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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Texas Congressman Will Hurd; Suspect Shot Near White House; EgyptAir Crash Investigation; Smoke Alerts on Plane Moments Before Crash; Trump Gets NRA Endorsements, Slams Clinton. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 20, 2016 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Was it a malfunction?
Debris found. Grim discoveries in the water north of Egypt, human remains, along with debris from the plane, including seats, suitcases, and passengers' personal belongings. Are search crews getting any closer to the wreckage itself?
And inside job? Intense new scrutiny of airport security, as investigators look at whether one of the tens of thousands of workers at Paris' main airport might have been behind the EgyptAir crash. Did someone with security clearance plant a bomb on board?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We are following two major breaking stories right now, including a shooting near the White House. The U.S. Secret Service now confirms an officer shot an armed man as he approached a security checkpoint and refused to drop his gun. The suspect was hit in the abdomen, taken into custody and then hospitalized with critical injuries.
And there's other breaking news into the investigation into that Egyptian airliner that crashed into the Mediterranean. An Egyptian source has given CNN data from an onboard system that shows smoke alerts were issued only moments before the plane went down.
We're covering all of that, much more this hour with our guests, including Congressman Will Hurd. He's a key member of the House Homeland Security Committee and a former CIA officer. And our correspondents and expert analysts are also standing by.
Let's begin with that shooting near the White House.
Our senior White House correspondent, Joe Johns, is on the scene for us.
Joe, what is the latest? What are you finding out about this very disturbing incident? JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the suspect in this case is in critical condition as nearby George Washington University Hospital, we are told.
This all started around 3:00 Eastern time, when the Secret Service says a man with a gun approached a security checkpoint right around the corner from here, just walking distance from the front door of the White House, carrying a gun. Authorities say the Secret Service asked him to put the gun down, and when he did not do that, when he did not comply, he was shot once in the abdomen.
He was taken into custody, rendered medical assistance, then taken to George Washington University Hospital. A suspect weapon, we're told, was recovered. Now, the entire White House complex was put on lockdown while the Secret Service worked all of this out. Nonetheless, the president of the United States was not present here at the White House at that time, though the vice president was secured.
Authorities say no one other than the suspect was injured. The investigation continues, including the fact that they have located what they call a suspect vehicle not far from the White House and they're looking into it for clues, perhaps to motive -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And no indication yet of any intent on the part of the suspect?
JOHNS: It is a mystery so far, at least to the public, though it is certain that they will try to find out exactly why he was here. We are told that authorities believe they have been in contact with the suspect before, at least know his name.
But as to his motive, it is still a mystery tonight, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Joe Johns with the breaking news, thanks very much.
There's other breaking news we are following, this breaking news involving the crash of EgyptAir Flight 804. We are now learning that an onboard system issued smoke alerts in the minutes before that plane crashed into the Mediterranean.
Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is working this part of the story for us.
Potentially, this is a major new development.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question, and it's certainly an important data point.
We are learning of a series of automatic electronic messages from the aircraft's on board ACARS system in the final minutes of flight, over a series of three minutes, those messages indicating smoke in and around the cockpit, as well as heat detected in and around the cockpit. Officials not treating this as conclusive of any one possible
explanation, but they are taking it seriously, this as the first debris of this jet discovered today as well.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, new clues from inside the plane in its final minutes of flight.
CNN has learned that a series of automatic electronic messages from the EgyptAir jet indicated smoke in a lavatory just behind the cockpit and in avionics just below the cockpit, followed by messages indicating other failures on the windows of the plane.
DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: If it was a bomb, the characteristic bomb, it would have ruptured the skin of the aircraft. This is not the indications that we would have, because a bomb that would do that would be instantaneous, and these reports wouldn't have gone over two minutes like they do.
SCIUTTO: In the Eastern Mediterranean today, the first signs of EgyptAir Flight 804, search crews discovering aircraft seats, personal belongings, including a suitcase, and human remains.
And from high above, a European Space Agency satellite detected what the agency believes to be an oil slick near where the EgyptAir jet went missing.
JEAN-MARC AYRAULT, FRENCH MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS (through translator): We need to find these fragments, analyze them, find the black boxes. We want the truth, the whole truth.
