Return to Transcripts main page


Two Ferguson Officers Resign After Racist Emails; All Out Offensive Against ISIS Across Iraq; Cable Signed By Clinton Discourages Personal Email Use

Aired March 6, 2015 - 19:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next. Breaking news. Two Ferguson police officers resign after the Justice Department discovers racist e-mails. Tonight the Attorney General says the entire police force may get the boot.

Plus, Harrison Ford's dramatic plane crash. The doctor who pulled the actor out of the wreckage is OUTFRONT tonight.

And more breaking news, Eric Holder going for a top Senate democrat for big-time corruption. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, breaking news. Two Ferguson police officers out of a job tonight because of racist e-mails. The city announcing officers Rick Henke and William Mudd resign. This after an investigation into the city's police force uncovered a slew of racist e-mails about the Obamas and blacks. The city's top court Clerk Mary Ann Twitty was also let go this week. And tonight there are serious questions about the Ferguson Police Department, whether it can even exist anymore. The Attorney General Eric Holder just announcing he is prepared to dismantle the entire force. And today President Obama weighed in.


PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: It systematically was biased against African-Americans in that city who were stopped, harassed, mistreated, abused, called names, fined. And it was an oppressive and abusive situation.


BURNETT: Evan Perez is OUTFRONT live in Washington. And Evan, you've got two police officers here now out. Obviously there is more than 70 in the department. What do you know about these people? And of course that court clerk, what they did. Were they responsible for all these e-mails or are more people are going to be fired?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, you know, these other people that the city claims were behind these racist e- mails, the more outrageous ones that we've seen, including the one that compared President Obama to a chimpanzee, and basically calling African-Americans born criminals. Mary Twitty, the head of the court system, she's the chief clerk was particularly -- was particularly outrageous because she was in the room in the last few months as the Justice Department had been trying to negotiate with the city to try to fix its ways. So that's particularly -- she was the highest ranking official who has lost her job so far. And we don't know how many more are yet to come.

BURNETT: Wow. I mean, as you say, we don't know how many more yet to come. There were a lot of e-mails. We understand they were at all levels. Things were forwarded. So, we know there are going to be more people. But one thing Evan that stood out to me from this news is that these two officers resigned. That's the word. They were on administrative leave. So when I hear the word resigned, I don't hear the word fired. Does this mean that they might still get their pension?

PEREZ: Well, they were forced to resign. And that's usually what happens, because you know, you have a police department that has a police union and contracts and so on. And so this allows an officer who has worked for a long time in these police department to be able to do that. And that's, you know, obviously going to outrage some people down there because, you know, this is a police department that according to this justice department report is really, really has some really deep problems. And, you know, reforming it is not going to be easy.

BURNETT: No, not at all. Evan Perez, thank you very much. Certainly will outrage a lot of people if indeed that word resign means these two men who were responsible among other things were sending an e-mail calling the President a chimpanzee will actually get their pension.

Our other breaking news story tonight is an all-out offensive underway against ISIS military operations happening in several cities tonight, including an assault on the ISIS controlled city of Tikrit. The Iraqis are fighting with significant help on the ground. It is not from Americans. It is from Iran. America's archrival is a huge player in this battle, closing in on that key city of Tikrit from all sides. As you can see, five different sides there trying to come at it from every different angle and completely isolate ISIS.

Ben Wedeman is OUTFRONT live on Baghdad, and Ben, you have been on the frontlines over the past few days. What do you know about Iran's role, how significant it is in this major offensive?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, when we were up at the front lines, we didn't actually see any Iranian advisers or troops. But I was surprised at how open the Iraqi officers, and they weren't with the army. They were with one of these Iranian-backed militias were about how supportive they believe Iran has been in the entire operation. They say that they have provided advisers, that of course Ali Khamenei, the head of the elite Iranian Quds force is in a sense helping supervised the operation. And at the same time, we heard a lot of criticism of the U.S.-led coalition. Soldiers complaining that there is no air cover provided by the Americans, and that in general, they said the coalition support was nothing compared they said to the Iranians. But you have to keep in mind that many of these organizations, one of them is the Bader organization which was a militia that has its roots in Iran in the early 1980s. In fact, one of the commanders we spoke to spoke fluent Farsi. So this is a relationship that goes back many decades and looks like it's going to continue for a while -- Erin.

