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New Michael Cohen E-Mails Revealed; Manafort Gets More Time, More Charges; Boeing 737 MAX 8 Grounded. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 13, 2019 - 15:00   ET



ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Adding to the pressure, reports of at least five pilots in the U.S. who had anonymously filed these safety complaints about the Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets.

President Trump said the FAA will be announcing its determination about this model in just a few minutes here.

But I want to bring in CNN's aviation analyst, Tom Foreman -- our reporter, Tom Foreman, to fill us in a little bit more on exactly what this means and bring us up to speed on where things stand with the crash.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a sense, Ana, of how quickly things are changing here that truly not long ago at all that the FAA was assuring us that there was still not enough evidence to ground these planes.

And then, suddenly, the president swoops in behind them and says, no, we're putting them on the ground. Now, this came within hours of Canada grounding this fleet of planes. And that's a big deal, because it's the nearest biggest partner.

When they put them on the ground, the U.S. was down to being about the only holdout in the world still trying to fly these planes. So the president said, he was a big fan of Boeing, he spoke with Boeing executives, he spoke with some of his own people in the administration, and concluded this was the measure they needed to take.

He also, though -- as I pointed out, he's a big fan of Boeing, -- he also praised Boeing during the middle of all of this, talking about, you know, it's a strong company, they will be back, they will fix this program, this plane out there.

And he has been a huge booster of Boeing all along. His acting DOD head is a former Boeing executive. Nikki Haley, who was just the ambassador to the U.N., has just been named to the Boeing board. There is clearly a sense in this administration they do not want this to be a black mark on Boeing. They just feel like it needs to be solved.

And they say, until it is solved, they can't put these planes back in the air.

CABRERA: Tom Foreman, thank you.

Fred Tecce is with us now. He's a former federal prosecutor and a former pilot. CNN safety analyst David Soucie is a former FAA safety inspector and the author of "Why Planes Crash." And Justin Green is back with us as well.

David, you first. Your reaction now to the president's decision.

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: I think it's a bold move, but it had to be done. I'm surprised that, frankly, that Elaine Chao, director of transportation, or Elwell, the FAA administrator, hadn't made this decision before. I'm

not sure why it had to get to that level. I'm certain that the president spoke with Elaine Chao about it, I would presume. I guess I'm not certain, but I would presume that he spoke with her about it. So the fact that this had to go all the way to that level is very surprising. It's unprecedented.

CABRERA: Fred, why the delay?

FRED TECCE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: You know what, there's a lot that goes into this.

And I suspect that because part of the problem is, if you talk to the pilots union at Southwest -- I have been to Southwest. I have been to their training facility. And you talk to people who operate these airplanes, they will tell you that there's two parts to it. There's the airplane itself and then there's the training.

And I think what they were waiting to see is whether or not this was a training issue or whether or not this was kind of a problem with the airplane.

Look, the bottom line is, you cannot go wrong by grounding the aircraft. It's an inconvenience vs. an opportunity for a disaster, which nobody wants to see. We have already had two, which is just, for a brand-new airplane, is unprecedented.

CABRERA: Gentlemen, I have just been handed this statement from Boeing now, reacting to the president's decision and his announcement.

Let me read part of it for you. It says: "Boeing continues to have full confidence in the safety of the 737 MAX. However, after consultation with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and aviation authorities and its customers around the world, Boeing has determined out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public of the aircraft's safety to recommend to the FAA the temporary suspension of operations of the entire global fleet of 371-737 MAX aircraft."

Justin, your reaction?

JUSTIN GREEN, AVIATION ATTORNEY: Well, Boeing had to react in that way. They had to support the recall or the grounding of the aircraft.

I think that Boeing probably is a great American company. Boeing designed this airplane. Boeing clearly believes the airplane is safe and they're looking probably at the pilots. But, ultimately, perception is reality in some of these things.

You had U.S. passengers refusing to get on the airplane. You had other countries already grounding the airplane. And Boeing and the administration were put in an impossible situation where they had to act.

And I think acting -- David is absolutely right. Why it took this long, why it had to be elevated to the president, it should have been done earlier by the administrator.

CABRERA: It seems like new red flags just kept on dropping in the last 24 hours, David. CNN was reported on how pilots had flagged some issues, had mentioned their own complaints to the proper authorities. What do you see as the biggest factor here?


SOUCIE: You mean the biggest factor as to why it wasn't done earlier?

