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Senator Kirsten Gillibrand Under Fire; Major Airlines Ground Boeing 737 MAX 8 After Crash; What Will Joe Biden Do?. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 11, 2019 - 16:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: We're expecting the Federal Aviation Administration to issue an international notice about the Boeing 737 MAX 8 in the wake of Sunday's Ethiopian plane crash that killed everyone on board.

Two major domestic airlines, American and Southwest, are among a group that are still flying this type of aircraft. Ethiopian Airlines and Cayman Airlines are grounding these planes until further notice as a precaution.

The Ethiopian flight is the second crash of one of these Boeing 737 MAX 8's in six months. Investigators are looking into what happened. It's not clear at this point that the two crashes are related.

But nervous flyers want answers. As CNN's David McKenzie reports, as of now, Boeing is standing by their plane.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mystery and worldwide fallout today following the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET-302, which killed all 157 people on board, after it went down Sunday just minutes after takeoff.

The focus now for many, the plane itself, the plane Boeing's bestselling passenger jet, the new 737 MAX 8. Sunday's tragedy is the second of its type to crash in the past few months, though there is no evidence of a link.

The first back in October, when a Lion Air flight went down in Indonesia, killing 189 people. China, Indonesia, and several airlines around the world have grounded their fleets of the plane. But in the U.S., Southwest, American Airlines and WestJet are among the airlines saying that, at this stage, they aren't planning to change operations, expressing confidence in the aircraft.

Boeing, for its part says, that safety is their number one priority. In a statement Monday adding: "We are taking every measure to fully understand all aspects of this accident. Based on the information available, we do not have any basis to issue new guidelines to operators." The voice recorder and flight data recorder have been found, as investigators begin to piece together what happened in those final moments.

NTSB investigators are also on their way to help officials on the ground. The flight took off on Sunday morning, reporting technical problems moments later, and asking for permission to turn back. Just six minutes after takeoff, contact with the plane was last.

"The plane came right over," says Tadu. "There was a fire in the back of it. It looked in trouble. It came straight down. There was a huge explosion and fire." He was tending his sheep when he heard the noises above and saw the plane with his own eyes.

Questions too and heartache for the loved ones of those on board. The plane was packed with many who hoped to make the world a better place, aid workers, teachers, environmentalists, some heading to a major U.N. environmental summit.

And the families who go to bed tonight with a place missing, without their mothers, fathers and children.


MCKENZIE: What really struck me was the small size of many of those bits of that plane. This plane was virtually shredded as it impacted on the ground there.

I spoke to an investigator who believed that it came in at a very vertical angle at great speed, plowing into the ground, creating that massive crater. Questions now will be asked here in Ethiopia and across the world. Is this type of aircraft safe? And they will need those answers very soon, indeed -- Brianna.

KEILAR: They certainly will.

David McKenzie, thank you so much, reporting from Ethiopia.

And I want to bring in Richard Quest, who is CNN's aviation correspondent. And he's the anchor of "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS."

Richard, tell us what happens now, because they have located the black box, they have located the cockpit voice recorder. So where does this go to get analyzed? And then what happens from there?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't know whether Addis is sophisticated in aviation to be able to read out.

There are only a few places in the world where you can read out the black boxes. If it's not, if it can't be done in Addis, then maybe South Africa, or probably it would go up to either London or Paris tends to be where they're often sent for reading out.

But within a very short period of time, we will get an early look, Brianna, that will pretty much give us what happened. Now, how, whys and wheres, who did what when and how, that all follows on later. But the sequence of events will become clear from a combination of what the pilots were saying and what the machine was doing. And we will get to understand that after they have read out the box.

And then it's up to everybody to make those decisions. The FAA will decide what needs to be done with the plane. Boeing will decide what measures need to be taken to change.

KEILAR: It seems, Richard, that there are not these catastrophic mechanical failures very often, that we're in an era where this is not something that happens all the time. And yet you see this one plane, the Boeing 737 MAX 8, with the crash in Indonesia in the fall, now one crashing in Ethiopia.


Are you concerned and, as you talk to experts, are you concerned that these are related?

QUEST: Oh, yes, absolutely. One would have to be ignoring the obvious to say that one wouldn't -- isn't concerned about that.

