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White House Official: Heated Debate in Trump Administration Over Obamacare, CNN: Boeing to Brief Pilots, Regulators on 737 Max Software Fix, Prosecutor Who Dropped Charges: Smollett Isn't Innocent, DOJ: Details of Mueller Report to be Issued in weeks, Not Months, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) Kentucky Again Blocks Effort to Release Mueller Report. Aired 10-10:30 ET

Aired March 27, 2019 - 10:00   ET

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


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: With the President's push to strike down the entire Affordable Care Act that the decision caused a heated debate among presidents, among members of the President's own team.

[10:00:10]

Politico reporting that two key officials, the new Attorney General, William Barr, and Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex Azar, argued against the move since there is no republican healthcare plan to replace it. A big question, what effect will it have on more than 50 million other Americans who are protected under provisions protecting those with pre-existing conditions?

Joining me now is CNN's Jeremy Diamond. He's live at the White House. He broke this story here. So a division inside the White House on this, but the president going ahead, attempting to knock this whole Obamacare plan in effect down.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Jim. This all started back in December when a federal judge in Texas ruled that the entire Affordable Care Act should be struck down in its entirety. And that set off, according to a White House official I spoke with, a heated debate in this administration over what exactly to do going forward, whether the administration should support this, ruling striking down the entirety of this healthcare law, or whether it should maintain its previous position, which was that only certain parts of that healthcare law should be invalidated? And this all culminated on Monday in a legal filing by the Justice Department, which said essentially that it did agree with this federal judge's ruling striking down this healthcare law in its entirety.

Now, this is setting off some consternation among republicans and it is part of the reason why there was such an intense debate in the administration because, as of now, there is no clear republican alternative to Obamacare. So if this law is indeed struck down, if it is upheld through the appeals process, that ruling, well, then 20 million Americans could lose their health insurance.

As of now, the President has not put forward a clear plan as to what exactly would be the replacement there. But he did say yesterday -- he did seem to be excited about this new debate over healthcare, saying that he believes the Republican Party will become the party of healthcare. And this is all setting up for healthcare to be a central part of that debate heading into the 2020 reelection campaign.

Democrats, of course, have been energized by this issue of healthcare. And now, this is just putting it all the more at center stage. And as of now, this administration is working to find some kind of alternative that it can really put forward here working with Congress. But, as of now, that has yet to emerge, Jim.

So, as you mentioned, 20 million Americans, their healthcare coverage could be at risk if this decision is upheld.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And more than 50 million people who enjoy the benefits for pre-existing conditions and a whole lot of other changes that affect more people. Jeremy Diamond, thanks very much.

Two major events today are rolling out. Critical repairs to the Boeing 737 Max 8 and the aircraft certification process, in general. In Washington State, Boeing will unveil, what it says, is a software fix for an anti-stall device that investigators see as a possible cause of two recent deadly crashes, hundreds killed.

In Washington, D.C. as well, a Senate panel is set to grill regulators on the longstanding practice of letting the manufacturers vouch for the safety of their own airplanes. Imagine that? The head of the FAA is expected to promise significant changes. CNN's Jessica Schneider has more on all of this.

So, Jessica, first, let's start with Boeing. Boeing finally, you might say, coming out with what it says, is a fix to correct problems that may have led to two fatal crashes. How do we know this fix is going to work if it's the airline that is saying it works?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's actually up to the FAA. So Boeing will be submitting this software fix to the FAA, and that process will continue. And meantime, Boeing is actually not only going to be working on the software fix, but also doing this massive outreach. They're hosting 200 pilots and industry stakeholders at their facility outside of Seattle today. And that's where they assemble the 737 Max.

So this is a session that will center on the 737 Max itself as well as this planned software update. So we have learned that the company plans to submit it to the FAA by the end of this week. And this is really a software update that could resolve those issues that aviation authorities believe led to the crash of that Lion Air flight in Indonesia back in October when investigators say that it was a malfunctioning sensor that fed incorrect to this system. And the software system pushed the nose of the plane down while the pilots fought to correct course

So we have learned software designers, they actually first submitted this first version of the software fix the FAA back on January 21st. Interestingly, that was nearly two months before that second crash in Ethiopia, that's still being investigated. And, Jim, this software fix, the first version of it -- we'll get the second version later this week. The first version was submitted to the U.S. government, the FAA, when the government was actually shutdown.

[10:05:04]

The FAA is saying, no, the shutdown had no impact on the rolling out of this new software. But no doubt, there will be a lot of questions for the FAA today.

