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Joe Biden's Plan for Presidential Run; New Details on How Boeing Promoted the 737 MAX Jet; Could Trump's Business Filings Reveal More Than His Tax Returns; Is Twitter Amplifying Extreme Political Rhetoric and Conspiracies Theories; Top Marine General Says Border Missions, Storm Damage Pose "Unacceptable Risk to Combat Readiness". Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired March 22, 2019 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I feel like we are sort of repetitive on this. Initially, Joe Biden was going to decide in January. It's moved down the line. Now we are told he may make a decision coming up in the next week or so, perhaps a bit longer. Do not look for an announcement perhaps until the end of April. We

are told that his team might need three weeks or so to get things in place, to have a big rally, to set up fundraisers.

But what's really going on here is Joe Biden sees no urgency to jump in. The question is, will his first day be his best day? After he is in, are his rivals going to start taking shots at him? The president, the White House and others say he does not see a huge urgency. But, boy, Ryan, I think if we slip much beyond the end of April there are going to be questions, is he serious about this. We are told he has not made a definite decision to do this. All things are in place to do it. We have been talking about potentially picking an early V.P. But he has not yet given that signal. Perhaps around Easter, maybe after Easter, we are told -- Ryan?



CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: And, Ryan, just to quickly add to that point, look, Biden -- the knock on Biden for his political career is he makes no decisions until a decision is forced upon him. He really struggles to make a decision. By the time he makes one, it is made for him because the time has grown late. I'm with Jeff. I get that he doesn't need to be in today because he is the best-known candidate. The longer he waits, the more his candidacy gets picked apart and the more doubts are raised about is he actually running?

NOBLES: I feel like the waiting game for Joe Biden's presidential bid goes back to the fall of 2015 when he was still mulling a challenge to Hillary Clinton.


NOBLES: That waiting game continues. How long before people start to get annoyed waiting for him to make a decision one way or another?

Jeff Zeleny, Chris Cillizza, as always, great analysis from both of you.

CILLIZZA: Thank you.


NOBLES: Coming up, newer, more efficient and low-cost rollout. Next, new details on how Boeing sold airlines on the Boeing 737 MAX before those doomed flights.


[11:36:47] NOBLES: Some stunning new information about Boeing and hits, now ground 737 MAX 8, the type of plane at the center of two crash investigations. The details raise questions about whether pilots got enough training before they took Boeing's new aircraft into the skies.

CNN's senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin, has been digging on this story.

Drew, what have you learned?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Ryan, the 737 MAX was promoted as a newer, more efficient version of Boeing's popular plane, the 737. So similar to the older versions of the 737 that only minimal pilot training was required. Boeing's chief test pilot described that training in the interview with saying airlines could take their 737 pilots, give them 2.5 hours of ground training on an iPad, and they would be good to go.


CAPT. ED WILSON, 737 MAX CHIEF PILOT, BOEING: So a pilot can walk into here and will find everything he can, just like he can in the NG. And it's down to roughly, FAA approved this for 2.5 hours of computer- based training for the transition between the two aircraft.


GRIFFIN: From the beginning, it was all about introducing this new plane but at a tremendous cost saving to Boeing, which was reconfiguring engines on an old airplane and to airlines which could assimilate these new planes into their already existing 737 fleet.

Ryan, Boeing's promotional material even talked about the low cost of the rollout. This is what they said: "As you build your 737 MAX fleet, millions of dollars will be saved because of its commonality with the next generation 737."

Pilots, industry unions have told CNN the training was all done on an iPad, no instructors needed, no air time for practice, not even in a simulator for a 737 MAX. Now, to be fair, the U.S.-based pilots we have been talking to say

this 2.5 hours of ground training isn't as bad as it sounds. These planes were so similar that an experienced 737 pilot should have had no problem transitioning to the newer model 737.

But the difference is this MCAS system that we are talking about. The airlines and the pilots had no idea it was on board. They didn't know what it was until that Lion Air crash. That's when Boeing sent out an emergency bulletin warning pilots that the new 737 MAX had a system on board meant as a safety feature but now being investigated for possibly being involved in the two crashes, Ryan, in which this feature, this safety feature may have actually helped steer the planes into a nose dive.

NOBLES: Drew, how could this MCAS system have been on the plane, as far as we know, and the pilots, even the airlines buying the planes didn't know about it?

