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News Brief: Ethiopia Crash Report, Biden, Texas ICE Raid


What went wrong in the crash of a Boeing 737 Max plane in Ethiopia that killed all 157 people on board? We have some answers this morning.


Answers from Ethiopian investigators. They have released their report. And the question here is, do you blame the plane, or do you blame the pilots, or some combination? They concluded the pilots didn't do anything wrong. They followed instructions from Boeing on how to operate the plane, but they still could not control the aircraft when something caused it to begin to go down.

This, of course, was the second crash involving that line of Boeing planes in five months. And it prompted countries around the world to ground 737 Max planes.

MARTIN: NPR's Russell Lewis has been following this story for us and joins us this morning. Hey, Russell.

RUSSELL LEWIS, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

MARTIN: So the pilots, basically, did everything right. Is that what the report is saying here?

LEWIS: Yeah. And we should point out that this is the preliminary report. The final report is not expected for a year. But this is the first time that we've had some sort of official guidance from, you know, these aviation authorities. And what they said, basically, is that the takeoff appeared very normal. And it wasn't long after that that the nose of the plane pitched down violently towards the earth.

And really, here's the key part, which Ethiopian Airlines tweeted out in response as that news conference was still going on - that the pilots followed the recommendations that Boeing had put in the checklists and approved by the FAA. But that was still not enough to prevent the plane from plummeting to the earth and killing, as you mentioned, all 157 people on board.

MARTIN: A lot of the focus in the past few weeks has been on this new flight control software. What did we learn about the role that might've played in the crash?

LEWIS: Well, I think that this preliminary report certainly increases the pressure on Boeing. And it's probably why Boeing delayed its software fix. You know, you might remember that last week, the company indicated that it had been expected that it was going to release its software patch in days. But on Monday, they actually said, wait a second; it's going to be a few more weeks. And it's probably because...


LEWIS: ...They were given a heads-up about this report, which also gave some of the details that Boeing had sort of maintained - that, you know, it was clear that the pilots, you know, didn't follow their checklists and procedures. But what you have the Ethiopian government saying here is, actually not - that is what happened.

MARTIN: So I mean, as you point out, Boeing had already been working on a fix to this software problem. So what has this report changed - basically, that it's not the pilot's fault at all? It was all a problem associated with the software, so you better go back at it?

LEWIS: Well, I think that's certainly part of it. And I think it's important to remember that, in any aviation crash, that it's not just one thing that causes the accident, it's a series of things that compact upon each other. So part of it that's going to be looked at is going to be the crew. It's going to be the crew training. It's going to be the aircraft. And there's a lot more still to look at.

But really, what we're hearing from this preliminary report is that the - what the Ethiopian government is saying is that the pilots did what they were supposed to do and what Boeing told them they should do in the checklists. But it was not enough to still prevent the plane from crashing down into the earth.

MARTIN: I mean, Boeing, yesterday, tweeted out this photo of their CEO. Did you see this? He's testing the safety updates to the 737 Max. This has been a huge PR hit for them. I mean, are these planes going to get back in the air anytime soon?

LEWIS: We don't know. It could be weeks. It could be months. But it is something that is still going to take time. And it is a huge PR hit for Boeing. It's also a huge financial hit as well.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Russell Lewis for us this morning. Thanks so much.

LEWIS: You're welcome.


MARTIN: OK. We're going to talk about developments with the report by special counsel Robert Mueller. But before we do, a reminder that almost no one has seen this report.

INSKEEP: That's really the central fact. Officials now offer competing interpretations of what we haven't seen. You will recall that Attorney General William Barr offered the first information. He said Russia worked to elect President Trump. He said the special counsel did not accuse the president's campaign of a criminal conspiracy with Russia. Barr himself decided against charging the president with obstruction of justice.

Differing interpretations now come from government officials who talked with The New York Times and Washington Post. They say some members of the special counsel's investigation think that Barr downplayed the evidence that they gathered.

MARTIN: NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro joins us now. Good morning, Domenico.


MARTIN: All right. So we laid out the key concerns that are being leveled by these anonymous sources. What else did they have to tell both the Times and The Washington Post?

MONTANARO: Well, they didn't say a lot. What we know is that Barr put out a four-page letter to Congress describing an approximately 400-page report. And there's been a team of investigators working with Mueller, looking into potential Trump campaign collusion with Russia, possible obstruction of justice, as you guys laid out, for almost two years. So it's not surprising there would be some gaps between the Barr letter and the fuller Mueller report, and also not surprising that there would be people on Mueller's team - some, anyway - unhappy with what they see as a sanitized version of their work.

MARTIN: Right. I mean, they actually say that they had done the work in building their own summaries that could've been released immediately, instead of Barr having to do his own. How's the White House responding to this?

MONTANARO: Well, Trump's counsel, Rudy Giuliani, was on Fox News last night. Here's some of what he had to say.


RUDY GIULIANI: They're a bunch of sneaky, unethical leakers. And they are rabid Democrats who hate the president of the United States. I am absolutely confident that the report will bear out the conclusions - the conclusions no obstruction, no Russian collusion of any kind. It will bear that out.

MONTANARO: I mean, who hate the United States - that is...

MARTIN: Right.

