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THE SITUATION ROOM
EgyptAir Jet Crashes; Clinton Says Trump Unqualified to Be President; Search for Plane Intensifies, Terror Suspected; U.S. Officials: Early Theory Bomb Took Down Plane; Clinton: Trump Unqualified to be President. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 19, 2016 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Hillary Clinton flatly declares she will be the Democratic nominee, urging a defiant Bernie Sanders to do his part for party unity. She's also dismissing Donald Trump as unqualified to be president, all this in an exclusive interview with CNN.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is on assignment. I am Jim Sciutto. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
SCIUTTO: Breaking news this hour: Egypt's president is demanding an intensified search for wreckage in a new airline disaster that could be an act of terror.
Right now, crews are scouring the Mediterranean for debris from the EgyptAir flight. Greek officials say objects found earlier did not come from the plane. U.S. officials telling CNN they're operating on an early theory that a bomb may have brought down Flight 804, all 66 passengers and crew members on board the jet now presumed dead.
The flight was heading from Paris to Cairo when it vanished over water earlier today soon after entering Egyptian airspace. There was no distress signal before the plane disappeared.
Tonight, the United States has sent Navy planes to aid in the search. U.S. officials tell me there were no known security issues with any of the passengers on board.
Our correspondents and analysts are standing by with full coverage of this breaking news story.
First to CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh.
RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, this appears as if this was a catastrophic event that happened very quickly, so fast that the pilots did not put out a distress call.
While the working theory is that a bomb potentially brought this plane down, investigators will not be able to definitively say what went wrong until they get their hands on the wreckage and those critical black boxes.
MARSH (voice-over): Tonight, an urgent search is under way in the Mediterranean Sea. The U.S. Navy has deployed a P-3 Orion aircraft to help in the search for EgyptAir Flight 804. Officials in Egypt and in the U.S. believe this was likely an act of terrorism.
SHERIF FATHY, EGYPTIAN AVIATION MINISTER (through translator): If you look at this situation properly, the possibility of a terror attack is more likely than a technical problem.
MARSH: At 11:09 p.m., the plane takes off from Paris en route to Cairo. At 1:24 a.m., it enters Greek airspace. At 1:48, it checks in at the next control point, Key Island, south of Athens.
Greek officials say the pilot is cheerful and thanks the air traffic controllers; 2:27 a.m., the first sign something is wrong. Despite repeated calls from air traffic control, the pilots do not respond. Then, just two minutes later, the plane's signal drops from the radar.
Greek officials say the aircraft plunged from its cruising altitude of 37,000 feet down to 10,000 feet, when it disappeared from radar. EgyptAir officials say the plane, an Airbus 320, was relatively new and the pilot very experienced.
AHMED ADEL, VICE PRESIDENT, EGYPTAIR: He has 6,000 hours, total flying hours, 2,000 on this type, good reputation, and he was a colleague of mine.
MARSH: A U.S. official says the plane made stops in Eritrea and Tunisia, but was swept by security when it stopped in Paris before leaving for Cairo.
This is just the latest incident for EgyptAir. In May, a man falsely claiming to be wearing a suicide vest hijacked a plane with 72 people on board. And in 1999, U.S. investigators said a deliberate act brought down an EgyptAir airplane near Nantucket Island, killing more than 200 on board.
In Egypt in October, a Russian Metrojet airliner crashed after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh Airport. ISIS claimed responsibility for placing a bomb on board.
MARSH: Well, there was some discrepancy today about whether debris from this jetliner had been discovered, had been found. The vice chairman of EgyptAir told CNN that life jackets and debris from the aircraft had been found.
The airline later backtracking on that once Greek officials came forward and said no debris has been found at this point, so, Jim, the search for debris, the critical, critical pieces of this plane, continues tonight.
SCIUTTO: And that search will pick up again when the sun rises tomorrow morning. Rene, thanks very much.
As investigators focus on the possibility of terrorism, there are fresh questions being raised about airline security at airports.
CNN's Brian Todd is looking into that for us.
Brian, were there any warning signs about what might have been missed before this?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Apparently, not many warning signs, if any, Jim.
Tonight, investigators have a massive job ahead of them. As of now, U.S. officials telling CNN they're operating under an initial theory that EgyptAir Flight 804 was brought down by a bomb. These officials do acknowledge it is still very early. This theory could change.
