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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Boeing Plane Grounded Outside U.S.; Cheating Scam. Aired 4:30- 5p ET

Aired March 12, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:31:10]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're back with our pop culture lead.

Two famous actresses caught up in what prosecutors are calling the largest college admissions scam ever. Today, the Justice Department charged 50 people, including Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, with breaking the law to give their children unfair advantages to help them get into college.

CNN's Brynn Gingras is in Boston with the unbelievable details of this elaborate scheme involving, in some cases, fake test scores, fake photographs and million-dollar bribes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Oscar-nominated actress Felicity Huffman and actress Lori Loughlin, best known for her role as Aunt Becky on "Full House," among dozens charged in a cheating scam helping to get students into a string of prestigious universities.

ANDREW LELLING, U.S. ATTORNEY FOR MASSACHUSETTS: Fifty people nationwide, two SAT or ACT exam administrators, one exam proctor, one college administrator, nine coaches at elite schools, and 33 parents who paid enormous sums to guarantee their children's admission to certain schools.

GINGRAS: According to prosecutors, the scheme involved two kinds of fraud, parents paying a college prep organization to help their children cheat on SAT or ACT exams, and others paying to allegedly bribe college coaches to help admit the students as athletes, regardless of their athletic skill.

The prep organization at the center of the scandal was founded by William Singer. He has pleaded guilty to four charges, including money laundering and obstruction of justice.

LELLING: Singer also arranged for someone to take online high school classes in place of certain students, so that those students could submit higher grades as part of their overall college application packages.

GINGRAS: Lori Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, have been charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud for allegedly paying more than $500,000 in bribes to get both of their daughters admitted to USC, getting them on the rowing team, a sport which neither of them has ever participated in.

Their daughters have not been charged. An e-mail written by Giannulli in the complaint reads in part -- quote -- "I wanted to thank you again for your great work with our older daughter. She is very excited. And both Lori and I are very appreciative of your efforts and end result."

The cooperating witness response -- quote -- "With your younger daughter, please let me know if there is a similar need anywhere, so we do not lose a spot." Laughlin then responds -- quote -- "Yes, USC for our younger daughter."

Huffman is also charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud, allegedly paying $15,000 to Singer's organization. In a phone conversation recorded as part of the investigation, Huffman says: "We're going to do like we did with my older daughter."

The cooperating witness responds: "OK. So, Cooperating Witness 2 will take it with her and for her at Igor's place at the West Hollywood test center."

According to the complaint, Huffman did not go through with the plan for her younger daughter. Prosecutors are calling the scam Operation Varsity Blues, and includes Georgetown, Stanford, UCLA, USC, University of Texas at Austin, Yale University and several prominent Boston institutions.

The complaint also lays out how Singer allegedly work with parents to fake athletic credentials to get students on to college athletic teams.

LELLING: Singer helped parents take staged photographs of their children engaged in particular sports.

GINGRAS: Prosecutors making clear special treatment for the wealthy and elite would not stand.

LELLING: For every student admitted through fraud, an honest, genuinely talented student was rejected.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[16:35:00]

GINGRAS: And, Jake, sources say Singer is a cooperating witness in this yearlong investigation. He actually left this courtroom and didn't say a word after pleading guilty to four federal accounts.

He faces up to 65 years in prison. And authorities say that, when they seized that nonprofit, that sham nonprofit, they seized $5.2 million. Also important to note, Jake, that there -- according to authorities, there were some students that knew about this scheme from their parents, some students who didn't it. But at this point, no students have been charged in relation to this case. But authorities do not rule out more arrests in the future -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Brynn Gingras in Boston, thank you so much.

Let's go now to CNN's Nick Watt, who's outside the courthouse in Los Angeles.

And, Nick, we're hearing that the husband of Felicity Huffman, actor William H. Macy, he's there now?

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He is.

Listen, Jake, we are expecting 13 people important here, parents, administrators, coaches. William H. Macy, yes, he is in the courthouse right now. All he would say is no comment.

And, interestingly, he is not actually named in the charges, but the charge against his wife says that can witness number one met with her and her spouse at their home in L.A. to discuss cheating on this entrance exam.

Now, they did that for the first daughter, allegedly, paid $15,000. They then went down the road for their second daughter, but ultimately decided not to, according to these papers, allegedly because her tutor might have gotten suspicious -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Nick Watt in Los Angeles, thank you so much.

