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Lack Of Witnesses Protected President In Impeachment Trial; Final Vote On Whether To Acquit President Trump Or Not Expected Wednesday; What Tone Will President Trump Take At State Of The Union Address On Tuesday?; DNC Changes Rules For Debate Entry, Allowing Entry For Michael Bloomberg; Interview With Tom Steyer (D), Presidential Candidate; L.A. News Copter Veteran On Crash That Killed Kobe Bryant And Eight Others. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired February 01, 2020 - 09:00   ET



MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Michael Smerconish in Washington. Let me explain what just happened. The Senate is set to acquit the president next week. The even divided in the Senate that was evident in last night's 51-49 final vote on witnesses I think is reflective of the mood of the country and there was just never a national consensus for impeachment, no widespread demand for the president's removal.

That observation of mine is both anecdotal based on what I hear from answering 15 hours worth of telephone calls from all over the country every week on "Sirius XM" and based on data. Consider that a survey released by "ABC" and "The Washington Post" on January 24, taken as the impeachment hearings were getting underway, revealed that 47 percent favored removal, 49 percent did not. And that was similar to a "Post" "ABC" survey from December in which 49 percent wanted him removed and 46 percent did not. The impeachment polling largely mirrored the way that people feel about the president generally.

When Senator Lamar Alexander released a statement Thursday and essentially said he did it, but so what? Well, actually his words were these, "There is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the United States Constitution's high bar for an impeachable offense." I think he spoke for many. From the beginning, I've been saying there really wasn't a factual dispute here. The question was what to do about it, but here's what's important to remember. Senators rendered their decisions, we formed our opinions without all the evidence.

I want to tell you something that I've learned as a trial lawyer. No matter what the incident reports say, the written discovery, the witness statements, I don't really know my own case until I can evaluate the witnesses, look in their eyes. hear their word choices. read their body language. That's what tells me not just whether I have a case, but how strong of a case I have.

Lamar Alexander was right to say that the president's conduct was wrong, but just how wrong? The venality of it all was difficult to judge without the witnesses who weren't there, namely John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney. The absence of their testimony provided the president with a level of protection against punishment he might otherwise have faced. That's what just happened.

Today's survey question at, please go to my website and answer it. Do you agree with Lamar Alexander that there was "no need for more evidence to prove something that had already been proven and doesn't meet the U.S. Constitution's high bar for an impeachable offense?" Results later in the hour.

Joining me now is Senator Ben Cardin from the great state of Maryland.

Senator, you get my point. The president was always working with a net because we couldn't adjudicate, we couldn't judge just how bad the venality of what went on.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD): Michael, first of all, it's good to be with you.

SMERCONISH: Thank you.

CARDIN: Yesterday was more about the -- more about the misconduct of the Senate than the misconduct of the president. The Senate, led by the Republicans, failed to carry out their constitutional responsibility for a fair trial and regardless of how you feel about whether this is a removable offense or not, the Senate has a constitutional obligation to conduct a trial and you can't conduct a trial without hearing from the witnesses and looking at the documents.

SMERCONISH: How much of the fault lies with the House for not having brought you more of a ripe case?

CARDIN: The House has sole responsibility on impeachment itself, the articles of impeachment. This is not about how the Senate's treat the House. This is about what the Senate should do, what's right for the Senate, for the American people and the president and we have a constitutional responsibility to conduct a trial and that was not done.

SMERCONISH: You think that Senator Lamar Alexander speaks for many Republicans when, and I'm paraphrasing, he essentially says he did it, but so what? Or he did it, but it doesn't rise to that level of conduct?

CARDIN: Well, that's a debate we should have had in this trial. I agree that the facts, as presented, are not really that much in dispute, although I would also agree with you that we have a responsibility to hear from the witnesses and of course there are many senators and the president is denying that this conduct even took place. So it's important that we establish the record so that we know for future whether, in fact, these facts were established.

So I know what Senator Alexander is saying. It may justify his vote for acquittal, but it doesn't justify his vote to deny additional witnesses. That should have been done.