Now, that does not mean to say that I think you immediately -- there's a panic because of this, because I don't believe that this one will be an exact replica of circumstances of the previous one. It will -- I don't believe that the incidents of the flight management systems that the pilots didn't understand, well, by now, every pilot knows about the mechanisms of them MCAS on the 737.

So it won't be the same. But -- but the phase of flight right at the beginning, oscillations and altitude, the way the plane came out of the air, the fact they are brand-new, and you know something, Brianna? Every time somebody says, oh, we must not panic and you're being over the top and you're saying it -- just think about it.

This is a brand-new plane with less than six months on the clock. Now, that shouldn't happen to a plane of 10 years. So two of them in a short period of time, Boeing -- one thing I will say, for anybody who's worried about what is Boeing to. Boeing has every intention and every interest in understanding what happened, however much it may cost or change or delay or whatever.

Boeing want to know the answer to this as much as you and I.

KEILAR: And to that point, should these be grounded in the U.S.? Because they are not at this point. They are in a number of countries and international airlines.

If you are supposed to fly on a Boeing 737 MAX 8 tomorrow, would you get on it, Richard?

QUEST: I would be concerned.

Look, it's not my job and I'm not qualified to say whether they should be -- whether they should be grounded. But I am qualified as a passenger, a traveler, just one of the people who pays to get on a plane, to ask the question to the airline, hang on a second.

The Chinese say they're not safe -- or I will correct myself. The Chinese say, out of an abundance of caution, they should be grounded. Now, Mr. FAA, why out of an abundance of caution are you not grounding them?

What do they know that you don't? Why are they more concerned than you appear to be? And that is why I would say, yes, people should be looking at the plane and wondering, what? But I think it's up to everybody to make their own individual choice.

KEILAR: A lot of people are with you on that.

Richard Quest, thank you so much.

What will Joe Biden do? That is the question that could be answered any moment, as the former Vice president dropped some major hints about his political future.

Then, CNN on the front lines, as explosions fill the sky and a firefight breaks out in the last ISIS stronghold. We will take you there to Syria.



KEILAR: And we're back now with our 2020 lead, and a presidential announcement from Joe Biden now appearing imminent.

Advisers telling Axios his decision will be apparent within days, and that he would likely launch a campaign by early April. It comes as a new CNN poll shows Biden is the top choice of Democrats in the key early state of Iowa and as Democrats announce where they will crown their eventual nominee.

CNN's Arlette Saenz picks up our coverage.


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After a getaway to the Virgin Islands ,the clock on a 2020 decision is ticking for Joe Biden.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're very close to getting to a decision.

SAENZ: Biden's allies say he's now closer than ever to making up his mind.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: He is moving closer. He's someone who I am confident is going to run.

SAENZ: As his decision looms, Biden is gearing up for a busy week, where he could offer some clues. First up tomorrow, a speech to firefighters in Washington, D.C. Then he's back on his home turf this weekend at a dinner for Delaware's Democratic Party. The will he/won't he speculation comes as a new poll shows 64 percent

of likely Iowa Democratic caucus-goers say he should get in the 2020 race, while 31 percent believe his time has passed.

Meanwhile, another 2020 hopeful is under fire. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has cast herself as a champion of the MeToo movement.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Fix the system here in Congress that is failing our staffers on this issue of sexual harassment.

SAENZ: She was the first Democratic senator to call for Minnesota Senator Al Franken to resign after allegations of sexual misconduct.

GILLIBRAND: We need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is OK. None of it is acceptable. And we, as elected leaders, should absolutely be held to a higher standard.

SAENZ: But Gillibrand is now tackling claims she mishandled allegations of sexual harassment in her Senate office after a female staffer accused Kirsten Gillibrand's military aide Abbas Malik of sexual harassment last year.

An aide telling CNN the office started an investigation 42 minutes after learning of the allegation. After conducting seven interviews, they determined that the specific behavior didn't meet the standard for sexual harassment.

Malik wasn't fired at the time. And, according to a letter obtained by Politico, the accuser told Gillibrand and two senior staffers she was offering her resignation -- quote -- "because of how poorly the investigation and post-investigation was handled."

Today Gillibrand defended her handling of the probe issuing a statement saying when allegations are made in the workplace, we must believe women so that serious investigations can actually take place. She added "that's exactly what happened at every step of this case last year.

