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THE SITUATION ROOM
AirAsia Search; Ferguson Juror Files Lawsuit; U.S. Troops Under ISIS Fire; Boston Bombing Plea Talks Revealed; Ferguson Juror Sues to Talk About Brown Case; Conservative Coup Targeting Boehner
Aired January 5, 2015 - 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: It's just after sunrise off Indonesia., and the search should be getting back under way right now; 37 bodies now have been recovered, along with several large pieces of the wreckage.
An Indonesian navy captain reportedly says the plane's tail might have been found. Now, that's the area where the so-called black boxes are located, but that report has not yet been confirmed.
The pingers to locate those black boxes are losing battery power by the minute. Our correspondents and analysts, they are standing. They're by covering all the news that's breaking right now.
Let's go first to our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh. She has the very latest -- Rene.
RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, well, the race is on to essentially recover the critical evidence that will help explain what brought down Flight 8501. Some are beginning to question whether Indonesia's troubling air safety record could have played a role.
MARSH (voice-over): Three more bodies brought to land. Nearly a quarter of those who were on board AirAsia 8501 have been recovered, some still wearing seat belts. Also recovered from the Java Sea, airplane seats, personal effects and what looks like part of a food cart.
YAYAN SOFYAN, INDONESIAN NAVY (through translator): We retrieved during our one-week operation several objects which were mostly parts of the AirAsia plane.
MARSH: The main body of the plane and the critical flight recorders still on the seafloor; 16-foot waves and muddy conditions underwater mean zero visibility. More than 50 vessels and helicopters and more than 80 deep divers are dedicated to the search. China has sent experts and portable sonar equipment. The U.S. Navy ship USS Sampson is helping recover debris, while the USS Fort Worth deployed sonar equipment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To give us an image on the sea bottom. We can find things as small as a golf ball, or of course something as big as an airplane. MARSH: While the investigation into what caused the crash is under
way, another investigation is taking form. Should aviation authorities have allowed Flight 8501 to take off despite massive thunderstorms?
MICHAEL GOLDFARB, FORMER FAA CHIEF OF STAFF: Thunderstorms in the United States, you wouldn't take off. You would be on a ground hold at La Guardia or Kennedy.
MARSH: Today, reports the doomed airline's pilots may not have received extensive weather data prior to takeoff. A top Indonesian aviation official tells CNN it's a matter under investigation and insists the standard is for pilots to be briefed in advance on the weather.
And concern AirAsia was not approved to fly the route from Surabaya to Singapore on the day it went missing, highlighting Indonesia's significant safety problems with controlling its airspace. Experts say booming air traffic has made Indonesia the world's busiest airspace with the weakest safety infrastructure.
GOLDFARB: Indonesia would be on a watch list from an FAA standpoint, one of 10 nations where there are serious safety and regulatory oversight problems.
MARSH: Well, a top aviation official tells CNN he hopes the investigation into whether Indonesian aviation authorities acted improperly would be or should be complete in another one to two weeks.
Now, if the pilots did not receive adequate pre-flight weather reports, that opens up a whole new round of questions, why did the pilots fly without it? Was there pressure to fly to stay on schedule? Of course, we know this is a very busy part of the world as far as airspace goes and, of course, the larger investigation into what caused the crash, that will take much longer -- Wolf.
BLITZER: They still have no clue as to what caused that crash. Thanks very much, Rene, for that.
Of the 37 bodies that have been recovered, at least 13 have now been identified and some of the crash victims already are being laid to rest.
CNN's Gary Tuchman is joining us. He's live from Indonesia with more on this part of the story.
Gary, what are you seeing and what are you hearing?
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, for the first several days after this accident, there were many family members who were hoping their loved ones were still alive. They by they got on rafts and ended up on uninhabited islands.
And that wasn't far-fetched because this is a country of thousands of islands, almost all of them no one lives on, but authorities looked on the islands and found nobody and now most of the families, many of whom are in this crisis center here at the police station we're standing at, just want to get their loved ones' bodies back.
But some of them have and funeral service will be taking place this week. Earlier, We were invited to a funeral home visitation done in the Buddhist tradition, a 45-year-old woman named Tai Maji (ph) and her beautiful 10-year-old daughter, Stevi (ph). Their bodies were found and identified. They will be laid to rest this Friday.
Loved ones came up to an altar in the Buddhist tradition, lit candles. The coffin is behind the altar. In addition to that, many of the people there took hundreds of pieces of paper, folded them into pieces of papers that looked like money and in the Buddhist tradition, you take that money and then you throw it into fire and symbolically it is supposed to provide for them in the afterlife.
