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THE SITUATION ROOM
Search for AirAsia Jet Continues; New Year's Eve Protests?; FBI Alert: NYC Police May Be Targeted Tonight; New Calls for #3 GOP House Leader to Quit Post
Aired December 31, 2014 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, slow recovery. The first bodies from the AirAsia crash are brought on land. But stormy weather is hampering the search at sea for more victims. Below the surface, is a large chunk of the plane upside-down on the ocean floor? We're looking into new and conflicting reports about sonar sightings.
And New Year's Eve threats -- as New York prepares for celebrations and for protests, we're learning about concerns that police may be targeted.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Right now, we're watching dangerous conditions at the AirAsia crash site. Heavy rain, strong winds, choppy seas are limiting the search- and-recovery operation off the coast of Indonesia, where it's now New Year's Day. At least seven bodies have been recovered, including a flight attendant still wearing her red AirAsia uniform.
The first remains were taken to Indonesia in wooden coffins. There are conflicting claims about whether sonar has detected wreckage at the bottom of the sea. There's one unconfirmed report of a sonar image showing the plane is upside-down.
We have correspondents and analysts standing by covering all of the big stories right now.
First to CNN national correspondent Suzanne Malveaux.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes being very careful today to tell us what they know and what they don't know. He says they have a visual of what could be wreckage of the aircraft, the main part of the fuselage in the Java Sea. But he cannot confirm that radar picked this up, which would be significant.
So it leaves many families aboard Flight 8501 in agonizing limbo.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): The bodies of two more passengers from AirAsia 8501 arrived by ambulance, rushed to a local Indonesian hospital to be identified by grief-stricken loved ones.
It's the first stop before being brought to the city of Surabaya, where the flight originated and where the caskets of other recovered passengers are received by the Indonesian military. So far, very few of the 162 people on board have been found. Searchers discovered an emergency door and a blue suitcase.
TONY FERNANDES, CEO, AIRASIA GROUP: The weather unfortunately is not looking good for the next two or three days. And that is slowing us down, but they did inform me that the ships are looking to operate 24 hours.
MALVEAUX: Now there are conflicting reports from Indonesian officials about whether a sonar image has located wreckage believed to be from the ill-fated flight submerged at the bottom of the Java Sea.
One theory developing:
DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: The pilots had made an attempt to land on the water, similar to the aircraft that was landed on the Hudson successfully. From the last time the radar picked up the aircraft until the time that they found -- or the location where they found the debris is over 100 miles. And that would be consistent with a slow descent down into that region.
MALVEAUX: The specter of the miracle of the Hudson, where the plane glided on water and passengers walked away from the crash, had given hope to some families perhaps another miracle would be revealed here.
But at the crisis center, as time passes, praying has given way to despair. This family told CNN's Gary Tuchman they lost seven loved ones on the doomed flight.
SUYONO THAJAKUSUMA, FAMILY MEMBER (through translator): When we heard the information, firstly, of course, we hoped our family members were safe and thought of nothing. Until yesterday morning and afternoon, we still hoped we would get a miracle, that our families are still alive, because my mother, my sister, we were very close.
MALVEAUX: It's just heartbreaking for the families. And what is complicating this is it's monsoon season, the weather is treacherous, and that's slowing down the search for passengers, as well as debris.
They have to be cautious about the search planes flying in high winds, divers swinging in the strong currents, and pieces of the plane lurching through the sea. Thankfully, there is time to still get those flight data recorders, the so-called black boxes, which could provide critical information as to why this plane went down -- Brianna.
KEILAR: They need to figure out what happened, but recovering the bodies so important for these families. They need closure, certainly. Suzanne Malveaux, thank you so much. Let's go live now to Indonesia. CNN's Gary Tuchman is there. He's in
Surabaya, where some of the victims' bodies were brought for identification.
Gary, I know you have been talking to families. How are they holding up?
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Brianna it's very difficult. Most of them have come to terms with the fact that their loved ones have died in this terrible plane crash. But now the number one thing they want, we know this not only from them, but officials they're talking to, is for their loved ones' bodies to be found.
