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CNN NEWSROOM

Right-Wing Conspiracy Plot to Smear Mueller Unravels; Who Killed Notorious Mobster "Whitey" Bulger; Officials Allow Families to Pick Through Debris for Mementos after Lion Air Crash; O'Connor Rejected Rehnquist's Marriage Proposal in 1950s. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired October 31, 2018 - 14:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[14:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Nevertheless, a Republican lobbyist says he has a client who will soon come forward with claims against the man leading the Russia investigation.

One of my next guests actually was on the receiving end of one of these e-mails offering payment in exchange for information, any encounters she may have had with Robert Mueller. She's Jennifer Taub, a professor at a Vermont Law School. She's with me. And Lachlan Markay is a White House reporter for "The Daily Beast" and he joins us as well.

Welcome to you both.

Jennifer, you've never met Robert Mueller. You've never worked for Robert Mueller. You talk about him on TV. But you get this e-mail. Tell me what it says.

JENNIFER TAUB, PROFESSOR, VERMONT LAW SCHOOL: Yes. I got this e-mail last Monday, the 22nd, that began something like, "Dear Professor Taub," something like we know you've had encounters with Robert Mueller, and invited me to speak with them by phone and to pay me to speak with them. My initial response was when I began reading was, I don't know Robert Mueller, never met him. Initially, I thought I should reply that and say that, and have a nice day.

As I continued reading the e-mail, it seemed like they were trying to cast a wide net to speak with anyone who may have ever known him, to see if he had done something wrong. And they were just basically digging dirt up on him to try to smear him. So as soon as I kind of got to the end of the e-mail and saw that was the case, I went on the Web and found the special counsel's e-mail address and forwarded it on to their office so they could investigate.

BALDWIN: Why do you think you were contacted?

TAUB: Initially, I had one idea and recently I've come up with a different one. Initially, I thought that maybe, because I had spoken about Mueller, they may have thought I had been a prosecutor and maybe -- you know, the end of the e-mail, it also had invited me to give them other references and they'd pay me for those. So I thought maybe someone else had gotten this e-mail, taken the bait, and just thrown my name out there just to get money, you know. But after yesterday, when I see that this might have been part of a

bigger plot to suggest he had sexually harassed somebody -- I think maybe they saw the op-ed I had written a few weeks ago about the Kavanaugh hearings, and maybe they just thought since I'd written about that, you see? But I really don't know.

BALDWIN: Interesting. It's a hypothesis. May be true.

Lachlan, to you, on reporting all this, because it seemed to unravel as quickly as it began. How did it start? Who's behind this?

LACHLAN MARKAY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: There are two people we really know are deeply involved in this. One is Jack Burkman, who is a Republican lobbyist and an all-around conspiracy theorist. He's famous recently for peddling the conspiracy theory that Seth Rich, the former Democratic National Committee staff, was murdered due to his role in the leaking of Democratic National Committee e-mails during the 2016 election. He's going to host a press conference at his usual location at a hotel in northern Virginia tomorrow. That will be an interesting event to cover.

The other person is a young gentleman by the name of Jacob Wohl, who made a name for himself as a pro-Trump Twitter personality. He is very bombastic and caustic and wildly inaccurate in things he says publicly. He's, I believe, the youngest person banned from trading -- he's a former hedge funder -- from trading by the National Futures Association.

The interplay between these two is something we're still trying to figure out. But we know Jack Burkman hired a company called Surefire Intelligence to help them with the investigation into these alleged misdeeds by Robert Mueller. And by all appearances, that company is this younger gentleman, Jacob Wohl. We spent almost all of yesterday trying to nail down who is behind this company. It appears to be this very elaborate facade of fake people and fake clients and so on created by this Wohl character. In fact, he seems to be the only person behind it. He won't admit that after being presented with facts pretty definitively showing that. He continues to deny it. There's a lot of misdirection and dishonesty. It's going to take quite a bit more reporting before we sort out the full extent of this campaign and the people involved with it.

BALDWIN: What do you know, Lachlan, just about the women who have been contacted?

MARKAY: We were one of a number of news organizations that received an e-mail about two weeks ago from someone who claimed to be named Lorraine Parsons. And she said or this person e-mailing as her said they had worked with Robert Mueller at a private law firm decades ago and that he -- essential she was being offered tens of thousands of dollars to allege some sort of sexual misdeed by Robert Mueller at the time.

We haven't been able to confirm if this person is even real, let alone, worked with Robert Mueller at the time. All indications are this is part of a misdirection plot by Burkman and Wohl in this campaign. We tried to get this woman on the phone and nail down her role more definitively. We weren't able to do that. By all appearances, all other news organizations weren't.

