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Hur Testifies to Congress; February CPI Rose; Jim Sciutto's Book "The Return of Great Powers"; U.S.-Israeli Citizen Killed on October 7th; Michael Grady is Interviewed about Humanitarian Need in Gaza. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired March 12, 2024 - 08:30   ET



PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: This is part of the FAA audit of Boeing's quality control triggered by the Alaska Airlines Flight 282 incident. And FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said in a press conference yesterday there are problems with hygiene at the plant in Renton, Washington. That's a bit of a euphemism there. That really means something about how the order of the work is done, Whitaker says. Also, the management of tools on the factory floor so that tools are not left behind. Plain, sloppy procedures that can lead to larger problems.

This is what FAA chief Mike Whitaker said.

Don't have that soundbite.

Boeing says it's working on fixing these issues, and the FAA has given it until late May to come up with a plan. It says it will take comprehensive action to improve safety and quality.


SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: Pete Muntean, thank you so much for that report. A lot of people watching this because those 737s were grounded for a while there.

All right, Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Still ahead for us, a CNN exclusive, why a Mar-a-Lago employee is speaking out about Donald Trump's mishandling of classified documents. What employee number five remembers about those bankers boxes.

We'll be right back.



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, the news this morning, former Special Counsel Robert Hur is set to testify on Capitol Hill about why he decided not to charge President Biden for his handling of classified documents. This right here is his prepared opening statement. It is four and a little pages long. About half of it addresses why Hur made the president's memory an issue and his decision not to charge.

With us now, former federal prosecutor Jessica Roth and former January 6th lawyer Temidayo Aganga-Williams.

This opening statement is a choice. He is going in there, this former special counsel now, before members of Congress, and he's defending his decision not to charge President Biden. And in doing so, he really leans into why he brought up the president's memory. What do you see here?

TEMIDAYO AGANGA-WILLIAMS, FORMER SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE COUNSEL, January 6TH COMMITTEE: I see Special Counsel Hur trying to speak out of both sides of his mouth here. In one side he says -- he suggested he has evidenced that former -- President Biden committed a crime, saying that he willfully -- there was evidence that he willfully retain documents.

But then what he does though is admit what the actual law says willful retention is, which is to hold these documents back and to know that you are doing something that's against the law, which he does admit he did not have evidence for beyond a reasonable doubt. So, he's conflating what willful retention means. It's not merely knowing you have documents, it's not merely forgetting where you put documents, it's having them, knowing you have them, and knowing that it violates the law, which he -- he admits himself that the -- President Biden did not do.

BERMAN: Is his - this is page two of the opening statement here. He says, we identified evidenced that the president willfully retained classified materials after the end of his presidency. But then in the very next paragraph, he says, we did not, however, identify evidence that rose to the level of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Is there anything wrong with saying, we found some evidence, but it wasn't strong enough to prosecute?

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: Well, I think there is because the evidence he points to, a - is a reference to President Biden noting that there were classified documents in his basement or something else. There's nothing in there that talks about knowledge, that having those documents there was against the law. You have that when it comes to former President Trump, that he had the documents, he was asked to return the documents, his lawyers were engaged in negotiating the return of these documents. That's not what's happening here. So, I think there's a big distinction here and it does appear to me that Mr. Hur is trying to purposely conflict this, which, frankly, without casting aspersions, seems to be kind of in the -- in the partisan realm.

BERMAN: Jessica.

JESSICA ROTHER, PROFESSOR, CARDOZO SCHOOL OF LAW: So, the most important part of the opening statement, like the most important part of the report, is that he didn't find proof beyond a reasonable doubt that former - that President Biden, when he was out of office, retained national security information, knowing that he had it and that it was against the law to do so. That's the lead, and it should continue to be the lead. There was insufficient proof beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew he had this material and that he retained it knowing it was against the law.

The gratuitous information about his impressions about Biden's memory, it shouldn't have been in the report and it shouldn't be in the opening statement. And I think he's feeling defensive about it. That's the best way to cast this, I think. And that's why he's repeating it here.

BERMAN: You said gratuitous. What he -- his defense of that seems to be, my task was to determine whether the president retained or disclose national defense information willfully, meaning knowingly, that's a standard Temidayo just laid out there, and with the intent to do something law forbids. I could not make that determination without assessing the president's state of mind. For that reason, I had to consider the president's memory and overall mental state.

ROTH: I don't think that that's true. I think that he had plenty to work with based on the information that was available to him about Biden's inform -- his knowledge at the time in question when he was out of office and whether Biden knew what he had in his office and whether he had any intent to violate the law.

