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Some on Mueller's Team Frustrated at Report; Trump Not Inclined to Release Taxes; Field of Democratic Hopefuls Expands; Preliminary Report on Ethiopian Crash. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired April 4, 2019 - 13:00   ET



[13:00:22] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, Attorney General Bill Barr defending his summary after members of Robert Mueller's team say the findings of their investigation were more damaging than Barr revealed.

Congress wants to reveal Trump's biggest secret, his tax returns. Why this battle could go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Five more Democrats either jumping in or signaling they are close to jumping in to the 2020 presidential race. That would bring the candidate count to a whopping 20.

And a preliminary report on the Ethiopian Airlines crash is in, and it looks bad for Boeing. This as audio emerges of the company's CEO boasting about how quickly the FAA approved of the troubled 737 Max 8 jet.

We are starting with the Department of Justice responding to criticism of Attorney General William Barr's portrayal of the Mueller report. The usually tight-lipped Mueller investigators are now questioning the attorney general's summary of their work. And they say that their conclusions in their nearly 400-page report are much worse for the president than Barr has indicated.

The president is calling this fake news on Twitter, even though he has not seen the actual Mueller report.

Jessica Schneider is at the Justice Department, where officials there are now responding.

Jess, what are they saying?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, the Department of Justice now trying to tamp down on these reports that CNN has confirmed that investigators from Mueller's team have been frustrated and griping about the fact that they don't believe that Barr's initial four-page letter to Congress adequately summarized and encapsulate what Robert Mueller's full report, that's about 400 pages, actually said. So the Justice Department is pushing back on this. They're trying to explain the process that this report has been undergoing ever since Bill Barr goes it back on March 22, 2019. And the Justice Department issuing a lengthy statement, in part they're saying this, 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 redaction process. The department conditions to work with the special counsel on appropriate redactions to the report so that it can be released to Congress and the public.

So the Justice Department there really reiterating what the attorney general told Congress in that four-page report just about two weeks ago, telling them that this would not be an exhaustive summery, that instead he would let the report, once it was released with redactions, speak for itself.

One thing the Justice Department did not direct -- did not directly addressed in this statement are the portions of our reporting, and "The New York Times" and "Washington Post," that the investigators from Mueller's team also incorporated in that report a summary. You know, there have been reports that these investigators thought that the summary could be released on their own because it was mostly redacted and void of that sensitive information. But we've heard from a source that, no, in fact, these summaries, even the summaries, not the report, they did still contain this grand jury information, and that's something the Justice Department did say, they said that every single page of this report from Robert Mueller contained sensitive information that had to go through and be redacted. So that's coming from the Justice Department.

But, of course, we're also hearing from the president within just minutes of the Justice Department pushing back on these reports from "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post." President Trump took to Twitter right around 11:00 a.m. Here's what he said. He said, "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.

You know, but it's important to note that "The New York Times" wasn't completely debunked by this Justice Department statement. It hasn't been delegitimized. In fact, the Justice Department was just explaining, Brianna, what the process is here now that they have faced some criticism in the press.


KEILAR: Also that "The New York Times" is one of the president's favorite outlets to talk to.


KEILAR: Jessica Schneider, thank you so much for your report from the Justice Department. President Trump says he's not inclined to turn six years of his tax returns as requested by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal over setting up a confrontation that will likely end up in the Supreme Court.

We have CNN politics congressional reporter Lauren Fox who is with us.

You were the first to break this story. So walk us through how this battle is going to play out here in the next few months, maybe -- maybe even longer.

[13:05:00] LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: That's right. And we should back up. The day after the election, I spoke with Richard Neal, and he told me that he planned to request the president's tax returns. Of course we know it took several months for him to actually formally make that request to the IRS. That's what he did yesterday. He was the only Democrat on Capitol Hill who can actually make that request, Brianna. That's because of a very little known tax code known as 6103. And that tax code, it's a little bit in the weeds here, but what it essentially says, is it says that the House Ways and Means chairman, or the chairman of the Finance Committee in the Senate can request an individual's tax information. So, Richard Neal sent his request to the IRS for the president's tax information.

Of course, we know, and the president's already said, he's not likely to hand it over. So where does that leave Democrats? Essentially what it means is that Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee will probably send another reminder after that one-week deadline expires. Then what happens? Well, Richard Neal told me earlier today that he is not sure exactly what next step he will take after that, but he assured me there is a next step. Whether they subpoena this, whether they simply sue for them, that is still a question.

