Return to Transcripts main page

AT THIS HOUR

DOJ Defends A.G. Barr's Summary of Mueller Report; House Dems Demand Trump's Tax Returns from IRS; Preliminary Report: Major Similarities in Ethiopian and Lion Air Crashes. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 4, 2019 - 11:00   ET

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


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: But it does say the attorney general never meant for his letter to Congress to be an entire summary. It was just an update to Congress. And they say that eventually, of course, in the next week or so, this whole report with redactions should be complete -- guys.

[11:00:19] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Important reporting, Jess. Thank you very much.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: We'll see.

HARLOW: Thanks for being with us today. We'll see. We'll see you back here tomorrow. I'm Poppy Harlow.

And I'm Jim Sciutto. "AT THIS HOUR WITH KATE BOLDUAN," who will continue to cover this breaking story, starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much for joining me.

Under pressure. That is the name of the game today. That is what President Trump is facing on multiple fronts.

On the Russia investigation, members of Robert Mueller's very tight- lipped at least until now, team, are now speaking out. And saying the attorney general's summary doesn't tell the full story.

According to "The New York Times," these members of Mueller's team and those close to them, say that the report is more damaging than what Bill Barr laid out in his memo.

And there's this from "The Washington Post." Quote, "Members of Mueller's team have complained to close associates that the evidence they gathered on obstruction was alarming and significant." And that's not all for President Trump.

The new Democratic majority is flexing its oversight muscles in a very real way right now. Not only with subpoenas, as we discussed yesterday, for the full Mueller report, but also now demanding the president's tax returns. The Democratic chairman going straight to the IRS to get them.

The president, you'll be not surprised at all to hear, says he's not inclined to hand those over. Still. Let's start with this tension over the Mueller report. CNN's Jessica

Schneider is at the Justice Department. She's joining me right now.

Jessica, the Justice Department is just now putting out a statement about this reporting coming out in "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post." What do you have?

SCHNEIDER: Well, the Department of Justice, just in the past few minutes reacting to those reports in "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post," saying that members of Mueller's team were sort of griping and frustrated to their associates about what Attorney General Barr released.

Of course, we got that initial release from Attorney General Barr. It was that four-page letter to Congress, back on March 24. And what the Department of Justice is doing in this recent statement, which I'll read to you in just a moment, is really reiterating the process by which the attorney general has given some of this information to Congress.

Because remember, it was a four-page letter on March 24. And then again last week on March 29, he alerted Congress that he was going through this redaction process of the report, so then it could eventually get released to Congress and to the public.

So here now is what the Department of Justice is saying, somewhat pushing back on those reports that we saw today, earlier today from "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post." Here it is.

"Every page of the confidential report provided to Attorney General Barr on March 22, 2019, was marked 'may contain material protected under federal rule of criminal procedure 6(e),' a law that protects confidential grand jury information. And therefore, could not be publicly released." So the Department of Justice saying there that a lot of this report was filled with this confidential information that they had to be careful with.

Then they said, "Given the extraordinary public interest in the matter, the attorney general decided to release the report's bottom- line findings and his conclusions immediately without attempting to summarize the report, with the understanding that the report itself would be released after the redaction process."

And then this note: "As the attorney general stated in his March 29 letter to Chairman Graham and Chairman Nadler, he does not believe the report should be released in serial or piecemeal fashion," and then it says, "The department is continuing to work with the special counsel on these redactions."

So the Department of Justice once again explaining the procedure here, saying how important it was not to release parts of this report that were confidential, that contained grand jury information. And then saying, reiterating what Attorney General Barr had said in that letter to Congress on March 24, that his four-page letter was not meant to be this exhaustive summary. Instead, he was giving them an update, and he would later release the full report here. What's interesting is what this statement from the Department of

Justice does not address. It does not address that issue that was brought up in both of the reports in "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post," that investigators on Robert Mueller's team had also given to the attorney general summaries of the report that they expected might then be released to Congress, rather than the attorney general making his own summary, his own four-page summary that was released to Congress on March 24.

So the Department of Justice, Kate, once again trying to explain the process here, trying to explain that the attorney general didn't want to try to give an exhaustive summary right off the bat. Instead, now working through those redactions to make that full report or as much of it as they can, public soon. And we know that soon could be as soon as mid-April or sooner, as the attorney general said last week -- Kate.