SCIUTTO: Recovering the bulk of the wreckage, however, will be more challenging. The Mediterranean is some two miles' deep in the area the plane is believed to have gone down, the seafloor riddled with soaring peaks and deep valleys.
PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: This is 9,000-feet-deep at a jagged ocean floor, apparently. The vessels searching for the pingers are going to have to almost be on top of them. Having recovered stuff beneath the ocean, it is not easy and it is very difficult.
SCIUTTO: As investigators work to determine exactly what brought Flight 804 down, they're examining the flight manifest, digging into the backgrounds of all on board. They're also reviewing security around the aircraft before it left Paris.
Sources tell CNN a security sweep of the plane took place before takeoff, but questions remain as to how thorough.
PETER NEFFENGER, TSA ADMINISTRATOR: We still don't know what happened there. We are following the investigation closely. Our hearts go out to the families and friends of the people who were lost, but, most importantly, it's a stark reminder that what we do is really important, and we need to do it well.
SCIUTTO: Egyptian President Sisi expressed his condolences to the families of victims, as relatives turn from fear to mourning those lost.
Among the 66 presumed dead, Canadian Marwa Hamdy, a mother of three living in Cairo, Ahmed Helal, a director of a Procter & Gamble facility based in France, and the pilot, Mohamed Shakeer, and co- pilot, Mamdouh Ahmed Assem, who was soon to be married.
YASSIR ABDEL GHAFFAR, UNCLE OF CO-PILOT: I would say he was the only one that was really (INAUDIBLE). So, what happened is really very much unfortunate.
SCIUTTO: To be clear, investigators aren't ruling out any explanation at this point, whether mechanical, a fire on board or terrorism. A bomb remains a theory based largely on how a plane at the safest point of flight, that is cruising altitude, suddenly crashes to the earth.
There's no hard evidence yet such as satellite data indicating an explosion or -- and this is crucial -- at this point, Wolf, no claim of responsibility either.
BLITZER: Yes, that's a very crucial point indeed. All right, Jim Sciutto, thank you.
The possibility of terrorism is sparking new concern about airport security and the tens of thousands of workers who have access to very secure areas.
Our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh, is working this part of the story for us.
Rene, Paris' main airport now under intense scrutiny.
RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
And one theory investigators are looking is whether this was an act of terrorism and, if so, was it an inside job? Charles de Gaulle Airport is considered a very secure airport. So if security was breached there, it raises a question of whether any airport can truly protect itself from an insider threat.
MARSH (voice-over): The potential that a bomb brought down EgyptAir Flight 804 has led investigators to question whether a device may have been planted on the plane while parked at Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport.
JUSTIN GREEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: If it happened at Charles de Gaulle, where they have had some very terrible recent terrorist attacks and they were on heightened alert, then it certainly can happen anywhere. MARSH: The airport was already on high alert with armed soldiers on
patrol following three terror attacks in Paris over the last year-and- a-half. But now the airport says it will ramp up efforts even more, including adding 30 intelligence officers.
PIERRE-HENRY BRANDET, FRENCH INTERIOR MINISTRY (through translator): This is not on the assumption there was a failure. It is a way to continue to make sure our citizens are safe.
MARSH: Eighty-six thousand people who work at Charles de Gaulle Airport have what is called red badges, giving them access to secure areas. That includes mechanics, cleaning crews, food service workers and baggage handlers.
Since January of last year, 85 workers had their security clearance revoked for allegedly having ties to extremists, and 600 have been denied secure access for having criminal records. French officials assure all workers with security clearances are under continued review.
GREEN: If, looking back, we identify that somebody did bring a bomb onto this airplane, but that there's no threat, there's no risk looking at this person's background, you would never expect the person to do that, then you get to the point is, what could you have done?
MARSH: Before Flight 804 arrived in Paris, it made multiple stops in countries known to have weaker airport security, including Eritrea and Tunisia.
But a sweep of the plane was done before departing Paris. Concerns over airport security came under sharp focus after a series of recent incidents. Terrorists detonated two bombs at the Brussels Airport in March. A bomb was also smuggled on board a Russian passenger plane at Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh Airport last October, and a bomb built into a laptop got through X-ray machines at Mogadishu Airport in Somalia earlier this year.
MARSH: Well, we do know from U.S. officials the plane did undergo a security sweep at Charles de Gaulle. Again, it made multiple stops before it got to Paris.