Two U.S. officials telling CNN there was no known threat which anticipated this incident, but investigators are going to have to look at where this aircraft was in the 24 hours before it vanished. And that information is crucial.
Let's take a look. During that period, the plane had stopped in Asmara, Eritrea. Then it went to Cairo. Then it stopped in Tunis, Tunisia. Then it flew back to Cairo, then flew to Paris.
EgyptAir's vice chairman says at each of those stops, the plane went through a security check. And according to one U.S. official, that did include a security sweep of the plane in Paris at Charles de Gaulle Airport before the final takeoff.
But aviation security analysts are telling us that sweep in Paris may not have picked up a smaller bomb. One expert, former FAA official Michael Goldfarb, told me earlier today you have to look at the crash of the Metrojet plane in October in the Sinai. Investigators there found what appeared to be bomb or at least a detonator inside of a soda can.
Goldfarb says, up until that time, a standard security sweep might not have picked up a device that small. So they are going to have to look at the sweeps where -- that were conducted at each of those airports, Jim. That's going to be crucial. And are they going to detect anything at any of those airports?
SCIUTTO: Four different airports, four different countries, and so many people involved in each of those stops, isn't that right?
TODD: Right. That's right. It's just an incredible job ahead here.
U.S. officials say investigators' first look, of course, is going to likely be the ground crew in Paris, the flight crew, anyone there in Paris who had access to the plane there. But analysts say counterterror officials are going to have to investigate everyone who could have come in contact with this plane, as you mentioned, Jim, at all four stops in four countries, and people who are their friends, relatives, anyone they might have communicated with.
Now, imagine how many people you are going to have to check out in that circumstance.
SCIUTTO: Brian Todd on the story, thanks very much.
Now I want to go to CNN analyst Miles O'Brien.
Miles, looking at this, there is a gap in the timeline that investigators are particularly concerned about. Why is that gap significant?
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, there's 30 minutes that are kind of unaccounted for.
We know the last two minutes something was awry on the aircraft. Air traffic control tried to reach the crew. They didn't respond after several times. A couple of minutes later, the aircraft began its erratic maneuvers, and then disappeared.
Trying to figure out what happened in that two-minute period is hard to suss out. But one of the things I should point out is this 90- degree turn. It is standard operating procedure in rapid decompression descent for an aircraft to turn 90 degrees off the airway so that it doesn't move into the flight path of an aircraft that might be flying below along the same route.
So that 90-degree turn could have been a crew struggling with an aircraft that was dealing with decompression. The subsequent 360 is a little harder to figure out. But, beyond that, there was a 30-minute gap which we really don't know what was going on from the last known radio communication to that final call that was nonresponsive.
Was there something going on at that time? We don't know yet, and that's something that the cockpit voice recorder will help us with eventually when it is found.
SCIUTTO: Fascinating that that first turn could have been under control of the flight crew. One theory.
Miles, stand by, because I also want to bring in former FBI Assistant Director and CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, as well as former NTSB Managing Director and CNN aviation analyst Peter Goelz.
So, Peter, we talked and we heard from Brian how many legs were in this flight prior, three different countries, three different stops, three different airports. And that means a lot of folks who would have had the opportunity to touch this plane.
PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Absolutely.
I mean, it is a daunting task. And all of the stops were in areas where there are active terrorists who are dedicated to injuring the aviation industry. And this is a real problem. Eritrea, Tunisia, these are tough areas.
SCIUTTO: Right. And Paris, and France as well. It's not just the Middle East.
GOELZ: And France as well.
And we don't have a clear understanding of exactly what resources were being applied in the three airports. We know what Charles de Gaulle has done, and they had a problem. We don't know what resources were being applied to protect this plane.
SCIUTTO: No question.
Tom Fuentes, after the Metrojet crash, which was the Russian jet leaving Sharm el-Sheikh Airport in Egypt on its way to Russia, crashed over the Sinai, security was already tightened at that point. Paris was already on high alert in the wake of the Parisian attacks as well.
What security could have been bypassed, even after raising the level again? As you're watching this, what potential weak points are there?
TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think Paris de Gaulle Airport is one of the most sophisticated, the biggest airport in the world, compared to a small tourist airport in Egypt, Sharm el-Sheikh.