BURNETT: That's pretty interesting anecdote that you experienced there. Ben, the Secretary of State John Kerry tonight just released a statement. And it was about ISIS' destruction of priceless ruins in Iraq. He did that of course because of ISIS claims that they are now bulldozing an ancient city of Nimrod with priceless, priceless artifacts. And I know you know a bit more about that tonight and have some images.

WEDEMAN: Yes. We understand from the Iraqi ministry of tourism and antiquities that yes, yesterday that ISIS dispatched bulldozers and other heavy equipment to destroy the ruins. But we also understand that it's not just the ruins they're destroying. What they're also doing is when they don't announce this sort of thing. But they're looting these sites. They're taking -- and this is a site where in fact one of the biggest discoveries in 1989 was made of jewelry, the biggest collection of jewelry almost discovered in Iraq ever. And what they're doing, of course, is they are combing these sites before they send the bulldozers to find anything that they can sell on the international black market for antiquities as an important source of revenue for the group -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Ben Wedeman, thank you.

And OUTFRONT now terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank and Christopher Dickey, foreign editor of The Daily Beast. Christopher, we have new images of Jihadi John when he was a teenager, of course the British man who has now been unmasked as the man in all of these horrible beheading videos. Here he is basically playing with friends at school. Fifteen-year-old teenager looks completely normal, average kid in these images. He is now really the face of ISIS in terms of all the videos that people around the world have seen, that recruits have seen, front page of papers. How effective is he when it comes to recruitment?

CHRISTOPHER DICKEY, FOREIGN EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, I don't think he as an individual is very effective at all. He is a tool that is used in these ISIS videos to put across an image that sort of somewhere in the shadow land between video games and real war that is attractive to people who live in their fantasy world of video games where they imagine themselves as knights in shining armor going and righting wrong some place. And that's the kind of dialogue that he recites. And it's almost certainly scripted for him. I think he was just picked because he had a good clear English accent and could speak.

BURNETT: So maybe by chance that it's him. But that person is significant. It happens to be him.

DICKEY: It happens to be him. But he is like the actor in a movie. I don't think he as an individual is significant. He is not pulling any strings. He is not directing any of the action. He may not even be the person who beheaded the victims. You never see if you watch those videos. BURNETT: That's right.

DICKEY: And I advise you not to. You'll never see anybody actually beheaded in the videos that are distributed in the west. Those videos are produced so that anybody who can watch "Game of Thrones" can watch them. They're sanitized. Once they're distributed in the Arab world where there are Arab victims, the Egyptian Christians, Syrian soldiers, those are a lot more gruesome. So he is part of a very well calculated media campaign. But he is just an actor.

BURNETT: And Paul, in this, though, in the media campaign, they have now come out this weekend and said look, this is an image of what ISIS put out of what they say is an American who killed himself in a suicide bomb in the battle of Tikrit that Ben was just reporting on. This is the man they say is an American. We don't know if he is an American at this point. We don't know who he is because he is masked. But you see something really important when you look at this image. And I know we can pull down the writing at the bottom of our screen so you can explain what you see.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: If our viewers look at the images behind that caption now, you see a radio like the one we have on.

BURNETT: Basically a mic for audio on his lapel. Yes.

CRUICKSHANK: That suggests that ISIS are about to put together a big propaganda video featuring him. It appears that he died in a truck bombing in Iraq. So I think in the days ahead we can expect a big video from them obviously, a great propaganda, the fact that it appears to be an American, the first ISIS American suicide bomber. So in the next few days, I think this is going to come out on the internet.

BURNETT: And then we will hear his voice. And people will have a feeling does this person -- it won't prove he is American. Does he sound like he is American? And the significance, Paul, of an American suicide bomber is -- is not insignificant. It is significant, right?

CRUICKSHANK: It is significant, because if they can do it there, they can do it back in the United States. About 180 Americans are believed to have traveled to Syria and Iraq, a dozen or so to have joined ISIS at the very least. There are about 40 who have come back who were in Syria and Iraq to the United States. Some of those we're hearing actually fought with ISIS. So a lot of concern as well that ISIS are pivoting towards wanting to attack the west. We saw that plot in Brussels, in Belgium, the Brussels cell directed by ISIS to launch their major attack back in January. ISIS increasingly wanting to attack the west.