[11:05:03] BOLDUAN: Yes. We are basically getting to mid-April very, very, very, very quickly. Good to see you. Thank you so much, Jessica.

Joining me right now, I've got a lot of questions about this. CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers, and also joining us from Washington, CNN's Kara Scannell. Great to see you, Kara. So Kara, what do you make of -- what do you make of, now, this conflict between at least some of the special counsel's team and Bill Barr, because what we see in the statement from the Justice Department is not disputing any of the reporting out there.

But clearly, they're putting out a statement in response to the reporting that is out there. What do you do with it?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, that's right, Kate. Our colleagues, Jeremy Herb and Laura Jarrett, have some reporting on this this morning, where they've learned that, in fact, some of the same elements that's in "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" story are true, that Mueller's investigators are frustrated because of how the -- how Mueller's four-page letter portrayed their findings of a 400-page report.

Now, the issue here -- and this is where I think the Department of Justice is trying to get at this -- is they're trying to say, you know, under the regulations, Mueller's team submits a confidential report. Bill Barr is trying to respond to that quickly. He issued that four-page letter to Congress within 48 hours of receiving a 400- page report.

And now they're saying that we're going to try to go through this and release as much information as possible. And I think that they're trying to push back on the notion that, you know, they could have released these summaries. They could have released any information, saying that no, they had to go through it with a fine-toothed comb.

But the rub seems to be that people from Mueller's team are frustrated that the way that they were going to portray this or the context that they would frame these issues of obstruction and collusion, was not reflected in Barr's letter.

BOLDUAN: Jennifer, what do you see in this reporting? What sticks out to you in the reporting and also now with the addition of what the Justice Department is saying?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I do wonder, and they use "confidential report" in quotes. So it makes me wonder whether they're saying every single page that Mueller gave to us contained this warning, or is there something else? Are these summaries that people have been talking about --

BOLDUAN: Could you deem those confidential reports?

RODGERS: Yes, well, is this part of the confidential report, or were they separate? Because if they were separate, then this seems to be -- to be misleading. And they potentially could have released those summaries.

But you know, the issue here really is that there's a big gap between no charges are going to be filed here and nothing wrong was done here at all. And that's the gap that we're looking to fill by seeing the report.

And what the Mueller team appears to be saying, or some of them, is you know, "It was a bit misleading to suggest no wrongdoing was done here, and we didn't find that. And when you see our report, you're going to see a lot of things in that gap space, and that's what the public should be able to see."

BOLDUAN: One sentence in the statement from the Justice Department, Kara, is sticking out to me now. When they say given the extraordinary public interest in the matter, the attorney general decided to release the report's bottom-line findings and its conclusions immediately without attempting to summarize the report, with the understanding that the report itself would be released after the redactions.

Is that acknowledging that they didn't tell the full story?

SCANNELL: I think in a way it is. I mean, Barr is saying that he just gave the principle conclusions, the bottom-line answers about obstruction and collusion.

But as he alludes to it in the four-page letter by saying that Mueller's team, his report had found that there was evidence on both sides of the question of obstruction, but he did not reach a conclusion one way or the other.

That leaves, as Jennifer was just saying, a lot to chew on as far as what is in that. What is on both sides?

And you know, I think the Justice Department here in the statement is acknowledging they -- you know, they were not intending to reveal what that is, but clearly, people took, and especially the president, Barr's four-page letter as a way to exonerate himself. And that's how it's been used. That's probably why there's also this bubbling frustration, because people have this as the first impression, without seeing what the evidence was on both sides or what the breadth of evidence was on both sides. And Barr's letter is very brief on those issues.

BOLDUAN: Jennifer, what about kind of the frustration on the other side, if you will? In the reporting, it's the frustration from the Barr team that Mueller didn't take that step. Didn't make a decision one way or the other, didn't -- you know, didn't see evidence -- wasn't going to make a determination on obstruction when it came to Donald Trump's team and Donald Trump with the Russia investigation.

The fact that Barr's team thought it was essentially dropped in their lap, do you see that?