And when I've talked to legal experts about how 6103 works, they essentially have said, you know, we're not sure that you actually have to make a subpoena. You may only just have to sue, essentially, to get the documents you're looking for. That 6103 request essentially being the request in itself.

So, a lot to unpack here. And this, of course, like you said at the top, it could be a matter of not months but even years.


KEILAR: Even years.

All right, Lauren Fox, thank you so much.

And we're going to have more on this tax return fight in just a moment.

First, though, let's talk to Laura Coates and Dana Bash for the legal and the political perspectives on what we're hearing out of the special counsel's team. So these investigators were quiet for so long, right? There -- there

really was no leaking coming out of the Mueller team. But now -- for almost two years. Now they're speaking out, Dana. So what does that tell you?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they -- we should sort of emphasize that the reporting that "The New York Times" did, and you said this earlier, it was based on -- the way that they sourced it was associates of the prosecutors. So they were very intriguingly careful with the way that they talked about their sourcing. And, you know, I hate to be the skunk at the garden party, but I just think it should be soon, maybe I'm being optimistic as well, that we will see at least the large chunk of this Mueller report to be able to decide for ourselves how -- how the Barr letter was characterized.

And, look, I mean, I think that the fact that Barr himself went out of his way to say in the letter to Congress a couple of Sundays ago that this was his -- you know, that he took the conclusions of Mueller and wrote it himself intentionally is noteworthy.

We should also note that the Republicans at the time, and the Democrats at the time, both said, hold on a second, we need to see exactly what's in there.

Also on the narrative, it was obvious from the get go, from the jump, that Barr was trying to set it. Not that he was trying to mislead necessarily because he -- I mean our reporting that day that it came out was that he understood that we would probably see it and if he was misleading he would get called on it. But setting the narrative was crucial, and that is going to be very hard to change, and that was the frustration from that day among Democrats.

KEILAR: It's like reading the headline --

BASH: Yes.

KEILAR: But not reading the story.

BASH: Well put.

KEILAR: And sometimes there's some very interesting details in a story that will get missed if you just read the first few sentences.

What do you think about -- now it's being widely reported that there is this perception among several of the Mueller team investigators that the narrative doesn't match.

BASH: Right.

KEILAR: The headline here doesn't match what's in the story, if you will?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I'm not at all shocked that you'd have 101 words contained out of a 22-month investigation in this abbreviated four-page letter and it would mislead and be disingenuous in some way to the full volume of every (INAUDIBLE) actually investigated. Remember, they talked about it being a close call. If it's a close call, you can't automatically jump to the conclusion there's no obstruction without giving both sides of the issues.

KEILAR: But what about the summaries that they wrote thinking that they would be released, which obviously people would have, you know, whether it's Congress or it's the media, we would have wanted to read them.

COATES: The fact that he distilled what was already distilled is interesting and it actually makes people question what Barr's motivation was.

Remember, this is a man who -- it took him 19 pages to talk about the topic of obstruction of justice without seeing a single iota of evidence, without talking to anyone who was part of the Mueller probe. It took you 19 pages. You thought that was holistic enough.

But now it's half of a four-page memo devoid of this topic. That to you says that perhaps this was a self-fulfilling prophesy of sorts. It makes the scrutiny all the more clear. But it also tells you that, look, if somebody who is a part of the investigation already said, we anticipate national security issues, we anticipate the grand jury findings being out there and we've already taken care of that or at least know there'd be an issue, then why summarize the summation unless you wanted to, as Dana talked about, craft and frame the narrative in, frankly, a very pro-Trump way. Why --

[13:10:24] KEILAR: Let's talk -- let's talk about tax returns, which can't be framed at all because we haven't seen them. The president's tax returns, he's again using this idea of there being an audit, which is dubious. He's using this as an excuse as to why he isn't inclined to release his taxes.

Is the whole idea of an audit, which we can't confirm that it's actually happening --


KEILAR: We've been unable to -- is that just a fig leaf?

BASH: We don't know. I mean that's the -- that's the honest answer is we don't know, which is the problem, that we don't know. He is not required by law to do it, but he is -- has been bucking, you know, modern day precedent by not releasing his tax returns. And the thing that is really key about what Lauren reported is that the letter that the Ways and Means Chairman sent was not to the president. It was to the IRS commissioner because he has the authority, now that he has the gavel as a Democrat in charge, and, by the way, the Republicans in charge had the same authority, but --

KEILAR: To 6103, the tax -- that's a verb, I think, now --

BASH: Yes.