It's all very suspicious. I would caution anyone who receives an e- mail from that person from taking it at face value.

[14:35:29] BALDWIN: Well, keep digging, Lachlan, to you.

And, Jennifer, good for you for reading the e-mail and not dismissing it and reporting it to the special counsel's office.

Thank you both so very much. We'll stay on that story.

Meantime, here's the question everyone's asking: Was it a hit job? What we're learning about how former mob boss, Whitey Bulger, was killed in prison and who could be responsible. We'll talk to a former federal prosecutor who also represented one of the family members of Bulger's murder victims.

Also, wallets, shoes, backpacks. Heartbreaking evidence starting to surface after a newly built passenger jet crashed into the ocean. What we're now learning about the final moments of that flight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:40:14] BALDWIN: Boston's most notorious mobster, James "Whitey" Bulger, has been killed in prison. But one of the big questions today, who did it, why did they do it, and how did they manage to pull it off in a maximum-security prison? Bulger was found unresponsive yesterday in the West Virginia Federal Penitentiary where he had just been transferred just 24 hours prior. The facility is a maximum- security prison.

Now, we're learning just days before Bulger's killing, a bipartisan group of lawmakers voiced deep concerns to Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the safety and the staffing of that very prison.

So with me now Michael Kendall, a former federal prosecutor. He once represented the family of one of Bulger's murder victims.

Mike, good to see you, sir.

We don't have a lot of details, but what we do know is he was killed in this maximum-security prison. I'm curious, do you think it was a hit job?

MICHAEL KENDALL, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, most people who are familiar with federal prisons will tell you that the lowest form of life in a prison is an informer. Bulger was the most notorious informant or rat in the country. He obviously would be a person that would have a bull's eye on his back in any prison, particularly one as violent as this one.

BALDWIN: So how would that hit come down? Would it come from someone outside the prison and just carried out from within the walls? KENDALL: I think it would be ubiquitous. Numerous people in the

prison would want to go after someone like him. They may have a Boston connection, a La Costa Nostra connection, or it's someone wanting to make their name. But they'd all have the same motivation. And being an informer, he would have no friends in prison.

BALDWIN: We mentioned he had just been transferred 24 hours before. How rare is this?

KENDALL: Well, prison murders happen. They are somewhat rare. I think we've read and all seen with respect to this particular facility, it's quite violent, it has understaffing problems, and so it would be a particularly bad place to put such a notorious informer into the general population. You really got to think, what were people thinking?

BALDWIN: I want to ask you what the victims' families are thinking. You represented one of the families. Have you talked to them? How are they reacting to the news?

KENDALL: I haven't spoken to anybody in the last couple of days, but in general, from comments we've seen in the press from other victims' families, there's this sense of some sort of ironic just desserts but obviously too late. He's somebody who eluded law enforcement for 16 years on the run, somebody who had a life of crime until the age of 65. Nobody should applaud a murder in prison, but obviously this is not a person anybody has sympathy for given his sociopathic record.

BALDWIN: Not at all.

Michael Kendall, thank you.

KENDALL: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: You got it.

Coming up next, imagine family members now sifting through debris as heartbreaking evidence starts to surface after this newly built passenger jet crashes into the ocean. They are going through backpacks and wallets and shoes. What radar is now revealing about the unusual final moments of that flight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:48:09] BALDWIN: New developments today into what brought down a Boeing 747 that killed 189 people. Indonesian investigators are searching for the flight recorders of crashed Lion Air flight 610. They've heard transponder pings that could lead them to those devices. A group of about 100 divers along with ships and helicopters are focusing their search efforts on locations where debris had been identified by sonar equipment. Even before the debris was located, Lion Air took this extraordinary step and fired its technical director.

CNN Safety Analyst, David Soucie, was a former FAA investigator, analyzed flight radar to track this plane, and he said this flight dropped a thousand feet in 30 seconds from an altitude of 5,500 feet down to 4,600. He called the loss of altitude, quote, "very dramatic and unusual."

Now to the families of these victims.

CNN's Ivan Watson is in Jakarta where earlier today he witnessed a painful undertaking.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The authorities have been bringing in relatives of some of the 189 passengers and crew to look at some of the personal effects, the belongings that have been salvaged from the Java Sea where Lion Air flight 610 went down. And moments ago, we saw one man come forward and actually identify a black running shoe and immediately begin weeping in front of us here. And then he was led away as the authorities then carefully placed that shoe into a plastic bag.

So you can just imagine how emotional that must be to see something from your loved one laid out here on the white plastic here in a container port that has been serving as a kind of hub for this very difficult salvage operation after this terrible air disaster that took place on Monday morning.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[14:50:14] BALDWIN: Ivan Watson, in Jakarta, thank you.