RODGERS: That's very interesting because I share that frustration, actually. I also wanted to see Mueller and his team make a decision about whether obstruction of justice was committed here, because that's what prosecutors do, and that's what he actually was brought in to do.

So if it's true that they are frustrated by that, I mean, I share that frustration. That doesn't necessarily mean that they needed to make that determination. If Mueller decided that this was something that was better handled in Congress, then I think, honestly, the attorney general should have just said Mueller's team found that they didn't want to make a decision here and left it to Congress. Like, why they felt the need to say, OK, he's not going to evaluate the evidence despite being independent and knowing the investigation better than anyone, we're going to now do that, I don't understand why he felt that he needed to go that step and do it if Mueller didn't.

[11:10:11] BOLDUAN: No. Let's see. Again, we will -- all fascinating and all the more important that folks see the actual report, however much we get out of it.

Good to see you, Jennifer. Thanks, Kara. Really appreciate it.

Now to the new fight over the president's tax returns. House Democrats have issued a formal request -- request to the IRS commissioner to hand over six years of the president's personal and business tax returns.

The president has resisted all the calls to release his returns, obviously, during the 2016 campaign, and as I previously mentioned, he's showing no signs of changing his position now. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm always under audit, it seems, but I've been under audit for many years; because the -- the numbers are big. And I guess when you have a name, you -- you're audited. But until such time as I'm not under audit, I would not be inclined to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP) [11:11:04] BOLDUAN: It's still not known if he was under audit during the campaign, and then and now. It still does not prevent him from releasing his tax returns. Just want to point that out.

CNN's Lauren Fox is on Capitol Hill. She's been -- Lauren, this is more than just an ask coming from the chairman of the tax-writing committee. What is he telling you?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. You know, Democrats believe that they have a right to see the president's tax returns. And there's one Democrat on Capitol Hill who has the official right to ask. And that's Richard Neal, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

And you know, I talked to him earlier, because some liberals on the committee have said, "You know, I wish that he would have asked for more years of the president's tax returns." I wish he would have asked for more businesses to be, you know, probed when it comes to this tax return issue. Here's what Richard Neal told us earlier outside of his office this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RICHARD NEAL (D-MA): We followed IRS guidelines, which suggest to taxpayers that six years is generally the measurement that they use for advising taxpayers on how long to keep their forms. So we didn't want to have the case perhaps dismissed on a technical glitch.

So again, I think, as I've said to you now for a long period of time, we've taken a very methodical approach to what will likely be an established court case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOX: And Kate, you know, he told me the day after the election that he planned to request Donald Trump's tax returns, but of course, it took several months to get that case ready. He's been working with House counsel. He's been talking with members of his staff. You know, he wanted to build a relationship with the Trump administration. He wants to pass infrastructure. He has other legislative priorities in the Ways and Means Committee.

But obviously, this is a top priority for Democrats on Capitol Hill. They say the president is the first president in decades not to voluntarily give over these tax returns. And if they have to, they're going to go right to the IRS and ask. That's what Richard Neal did yesterday.

And he's right. You can expect a very protracted battle to get the president's tax returns -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, he very clearly is anticipating a court challenge, and this going to court very quickly. Thanks, Lauren. I appreciate it. Great reporting.

Joining me right now is CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash. Dana, the chairman of the committee, he made no secret that he was

going to be looking into the president's taxes.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

BOLDUAN: He very clearly, as he's talking to Lauren, making clear that he anticipates this is going to court. I mean, so they now have asked for them. How is this going to go now? I think -- I guess there's two tracks, right? The legal track and then the political track.

BASH: Yes. That's right, and look, the political track is going to dovetail with the legal track. And just as Lauren laid out, who broke the story -- pretty great reporting, I should say -- the -- that this is going to be a long process. Because there is no way that the president is going to go, "OK, you know, here it is."

Now, to be clear, as I say that, I should also underscore that the request wasn't for the president.

BOLDUAN: Right.

BASH: The request is for and to -- addressed to the IRS commissioner. Having said that, the IRS commissioner is going to have to do a very delicate dance, because even though there is a law on the books that allows for the Ways and Means chairman to do just this, this is a man who obviously is going to have the pressure of the entire Trump administration, starting with the president himself, on him to say, "You cannot give in to this partisan request." That is obviously what they're calling it in public and in private.