So, their security would be much more sophisticated, but their challenge would be that much greater because of the number of people that work at the airport, and you probably have the food carts prepared off site and delivered already assembled.
So, somebody could stick a device onto a cart, on the bottom of a cart, to get loaded on a plane and blow up later. You have all of that as a challenge. But one of the things to me that is still missing in this is there this is -- this is not the Indian Ocean. There's a lot of ship traffic, a lot of airline traffic in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.
And when this plane -- it is dark. So, if this plane was blown up like a bomb, you remember the video images of TWA 800, the flaming debris coming down, the flaming debris on the surface of the water. Where is that? We don't have any witnesses that saw anything in the air. And on a clear night with dark skies, you would think you could see it for hundreds of miles.
SCIUTTO: Yes, no question.
Miles O'Brien, when you look at this, typically, people at home think about the vulnerability being people getting on the plane. We all go through that security screening, but as Tom and Peter and others have been talking about, you have all these other people who have access to that plane, maintenance, food workers, et cetera.
Do we have those same vulnerabilities here in the U.S. and for U.S.- bound flights? O'BRIEN: Unfortunately, yes, Jim.
The back door of the airport remains the issue that is of greatest concern to people who look at security of airports. While we are taking off our shoes and pouring out our water bottles and turning in our nail clippers on the front door, at the back door, the caterers, the baggage handlers, the people who have really, frankly, intimate access to the guts of the airplane, are not put through the same kind of scrutiny by any means.
Now, they're screened as employees of the various contractors that do this work, but it is a vulnerability that should be addressed and it hasn't been really sealed up as it should be.
SCIUTTO: Well, one indication -- and, again, there are many ifs attached to this story, because we are not there yet.
We don't know what the cause is. We do know what the leading theory is for U.S. investigators, being terrorism, but, Tom Fuentes, we know that airport security was a concern at least in France because they just went through big sweep of the airport staff that they went through. They were searching through lockers, and checking, doing background checks.
I think several people lost their jobs. How worrisome would that be if you went through a check like that and something was still able to get on a plane?
FUENTES: Well, it's very worrisome.
But, again, France and Belgium have had these series of terrorist attacks going back to "Charlie Hebdo" and the other subsequent attacks. They are very well aware that they're vulnerable to an attempt by either an al Qaeda affiliate or ISIS or one of the other groups to try to put a weapon or a bomb on an aircraft.
So they're aware of that and they do all these sweeps, but Miles is correct. The back door to these airports -- we just had this at Atlanta Airport, where Delta flights were being used to shuttle guns illegally to New York City.
An informant turned it in and said yes. In that case, the employee gets on the airport grounds with a bagful of guns, he goes up into the airport, meets his partner who has already gone through security and trades duffel bags, and he hand-carries hundreds and hundreds of firearms onto the Delta to New York flights.
So, if we have that vulnerability here, which we do, then of course how can we throw rocks at Paris or Cairo or any of these other airports here and say their security is inadequate? And then the concern now we have is, there's so much pressure on TSA building of the long lines. Are corners are going to be cut out of pressure from the public to not have these delayed flights and delayed lines?
SCIUTTO: Always a challenge with counterterror. You can make it safer, but you can't make it 100 percent safe. It's just not possible.
Tom Fuentes, Peter Goelz, Miles O'Brien, stay with us.
We have new information coming in. And right after this break, we're going to go live to Paris.
SCIUTTO: We're back with breaking news on the investigation of EgyptAir Flight 804.
Egyptian authorities say terrorism is more likely than technical issues to explain why the Paris-to-Cairo flight disappeared over the Mediterranean. That was early today. But French officials say no theory at this point can yet be ruled out.
CNN senior international correspondent Atika Shubert is at the Charles de Gaulle Airport I Paris, where this flight originated, where it took off.
We know they were raising, Atika, security there even in advance of this. What are you learning from French authorities?
ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely.
What airport authorities have told us is that they have taken months ago stepped-up security measures, And the airport remains at its highest alert level. Just some of the measures they have done is to sort of rescreen the thousands of employees.
In fact, 85,000 employees have access to the highly secured areas of both the Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports here in Paris. So, they rescreened those employees. And they actually removed about 70 of them from their jobs accessing those secured areas because they feared that these employees may have had links to radical Islamist networks.
