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Alfred Hagen is Interviewed about Paul-Henri Nargeolet; Whistleblower on Hunter Biden Charges; James Cameron on Submersible Accident. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired June 23, 2023 - 06:30   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: This morning friends and family are mourning the loss of the crew of the Titan submersible that suffered a catastrophic implosion and remembering those on board. The passengers, Stockton Rush, Hamish Harding, Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman, and Paul-Henri Nargeolet.

Our friend and fellow explorer called Nargeolet one of the greatest deep divers in history. Alfred Hagan visited the Thailand -- Titanic wreckage and went on two missions both times with Paul Nargeolet. There's video from last summer. You can hear the French explore in the background.

Alfred Hagan, he's on the right in this photo, visited the Titanic wreckage on the Titan vessel. He went on two missions, both times with Nargeolet. Here's video he shot last summer, and you can hear the French explorer, Nargeolet, in the background.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's it. That's it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now we're right on the bow. And you can see the - the stuff on the ledge. You can see from the hull of the -


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The front of the stuff (INAUDIBLE).


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, look that.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God, we're pretty close here.


COOPER: And Alfred Hagan joins us now. Mr. Hagan, I appreciate you joining us and I'm sorry it's under these circumstances. I know you have been following this all week long, hoping that there would be different results.

Talk a little bit, if you can, about Paul-Henri Nargeolet. What was he like?

ALFRED HAGAN, FRIEND OF PAUL-HENRI NARGEOLET: As I've said before, P.H. was this wonderfully, warm human being. An incredibly talented, iconic, legendary, the greatest deep diver that the world has ever known. But at the same time, with the humility and the grace to sit down and to speak to anyone as an equal. And as someone said a couple days ago, the man equally at ease on the deck of the ship in a hurricane or sitting conversing in a Parisian Cafe. Just a wonderful, wonderful individual. And it's truly broke my heart that a man of his dynamism (ph) will no longer, you know, shine his light on this -- in this world.

COOPER: As you went down, you went down twice in Titan, did you -- were you fearful? And what role did P.H. play during the journey? Was he sort of -- it sounds like he was kind of narrating things about the ship.

HAGAN: Yes, when you're descending, you're in a freefall. And, generally, OceanGate will have a pilot sitting in the back of the submersible fly - you're basically freefalling, so he's not doing much. He's just monitoring our conditions. And P.H. and I would just be conversing with the other people on board.

And when you actually got to the bottom, and we began flying, and you have to understand that GPS doesn't penetrated that deep into the ocean. So, when you get to the bottom, you actually have to find the Titanic. And the bow and the stern are a considerable distance apart. So you're - you're flying a few feet -- several feet above the ocean floor and you're - you're searching. And you've got a sonar the reaches out maybe 100 yards, 150 yards. So you're flying almost blind in a world far beyond the reach of light. So it's a world of perpetual midnight. And then suddenly, if you're lucky, you see the ship appear out of the darkness.

And it's a - it was a phenomenal experience. I don't regret going. I do regret that I won't be able to go again with P.H.

But when we got to the ship, that is when P.H. would take over -

COOPER: Did you have safety concerns when you were on board? Oh, I'm sorry, go ahead.

HAGAN: Well, I was finishing the thought, you asked what his role was. When we actually got to the bottom, P.H. would take over flying and he would sit actually in the nose, which is the door. It weighs several tons. It's like a titanium dome. And he would sit there with his feet on the dome, and he would fly around the wreckage and describe everything that he - that we were seeing.

And as far as the safety concerns, of course you were concerned. We all understood the risk we were taking. And there were concerns. And there was a moment when the current kind of pushed us in closer than we intended and we got stuck. And P.H. was able to maneuver us out.

And, of course, at that moment, you know, the thought flashes through your mind of, if we don't get loose we -- this could be it. But I was - that's a risk that you accept.

And I'm tired of people coming in now to insult, you know, the high achievers and disparage wealthy people that want to, you know, break trail for the rest of humanity and then come in and ban the dead corpses. I mean, I'm tired of that. And these are risktakers. Risktakers have always driven humanity forward. You know, and that's - and taking risk is what distinguishes us as men.

And, you know, it's the divine spark.


If we didn't take risks, we would never have crossed the oceans. We would never have learned to sail. We would never have left the surly bonds of earth. We would - and we wouldn't be in space. And we certainly wouldn't be exploring the depth of the ocean.

And, you know, James Cameron, I have great respect for. And if he says the carbon fiber is not the appropriate shell, then I will agree with him. And we're going to learn from that and move on.

But Stockton Rush was also correct. The oceans are fundamental to our future. The elements that will power the green economy are all on the seafloor.

COOPER: Right (ph).

HAGAN: We have to explore this last great frontier on earth. It's critical to the survival of life on earth.

COOPER: Right.