Let's analyze all of this. CNN Aviation Analyst, Justin Green, is with me.

You saw the pain on the family members faces in finding a shoe. Is that what happens? Is that protocol?

JUSTIN GREEN: It's unbelievable. In the U.S., the National Transportation Safety Board has done an incredible job with the family assistance program. The airlines all have plans on how to deal with the aftermath of an accident. The NTSB and FAA are very careful. There's actually professional companies that come in and deal with all the personal effects. They categorize them, they clean them. One of the things you have to understand --

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: But would they let families go through and look at them?

GREEN: No. What happens is, after all of them are collected, all of them are sorted and all of them are made safe because the pieces of --

BALDWIN: Metal.

GREEN: It could be pieces of metal. There could also be environmental contaminants. They clean them and they put them on a Web site and the families are able to go through and -- it's amazing the things that they're able to get back, wedding rings. But they get them back in a condition that's safe. And they get them back at a time where it's not such an emotional impact. It's not the right way to do it.

BALDWIN: As far as the investigation goes, the pings, what do they do?

GREEN: Right. Well, the pings are telling investigators where the black boxes are, flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder. It's very important they're getting the things, can find the black boxes. It's not that deep of water. It won't be a Malaysia Airlines 370 where we still don't know what happened to that flight.

BALDWIN: Right.

GREEN: They'll know, I would say, a month from now exactly what happened, what caused this, whether it's a mechanical issue, a pilot issue, a combination of both.

BALDWIN: Lastly, we mentioned David Soucie and his analysis of that dramatic drop. To what would you attribute that?

GREEN: It's got to be something related to the flight. The reports are that the airline admits they had an issue on the prior flight. If it's true --

BALDWIN: They did have an issue?

GREEN: They did have an issue on the prior flight. And passengers on the prior flight are saying it was like a roller coaster ride.

BALDWIN: Oh, my goodness.

GREEN: So there may be an issue either with the airplane flight control unit. This isn't a fly-by-night airplane. This is a modern, brand new airplane just delivered in August. The pilots are not directly controlling control surface. They're setting inputs to a flight computer that controls the control surface. So there could be flight computer problem. But it's too soon to tell. The key is to get the black boxes and find out. This is a very important airplane. There's a lot of them going out, a lot of orders. The safety of the people is most important.

BALDWIN: Got to find them and they've got to figure this one out after all those families.

Justin, thank you.

GREEN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Straight ahead, a CNN exclusive from inside the Oval Office, who President Trump is privately blaming for Robert Mueller's role in the Russia investigation. We have that for you.

And with midterm elections six days away, why President Trump today is publicly putting the speaker of the House, a fellow Republican, Paul Ryan, on blast. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:57:48] BALDWIN: OK. Now to my favorite story of the day. Long before they were on the nation's highest court, former Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and William Rehnquist were a young couple. Now, newly discovered letters are revealing that not only did O'Connor and Rehnquist date while classmates at Stanford Law School but Rehnquist proposed to O'Connor in the early 1950s. O'Connor rejected his marriage proposal as they had broken up and she was already seeing someone else. That new man, John, would later become her husband.

With me now, CNN Supreme Court Analyst Joan Biskupic.

I heard that this even stumped you and you wrote the book on O'Connor. You didn't even know about the proposal.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: I didn't, Brooke. You're right. It's everyone's favorite story today.

BALDWIN: Yes.

BISKUPIC: It's such a sweet note that Evan Thomas found. Evan is doing a new biography of her and he had access to the justice's papers herself. Someone like me had access to lots of correspondence but not this particular letter.

These two people, William Rehnquist and Sandra Day, met at Stanford Law School, they had a deep friendship, they dated, they went to movies. They both graduated in '52. Shortly before graduation, she meets John O'Connor. She talked about how they met proof reading and cite checking law reviews over beers. And she warned that could be quite dangerous.

(CROSSTALK)

BISKUPIC: And they wound up having a great love affair.

But here's what happened, Brooke, which is what I love about the Rehnquist/O'Connor story. They remained friends even after they both married other people. They both settled in Phoenix, Arizona, and with their families played charades, picnicked. And when he was nominated to the Supreme Court in the fall of 1971, she helped rally local support. And in 1981, when O'Connor was nominated as the first woman by William Rehnquist -- I'm sorry, by Ronald Reagan, Rehnquist writes of her, "She's a 10 strike." He was from Milwaukee, the bowling capitol. So they remained really good friends even though they never married.

[15:00:04] BALDWIN: I love that. Stanford, dating, says no, ends up on the Supreme Court. It's an extraordinary story.