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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With California Congressman Adam Schiff; Trump Surge; Democratic Unity?; Submarines Searching for EgyptAir Black Boxes; Smoke Alerts on Plane Moments Before Crash; Taliban Leader Was Planning Strikes on U.S. Targets. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 23, 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: Happening now: Trump surges. We are digging deeper into new polls that shows the all-but-certain Republican nominee is now in a dead heat with Hillary Clinton. Tonight, the Democratic front-runner is hitting back harder than ever.
Throwing the election? There's new evidence that Bernie Sanders is hurting Hillary Clinton's campaign. Will his supporters stay home in the fall or will they vote for Donald Trump?
Plane Mystery. Investigators are racing to find the black boxes from EgyptAir Flight 804, desperate for new clues as to why the jet vanished over the Mediterranean. We're getting new information about the plane's final moments.
And terrorist killed. The United States confirms it took out the Taliban leader because of an imminent threat to American forces. What does it mean for the bigger war against terror?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Tonight, Donald Trump appears to be more competitive than ever with Hillary Clinton based on polls that show he's now in a dead heat with the Democratic front-runner. But just released numbers drive home a weakness for Trump; 42 percent of voters say they're very uncomfortable with his lack of experience in government or in the military.
And just a little while ago, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said that Trump is finessing his global policy views. Republican Bob Corker met with Donald Trump in New York today. He insists he is not angling to be Trump's running mate.
We're also following the EgyptAir search and investigation. Tonight, Egypt says the plane was spotted on radar for one minute, one minute before it crashed, but there was no communication with the jet. The safety of thousands of other Airbus A-320s is now in question with no clear evidence as why that flight, Flight 804, went down.
I will ask a top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee what he's learning. Congressman Adam Schiff is standing by live, along with our correspondents and analysts. They're covering all of the news that's breaking right now.
Up first, let's go to our CNN national correspondent, Jason Carroll. He's in New York covering the Trump campaign.
Jason, what's the latest?
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you know, Trump has said many times in the past he doesn't put much stock in terms of polls, but sure he is paying very close attention to these new polls, which show him that he has closed the gap between himself and Hillary Clinton, but having said that, Wolf, these two candidates still just as unpopular as ever.
CARROLL (voice-over): Tonight, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are deadlocked in a pair of new national polls. Clinton leads Trump 46 percent to 43 percent in a new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll, while Trump runs ahead of Clinton, 44 percent to 46 percent, in the latest ABC News/"Washington Post" survey, an 11-point swing in Trump's favor since March.
For both polls, the differences are within the margin of error. Today, Trump is focusing on outreach within the Republican Party, meeting with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator Bob Corker.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: We talked bigger picture really relative to foreign policy, domestic issues that matter a great deal to us, plus a little bit about how the campaigning is unfolding. But it was more of -- we had never talked, other than on the phone. And it was more of a sort of get to know each other kind of meeting.
CARROLL: Corker dismissed questions about whether Trump might consider the Tennessee Republican as a potential running mate.
CORKER: I have no reason whatsoever to believe that I'm being considered for a position like that. You know, I will say that until I'm blue in my face.
CARROLL: As the race between Trump and Clinton tightens, the attacks between the two are intensifying. Clinton is calling out Trump for favoring guns in schools.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Parents, teachers and schools should have the right to keep guns out of classrooms, just like Donald Trump does at many of his hotels, by the way.
CARROLL: Trump pushing back on Twitter, writing: "Crooked Hillary says that I want guns brought into the school classroom. Wrong."
But when pressed on the issue during an interview, he contradicted himself.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't want to have guns in classrooms, although, in some cases, teachers should have guns in classrooms, frankly, because teachers are -- things that are going on in our schools are unbelievable.
CARROLL: It's not the only issue where Trump finds himself seemingly at odds with his own statements.
TRUMP: How many people here believe in global warming? Do you believe in global warming?
CARROLL: Despite referring to climate change as B.S. and a hoax, Politico reports the presumptive Republican nominee's company, Trump International Golf Links, is applying for a permit to build a seawall to protect a golf course he owns in Ireland, citing global warming and its effects for erosion there.
CARROLL: And, Wolf, back to those polls, what they clearly show is that Trump has finally managed to get members of the GOP to rally behind him. And it shows that Clinton still has a lot of work to do to get those Bernie Sanders supporters to finally rally behind her -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jason Carroll in New York, thank you.