SMERCONISH: Senator Cardin, with regard to this process and the framers, you said, "The framers of our Constitution thought it unimaginable that a Senate impeachment trial wouldn't look like a real judicial trial."

[09:05:10] It occurs to me, though, they didn't -- they didn't obligate us to follow precedent, there's not a burden of proof, there are no rules of evidence. Does this process -- here's my question. Does this process need improvement and might that come from this recent experience?

CARDIN: Well, first we can -- we can look to even more modern interpretation than our founders as to the Senate's obligation. Justice White in the Nixon case, the U.S. versus Nixon case, in a concurring opinion said that the Senate had a responsibility to conduct a trial that a reasonable judge would consider to be a trial. They certainly failed.

In regards to the Senate's procedures in conducting a trial, absolutely we should modernize those proceedings. We sat hour upon hour upon hour and it was important, but it could have been much more efficient and listening to witnesses. Witnesses should be heard before we render judgment and in many cases, that was not the case. So yes, we should modernize the rules of the United States Senate so that we conduct a trial that looks more like a trial that's conducted in a normal court.

SMERCONISH: Final question. Tuesday is going to be this odd juxtaposition of a president who has been found -- who has been impeached, but not yet adjudicated finally by the Senate nevertheless delivering a State of the Union address. How will he be received and what do you anticipate?

CARDIN: Well, President Trump will, I'm certain, use this to speak to his base more so than speak to all the American people. So we'll wait to see. I hope that he uses this as an opportunity to try to bring our country together and not just as a campaign stop, but we'll wait to see. I have my doubts.

SMERCONISH: Senator Cardin, thank you for being here.

CARDIN: My pleasure. Good to be with you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @Smerconish. Go to my Facebook page. I will read some responses throughout the course of the program. What do we have? This comes from Twitter. "Donald Trump comes through impeachment stronger and poised for second term."

James, we don't know yet, but the prospect definitely exists. I mean, if you were to argue that he came out of the Mueller investigation with a head of steam that he otherwise wouldn't have had, then I think it could follow that he comes out of this process invigorating his base, but we really don't know. Voting, of course, begins on Monday in Iowa.

Remember to go to my website at Answer this survey question. Do you agree with what Lamar Alexander said, "There was no more need for evidence to prove something that had already been proven and doesn't meet the U.S. Constitution's high bar for impeachable offenses?" Up ahead, amid an impeachment trial, as I just referenced, President Trump will head to the Capitol on Tuesday to deliver his State of the Union address. Will he take a victory lap ahead of his all but certain acquittal or will he strike a more unified tone?

And just days out from the Iowa caucuses, the DNC is drastically revising its rules to qualify for the upcoming debates. I will talk to two campaigns, one of which is thrilled with the news, the other says the change is just plain wrong.

Plus, a tragic helicopter crash killed NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter, seven others. Last night at the first L.A. Lakers game since the crash, the crowd honored Bryant and his daughter with 24.2 seconds of silence, representing their combined Jersey numbers. I'm about to talk to famed L.A. helicopter pilot Zoey Tur and get her expert opinion on what just occurred.




SMERCONISH: With removal of President Trump from office seemingly averted, but not entirely laid to rest by Tuesday, what will be the tone of the president's State of the Union speech that night? CNN is reporting that the speech will be, quote, "forward-looking and optimistic," but that it isn't being written in a vacuum. So will he heed the advice of Senator Lindsey Graham that was offered on Friday morning?


LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: Here's what I'd say to President Trump. Focus on the well-being of the American people. You got a lot to talk about. Talk about it more. Talk more about what you've accomplished. Stay laser-focused and if you're going to tweet, which is OK, defend yourself, which is OK, turn it down a notch.


SMERCONISH: Can he remain on that message? Joining me now is Mary Kate Cary who was a speechwriter for President George Herbert Walker Bush. She's also a senior fellow at the University of Virginia's Miller Center. Mary Kate, I tweeted something last night. I took a look at Article 2 Section 3 of the Constitution to remind myself about that which governs the State of the Union. He's not obligated to be there Tuesday night. I think that he will be, but perhaps the possibility existed for him to have tried to work out a deal with the Congress to try and postpone beyond impeachment. Your thoughts?