Right now, we're at a new crisis center. The crisis center for the families had been set up from the airport where their loved ones had taken off from on Sunday. It's been moved to this police headquarters. That sign behind me in Indonesian says, family meeting place for the AirAsia victims. The families will be coming into the tents behind me to meet with officials to continue their vigil waiting for their loved ones to be found.
Right now, for the first time since we have been here this week, we're seeing some blue sky in this city where they took off, but the site in the Java Sea where the plane went down is about 200 miles north of here, and the conditions there are still very windy, blustery, foggy. It's not a big surprise that it's hard to conduct a search. This is, as Suzanne just said, the monsoon season, and that's the irony here is that the weather may have led to this crash. And now the weather is making it difficult for the recovery.
But right now they are planning to continue. The morning has just broken on this first day here in 2015 in Indonesia. Ships and planes are out there. Divers are ready to go down. I want to end by telling you this. You can put as many ships and planes as you want there, but the divers are critical and they haven't been able to go down yet because the water is relatively shallow. It's about 100 feet deep.
They can actually scuba down there. And officials here have told us they believe it's a very strong possibility that most of these people are still strapped in their seats on the bottom of the Java Sea and it will need divers to go down there and get them -- Brianna.
KEILAR: Gary, I know that AirAsia, many have commended the airline for dealing with this in a much better way than we saw in March with the missing Malaysian airplane. Is there any anger? We saw that back in March from families. Is there any anger at the airline or are we not seeing that?
TUCHMAN: Well, there's certainly anger at this whole situation. But right now, we haven't seen families -- we have had some access to the room where the families have been near the airport. They're not here yet because it's so early in the morning. They're about to get here and we anticipate being with them again.
But we have seen it as a very sad and grim but businesslike atmosphere. They want to get work done, and I think sadly what helps the situation for these families in a very sad way is they know it's likely their loved ones have died. Now they have just to recover their bodies. They have to work constructively to make that happen.
They don't see any sense right now in yelling and crying and screaming. They may be doing that at home, and ultimately in these situations in the weeks and months to come it will be continually sad, but right now they have business to take care of and that's getting the bodies of their loved ones back.
KEILAR: Gary Tuchman in Surabaya, thank you.
A U.S. Navy destroyer has been taking part in the AirAsia search. There's a second warship that is preparing to join the operation.
And Lieutenant Lauren Cole is the deputy public affairs officer for the U.S. Seventh Fleet and she is joining us now on the phone.
Lieutenant, thanks for being with us. We know that the USS Sampson is helping with the search efforts. Will the USS Fort Worth be deployed soon?
LT. LAUREN COLE, U.S. NAVY: Absolutely.
We have a variety of capabilities available in Seventh Fleet and it ranged from a multitude of ships and aircraft to specialized Navy divers to advanced sonars. The USS Fort Worth, our littoral combat ship, is on that list and we are working at the request of the Indonesian government to make sure that any of these capabilities that might be helpful in the search are ready to go if the Indonesian government does request them.
KEILAR: OK. So they are ready to go. It's really a matter of when they are requested. Is the U.S. supplying sonar technology at this point? We saw back in March devices like the Bluefin-21, the Remus- 6000, some of these devices are certainly larger, some are smaller, but will any of them be on site?
COLE: So, USS Sampson has sonar on board and she has been using that in the part of the search effort.
One of the assets we do have in Seventh Fleet is a side-scan sonar. This is something that is also available commercially, but it is something we are preparing to send out there if the Indonesian government does request. That is something that can paint a very thorough picture of the ocean floor and might help in defining the search effort.
KEILAR: OK. Do you know on this search, do you know if any plane parts from the flight have been found?
COLE: I can't speak specifically to that.
Like I said, we are working at the request of the Indonesian government in support of the Indonesian-led search effort. So anything USS Sampson finds while she is out there, we direct up to the Indonesian government and allow them to make the determination on whether it is something that's maybe just trash from shipping traffic or if it's something that's actually associated with the crash.
KEILAR: Has the debris field been located or is that the same, sort of the same protocol?
COLE: There has been debris located, but again, that's up to the Indonesian government to truly determine if that's something that might be from shipping or if that's something associated with the crash.
