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NTSB Investigating Helicopter Crash in New York Building, Pilot Identified; Helicopter Crash Renews Concerns for Flying Helicopters Over Big Cities; Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) Discusses Trump's Mexico Tariffs & Trade, Impeachment, Elections in Michigan; New Questions About Extravagant Spending at NRA. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired June 11, 2019 - 11:30   ET



[11:30:00] DON ESTES, CHIEF, EAST CLINTON FIRE DEPARTMENT: Tim will be exceptionally missed by his department members. Not only for his leadership but his wonderful sense of humor. Rest in peace, brother.


BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a lot of people hurting with this news of this tragic death.

Hopefully, we'll get more answers from the NTSB. We're hoping to hear from them at some point today -- Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, that's so sad hearing from his colleague.

Thank you so much, Brynn. Really appreciate it.

So while that crash is obviously still under investigation, it is renewing -- the crash yesterday is renewing questions and concerns about the safety of helicopter flights over a city like New York. Yesterday's crash was the second in less than a month. Of course, nothing like what we saw yesterday, though.

My next guest has been really fighting and talking about this for years. Adrian Benepe served as New York City's Parks commissioner for 11 years under Mayor Bloomberg. He's there.

Great to see you, Adrian.


BOLDUAN: Thank you for being here.

We don't know what happened. It's under investigation. But just when you heard yesterday that a helicopter had crashed into the roof of a building on 51st and 7th, what went through your mind?

BENEPE: First, great sadness for the loss of this pilot. Second, that this was entirely predictable. When you have this much

nonessential helicopter traffic in such crowded air space over the most densely populated city in America, tragedies are bound to happen.

The fact that this is the second crash in three weeks, the second fatal crash in less than a year and a quarter, say, there's been a huge proliferation of nonessential commercial tourist flights and commuter flights and even flights to the airport that you're just setting up a very dangerous situation for New Yorkers.

BOLDUAN: You have been raising alarm about this for years. What is it about helicopter flights that is so concerning to you?

BENEPE: You know, I don't have a problem with essential helicopter flights.


BENEPE: Medevac, news choppers, police, obviously, police and military, security, Coast Guard. But when you're talking about 200 tourist flights every day, six days a week, when you're talking about hundreds of what they call charter flights, people flying to the Hamptons, to the airports, these are convenience flights. They're not necessary. You can get there other ways.

But they're creating -- our first concern was really air and noise pollution. The impact on human health and environmental health of the city. The 6,000 tons of carbon. And increasingly, we have become concerned about the physical menace, that essentially the authorities here are really playing a roulette game with people's lives.

BOLDUAN: One of the groups that managed two of the city's three heliports says helicopter tourism contributes something like $50 million a year to the local economy. Let's say you wipe that out and it's only essential helicopters. Are you --

BENEPE: You know, I would say --

BOLDUAN: Are you OK with wiping out a loss like that?

BENEPE: I'm going to say it's not going to make tourism go away. People don't go to New York for helicopter rides. It's an add-on. I would call into doubt the numbers. It's the industry that made up those numbers.

BENEPE: Do you think a tragedy like this will lead to more steps?

BENEPE: I'm sorry that a tragedy has to happen like this, but it could have been far worse. The two helicopters that crashed in the last three weeks, one landed just off the Westside Highway. The other, if it hit the side of the building and fallen to the street below, could have killed dozens of people. So only by the grace of God or more skilled piloting were we spared catastrophes.

I think the mayor of New York, the city council, who were about to ban tourist helicopter flights a few years ago, need to get that back in the docket. Carolyn Maloney, a congresswoman, congressman member, Nadler, Velazquez, they have been calling for a ban for quite a while, and so have members of the city council.

And we almost had a ban three years ago, but there was a midnight deal between the mayor and the helicopter industry that kept it going.

Sadly, this incident shows us that this is a very dangerous thing. I travel all over the United States. There's no city in America that has this level of helicopter traffic. That's really not essential.

BOLDUAN: Let's find out what happened here. An interesting conversation, though.

Thank you for being here, Adrian. I really appreciate it.

BENEPE: Thank you for having us.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

[11:34:07] Coming up for us, President Trump, he's touting a new deal with Mexico, of course, still touting that deal. He also says the best part of the agreement is a secret. So what's really in this deal? And is it really a victory for him? That's next.


BOLDUAN: President Trump is still taking his victory lap over the deal that he says he struck with Mexico to bolster their border efforts and then avoid a trade battle with the United States. But what exactly is in the deal is maybe or maybe not still a secret?

That's at least how the president is spinning it this morning, saying the, quote, "biggest part of the deal with Mexico has not yet been revealed."

