Wednesday March 27, 2019
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U.S. Government Grounds Boeing After Intense Pressure

Trump had resisted calls for the jet to be grounded until the cause of the crashes is found and planned modifications of software are installed for the aircraft's automatic anti-stall system, which may have played a role in both accidents.

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Belatedly following the lead of more than 30 other countries, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has ordered the immediate grounding of the entire Max series of Boeing jetliners.

The action to halt all flights of the new planes in American airspace is a quick and sudden reversal of the stance taken by the manufacturer, the U.S. airlines flying them and the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump that there was no reason to order a grounding despite fatal nose-dive crashes of the Max planes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

“I didn’t want to take any chances,” Trump replied when asked by reporters in the White House Roosevelt Room after he announced Wednesday afternoon that all the newer 737 variants would stop flying temporarily. “We just felt it was the right thing to do.”

The action was “a very tough decision from the standpoint of a company of Boeing,” added Trump, contending that while he could have further delayed the decision, “I felt it was important both psychologically and in a lot of ways.”

The president cited “new information and physical evidence that we’ve received from the site and from other locations and through a couple of other complaints.”

Trump predicted Boeing will solve the problem: “Hopefully, they will very quickly come up with the answer. But until they do, the planes are grounded.”

The flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder from the crashed Ethiopian Airlines flight arrived Thursday in France where they will be analyzed by the government’s BEA air accident investigation authority for more information about what caused the plane to go down.

Boeing, shortly after Trump concluded his remarks Wednesday, issued a statement saying that while it continues to have full confidence in the safety of its 737 Max series, it has determined, after consultation with the FAA, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and aviation authorities and its customers around the world, that “out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public of the aircraft’s safety” it recommended a temporary suspension of operations of the entire global fleet, which totals nearly 400 planes.

Several U.S. carriers use the Max series: Southwest Airlines has 34 Max 8 planes in service; American Airlines has 24 and United Airlines has 14 planes of the slightly larger Max 9 version. Together those aircraft account for nearly 300 daily flights.

FILE - Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg is interviewed on the Fox Business Network, in New York, Nov. 13, 2018.
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg is interviewed on the Fox Business Network, in New York, Nov. 13, 2018. VOA

“We are doing everything we can to understand the cause of the accidents in partnership with the investigators, deploy safety enhancements, and help ensure this does not happen again,” said Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg.

The FAA, in its statement, said the decision to ground the jets was made as a result of additional data gathered, as well as new evidence collected at the site and analyzed on Tuesday.

“This evidence, together with newly refined satellite data available to FAA this morning, led to this decision,” according to the agency.

Canada, earlier Wednesday, temporarily banned flights of all Max 8 aircraft, which has crashed twice in fewer than five months, killing nearly 350 people.

An Air Canada Boeing 737 MAX 8 from San Francisco approaches for landing at Toronto Pearson International Airport over a parked Air Canada Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, March 13, 2019.
An Air Canada Boeing 737 MAX 8 from San Francisco approaches for landing at Toronto Pearson International Airport over a parked Air Canada Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, March 13, 2019. VOA

That decision was made after receiving new satellite data that showed a possible similarity to the Ethiopian crash, Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau told reporters in Ottawa.

Clothing and personal effects from passengers are seen near the wreckage at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, March 11, 2019.
Clothing and personal effects from passengers are seen near the wreckage at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, March 11, 2019. VOA

Canada’s action followed confirmation that the pilot of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 reported internal control problems, while pilots in the U.S. filed at least five complaints in recent months about the aircraft model. Some of the anonymous complaints appear to involve the same anti-stall system, according to the FAA database.

Ethiopian Airlines spokesman Asrat Begashaw said the pilot asked to return to Addis Ababa, where the flight had departed. “In fact, he was allowed to turn back,” Begashaw told the Reuters news agency.

Muilenburg confirmed the pilot’s problems in interviews with The Wall Street Journal and CNN.

The Trump administration had continued to resist growing domestic and international calls to ground the 737 Max 8, even as Trump discussed the issue Tuesday in a phone call with Muilenburg. The Boeing executive reassured Trump the aircraft is safe, the company and White House officials confirmed.

Muilenburg called Trump after the president complained Tuesday on Twitter that planes “are becoming far too complex to fly.” The call was in the process of being scheduled before Tuesday. The two men have developed a relationship since Trump was elected.

Boeing lobby and donations

Boeing donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural fund and the two men met later at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida to discuss the new Air Force One presidential aircraft that Boeing is constructing. Trump applauded Muilenburg last June at a National Space Council meeting, calling the CEO a “friend of mine. A great guy.”