It is worth noting security sweeps for flights from airports with direct flights to the United States, they receive more extensive and more controlled sweeps, what happens on the plane compared to other planes, I should say, that are not bound for the United States, Wolf.
BLITZER: Interesting. All right, Rene, thank you.
I want to bring in CNN aviation correspondent Richard Quest.
Richard, talk a little bit about this data CNN has now received from the aircraft's so-called ACARS system that mentions smoke in the lavatory, avionics smoke. What does this suggest to you?
RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: What it tells us, Wolf, is, it is giving us -- it is like another piece of this jigsaw that creates the picture of what is happening on board 804 as it starts or before it falls out of the sky.
And, Wolf, the interesting thing about the ACARS data is different systems of the plane will fail in different orders, depending on where the fire was, depending on what was happening. So, you can't necessarily -- I mean, you can't necessarily take one fault.
For instance, why have a window sensor, and then have a fire or a smoke alert from the lavatory, and then have something in the avionics bay, and then have something on a flight control? They seemingly are at different parts of the cockpit and areas, and you start to wonder what's the relationship between them all?
But to the experts at Airbus and the avionics experts, they will tell you, ah, well, this means this failed, and if that failed, we would expect to see this happen, and that's exactly what happens. So, they're building up a picture. And this ACARS data is absolutely vital in terms of that.
It will not tell them most definitely whether it was a bomb or whether it was a fire or an electrical. Doesn't tell them that, but it gives a very colorful view of what was happening to the plane as it started or before it just fell out of the sky, Wolf.
BLITZER: Richard, you have covered past cases of fires on board planes, but they were able, the pilots, the crew members, to warn the ground. What does the fact that there was no mayday signal coming from the cockpit this time tell you?
QUEST: That's fascinating, Wolf, because all the fire incidents, fires don't -- I mean, even if it is a lithium fire, which is one of the nastiest fires you can have on board a plane, fires don't take a plane out of the air immediately.
With Swiss Air over Halifax, Nova Scotia, it was 21 minutes. With ValuJet over the Everglades in Florida, it was about four-and-a-half minutes from warning to crash. So fires, you know, you do have time, except, Wolf, in the case where either the fire takes out all the communications in one go.
And here you have a fire or you have an alert from the avionics bay. And in the avionics bay is all the communications equipment. So, that's the first thing to bear in mind. Here, you may actually have a case where they were not able to communicate, rather than just not being responsive to communicating.
And the second thing it tells me is that whatever incident happened may have then suddenly led up to a catastrophic failure. And, again, I am not going to hang my hat on whether it was a bomb or a fire or a lithium or whatever. It doesn't matter at this point. We can't say with any degree of certainty.
But the fact that they didn't or couldn't communicate is relevant.
BLITZER: Yes. And what's interesting also is flying, what, at 37,000 feet, it was simply cruising, very safe. The weather was good. There was no problem with lightning or anything like that.
BLITZER: For some sort of mechanical failure in a relatively new plane, an Airbus, which has an excellent safety record, to occur, that's raising the suspicion of terror or a bomb.
QUEST: Absolutely, it raises the suspicion.
But let's just -- if you take the speculation, if you have an incident that creates a fire, they send out a mayday, the fire detection kicks in, other systems start to fail, you would get many more ACARS messages, Wolf. This is also important.
With Air France 447, there were 24 messages as the plane fell out of the sky. Different flight control systems fail, and you start to see auto throttle control fail, auto rudder control fail. The facts fail -- you see different messages going out.
Here, I am starting to consider that whatever was happening cut off the ability of the plane to communicate out. And the moment you lose power, even with ram power and the RAT kicking in, the moment you lose power, and the moment ACARS goes down, effectively, you have lost that source of information.
BLITZER: Richard Quest helping us better appreciate what is going on, all right, Richard, thank you very much.
I want to get some more on all of this.
Joining us now, Republican Congressman Will Hurd of Texas. He's a member of House Homeland Security Committee. He's a former CIA officer as well.
Congressman, what's your theory about what happened? Was this an act of terror?
REP. WILL HURD (R), TEXAS: Well, I don't have a working theory yet. There's so much data that has to be analyzed.
A lot of the information leads us to believe something happened on that plane, whether it was a bomb. I still don't think you can rule out that something was put on the plane at one of the previous points of departure. We need to understand that security sweep that happened at Charles de Gaulle, to what extent did they go through that?