So it's -- they are preparing, rightly so, for this to go to the courts. And it will be something that is -- is unprecedented. I mean, Richard Nixon had a fight over his taxes. It was a bit different. This is going to be a legal battle, probably like we haven't seen before. And it will set a new precedent.

[11:15:07] BOLDUAN: Yes, it sure does. It sure will, very likely.

If the chairman gets the returns, and there's nothing in there that they can jump on, or they see as a flag, I do wonder what then? And you know they've thought about this, as well. I mean, does this completely backfire on them?

I mean, one can say transparency is great for transparency's sake. We all agree with that, right? But for what Democrats think, fear, believe could be shown in those returns, I do wonder what it means.

BASH: Right, I mean, be careful if you're a dog that you're actually going to catch the car with what's going to happen. That's a great question.

I think it's going to be a long time before the Democrats are at that point, if ever.

BOLDUAN: Yes. BASH: Right now, the political question isn't so much, "Oh, what if there's nothing there?" It's, "What is the impact on this" -- if it is protracted, as we expect it will be legally, what is the impact politically? And how much does this play into the Democrats' favor in what they're laying out, which is why wouldn't you be transparent? What do you have to hide, sir?

Or as Trump allies and people in his orbit argued to me all night last night, which is Democrats have to be careful, because they're going to do something that Donald Trump can't do for himself, which is they're going to make him sympathetic, because, you know, enough already. That -- that people who are looking at data inside Trump world say that there's so much out there that Democrats who now run the House want to get from the Trump administration that it now sounds like Charlie Brown's teacher to a lot of these voters. You know, it's just noise.

So you know, whether or not, and how those two diametrically-opposed dynamics play into this, politically speaking, is going to be really fascinating.

BOLDUAN: Yes, and you make such a perfect point. All the dynamics are at play together, right? The Democrats are doing what they promised they would do --

BASH: Sure.

BOLDUAN: -- which they say is oversight. So from that -- and they're really starting to see, especially just, like, today overnight, really starting to flex that muscle of oversight with subpoenas and all these questions but how it's received on the other side. But you know, exhibit -- I've -- we've lost count of how the country is divided and people see it through the prism which they want.

BASH: Yes. Exactly.

BOLDUAN: Good to see you, Dana.

BASH: You, too, Kate. Thanks.

BOLDUAN: See you soon.

So how will the White House respond as the president faces increased pressure from Congress? And just how far are Democrats willing to go? Exactly to what Dana was just talking about right there. We're going to ask a member of the House Democratic leadership about that, next.

Plus, investigators confirmed that the pilots of the doomed Ethiopian Air flight, that they were following emergency procedures as they were laid out by Boeing. But the plane still crashed; 157 people still died. So what went wrong?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:22:25] BOLDUAN: Some breaking news on the Ethiopian Air crash. CNN has now obtained a copy of the preliminary report that hasn't been made public yet.

Investigators found significant similarities between last month's crash and the one involving a Lion Air flight less than five months earlier. As has been suspected, both of the planes, you'll recall, involved were Boeing 737 Max 8 jets.

CNN's Tom Foreman is joining me now. He has more details coming in from this preliminary report.

Tom, what are you learning?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, hi, Kate.

This report, which really the entire aviation world has been waiting for, paints a very dramatic and stark picture of what happened in this very short flight, ending with these terrible fatalities.

Simply put, it describes an airplane that at least four times automatically started diving toward the ground, according to the investigators, while the crew fought against that plane.

They say that time and again, they were getting erroneous readings about the angle of the plane. There were also some fluctuations in the indication of the air speed and the altitude of the plane. In some cases, different readings from different sides of the plane.

And the whole time, the crew was trying to fight it. In fact, there is evidence that at one point, they were able to pull back together. They started pulling back together. The captain asked the first officer to pitch up together. They both did and said the pitch was not enough. They were both pulling back numerous times in this flight, trying to overcome this.

There's also an indication that they did manage to figure out what the problem was. A few minutes before it ended, they had diagnosed the problem; and they had disabled this MCAS system, this automatic system we've been talking about so much that people think caused the dive.