So, this has been a concern for authorities here for some time. What they do to keep up that vigilance now is, they do random and periodical checks of personnel security lockers. They do screening with police records as well.
And so they are quite vigilant here. The question is whether or not something -- there was a weak link anywhere that may have gotten through. That's what investigators are looking at, and they're specifically concentrating on those ground staff, baggage handlers, caterers, anybody who might have had any sort of access to the plane before it took off, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Atika, as they have been looking and investigating following the disappearance of this flight, no red flags that they have discovered yet?
SHUBERT: No red flags yet, but, you know, it is going to take a lot of time.
Here at Charles de Gaulle, hundreds of people are likely to have had somehow had some contact with that plane, so they're interviewing different people who had contact there. And they're also sending their own investigators to Cairo as well. So it is going to take some time. But as far as the investigation goes, this is the place to start.
SCIUTTO: Atika Shubert there live for us in Paris.
I want to turn now to CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez.
Of course, close relationship between U.S. and French authorities going back years. What are U.S. investigators learning from their French counterparts now? What evidence is there that this was terrorism?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, nothing yet, Jim.
This is still very early in this investigation. And as Atika pointed out, there's really nothing ruled out yet. However, what the U.S. officials are certainly homing in on is the flight manifest. They want to know everything they can about every single person on that aircraft.
That goes for the 56 passengers, the 10 crew members, including the three security members and the two pilots that were on board on the plane. They -- as you reported earlier, they did an initial search to look to see whether there's any red flags that show up on known terror watch lists.
But that's not enough. They have to go down deeper and figure out whether there's any indication that these people had any signs that they could have done something bad to this aircraft.
SCIUTTO: Could a terror group have gotten someone clean, as it were, on board the plane?
SCIUTTO: As we're looking at this, Tom Fuentes, the plane was on the ground in Paris for 90 minutes. Is that enough for someone to tamper with the plane and get perhaps an explosive on board?
But in modern aviation times, it is going to have to be. You're not going to have a plane sit there and go through an eight-hour check, or it would bring worldwide aviation to a screeching halt. So, that's just going to have to do, and, again, we don't know what kind of security measures were being taken off site, at the caterers, where they put the food carts together, the people handling the baggage and all the sequencing that goes through within the airport.
And de Gaulle is a complicated airport. I hate going there, frankly, because when you go into one terminal, you have to take a bus to go a couple miles to the next terminal and another bus to a couple miles to another. So, when you're connecting, the terminals aren't connected to each other where but could walk from one to the other.
So, people are in motion all over that airport by bus, by taxi to go to different terminals. So, there's a lot of difficulty or challenge for the French authorities to secure that particular airport.
SCIUTTO: Tom Fuentes, Peter Goelz and Evan Perez, please stay with us. We do have new information coming in.
Just ahead, more on this investigation into the crash of that EgyptAir jet, as the search continues in the Mediterranean for the plane and for those 66 people on board.
SCIUTTO: We're back with our aviation experts following our breaking news, an urgent search under way right now for wreckage from EgyptAir Flight 804, the plane vanishing from radar earlier today as it entered Egyptian airspace, all 66 people on board now believed dead.
I want to bring in Richard Quest, our aviation expert.
A lot of clues at this point, although it is early, one of those, Richard, a gap in timeline of radio communication between the pilot and the ground right before it crashed. In your view, why is that significant?
RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: It is significant because you have the Greek air traffic control calling out at 1:48 and then -- and they get a reply from the plane, from the pilots, and the pilots, basically, according to the Greeks sound cheerful.
And then, 30 minutes later, you get what should have been the handover call, telling the plane 804 to contact Egypt, and nothing. Two minutes after that, you get the plane going into Egyptian; 90 seconds after that, you get the incident and the plane falling out of the sky.
Now, what we can say, we can't time or drill down to exactly the moment when anything would have happened, because you have now got a 35- to 40-minute window, but the plane appears to be flying normally. There's no indication of anything wrong from -- in that 35-minute gap.
And what we need to know, of course, and what -- this is why the black boxes will be so significant -- is what obviously happened at that crucial moment of the handover, when all of a sudden they were not responding.