There's a lot of -- there's still a lot of questions out there that need to be answered. And it is important for us to understand the answers to these questions, so that we can learn from that, and make sure that we're applying it at our own ports of entry. BLITZER: All right, Congressman, we are getting some new information.
I need you to stand by for a moment.
Let's take a quick break, resume the conversation, get the information out there right after this.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news in the crash of EgyptAir Flight 804.
An Egyptian source has given CNN data from an onboard system that shows smoke alerts were issued only moments before the plane went down. Investigators are also looking at terrorism as the possible cause of the crash which killed all 66 people on board.
We're back with Republican Congressman Will Hurd of Texas. He's a member of the House Homeland Security Committee. He's also a former CIA officer.
What -- I know you're getting briefed by experts in Washington, Homeland Security. What's the leading theory that they're suggesting?
HURD: Well, the leading theory is that something did happen on this plane that caused it to fall out of the sky.
The motivation is there for terrorist groups like ISIS to perform this type of activity. They have done it in the past. We have seen this kind of -- history of this kind of attack. It is possibly strange that someone hasn't claimed that they have done this.
So, something happened. You had the flash of light some marine assets saw. We don't have satellite imagery. The smoke alarms that you all have uncovered is important. That leads that something happened.
Now, what it was, we still don't know. There's a lot of investigation that needs to happen. And it is important to understand what happened so that we can be prepared at our own ports of entry.
But also this brings up the question of the last points of departure before a flight comes into the United States, are they doing the kinds of security protocols that they should? Earlier in this year, I sat on a task force on looking at foreign fighters going into fight in Syria and Iraq with ISIS.
And we learned that our European partners weren't doing everything when it comes to checking known travelers against watch lists. So we're going to have to also do a review to make sure the security precautions taken at these airports are being done, that the types of background investigations of the individuals are done.
And these are all going to be questions. We are going to have the TSA administrator in front of the Homeland Security Committee next week when we get back into Washington. BLITZER: Yes.
HURD: And there's a lot of questions that we need to learn and understand to make sure that we're doing everything we can here at home.
BLITZER: You mentioned that Marines saw a flash, sort of like an explosion that they picked up. Tell us about that, because that sounds like new information.
HURD: Not marines, marine vessels.
I don't recall what -- there were some ships in the Mediterranean that were near the overflight that saw a flash in the sky. I think there was a couple of reports on that. That would suggest something happened on board the plane that caused it to fall out of the sky.
BLITZER: Is there any specific threat to the U.S. right now similar -- if in fact this was some act of terror? Do you know of any specific similar threat to the U.S.?
HURD: There isn't. There hasn't been.
Department of Homeland Security, FBI, all of our agencies have doubled back to review and scrub available data to make sure there's not an active threat to the homeland, but, again, we have to take this seriously. If indeed it was some act of terror, how can we make sure that we are doing everything with our partners to make sure that they strengthen and tighten the screws on doing security overseas, so that we can protect ourselves here at the homeland?
We are as vulnerable as our most vulnerable ally, and it is important for us to make sure that we raise the standard of security at all the airports, especially focusing on those places, the last points of departure before a plane comes to the United States.
BLITZER: Are you confident, Congressman, that flights coming into the United States from other countries are safe right now?
HURD: Additional level of scrutiny does go to planes that are coming into the United States.
This is the number one priority of TSA, of the American government. And often when folks travel to Europe, they have to go through the security at the airport, but then when they get to the gate, they have to go through additional level of securities.
And that's stuff that TSA does to ensure that we're having American standard level of security before individuals or planes come to the United States.
So I'm confident that the men and women in TSA are focused on this issue, but we can always redouble our efforts. And these are some of the questions we're going to make sure that we hear from the head of TSA next week.
BLITZER: Congressman Will Hurd of Texas, thank you. Thanks very much.
HURD: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: The breaking news continues here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We are going live to Greece for the latest on the recovery effort. Are crews getting closer to the wreckage right now?
Plus, the probe into possible terrorism. What are investigators learning about the passengers, the pilots, the airport workers who had access to the plane?
BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, a potentially major new clue in the crash of EgyptAir Flight 804. CNN has now obtained data from an on-board system, showing smoke alerts were issued moments before the plane went down. And now search crews are making some grim discoveries.
