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The Source with Kaitlan Collins

Pentagon Did Not Inform White House Or Deputy Defense Secretary Of Lloyd Austin's Medical Procedure Or Hospitalization; Alaska Airlines: "Initial Reports" From Technicians "Indicate Some Loose Hardware" On More Boeing 737 MAX 9 Planes; Trump To Attend Appeals Court Hearing Tomorrow For Federal Election Case. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired January 08, 2024 - 21:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Now, that said, a federal law enforcement source tells CNN, there is currently no indication the incident is criminal in nature.

That's it for us. The news continues. I'll see you, tomorrow.



New word, from the Pentagon, about the growing scandal, surrounding the secret hospitalization of the Defense Secretary. Lloyd Austin, rushed to Walter Reed, put in the ICU. Yet, the President himself was not told for days.

Also, tonight, it's been a year of campaigning. Now, it is time to vote. One week from tonight, we could know who won Iowa. Donald Trump is about to race from the courtroom, to the campaign trail, and back again, as his rivals are hoping to pull off an upset.

Also, tonight, the missing piece of that Alaskan Airlines plane that blew off at 16,000 feet in the air, has now been found. As more planes are being grounded for inspections, as one major airline says they found something.

I'm Kaitlan Collins. And this is THE SOURCE.

It has been one week now, since Defense Secretary, Lloyd Austin, was admitted to the ICU. Tonight, not only do we still not know what exactly sent him there. We don't know why his staff didn't tell the White House, for days, that he was even in the hospital. Nonetheless, in intensive care.

The lack of transparency, from a top U.S. Military official, especially while the U.S. is dealing with multiple crises, around the world, has resulted in some calls, for Austin's resignation.

The top Republican, on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is now demanding an immediate hearing, as Democrats have also acknowledged the serious nature, of the failure to disclose this information. And they have questions as well.

The White House says it will look into why officials weren't informed, for days, while also stressing that President Biden does stand behind his Defense Secretary.


JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SPOKESPERSON: We'll take a look at the process and procedure here and try to learn from this experience.

There is no plans for anything other than for Secretary Austin to stay in the job and continue in the leadership that he's been exuding, that he's been demonstrating.


COLLINS: Here's what we do know about what happened.

Austin was admitted, to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, on December 22nd, for what we are told was an elective procedure, and he was released the next day.

But on January 1st, he was taken, by ambulance, to the ICU, after experiencing severe pain.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was told, one day later, that the White House, senior members of Congress, Austin's own deputy, who had assumed some of his duties, while she was on vacation, were not told.

Wasn't until January 4th, when his own deputy was informed, the same day that President Biden also learned of it.

On January 5th, Congress and the public were then notified.

It's worth noting that last Thursday, we did see the Pentagon press secretary come out before reporters, but he said nothing about his boss' condition. It's not clear whether or not he knew, at the time.

Tonight, we do know that Secretary Austin is still in the hospital. But he is out of intensive care. And the Pentagon says he is doing well. In a sign that officials seem to understand the gravity of this situation, they are now planning daily updates, on how he is doing.

Joining me tonight is the retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, serving for both part of the Bush and Obama administrations, Admiral Mike Mullen.

And Admiral, it's great to have you here, tonight.

And I should note that during your tenure, you appointed then-General Austin to be the Director of the Joint Staff.

And I should also note, first and foremost, we all wish him a speedy and full recovery. We've had him here on the show before. But I do wonder what your reaction was, to the failure, to disclose

critical information, like this?

ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN, 17TH CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Well, I think Secretary Austin's statement has said a lot. We come from a culture of accountability. And he's taken full responsibility, for the mistake. And he's committed to ensure that it doesn't happen again. And I believe him in that regard.

I am confident that when he returns to the Pentagon, he'll lay out more details than we know right now, in terms of actually what happened. I'm also confident that the process and procedures, which were mentioned, in your opening, will be fixed, with respect to what happened.

And I don't think there's any question that Secretary Austin knows he made a mistake here, and again, accepts full responsibility, and he's very committed to fix it.

COLLINS: Is that what you think would be the most helpful here, for him to go, either before reporters, or in a statement, when he does return to the Pentagon, to himself explain what went wrong here? Why these key people, including the President, weren't informed about this?


MULLEN: Yes, Kaitlan. I think -- I think actually, that would be the best thing for him to do. And that's also part of the accountability. And it's not speaking just to reporters, but quite frankly, to the American people. Someone in this significant a position owes that kind of transparency, certainly in a situation, where we still don't know all the details.