It's all very sad. We feel terrible for this family, but what makes it worse is that this family had seven people on the flight; 10-year- old's Stevi's father was on it, her grandmother, her brother, her sister and her sister's fiance, and those bodies have not yet been found so this family is planning for the funeral of the mother and daughter this Friday and then they will have to plan for more funerals after that.
BLITZER: Are the aviation authorities and Indonesian authorities who are investigating, are they providing special briefings for the relatives of these victims?
TUCHMAN: Yes, that's why this tent is here. The families come here each and every day and they come in and Indonesian military officials, police officials, religious officials, they provide counseling and they provide information and they provide food and water, and also they're giving them some immediate financial assistant, 300 million Indonesian rupiahs, which converts to about $24,000.
That's the initial amount they will get. Further amounts of money are still to be negotiated.
BLITZER: Such a heartbreaking story. Gary Tuchman on the scene. Gary, thank you.
Let's go to the capital of Indonesia right now where investigators are standing by waiting to get their hands on more key pieces of the plane wreckage and those all-important black boxes.
CNN's Kyung Lah is joining us from Jakarta right now.
What are you seeing and hearing over there, Kyung?
KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what we're seeing here is the investigative part of this story really beginning to ramp up. Here in the capital, there are two laboratories that we are aware of. One is the DNA lab.
You just heard Gary talking about the painstaking search for remains. This is going to be the part of the lab that takes it a step further, bodies that cannot be identified. The lab will take care of that, but the other part that we're very interested is the debris lab. What's going to be happening there is that all the wreckage that is found at sea is going to be brought to this laboratory, and parts of the plane are going to be rebuilt. They're going to try to reconstruct the plane and figure out exactly what took this plane down.
And, of course, that critical element of the debris lab will be recovering the so-called black boxes, the flight data recorder, the cockpit voice recorders. That, Wolf, will be the key that investigators are hoping will tell them exactly what brought this plane down, whether it be weather, a malfunction or some sort of error.
BLITZER: I take it, Kyung, the Indonesians they have brought over, they have invited American, European, Australian, other experts to come and help them deal with all of the wreckage to get those clues that they need, especially those flight recorders, the so-called black boxes if, in fact, they get those black boxes?
LAH: They're in very deep consultation with U.S. authorities as well as European authorities and they are bringing in the best experts because they want to make sure that they answer the question of exactly what brought this plane down.
We actually were on a plane flying in from Seoul with a member of the NTSB and he was telling us that the very top experts are being brought in, in preparation for analysis of those black boxes. They are hoping, the Indonesian authorities, Wolf, hoping to get ahead of this and get the answers out there as quickly as possible.
BLITZER: Kyung Lah in Jakarta for us, Kyung, thanks very much.
Let's bring in our aviation analysts Miles O'Brien and Peter Goelz, as well as our law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, our aviation correspondent Richard Quest is joining us, and the aviation writer and author Clive Irving.
Guys, to all of you, thanks very much.
Peter, Reuters as you know is quoting this Indonesian navy admiral as saying that they believe they may have detected, spotted the tail section of this aircraft. That would be hugely important.
PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It would be great news if they could not only, you know, detect it, get down and get a look at it. They could then send either remote control vehicles down or if necessary divers to recover the boxes.
BLITZER: This is the flight data recorder.
GOELZ: That's right.
BLITZER: That's where they are, in the tail. GOELZ: They are in the tail. If they're not in the tail they're
certainly close by, and they should be able to recover them pretty quickly if this is, indeed, an accurate report.
BLITZER: If they do detect, they find this flight data recorder, Tom, how quickly will the information that's buried in here be able to be decoded or whatever and discovered maybe there's some clues in there to what happened?
TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think, generally, Wolf, it's very quick. When they get it in the lab, it's a matter of days that they start downloading the data and it gives them all the parameters of all the systems on the aircraft.
And then the voice recorder will give the entire conversation that went on while between the pilot and the co-pilot while they were dealing with this entire crisis, so that's -- it can't be overstated how important...
BLITZER: It's pretty safe in there, right? If they get the box, they will get all this information. Is that right, Peter?
GOELZ: These are incredibly robust. They will get the data. The biggest problem will be synching it up so that the voice is -- the voice recordings match the data recording.
BLITZER: Richard Quest, our Anna Coren, who is there in Indonesia, she's reporting the plane did not have authorization to fly on that Sunday.
Here's the thing. Why wouldn't it have had authorization and if it didn't have authorization, why was it in the air?
RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Indonesia AirAsia did used to have permission to run that flight every day of the week.
About three or four months ago, that permission was restricted. They lost a couple of flights a week because the country was hitting the ceiling for its capacity between that airport Surabaya and Singapore. So they were told they could only fly on four days a week. Sunday was not one of them.
I have to say, Wolf, it is absolutely mind-boggling that the airline -- the compliance people at Indonesian AirAsia managed to actually put a plane in the sky and nobody realized that actually it never had permission or didn't have a bilateral right for that day. Singapore says, no, it could fly every single day.