BURNETT: Right. And certainly if something like that were to happen at the direction of ISIS in the United States, it would be a significant, it would be a game changer in a lot of ways. Because we haven't seen that yet. Christopher, in terms of the images and the propaganda that you're talking about, ISIS is now actually according to an image that we have strapping cameras on to their guns during executions, because they want to record them. They want to show them. To your point, it's like a video game. It's like call of duty.

DICKEY: Well, it is. It's very much like call of duty. If you watch, again, I advise you not to. But if you watch the burning alive of the Jordanian pilot, it's full of animated special effects.


DICKEY: It looks like a trailer for some fantasy movie. It's all set up. It's all staged. You see him being walked through the ruins of a city to the cage where he is going to be burned alive there are men in masks lining the way. It's straight out of "call of duty" and video games. That's the image that they're going for. And they go for it all the more, the more pressure they're under on the battlefield. They're not doing all that well on the battlefield. They try to recoup in propaganda what they lose in territory.

BURNETT: Fair point. All right. Thanks very much to both of you. I appreciate your time.

And next, Hillary Clinton under fire for using her personal e- mail for official state department business. Here is a question. Why did she break her own rule?

Plus, how Harrison Ford managed to survive that plane crash. We'll talk to the man who pulled him out of the wreckage OUTFRONT tonight.

And a delta plane veering off a rundown into an icy river. Evidence tonight another pilot did not want to take off on that snowy runway. Our special report coming up.


BURNETT: Tonight new questions about Hillary Clinton's personal e-mail account. The big debate tonight is whether Clinton failed to follow the rules that she actually signed off on as secretary of state. According to this 2011 State Department cable that you can see right here, employees were told to, quote, "Avoid conducting official department business from your personal e-mail accounts." And Hillary Clinton's name is right at the bottom of this edict. State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf was asked about this document today.


MARIE HARF, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: This cable in general is talking about guidance on best practices, colloquial guidance for people when it came to personal e-mail. It also uses words like encouraged to check and in general avoid doing this. So this is certainly not a regulation or a policy.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: That's fine. But --

HARF: But I think that context is important. UNIDENTIFIED MAN: If it's general guidance, do you accept the

notion that the secretary, the former secretary didn't follow her own guidance on best practices?

HARF: I don't. I think that's a -- I think that's an oversimplification of what is going on here.


BURNETT: Oversimplification? So what exactly is going on here? Brianna Keilar is OUTFRONT. Brianna, you were at that press conference today. You tried time after time to get some answers on this. Did you have any success?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Not really. There are so many questions that are not being answered. And you have to note that the State Department, and also the White House, they're in this odd position of running interference for Hillary Clinton. She isn't saying anything. Her staff has said very little. She is likely a few weeks out from her campaign really getting off the ground. And she doesn't have a team in place that can handle this controversy as effectively as a campaign. So, today at the State Department you had reporters asking for instance if Clinton failed to roll to follow these e-mail rules that she signed up on it. It wasn't an electronic signature we should note. So we don't necessarily know that Hillary Clinton for instance read that cable. But at the same time you would expect that this would be generally accepted practice there at the State Department.

This was the internal department cable from 2011. You know, it said that employees should avoid using personal e-mail to conduct government business. You heard Marie Harf there. She really downplayed the guidelines saying these were best practices, not regulations. But there is also another thing here that raises the question of a double standard there is another sign that Clinton violated the spirit of the federal records act. Just a few years ago there was this scathing inspector general report. And it admonished the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Scott Gration for among other things using his personal e-mail to conduct government business. And this was the same time that Clinton, his boss was doing the same thing. So it's raising all of these questions -- Erin.

BURNETT: Right. Certainly about a double standard. And I know the State Department says oh, there were other problems they had with him. But ultimately, that was the key one. All right. Brianna Keilar, thank you very much.

And now Sean Spicer, the chief strategist and communications director for the Republican National Committee and Karen Finney, the former communications director for the Democratic National Committee. So, Karen, let me start with you.


BURNETT: You heard the exchange at the State Department today. You know, this was directed that it was guidance. FINNEY: Right.

BURNETT: But it was pretty clear avoid conducting State Department business from your personal e-mail account. She clearly did not follow that directive in anyway. So, it may not have been illegal, but certainly you could expect the person who was responsible for that edict to follow it, wouldn't you?