SCIUTTO: So on that, so the issue of the plane, then you have a the bigger issue of how planes across the board are certified here. And I've been surprised as to learn this in the story that the manufactures, in effect, police themselves on this. Is that something that could change as a result of this, whether in this or following this senate hearing? Is that something that they're considering?

SCHNEIDER: Well, it seems that the acting FAA administrator might give a hint that there are some potential changes coming to this self- certification process because we've seen his planned testimony, his opening remarks. And that seems to be the case that they're going to be changing the self-certification process that Boeing did use with this 737 Max approval process, hinting that the changes will actually be coming this summer.

And, as such, in the testimony today, we're expecting the acting administrator, per his testimony, will acknowledge that the agency's oversight really needs to evolve after these two fatal crashes involving the Boeing 737 Max.

But at the same time, Jim, I've read the remarks, about ten pages worth. And we know the acting FAA administrator will also be defending this self-certification. They say it was a lengthy review process over a number of years for the 737 Max. So these will be in the opening remarks, but there will, no doubt, be a lot of questions from these senators asking about this process and, of course, the staffing levels of the FAA as well, whether or not they are prepared to handle what's a very intricate process here. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Well, what's the background of the current acting FAA commissioner?

SCHNEIDER: He is still in an acting capacity. That's maybe one of the issues for the agency itself that they don't have a director who's permanent and in place. He could face some scrutiny. The administration could face some scrutiny for not making that more of a priority. This is a hearing that could potentially have some fireworks here, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Jessica Schneider, thanks very much.

Other story we're following this morning, in an interview, the prosecutor who dropped, I might say, surprisingly dropped all the charges against Jussie Smollett says he still thinks the actor is guilty.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think Mr. Smollett did what he was charged with doing?

JOSEPH MAGATS, COOK COUNTY FIRST ASSISTANT STATE'S ATTORNEY: Yes. We stand behind the CPD's investigation in this case, the great work, the tremendous work that they did in investigating this case.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you consider him innocent?

MAGATS: No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Okay. So why were the charges dropped? The investigations are not done. Now, the fraternal order of police, Chicago's police union is demanding a probe into the Cook County State Attorney's Office in this decision.

CNN National Correspondent Ryan Young following these developments. As you heard, Rahm Emanuel the mayor, the police superintendent, they are outraged by this decision. How did this happen?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I was standing there on the edge of that news conference yesterday. I was quite shocked by all the running around we did because even was surprised that these charges were dropped. And I think in this case, Jim, there are no winners here, not for the city, not the police department. Even Jussie, to a certain extent, didn't win here. Yes, the charges were dropped, but you've got to think about this.

First of all, his voice has been magnified because so many people rushed to judgment when he first put out that first bit of information, when someone thought that he had been attacked, a noose had been put around his neck. You saw people even running for president come to his defense and basically call this a modern day lynching. And then from there, you had 12 detectives working this case all around the clock to try to figure out who did this to Jussie Smollett.

And then they found two guys from -- who had gone to Nigeria. When they got back, the police department arrested the Osundairo brothers. They had them detained. And in the 47th hour of holding them, before they had to release them, they started giving up information that they were able to sort of turn this entire case and start pointing to Jussie Smollett.

And I don't think we'll ever forget because we were live when this happened, Jim, when the police superintendent stood up there and gave that lengthy explanation about what they believe was the push in this case, that Jussie Smollett, according to police, wanted more money and he used this to get attention.

All of this has been swirling for quite some time. The entire time Smollett's team has been saying he's innocent. And if you think about this, they wanted cameras in the courtroom so the world could see how he was innocent. And this, all of a sudden, the charges were dropped, emergency hearing. We were quite surprised.

Listen to Rahm Emanuel, the Mayor of Chicago, talk about this and how it looks on this city.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL (D), :CHICAGO: You have the State Attorney's Office saying he's not exonerated. He actually did commit this hoax. He's saying he's innocent and his words are true. They better get their story straight because this is actually making fools of all of us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YOUNG: Yes. There's some hard feelings when it comes to this story because there're so many people who want answers. Let's not forget that this case has been sealed. So, as a reporter, I can't go down there and look at all the evidence that they gathered in this case, those detectives working.

[10:10:03]

I think they spent more than $100,000 working on this case. It would be interesting to see what happens next.

Don't forget the two brothers involved in this case that talked to the grand jury, they have never talked before. It would be really interesting to get them in front of a camera to ask them the questions about what police actually think they know.

SCIUTTO: No question. Ryan Young, thanks very much.