KEILAR: I know there's a thought that things will begin, debris may begin to wash ashore soon. Has that happened yet, has that begun?
COLE: That's not something I am knowledgeable about. I would again direct you to the Indonesian government to speak to that one. Sampson is out on station, and they are located in a defined search box and they're conducting the search areas in that box as tasked by the Indonesian government.
KEILAR: OK. With that sonar and also there is the side-scan sonar that may be at the disposal as the search is ongoing.
Lieutenant Lauren Cole with the U.S. Navy, thank you so much.
I want to bring in CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, CNN safety analyst David Soucie, and we have CNN aviation analyst Miles O'Brien.
David, I want to talk to you about a theory that you have. It's interesting. It's based on the location of the last radar picked up by the aircraft vs. the location where they found the debris, that the pilot may have been attempting a sea landing. Why do you say that?
SOUCIE: If you calculate the drift angle or the glide path of the aircraft after engines have quit on it, it's about 17 to one. If you calculate that out to the 120 miles, it just about comes out to 32,000 feet.
So what it indicates to me is that that glide path was long. It does not look to me as though it was a sudden stall like we had originally thought because of the fact it was misreported that the impact point was about six miles from where the radar had picked it up last. That's the first clue, but there are others that substantiate that or back that theory up.
KEILAR: There was no distress call. So far, the bodies that have been found we're not seeing those passengers wear life vests.
You would think that in a sea landing, the pilot, aside from making the distress call, but certainly wouldn't you expect the pilot to tell passengers to prepare for an emergency landing, to put on these life vests?
SOUCIE: No, not at all actually, because of the fact that as it's going down, now, if the engines were still running and things were still controllable, but his job right then is to control the aircraft and to keep it under control and be able to fly the airplane. That's what he was probably doing, if this is indeed what happened.
It's purely speculation, obviously, other than the fact that it's substantiated by a very, very few important facts that lean that way. But, no, not necessarily. I have spoken with two different captains, both of them from an A-320. They both support this theory and they both said the same thing to me about preparing the cabin in this scenario. I really don't believe that they would have been.
KEILAR: Miles, what do you think about that theory?
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I do think that the proper procedure for someone who is ditching would be to do two things, issue a mayday call, because you want to issue a mayday call when air traffic control can help you. If you're going down in the water and you suspect there will be survivors, that's precisely what they would do.
And of course an announcement to the passengers would be the other component of that. But David is right. If your hands are full in a situation and you have been through a dramatic upset of some kind, you have had some sort of duel flame-out of engines potentially, that's possible.
What this implies, though, is that the aircraft had its aerodynamic capabilities, but no power. What could have caused that? There have been instances where jet engines have literally been doused out by so much moisture in the air. So it's something that is to be considered, but would be borne out very quickly by the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder, of course.
KEILAR: Which we don't have but are hoping that searchers will recover very soon.
Tom, clues are limited at this point without these data recorders, but so far there is limited pieces of debris and there are at this point seven bodies, one of which was wearing a flight attendant's uniform. Are there any clues in perhaps the uniform that might give investigators any sense of what happened?
TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think first of all, with the clothing or a victim's body, if they were unclothed, you would have whether there's any sign of puncture wounds to the body or to the clothing, whether there's sign of an explosion where they have had the residue or the smoke or the particles in their clothing or on their bodies, so it would indicate maybe the plan did land on the ocean or at least crashed on the ocean without other factors, like an explosion or a midair catastrophe like that.
KEILAR: OK, stay with me for just a second.
Tom, as well as Miles and David, I have more questions for you. But I need to get a quick break in. We will have more on Flight 8501 after a break.
KEILAR: We're back with our panel talking about the newest clues about the AirAsia crash in just a moment.
Bad weather is slowing the search for more victims and wreckage and for the plane's black boxes. Right now, we have a rare look into one of the few places in the world where flight data recorders are analyzed.
Here's CNN's Michael Holmes.
NEIL CAMPBELL, AUSTRALIAN TRANSPORT SAFETY BUREAU: This is our audio laboratory. It's a specially designed, screened room, so it's shielded.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: From electronics and audio...
CAMPBELL: That's right, outside signals, and as well, it's got very good soundproofing.
