News Brief: Paul Manafort, Lion Air Crash, Gene-Editing

Nov 28, 2018
Originally published on November 28, 2018 7:05 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have some additional insight today on the continued cooperation between the White House and Paul Manafort.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

That's right. President Trump's former campaign chairman is facing sentencing after a plea deal fell apart. He was supposed to cooperate with the special counsel investigating Russia's role in the 2016 election. Then he was accused of lying. And now we're learning more. Manafort's attorneys have been briefing President Trump's legal team on what their client tells the special counsel. They did this even after the plea deal. Presidential lawyer Rudy Giuliani confirmed this to the Associated Press, and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders deflected questions about how the president could be implicated.

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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: There was no wrongdoing on his part. There was no collusion by his campaign. And beyond that, that's really all we can speak about here at the White House.

INSKEEP: One of the Associated Press reporters who's on this story is Chad Day, and he's in our studios. Good morning.

CHAD DAY: Morning. Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: Glad you're here. Glad you're here. So what was the arrangement, precisely, between Manafort's lawyers and the president's lawyers?

DAY: Right. So this is actually a common thing, called a joint defense agreement, where different defendants in a case, where someone, maybe even just a witness in the case, shares information about what's going on, you know, what investigators are asking them and, you know, kind of what they can glean from that information.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

DAY: What makes this unusual, though, is that usually those agreements are actually severed when someone, you know, they have diverging interests.

INSKEEP: Manafort says, I plead guilty, I'm going to do a plea deal.

DAY: Right. Exactly. And so that's what's been kind of so unusual about this. We saw this happen. You know, General Flynn, Michael Flynn last year ahead of his plea actually severed his joint defense agreement, which is how a lot of people knew that he was going to plea. But with Manafort, instead, what they've been doing is post plea, after he's agreed to cooperate and provide substantial assistance to the investigation, his attorney Kevin Downing has been briefing Rudy Giuliani and keeping him apprised of what the special counsel is asking him and what his client is telling him, as you noted.

INSKEEP: The plea deal would suggest that Manafort was saying, I'm switching sides, I'm on this side of the special counsel now. And yet he's continuing to give information to the president's side. Is that legal?

DAY: It is. It is legal. It's just unusual. And it also, you know, it kind of raises this whole issue of trust. If I'm the prosecution and I'm, you know, trying to get information from a cooperating witness - in this case, Manafort - you know, I want to make sure that we're talking confidentially, that he's, you know, sharing as much as he can with me that he knows and that, you know, he's not going out and telling everyone what we're investigating.

INSKEEP: Is it more than a little unusual also that we find out that the president's lawyers are talking to Manafort's lawyers, Manafort's supposed to be cooperating but then is accused of lying? We don't know about what yet, but lying to the special counsel about something.

DAY: Right. So, you know, this kind of adds more to the complexion of this story right now. So we learned earlier this week, you know, where the special counsel's office said basically the deal is off and that, you know, we found that he was being untruthful to us. He was lying to us, which was a total breach of the agreement. Again, like you say, we don't exactly know what those lies are.

But I think this also, like I said, kind of goes to the whole issue of trust. I think that there was a breakdown of trust between Paul Manafort and Mueller's team, which, you know, probably was also, you know, precipitated by this whole, are you sharing the information that we're providing to other people? - so that maybe they can line up their stories.

INSKEEP: The question has to be asked, even if we can't quite answer it, is it possible that Manafort's team at any point in their communications with the White House were asking the question, pardon me?

DAY: You know, I think this is a piece of evidence that would support a theory like that, but I don't think we can go that far yet. You know, I think that we do know that there has been discussion in the White House and that the president has actually broached the topic of pardoning Manafort. This particularly happened after his trial in Virginia earlier this year, where he was convicted on eight felony counts. We also know that the president is very sympathetic to Manafort's case, and he's very sympathetic to people that have been caught up in this investigation, which he calls a witch hunt and thinks is illegitimate.

And so I think that this is one thing where, you know, you could easily see Manafort saying, we're going to continue to provide you some information. Because he was already looking at lengthy prison time, and so this could be, you know, kind of a play for a pardon.

INSKEEP: Chad Day of the Associated Press. Thanks so much.

DAY: Thank you.

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INSKEEP: All right. One month ago, Lion Air Flight 610 crashed into the Java Sea, and all 189 people on board died.

GREENE: And now investigators in Indonesia have released a preliminary report on the crash off their country's coast. It's the fullest picture yet of the chaotic 11 minutes this plane was in the air, and it shows the pilots of the Lion Air jet struggle to control the plane against this automatic system almost from the moment they took off.

INSKEEP: NPR transportation correspondent David Schaper is covering this story. David, good morning.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Why would the pilots be struggling to regain control of this plane?

SCHAPER: Well, the nose of the plane has to be angled up to maintain a lift, and it's critical to keeping the plane in the air. If that angle gets too high, the plane can stall. So there's a sensor that monitors that angle, what they call the angle of attack. And the problem here was the sensor apparently was wrong, giving bad data indicating that the angle was too high when it wasn't. So this automated system on the plane was forcing the nose of the plane down when it should not have and eventually put the plane in a nosedive.