Was this a case of the pilots being overwhelmed by mechanical issues? But, even if it was, Jim, the pilots I have spoken to say, yes, you have aviate, navigate, communicate, but if the ground calls out to you and says -- and says something, you can quickly click the button and say, "Stand by, dealing with major problem." Or "Stand by, dealing with major failure." They didn't do that. And that's why one is starting to move towards an either catastrophic form of failure or, indeed, the nefarious bomb scenario. There's not much room in between these two.
[18:30:33] SCIUTTO: Richard, we have some early radar information about exactly how this plane descended. That information showing a sharp turn to the left, a 360 to the right. What does that early information tell you?
QUEST: It doesn't actually tell me too much, and this is why: because normally, you'd also have secondary radar information that would have given you a lot more detail.
If you look at most of these incidents, the secondary radar detail continues as the plane goes down. You see the rate of descent and how the plane is falling.
In this case we've only had the Greeks saying that they saw, to use the Greek minister's words, saw the plane swerving on radar. We've not had this confirmed from anything else.
Some pilots suggest the plane may have been making an evasive maneuver because of stalling, a sharp turn to the left, a sharp turn to the right, a steep descent to gain air speed. But then you'd have power. Then you'd have ADSB reporting. We would have more of a flight profile if that was the case.
What I think you may find here, Jim -- I can't prove it -- but I think what you may find here is this Greek radar data, either inaccurate or it proves to be the plane breaking up, by which stage power has completely gone. I would just say it's there. I have a skepticism about it. It needs further investigation.
TAPPER: Miles O'Brien is CNN aviation expert, as well. You heard Richard there speaking about this gap in radio communication. Is there an alternative explanation for why that could have happened?
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, what made me think about this, Jim, is these evasive maneuvers. What we saw was a 90-degree turn initially. That is standard operating procedure for a crew doing an emergency descent after rapid decompression.
You don't want to fly right down on the airway and potentially onto other aircraft flying to and from on this highway in the sky. You turn left to right 90 degrees, and you go down very quickly. What if the loss of communication was because of just bad radio communication?
This is, after all, the farthest point between two radio transmitters, a potential dead zone for radio transmissions. And what if the crew couldn't hear air traffic control, or air traffic control couldn't hear the crew or both? And what if they are issuing a mayday call, and no one was simply hearing them.
What would be interesting to find out is if there were any aircraft in the area that might have heard anything on their radios. They would have been close. They might have picked up something that air traffic control did not. SCIUTTO: It would be incredible, thinking in the year 2016, you would
lose something as simple as radio communication. Evan, on the terror side of this investigation, we're coming up on nearly 24 hours since the plane disappeared. Would it be unusual to not have a claim of responsibility from a terror group at this point if it was actually a terror attack?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It's not unusual. I mean, you have had incidents they have gone days before they finally claim. Sometimes they want to see what's being found out by authorities from their own investigation.
And obviously, if they have somebody who is able to get a device onto this aircraft, they might be trying to figure out how to get that person out of the reach of authorities. So it's not necessarily indicative of anything.
SCIUTTO: Interesting. So Peter, Tom, let's talk about what we know. We have lost an aircraft over the water here. They haven't spotted wreckage, despite the earlier reports from -- from the Greek authorities that they had. What happens next? I imagine a frantic search. Peter, you've been involved in crash investigations before, for some degree, which would then lead you to the wreckage under the water.
PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: They've got to get vessels into an area where the radar indicates that this plane might have gone down. And they've got to start listening for the pingers from the black boxes.
These pingers attach to the boxes have a limited life span. And they need to have redirected assets to recover the boxes so that, when they do pick up the pingers, and they will, that the assets are on station, ready to go. It's a race against the clock, and there's not a lot of time.
SCIUTTO: We have a data recorder here, just for our viewers. And as I remember, this is the pinger here. That's it? How much time? A month? Thirty -- 30 days?
[18:35:01] GOELZ: It's mandated 30 days. Some have 90 days now. And they're moving towards 90-day pingers, batteries which will give searchers a greater leeway. But many of them still have the 30-day batteries, and that -- boy, that clock starts ticking. I've watched it happen.