So is it too soon to judge if this deal is a good one for the United States or not?

Let's find out.

Joining me right now, Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, of Michigan.

Congresswoman, thank you for being here.

REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI): Thank you, Kate, for having me.

BOLDUAN: Do you have a sense yet of what has been agreed to by Mexico to avoid the tariffs and how much of it is new?

DINGELL: You know, no, I don't. I'm getting the same data you are where he's saying we haven't made it public yet. Many people say that what's in there was negotiated six months ago.

Personally, for me, from a state that would have been the most impacted by these tariffs, he threw a grenade into the middle of trying to get negotiations to get what I call NAFTA 2.0. My workers in the state of Michigan, the autoworkers, we have closed plants that have been there for two decades because of NAFTA 1.0.

[11:40:13] We need a new trade deal. We're working towards getting there.

I have some issues so that Mexico can't pay $1.50 an hour that the autoworkers in the United States are competing against. They were making progress, and he lobbed a grenade that really hurt the progress of those talks.

BOLDUAN: And to be clear, just to your point, you are no fan of NAFTA.

DINGELL: Correct.

BOLDUAN: You are somewhat supportive of the new NAFTA efforts that Trump is working out with some changes with Mexico and Canada.

You call it this grenade. Do you think the scare of these tariffs has threatened the passage of the new NAFTA deal that does need to get the green light from Congress?

DINGELL: So I will say this to you. Nobody understands what it did. I'm in an industry that's more fragile -- I'm not in it, I used to be. I represent an industry, the auto industry, that's more fragile than people realize.

So when they have uncertainty with trade, now you have regulation coming down on the CAFE standards where there's a threat of having two sets of standards, and you have union negotiations coming up. This is an industry that needs stability and certainty.

Now, we need trade policies. General Motors last august put a blazer plant in Mexico. I know they're tired of hearing me say this, but they did, and they're paying $1.50 an hour. Our workers can't compete with that. We need a trade deal that levels the playing field.

Ambassador Lighthizer gets that. We're working towards that. We need a new trade deal. I'm one of the most likely Democrats to support this deal when we get these tweaks in place.

And the tariffs issue just totally blew up constructive conversations, though I think we're getting back on track. And I have said to all my colleagues, we need new trade policy for NAFTA.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you about something else. We heard Speaker Pelosi today say again she does not want to talk about impeachment. She wants to talk about the other agenda items. You have said the same thing to me in our conversations.

But an interesting argument came to me from Congressman Jared Huffman, a colleague of yours. He says the endless handwringing over impeachment or not impeachment is the real distraction. If you just launch the inquiry, everyone else would be able to focus on the important work that you want to focus on and the Judiciary Committee would just handle that.

Do you see his point?

DINGELL: No, I don't. I think we have to get the facts. I do not want to divide this country further. I think it's very important we come together.

And I don't need to have an official impeachment committee to -- I am focused on trade. Trade is one of my number one issues. I'm focused on health care. There's a pension crisis in this country. We need an infrastructure bill.

I am focused, yes, I want to get the facts. Nobody is above the law. But I think we have to deliver for the American people. And that's what they expect us to do. They expect us to work together. These are issues that are impacting working men and women every single day. And when I'm home in my district, I'm hearing about it.

BOLDUAN: I want to ask you about your district, because we have talked about this many times. You have predicted --


DINGELL: It's complicated.

BOLDUAN: It is complicated. It is complicated. You predicted Democrats were in trouble in Michigan, not just in your district, in Michigan broadly in the 2016 election.


BOLDUAN: President Trump, of course, ended up winning the state.

Now I'm seeing a new poll in Michigan that has Biden and Sanders both beating Trump by 12 points there. Is that what you're seeing happening? Do you think Trump has lost Michigan now?

DINGELL: I don't think he's lost it. I don't think anyone has won or lost almost any state. I think the election is a lifetime between now and next November.

I do think that if he doesn't deliver on trade issues when he says, you know, we had a theme during our last governor's election, fix the blank roads. I won't say it on national television. People want to see us working on these issues.

When the president walks into a meeting and says, I'm not going to work with you on infrastructure, that worries people.

Women who stayed home last time are very worried about what's happening on choice.

But it could flip in a second. You don't get a trade deal. You know, trade mattered in Michigan two years ago.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you, just really quickly then, the whole concept of what should the message be to, if you want to -- let's say, Joe Biden today, he's giving a big speech this evening, and the speech, as they have released it, is eviscerating Donald Trump, taking him on every issue, politics, personality, but it's really all about Donald Trump.

