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The Situation Room

Brazil Confirms Air France Jet Crashed; High Court May Overrule Sotomayor; Nominee Meets Her Judges

Aired June 02, 2009 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer.


We're following breaking news this hour. Brazil's defense minister is now confirming the crash of the Air France Flight 447 based on a three mile long debris field found in the Atlantic Ocean near the plane's flight crash, confirming this was the debris from the plane.

For grief-stricken family and friends of the 228 people on board, it's an important step toward solving the mystery of the fate of their loved ones.

CNN's Paula Newton is working the story for us in Paris, where this plane was scheduled to arrive -- Paula, give us all the latest information we're getting.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you said, three miles scattered -- the debris field. And now here, Wolf, that acceptance that, in fact, their loved ones are most likely lost. And they turn now to the big challenge of the investigation ahead.


NEWTON (voice-over): It's a break in the investigation, but tragic news to scores of families -- two areas of debris spotted by the Brazilian Air Force, but no signs of life.

In two locations about 40 miles apart, there were metallic pieces, an airplane seat, a life vest, slicks of oil. Several ships are now headed to the area about 400 miles off the northeastern coast of Brazil to investigate. But French officials are cautioning even if it is part of the wreckage of Flight 447, the task ahead is daunting.

JEAN LOUIS BORLOO, FRENCH TRANSPORT MINISTER (through translator): We are now in a race against time. You are aware that the black boxes, which contain the only reliable information, emit signals for 30 days.

NEWTON: Families huddled at crisis centers in both Paris and Rio. But others, like Patricia Coakley, waited for news at home. Her husband Arthur, an engineer, was on the flight and she admits she's losing hope he'll ever make it back. PATRICIA COAKLEY: I hope Art was asleep and I hope he wasn't frightened. But, you know, yesterday I thought he was still coming home. But maybe he won't. But I hope he wasn't frightened.

NEWTON: A somber moment of silence in the French National Assembly punctuated the mood for many, like this woman. Her life-long friend and daughter's godmother was on the flight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My daughter is in shock right now. That's why we hope to get news very soon for us and for family members of the passengers that were on the plane.

NEWTON: Inside crisis centers, there were counselors and airline officials on hand. This volunteer in Paris said most were in shock -- still trying to grasp how and why Flight 447 could just fall out of the sky.

GUILLAUME DENOIX DE SAINT MARC, CRISIS CENTRE VOLUNTEER: A lot of dignity. There are some cries, of course. There are some persons (INAUDIBLE). But they have a lot of psychologists there, you know, to be able to have individual discussions with them, individual support.

NEWTON: Even starting to unravel the mystery of those tragic final moments of Flight 447 is proving immensely difficult.

But whatever happens, aviation experts agree it was lightning quick.

JOHN COX, FORMER UNITED AIRLINES PILOT: Where the debris field is found is pretty close to the flight path of the airplane, so that it had not started to divert.


NEWTON: No diversion, no mayday call. Now we have several ships heading to this debris field. Here, Wolf, in the next several hours, relatives will be looking to what they can gather from the information on those ships to see if there are any clues in the water as to what happened to their relatives -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Paula Newton on the scene for us in Paris.

Let's go to CNN's John Zarrella right now.

He's in Brazil. He's just emerged from a briefing with officials there -- John, what are they, first of all, saying about the debris that they found?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what we're hearing, the Brazilian defense minister, Nelson Jobim, had met first with families at an area hotel here and then following that meeting, briefed the members of the media outside the hotel and confirmed, at that time that, in fact, this debris field that they found was, in fact, Air France 447.

And what he told us, without elaborating, was that they found metallic and nonmetallic pieces in about a three mile path out in the ocean. He said that the debris field was about 700 moils off the coast. Now, earlier, we'd been saying about 400 miles. But that was 400 miles from this chain of islands that juts off the coast, so that it would probably make sense that from the coastline itself, it's way out -- about 700 miles.

We also heard earlier, Wolf, that some of the debris that they had found was a seat, a life vest, a metal object floating in the water -- presumably a drum of some sort -- as well as an oil slick they spotted out there. And those were all spotted from the Brazilian Air Force early this morning.

Now, they got into the area, Wolf, with a couple of commercial ships out there first. There was a French vessel and two vessels from the Netherlands in the area. And they were pressed into service to look for survivors. But so far, none have been found -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Are they saying they just assume everyone is dead?

Have they given up any hope that there may have been a survivor?

What are they saying about that -- John.

ZARRELLA: Well, they are looking and they're searching. And they've got at least two or three more warships -- Brazilian warships that are going to get into the area tomorrow. The United States Navy has also sent a P-3 Orion aircraft out there, a search aircraft, to continue searching the area.