Tonight, Hillary Clinton is ratcheting up her two-front battle against Donald Trump and her relentless primary challenger, Bernie Sanders. She's vowing to unite her divided party against the presumptive nominee Republican nominee.
Let's go to our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. He's joining us from Southern California right now. That's where Sanders is campaigning. Clinton is heading there tonight to raise more money.
The new polling underscores, Jeff, how much Sanders may be hurting Hillary Clinton's chances in the fall. What are you learning?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's particularly true among independents, those Democrats who have not yet warmed to Hillary Clinton.
But I can tell you the olive branches are plentiful coming from all across the party, including the Democratic National Committee that tonight says Sanders can select one-third of the seats on the party's platform committee. It is all an effort to help him go quietly.
But don't expect that any time soon. He is fighting hard for this two-week push to the California primary.
ZELENY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton is still trying to shake Bernie Sanders.
H. CLINTON: We are coming to the end of the Democratic primaries. ZELENY: But when those primaries do end, the bigger question is
whether his supporters will come aboard. At a speech in Detroit today, Clinton extending her hand, stopping just short of thanking Sanders for shaping the race.
H. CLINTON: I applaud Senator Sanders and his supporters for challenging us. And we are going to unify the Democratic Party and stop Donald Trump.
ZELENY: But speaking to union workers, Clinton making clear she's pivoted to Trump.
H. CLINTON: The only standing between Donald Trump and the Oval Office is all of us.
ZELENY: And, of course, Sanders, he is squarely focused on Trump, too, campaigning today in California.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If the Democrats want to be absolutely certain, as we must be, that Donald Trump never becomes president, our campaign is the strongest campaign.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
ZELENY: A string of new polls showing a tight Clinton-Trump race is fueling Sanders' argument that he is the stronger general election candidate.
SANDERS: Every poll that I have seen in the last couple of months, including the poll just yesterday, have us way, way ahead.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
ZELENY: The Democratic race mathematically speaking seems over, with Clinton holding an insurmountable lead in pledged and super delegates.
H. CLINTON: We are going to win in November.
ZELENY: But she's underwater with Sanders supporters; 41 percent view her in a negative light, while only 38 percent view her positively, according to the new "Wall Street Journal"/NBC poll. And only two- thirds of Sanders supporters say they would vote for her against Trump, compared to 88 of Clinton supporters who say they would back Sanders.
Their odd couple relationship a punchline on "Saturday Night Live."
KATE MCKINNON, ACTRESS: Do you mind if I have one drink with my old, very old, kind of dangerously old friend Bernie?
LARRY DAVID, ACTOR: I will have a beer, a new brand that people are flocking to.
MCKINNON: And I will have whatever beer no one likes, but gets the job done.
ZELENY: On the campaign trail today, Clinton was laser-focused on Trump.
H. CLINTON: He could bankrupt America like he's bankrupted his companies. How could anybody lose money running a casino, really?
ZELENY: Bill Clinton is weighing in, too, taking aim at Trump's signature slogan.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What make America great again really means, which is, hey, I will make it the way it used to be. You will be better off. And if you're not, at least you will have somebody else to look down on.
ZELENY: Now, Bill Clinton is a key player in all of this here.
He's trying to block and tackle particularly on Trump, as the rest of the Clinton campaign focuses on Bernie Sanders, at least for the next two weeks.
Wolf, this California primary contest here , with 475 delegates at stake, so important. Bernie Sanders believes, if he can win, it gives him sort of juice going into the convention, but the math still is on Clinton's side Wolf,
BLITZER: Yes, two weeks from tomorrow, June 7. We will be watching it closely.
Jeff Zeleny, thank you.
Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff. He's from California. He's a Hillary Clinton supporter.
Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
Is this drawn-out primary battle between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton hurting the Democrats' chances in November?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: I don't think so, and I think the party will come together quickly after the primary season is over.
There were these same questions raised, I think, during the primary campaign between Secretary Clinton and President Obama back eight years ago, but I am confident we will overcome these differences.
And, look, I feel strongly that the GOP nomination of Donald Trump to be the leader of the free world is the single most irresponsible act of that party in its modern history. It's staggering to contemplate. And I think Democrats, as well as independents and not a few Republicans will unite around that concern going into November.
So, I feel very confident.
