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Flooding Threatens Drinking Water In Private Wells In Ten States; WSJ: Anti-Stall Feature Activated In Ethiopian Crash; Court Blocks Another Trump Attempt To Undermine Obamacare; Trump Takes Victory Lap At First Rally After Mueller Report; Chicago Demands Smollett Pay $130,000 For Investigation Costs; Chicago Mayor, Trump Blast Dismissal Of Smollett Charges. Aired 10-10:30 ET

Aired March 29, 2019 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00]

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They're actually offering to do that testing for free. But remember that private wells, unlike municipal water systems, they are not regulated in. So the onus really is on the owner of that well to make sure that the water coming out of the taps is clean, Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Yes, those are homes behind you, families losing their homes. Scott McLean, thanks very much.

A very good Friday morning to you, I'm Jim Sciutto. Investigators now revealing compelling preliminary findings in the Ethiopian Airlines crash. According to the Wall Street Journal, a stall prevention feature automatically activated before that 737 Max jet crashed in Ethiopia more than two weeks ago. The findings suggest that it is likely the same issue that took down a Lion Air flight last October with the same jet caused this crash. These findings are based on information found on Ethiopian Flight 302's cockpit voice and flight data reporters.

CNN's Robin Creole, she joins us from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She has been following this story. Robin, this is significant because it puts an express tie between these two crashes and raises questions about whether something should have been done earlier.

ROBIN CREOLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, Jim. And here in Ethiopia, you have to understand there has been a lot of questions asked about the training of the pilots and perhaps was this some kind of maintenance issue on the plane. Were the pilots equipped to handle issues like this and --

SCIUTTO: Oops, we lost Robin Creole there. She is in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She has been covering the story. When we have that technical problem fixed, we will come back to her.

We do now have with me now to discuss, the aviation attorney, Justin Green. He's the former President of the International Air and Transportation Bar Association, also a CNN Aviation Analyst. So let's go through this and try to do it in a way that folks at home can understand. You had the Lion Air crash, this jet, they found already prior to the second crash that there were issues with this anti-stall device, that they issued new guidance to operators, and there is an FAA directive to make sure it went out, but that clearly wasn't sufficient to solve the problem. Should they have done more?

JUSTIN GREEN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF INTERNATIONAL AIR AND TRANSPORT BAR ASSOCIATION: Well, one thing I should say is I am a plaintiff's lawyer. I will likely represent some of the families from the Ethiopia air crash.

SCIUTTO: Fair to mention.

GREEN: And what I'd say is, yes, in retrospect today, of course, they should have done more. But today is after the game, so we are looking back. The question is what decisions did they make after the Lion Air crash? In those factors in the Lion Air crash, you have the day before a crew had the same problem. They were able to handle it, turning the system off. Then they turned around gave the same airplane to another crew. They had the same problem but fought it for over 11 minutes before that airplane crashed.

So what I think Boeing decided was this is an issue. But if we give out guidance, pilots will be able to respond to it. In the Ethiopia Air crash, it would happen at a much lower altitude much sooner into the flight. They didn't have the time that the Lion Air case.

So the question is going to be -- we're talking right now, there is already a lawsuit filed, people are talking about punitive damages, criminal proceedings. The key is what are the facts? What did they decide before they sent this airplane out? What did Boeing decide? What did the FAA know and what did the FAA decided? And then, ultimately, after the Lion Air crash, why didn't the FAA, why didn't Boeing do more than they did?

SCIUTTO: Because what Boeing is talking about now is it is a software fix. And they're still working on it. They say it's going to come soon, a software fix. But if you knew there were issues with this MCAS system, why not take that step after the first crash or in an abundance caution at a minimum?

GREEN: I mean, one thing you have to understand, grounding the whole fleet for months after that first crash is a big deal for Boeing. Boeing has a lot invested in this aircraft. It's a big money maker for Boeing. It's a big part of their future to compete with Air Bus with the A320.

So I think it was difficult for Boeing to take those steps that, in retrospect, they should have taken, and the FAA didn't make them take them.

