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White House Struggling to Form Cohesive Messaging Strategy; Feds Subpoena Brother of Giuliani Associate Igor Fruman; Indonesia Releases Final Report on Deadly Lion Air Crash. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired October 25, 2019 - 13:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: We're now a month into the speedy impeachment inquiry against President Trump and the White House is still struggling to formulate a uniform response while also dealing with the defiant and unpredictable president.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Here's the thing. I don't have teams. Everybody is talking about teams. I'm the team.


KEILAR: So we're told the White House is now eying former Treasury Department spokesman, Tony Sayegh, to lead the administration's message strategy amid reports of constant infighting between the president's chief of staff and legal counsel.

I want to bring in CNN host and political commentator, Michael Smerconish, and McClatchy White House correspondent, Francesca Chambers, to talk about this.

You heard the president, Michael. He said he doesn't need a team. He is the team. How do you see that approach working so far?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND CNN HOST, "SMERCONISH": I'm a lawyer but I wouldn't want to represent myself, and I would suggest that even though his political instincts are often spot on, this might be a case where he'll want to surrender some judgment to an outside counsel.

Look, they haven't offered, Brianna, a substantive defense to the allegations which, frankly, don't seem like they're very much in dispute.

The whistleblower complaint was backed up by the transcript of the call with President Zelensky, and then you've got the diplomatic court testimony as it has leaked, particularly the 15-page statement from Ambassador Taylor. It all tells the same story. The defense from the White House so far has been one of process, like

unleashing the Republican members of Congress to disrupt that hearing earlier this week. But in the end, if it gets past the House and there's a Senate trial, there will need to be some level of substantive defense.

I thought that Mick Mulvaney, frankly, as a legal matter was on the right path a week ago when he tried to own the quid pro quo, but very quickly they did an about-face on that.

So bottom line, thus far, there hasn't been a substantive defense. It's all been about the process.

KEILAR: They should have a substantive defense by now, right?

You would think they wouldn't be just flip-flopping and confined of flailing, Francesca. Tell us where they are on finding someone to help with the messaging as we learn that former Treasury Department spokesperson, Tony Sayegh, is under consideration.

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY: There's no war room but they are ramping up pressure for the president to come up with a more cohesive message on strategy to lead the war room.

Who are they considering for that? Tony Sayegh is under consideration. The question is if he would want to take the job. He had left the administration and moved back to New York. He was happy at the time. He has not said this is something he would like to do.

Pam Bondi is also being considered for this role. Also unclear this is something she would like to do.

No doubt, this is an issue for the president. I'm also told by Mick Mulvaney this is not a reflection of the job he is or isn't doing, this would just be an addition to the job.

KEILAR: We're learning Democrats are starting to think about what would be in articles of impeachment. Lawmakers and aids have told CNN that. And I just heard from Congressman Ro Khanna that he hopes there would be public hearings after Thanksgiving, Francesca. So we're at least a month out from that.

But knowing they're getting started on articles of impeachment, how much do they tell you about the information they have and how much the White House should be worried?

CHAMBERS: In terms of the war room, the White House thought they didn't need one and it would be too early for that that should certainly make them think they need to speed this up a little bit, because you don't want to be caught off guard and have no infrastructure in place.


The White House counsel's office has been working on this, but that's quite different from having an outside firm working on this or even one of those impeachment war room that we've been talking about

KEILAR: And, Michael, we've heard from Senator Lindsey Graham who says that President Trump needs to take a page out of the Clinton playbook. He needs for others to take the helm and he needs to ignore the distraction and focus on governing. Can you imagine a situation where that's what Trump would do?

SMERCONISH: I can imagine him wanting to do that. I don't know that Democrats in the House would be inclined to play ball with him.

I think this issue is a five-alarm fire on the corridor. I'm not sure about the rest of the country.

Brianna, I base that, in large part, on the fact, by day, what do I do? I answer the telephone, and the people who are calling me to talk about issues are scattered all across the country.

It's not so clear to me that this has really resonated yet with Americans all across the nation.

So I know it's a hot subject for us, I know it's hot on the eastern seaboard and the northeast, among the cable outlets and so forth. But in the rest of the country, I think people are focused on jobs, health care and the economy.

So to the extent he's able to show something in that regard, he, the president, it's in his best interest.

KEILAR: Yes, I think you're definitely right on that, Michael.

There's so much intense interest here. But we will see how Democrats and the White House duke out the messaging when it comes to impeachment. That's going to be the next fight here.

Michael Smerconish, Francesca Chambers, thank you.

CNN's Fareed Zakaria investigates impeachment and its role in our democracy. He has a CNN special report, "On the Brink: When the President Faces Impeachment." It airs tonight at 9:00 p.m.

We'll be right back.



KEILAR: This just in to CNN. Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed the brother of Igor Fruman. Igor Fruman is one of the recently indicted associates of Rudy Giuliani, who is paying him. Who this week pleaded not guilty to charges that he and another associate funneled foreign donations into U.S. elections.

Let's get the news from Kara Scannell.

What do we know? KARA SCANNELL, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Brianna, what we are learning

is federal prosecutors in New York who are conducting this investigation. They have suspected Igor's brother, Steve Fruman. They have been in business together.

We learned in court that Steve Fruman is actually one of the co- signers on the bail of his brother. So they've subpoenaed him. They have a number of business relationships together.

It's not entirely clear what they're trying to get with the subpoena of Fruman, but they have some financial connections and dealings, including on these campaign contributions.

What we've also learned is the prosecutors have executed numerous search warrants on the premises, including what involved blasting a door of a safe, which they had then gotten access to those contents.