I also will say that, his taking full responsibility, for a mistake, is a very rare occurrence here, but is very consistent with who he is.

COLLINS: Is there any precedent that you can remember, for something like this, where the Defense Secretary was admitted to the hospital, placed in intensive care, but the President himself wasn't told for several days?

MULLEN: Not that I'm aware of. In my time, I wasn't aware.

I mean, there are -- there are set procedures, where when principals are not available, for one reason or another, or don't have communications, that those responsibilities are handed down to their deputies. And that's a fairly routine process, if you will. I think everybody understands that.

I'm just not aware of a precedent, from the standpoint of, of what happened here, and certainly the system, if you will, right up through the President, not being made aware of it.

COLLINS: So, is part of those procedures would when a deputy is handed their boss' responsibilities, as Kathleen Hicks, the Deputy Defense Secretary was here, would they typically be told, of why they were being handed those responsibilities?

MULLEN: Well, it's hard to say, what would be typical. You would think that there would be some knowledge, in terms of what was going on.

If what I read publicly, is the case that Deputy Secretary Hicks had responsibilities, like this passed to her, in the past. Certainly, not routine. But it had happened before. And I think this was very consistent with that, in that regard.

COLLINS: I think the key thing here, for people, who even may disagree, may say that he doesn't need to disclose this, is to think of the chain of command. I mean, as Defense Secretary, he's obviously a critical part of that.

What would you say, are the national security implications, if the Defense Secretary, is in the ICU, but key people, like the President, and the National Security Adviser, aren't aware of that?

MULLEN: Well, I don't think, and certainly, I hope no one thinks that he did this intentionally to not disclose, if you will, given the significance of his position. He understands that.

I don't -- again, I don't know enough about the medical condition, except I'm told it was never life-threatening. He was, at one point in time, obviously, was under a lot of pain. And so, it's the kind of thing that should have been disclosed. I think he's admitted that, and is committed to making sure that it doesn't happen again.

I do think from a command and control standpoint, chain of command standpoint, there were people, who are in authority, particularly the deputy, who had the wherewithal to respond, if something significantly bad had happened. And I would note that, that in this -- in this situation, fortunately, nothing like that did.

COLLINS: Yes, very fortunately.

Admiral Mike Mullen, you have perspective on this, like few people. So, thank you, for joining us, with that expertise, tonight.

MULLEN: Thanks, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: For more perspective on this, I want to bring in the former Director of National Intelligence, and CNN's National Security Analyst, James Clapper.

Thank you so much, for being here, General.

And just to kind of put you, in that same perspective, if you were in your role, as the DNI, back in your office there, for a moment, I mean, how would you feel, from a national security standpoint, to find out about something this serious, four days after it happened?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Kaitlan, I wouldn't be comfortable with it.

But in line with what Admiral Mullen said, I think this is a real good opportunity, for everybody to take a deep breath. I don't think -- I think we're making a mountain out of a molehill here.

And I think there was a confluence of a couple of events that worked against the Secretary. One, the absence of Kath Hicks, who is the Deputy Secretary, was away on vacation, in Puerto Rico, although linked in communications-wise. And I think importantly, his Chief of Staff was ill and out of the office.

So, I spent 13 years in the Pentagon, a lot of time there. And sometimes, what appear to be simple bureaucratic processes don't work like they should.


I think, Secretary Austin is known for someone, who really treasures his privacy. He was always that way. He was that way on active-duty. He's somewhat of an introvert, avoids the limelight, avoids publicity, wherever he can.

And it's not as though he was spirited away to some undisclosed location. He was at Walter Reed, the premier military medical facility. The Commander, at Walter Reed, certainly knew he was there. His protective detail, Secretary Austin's protective detail, certainly knew where he was. So, I think there's clearly--


CLAPPER: --a serious lapse in reporting, and the reporting responsibilities that I'm sure the Pentagon is going to police up.

COLLINS: But General Clapper, with all due respect to that, I mean, I don't think anyone's concerned about the level of medical care. Obviously, Walter Reed is among the best places that someone could go. That's where President Trump went, after he got COVID-19.

But the concern that the President himself wasn't told that his Defense Secretary?

And I understand, there are people who say, elective procedure, you have a right to your privacy. But when the Defense Secretary goes by ambulance, to the hospital, and he's in the ICU, do you believe that the -- maybe the public, maybe, you don't believe, has a right to know. But the President himself the National Security Advisor, do you believe that they should have been told?