So you have an element of -- basically what you have here is both the regulator and the subsidiary or the affiliate Indonesia AirAsia getting it wrong. And it is a serious question, and I cannot think of many situations where an airline would be allowed to put a plane in the sky on a day when it doesn't have permission to run the route.
BLITZER: Yes, it is mind-boggling. I totally agree with you, Richard.
Miles, you know, Reuters, they're quoting a source close to the investigation, I will be specific. They're saying that the plane, the A-320, made what was described as an unbelievably steep climb and could have pushed beyond the aircraft's limits. What do you make of that?
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It's quite possible that's what happened. We're talking about some of the strongest thunderstorms in the world and along with those, there is a lot of downward force and upward force. It's basically a big old heat cycle and heat engine.
And if you're on the upward part of it, you will go for a ride up. The question that we do have to ask and have to be careful about is, we're looking at radar data which comes from the transponder, actually. This is the secondary radar information and we don't know how accurate that is necessarily. There could have been some problems with the instrumentation on the aircraft. It could have been iced- over pitot tubes which indicated airspeed.
But there's also a static inlet which indicates the altitude which could have provided some bad data in this case. Having said that, that would be no surprise given the environmental conditions that this plane was flying into.
BLITZER: But there are other aircraft flying in the vicinity as well. Right? They managed to land safely.
O'BRIEN: Thunderstorms are incredibly dynamic and short-lived. What happens in one place five minutes later, it can be a completely different story. So when people say, well, another plane flew through there, I say so what? That was a different story, that was a different time.
BLITZER: Good point.
Clive, you wrote a provocative article asking if these jets are too automated to fly, your words. Are pilots, here's the question, properly trained to deal with these kind of catastrophic emergencies?
CLIVE IRVING, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes, it's not so much automation that's the problem. It's the training for handling automation that is the problem.
Automation is with us and it's done a great deal of good, but what's been exposed first by the Air France 447 incident and then other things is that the pilot -- to train a pilot to take over when the instrumentation, when the automation fails has not been good, it's not very sophisticated and they can't actually replicate the situation in which the computers shut down and the pilot has to take over control.
As Miles said, if this plane flew into that kind of violent air condition and the flight management situation quit and the pilots had to take over manually, they might not have been trained for that kind of eventuality. And no pilot really -- it should be a basic of all aviation flying. No pilot should ever find himself in a situation for which he's not been trained.
And I think this has exposed a weakness that's been slowly corrected, but not fast enough.
BLITZER: Peter, "The Wall Street Journal" reporting that the Indonesian meteorologists, at least some of them, are blaming what they call icing that could have damaged the jets of this aircraft. Do you buy that?
GOELZ: It has happened in the past in which planes have flown into extraordinarily heavy hailstorms where engines have quit, where wind screens have been broken. The real question is how did the plane get dispatched into such a heavy storm in the first place?
BLITZER: That's a good question.
Richard Quest, we did some checking. There are approximately 3,606 of their Airbus A-320s in operation flying around right now here in the United States, all over the world. And I guess a lot of people are wondering since we don't know what happened to this specific AirAsia A-320, should they be concerned if they get on one of these planes right now?
QUEST: No, absolutely not. I have no hesitation in saying it. And some people will question why I'm nailing my colors to the mast. I'm going to give you another number, Wolf.
Yes, there are 3,500 A-320s, but if you take the entire family of 320s, from the 18 up to the 321, you're heading toward 6,000 of that commonality and so far there's been nothing systemic. I think your earlier speaker makes an excellent, excellent point about the question of training for the startle effect.
Something happens in the cockpit, the pilot suddenly finds a situation for which they may have been trained many years previously and they certainly haven't rehearsed it in the sim in the last few years and they have to suddenly get their hands around an aircraft that is super automated as it goes -- as the various protections, the various -- the parts of the plane that are designed -- the technology to protect them, they start to degrade and the pilot in that spur of the moment has to make those decisions.
But it's very similar on all aircraft. And, frankly, Wolf, there's absolutely so far as I can tell nothing systemic that anyone need to concern themselves.
BLITZER: Fair enough. Good point.
Tom Fuentes, what else are the investigators looking for right now? They haven't come up with the black boxes yet. But what are they searching for? What will help them?
FUENTES: They still look at the crew, the passengers, the ground crew. Is there something that was improper, the maintenance of the aircraft, was it not done that should have been done? So that's standard in all of these cases.
But I think in this one more than most and definitely more so than MH370 is the aspect of just horrendous weather conditions and hard to deal with. And one of the things that comes up in that also is if you're trying to fly this plane, it's not all automation or none. You have instruments that they're looking at that may be giving them conflicting information and if the rain is so strong that they can't see, they really don't know what's going on.
