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Ex-Boeing Inspector: "Scrap" Parts Used On Assembly Lines; Biden Resists Growing To End Reelection Bid; Man Visits All 3,143 Counties In The United States. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired July 04, 2024 - 11:30   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: A CNN special report now with more disturbing claims about Boeing. A former quality control inspector there says the company routinely used scrap parts to build its planes. Parts that were considered unsafe to use, but somehow still ended up on the assembly line. CNN's Pete Muntean spoke with the whistleblower about this report.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): If Everett, Washington is a Boeing company town, then Merle Meyers was a company man. A 30-year veteran of Boeing, Meyers says his job as a quality control manager put his kids through college. It's a family tradition. His late mother was a Boeing inspector. Able to unilaterally decide if a new airplane just off the factory line was fit to fly.

MUNTEAN: What would she think about what is happening at Boeing?

MERLE MEYERS, BOEING WHISTLEBLOWER: She'd be absolutely livid.

MUNTEAN (voiceover): Meyers' new allegations detail an elaborate off- the-books practice centering on parts deemed not safe to put in new airplanes. He is the latest whistleblower to come forward with claims of quality control lapses at Boeing. This is his first TV interview inspired by the January 5 door plug blowout on an Alaska Airlines 737 Max-Nine.

Spray-painted red, bad parts deemed not up to Boeing standards are taken from Boeing's Everett plant and sent to its scrap facility in Auburn. But then one day in 2015, Meyers says a crate of bad parts were improperly sent back from Auburn to Boeing's Everett factory. Meyers alleges the practice continued for years. Telling that more than 50,000 parts escaped Boeing's quality control.

MUNTEAN: 50,000 parts?

MEYERS: That's what we counted at the time.

MUNTEAN: It seems like a heck of a lot.

MEYERS: It's a heck of a lot indeed.

MUNTEAN: What does that say to you?

MEYERS: Well, that says it puts people's lives at risk. Not just passengers but flight crews. And a lot of these are flight-critical parts that made it back into the production system.

MUNTEAN (voiceover): Company emails show Meyers repeatedly flagged the issue to Boeing's corporate investigations team pointing out what he says were repeat violations of Boeing safety rules. But Meyers insists investigators routinely failed to enforce those rules. In a 2022 email, he wrote that Boeing investigators ignored eyewitness observations and the hard work done to ensure the safety of future passengers and crew.

MUNTEAN: Why would they do this?

MEYERS: The schedule. The schedule.

MUNTEAN: To get points out the door? To make money?


MUNTEAN (voiceover): Meyers believes he was forced out of Boeing last year and is concerned there are still problems at the company.

MEYERS: Well, I think they need to punish. They need to fire people that blatantly violate the process and endanger the flying public. It's a huge problem. And a core -- a core requirement of a quality system is to keep bad parts and good parts apart.

MUNTEAN (voiceover): In a statement, Boeing says it encourages employees to speak up. And that to ensure the safety, quality, and conformance of our products, we investigate all allegations of improper behavior such as unauthorized movement of parts or mishandling of documents. We then work diligently to address them and make improvements.


Meyers says he is coming forward now because of the pride he has in Boeing. He goes so far as to call it a wonderful company. One, he says has been going astray and is in desperate need of change.

MEYERS: But you have to care. Leadership has to care to do that. But if you can't even keep parts segregated from good parts, what else aren't you doing right?


MUNTEAN (on camera): You heard Boeing's statement, but it did not address each specific allegation by Meyers. One mystery here is that we do not have an exact accounting of where these parts ended up. Meyers says they range from superficial parts like fasteners to parts on the critical wing flaps that are used for landing. These parts were not returned to the scrap yard. Now, whistleblowers worried that they ended up on new planes delivered by the airlines over the last decade or so. That and the recent issues at Boeing is why our whistleblower is speaking up, Erica.

HILL: Yes. And I think a lot of folks are probably grateful that he did. Pete, really appreciate it. Thank you. We'll be right back.



HILL: President Biden, he says he is committed to staying in the 2024 race. If he backs out though, he wouldn't be the first commander-in- chief to do so. And of course, for go, pushing for a second term. President Lyndon B. Johnson did it of course in 1968, stunning the nation at the end of a televised speech about the Vietnam War.


LYNDON B. JOHNSON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes, or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office. I shall not see. And I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president.


HILL: Joining me now. CNN Presidential Historian and former director of The Nixon Presidential Library Tim Neftali. Happy Fourth, my friend. Nice to see you this morning.

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Happy Independence to you too, Erica.