CABRERA: Well, the biggest factor as to why we ended up where we are right now. What was the big factor, the big flag, I guess, that ultimately led to the decision to, we have got to pull the plug?

SOUCIE: Oh, yes.

Yes, Ana, the biggest factor, I think, is an overconfidence. And that can happen very easily within a robust safety system. It's one of the most vulnerable things you can do is feel overconfident in what you have, and not be willing to say, maybe I overlooked something. Let's take a step back. That's very difficult to do.

I actually helped and worked with Southwest Airlines developing their safety management system that they use. Again, it's very robust. And they manage every risk. They meet weekly to discuss things that might go wrong, extremely proactive. So it's very painful for them to be able to say, hey, we need to step back and maybe have a vote of un- confidence and say, where do we go from here? Maybe there is something we overlooked. Let's look at it again.

CABRERA: Fred, I'm looking at some of these complaints, these past concerns of pilots. And I want to walk through a couple with you.

One says the flight manual is inadequate. There's another one I'm reading where it says, within two to three seconds during takeoff, the autopilot was engaged and -- quote -- "Within two to three seconds, the aircraft pitched nose-down in a manner steep enough to trigger the plane's warning system, which sounded, don't sink, don't sink."

Another complaint saying the fact that this airplane requires such jerry-rigging to fly is a red flag.

What stands out to you here?

TECCE: Well, they all do, quite frankly.

As a pilot -- and what you're talking about, what you're reading from is from what NASA called aviation safety reporting system, which are anonymous things that you give to the government. And there's a different tradeoffs that you get as pilots.

In the old days, they were paper. We would carry them around in our flight bags. What's troubling to me and what you're hearing from these pilots is that this is an operational issue. There are systems on airplanes that do things to kind of keep the pilots out of trouble.

They have what they -- in the old days what they called a stick pusher. If the airplane got too slow, it actually automatically pushed the stick. But there were systems that added to this airplane when Boeing lightened the fuselage and increased the engine size that made it necessary to put on this MAX system.

And what happened is that Boeing sold the airlines on the fact that this was the same type certificate, same type rating, pilots wouldn't need a new one. And this is a training issue. These systems, there are ways to get around them. There's ways to turn off the automation.

But the pilots have to know. And when I hear those comments from those pilots, what they're saying to you is, this airplane is doing stuff that I wasn't expecting it to do and that's a problem for me. And they're absolutely right.

So, grounding it, discretion is always the better part of valor. So for the government to ground this airplane and for Boeing to do it right now is the right move.

CABRERA: David, we also learned today Ethiopia's Transport Ministry is sending these black boxes from the crash to Europe. They wanted them analyzed outside of the U.S. What do you make of that? Are they worried about impartiality?

SOUCIE: No, I wouldn't be.

That community is of the utmost honorable -- I don't know how to put it, but it's unquestionable to me that something would be changed or modified or altered in Europe.

We have sent these boxes to Europe, to Australia, to all over the world, and never had anything like that happen. So the problem with it is just the perception that it might be. And, for that reason, I think it's better that it's not in the United States, because this is where the aircraft was certified.

CABRERA: Today, Senator Richard Blumenthal, he told CNN that the government shutdown may have led the FAA to install and improve this problematic software quicker than it should have.

Is that a possibility, in your eyes, Justin? GREEN: I don't enough about the technicality issue. I have heard

that it's really kind of, the people I have talked to said that it's unlikely that it would have occurred.

But there was a clear concern that during the government shutdown the NTSB wasn't able to investigate other accidents, they weren't able to act on safety issues, so the shutdown is bad for aviation safety. Whether, specifically, it can be tied to what happened here, maybe Senator Blumenthal knows something that I don't know.

CABRERA: All right, thank you all for being with us.

Justin Green. We have Fred Tecce and David Soucie. All of your insights and expertise are very much appreciated.

We're also following two other breaking stories this afternoon. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort hit with new charges in New York today, just minutes after he was sentenced in a D.C. federal courtroom.

Plus, President Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen and the back-channel conversations he set up with the president legal team. You will see the e-mails obtained exclusively by CNN.

Don't go anywhere.



CABRERA: A surprise one-two punch just hit.

Paul Manafort today, near minutes after he received a sentence totaling 7.5 years for federal crimes, Manafort was smacked with another 16 charges. But, this time, they're coming from the Manhattan DA's office for alleged offenses that are out of reach of any presidential pardon.

And moments ago, the president responding to Manafort and the possibility of a pardon, says he hasn't given any of this a thought. And he added this:


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I feel very badly for Paul Manafort. And, you know, he worked for Ronald Reagan very successfully. He worked for John McCain. He worked for Bob Dole and many others for many years.

And I feel badly for him. I think it's a very sad situation. And I saw that just a little while ago. And, certainly, on a human basis, it's a very sad thing. I feel badly for him.


[15:15:05] CABRERA: It is a stunning fall from grace from the man who once ran Trump's campaign.

The 69-year-old felon has gone from buying $15,000 ostrich skin jackets to wearing a federal inmate uniform. Now, just a short time ago, in Manafort's second sentencing in two weeks, Judge Amy Berman Jackson added 43 months to the time he will have to serve. And that's after judge T.S. Ellis gave Manafort 47 months for the financial fraud crimes that he faced last week in Virginia.

Manafort's attorney spoke just after today's sentencing, as critics nearly drowned him out. Listen to this.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not what she said. That's not what she said.

DOWNING: ... that such a callous, harsh sentence that is totally unnecessary.


CABRERA: Manafort's attorney there saying it is a very sad day.

CNN's Pamela Brown is outside the federal courthouse in Washington where Manafort was sentenced. I'm also joined by CNN's crime and justice correspondent, Shimon Prokupecz.

Pamela, first, how did the judge arrive at this sentence?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, it appeared that there were several factors at play with the sentencing today of six years handed down by Judge Amy Berman Jackson.

One thing was clear, though. She was not impressed by Paul Manafort's apology today in court, where he said he was sorry for his actions. Basically, Judge Jackson said it was too little, too late. She said, saying I'm sorry because I got caught is not really a plea for leniency, an inspiring plea for leniency.

And so it appears that that didn't really help his case much. And she went on to really dress him down, as well as Manafort's attorneys, saying that Manafort knew about the crimes he was committing, he knew they were wrong at the time, he continued to commit them, and he committed crimes knowingly even after he pleaded guilty.

She said that did have relevance in her decision today, the fact that he lied after he reached that plea agreement to investigators and, of course, the witness tampering.

But she also tried to strike a balance where she said, he's not a victim, but he's also not public enemy number one. She certainly did not give him the maximum punishment that she could have in this case, but he also singled out his attorneys at one point, saying, the fact that they brought up that there was no Russian collusion in these charges in a court filing was a non sequitur.

She was none too pleased they even brought that up in the first place. Clearly, the subtext of them bringing that up is for political points to appeal to the president, she said, but there was no reason to bring that up. And you heard Manafort's attorney after the sentencing today come out and really go after Judge Jackson, saying that she was callous and once again repeating what we have heard time and time again from Manafort's team, that there was no Russian collusion.

You can only think that he is speaking to an audience of one, and that, of course, is President Trump, Ana.

CABRERA: OK, so let's talk about the new charges, Shimon.

Manafort has not yet entered a plea on them. They relate to mortgages he received on properties in the New York area?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this was a 16-count indictment filed by the Manhattan DA's office in the moments after the judge sentenced Manafort.

And the whole point of this really is to ensure it is pardon-proof, to make sure that Manafort, if the president pardons him later today, pardons him tomorrow, on Monday, that Manafort can't just walk out of prison and be a free man. He's going to have to answer these charges in Manhattan eventually.

Now, what these charges stem from, as you said, these are more financial crimes. Basically, he lied on mortgage applications. He got money and they're saying that it was all lies in how he went about doing this. So it's all financial crimes, very similar to what we saw in the cases that Manafort was just sentenced on.

What's interesting, obviously, is that investigators here want to protect what -- their work and their investigation. And so they're trying to, at least in the case that the president does pardon him, that Paul Manafort will somehow still face some prison time.

So that's what this certainly ensures, that he will have to face a judge and potentially prison time in New York.

CABRERA: All right, Shimon Prokupecz, Pamela Brown, the Manafort case is not over yet. Thank you.

Let's talk more about it with our legal experts.

Nicole Argentieri is a former federal prosecutor in New York, and CNN legal and national security analyst Asha Rangappa is a former FBI special agent.

Ladies, thanks for being with me today.

In the sentence, Asha, and what we heard from the judge, what was the message from that judge today? ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think the

message was that she was being fair and that she was taking into account the severity of his crimes and the actions that he had taken both before and after his trial.