They're guessing in that cockpit what to do based on the faulty information they're given from the system.
BLITZER: Peter, if they do find -- and we hope they find these black boxes -- and we have one of the flight data recorders similar right here -- in your opinion, who should investigate, who should open them up, go through it? Do the Indonesians have the capability? Should they ask the NTSB to do it, the manufacturer of Airbus?
Who should be the first to take a look at the data that is in there?
GOELZ: I think they will do it as a group. They have got Americans and they have got Australians. They have the French there. What laboratory they go to, my guess is they might go to Australia because it's closest and they have got the capability.
BLITZER: They have to take this to a laboratory?
GOELZ: They have the capability.
BLITZER: How long does it take to go through it and get all -- listen to what was going on in the cockpit?
GOELZ: They could have it dried out and ready to be downloaded in a number of hours. They could have the results in 12 to 18 hours after they have taken it out of the ocean if they go to Australia. They might find that the boxes are damaged. They might need to take it to France or to the United States.
BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much. Good discussion. We will continue our investigation. Appreciate it very much.
Still ahead, the race against time. We have new details about the hunt for the so-called black boxes. Could searchers be close to a breakthrough?
And the grand jury decision that sparked outrageous in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the nation, now a member of that grand jury has filed a lawsuit that may stir even more controversy.
BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news.
The search at the AirAsia crash site now getting back under way and an unconfirmed report that the plane's tail might have been found. That's raising hopes that the black boxes may soon be located as well. Brian Todd is tracking the hunt under the sea for us.
Brian, what are you learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, this is an urgent two- pronged search effort. You have got the search for bodies and debris, but you also have an urgent scramble to find the black boxes that are going to tell us how and why AirAsia Flight 8501 went down.
This search is in a more concentrated area with much shallower water than we had from Malaysia Air Flight 370, but the conditions right now are very difficult.
TODD (voice-over): Search teams battle monsoon rains, high waves, muddy water, poor visibility, extreme conditions complicating the recovery of bodies and wreckage and frustrating teams in their urgent search for the black boxes, the flight data and cockpit voice recorders on AirAsia Flight 8501.
Only about three weeks remain before the pingers, the beacons on those black boxes die out. Officials say at least three ships equipped with towed pinger locators are in the area. Those are high-tech devices listening for hours at a time for the pinging sound coming from the black boxes.
(on camera): How far away can it be and pick it up?
PAUL NELSON, PHOENIX INTERNATIONAL: The outside edge is about two miles. A mile-and-a-half to two miles away, it can detect the sound.
TODD: A U.S. Navy official tells CNN the towed pinger locator may not be as effective in this search area. Experts say one reason is the weather. The heaving waves make the device less stable and can damage it. Another factor, the noise.
CAPT. VAN GURLEY (RET.), FORMER NAVY OCEANOGRAPHER: In this area, the water is so shallow, you can't get away from the noise of the ship dragging whatever instruments. So the ship is making noise, the waves make a lot of noise, the rain makes noise. And all of that basically now you're trying to listen for a whisper in a very crowded, noisy environment.
TODD: If the pinger locator is not effective or can't be used or if searchers already know where to look, a side-scan sonar, which map debris on the ocean floor, could help find the black boxes. Search teams in the Java Sea are already using that device.
DANIEL CLARKE, NAVY DIVER: We can find things as small as a golf ball or something as big as an airplane.
TODD: But it's possible the pingers could have been stripped off the black boxes.
GURLEY: That's happened before. That was what happened in the Air France 447 case when that debris was finally recovered. It's a possibility and until we get down there and actually -- they're able to put microphones in the water and start listening and noise levels are good so that we know they're getting good coverage, we won't know.
TODD: But Van Gurley says the indications he's getting point to a likely successful recovery of the black boxes. He says what's working in favor of the search teams, they know the general area where the plane went down, they have found debris, and unlike in the Malaysia Air search, they're close to land and can shuttle personnel and equipment to the search area much more easily here, Wolf.
BLITZER: All encouraging developments.
Brian, but the divers who could be deployed, it's relatively shallow water and they could potentially, I'm told, face some real dangers.
TODD: That's right. You talk to any former diver with the Navy or any other salvage operation, they will tell you that even when they find the submerged wreckage, they might encounter jagged edges, torn fuselage, things hanging all over the place and the aircraft would be very dark inside and divers can get disoriented as well.
It's very treacherous, Wolf, to send them down there.
BLITZER: They have got to really, really careful. Brian, thanks very much.
Joining us now, CNN analyst and oceanographer David Gallo, sea operations specialist Timothy Taylor, and oceanographer Erik van Sebille.
Guys, thanks very much for joining us.