HOLMES: ... inside the Australian Transport Safety Bureau laboratory where Neil Campbell and his team forensically examine data recorders not just from planes but also trains even ships.
Now, the reality is there are very few countries in the world, just a handful of them, who have the technical know-how to work out what is inside one of these things. And this lab is one of those places. Boxes from other investigations, torn apart, burned, damaged in many ways suggest a tough assignment. But here they say the story of what happened is usually found.
CAMPBELL: A lot of our work is with undamaged recorders, and it is very easy to download them, perhaps as you would a USB memory stick.
HOLMES: But even with really damaged ones, your success rate in getting the information off is good.
CAMPBELL: Yes, we've always been able to recover the information from the recorders we've received.
HOLMES: He is a measured, cautious man, prerequisites for a job that involves not just knowledge, but patience, lots of patience.
CAMPBELL: From the flight-data recorder, we obtain a raw data file.
HOLMES: Just ones and zeros.
CAMPBELL: Which contains just ones and zeros.
HOLMES: The boxes contain a wealth of information, up to 2,000 separate pieces from the data recorder alone, high technology built into a waterproof, fireproof, shockproof shell. At the end of this complex train of information and analysis can be this, an animated representation of a tragedy, this one from a 2010 training flight, two dead after a simulated engine failure went wrong.
CAMPBELL: A lot of the symmetry which couldn't be controlled, and the aircraft ended up impacting the train unfortunately.
HOLMES: And you're able to recreate this thing from the black boxes?
CAMPBELL: That's right. This is based on flight-data recorder information.
HOLMES: The size of the boxes is deceptive in some ways, the vast majority of it containing technology that supports the brain buried deep within, surprisingly small, but containing everything that Neil Campbell needs on a handful of computer chips. In a box this big, that's what you need.
CAMPBELL: Yes, that's the crucial bit.
KEILAR: CNN's Michael Holmes reporting there.
And let's bring our guests back in.
We have CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, CNN safety analyst David Soucie and CNN aviation analyst Miles O'Brien.
Miles, when we were back in March, there was this urgency about MH370, about finding the black box before the battery on the pinger went out. Here you have more shallow water, so is there as much urgency here to find that black box?
O'BRIEN: Well, 30 days is 30 days. But I suspect we're honing in on this location much more -- with much more alacrity, obviously, than MH370. Here we are months later, and not a single piece of floating wreckage has turned up anywhere, which is just so extraordinary, even considering the drift patterns, given where we think it might be.
So, yes, there's time to be methodical, not put crews in harm's way in horrible weather unnecessarily and get to these black boxes in a timely manner and yet a safe manner. That's what I think is the approach right now.
KEILAR: Tom, when the searchers find the black boxes and investigators start going over them, what's the first thing they will be looking for?
FUENTES: Well, two things.
First, they're going to look at all of the data that's listed the parameters of what that airplane was doing physically, altitude, speed, direction, what the engines were doing, were the flaps up or down or sideways, all the things that the aircraft will be listed in the data recorder.
Separately, the cockpit voice recorder, which should be next -- they should be together in the tail of that plane when the body of the plane is found. The data -- or the voice recorder will have all of the conversation that took place.
KEILAR: And this is it. And this is it right here. This is what we're talking about. We have one here on the desk.
FUENTES: Right. That will have a running recording of everything that the pilot and the co-pilot said to each other and back to the tower, any other background noises in the cockpit.
They will be able to hear if there was an explosion or other unusual noises besides they're talking to each other or a flight attendant that may have come up into the cockpit to ask what they're doing or what's happening. So both boxes are critical to being able to find out what happened.
KEILAR: It's so key. When you are talking about TWA 800, there was a lot of thought that this may have been terrorist-related. The black box revealed or going through the investigation revealed that actually maybe it wasn't.
With the Egypt Air flight, it's the reverse. These are just critical pieces of information that completely change conclusions about what may have happened.
David, when you're thinking about where this plane went down, it went down over the sea, what country is most likely to get the black box, considering not all of them are equipped to analyze the data?
SOUCIE: The French have actually taken responsibility for the investigation, so I would guess it would go there, although it could go to Australia, it could go to the United States. There's about three or four countries that would be perfectly capable of handling it.