MARY KATE CARY, FORMER SPEECHWRITER, PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Yes, Michael. That's not crazy. In the beginning of our country, George Washington through, I want to say, beginning of the 19th century did not, in person, deliver the State of Union. It was written and Jimmy Carter at one point actually delivered a written State of the Union. So it wouldn't have been unprecedented for him to do something like that. He's boycotted the White House Correspondents' Dinner, things like that.

So it's not crazy that he would have thought to do that, but I think it's a little too irresistible to him to not show up. This would potentially be his largest audience between now and election night other than the Republican National Convention address and if you look at last year's numbers, most of this audience, unlike what Senator Cardin was just saying, it's pretty evenly split, one-third, one- third, one-third, Republican, Democrat and Independent, at least last year.

[09:15:09] And so it's a great opportunity for him to go outside of his base and hit a huge audience. His numbers last year went up for the State of the Union address. It's a very large audience ...

SMERCONISH: I have the data ...

CARY: ... about data half the size of the Super Bowl.

SMERCONISH: I have the data from "Politico." They pointed out that an estimated 9.3 million people watched live coverage of the Senate trial across six networks on Monday compared with 46.8 million who tuned in to the State of the Union last February, to your point. Mary Kate, I see us continually setting a very low bar for the president for these major congressional addresses that he then hurls right over, right?

CARY: I guess -- I guess that's true. When he stays on teleprompter, Michael, he does pretty well and the last three times he's done this, all three times he's done it, he has stayed right on script and does not get off teleprompter like he does at his political rallies. Last year's speech was the third longest in American history, 82 minutes, but Bill Clinton was right up there. He was in a very similar situation in 1999 where they had not yet voted on the impeachment and he gave, I think, a 78-minute address.

So the long-winded address on all my accomplishments is what you usually do at least during an impeachment trial and I think that's what I would advise the president to do. Stay high, don't get into the the back-and-forth of the impeachment, follow Senator Graham's advice and --

SMERCONISH: OK. But how does --

CARY: -- talk about your accomplishments and do that (ph).

SMERCONISH: But how does he completely -- and maybe this is not what you're advocating. He's got to at least deal with the elephant in the room, right? He'll be there Tuesday night, the night before he's presumably acquitted by a vote of the Senate on Wednesday, but he's been impeached. Doesn't he have to say something?

CARY: I would advise against it. He's got a great story to tell on his accomplishments with the economy, with foreign policy right now, the USMCA just being signed, the Middle East peace plan. He's got a lot of great stuff to talk about and what nobody seems to be noticing is that the right track, wrong numbers -- right track, wrong track numbers are totally going in his direction, especially compared to the Obama years.

And I think the American people have started tuning out on impeachment. If I were him, I'd stay away from it. I think he's got a much better story to tell on his accomplishments.

SMERCONISH: Mary Kate, Tuesday, of course, follows the Iowa caucus on Monday. Let's remind folks something that he said in last year's State of the Union. Roll that tape.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.


SMERCONISH: My hunch is that if Bernie Sanders runs strong on Monday night in Iowa, you might hear that same line Tuesday.

CARY: Absolutely. He said it last year just sort of unprovoked and this year I absolutely think we're going to hear it again. He'd be -- he'd be crazy not to. And by the way, last year, Independent Senator Bernie Sanders gave a State of Union response in addition to Stacey Abrams who was the official Democratic response. So I have a feeling we'll probably hear from Bernie Sanders after the State of the Union this year as well. He'd be crazy not to as well.

SMERCONISH: Mary Kate, thanks for your expertise.

CARY: It'll be a fun night.

SMERCONISH: Yes, it will. Too much fun frankly. This whole week. Let's see what you're saying on my Smerconish Twitter and Facebook pages. What do we have, Jordan? "Perfect time to end the State of the Union charade. Submit a report." Thomas, I thought what he might do, and this probably was worked out in the phone conversation that he had last night with Mitch McConnell, but I thought what he might do is seek to postpone it.