SCIUTTO: So that's the key.

GREEN: That's the key.

SCIUTTO: Because -- and this is something I learned in the story is that the FAA gives airlines a lot of leeway to police themselves, to self-certify that their jets are safe. First of all, I don't know how that can happen, right? It doesn't make sense to me in any industry. But will there be a push now to change that relationship?

GREEN: Boeing is always going to play a major role in the certification of their own airplanes. Boeing is responsible for the safety of Boeing airplanes, not the FAA. FAA really does spot checks, makes sure that the systems --

SCIUTTO: We don't do that with cars, right?

GREEN: Well, that's a very good point. And there are some parallels with cars. So you can buy a car and you can buy -- pay extra for optional safety features.

[10:05:02]

Boeing sells this airplane with optional safety features that may have prevented both of these accidents. Now, these two airlines, Lion Air, Ethiopia, didn't purchase these additional safety features, whereas the U.S. airlines did buy those.

SCIUTTO: Right.

GREEN: So there is a lot of --

SCIUTTO: They should have to buy extra features to assure the plan is safe, right?

GREEN: Well, that's sort of like --

SCIUTTO: So like buy this car, and this one has better breaks, right?

GREEN: Right. So with air bags, for example, when air bags first came out, if you paid more, you can get air bags or you can get side air bags. But if you are buying a car, you are deciding your safety and the safety of your family. Boeing is selling these airplanes to airlines and the passengers don't have a say.

SCIUTTO: Don't have our safety [ph].

GREEN: That's right.

SCIUTTO: Is this jet in serious trouble? And more importantly, is Boeing with liability issues, lawsuits coming and a threat to an important jet in its fleet, is it in trouble?

GREEN: So I have been in litigation against Boeing many times. Boeing is a big company. It's in the history of aviation, it's probably the greatest aviation manufacturer. Boeing is going to survive this. This airplane with the fixes that they now have, and they should have had before they ever let it out the door, I would get on the airplane once these fixes are initiated because this can't happen with the fixes.

The question is, is why did they design an airplane that a single angled attack censor could trigger this really dangerous situation?

SCIUTTO: That seems a fundamental flaw. Thanks very much, Justin, helpful. We're going to stay on top of that story.

President Trump is vowing to keep fighting Obamacare even as his administration's efforts to undermine it keep getting challenged in the courts, even by members of his own party. Last night, a federal court blocked a rule put in place by one of the President's executive orders that happened a day after a judge blocked an effort to allow states to put requirements on those who get Medicaid. Now, the President says a handful of republican senators will come up with a completely new healthcare plan. Imagine that.

Joining us now live from the Justice Department, Jessica Schneider. That's a tall order [ph]. We know. They have tried and failed for years and years and years. So why should we believe that they're going to come up with a plan this time?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's what the President says and we'll see if Congress actually does it. But in the meantime, while we wait for something to play out in Congress, we're seeing these set of setbacks for the administration in the courts when it comes to the administration's efforts to really put some hurdles in place for Obamacare regulations.

So what we saw last night was a D.C. district court judge, a federal judge ruling against a labor department rule. Now, this rule actually expanded these so-called association health plans for small businesses. Now, on its face, this rule actually made it easier for the small businesses and these people who are self-employed to band together to buy health insurance. But in all practicality, this judge ruled that it was really a way for these businesses to really do the run around of the Obamacare regulations and not have to play by the rules here. This was a rule that was put in place. It was finalized in June. It was after an executive order signed by President Trump.

Now, the Justice Department is pushing back against this ruling. Here is the statement that a Justice Department spokesperson issued last night after this ruling came down. They said, this administration will continue to fight for sole proprietors and small businesses so that they can have the freedom to band together to obtain more affordable quality healthcare coverage. And, of course, this loss for the administration was on top of a federal district court ruling on Wednesday that ruled that the administration could not put work requirements in place for Medicaid recipients, so two blows to the administration in the past week.