CLAPPER: No, I agree with you completely. This should have been reported.

I don't think it was his own responsibility, particularly if he's in pain, to pick up the phone, and call somebody. But someone, on his immediate staff, should have attended to notifying, certainly the White House, the President, the National Security Advisor, the Congress and, for that matter, the public.

So, there's kind of a comedy of errors here, which I'm sure will be straightened up.


CLAPPER: And as Admiral Mullen pointed out, fortunately, there was no extremis situation. That really would have been a serious thing. I think, had there been an extremis situation, that the lines of communications would have lit up pretty vigorously.

COLLINS: Yes, I think that was the concern we heard from lawmakers, like Senator Roger Wicker, who said, look at -- I mean, anytime in the world, obviously, this job is critical. But given what's happening in the Middle East, and how on edge the region has been, the war in Ukraine.

And just to highlight something we've just learned, minutes ago, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Eric Smith, we've now learned, he had open-heart surgery today. They told us, the Marine Corps just announced this, at a press release.

He had -- went into cardiac arrest on October 29th. We did know about that. And they told us about that within 24 hours. But it does go to show that I mean, he had open-heart surgery, and they're informing us of that, mere hours, on the same day, that that happened.

CLAPPER: Well, it shows the fact, Kaitlan, that when you're in these senior jobs, you really give up your right to privacy.

And certainly, the Marine Corps did -- has done the right thing, from the outset, when General Smith had his attack, when he was out jogging, around the Marine Barracks. And I wasn't aware that he had open-heart surgery. But the fact that that's been made known publicly is, that's the right way to do it.

What I do hope Secretary Austin will do is at the appropriate time, lay out, in more detail, as much as that's going to go against his personal grain, of his proclivity for privacy, and lay out what his condition was, and how it was treated, and what happened. And I think that would go a long way, towards clearing the air. And certainly, what's going to be done--


CLAPPER: --to ensure that such events were properly reported.

COLLINS: Well, that's where you, General Clapper and Admiral Mullen, are in agreement on that, that he should come forward, and talk about that.

General Clapper, as I said to Admiral Mullen, you're uniquely positioned, to talk about this. So, thank you, for coming on tonight, to do so.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Up next, here, on THE SOURCE, we are a week out, from the first votes, of the 2024 election. It's hard to believe we're already here. President Biden today was ramping up his campaign, to take down who he

believes he's going to be facing, Donald Trump. Comparing him to Confederates, who refused to accept, that they had lost the Civil War.

Also, tonight, after that terrifying incident, on an Alaskan Airlines jet, where a door plug, the size of a refrigerator, blew off mid- flight. We've now learned United Airlines has just found loose bolt, on some of its grounded Boeing 737s. We are waiting an update, tonight, from the NTSB ahead.



COLLINS: It is the final days, before the Iowa caucuses, as the Republican frontrunner is packing up his personal 757, leaving the state, because Donald Trump opting for sitting in court, rather than going to speak to voters, and campaign in front of them, tomorrow. That is something he is choosing to do, optionally. We'll speak about that with a lawyer, later in the hour.

But that comes as his two leading challengers are begging for votes, is also battling each other.

Also, meanwhile, President Biden today was in South Carolina, making it clear, who he expects, to be facing, as the Republican nominee, come November.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We saw something on January 6th we'd never seen before, even during the Civil War. Insurrectionists waving Confederate flags inside the halls of Congress built by enslaved Americans.

For hours, the defeated former President sat in a private dining room off of my -- off of the Oval Office, and did nothing, nothing, n- -- absolutely nothing.

Losers are taught to concede when they lose. And he's a loser.



COLLINS: No holding back there, in that speech.

I am joined tonight by former Republican congressman, Adam Kinzinger. And former Obama administration official, Van Jones.

Thank you both, for being here, tonight.

And Van, there was this one line, from President Biden. He's in South Carolina. He's attempting to rally Black voters, since he's been losing support with them, in the state that helped really propel him, to the nomination, back in 2020. But he drew this direct line, at one point, during the speech, and I

want everyone to listen to this, between this history of white supremacy, to what the former President is doing today.



BIDEN: In our time, there's still the old ghost of new gov- -- gar- -- in new garments. And we all need to rise to meet the moment, and the moment is now.


COLLINS: I mean, Van, what did you make of him, essentially arguing that this, those who say that Confederate rebellion was this noble cause, that it was self-serving, as Biden was putting it, in the same way that he says Trump is rewriting history, by trying to falsely claim that the election was stolen?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I thought it was actually pretty powerful.