And one of the things they're saying, too, is that because of the current in that area, that the debris may have moved many, many miles. This debris field that they found may be many, many miles from where the plane actually went down. So the search area is still encompasses hundreds of square miles out there in the Atlantic Ocean.

But they are not giving up hope that they might find survivors. And certainly with each passing hour, with the kind of debris that they're finding -- not big pieces, but small pieces of debris -- it is beginning to look more and more grim as every hour passes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, that's certainly true.

All right, John. Stand by.

Brianna Keilar is here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- Brianna, you've been looking at this.

What was there, some sort of warning or -- that was issued to this Airbus A330 in the aftermath of a Qantas problem that developed late last year?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. This is one of the things the FAA does, Wolf. And in this case, they actually followed after the year -- their European counterpart -- this air directive, which is basically a safety alert, a maintenance alert -- something that they do all of the time. And it had to do with this particular flight where the nose did dip on this Qantas flight.

The FAA did this several months ago. And as to any questions about whether this -- and I should be very specific about what happened in this case. What happened was a navigational system that was connected to the autopilot disengaged.

So if there's any question as to whether that is related to what happened with this Air France flight, we have learned from Airbus -- they say that absolutely it does not. On the record, they tell us it's not even the same unit between this Qantas flight and this Air France airplane.

They say the ADIRU -- that's what this is called, this particular device -- that was affected and was the subject of the Airbus recommendations in the Qantas incident were manufactured by Litton and the ADIRU on the Air France aircraft was a different manufacturer and a different unit entirely. That coming to us from Clay McConnell, a spokesman for Airbus USA.

BLITZER: Did they say who manufactured the other version?

KEILAR: No, we don't know that at this time. Certainly, we're looking into that.

BLITZER: So what does that say to you, Peter Goelz, the former director of the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board?

This incident last October where this Qantas plane went into a nosedive, got out of it, went back into another nosedive, got out of it. They issued this directive as a result of that.

The fact there were different manufacturers of this equipment, does that -- does mean conclusively that there is no similarity to what happened then and what has happened with the Air France plane?

PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB DIRECTOR: Well, I think until there's more information, you cross it off and you go on to the next item. You know, the investigation right now is you're trying to eliminate possible suspects. In this case, you've got some conclusive proof. It's a different manufacturer.

BLITZER: But wouldn't the other manu...

GOELZ: Let's move on.

BLITZER: Isn't it possible, though, that these other manufacturer of this highly technical piece of equipment made it exactly as Litton did and there wasn't much of a change?

GOELZ: And you'd also look -- look at the controlling software that commands the interface between these two units. I mean, you wouldn't eliminate it entirely, but you'd put it to a lesser degree of importance and you try and get and see what other evidence is available. And right now, there's just not a lot.

BLITZER: You've investigated a lot of plane crashes. What does it say to you that, as John Zarrella was reporting from Rio de Janeiro just moments ago, that the size of the debris that they're seeing is really small?

They're not seeing huge, huge pieces.


BLITZER: Like a seat may have been the biggest thing that they've seen or a life vest.

GOELZ: Well, I mean it just means that there was a catastrophic -- that this -- this plane probably came apart at altitude. It's going to be very difficult to find the main debris field at the bottom of the ocean. As was indicated, there are currents out there. This stuff on the surface has probably floated a couple hundred miles. It's -- you're going to have to have oceanographers studying the currents to try and figure out where the main debris could be located.

BLITZER: How do you know that it came apart at altitude at 38,000 or 39,000 or 20,000 feet as opposed to on impact into the Atlantic Ocean?

GOELZ: Well, you don't really know. But when a plane comes apart at altitude, it really starts to disintegrate and -- and gets torn apart. Because this aircraft was flying at better than 500 knots, so it was moving awfully quickly. There's tremendous forces at play, that if the plane started to come apart, it would come apart very quickly and into pretty small pieces.

BLITZER: Yes. A sad, sad story.

All right, guys. Thanks very much.

But don't go away. We're going to continue to follow this story.

I want to check in with Jack Cafferty right now.

He has The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, here's something that probably keeps the Republican leadership awake nights and in cold sweats. A new Gallup poll shows 89 percent of the party's rank and file members are white. That means only 11 percent of Republicans are Hispanic, African- American, Asian or members of other races.

The numbers are staggering and hardly in keeping with the rapidly changing face of the demographic in this country. And that's not all. By more than two to one, whites who call themselves Republicans claim a conservative ideology. And about half of them say they are strongly religious.

Compare that now to the Democrats, whose party is 64 percent white and 36 percent non-white, by a ratio of more than four to one. White Democrats call themselves moderates or liberals and only 20 percent of them say they are highly religious. Independents fall somewhere in between the two camps, with 27 percent of them being non-white.