BLITZER: But not one, but two national polls have just come out showing it is virtually tied nationally between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. You must be shocked by that.
SCHIFF: I'm not shocked of it, because this snapshot of where things are now is taken at a time when the Republican Party has more or less unified around Trump, and we still have a Democratic primary continuing, so you would expect the support to consolidate after our nomination contest is over.
That hasn't happened yet. And i think when that does happen, when these last primaries take place, then I think you will see Secretary Clinton moving well ahead of Donald Trump.
BLITZER: Have the Democrats underestimated Donald Trump?
SCHIFF: Well, I think the Republicans certainly underestimated him. No one thought that he would emerge from the Republican primary. Democrats are not underestimating him.
He is a human wrecking ball, and there's no telling which way that ball swings, what damage he might do, or the unpredictable character of this election. It definitely scrambles things.
But at the same time, we have underlying confidence both in the merits of Secretary Clinton, probably the best qualified person running for president in a generation, but also we have great confidence the American people will see that it would be reckless and dangerous for this country to entrust its leadership to someone who not only has ideas in terms of national security deeply at odds with our own interests, but who brags about the fact that these views are so malleable, that he may change them tomorrow.
It is a source of pride for him. That is extraordinary. The comments that he made just last week about having no regrets about saying John McCain isn't a hero because it drove his poll numbers up, who can respect that?
And I think the more that Americans come to see that in Donald Trump, the fewer that will ultimately support him.
BLITZER: Congressman, how important is it for Hillary Clinton to win over the Bernie Sanders supporters in a general election? I ask the question because, in exit polls, we discovered that there's a significant number of people who voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries who say they're going to vote for Donald Trump in the general election.
SCHIFF: You know, I think they were a similarly significant number of people after the Clinton-Obama primary who said the same thing.
But, ultimately, they did come around. They did support the Democratic nominee. And think that's exactly what we're going to see here, both again because in the general election campaign when Secretary Clinton goes against Donald Trump, in my view, you're going to see her strengths as a candidate. You're going to see his weaknesses.
You are going to see the danger of the idea of him in the White House, and that I think will propel unity among Democrats and also result in a lot of crossover support for Secretary Clinton.
BLITZER: You're from California. How will Bernie Sanders do in the California Democratic primary two weeks from tomorrow, June 7?; 475 delegates are at stake.
SCHIFF: Look, I think Secretary Clinton has the advantage in California, but it could be very competitive. And it is nothing that anyone should take for granted. I think both campaigns are going to be working very hard.
And California has a reputation for being a somewhat unpredictable state, but there are a lot of inherent characteristics of California that I think benefit Secretary Clinton, with its very diverse population, with a very strong history with the Clintons. So I think she comes in the state with some strong advantages, but nothing to be taken for granted.
BLITZER: Congressman, I want you to stand by.
You're the ranking member, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. I want to get your assessment of what happened to that EgyptAir aircraft, why it went down over the Mediterranean. New information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.
We will be right back.
BLITZER: Tonight we are following the urgent search for more wreckage from EgyptAir Flight 804, as well as the jet's two black boxes.
We are back with Congressman Adam Schiff. He's the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, the search continues for those black boxes from EgyptAir Flight 804. It went down early, the early hours of Thursday morning. Is the leading theory now that what brought down the plane, is the leading theory still an act of terror?
SCHIFF: You know, I'm not sure that there is a leading theory. Certainly, that was everyone's initial suspicion. And it is still very possible that it was.
But here we are now, four to five days after the crash. There's still no claim of responsibility by ISIL, which could mean that ISIL headquarters was not in command and control of the operation. You could have had people sympathetic to ISIL carry out the bombing, if it was a bombing.
Similarly, you would think, though, that even if it were people not acting under the control of ISIS central, they would have left behind some message, because they would want credit to be conferred to ISIL. Similarly, you would think that if AQAP had trained people to get nonmetallic explosives on board, they would have taken credit by now.
We have had more days to go through the passenger manifest, to look for any overhead images, to look at airport and airplane employees that had access to the plane at its various stops. And there's no hard evidence yet that this was terrorism.
So, at this point, I think it is equally plausible that it was terrorism or a mechanical failure, fire or some other cause brought down that airplane.