It wasn't a frame I thought of before, or heard before. The Lost Cause, that's sort of the -- I grew up in Tennessee. Some of us are Southerners. And you know, that kind of, we have this Lost Cause. And you look back, and you go back over and over and over again.

And this is like a second Lost Cause is what Biden is saying that the Southern Confederates were defeated, and they would never admit it. And now, you've got the Trump machine defeated, and it won't admit it. And he's drawing a line between that refusal, to deal with reality, and the violence of January, the 7th and -- January 6th, and the potential violence that could come with this election.

So, for me, I think he's doing a good job, trying to get back to his home turf, South Carolina, get back to the Black base, reminding them of some of the stuff that maybe people have forgotten about, and reframing what we're seeing, as a part, of a long tradition of very, very dangerous politics in America.

COLLINS: And Congressman Kinzinger, I mean, this comes as Elise Stefanik, yesterday on the Sunday shows, she is the Republican Conference Chair. And she's now echoing the language that the former President is using, when it comes to the January 6 defendants, the people who went to the Capitol, and rioted that day, describing them as hostages.

This is what she said on "Meet the Press."


REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): I have concerns about the treatment of January 6 hostages. I have concerns. We have a role, in Congress, of oversight, over our treatments of prisoners. And I believe that we're seeing the weaponization of the federal government, against not just President Trump, but we're seeing it against conservative.


COLLINS: What did you make, Congressman, of seeing such a prominent member, of your party, saying that?

ADAM KINZINGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, Elise is so incredibly, insanely thirsty to be Vice President. I mean, that's what she's doing. She's out there, mimicking what Donald Trump says. He knows he's watching. He probably sent her a text, told her, good job, Elise, and she felt really good about herself. I mean, that's what she's doing. And she's doing it.

And this is a -- look, if I'm a rank-and-file member of the House, still, here's where I would be upset. Because I used to be able to just say, oh, Donald Trump, I don't know what he says, I'm not paying attention.

You now have the leader of the messaging branch, what you say as a Republican, the Conference Chair comes up with talking points, now saying they're January 6 hostages.

Here's what you're going to see, Kaitlan. This is now going to be echoed over and over, as it becomes a litmus test, whether you're a true conservative or not, whether you say hostages or prisoners. And soon, you're going to see more and more people saying this.

I think it's so obvious, just one of the areas I think as well as Joe Biden did, in that speech, one of the areas I think he really needs to push even harder on, is there's this idea that Donald Trump is a tough person, who's doing this authoritarian things, because he's strong.

The reality is, he's a whiner. He's frightened. He's scared. He's doing this because he's a victim, in his own mind, and he wants to convince everybody, he's a victim. Donald Trump is actually a very weak person. And I think that's the way to do real damage, in his base, even though it's not necessarily going to turn the primary, or anything like that around.

COLLINS: A lot of questions about what that primary will look like.

Van Jones, Adam Kinzinger, as always, thank you both.


COLLINS: Meanwhile, congressional leaders, on Capitol Hill, who aren't talking about January 6 hostages, say that they have reached a deal, to avert another looming government shutdown.

But Republicans, on the far right of that House conference, are already balking at it. We'll speak to one of them, right after this.



COLLINS: Major deal that has been struck by congressional leadership, to avoid a government shutdown, may already be in trouble.

This weekend, Senator Chuck Schumer, and House Speaker Mike Johnson, said they struck a deal, on the overall spending levels, when it comes to a government funding package. But with little time to avert disaster, some on the far-right, are already putting up stiff resistance.

Republican congressman, Chip Roy of Texas is here, quite literally driving through Iowa, on a bus, right now.

We'll get to why you're in Iowa, in a moment, Congressman.

But this $1.66 trillion agreement that Speaker Johnson has made, with Senator Schumer, is that acceptable to you?

REP. CHIP ROY (R-TX): Yes, well, first of all, you and I should be in Houston. But unfortunately, Alabama and Texas didn't do their end of the job. So, we're watching Michigan and Washington.

But look, no. I do not support this bill. And it's chock-full of gimmick, same kind of stuff that everybody in America is sick of, regardless of whether you're left or far-right.

The fact of the matter is, we're tired of the same old, same old. We're spending more money that we don't have. We were trying to reduce spending a year ago, down to pre-COVID levels, the 1471.