If you take a look at Article 2 Section 3, like so many other aspects of the Constitution, it's subject to interpretation. I think there's a reading of that provision which allows him to be invited, say, by just the Senate where they have the votes if, in fact, Speaker Pelosi wouldn't participate with this. My bottom line is I think he'll be there, but he didn't need to be. There was probably a different route that he could have taken.

Up ahead, the NTSB has yet to reach a conclusion about the cause of the helicopter crash that took nine lives, including Kobe Bryant and his daughter. I want to hear the opinion of the veteran L.A. helicopter pilot who famously was first to cover O.J.'s Bronco chase. Zoey Tur is here.

And it's seemingly a victory for Michael Bloomberg that the DNC just eased its fundraising requirements to make the debate stage. Is his unconventional strategy working? I'll talk to his campaign manager. The DNC's move has angered rivals who played by the old rules. I'll talk to one of them, his fellow billionaire, Tom Steyer, who's been on the ground in Iowa, a state that Bloomberg is skipping altogether.

[09:20:00] Here's what Michael Moore said last night about the situation at a Bernie Sanders rally.


MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER: The fact that the Democratic -- the DNC will not allow Cory Booker on that stage, will not allow Julian Castro on that stage, but they're going to allow Mike Bloomberg on the stage because he's got a billion (EXPLETIVE) dollars.



SMERCONISH: Just days before the Iowa caucuses, the DNC has upended its primary process by announcing big changes in debate requirements, opening the door for Mike Bloomberg, but angering many of his opponents. For the February 19 debate in Las Vegas, the DNC is doubling the polling threshold, but eliminating the individual donor requirement which had previously precluded Bloomberg since he self- funded. As of Friday, the only candidates who have met the threshold for the Nevada primary debate are Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.


A DNC spokesperson explained the rules changes saying this, "The donor threshold was appropriate for the opening stages of the race when candidates were building their organizations and there were no metrics available outside of polling to distinguish those making progress from those who weren't. In the latest CNN Poll of Polls, Bloomberg has risen to fourth place at eight percent, passing many others who've been in the race for much longer. This means we may soon see Michael Bloomberg on the debate stage in less than three weeks despite his skipping the first four states in favor of Super Tuesday.

Joining me now is Bloomberg campaign manager Kevin Sheekey. Kevin, call me crazy, but is it a certainty that you want to be on that debate stage? And by that, I mean you've been doing just fine ascending by staying out of that fray.

KEVIN SHEEKEY, BLOOMBERG 2020 CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Yes. I think so. Mike has said he'd love to be on the debate stage. I think, listen, he's doing everything he can to get around the country to get his voice out and debates are a really important part of that. The DNC has changed their rules. Mike has not qualified yet under those rules. We certainly hope and expect that he will and we hope and expect he'll be on that debate stage.

SMERCONISH: I played a cut from Michael Moore before we went to break. There are many who are complaining. Jeff Weaver, representing Bernie Sanders, had this to say. We'll put it on the screen. "Now suddenly because Mr. Bloomberg couldn't satisfy one of the prongs, we see it changed. That's the definition of a rigged system where the rich can buy their way in." Respond to that.

SHEEKEY: You know, it is absurd and it defies logic. Understand what the DNC did. They didn't let Mike Bloomberg in. They removed the requirement that you raise money. So this is the first time that you can come to the debate when it's not about money, when it's actually about popular support.

Meaning there are people who say they actually want to vote for you. Also understand what they've done. They've doubled the amount of support you have to have nationwide to do that. Ten percent is real support. It means one out of 10 Americans, Democrats, want to go to the polls and actually vote for you.

The idea that the debate rules would not allow for someone to come who has 10 percent of the support in the Democratic Party is ludicrous. Just a week ago, Elizabeth Warren's team was complaining that Mike Bloomberg was not on the debate stage and today they're complaining that he might be on the debate stage. Listen, the truth is Mike Bloomberg is running all around this country and raising support and his voice on that stage is as important as anyone else's.

SMERCONISH: You know that the internet is hot today with people who say, oh, he wrote a big check to the DNC and now they're letting him in.