Let's speak to CNN Legal Analyst and Civil Rights Attorney, Riva Martin. Riva, thanks very much. It sounds like the prosecutor's argument here is that for similar crimes like this, they're often not prosecuted or not sentenced with jail time, et cetera. And therefore, though they

think he's guilty of this, they're not going further. is that a fair argument in your view?

RIVA MARTIN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Yes. I think that's an accurate assessment, Jim, of how the prosecutor's office is spinning this. But I have to tell you that I think the prosecutor's office just gave themselves a big black eye. Their handling of this matter has just been astonishing and I would even go so far as to say incompetent.

Yes, there are cases like this where you have a low level offense like this is being called by this prosecutor's office where you have an individual that doesn't have a criminal past, where they haven't been involved in any violent crime where they are allowed to do community service, pay a fine and they don't receive any jail time. Yes, we're all familiar with those cases. We've seen them. But there are so many differences to this case.

One, you have this emergency hearing that wasn't on the court's docket. You saw the prosecutors come out and read the charges filed against Jussie Smollett in the beginning of this case, but yet they didn't do the same kind of press conference when they came to this agreement to drop the charges. That causes us to be concerned about the lack of transparency there.

Secondly, you have communication with the highest level elected official in that state Attorney's Office. Someone from Jussie's family reached out to her. She has text messages. She has phone calls with that individual. That's not afforded to the regular defendant on the street. The regular defendant on the street, the regular person that gets involved in the criminal justice system doesn't have the ability to contact the elected state's attorney. And that's what's causing folks to say this is a form of celebrity justice.

So the lack of transparency, I think, more than anything is what's bothering people about the way this case was ultimately resolved.

SCIUTTO: So it sounds on the flip side. So Smollett's team saying that when you had that police superintendent come out in that really dramatic press conference, it was on our air live as it happened, and lay out the case and also deliver a bit of anger and frustration there and talk about the waste of police resources. It sounds like their argument is that the police got ahead of things here and I suppose you might say prejudiced the case. I mean, is that a fair criticism from their side?

MARTIN: Well, I think that's a fair criticism from their side in terms of how the police handled it. Yes, that police chief was outraged. Yes, he gave lots of details about the evidence that had obtained. But let's face it. This is a high profile individual. He made some very salacious charges about a hate crime. We know in this country hate crimes are on the rise. These are very serious crimes that should be taken seriously. And when anyone makes an allegation of a hate crime, they should be believed and all resources should be deployed to investigate that crime.

And we can't forget Jussie himself, he went on television to talk about this, so we can't just say the police engaged in a media campaign because Jussie also wanted the media to be intimately involved in this case. So when you have a high profile individual, you can expect there to be media surrounding the case.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And as you make the point, the one thing not in dispute by either side is that he faked that claim. And prosecutors seem to be supporting that as well. Riva Martin, thanks very much.

MARTIN: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: Still to come, weeks, not months, that's how long it could take for the public, you and me, to finally see the full Mueller report, not just Bill Barr's interpretation of it.

Plus, ahead, a potential 2020 run, Joe Biden addresses one of the most controversial chapters from his political past. That is Anita Hill's testimony in 1991, his reaction to it. Here is what he's saying about it now.

And extreme measures are being taken in one New York county to contain an outbreak of measles. A live report on that story coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:15:00]

[10:18:42] SCIUTTO: The Justice Department says it will take weeks, not months, for Attorney General William Barr to make a public version of Robert Mueller's full report, this as political reports that the House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved legislation demanding more details specifically on the obstruction of justice investigation into the President.

Let's discuss with a member of that committee, Democratic Congressman for the State of Tennessee, Steve Cohen. Congressman, we appreciate you joining this morning.

REP. STEVE COHEN (D), T.N.: You're welcome, Jim. Nice to be here.

SCIUTTO: First, just some news came in the last few minutes, and that is that Senator Mitch McConnell, the GOP leader in the Senate has blocked another attempt by democrats there to vote on a resolution to make the Mueller report public. Your reaction?

COHEN: Well, I think this whole thing has been a charade. Bill Barr was appointed to give this type of analysis, quote, unquote, of the Mueller report. And it really discredits and is an undoing of what Bob Mueller has spent 22 months doing, and for him to sum it up in a three-page report. And I think this is continuing. Republicans in the House voted to say it should be made public. Trump said he'd let them do it. I think he knew that McConnell wouldn't let it go through the Senate.