Right now, we actually adhere to the caps that were embraced last year, on a bipartisan basis, majority of Democrats, majority of Republicans, and we would only spend 15-62, that's $1.562 trillion. Instead, another deal has been cut. And it's going to be $1.66 trillion, which busts the caps, and uses a bunch of gimmicks, to backfill and increase spending.

So, Americans are tired of that. So, I oppose it. It's just more of the same. And I wish Speaker Johnson weren't doing this. I'm very disappointed. And hopefully, we can try to figure out what we can do to change it, in the next few days.

COLLINS: Well, who do you hold responsible, for it? Is it Speaker Johnson?


ROY: Well, I mean, his office is doing the negotiating. So, I mean, that's the -- that's the deal. And if we end up doing this by suspension, we're going to have to call -- start calling him the Suspension Speaker. I think we should do regular order, and we should try to get this done the right way.

But look, there's not going to be support, across the board, among Republicans, because a lot of us want to reduce spending. And the American people sent us here to cut spending, and not keep doing more of the same thing. We're $34 trillion in debt. Both sides should agree to cut spending. And in fact, we did. We came to an agreement last year to cap spending. Now, we're going to blow past those caps. COLLINS: Well, I mean, a lot of what this looks like is the same situation that then-Speaker, Kevin McCarthy, found himself in, not long ago, just several months ago. I mean, is Mike Johnson -- Speaker Johnson going to potentially face the same fate? Are Republicans going to try to oust him?

ROY: Last year, when the Ranking Member of the Appropriations Committee for Democrats, Rosa DeLauro, she didn't vote for this bill, because the side deals weren't written into the bill. That's actually, I think, part of the problem here.

We only agreed and voted on it, Democrats and Republicans supported the bill at $1.59 trillion. Now, they're going to blow it by another $70 billion. We shouldn't do it. Speaker Johnson shouldn't do it. I think there's going to be some real conversations, this week, about what we need to do, going forward.

COLLINS: Does that include potentially moving to oust him from his job?

ROY: Yes. I mean, again, that's not the road I prefer. I mean, we've gone down the road. I didn't prefer to go down that road with Speaker McCarthy.

We need to figure out how to get this all done together. But it isn't good. And there's a lot of my colleagues are pretty frustrated about it. So, we'll see what happens this week.

COLLINS: OK. You said you don't prefer it. But you did not say no to that, I should note.

And also, speaking of what's going on, I know there's a lot of immigration concerns, that Republicans had about what's in this bill. Democrats say they're concerned about what--

ROY: Yes.

COLLINS: --their party leaders are willing to agree to.

There is also a hearing, on Capitol Hill, on Wednesday, regarding the potential impeachment--

ROY: Yes.

COLLINS: --of the Homeland Security Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas. I understand Republicans disagree on policy. But does this rise to high crimes and misdemeanors, in your view?

ROY: Yes, I do. I mean, look, and I've been in that position for about three years. I put out a report, three years ago, detailing the extent to which Secretary Mayorkas had not carrying out his duty, to faithfully execute the laws, of the United States, endangering Texas, empowering cartels, empowering China.

Now, he's down at the border, he acknowledges 85 percent of the people that are being encountered are being released into the United States. We've got about 50,000 a month, gotaways. 300,000 encounters in December, of which 250,000 are being released. That is completely untenable. Texas has spent $12.5 billion of our own money, to deal with the problem.

Kaitlan, I had six children, in the school district, in which my family lives, die from fentanyl poisoning, last year.

It's a complete abdication of his responsibility. Of course, we should impeach him. We have a few Republicans, not many, eight, who didn't do it in the fall. And hopefully they'll reconsider, after we have a hearing, tomorrow, in the Homeland Security Committee, with Mark Green.

COLLINS: Well, I think there are real questions, about whether or not impeaching him is going to solve any of the issues that you just raised.

But you just mentioned that it's going through the Homeland Security Committee, not the committee, one of the ones that you sit on, House Judiciary. Are you OK with it not being run, through House Judiciary, as typically an impeachment proceeding, as rare as this is, would happen?

ROY: Yes, I mean, look, I think there's reasons to have it in Judiciary. There's some reasons to have it in the Homeland. We've covered a lot of this there. Mark Greene's doing a great job, exposing a lot of the problems there, over in the Homeland committee.

COLLINS: OK. So, you're OK with it.

ROY: At the end of the day, it's going to be the House floor that makes the decision.

And look, I'm fine with it. At the end of the day, you're right, it's a little bit of a shiny object, compared to what we should do, which is defund the ridiculousness of the administration, use the power of the purse, to force Biden, to do his job and secure the border.