Gillibrand says, the Senators office recently began another investigation after learning of never before reported and deeply troubling comments allegedly made by Malik. He was fired from the office last week. CNN's efforts to reach Malik haven't been successful and he didn't respond to Politico's requests for comment. Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Arlette Saenz, thank you so much for that report. We're going to talk about that in just a moment, but I want to get your perspective on some numbers that we're seeing coming out of Iowa. So the DNC announced that the convention is going to be in Milwaukee is Joe Biden going to be there. I wonder if he's looking at these numbers coming out of Iowa.

27 percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers say he's their first choice. Look who's second Bernie Sanders and then you have all these other folks in the field who are struggling to get out of single digits. What should Biden be taking away from this? Should he be saying oh, that's great, I'm getting in?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, as the former vice president, you better be at those kinds of numbers. I mean, I think it certainly shows that he and Bernie have high -- in terms of the field that of what is known, right, they have high name recognition as you would expect. Personally, I think it also shows though that he comes in with a certain level of people think they know a bit about him.

And so how -- what can you tell them about yourself that's going to be new or different that if they are thinking about voting for you or not thinking about voting for you, that's going to change their minds. It also means that there's a lot of room for everybody else which again is why I think the debates are going to be so important.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But the biggest question with Biden right now is what's the holdup? You've run for president before, you should know what it takes, so why can't you make a decision. And I think Kamala Harris's excellent launch has had an effect on these other people were on the sidelines. You can't just go outside your house in the snowstorm and give a little speech now.

She raised the stakes because of her excellent rollout. And since she's entered the race, her favorability ratings have gone up. You know, I think people need to take their time, and if they can't match that, stay on the sidelines.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: There have only been three people who have been ahead at this point in a year before the Election Day, the Democratic Party, who went on to win the nomination. Walter Mondale in 1984, Al Gore in 2000, Hillary Clinton in 2016.

FINNEY: I see what you're getting at. I see where you're getting at, Jamal.

SIMMONS: I think that -- I think that the vice president of the United States should have a little -- he should pay attention to the numbers and look to make sure he is doing what is required to win in the modern Democratic Party which means hiring people who are like the people in the Democratic Party and being ready to talk about the issues that are of importance to the modern Democratic Party.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: To be fair to the vice president though, Amanda, his previous presidential campaigns didn't last that long so he doesn't have a ton of experience and long term presidential campaign planning. I think if you look at these polling numbers, it's interesting. If you're younger, you're for Bernie. If you're older, you're for Biden.

Now, if you're Bernie Sanders, you've got a lot of other candidates in the race who are low in polling right now but they tend to skew younger as well and Biden may have a monopoly on sort of the older more established caucus-goers. So I don't know how that's going to impact his thinking but I thought the generational divide and the skew and that survey was really interesting.

KEILAR: Let's talk about Senator Gillibrand and what she's facing right now defending her actions after a female staffer reported sexual harassment in her office, in Gillibrand office and then resigned over it being mishandled is how she felt. So I want you to listen to Senator Gillibrand's comments from November when she was talking about sexual harassment in Congress.


SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Congress should never be above the law. Congress should never play by its own set of rules. As elected officials, we should be held to the highest standards, not the lowest.


KEILAR: I wonder, does this hurt her image, and also as someone who's been so forceful talking about sex assault in the military and who's said the prescription is to pull that out of the chain of command, why she wouldn't have taken her own advice because this was an investigation done primarily by her staffers. What do you think?

CARPENTER: I would say right now she's barely cracking one percent in the polls. And if she wants to be the #MeToo candidate, this is pretty much the death knell because there's no explanation. The thing that makes this really damning for Senator Gillibrand is that not when her staffer complained, not when they did the internal investigation was conducted, but when Politico went to the office with these allegations she finally fired the staffer.

KEILAR: Politico talk to former employees which is something that Gillibrand's office did not do even though the staffer said you should talk to these former employees.

FINNEY: I mean look, I think it is fair to hold -- she's accountable because the bucks should stop with her. But I think she still has some room to go to her own staff because clearly, this was -- the decision seems to have been made at the staff level. We don't know at what point she was aware of how much of an investigation had been conducted.