Hur's impressions about Biden's memory today, during the interview, really doesn't bear all that much on the information that was available about that moment in time from witnesses, from the tape recording of the interview with the ghost writer. It really was not -- notwithstanding what he says today, necessary.

BERMAN: It just doesn't seem like a lawyer backing off though, the issue of the memory as he prepares to testify, does it?

ROTH: No, he doesn't need to be backing off on it. And as I said, I think he's aware that he's been criticized for including it. And so the question is going to be, how much of today's testimony is about this issue and how much is it about, as I said, the more important finding, that there wasn't proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

BERMAN: All right, let's talk about the documents case against former President Trump here. The one that has been charged in this case.


Kaitlan Collins spoke to Brian Butler, who's a Mar-a-Lago employee, who says he believed he moved classified documents around Mar-a-Lago and out of Mar-a-Lago. Listen to what he told Kaitlan.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Did the two of you ever talk about moving boxes or looking back on that?

BRIAN BUTLER, "TRUMP EMPLOYEE 5": Yes, I mean, there was one time towards one of the last times I was with him and we're talking about, you know, boxes and, you know, well, Biden did the same thing. You know, you can't get -- it always got brought up about Biden and other people that did the same thing.

And then there was one time he said, you know, we're all dirty, we all move boxes. And I said, well, look, I - I didn't even know what I was moving until I was at the plane, and that's when I remembered moving box.


BERMAN: To be clear, Butler's not talking about a conversation he had with Donald Trump there. He's talking about a conversation he had with another Mar-a-Lago employee. But in a different part of the conversation, it's something I was hoping you would all here, he says he moved boxes like the ones that we've now all seen as part of the special counsel report from Jack Smith into Donald Trump.

So, what do you take away from his interview with Kaitlan and his possible testimony in a trial?

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: I think what's been clear is that Jack Smith has an incredibly strong case in the documents case. I mean there are numerous witnesses and, frankly, both - speaking as former federal prosecutors, you have it all. You have evidence of the president's mens rea, his mental state. You have co-conspirators and evidence of their actual statements. You have obstruction, which is incredibly helpful because it paints the picture for the jury. And only if you knew what was wrong when you did it. But the fact that you cover up the crime shows what your state of mind was. I think it's going to be a really strong case.

BERMAN: How psyched are you if you're Jack Smith to have this guy on CNN yesterday?

ROTH: Well, that's interesting, actually. I was thinking now that because you - normally you don't want your witnesses to be going on TV before the trial. Anything they say can be used as cross-examination material. If he says anything inconsistent on CNN with what he ultimately says at the trial.

That said, he is a really powerful witness based on what we saw yesterday. And he comes across as having absolutely no axe to grind with the former president, unlike say Michael Cohen, right?

And really powerful testimony. It takes us inside Mar-a-Lago and the relationships there, as well as moving the documents. So, as a preview for how that witness is going to hold up and how he's going to come across on the stand, if I were Jack Smith -- Jack Smith from that perspective, I think I would be happy with that performance.

BERMAN: All right, a whole lot going on today. Thank you both so much for being with us.


ROTH: Thank you.


SIDNER: All right, this just in, new economic data out right now. Inflation rates not going in the direction economists had hoped. In February they rose slightly, just under half a percentage point to an annual rate of 3.2 percent. In the midst of an election year, stamping out inflation, a bit of a rough go.

CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich is joining us now.

What do these numbers tell us? This is not the direction that people wanted to see inflation going.

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: We want to be moving in the opposite direction, but a slight increase year over year ticking up to 3.2 percent. Month over month up 0.4 percent. That's largely where economists thought we would be because we've been seeing increasing gas prices. That's actually the largest monthly gain we've seen since September.

But when we look at inflation, we need to sort of step back and realize that although these numbers have increased, this is going to be a bumpy road down to the Fed's target rate of 2 percent. They've said it themselves.

But look at where we came from. We were at 9 percent in 2022.


YURKEVICH: We're still above 3 percent. We really want to be below that. But we have made progress. But really leading this monthly increase, gas and shelter. Shelter has always been a pain point for Americans. It's the most amount of money that you're spending every single month. Shelter up 0.4 percent. Good news for food prices, flat. So, good news at the grocery store for Americans. But look at gas prices, up 3.8 percent.


YURKEVICH: We know that in just the last couple months gas prices have gone from about $3:07 a gallon to $3.40. Not great for Americans, and not great for President Biden, who wants to see all of these prices come down for Americans.

SIDNER: During an election year, every single penny, every second counts.

YURKEVICH: It counts.

SIDNER: It does.