COLLINS: Does that mean shut down the government, if you don't get what you want on immigration?

ROY: If that's what's necessary. I mean, Texas can't keep dealing with this. I mean, it's an absolute train wreck, and disaster.


ROY: And it's killing our economy. So, we should use the power of the purse, the Founders gave us.

And if Joe Biden chooses to shut down the economy, instead of shutting down the border? That's on him, not on us.

COLLINS: Well, I mean, it would be on you, because you are Congress, you have the power of the purse.

But I just want to mention-- ROY: Right. But we have the --

COLLINS: --while you're in Iowa, Congressman.

ROY: --we have the power, to choose what we fund.

COLLINS: Yes. Well we'll see what Republicans choose to do here.

ROY: Yes.

COLLINS: I mean, we'll see if that--

ROY: Yes.

COLLINS: --if that shutdown happens, and how the messaging there works.

But I do want to ask you, because you're in Iowa, you're campaigning for Governor Ron DeSantis.

ROY: Yes.

COLLINS: You are one of five House Republicans, who have chosen to endorse him, not Donald Trump.

The former President is going to be at a hearing, tomorrow, on whether or not presidents have presidential immunity. I was talking to Governor DeSantis, about this, at our Town Hall, last week.

But can you -- do you understand the logic, according to his post, today, and Trump arguing that he is immune from charges, because of presidential immunity? But if he is back in the White House, that President Biden will face an indictment?

ROY: Well, look, this is part of the problem, right? I mean, look, there's a lot of charges that are being thrown at the President, some of which are pretty crazy, like taking him off the ballot, in Colorado. Those kinds of things are all politically-driven.


But this is why I'm supporting Governor DeSantis, in significant part. Great track record, great man, served in the Navy, a lot of good reasons, to support him. But also, I want to have somebody I know can win in the fall, like Governor DeSantis did, in Florida. But also, we're not looking backwards, trying to re-litigate stuff, looking backwards to January 6.

I want someone to look forwards. I want somebody who can serve for eight years. I want us to get out of this rut, providing vision for the country. And Governor DeSantis is the guy to do that. And that's why I'm out campaigning for him hard. He's at 99 counties, 240 events, I think, across the State of Iowa.

Today, I was out, with Casey DeSantis, meeting with a bunch of folks, throughout rural Iowa. There's a lot of enthusiasm. And look, he's trending up. And president -- former President Trump is

trending down. And frankly, Nikki Haley is plummeting, after she embarrassed herself, saying that Iowans should be corrected by New Hampshire.

COLLINS: We'll see what the Iowans decide, a week from today.

Congressman Chip Roy, thank you for your time.

ROY: Take care, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Tonight, also, investigators say that they do have the missing part, that Alaskan Airlines plane that flew off mid-flight, as another airline, tonight, is reporting they too have found loose bolts, on the same type of Boeing aircraft.

We're awaiting a live update, from the NTSB, any moment.



COLLINS: We're standing by, tonight, for the National Transportation Safety Board, to provide an update, on the terrifying incident that happened, aboard an Alaskan Airlines flight, where part of the plane blew away, mid-flight, leaving a massive hole, in the side of the aircraft, as it ascended at 16,000 feet.

Right now, all Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes have been grounded, until they can be re-inspected, to make sure this doesn't happen again.

Tonight, United Airlines says that during their look, they have discovered loose bolts, on an undisclosed number, of their Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes, same aircraft, each one of course, being inspected carefully, after what happened here.

Joining me tonight is Greg Feith, a former NTSB investigator.

And Greg, I'm so glad you're here.

Because we just got an update, from Alaska Airlines, just in the last several moments. And part of it, they say that as they are waiting to do these formal inspections, that initial reports, from their technicians, do indicate some loose hardware was visible, on some aircraft, a.k.a. more loose hardware on more planes.

How significant is that?

GREG FEITH, FORMER NTSB INVESTIGATOR: It's very significant, Kaitlan. From the standpoint, now you have Alaska finding loose bolts. Of course, United has reported that they found loose bolts, on apparently five of their aircraft. Now, the question is why?

These airplanes are in, during manufacture, at Boeing, even though the tube is actually made by a vendor. When it gets to Boeing, Boeing is using that particular door, for bringing in interior parts, and that kind of thing, during the assembly process. Once that's done, it has to be, of course, reconnected. And then, it has to be sealed. The bolts have to be in place, and it has to be signed off.