Tim, over the weekend, sailors from the USS Fort Worth, they began using to the sea scanning sonar devices to search the wreckage site. How does this technology actually work?
TIM TAYLOR, PRESIDENT, TIBURON SUBSEA SERVICES: Actually, the sonar will it's side-scan sonar. It shoots out sound and collects swathe images of the bottom.
It will basically make a topographical kind of map of the bottom with objects that you can then identify as possible targets and then go down and look at them a little bit closer with the higher frequency.
BLITZER: David, is this the best technology to use in this particular setting?
DAVID GALLO, CNN ANALYST: Yes, Wolf, it is. I'm just not sure what they're using and I know some sonars, as we heard, they can even find a golf ball. In others, you could certainly pick out the windows on an aircraft if they use that kind of technology. It's just not clear which one, which frequency they're using and how they're using it. BLITZER: Tim, quickly, if the search-and-rescue teams, if they find
the tail of the plane, the black boxes, will that be the end of the search?
TAYLOR: Oh, no. I mean, they have to map the whole area and for forensic study, just as everything they can possibly look around the area of the crash to put the pieces together.
Now, that being said, there are tools that can be brought into play for these divers in really low visibility. There's sonar -- handheld sonars and handheld pinger locators that the divers can actually take in the water and bring down. We use them all the time on our robots and when we're trying to find assets for the military or contractors or that type of thing.
They have pingers and divers can go down and follow that ping, even in very low visibility. So there are tools that I'm sure the navy has on location that they can apply with this low vis.
BLITZER: Erik, we know the currents in this area, even though it's relatively shallow, the currents are very, very strong. Here's the question, could the so-called black boxes have separated from the tail of the plane?
ERIK VAN SEBILLE, OCEANOGRAPHER, UNIVERSITY OF NEW SOUTH WALES: Well, it would be possible, yes.
The currents are so strong that even very close to the bottom they might actually move things a little bit. I don't expect it to be very large distances. But I think the currents play much more of a role at the surface. The bodies that might still be floating out there, they might actually be spread further and further by the currents.
BLITZER: And, David, we know Indonesian authorities, they said that a piece of the wreckage they originally thought to be recovered from the plane was actually from a ship that sunk in the area, maybe years earlier.
How big of a problem is it that other wreckage could be detected now as part of this operation?
GALLO: Yes, I think it's a huge problem, Wolf. You know, it's very -- it's an incredibly highly trafficked area. It has been through the ages, plus that in World War II there was an awful lot of activity there, so it doesn't surprise me one bit.
And I'm hoping that these other pieces are in fact pieces of the aircraft and not just old sunken remains of some vessel.
BLITZER: So, in other words, if the Indonesian authorities think they found the tail, they could be really disappointed if they discover that happens to be just a piece of wreckage from a ship that went down during World War II.
GALLO: Yes, very, very possible. That's why it's so impossible to get eyeballs or a camera on it. And in this case, it's just been very tough to do.
BLITZER: Tim, how do you do that? How do you discern wreckage from the actual plane, this particular plane and debris from other objects, ships, whatever that may be physically recovered and detected by sonar or whatever?
TAYLOR: You take closer images with sonar and you get cameras down there if you can.
I mean, think of it. This is World War II. This could be a plane, tail section from a plane from World War II. It wouldn't surprise me, as David said. So getting -- using the same technology once you locate the area and zooming down and getting higher frequency and in this case, you know, for the layman, higher-resolution sonar images.
And then you can, you know, match them up to what you know is the plane.
BLITZER: Erik, the divers who are there, not U.S. divers although U.S. divers may be deployed, they're constantly hindered by these very strong currents. The weather is supposed to improve, we're told but the currents, will they automatically improve if the weather improves?
VAN SEBILLE: No, no, it could take days for these high waves that induce these large currents to slowly dissipate and to slowly spread out. So even -- even if there's a little bit of a weather window where there's not so much rain, where there's not so much storm, it will still be very wavy, very choppy, very much currents that come from all over the place, very difficult to work in underwater.
BLITZER: All right. Erik van Sebille, David Gallo and Tim Taylor, guys, thanks very much.
Coming up, we're going to have more on the AirAsia disaster as the search gets under way. Once again it's daylight now over there.
Plus, why a Ferguson grand juror is now filing a very unusual lawsuit. We have new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We're learning details of a disturbing development in Iraq where hundreds of U.S. troops are now under what the Pentagon calls regular rocket and mortar fire attack from ISIS.
Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's working the story for us.
Barbara, what are you picking up?
BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf.
This is taking place at an air base in western Iraq called al-Asad, a giant, sprawling base with something like a 20-mile perimeter. Three hundred and 20 U.S. troops, mainly Marines, are there helping train Iraqi forces. They are now coming under regular rocket and mortar fire at the base, of course, along with the Iraqi troops.
