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Boeing Issues Statement on Air Crashes; Congress Requests Trump's Tax Returns; Trump Backs Down Over Threat to Close Border; Did Barr Mischaracterize Mueller Report in Letter?. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired April 4, 2019 - 15:00   ET

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


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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALANA ANDERSON, GRANDMOTHER: He's been in a good place when he was gone. And he's going to come back to us. We never stopped looking for him, thinking about him, and that we love him, and we will do everything to get him back to a good life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Police say they're tracking every lead possible at the moment.

Let's continue on, hour two. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

And after 22 months of the special counsel at work, 199 criminal count, seven guilty pleas, we begin with something never before seen from Robert Mueller and members of his investigative team. They are speaking out about this letter that Attorney General Bill Barr wrote detailing the major conclusions that he's drawn from the Mueller report.

Several investigators on Mueller's team are apparently frustrated with it, believing that Barr did not adequately describe how the case for obstruction included derogatory information about the president and what the president did, this from sources who are familiar with these conversations.

The attorney general wrote that the evidence -- quote, unquote -- "is not sufficient to establish the president committed an obstruction of justice defense."

What is more here, a source says some on Mueller's team were expecting Barr to use more from summaries written by the investigators themselves. And now the Justice Department is defending Barr's letter, saying that it wasn't meant to summarize the full report, but just give the -- quote, unquote -- "bottom-line findings."

I should also note today that the president is responding to this as well, going after "The New York Times," which was first to report these details. And with me now, one of those "Times" journalist who broke the story, the paper's Washington investigative correspondent, Mark Mazzetti. He's also a CNN national security correspondent.

So, Mark, thank you for joining me.

MARK MAZZETTI, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Thank you.

BALDWIN: So let's just start with what you have. I mean, you tell me more about what your sources shared with you about Mueller's investigation and how the A.G. characterized it.

MAZZETTI: Well, what we reported last night was the frustration and anger, whatever you want to call it, about how this resolved in the end over that fateful weekend, when Barr put out his letter.

The -- it is in part about how Barr characterized the conclusions of this enormously consequential investigation and how, from that letter, President Trump was able to say -- and he, of course, went too far, but he said it was a total and complete exoneration.

What we have heard is that this frustration has been simmering since then that, if you saw the full report in its entirety, it would be a much different narrative, it would be far more damaging to the president because of details that are both on the obstruction of justice side, as well as on the Russian conspiracy side.

We don't at all imply that William Barr changed the overall conclusions in any way, but just in terms of what he put in that letter, set a -- characterized the investigation in certain way that has angered some people.

BALDWIN: Did you get the sense that they were more, to use your word, frustrated with the president who, as you point out, keeps saying he's fully exonerated? Or are they more frustrated with the A.G.?

MAZZETTI: That's hard to tell.

I mean, certainly, the letter as it was written in a very kind of bare-bones way that was -- only lifted very, very small sentence fragments from the actual report, gave the president an opening to declare victory.

And we also don't say in the story that the summaries that were written were meant just to be put out immediately, that the team thought these could just be ready for prime time. No, they did think that there were some things that certainly could be redacted, but that maybe more from those summaries could have been used to sort of present a more detailed picture for the public when it gets its first sense of the conclusions.

And I think there's some concern that, over time and these -- even if it's only a couple weeks, people's views have hardened, people think that it's over and it's time to move on.

BALDWIN: Yes. MAZZETTI: And by the time the full report comes out, then that's

yesterday's news.

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes.

Mark, the president tweeted -- I know you have seen this, but let me read it for everyone who hasn't -- quote -- "'The New York Times' had no legitimate sources, which would be totally illegal, concerning the Mueller report. In fact, they probably had no sources at all. They are a fake newspaper, who have already been forced to apologize for their incorrect and very bad reporting on me."

Mark Mazzetti, how would you respond to the president?

MAZZETTI: Well, there -- as far as I know -- and I know -- there was never an apology for -- to the president for their coverage of him.

And as for this story, we stand by it completely.

BALDWIN: Mark Mazzetti, thank you very much.