HAGAN: And he was a trailblazer.

COOPER: Yes. Mr. Hagan, I appreciate it. I guess the question - the question James Cameron raised is the -- is it correct to bring passengers, paying passengers, who maybe don't know the full safety profile or the lack of protocols that were followed in the development of this vessel. That's the question I think James Cameron was raising.

But I appreciate your time.

Alfred Hagen, thank you so much.

Rahel, Phil, we'll talk to James Cameron. We'll have more of that interview throughout the next two hours.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, thanks, Anderson. Much more from where you are. Much more on this story. But we also have more news coming up. Whistleblowers have just told

Congress that the IRS recommended charging Hunter Biden with felonies. Why they say those charges were never filed, coming up next.




Two whistleblowers claim that Hunter Biden received, quote, preferential treatment when prosecutors offered a plea deal this week that included just two tax misdemeanors. They told Congress that IRS investigators recommended far more serious felony charges. This hours after House Republicans release the transcripts of the whistleblower testimony. Hunter Biden, as we can see here, was seen at the White House mingling with guests at the state dinner for India's prime minister, Narendra Modi.

CNN's Evan Perez joins us now with the details.

So, Evan, what exactly are these whistleblowers alleging against the DOJ?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rahel, these two whistleblowers who testified to - to Congress just in the last few weeks say that this investigation essentially was rigged. This - they say this is a five-year investigation and that the IRS, at one point, recommended a total of 11 counts against Hunter Biden, including felonies for federal tax evasion, filing false tax returns, false statements going back to 2014. In the end, they say - in the end, what we know is that the Justice Department, the Trump-appointed prosecutor there, David Weiss, agreed to a plea deal with Hunter Biden for only two misdemeanors. They say that their recommendation actually had the backing of some of the prosecutors who are working this case more closely.

And so here's what Gary Shapley, who is the supervisor, the IRS supervisor who came forward, this is what he says. I am alleging, with evidence, that the DOJ provided preferential treatment, slow-walked the investigation, did nothing to avoid obvious conflicts of interest in this investigation.

Of course this means that Congress is going to spend more time investigated what exactly happened behind-the-scenes at the Justice Department and at the U.S. attorney's office in Delaware.

MATTINGLY: Even, you know, one of the things yesterday, as I was kind of following this throughout the course of the day, the -- some of the messages that were released that were made public or the allegations of certain messages undoubtably draw your eye and make you ask questions if you're not inside of the investigation.

PEREZ: Right.

MATTINGLY: What are these messages? And do you think that what the agents wanted, that there would be further investigation, is now possible?

PEREZ: Yes, I think this is their second - that's a major part of what their complaints are. Again, these are two agents who were very seasoned, and they've been following this investigation very closely for years, and they say they were not allowed to investigate very thoroughly some parts of this investigation - some parts of the evidence that they say pointing fingers at the sitting president, Joe Biden.

And here's what Shapley said in this - there's a 2017 message that is purported to come from Hunter Biden to a Chinese partner that he's trying to get to pay him. And so this is what it says. It says, I am sitting here with my father and we would like to understand why the commitment has not been fulfilled. He says - he goes on to say that essentially he's - he holds - he will hold a grudge against whoever is not paying. And then he ended it by saying, I am sitting here waiting for the call with my father.

Now, the importance of that is that, you know, Joe Biden has repeatedly said that, you know, he's never talked business, his son's business issues, with his son. And, again, this is a message from 2017. Joe Biden was not president at the time.

But the question is, you know, where was this message and where -- was evidence like this thoroughly investigated by the FBI and the IRS?

Phil. Rahel.

SOLOMON: Evan Perez, thank you.

MATTINGLY: Let's send things back now to Anderson Cooper. He's live in St. John's, Newfoundland.


COOPER: Yes, coming up, why Oscar-winning movie director James Cameron, who's also himself an extraordinary deep-sea explorer, likened the tragedy to the Titan sub to the Titanic disaster itself. My interview with director James Cameron ahead.



COOPER: And welcome back. We are live in St. John's, Newfoundland.

Titanic filmmaker and deep-sea explorer James Cameron is now weighing in on the tragic loss of the Titan submersible and its five-member crew. A catastrophic explosion taking place deep under the sea about 350 miles off the coast here in St. John's.

Cameron has been to the Titanic shipwreck more than 30 times himself. He's one of the world's most renowned deep sea explorers. In fact, he's gone to depths three times that of the Titanic. He told me last night that this was heartbreaking and preventable.


JAMES CAMERON, DIRECTOR, "TITANIC": Obviously, we're all - we're all kind of heartsick from the outcome of this. And I've been living with it for a few days now as some of my other colleagues in the deep submergence community.

