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Interview With Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton; Interview With U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz; Flight 9525 Investigation Continues; Selling the Iran Nuclear Deal; Second Black Box Reveals Horrifying Detail. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 3, 2015 - 16:00   ET


[16:00:14] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The pending Iran deal, hope and fear and now the hard sell.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead. One day after world powers announce a historic framework aimed at stopping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, President Obama is tasked with selling the deal not only to Israeli and Arab leaders who seem to oppose it, but to his fellow Americans and a skeptical Congress. We will talk to one of the negotiators from the Obama Cabinet and also with the deal's most vociferous critic in the Senate.

Also, in world news, the plane was obliterated and now we know that the suicidal co-pilot sped the plane up before slamming into a mountain with 149 innocent lives on board. What other secrets are in this newly discovered black box?

And the national lead. He says his boat was dead in the water and flipped three times, but he held on, broken shoulder and all, the amazing story of a fisherman found after 66 days lost at sea. But some skeptics out there wonder if this is a fish tale.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We are going to begin today with the world lead. And depending upon whom you ask in Washington, D.C., right now, this is either an off- ramp from the path to war or it's the HOV lane. One day after negotiators in Switzerland announced a preliminary agreement between the U.S. and other major world powers with Iran over its nuclear program, Iran's president vowed that Iran can -- quote -- "cooperate with the world," despite what many would say is a decades-long track record of doing the exact opposite.

Of course, the country with perhaps the most to lose if it turns out that Iran has played the world is Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in that country repeating today the concern he expressed in front of the U.S. Congress not long ago, saying this framework would -- quote -- "threaten the very survival of his country."

Well, let's talk about this all.

Joining me now is the U.S. energy secretary, Ernest Moniz, one of the high-level high-stakes negotiators at the table with Iran.

Mr. Secretary, it's an honor. Thank you for being here. We appreciate it.

ERNEST MONIZ, U.S. ENERGY SECRETARY: Pleasure to be here, Jake.

TAPPER: Here is President Obama at a debate in 2012.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The deal we will accept is they end their nuclear program. It's very straightforward.


TAPPER: Now, this deal does not end their nuclear program. They get to keep thousands of centrifuges, some of their stockpile of uranium fuel and they can continue to enrich uranium at the facility Natanz. So this isn't ending the nuclear program, as he promised.

MONIZ: What it ends is all the pathways to a bomb.

There are multiple pathways, uranium pathways, plutonium pathways, covert pathways. What we have agreed to, we are very confident, will let us to see any violation quickly, give us plenty of time to respond and effectively close off those pathways. We are much better off with this deal than we would be without it.

TAPPER: I want to also play this clip from that same debate.


OBAMA: Our goal is to get Iran to recognize it needs to give up its nuclear program and abide by the U.N. resolutions that have been in place.


TAPPER: The U.N. resolutions. Here's one of them, U.N. Resolution 1696 from 2006, adopted by vote on the Security Council 14-1 -- quote --"Demanded that Iran suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development."

This framework doesn't honor the promises that the president made to the American people.

MONIZ: Well, first of all, the reprocessing pathway is in fact closed off.

TAPPER: But not the research and development.

MONIZ: Then there are -- there will be some ongoing R&D, substantially modified from their plans, and quite significant caps on what they are doing.

Again, the key is that there are the four pathways identified to a bomb. We have blocked all of those pathways for a considerable period of time. This is going to be a time of building up -- we hope, of building up some level of confidence in the world community that Iran is, in fact, committed to only peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

TAPPER: We don't have to spend the whole time talking about the fact that this deal doesn't meet the promises the president made, but can you explain why you were not able to reach them? It was just impossible? The Iranians just wouldn't go along with what the president promised, an end to the nuclear program?

MONIZ: Well, the Iranians again have been building up a program with nuclear power. They are committed to nuclear energy, in their view.

The goal here is, in the very long term -- and it will be quite awhile -- if they demonstrate and earn the trust and confidence of the international community, then they can behave as what you might call a normal nuclear energy country within the framework of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, enhanced by what is called the additional protocol, which means additional transparency into what they are doing.

TAPPER: The Iranians put out their own talking points. The White House put out theirs. Iran has put out theirs in Farsi. Here's a translation from Payam Mohseni posted at Iran Matters.

[16:05:13] One part says -- quote -- "None of the nuclear facilities or related activities will be stopped, shut down or suspended and Iran's nuclear activities in all of its facilities will continue, guaranteeing the continuation of the enrichment program," guaranteeing that the Iranians will continue to enrich uranium.

Can you not see why Israel and Saudi Arabia and other countries that don't want Iran to have their uranium enrichment program permitted would not like this deal?