[18:31:28] CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson is joining us right now. He's joining us from Greece.
Nic, they found some body parts. They found seats, passengers' luggage. Are any of these discoveries giving them new clues what might have happened?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Not that we're being told so far, Wolf. They're not saying that they found all the debris that they think is there. It certainly seems to be too early to say that. They're not saying that they believe they now know the location precisely where the plane went down.
However, the fact that they are collecting debris, and we've heard earlier on in the day, we heard that it was -- that it was two seats that were found, possibly a suitcase or more than one suitcase, and the human remains, parts of a human were found.
Then we learned that that list of what was found had grown, indicating that they were picking up an increasing amount of debris. But we have not been told that this is now definitively giving them a precise location, that this is zeroing them in yet.
However, our understanding should be that this will help focus the effort. We also know that we were here at a military air base where a C-130 military transporter, cargo aircraft was preparing to go out in the evening. We were told that it would take off in the evening. At the same time, we saw an Orion P-3 surveillance aircraft landing, heading towards the NATO airbase, putting its wheels down, coming in just before dusk here.
So we understand that the operation continue into the night, perhaps not as effectively as during the day, but precise -- what we can read into this data and debris for locating the aircraft, still we're not getting an official read from Greek authorities here so far, Wolf.
BLITZER: Nic, have the searchers gotten any closer to finding the so- called black boxes, the voice and data recorders?
ROBERTSON: If they have, Wolf, we haven't been informed of that. What we do -- what we will understand is this is, again, what we have learned from other similar situations where these black boxes, the aircraft have come down, hit the water. The transmitters that alert the devices hit the ground, gone underwater. They will have been -- they will have been triggered -- that's the understanding, when the center of the debris, when a lot of the debris is found. That should then begin to tell the investigators that they are very, very close to where the plane hit the water, and then that would be the next step.
But we understand at the moment that it could be days before they have that level of information and then weeks, even, beyond that before they may be able to locate those black boxes. The water in that part of the Mediterranean, we understand, is very deep, as much as 15,000 feet. The seabed there is not flat, ridges.
Again, when they have the precise location where the plane went down, that should reveal more about how quickly, the precise nature and the depth of the sea at that point, how quickly they may find be able to find these devices.
BLITZER: Yes, those devices are critically important. Thanks very much. Nic Robertson reporting from Crete in Greece.
Let's dig a little bit deeper right now. The former FBI assistant director, our CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, is with us. Our aviation analyst, Miles O'Brien, is with us; the former FAA investigator and CNN safety analyst, David Soucie is joining us; and the former pilot and aviation consultant Alastair Rosenschein is joining us from London, as well.
Miles, flight data filed through the ACARS system, as it's called, on the plane shows smoke alerts on board the aircraft only minutes before the crash. So in layman's term, what did this indicate?
[18:35:10] MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Basically, the aircraft's streaming out its health of its systems. It's mostly for maintenance, and it's telling the maintenance crew on the ground, "Hey, you better be ready to fix X, Y, Z when this plane lands."
And what it shows in the final minutes before this plane crashed, a series of failures, beginning with some issues with the windows in the cockpit, leading to smoke, apparently, in the lavatory, as well as the avionics bay, which is beneath the cockpit, and then a couple of computer faults. The Airbus has more than a hundred computer systems to control various surfaces and the engines. It's a fly-by-wire system.
All of this is consistent with some sort of catastrophic mechanical issue or some sort of terrorist act that would involve a bomb. I should note that this also jives with the 90-degree left turn that this aircraft apparently took, according to the Greek radar, as it was in trouble. That's what a crew would do if it was doing an emergency descent after a rapid decompression. It's to stay away from the traffic below you on the virtual highway in the sky we called airwaves.
BLITZER: Interesting. David, you say all this suggests a progressive series of events rather than a single catastrophic event. Why is that?
DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Well, as Miles described, these are -- although it's not intuitive to think this, but they're actually interdependent systems, because they're pretty much co-located. So when they start progressively going forward, that would be indicative of some kind of slow progression of damage, if you will.
Now, in a bomb or a catastrophic event of size that would create a hole in the fuselage or take down the aircraft, that would have been instantaneous. You wouldn't have gotten this type of reporting. It would have happened all at once.
