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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand Under Fire; Major Airlines Ground Boeing 737 MAX 8 After Crash; Trump Unveils Budget Proposal. Aired 3- 3:30p ET

Aired March 11, 2019 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:02]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Democrats have become an anti-Israel party. They have become an anti-Jewish party, and that's too bad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: And just talking to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, he was in the room. He had this exchange with Sarah Sanders on that very point.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And just to get back to John and Hallie's question about the president's comments about Democrats and Jewish people, isn't that kind of rhetoric just sort of beneath everybody?

And do you think that the president has thought at all, going into this 2020 campaign, that the rhetoric just needs to be lowered, whether it's talking about Democrats, the media, immigrants?

Or should we just plan on hearing the president use the same kind of language that we heard in 2016 and all through the first couple of years of this administration?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, I think that the real shame in all of this is that Democrats are perfectly capable of coming together and agreeing on the fact they're comfortable with ripping babies from a mother's wombs or killing a baby after birth, but they have a hard time condemning the type of comments from Congresswoman Omar.

I think that's the great shame. The president has been clear on what his position is, certainly what his support is for the people the community of Israel. And beyond that, I don't have anything further.

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: ... that just sort of drags down the rhetoric in the debate, when you're -- you're saying something that just is patently untrue?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Stating their policy positions is not patently untrue.

ACOSTA: But Democrats don't -- Democrats don't hate Jewish people. It's just silly. It's not true.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think they should call out their members by name. And we have made that clear. I don't have anything further.

(CROSSTALK)

HUCKABEE SANDERS: April?

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: But the president...

(CROSSTALK)

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Sorry, Jim.

April go ahead.

ACOSTA: He used rhetoric after Charlottesville saying that there are very fine people on both sides in Charlottesville, essentially suggesting that there are very fine people in the Nazis.

(CROSSTALK)

HUCKABEE SANDERS: That's not at all what the president was stating, not then, not at any point.

The president has been incredibly clear and consistently and repeatedly condemned hatred, bigotry, racism, in all of its forms, whether it's in America or anywhere else. And to say otherwise is simply untrue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: So, let's start right there.

With me now, CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

And, Gloria, good to see you.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Good to see you.

BALDWIN: What is the tactic here? If the president said it, why not acknowledge it?

BORGER: Yes, she didn't acknowledge it.

I think the tactic, first of all, is divide and conquer. It's always been a tactic of Donald Trump's. And this notion -- first of all, she wouldn't say what the president actually said in his fund-raiser. But then she said, I think you ought to ask the Democrats about that.

Well, the Democrats didn't say what the president said. If there's a disagreement over whether the Democrats should have approved a different kind of resolution, that's just fine. That's absolutely fine.

People can disagree about whether it should have been more specific towards her, whether she should have been censured, et cetera, et cetera. But the Republicans have had their own problems, for example, with Steve King, and they were tough on Steve King, although he remains in Congress and had a long history of saying all kinds of objectionable things.

So I think what we're seeing here -- and I think Jim is right -- is the campaign starting and the president making a play for Jewish voters, saying, look at what they did in Congress. They obviously hate you, Jews.

BALDWIN: Right. Right. Right. Right. But isn't it -- on the Steve King point, it's interesting that she brought up Congressman King, since Trump has been silent on him.

BORGER: Totally silent on King. You're 100 percent right.

Trump has not -- has chosen not to say anything about King, probably because he's wondering if he's going to run again or if he could win his race. There you have a member without any committees, correct?

BALDWIN: Right.

BORGER: Now, there are Democrats that I have spoken with who thought that Congresswoman Omar should perhaps have been taken off the Foreign Affairs Committee, Foreign Relations.

And the chairman, Engel, decided he did not want to do that. That's up to him. And there are Democrats who thought the resolution was watered down. But have that conversation, rather than the conversation about, oh, by the way, Democrats hate Jews. I mean, that's just silly. It's just silly.

BALDWIN: Yes.

I want to ask you about Michael Cohen. This came up in the briefing. You had all that great reporting last week about the reports about the pardon. And so President Trump's claim, Michael Cohen asked him personal for a pardon. So here was the exchange in the briefing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: On pardons, last week, the president tweeted that Michael Cohen -- quote -- "directly asked me for a pardon."

When did that happen? Was that when Cohen was here at the White House and came into the Oval Office and asked the president for a pardon? Did it happen on the phone? Do you have a date of when that happened? HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not going to get into specifics of things that

are currently under review by the Oversight Committee and other committees.