SHEEKEY: You know what I love about it too? I didn't know a lot about running for president. It turns out you're required by the DNC to raise money. Bernie Sanders sends out a fundraising appeal for the Democratic National Committee once a month. He has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the party, just as Elizabeth Warren has, just as Mike Bloomberg has. He has attended events to raise money for the party. It is part of the process and if he doesn't know that, I would respectfully request that his staff let him know.

SMERCONISH: Super Bowl is tomorrow. You're spending somewhere near $11 million and then you have to make a decision, OK, we're going to run an ad. What kind of an ad should we run? I'm intrigued by this because you could have introduced Mike Bloomberg to the nation, you could have gone negative on Donald Trump, you could have gone with an issue- oriented ad and you chose to do the latter. Why?

SHEEKEY: You know, the ad that Mike has chosen to run the Super Bowl was not actually made as a Super Bowl ad. Common sense gun regulations have been a driving passion from Mike Bloomberg over the course of 12 years as mayor and it's something that he never slowed down on after he left. The woman in the ad lost her son tragically to gun violence and when we and when Mike saw that ad where she spoke about her son -- how her son wanted to one day play in the NFL and to one day be in the Super Bowl, all of us looked at each other, most of us with tears in our eyes and said that ad has to play during the Super Bowl.

She had a wonderful quote that she has said since then which is that although she every day misses her son that she looks at him up in heaven now and says to him you made, you made it to the Super Bowl. For Mike to push that message across and talk about an important message, his issue is win or lose, this is an issue important to me and I want to take that issue to the American public.

SMERCONISH: Some don't understand the wisdom of that approach, among them Bill Maher. Here's what he said last night on his show.


BILL MAHER, HOST, REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER: I just think Democrats are too often bad at politics. Mike Bloomberg is going to run an ad on the Super Bowl. I think he's spending $11 million on it. It's an anti- gun ad. A bunch of wings-eating, beer-drinking guys and you're going to come out there and say let me introduce myself, I want to take your guns, right after the truck commercial.


SMERCONISH: I don't see it the same way that Maher sees it. I think that among other constituencies you are seeking to raise are African Americans who thus far have been lockstep in their support of former Vice President Joe Biden.


Who gets it? Me, Maher, neither?

SHEEKEY: Hey, listen, I think I'm going to go with a different theory here which is I think for too long Democrats have been bad at politics. I think we haven't been able to take on the issue of guns.

Eighty-five percent of Americans, not Democrats, all Americans agree that we should have common sense gun regulations. And Mike Bloomberg decided to take it on at a time that people told him, people like Bill Maher and others that, hey, it's ludicrous. You'll never win that fight.

Mike Bloomberg has winning -- been winning that fight all across this country for years now and for the first time has the upper hand in the fight against the NRA. So I think people did get it wrong and, I think, cynical people like Bill Maher were part of the process which is people weren't willing to take on a fight that quite frankly most Americans agreed on because they were afraid and thought it was bad politics. I think Mike Bloomberg has proven that it's good politics.

SMERCONISH: Just to come full circle if he qualifies because there's another prong that you need to meet he'll be on the debate stage.

SHEEKEY: He sure will and we look forward to it.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Kevin.

SHEEKEY: Thank you having me, Michael.

SMERCONISH: While Bloomberg's camp is thrilled with debate requirement changes as you just heard many other candidates who've been playing by the DNC's previous rules are understandably angry, my next guest who has been on the ground in Iowa and raising funds calls this change just plain wrong. Tom Steyer joins me now.

Tom, thanks for coming back. Respond to the Bloomberg campaign manager Kevin Sheekey.

TOM STEYER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, Michael, in December I wrote a letter to the DNC asking them to change the requirements so we could have a more diverse set of candidates on the debate stage. Because it seemed to me it's really important as a diverse party and a diverse nation that that be reflected in the people who are debating. They didn't listen to me. Instead, they changed the requirements to take out the need for grass root donors so that Michael could be on the stage.

So instead of trying to get a more diverse group of candidates they changed the rules for Michael Bloomberg and that just seems to me to be wrong. If you're going to change the rules you should do it in the way that I suggested over a month ago instead of the way they chose to to let Mike Bloomberg qualify when he wasn't willing to go out and raise money for Americans.