If you look at these numbers that came from the ACAR -- now this is a batch report that comes out all at once -- within it, you have about three minutes, two to three minutes of these occurrences that happened and happened and happened. So if it was a singular bomb, it would have happened all at once. You would have one report, and that's all you would receive from that aircraft.
BLITZER: So you've obviously investigated many aviation accidents. Does this change the investigation right now?
SOUCIE: As far as what you're investigating, no, because the fact is, until any kind of terrorism is ruled out, you have to presume that it is still terrorism, because as Miles pointed out, as well, it could have still been terror with an incendiary device. It wasn't an explosive device. It was something that caused this fire to begin.
So there's still a lot of -- would have to be a lot of speculation to say, no, it's not terror. It's not terror at this point. So the efforts moving forward with terror investigations are still critically important.
BLITZER: Alastair, you're a highly experienced commercial pilot. Take us through what happens if there's smoke detected. What's the protocol?
ALASTAIR ROSENSCHEIN, AVIATION ANALYST: Well, the first thing you'll do if you have smoke on the flight deck is put on your oxygen mask and -- and start to try and, you know, shut down systems. And there's a special checklist for smoke on the cockpit. I mean, it's actually designed for when you've got a long flight over water, because normally with smoke, the first thing you're going to try and do is land the aircraft as soon as possible.
But it depends on the severity. It's not unusual to -- to have smoke on an aircraft. In fact, I myself had over two dozen events of smoke on aircraft in my career. Most of them were quite minor. But this sounds like something is building up very rapidly. So there are a number of things that could cause this. It could be, you know, a small explosive device or a fire.
But having -- making the decision you're going to have to land this aircraft, you will, as your previous spokesman said, turn off the airway. In this case, turn to the left and start to rapid descent.
There were some reports of the aircraft descending from 37,000 feet to 15,000 feet, and then disappearing below 10,000 feet on the radar. What would be interesting is how long it took to descend between 37 and 15,000 feet, because if this was being hand flown, there is a maximum rate of descent the pilots could achieve. If it's something more catastrophic which had happened, the aircraft would have -- could well have been falling at a far, far greater rate.
BLITZER: What does it say to you, Alastair, that there was no distress call, no mayday call from the cockpit?
ROSENSCHEIN: Well, from pilot's point of view, first thing you do is to try and fly the aircraft. If you've got your hands filled doing that, you're not going to get a mayday called out.
Of course, if you're over the sea and you think there's any chance of being rescued, you've really got to try and get a mayday call out. Because they didn't make a mayday all, I would say that they're either, you know, incredibly busy or they completely lost control of the aircraft and are not able to do so. So it could be one of those two scenarios.
BLITZER: Tom, the wreckage that's being discovered, the debris so far, can they determine forensically from that debris whether or not this was a bomb?
[18:40:06] TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: They might be able to. It's not conclusive. Except depends on which debris they have. If they have debris that was close to an explosive device from a cargo hold, let's say, or from a passengers area, then it will have explosive residue that they can identify.
If the plane came apart, they'll be able to try to tell whether it came apart in mid-air by the size of the debris field, and they can examine the parts. The impact on the water is like hitting concrete at that speed. If that plane went full speed 500 miles per hour into the ocean, the damage that's going to be done on the parts of the aircraft is different than if it came apart in midair and the debris came floating down to the sea.
BLITZER: So just to be precise, David Soucie, the assumption that this was an act of terror, that it might have been a bomb, in the aftermath in discovering the smoke from the ACARS system, it's still very much possible this was a bomb or some sort of act of terror, right?
SOUCIE: It is still possible. I think at this point I'd say less likely than what I thought previously. BLITZER: What do you think, Miles?
O'BRIEN: I don't think it diminishes the possibility that a smaller explosive device was involved. Obviously, not an explosive device big enough to instantly take the aircraft out of the sky. But we've seen some recent evidence of smaller explosive devices working, in one case in Mogadishu, where the aircraft was able to land intact with a hole in the side of the fuselage.
So there's any number of sizes and types of bombs, and their placement is key. So I don't think it takes terrorism off the table at all.
BLITZER: What do you think, Alastair?
ROSENSCHEIN: Well, yes, I agree. You know, let's put it this way. It's probably easier to smuggle a small explosive device on an aircraft than a large one. And we know you don't need anything particularly large to take down an airliner; that's a -- that is a fact.
