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Ohio Pot Vote; Donald Trump on the Attack; Plane Crash Investigation; Inspector: Covert Test Results on TSA "Troubling"; Poll: Carson, Trump Reign Supreme Over GOP Rivals. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired November 3, 2015 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Investigators zeroing in right now on a flash and strange noises.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Black boxes today reportedly beginning to tell the story of a doomed flight with 224 on board, 25 of them children, but as suspicions grow, some breaking news, a new clue just moments ago raising even more questions.

Dr. Ben Carson and his surgeon hands tightening their grip on the GOP race, as Donald Trump sells his book and says being president just isn't Carson's thing.

Plus, pot in the heartland, Ohio voters going to the polls right now to vote on legalizing recreational marijuana, as critics argue the law could create a cartel, making a kingpin out of a pop music and reality TV star.

Good afternoon, everyone, some breaking news in our world lead now.

Russian news agencies are now reporting that the bodies of victims in that downed Metrojet crash show no signs that they were killed by a bomb. The crash killed 224 people; 25 of the victims were children.

Let's go right to CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, what are we learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, those news agencies in Russia reporting no signs of blast injuries, no signs of explosives from their unnamed sources.

Now, investigators in the field in Sinai are finishing up their field work today, turning their attention now to the voice and data recorders to see what else they can learn.


STARR (voice-over): Investigators examine the wreckage of the Russian Metrojet Airbus, looking for clues about what brought the plane down, killing all 224 on board. Before the plane crashed, a U.S. military satellite detected a burst

of heat consistent with an explosion. The satellite detected the heat flash while the plane was still in flight, raising a number of possibilities about what may have happened, ranging from mechanical failure to a bomb on board.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're interested in understanding exactly what happened. And so we have offered them our advice and any resources that they would find useful in conducting that investigation.

STARR: The airline denying it could have been caused by mechanical failure.

ALEXANDER SMIRNOV, METROJET (through translator): There are no such faults like engine failure or system failure. There is no combination of systems failure that could lead to a plane breaking up in the air.

STARR: Russia's privately owned Interfax agency, citing an unnamed source, says the cockpit voice recording reveals a nonstandard emergency that happened instantly.

Investigators are now looking closely at the passenger manifest, what was in the cargo hold, and the identities of anyone who had access to the aircraft and could have tampered with it, or planted a bomb.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE: This would be the classic airport insider threat. They would come in, they would either pay off or subvert the ground crews that maintain the airplanes, and use them or put their own people in place and move a device, potentially, onto an airplane.

STARR: But mechanical or structural failure also possible. Aviation experts say it's just too soon to jump to conclusions.

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: In Pan Am 103, which was brought down by a terrorist bomb, it took weeks to fine the pieces that had the plastic explosive residue on it and it took many months to test it out. So it's too early to say it can't be terrorism, but at this point, taking lessons from TWA 800, it looks mechanical until proven otherwise.


STARR: And, of course, one of the reasons the U.S. wants to know so urgently what happened to this airliner is to figure out what steps need to be taken to continue to keep American skies safe -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you so much.

Let's go now to Matthew Chance. He's in Saint Petersburg, Russia, live, where devastated families are now planning for funerals for their loved ones.

Matthew, it's a heartbreaking situation, 25 children among the dead. MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right,

and even four days since that catastrophe, you can see the scene right behind me.

There are flowers being laid. There are still people coming out and it's midnight here local time, remember. There are still people coming to pay their respects and to lay flowers and to light candles in memory of the loss of those 224 lives.

You know, I said to you before, Russia is no stranger to airline disasters. It's had lots of them over the past 10, 20 years, but this one has really touched people, struck a chord to them. Perhaps it's because it was a tourist flight, it was filled with families, there were 25 children, as you mentioned. There were also lots of couples that had left their children here in Saint Petersburg and that's created a whole generation, a whole group of orphans as well.


And so it's something that's really being seen as a national tragedy in this country. Over the course of the past few hours, there's been an announcement that on Sunday coming up, there will be a big memorial here in Saint Petersburg at one of the cathedrals here. That's going to happen.

