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Legal View with Ashleigh Banfield

Plane Crash Terror Claims; Carson's Past Violence. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired November 05, 2015 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Ashleigh Banfield starts right now.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. And welcome to LEGAL VIEW.

The only thing investigators or experts or government officials know for sure about the cause of the Metrojet disaster is that it is going to be a while before they really know anything for sure. But five days after the Russian-leased airliner broke apart over the Sinai Peninsula killing all 224 people on board, a gaping divide has emerged between the United States and Britain on one side, and Egypt and Russia on the other. The British prime minister today declaring it more likely than not was downed by a bomb. The Brits, the French, the Irish, the German, the German airline Lufthansa, they have all suspended flights out of Sharm el Sheikh Airport, which a U.S. official says is known for lax security. The United States not the only - or only suspects a bomb was slipped on board, but that someone, someone at the airport actually had a role in it.

For its part, the government of Egypt says it is premature to make these declarations. And the Kremlin agrees, saying any statements made outside of the official investigation are "unverified speculation."

Here now to sort out who is saying what and just as importantly why they are saying what they're saying, CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott.

So, try and piece together for me, if you will, why there is such a divergence at this early stage between these countries and what the stake in each of these - or what the stake in the situation is for each of the countries for saying what they're saying.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Right, Ashleigh. Well, let's just assume for a minute that everyone is working on a lot of the same intelligence. Clearly, the U.S. and British are and one would assume that they have shared that with the Russians and the Egyptians. Secretary of State Kerry spoke with the Egyptian foreign minister this morning.

But we have a lot of different motivations here. The U.K. has a lot of passengers, and British citizens, that are flying to and from Sharm el Sheikh. They have this information and they want to let the British public know that they are taking precautions to make sure that everyone is safe. They're sending an aviation team in the midst of them scrapping all flights to the Sinai.

Now, the U.S. also working on that intelligence, but they do want to be respectful to the Egyptians here who are leading the investigation. And while Secretary Kerry and others are privately saying that they believe there - there was an explosive involved in the plane, they don't want to come out and say that publicly.

And then, on the other hand, you have the Russians and the Egyptians. The Egyptians just kicked off this great big tourism campaign with a lot of focus on the Sinai, the Sharm el Sheikh area, and they don't want to do anything for people to get extra caution about going to the Sinai. In fact, a couple of days ago, there was an announcement by the U.S. that they're banning all personnel from traveling to the region. So they don't want to have a lot of scare in the international public because this is a - Sharm el Sheikh is a very big tourism site.

And for the Russians, they have a lot of motivations here, Ashleigh. Obviously, they are wondering whether ISIS was involved, whether they should be concerned about their involvement in Syria, and trying to gauge how they're going to deal with the public. Is the public going to double down with them and support for this military campaign, or is there going to be pressure on Russian President Putin to pull out? So I think over the next couple of days, you're going to see how the Russians are reacting as more evidence comes that perhaps a bomb was involved.

BANFIELD: All right, Elise Labott reporting for us. Thank you for that.

I want to get to some of the insights here from three very distinguished experts. Michael Weiss is a CNN contributor and a senior editor at "The Daily Beast," and author of "ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror." Les Abend is a CNN aviation analyst and a Boeing 777 captain. And Anthony May is a security consultant, former explosives expert with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and a veteran of the TWA 800 case back from 1996.

Michael Weiss, if I can begin with you. The issue of these no smoking guns so far or definitive smoking guns so far, but there are definitely clues that could point to terror in this case at this point and let's just start with the list. There's chatter supposedly picked up by U.S. intelligence after the crash. There is that heat flash that was picked up by U.S. satellite. There's a lack of any distress calls that came from the - the cockpit of the crew. Alleged lax security at the Sharm el Sheikh airport. And then, of course, that bold, but pretty vague, claim, and not a lot since, from ISIS. Looks like a pretty substantial list that would point towards foul play, but is it convincing?

[12:05:01] MICHAEL WEISS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, actually, to me, the most convincing piece of evidence is when you have the British prime minister come out and say more likely than not this was a bomb. An even beyond that, the British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, said yesterday that - well, the reason we know that this was - this points in the direction of terrorism and the Egyptians don't is we're in possession of intelligence the Egyptians haven't got. That signals to me that, look, there probably is some communication that's been intercepted and vetted. It's not really surprising that it's the U.S. and the U.K. that's coming - that are coming out front on this. They're part of the so-called "five eyes" collection of countries that share intelligence and signals intelligence in particular.