They also subpoenaed more than a dozen telephone records relating to more than a dozen phone numbers. And they have also had subpoenas sent and they're culling through results from these subpoenas that result to 50 bank accounts, five, zero.

KEILAR: Five, zero.

SCANNELL: That's a lot of bank accounts involved in this investigation.

It's clear from this, this subpoena came recently. We can really kind of get the feeling that prosecutors, since these two men were arrested two weeks ago, have really advanced their investigations.

They subpoenaed Pete Sessions, the Congressman from Texas, because he had met with these men. And they had discussed the ouster of the Ukrainian ambassador -- the U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine --


KEILAR: He received a donation from them, too, right?

SCANNELL: That's right. He received a donation from them. One of these donations that prosecutors allege was illegal because they had lied about the true source of the funds.

So this investigation is really kicking off since these two men were arrested just two weeks ago.

KEILAR: They are dual citizens but they received a lot of money from a Russian businessman, so it's hard to figure out where this money is flowing.

But you're tracking it down.

Kara, thank you very much. Appreciate the reporting.

[13:44:01] There's a new finding on what caused a Lion Air jet to plummet into the sea, killing everyone on board. Investigators blame blowing and the FAA, but also the pilots. We'll tell you why.


KEILAR: For design, lack of oversight and human error. All eyes are on Boeing after Indonesian investigators release their final report of Lion Aircraft killing all onboard.

Today, Boeing promises to address the safety recommendations in that report for its 737 MAX planes starting with the MCAS system.

But here's what's interesting. Pilots on both the Lion Air flight, and the Ethiopian Airlines flight that crashed kills 157 people, struggled to override the automatic program that lowers the nose of the plane when flying too slowly.

Despite this, some blame is still placed on the pilots when, just the day before that Lion Airplane crashed, flight crews on the same aircraft experienced the same system malfunction.

CNN aviation analyst, Peter Goelz, is with us now, and he's a former managing director for the NTSB.


Peter, do you think they did a good job getting it out in a timely manner? And, important to note, nine contributing factors in this.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I thought the Indonesians did an excellent job identifying the links of the chain in this tragedy and they called out each one very clearly. I think they did a really, an outstanding job within a year.

KEILAR: Is nine a lot or is that what you would expect?

GOELZ: I think it's right and shows the complexity of the accident, particularly as you're flying these highly automated planes. They're both technical issues and human factor issues.

KEILAR: Boeing is promising they're going to change the software on the planes. How is that going to make it easier for pilots to override this MCAS system?

GOELZ: I think first they're going to identify more clearly how you override the system. Under what circumstances do you use the cut-off switches to scale the MCAS system back or shut it down?

Secondly, they're going to lessen the authority of the MCAS. Pushed down, the nose to control of threat of stall. Boeing's going to mitigate that and make it less demanding.

KEILAR: You mentioned, planes are becoming more digitized, right, or more automated. Looking at the investigation of the crash telling CNN this is a new type of accident since computer airplanes were introduced is this the new thing to be worried about?

GOELZ: It is a new era we're in. These aircraft whether a Boeing or Airbus or extraordinarily complex. They're taking many of the old decisions out of the hands of the pilots, which makes it incumbent upon the pilots to really understand the computer systems that are driving their aircraft. So when something does go wrong they can diagnose it, take over and save their aircraft.

KEILAR: So Boeing is trying to put safety first in all of this. But we have a "Wall Street Journal" report that is out. You've seen this, this week. A former senior pilot for the company complained years ago that he actually felt pressure from management to make sure the 737 MAX planes would not require this expensive pilot training time in a flight sim later, basically.

Just read it, get up to speed and they're fine.

GOELZ: Boeing was marketing the 737 MAX to its customers saying, no sim time required. Do an online course and your pilots are ready to go. Requiring sim time is very expensive.

The issue of the Boeing's relationship to the FAA on complex regulatory issues is a very tough one to unravel, because the FAA simply can't compete for talent with a private-sector company like Boeing to keep guys or women just as smart as the designers. It's a very tough issue.

KEILAR: This 737 MAX we don't know when it's coming back into use. When passengers will fly this plane, but when they do, would you be comfortable flying one? Flying on one as a passenger?

GOELZ: Oh, yes. I think when the plane is recertified and ready to go, I would get on it.

But that's not to say that Boeing and the air carriers don't have a real to remarket this plane to make people feel comfortable. And to do that they're going to have to rely on their pilots. They have to give it a clean bill of health and the flight attendants. The flight attendants are in the cabin, getting all the questions. They need to make sure the flight attendants are onboard.

KEILAR: Peter, thank you.

GOELZ: As always, thank you.

KEILAR: Great perspective. Always a pleasure.


Coming up, next week's testimony will be a first in the impeachment inquiry, because we'll hear from a White House official what to expect from the man who is listening in to that conversation between the president and the Ukrainian president.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KEILAR: It is a rare reprimand for a cabinet secretary. A federal judge held Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, and her department in contempt of court for violating an order to stop collecting loan payments from students of a for-profit college that went belly up.

Devos and her department were slapped with a $100,000 fine. And that fine will be paid by you, the taxpayer. This is government funds.

Last month, the department admitted more than 16,000 borrowers were incorrectly informed that they owed payment on their debt. Some had wages garnished, tax returns seized, and many credit reports damaged.

That's it for me.

"Newsroom" with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi, there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN on this Friday afternoon. Thank you for being here.


We have breaking news out of Washington, D.C. Where a month now into this impeachment inquiry, President Trump is sounding a familiar tune when it comes to that July 25th phone call with Ukraine's leader, defending his actions while blasting the Democrats.