The question is, why are these bolts coming loose? And there's a number of reasons for it, I'm sure.

COLLINS: Well, I mean, what would those reasons be?

FEITH: Well, when you look at it, depending on the type of bolt and nut assembly, that they're using, that airplane, the tube itself, is constantly blowing up and shrinking, with pressurization cycles. Of course, then you have the twisting moment of that fuselage tube, from aerodynamic loads. Like anything else, a nut and a bolt will loosen itself.

The question is, why aren't these bolts safety-wired? Or why aren't they using a, like -- a system or a putty called Loctite, to keep the threads solid, so that these bolts don't come loose? There's a lot of questions with regard to the procedures for closing up that door. And it's not an assembly that is inspected on a regular basis, because it's covered by a interior wall panel.

COLLINS: Well, given your role, as a former investigator? I wonder, if you were in your current -- if you were in that job right now, and you're reading this statement, from Alaska Air, that they have found more loose hardware that was visible on more aircraft? I mean, does that seem to indicate that this could be a more widespread problem than they initially believed?

FEITH: Oh, I think this is definitely a widespread problem, not only for Alaska. We've seen it with United. And I'm sure that some of the other carriers that are operating these series aircraft will probably find some loose hardware.

The question is, how is it coming out of the manufacturer, Boeing, with this hardware loose? Or is it happening in-service?

The airplane is coming out of the factory just fine. But in-service use is causing these bolts and nuts to come loose, to a point where the pressurization cycle and, of course, aerodynamics, when the airplane's in the air are causing this loose door, then to be in the slipstream, and get ripped off, like this one did?

COLLINS: Yes. Greg Feith, I mean, there are so many questions that so many passengers have about this. We are waiting for an NTSB update, tonight. I hope you'll continue to join us, as we continue to watch this, throughout the week. Thank you very much, Greg Feith.

FEITH: Absolutely, Kaitlan. Thank you.

COLLINS: Meanwhile, as we wait for that update, from the NTSB, this story, also tonight, as Donald Trump is expected to be in the courthouse, instead of on the campaign trail, tomorrow, as he is trying to get his federal election interference case -- that's the one in Washington, D.C., by Jack Smith -- he's hoping to get it dismissed, based on this claim that he has been making, of presidential immunity.

It's an argument that has not worked for him before. But it could be one of the most critical aspects of this investigation.



COLLINS: Donald Trump choosing to trade the campaign trail for the courtroom. I should note that he does not have to, at least not at this point. But what the former President wants here, to appear in- person, tomorrow, in Washington, as his lawyers will be there arguing that he is untouchable.

Or, as he puts it.


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: They want to try and get a guilty plea, from the Supreme Court of the United States, which I can't imagine, because you have presidential immunity.


COLLINS: In Georgia, Trump's legal team filed a similar argument, today, with his lawyers arguing, and I'm quoting their filing now, that "The indictment is barred by presidential immunity and should be dismissed."

The reality here, of course, is that no matter how many times his lawyers have continued to make this argument, or how many times Trump himself has continued, to post about it online, and it's been a lot, courts have continued to reject his claims, of absolute immunity. Just last month, this very argument was shot down, three different times, in three different courts. It happened, again today.

An appeals court, in a separate issue, refused to even hear his immunity claims, in the E. Jean Carroll defamation case. Of course, Trump has already been found liable, by a court, for sexually harassing her. That -- they are taking her back -- she is taking him back again, I should note, saying that she is defamed him -- that he has defamed her, yet again.


But Trump is hoping for a different outcome, from all of this, but from some very familiar faces, at the Supreme Court.


TRUMP: All I want is fair. I fought really hard to get three very, very good people. And they're great people, very smart people.


COLLINS: I should note, the Supreme Court has already rejected a similar immunity claim, from Donald Trump, with Chief Justice, John Roberts, writing, quote, "We cannot conclude that absolute immunity is necessary or appropriate."

That was in response to a decision, about a state subpoena, for the very financial records that formed the background, of the New York fraud case that here in New York, is threatening Trump's entire real estate empire.

So far, all of those cases have been civil. That's an important distinction here. The question of criminal prosecution, of a former President has never been tested. It is not hyperbole, to say that the fight over immunity could be the most important part of the election interference case. It can determine where and when it goes.

When it comes to Trump's claims that January 6 was just him, quote, doing his duty "as President," the chief judge of the same court that is going -- of the appeals that will hear that appeal tomorrow, just two weeks ago, wrote this. "When a first-term president opts to seek a second term, his campaign to win re-election is not an official presidential act."