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We're going to talk all about Mark's reporting here.

Let me bring in CNN legal and national security analyst Asha Rangappa, who used to serve as an FBI special agent, and also with us, CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz.

So, Asha, you first.

You heard me asking why -- Mark why he felt like or why his sources felt frustrated. And you heard his response. What did you make of that, and the fact that they are speaking, or at least associates are?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, I think a lawyer who was looking at Barr's letter, and knowing what goes into a close to two-year investigation of this magnitude, already had suspicions that this might be sort of a biased view, summary of what was actually in the report.

I think this pushback actually is pretty astonishing, because what it suggests in that Barr went beyond perhaps merely being biased, but maybe even actively mischaracterized or even distorted what some of the findings are.

And that does a huge disservice to the public. I mean, any lawyer would know that that is kind of going beyond your ethical obligations. And, certainly, for the attorney general of the United States, who is ultimately the chief law enforcement officer for the American public, had a duty to be more forthcoming, or at least more objective about how he presented what was inside of that report.

BALDWIN: Shimon, you have been living, eating, breathing this Mueller report story for two-plus years. When you saw this reporting, and much of which CNN, we're adding on to, what did you think? SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right.

So I think Mark there made a good point. These claims of victory by the president, you have to wonder if people inside the Mueller team, the investigators, are all pretty upset over this, because they have done this. They have done the work here.

And, obviously, politically speaking, there could be issues here for the president that are in this report, certainly as it relates to the obstruction issue, and this could be what they're talking about. We don't know the full reason out for what they found and the conclusions that were not reached or were reached by the team.

And, obviously, there's going to be disagreement among the team members about what they should do, how far they should go, and how should they pursue certain aspects of the investigation and whether or not charges should be pursued.

So, for me, certainly, I think the way the public is viewing this, I think, based on our reporting, that is the concern that members of the team have that are now speaking out about this. They're concerned that this is -- their concern is that this is being portrayed in a certain way publicly, and they don't think it's fair, because they do think there's stuff in this report that does hurt the president.

And they don't feel that Barr, at least in his initial letter, addressed those issues.

BALDWIN: And, specifically, it's the obstruction piece, right?

PROKUPECZ: That's right.

BALDWIN: Where -- that's the stuff you're mentioning, that investigators felt that the Barr's letter did not adequately describe how the case for obstruction, including less than sunshine and roses sort of information about the president's actions, wasn't included in this -- in this four-page letter?

And so, Asha, why is that piece significant?

RANGAPPA: Well, that piece is significant because we know that obstruction of justice can be an impeachable offense, that Congress, which has the power to impeach, does not have to meet a criminal threshold. They don't have to meet the beyond a reasonable doubt standard.

And so the fact that there could be evidence that caused acute concern among the prosecutors means that there is something substantial there that would be of interest to congressional committees.

And I will also add here, Brooke, that Mark had mentioned that there were summaries prepared by Mueller's team perhaps that weren't ready to hit the press immediately, but that were crafted with the idea that they might be made public, taking into account things like classified information and grand jury information, again...

BALDWIN: And they weren't used.

RANGAPPA: ... which makes it all -- and they weren't used.

And so you don't prepare summaries if you don't believe that there are important points that needs to be presented to the public. And what we saw instead was Barr cherry-picking particular words and phrases, not even complete sentences, to put into his initial letter.

BALDWIN: Therein lies this massive question. And it goes back to what Bob Barr had written a couple of years ago, right, about the questions over the politicization and his role, not just legally, but looking at him through a political lens, sheds on this -- sheds light on this, which is part of the reason why so many people are saying, release the report.

Shimon, to you on these -- on what maybe is in this report that the public and members of Congress hasn't seen. I read the tweet about the "Times" piece, back to Mark.

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I mean, clearly, the president is -- I mean, he went from, hey, I trust Bill Barr and release the report to pulling a total 180.

And now he is clearly agitated and worried.