FINNEY: Well, I think you're going on the presumption, A, that that e-mail address was used for something other than unclassified information. Remember, the State Department they have cables. They have e-mails. I mean you can use classified information on phone calls. So, I mean, again, I think there are a number of ways that I would expect a secretary of state to communicate that might be different than others within the department. But more importantly I think on this, and I want to take issue with one thing that you and Brianna were just talking about. The gentleman who was fired, the ambassador, it is not insignificant that the IG's report, I mean, I actually have a copy of some of it, the things that they cite were threatening the staff. I mean, these are really serious charges. It was not necessarily about e-mailing. There were some very significant other problems with this individual. So I think suggesting that that's a double standard I think is not quite accurate.

BURNETT: All right. It was listed as a key thing. But to your point, there were other issues with that ambassador as well. Sean, a senior administration official tells CNN they were aware of Clinton's use of private e-mail all the way back in 2009. So why is this a problem now? If they were aware, they didn't stop her.

SEAN SPICER, CHIEF STRATEGIST, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Well, they didn't stop her, but no one else knew that. I think this goes back to this idea of why did she set it up in the first place? What was she attempting to avoid? In 2008 Hillary Clinton said I'm probably the most transparent public figure out there. When in fact at the same time she was taking major steps to evade public scrutiny. I said it before. But people should have a personal e-mail account. And that should be used for personal business or political business. Official e-mail accounts issued by the government are to issue for government work. And there was clearly an attempt, they set this server up the week she was being sworn in as secretary of state clearly to attempt evading being monitored and to know what was going on. They also gave out accounts to others. And there is now accounts that they used instant messaging. This was clearly an attempt to stay off of the grid and to ensure that certain things were not known. But during her tenure as secretary of state, there are at least three times that memos like this were issued that talk about the need to protect sensitive information and guard against different types of personal e-mail.

FINNEY: But can I -- hold on. Hold on.

SPICER: So the question is while, regardless, the ambassador stuff, yes, granted, there is a lot more there. But one of his issues was his use of that. But three times she admonished the rest of the staff and the secretary of state for using personal e-mail. BURNETT: Go ahead, Karen.

FINNEY: Sean is trying to push a narrative that just does not hold up to the fax. Fact number one, the State Department has asked every secretary of state since Madeleine Albright to turn over their records. They are updating their records. So they have asked the only person who has submitted anything is Hillary Clinton. And she has turned over 55,000 pages of e-mails.

BURNETT: Karen, there is a --

FINNEY: Sean, Sean, let me finish. I let you finish.


FINNEY: So 55,000 pages that were turned over in response to a State Department request. There were also e-mails turned over to Trey Gowdy's committee for that request. That is a separate request than what we are talking about. Fifty five thousand pages of e-mails is an unprecedented level of transparency. And she is the only person as I've just pointed out who actually has responded to that. So if this is really about --

SPICER: She is the only person running for president.

FINNEY: We're concerned about the use of e-mails. If that is really your concern, then why aren't we talking about Condi Rice or Secretary Collin Powell?

SPICER: Condi Rice didn't use e-mail. Hold on.


BURNETT: It sounds like a lot. But we're never going to know how many there really were, right? Because she was in control of it. Isn't that part of a problem? What if there were 150,000. We don't know.

SPICER: Or how secure they were. Or what step she took.

FINNEY: Any copies of any e-mail that she may have sent to someone within the government, because that person, it was maintained on the server.


FINNEY: And again, the federal records act, the spirit of that law, the point of that law is to ensure that records are preserved that can be an e-mail. That can be a cocktail napkin that she writes something down on. So, I mean, that is the point of that act. And she did preserve all of that information. And she has turned all of that information over. You're starting with a perception --

SPICER: But you don't know that. You don't know. None of us know because she decides, she gets to cherry pick, her and her staff what we see and when we see it. So, for example -- hold on. I want to make that point.


SPICER: There was an AP request, a FOIA request for e-mails that has gone unanswered for four years until now. No one has known that part of the reason that was unanswered is because no one even knew that she had a private server and none of the e-mails in question, no one knew to look for because she hadn't told anyone it existed.

FINNEY: But Sean, it wasn't a secret. It wasn't a secret that she had personal e-mail.

BURNETT: Finish on that Karen.

FINNEY: It wasn't a secret that she had a personal e-mail. The people who received the e-mail --

SPICER: Really? Did you know?

FINNEY: If you got an e-mail from someone and it has their e- mail address on it? Is it that still a secret? I don't think so, Sean.