As a key military contractor, Boeing is a major lobbying force in Washington. Boeing spent $15 million on lobbying last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Boeing also has close ties with the U.S. government, particularly with the Federal Aviation Administration.

FILE - Officials inspect an engine recovered from the crashed Lion Air jet in Jakarta, Indonesia, Nov. 4, 2018. The brand new Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet plunged into the Java Sea just minutes after takeoff from Jakarta early on Oct. 29, killing all passengers on board.
Officials inspect an engine recovered from the crashed Lion Air jet in Jakarta, Indonesia, Nov. 4, 2018. The brand new Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet plunged into the Java Sea just minutes after takeoff from Jakarta early on Oct. 29, killing all passengers on board. VOA

After decades of using outside experts to certify the safety of aircraft, the FAA changed its approach in 2005 with the creation of a new program through which Boeing and other U.S. aircraft manufacturers could select their own employees to help certify their planes.

About two-thirds of the Boeing 737-Max 8, the company’s newest plane, were pulled from service within two days of Sunday’s crash.

Airlines and the number of grounded Boeing 737-MAX 8 airplanes
Airlines and the number of grounded Boeing 737-MAX 8 airplanes. VOA

U.S. House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio has suggested the FAA could be conflicted by its roles as an aviation industry advocate and regulator. The U.S. Senate plans to conduct a hearing on airline safety.

FILE - A firefighter works in the wreckage of a Boeing 737 plane that crashed in the agricultural area of Boyeros, south of Havana, shortly after taking off from Havana's main airport in Cuba, May 18, 2018.
A firefighter works in the wreckage of a Boeing 737 plane that crashed in the agricultural area of Boyeros, south of Havana, shortly after taking off from Havana’s main airport in Cuba, May 18, 2018. VOA

Trump had resisted calls for the jet to be grounded until the cause of the crashes is found and planned modifications of software are installed for the aircraft’s automatic anti-stall system, which may have played a role in both accidents.

The software fix is expected to take months, FAA officials said on Wednesday, although the agency’s acting administrator, Daniel Elwell, said he does not know for how long the Max series will be grounded.

Also Read: After Spicejet, Air India Cancels Several International Flights

The initial crash of the Max 8 involved a Lion Air domestic flight in Indonesia on Oct. 29, 2018. The plane plunged into the Java Sea, killing all 189 people on board.

During Sunday’s Ethiopian Airlines ill-fated flight, the plane nosedived minutes after take-off from Addis Ababa on an international flight to Nairobi, Kenya, according to witnesses. (VOA)

Next Story

No Evidence of Trump ‘Collusion’ with Russia in 2016 Elections: Mueller in Final Report

Mueller reached no conclusion and punted the decision to Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein

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Trump, kushner, whatsapp
Trump knew nothing about son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner's use of the WhatsApp encrypted messaging tool. VOA

In a big legal and political win for U.S. President Donald Trump, Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded in his final report that there was no evidence that Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign or anyone associated with it colluded with Russia to influence the outcome of the vote, according to a summary of the confidential report released on Sunday by Attorney General William Barr.

That finding was emphatic, and validated Trump’s long-standing insistence that “there was no collusion” between his campaign and Russian hackers and meddlers who sought to change the outcome of Trump’s presidential battle with Democrat Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state. Using Mueller’s own words, the Barr letter stated that “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

But on the question of whether Trump obstructed justice in the course of the investigation, Mueller reached no conclusion and punted the decision to Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, according to a letter Barr wrote to top Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate judiciary committees summarizing the report’s “principal conclusions.” Complicating Mueller’s challenge in getting to the bottom of the question was Trump’s refusal to answer questions under oath and instead provide written answers. Barr and Rosenstein – who appointed Mueller as Special Counsel and oversaw the investigation– concluded that the evidence developed during the investigation “is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”

That finding is certain to be a key bone of contention for congressional Democrats who are investigating Trump and his administration, especially given the Special Counsel’s assertion that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, tweeted that “The fact that Mueller’s report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report & documentation be made public without any further delay.”

trump, mueller
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks at an Economic Club of Washington luncheon gathering in Washington, March 8, 2019. VOA

Mueller submitted his report to Barr late Friday, nearly two years after he was appointed to investigate allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election and collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

After combing through the report over the weekend, Barr submitted a four-page letter to Congress absolving Trump of any collusion with the Russians or obstruction of justice in blocking the criminal investigation. Barr’s letter was made public shortly after it was delivered to Congress.

