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Feds Investigating Death Of Pilot Who Mysteriously Fell Mid- Air; Manchin Refuses To Say Whether He Would Support Biden In 2024; Today: Senate To Vote Again On Burn Pits Bill After GOP Blocks. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired August 01, 2022 - 07:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: These are the questions that are facing investigators in North Carolina after this co-pilot plunged from a small plane in mid-air. His body was recovered several miles from the airport where the plane had landed.

CNN's Nadia Romero is covering this mystery for us. Nadia, I don't think that I've ever heard anything like this. Where are investigators on this?

NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna, they're still in the early stages. This happened on Friday and they're still trying to piece together how or why that second pilot wasn't in the plane when it landed. But one thing that is certain is that his family is just heartbroken.

Twenty-three-year-old Charles Hew Crooks was that co-pilot who was in the plane on Friday. And the FAA and the NTSB now investigating why his body wasn't found in the plane.

The neighborhood where his body was found is about 20 miles or so from the main airport in Raleigh. And neighbors say they heard a loud, strange noise so they alerted authorities, and that's where they were able to find the 23-year-old co-pilot's body.

Now, his father says that they are just torn up about this. They don't know how they're going to move forward without him. His father says he was a private instructor and that his son was living out his dream. Take a listen.


HEW CROOKS, FATHER OF CO-PILOT WHO DIED: We're a strong family and we're a very loving family. And so, this -- it leaves a hole that we just don't know how we'll -- how we'll ever fill. He said a couple of weeks ago he wouldn't trade places with anybody in the world. He loved where he was.


ROMERO: And that is from the father of the 23-year-old co-pilot. I want you to take a look at video of the emergency landing of the

remaining pilot still in that 2-engine plane that landed at the airport surrounded by authorities because that pilot called out to air traffic control to let them know that there was an issue -- a malfunctioning land gear. He said on the FAA call that we heard from a local affiliate that the right wheel -- there was a problem with that. So, that's why you can see the plane there kind of tilted on its side.

That co-pilot was taken to the hospital with minor injuries and has since been released.

But that's when authorities realized there's only one pilot in the plane. Where's the other pilot? Twenty-three-year-old co-pilot Charles Hew Crooks was found dead later that evening, several hours later.

The FAA and NTSB investigating. Brianna, they are not calling this a criminal investigation right now -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Nadia, what's that pilot saying -- the one who landed?

ROMERO: Yes. Well, the pilot was taken to the hospital and so they're -- we're still trying to get more information about his side of the story of what exactly happened because we know that his co-pilot was out of the plane --


ROMERO: -- without a parachute. So that has -- that just begs more questions as to if he jumped on his own because he feared this emergency landing. Why didn't he have a parachute? A lot of questions and a lot of speculation at this point, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, so many questions.

Nadia, thank you for that report.

Senator Joe Manchin dodging questions on whether he'd support President Biden in a 2024 reelection.

JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: And the nation mourning the loss of two icons. We'll look back at the lives of NBA legend Bill Russell and trailblazing actress Nichelle Nichols.



AVLON: Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia refusing to say whether he'd support President Joe Biden should he run for reelection in 2024.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): I'm not getting involved in any election right now, 2022 -- 2024, I'm not speculating on it. President Biden is my president right now. I'm going to work with him and his administration to the best of my ability to help the people in my state of West Virginia and this country.


AVLON: Joining us now to discuss this and the big bill that Sen. Manchin has put forward with Sen. Chuck Schumer, CNN political commentator Ana Navarro, CNN contributor Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, and former senior adviser to Sen. Manchin, Jonathon Kott. Welcome to you all.

Jonathan, I want to start with you. A lot of folks were taken by surprise that this deal got done at the eleventh hour. Republicans feeling burned.

Were you surprised? Did you know this was coming down the pike?

JONATHAN KOTT, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO SEN. JOE MANCHIN: I didn't know it was coming but I was not surprised because I believed Joe Manchin when he said he wasn't walking away. I know his team was working on it the whole week leading up to it.