Backlash is mounting over a popular new airplane grounded around the world, though not in the United States. President Trump now entering the fray. That's next.

Plus, a stunning new allegation about Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, and their relationship with Trump's administration.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:41:27]

TAPPER: Today's world lead now: The entire European Union is now among those grounding the Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane after two recent crashes that killed almost 350 people.

There has in Washington, D.C., been a bipartisan outcry in the Senate, with senators ranging from Mitt Romney to Elizabeth Warren calling for the planes to be grounded, but they're meeting resistance from the FAA and Boeing and two U.S. airlines that fly this model plane, American Airlines and Southwest.

Let's bring in CNN's Tom Foreman. And, Tom, the president has now spoken to the CEO of Boeing. What do we know about that conversation?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that the CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, and President Trump did, indeed, speak to each other. We don't know what they talked about, as we wait for the all-important information from the flight data recorder and the voice recorder.

But, undoubtedly, it had to be about the storm that is swirling around this plane.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): Facing serious safety questions and brutal political headwinds, the Boeing 737 MAX 8 is being grounded around the globe, in the United Kingdom, the European Union, much of Asia, Australia, and more. In some cases, even other variants of the MAX line are being parked, as many airlines say they won't use the plane until they have additional information about the fatal crash in Africa and the one last fall in Indonesia.

All of that is creating an uproar in Washington, where the U.S. stands nearly alone in allowing the MAX 8 to fly.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Certainly, this is very early in the process. And we're going to be in constant contact through the Department of Transportation, the FAA and make determination at the appropriate time.

FOREMAN: A growing list of lawmakers is urging caution, if not by federal agencies, then by the airlines.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Every one of these planes should be grounded right away. They are accidents waiting to happen. I have advise my family members to switch airlines,because these planes are unsafe at any speed right now.

FOREMAN: Still, the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. airlines that use the MAX 8 are standing by it. The Southwest Pilots Association extremely confident in the plane, which is still flying domestically, despite concerns from other aviation professionals, such as flight attendants unions.

A software update is in the works for the aircraft. But Boeing says even now, "We have full confidence in the safety of the MAX."

But, in Africa, as searchers scour the crash site, Ethiopian Airlines is reporting initial details from the pilot of the doomed plane that seem eerily suggestive of a software problem which some analysts believe can make these planes uncontrollable.

TEWOLDE GEBREMARIAM, CEO, ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES: So he was having difficulties with the flight control of the airplane, so he asked it to return back to base. And clearance was given to him.

FOREMAN: He never made it. And that is clearly on the minds of some U.S. travelers, who have found themselves somewhat alone in the world aboard Boeing MAX 8 planes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I prayed a little bit more than usual, I think, but it was out of my hands, so I had to make it on the plane.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: The odds of you winding up on one of these planes is very small. There are only a few dozen of them, compared to tens of thousands of planes flying in the United States every day.

But proponents of safety say, that's all the more reason, park them. That won't make a big impact. But it might be a lot safer -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Tom Foreman, thanks so much.

I want to bring in Richard Quest and David Soucie now. Richard is CNN's business editor at large and has spent years covering aviation. David, of course, was an FAA safety inspector and wrote the book "Why Planes Crash."

David, let me start with you.

[16:45:00]

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: I would have done it yesterday, Jake. This should have been done already. But what I need to remind people is the FAA is not the true Safety Authority. They're not the ones who do this. The FAA simply says, here's the regulations, here's what you do, you go do it. And then the safety system is up to the air carriers.

The airline's themselves have the ability and the capability and the responsibility to not use these aircraft if they don't think they're safe.

TAPPER: So it's up to the CEOs of American Airlines and Southwest Airlines is what you're saying.

SOUCIE: Absolutely. It's not even -- at some level it is up to Boeing and the FAA does have the authority to do this. But waiting for that is not necessary. If the airline truly feels that their safety management system isn't adequate, then they will shut it down. And I know very much about what Southwest safety management system is because I worked on it with them in the development. So I know that their safety management system is robust and I'm sure that they have safety pieces in play to prevent this from becoming another accident.

It doesn't mean that the aircraft isn't -- is safe or isn't safe. The issue is bigger than that and they need to take the precautionary measure of just saying we need to find out more before we continue to fly the aircraft. It's too coincidental.