SPICER: Apparently then you --

FINNEY: At the RNC, you guys are trying to do list building and fundraising, calling on people to sign a petition for Hillary Clinton to release the e-mails. She already --

SPICER: The problem is that Karen, that doesn't hold water when you have people like David Corn for Mother Jones and other liberal outlets, the "New York Times," huge bastion of conservatism out there calling every editorial page in the country said that Hillary Clinton, what she did was wrong. That's hardly of the RNC controlling things. The fact of the matter is is that she set up a server to avoid being monitored and that she gets the cherry pick that --

FINNEY: No, that's an assumption that you're making.

SPICER: -- the American people see. That's not being transparent. That's deciding -- that's evading.

BURNETT: Okay, if you don't agree with Sean on why she set up that server, what reason would she have to not use the government system with all the protocol and all the protections in there? Why would she set up her own server if it wasn't for privacy? Is there a reason that you could think of?

FINNEY: I mean, I honestly don't know. But I guess, Erin, my point is if that's what we're really concerned about, given the fact that the rules or the guidance was this way, I mean, even today if you're at the State Department you can do this. If that's what we're really concerned about, why are we only talking about Hillary Clinton? Why aren't we going back and saying wait a second, we need to take a look at previous secretaries of state and see what they -- Colin Powell wrote about -- SPICER: Hold on.

FINNEY: Hold on. Colin Powell wrote about using and creating a personal e-mail for communications in his book. So why are we not concerned then?

SPICER: When Colin Powell runs for president, we can discuss that.

FINNEY: She is not a declared candidate.

SPICER: Now that brings us to her. So, let's discuss her. Because at the end of the day, if you want to be commander-in-chief and you want to talk about protecting this country and threats to cybersecurity and what other countries can and can't do to us, then you need to tell the American people why you installed a server? Why it wasn't protected? What else is there and hand over the entire server? It can be handled pretty easily, instead of sending out a bunch of operatives to talk about why she may or may not have done something. This is easily solved. Put the server back into the hands of the United States government and say all of those records can be preserved. People can find out what is there or not there. But right now it seems to be continuing a pattern of evading and hiding everything from the American people.

BURNETT: All right. Thanks very much to both of you for a very spirited conversation. Fair words used to describe that.

OUTFRONT next, new video of Harrison Ford's plane as it crashed to the ground. And literally we have the entire video on the way down.

And a year after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished, was a rogue pilot at the controls? We recreate the plane's flight path tonight.


BURNETT: I thought someone was going to die. That's what a doctor said before he dragged Harrison Ford out of his airplane when it crashed at a golf course in Venice, California.

Tonight, we have new footage just in to CNN of Ford's plane. Here it is gliding just seconds before it crashed. The NTSB confirms Ford was circling back to the airport with engine trouble. So he turned all the way around. He then clipped some trees and came down on that golf course. He sent out this distress call just moments after taking off.


HARRISON FORD: 53178 engine failure. Request immediate return.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: Ryan 178 run A21, clear to land.

FORD: Go to three. AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: Ryan 178 run 3, clear to land.



And, Kyung, I know you spoke to the doctor, the surgeon who was there on that golf course, happened to be there. Harrison Ford's plane comes in. He rushes over to treat him. What did he see? What did he tell you?

KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he thought that his condition was extraordinary given the hard landing that he saw. He could not believe that he wasn't more injured. And think about the luck of this. A doctor on his day off at this golf course happens to be there, a spinal surgeon. He explained to us what he saw as the plane was coming down.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought somebody was going to die. That was my first instinct just seeing that. The propeller is not really spinning. And basically, it clips a tree and comes straight down in a belly flop. When we approached the airplane you could smell the fuel. You can see it leaking. I was fearing the worst. I was fearing some of the electronics igniting the fuel and going from a bad situation to a worse situation.

There was an individual slumped over, moving maybe, trying to get himself out. But he was stuck. We got in there and basically just safely extricated him from the airplane and do what -- I mean, I think what anyone would do quite frankly. I think I just happened to be there.


LAH: A physician's basic instinct is to get involved to save lives. And, Erin, that basic instinct did kick in -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Kyung, pretty incredible, though, as you say, a spinal surgeon who happened to be there on his day off. The small miracles, serendipities of life.

Harrison Ford was flying a World War II vintage plane.

Tonight, Martin Savidge is OUTFRONT with an inside look at exactly what it's like to fly that plane.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Larry Lee and actor Harrison Ford share more than just a fedora and leather coat. Both men love flying vintage planes.