Look, it could well be the case that (INAUDIBLE) Sinai they got lucky. I mean they planned an operation, but whatever person on the inside they had was able to kind clear a path for them. This happened. And it may have even taken members of the own - of that organization by surprise. It certainly seems to have taken core or central ISIS by surprise because you'll notice that their official media organs had been very muted since Saturday. So the question is, was this something - if - assuming again that this is born out to be terrorism, was this something plotted in Raqqa by the ISIS, you know, sort of military intelligence council, or was it the farm team in the Sinai that had worked for many months, or many weeks, trying to infiltrate, whether it was the Sharm el Sheikh airport security or possibly someone in the Egyptian transport ministry or whomever to get them onside and allow them to smuggle some device on board the plane.

But, yes, I mean, look, two major countries don't crawl out so far on a limb and say it looks like us - to be terrorism, unless they have something that they're not willing to disclose yet to the media.

BANFIELD: Yes, and who knows if that farm team that you're talking about, that little-known terror group, is trying to keep things rather quiet before they trumpet their successes because they need their guy to get some cover, maybe to get away, if, in fact, there was someone at the airport that infiltrated the lax security there.

Anthony, I'd like to bring you in on this, especially with your veteran status, having worked on TWA 800 and all the questions that surrounded what brought that jet down for so long. When it comes to the ground operators, those who are in the field right now trying to access the forensics, to come up with that forensics smoking gun, how much of this intelligence chatter is shared with those on the ground so that they can put that puzzle together more effectively?


Actually, what happens in an investigation of this nature is there's two independent investigations happening. One being the information and intelligence gathering, which would include information like the single flash point, chatter that's being picked up, the black box information, airport security issues, breaches previously at that airport. All of this is being worked separately of what should be happening on the ground.

And then on the ground, they've got a - they've basically got to do an account for everything. They've got to collect all the luggage, determine if they've got all the luggage, and then look at that luggage and see whether or not there's any particular piece of luggage that demonstrates an unusual characteristics or damage that's inconsistent with the remainder of the luggage, which would give an indication that, you know, OK, we may have a problem here in the cargo hold area. Then they do an explosives swabs on those - on that luggage to see if there's any explosive residue.

And then from that, the airplane wreckage, which as we learned in the TWA 800 accident investigation, just like - it was strewn over a large area that has to be collected. And that puzzle has to be put back together. And what you're looking for in the wreckage is, is there any indication of the damage that would point to a particular origin of the aircraft. That's the first thing you want to find out is, where did this event occur?

BANFIELD: OK. So when it comes to the possibility, and, Captain Abend, look, a lot of signs and signals are pointing towards the possibility of something being put into the cargo of that plane. Whether it was in the passenger cabin or whether it was in the cargo hold. As a pilot, what kind of leverage do you and all of the onboard staff have for trying to ensure that airports are safe? We're hearing about this lax security at Sharm el Sheikh airport. But this is your work space. You and your colleagues have to go to work in these airplanes every day. Do you have the power to try to effectuate change and ensure that airports are safe?

LES ABEND, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: You know, Ashleigh, I'd like to say that we do, but in all honesty, we do not have that kind of power. We don't have the transparency. As an example, when cargo is loaded on board the aircraft, unless it has hazardous material with it, we don't get the paperwork. So we don't really know. And that's only one example. We don't know in foreign countries that we fly to how well vetted these folks are or we do see some circumstances where there is an actual wanting process that occurs right at the - at the jet bridge prior to the entry.

[12:10:16] But I've got to be honest with you, we don't have that kind of command. We used to in the old days. But I think we should go back to some of that transparency now, if indeed we're looking at an explosive device. I still want to see the evidence of this. No disrespect to my intelligence community and my military community.

BANFIELD: Yes. I think you're absolutely right. Everybody wants that forensic smoking gun and absolute definitive proof of what, you know, what caused this disaster.

Stay put, all three of you, if you would for me, please, because coming up next, no doubt growing speculation that a bomb brought down that Russian airliner and it has airport security on the lookout for sure, but what are they looking for? Shoe bombs, underwear bombs, other things we've never even thought about before that make the latest screening technology obsolete? You might be surprised at how fast the technology is growing.


[12:15:21] BANFIELD: I want to take you live to a public book signing in Miami, Florida. That's where presidential candidate Ben Carson is taking questions. Let's listen.

BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Is, after they're informed of it, and after they've had an opportunity to digest it and talk about it, can they make a wise decision? And it - you know, it's a false narrative that you have to know everything.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you - have you had a chance to check on it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) about the comments about the pyramids and Joseph. Is that something that you think people should know about?