MONIZ: Again, the issue of their having some level of enrichment has been decided for quite some time.

The issue here is we have had a two-thirds reduction in centrifuges, a 97 percent reduction in the stockpile of uranium. This is a huge issue, in addition to minimizing enrichment levels.

So, again, we committed to having essentially an instantaneous shift from a current two-month breakout time, two to three months perhaps, to at least a year for at least 10 years. This is providing security for us and we believe for sure our friends and allies.

TAPPER: But if this was the deal that could be achieved, why was President Obama in 2012 promising such a stronger deal for the West than what was able to be achieved?

MONIZ: The issue is where we are today and what we can do to assure our security and that of or friends and allies. This deal, I think, so far, the reactions to it have been that it has really passed any expectations in terms of its specificity. This is not leaving big loopholes. It's a specific set of commitments

that will be enshrined in the next three months leading to the agreement and it enhances all of our security.

TAPPER: The framework of the deal was silent on the fate of some Americans being held prisoner in Iran, journalist Jason Rezaian, Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, plus, of course, missing FBI agent Robert Levinson.

What's your message to their families? I realize that you are the energy secretary, and not secretary of state, but you are part of the negotiating team. We know that this came up. Secretary of State Kerry said he brought it up every day.

MONIZ: Right.

TAPPER: What is your message to the families who were hoping that this was the last chance that they could get their loved ones home?

MONIZ: Well, first of all, Secretary Kerry did indeed, I can assure you, carry through on that commitment.

What I want to emphasize is this negotiation was intentionally restricted to the nuclear issue, get the nuclear bomb issue off the table, we hope, for a long time. That has other implications. For example, things like arms embargoes, ballistic missile sanctions, those stay in place, strictly focused on the nuclear issues.

TAPPER: All right, Secretary Moniz, we appreciate your coming here. Thank you so much.

MONIZ: Thank you.

TAPPER: Let's hear from the other side of this.

Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas from the Armed Services Committee, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, one of the strongest critics of this framework deal, joins me now.

Senator Cotton, your reaction to what Secretary Moniz just said?

SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: Jake, Mr. Moniz is an eminent nuclear physicist, one of the leading physicists in our country, but this is not his deal. This is President Obama's deal.

He was acting on President Obama's direction. And what we saw yesterday was, frankly, not a deal. It was not a framework. It was just a detailed list of American concessions that is going to put Iran on the path to a nuclear weapon, whether they follow the terms announced yesterday or whether they violate the terms announced yesterday. And that's dangerous for America. It's dangerous for the world.

TAPPER: You heard President Obama say yesterday that the options are this deal or the status quo or war. What's your take?

COTTON: The president likes to accuse his opponents of making false choices, but that's the ultimate false choice.

TAPPER: Well, what is the option here? This is the deal on the table.

COTTON: Well, first off, we have to remember how we got here. The president let Iran off its knees after sanctions had driven them to the negotiating table to begin with in 2013.

One of the very key deals or key points not announced yesterday is when sanctions will be relaxed. The president and Secretary Kerry said it will be phased, but Iran's leaders say it will be immediate. That's why this deal may still not be consummated by June. But the alternatives to this deal is a better deal with continued pressure through the credible threat of military force and more sanctions and, if necessary, having to take military action.

TAPPER: So you think war, military action would be preferable to this deal?

COTTON: Jake, the president again likes to present a false choice.

TAPPER: Well, you just talked about military action, though.

COTTON: And there's lots of kinds of military action.

In December 1998, Bill Clinton waged four days of aerial and naval bombardment of Iraq specifically against their weapons of mass destruction program, because they weren't following U.N. Security Council resolutions and they were interfering with U.N. weapons inspectors, exactly what Iran has been doing, and much worse. There's a big difference from what you saw...


TAPPER: I take your point. So you would support theoretically airstrikes against their nuclear facilities over taking this deal?

[16:10:00] COTTON: That's exactly what Samantha Power said just a couple weeks ago. That's what the president has said all along.

The difference is that we need to be serious about the credible threat of military force. Again, there's a big difference between what, say, I saw in Iraq in 2006, 100,000 troops with heavy mechanized armor, and targeted aerial and naval bombing. That has to be a credible threat that's still on the table.

Otherwise, our diplomacy will not be effective. Like all Americans, I want to see a negotiated settlement, but I want to see a negotiated settlement that stops Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, not just today and tomorrow or during this administration, but 10 and 15 years from now.

TAPPER: What's your argument to those who say, look, we tried it your way during the Bush administration, there was no agreement ever reached, there were sanctions, Iran was ostracized, and guess what that happened during the Bush years? They developed most of this nuclear program. And your approach only leads to them continuing this development.