BLITZER: You saw that report over the weekend in "The New York Times" that this specific aircraft, the plane that went down over the Mediterranean -- showing pictures of it -- was actually vandalized a couple years ago in Egypt, a message written, graffiti message in Arabic which simply said, "We will bring this plane down."
What can you tell us about that "New York Times" report?
SCHIFF: Well, as far as I can tell, that's a very credible report. That did happen some years ago, and I'm not sure that it was necessarily an indication that there was a plot afoot vis-a-vis their aircraft -- that aircraft.
You could probably find a lot of that graffiti, anti-El-Sisi, the leader of Egypt, a lot of graffiti along those lines written in a lot of places in Egypt, given the strong crackdown that El-Sisi has made against not only ISIS, but a lot of the secular opposition in Egypt.
So I'm not sure that that graffiti is really connected with the crash of this plane, but it is part of the reason why things like that, the background of this crash, the fact that you had that Russian aircraft blown up that left from Sharm el-Sheikh, that background is more why I think the initial suspicions are terrorism than any corroborating evidence that we have been able to find.
BLITZER: Because that plane's registration number, which was written on the plane, was SUGCC, the last two letters, CC. President El-Sisi was very unpopular with the Muslim Brotherhood supporters, President Morsi, who was removed by President Sisi.
They also wrote the words in Arabic. In addition to writing "We will bring this plane down," they also, according to "The New York Times," wrote the words traitor and murderer.
So, is it simply a coincidence this plane was brought down or based on those words that were written there a couple of years ago?
SCHIFF: Well, it could be a coincidence that it was this plane. And this is what's so nerve-racking about trying to figure this out, Wolf.
If you will remember that Russian aircraft that left from Sharm el- Sheikh, that had a history of some structural issues with the plane. It had, remember, that hard landing that may have damaged the plane and that caused many people to speculate that it was a structural problem with the plane that brought it down.
And that was a theory, a prominent theory, up until we found that in fact it was ISIS' affiliate in the Sinai that brought down with a soda-can-sized explosive. So you do have these coincidences that really you agonize over, is it really a coincidence?
But at this point, I don't think we have any clear direction as to what brought that plane down. We know a lot about those last moments now, but it may not be until we get those black boxes, if we are lucky enough to find them, that we get real answers, particularly if there's no claim of responsibility.
BLITZER: Yes, that's pretty mysterious, why there's no claim of responsibility five days into this.
On another issue in Afghanistan, our Jim Sciutto is reporting that the Taliban under the leadership of Mullah Akhtar Mansour, who was killed in the weekend in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan, that he was actually planning new attacks against U.S. targets in Kabul, in Afghanistan. What can you tell us about this?
SCHIFF: Well, they have been planning attacks from the very top of the leadership of the Taliban, people like Mullah Mansour.
Also, Sirajuddin Haqqani, one of the cheap deputies of Mansour, has been one of the most lethal military operators who has planned a multiplicity of attacks against coalition forces, against Western targets in Afghanistan.
So, this, I hope, will be disruptive, although I don't think anyone expects it will put off indefinitely any plots that may be moving towards fruition. We and the rest of the coalition forces, our Afghan partners have to maintain a high sense of alert, but I do think that this could be very disruptive to the Taliban.
It won't stop these plots from maturing, but it will be very disruptive as they have yet another fight over succession. And who will emerge? We don't know. There are several leading candidates I think that may move to the fore to replace him, but I wouldn't be surprised if there's a protracted period of infighting once again, as we saw when it was acknowledged that Mullah Omar had died two years before Mullah Mansour took the reins.
BLITZER: The former leader of the Taliban.
And we do know that President Obama personally authorized the Mosul strike that killed this new Taliban leader.
Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
SCHIFF: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have more on that razor-close matchup between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the latest polls. How will Bernie Sanders impact their battle going forward?
Plus, our aviation experts are analyzing the newest information about the EgyptAir crash and whether it may been caused by terrorists or some sort of technical problem.
BLITZER: Tonight, we have another snapshot of Americans' views of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, as new polls show they're now effectively in a dead heat.
More voters express negative opinions about Trump and Clinton than actually did about the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, that according to numbers just released by the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll.
Let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, and our CNN politics executive editor, Mark Preston.
Dana, a statistical dead heat between Trump and Clinton. Is she in trouble?
[18:30:08] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think they're -- I think they're both in trouble.