TAPPER: Richard, there are still dozens and dozens of 737 Max planes flying as we speak all over the world, days into this investigation. Now Boeing claims it has "full confidence in the safety of this model," do you? RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: That's a good question and I'm going to hedge it. And I'm going to hedge it this way. Both all the others and Boeing and the FAA are all relying on the same simple fact that there are no facts to indicate what happened. There are no facts to suggest what went wrong. And that's where the great divide is. Because once you've said there are no facts, the European and everybody else say, well in the absence of any facts for an abundance of caution, because we want to play safety first, we're going to ground it.

Same first set of facts. There are no facts. The U.S. is saying, well, because there's no facts, we say it's still safe in the air. It's two sides of the same coin. And it -- to answer your question, it's bewildering. I don't know it's the short answer, Jake.

TAPPER: David, you look like you disagreed. Well, I do. I totally disagree. There are facts. The ATSB transmits information. The vertical speed indicator was erratic the same way it was with Lion Air. Those facts are there right now, Richard.

TAPPER: Richard?

QUEST: Yes -- no, I agree. I agree. Listen, I'm not saying there are facts or not. I'm saying what the FAA is saying is there are no facts. The Europeans are saying there are no facts.

SOUCIE: And they're incorrect because they are there.

QUEST: And what I'm saying is in the absence of these facts -- they are -- of course they're there. The similarities are there. The -- it's the same phase of flight. It's the same brand new aircraft. it's the same variations in altitude. It's the same way that the plane came out of the air. But both sides are choosing to take those similarities, David and Jake. And one side saying safety first, the other side saying we're not doing anything yet.

TAPPER: Richard Quest, David Soucie, thank you both. I appreciate your time.

SOUCIE: Well, I'll pushing off the hedge.

TAPPER: OK. It sounds like you did. Thanks so much. The White House pushing back today on a new book that gives rare insight into Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner's lives in the west wing including what they allegedly did just to get a ride on an Air Force plane. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] TAPPER: We're back with our "POLITICS LEAD." Explosive new claims about Trump family drama inside the West Wing from a forthcoming book, Kushner Inc. by Vicky Ward. According to an excerpt reported by the New York Times, President Trump's daughter Ivanka told then White House adviser Gary Cohn "my dad's not a racist after the President said both sides were to blame after white supremacist spewing hatred clashed with protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia." The book also claims the President wanted to send his son-in-law Jared

Kushner and his daughter packing and back to New York. But as CNN's Kate Bennett reports, representatives for the couple dismissed the claims in this new book as completely false.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Washington buzzing today about a new book that takes a hard look at Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner. In Kushner Inc., writer Vicky Ward focuses on the inner workings of the White House power couple. Part family, part presidential confidant, Ivanka has defended her father after Trump made these infamous remarks following the deadly Charlottesville protests.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there's blame on both sides.

BENNETT: Ward says Ivanka was adamant. "My dad is not a racist. He didn't mean any of it." Telling then-White House economic adviser Gary Cohn who was rocked by Trump's remarks and surprised by Ivanka's response.

The New York Times in a story about the book also saying at one point wanted his daughter and son-in-law out of Washington demanding then chief of staff John Kelly "get rid of my kids. Get them back to New York," Ward writes.

The White House today pushing back. Press secretary Sarah Sanders in a statement saying "it's sad but not surprising the media would spend time promoting a book based on shady anonymous sources and false information instead of all the incredible work Jared and Ivanka are doing for the country." Incredible work the president recently touted falsely claiming --

TRUMP: My daughters created millions of jobs. I don't know if anyone knows that but she's created millions of job.

[16:55:06] BENNETT: The new book also claims Ivanka has taken advantage of her position. The New York Times writing "Miss Trump also often requested to travel on Air Force planes when it was not appropriate. When Rex Tillerson, the former Secretary of State would deny the request,1 the couple would invite along a cabinet secretary often Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin to get access to a plane."

A spokesperson for Kushner's attorney released this statement to CNN "every point that Miss Ward mentioned in what she called her fact- checking stage was entirely false. It seems she has written a book of fiction rather than any serious attempt to get the facts. Correcting everything wrong would take too long and be pointless."

A sentiment echoed last year by the first daughter herself when asked about life in Washington.