But then, of course, we see this continued fight by the administration in the courts, including on Monday night when we saw lawyers from here at the Department of Justice saying that they would join on to this litigation to support this entire strike down of Obamacare. So, Jim, we are seeing this all play out in the courts, the administration fighting Obamacare in the court system, also promising to bring it to Congress. But as we have seen, that's a lot more difficult than fighting these things in court. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Yes, the record shows. Jessica Schneider, thanks very much.

SCHNEIDER: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Also last night, the President taking a victory lap, imagine that, at a campaign rally. It was the first one he has held since the Mueller investigation ended in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a key swing state. He went after democrats and said the collusion illusion is over. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: After three years of lies and smears and slander, the Russia hoax is finally dead. Total exoneration, complete vindication. The democrats have to now decide whether they will continue defrauding the public with ridiculous bull [bleep]. Robert Mueller was a god to the democrats, and they don't like him so much right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[10:10:00]

Well, some language there from the President.

Worth noting again, Attorney General Barr's summary of the report said Mueller did not exonerate the President of obstruction of justice, some details there, important ones.

Joining me now to discuss the President's victory lap, the broader issues, CNN Senior Political Commentator Rick Santorum, of course, former Republican Senator from the great State of Pennsylvania. Always good to have you on, Senator.

FMR. SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R), P.A.: Good morning, Jim.

SCIUTTO: So let's look at the big picture, because we learned yesterday the Mueller report was actually 300 to 400 pages. We also know that Mueller said, based on Barr's own summary of the Mueller report, that he had found evidence on both sides on the question of obstruction of justice though he decided -- well, actually, he decided he couldn't make a decision and let Barr make the decision. Do Americans have the right to see that evidence?

SANTORUM: Sure they do. I think everybody believes that the report should be made public. Again, with the caveat that you don't want to have grand jury information that could jeopardize someone who is mentioned in the grand jury, have their integrity impugned. You have to protect people who are innocent, which is the typical rules, and sources and methods of intelligence, if any, in there. And that's what's taking time, and it should take time, to make sure that this report doesn't cause harm to people and doesn't cause harm to our country unintentionally.

But beyond that, yes, they should absolutely see all the evidence. And I think everybody is looking forward to having that done in the next few weeks. SCIUTTO: Fine, okay. Fair. So let's say you're back in the Senate. You are a republican senator, there's a democratic president. The Attorney General appointed by that democratic president gives his own summary of a long report and that sitting Attorney General appointed by the democratic president is someone who criticized the whole question of a president committing obstruction of justice. Would you say, hey, wait a second, I can't conclude the President's been exonerated here until I see the evidence that the Special Counsel found? Is that not a fair position? Because, of course, the President is saying anybody who continues to hold any sort of question out there is deluding themselves?

SANTORUM: Yes. I think what the President is really focused on is the democrats continue to push the collusion aspect. I don't -- that's where Adam Schiff --

SCIUTTO: Well, let's get to collusion but on obstruction. He's claiming -- no. His words exactly are complete exoneration, complete vindication, right? So He is wrapping both of those under that umbrella.

SANTORUM: No, I understand that. But, of course, the obstruction of justice comes about because of the investigation into collusion, which the Mueller report was fairly -- was conclusive that there was no collusion. And the Attorney General I think rightly said, well, look, if there is no underlying crime, then what is the motive to obstruct justice? I mean, if you have nothing to hide and you didn't do anything, it's sort of hard to make the case that you're obstructing.

And so, look, it's a logical -- I think it's a logical thing for Bill Barr to have concluded. There are other factors involved. I think it's important to look at all those other factors. But, again, it's a pretty high bar when the underlying issue isn't there.

SCIUTTO: I don't know if you saw earlier, we had a focus group on where voters in a swing state were asked whether the Mueller Report --

SANTORUM: I did see that.

SCIUTTO: You saw that?

SANTORUM: A nice swing state,

SCIUTTO: -- changes their opinion.

SANTORUM: Pennsylvania.

SCIUTTO: There you go. It's the State of Pennsylvania, a fairly important state in the political process.