[10:20:00]

If there's nothing in the report that will make people think there was obstruction of justice and/or conspiracy with some members of the Trump administration, it should be allowed for the public to see it. The fact that they don't want the public to see it makes you think they know this was all a whitewash and a charade.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, because, as you note, we're only seeing Bill Barr's, the President's appointee's interpretation of Mueller's fuller -- much fuller report here. With that said, we do know that Robert Mueller did not make a determination on whether the President committed obstruction of justice, presented information, evidence, on both sides of that argument and specifically said he was not exonerating the President. I wonder, in your view, by not making that determination, punting it in effect to a man appointed by this President, if you think the Special Counsel failed in his duties by not making a recommendation?

COHEN: Well, I'm not sure why Robert Mueller didn't take the position. I believe in previous independent counsel, and this is the Special Counsel, they have not come to conclusions of law necessarily. They put it up there for the Congress to look at in terms of impeachment and thought it was the congressional decision to work on their investigative material. I don't know that Mueller intended or thought that Bill Barr would interfere and jump into the breach and give his analysis rather than allow it to go to Congress, who would make the analysis. I suspect that's what he wanted.

On the other hand, there have been reports that three weeks ago, Mueller told Barr that he would not take a position. And that certainly set up the ball. I mean, I think what Neal Katyal [ph] just said, he was passing the ball to Congress and Barr intercepted it. It may have been that he was a place kick holder and was waiting for Barr to kick the field goal. I don't know.

SCIUTTO: Well, I mean, Congress still has an opportunity when it see this report to make its own judgment. But you know politically patience is running thin. You're hearing it from voters. I imagine it. We're certainly seeing it in polling here. Folks placed this investigation very low down on their list of priorities. Is there any political motivation, any political momentum to pursuing this further? Or as a practical matter, is it done?

COHEN: I don't think it's done. I think it's been an injustice, because I think this has been a charade pulled off by Trump and some group that helped get Bill Barr and do this. I don't think you can ever let charades that hurt democracy and take away the people's opportunity through transparent government to see the product that they paid for succeed. So I think it's important and I think, politically, it's important to show that the democrats have integrity, that members of Congress, even some republicans, have integrity and that they will let the people see what the work product is for 22 months of work and how it relates to the Russian interference in our election.

The Russians did interfere. 25 Russians were indicted. Two or three Russian companies were indicted. They interfered with our elections. The question is was there obstruction? Everything, Trump and all of his henchmen, particularly his cohorts, they lied about their contacts with Russia, lied to the point that they were indicted for it. Michael Cohen lied, Michael Flynn lied, Manafort lied, they all lied. Why were they all lying? Why did Trump have to write a note for his son to say this was meeting at Trump Tower was about adoptions? there's just too much denial to not know there was, in fact, something there and it's in the Mueller report and we'd like to see it and the American public would like to see it.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you, before we go, on the President's new decision and quite a remarkable turn to attempt to, in the courts down [ph], tear down all of Obamacare, ACA, Affordable Care Act. You come from a red state, Tennessee, a lot of republicans there. I wonder how the people in your state, including Trump voters, view this. Because healthcare, as we saw it in the midterms, that seemed to unite blue and red voters they want better healthcare. They don't want to take it away. What do you hear at home?

COHEN: Well, people want better healthcare. They want cheaper healthcare. They really don't -- they understand that people with pre-existing conditions should have coverage and there are a lot of people with pre-existing conditions. They should have coverage. This would eliminate all of that and would eliminate young people being able to be on their parent's insurance until they're 26, eliminate -- it would take out the prohibition caps, lifetime caps and yearly caps on insurance companies paying their beneficiaries.

It was, as it was called, insurance reform on steroids. And people prefer the Affordable Care Act to the insurance companies continually cutting them off and giving reasons not to pay and not to cover people. It's hurt rural hospitals. They've closed in so many areas in rural Tennessee and throughout rural America.

[10:25:00]

The Trump voters, more than anybody, have been hurt by his attacks on the Affordable Care Act. He calls it Obamacare. He has done such a good job, as have the republicans, of taking this and putting what they consider a pejorative on it calling it Obamacare rather than the Affordable Care Act and Patient Protection Act that people have bought hook, line and sinker something that's good for them and they think it's bad because of marketing.

SCIUTTO: Right. And I've heard that from a lot of other lawmakers in red states. Congressman Steve Cohen, thanks for joining the show this morning.

COHEN: You're welcome, Jim. And I think CNN does a great job and I commend you for continuing to try to see the truth.

SCIUTTO: We appreciate those words. They mean a lot.

Well, Joe Biden, he's still keeping all of us guessing about 2020 but he is speaking out about a pivotal moment, a damaging one from 1991. Stay with us.

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