CARSON: No, I think that's - you know, some people believe in the Bible, like I do, and don't find that to be silly at all and believe that God created the earth and don't find that to be silly at all. The secular progressives try to ridicule it any time it comes up and they're welcome to do that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dr. Carson, your campaign will release radio ads starting tomorrow that features a rap artist and its demographic - the demographic is a little specific. Can you explain why you're - you're going that route? Why rap?

CARSON: Well, there are - there are people in the campaign who felt that that was a good way to do things. And, you know, they're entitled to their opinions about such things.


CARSON: You know, I support, you know, them in doing that. But, you know, I probably would have taken a little different approach.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just a follow-up question, sir, have you been able to check on those policies now that (INAUDIBLE) the "Miami Harrold" asked you and know that (INAUDIBLE) as you said, but have you been able to check (INAUDIBLE)?

CARSON: I - I - I have looked into it, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But do you don't have an opinion yet?

CARSON: Well, I want to do an in-depth, a deep dive, because, see, it doesn't make sense to me, quite frankly. The whole wet foot/dry foot thing doesn't make sense to me because, like I said, you catch them a mile off, you treat them differently than if they're on the shore. And also recognize that many people have taken advantage of that and, you know, gotten all kinds of benefits that perhaps they don't deserve.


CARSON: There are other people who perhaps get denied things that they should have. You know, you need to dive into those things deeply.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think that -

CARSON: And I'm not sure that, you know, wet foot/dry foot is where the emphasis should be. The emphasis should be on people who are trying to escape an oppressive regime. How do we make sure that we aid the ones who are appropriately doing that and how do we make sure that people who are not appropriately doing it don't take advantage of our generosity? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dr. Carson, I know that you don't want to provide

the names of the people, but can you provide a more specific timeline -

CARSON: What's that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know you don't want to provide the names of those people. We can understand that. But can you provide a more specific timeline when these specific incidents of violence happened?

CARSON: Yes. You know, one of the ones where I threw a rock and broke someone's glasses, that occurred when I was maybe about seven or eight. The stabbing - attempted stabbing incident occurred when I was 13 or 14. The - what's another incident? Give me another one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The punching with the locker -

CARSON: Trying to hit my mother in the head with a hammer. That was around the same time as the stabbing incident.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the two incidents before your mother, were those classmates, were they friends, were they neighbors, how do you characterize - because our investigation could not find these people.

CARSON: Well, why would you be able to find them? What makes you think you would be able to find them unless I tell you who they are?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What would you characterize -

CARSON: And if - if they come forward on their own because of your story, that's fine, but I'm not going to expose them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think it -



BANFIELD: All right, Dr. Ben Carson at a book signing under the hot glare of the Keeg lights there over a report - much of the questioning about a report that CNN has been airing really calling into question Ben Carson's narrative of spiritual redemption. As he's been out on the campaign, he's talked a lot about his acts of violence as an angry man as he refers to himself as a young man who was angry and how he changed. His spiritual redemption made him the man he is today.

CNN went on an investigation. Found classmates and neighbors of Ben Carson's who grew up with the doctor and they told CNN they have no memory of the anger or of the violence that has been described by the candidate. One of the questions you may not have heard the answer to as we came into that live event was that the doctor said the people that CNN spoke to did not know Ben Carson until he had this spiritual redemption. They did not know him prior to this spiritual redemption that changed him into the man he is today.

[12:20:08] And that he was put to the test on what the ages were of these violent incidents. The first one he said was an incident when he was about seven or eight years old. The second was a stabbing incident when he said he was 13 or 14 years old. And then the third incident he listed off in specifics was when he hit his mother with a hammer, and he said he was about the same age, 13 or 14 years old.

I want to bring in senior media correspondent here at CNN and host of "Reliable Sources," Brian Stelter.

This is a - this is an issue. I mean the media has really taken to specifics, facts, timing. And the doctor is meeting each of these head on by saying we've made a mistake, we've interviewed the wrong people, people who have only known him since he's a changed man.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Right. You know, with higher standing in the polls comes higher scrutiny by the media. That's what we're seeing from CNN today in this really impressive investigation by Scott Glover and Maeve Reston. They've spoken to nine different people who knew Carson at the time. And although Carson is saying that these people didn't know him until after this moment where he changed, this awakening he had, actually some of the people interviewed actually did know Carsen in elementary school and in middle school. So some were high school classmates. Others did know him when he was younger. He mentioned the age of 13 and 14. Some of these people interviewed in the story did know him before he was 13 years old.