SMERCONISH: Well, but the further we get into the process, which becomes more important? That you represented diverse field or that require market share because in the end you want to win?

STEYER: I absolutely agree with that, Michael, but what they did was rather than try and get a diverse field so that people could hear the diversity of opinion, so people could make a broader choice, they changed the rules for one guy because he was self-funding and didn't want to go out and get grass roots donors. That's really what happened and that just seems wrong to me.

We're a party that has got to appeal to a diversity of Americans. Absolutely we have to. And I think any candidate who wants to win has got to appeal to a diversity of Americans. So to do this, narrows the field. It really, to me, it's just wrong and it was a mistake. I don't know why they did it.

SMERCONISH: Here's the rational that the DNC offered. They say now that the grass roots support is actually captured in real voting, the criteria will no longer require a donor threshold. "The donor threshold was appropriate for the opening stages of the race, when candidates were building their organizations and there were no metrics available outside of polling to distinguish those making progress from those who weren't."

Your thought?

STEYER: I just think it's very suspicious when somebody comes in like Mike Bloomberg who has no willingness or ability to play by the rules that everybody else plays by. They changed the rules. I think that that -- it's crazy.

Look, we're -- I want to come out Iowa with momentum. I want to appeal to a diverse group of Americans. That is what every single person who's going to represent the Democratic Party has to do.

We have to beat Trump in the fall. That's really what it comes down to and whoever is going to lead the Democratic Party has got to take on Mr. Trump on the debate stage and beat him and is going to drag Americans to the polls because it's so important. And that means across the spectrum of Americans. That's really what we're fighting for, Michael. That's really what I'm fighting for, that's what I'm trying to represent and I think for the DNC to go the other way is just plain wrong.

SMERCONISH: What's the instruction that you are giving to your Iowa supporters for Monday night if you don't meet the 15 percent threshold. Which way do you want them to go? Will you provide direction?

STEYER: Michael, I'm not even thinking about that. I'm coming in to Iowa and I want to come out of Iowa with the momentum to take me through the four early primary stages that Michael Bloomberg isn't even competing in.

If you look at the polls from this week I'm average 17 percent of those four early primary states. So my goal in Iowa is to come out with the momentum to make sure that I go through New Hampshire and Nevada and South Carolina as well. That's really what I'm trying to do, take the momentum out of Iowa and keep going.

SMERCONISH: Let me just go back to the poll that shows where this thing stands nationally.


Can we put that back up on the screen? Because you have to acknowledge that his debut -- I mean, Michael Bloomberg at 8 percent, he is ahead of Mayor Pete. He's ahead of Amy Klobuchar. He's ahead of Andrew Yang. He's ahead of you.

STEYER: You know, it's not a national election, Michael. It's a series of state elections and every state impacts the other states. So, let's see what happens in the four early primary states.

Let's see what that leads to on Super Tuesday. It's a long marathon but each one is separate in and of itself. It's really not a national election.

SMERCONISH: Tom Steyer, good luck Monday night in Iowa.

STEYER: Thank you so much, Michael. Nice to talk to you..


Let's check in on your tweets and Facebook comments. From social media what do we have?

"Despite great candidates, dems are going to lose because of fragmentation." I don't know. I think that the field is narrowing. There are still several lanes out there and Bloomberg as I said here weeks ago is the X factor. He is X the unknown and the impact that he's going to have on this race I think is still yet to be felt.

One more if we have time.

Bloomberg/Klobuchar 2020. Am I wrong?

Interesting choice, right? Balance on a whole variety of levels. I'm not here to say that you're wrong. I think it's a bit premature to start playing the V.P. game. I guess, that's as far as I'll go.

Monday night will be interesting and I'll be a part of the coverage here on CNN. I want to remind you to answer the survey question at

Do you agree with Lamar Alexander when he said there was no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and doesn't meet U.S. constitution's high bar for impeachable offense.