IVANKA TRUMP, ADVISER TO THE PRESIDENT: There's a level of viciousness that I was not expecting. I was not inspecting the intensity of this experience but this isn't supposed to be easy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BENNETT: Sarah Sanders also claims the author originally listed this book as fiction and the White House says her initial representation was accurate. So far, no word from Jared or Ivanka officially. Back to you, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Kate Bennett, thanks so much. David Urban let me start with you. The President according to this book was frustrated with Ivanka and Jared because they generated bad press. He devised a plan with his then-Chief of Staff John Kelly to make life tough for them so that they would go back to New York City.

Regardless, Jared and Ivanka just on the facts -- forgot the book for a second. They've outlasted everybody. There's clearly been fights that they've had with other people within the West Wing. They have outlasted everybody.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I mean, look, number one I find this -- I do find this fictional. There's a lot of books that are written that you see and there's -- I know grains of truth in some of them. I think this --imagining the president telling John Kelly like let's get rid of my kids, send them back to New York.

I mean, I've been around the President, and Jared, and Ivanka, and I can tell you that that's pure fiction and not believable whatsoever.

TAPPER: What do you take from this book? Is it a sign that loyalty is preeminent with the Trumps?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't think so. No, I think mediocrity is. When you're too mediocre even for Donald Trump, you really got a problem. And of course, they survived. I mean, cockroaches are going to survive a nuclear war. When they -- when they took this job --

TAPPER: You're not calling Ivanka and Jared cockroaches.

BEGALA: Family is -- no, no, I'm talking about a separate class of species.

TAPPER: OK.

BEGALA: But when they took this job, I thought it was an enormous mistake. I don't believe in criticizing politicians families. They're no longer family. They're government officials they work for me.

TAPPER: Right.

BEGALA: And so we should hold them to a high standard. And some stuff in here are shocking. Abusing military aircraft, I mean, you know, it's just -- by profiting -- I know they had both difficult fathers, right. that's part of book apparently. This Ward reports one a criminal, the other Charlie Kushner, the New Jersey real estate developer. And so you can't excuse that in the government official though. I don't really care if you had a bad daddy, you work for me.

TAPPER: I do find -- I do find credible though the part where Gary Cohn expresses frustration to a Ivanka Trump. We know that he was very upset about that. And she says my dad is not a racist. You know, you're getting it wrong or whatever. That does sound like what happened.

TIFFANY CROSS, POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Well, it sounds like asinine response to ridiculous comments that come from this President that have been consistent with his candidacy, consistent with his presidency. Look, I think this is what happens when Lannisters occupied the White House. You know, this is something that is very consistent with what we've seen throughout the family.

TAPPER: Just a fact check. The Lannisters always repay their debts.

CROSS: Fair enough. Fair enough, Jake, fair enough.

TAPPER: Just one thing.

CROSS: Fair enough. Yes. I think this is kind of ridiculous. Look, these are not public servants, OK. like this is not somebody who wants to fly -- you know, she wants to fly private. She wants to live the high life and for her to try to defend her father's ridiculous comment --

URBAN: Again, again, look, those are --

TAPPER: You don't buy it.

URBAN: No, I don't buy it. Look, there are a lot of books and you see grains of truth here and there. I think this is --

BEGALA: Why can't --

CROSS: Why do you not buy it though?

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Like 220 people, who did they interview -- who did she interview? Like I know a lot of people, I don't know anybody was interviewed.

TAPPER: But this idea that they would invite along Treasury Secretary Mnuchin or other people so that they could use Air Force planes to travel, what do you think about it?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think to the extent that any of these things could be further confirmed is true. It's bad because it cuts against what I think has been an important part of the Trump brand in terms of Donald Trump which is that I'm someone for the people. I'm looking out for you, that you've got these elites and that's not how we are going to behave.

What I would also say though is that this is why it's always dicey to mix your family -- business and family. Because let's say that what was reported about Ivanka Trump, saying that about her father in the wake of Charlottesville, let's say that that happened. I mean, it's clear that his comments were hurtful. They were terrible.

And having people around you to tell you, no, no, no, it's OK. If they're family, you'll listen to them and it can prevent you from making smart choices. I think having family working with you in the White House is always dicey.

TAPPER: Well, it's one of the reasons why people don't often do it. Thanks, everyone for being here. I really appreciate it. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER.