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Conway vs. Conway; New Information Emerges on Boeing Crashes; Republican Senator Rebukes Trump Over McCain Attacks. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 20, 2019 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:20]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STAFF. SGT. ROB CESTERNINO, U.S. ARMY: Keep the gloves up, Shift (ph). Keep your hands up.

(LAUGHTER)

R. CESTERNINO: Come on, Shift. Come on. Is that all you got?

LUCA CESTERNINO, 9 YEARS OLD: Daddy?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

R. CESTERNINO: You are such a big boy. (INAUDIBLE) I am so proud of you.

Wow. You still don't keep your guard up when you punch.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, my goodness. I'm such a softy for this kind of thing.

Luca said he knew it was his dad when he heard his nickname, Shift, because that is what his dad has always called him since he was a little boy.

So, we continue. You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being here.

Moments ago, a consistent Trump supporter in and out of Congress delivered on his promise to unleash a -- quote, unquote -- "whipping" against the president. I'm talking about Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia. He is outraged by the president's criticism of the late Senator John McCain.

The president, as you know, doubled down on his criticism of McCain, saying that he will never be a fan of the war hero and Senate stalwart. Senator Isakson, a Georgia Republican, just rebuked the president on public radio.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R), GEORGIA: It's deplorable, what he said. That's what I called it from the floor of the Senate seven months ago.

It will be deplorable -- deplorable seven months from now, if he says it again. And I will continue to speak out, because there's one thing that we got to do. You may not like immigration, you may not like this, you may not like. You may be a Republican, maybe not, be a Democrat. We're all Americans.

There aren't Democratic casualties and Republican casualties on the battlefield. There are American casualties. And we should never reduce the service that people give to this country, including the offering of their own life, to anything like political fodder.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: I want to start here.

Gloria Borger is with me, our CNN chief political analyst. And Michael Smerconish is here, our political commentator and host of CNN's "SMERCONISH" on Saturday mornings.

And so, Gloria, just first to you, and, obviously, good on Senator Isakson for speaking up, using his powerful voice for something like this. And I think of the Mitt Romney tweet today. I think of Mitch McConnell, who mentioned McCain, no mention of President Trump.

So many Republicans specifically have been so silent.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they -- not only silent on McCain, but silent on a lot of things that they privately don't like about Donald Trump.

A bunch of them, about a dozen of them, voted against the national emergency declaration in the Senate. And that -- that was a large number for Senate Republicans. But on something like this, which is so simple, I think the only explanation is that people are afraid of getting primaried on the right, and that Donald Trump has an over 80 percent popularity with the Republican Party.

He is the Republican Party right now. And senators don't want to get crosswise, even on an issue like this, where you have an American hero who has passed away and a family who is still mourning his death. It's kind of astonishing to me.

BALDWIN: As part of the fallout, Michael, we were showing Cindy McCain tweeted just disgusting, nasty, disparaging comments that she's been on the receiving end of, just showing how low this country has gone over McCain.

I mean, we could make lists, right, of the ugliness that we cover each and every day. And you hosting your show, you're on the receiving end of so many callers. I'm just wondering why you think -- the nastiness has always been there, right? Like, the hate is not new, but it's the sense that people feel so free to speak this way. I'm just wondering why you think that is.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think because, largely, it works. I'm not saying that it works in this instance from the president.

But I think that it works politically. We all talk about how we hate negative advertising, and yet it never ceases in a campaign. I agree with Gloria in terms of why the Republicans are gutless to stand up to the president.

[15:05:01]

Take a look at that Mitch McConnell tweet.

BALDWIN: Right.

SMERCONISH: How weak could it have been?

And not only are they afraid to confront him in this circumstance, but the only reason that they did so relative to the border and the so- called national emergency is because they get to defend their conservative bona fides by saying, in this instance, we didn't want to set a bad precedent.

So that was kind of a gimme.

BALDWIN: So, does this come back to bite them?

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Here's what I -- I ask myself this. What's the upside for the president? I don't see it.

In many prior instances where we have spoken of his politically incorrect speech, when he had said something offensive, in the back of my mind, I say, for better or worse, there's a constituency that responds to that.

For the life of me -- maybe Gloria knows -- where is the constituency that applauds him taking on a deceased war hero? I don't get it.

BORGER: And this is Donald Trump, who says he's been great for the veterans and has disparaged John McCain's role in helping veterans in the past.

And there are veterans out there who feel completely demoralized by what the president is saying. And if he thinks that's a key constituency of his -- and it might be -- I don't think this does anything to help them -- I think -- help him.

I think this is all about Donald Trump's inability to let anything go. And every story, even John McCain's POW story, even John McCain's death, is about him. And why somebody from the Senate hasn't said, Mr. President, you didn't go to war because you falsely claimed you had bone spurs, and John McCain spent five years as a POW and refused release when they offered it to.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Why aren't they saying that?

BALDWIN: Right. To Michael's point, where was that in Mitch McConnell's tweet?

BORGER: Exactly.

BALDWIN: I want to move on and ask you guys about that the president also is on the attack against another Republican, the husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway.

George Conway has questioned the president's mental stability after Trump's 40-plus-tweet binge over the weekend. It spewed this long list of grievances. And the president is not about to let this feud go. So this is what he said just a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don't know him. I -- yes, don't know him. He's a whack job. There's no question about it. But I really don't know him.

He -- I think he's doing a tremendous disservice to a wonderful wife. Kellyanne is a wonderful woman. And I call him Mr. Kellyanne.

The fact is that he's doing a tremendous disservice to a wife and family. She's a wonderful woman.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: In addition to the president's tweet this morning, Trump called George Conway a -- quote, unquote -- "stone-cold loser and husband from hell."

Now, George Conway hasn't taken to the cameras, but he sent this countertweet, speaking directly to the president, saying, "You. Are. Nuts."

And before this whole back and forth between these two, Dana Bash actually spoke with Kellyanne Conway for her series "Badass Women of Washington." And you can watch that on CNN.com.

But here's -- here's part of what she said about her husband's criticism of the president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE CONWAY, HUSBAND OF KELLYANNE CONWAY: Now we have a president who's actually criticized his own attorney general.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Watch TV and Twitter lately, and one of Trump's most vicious critics is her own husband, George, striking hard and deep with his latest attack on the president's mental state, calling it narcissistic personality disorder.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: No, I don't share those concerns. And I was getting -- I have four kids, and I was getting them out of the house this morning before I got here, so I could talk to the president about substance.

BASH: We spoke before the latest drama, but well after her husband started going after her boss, which she says she didn't see coming.

K. CONWAY: George was so excited, literally crying with joy in his MAGA hat, black not, red, but his MAGA hat, on election night.

And so, in that way, he's changed. He's changed his opinion on, I guess, matters where the president -- the presidency -- but I haven't and Donald Trump hasn't.

TRUMP: You mean Mr. Kellyanne Conway?

BASH (on camera): The day that he was out on the South Lawn, and he called George Mr. Kellyanne Conway struck me. Sounded like he was sending a message.

K. CONWAY: I thought it was him being Donald J. Trump. It was clever. It's an unusual situation, especially in politics or Washington, and certainly in Republican politics, for your husband to get his notoriety and power through his wife. It's usually the other way around.

It's funny because people say, George and you should come to Harvard and speak side by side, and you should do all that. And I think, OK, but then I would have to give him my power.

BASH (voice-over): The president and top allies, restrained before, are stepping up their response to George Conway on Twitter and rallying around her personally, as a mother of four children.

[15:10:05]

K. CONWAY: These children, they're now 14, 14, 10, and 9, and so they're all old enough to read everything, and they're all old enough to have embraced D.C. as home, which took a while, especially for one of my children. It took a long time, because...

BASH: It's a tough age to move.

(CROSSTALK)

K. CONWAY: It's a tough age to move down there. And let's face it. It is the rare occasion where a family is moving for mom's job.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BALDWIN: Now there's this, this additional layer today from this -- for this back and forth.

Kellyanne Conway is now responding. Moments ago, Politico posted its interview with her.

And so she says of the president -- quote -- "He left it alone for months out of respect for me. But you think he shouldn't respond when somebody, a non-medical professional, accuses him of having a mental disorder? You think he should just take that sitting down?"

Michael Smerconish and Gloria Borger back with me.

And, first of all, I'm so glad in Dana's piece that she mentions the kids. So there are four children who she says are old enough to understand and read all of what's going on.

So, number one, I'm mindful of them. Number two, not my business what's going on behind closed doors in a marriage, but what is all of our business is the president of the United States speaking disparagingly about this man, and then also George Conway showing the medical journal and questioning whether or not the president's nuts, Gloria.

What is going on?

BORGER: Well, look, it's hard to know. And this thing has obviously kind of escalated.

And I believe that if I were Kellyanne, I'd be upset at my husband. But George Conway feels very, very strongly about this, and he's giving Trump a taste of his own medicine, right? Trump likes to call people names.

George Conway has done the same and feels strongly about this. I can only imagine the stress this causes in their marriage. But there was something so interesting to me about what Donald Trump said.

First of all, he thinks that calling George Conway Mr. Kellyanne Conway is great. I think it's a little sexist, don't you, Brooke?

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: It's like an insult out of the 1950s, OK?

BORGER: Exactly, like the husband -- yes.

BALDWIN: Yes.

BORGER: And then the other thing was, he called George Conway the husband from hell.

Well, pot-kettle issue here? I mean, would we say that Donald Trump has been the greatest husband to Melania Trump, knowing what we know about the hush money payments to these women?

BALDWIN: Right.

BORGER: I rest my case.

BALDWIN: Well-played, Gloria Borger, times two. Michael Smerconish, what do you think?

SMERCONISH: They're not the only couple in America that disagree relative to the president of the United States. Let's get that out of the way.

BORGER: That's true.

BALDWIN: OK.

SMERCONISH: Of course, what separates them is her working in such close proximity.

Two reactions. One, where do I buy the Conway book? Because among all the books that are going to come out about the Trump presidency, the one I'm going to buy independent bookstore to buy is theirs.

And, two, Gloria mentions sexism. And I keep wondering, what if the genders were reversed? What if you had a wife being so openly critical of the boss of a husband working for a president? I think there'd be a hue and cry against her, which would be sexist.

And I'm kind of surprised that it's been a tepid reaction to George stepping out with regard to loyalty to his wife.

BALDWIN: Tepid reaction from whom? That's not tepid from the president.

SMERCONISH: Well, not from the president, no.

BALDWIN: Everyone else?

SMERCONISH: But I guess I can only imagine, Brooke, the phone calls that I would be taking if in fact the gender were reversed and it was the wife being critical. I think people would be saying, what's with her, et cetera, et cetera?

BALDWIN: Right. Right.

BORGER: I think that's a good point. I think that's a good point.

BALDWIN: Yes.

BORGER: And I think maybe there is more outrage now.

BALDWIN: To be had.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Yes, it's just hard to say. She has a very visible role. And the president is out there defending her. So maybe supporters of the president will defend her.

But there are lots of people who may privately agree with what George Conway is saying. It's hard to know.

BALDWIN: Again, our kids, 14, 14, 10, and 9. All right. Let me leave it there.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Gloria and Michael, thank you so much.

And, of course, we will be watching Michael Smerconish every Saturday morning 9:00 a.m. here on CNN. Thanks, guys, very much.

Coming up next: President Trump simultaneously attacking the Mueller report and saying he doesn't mind if it's made public. Details on the clues we have about what the special counsel's team has been up to.

Live pictures there, as he's about to speak in Lima, Ohio.

Plus, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas asking a rare question today involving a case involving racial bias. Hear what happened.

And, later, chilling details about what was happening in the final moments before that first crash last fall of a Boeing MAX 8, pilots reportedly scrambling to search their manuals as the Lion Air flight careened out of the sky.

[15:15:00]

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: We have no idea what is going to be in this Mueller report or when it will be released. Let me just point that out. We don't know if there are more indictments in the works or who could be under the scrutiny of the special counsel.

But here's what we do know today. President Trump wants you to see it. Listen to what he said just a little bit ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Does the American public have a right to see the Mueller report?

TRUMP: I don't mind. I mean, frankly, I told the House, if you want, let them see it. Let it come out. Let people see it.

That's up to the attorney general. We have a very good attorney general. He's a very highly respected man. And we will see what happens.

[15:20:01]

But it's sort of interesting that a man, out of the blue, just writes a report.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BALDWIN: Jennifer Rodgers is a former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst.

And that's significant, right, to hear that from the president today. And I'm wondering if this is a little bit of good cop/bad cop, in the sense that the president can say, see, I want the people to see it. Oh, but, by the way, what we have been reporting in the last couple of days is that these White House lawyers want to be able to cite executive privilege.

They want to get that report from Bill Barr before it goes out to Congress. So, how do you square that?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I put this in the same bucket as when he was talking about that he really wanted to sit down with Mueller, but the bad lawyers were not letting him do so.