The funeral arrangements not quite set yet. They're still in the process of identifying the bodies that have been coming back on airplanes from Sharm el-Sheikh in the course of the past 48 hours; 19 people, passengers have been identified so far, but, of course, there's still a long way to go.

TAPPER: Matthew Chance in Saint Petersburg, Russia, thank you so much.

Joining me now, aviation safety expert John Goglia. He's a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board. Also with me here in studio, Michael Goldfarb, a former FAA chief of staff.

John, let me start with you. Russia now reporting that the bodies in this crash show no signs of an impact by an explosive. What does that suggest to you? Is that dispositive? Does that necessarily mean that there wasn't a bomb on board?

JOHN GOGLIA, FORMER MEMBER, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: Well, it means there was no bomb in the general area where those bodies that have been tested were on the airplane.

But it's still early to make any determinations. For example, if there was a device in the cargo compartment, the rear cargo compartment, which was enough to take the tail off the plane, you may not find any residue of that on the bodies. So it's just one clue in many before we get to the answers in this.

TAPPER: Michael, let's talk about this, what's being described as uncharacteristic sound captured on the cockpit voice recorder. What does that mean? What could it be? MICHAEL GOLDFARB, FORMER FAA CHIEF OF STAFF: We may have some problem in translation in terms of what that means. But it's clearly out of protocol, so the flight crew knows how to respond to certain kind of emergencies.

Clearly, something catastrophic, whether a bomb, whether the cargo hold or something would cause that. But the bigger issue, and John pointed this out, is that we really are at day one in this. It's interesting. It's ironic. In MH370 and others, we couldn't find the black boxes, we couldn't find the airplane.

Now we have the black boxes. We have a lot of the fuselage. We have bodies, unfortunately, and yet we have an investigation. And the question is, who's leading the investigation in real terms? We have too many chefs in the kitchen, the Russians, the Egyptians, the French, and Germans, because it's Airbus. Maybe the United States would come in.

But until we have a fidelity in the information being provided, Jake, we could be back in a situation of each day hearing new reports of leads that really can't be grounded in data.

TAPPER: John, investigators won't speculate what caused the sudden sound. Would there be more significant evidence at this point if it were definitely a bomb?

GOGLIA: Not necessarily. Not necessarily.

You know, it may not have been a very large device, but it was enough to cause the airplane to break itself apart in flight. You know, the TWA event that was off Long Island, when that fuel tank exploded, and we use that word rather loosely, but when the event happened inside the fuel tank, it didn't blow the airplane apart, but it broke the back of the airplane and then the air loads took the plane down.

TAPPER: Michael, as you know, a U.S. military satellite detected a heat flash from the plane. What could cause that?

GOLDFARB: Well, let's go back to what John was just talking about, TWA Flight 800. We spent several years tracing clues that naval intelligence had seen a flash. People spent two years on conspiracy theories, as opposed to the NTSB investigation, the flash to be caused, as we learned, by the center fuel tank exploding.

It's so early to go down a path. The danger of going down a path is to overlook clues. It's kind of a conclusion searching for data. We have to have data before we draw conclusions.

TAPPER: John, we know that the tail section was among the separated pieces of this plane. Is that an area that investigation -- investigators you think should zero in on since it's near the cargo area?

GOGLIA: Well, no question.

In some of the video that you showed just earlier a minute or two ago, it clearly shows them looking at point where the tail separated from the rest of the airplane. That is critical area. You want to know the mechanics of how that happened. How was the metal pulled apart? What direction did the force come that pulled that metal part? So, yes, that's going to be an area that will receive a lot of attention.

TAPPER: Michael, I assume that airport security in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to get on a Russian plane is nowhere like what it is in the United States. How loose is it?

GOLDFARB: Well, not necessarily.

There's a big economic interest in that resort area both for the Russians and the Egyptians. In fact, airport security in terms of bomb detection equipment, they're not bad. They have fairly state-of- the-art equipment.

But we know nothing about protocol. We know nothing like we do here about the TSA screeners, what they look for, how they're done. So airport security there absolutely has to be looked at. The question would be are all of the parties in the investigation willing to take an honest look at all of those kinds of things, given what's at stake in terms of tourism travel and economics?