PROKUPECZ: Right. And that could be, Brooke, because he may feel that the Department of Justice, Bill Barr, will now -- the attorney general will now have to put some information there that is not favorable to the president, certainly on the obstruction investigation, that there may be some pressure now on the Department of Justice to put this information that they have all along have said they did not want to put into any kind of public report, because it's what they call derogatory information.

And unless someone is charged, you're not supposed to put derogatory information in anything...

BALDWIN: Can you define derogatory? What does that mean in this context?

PROKUPECZ: It's a great question.

I mean, look, I think derogatory -- we saw during the Clinton investigation when the former FBI Director James Comey stood before America and revealed the results of his investigation. And he talked about how sloppy Hillary Clinton was with the classified information, other ways he described in the way she handled the server, having the server, using some of this information, storing some of this information.

BALDWIN: Yes.

PROKUPECZ: That's where you sort of start getting into derogatory information. And it could very well be that there is this derogatory information

about how the president spoke about this investigation, what he told people inside the White House about this investigation. Remember, Mueller interviewed people inside the White House concerning the obstruction investigation.

BALDWIN: Mm-hmm.

PROKUPECZ: We don't know exactly what they said, but they could portray this kind of atmosphere that was going on inside the White House that, though may not be enough to bring criminal -- criminal charges, could put the president in a negative light.

And that is something that we have heard Bill Barr say he does not want to do. But given the pressure and given everything that -- the way this has been portrayed, kind of perhaps maybe that the president was completely cleared on the obstruction issue, it may be now that the Department of Justice, like, you know what, we need to put paint a fuller picture of exactly what was going on during this time.

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes.

Shimon, thank you. Asha, good to see you. Thank you, guys, very much.

RANGAPPA: Thank you.

BALDWIN: And now to another huge story involving President Trump. He is doing a big about-face on his threat to close the U.S.-Mexico border. Now he says he still plans to go after Mexico, if it doesn't stop drugs coming across the border, but just not yet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to give them a one-year warning. And if the drugs don't stop, or largely stop, we're going to put tariffs on Mexico and products in particular cars. The whole ball game is cars. It's the big ball game. With many countries, it's cars.

And if that doesn't stop the drugs, we close the border.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: CNN's White House correspondent, Abby Phillip, is with me.

And so we go from close the border to you get a warning.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Close the border this week specifically is what President Trump said last week.

And now he's punting that an entire year into the future and saying that Mexico is already doing a lot to deal with the immigration issue at the border. He wants them to do more on the issue of drugs, but he's not going to penalize them and, frankly, penalize the U.S. economy by closing the border. That idea was something that caused a lot of chaos here in this White

House and in Washington, when the president brought it up repeatedly in appearances and in a series of tweets, aides scrambling to try to convince him of the kind of economic damage that would be caused if he did that.

And now it seems that the president is retreating. He's done a 180, completely changing his stance, and saying that, instead of closing the border, his first resort is going to be to impose auto tariffs on Mexico.

And this is the White House backing down from something that, as a matter of policy, they hadn't really worked out what it would look like on the ground, and, frankly, a lot of people were warning that it wouldn't be worth it. It wouldn't even address the immigration issue that the president was so concerned about in the first place.

What this means now is that I think President Trump, going to the border tomorrow, is going to continue to beat the drum for legal immigration changes from Congress. But he's no longer going to be talking about closing the border as early as this week.

And that's the president backing down on something that a lot of people here in the White House, Republicans on Capitol Hill just never thought was a good idea in the first place -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Abby Phillip, thank you, Abby.

Coming up next: House Democrats file a formal request to get six years of President Trump's tax returns. He says they're still under audit.

We will talk to an expert whether Congress has legal standing to get them.

And just into CNN, Boeing releases a statement just as we get our first look at the report from a deadly Ethiopian Air crash. We are also hearing from the family and one of the American victims for the very first time.

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BALDWIN: All right, in the wake of the Ethiopian Air crash, and all signs now pointing to Boeing, Boeing just now releasing the statement.

I'm just going to read it for you, in part, starting with this first line: "We at Boeing are sorry for the lives lost in the recent 737 MAX incidents. These tragedies continue to weigh heavily on our hearts and minds. And we extend our sympathies to the loved ones of the passengers and crew. The history of our industry shows most accidents are caused by a chain of events. This again is the case here, and we know we can break one of those chain links in these two accidents.