HILL: You know, there's a -- there's -- obviously, it's dominating the headlines today when you -- when you talk about President Biden. I was struck by what I've read in The Washington Post from the editorial board, taking perhaps a slightly different tack and actually urging the president to use this holiday as a moment to bow out of the race. Writing, and stick with me here.

The moment echoes one George Washington faced as he approached the end of his second term. He looks past ambition and self-regard to what the nation needed most at that moment. What do you make of that connection?

NAFTALI: Oh, well, let me tell you a story from the three-month period when Lyndon Johnson was thinking about not running again. Lyndon Johnson, who decides in March of 1968 that he will end his reelection bid. I had begun to think about this.

By the end of 1967 and in early January of 1968, he gathers two friends. The governor of Texas, John Connally, and John Connally's wife, Nellie Connally, and Lady Bird, the First Lady. And they spend three hours talking about what Johnson should do. And Lady Bird wrote in her diary. We went round and round on the same hot griddle, finding no cool oasis, no definite time for an acceptable exit. And I made -- I mentioned that -- the note of acceptable exit because to the extent that President Biden and the Biden family are thinking about the difficult decisions he's facing, no doubt, they're wondering about an acceptable exit if indeed the president decides he's not up to this race.

And it took Johnson -- Lyndon Johnson a number of months to figure out what that acceptable exit would be. And he couched his decision not to run again in the -- in terms of trying to end the war in Vietnam. In focusing -- as we heard him in the clip, focusing on a diplomatic settlement of some kind with Hanoi.

And so, he built that executive -- that acceptable exit for himself in that way. The Washington Post in talking about George Washington, and then -- and taking advantage of the -- of the momentous moment we are in, signaling that indeed, July 4, is one of those opportunities to strike a chord for patriotism is in a sense arguing for an acceptable exit for President Biden. But the question is, how does he see it?

How does President Biden see it? Lyndon Johnson had three months to think about an acceptable exit and to get his mind around it. If Joe Biden has been thinking about such things, it's only been for a matter of days.

HILL: So much of -- so much of this would understandably too, involve a conversation about President Biden's legacy, what that would look like, what a decision either way would look like in terms of contributing to that legacy. How do you think that's being weighed?

NAFTALI: Well, I think it's an enormous issue for any president. Keep in mind the reason why deciding not to pursue power is such a personal and lonely decision for a president. Is that only he and someday she, has the authority to make that decision? And even though their families participate in the decision, they are usually a sounding board, particularly the first spouse.


And in the end, the decision is by that president. And the president is going to make that decision based on his sense of legacy. Does this undermine what he has done so far to leave in this way at this time?

So, the two presidents who've chosen not to run again when they could have. Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson were both not obsessed with legacy, but thinking about it. So, what --

HILL: Yes.

NAFTALI: What President Biden has to do now is remember that his mandate was to eliminate national chaos. And if he's not careful about the decisions he makes this summer, he could invite another period of national chaos, which would seem to neutralize the great work that he's done so far.

HILL: Tim Natali, I always appreciate speaking with you, my friend. Thank you.

NAFTALI: Thank you.

HILL: We'll be right back.



HILL: I'm not sure if you know the exact number. I was surprised there are more than 3100 counties in the United States. Danny Zimny-Schmitt has been to all of them, including yours. In fact, he thinks he is now the youngest member of what's known as the Extra Miler Club. It's a group that's devoted to visiting every county in the nation. And Danny joins me now from Denver.

You know, it's great to have you here. You wrote a very long post on this that I think was so informative and insightful. As I understand it, you started off on this journey, you wanted to learn from forgotten places in the wake of the 2016 election. And then in the wake of 2020, this really cemented the idea for you. What was it about those pivotal moments in this country that made you want to complete this journey?

DANNY ZIMNY-SCHMITT, VISITED ALL 3,143 U.S. COUNTIES: Sure. I think I really wanted to better understand what America looked like, kind of at eye level. I think most of us, you know, learn about different places than our own through reading, through hearing stories from family members or friends. But to see it kind of on the ground is just a very different experience.

Really, seeing things with my own eyes with a chance to interact with folks, you know, very directly in very closely, it's a very different experience than hearing someone else's take on it. So, I think that's really what inspired me to do this.

HILL: And that is really -- you know, I was struck when you said that. I find that that's one of the things that's most rewarding about travel are the people that you meet and the perspective that you can gain. You wrote. The most important thing is to never pass up an opportunity to have a genuine, heartfelt interaction with someone who you feel you might not have anything in common with.

I think for a lot of people these days, we're all so siloed, right? Social media, in many ways, has actually driven us apart rather than uniting us. So, having those moments, was it tough initially to get out there and have those conversations with someone you thought you didn't have anything in common with?