Now, it looks like this was, you know -- there was some sort of several minutes over this incident, as opposed to something sudden. But nonetheless, the fact there was no radio call would suggest that it was something quite catastrophic that made the pilots unable to make that radio call.
BLITZER: Yes, that's a good point.
All right, guys. Stand by. Everybody stand by. Just ahead, if this was a terror attack, why haven't we heard a claim of responsibility from a group like ISIS or al Qaeda?
Plus, Donald Trump picking up one of the most coveted conservative endorsements, slamming Hillary Clinton at the same time, and now she has responded.
[18:47:14] BLITZER: The breaking news, flight data from EgyptAir Flight 804 obtained by CNN shows smoke alerts were issued by an onboard system only moments before the plane crashed into the Mediterranean. Egyptian officials say they suspect terrorism but no group has yet claimed responsibility.
Let's get some more. Joining us: our CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen; our justice correspondent, Evan Perez; our CNN counterterrorism analyst, the former CIA counterterrorism official Phil Mudd is also with us.
Peter, the fact no terror group claimed responsibility to the crash of this EgyptAir airliner, what does that say to you?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I mean, it is puzzling. If it was ISIS, they would usually be pretty quick to claim responsibility.
BLITZER: How quick is ISIS usually --
BERGEN: Yes, sometimes 24 hours or quicker. On the other hand, we are living in the CNN news cycle. It's actually only two days. I mean, it's sort of -- you know, we have seen terrorist groups produce accurate claims of responsibility.
BLITZER: Al Qaeda usually waits longer, right?
BERGEN: Al Qaeda waits longer.
BLITZER: After 9/11, they waited for a long time before they took responsibility.
BERGEN: Well, in that case they were careful not to claim complete responsibility because it would have undercut their claim that they weren't directly involved. At that time, they didn't --
BLITZER: But later, they eventually said they did.
BERGEN: Yes, over the course of years, they released multiple videos of the hijackers. I mean, one thing about ISIS also is we have seen early responsibility and then more details about the kind of bomb, the picture of the bomb. So, it is puzzling. But, you know, of course, it could be someone inspired by ISIS, if it indeed it is terrorism.
BLITZER: A lone wolf.
BLITZER: This plane, this Airbus, the EgyptAir airplane, it flew from Cairo to Eritrea, to Tunisia, to Paris, headed back towards Cairo. I assume they have to investigate all of these locations to see if someone may have planted a bomb on that aircraft at one of those stops.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: It really does make the puzzle that much bigger for the investigators, Wolf, but I'll tell you, where they're going to begin is Paris and Cairo. Those are two places you have to start the investigation, because you want to see where it is most likely something being put on the plane. That is if it is proved that there is a terrorist act that brought down the plane. We can't rule out there's something that went wrong mechanically.
BLITZER: There's just the working assumption. It may have been terrorism. But you're absolutely right.
Phil, who should investigators focus their suspension on the most? The passengers, the ground crew, the pilots? What are they doing?
PHIL MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: I don't think that you can decide that you can de-prioritize any one of those lists, Wolf. The first thing you do you as an administrator in this situation is to bring people on a team and say, here's the categories of stuff we have to look at. You mentioned a few of them.
That is on the aircraft, the support focus around the aircraft, that is people like baggage.
[18:50:00] You're also looking in parallel at intercepted communications or sources that is human informants in the ISIS organization to see if they have said anything.
In addition to the lack of a claim, by the way, I find it curious nobody in Washington has uttered a peep to suggest they're hearing chatter out of ISIS indicating responsibility. So I don't think you can prioritize that unless you've got to bring in a huge team and say, we're going to look at every name, bounce it against our watch list, and ensure that we proved the negative.
That is nobody that we know is involved in this operation, Wolf.
BLITZER: What does it say to you, Phil, that no one has claimed responsibility yet?
MUDD: I'm with Peter. Over time, this is going to become more curious. I would give it 48, 72 hours. If we're sitting on your show on Monday night and no one has claimed responsibility, there is no indication on the passenger manifest list that anybody was affiliated or sympathetic to a terrorist group, there is no chatter out of the ISIS organization, that's early investigation four or five days, that's a long time to have no information when thousands of analysts like me are looking at it that indicates that any terror group had a responsibility. Time is ticking.