KEILAR: Miles, which country in the region do you think is best suited to head up this investigation?
O'BRIEN: Certainly, the capability of discerning what's inside those black boxes, what are called flight data recorder, the closest country that can handle that really well of course is the Australians.
The Indonesians have done nothing to dissuade us that they can handle this and they are operating in a fairly methodical manner. But in the end, the French have a pretty strong seat at the table here, because there will be questions, of course, about the performance of the aircraft, Airbus, European product, made in France.
And they will be very curious to know what happened. So I suspect it will be a collaboration, and that's the way these things should be. As we said coming out of MH370, no one nation should be responsible for these things. They should be international investigations in every way because, frankly, these issues affect all of us who fly all over the planet.
KEILAR: We're hearing, David, a lot of comparisons to the recovery of this flight, comparisons to TWA 800, which crashed in the mid-'90s. That went down over Long Island. The water was about as deep here.
Do you think that is an accurate comparison?
SOUCIE: The cause factors are certainly not.
We will learn more about it after the aircraft is starting to be brought out of the ocean. But it's not really -- this is a different investigation. We were trying to prove something with that other investigation, that there was a bomb on board. So it had to be literally rebuilt from the ground up in order to determine the cause.
You only take as much as you need to prove -- to determine what the cause is. It's like peeling an onion back. Once you reach what you see and need to prove that root cause, that's when you stop working on it. There's nothing to be gained by risking other lives to pull things out of the ocean when you have the answers already. So I don't expect it would be the same as that investigation.
KEILAR: That's a great point, because we see what was clearly a painstaking process of almost like puzzle pieces putting that plane back together and that may not be the case here.
There were some pretty prominent, I guess, theories of foul play when it came to TWA 800. A lot of folks thought there might be a bomb on board, Tom. Witnesses reported some of them seeing a missile go toward that plane. There isn't a question of terrorism here, although nothing can really be ruled out. But still these black boxes are very important.
But what happened in the TWA 800 was the plane was seen by so many people and video that it exploded in mid-flight. So you have this fireball in this sky, seen by other pilots and people on the ground and then the pieces coming down in the Atlantic Ocean in about 120 or 130 feet of water, which is similar to the depth of this crash, because it exploded, that led to the speculation it could be terrorism or it could have been sabotage or a bomb on board by who knows who.
Some people have done bombings themselves. And that's why, for a long time, that was a joint investigation with the FBI and the NTSB, working together to try to get to the bottom of it. Ultimately, thankfully, because the plane was in shallow water, divers were able to, by hand, sift through the silt on the bottom and later find clumps of wires indicating that the wires had sparked, there was a surge of electricity through the center fuel tank, which was mostly fumes, it was not full, and that they were able to then look at the blast pattern, the way the metal bent and came apart in the plane, the fact that there was no other explosive residue embedded in the metal pieces or in the passengers.
And that led to the conclusion that it was a mechanical failure on the part of the plane.
KEILAR: And the access, because of the depth of the water, was so key.
FUENTES: Right. And it still took years to come to that conclusion. KEILAR: And 10 months, I believe, to recover every one of the bodies
in that crash.
KEILAR: Tom Fuentes, Miles O'Brien, David Soucie, thank you all.
And just ahead, we're following new protests against police violence across the U.S. This is just hours before New Year's Eve. There's a new FBI warning that we're learning about.
And we will go live to Times Square for an update on security during the annual ball drop.
KEILAR: We have breaking news about security in New York. Just hours before the annual New Year's Eve celebration, we have learning about new concerns for the safety of NYPD officers, with new protests against police violence planned before the traditional ball drop in Times Square.
We have CNN justice reporter Evan Perez with us here now.
There's really a lot of concern right now at the NYPD.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: There is, Brianna. You know, this is a heightened concern. It's normal for them to be concerned about safety of a million people gathering in Times Square.
But this year, they're actually concerned about the officers, because there's going to be a very big police presence to try to keep those people safe. And now, the threat is about attacks against officers. And, you know, it's very difficult for any of these officers to be kept safe, you know, because at all times, you have your back turned against someone.