The problem was that was three minutes before the crash, but they could not then adjust the trim to recover the aircraft, according to this preliminary report.

The bottom line is, after all of this had happened, they were trying to go back. They simply could not get the plane to come up. It kept diving in.

And one of the most startling things about this, they said the plane ended up in roughly a 40-degree dive, which would be something like that, at speeds approaching 600 miles an hour.

BOLDUAN: Oh, my God.

FOREMAN: As it finally went into the ground. So at least this preliminary report -- and it will take months and months to get more information -- the preliminary report describes a plane pitching through the sky as the crew fought it and the plane seemed to fight them.

[11:25:04] It does not assign blame. It does not say specifically, "We know why this was happening." It just says that the voice recorder and the data recorder both indicate that this was going on with this plane. It started right after a normal takeoff and ended with the loss of all these lives -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: And significant similarities between this, what happened to this plane, these final moments, and the final moments of the doomed Lion Air flight just less than five months before that. And that's --

FOREMAN: It certainly looks that way.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

FOREMAN: And again, we have to get the final result. This is just a preliminary finding. It assigns no blame right now, but this certainly paints a very dire picture.

BOLDUAN: Wow. That pitch, that air speed. That's terrifying.

FOREMAN: Absolutely.

BOLDUAN: Tom, thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

This coming out in this preliminary report. Excuse me. Joining me right now is Peter Goelz. He's a former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board. Part of the international team, the NTSB is, that is trying to figure out exactly what happened in this flight. He's now a CNN aviation analyst.

Peter, thank you so much for coming in. What do you make of this, these -- the findings from this preliminary report, as Tom was just laying out?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, first, it's really good reporting, that we were -- CNN was able to get that report. Because up until now, all we had was a long tweet and a press conference from the Ethiopians.

But what the report does is really turn the spotlight back on Boeing and on the FAA's approval process.

Apparently, these pilots knew what to do. And that -- that really coincides with everything I've heard about Ethiopian Airways training. These pilots knew what to do. They diagnosed the problem. They did it by the book. And it didn't save the aircraft.

That really throws this investigation into a turmoil because there is, unless they can identify a maintenance issue with the angle of attack indicator or something with the air speed indicators, this is going to be a very daunting investigation.

BOLDUAN: Yes, I mean, and it does -- I mean, you of course, immediately go to what if these pilots diagnosed the problem, did everything they were supposed to do by the book. But again, I mean, it's six minutes. It's six minutes of terror for these pilots and everyone onboard and what they're dealing with.

What does this say about the safety of these jets and also the fact that, you know, you've got them grounded worldwide right now?

GOELZ: Yes, well, it's two things. One is, after the Lion Air accident, Boeing put out a directive that was followed up by the FAA that essentially said, "Read the manual, fly the manual. You know, remember how to do a runaway trim tab solution." And that was their answer to Lion Air.

This now says, well, even if you did that, it didn't save them. And it puts them back on the spot to come up with a new software and new pilot response that's going to have to be fully vetted.

And frankly, the FAA is going to have to reestablish their credibility with the world's aviation organizations to say, "We've looked at this in a rigorous way. We think it's safe." It's going to take some time.

BOLDUAN: Yes, I was going to ask you that, Peter. What's it going to take? Because right now, that trust is shaken, to say the least.

GOELZ: There's no question. I mean, there was speculation after Lion Air that it would be -- they'd have the fix in a couple of weeks. After -- even after the Ethiopian Airways tragedy, they said, "Well, we've got the fix coming. We're going to make it, you know, a little more in-depth, make it less severe when the nose goes down."

That clearly is not enough. They're going to have to go back to the drawing boards and rethink this entire MCAS system.

BOLDUAN: Well, as Tom Foreman points out, this preliminary report does not assign blame. But the spotlight very clearly not shifting away from Boeing at this moment. Peter, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Thank you.

Coming up for us, the Justice Department is defending Attorney General Barr's summary of the Mueller report, explaining the process, as well, as members of Bob Mueller's team are speaking out, saying that his summary doesn't tell the full story. So how far are Democrats now willing to go to get that full report? We're going to talk to a member of the House Democratic leadership next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)