LARRY LEE: That's one of the things I like about it too. It is a very pretty airplane. SAVIDGE: He shows me this 1936 two-seater beauty. It looks very

much like the plane Ford was flying.

(on camera): Not a lot of space.

LEE: Nope.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): He even let me climb into the cockpit, which isn't easy.

LEE: This is as enjoyable an experience as any that I have in aviation.

SAVIDGE: But there is more.

Lee also owns this PT-22, a plane used during World War II to train U.S. pilots, the exact same kind of plane Ford crashed in. And this video is Lee flying that plane last summer just moments before it crashed.

LEE: My goal at that point was to frankly shear the wings off in the tops of the two trees.

SAVIDGE: Like Ford, Lee had to crash land with no engine. His plane ended up a mangled mess, but Lee survived. So, I had to ask. How did he think ford did in an almost identical situation?

LEE: And it was obvious from what I saw in the impact track behind Harrison's airplane yesterday was that he had it under control all the way to the ground, and he put it exactly where he wanted to put it.

SAVIDGE: Lee still doesn't know why his engine quit. In Ford's case it's too soon to tell. But Lee believes there is one more thing the two have in common: Lee plans to fix his PT-22 and fly it again. He thinks Ford will, too.

Martin Savidge, CNN, Kennesaw, Georgia.


BURNETT: Pretty neat to see that in action.

OUTFRONT now, Eddie Agugila. He witnessed Harrison Ford's plane crash.

And, Eddie, you shot that incredible video that shows Ford's plane right before it came down as it was gliding. So, tell me what happened. What did you see?

EDDIE AGUGILA, WITNESSED HARRISON FORD PLANE CRASH: Well, initially, we were golfing. And we heard a plane overhead. And it sounded unique. It was -- it wasn't too low, but it was right above us. We could read what was written under the wings.

And at that exact moment when we looked up and we were actually appreciating the beauty of the aircraft, the engine sputtered. And then it stalled, instantly. Within a moment, the pilot, not knowing who it was at that time, he had instantly made what you would call a U-turn and headed directly back to the way he was initially coming, which was from the east.

That split second decision, looking back on it in retrospect is a miracle. As far as I'm concerned, it was all about the pilot and his experience at that moment. I'm not an expert, but from the moment of stalling and the moment of turning around was a matter of seconds.

And he had -- it seemed as if he had enough altitude at that point. We actually had our cameras on standby. So we started recording. And we watched him. We thought he may land in the fairway.

And then for a moment, we realized he most likely may make it back to the airport. And we lost sight of him for a split second. We didn't hear a big bang. We didn't hear a big crash.

And looking back like I said in retrospect, it was a miracle that he was able to put the plane down where he did, just a few feet away from a residential area, a building, a road, just miraculous.

BURNETT: So, you -- you're talking about his skill as a pilot, which we've heard so much about. But in this case, literally threading the needle to be able to land on that golf course and not kill somebody in their home.

AGUGILA: Absolutely.

BURNETT: When you saw this, Eddie, at what point did you think the plane was going to crash, or did you not? Because I know, it sounds like, at first, you thought he might be able to make the airport which is obviously very nearby.

AGUGILA: You know, initially when it stalled for the split second, because of the writing it said U.S. Army under it. I thought it might be an exercise. When he made the quick U-turn so fast, I thought, OK, he has enough altitude. I knew where the airport was. And I said to myself, he is going to glide in.

And then it started dropping altitude so quickly. I -- we were just frantic. We didn't know if he were going to have to help someone see a tragedy or see a miraculous landing.

And our hearts were fluttering and the adrenaline was going. We didn't know what was going to happen. And the fact that he landed where he is, where he did, is just -- if you were there and you see the proximity of the road and the residential, it's unbelievable.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Eddie, thank you very much for sharing your story with us. And the story of how amazing that landing was by Harrison Ford.

OUTFRONT next, breaking news. The Justice Department about to announce corruption charges. At the very top, against a very top Democrat. That story next.

Plus, investigators looking for answers to how a Delta plane almost ended up in an icy river. Tonight, why another pilot refused to take off from that same runway.


BURNETT: Breaking news: a top ranking senator responding moments ago to news that the Justice Department is preparing to bring criminal charges against him. Prosecutors will allege that New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, used his Senate office to help a donor in exchange for gifts.

Dana Bash is in Washington tonight.

