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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Majority of Americans Don't Believe Mueller Report Exonerates Trump; Boeing Officials on Capitol Hill. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 27, 2019 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:02]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: We now know the instant reaction to the Mueller news.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news: brand-new CNN polls giving us a snapshot of what America thinks after the Mueller report summary, as Democrats demand to see all of the report before minds are made up.

In it to win it? A rising star in the Democratic Party shooting down reports that she's joining forces with Joe Biden, because you -- quote -- "don't run for second place."

Plus, Congress holding hearings today, after two deadly crashes cause a historic grounding of jets -- now new details on how Boeing says it's solving the problem.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Jake today.

We begin with breaking news, a brand-new CNN pull out right this moment revealing what Americans think about special counsel Robert Mueller's findings, what they think Congress should do now, and what this means for President Trump and their vote in 2020.

Let's get right to CNN's Phil Mattingly at the Magic Wall.

So, Phil, the president has claimed this was a total exoneration, but what do Americans think?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna, and the basis of that was the four-page summary from Attorney General Bill Barr, which directly quoted from the Mueller report, saying that individuals from the Trump campaign, it was not establish that they conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.

What do Americans think? Well, according to this snapshot from the past two days, broadly, they disagree; 56 percent say no, when they were asked do you think the report exonerates President Trump of collusion? Forty-three percent said yes. Now, as you would imagine, this splits starkly down partisan lines,

but an interesting element here; 58 percent of independents polled said they agreed that, no, it does not exonerate the president.

But interesting element here, Brianna, when you dig down a little bit deeper in the numbers. When you go into those smaller tranche, basically, individuals polled, about 23 percent of them said they'd heard a great deal about the report, the numbers invert -- 56 percent say they do believe that the report exonerates President Trump of collusion; 44 percent say no.

Now, one of the big questions going forward, and obviously we hear about it every day, is what is going to happen next, particularly on Capitol Hill? Well, people were asked about that question specifically, what should Congress do with the report findings? -- 57 percent said hold hearings on those findings; 43 percent said end the investigation entirely.

Once again, as you would expect, breaks sharply down partisan lines,. But move over to independents again, 57 percent of independents also agree that they should hold hearings.

Brianna, obviously, Democrats pushing very hard right now not only to receive the full Mueller report, not just a four-page summary, but also to hear from individuals involved with it. Right now, the country broadly is on their side, at least according to this snapshot.

KEILAR: So what does all of this mean for President Trump, especially as he's going into 2020?

MATTINGLY: Yes, look, everybody's talked about this kind of ad nauseum over the course of the last two years, during the course of this investigation. What does it mean for the president? What does it mean politically for the president?

There's been a lot of theories that this is likely baked in at this point, and the numbers back that up. In terms of those who were polled, how will the findings affect your 2020 vote, look at this bottom number right here -- 86 percent say it will have no difference at all.

How many will it -- are more likely back Trump? Seven percent. More likely to oppose the president, 6 percent. So it does seem to be the numbers are pretty baked in. Obviously, everything splits pretty sharply down partisan lies, but in terms of what the 2020 effect will be, at least at this point, at least in this early snapshot, 86 percent, Brianna, say no difference.

KEILAR: Wow, that is a big number.

All right, Phil Mattingly, thank you so much.

Jeff Zeleny, 86 percent, this isn't going to make a difference to them, they say, going into 2020. So what is the takeaway, not just for President Trump, but for Democratic candidates too?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's good and bad news in for both.

I think, for the president, he hoped that this would sort of exonerate him entirely in the minds of the public. I'm not sure that it does that. It sets it aside, it looks like, as of this point right now, making no difference. That means that that voters are focusing on what we hear them talking about out there, the economy, on health care and other matters.

So, I think it obviously it was a victory for the president this week, no question about it. But if it is essentially a wash, that it makes no difference, it does not necessarily mean that everything improves around him here. So I think the biggest blinking indicator is the economy still the metrics in the economy.

That's what the smarter strategists inside both sides are talking about at this point. And we never know what a campaign is going to end on. The last several campaigns, all the ones that we have covered, they have started on something entirely different than their ending on. So we simply don't know what this will be about at the end.

So good news and bad news in there for the president. But it also takes time for the public to sort of absorb what this all means. I'm not sure they have done that yet.

KEILAR: Well, and to that point, you look at this, do you want hearings to be held number, right? A majority want Congress to hold hearings, but we have also heard Democrats, Jen Psaki, say, we just need to move on from this. We want to focus on agenda items, like you heard Jeff Zeleny spelling out there.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think you can do both. And here's how.