KEILAR: To 6103 the tax returns, right? BASH: Only the cool kids are saying that like you, Bri?

KEILAR: Thank you. Yes, the nerdy ones. The nerdy ones.

BASH: Exactly. And so, you know, we'll see what happens. This is going to be, and this is -- this is your lane so I should let you speak about it, but this is going to be a very -- likely a very lengthy legal fight, which means that the political fight will be as long.

The question is, how much, if at all, will this move voters if there are any so-called swing voters out there who care? I think people who can't stand him are already mad. The people who like him are saying, OK, it's more noise.

KEILAR: Really, really quickly, is --

COATES: Well, remember --

KEILAR: Is the -- do you think the committee chairman of House Ways and Means going to be successful in getting these tax returns?

COATES: He has a successful, legal hook as to a non-partisan, non- political basis to have exercise of oversight of something that's auditing the president. And Dana's right, (INAUDIBLE) has bucked tradition for a long time. But you know from the Mueller report and the delay tactics about even having an interview, the delay actually (INAUDIBLE) -- the benefited of the president of the United States.


COATES: They are keenly aware of this and they will exercise it again in every litigation that comes up.

KEILAR: Laura and Dana, thank you so much for your insights.

BASH: Thanks, Bri.

KEILAR: So just when you thought it couldn't get any more crowded, the field of Democrats running for president expands and expands again. Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan is the latest to jump into this race. He made this announcement today in an online ad and on "The View" where he talked about how plant closures in Ohio have shaped his life.


REP. TIM RYAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I can go back just a few weeks where my daughter called me crying from school because her friend was crying to her, her dad just got transferred at the local General Motors plant, the kids had to move.


RYAN: And my daughter called me and she said, you got to do something. And I said, I'm going to do something. And I'm going to run for president of the United States.


KEILAR: South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg plans a special announcement on April 14th. And then there's former Vice President Joe Biden, who's almost certain to join this crowd field.

We have CNN's political director David Chalian here with us, which is very good because I'm losing count here.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: And even more than that. We still haven't heard from Terry McAuliffe or Steve Bullock, the governor of Montana, or Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York. There are still like six candidates on the sidelines. And with Tim Ryan in the race, we've got 17 in there already.

KEILAR: This is a -- this is a -- this is a stage problem for a debate, right? Where's the room?


KEILAR: You'd have like five different debates.

OK, so let's look at the folks who are still considering a run.

California Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell could announce that he is running. Stacey Abrams, the former candidate for governor of Georgia is still mulling a run. Let's listen to what she said on MSNBC.



I think that the timing for me is first deciding about the Senate, because I do think you cannot run for an office unless you know that's the job you want to do. I don't think you use offices as stepping stones. And so my first responsibility is to determine whether a Senate run is right for me and then the next conversation for myself will be, if not the Senate, then what else?


KEILAR: You find those remarks interesting?


KEILAR: Tell me.

CHALIAN: I do. We know that Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, wooing Stacey Abrams hard to get into that Senate race. They believe it's the best shot they've got to take that Georgia Senate seat if it's with Stacey Abrams as their candidate.

The other thing Stacey Abrams said that was so intrigue about not shutting down the door to a presidential run was that she didn't need to decide until the fall. And so she sees this as a --perhaps something that she can do on a different kind of schedule than the rest of the competitors in the field.

[13:15:07] But what I heard there, Brianna, and I've talked to people that are familiar with her thinking, they say she hasn't shut the door to a presidential run but they don't expect that to be where she ends up. But I was just surprised. She didn't sound very enthusiastic about a Senate race in those comments this morning. And so I just wonder if there's a lot more thought going on than it's already sort of a fait accompli what she's going to do.

KEILAR: Could she wait till fall? Do you think, when you're thinking of the money coming in, I mean if she would just get it grassroots style, would that -- would fall work or no?

CHALIAN: I mean you know she would be behind on the money. But, you know, politics is -- there's no sort of rule book at the moment in the Trump era, and so I am -- I would be cautious to say you can't do something a certain way. I -- you know, I think we're in an era of politics where -- where you can try new things and they may be successful.

KEILAR: It depends on the person.

All right, David Chalian, thank you so much.