Dana, I mean, this sounds like a pretty significant thing. How big of a deal is it?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It could be a very big deal. I mean, the fact that the federal government is preparing to file criminal charges against a sitting U.S. senator is no small thing. I should say our Evan Perez broke this story. And that is surrounding somebody who is a very dear friend for decades of the senator, Dr. Salomon Melgen, who allegedly, apparently the government is pursuing allegations that he helped Melgen in a way that he shouldn't, that really borders on corruption -- helps him with some Medicare, alleged Medicare fraud, trying to get rid of that, and also for advocating for a deal that Melgen wanted done with regard to ports and a ports business deal in the Dominican Republic.

So, those are the kinds of things that are on the table. And we'll see what happens when this is actually formally charged because it hasn't been done yet.

BURNETT: So, Dana, what are they saying he would get in return for doing those things, I mean, in terms of the gifts? Money? Or what was it? And what is Senator Menendez saying about all of this?

BASH: What he could get, we're not sure except he has also been a big donor to him and others in the past. But let's get to that. The senator just had a press conference moments ago, completely denying any wrongdoing.

Listen to this.


SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: Let me be very clear -- very clear. I have always conducted myself appropriately and in accordance with the law. Every action that I and my office have taken for the last 23 years that I have been privileged to be in the United States Congress has been based on pursuing the best policies for the people of New Jersey and of this entire country.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BASH: And, again, we should underscore that these charges

haven't formally been filed. This is information that is coming just to CNN exclusively to our Evan Perez who broke the story earlier today, that this is something they're planning on doing -- Erin.

BURNETT: Pretty incredible. Dana Bash, thank you very much.

And OUTFRONT next, near disaster. LaGuardia airport just one of many airports in America with runways that are dangerously short -- so short that planes skid, lives are lost. Our special report.

And it was a year ago on this Friday night that we first reported MH-370, a Malaysia Airlines jet, was missing. Next, a recreation of that doomed flight path from a simulator.


BURNETT: Investigators have released audio from the flight recorders on the Delta plane that skidded off the runway and slammed into a fence just inches away from icy water at New York's LaGuardia Airport. In the midst of Thursday's winter storm, though the pilot of Flight 1086 asked about the condition of the runway. He was told that two other flights had just landed safely.

But the recordings also reveal this -- another Delta pilot said there was too much snow and he refused to take off from the runway.


PILOT: OK, 2498, a quarter inch is a little bit much for us to go right now.


BURNETT: The planes veering off runways now are the number one cause of airline accidents worldwide.

Dan Simon is OUTFRONT.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have an aircraft off the runway.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The images of the Delta plane teetering on the edge of icy waters at New York's LaGuardia Airport are a scary reminder of inherent hazards at one of the nation's busiest airports, with its short runways and proximity to water, LaGuardia can be a serious challenge to pilots, especially in dangerous weather. It's just the latest close call concerning safety at some of America's oldest airports.

December 2006. A Southwest jet also landing in snowy conditions at Chicago's Midway slid off the end of the runway, plowed through a fence and hit two cars. A 6-year-old boy killed in one of the vehicles. In March 2000, another Southwest plane, this one in Burbank,

California, also skids off a runway and on to a street -- the plane hitting a car, just missing a gas station, injuring several people.


SIMON: A year earlier in Little Rock, Arkansas, an American Airlines flight also overshoots the runway, slams into a steel walkway and comes to a halt on the banks of the Arkansas River. Eleven people dead, including the pilot.

Since 1982, there have been 23 fatalities, over 300 injuries and millions of dollars in damage caused by overshooting the runways. Most incidents occurring in airports where the runway safety areas beyond the main runway don't extend a full thousand feet. The length mandated by the FAA two decades ago. The airports like LaGuardia just don't have the land to make the runways longer.

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Some simply don't have the property. They can't acquire the property or they can't get the property to extend to make sure they have the extra thousand feet.

SIMON: That's why the agency is now requiring airports to install a technology called EMAS, engineered material resting system, that can almost immediately stop a plane sliding down a runway.

San Francisco had its installed last summer.

SOUCIE: What EMAS does is it's a way of stopping the aircraft, creating as little damage to the aircraft as possible but being able to stop it.

SIMON: EMAS consists of a large bed of rectangular cubes glued in place at the end of the runway. As the plane careens into them, the cubes break apart. The friction between the cubes and the wheels cause the plane to stop.