COTTON: Jake, it's actually accelerated over the last six years in the Obama administration, in part because President Obama, as Secretary Moniz said, has separated their nuclear program from their behavior.

Remember, the president's own State Department says Iran is the world's leading sponsor of state terrorism. As you just pointed out, as Marty Baron, the editor of "The Washington Post" pointed out, they are holding hostage a "Washington Post" reporter and an American preacher for spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ, an American Marine.

They are not a normal nation. And we cannot treat them as a normal nation. We certainly cannot allow them to be a nuclear threshold state.

TAPPER: The president has said that if Congress stops this deal, Congress and the United States will be the ones who lead to a path other than a peaceful negotiation of this problem.

COTTON: I would disagree.

I would say that we are trying to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. There are grave reservations about the path the president has taken us down on both sides of the aisle. Just 18 months ago, when I was still in the House of Representatives, I voted with 400 other members of Congress to impose new sanctions on Iran. The president strong-armed the Senate not to implement those sanctions.

Moreover, just a couple weeks ago, the House of Representatives said any deal must block all paths to a nuclear weapon; 370 members of the House of Representatives signed that.

TAPPER: But, Senator, I'm sure you agree that intelligence estimates say that the breakthrough period, the breakout period between Iran deciding they are going to build a nuclear bomb and them having a nuclear bomb is two to three months. What can be done in two to three months? Isn't this better, isn't this -- isn't creating a breakout period of a year, as this deal supposedly would do, better than allowing them to have this two- to three-month breakout period which exists right now?

Nothing much can be achieved in two to three months of sanctions.

COTTON: Jake, again, that's one reason why we shouldn't have been negotiating from a position of weakness. We shouldn't have relaxed the sanctions. We should have increased them, as the House tried to do 18 months ago, so we could negotiate from strength.


TAPPER: President Obama has imposed harsher sanctions on Iran than anyone else in the history...

COTTON: Sanctions against which he lobbied before the Senate implemented them 99-0. What I'm saying is the president lobbied hard against new sanctions in 2013 and 2014 that would have only increased his bargaining leverage.

But, in any event, the terms announced yesterday, the former deputy director of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, one of the world's most respected experts in nuclear proliferation and arms control and inspection, has said would allow Iran to get nuclear materials sufficient for a bomb in a matter of months, if not weeks.

So these terms are not improving anything. They are only cementing the status quo or making it even worse and therefore more dangerous.

TAPPER: And what's next for the Senate? What are you going to do?

COTTON: Well, I'm going to do everything I can to stop these terms from becoming a final deal.

Iran may not accept them in the first place because Iran has continued to string along our negotiators, because, in the end, Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, may not want to accept any deal with the United States, since Iran is committed to the death of America. He was just chanting that publicly in Tehran a couple weekends ago.

But I am going to work with my colleagues in the Senate and House of Representatives to do everything I can to ensure there is no final deal along these terms.

TAPPER: Such as what? Take away the president's ability to waive the sanctions, which is in the law?

COTTON: And impose new sanctions and ensure that Congress has a final up-or-down vote, as a clear majority of the American people believe we should have.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, hope you have a good peaceful Easter with your family. We wish the same to Secretary Moniz's, of course.

In other world news, it's amazing investigators were able to find it in the first place. Now the second black box from the Germanwings crash is providing valuable clues -- what officials are saying about the co-pilot's actions in the final minutes of the flight and what passengers would have known next.


[16:18:47] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In more world news, it is one of the final pieces of the puzzle and it reveals a horrifying new detail about what 149 passengers and crew members experienced moments before their plane crashed into a mountain in the southern French Alps, killing them all. Investigators now say that tests on the flight data recorder from Germanwings Flight 9525, the black box that investigators have been searching for for more than a week which finally turned up yesterday, show that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz repeatedly, repeatedly sped up the plane during its descent, ignoring the blaring cockpit alarms warning that the plane was going to go down too quickly. Let's go live now to CNN's Pamela Brown. She's in Dusseldorf, Germany.

Pamela, this is not the only new indication this pilot knew exactly what he was doing.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Jake. In fact, this new data also shows that he used auto pilot to bring the plane down in those final moments. This flight data recorder providing crucial clues backing up what officials have been saying that Lubitz's actions were voluntary and deliberate.


BROWN (voice-over): Today, this charred flight data recorder found buried in the mountain shows co-pilot Andreas Lubitz changed the driver setting multiple times to speed up the plane as it headed straight into the French alps, according to French investigators.