CNN has obtained a copy of the preliminary report on the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash. And what it says about the pilot's actions and the significant similarities to another crash of the same type of Boeing jet, very interested.

Plus, President Trump changes his tune again on the border with Mexico. Minutes ago he announced that he'll wait a year before taking action. But he has some new demands for the neighbor to the south.

And a chorus of criticism to the president's rhetoric and his politics coming from an unlikely source.


[13:20:45] KEILAR: Significant similarities between the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes. This is from a preliminary report obtained first by CNN that has not been released publically. And it reveals that the pilots on that Ethiopian Airlines flight were unable to stabilize the plane after following the emergency procedures recommended by Boeing.

These problems mirror those that were encountered in the Lion Air crash from October. That was also a 737 Max 8.

We have CNN aviation analyst Miles O'Brien and CNN senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin with us outside of the Boeing Renton, Washington, factory. That is where the 737 Max is made.

So, Miles, to you first, put these findings, which are pretty startling, into perspective for us.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, Brianna, I think the thing that strikes me the most, as I think back on this, is that everything that regulators needed to know to ground the 737 Max 8 was available after the first crash, the Indonesian crash. They had identified a problem, a single point failure, one sensor feeding a critical flights control system that is designed to keep the aircraft from stalling. They identified that problem, realized it was a systemic fleet wide problem. They went to work at coming up with a fix and yet they let the airplanes continue to fly even though they knew what the consequences might be.

So that's very troubling to me. I think regulators might have not done their job in this case in saying, let's get this fixed before we fly any of these aircraft again. Could have saves the tragedy that occurred in Ethiopia.

KEILAR: And Boeing -- or you're there at Boeing, Drew. What are they saying about this?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are basically acknowledging, and I think for the first time by name acknowledging that the very system and the problem that Miles just talked about is, in fact, responsible for these two crashes.

Now, this is a preliminary report in both cases, but it is Boeing in its own statement that is inwardly pointing the focus on them, their design and their software problem. And in a statement that was released here just about an hour ago says that the software fix is to ensure unintended MCAS activation, that's the software, will not occur again. Boeing has developed and is planning to release a software update to MCAS and an associated comprehensive pilot training and supplementary education program for the 737 Max. And goes on to say, Brianna, as previously announced, the update adds additional layers of protection and will prevent erroneous data from causing MCAS activation. Fight crews will always have the ability to override MCAS and manually control the airplane.

The pilots in the Ethiopian crash, according to the preliminary report, did respond the way Boeing wanted them to respond to this problem, but still could not overcome the problem. But I think really here Boeing is sharpening the focus on itself, its design, and again speaks to the question that Miles was talking about is, how this got certified in the first place and why, after the Lion Air crash back in October, this fleet wasn't grounded.

KEILAR: And that could come down to the coziness between Boeing and the FAA. So let's listen to something that we've just unearthed, which is the CEO of Boeing boasting about that streamline approval for the 737 Max.


DENNIS MUILENBURG, CEO, BOEING: Yes. Just to comment on that. One, the overall focus on deregulation and simplifying processes is one that we've been a strong proponent for. And the -- the administration has been very engaged across government agencies and with industry to -- to find ideas and ways and opportunities to simplify and streamline. Things like FAA certification processes is -- is one place that we're seeing some solid progress. That's helping us more efficiently work through certification on 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 for the FAA.


[13:25:05] KEILAR: And, Miles, he attributed that to the pro-business philosophy of the new Trump administration.

Do you think that deregulation is -- is this -- is this proving that some of this deregulation or this coziness is bad for the public, it's bad for Boeing? What do you think?

O'BRIEN: Well, there's an expression in the aviation world and then the FAA in particular, the rules are written in blood, which is to say the reason the entire enterprise of aviation is so safe, and it is amazingly safe despite what we're talking about here today, is that we have learned from the mistakes of prior accidents and enacted regulations to ensure they don't happen again. And deconstructing that, walking that back, has grave consequences. The rules are written in blood and taking the rules away opens up the possibility of people getting hurt.

KEILAR: All right, Miles O'Brien, Drew Griffin, thank you so much to both of you.

And next, a new report says that President Trump's son-in-law turned adviser, Jared Kushner, tops the list of people initially denied high security clearance at the White House.

Plus, an American tourist is kidnapped in the African nation of Uganda. We'll have the latest on the frantic search to find her.