I was out on a ship myself when the event happened on Sunday. The first I heard of it was Monday morning. I immediately got on my network, because it's, you know, a very small community in the deep submergence group, and found out some information within about a half hour that they had lost coms and they had lost tracking simultaneously.

The only scenario that I could come up with in my mind that could account for that was an implosion, a shockwave event so powerful that it actually took out a secondary system that has its own - its own pressure vessel and its own battery power supply, which is the transponder that the ship uses to track where the sub is.


So, I was thinking implosion then. That's Monday morning. I got on the horn again with some other people, tracked down some intel that was probably of a military origin, although it could have been research, because there are hydrophones all over the Atlantic, and got confirmation that there was some kind of loud noise consistent with an implosion event. That seemed to me enough confirmation that I let all of my inner circle of people know that we had lost our comrades. And I encouraged everybody to raise a glass in their honor on Monday.

Then I watched over the ensuing days this whole sort of everybody running around with their hair on fire search, knowing full well that it was futile. Hoping against hope that I was wrong, but knowing in my bones that I wasn't. And so it certainly wasn't a surprise. And I just feel terrible for the families that had to go through all these false hopes that kept getting dangled, you know, as it played out.

COOPER: You've made dozens of, I mean, just extraordinary deepwater expeditions, including more than 30 to the Titanic itself. You've also gone far deeper than the 13,000 feet where the Titanic is.


COOPER: I think you've gone deeper than just about anybody into the ocean. I wrote it into - I forgot the name of the place you went, but the Challenger Deep, which is just extraordinary.

CAMERON: Challenger Deep. Yes. Yes.

COOPER: You went in your own designed - yes, you went in your own designed craft that's a submersible that was experimental and didn't go through the - sort of the standard safety protocols.

CAMERON: Correct.

COOPER: But the difference is, you were not taking passengers on board.

CAMERON: Exactly.

COOPER: Would you ever have taken passengers on board a submersible that had not gone through the standard maritime safety protocols?

CAMERON: No. No, not at all. I mean my sub that I went to the - to the Challenger Deep dove safety three times deeper than - than Titanic. We made multiple dives in that - in that sub. That sub was a single seater. And it was only contemplated that myself and the engineer with whom I co-designed the vehicle would be the only pilots of that sub. And we worked on it for seven years. We knew every detail of it intimately. I was involved in every phase of the testing. So, you know, I assessed the risk. I understood them very well. And those were risks I was willing to take.

I would never take it upon myself to ask someone else to take that type of risk. And if I were designing a multi-see vehicle where I intended to be the pilot, we'd go through all of the rigorous testing protocols and review protocols that you have with, let's say, ABC, which is the American Bureau of Shipping, or DNV, or German Lloyd's, who are the major, you know, bureaus, that class A sub. They call it classing, but it's basically certification. And I think it was unconscionable that this group did not go through that rigorous process.

COOPER: What is - you know, this was an experimental design. There's no question about it. It's a carbon composite. You can tell us more about what that actually means. I mean it's the kind of stuff used in spacecraft, but is it designed for deep underwater pressure? And what is the - what is the danger of that kind of material in this kind of environment?

CAMERON: It's completely inappropriate for a vessel that sees external pressure. You know, carbon fiber composites are used very, very successfully for internal pressure - pressure vessels, like let's say a scuba tank. And you can get two or three times multiple of what you could get out of steel or aluminum for that type of pressure bottle. But for something that's seeing external pressure, all of the advantages of composite materials go away and all the disadvantages come into play.

So, if you're using a uniform material like steel or titanium or a ceramic or acrylic, you can do computer modeling with a high degree of accuracy and confidence. The second you start doing carbon composite or any kind of composite materials, you're introducing two materials that are in contact with each other, the filament itself and then the epoxy matrix that it - that it sits within. And at that point you have degradation failure.

So, we always understood that this was the wrong material for submersible hulls because with each pressure cycle you can have progressive damage. So, it's quite insidious because you may have a number of successful dives, which is what happened here, and then have it fail later. If I were diving in a sub that was fully certified, I wouldn't think

about it. But even in my own sub, which had a steel hull, I knew that if I - if I dove several, two or three times, it was probably good to go because you can cycle steel hundreds of times, if not thousands of times.


But that's not the case with composites. So, it's quite insidious. And that, I think, lulled them into a sense of confidence and led to this tragedy. But these are known things. They're known within the engineering community.


COOPER: Director James Cameron. We're going to speak - we're going to have more of that interview throughout the morning.

Back to you guys in New York.

SOLOMON: Well, Phil, as you know, there's so many questions. I mean clearly everyone involved knew that there was some risk. But we're learning now and questioning now how much risk and was the vessel even really safe to be there. So, so many questions.

And coming up next we'll actually speak to the co-founder of OceanGate. He's no longer involved in the company, but hear what he has to say about reported red flags that were missed.

This is CNN's special live coverage. Stick with us.