But frankly, what I agree with this is she's got to take some action. I mean in the next several days, frankly, in the next 24 hours, if I were her or advising her, I would say somebody probably needs to get fired because however you they thought they were handling it, it was not appropriate and clearly someone who was creating a hostile environment was left in place and continued to be hate that way.

[16:50:31] KEILAR: She knew that the woman was leaving. She -- as the woman was on her way out, Senator Gillibrand hugged the woman and said we love you. Does she have deniability?

SIMMONS: Well, this is one of the core issues of her campaign. I think as we've heard -- just heard her other people talking about we've got to make sure -- she's going to have to make sure she is ahead of this and she's taking it as seriously as she can take it because I think if this has become something that is not a strength of hers, it's going to be hard to recover.

KEILAR: Scott, final word.

JENNINGS: Gillibrand -- I actually thought she might be someone who gained a little momentum in this race. She's been a pretty disappointing candidate so far. I think Klobuchar has stolen a lot of that lane away from her. I know some people in Minnesota right now who've been mad at her since her stance against Al Franken who were probably a big grins on their faces today over this issue because she took a lot of heat from some Democrats out that way and these chickens may be coming home to roost here.

FINNEY: And I would just say, I think just kind of setting this aside, you know, I felt this way. I think a lot of us felt this way around Al Franken and sort of all of the things that have happened. As a culture, we need process of how do we handle this, how do we talk about this, what is the process.

It should not be a partisan issue. It should be an issue where you know, both sides, all sides get heard and there is a process by which then you know people are held accountable.

KEILAR: Everyone does need to learn about this indeed. Thank you all so much. And CNN is live on the ground as rockets and gunfire erupted in the last ISIS stronghold. We go to Syria next.


[16:55:00] KEILAR: Stunning images and sounds in our "WORLD LEAD" as heavy fight erupts in Syria tonight. U.S. backed forces locked in their final push to clear ISIS out of the stronghold in the country. Our Ben Wedeman has been reporting from the front lines just a few hours ago.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There are some flares above our head a little while ago but they seem to have gone out for now. This is where earlier in the day we watched people walk around. There were motorcycles going back and forth. We saw a white truck passing by. There was an ISIS flag in that spot as well. Listen to this. That was an air strike I believe.


KEILAR: And Ben is joining us from Eastern Syria. Ben, detail for us what you're seeing on the ground right now.

WEDEMAN: At the moment, we are seeing some tracers being fired into what's left of the so-called Islamic state. About an hour ago, however, we were actually -- we had our heads down. We were sleeping when we heard -- we were woken up by four massive explosions, huge piles fire coming up from the area behind me. Since then, it's been somewhat quieter. I haven't seen much in the way of returned fire from the ISIS positions.

But what we saw really going back to when the sun went down, as soon as it was dark all hell broke loose after a relatively, relatively quiet day. And what we saw was air strikes, artillery barrages, mortar barrages and lots of tracers being fired into that camp. Honestly, how anybody could have survived the last few hours is anyone's guess. Brianna?

KEILAR: And that is the thing, Ben, because this is the third operation to free to town, but there are tens of thousands of civilians who have been trying to flee. Tell us about this.

WEDEMAN: Yes. Well, from the very beginning, more than a month ago now, we were told there were a mere 1,500 civilians and perhaps 500 fighters. Well, it turned out there were more than 30,000 families, wives and children, many of them of ISIS fighters. And in terms of the number of ISIS fighters, we are talking about thousands who were in there. And some of them surrendered. We spoke to some of them. Others, however, are still fighting inside the camp behind me. Brianna?

KEILAR: And Ben, tell us how you and your crew has been staying safe. This is certainly a dangerous assignment you're undertaking there. We have seen this from all of the pictures that are coming into us today from you.

WEDEMAN: Well, we spent much of our time with flak jackets and helmets. In fact, even when we're sleeping, we're wearing the flak jackets. And we keep down to the best we can. And when we see that it's not a good time to stay where we are, we move back to safer ground. It's common sense. Brianna?

KEILAR: Indeed, Ben Wedeman, that you were armed with that. Thank you so much, sir, live from Syria for us. I'm Brianna Keilar in for Jake Tapper. Follow me on Twitter @BRIKEILARCNN or Tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.