BLITZER: Assuming this was terrorism, we don't know if it was, Peter. But if it was, what's the lesson for you, the U.S. right now?
BERGEN: Well, we've had people who have joined the Somali terrorist group al Shabaab working at Minneapolis airport. We've had people who have joined ISIS worked in Minneapolis airport. So, I mean, the lesson is, people working at airports, we have to be careful.
Of course, multiples coming into the United States from other places that don't have the level of security we see in the United States. That's really the weakest link in all this.
BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by.
We'll continue to follow the breaking news. Our coverage of the crash of EgyptAir flight 804 continues ahead.
Also coming up, Donald Trump tells the National Rifle Association that Hillary Clinton will abolish the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Tonight, she is responding.
[18:56:18] BLITZER: Donald Trump now holding one of the most coveted conservative endorsements, the backing of the National Rifle Association.
CNN political reporter Sara Murray is joining us now. Sara, Trump was there where you are in Louisville at the group's
national convention and said Hillary Clinton would abolish the Second Amendment to the Constitution if she is elected president. Update our viewers on what happened.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right, Wolf. And, of course, Hillary Clinton has not called for abolishing the Second Amendment. But she has called for stricter gun controls. Something that did not sit well with this crowd here and Donald Trump played right to the audience, serving up plenty of red meat and criticism of Clinton.
MURRAY (voice-over): Today, Donald Trump is capping off a week of wooing conservatives in front of a friendly audience.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will not let you down.
MURRAY: Picking up an endorsement at the National Rifle Association's annual meeting and serving up some red meat as he slammed Hillary Clinton.
TRUMP: Crooked Hillary Clinton is the most antigun, anti-Second Amendment candidate ever to run for office.
MURRAY: Trump setting up a sharp general election split with the Democratic front-runner who labeled the NRA an enemy in a debate last year.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN MODERATOR: You've all made a few people upset over your political careers. Which enemy are you most proud of?
HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In addition to the NRA, the health insurance companies, the drug companies, the Iranians, probably the Republicans.
MURRAY: The contrast on gun rights is just one of the fault lines already emerging ahead of the general election. Trump not waiting for evidence and sticking by his political instincts as he declared the crash of an EgyptAir flight an act of terror.
TRUMP: I can practically guarantee who blew it up and another plane went down.
MURRAY: While Clinton took a more measured approach.
CLINTON: It does appear that it was an act of terrorism. Exactly how, of course, the investigation will have to determine.
MURRAY: And laid out her plans to combat ISIS.
CLINTON: We're going to defeat them on the ground using our air power, equipping and training and supporting Arab and Kurdish fighters. We're going to drive them out of Iraq, drive them out of their stronghold in Raqqa, Syria. MURRAY: In true Trump style, he offered a blunt prescription with few
TRUMP: I would say knock the hell out of ISIS, which we could have done originally.
MURRAY: But Trump's promise that he won't back down against the terror group may run up against what critics call his isolationist world view, as he continues to blast the Obama administration's decision to send some U.S. forces into Syria.
TRUMP: I would have stayed out of Syria and I wouldn't have fought so much for Assad, against Assad because I thought that was a whole thing.
MURRAY: A position that puts him to the left of many in his own party.
MURRAY: Now, today, Hillary Clinton's camp has called Donald Trump's approach to foreign policy unhinged. And Clinton herself took to Twitter to deal with the guns issues, saying Donald Trump. We can uphold Second Amendment rights while preventing senseless gun violence.
But it's clear, Wolf, that there is not going to be a lot of unity between these two sides on this in the general election.
Back to you.
BLITZER: I take it that Trump got a very nice reception from the audience where you are right now. Describe it.
MURRAY: He did get a very nice reception. There was a standing ovation for him at points. He received the endorsement of the NRA, which is, of course, a big deal. Because in the past, you know, in a 2000 book, Donald Trump called for some restrictions on guns. He called for expanding background checks.
And he's really changed his tune on that in the course of his presidential campaign. And that is a signal that at least the NRA feels comfortable with him, enough to throw their support behind him, to encourage their members to support him. And officials here said that it's time to get on board with Trump -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very important endorsement for him, indeed.
All right. Sara Murray reporting. Thanks very much.
That's it for me.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.