Cast your ballots. I'll give you the results at the end of the hour. Still to come, if you were one of the 95 million who watch the O.J. Bronco chase. Don't we all remember where we were? Well you are watching footage shot by my next guest. Zoey Tur who pioneered L.A. copter news coverage is here.



SMERCONISH: After I got over the initial shock and grief of the tragic Kobe Bryant helicopter crash my first thought was to reach out to Zoey Tur. Nobody knows the terrain just northwest of L.A. where the chopper crashed carrying Bryant, his daughter and seven others. Or more about flying those skies Tur, a helicopter pilot, who with then wife camera woman Marika Gerrard pioneered the use of helicopters to report news from L.A. They did the first live coverage of an L.A. freeway pursuit. They were the first chopper to shoot the infamous chase of O.J. Simpson's white Ford Bronco.

Tur now the subject of a new documentary. By the way, I've see it. It's fabulous. It's called "Whirlybird." And it just premiered "Sundance."

The NTSB still investigating the cause of crash. A preliminary report is expected in about a week. The final report including any conclusions about a cause could take a year.

Zoey Tur joins me now. Hey, Zoey, let's first go back in time. How did you find O.J.'s white Ford Bronco?

ZOEY TUR, VETERAN L.A. HELICOPTER PILOT: Well, we were, you know, once O.J. was in the wind and everybody in the world was looking for him, the police, the FBI and news media and the public, I decided to go down to the grave side of Nicole Simpson Brown and I thought he might be down there. And just about the time that we were there we were hovering over the El Toro Y when we heard a report that somebody had spotted the white Bronco. Right below us was the white Bronco and the rest is history.

SMERCONISH: You had it to yourself from a helicopter reporter's perspective for what, 20 minutes while tens of millions were watching.

TUR: About 80 million people for about 20 minutes. Yes, talk about pressure.

SMERCONISH: OK. And just in one more point in terms of people appreciating your background, 10,000 hours, right? And you have been flying for 45 years.

TUR: Yes. Just about. And I found nine missing aircrafts. I pulled 54 people out of a hotel that was being battered by 22 foot seas at night in the fog. So I have a lot of experience flying in very rough weather.

SMERCONISH: I've been paying close attention to "L.A. Times'" coverage because I think they're closest to the source and many of us have seen they traced the route of the helicopter. You know that terrain. What stands out to Zoey Tur when you see the route of that helicopter?

TUR: Well, it looks like he was scud running which means running below the clouds and he was going into a closed canyon. If you follow the 101 freeway from the Van Nuys' area out towards the Camarillo area the terrain starts rising. And as it rises, the mountains become closer.

So he was essentially flying along the 101 freeway, encounter heavy fog, decided he was going to try to get above it. Wound up in the fog. Climbed up to what it was? A 2,300 feet. Got it to zero visibility and at that point made a radical left turn to try to get out of the fog and descend rapidly to get below. And unfortunately there was a mountain in his way.

This is very, very classic behavior for somebody that is caught in the clouds not willing to go on instruments. And that lead to the tragic crash. This is not a major mystery.

SMERCONISH: Is there no terrain warning system in a copter like this?

TUR: Well, the NTSB wants to equip helicopters with this terrain warning system. In this particular case, it would not have been effective.

It's a predictive log rhythm. It kind of predicts where you'll be based on your past flight, your altitude, your air speed. In this case the pilot was making radical maneuvers. He was flying in a way that couldn't be predicted so the system would not have worked.

SMERCONISH: Zoey, have you ever been subject to a sudden onset of fog rendering you with zero visibility?


If so, what have you done in those circumstances?

TUR: Early in flying I think most pilots have experienced these sorts of things and I went on instruments. FAA, part 135.19. 135.19 says, you can deviate from the Federal Aviation Regulations to meet an emergency. You just have to confess and he didn't do that. Also this guy was a flight instructor. He taught instrument flight but he himself didn't have the confidence to go on instruments.

SMERCONISH: I know that the reportage at the end of the week was that the charter company was certified only for visual flight rules. What does that mean in lay terms?