SCIUTTO: We have some new information now. CNN can now report the name of the three crew members of EgyptAir Flight 804, according to an official who's close to the investigation as well as a security source. These are the names. Mohamed Said Shoukair, he was the captain. Mohamed Mamdouth Ahmed Assem, he was the first officer, sitting right next to the captain. And Mirvat Zaharia Zaki Mohamed, he was a purser on board that plane.
Tom Fuentes, say you're investigating this crash in your old job as former assistant director to the FBI, you don't know for sure that this was an act of terrorism, but you are certainly factoring that in as a very real possibility here. What do you do now? Beyond the investigation to make over airports secure, if you have exposed here some vulnerability, what are authorities doing now in reaction to this?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I don't know how much more they are doing in those airports like Paris De Gaulle. If they have already got this maximum security effort in effect, going back, there's only so far you can take this and so much delay you can instill on the passengers and airline industry.
So I don't know how much more they'll be doing. They might say they're doing a whole lot more, but I doubt that they really can do a lot more.
But the other thing I'd be concerned in this investigation is right now it's dark in the Mediterranean Sea, so we're going to have to wait a few hours for the sun to come back up. If that plane blew up and came apart in midair, you're going to have a wide debris field. If that plane went in -- directly into the water like Air France 447 and other flights, you're going to have less of a debris field, but you'll have a narrower area where it hit the water and have a place to start looking for the boxes on the bottom.
So that's -- right now, to me, the fact that there are so many ships, so much air traffic that was in that area to not see exploding debris, fire in the sky. Because again, 24 hours ago, it was dark then. So this happened in the dark. And it would have been seen for dozens if not hundreds of miles.
PEREZ: It is one of the busiest parts of that area, especially in light of recent incidents in war zones.
FUENTES: Right. Why don't we have witnesses to explosion and a fire in the sky?
SCIUTTO: And in the air. Evan, following the Paris attacks last year and the -- and the concern of the terror threat in Europe, you had the U.S. take another look at visa-free travel from Europe to the U.S., and some new rules were added to tighten.
Here is the U.S. going to look at this and say we've got to tighten security, for instance, on U.S. flights coming out of an airport like Paris? How -- and of course, they have to wait for the final determination, but what's in their arsenal to respond to something like this?
PEREZ: It's not clear that there's more you can do. I do know, from talking to officials, that in the aftermath of the Belgium attacks and what happened at the Belgian airport, there were some additional measures that were taken that were unseen, that were never announced that were taken to make sure that we have the maximum security for flights coming from -- from those airports to the United States. There are things that are being done. I'm not sure that there's more you can do. Jim, as you and I are talking to officials have learned, you know,
this is a summer that they're expecting a lot of activity. They are very concerned about the heightened terror, you know, picture in western Europe in light of the soccer championships that we have coming out next month in France. I've talked to French officials. They are very, very worried about what they're expecting to see the next few months.
SCIUTTO: No question. It's like a series of Super Bowls, for our American audience. Imagine these European championships as they come up.
Evan Perez, Peter Goelz, Tom Fuentes, thank you. Richard Quest, as well, joining us live from Beijing.
Coming up just ahead, were airport workers in Paris involved in the downing of Flight 804? We are learning more information. We'll be right back.
[18:48:47] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. Terrorism strongly suspected in the crash of an EgyptAir jet that plunged into the Mediterranean on a flight from Paris to Cairo. Sixty-six people were on board. The search continuing tonight for the wreckage.
Also joining us now is CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank. He is live from Brussels. You're getting information about the key question, whether airport workers in Paris could have been involved. What can you tell us tonight?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Jim, it is certainly a key line of inquiry at this point, whether somebody working at the Paris airport, Charles De Gaulle, had the opportunity to get a device on board.
We're told that there was a security sweep of the aircraft at Charles De Gaulle, but in the weeks after the terrorist attacks, there were significant concerns about radicalization. Paris airports -- airport officials said that nearly 70 airport workers had their security cards revoked in terms of being able to get into the secure areas of the airport, many of those -- or most of those because they were judged to be radicalized.
[18:45:01] Also, the concern here in Brussels, allegations in the Belgium media just a few days ago, that there are still 50 sympathizers working at Brussels Airport. Now, those allegations have not been substantiated, but they were well reported in the Belgian media.
