladimir Putin, for all practical purposes, is pulling the strings in Eastern Ukraine right now as far as those pro-Russian sympathizers are concerned?

BAER: I have no doubt whatsoever that the Russian government is undertaking a concerted effort to foment instability in Eastern Ukraine in order to advance its larger agenda. There's no question.

Are there some locals who are -- who are whipped up in this? Absolutely, but the -- as I said before, this would not be happening without the Kremlin's involvement.

BLITZER: And go ahead, Julia, because I know you have strong views on this.

IOFFE: I was just going to say that, even if we proved definitively, beyond a reasonable doubt that the Russians are the ones commanding that, what does it change? The Russians can still say, "No, we aren't" and still keep doing what they're doing. It doesn't really change anything.

BLITZER: Does it change anything, Josh?

ROGIN: I would say it makes the diplomacy with Russia less of a focus, because if we're trying to negotiate with Russia for a de- escalation and Russian credibility is not there, Russian promises can't be met, we can't really strike an agreement with Russian to de- escalate the crisis, can we?

BLITZER: Very quickly, Ambassador, before I let you go, those monitors, are they going to be released in the next few days, do you think?

BAER: You know, it's too soon to tell, Wolf, but I certainly hope so. And, you know, as the other commentators have said -- and it's a pleasure to be on with Julia and Josh -- you know, the challenge now is that nobody can trust Russia at its word. We worked very hard to hammer out an agreement on initial steps for de-escalation two weeks ago, and Russia has not only had sins of omission and not doing anything to advance that.

They've had sins of commission in further fomenting instability, in human rights abuses, torture, attack of peaceful demonstrators. Everything is happening. The Kremlin is exporting western Russian thuggism to Eastern Ukraine.

BLITZER: Daniel Baer, the U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, thanks very much. Julia, Josh Rogin, stand by. I want to share more of that secret recordings of the secretary of state, John Kerry. One comment in particular has caused a huge uproar, forcing the secretary to backpedal, backpedal fast. We'll have that recording for our viewers to hear.

Also, were crews searching for Flight 370 in the wrong place for weeks on end? A new claim by an Australian company that says it may have found plane wreckage actually thousands of miles away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You can now hear more of the secret recordings of Secretary of State John Kerry during a closed-door meeting with the Trilateral Commission, a group of global leaders. They were talking about the Middle East peace process when the secretary of state dropped this bombshell.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: A unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The secretary now backing away from the use of that word "apartheid," issuing a statement saying -- and I'm quoting him now -- "If I could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word." The -- that's from the secretary of state.

He also went on to say, "While Justice Minister Livni, former prime minister Barak -- prime minister Barak and Ohlmert, have all invoked the specter of apartheid to underscore the dangers of a unitary state, for the future, it is a word best left out of the debate here at home.

Josh Rogin is here once again joining us. It's caused quite an uproar, this story that you reported, the audiotape. I guess he's now saying he made a mistake in saying it, although substantively he's not walking away from what several top Israeli officials have said, if Israel doesn't have a two-state solution down the road with the Palestinians, there's a potential for an apartheid to come into play.

ROGIN: You're exactly right, Wolf. He didn't say Israel -- his denial, or his apology, if you want to call it that, said he doesn't believe Israel is an apartheid state. He doesn't believe Israel intends to be an apartheid state. But he's not walking away from his belief that Israel could become an apartheid state, if the two-state solution is not reached soon.

John Kerry believes that Israel's facing an existential threat from the demography of Palestinians living in Israeli territory. He's been warning about that lately. Of course, he regrets using the word "apartheid," because it's gotten such a negative reaction around the world, but he doesn't not believe that that's a possibility.

BLITZER: Jimmy Carter used that word in a book and got severely criticized. President Obama when he was a senator, he rejected that word.

You've got all this at this meeting, this closed-door meeting, the trilateral commission. They've written a letter to the secretary of state, very critical of what you did, supposedly off the record.

Among other things, Joe Nye, the North American chairman, wrote this, "I'm distressed that Mr. Rogin somehow gained entrance to the meeting room but also that he blatantly ignored the clearly stated rules we have established and under which you agreed to appear before the commission. His actions tarnish the commission's excellent reputation for honoring this pledge."

They said you did something unethical, you sneaked into that room.

JOSH ROGIN, THE DAILY BEAST: Right. And, of course, I would never comment about my sourcing or reporting process, no reporter would.

But I will say a couple of things: there's an important principle here. Reporters are not bound by agreements they are not a party to, right?

I was not in any agreement with the Trilateral Commission. Therefore, I broke no agreement. I know that. You know that, Wolf. All reporters who work in this business know that.

BLITZER: You were in the room when you heard this.

ROGIN: I'm not talking at all how I got this recording because that's my sourcing and my reporting process. That belongs to me.