GRIFFIN: They certainly didn't know about it. I think this gets to the heart of the Boeing-FAA relationship where Boeing basically inspects and certifies its own planes and then the FAA kind of oversees that. But the MCAS system was kind of a stop-gap measure on this particular plane. It was an easy software fix to try to prevent the plane from diving. U.S. pilots say, listen, no matter what that MCAS system was, we were trained to override it. We knew what runaway trim was and we could handle it. But it's going to be part of this investigation -- Ryan?

[11:40:03] Wow. It seems like every day there's a new development to this story.

Drew Griffin, incredible reporting, as always. Thank you.

Coming up, as Democrats push for President Trump's tax returns, some lawmakers say they should be looking at his business filings instead. What could they reveal and what are lawmakers looking for?

But first, just a few months ago, the top-10 "CNN Heroes" of 2018 were honored in New York City for their selfless work helping others those heroes returned home to their communities fired up to expand, grow and reach even more people in need. From Africa to Peru to America's heart land, these heroes continue to make the world a better place.


UNIDENTIFIED CNN HERO: Just since January 1 we have built and delivered 1,100 bunk beds. We have trained 14 new chapters. We are averaging about 15 every other month. We have partnered up with FEMA and the Red Cross and now are offering beds to families that have been affected by disasters across the country.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN HERO: So many have been knocking on our doors. Normally, we look for partners. Now partners are looking for us. Before CNN, (INAUDIBLE). But with the platform we have been given, we are going to 5,000 in one year.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN HERO: We're everyday people, ordinary people, but with big, big hearts wanting to just make a difference.


NOBLES: And for a full update on what the 2018 top-10 heroes are up to and to nominate someone you think should be a "CNN Hero" in 2019, go to


[11:46:11] NOBLES: New this morning, the federal prosecutor in Manhattan who led the criminal prosecution of Michael Cohen will leave his post next month, according to a person familiar with the matter. The source says that Robert Khuzami has not given a reason for his departure from the number-two spot in the Southern District of New York. A source tells CNN he will be succeeded by the office's current counsel, Audrey Strauss.

Critics have been clamoring to see President Trump's tax returns. Now some Democrats apparently want to see more, a lot more. A new report in "Politico" says there are lawmakers in Congress pushing to see Trump's business tax filings, as well. Those documents could be more telling and vastly more complicated than his personal returns.

Brian Faler wrote the article for "Politico." He joins me now from Washington to talk about it.

Brian, the president's political opponents have been after his personal tax returns for a while. Why are Democrats now so interested in his business returns as well?

BRIAN FALER, SENIOR TAX REPORTER, POLITICO: They are getting ready to make the formal request for his returns under this arcane law that they hope to use to seize the president's returns. They are wrestling with the question of, what exactly are we asking for. They want his personal returns but they realize that a lot of the details in his business dealings are going to appear on other filings. And the complication there is that his financial disclosure reports show he has more than 500 partnerships and other types of businesses and each of those would have its own return. If you are going to look at five or 10 years of returns, which is what some want, you can see how the number of returns that they will have to -- the amount of information that they will be sorting through quickly, they are worried about a dump truck worth of tax returns being dumped on them.

NOBLES: Even before they get to that point, though, how difficult will it be for them to acquire this information? Are there legal maneuvers that the president and the White House can -- to put in place to try to prevent that information from coming to the Congress?

FALER: Yes, that's right. They have -- they are working under a number of constraints. One is that they first have to get the information. The administration has signaled that it will fight this in court. We don't know how long that will last. Democrats would like to put something out before next year's election. So that sort of forces you to think about, OK, how long do we think the court battle will last. How much time do we have to look at the returns and does that effect what we request? If we request thousands of returns, are we going to have time to go through them and be able to put something out on a timeline that makes sense for them?

NOBLES: Is it not just the president's returns? Are they interested in perhaps first lady, Melania Trump's, tax history as well?

FALER: It's possible. It's possible. If Melania files separately from the president, but they own businesses together, then you may want her returns, as well. There's other sorts of returns they might want, too. He has trusts that would have their own returns. You might want gift tax returns. He has a foundation that was dissolved that would have its own filings. They are really just wading through, what exactly do we want here and what is doable. Some folks think there should be a very broad investigation, and they can do this, and it's not a big deal if they get 10,000 pages of paper. Others are saying maybe they should take a piecemeal approach where maybe they ask for a sampling of returns and look at those and see where that leads and, if something looks fishy, follow up on that. So that's sort of the calculations that they're going through now.

NOBLES: All right. Interesting report.

Brian Faler, from "Politico," thank you for being here.

FALER: Thanks for having me.