SIDNER: Vanessa Yurkevich, thank you so much. Appreciate it.


BOLDUAN: A sweet spot to preventing an all-out NATO war with Putin while making sure he is defeated in Ukraine. Retired Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley says there is one, there is this sweet spot, and this is now being revealed in the new book by CNN anchor and chief national security analyst Jim Sciutto. Jim's joining us now for more on this.

And, Jim, your book is out today, if I am not mistaken, "The Return of Great Powers: Russia, China, and The Next World War."


BOLDUAN: Tell us more about your conversation with Milley, what this sweet spot is?

SCIUTTO: So, this is notable. At the time he was still the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Now, of course, he has stepped down. But he was saying in effect what I've heard often in private, but he's saying it in public here, and that is that at some point there has to be a settlement to end this war because really no one or very few people believe that either side is going to be defeated on the battlefield.


What he describes as a sweet spot, and let me quote him more fully here. He says, "you have to find the sweet spot by ensuring that Putin doesn't win in an illegal war of aggression. But at the same time he's not provoked into escalating the war into a war with NATO or the United States." He goes on to say this, and this is particularly notable, "in order to have a successful negotiation," there's that word negotiation again," you have to somehow address both sets of national security and securities or anxiety. So, you have to somehow convince the Russians that NATO is not going to invade, Ukraine is not going to be part of NATO, and that they shouldn't fear invasion from the west, that sort of thing."

Ukraine, not part of NATO, because you, Kate, like me and others watching this broadcast now, have heard so often from the leaders of NATO allies, from U.S. leaders and others that at some point Ukraine will be part of NATO. There will be a path to NATO. Ukraine belongs in NATO. But here you have the then chairman of the Joint Chiefs saying, I don't see how that works because, one, it will tie NATO to going to war with Russia if Russia were to invade Ukraine again, and it would so scare Russia that they would never come to the table. So they're looking for some sort of middle arrangement. They often talk about an Israel type arrangement where you don't have an explicit mutual defense treaty, but everyone knows you will come to that nation's defenses as best you can. It's a notable, public comment from him.

BOLDUAN: It is. Milley calls -- Milley talks about it as a sweet spot, but also very clearly it's threading a very difficult needle for sure.


BOLDUAN: I heard you talk a little bit about this last night. I had to ask you again. You spoke to many members of Trump's national security team, other foreign leaders, and you write about their reaction in the book and interactions, if you will, with Trump and his admiration for the Putins of the world and even how he talks about Hitler.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes. It's remarkable. It's appalling. And now here I am talking to General John Kelly, Trump's own chief of staff, a retired Marine general, who was just appalled to hear the then president of the United States describe how, in his words, this is Trump's words, Putin did some - sorry, Hitler did some good things. The man who started World War II. The man behind the Holocaust. And Kelly's reaction, I think, is telling. He says, "it's pretty hard to believe he missed the Holocaust," speaking of Trump, "and pretty hard to understand how he missed the 400,000 American GIs that were killed in the European theater. But I think it's more, again, the tough guy thing."

So, him describing how a U.S. president in effect on the wrong side of that war, right? And then he ties that to Trump's broader, often public praise of the Xis, the Putins, the Kims, the Orbans of the world. It's ingrained in Trump's world view.

BOLDUAN: And just some of what you've gleaned and gained for all of your amazing reporting that you put in this new book. It's great to see you, Jim. Thanks for jumping on.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Jim Sciutto's book, "The Return of Great Powers" out today.


BERMAN: All right, a mass of screaming, chaotic people. That is how one American doctor describes his experience working in a war zone.

And we are now just minutes away from former Special Counsel Robert Hur testifying before Congress about his decision not to charge President Biden for his handling of classified documents. We're getting new information about what he will say and how he plans not to make anyone happy.



BOLDUAN: And we do have breaking news to report. The IDF has just announced the death of a hostage that it was hoped was still alive in - in being held in Gaza. Dual U.S. Israeli citizen Itay Chen. It was thought that he was alive still and being held captive by Hamas, but now Israel reports he was killed on October 7th.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is joining me -- joining us now.

What more is the IDF saying? This is horrible news. His parents were so outspoken about trying to fight to get the hostages released.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They were outspoken. They have been fighting every single day to raise awareness about their son's captivity, to try and secure his release through the Israeli government, through the American government, basically through any avenue that they could. And so today, obviously, this is devastating news for that family.