I think it is shocking in D.C. when something this big doesn't leak out. You have reporters all over the Hill every day behind every corner asking questions. So, I was a little surprised that it wasn't known.

But I wasn't surprised that he kept working on it and got it done. It's just who he is and what he tries to do.

AVLON: Promises made.

I mean, Abdul, do progressive Democrats owe Joe Manchin an apology for demonizing him these past few months?

DR. ABDUL EL-SAYED, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, FORMER BERNIE SANDERS ADVISER: Well, no. Look, this is how the governing process works. You've got activists and organizers who have been pushing and pressuring.

In fact, Joe Manchin himself said, and I quote, that "the dogs came after me" after there was a lot of righteous anger after he'd pulled out the first time. And so, this shows that our democratic process only works if you work at it.

And then there are people who have been out there fighting on climate legislation and fighting on a more fair approach to taxation who really do share the credit with Joe Manchin on this. And so, no apologies needed but this is how the governing process works.

KEILAR: He's not the end of it, right? Now, they need Kyrsten Sinema if they're going to hit that 50-vote threshold.

Do you think that she will be able to withstand pressure? I mean, do you think that she's going to go along with this, Ana?

ANA NAVARO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Here's what I think. I think we should not waste time trying to figure out what Krysten Sinema is going to do and wait for her to do it because it's very hard to predict Krysten Sinema. I think we've figured that out.


And I think -- you know, I think Joe Manchin doesn't mind that the dogs come for him. I think at this point, he and Krysten Sinema have gotten accustomed to being the skunks at the party and they embrace it, right? They embrace the power that it brings. They embrace the infamy that it brings, the criticism that it brings, the protesters that it brings. It comes with that level of leverage that the two of them hold.

And I -- you know, I agree with you. I think the surprising thing about that bill was that Chuck Schumer could shut up about it, Brianna. I think that's what caught everybody by surprise. How could this possibly have happened under our nose? Shocking.

KEILAR: I do think -- I do think that Sen. Manchin's comments about 2024 are important, sort of in the context of this, even in -- even when it comes to looking for policy areas of agreement with Democrats.

What do you think about what he said where he is sort of not really committing to Biden -- he's not really committing to Democrats? Is that problematic that he's in a different position, obviously, than a lot of Democrats and he's basically saying it?

EL-SAYED: Put yourself in Joe Manchin's shoes. If you're Joe Manchin, you realize that this upcoming election could take you out of the (INAUDIBLE) and the power. Either Democrats lose power, and your vote doesn't matter that much anymore or Republicans -- or Democrats gain two seats, and your vote doesn't matter anymore. And so, if you want to maintain your hold with the administration, you're going to withhold your endorsement.

At the same time, right, if President Biden chooses not to run in 2024, you don't want the person that you end up endorsing feeling like second bananas. And so, if you're Joe Manchin in this situation, the last point is you just pushed out this deal that Republicans are trying to frame as Joe Manchin getting ruled by Democrats.

And so, if you come out at the same time and endorse the president from the Democratic Party, it looks like the Democrats got you -- and that's not what you want in West Virginia.

NAVARRO: Joe Manchin represents West Virginia. Joe Biden lost West Virginia by almost 40 points, right --


NAVARRO: -- by 39 points -- OK. Joe Manchin's not the most beloved person by progressives. So, I would say to you that either endorsement -- either Joe Biden endorsing Joe Manchin at this time or Joe Manchin endorsing Joe Biden is kryptonite for either of them.


NAVARRO: The best thing they can do for each other is not endorse each other.

AVLON: That's the political reality check we've got this morning.

But Jonathan, to that point, right -- I mean, the progressives -- the original problem seems to be that Democrats came in feeling that a 50- 50 Senate offered them the mandate for major massive legislation, and that has not proven to be numerically possible.

But at the end of the day, Joe Manchin and Schumer seemed to put forward a bill that cuts spending in some areas, raises -- by raising revenue in total, and then dealing with the environment and lowering prescription drugs.