[15:05:00]

What I can tell you is that Cohen's own attorney stated and contradicted his client when he said that he was aware that those conversations had taken place.

We know that Michael Cohen lied to Congress prior to his testimony most recently. And we know that he's lied at least twice this that hearing. I think that it's time to stop giving him a platform. Let him go on to serve his time and let's move forward.

(CROSSTALK)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: What was your reaction to that?

BORGER: Well, first of all, she doesn't want to answer the question.

It seems to me that any press secretary would go into the president of the United States and say, you made this flat statement. Can you give me more detail?

And I bet she didn't. And I bet Sarah Sanders wants that to be in the purview of the committees and perhaps the special counsel, and raised the president's lawyer statement as a result, when, you know, Lanny Davis said, basically, this was after he knew that he wasn't going to get a pardon. And there's a whole timeline here that's very confusing that I won't bore you with.

But I do believe that she also said -- she wouldn't admit that Trump was Individual No. 1 when it came to the sentencing memo about the hush money paid to Stormy Daniels, wouldn't acknowledge that, and then said also that she didn't know about the $35,000 check that the president had signed to Michael Cohen while it was in the Oval Office, that she didn't know about it.

That check has been everywhere. We had it up on CNN and I'm sure everybody else did as well. So, I think that's a little -- and Rudy Giuliani has spoken about these payments. So, that seems a little bit disingenuous.

BALDWIN: It's out there. Gloria Borger, thank you very much.

BORGER: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: The top of that White House briefing focused on the rollout of the president's new budget and, among other thing, it demands even more money, nearly $9 billion, for a border wall, and boasts more than $2 trillion in spending cuts.

All this as the national debt continues to rise, something that the president promised to eliminate. Moments ago, his acting budget director pointed the finger at Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSSELL VOUGHT, ACTING WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: This great progress is threatened by our unsustainable national debt, which has nearly doubled under the previous administration, and now stands at more than $22 trillion.

Annual deficits are continuing to rise and will exceed a trillion dollars a year. And it's projected that interest payments on the national debt will exceed military spending by 2024.

Washington has a spending problem. And it endangers the future prosperity of our nation for generations to come. Congress has been ignoring the president's spending reductions for the last two years. It's only now, in our third budget, that they're willing to have a conversation about the national debt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let's break down exactly what is in this president's budget.

CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is with me now.

So tell me more about it. What are you learning?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, one thing that Sarah Sanders actually acknowledged just moments ago that there's nothing in the Trump budget request that actually would force Mexico to pay for the border wall.

She said, instead, that would be paid for through -- by Mexico through the U.S.-Mexico trade agreement that has yet to be approved by Congress. And there's nothing in that agreement that will actually force Mexico to pay for the wall.

So Congress -- so what the Trump budget instead does is that it forces, again, it tries to encourage Congress approve nearly $9 billion in funding for the wall, $8.6 billion, to be exact. And also it would fund another $3.6 billion, force the replenishment of funds to military construction projects that would that -- that would have been -- funding of which has been diverted through the president's efforts to declare a national emergency, so he can administratively move money around to pay for his border declaration.

Of course, we will see if the courts uphold that move. He's about to get rebuked by a bipartisan Senate vote this week on an emergency declaration move. And the question is, how is he going to pay for all this?

He calls for $2.7 trillion in spending cuts on array of issues, education programs, infrastructure programs, environmental protection, and the like. Those are domestic programs, non-defense domestic spending, but he also calls for an increase of 5 percent for defense spending in exchange for those cuts to domestic programs. The big question is, will any of this fly? Democrats are making it

very clear that none of it will. This is all going to set the stage for negotiations in the fall over the president's request to fund that border wall. In particular, if the president digs in, how far will he -- will Democrats agree to go?

Because, in this current round of negotiations, as you recall, Brooke, very clear the president -- weren't going to give the president $1. And they didn't give the president $1 for that border wall. Eventually, the president conceded.

Now he's asking Congress to come back in, give him money for the wall. This is what the president hopes -- will accomplish. But no one here on Capitol Hill believes the president going to get anywhere near that $9 billion for the wall. What will happen in a few months? We will have to see -- Brooke.

[15:10:03]

BALDWIN: Manu Raju, thank you very much for that.

Coming up next: Boeing under pressure, after now the second deadly crash involving one of its planes in just the last five months. We will talk to a woman who worked with one of the 157 victims, a man who was studying at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Plus, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand under fire for how she handled a sexual harassment complaint inside her office. Despite her vocal support for the MeToo movement, how this could impact her 2020 chances.

And, later, CNN takes you inside a Venezuelan hospital struggling to operate with little electricity, food or water; 17 people have already died amid massive power outages there. And the country's opposition leader says the country has already collapsed.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Another huge story we're following for you, investigators now have recovered the flight data, the cockpit voice recorders from that Ethiopian Airlines crash the killed all 157 people on board.

While multiple airlines have grounded this popular Boeing plane involved, U.S. carriers Southwest and American Airlines say they will continue flying this aircraft.

The pilot reported technical difficulties right after takeoff on Sunday. At least one witness says the plane was smoking and swerving before the crash. Among the victims are eight Americans and 21 United Nations staffers. And this is the second time in five months that a Boeing 737 MAX 8 model has crashed minutes into the flight. The same thing happened to a Lion Air flight in October.

And just moments ago, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao asked the FAA to review both of those crashes to identify any safety issues.

So, first with me, Dan Rose is an aviation attorney and former Navy pilot.

So, Dan, thank you so much for being here.

So tragic all the way around. We're going to talk to a woman who worked with one of these. Sounds like such an amazing man who was studying at Georgetown.

But knowing that there are -- I'm thinking about us here in the U.S., of course, as well, about two dozen of these MAX 8's being flown. Do you think Boeing should ground them?

DAN ROSE, AVIATION ATTORNEY: Well, first of all, the FAA would have to decide to ground them.

I think anybody that's responsible and realizes that the same system is at fault as it was in Lion Air, whether it is the FAA or Boeing or anybody else, should take the initiative to ground the aircraft, until we figure out exactly what's going on.

BALDWIN: I mean, the fact that the Lion Air went down, what, in October, and now this has happened, what do you make of the similarities?

ROSE: Yes, it's uncanny. I mean, it's just -- it's kind of unprecedented to have a new aircraft come out, and then within less than two years have two incidents within a five-month span.

That's just not acceptable. I mean, there, in all likelihood, has to be something wrong with the systems.

BALDWIN: I was talking to Richard Quest, who has flown Ethiopian Air a ton of time, says it's an excellent airline. And as far as these MAX 8 planes, are they -- how would you characterize them?

ROSE: Well, the interesting thing about the MAX 8 is, it's a fourth generation of the 737 design, which is 60 years old. So, this is a design that was designed way back when and has kind of been adapted all along.

And this is the latest iteration. And each one is looking for more passenger and more power, more efficiency. And there are compromises at some point. And I think we see it here with the engines that were put on this aircraft in such a way that it affected the way the plane flies.

So they had to build this system, the MCAS system, to combat that, and it's just -- it's reached kind of a tipping point with the design.

BALDWIN: We know that the black boxes have been recovered. So within those black boxes, where do those answers lie?

ROSE: Well, we're going to get the answer to the cause within the boxes.

Specifically, you're the hear the flight crew talk about what they're doing, whether they're fighting the controls. But you're going to see what the plane is doing, particularly whether this system, this MCAS system, that's implicated in Lion Air, was activated such that it was causing a loss of control of the aircraft.

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes.

Dan, thank you so much.

ROSE: Sure.

BALDWIN: I appreciate it.

And we're now learning, of course, the personal stories of a number of these victims on board, including Cedric Asiavugwa, that third-year law student at Georgetown University in Washington. He had been traveling home to Kenya after the death of his fiancee's mother. And he had aspirations to return to Kenya after graduation to promote the rights of refugees.

And his colleague at Georgetown law, Mary Novak, is with me now.

And, Mary, my deepest condolences to you. I mean, just reading his bio on the Georgetown Web site, he was extraordinary. And I know that you worked with Cedric through his spiritual work with the campus chaplain's office. Can you tell me just more about him and what he was about?

MARY NOVAK, COLLEAGUE OF CRASH VICTIM: I would love to.

First of all, Brooke, thank you. This is really a horrible loss for the Georgetown Law community and really for the Georgetown University, of the greater Georgetown University community, and the world actually, given who Cedric was.

I am working in campus ministry. And he was an essential part of the -- of our team, our interfaith team. He was the first point of contact with his warm hospitality, welcoming students to our space and figuring out what they needed, so he could get them to the right services, one of the chaplains, one of the other offices in our law community.

[15:20:05]

He was a terrific human being, greatly formed by his education back in Kenya and Zimbabwe, where his intellectual formation really broadened his view of the world and understanding of the world, so that when he lands in -- back in Kenya after studying in Zimbabwe, with highest honors in philosophy, he founds a community organization to serve women and children fleeing the war in Somalia.

He directs a public television series on peace and justice. He does scholarly research and eventually joins the Jesuits and spends eight years really learning how to walk with folks on the margins, but ground himself in his deep Catholic faith, so that he can do this work for the long haul. He was remarkable.

BALDWIN: Oh, bless him and his family.

And to think of all that he had already accomplished, to know that he was this third-year law student at Georgetown, what was -- what was he hoping to do?

NOVAK: Well, he came to Georgetown in 2016 with a real aspiration to study and learn more about human rights, with a particular emphasis in economics and business, because he knew those structures were important and looking at human rights and supporting folks on the margins.

And, as he went through our clinical program, both with international women's rights, as well as working with asylees, his heart grew more towards walking with migrants and refugees. He wanted to go back to Kenya and serve there, but he was -- had a particular focus on the environmental impacts on refugees and migrants and what caused them to fleet based on environmental concerns.

So he was going to spend an extra year at Georgetown Law studying that particular focus, so that he could take it back to Kenya.

BALDWIN: Mary Novak, again, I am so sorry. He sounded like a superb human.

And as we learn more about Cedric and so many of these other lives lost, you can go to CNN.com to learn about their stories.

Again, Mary, thank you from Georgetown.

Coming up next, she is a vocal supporter of MeToo movement and one of the first Democrats to call for former Senator Al Franken's ouster, and now Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is under fire for how she handled a sexual harassment claim in her own office.

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[15:27:25]

BALDWIN: She is one of the most outspoken advocates of the MeToo movement up on Capitol Hill, but now 2020 hopeful Kirsten Gillibrand is facing accusations that she mishandled a sexual harassment case in her own office.

A female staffer tells Politico that, in July of last year, one of Senator Gillibrand's most prominent aides made repeated unwelcome advances toward her. She also accuses the aide of making crude and misogynistic remarks about female colleagues. After Senator Gillibrand's office investigated the staffer's claim and found the aide's behavior not meet the standard for sexual harassment, the female staffer resigned.

CNN's Athena Jones just talked to someone in the senator's office.

And you can tell me about that in a second, but, first, give me more. What happened?

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is interesting and a hard, a difficult headline for Senator Gillibrand, of course, because she's been a champion of the MeToo movement on Capitol Hill.

You laid out some of what happened last summer. You had a staffer accusing another staffer of making inappropriate remarks. Now, Gillibrand's aides would say she did exactly what she has called for people to do in such an instance, which is to hold a hearing or in this case an investigation.

You're not mean to prejudge the outcome. No one's arguing that everyone, just because you're a pioneer or champion of MeToo, doesn't mean that you won't have staffers who may act in the wrong way. They say the point here is that they carried out an investigation and, in the end, this investigation found that there wasn't any evidence for those specific remarks.

One thing we should note here, though, is that -- this same person accused, Abbas Malik, who is a military aide, we have reached out to him for comment or tried to reach him for comment, and failed so far.

But this person was accused later on, just fired last week because of new allegations that surfaced that -- then investigated. Now he's been fired, but he wasn't fired over the summer.

Here is what Senator Gillibrand said in her statement. She said: "These are challenges that affect all of our nation's workplaces, including mine. And the question is whether or not they are taken seriously. As I have long said, when allegations are made in the workplace, we must believe women, so that serious investigations can actually take place, we can learn the facts and there can be appropriate accountability. That's exactly what happened at every step of the case last year. I told her that we loved her at the time and the same is true today."

Now, I want to mention Politico has not named this accuser. CNN has not independently confirmed who she is. And Politico was -- did not hear back from Abbas Malik either. But there's a lot of concern here because, as we've mentioned, Senator Gillibrand has made a name for herself in railing against or fighting against and trying to prevent sexual harassment, sexual assault.

BALDWIN: Which is one of the reasons why this young woman wanted on board in the first place.

JONES: Exactly. In the resignation letter this young woman supplied to Politico, she

specifically says that she, after the 2016 election, wanted to work in politics, wanted to specifically work for Senator Gillibrand.