[11:49:59] Coming up, do you noticed tweets on your timeline from users you don't follow. A new CNN report reveals how the social media site is actually amplifying extreme political rhetoric. We'll have more on that when we come back.


[11:55:04] NOBLES: Giving voice to extremism and paranoia, whether you like it or not. A new CNN report just published this morning shows how Twitter is amplifying extreme political rhetoric and conspiracy theories, and the evidence is as close as your cell phone.

CNN senior media reporter, Oliver Darcy, has been gathering the facts and he's here to talk about it.

Oliver, explain how this algorithm impacts the content user sees and how they're amplifying this extreme political rhetoric.

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER Some very ugly rhetoric. Basically, the way it works is, if I follow you and you follow this crazy conspiracy theorist on line who has a tweet that does really well, Twitter might inject that tweet into my feed, even if I do not directly follow them, I only follow you. They're trying to show relevant context to users that you don't normally see so maybe you'll follow that account. But what it's doing, unintentionally, is amplifying a lot of extreme political rhetoric on line, conspiracy theories, misinformation and sometimes just flat-out lies. I got one in my feed the other day that called Hillary Clinton the governor of ISIS. There are tweets that I have cast doubt on the legitimacy of the U.S. elections. A whole lot of stuff out there. But it is meant to show relevant content, and it's supposed to be a good feature, and I think sometimes it can be, but there's a down side here.

NOBLES: It's interesting because part of what these social media networks pride themselves on is a free flow of information, but this has become an increasing problem, right? How is Twitter responding to this?

DARCY: Twitter says they're trying to improve this situation. In a statement, they did say, "Our efforts should not amplify behavior that is meant to intimidate, harass or threaten others. We will continue to work to improve our efforts here. And people will always have the option of turning off our curation if they don't want to see content from the people they follow."

I'll note, though, while they do have the option of turning this off, it is automatically on for everyone, so it's still going to amplify this information even if you or I turn it off. A lot of people will still see this inflammatory political rhetoric, conspiracy theories, and they normally would not see them because they don't follow those accounts.

NOBLES: And most people probably have no idea they can turn that off.

DARCY: Right.

NOBLES: I'm a frequent Twitter user. You're informing me of this for the first time.


NOBLES: You also have some interesting reporting on another topic, misinformation about vaccines and how that continues to flourish on places like Facebook and Instagram, even though they promised to crack down on it.

DARCY: It's another example of misinformation flowing free on the social media platforms. Facebook promised to crack down on this over two weeks ago. I just searched on Instagram a few moments ago to see if there was vaccine misinformation. Still a lot coming up when you search vaccine stuff. I'm not sure what the holdup is on this. It's in plain daylight, but Facebook says it's going to be working hard on this.

NOBLES: OK. Oliver Darcy, a lot of good information. Thank you for being here. We appreciate it.

DARCY: Thank you.

NOBLES: A warning now from the nation's highest-ranking Marine officer. He says U.S. troop readiness is at risk, in part, because of President Trump's decision to deploy Marines to the southern border and using billions from the defense budget to help pay for his border wall.

CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, joins us with more on this.

Barbara, what are you learning about this? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. This is

General Robert Neller, the commandant of the Marine Corps. Important to know that he is, even for a Marine, one of the most plain-spoken generals out there. He has sent a letter to Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan warning that some of these unplanned, unbudgeted expenses that are being put on the Marine Corps could, in fact, hurt what he calls combat readiness, expressing a lot of concern that money is going out the door and Marines will not have the funding they need for exercises, training and even potentially deployment.

General Neller cites, as you say, Ryan, a couple of things. He talks about some of the things that are impacting the corps. The deployment of Marines to the border to support the president's immigration policy and effort, plus the potential that some projects that the Marines were planning to spend money on could even potentially be canceled to help fund the border wall.

But he also makes a really interesting point, that the Marines have got to spend some money now to repair hurricane damage that they have suffered, especially in places like Camp Lejeune, and that they need possibly $1 billion to $2 billion or more to repair some of that hurricane damage.

What this is all underscoring is a lot of money going out the door for a lot of unplanned, unexpected projects, and what the commandant of the Marine Corps is saying is, wait a minute, we still need money to train the troops and be able to deploy troops where they're needed -- Ryan?

NOBLES: Barbara, quickly, how out of the ordinary is it for a general like this to speak out like this?

STARR: Usually, these things are sort of quiet conversations. General Neller wrote a memo. It did leak to the news media. This is a guy very plain-spoken. And he is actually expected to retire, regularly scheduled retirement, in the coming months.