These numbers pretty much say it all about the Republicans' troubles and leave little question why Democrats are in control of the White House and both houses of Congress.

The big question is will the support of white conservative religious Americans be enough of a base for Republicans to start winning elections again?

The answer is no. The alternative, of course, is for Republicans to try to find a way to broaden their appeal among non-whites and whites who are more moderate in their thinking.

Here's a hint -- the way to accomplish that is probably not with the likes of Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich slinging around negative, hateful, racist rhetoric.

Here's the question -- why does the Republican Party have such a very narrow appeal these days?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

Eighty-nine percent of them are white. That is an -- that's an astounding number.

BLITZER: Yes, it is.

Jack, thanks very much.

I know the Republicans would like to change that and broaden the base, if you will. But it's not going to be easy. They've got a lot of work to do.

CAFFERTY: Yes, they do.

BLITZER: Thank you.

The Supreme Court nominee in a racially-charged case.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I prepared the hardest for the exam. It showed in my final results, but it was a hollow victory.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was robbed from me on the basis of my race.


BLITZER: Now, Sonia Sotomayor's decision is being reviewed by the same justices who may soon be her peers.

Also, Muslims around the world are waiting to hear what President Obama will tell them this Thursday from Cairo.

What's at stake?

What he needs to say.

And the mayor of Los Angeles is dating a high profile TV news personality and not for the first time.


BLITZER: Not since Clarence Thomas has the ethnicity or race of a Supreme Court nominee been the focus of such much attention. And it's not just Sonia Sotomayor's Latina heritage in the spotlight, but also how it may influence her decisions.

And there's no better example than a racially-charged case that could soon be overturned by Sotomayor's likely future colleagues.

CNN's Jason Carroll explains -- Jason?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you know, this is a case that has left bitter feelings on both sides. It centers on a group of firefighters. Judge Sotomayor's ruling on the case has been heavily criticized by some. Now, legal experts are waiting to see if the Supreme Court will reverse the ruling and what effect that may have on her confirmation.


CARROLL (voice-over): It was a controversial decision. As an appellate judge, Sonia Sotomayor siding with the City of New Haven, Connecticut, throwing out results of firefighter promotion exams because none of the black applicants qualified.

Some white firefighters say it was a case of racial discrimination.

Mark Marcarelli says he worked hard to do well on the test, but it was a hollow victory.

MATT MARCARELLI: It was robbed from me on the basis of my race.

CARROLL: Marcarelli may still get his victory. Some legal experts are predicting the Supreme Court will overturn that ruling, if only to allow the white firefighters' lawsuit to continue.

TOM GOLDSTEIN, COFOUNDER, SCOTUSBLOG.COM: It's either going to be a very close, 5-4 or the Supreme Court's ruling is going to be relatively narrow and it's going to say we don't know who wins or loses this case, we just think you need a harder look at the evidence.

CARROLL: Even if the high court reverses the ruling, it wouldn't be the first time a Supreme Court nominee wound up in that kind of spotlight. John Roberts and Samuel Alito both had cases pending before the high court when they were just being considered. All nine justices came up through the appeals courts. JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: All appeals court judges have their opinions reviewed by the Supreme Court. And most appeals court judges, at some point, have their views overturned by the Supreme Court.

CARROLL: Attorney Tom Goldstein has argued 21 cases before the Supreme Court and examined Sotomayor's legal record.

GOLDSTEIN: She has had 3,000 cases while on the Court of Appeals and has gotten reversed in only a handful or so. And that's a pretty good record.

CARROLL: For Sotomayor, it may be more a problem of timing.

TOOBIN: The Supreme Court may reject her interpretation of the law just on the eve of her confirmation hearing. That could be embarrassing. It probably isn't enough to sink her nomination, but it's not something that you want.

CARROLL: If Sotomayor is confirmed, she is not likely to alter the ideological balance of the high court. She knows all of the Justices and joining them is not expected to be a difficult adjustment.


CARROLL: Legal experts say if you look at Sotomayor's record, she has a history of -- by 8-1 -- of rejecting discrimination claims and favoring employers -- in many situations, siding with judges appointed by Republican presidents -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jason Carroll, thank you.

Judge Sotomayor was on Capitol Hill today, meeting with some of the senators who will be judging her qualifications and will be deciding whether she should be on the highest court.

Among them, Alabama's Jeff Sessions.

He's the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee.


BLITZER: Senator Sessions, thanks very much for coming in.

SESSIONS: Thank you.

Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: I take it today was the first time you had a chance to sit down with her face-to-face.

And what did you think?

SESSIONS: Well, I enjoyed it. She was engaging and talkative. And we had a good conversation. It was fun. We talked a little bit about -- mostly, I guess, about her record.