Do you like that as the message to try to win voters back who voted for Trump in '16, voted for Obama in '12 and '08, to win them back this time?

[11:45:00] DINGELL: This is what I'm going to say to anybody. I think Donald Trump won because people thought he cared about the issues that mattered to them. They were tired of partisan bickering and wanted to see somebody shake things up. Well, he shook things up. But a lot of the issues he said he would deliver on, he hasn't delivered on either.

I think people are tired of people taking shots at each other. And there are some who are dug in on both sides.

But what they really want is to know that somebody cares about them. Cares about their jobs, cares about their having a safe and secure retirement, cares about whether they can afford their prescriptions, whether they can educate their kids, whether they can put food on their table.

Those are the issues that are going to -- whoever wins in 2020 is going to have to show that they care about. And that's what I think is going to be the winning message. And we'll see where we are next year.

But I think the American people are tired of all this name calling. I think there's name calling on both sides. I think they want to see us talk about things that matter to them.

BOLDUAN: Let's continue that.

Congresswoman, thank you for coming on. Appreciate it.

DINGELL: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

BOLDUAN: Of course.

Still to come, a new report raising new questions about extravagant spending at the NRA. This, as the powerful lobbying group faces new criticism over several conflicts of interest.

More right after this.


[11:51:17] BOLDUAN: Questions about the NRA and how it spends its money are drawing some unwanted attention now from state and federal investigators.

Infighting at the gun lobby's top ranks is also roiling the investigation as it eventually started to push out the group's president over that is correct.

And now the "Washington Post," in a big report, is reporting that more than a dozen board members may have benefitted from money spent by the nonprofit organization. That nonprofit status is a big question right now. What does this all mean?

Joining me with the details is CNN correspondent, Tom Foreman.

Good to see you, Tom.

What have you learned?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, in a nutshell, what's happened is the NRA is a massive organization, millions and millions of dollars, and now at least it looks like part of the problem may be that the people who approve the spending of that money are also getting some of that money, and that could really test the loyalty of a lot of NRA members.


FOREMAN (voice-over): Three million dollars to a firearms company executive, $400,000 to a former pro football player, $255,000 to a former police officer and 50,000 to a rock star. In all, the "Washington Post" cites 18 members of the National Rifle Association board getting paid for a variety of goose and services by the NRA.

Illegal? No. But for a powerful tax-exempt organization such matters can draw scrutiny from the Internal Revenue Service.

George Donnini is an attorney focused on corporate law.

GEORGE DONNINI, CORPORATE LAW ATTORNEY: It calls into question, at least potentially, people acting in their own self-interest versus the interest of the organization, to which they owe a fiduciary duty.

FOREMAN: Tax law says a 501(c)3 organization, such as the NRA, "is prohibited to allow its assets to benefit insiders, typically, board members, officers, directors and important employees."

The NRA says "The Post" has presented a distorted view. And in the close-knit community of gun rights supporters and the NRA connections between employees or board members and strategic partners are not unusual.

But other allegations are also rocking the gun rights group.

OLIVER NORTH, FORMER NRA PRESIDENT: I always feel at home at an NRA annual meeting surrounded by law-abiding citizens of in great republic.

FOREMAN: NRA president, Oliver North, was pushed out when he went to war with longtime CEO, Wayne Lapierre, who has been accused of lavish spending on clothes, foreign travel, and approving exorbitant legal fees.

WAYNE LAPIERRE, CEO, NRA: Well, I'll tell you, the only reason I can keep up this fight is because of you.

FOREMAN: Lapierre pointed the finger at North, accusing him of cashing in on an NRA deal with an advertising company. Everyone is denying everything.

But amid this, the New York attorney general has launched a probe. Congressional investigators are looking at alleged contact between NRA officials and some people caught up in the Russia investigation.

And even President Trump who loves the NRA --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You are great American patriots.

FOREMAN: -- has tweeted, "Stop the internal fighting and get back to greatness."


FOREMAN: Now, nobody really thinks the NRA is going to lose their tax-exempt status over this. That's a real long shot.

But nobody at the NRA is happy about this either because the optics are just so bad here, Kate. The idea that the people who are writing the checks --

BOLDUAN: Exactly.

FOREMAN: -- includes the people who are getting the checks.

They may say they have some firewalls in place but I'm not sure how that's going to fly with their members out there. And at a time when the NRA already has some problems, it's another case of them shooting themselves in the foot -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Pun intended.

FOREMAN: Pun intended.

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

[11:54:04] Coming up, all eyes on Iowa. President Trump, Joe Biden hitting the ground in the state.