"As pilots have told us, erroneous activation of the MCAS function can add to what is already a high workload environment. It is our responsibility to eliminate this risk. We own it, and we know how to do it. We're taking a comprehensive, disciplined approach, and taking the time to get the software update right. We are nearing completion and anticipate its certification and implementation on the 737 MAX fleet worldwide in the weeks ahead.

[15:20:17]

"We regret the impact the grounding has had on our airline customers and their passengers. This update, along with the associated training and educational -- additional educational materials that pilots want in the wake of these accidents, will eliminate the possibility of unintended MCAS activation, and prevent an MCAS-related accident from ever happening again."

So, Tom Foreman, I'm starting with you here on all of this.

And I can't help but, as I'm reading this, think of these families who have lost loved ones. And, I mean, that's one whole piece of this for me, but the other, this seems to be the first time that they're actually admitting MCAS...

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

BALDWIN: ... the software system, was to blame in both of those accidents.

FOREMAN: Yes, it really is, despite the fact that many people were saying, look, that was the cause of the Lion Air crash off Indonesia some five months ago. And many people back then were saying, why don't you just pull all these planes until you have it fixed, so something else doesn't happen?

The position of Boeing and of the FAA seemed to be for quite some time that pilots, if this went wrong -- and their position was that it was a very rare occurrence -- that they had the training and they had the tools at hand to overcome that.

The release of this preliminary report, coupled with the Lion Air crash, this crash in Ethiopia, seems to suggest that pilots can do, if not everything right, because maybe everybody doesn't do everything right, an awful lot right, and still not be able to recover these planes.

So, in Boeing's position here, they have not just a technical problem, in terms of trying to make sure that the fix they put on this plane actually works, and doesn't make it worse, but also a confidence problem.

And this is statement is a lot about the confidence problem, trying to tell airlines around the world, trying to tell pilots around the world and trying to tell passengers around the world, we're not going to hide behind this. We're going to say, it is our fault, even though we don't have the final report yet. We believe it's our fault. We're going to fix it. The question is, can they convince people that they really did fix it?

And, by the way, Brooke, a bunch of investigations still swirling here, looking at the federal government, people who are overseeing this program, and at Boeing, to say, how did it ever get to this point? Those will go on, even if the fix is put into place.

BALDWIN: Stay with me.

I want to bring in another voice, Mary Schiavo. She's a CNN transportation analyst and former inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation.

And, Mary, I should also point out you're an attorney representing families of airline crash victims and has current litigation pending against Boeing.

But the question to you, Mary, is, when I read this statement, from the days immediately following the Lion Air accident, like, they have been looking into this the whole time. "We're taking a comprehensive, disciplined approach, taking the time to get the software update right."

If I'm the family of someone of these 157 people in that crash in Ethiopia, I'm thinking, why did it take a second plane going down for you to do something?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, it should not have taken a second plane to go down.

And even in this statement, while the statement was long overdue, and it finally admits an unintended deployment of the MCAS system -- that's the first we have heard that out of Boeing, even though it has been fairly obvious to everyone and anyone who's ever flown a plane, you know you don't want the plane pushing the nose down on takeoff.

So I think that the families probably have the -- and I have talked to some of them -- probably are saying, it's just so little so late. But it is important that they say, we own it. Now, what that means, that doesn't have a legal implication. It should, but Boeing should absolutely step up to the plate and say, this is our fault.

They have some weasel words in the statement, saying, well, the pilots want this training. That's nonsense. Pilots need this training. And all of this, the MCAS system, was so Boeing could advertise the plane that it felt the same and flew the same as older 737s.

So this is an important statement, but there's still a lot to be done after it.

BALDWIN: We had been talking last hour to Drew Griffin, who's out in Washington at Boeing H.Q. And we were -- he was talking that, in 2017, Boeing's CEO boasted about the streamlined approval process.