ZIMNY-SCHMITT: Yes. I think it's very normal for us to you know, be a little bit defensive or cagey around meeting someone new. Can we trust this person? Is this someone I want to have a conversation with? Am I going to -- am I going to feel safe or comfortable?

And so, I think it does take a little bit of kind of a push to get out of that comfort zone. And you know, riding around perhaps on an Amtrak train or a Greyhound bus, you have a seatmate. And you know, it's almost like a petri dish, an environment where you're going to have a conversation and you're going to have a chance to meaningfully interact with them if you -- if you so choose. And not passing up those opportunities are important.

HILL: Do you find that -- did you find that most people were interested in interacting with you?

ZIMNY-SCHMITT: Everyone kind of is coming from your own place. Some people are very chatty. Some people are -- just want to live in their own world. So, that's totally fine. It just depends on kind of the person that I happen to be sitting next to.

HILL: Sure. We're just about out of time. But I'm curious, did you have a favorite spot -- a favorite county out of 3,143?

ZIMNY-SCHMITT: I'm not sure if I had a favorite. But I will say that I think would -- when you've seen a lot of places, you can appreciate lots of different environments, right? Like you can appreciate the forest -- the forest of New England, but also the wide-open expanses of the West and the remoteness of Alaska. There's some -- there's a place out there that speaks to everyone and speaks to --

HILL: Yes.

ZIMNY-SCHMITT: You know, perhaps every desire every soul.

HILL: Yes.

ZIMNY-SCHMITT: So, I think going out there and finding your place is a really cool journey.

HILL: Yes.

ZIMNY-SCHMITT: And I urge everyone to be a part of.

HILL: Absolutely. And a great reminder too that it is a vast country with lots of wonderful places, but also lots of wonderful people. And just taking the time to talk to them can really make a difference for all of us. Daniel Zimny-Schmitt, thank you for being with us today. And Happy Fourth.

ZIMNY-SCHMITT: Thank you. Happy fourth to you as well.

HILL: Thanks. Finally, this hour. Over the past two weeks, we've been counting down CNN's list of America's best cities and towns to visit. You've been with us I hope as we've journeyed to Knoxville, Tennessee where Dolly Parton and Firefly sing Portland, Maine hunting for the best lobster rolls or lobster as I would say being a New Englander. Today, CNN's Victor Blackwell is taking us to the top spot on the list.


HAMILTON GLASS, RICHMOND, VIRGINIA ARTIST: Richmond is this amazing place for people who have ideas to come and make them happen. VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voiceover): Hamilton Glass is an artist living in Richmond, Virginia.

BLACKWELL: For people coming to Richmond for the first time, what is something they must do before they leave?

GLASS: They must experience the art. And I know I understand I'm biased because I'm an artist.


GLASS: But Richmond -- according to USA Today, Richmond is number two in the United States in street art. So, it's not just me saying that.

BLACKWELL (voiceover): But Richmond's history with public art is complicated. As the former capital of the Confederacy, Richmond was once home to more Confederate monuments than any other U.S. city according to its mayor.


But in 2020, spurred by the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, a lot of people in Richmond called for their removal. And in some cases, took matters into their own hands.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Jefferson Davis.

BLACKWELL: Why this presentation?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Context is important. Here's the photograph. We know that the statue was damaged because it was when it was toppled, it went facedown. So, you can see.

GLASS: Seeing symbols and elements like those monuments fall was liberating in the sense of like, now we get a chance to create our identity.

BLACKWELL (voiceover): And create they did. Now, instead of Confederate monuments, you'll find more than 150 street murals, many painted by Hamilton himself.

BLACKWELL: This took about a week or weeks.


BLACKWELL: Most murals take about a week-long solo?


BLACKWELL (voiceover): We toured the historic Jackson Ward neighborhood, an area once referred to as the Harlem of the South for its vibrant black culture during Virginia segregation era. And after a long day of looking at great art, it was only right that I stopped for some great wine at Penny's Wine Shop, a black-owned business.

BLACKWELL: That is very good. LANCE LEMON, CO-OWNER, PENNY'S WINE SHOP: We love when people come from out of town and see -- and see Richmond, man. Everybody here has the same kind of goal. We want to see Richmond glow.

BLACKWELL: Cheers. Thank you.


HILL: You had me at art and wine, Victor. Thank you.

Thanks to all of you for joining me here in the CNN NEWSROOM on this Fourth of July. I'm Erica Hill. I hope you enjoy the rest of your holiday. Stay Tuned up next on CNN "INSIDE POLITICS" with Dana Bash after this short break.