TAPPER: Right.

John, how many -- John, many of the bodies found in the Sinai Peninsula were still found in seat belts. They were still strapped into the seats or something like that, close to it. Does that indicate anything?

GOGLIA: Well, that certainly indicate an event that would happen rather quickly, so that they were still in their seats, still strapped in. It was only 20-odd minutes into the flight. So they were probably not up and around yet.

They were just getting comfortable into the cruise altitude of the airplane. So, I would expect most of them to be belted.

TAPPER: All right, a tragic story.

John Goglia, Michael Goldfarb, thank you so much for your insights. Appreciate it.

In our national lead, you're stuck going through body scanners at the airport, but, of course, the big question we have all wondered, do they even work? A government watchdog now saying, just hours ago, that the TSA doesn't really know if they're effective -- that story next.


[16:15:21] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

The national lead now: it's the agency that frequently leaves you shoeless, and beltless, and aggravated. It has spent billions and billions of your dollars and probed deeper and deeper into your privacy, trying to prevent the next terrorist attack in the sky.

And today, an inspector general slammed the Transportation Security Administration in front of Congress saying, there are still many weak links in TSA screening.

CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh is live for us at Reagan national airport just outside D.C.

Rene, a blistering, blistering testimony.

RENE MARSH ,CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Right, Jake. Aside from the department of homeland security's inspector general, there was another government watchdog group, the Government Accountability Office.

And the GAO essentially told Congress, many, not all, but many of TSA's screening methods in weeding out terrorists at airports, they're questioning how effective is it, and the reason why they're raising that question is because they say that TSA themselves have -- they have not taken the time to analyze deeply their own process to determine, is that we're doing at the nation's airports working towards our mission, which is essentially to weed out every bad guy who shows up?

Take a listen to what they said at the hearing earlier this morning.


JENNIFER GROVER, U.S. GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE: TSA definitely is aware of the importance of ensuring their programs are effective. But at the end of the day for GAO, it comes down to a very simple question which is, does the program work and how do you know?

PETER NEFFENGER, TSA ADMINISTRATOR: What have we done to address immediate challenges, retrained the front line workforce. Should I start with the junior most person in this organization that's standing on a screening line and I think about what it means for that individual to do their job effectively.


MARSH: So here are some of the issues that the Government Accountability Office has with the agency. They say that TSA has not evaluated the effectiveness of new screening technologies. They also say TSA has no consistent performance measures for its secure flights program, which is essentially a program that allows them to match passengers' names against terror watch lists. And, lastly, the GAO says TSA has failed to use data to identify possibilities or areas for them to improve and strengthen the system.

Jake, we should point out, you heard there from the TSA head, he says that he has retrained all of his front line workers to address some of these issues but he's also pushing back. He pointed out that, every day TSA finds firearms at airport security checkpoints, just last week, they found a record number of firearms. So, they do know that there's work to be done but didn't want the point to be missed that they have prevented a lot of weapons from getting through airport security, Jake.

TAPPER: And a lot of bottles of shampoo.

Rene Marsh, tank you so much. Appreciate it.

In our politics lead, Donald Trump telling one of his Republican rivals that it's time to drop out of the race. Is a new poll making Trump nervous?

Plus, why one former reality star is closely watching the polls in Ohio. Will a vote to legalize marijuana make him millions? That's ahead.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Let's do some politics now with the politics lead. Dr. Ben Carson might speak very softly but there is nothing low key about his standing in polls these days. A new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll showing Carson resting away the top spot away from Donald Trump.

But -- and this is a big caveat -- this poll was conducted almost entirely before last week's Republican debate. And we've seen that these debates do have an impact on the rate. So it's unclear this poll is an accurate snapshot where the race is right now.

CNN national political reporter Sara Murray is in New York covering Donald Trump who continues to lead in key state polls, including New Hampshire.

Sara, Donald Trump has a new book out today.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: He does have a new book out today. While he was in New York, to release the books, to sign some books, he couldn't help but taking some shots at his opponents for everything, from their immigration stance, to their energy levels.