She was a young prosecutor for a number of years. She was in private practice. Then she served as a trial judge and as an appellate judge now. So that's a good background, I have to say. It's the kind of thing that gives her a lot of experience in the kind of issues she'll be facing on the court.

BLITZER: Is -- based on what you know right now, is she ready for the major leagues?

Is she -- is she ready to sit on the highest court in the land?

SESSIONS: Well, she's, I think, intellectually capable. I guess the question is, you know, sort of spinning off President Obama's statement that judges should show empathy. He voted against John Roberts and Sam Alito, saying that they didn't rule enough for little people or whatever -- that kind of statement.

So I think we need to make sure that she's committed to faithfully following the law, that she has those legal skills and abilities, give an opportunity for any questions about her character to arise. I've seen none yet.

So I think we need to go through this process because, once confirmed, a judge is given a lifetime appointment. We need to know that they have discipline and restraint and will show themselves, over the decades to come, as a person who is faithful to be subordinate to the law and not to place themselves above the law. It will be a good...


SESSIONS: ...a good time to discuss the role of a judge in the American experience. And I think it could be a teaching moment for the people.

BLITZER: I think you're right. I think a lot of us will be watching. We'll be glued to our TV sets. There's no doubt about that. And you'll be -- you'll be there every step of the way.

Listen to what the chairman, Patrick Leahy, said today after he met with her on this whole uproar that has developed as a result of her saying several years ago that a Latina woman might be better suited to make a controversial decision than a white man.

Listen to how he phrased it, Senator Leahy.


SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: What she said was, of course one's life experience shapes who you are. But ultimately and completely -- and she used those words -- ultimately and completely, as a judge, you follow the law.


BLITZER: Did she say the same thing to you?

SESSIONS: Well, something to that effect, yes. But let me tell you, what is the law to a judge who has an activist bent or a judge that has a -- more a result-oriented bent or a judge who allows their empathy to impact their decision, is -- that's how a judge finds a way to interpret the law to be somewhat different than maybe it was intended and is the way it's really written.

So those are the questions I think we'll need to analyze. That article she wrote -- the speech and then printed in an article -- was troubling in more than just that one line. It seemed to say that it was a hopeless aspiration to attempt to be unbiased and that, indeed, everybody brings biases to the bench and that in some, maybe even most cases, those personal values could impact the decision-making.

I don't think that's the ideal of American justice. But I do think she deserves a full chance to discuss that and to explain her views. And so that's kind of some of the things we'll be talking about, I think, at the hearing, because those are important issues that go to the quality of a lifetime appointment.

BLITZER: A lot of us remember one of the reasons you may be in the Senate right now is what happened to you when your name was put forward for the federal bench. And you were not necessarily treated all that well, I guess, and eventually they had to withdraw your name.

But let me -- let me phrase the question this way -- are you empathetic, which is a popular word nowadays, are you empathetic to what this woman is about to go through?

SESSIONS: Politicians are supposed to be empathetic. And, yes, I am, actually. I do feel that it's difficult sometimes for a nominee to be able to explain their views. Sometimes a ruling of a judge or an action of a prosecutor is complex and requires a little time to explain.. And, oftentimes, in this fast paced world, they don't get it.

And I've told her again today, she was going to get a fair chance and a fair hearing.

BLITZER: We're out of time.

But you want these hearings in September, not July, is that right?

SESSIONS: Well, it's an important thing. It's a lifetime appointment. We've got over 4,000 cases to look at. Justice Souter is not leaving until October 5th, so we could actually -- we could certainly -- I think we need the time and shouldn't rush it.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Senator Sessions.

Good luck with these hearings.

SESSIONS: Thank you. BLITZER: A message from Al Qaeda about President Obama -- what's the world's most notorious terror group saying about his upcoming trip to Egypt and Saudi Arabia?

Plus, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gives Cuba a to-do list with a potential reward for Havana if it meets her demands.


BLITZER: Betty Nguyen is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- SITUATION ROOM stories coming in from around the world -- Betty, what's going on?

NGUYEN: Wolf, emergency personnel are on the scene of a shooting inside a Wal-Mart in Lakewood, Washington. There are just a few details right now, but we do understand that a guard in that store was shot. The shooter has apparently fled the scene. Of course, we're going to bring you more information just as soon as we get it.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Cuba must make big democratic reforms before any move is made toward its return to the Organization of American States. She says Cuba must release political prisoners, respect basic human rights and take steps toward democratic pluralism. Now, most of the nations that make up the OAS are pressing to reverse Cuba's 47-year suspension unconditionally.