It's already been installed in more than 50 airports in the U.S. And according to the FAA, it's prevented nine accidents including this one at Charleston, West Virginia, where this U.S. Airways jet would have likely gone over a cliff.


BURNETT: Dan, it's pretty incredible. I know you're at San Francisco airport where that system was just installed. I mean, giving skidding and rolling off runways is the top cause of accidents, you know, to be honest, when I looked at that, it seems surprisingly low tech.

SIMON: Well, I tell you what, it's low tech but it's not cheap. $40 million, Erin, to install the system here in San Francisco, but as you can imagine, a lot of research and engineering went into all this.

Here's the problem, without some kind of new advancement in airplanes or without making runways longer, what can you do? Well, in this case, they came up with the EMAS technology and according to the FAA, it's very effective and it can slow down a plane quickly. About 300 feet once they get on to the material. So, low tech, but effective -- Erin.

BURNETT: That's pretty amazing and just to watch it in action is like going through a big pile of dust.

All right. Thank you very much, Dan Simon. A fascinating report.

And next, a year later, the appearance of MH-370, mystery to the world. Tonight, we will retrace the plane's flight path going back in that simulator and get some answers.


BURNETT: It still seems impossible -- a plane carrying 239 people vanishes into thin air. It's been one year since we first learned on this program, at this time exactly, that we found out MH- 370 was disappeared. Could recreating the plane's flight path uncover any clues?

Will Ripley is OUTFRONT.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's an eerie feeling sitting in a cockpit virtually identical next to the doomed Malaysia airliner, a simulator recreating what we know about MH-370's final flight one year ago.

ROB JOHNSON, VETERAN PILOT: Autopilot is engaged.

RIPLEY: Veteran pilot Rob Johnson activates the Boeing 777's autopilot 20 seconds after takeoff.

JOHNSON: Like 98 percent of the flight is automated.

RIPLEY: The autopilot follows way points along the flight path, it can even land the plane if necessary. Less than an hour into its flight, MH-370 veered off the planned route to Beijing.

With a turn of knob, our simulator makes the same sharp turn as the missing plane.

(on camera): Could be the autopilot made it turn on its own?


RIPLEY (voice-over): Nobody knows why one or both pilots decided to change course or why the plane disappeared from civilian radar. The result of either a massive electrical problem or someone simply switching off communication systems.

Other theories include a cockpit fire, overtaking a crew and leaving no time for a distress call. Russian hijackers faking satellite data, flying the plane north to Kazakhstan. The plane shot down heading for Diego Garcia, a U.S. military base in the Indian Ocean; even an elaborate murder/suicide by one of the pilots.

JOHNSON: This is where the mystery starts because -- what happened?

RIPLEY: Johnson suspects a midair emergency or a deliberate act in the cockpit depressurizing the cabin at high altitude, oxygen starvation, hypoxia could have killed everyone on board, turning MH370 into a ghost plane.

It's happened before. Helios Airways Flight 522 lost pressure. The crew lost consciousness and the plane with 121 people slammed into a mountain.

Golfer Payne Stewart's Learjet depressurized after takeoff. The plane flew without a pilot for four hours before crashing into a field. The autopilot kept those ghost planes in the air, long after all aboard were dying or dead.

(on camera): If there's not another way point entered, what does the autopilot do?

JOHNSON: It's going to fly along until the fuel runs out.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Our simulator shows how the autopilot untouched keeps the airliner flying south for hours, the fuel gauge drops to zero somewhere over the Southern Indian Ocean.

JOHNSON: Look at the alarm. That's where the stick shift let us go (ph).

RIPLEY: For four agonizing minutes, cockpit alarms sound. As the plane becomes a giant glider, the ocean creeping closer.

Suddenly, it's over.

(on camera): All of those names started racing through my head. Wow.

JOHNSON: Yes, 239 people lost.

RIPLEY (voice-over): One year later, still no trace of the plane or the people onboard. Only uncertainty and pain for those left behind. Until MH370's block backseats are found, nobody will know what really happened.

Will Ripley, CNN, Toronto.


BURNETT: And you can see more about the mystery of Flight 370 right here tonight on CNN. The special CNN report "Vanished" airs at 9:00 Eastern.

Thanks for joining us. Have a great weekend. Be sure to set your DVR to record OUTFRONT so you can watch us anytime, and don't miss our show on CNN International, which airs on both Saturday and Sunday.

"AC360" starts right now.