MURRAY: Ben Carson tightening his grip on his front-runner status. Twenty-nine percent of GOP voters nationwide support Carson in the latest NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll, a six-point lead over Donald Trump.

BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our strength is in our unity and we need to stop listening to the purveyors of division. We're trying to make us think there's a war going on with everything.

MURRAY: Taken together, the two outsiders dominate the field, drawing 52 percent support.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you add Ben and myself, we're beating everybody by a lot. That seems to be the big story. CARSON: I continue to do what I've been doing.

MURRAY: Carson's gains coming as he travels the country promoting his book. Not to be outdone, Trump celebrated his own book release today and took a swipe at the man on top of the polls.

TRUMP: He's a different kind of a person. My book is very hard hitting. You look at Ben, he's very weak on immigration and he wants to get rid of Medicare.

[16:25:04] MURRAY: Training his fire on another rival, Trump predicted Jeb Bush doesn't have what it takes to win White House.

TRUMP: Can Jeb make a comeback? I think it's going to be very hard.

MURRAY: And said it's time for some of his GOP opponents to give up the fight. Do you think it's time for some of the Republicans in the field to drop out?

TRUMP: If a person has been campaigning for four or five months and they're at zero or one or two percent, they should get out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to go back if I can --

MURRAY: With the candidates now at odds with each other over how to move forward, President Obama is mocking the entire field.

TRUMP: If you can't handle those guys, you know, then I don't think that Chinese and Russians are going to be too worried about you.

MURRAY: While Trump complains, it's the Democrats that have it easy.

TRUMP: Hillary Clinton, no tough questions. I mean, why didn't they ask about Bill? Why didn't they ask about all of the different things? Hillary had only softballs all night long. It was like this -- here, Hillary, hit this one over the park.


MURRAY: Now you see there, Donald Trump going after the Democrats for the debates. And one thing that we should point out, it was President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards who decided to skip a FOX News debate in 2007. So, it's clear this works on both sides of the aisle -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sara, did Trump have anything to say about the flap over the debates?

MURRAY: Yes, there's been a back and forth where the Republicans got together, decided to make their demands and then it was Trump's campaign who said he was going to go it alone, negotiate directly with networks. Today, he seemed to sort of brush this all aside. He basically said, give me a podium, we'll debate. I think we're now seeing a number of Republicans who don't want this to be used as a weakness against them. They want to make it look like they're tough, they're prepared, they're ready for anything. TAPPER: All right. Sara Murray in New York, thanks so much.

"Jeb can fix it" is supposed to be punctuated with an exclamation point. Jeb! But sagging poll numbers and deflated debate performances have made Jeb Bush's bid for the Republican nomination the biggest question mark of the 2016 race.

That NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll found 52 percent of Republican voters saying they won't even consider voting for Governor Bush.

CNN's Jamie Gangel just sat down with Bush in South Carolina. She asked him about Senator Marco Rubio and about Donald Trump. Here's some of that interview.


JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Marco Rubio, he's now rising in the polls, your former protege.


GANGEL: In the debate, you went after him for missing votes but he hit back and some people think he got the better of the moment. Was it a mistake to attack him on that?

BUSH: Here's my point: people that are serving need to show up and work, period, over and out.

GANGEL: So it wasn't a mistake? -

BUSH: I just think people need to show up and work.

GANGEL: Donald Trump, he just called Marco Rubio a lightweight and he said, Vladimir Putin would eat him for lunch. You think that's fair?

BUSH: No, it not fair. Look, Marco's a capable guy. He's a talented politician. Here's what I think -- I think I'm the best qualified to be president.

GANGEL: But is Marco Rubio ready?

BUSH: I'm the best qualified guy to be president.

GANGEL: You're not going to answer the question.

BUSH: If you're comparing me to Donald Trump, I'm better qualified to be president.


TAPPER: And you can see the whole interview with Jeb Bush tonight on "THE SITUATION ROOM WITH WOLF BLITZER" starting at 5:00 p.m. Eastern right after this show.

Hillary Clinton speaking right now at a rally in Iowa. She's trouncing Bernie Sanders in the latest national poll. But it's not all rosy in Clinton land. That story, next.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you. It's the best club I've ever been in, I can tell you that.