“It was complete and total exoneration,” Trump told reporters in Florida before returning to Washington Sunday afternoon. “This was an illegal takedown that failed and hopefully somebody is going to be looking at their other side.”

Here are five key take-aways from Barr’s summary of the Mueller report:

Trump was right: There was no collusion

The central question before Mueller was whether members of the Trump campaign or any other Americans conspired with Russians to tip the 2016 campaign in favor of the real estate tycoon. On that score, the Mueller report delivers a categorical vindication of the president.

While Mueller’s investigators uncovered evidence of Russian meddling in the U.S. election, “[the] investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” the summary quotes Mueller as writing.

trump, mueller
FILE – Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as his campaign manager Paul Manafort looks on during Trump’s walk through at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 21, 2016. VOA

The special counsel interpreted “coordination” fairly broadly to include both tacit and express agreements.But he found no evidence that members of the Trump campaign accepted offers of help from Russian operatives. “There was really an affirmative ‘No’” said Eric Jaso, a former associate special counsel for the Whitewater affair during former President Bill Clinton’s administration.“If they’d gone along and said yes, that would have fallen under the tacit agreement category.”

Mueller punts obstruction of justice question

Mueller’s decision to punt the question of obstruction of justice struck many legal experts as unusual.

The Special Counsel took up the question after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey over the Russia investigation and after Comey claimed that Trump had asked him to stop investigating his former national security advisor, Michael Flynn.

But Mueller drew no conclusion about whether Trump’s actions during the investigation amounted to obstruction of justice, according to the Barr summary.

“Instead, for each one of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as ‘difficult issues’ of” whether Trump obstructed justice, Barr wrote.

With Mueller leaving the matter unresolved, it was left to the attorney general to make a determination. Barr wrote that after consulting with Justice Department officials, he and Rosenstein concluded that there was not enough evidence that Trump had committed obstruction of justice. The determination, he added, was made irrespective of a long-standing Justice Department guidance that a sitting president can’t be indicted.

mueller, trump
DOJ Notification to Congress Regarding the Conclusion of the Mueller Investigation. VOA

Before taking the helm of the Justice Department last month, Barr had written critically of the Mueller probe and called the investigation of Trump for possible obstruction of justice “fatally flawed.”

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called the decision “concerning” and said he’ll ask Barr to testify before the panel in the near future.

Jaso said the fact that Barr made the determination in concert with Rosenstein provides Barr with political cover.

“He can’t be just painted as toady of the president,” Jaso said.

No additional indictments

The Special Counsel investigation led to the indictments of 37 individuals and entities, mostly Russian operatives and a handful of former Trump associates. In the run-up to the Mueller report, speculation was rife that the Special Counsel would announce new indictments against individuals in the president’s orbit.

But Barr’s summary says the Special Counsel does not recommend any additional indictments in his report and says that there are no indictments under seal that have yet to be made public.

A redacted version in the works

The full extent of Mueller’s findings, including evidence concerning obstruction of justice, will remain unknowable until a more complete version of the report is released. In his letter, Barr indicated that he’ll share a redacted version of the full report at a future date.Barr said that he’s asked the Special Counsel to identify confidential information that must be kept classified and that as soon as “that process is complete, I will be in a position to move forward expeditiously in determining” what can be released. Democrats are demanding full disclosure and vowing to compel the attorney general to comply.

mueller, trump
Special Counsel Robert Mueller departs after a closed-door meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee about Russian meddling in the election and possible connection to the Trump campaign, at the Capitol in Washington, June 21, 2017. VOA

Thorough investigation

Defenders of the Mueller investigation found a measure of vindication in the thoroughness with which the veteran prosecutor and former FBI director carried out the probe. According to Barr’s letter, the Special Counsel issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search warrants, obtained more than 230 orders for communication records, made 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence and interviewed approximately 500 witnesses.

By all accounts, Mueller left no stones untouched in his dogged effort to probe whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow and whether the president sought to impede the investigation that followed.

ALSO READ: Robert Mueller Probe Concludes, Political Parlor Game Has Just Begun

But Mueller appears to have steered clear of one line of inquiry that the president had said was off limits: Trump’s finances and whether the president’s business interests in Russia led him and his campaign into collusion.

“It does not say that thirdly or furthermore we investigated whether the Trump campaign or Trump himself had a desire to ingratiate himself with the Russians which somehow made him vulnerable to this effort,” Jaso said. (VOA)