KEILAR: How do they do that? I guess they can't stay completely safe because there are so many people around them.
KEILAR: If someone is going to target them, they could be vulnerable. But what precautions are they taking?
PEREZ: Well, they are taking some precautions. The officers are not allowed to be by themselves. They're going to work in pairs and groups.
And really, the issue is that, you know, you saw what happened with those two officers in Brooklyn a couple of weeks ago. They were attacked out of nowhere. They didn't see anything coming. Now, basically, they're telling officers to just be aware of their surroundings and make sure that at all times, they know what's around them.
KEILAR: They're being more vigilant basically as a general practice.
All right. Evan Perez, thank you so much for the update.
Let's go now to Times Square, where police are on alert as we heard Evan say, as people are gathering there for the New Year's Eve ball drop, CNN's Rosa Flores is there.
Rosa, tell us about what you're seeing.
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, I can tell you that the NYPD confirming that there are extra eyes and ears here on the ground here on New Year's Eve because of those extra threats that Evan was just talking about. They tell us that they've seen an increased number of threats via social media. So, they're keeping a close eye on the social media networks because they want to make sure their police officers are safe. All of this, of course, after the brutal ambush and the killing of two of their own.
Now, that has also sparked protests, Brianna, as you know. They have a special detail that's been set up for five weeks that is ready to be activated at a moment's notice, just in case any protests break out. But here again, these police officers, Brianna, are professionals. They tell us that they want to make sure that all of these revelers have come from all over the world to enjoy New Year's Eve here in New York, that they can experience that. If you look around, that's exactly what's happening -- Brianna.
KEILAR: And that's very much our hope for a happy and safe New Year everywhere, as well as there in Times Square.
Rosa, thank you so much.
And on this New Year's Eve, there are protests for racial justice and against police violence that are planned in nearly 20 major cities. Some are actually under way right now. Eighteen demonstrators were arrested outside of the police headquarters in St. Louis earlier today.
Joining us now, the president and CEO of National Urban League, Marc Morial, along with CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes.
Are you expecting tonight to become pretty tense, Tom?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Oh, it's very tense already. I mean, we've seen the protests in St. Louis.
KEILAR: Do you think we'll see an uptick?
FUENTES: Well, we might. But, you know, the tension goes. But, first of all, it's wintertime. So, you have a million people in Times Square wearing heavy clothing that could hide everything under the sun, including weapons.
You've had all of the police that are out there, you've had all of these warnings from ISIS from ISIS over the last several months, that they want to kill police, and uniformed people in Canada, in the U.S., and you had New York City police attacked by a guy with a hatchet, just based on terrorism. And then throw on top of that the fear that one of our own Americans might attack the police in one of these cities.
KEILAR: So, Marc, I wonder what you think the real risks here are to police. There's a lot of concern, obviously, especially there in New York that we're hearing. And also protests, that if they do get violent, how much that hurts the message?
MARC MORIAL, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: Well, let me strongly say that the national urban league and civil rights organizations in this country are committed when we protest to nonviolent, peaceful protests. And we disassociate ourselves with anyone or any groups or any infiltrators who might indeed seek to put anyone in harm's way, a law enforcement officer or citizens.
And we want the public to understand that those that participate in those types of activities, violent activities or threats of violence, we don't associate with, we don't support. And we don't think they have the same aims as we have. And our aims are for there to be justice.
And we've got to work in 2015 to improve the relationship between police and communities across the nation, because after all, what has triggered this sort of wave of tension are a number of incidents where unarmed men, particularly, have either been killed or in one case, the woman in Los Angeles severely beaten at the hands of a law enforcement officer. So, this is a continuum of activities that we see.
But peaceful protests, yes. Those that make threats do not have my support.
KEILAR: Yes, and peaceful protests -- there's very much a real concern, and I think it has to be very much respected. But I wonder when you look at an example like St. Louis, protesters storming the doors of the police department, the plan to occupy it. There have been arrests in St. Louis by state -- arrest by St. Louis police of protesters who threw objects and were obstructing traffic.
As your goal is really to make a change through non-violent demonstration, what happens to that message when you see these things?