So far the Pentagon is calling these attacks ineffective. They are not striking anything. Thankfully, no one has been hurt, but it is mortar and rocket fire; and it is raising concerns that, at some point, somebody could -- casualties would be suffered. This could happen. There's no question about it. The Pentagon is saying that it's not happening now, but they're very aware of the risk that is potential to U.S. troops.
Why is this so vital? President Obama has said no U.S. troops on the ground will be in combat. This raises the prospect combat could come to them.
There is another very interesting turn this evening, Wolf, in the border town of Kobani in Syria along the Turkish border a monitoring group there now reporting that Peshmerga fighters have pushed ISIS back, and the Peshmerga may now control up to 80 percent of the Kobani area. That's the place, of course, that the world has been watching for weeks -- Wolf.
BLITZER: But getting back to the al-Asad air base in the Anbar province, those 320 Marines who are there now coming under fire from ISIS troops, are they relying on Iraqi military personnel for security protection?
STARR: Well, day-to-day that base is controlled by Iraqi personnel. No question about it. There is a large perimeter. It is monitored.
But the reality, the U.S. has its own methods of getting U.S. troops out of there very quickly if it all goes south on them. There are a number of Apache helicopter gunships in Iraq now. They can quickly move in if the perimeter was -- was to look like it was being breached by ISIS, the Apaches can move in from the air, push back the ISIS fighters.
There is a capability to evacuate American troops by air very quickly. This would be in the most dire of circumstances.
Right now the Pentagon says they know the risk. They think they can manage it. That's for now, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thanks very much. A disturbing development in Iraq.
Other news we're following, the trial of the accused Boston Marathon bomber is now under way, and CNN has learned about secret efforts to try to reach a plea agreement that would have spared the life of the suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Our justice reporter, Evan Perez, is joining us right now.
What are you hearing from your sources, Evan, about this effort to get a plea deal, a guilty plea from Tsarnaev to avoid a trial?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this was something the Justice Department, the attorney general, Eric Holder, did consider. But in the end they decided that they were going to stick by their plan to seek the death penalty in this case.
There's a couple reasons for that, including the fact that, you know, family member, survivors of these bombings generally supported the attorney general's decision to seek the death penalty. And, you know, Massachusetts is a state that doesn't have the death penalty, Wolf. But it is being sought in federal cases.
And so if this jury, this federal jury decides not to -- not to hand down a death penalty in this case, then at least it's something that they've done, that the citizens of Massachusetts have done, not something that Justice Department has taken off the table.
BLITZER: I know the attorney general, Eric Holder, he's known to be an opponent of the death penalty. He's sticking to it in this case. Here's the question. Let's say he would have agreed to life in prison for Tsarnaev without the possibility of parole. Would Tsarnaev's lawyers have accepted that?
PEREZ: That's the -- that's the direction they were pushing for, Wolf. You know, Judy Clarke, as you know, very famous lawyer. She's managed to get these type of sentences for some of the most notorious criminals in American history, including Moussaoui; the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. So this was the expectation in this case, and it was something that they were pushing for. In the end they didn't.
Now, the attorney general, you know, while he is an opponent of the death penalty, I'm told that one of the things that, if you notice in his record, is that he has, you know, authorized it in cases involving cop killings, which is the case in the Tsarnaev case.
BLITZER: I assume they checked with the victims' families to see if they would have gone along with a guilty plea, a plea bargain that would have avoided the death penalty. Is that right?
PEREZ: Right. That is part of the procedure that Justice Department goes through, Wolf, before the attorney general even authorizes this. And the way it works is once he authorizes it, they have to, you know -- there has to be new information that comes forward for him to revisit that decision.
BLITZER: Evan Perez, doing some outstanding reporting for us as he always does. Thank you very much.
Let's get more now with our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, and our law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes, the former assistant director of the FBI.
Is that still, Tom, on the table? Even though they've rejected the plea bargain, as the trial, the jury procedures go on right now, at any moment could they still go ahead and accept the guilty plea from the defendant?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes, Wolf. They can do it all the way up until the last day of the trial, and it's not uncommon, as the trial unfolds and the defense maybe thinks it's not going to go as well as they had hoped, to make a change and go for a plea agreement.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, Tsarnaev's demeanor was closely watched today. He was described by local media as nervously touching his beard, walking with a swagger at times as he exited the proceedings. Is that what you would expect to see in a case like this?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's very hard for me to judge his demeanor, you know, sitting here in this television studio.
Look, he's got to be nervous. His life literally is on the line in this case. I don't think there's any doubt that he's guilty of the bombing. The only issue in this case is the death penalty and jury selection is, in many respects, the most important part of this case, because it's all about whether the defense can find one juror who will say life in prison, not the death penalty. That's the only issue.