As for now, as for Trump, he is insisting on social media that he wasn't campaigning, because he says "The Election was long over." By his logic, then all of his actions, from Election Day 2020 through January 6 2021, were directly related, to his official duties, as president. Therefore, he's immune.

But that's where another problem, for the Trump legal team, crops up. Trump himself, on video, saying this, as the mob attacked the Capitol.


TRUMP: I don't want to say the election is over. I just want to say Congress has certified the results without saying the election's over, OK?


COLLINS: Former federal prosecutor, and CNN Legal Analyst, Jennifer Rodgers, is here, to break down all of this, of what we're going to see, tomorrow.

I mean, we have seen courts repeatedly reject this claim of presidential immunity. It's being tested in a new way. He's now claiming, in Georgia, this as well, for this state charges that he's facing there. Is it clear to you that he's just trying to get this, to the Supreme Court, in front of those justices?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It is. And that's for two reasons.

One, he thinks he might have success there. And he tells us why. Because he put three of them on the court.

But more to the point, this is all about delay, really. Because the longer he can string out these prosecutions, the more likely it is that he won't be tried before the election, the more likely it is he wins election, the more likely it is that he can just stop all of these cases in their tracks.

COLLINS: And so, I mean, the election, the campaign, the courtroom, we're seeing this all go back and forth. He is going to court, tomorrow. But there is -- is there any reason, legally, for him to be there, for these arguments?

RODGERS: No, not at all. This is really different from a trial court. There are no witnesses. There's no jury. It's just the appellate judges, and then the lawyers, making the arguments. Clients don't usually go at all.

And he may be bored to death, honestly, without any kind of live witnesses, or any action there. There's also no in and out of the courtroom. You go, you make your arguments, you leave. There's not all these breaks, where you come out and speak to the press.

So, I'll actually be surprised if he goes. And if he goes, he'll probably never go again to an appellate argument.

COLLINS: Well, I think -- I can like feel a Trump spokesperson texting me now, saying, well, part of why he's going is to show that he's there, to show the judge that he -- the judges that he's serious about this, and their arguments that they're making here.

I mean, do you -- is the fact that we can be able to -- we're going to be able to listen to this, like, how much influence do you think he'll try to have, over what his attorneys are arguing, like what we saw happen, here in New York, where he was trying to have a lot of influence, on what was actually being said, inside the courtroom?

RODGERS: Yes, I don't think it'll be as significant here.

I think his presence in the civil trial was intended to, yes, influence what his lawyers are saying, making the arguments he wants them to make. But it also was part of cross-examination, examining witnesses. He can have more influence there. These are legal arguments made to judges.

I think his lawyers will be focused on what they need to say. And the judges certainly won't care whether he's there or not.

COLLINS: What about the other argument that he's making, which is that this is -- this would violate the double jeopardy cause -- clause, because they're saying that because he was impeached by the House, and the Senate tried him, but obviously did not convict him, that this would therefore qualify, as double jeopardy.

Because when you think about what Senator Mitch McConnell said, I mean, at the time, he certainly didn't seem to think that that's what that was considered.

RODGERS: Yes. So, what the clause said--

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): President Trump is still liable for everything he did, while he was in office, as an ordinary citizen.

We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former Presidents are not immune from being accountable by either one.


COLLINS: I mean, impeachment is a political process. Well, how will the judges respond to the argument that this would violate double jeopardy?


RODGERS: So, it's a creative argument. But the clause doesn't say what he suggests it says. A reading of the clause's text, and all of the history surrounding it, he's going to lose this one.

COLLINS: Jennifer Rodgers, we will wait to see, and listen to all of this, tomorrow. Thank you, for joining.

RODGERS: Thanks, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Also, up next, tonight, something we're tracking closely, here at CNN. A major explosion that happened at a hotel in Texas, nearly two dozen people have been hurt. What we are now learning likely cause this blast.


COLLINS: A scary scene, in Texas, tonight, as you're looking at what is the aftermath of an explosion, at a hotel, in Downtown Fort Worth that left at least 21 people hurt, some of them critically so, and large pieces of debris littering the street.

No one was killed, in the blast, thankfully. But witnesses have reported seeing multiple people, coming out of the Sandman Signature Hotel, covered with blood, on their faces.

So far, fire officials believe that this was caused by some type of gas explosion. But they're still working, tonight, to verify the cause. And we'll keep you updated, as we learn more.

Thank you so much, for joining us, tonight.