[16:05:00]

First of all, to Jeff's point, none of this should be surprising, actually, in terms of the first numbers of 86 percent think it makes no difference. Democrats did not run on the Mueller report and the Russia investigation in 2018. It's not how they won back the House.

There were many times where I was sitting meeting with Democratic pollsters and Democratic strategists and we were saying, why doesn't anyone care about the Russia investigation? It didn't register on polls in 2018. There's no reason to believe it would have changed by now.

In terms of hearings, I think the key for Democrats is to keep those hearings and those discussions and debates in Washington in the halls of Congress and have the discussions about the issues Jeff talked about, about economy, I would add health care to -- to that issue. So candidates running for president, candidates in tough Senate races and House races, they should keep talking about those issues the American people care about.

Let all of those debates happen right here in Washington. KEILAR: It's going to be tempting, Sabrina, for some of these

candidates, though, even if they're not mentioning the president by name, to take on his style, his principles, as they discuss what they are bringing to the table.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Absolutely.

And I think that it's worth noting that there's no one Democrat who is going to be the anti-Trump candidate. That's going to be everyone standing up on that stage in what is shaping up to be a crowded and diverse field. They're each going to have to find a way in terms of distinguishing themselves.

That's not simply running against the president and going back to the Democratic notion that he is unfit to be in office. I think that, though these numbers, it's important to point out, reinforce that, as much as the White House tries to frame this as a post-Mueller era, in the eyes of the American public, they're not necessarily ready to move on.

Now, it's true that a majority say, an overwhelming majority say that this doesn't make a difference to how they're going to vote in 2020, they do want more information, by way of hearings. They do not believe that this report exonerates the president of collusion, and that reinforces the need to make the full report public, because ultimately what we know so far from this letter from the attorney general summarizing the findings, that's a determine nation that he made.

And he is, of course, a political appointee. There's still a lot of unanswered questions about the counterintelligence with respect to Russia, as well as why the special counsel was unable to reach a conclusion on the obstruction question.

KEILAR: Yes. So he made the -- on the conclusion, it does essentially exonerate him. And the poll numbers don't actually reflect that. People are choosing to believe what they want to believe.

The obstruction piece, certainly, that is a political appointee who made that determination. So it does seem like some of this is certainly baked in. But I wonder something that we heard from Senator Lindsey Graham. He said the president is not planning on asserting executive privilege, that he said simply to release the Mueller report.

Let's remember, we don't have the Mueller report. We have a four-page letter from the attorney general, with quotes of a few lines and some summarization. Right? Graham thinks that this report is going to come out sometime in April, but is the narrative already set, Amanda? And do you take the president at his word?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The narrative has been set. And that's why you saw the White House so quick to claim victory, because they know if they can get that into the ether, that will be very hard to fight later. But I think this is just a really hard thing to poll right now, for

the exact reason you pointed out. We don't know what is in the report. And so I'm looking at that 50 percent of the people who think that they should hold hearings. OK. We know the obstruction question is open. The criminal collusion question is closed.

So what is it that the public wants to know more about? That's what Democrats should be asking themselves. I think it's the unanswered questions regarding President Trump's friendly stance towards Russia. Why is that? There are things that we have learned in the course of this investigation we did not know before, namely, the length of the Moscow project talks that went on during the campaign.

I think that is something that Congress should pursue as it relates to President Trump's stance towards Russia, as well as the security clearance issue that has been raised within the White House as it pertains to Jared Kushner.

KEILAR: What do you think? What do you think people want to know?

PSAKI: I think Amanda raises a really interesting point.

And George Conway had an op-ed today that kind of goes through a lot of the legal issues here. And...

KEILAR: Can we put that up real quick? Actually, we have a full- screen of it.

It says: "Americans should expect far more from a president than merely that he not be provably a criminal. If the charge were unfitness for office, the verdict would already be in, guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

PSAKI: Well, look, and I think -- and beyond that, and in his op-ed, in addition to that very strong endpoint, he makes the point that the bar here was the legal question.

So the conspiracy to defraud the United States, that was always going to be an incredibly high bar. And from talking to Democrats over the years, a year or two years ago, the people working on this were always concerned that would be a high bar to reach, right?

So the question, though -- there are valid questions about contacts, about close relationship, about meetings that were had that can allow the American people to make a decision about whether he is fit for office, even though it isn't a criminal level of conduct.

SIDDIQUI: And to that point, there was this pattern of contacts between members of the Trump campaign and Moscow.