SANTORUM: Yes.

SCIUTTO: And you heard from the people there. We went to a small group. And it felt like folks had already made a decision, stuck with that decision one way, stuck with that decision the other day. There has been some polling so far, not a lot that has polled voters on approval since the Mueller report. Not definitive yet, but it doesn't show much of a change in either direction on the President's approval. You have been in politics a long time. Given the divide now and the opinions folks have formed on either side about the President, do you see this as fundamentally changing the dynamic?

SANTORUM: Well, I think it certainly helps the President. I mean, obviously, a president under indictment or a president under a cloud, it would certainly have been much more damaging to him. I think it creates an opportunity. And there are a lot of voters who -- yes, they don't like Donald Trump and who maybe voted for him last time and are not crazy about him and particularly not necessarily his policies but more importantly his character and demeanor in office, but that's in a vacuum. And once there is a democratic candidate, then you have a choice.

And it's just like the last time. A lot of people voted for Donald Trump that didn't have a favorable opinion of him because they didn't have a favorable opinion of the person he was running against. And so it's going to come down to who the democrats nominated as to whether Donald Trump is going to get reelected or not. I think he's got a strong base of support. I think there is enough votes given who the democrats nominate for him to be able to win, but it comes down to who they pick.

[10:15:04]

SCIUTTO: Yes, that's good point. Because last election, you had two folks with negative favorability ratings. Who democrats pick makes a big difference.

SANTORUM: A big difference.

SCIUTTO: Rick Santorum, have a good weekend.

SANTORUM: Thank you, Jim. I appreciate it.

SCIUTTO: Still to come, pay up. That is the message from Chicago's mayor to Jussie Smollett. But can the actor actually be forced to pay the cost of the investigation and is that justice?

Plus, at his rally, President Trump appeared to mock immigrants seeking asylum, it seemed pretty clear, this as the DHS secretary is asking Congress to change the laws to allow for faster deportation of migrant children. You heard that right, children. We'll discuss.

And we're minutes away from what could be a pivotal vote for the U.K. Lawmakers set to vote on the Brexit deal ahead. What could this mean for one of America's closest allies?

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[10:20:00]

[10:20:12] SCIUTTO: The Empire actor, Jussie Smollett, may have had all charges against him dropped but the city of Chicago is now charging him or attempting to the full cost of work put into investigating the alleged and, it seems, debunked hate crime. At the time, the Prosecutor's Office says its top prosecutor, Kim Foxx, did not recused actually formerly recused herself from the investigation, though she had been in communication with members of his family, but rather separated herself from any decision making. That's not quite recusal.

CNN Correspondent Ryan Young is following these developments. That's a kind of confusing thing to say. You either recuse or you don't recuse. So did she recuse?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, apparently, she didn't really recuse because there are some people who were saying if you're going to recuse yourself, then you have to remove your entire office from it and not just give it to the person under you, and that sort of what happened here. And, of course, this started because of some text message Tina Tchen, who used to be Michelle Obama's Chief of Staff. And because of those text messages, and then all of a sudden, you had a family member texting her, it gets so confusing in the end of this. She decided to remove herself from this.

But then you had a 16-count indictment. Those charges were dropped. Then you move forward to this. This may all have been a publicity stunt. So now, you are left with all these questions about how do we get here. And then when those charges just sort of disappeared, everyone is sort of asking why. Was this a back door deal done or something like that? No. Now, they are saying they dropped it because they decided that Jussie Smollett, because of the fact that he was a first time offender, would not have gone to jail in the first place, hopefully keeping a score on all of that.

But at the end of the day, the mayor basically just said, look, he believes Jussie Smollett should pay $130,000 to the city because of all the work they had done. Listen to the mayor's and his impassion plea for that money.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR RHAM EMANUEL (D), CHICAGO, I.L.: Given that he doesn't feel any sense of contrition and remorse, my recommendation is when he writes the check when in the memo section, he can put the word, I'm a accountable for the hoax.