Itay Chen, a 19-year-old Israeli soldier, a dual American-Israeli citizen, according to the IDF, was killed on October 7th. His body was taken into Gaza and his body is still, the Israeli military says, being held hostage by Hamas. He was one of six Americans believed to be held alive by Hamas. That number now down to five, four Americans, including Itay Chen, are believed to be dead and their bodies also believed to be held by Hamas at this moments.

When we talk about the family and the fight that they have been leading to try and secure their son's release, you know, I spent some time with Itay Chen's mother, Hagit, as we were flying to The Hague in the Netherlands, where she was part of a group of 100 members of hostage families who were pushing to file a complaint, to urge the ICC to basically file charges against Hamas' leaders. She told me that she dreamed of her son a lot. She dreamed of the day when he would come back to her, saying that she believed that it would be as part of a hostage agreement, as part of negotiations. That she dreamed of seeing him in a Red Cross van waving to me, she said, smiling because he always had a big smile on his face. And he will say, I'm OK, why are you worried so much. Those dreams, today, dashed.


BOLDUAN: Jeremy, thank you for your reporting. Right next to your image is the image of Itay Chen that we've all becomes so familiar with as the fight for his release had continued. And now we have this news today.

Jeremy, thank you.



SIDNER: All right, this morning, is ship carrying pallets of much needed aid has left Cyprus and is headed to Gaza. The aid is from World Central Kitchen. But a top health official says the humanitarian aid entering northern Gaza is, quote, "not enough for anyone." More than 1 million displaced people have fled to Rafah in southern Gaza. They are living with severe shortages of food, water, medicine, and shelter.

Retired obstetrician Dr. Michael Grady saw firsthand the dire conditions people are facing after spending nearly five weeks there in Rafah working on patients delivering emergency medical care.

Thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Grady. I really appreciate your time.

You were stationed there, as we said, for roughly five weeks. Give us some sense of what you see, what you experienced as you were trying to just do your job in these difficult circumstances.


Yes, it's just horrendous. Worse than you could imagine. Worse than you can see on a film because, you know, what you don't get on newsreels and on films are the background screaming, you don't get the smells, you don't get the dust. It's really an awful, awful situation.

SIDNER: Can you give me some sense of where you were and how you were operating? Were you inside tents? Where you inside the hospital? What are the conditions?

GRADY: Yes, so I worked with the International Medical Corps. And in early January we set up a field hospital sort of halfway between Khan Younis and Rafah. They are -- if - if you would, like a MASH unit. We had a series of tents that were connected to each other. There was an outpatient tent. There was an emergency room tent. Then we had an inpatient tents that would hold like 50 people. And, of course, we soon had upscale that. We now have tents that will hold 140 people. We had operating rooms, intensive care. So, it was -- it was very, very intense. And I've done this kind of work, you know, for many, many years and this is the - the most intense situation that I've been in.

SIDNER: We are seeing some of your video that was taken there while you were trying to do your work inside tents with emergency medicine.

I have to ask you, you know, what -- what was the availability of medical supplies? There's been a lot of talk about how there's just not enough food, not enough clean water, and especially medical supplies. What did you experience there? What did you see?

GRADY: So, if you just imagine how many people that we were seeing, you know, we - we thought maybe we would see 20 or 30 people a day in the emergency department and maybe 100 people a day in the outpatient department. Within days we were seeing two, three four, now we're seeing 600 patients a day in the outpatient department -


GRADY: And sometimes 30 people will show up from a mass casualty event in the emergency room at one time. And so now we're seeing well over 100 people a day through the emergency room.

To put it in perspective, in one week we gave out 20,000 Tylenol. So, you can imagine when it takes to resupply that and -- and the efforts for resupply. So, there's always a constant shortage of critical medicines. There's a constant shortage of pretty much every supply. But, you know, we make due with what we have.

SIDNER: You do what you have to do. And I know the people there have thanked you profusely for that.

I do want to ask you about a move by the Israeli government, saying that its military is planning an assault on Rafah. What -- what is that going to mean -- because you talk about all these tents that are sort of put there to try to deal with emergency medicine - what's that going to mean if and when that assault happens?

GRADY: You know, of course I'm not a politician, I'm a doctor, but I can say that we will scale up. We will -- we will provide the care that -- that we do and - and continue to do it. You know, we - we're used to working in conflict zones. We've been doing this for 40 years. And we will do what we have to do.

SIDNER: Dr. Michael Grady, thank you so much for the work that you did there to try to save lives and for taking the time out this morning to be with us.

A new hour of CNN NEWS CENTRAL begins now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


BOLDUAN: Here is the quote, "the evidence and the president himself put his memory squarely at issue." That is what the now former special counsel, Robert Hur, is expected to say when he gets into the hot seat.