And we -- while there was not an ability on behalf of the special counsel to establish a criminal conspiracy, we don't yet know what the special counsel made of all those contacts, a lot of unanswered questions, for example, surrounding why Paul Manafort shared internal polling data at the time that he was campaign chairman with Konstantin Kilimnik, someone who had known ties to Russian intelligence. [16:10:15]

Of course, George Papadopoulos, who bragged about how the Russian government was trying to help elect Donald Trump, the infamous Trump Tower meeting, not just the miscommunication attempts by the White House to mislead on the nature of that meeting, but also what came of that meeting.

So I think that clearly there is a desire within the public to know more about what those contacts amounted to.

ZELENY: I think all that is very tempting for Democrats here in Washington, if you're a committee chairman on all these committees to get to the bottom of it.

But what I'm going to be fascinated by watching, are presidential candidates going to be drawn into this? Because voters simply that I have seen out there, it's been a huge dichotomy. You spend the week out in New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina, voters aren't talking about it. Back here, they are.

So I think the presidential candidates, the disciplined ones, will not get sort of drawn down that rabbit hole. I think it's possible for the party to do a couple things at once, but Speaker Pelosi is going to have a big decision on her hands.

She's already taking a leadership role by no impeachment, by sending it out, but we will see if she reins in some of these committee chairs. We don't know. But that is sort of a disconnect to keep an eye on.

KEILAR: It is the move that launched fireworks between the attorney general and President Trump's chief of staff -- that next.

Plus, new details just released about Boeing's attempt to ease concerns and fix a problem with their grounded new jet.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:15:32] KEILAR: Any moment now, the president will be presenting the nation's highest military honor to the family of Army Staff Sergeant Travis Atkins.

I want to bring in CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, tell us a little bit about Travis Atkins and all the ceremony.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Sure, always such a moving ceremony at the White House, Brianna, when a family is presented or a survivor is presented with the Medal of Honor. Sadly, Staff Sergeant Travis Atkins was killed in action in Iraq, northwest of Baghdad, back in June 2007. His family is receiving his Medal of Honor today under the most extraordinary circumstances of his service.

He was with his team on a road apparently in rural Iraq when they were approached by insurgents. The insurgents asking suspiciously. Staff Sergeant Adkins moved forward, he realized one of the insurgents had a suicide vest under his clothing and literally -- and that is an understatement -- literally engaged in hand-to-hand combat with his insurgent to try and keep him from getting to his suicide detonator and detonating his suicide vest.

Now, President Trump about to speak --

KEILAR: Barbara, I'm so sorry to interrupt you. Let's go to President Trump and listen in.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Members of Congress and distinguished military leaders we're here today to award America's highest honor to a fallen hero who made the supreme sacrifice for our nation, Staff Sergeant Travis Atkins.

Please join me in welcoming the entire Atkins family to the White House. Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you very much.

Joining us to accept the Congressional Medal of Honor on behalf of Travis is his son, Trevor.

Thank you very much, Trevor.

We're also grateful to be joined by Travis's parents his mother, Elaine, as well as his father, Jack, who served as an army paratrooper in the Vietnam War.

Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

Also here with us is Travis's sister Jennifer, along with his uncle Sumner and cousin Douglas, both are military veterans of great distinction I might add.

Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

To the entire Atkins family, we can never measure the true depth of our gratitude or the full magnitude of your loss, but we can pay everlasting tribute to Staff Sergeant Travis Atkins, his truly immortal act of valor. It was indeed. Thank you.

We're also joined for today's ceremony by Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist. Thank you, David.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, somebody is doing a fantastic job, General Joseph Dunford.

Thank you, General. Thank you, Joe. Vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Paul Selva.

Paul, thank you.

Secretary of the army, Mark Esper. Mark, thank you, Mark.

Army chief of staff, General Mark Milley. Thank you, General. Thanks, Mark.

Chief of the National Guard bureau, General Joseph Lengyel and sergeant major of the army, Daniel Dailey. Thank you. Thank you all. Thank you very much.

Great people, they're doing an incredible job I have to say that.

Thank you as well to Senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester.

[16:20:03] Thank you. Thank you. Jon, thank you.

And Representatives Jim Banks, Greg Gianforte, Elise Stefanik, Pete Stauber, and Michael Waltz. Thank you all. Thank you, folks. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

And, finally, we are privileged to be in the presence of five previous Medal of Honor recipients: Ty Carter, Harvey Barnum, William Swenson, Ronald Shurer, and Brian Thacker. Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

Brave people. Thank you. Thank you.

Today, the name of Staff Sergeant Travis Atkins will be etched alongside of the names of America's bravest warriors and written forever into America's heart.

Travis grew up on a farm in Bozeman, Montana. He was also and always most at home in the middle of the wilderness. He loved the wilderness. He loved to camp and to fish and to hunt. And he loved to race that snowmobile, as you know, right?