This speaks to the concern here in Europe about the insider threat, but there are top regulations in Europe in terms of screening of airport workers in terms of them being able to get to secure parts of the airport. Those standards are more rigorous here in Europe than the United States. So, it might have been difficult to get a device on the plane, even if you're able to recruit an airport insider. SCIUTTO: Tom Fuentes, you know ISIS took credit for downing of the
Russian jet leaving Sharm el-Sheikh, which is last year. What other groups would be the principal suspects for having that kind of capability and ambition to take down a jet?
FUENTES: Well, it depends on how they put a bomb on the plane. In the past, al Qaeda based in Yemen, their bomb maker al-Asiri worked on PETN-based bombs that could be carried undetected by a passenger onto the plane. The underwear bomber, Mohammad Abdullah, he put the bomb in his -- he tried to detonate it in his lap.
But ISIS, anybody could put a device in cargo or in the luggage. So, that's what happened in the Egypt flight, it was in cargo, not on the plane. So, it really depends. One group specializes in one thing. The other terrorist group specializes in any device you can get on an aircraft.
SCIUTTO: Even, you know, the principle threat to aviation for so long had been, as Thomas said, AQAP, particularly sneaking it in through laptops and electronic devices. But now you have ISIS claiming a soda can bomb and then you had these other laptop explosive that seems to take out this jet in Somalia just several weeks ago. Is there concern among counterterror officials that this technology has proliferated among the terror groups?
PEREZ: Well, it certainly appears to be proliferating. The Somali incident raised concerns as to whether or not AQAP had managed to train people in Shabaab to be able to do this, whether they were sharing some of their expertise. We know that al Qaeda has been trying to share some of its expertise with some of bomb makers in Syria
And, Jim, we know that ISIS has interest in doing this. They haven't been able to necessarily do something like this in Western Europe. But these incidents, especially the Somali incidents raised a lot of concern that someone is trying to perfect this and is going to try to bring this to Western Europe and eventually to the United States.
SCIUTTO: Possibly share it with others.
So, Peter, there are so many questions here. You have been involved in so many crash investigations, including those involving nefarious activity. Game out for viewers, what are the next steps the next several days. What are we going to see happen?
GOELZ: Well, you've got two places where activities are taking place. One is clearly the search. They've got to find where the plane went down, then they've got to identify where the boxes are and go down and get them.
But at the same time, on the aviation front, they have frozen records of the plane, they're going back, looking at them. They are frozen, all of the personnel records of flight crew. They're looking in depth at all of the passengers. They're trying to find some opening that might indicate what happened. And it is going to be a long slog, I am afraid. SCIUTTO: Miles O'Brien, final quick thought for you. You have
confidence in those investigating this disaster to get hard answers quickly?
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: The Egyptian authorities have in the past demonstrated reluctance to call a spade a spade when it comes to certain activities. I am thinking about EgyptAir 990 back in 1999, the second officer. Clearly, that was suicide plunge. To this day, they don't admit that. Perhaps they changed, though, that was a long time ago.
SCIUTTO: Miles O'Brien, Paul Cruickshank, Evan Perez, Peter Goelz and Tom Fuentes, thanks very much.
Just ahead, we will have more on the EgyptAir disaster.
Also, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are weighing in on the possibility that this was an act of terror. Tonight, Clinton is also calling Trump unqualified to be president.
Stand by for more on her exclusive interview with CNN.
[18:53:58] SCIUTTO: We're following the breaking news on the crash of EgyptAir flight 804 and the search for wreckage that is still under way right now.
Tonight, Hillary Clinton is talking about the possibility that terrorists brought this plane down. She is also taking swipes at both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in an exclusive interview with CNN.
Our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, has details.
Jeff, how was the interview?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, Hillary Clinton saying for the first time explicitly that she does not believe Donald Trump is qualified to be president. This is a change in her language a month ago when she said voters should decide. The reason is this. She knows some voters are taking Donald Trump seriously. She believes she needs to make her case more aggressively against him.
HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It does appear it was an act of terrorism.
ZELENY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton says the loss of EgyptAir Flight 804 is a stark reminder of global threats in dire consequences of this presidential campaign.
CLINTON: Once again, shines a very bright light on the threats that we faced from organized terror groups.
[18:55:00] And I think it reinforces the need for American leadership, for the kind of smart, steady leadership that only America can provide.