Look, this is -- this is stating the blatantly obvious. You can call me Captain Obvious, but each has a 50/50 chance at this point, assuming that Hillary Clinton does end up the nominee; she doesn't have that entirely locked up right now -- but they each have a 50/50 chance of being the president. I mean, that is a fact of the matter right now. And it is a very split nation.
And these two candidates and the polls that we see, which is a snapshot in time right now, reflect that, reflect that big time. Particularly, I think, the fact that they are both so disliked, equally so, by so many people in this country is even more alarming.
BLITZER: A lot of people, Gloria, are surprised it's at tight as it is right now. They thought maybe it would tighten as they get closer to an election. But she was way ahead in all these polls, what, a month ago, two months ago.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure, but you know, we're going to see it switch a lot of times. I mean, what stuns me about this election is the number of voters who say they are voting against someone...
BORGER: ... rather than voting for someone.
BASH: Right. BORGER: These people are both not very well-liked. And they're very polarizing political figures, and there are lots of Republicans who don't like Donald Trump. They're going to vote for him, because they like Hillary Clinton even less, and vice versa.
BLITZER: She really needs to bring the Bernie Sanders supporters, assuming she gets the nomination, to bring them on board.
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: She certainly does. You know, there's been a lot of talk that, in fact, they're not going to go to Hillary Clinton, that they're either going to sit out the election or they're going to go to Donald Trump. I think that is a fictitious line of thought. It's a fairy tale.
In fact, CNN did a poll -- it came out about two weeks ago -- that showed that 86 percent of the Bernie Sanders voters, given the opportunity to either vote for Hillary Clinton or to vote for Bernie Sanders [SIC] -- excuse me, or Donald Trump, they voted for Hillary Clinton. These are liberals. They are not -- they are populists, but they're liberals. And Hillary Clinton is more liberal, quite frankly, than Donald Trump will ever be.
BLITZER: Well, when Bernie Sanders says picking between Trump and Clinton for a lot of people is like picking the lesser, in his words, lesser of two evils.
BORGER: Yes. He said that's how the people feel.
BLITZER: That's what he says the people feel, it's the lesser of two evils. That doesn't necessarily inspire a lot of confidence that he's going to go out there and work effectively, assuming he doesn't get the nomination.
BORGER: He's already -- he's already talked about Donald Trump, and he's already said that he wants to see Donald Trump defeated. But he hasn't given up.
I mean, Bernie Sanders is going all the way. As Hillary Clinton said in her interview with Chris Cuomo, that she went -- you know, she went all the way to California. She expects Bernie Sanders to do that.
He just got five seats today on the platform committee. He's going to have a lot of influence on that platform committee, a lot of influence at the convention. And, I would assume, a lot of influence on the issues that Hillary Clinton runs on.
But the fact that -- that he is running so hard, so late, when statistically -- mathematically, I should say -- it is going to be so hard for him to actually be the nominee, it is and should be quite alarming to Hillary Clinton and her campaign. Specifically, Wolf, because of what she told CNN last week, that -- that not only does she say that it's done, but more importantly, she worked pretty hard, after it was all said and done, to get her supporters behind Barack Obama back in 2008 when she lost.
And she's clearly worried that Bernie Sanders is not going to do the same, and that could be a very big problem.
BLITZER: On the Republican side, Donald Trump seems to be bringing a lot of Republicans on board right now. Lindsey Graham apparently told some supporters out there, "Go ahead, support Donald Trump." This after during the campaign -- I want to play you a little clip. This is what Lindsey Graham used to say about Donald Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Donald Trump was sitting right here instead of me, what would you tell him right now?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Just shut the hell up. He is shallow. He is ill-prepared to be commander in chief. He's a race-baiting, xenophobic religious big.
He thinks Putin is a good guy. He says the worst things possible about immigrants and women, and he's a complete idiot.
You know how you make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Then they had a phone conversation last week. It apparently went well, and now he's saying to supporters out there, "You better go ahead and support him," apparently.
BASH: Right. Well, I actually just got off the phone with him, because I knew you were going to be asking about this. What he just told me was that he absolutely did not and has not encouraged donors to go give money to Donald Trump.
What he said, that he said in a private fundraiser a couple of days was -- and these are people who gathered to help him retire his own debt from his own presidential run -- was that he is not going to publicly trash him like he did in those clips and many others that we can play. He's not going to do that anymore. He's going to kind of stay back, stay out of the fray.