The CNN investigators also tried to go and find the people that were actually involved in these incidents. Carson has referred to their first names, not their last names. So CNN reached out to all the people in the yearbooks with those names trying to get ahold of them and has - have not been able to. Essentially, there's not a lot of supporting evidence for the stories that Carson told in his autobiography, but there are these people who say actually he was a bookish kid. He was a - described as a quiet kid with the pocket protector. That that's the image that endures in Carson's hometown of Detroit.

So what we're seeing here is what we always see, as candidates rise in the polls, more scrutiny on their stories. In this case, on his autobiography, which is 25 years old. And that is one of Carson's responses. We're talking about things that happened 50 years ago. So, obviously, a lot of time has passed.

BANFIELD: So what I want to do now, if I can, Brian, and if you'll indulge me, we were in commercial break. We came out of commercial break right into that news conference as it was happening. It was very ad hoc. We weren't expecting him all of a sudden to be taking these questions in the middle of a media scrum, but we did not get live his first response to the CNN question about the investigation that CNN's been doing, so I want to run that and we'll talk about it right afterwards. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My colleagues at CNN did an investigation of your stories about childhood violence and they really had a hard time corroborating the details. Can you provide more details, who's Jerry, who's Bob, beyond just these first names?

CARSON: Well, I don't want to expose people without their knowledge. But, remember, when I was 14, when the knifing episode occurred, that's when I changed. That's when most of those people they talk to began to know who I was. They didn't know me before that.


BANFIELD: So there you have it. That's sort of a repeat of another question later on where he says he was about 14. But, Brian, he later said one of the first instances of violence was when he was about seven or eight, and that would put him in grade school. That would put him in elementary school.

STELTER: Right, in elementary school. Yes, and some of the sources CNN was able to reach knew him in high school. Others knew him earlier on.

And we should be clear, none of the nine people that are interviewed in these exhaustive story - it's an excellent read on - none of them directly challenge Carson's story and say he's lying. They're not saying that. They're saying they don't recall it. They don't know about it. They say some of these stories would have been known to everybody in high school if they had happened the way that Carson says they did. So that's the kind of - that's the kind of scrutiny that's being applied here.

BANFIELD: Yes, and in his defense, some of the photos that we were showing before, they are photos of him clearly in what looks to be high school, as an older - as an older student as opposed to this younger student.

I want to go out to our - our live correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty, who's standing by. And she was actually at this event. And I think you might have been, Sunlen, one of the people asking the questions, although it was hard to tell. But give me your feel for what just transpired.

I think we are - Sunlen, I was told we had a very long delay but this is very, very long and it is no longer -

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ashleigh, I'm not sure what you just tossed me. Sorry, I can't hear you. But I can tell you that we were just with Dr. Ben Carson here at a book signing in Miami, Florida, and we talked to him about these somewhat inconsistencies, not confirmed stories of his past when he was in school and violent. And I asked him directly about that, can you provide the last names of these people, can you provide more of a time line, and he basically said, no, I'm not going to reveal who these people are. If they want to come forward, they are free to come forward themselves to corroborate the story.

He did provide a little more detail about the timeline. He said one of the incidents were - with the lock where he hit someone, in his words, with a lock in the face, he said that happened when he was seven or eight. He also referenced the incidence of violence with his mother. But he really is, Ashleigh, staying away largely from many of the details of these stories that he's been talking about a lot on the campaign trail, really not revealing any more today, saying that he did not want to reveal the identity the people involved, Ashleigh.

[12:25:20] BANFIELD: All right. Thanks very much, Sunlen Serfaty, reporting for us live. And again our apologies but the audio issues there, it was an extraordinarily long delay.

I just want to reiterate, though, that our correspondents who did this piece that is airing not only on CNN but on, were exhaustive, as Brian Stelter mentioned, in their investigation. They spoke with nine different schoolmates and classmates of Dr. Carson's that ranged from elementary school through middle school and beyond. And so the answers that you just heard Sunlen Serfaty talk about from Dr. Carson in this last-minute news conference, that this happened prior to people - you know, prior to the people who knew him, actually knowing him may not necessarily match up with the ages that he has supplied and that our correspondents have actually (ph) - if that made any sense to you. I know it's a little complicated.

He said he had a change of heart and that the people CNN spoke with came after the change of heart. But again, we did interview people from elementary school right through middle school and beyond. So we'll continue to watch that story for you.

And then coming up after the break, we're also watching the clock because a live news conference is expected in the White House at any moment. White House press secretary likely to take to that podium and we're hoping to get a few more answers, perhaps more clarification, as to these intelligence sources telling CNN and others around the world, in fact, that it is more than likely it was a bomb that brought down Metrojet flight number 9268 over the Sinai Peninsula as opposed to anything else. Hopefully more clarity in a moment.