I mean, let me play the sound. Then I want to ask you a question in the wake of this letter.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DENNIS MUILENBURG, CEO, BOEING: Yes, just to comment on that, one, the overall focus on deregulation and simplifying processes is one that we have been a strong proponent for.

And the administration has been very engaged across government agencies and with industry to find ideas and ways and opportunities to simplify and streamline.

[15:25:03]

Things like FAA certification processes is one place that we're seeing some solid progress. That's helping us more efficiently work through certification some of our new model aircraft, such as the MAX, as it's going through flight tests and entering into service.

So we're already seeing some benefits there of some of the work that's being done with the FAA.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BALDWIN: So that was the CEO in 2017, and talking about the planes, both of which, Indonesia and then in Ethiopia, crashed. And he uses the word streamlines.

Critics could say, cut corners. How do you see it, Mary Schiavo, or Tom?

SCHIAVO: Well, and it's very telling now, because the world now is exposed to how the FAA oversight works.

And the problem with getting your wish and getting the oversight streamline from the FAA, meaning you're getting precious little oversight, if any -- and there is a 2015 Office of Inspector General report, my old office, that said the FAA hadn't even begun to have a framework in place to oversee the Boeing-designated inspections.

So the flip side of that is, you don't want the FAA meddling? Well, when something goes wrong, you are 100 percent responsible. They can't say, well, the FAA approved this and, therefore, we have -- there's a thing in the law called federal preemption. They can't claim that old chestnut and say, there's nothing wrong because the government approved it.

BALDWIN: Yes.

SCHIAVO: In this case, Boeing is the government.

BALDWIN: Go ahead, Tom.

(CROSSTALK)

FOREMAN: And do bear in mind that this was only a couple months into the Trump administration. This isn't all about Donald Trump and his stepping back of regulations.

SCHIAVO: Right.

FOREMAN: This is about a general sense that some people have that, in too many cases, industry has been asked to police itself. And perhaps, perhaps the findings here will say that was one of the flaws.

BALDWIN: OK, Tom and Mary, thank you.

FOREMAN: You're welcome.

SCHIAVO: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Want to move to some breaking up on Capitol Hill right now.

Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican from Iowa, is lambasting Democrats for their efforts to get their hands on six years of President Trump's tax returns. So let's just listen to some of the sound right now.

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SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: ... using their oversight responsibilities to collect as much information about this president's finances as they can get their hands on.

And that is really the bottom line, isn't it? This letter from the House Democrats doesn't make sense when taken at face value, because you can't take it at face value. Democrats say they're interested in the tax returns of all presidents, when they're really just interested in one, President Trump.

If the effort to get the president's tax returns isn't part of a grand reform effort, as they would have us believe, then what is it motivated by? I want to tell you what it's motivated by. It's motivated by the Democrats' intense dislike of this president.

It's motivated by their frustration over losing an election that they thought that they would easily win. It's motivated by their desire to use all the resources at their disposal to find something, anything to bring this president down.

Just take a look at how this whole effort to request the president's tax reforms has unfolded. It will tell you a real story. Democrats started making calls for the President Trump's -- for President Trump's -- to release his tax returns while he was still a candidate during the 2016 election.

At the time, Democratic calls for the release of his tax returns were clearly just a political attack, not a policy issue, as they now want us to believe. Secretary Clinton said -- quote -- "There must be something really terrible in those tax returns" -- end of her quote.

BALDWIN: Senator Grassley there speaking on Capitol Hill.

I want to go straight to Manu Raju, who has been listening in as well.

And I think let's just -- stepping back, Manu, and you help fill in the context. This all has to do with the committee chairman of House Ways and Means citing this little known IRS code, so that they can procure six years' worth of President Trump's tax returns.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, his personal taxes, his business taxes.

That's what Chairman Neal is asking for. Now, Chuck Grassley is his counterpart on the Senate side. He's the Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Both the Finance Committee and the Ways and Means Committee oversee tax laws.

And Grassley himself has said that, if there's tax returns that are turned over to Richard Neal's committee, he should see them as well. But what Grassley is making here is his argument that Democrats are trying to weaponize the tax returns to attack the president.

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