But he's standing by what he told us, when he made his decision after Donald Trump became the effective nominee, which is he is not going to vote for Donald Trump. He's not going to vote for Hillary Clinton. He said he stands by that, and he insists that he never encouraged donors...
BLITZER: Who's he going to vote for, then?
BORGER: John McCain. But you know, I think what Lindsey Graham and other Republicans are doing, are trying to give the Senate candidates some running room here, because they have to run their own races. And they have to decide whether they're for Donald Trump, whether they're going to appear with Donald Trump, whether they're going to back away from Donald Trump. And I think there has to be some sort of sense of let these people make their own decisions on this stuff. And what Lindsey Grahams is doing is saying, "Look, I'm not going to vote for him, but I'm not going to go after people who do."
BASH: And you know, he's been a fixture on your show and others. He's not shy about coming before the cameras, and he's trying to step back big time. And that's -- this is the reason for it.
BLITZER: Lindsey Graham, that will change soon. Sooner or later.
BASH: Right now, that's...
BLITZER: Yes. We invite him all the time to come on our show.
BASH: I know.
BLITZER: We welcome him back any time.
All right, guys, thanks very much.
Just ahead, the latest on the search for that EgyptAir jet that plunged into the Mediterranean. Search crews are now racing against time to find those black boxes.
Plus, a Taliban leader killed in a U.S. air strike. Why President Obama is now calling that a milestone.
[18:41:30] BLITZER: We're following the search for EgyptAir Flight 804 in the Mediterranean and the growing mystery surrounding the crash that killed 66 people. Investigators don't know what caused that plane to plunge into the sea, and the latest clues are only raising more questions.
Our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh, is joining us. Rene, the search is getting more urgent with each passing day.
RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. The plane's black boxes could hold a wealth of information. They capture everything from the pilot's conversations and sounds of the cockpit to how data about how the plane's systems were working. And tonight it's a race against time to find them before the batteries expire.
MARSH (voice-over): Tonight a frantic search for clues or hard evidence that could reveal why one of the world's most advanced passenger jets seemingly fell out of the sky.
As surveillance planes scour the ocean surface, Egyptian and French submarines are searching its floor, about 200 miles off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt, hoping to find the plane's recorders.
But at nearly 10,000 feet deep, it's a complex operation. Search crew have found some life vests, personal belongings and human remains but have not located the plane's fuselage, the main body of the aircraft, or the critical black boxes located in the tail. JUSTIN GREEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: The investigators are up against
the clock. If they don't find the black boxes within the next 30 days, the job of finding them is going to be much harder, because the black boxes may no longer be sending out a sonar ping, which will help them identify it.
MARSH: Meantime, on land, investigators are pouring over data and recordings from the plane in the minutes and hours before it disappeared.
Egyptian radar spotted the plane for one minute before it crashed after it entered Egyptian air space, according to Egypt's air navigation services.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello, hello, EgyptAir 804 flight level 370.
MARSH: CNN has obtained this recording of EgyptAir 804's pilot speaking with air traffic control about two and a half hours before all contact was lost. The recording suggests calm in the cockpit and a normal start to the flight.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you so much. Good day, have a good night.
MARSH: There is still no clear theory of what brought down the plane and its 66 people on board. "The New York Times" reports political vandals scribbled the words "We will bring this plane down" in Arabic on the fuselage two years ago.
SHERIF FATHI, EGYPTIAN CIVIL AVIATION MINISTER: The airplane is secured as per the security procedures of airports. Whether people would write anything on it, and I'm not aware of that, by the way.
MARSH: And while Egyptian authorities say they believe terrorists may be to blame, no group has claimed responsibility. Investigators are also considering mechanical problems as a cause, after discovering the plane sent out maintenance alerts indicating smoke near the cockpit minutes before the crash. Experts say that could mean a fire, but it could also mean the plane's systems were failing.
MARSH: Well, there are more than 6,700 of this type of aircraft flying worldwide. If there is a mechanical problem, that's a major concern. The Airbus 320 had electrical problems with its window heaters in the past. In 2003, the FAA required a fix, but EgyptAir could not immediately say whether those fixes were made to this particular plane -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Rene. Thanks very much. Rene Marsh reporting.
Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us, the former NTSB managing director, our CNN aviation analyst Peter Goelz, former FBI assistant director, our CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, the former FAA investigator, our CNN safety analyst David Soucie is with us as well. [18:45:08] David, that ACAR so-called ACAR data alert system shows
that there was smoke in the front of the EgyptAir A320 shortly before it went down. Is it concerning to you as Rene just pointed out that there are thousands of these A320s in the sky right now?
DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Well, it certainly does, Wolf, and before the smoke came through the ACAR system, it said that the window had failed, too, the heat, the anti-ice on the window, which as Rene mentioned, they had some problems with that as well before. That aviation bulletin didn't fix that problem and it still exists, then we've got a substantial issue to be dealt with right now.
BLITZER: Shouldn't take long to figure out whether or not they took care of that problem. Peter, if there was some mechanical fire on board, why wasn't there a May Day call from the cockpit to ground control.
PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, that's part of the mystery, Wolf, because they had at least three or four minutes where they could have sent a message, once the ACAR system started transmitting. They also missed the discussion with the air traffic control, and that could have been simply an oversight or the event could have been started, so that really is mysterious.
BLITZER: What's your analysis -- you're a former FBI official -- that there's no claim from any terror group five days into this.
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I'm surprised if it was a terrorist act by that because if it was. These groups, you know, they want to take credit for the biggest, worst attacks they can pull off. If ISIS was able to pull something like this off, they would want to claim credit for it. If al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula out of Yemen, whose goal has been to bring down aircraft for many, many years, we have the underwear bomber equipped by them, then they would want to, to show that they're competitive with ISIS in terms of carrying out a major terror attack.
So, I'm very surprised, if it turns out to be terrorism, I'd be very surprised if they waited.
BLITZER: So, the sonar pinger that goes off on the black boxes that are orange like this one, if it only has 25 days to go, they have to find -- they have to hear that. They need those pinger locaters right now. Do they have that in the region, those Egyptian submarines, French submarines who are there?
GOELZ: They have listening devices and rescue vessels are probably on station or almost on station, but the clock is ticking. And, Wolf, you're right, 25 days, it is an outrage that the black boxes had not been retrofitted with batteries that extend beyond 30 days. That's not a weight issue, it's not a technical issue, it ought to be ordered by the aviation authorities as an emergency fix.
BLITZER: David, what can we learn from debris found floating on the Mediterranean? SOUCIE: What I've seen on the debris, Wolf, from these pictures is
that there are pieces torn, it is clear that the aircraft came apart, whether it came apart in the air, whether it came apart on the ground is too early to tell, but it's definitely proof positive that this aircraft is broken into pieces and under that aircraft -- or under the ocean.
BLITZER: In an investigation like this, does the FBI have a role, Tom?
FUENTES: Probably not.
FUENTES: Probably not in this case, because it's not an American aircraft, and we don't have American victims.
BLITZER: But the engines were U.S. made.
FUENTES: Yes, but they probably -- if Americans get involved in this, it's going to be NTSB and people from the engine manufacturer, and the Egyptians already had a point of contention with the FBI and NTSB over the crash where the pilot committed suicide and killed everybody on the plane off the coast of New York.
BLITZER: All right.
FUENTES: They're not going to be involved.
BLITZER: The mystery that continues.
All right. Guys, thanks very much.
Another story, the death of the Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan. And now, a senior U.S. military official tells CNN the Taliban were actively planning new attacks against U.S. forces at the time of Mansour's death, which President Obama calls a milestone. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It has been confirmed that he is dead. And he is an individual who as head of the Taliban was specifically targeting U.S. personnel and troops inside of Afghanistan who are there as part of the mission I've set to be able to maintain a counterterrorism platform and provide assistance and training to the Afghan military forces there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott is joining us.
Elise, now we know why the president personally authorized that drone strike to kill that Taliban leader.
[18:50:03] ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
And Jim Sciutto just reporting from his military sources that the Taliban led by Mullah Mansour was actively planning targets against -- attacks against U.S. targets in Kabul. And this shows why the U.S. was willing to make such a bold move in striking in this tribal area of Pakistan.
This is not a covert CIA strike the U.S. won't talk about, Wolf. This is a U.S. military by passing the Pakistani government, and striking in a very sensitive area. Under Mullah Mansour's leadership, we've seen a dramatic increase in violence against the U.S. and Afghan troops. He was resisting efforts to bring the Taliban to peace talks.