TUR: He had to maintain more than 300 feet above the ground and during the day 1/2 mile of visibility. At night you need 1 mile of visibility. He didn't have that. He had at in Van Nuys. He had in Burbank airspace where he asked for the special VFR. But once he started heading on the 101 freeway outside of the airspace controlled by airports he was encountering rising terrain, lowered visibility, and he entered visibility that was far less than half a mile.

In fact, according to witnesses on the ground, including an "L.A. Times" reporter he couldn't see more than 100 feet in front of him. And that was the kind of weather he was flying at and flying at speeds in excess of 170 miles to 125 miles. So that made no sense. You slow down.

The pilot also had a number of places he could have made a precautionary landing. He didn't do so. He could have turned down beforehand. He didn't do so. Tragic.

SMERCONISH: That was -- that was my final -- that was my final lay question. Are you limited? Can you land on a ball field? Can you land in virtually any open space that would take you?

TUR: Yes. You can. And there wouldn't be any penalty for it. You know, you had to make a precautionary landing. In fact, you should be applauded for it. You're admitting, you're making an admission and, you know, he didn't do that.

And there's a problem with commercial aviation with flying commercially on air taxi certificates. And that is pilots don't want to displease their passengers. They don't want to appear as though they don't know what they're doing. But, you know, you're flying on a charter flight. You're Kobe Bryant. You want your pilot to take extra care.

SMERCONISH: Understood. Zoey Tur, thank you.

TUR: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: I of course should put out the NTSB has yet to render any kind of a judgment as to what went on and we'll all await the final outcome

Still to come, more of your tweets and Facebook comments like this one. Always nice to hear from actual experts. Question, is it normal to give special dispensation to take off in bad conditions?

I don't know that special -- I get nervous. I want to wait and see the final reports come out. I'm not so sure that special dispensation was given so I best say very little about that

Don't forget the survey question at This I know a little something about.

Do you agree with Lamar Alexander when he said there was no need for more evidence to prove something that had already been proven and doesn't meet the U.S. constitution's high bar for impeachment offenses.



SMERCONISH: Time to see how you responded to the survey question at this week.

Do you agree with Lamar Alexander when he said there was no need for more evidence to prove something that had already been proven and doesn't meet the U.S. constitution's high bar for impeachable offenses?

Survey says 89 percent disagree. Whoa! You know what's stunning is not that 89 percent disagree, that's kind of stunning, but 20,000, that's a measure of passion. That's like twice the number that we usually get on surveys. That tells me something. People are pissed, that's what it says.

Here is some of what else you thought. What do we have from social media?

Smerconish, whether you like it or not the House blew it. They thought they could ram it through the House because they had the majority. They said all along they had irrefutable evidence. The Dems will now whine until 2020 -- the election about the witnesses.

I asked that of Senator Ben Cardin. I said, do you default the House for not providing you a ripe case? I happen to agree that the House in retrospect, although I thought it at the time, should have pursued every measure available to them to command the testimony of Bolton and Mulvaney at the time. So, I think that there's some merit in what you say.

This I know for sure, in the end decisions were made both by senators and by us, the members of the public, without having all the data. The whole point of my opening commentary, you need to look at body language. You need to look into somebody's eyes. You need to hear their word choices because we couldn't really measure the depth, I will use the word again, of the venality of what went on here.

Here's another one. I better not get too long winded. Smerconish. Michael, look into your crystal ball and tell us if you think the GOP senators who are up for reelection will be punished or rewarded for their behavior.

Well, the answer to that, Michael, is both. They will be rewarded by their base. They will certainly fund-raise and already are off their support. It depends whether by the time November rolls around, this is still first and foremost.

I take a look at the news cycle that we've just had in the last 30 days and I'm out of breath thinking about it.


It is moving at such a rapid phase and I think that we have no idea what's about to unfold. I mean, just take a look at the next couple of days, right? We have got the Super Bowl tomorrow. On Monday we've got the Iowa caucus. On Tuesday we have got a State of the Union, and then it's on to Manchester. It's hard to keep up, and I'm in the business.

Join me for my "American Life in Columns" tour, next weekend in Manchester, sold out shows in Raleigh and St. Louis. And just added Scottsdale, Arizona and Bellevue, Washington.

See you next week. Thanks for watching.