And in just the past couple of hours, Al Qaeda has hit the Web with a message about President Obama. It's a 10 minute audio statement, presumably delivered by the terrorist organization's number two man, Ayman Al-Zawahiri. But it's titled "Tyrants of Egypt and America's Agents Welcome Obama" and contains familiar rhetoric, charging Egyptian officials as acting as agents for the U.S. government. Zawahiri's statement is posted on radical Islamic Web sites across the Internet.

And video has been released on a suicide attempt last week on a police center and intelligence center agency building in Lahore. Look at that right there. The closed -- wow -- closed-circuit images aired by Pakistani news channels show a van pulling up to a guard post, gunmen opening fire and then just people scattering. A little bit later, an explosion -- presumably the van detonating. At least 30 people were killed in that attack. The Taliban claimed responsibility -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Betty, thank you.

To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, he's suspected of gunning down a Kansas doctor who performed abortions. Now Scott Roeder is beginning the long legal process following the killing of Dr. George Tiller.

And another shooting suspect faces charges in court today in Arkansas. He's a convert to Islam accused of deliberately targeting U.S. military personnel on U.S. soil. We'll have the latest on the investigation. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's get right back to the breaking news we're following this hour. Brazilian officials confirming the crash of Air France flight 447 with the discovery of a three-mile-long debris field in the Atlantic near the plane's flight path. Now begins what will certainly be a very difficult recovery effort.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's working that part of the story for us.

How hard, Mary, is this going to be?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, judging from past air disasters over the ocean, former investigators describe a daunting task for search crews.


SNOW: Locating the wreckage from Air France flight 447 may narrow the zone for searchers. But Brazil's defense minister warns of difficult conditions as ocean depths in some areas reach almost 9800 feet. And that is much deeper than most past disasters over water, such as the 1996 explosion of TWA flight 800 off the coast of New York and the 1999 crash of an Egypt Air flight off Nantucket's coast.

JAMES HALL, FORMER NTSB CHAIRMAN: A major difference; this is going to be far more difficult.

SNOW: Former National Transportation Safety Board Chairman James Hall, who oversaw those recoveries, says just getting necessary equipment to the site can take days.

HALL: They'll have to go down and map the floor of the ocean, doing that with radar and try to identify how many debris fields there are.

SNOW: To map those debris fields in the 1998 crash of Swiss Air Flight 111 off the coast of Nova Scotia, the former lead investigator says everything from divers to sonar to remotely operated vehicles to a submarine were brought in.

VIC GERDEN, FORMER CANADA TSBOARD INVESTIGATOR: Ultimately, it was a Canadian submarine that actually zeroed in on the location of the pingers from the flight recorders.

SNOW: Those pingers attached to flight recorders are crucial to finding out what happened. And with each passing day, those who recover items from aviation disasters say currents make everything a moving target.

MARK ROCCO, GLOBAL-BMS: The currents are going to spread it, with currents traveling several knots per hour. The storms and magnifying that becomes the proverbial needle in the haystack of trying to find items.


SNOW: Some experts say pingers on flight recorders can send out a signal for up to 30 days and from depths of 14,000 feet. But former NTSB Director James Hall told us it could take weeks, even months to retrieve them and it's possible, he says, that they may not be recovered at all. Wolf?

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Mary Snow, in New York.

Ships are converging on a huge debris field, three miles long in the Atlantic Ocean. The Brazilian air force now says there are strong indications that it is the wreckage from the Air France flight. It says the debris is several hundred miles off the coast of Brazil's northeast area. The Airbus A-330 carrying 228 people from Rio de Janeiro to Paris vanished three hours into the 11-hour journey yesterday.

Joining us from Indianapolis is John Wiley, a former airbus pilot captain. Thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: Did you ever fly an Airbus A-330 like this one?

WILEY: As part of one of the jobs I have of writing for aviation magazines, particularly Aviation Week or Business and Commercial Aviation Magazine, yes, I flew the 330 at the factory.

BLITZER: So tell us what you think might have happened based on all this information that's coming in. Put us in the cockpit right now. Tell us what those pilots might have been experiencing.

WILEY: A number of people have discussed the fact about the weather. But you have to remember that weather is dynamic. If you want to visualize a thunderstorm, take a pot of water and put it on the stove and turn the heat on. You'll see these vertical currents rising, eventually the water bubbling, but there will also be vertical currents going down. So when we're talking about 50,000 feet, which some meteorologists are saying were in the area, we've got some pretty violent weather patterns that evening. We have aircraft that have transited before and after the Air France flight, which again points out how dynamic the region is. There have been flights I've been on where people have called the area tough. I went through the periphery of it, nice and smooth. People calling the area smooth, I've gone through it and just got the daylights beaten out of me.

BLITZER: If there's an electrical failure, could that create a series of catastrophes that could result in this?

WILEY: You have to remember, we do have information that there was a data computer that failed, a primary flight computer we got information on that there was a fault. Information that there was a secondary computer that there was a fault in it also. But one of the misconceptions is if all electrics go down, the airplane cannot be controlled. That is incorrect. BLITZER: We will -- hopefully some day, we're all hoping we get the flight data recorder and the so-called black boxes. What would we learn, if we did manage to retrieve those boxes?

WILEY: The new flight data recorders will tell you every switch and every valve position on that airplane. So without the flight data recorder, it's mere conjecture.

BLITZER: And the cockpit voice recorder. There was no mayday, mayday, mayday as far as we know right now.

WILEY: The rule is that you aviate, navigate and then you communicate. The crew may have been very, very busy to the point that they just didn't have time to talk on the radio.

BLITZER: And is there no button they can just push saying we're in trouble?

WILEY: Well, you can, but again, you'll be operating on HF frequencies. There are a lot of problems there. The task loading if this thing evolved as quickly as some people are saying, the crew would have been deeply involved in all the tasks of trying to just keep the airplane in the air.

BLITZER: How does the crew deal with a crisis like this? Let's say you have some catastrophic event. You begin to nose dive. How do you train for something like that?

WILEY: You don't. It's basically, as Sully said, you have a wealth of experience that you call on because these situations are unique. This crew is an experienced crew. The captain, 11,000 to 12,000 hours of flying time. Basically in all situations that we get in, whether we're flying with airplanes or whether we're driving our cars, we build a solution. Sometimes what happens is that you don't have enough time or altitude to put your solution into effect.

BLITZER: And maybe a naive question. But handling fear. If you are a pilot up there. Something disastrous like this happens, how do you handle it?

WILEY: That's where your training comes in. And we've talked a little about turbulence. But when we talk about the four classes of turbulence, there's mild, there's moderate and then there's severe and then there's extreme. When we get to the last two classifications, the definitions alone say that the airplane may not be controllable. So you are basically just going to be doing what you can to make sure all of your skills are right there and you are keeping, as we say, the blue side up.

BLITZER: What's the worst experience you ever had flying a plane in turbulence, lightning, hail, this kind of situation?

WILEY: Well, I've been struck by lightning a number of times. It certainly gets your attention. There's a huge flash. There's an audible boom that you can hear. I've had systems failures where we had ultimate methods to put the gear down. We've shut down engines. For the most part, though, most situations, and we have to look at this and remember that an accident is a unique situation of variables. But most of my situations we went into the checklist, we had time to solve the problem and then we did our Chuck Yeagers, it was nothing.

BLITZER: Is it your assessment this plane broke up at altitude as they say, or upon impact in the water?

WILEY: From what you're saying from the debris field and what other consultants are saying there are indications that perhaps the flight broke up in flight.

BLITZER: And your bottom line, extreme turbulence or what could have caused this disaster?

WILEY: We just don't know at this time, Wolf. Basically, I would be really far out on a limb because we've got hail. We've got turbulence. We've got lightning. We've got just a lot of factors in there and a combination. And once the recipe is set then you just have to deal with it. So when you start penetrating an area where there's turbulence, you slow the aircraft to a turbulence penetration air speed slower than your crew's air speed. What you are looking for is to have an optimum speed between the stall on the airplane and between creating so much lift that you do structural damage to the airplane.

BLITZER: Because what I don't understand, this is a state of the art plane relatively new, only a few years old. They've got the best science, technology there. It's supposed to not only withstand lightning but extreme turbulence as well. Isn't that right?

WILEY: Well, as one of your other guests mentioned, when these things are constructed, they go through testing to 1.5 the expected load. Now --

BLITZER: What does that mean, 1.5?

WILEY: Well, 100,000 pounds, then you'd build it to sustain 150,000 pounds. So what you are trying to do is you are trying to build what you think is the envelope that this airplane will operate in. And so what will happen is you go to a certain limit. Now you can build an airplane that's so safe that regardless of what environment you fly it in, it will not sustain any damage. The problem is it's not going to fly.

BLITZER: John Wiley, thanks very much for coming in.

WILEY: Hello Wolf. Bye.

BLITZER: President Obama is trying to win Muslim hearts and minds with his highly anticipated speech in Egypt on Thursday. But a new poll suggests American hearts and minds may need some work as well. We'll talk about that and more with Donna Brazile and Alex Castellanos.


BLITZER: President Obama getting ready to deliver a major address to the Arab and Muslim world from Cairo on Thursday. Let's talk about what's at stake with our CNN political contributors, the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and the Republican strategist Alex Castellanos.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in. We have a new CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll. We asked Americans do you think the U.S. is at war with the Muslim world? 36 percent said yes. 62 percent said no. Are you surprised by those numbers?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No, I'm not, Wolf. We're at war with al Qaeda. We're at war with radical element elements of Islam who are trying to destroy --

BLITZER: But the fact one-third of Americans think we're at war with the Muslim world --

BRAZILE: Because, Wolf, I think and since 9/11, we have not really discussed who exactly we're at war with. People think that we're at war with 1.5 billion Muslims. We're not. We're at war with al Qaeda.

BLITZER: On the other question that we asked, Alex, do you think the Muslim world considers itself at war with the United States? 62 percent of Americans said yes. 34 percent said no. That's scary.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: That's scary, but you know what? The consumer is not often wrong. I think the American public is reacting, we were attacked 9/11. We were attacked by a rogue element, a schism in the Muslim world. I don't think all Americans paint the Muslim world with one brush. You can see that here in this country. You can see it in the way we do business with each other and in communities. People respect people of different faith. So I think that question is more of a reflection of what happened on 9/11. We were attacked. We didn't attack anybody.

BLITZER: That's the central message of the president's speech in Cairo to try to speak out to the Muslim world and say the United States is not at war with the Muslim world. Yes, there are some Muslims that attack the United States but there's no war against the Muslim world.

The other message he's going to have is to try to show he's determined to go forward on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. And now he's getting some grief from some politicians in Washington who think he's pressuring Israel too much to freeze the settlement activity on Iran, for example. Eric Cantor, the Republican minority whip in the House, "It's misguided. Behind that pressure is the assumption that somehow resolving the settlements will somehow lead to the ultimate goal. A backwards assumption is being made that if we deal with the Israel-Palestine question somehow all the problems in the Middle East will be solved." That's Eric Cantor. Shelley Berkley, a Democratic congresswoman from Nevada, says, "My concern is we are applying pressure to the wrong party in this dispute." How possible is it that what he's trying to do to convince the Netanyahu government to freeze settlements and take the steps toward a two-state solution will antagonize, create some political uproar here in congress?

BRAZILE: I don't think so. I think the president is trying to seek a balance. He's putting pressure on the Palestinians to provide for their people, to strengthen their government so that the people there understand that they have one central government, not two, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. And he's putting pressure on Israel as well to freeze some of these settlements. We've been trying to tell Israel that for three decades and yet they remain our steadfast friend and ally in that region. I think he's trying to come up with a balanced approach. As you well know, a former majority leader Mitchell is now in the region trying to get these two parties to come up with a good plan.

BLITZER: Anything wrong with the president trying to squeeze both sides of this problem?

CASTELLANOS: Well, not if you are trying to squeeze both sides. But, yes if you are trying to squeeze the victim. And Israel is, I think, a lot of Americans feel that Israel is the victim in this policy and has already given quite a bit. For example, that's why you are seeing political pressure both from the president's competitors here, Republicans, conservatives who consider themselves friends of Israel, but also from within his own party. The Democratic left who consider themselves friends of Israel who think he's pressuring them too much. And the message that seems to be going out is young, inexperienced president is making it tougher to be America's friend than to be America's adversary in foreign policy. That's a message you don't want to send the world.

BRAZILE: We have moderate Arab allies who are also willing to help Israel who have normal relations with Israel. And they also would like to see a two-state solution. So whether Saudi Arabia or Jordan, other countries, we need to make sure we have a balanced approach and, yes, we must continue to stand by our allies.

CASTELLANOS: But we pressure our friends while our adversaries, while in the region say Israel's got to get out of the Judea, a lot of the areas and then we'll begin to think about maybe the possibility of an Israeli state. That's unbelievable.

BRAZILE: He met with the president -- the prime minister of Palestine authority. He also put pressure on him as well. So I think he's putting pressure on both.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about this dramatic statement from the state department. Hillary Clinton, a woman you know rather well, the secretary of state saying, you know what? When U.S. embassies around the world celebrate the Fourth of July next month, they can invite Iranian diplomats in their respective cities to come over and have an all-beef hot dog, no pork because they can't have pork, but all-beef hot dog if they want that. What do you think of that gesture? BRAZILE: I have no problems with all-beef hot dogs no, problems with lean ground meat. Just hold the fireworks. So it's okay to have a celebration of freedom and to invite other countries.

BLITZER: You heard of ping-pong diplomacy. This would be hot dog diplomacy. What do you think?

CASTELLANOS: Hot dog diplomacy sounds fine. Everyone is welcomed to celebrate the Fourth of July. However, there is a certain pattern in the Obama administration that gets things backwards sometimes, that wet streets cause rain, that babies cause sex and that if we're just nice to people that don't respect us or like us very much, why they will learn to like us. No, I think sometimes you build respect with strength and by calling people when they try to embarrass the United States and say things that aren't true you correct them. You don't invite them for a hot dog.

BRAZILE: Sometimes you can carry a big stick. We had one president say that before. Also we need to use our diplomatic power. It's time we used both. I think the Obama approach is an approach that might win us more friends and less enemies.

CASTELLANOS: Hot dogs are fine, but a big hot dog won't replace a big stick.

BRAZILE: Well, we have much more than a hot dog, I'm sure. But hold the fireworks.

BLITZER: Everybody likes hot dogs.

BRAZILE: I'm for it.

BLITZER: Maybe they will be Hebrew National hot dogs and report to a higher authority.

BRAZILE: And Cajun hot dogs. They're the hottest thing on the market.

CASTELLANOS: And we'll see if he cuts the mustard. OK. That's enough.

BLITZER: Thanks very much guys.

A touching moment over at the white house. The former first lady Nancy Reagan on the arm of President Obama. We're going to tell you what brought these two people together today.

And the mayor of Los Angeles. His love life gets a once over again. What's going on? We'll tell you right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack Cafferty for "the Cafferty File." Jack? JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the question this hour is why does the Republican Party have such a narrow appeal? One of the latest polls shows that 89 percent of Republicans in this country are white, which is hardly a representation of the demographic of the nation.

Nancy in Nebraska writes, "Let's start with the fact that the only demographic group they seemed interested in are rich white guys. In today's economy, that's a rapidly declining base. Throw in immigration bashing, gay bashing, anti-evolution tirades and the lack of concern for the environment, and finally the so-called macho men have to continually apologize to Rush Limbaugh for daring to offend him, and you've got the makings of a brand that nobody wants to buy."

Larry in Santa Monica, California, "On the long Republican watch that just ended, we've witnessed the simultaneous collapse of both our economy and our stature as a leading nation. People need a little time to forget and the current spokespeople seem intent on not letting anyone forget. There's nothing wrong with historical revisionism as a tactic, it's the timing that seems a little goofy to me."

Howard in Illinois writes, "The Republican Party's doctrine is very hoarse as it relates to the little person in this country. It is also the party of intolerance and racism, hidden behind and within the veneer and religion. Jack, can you tell me one thing the Republicans have done for the little guy or any minority group over the last 50 years? I can't think of anything."

Robert in Atlanta writes, "It's really very simple Jack. They had a lack of vision and incompetence; remember Sarah Palin? Eight years of chaos and bias against the poor. The Republicans have earned every bit of our contempt."

And Braden writes from Brookings, North Dakota, "You mean it's not on purpose? The way they pride themselves on kicking moderates out of their party, I thought this was their intention."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog, check it out. You might find yours there. Wolf?

BLITZER: A lot of people do precisely that, Jack, thank you very much.

We're getting some video. I want to show our viewers some pictures of the Supreme Court justice nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, there she is right now. She's walking around the halls of the U.S. senate. She's about to go into the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein, a member of the judiciary committee, for her meeting. She's been meeting with Democrats and Republicans, all members of the judiciary committee, as well as the senate leadership, to make sure they get to know her in advance of the hearings.

We're also following breaking news. The discovery of debris from Air France flight 447, and confirmation that the disaster has claimed more than 200 lives. We have new information coming in. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at some Hot Shots coming in from our friends at the Associated Press. Pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.

In Baghdad, U.S. troops cook lunch outside after their kitchen was closed in preparation to leave the base in the coming weeks.

In Riyadh, U.S. and Saudi flags flying in anticipation of President Obama's visit tomorrow.

In Pakistan, a displaced girl waits in line for food.

And in London, a cannon smokes after a 62-gun salute, mark can the anniversary of Queen Elizabeth's coronation. Some of this hour's hot shots, pictures worth 1,000 words.

The Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, and a news anchor again. Reports from L.A. that the second time, this is for the second time now, that the mayor is dating a TV reporter. It's causing a stir out on the west coast. Let's go to our internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

What's going on, Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, here is KTLA anchor and former Miss USA Lu Parker interviewing L.A. mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, in the past. Here they are again more recently, seen on NBC 4 website, the local NBC station out there, at a very different setting this weekend, at an L.A. bookstore. The station reporting the pair were very chummy. "The L.A. Times" say they've been dating since March.

Now, this wouldn't be getting so much attention if it didn't sound so familiar. You remember this? From 2007, these reports Mayor Villaraigosa's much-talked-about relationship with another television reporter. That was Mirthala Salinas. Mayor Villaraigosa at that point apologized. His wife filed for divorce. He acknowledged this affair was happening. After ethics questions, Salinas resigned her position.

Now, on whom the separated mayor is currently dating? The mayor's office had no comment on that, and KTLA, they said this is a personal matter, but the news director told "The L.A. Times" that Lu Parker would now not be covering local politics. Wolf?

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that.

And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.