MORIAL: Well, let us -- yes, let us completely understand that the vast majority of protests which have taken place have not involved violence. But I would acknowledge that there are some -- and many of them are not part of what I would call the nation's historic civil rights organizations -- who, in fact, may be infiltrating these protests and engaging in inappropriate activity.
So, I want to strongly suggest, and I think it's important to understand that most of these protests -- I participated in an event in Washington just a few weeks ago, and that activity, that event, that march, was, in fact, fully peaceful.
We are not involved in organizing or in supporting the protests that are taking place in New York this evening. But I would always, and will always stand up for the right of people to protest peacefully in this country.
KEILAR: What we've seen, Tom, in Ferguson and in Staten Island with the Eric Garner case, there's a real need for communities and police departments to understand each other better, to work better together.
How can this relationship be improved?
FUENTES: I don't think it's going to be improved when you have police officers in serious jeopardy on the street. And if you look at the recent New York City protests where you have people chanting "What do we want? Dead police! When do we want it? Now!" You had the videos of the officers struck in the face with a closed fist, you had the video of two other officers beaten and kicked to where they had to be taken to emergency room, almost thrown off the Brooklyn Bridge.
So, I think that when you say that the groups themselves, the peaceful civil rights groups don't want to be part of this or they're not condoning it, for the police, it becomes a distinction without a difference. For them, all they know is they're in uniform, they're on the street and they're targeted. And that's really the bottom line for them.
MORIAL: But everyone has a responsibility here to understand that, yes, most of these protests have indeed been peaceful. But let's deal with the real issue, and the real issue is that there are numerous current federal investigations under way. The Garner incident is now subject to a continuing federal service rights investigation. The Michael Brown incident, the very same.
And there are more than 10 -- more than 10 police departments in this country that are under federal consent decrees, which means they admitted and they agreed that they had systemic problems.
So, we've got to confront the underlying problem. And the underlying problem happens to be that policing in this country, in many communities, is in need of a reform, and is in need of a reform that brings police and communities together.
And I want to have that dialogue with law enforcement, with politicians, with faith leaders, with community leaders across the nation. That's what we've got to do in 2015, is have the conversation that leads to, I think, the kinds of reforms and changes that are in need in many communities across the nation.
KEILAR: An important conversation to have as we enter this New Year. Marc Morial, Tom Fuentes, thank you to both of you.
MORIAL: Thank you.
KEILAR: Just ahead, there is growing pressure on a top Republican to quit his leadership job in the House after revelations about his speech to a white supremacist group. Stand by for new details.
And we're watching New Year's Eve festivities around the world. Take a look at the celebration in Paris. This is the stroke of midnight there just a short time ago. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KEILAR: Stand by more for the search for AirAsia crash victims and wreckage.
Right now, there are new calls tonight for Congressman Steve Scalise to step down as the third ranking Republican leader in the House, just days before the GOP takes control of Congress. We're learning more about his 2002 speech to a white supremacist group, an appearance that Scalise now says was a mistake.
CNN's Athena Jones following this story for us -- Athena.
ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brianna.
There's still a lot of questioning surround thing speech. Right now, Scalise has the backing of some key Republican colleagues, but more and more people outside of Capitol Hill are saying he should step down from his leadership post.
JONES (voice-over): More fallout today regarding a 2002 speech, the number three house Republican gave before a white supremacist group, founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader and neo-Nazi David Duke.
DAVID DUKE, FORMER KU KLUX KLAN LEADER: Hello. I'm David Duke.
JONES: GOP leaders are circling the wagons around embattled Majority Whip Steve Scalise, after he apologized for speaking at the European- American Unity and Rights conference. And even Democrats like former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards are coming to his defense. The Democratic former U.S. Senator Bennett Johnston saying this about Scalise in the telephone interview with CNN, "He's just not a racist."
The pair joined Congressman Cedric Richmond, the only black member of the state's congressional delegation who also expressed support for Scalise.
KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Cedric Richmond coming out, an African-American Democrat, in his defense, making those key points as a surrogate for Steve Scalise has been very important in managing his way through this issue.