TRUMP: He said he was attacked by MAGA country. Did you ever hear that one? Maybe the only time I have ever agreed with the mayor of Chicago.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YOUNG: Now, Jim, all this goes back to the fact that those two brothers who were involved in this case basically told police that this was a hoax from the very beginning. And their lawyer was on TV last night actually sort of laughing about the fact of Jussie Smollett's attorney saying they were in white face while they were wearing masks. So all of this continued to twist and turn. Of, course, we would love to hear from those two men because obviously they have the background of the story and how they ended up there. This is still confusing, but at the end of the day, we are told, on Monday, there is a protest planned by the Police Union outside the courthouse because they are still upset as well about the charges being dropped.

SCIUTTO: Ryan Young, thanks very much.

Let's speak now to former FBI Special Agent and CNN Legal and National Security Analyst, Asha Rangappa. Thanks so much, Asha, for coming on.

ASHA RANGAPPA, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Thank you for having me.

SCIUTTO: So he went through the legal process. They looked to the evidence. They didn't charge him. Now, the mayor is saying, okay, well, that didn't work so let's try to charge him for the cost of this. Is there a legal backing to that?

RANGAPPA: Yes. It's very puzzling how this is all unfolded. Look, Jim, you know, local PDs and Prosecutors' Offices are often overwhelmed. And so it wouldn't be uncommon to do some kind of non- trial option, like playing restitution or community service.

What's odd is that that wasn't done as part of, say, a plea deal, where Smollett accepts responsibility, pleads guilty in exchange for this. They dropped the charges. So -- and they have sealed that case. So, essentially, he is allowed to say that he was innocent. He did not plead guilty.

And then you have this lack of coordination between the Prosecutor's Office and the Mayor's Office. So they are sending this bill after fact, which, again, could have been a part of the negotiation itself if they had done it that way, but it's not.

So there are a lot of questions raised by what exactly was going on here.

SCIUTTO: Yes. You've observed, been involved in so many investigations. Do you have a guess as to how you can have such a disconnect between that famous police superintendent conference laying out all the evidence here as well as the testimony of his alleged accomplices and then the decision not to prosecute? Do you have any understanding how to get from point A to point B there?

RANGAPPA: I don't, Jim, I mean, especially when the Eye of Sauron is on a case like this. I would think all parties involved would be on the same page.

[10:25:04]

Again, we need information on how cases like this, people who are similarly situated are treated. Just like we don't want people who are rich and connected to get away with things, we also don't want them to be prosecuted simply because they are rich and famous. So I think we need some information on whether this was typical although this was 16 felony counts, which is a lot to drop.

And, again, the lack of kind of coordination here on a case of this high profile is interesting and puzzling.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and puzzling and confusing. So the President getting involved in an active investigation. I mean, we could talk about how unprecedented that is, how damaging that is to the judicial system. That ship seems to have sailed. But in terms of the feds kind of swooping in here, coming to the rescue and charging Smollett with something, is that realistic?

RANGAPPA: So, Jim, with regard to the President, the President has 99 problems, as they say, and I would think that Smollett isn't one of them. But there could be a federal hook here.

There was some reporting by CNN that early on, the D.A. had requested the FBI to come in and take over the case. And this can't happen in a hate crime. At the jurisdiction's request, the FBI and DOJ can come in. Now, if they were doing that and looking at the case from the get-go and then it turns out to be a hoax, the FBI and DOJ have, I think, every basis to potentially look at charges like mail fraud or wire fraud and to continue in that vein.

Here -- so the problem with the President commenting on it is that if that is actually what's happening, he is now helping the defense, because if I were a defense lawyer, I would argue my client cannot get a fair trial. The President has tweeted out to 30 million people that he is basically guilty. So especially if the DOJ is looking at it, I think that this should be something that the President should not comment on at all.

SCIUTTO: Asha Rangappa, we'll see if he listens. Thanks very much.

RANGAPPA: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: Asylum seekers say they are fleeing for their lives. But did President Trump just call that a big fat lie? The newest migrant controversy he is stirring, next.

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