MONTANARO: ...Quite the statement from Mr. Giuliani. Clearly, this is going to irritate the president and the people who support him, especially because the narrative over two years has been something that has so gotten under the president's skin. I expect we'll hear more from the president in tweets and in public statements. Remember, Barr put out just a four-page letter, like we said. And Democrats have pushed for releasing that full report.

INSKEEP: Also, rabid Democrats - when Giuliani uses that phrase, we should remember that Robert Mueller was Republican, appointed FBI director by a Republican. The FBI is generally thought to have a lot more Republicans than Democrats in it.

MARTIN: Right. I want to shift gears, Domenico, because Joe Biden put out a video. The former vice president put out this video yesterday because he's faced all these allegations recently from women who say he touched them in a way that made them feel uncomfortable. What was this video about? What was his message?

MONTANARO: Well, that's right. Biden acknowledged that he's made men and women feel uncomfortable with how close he can get during political events. Here's some of what he said in the video yesterday.


JOE BIDEN: You know, social norms have begun to change. They've shifted. And the boundaries of protected personal space have been reset. And I get it. I get it. I hear what they're saying. I understand it. And I'll be much more mindful. That's my responsibility.

MONTANARO: So four women in the past week have said the vice president made them feel uncomfortable. And this is threatening to derail his presidential campaign even before he decides to get in.

MARTIN: Right. He hasn't even announced yet.

MONTANARO: That's right. And, you know, we're going to find out in the next few weeks if he actually does wind up going through with it. But it's not a great start.

MARTIN: NPR's Domenico Montanaro for us this morning. We appreciate it. Thank you.

MONTANARO: You're so welcome.


MARTIN: OK. We want to go to the city of Allen, Texas, now. It is home to an electric - an electronic repair company. It's called CVE Technology Group.


INSKEEP: You're hearing helicopters buzzing over the company headquarters yesterday, as 200 law enforcement officials descended on the building. The company had been on the radar of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials after receiving numerous tips informing them that the company had knowingly hired undocumented workers. About 280 employees were arrested during the raid, making it ICE's largest operation at a single work site in more than a decade.

MARTIN: Stella Chavez is a reporter from our member station KERA and was there as the operation took place. Good morning, Stella.


MARTIN: Two hundred and eighty people - how do you do a raid on that many people at the same time? Were they all at work?

CHAVEZ: They were all at work, yeah. This was a pretty massive operation. I said that more than 200 agents were there to do this. They had the cooperation of local police departments.

I got there a little bit before 10 a.m., and the entrance to the parking lot where this company is located was blocked off. And I saw ICE agents checking - you know, walking around the parking lot, checking cars, I guess to make sure people weren't hiding in there. And then, you know, I spent the next several hours waiting outside as family members arrived. Some of the family members were receiving text messages and phone calls from the people who were inside.

MARTIN: Right. You talked with some of the employees who weren't arrested but were there when this whole thing went down. What did they tell you?

CHAVEZ: Right. They were pretty upset. I mean, the employees who were let go - I mean, these are people who either are here on work visas or have green cards. They were relieved that they were released, but they were very upset about the people who were still inside. I spoke to one woman, Yessenia Ponce, who was there when this happened, and she talks about what that was like.

YESSENIA PONCE: It was so fast that a lot of people - you know, they were trying to give me their personal information, you know, to contact their family, but they couldn't. It just wasn't enough time.

MARTIN: So I mean, if all these people were, in fact, working in the country illegally, that would be a huge deal. I mean, there's obviously going to be consequences for the owners of this company - right? - who were operating with impunity?

CHAVEZ: Well, you would think, yes. I mean, ICE really - you know, during the press conference after all of this, they really emphasized that this was a criminal investigation of the company, that they had gotten numerous tips this was happening.

They started looking into the I-9 forms. These are the forms that, you know, employers have to make sure employees fill out when they start working there. And they started doing an audit of these I-9 forms and found some discrepancies. And so, you know, they didn't go into a lot of detail. They said they couldn't, you know, elaborate on just what exactly would happen to the owners or the managers...

MARTIN: Right.

CHAVEZ: ...Who worked there. But it's, you know, it's an ongoing criminal investigation, they said.

MARTIN: What happens in - to those people who were arrested? What are the next steps for them?

CHAVEZ: Well, a lot of them are in holding facilities right now. You know, they're being, you know, checked out. Some might be released on humanitarian reasons if, you know, for example, they are the sole caregiver of a child or family member. The rest of them will basically go through the immigration court process. They'll, you know, be able to get out on a bond. And then...

MARTIN: But we know that immigration court - the courts are so overwhelmed right now. I mean, this is...

CHAVEZ: Exactly.

MARTIN: ...Happening at a fraught time, when it comes to immigration in this country. Stella Chavez of our member station KERA. Stella, thank you so much for sharing your reporting on this. We appreciate it.

CHAVEZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEEB'S "ROOFTOPS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: April 4, 2019 at 12:00 AM EDT
In an earlier version of the audio, we incorrectly recapped Rudy Giuliani's comment about Democrats. Giuliani said Democrats hate the current president of the United States. He did not say Democrats hate the United States.
As NPR's Southern Bureau chief, Russell Lewis covers issues and people of the Southeast for NPR — from Florida to Virginia to Texas, including West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. His work brings context and dimension to issues ranging from immigration, transportation, and oil and gas drilling for NPR listeners across the nation and around the world.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
Stella Chavez