ZELENY: Sitting down today with CNN's Chris Cuomo, Clinton saying in no uncertain terms, she believes Donald Trump is not fit for the job.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Do you think that Donald Trump is qualified to be president?
CLINTON: No. I do not.
ZELENY: Her strongest words yet against Trump, saying explicitly for the first time, he is unqualified.
CLINTON: I know how hard this job is, and I know that we need steadiness, as well as strength and smarts in it. And I have concluded he is not qualified to be president of the United States.
ZELENY: Hours earlier, well before intelligence officials weighed in, Trump also said the EgyptAir liner was a terrorist attract, writing on Twitter, "When will we get tough, smart and vigilant. Great hate and sickness."
But Clinton says Trump's sharp rhetoric is making America's fight against terror even harder.
CLINTON: When you run for president of the United States, the entire world is listening and watching. So when you say we're going to bar all Muslims, you are sending a message to the Muslim world. And you're also sending a message to the terrorists.
ZELENY: Visiting her hometown of Park Ridge, Illinois, today, Clinton made clear she has one arrive school in the presidential race, not two. She said her competition with Bernie Sanders is over.
CLINTON: I will be the nominee for my party, Chris. That is -- that is already done, in effect. There is no way that I won't be. Senator Sanders and I are following the same rules. And I'm 3 million votes ahead of him, and I have an insurmountable lead in pledged delegates.
ZELENY: She said she is confident the party will unite despite Sanders pledge to fight all the way to the Democratic convention in July.
CLINTON: I am absolutely committed to doing my part, more than my do his part. That's why the lesson of 2008, which was a hard-fought primary, as you remember, is so pertinent here. Because I did my part, but so did Senator Obama.
ZELENY: Sanders supporters have made their view of Clinton clear, in rhetoric far hotter than eight years ago. After the final primary contest ended in June, Clinton says she believes Trump will help bring Democrats together.
CLINTON: The threat that Donald Trump poses is so dramatic to our country, to our democracy and our economy, that I certainly expect Senator Sanders to do what he said he would.
ZELENY: Until then, Clinton says she's focusing exclusively on Trump. But insists she won't turn to everything he throws her way.
CLINTON: You pick a fight with a bully, you know, you're going to be pulled down to their level. I'm going after him exactly on those issues and statements that are divisive and dangerous. And I actually think that's what, the American people want to see, not a argument between two people.
ZELENY: As for Trump's comments about her husband, Clinton says she's not taking the bait.
CLINTON: No. Not at all. I am -- I know that that's exactly what he is fishing for. And, you know, I'm not going to be responding.
ZELENY: Now, Jim, Donald Trump also responding just a few moments ago in a statement. Let's take a look at this statement, his words here to Hillary Clinton.
He said, "The fact that Hillary thinks the temporary Muslim ban, which she calls the Muslim ban, promotes terrorism proves Bernie Sanders was correct when he said she is not qualified to be president."
Now he goes on to say this, "Look at the carnage all over the world, including the World Trade Center, San Bernardino, Paris, the USS Cole, Brussels and an unlimited number of places. She and our total ignorant president", he says, "won't even use the term radical Islamic terrorism.
"And, by the way, ask Hillary who blew up the plane last night," he says. "Another terrible but preventable tragedy." "She has bad judgment," he says, "and is unfit to serve as president at this delicate and difficult time in our country's history."
Those words from Trump tonight, who is campaigning in New Jersey. And one other note, Bernie Sanders also had something to say about Hillary Clinton. He said that millions of voters disagree with her that this contest is over. She still has one more month to go -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: And in that statement, Donald Trump getting a bit ahead of where U.S. officials are at this point, because they do, Jeff, say that terrorism is a possible cause, but they haven't determined it -- determined that to be the case yet. Looking at this kind of statement certainly in character with no pulling punches style of Donald Trump.
ZELENY: No doubt about it. Without having much information, of course, he tweeted so early this morning. Sometimes he's right on this. But it does raise the question of as president, do you want to get ahead of this here. Donald Trump is pulling a full steam ahead, no doubt, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Jeff Zeleny with the Hillary Clinton interview.
I'm Jim Sciutto. Wolf Blitzer will be back here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow.
Coming right up after this, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT," starts right now.