JONES: But not everyone is supporting him. "The Chicago Tribune" today called on Scalise to bow out of leadership, a call echoed by conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer on FOX News.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST: It's the worst time, and I think if Scalise had wanted to make it easy for the party, he would have just stepped down on his own from leadership. Nobody is demanding he'd leave the Congress and his career is over.
JONES: So, what does Scalise think of Duke back then? In a 1999 interview with "Roll Call", Scalise told the paper he embraces many of the same, quote, "conservative" views as Duke. But Scalise said this week he wholeheartedly condemns the Duke group's views.
MADDEN: There will continue to be additional questions. As long as there's no information that contradicts Steve Scalise, I think it's very likely that he will hang on to his leadership position.
JONES: Now, when I spoke to one of the Democratic supporters today, former Senator Bennett Johnston, he told me, "I just don't think we ought to be playing gotcha here," and that's what this is. Support from these state Democrats is important, but there are a lot of people who still feel like Scalise has more explaining to do.
KEILAR: That's right. Athena Jones, thank you so much for your report.
And we're back now with the president and CEO of the National Urban League, Marc Morial, and CNN political commentator and Republican strategist Ana Navarro.
Marc, we're learning that Scalise may have spoke to a civic association before this white supremacist convention got started, but there may have been some white supremacists in the audience. So it's murky, even still, but does it matter since he was invited by a known white supremacist?
MORIAL: You know, I know Steve Scalise. When I was mayor in New Orleans, Steve Scalise represented a small part of New Orleans and was part of the delegation. So, my initial reaction was shock, surprise and disgust, because everything David Duke represents is reprehensible to the things most Americans stand for. He is a purveyor, a promoter of hate, racial hate, anti-Semitic hate, religious bigotry across the line.
So, I was shocked and surprised because the Steve Scalise I know is a conservative person, but also a person with whom I never had a difficult time having a conversation with.
Now, in this case, Brianna, I'm going to reserve judgment on what should happen because I want to have a conversation not only with Steve Scalise, but with the Republican leadership. They have not been open to conversations in the past and now is an opportune time to have the conversation.
So, what should we discuss? Number one, there are other members of Congress with whom this organization is has had a relationship that needs to be more transparent and come to light.
Number two, is there a strong commitment to condemn these types of hate groups and hate speech as a part of the political parlance in this country. And those are the things we've got to have. I want to have that conversation.
KEILAR: That is a very important conversation.
So, let me ask Ana this. Is this an opportunity for Republicans to have that conversation, Ana?
ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Frankly, I think it is, and I want to commend Mr. Morial for his position. I think it is a very constructive and productive position that he's holding.
And everybody that I have spoken to, I don't know Steve Scalise but I have spoken to a number of his colleagues, including Republican Hispanics who have all told me there is not a racist bone in this man's body.
So, I do think we have to focus on the real racists and the real problem of racism and not go after somebody that you may be able to -- because of recklessness and stupidity but not seen --
KEILAR: He was invited -- let me ask this question. He was invited by a known white supremacist. So, is this just -- is this the reality, that even, yes, it was 10 years ago, but in Louisiana that Republicans have to pander to racists?
NAVARRO: You know, Brianna, I have a bunch of different reports. I read this guy who invited say that he was a neighbor, that he invited him to address a civic organization and talk about taxes, that they had never discussed race and issues, his views on race, you know, the white supremacist views on race.
So, you know, did he know that he was there and this was going to happen? We don't know that. And I think unless more evidence comes out pointing to that, or unless more evidence comes out showing that he espouses those views, I think he's going to be all right.
KEILAR: I'm so sorry. We're out of time and I have to leave it right there. You guys, I'm so sorry, we have to leave the conversation there. I promise we'll have you back, Marc. Thank you, Ana, as well.
We'll be right back.
KEILAR: We're keeping a close watch there in Times Square in New York. It's a little over five hours before midnight when the East Coast rings in 2015.
CNN's Anderson Cooper will be there, along with Kathy Griffin for their New Year's Eve show and be sure to tune beginning at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Always a very fun time there.
Let's take another look at celebrations around the world and say thank you to members of THE SITUATION ROOM family who worked hard to bring you the news this year.
KEILAR: Happy New Year's to you.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTRONT" starts right now.