[16:20:09] The first reading of the recorder shows Lubitz used auto pilot to engage the aircraft down to 100 feet as he manually increased the plane's speed. Investigators say Lubitz also tried to shut down the plane's alarms.

ROGER CONNOR, CURATOR, SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION: It would have been fairly apparent to the passengers that something was wrong, that sense of speed building up, increased wind noise would have definitely given the sense that something was wrong in addition to the descent.

BROWN: The German prosecutor says a tablet found in Lubitz's apartment reveals he made searches on suicide methods and cockpit doors and locks, from March16th to the 23rd, one day before the crash. The new findings bolstering investigators' belief the crash was premeditated.

Investigators have also interviewed a pilot who flew with Lubitz the day before the crash. He said he didn't suspect anything was wrong.

LES ABEND, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It was probably planned on some particular flight. I don't believe that it was necessarily this flight. It sounds to me like there was some urging with reference to the captain's lavatory usage on this one.

BROWN: Inside Lubitz's apartment, a law enforcement source says investigators also found personal memos with only a couple of words involving stress and his pilot's license. That source says Lubitz was prescribed medication for depression in the months leading up to the crash. The source says Lubitz told at least one of his doctor he was afraid his medical issues could jeopardize his ability to fly.


BROWN: And a law enforcement source says that investigators have been looking through the notes from the doctors, talking with the doctors they haven't found any wrongdoing or negligence. His doctors gave him that not-fit-to-work notice that he was required to give to his employer and now we know, Jake, that did not happen.

TAPPER: Pamela Brown, thank you so much.

For more now on what these flight data recorder findings mean, I want to bring in Paul Ginsberg. He's an analyst of black boxes and a forensic audio expert.

First off, I want to show our viewers what exactly we're talking about here. This in a studio with me is a flight data recorder similar to the one that investigators are testing right now. Of course, the one pulled from the crash site was in much worse condition than this.

Mr. Ginsberg, if you could walk us through the type of information that investigators can get from a device like this.

PAUL GINSBERG, BLACK BOX ANALYST: That's right. This flight data recorder complements the cockpit voice recorder and tells us all about the settings of the controls, the input that the pilot and co-pilot have access to in the cockpit with all of their controls, and also, it tells us about how the plane is flying, the attitude, the speed, the direction, the altitude, and all of the alarms, all of the inputs from every piece of equipment on that plane from brakes to alerts to the engines themselves.

In other words, it really tells you everything you need to know about what's going on in that airplane, and that coupled with the cockpit voice recorder gives us a real complete picture of what happened and why.

TAPPER: And in your expert view, based on what we know, what are some of the reasons why Mr. Lubitz may have sped up the plane during the descent.

GINSBERG: Well, the only thing that really comes to mind is that he was anxious that perhaps the pilot would be able to kick down the door and enter and overpower him. So, I think he just wanted to speed up the scenario to make sure that he got to where he wanted to go, unfortunately.

TAPPER: Tests also show Lubitz used the auto pilot to change the plane's altitude to under 100 feet. Why would there even be a setting of 96 feet for auto pilot?

GINSBERG: I think that was just the lowest increment other than zero that they could set to. Perhaps it was to give the pilot a way to get down close enough to the ground to see where he was going positively almost right to the tarmac on most airports.

TAPPER: What can the flight data recorder tell us about the cockpit door?

GINSBERG: At present, I don't know that the cockpit door, nor the switch controlling the door is an input to the flight data recorder. I have a feeling that from this point on, it will be along with other instrumentation. But this clearly is the first time we have had to deal with this. From now on, they can use that as a trigger, a sensor, and also an

input to the flight data recorder in addition to everything else it measures.

[16:25:06] TAPPER: Paul Ginsberg, thank you so much. Hope you have a happy, healthy Passover with your family.

GINSBERG: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, they were allegedly inspired by the Boston marathon bombers and wanted to make pressure cooker bombs of their own. Now, the husband of one of the American women accused of plotting a terror attack here in the U.S. is speaking out. What he's saying, next.

Plus, tornado watches over several states after a severe storm that caused flooding last night moves across the U.S. The areas that could get hit, you'll want to watch this, coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Happening now in our national lead: another American woman charged with trying to join ISIS and fight in its jihad. According to federal prosecutors in Philadelphia, Keonna Thomas was communicating with ISIS terrorists in Syria when asked if she wanted to be a, quote, "martyr", Thomas allegedly responded, quote, "That would be amazing. A girl can only wish."

This comes as we learn disturbing new details on the two New York women officials claim were hell-bent on unleashing a wave of terror here at home. Noelle Velentzas and Asia Siddiqui are accused of trying to build pressure cooker bombs, much like the ones used in the Boston marathon terrorist attack.