Our colleague Fareed Zakaria had a column in The Washington Post where he said is Biden finally showing that you can govern from the middle?

Do you think that will translate to a rebound in his popularity given how damaged it is with the president under 40 percent?

KOTT: Yes. I think if he goes out and sells what he's doing. I think Democrats have a real problem -- that we should have learned the one lesson from Donald Trump and the only lesson from Donald Trump is go out and sell what you did. Donald Trump used to take credit for lying about a hurricane going to Alabama and if got a little bit of rain he touted himself as some genius.

We've passed historic pieces of legislation. I remember -- when I first started working for Joe Manchin was right when Manchin-Toomey started. That was 10 years ago.


KOTT: I would have told you we're never going to do a gun bill. We got a bipartisan gun bill. We got infrastructure.

This is a historic bill. We should be screaming from the mountaintops from now until Election Day. And I think it will help Democrats rebound but I think it is showing Biden's campaign pledge -- I can get things done in Washington. He's getting them done. This may be the most historic first term of any president in my lifetime.

NAVARRO: That's the real secret -- the amount of bipartisan legislation that has actually passed.

And he is so right. Donald Trump had infrastructure week for four years and never got any infrastructure bill.

AVLON: That's a scientific fact.

NAVARRO: Joe Biden actually got an infrastructure bill, and he should be doing it for at least four months. Instead, they get busy governing and we get stuck talking about 2024 instead of the fact that there's 99 days left to the election in 2022.

EL-SAYED: I just want to push back. So, I agree with you. They've got to go out and they've got to sell these bills. This is important. But this would not have happened had there not been energy and

enthusiasm from the base of the party. Folks pushing Joe Manchin, pushing Joe Biden to get it right. And there's still more time left before the midterms, and I do hope that they use this time.

This is a Democratic trifecta. We should have used it to pass Democratic goals. And the fact that we haven't gotten as much as we needed to, I think suggests to us that we need to use all the time that is left.

And so, let's not -- let's not assume that this just happens because folks get in a small room. It happens because people work their democracy. They activate, they organize, and they push the legislators to get things done.

KOTT: He's exactly right. We don't have -- we have the 50-seat majority because there were activists out there in 2020. We need them in 2022. So, I think the Democratic Party is a big tent but that big tent has to get together and start working hard.


AVLON: I think we have found some common ground between the left and the center of the Democratic Party. Thank you all so much for a great conversation.

All right. Today, the Senate will once again take up the bill that would help veterans exposed to toxic burn pits. Two advocates join us next.

KEILAR: And she was the center of an alleged international kidnapping plot just one year ago. Now, a journalist says the Iranian government is targeting her again. She's going to join us live.













KEILAR: Demonstrators calling out GOP senators for blocking a bill that would support veterans who suffered exposure to burn pits and other toxins while serving. Some of those Republicans reversing their votes in some cases.

Later today, the Senate is expected to vote on that act -- the PACT Act again. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey blocked the key procedural vote on the bill last week. Toomey defending his vote and slamming the bill's advocate, Jon Stewart.


SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R-PA): This is the oldest trick in Washington. People take a sympathetic group of Americans -- and it could be children with an illness, it could be victims of crime, it could be veterans who have been exposed to toxic chemicals -- craft a bill to address their problems.

And then, sneak in something completely unrelated that they know could never pass on its own and dare Republicans to do anything about it. Because they know they'll unleash their allies in the media and maybe a pseudo-celebrity to make up false accusations to try to get us to just swallow what shouldn't be there. That's what's happening here.


KEILAR: Joining us now is Tom Porter. He's the executive vice president of government affairs for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. He suffers from side effects of burn pit exposure from his tour in Afghanistan.

We're also joined by former Marine Corps officer Mindy Beyer. Her best friend and fellow Marine, Kate Hendricks Thomas, died from breast cancer due to burn pit exposure.