The black box reveals that the pilots tried to correct it and tried to point the angle of the plane back up some 26 times in those 11 minutes. But every time, the system took over and it just would point the nose down. One expert just described it as a deadly tug of war.

INSKEEP: This is terrifying to think about, David, the 26 efforts to correct, and the plane keeps un-correcting. Although, it does raise the question why the pilots wouldn't just turn off that system.

SCHAPER: Well, they may not have known how to do that or override this automated system. They may not have even known it existed. The sensor problem was unique to this plane, but pilots at other airlines, including some in the U.S. - American and Southwest here - they've complained after this crash that they didn't know these new 737 MAX planes had this automated system. And they say they weren't trained to do something like this if a problem like this occurred.

So Boeing denies this and says that they, you know, did provide all the information when the new plane model came out. But they did order - put out safety orders updating the information about the system and what corrective actions pilots should be taking if such a problem occurs.

INSKEEP: Wow. So they might not even have known what was going on. They might not have even known what the plane was equipped to do. Had this particular plane had this problem before of the automated system pointing the nose down?

SCHAPER: Yeah. Actually, this is quite troubling. The sensor had incorrect readings a couple of times before. And the sensor was actually replaced a day or two before this fatal flight. But it's just not clear what other actions that the Lion Air maintenance crews might have taken. So in this one flight, a couple of days before, the investigators say after that happened a second time after they replaced the sensor, they should have just grounded the plane and not used it at all, that it just wasn't airworthy.

INSKEEP: Instead, they did. David, thanks so much for your reporting. Really appreciate it.

SCHAPER: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's David Schaper.

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INSKEEP: The Chinese scientist who claims that he created the first gene-edited babies faced public scrutiny last night.

GREENE: Yeah. The scientist is He Jiankui, and on Monday, he said that he edited the DNA of a pair of twins to make them resistant to HIV. The researcher appeared before hundreds of skeptical scientists at an international summit on human genome editing in Hong Kong, and they really grilled him.

INSKEEP: NPR health correspondent Rob Stein followed that conversation, as he has been following this story. Hi, Rob.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: What did the scientist say in his defense?

STEIN: Yeah, Steve, it was a pretty dramatic moment. I mean, you know, for the first time, he walked through the details of his research which involved the use of this powerful new gene editing technique called CRISPR. After first studying mice and monkeys, he tried, he says, to genetically modify human embryos from seven couples in his lab in China and finally produced these two twin girls a few weeks ago. He says the girls - Lulu and Nana are their names - are home with their parents. They appear healthy, and at least one of the girls now appears to be immune from the AIDS virus.

And he says he did this in the hopes of protecting these girls and millions of other kids from AIDS. And if true, these girls would be the world's first gene-edited human beings. And it would really be a landmark in human biology. Many scientists are comparing it to the birth of the first test-tube baby, Louise Brown. And arguably, it's even more groundbreaking because it alters the human genetic blueprint for generations. And He also revealed that he has another pregnancy already underway.

INSKEEP: OK. So he's continuing his work which has surprised the world. And what did people have to say to him about it?

STEIN: Yeah. The first scientist to stand up was David Baltimore. He's a world-famous, Nobel Prize-winner who's running the summit, and he was pretty harsh. He told He point blank that he thinks what he did was irresponsible and unjustifiable. And let's listen to a little bit of what he said.

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DAVID BALTIMORE: I don't think it has been a transparent process. We've only found out about it after it's happened and after the children are born. I personally don't think that it was medically necessary.

STEIN: So you can hear in his voice, he was pretty incensed. And that was pretty much the tone for the meeting, all the other scientists there. You know, for the next 45 minutes or so, one scientist and bioethicist after another kind of laid into He. They questioned why he chose HIV when there are lots of other ways to protect people from AIDS and why he kept his work secret, why he did it even though he knew it wasn't allowed in China and ran counter to the scientific consensus. And they also questioned, you know, would these girls really end up OK, both physically and emotionally? And they also questioned things like, you know, did the couples who he was experimenting on really understand what they were getting into and how this gene editing might affect these little girls in the long run.

Now, you know, for the most part, He, he's a pretty, you know, soft-spoken guy. He remained pretty calm. He did apologize for, you know, this leaking out, he says. And he repeatedly defended what he did, saying, you know, he consulted with scientists and bioethicists in China and the United States all along the way, and he was proud he was able to help this family, hopefully, and many others.

INSKEEP: Rob, if - as David Baltimore says - this was not a transparent process, if it was against the rules in China, which is an authoritarian state, if it was a big surprise to everyone, is there any doubt that, well, perhaps this didn't really happen at all? Is there any doubt about his claims?

STEIN: Yeah. Yeah. There's still big questions about what he did and if he did what he really claims he did. I mean, the short answer is nobody really knows. You know, he completely ignored all the usual rules of science, and so people have to validate this. And he could be facing big legal trouble when he gets back to China.

INSKEEP: Rob, thanks for the update.

STEIN: Sure. Nice to be here.

INSKEEP: That's NPR health correspondent Rob Stein. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.