After Travis graduated high school, he worked as a painter and mechanic before he joined the Army at the age of 24. In March of 2001, his parents went to his basic training graduation ceremony at Fort Benning, Georgia.

When they reunited with their son, he told them, "This basic training was the best time I've ever had in my life." In other words, he loved it.

(LAUGHTER)

Travis quickly excelled in the Army. He was offered a number of different assignments, but always he chose the infantry. He loved the infantry. That's where he wanted to be, defending freedom on the frontiers with his fellow foot soldiers, and they were all his great friends.

In 2003, Travis served on his first deployment in Iraq with the historic 101st Airborne Division and participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

After he completed the harrowing deployment, Travis returned to civilian life. But not for long. The fact is he was bored. You know that. He was very bored. He wanted back in.

As his mother Elaine has said, Travis "loved the Army and he loved everything about being with the troops." He just loved it.

In 2005, he re-enlisted and joined the legendary 10th Mountain Division, based at Fort Drum, New York, where he was honored to visit last year.

In August of 2006, Travis left his second deployment to Iraq. He was stationed in a hotbed of terror and terrorist activity known as the "Triangle of Death". Not a good place. On the morning of June 1st, 2007, in a town outside of Baghdad, Travis and his three-man squad received a report that several suspected terrorists were walking toward an intersection nearby. Nothing good was going to happen. They all knew it.

Travis directed his squad immediately to the location. When they arrived, he got out of the Humvee and walked toward the two suspicious men. And he knew right from the beginning.

As Travis began to search one of the insurgents, the man resisted and became totally violent. Travis engaged him in hand-to-hand combat. As Travis wrestled to get the enemy's hands behind his back, the man began to reach for something, and Travis knew what it was. He realized the man was wearing a suicide vest.

Just as the terrorist was about to set off the deadly explosives, Travis wrapped his arms and his entire body around him and threw him to the ground, away from his troops, who were right next to him. He put himself on the top of the enemy and he shielded his men from certain death. The terrorist detonated his suicide vest and Travis was instantly killed.

In his final moments on Earth, Travis did not run.

[16:25:01] He didn't know what it was to run. He did not hesitate. He rose to the highest calling. He laid down his life to save the lives of his fellow warriors.

In so doing, he embodied the deepest meaning of the motto of the 10th Mountain Division: He "climbed to glory". Now, Travis is looking down from above on all of us -- on all of his fellow warriors, on his great family -- wrapped in glory, the loving glory of Almighty God.

We're grateful to be joined by the three squad members that Travis saved: Private First Class Michael Kistel.

Michael. Where are you, Michael? Thank you. Please, stand. Stand. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you.

Specialist Travis Robertshaw.

Travis, where are you? Travis, thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you, Travis.

And Specialist Sand Aiyo.

Sand, thank you very much. Good.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you. Appreciate it.

Today, we are privileged also to be joined by more than 50 soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division, including those who served alongside Travis -- knew he was brave from day one. They really loved him. They wanted to be here.

Would you please stand?

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you very much. Thank you for being here.

Your lives of service do honor to our country, to Army values, and your fallen brothers-in-arms like Staff Sergeant Travis Atkins. And he's looking down. He loves you all.

Just a few days before that June morning when Travis left on his last mission, he called his son Trevor to wish him a very, very special eleventh birthday. Trevor didn't know that he would speak to his dad for the last time.

But in the 12 years since, he's always known that his father gave his life for our nation and for our freedom. He knew that his father was a hero right from the beginning, long before today. Trevor has said that he wants our nation to remember his dad as "the best father and best soldier that anyone could ask for."

Trevor, that is exactly how will your Dad be remembered. He will be remembered truly as the best father and he will be remembered as the best soldier. You can't get better than the Congressional Medal of Honor. You just can't. So thank you very much.

And I'd like you to come on up. Please come up.

(APPLAUSE)

Please come up. Please.

Your father's courage and sacrifice will live for all time. And every time we see our stars and stripes waving in the sky, we will thank our great Travis and we will think of every American hero who gave their last breath to defend our liberty, and our homeland, and our people, and our great American flag.

Now, I'd like to ask the military aide to read the citation. And I would also like, perhaps, in honor of your father, perhaps you could say just a few words. Would you like that? Please.

TREVOR OLIVER, STAFF SGT. ATKINS' SON: Thank you, everyone, for being here, first off. It's an absolute honor to have every single one of you here. It's something that I can't really put into words. It's something that's surreal.

And I still -- I still haven't fully accepted it yet.

So, just all over appreciation for his men. Everything you have said to me over the last few days has meant the world to me, and it changes my life every, every day.