Now, the greater principle here is that reporters have a duty, actually, a responsibility to report what our leaders are doing and saying about important issues in public and private. That's journalism in the public service. That's what we do.

BLITZER: Because Nye in this letter to the secretary, he wrote, somehow, he said, you sneaked into the meeting room. You want to respond to that?

ROGIN: Right. Yes, I know the rules of journalism. My editors know the rules of journalism. Some other people don't know the rules of journalism. That's not really my problem.

I got the tape with methods that were well above board. If Joseph Nye doesn't agree with that, I'm sorry that he doesn't understand how journalism works. You know, what I do, I do for my readers.

BLITZER: So, we'll move on from there. Josh Rogin, thanks very much for coming in.

ROGIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, the hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Has a private company found debris where nobody has been looking?

And our reporters are monitoring the severe weather. We'll have the very latest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following a new potential lead in the search for Flight 370. Malaysian officials now say they are looking into a private company's claim it may have found wreckage from the missing plane. But the search leaders in Australia are by no means convinced.

Our aviation correspondent Rene Marsh has been watching this part of the story for us.

What are you learning?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we know that this private company, they feel as if whatever they found, it is significant. Some say this is worth investigating. Others are skeptical.

Also, never before released information about Flight 370 in its last moments finally shared with the families of passengers onboard.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH (voice-over): Newly released images from private Australian company GeoResonance. It says it's found something they think could be the missing plane off the coast of Bangladesh, in the Bay of Bengal where searches ended six weeks ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have identified technical elements of materials that make up a Boeing 777.

MARSH: The company uses technology intended to detect nuclear, biological and chemical weapons below the sea. They applied that same strategy to search for the plane four days after it disappeared. Soon after, they detected titanium, aluminum, steel, and copper in this area -- materials that make up a 777.

They say they notified search officials a month ago, but went public Monday after getting no response.

LT. COL. MICHAEL KAY (RET), CNN AVIATION ANALYST: If you rewind to March 5th, GeoResonance have information to say those materials were not in that location. So that to me is a corroboration as to why we should be pursuing this a little bit further.

MARSH: Malaysia's transport minister says they're verifying the credibility of the information. But Australian officials and the company behind the satellite data are confident the plane went down 3,000 miles away in the southern Indian Ocean. That's where all the satellite data points and where the pings thought to be from the plane's black boxes were detected.

Satellite imaging expert Keith Masback is skeptical of the Australian company's claim.

KEITH MASBACK, SATELLITE IMAGING EXPERT: I'm not aware of anything, in any level of the spectrum from aircraft or space, that's going to penetrate a thousand meters down into the ocean.

MARSH: Meantime, a breakthrough for the Flight 370 families. They finally got information they've been demanding for weeks, including never before released radio calls from the cockpit and air traffic controllers.

TOWER: Malaysia 370 contact Ho Chi Minh 120 decimal 9, good night.

PLANE: Good night Malaysia 370.

MARSH: The final words before Flight 370 disappear. Everything appeared normal.

Officials also provided a trove of information like the serial number of the flight data recorders, a map of the plane's flight route, and the cargo manifest. The other development, after seven weeks of intense aerial searches, the planes are silent. Hundreds of flight crews from at least seven countries are going home. The underwater search canceled today because of high seas but the Bluefin and other equipment will continue scouring an area the size of West Virginia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: And the Australian company, they won't say what the exact coordinates of their find (ph). They're only giving that information to governments involved in the search. But if, and that is a big if, something of interest is in this area, the next question would be, what did radar from India and Bangladesh pick up? Of course, they would want to revisit that.

But, you know, I have to say, I spoke to quite a few people today. Even the people who say we need to check this out, they're still skeptical.

BLITZER: For good reason. But check it out, and let's see.

MARSH: Yes.

BLITZER: All right, Rene, thank you.

Up next, we're going to check in on those dangerous storms. The extreme tornado threats that are in the South right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Back to the breaking news. Another outbreak of violent weather. Tornado clouds spotted, parts of the South at risk right now.

Let's bring in our meteorologist Jennifer Gray. She is at the CNN severe weather center.

What are you seeing, Jennifer?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, the latest, Wolf, we have a tornado warning in Mississippi, just to the south of Jackson. And this is for Jefferson Davis County.

The cities of Prentiss and Bassfield need to be on the lookout for this. It's moving to the north and east. It did have a pretty strong signature just a few moments ago. It is starting to weaken just a bit.

Nonetheless, this is still a very powerful storm. Of course, this is all part of that larger system we've been dealing with, Wolf, for the past three days. We'll continue to track these throughout the night tonight as well.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jennifer.

Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Go ahead, tweet me @WolfBlitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.

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That's it. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.