It's easy for him to come out and say, sure, I'd like the public to see it. Of course I have nothing to hide. But White House counsel is going to have some executive privilege issues.

So that's what we're seeing here.

BALDWIN: Which they likely will, and that is entirely legal, correct?

RODGERS: That's right. I mean, so there's the president and his own personal interests, which are being protected by his personal lawyers, like Rudy Giuliani.

BALDWIN: Yes.

RODGERS: And then there's the White House counsel.

And their job is not to protect the president, per se. It's to protect the presidency, the institution. So when they do things like assert executive privilege, it's because they don't want to set a precedent for later presidents having to turn things over.

So that's really what they are looking at, which is why there might ultimately actually be a little bit of tension between what the president wants for his own personal purposes and what the White House counsel wants.

BALDWIN: Gotcha. Gotcha.

Let's talk now about the president's good friend the New England Patriots owner, Bob Kraft. He has been charged. We have been covering the whole story out of Florida with the spa. He has been charged with two counts of soliciting restitution.

CNN has learned that he plans to reject the plea deal from prosecutors. Why?

RODGERS: It's a misdemeanor that he's been charged with, and it doesn't have anything to do with the sex trafficking that allegedly was going on there. It's just soliciting prostitution, as you said.

I think he's just negotiating, really. So he has some collateral consequences here that the other men who were swept up in this do not because he has to deal with the NFL. So they're going to be looking at whether he violated their morality club, essentially, and they could punish him as an owner of the football team, right?

So if he takes this plea deal, which doesn't result in a conviction, and certainly wouldn't result in any time or anything like that, but requires him to agree that, if he had gone to trial, he would have been convicted, the NFL is done. They know what they need to know. They can go ahead and punish him.

So I think he's hoping -- he's holding out a little bit, hoping for maybe a resolution that doesn't require him to admit anything. And that requires the NFL basically to do their own investigation and maybe allows him a little more wiggle room in those negotiations.

BALDWIN: Got it, so potentially more about the NFL, if this is a misdemeanor, than what's actually happening in Florida with his case.

RODGERS: I think so.

BALDWIN: OK, Jennifer Rodgers, thank you for that.

RODGERS: Thanks. Thanks.

BALDWIN: Next, new details about the warning signs that came before to Boeing MAX 8 jets crashed. In the case of Lion Air, we're learning an off-duty pilot saved that very same plane from crashing one day before it plunged into the ocean, killing 189 people on board.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:27:40]

BALDWIN: Just a week after the FAA grounded all Boeing 737 MAX airplanes following two deadly crashes in five months, new revelations today about that first crash.

Bloomberg is reporting that one day before October's Lion Air crash in Indonesia, a flight crew experienced the exact same safety issue on the exact same plane. But an off-duty pilot was able to disable the malfunctioning system and save the flight.

CNN's Melissa Bell is analyzing new reporting about the very next day and what the pilots were doing in the moments before their death.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This was all that was left of Lion Air Flight 610, which crashed into the Java Sea last October, debris picked through by the families of some of the 189 people who died on board.

At fault, according to a preliminary report, an automated safety system on the Boeing 737 MAX 8 triggered by a faulty reading from a single sensor. Reuters reporting that a chilling recording of the cockpit in the last few minutes before the crash shows pilots desperately looking through a handbook to try and figure out how to disable the system that was reportedly forcing the nose of the plane downwards.

That same plane, according to fresh reporting from Bloomberg, also encountering the very same problem the day before on a flight from Bali to Jakarta, but saved by an extra pilot who happened to be hitching a lift in the cockpit, news made all the more important by the crash on March 10 of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 that killed 156 people, a flight of the same type of Boeing and, according to preliminary data from the black boxes, one that followed a similar trajectory to the doomed Lion Air flight.

Those black boxes now being looked into here at the BEA on the outskirts of Paris. Its former head spoke to CNN about the questions now facing Boeing.

JEAN-PAUL TROADEC, FORMER PRESIDENT, FRENCH AVIATION SAFETY AGENCY: The measures taken by Boeing after the first accident were not enough to avoid the second accident.

BELL (on camera): But the questions are not only for Boeing, with the Transportation Department now probing why the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration authorized, certified a system that was based on the readings of a single sensor, with many questions now being asked about how much of that certification process was handed directly to Boeing.

Melissa Bell, CNN, Paris.

(END VIDEOTAPE)