I mean, look, she was in a very difficult position, because I think there was a lot of pressure on her to sort of overcompensate because of this, you know, pretty lenient sentence that was handed down last week. And that really wasn't her job.

Her job is to look at the case before her independently of that. And I think she managed to do that, while also noting that he tampered with witnesses, he lied to the prosecutors, and that that should be taken into account in her sentence as well.

CABRERA: Nicole, talk to me about the significance of these new charges that Manafort is facing here in New York. They're state charges, so, again, we have mentioned a few times that it's out of reach of the presidential pardon, should that be where this is all headed.

But he's facing mortgage fraud, conspiracy, falsifying business records are among the charges. What do you make of these?

NICOLE ARGENTIERI, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: So, I think that what the Manhattan DA was trying to do here was to make sure there wasn't a double jeopardy issue, because sometimes when the state brings charges and they directly relate to a federal crime, they can be double jeopardied out and prevented from bringing the charges.

I think there will be litigation about that on behalf of Manafort and his lawyers. I think they will raise those issues. But I think that that's why you see sort of the falsifying business records. They're trying make this a little bit different, as much as they can, from what he already faced, to sort of avoid the double jeopardy problem.

More practically, Paul Manafort's life is about to get a little bit -- a lot more unpleasant, because now that he has been sentenced, he's going to be removed, probably, to a state facility.

He will be removed in custody, which means that you're traveling sort of with the Marshal Service, you know, at their convenience, which can be very, very uncomfortable. And he's going to be put probably in a state facility, which will be very different from where he's currently housed.

CABRERA: Is the logistics part of the timing here on when they dropped these new charges, literally within minutes of his sentencing, when his federal cases were closed? Or do you think politics were in play here? Because that is what one other attorney I spoke to today believed was behind the timing.

ARGENTIERI: Look, who can say, but for it to be a coincidence might be a little bit crazy. But, for sure, I think what you can take from this is that the

Manhattan DA's office wanted to make sure that these charges were filed and on record before anything else happened with Manafort's case.

CABRERA: OK, Nicole, Asha, stay with me. More to discuss.

Up next, CNN obtained exclusive e-mails sent to Michael Cohen assuring him he has friends in high places. What we have learned about the back channel of communications set up between Cohen and the president's legal team.



CABRERA: We're continuing to follow this breaking news.

CNN has exclusively obtained e-mails sent to Michael Cohen by a lawyer who has longtime connections to Rudy Giuliani. The e-mails appear to show a back channel being established between Donald Trump's legal team and his former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen.

CNN's chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, has this exclusive reporting.

Gloria, walk us through these e-mails.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they contain communications from April 2018 -- and that was, remember, after Michael Cohen's office was raided by the feds -- between Michael Cohen and an attorney named Bob Costello, who is somebody who has close ties to Rudy Giuliani.

And let me just read you a little bit from these communications.

One is: "I spoke with Rudy. Very, very positive. You are loved."

And let me slip down to the last line: "Sleep well tonight. You have friends in high places. Bob."

Then there's another e-mail sent apparently on the same day, but: "I just spoke to Rudy Giuliani and told him I was on your team. He asked me to tell you that he knows how tough this is on you and your family and he will make sure to tell the president. He said, thank you for opening this back channel of communication and asked me to keep in touch."

So, you have these two e-mails, but the interpretation of what they actually mean depends on who you ask.

CABRERA: And you have been asking around. I know you have reached out to Costello, who is the author of these e-mails.

BORGER: Yes. Right.

CABRERA: What is he saying?

BORGER: Well, his explanation of them is pretty simple. He says that Michael Cohen had some concern about his relationship with the White House.

And again, remember, this is at the time when there was still a joint defense agreement. And he was a little concerned because, you know, there had been some stories printed about the president, how he felt about Michael, and Michael, how he felt about the president.

So he said, look, this was simply just right to smooth out this relationship. And as you can see from these quotes, it's like, you are very, very loved. He said it was reassurance more than anything else.

Now, sympathizers of Michael Cohen will say, this is nothing more than an effort to dangle a pardon in front of Michael Cohen without using the word pardon, and to reassure him that if he remained on the president's team, which, as you know, he separated from in the summer of 2018, but if he remained on the president's team, he would have nothing worry about.

CABRERA: Well, all right, thank you for the reporting, Gloria.

Let's break it down with our -- our legal analysts. Asha and Nicole are back with us now.