BLITZER: So that's why they're spending the next several weeks going through, what, more than a thousand potential jurors. They need 12 jurors, six alternates. That's going to take a long time. Right, Jeffrey?
TOOBIN: And it's a real paradox here, because on the one hand, the defense really didn't want the trial here. They asked for a change of venue, because the Boston metropolitan area was, in a way, entirely a victim of this crime.
On the other hand it's worth remembering that Massachusetts is among the most liberal states in the country. It is very hostile, by and large, to the death penalty. There hasn't been an execution in Massachusetts since 1947.
So this may not be a bad place for the Tsarnaev defense to find sympathetic jurors. It's an unusual situation in that regard.
BLITZER: All right. I want you to stay by, Jeffrey.
Tom Fuentes, stand by, as well.
We're going to get the latest, apparently, one of the grand jurors in Ferguson, Missouri, is now filing a lawsuit to speak out publicly and tell us all what happened inside that grand jury. Stand by. New information coming in.
BLITZER: We're following an unusual twist in the Michael Brown shooting case. One of the grand jurors now wanting to speak out publicly and suing -- actually filed a lawsuit for the right to do so.
Jeffrey Toobin, this juror is suing for the right to talk because of a Missouri state law which requires secrecy about grand jury deliberations. The case has been unusual from the start. What do you think? Will this grand juror be allowed to tell his or her side of the story?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I have to say it's really puzzling. I've never heard of a lawsuit like this, but what makes this lawsuit I think have a chance is there was the complete disclosure as we probably all remember of all the grand jury testimony in the Michael Brown case. All of the witnesses' testimony was released which was very unusual under Missouri law. So, what this grand juror is saying, well, why not release the whole thing? Why not release our deliberations where we were told what the law was, let me talk about what else went on in the grand jury room.
Usually courts are very protective of grand jury secrecy so I think the odds are that this lawsuit will fail. But I think it does have a chance because this is an unusual situation where a lot of the grand jury material has already been released. BLITZER: The lawsuit in this case, Tom, accuses the St. Louis County
Prosecutor Bob McCulloch of handling this particular grand jury very differently than hundreds of others that were handled. This accusation, how much weight does that carry?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I don't think that part of it, Wolf, is going to carry a lot of weight. But I think what is going to carry weight and make this possible is that McCulloch opened the door for this. You know, the secret, sacred grand jury proceeding, and when he held that press conference the night announcing the decision, and gave out so much information that he kind of opened the door for more information yet to come out. So, I think that I don't know, I don't know how to weigh this. But I agree with Jeffrey it's probably not likely but it could happen.
BLITZER: Yes, because it was unusual, Jeffrey, that all that testimony, the transcripts were released. That was pretty unusual to begin with at the same time, right?
TOOBIN: Right. There is a provision of Missouri law that allows for the release of the evidence. The question here is, does that same law allow a grand juror to be freed from his or her secrecy obligations? I don't know what the answer to that is.
The problem is, if this grand juror is saying this grand jury was treated so differently than other grand juries, it opens the door of, well, how do other grand juries act and the courts certainly are not going to want to get into a wholesale release of grand jury information, but it just shows how controversial this case is and even some of the grand jurors who voted not to indict are concerned about whether there really was justice in the non-indictment of Officer Wilson.
BLITZER: All right. Jeffrey Toobin, Tom Fuentes, guys, thanks very much.
Breaking news ahead: the latest on the AirAsia recovery efforts. They're resuming right now. Are the search crews getting closer to the actual plane?
BLITZER: Conservative calls for a coup, actual coup, against House Speaker John Boehner seem to be growing as he faces re-election to the House GOP leadership tomorrow.
Let's dig deeper with our chief political analyst Gloria Borger, and our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.
What's going on over there? Is there realistically a chance that Boehner will not be elected speaker of the House?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think "coup" is the word that those who wanted him ousted will use. Maybe a "rebellion" is probably the more realistic and accurate way to describe it.
Look, the House speaker, I don't know if people really realize this, is a constitutional role, so that he or she has to be elected by the entire House of Representatives. So, he needs 218 votes. There is going to be a huge Republican majority starting tomorrow, 246 people. What that means he can lose nearly 30 Republicans and still become the speaker.
So, it looks like he will probably lose more than last time which was about a dozen. And he likely won't lose the speakership but he'll be back on his heels a little bit. And it is something his allies would rather not do. They don't want to come into this new Republican Congress with Republican turmoil.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, it is mildly embarrassing for him. If he has a good showing, he can go into this.
I would argue in a strengthened way and say, OK, folks, you've had your say. I won. You lost. Now we have to show that we can govern.
And that's what this fight is really about. It is about whether you want to just argue over ideological grounds for the next two years, setting the stage for 2016, or whether you actually want to be a little more practical about it. Get some things done and take that with you into 2016.
Two very different approaches to the way you want to run the Republican majority in the Congress. And Boehner is on one side and the folks challenging him are on the more ideological side of things.
BLITZER: So, you don't think this momentum that some of these Tea Party supporters who don't like Boehner, that that's going to grow over the next 24 hours. That could be 29 Republicans, maybe some freshmen who are coming in who don't like Boehner. They're worried about him, that he make too many deals with the president, that that momentum could grow?
BASH: It certainly could grow. No question about it. Whether it gets to the point where there is 29 Republicans or 28, depending on how many are present, remains to be seen. If they do get momentum, if they do defeat him in the first round, then what happens is they go to a second round of voting. So, this is all going to play out in the House. They'll probably going into recess and figure it out.
But here's the thing to remember, even if they do that, then they're sort in a pickle. You can't replace somebody with no one. And there is even everybody who wants him to be ousted agrees, at this point there is nobody else who can get 218 votes to be the speaker of the House as we speak right now.
BORGER: And these people are from conservative districts. This is kind of a show vote for them. You know, some of them got elected saying I will never support John Boehner. This is someone who doesn't believe in what I believe in. He's too pragmatic.
And so, for them, it is a win/win situation. They vote against him. John Boehner becomes speaker, and they get to tell the folks at home they --
BLITZER: Let's get on presidential politics.
BLITZER: Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor.
BLITZER: Former FOX News host, quit over the weekend of FOX News, thinking about running for the Republican presidential nomination.
BORGER: I remember this.
BLITZER: What did you think?
BORGER: He did that once before.
BLITZER: In 2008, he won in Iowa.
BORGER: I remember that, and he's got a book coming out, of course -- which, of course, they all write books before they run for the presidency. I'm not so sure he's going to run but he wants to go out on a book tour, make that very successful. He's got to learn how to raise a lot of money.
What happened to him after won Iowa the last time he ran was he ran out of money. He's got to be able to raise $150 million. That doesn't happen very easily.
BASH: That's true. But I will say that I was with Mike Huckabee when he was an unknown guy in Iowa in 2007 when he was just, him and a couple of aides. And you cannot underestimate him on the stump. I mean, he is sort of closest to Bill Clinton in the retail politicking ability as I've ever seen on the Republican side.
And the other thing I will say is that since then, he certainly couldn't raise money but he's had this FOX platform --
BASH: -- which is very --
BORGER: That's why in the polls he places sort of in the top half, because people know who he is. He is a great speaker. And, by the way, you know who is the beneficiary of this? Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, because those on the right who may appeal to evangelicals, are suddenly, it is kind of a crowded -- it's getting a little bit more crowded.
And so, that's better for the other candidates.
BLITZER: The so-called more moderate Republicans.
BORGER: That's right.
BASH: Or more establishment Republican.
BORGER: If I were Jeb Bush, I would welcome Mike Huckabee in --
BLITZER: Let's show you Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey in -- there he is. A Dallas Cowboys fan. He's got the sweater on with Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas -- what's going on over here?
BORGER: I don't know. It looks like my kids at their soccer game when they were 5 years old, jumping up and down when somebody scored a goal. It looks like a little boy --
BLITZER: You're from New Jersey. You know New Jersey. Don't they have two football teams which play NFL football in New Jersey?
BASH: Yes. Not to mention that people in southern Jersey, I'm sorry, I'm from northern Jersey, the other Jersey, they love the Eagles. So, there's actually three teams. He is actually historically been a Dallas Cowboys fan. Apparently, he's been a fan since Roger Staubach played. You remember that, Gloria, right?
BORGER: Yes, yes, sure.
BASH: So, he's been a lifelong fan. What his people say is that he was elected twice in New Jersey. They knew that he wasn't a fan. But let's also like look at this from a 2016 perspective. This is not a bad thing for Chris Christie to be seen as a regular guy who is just enjoying --
BORGER: But he's in the owner's box.
BASH: But he is the governor of New Jersey.
BORGER: Regular guy.
BASH: You expect him to be in the nosebleed section?
BORGER: Well, but regular guys are not in the owner's box. I mean, he is lucky to have been there. And by the way, his staff points out that the owner actually paid --
BASH: That's right.
BLITZER: Jerry Jones.
BLITZER: If you're the governor of New Jersey, and maybe a Republican presidential candidate --
BASH: Not such a bad thing.
BLITZER: All right, guys.
BASH: I just love the jumping up and down like that. That was --
BLITZER: They were having fun. It's football.
BORGER: Little boys.
BASH: Would you do that, right?
BLTIZER: Yes, of course.
Gloria, Dana, thanks very much.
That's it for me.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.