So, the U.S. has a good intelligence, took the target of opportunity. But, Wolf, I think it's too early to know what the U.S. actually achieved by taking out the leadership. The -- you heard from the president, and he hopes this will bring the Taliban to the table. But it could have the opposite effect. We're months from a succession of Mansour's replacement, some of the names were being heard could be even more deadly, and this could lead to a splinter of the Taliban. And this also may further antagonize Pakistan, who by all accounts hasn't done enough to crack down on the Taliban but was trying to pressure the Taliban and Mansour in particular to come to the table.
So, a lot of open questions about what this means for the next president about the plan withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, those peace talks and the important relationship with Pakistan, Wolf.
BLITZER: The government of Pakistan, did they condemned this strike, killing Mansour.
LABOTT: Well, they say what they always say, which is that this was a violation of their sovereignty, they're against the attacks. But it's kind of a muted response. And that does reflect they were also very frustrated by the Taliban's reluctance to come to the table. So, they may try to be, you know, nodding in the U.S. direction, but certainly they'll never come out and say they approved of the attack, that they knew about it beforehand.
Their official line is that they didn't know anything, and this is a violation of their sovereignty.
BLITZER: All right. Elise, thanks very much. Elise Labott reporting.
Just ahead, we'll have more on the search for EgyptAir Flight 804. Can searchers locate those two black boxes before they go silent?
[18:56:45] BLITZER: If the crash of EgyptAir Flight 804 is yet another terror attack, we're faced once again with a very frightening question. Why do Islamic terrorists hate America? Why do they hate France, Belgium, England?
CNN's Fareed Zakaria investigates in a special documentary presentation tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. It's called "Why They Hate Us."
Fareed Zakaria went straight to the source for answers, radical cleric Anjem Choudary. He's awaiting trial in London on charges of supporting ISIS. He and Fareed had a heated exchange over what he hates about us.
Watch this excerpt from the documentary.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANJEM CHOUDARY, RADICAL CLERIC: We call upon Muslims around the world to ban the constitution, to ban the American flag.
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST (voice-over): Anjem Choudary comes from that very small group of extreme radicals. Choudary has been charged with supporting ISIS.
CHOUDARY: You're hypocrites. You don't have principles. That's your problem as Americans.
ZAKARIA: He's awaiting trial in London.
CHOUDARY: I personally hate the American regime and their foreign policy.
ZAKARIA: Choudary faces prison for his support of ISIS, but he is unrelenting in that support.
Never mind the kidnappings, the beheadings, the sex slaves to child rape. The Islamic state is paradise.
CHOUDARY: There is peace, there is no corruption, there is no bribery, there is no usury, there's no alcohol, gambling. All of the vices you're used to in America and other parts of the world don't exist over there. This idea that they're raping people -- why don't you listen to what the Muslims are saying? They will deny these things.
ZAKARIA: Because, Mr. Choudary, they kill journalists. That's why.
CHOUDARY: And they're raping people in Islam.
ZAKARIA: They kill journalists, Mr. Choudary.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Joining us now is Fareed. He's the host of "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS."
Tell us more about this documentary, "Why They Hate Us", Fareed.
ZAKARIA: What I tried to do, if you remember, Wolf, at one point, Donald Trump said, we better -- we've got to ban all Muslims from coming in, because Islam hates America. And Anderson asked him in an interview, Anderson Cooper, is it all of Islam or is it some? And he said, well, that's what you've got to figure out.
What we tried to do is, we've tried to figure that out. We tried to ask and answer that question. How do you describe the kind of radical hatred that you see of the west of America? Where does it come from?
We went back into the roots, into history, and looked at Saudi Arabia, we looked at what clerics like Anjem Choudary are saying. We also looked at communities in America. Muslim communities, and how they are integrating and what their challenges are.
So, we really tried to look at the history, the past, but also look at the present.
BLITZER: Fareed, thanks very much.
And to our viewers, you can watch Fareed's really important documentary, "Why They Hate Us," later tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.
And tomorrow here in THE SITUATION ROOM, part two, Barbara Starr's exclusive reporting. She's with the U.S. military's central commander. She was in Syria, in Iraq. That report coming up tomorrow in THE SITUATION ROOM.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. Don't forget to tweet me @wolfblitzer. You can always tweet the show @CNNSitroom.
We'll see you in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.