You know, I wonder if you can speak first about this. Just tell us a little bit -- tell us a little bit, Mindy, about your reaction to what you're hearing from Sen. Toomey there.

And I do just want to be clear when he's talking about squeezing something into the bill, I don't want people to think there's some provision for some sort of pork in there. This is what he refers to as a budgetary gimmick -- mandatory versus discretionary funding. It's not like some pet project.

What do you say to him?

MINDY BEYER, FORMER MARINE CORPS OFFICER, BEST FRIEND DIED FROM BREAST CANCER DUE TO BURN PIT EXPOSURE: I was -- I was appalled. Discretionary, mandatory, it all has to be appropriated by Congress, right? It all has to be approved. This is not a shell game for hiding money.

Only one sentence in the entire bill was removed from the vote on June 16 until now and that had to deal with taxable benefits for contract buyouts. I had nothing to do with $400 billion being shifted around or hidden. And if you look at the bill it is very clear that it can only be used for veterans. It's there -- it's extremely clear in the bill.

KEILAR: Tom, what's your message to Congress as the Senate is expected to take this up again today?


The message is this is a really, truly landmark bill. It's the most expansive, most significant veterans' healthcare bill in history. It provides benefits -- health benefits badly needed to more than 3.5 million veterans that have served in this nation from the Vietnam War forward.

This has been blocked by Sen. Toomey and he's encouraged his colleagues to vote against the bill. Many -- as you know, 25 Republicans previously voted for the bill -- the same bill.

And then they turned around last week and opposed the same bill because I think they were misled. Senator Toomey and others had been spreading disinformation talking about what Mindy just said -- is they are talking about and convinced their colleagues that there's some slush fund in the bill that just magically appeared and it was inserted by Democrats.

It's not true. It's the same exact bill that was passed overwhelmingly by senators with 84 votes just a few weeks ago. They've got to get it done today.

KEILAR: Mindy, tell us about Kate. Tell us what this bill would have meant for Kate.

BEYER: Kate spent four years fighting her cancer. And while she was doing that, she was also fighting for benefits. She went to the VA three times and was turned down those three times before she was finally awarded benefits toward the end of her battle.

She would be I think really nervous today because everyone has fought so hard for this. She would not want anyone to go through the cancer -- excuse me, the battle that she had to go through while she was trying to spend the last moments with her family. And those -- every week going to chemo. And then also having to provide the burden of proof that she deserved benefits for her time in service.

She would definitely want to protect all of the families going through that right now. And she would never want anyone to go through the battle that she did.

KEILAR: That's stolen time. I think when Americans learn about that -- it's just an affront.


But Tom, what is this going to mean to veterans like you? PORTER: Well, it's going to be -- it's going to mean a great deal.

Because up until now, when veterans that have been suffering from their toxic exposure, especially during the last 20 years of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- when they've -- when they've gone to the VA to seek treatment, almost eight in 10 have been turned down.

That's why we need this legislation. This is going to mean healthcare for them that are struggling.

And as we know, people like Kate, that Mindy just talked about, that we both know and that Mindy served with. She lost her battle with breast cancer that she -- that she received from her exposures to burn pits. Wesley Black, that you know, Brianna -- he lost his battle along the way about a year ago. People like that are all over the country.

And what senators and members of Congress need to know is war is expensive and the wars don't stop for the service members once they get back and we stop calling them wars because those injuries carry on and they have to be treated. Sometimes it's not cheap and congressmen and senators need to understand that.

They need to truly look out for service members and veterans. It takes an extra effort instead of just posing for pictures with them on Veteran's Day and Memorial Day, and on the Fourth of July. You actually have to work hard and sometimes it's not cheap.

KEILAR: Yes. Wars are expensive but we know who is bearing the ultimate price here.

Tom and Mindy, I really appreciate both of you. We'll be watching to see what happens later today. Thank you.

BEYER: Thank you, Brianna.

PORTER: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: New this morning and first on CNN, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expected to visit Taiwan despite China's stern warnings not to. We're live in Taipei.