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The Des Moines Register Calls for Steve King's Resignation; Sen. Patrick Leahy and Peter Baker Take Issue on Twitter With William Barr's Uranium One Testimony; New Questions On Potential Russian Leverage Over Paul Manafort; Prime Minister Theresa May Expected to Win No-Confidence Vote in Parliament Today. Aired 10:30-11:00a ET

Aired January 16, 2019 - 10:30   ET

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


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN. The most-trusted name in news.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: All right. Welcome back. Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa is facing growing pressure this morning to step down over the racist remarks he made in that "New York Times" interview.

The editorial boards of two major newspapers in Iowa, "The Des Moines Register" and the "Sioux City Journal," both say that he should resign from his House seat. Their editorials were published on the same day that the House passed a resolution condemning King.

In the "Times'" story, he said -- and I quote --

TEXT: The New York Times; "White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization -- how did that language become offensive?" Mr. King said. "Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?"; From January 10

HARLOW: -- why are statements like, quote, "white nationalist and white supremacist," he asked why they've become offensive.

In the meantime, here's what people in Iowa, his constituents, have to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All people are of equal value in the sight of God. And our policies should reflect that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're overreacting. You know, magnifying it a hundred times what it should be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm hoping they'll get him cleared out of office, is what I really hope.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nobody can just dismiss what the people voted for.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARLOW: Joining me now is Kathie Obradovich. She's a political columnist for "The Des Moines Register."

Good morning to you. You know, that was interesting, that last woman, who said no one's going to, you know, undo what the people voted for. And he did win. He was -- you know, granted, by only three percentage points, a lot less than a few years ago. But he won.

Why do you think that this, for so many, has sort of been the straw that broke the camel's back? Because he just has (ph) -- I mean, look at them. A litany of racist remarks in the past that we can pull up.

TEXT: Rep. Steve King's Past Racist Comments; Oct. 2018: Calls for "caravan travel ban" for Central American countries"; Sept. 2018: Endorses Faith Goldy, a white nationalist running for mayor of Toronto; Aug. 2018: Raises question, "What does this diversity bring that we don't already have?" 2017: Calls Western civilization "a superior culture"; 2016: Defends Confederate flag & displays one on his desk

KATHIE OBRADOVICH, POLITICAL COLUMNIST, THE DES MOINES REGISTER: He does have a litany of racist or white supremacist or white nationalist or just plain idiotic remarks over the years.

I've known the man for 25 years or more, since he was a state senator. He has always loved to stir things up. He --

HARLOW: Yes.

OBRADOVICH: -- likes to make people's heads spin around. And this time, I think for a lot of people, he just really went too far. He's said similar things in the past, but this is as -- this is as close as he's come to actually endorsing white supremacy, for heaven's sake.

So I would say that remarks are a degree farther, but that the important thing here is that his party is now abandoning him.

HARLOW: His party, but not the president. The president hasn't said a peep about whether he thinks this is reprehensible. In fact, he said he didn't even know anything about it, which I guarantee is (ph) someone who raised a lot of money for Steve King in the past and has invited him to the White House, he -- you know, he followed it. If he follows Jeff Bezos' divorce, he follows this.

Is he getting some presidential cover? Is that -- is that swaying people, some of the folks in Iowa, who are still supportive of him?

OBRADOVICH: You know, I think that if President Trump came out against him, that might sway some of Trump's supporters in that district. Certainly it is -- they noticed, obviously, that Senator Chuck Grassley --

HARLOW: Yes.

OBRADOVICH: -- Senator Joni Ernst -- Iowa senators -- have fairly, I would say, you know, pretty stiff criticism against his remarks. But really, for "The Des Moines Register," what broke the camel's back

for us in actually calling for him to resign instead of just condemning his remarks again, like we've done over the years, is the fact that he's now been stripped of his committee assignments.

HARLOW: Right.

OBRADOVICH: He was on the Ag Committee in Iowa, that's really, really important for Iowa farmers who are suffering in part because of Trump's tariffs right now.

So I think that the problem, though, is -- for Republicans is that he only won by three percentage points. They -- Joni Ernst, for example, needs his voters when she runs for re-election in 2020.

The governor, you know, is -- got re-elected in part because he was co-chairman of her campaign. She's now distancing herself from him. And we just -- as an editorial board, we just didn't feel like he could be effective for his constituents at this point.

HARLOW: Right. I mean, you mentioned the Ag Committee. You've also got when (ph) he led the constitutional part of the House, you know, Judiciary. So he's got some important positions that now he can't do -- do that work on.

Finally, look, he didn't even answer any reporter questions. I mean, there's this video of him yesterday walking down the hall there, and every reporter's trying to ask him for a comment and he doesn't say a word.

He is -- look at -- I mean, he -- I just wonder if you think that is a man who's actually going to resign from Congress. Do you think he actually will, despite these growing calls?

OBRADOVICH: Yes. I can't predict what he will do. And if I try to predict, I'll probably -- would be wrong. But --

HARLOW: But you've covered him for 25 years. You know him better --

OBRADOVICH: -- my gut feeling --

HARLOW: -- than we do. What do you think?

OBRADOVICH: My gut feeling is, no. That he won't resign. That he will gut this out. I wonder, you know, one way -- one graceful way for him to exit would be for Trump to give him a job in his administration. And he might actually like that move.

And if Donald Trump doesn't want to throw him under the bus, then maybe he's going to find him a job. That's the way I see him leaving. Or losing a primary. He's got some Republican opponents already. Not --

[10:35:03] HARLOW: Yes.

OBRADOVICH: -- quitting. No. HARLOW: All right. Look, you've known him, as you said, for 25 years. Thank you very much for being with us. It's a story we will stay on.

Kathie Obradovich, I appreciate it.

OBRADOVICH: Thanks.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Yes. Fascinating interview --

HARLOW: Right?

SCIUTTO: -- and fascinating development for that party in the state of Iowa.

The president's pick for attorney general tries to distance himself from prior comments that he made involving a conspiracy theory involving The Clinton Foundation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:40:03] HARLOW: Happening now, the Senate Judiciary Committee is convening for its second day of hearings. This is about the nomination of William Barr to serve as the next attorney general of the United States.

SCIUTTO: Now, Barr himself will not be there today. But comments that he made yesterday are raising some eyebrows and the ire of one sitting senator.

Barr essentially tried to distance himself from past comments he made on the Uranium One conspiracy theory. More details on that in a moment.

CNN justice reporter Laura Jarrett joins us now.

Laura, it's Senator Patrick Leahy, longtime veteran of the Judiciary Committee, who's upset this morning about an answer Barr gave him during questioning yesterday. What do we know?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: That's right, Jim. And it all stems from a report in "The New York Times" by Peter Baker in the fall of 2017. And at the time, Baker had interviewed Bill Barr, who was a private citizen working at Kirkland & Ellis as an attorney.

And he interviewed him about the fact that President Trump was putting so much pressure on the Justice Department to investigate his political enemies, namely Clinton and her family foundation.

And the situation surrounding this involved something called the Uranium One deal, which we've heard a lot about, trafficked in conspiracy theories largely in conservative media circles and on the president's Twitter feed.

And what it has to do with is Clinton approving the sale of a uranium mining company back when she was secretary of state. And it's a disputed issue, but it is still being investigated.

And Barr was asked about that. Peter Baker actually kept receipts of his conversation with Barr, thankfully, and he posted it on Twitter yesterday. And here's what Barr said in part, which I think is important, if we can show it.

TEXT: I have long believed that the predicate for investigating the uranium deal, as well as the foundation, is far stronger than any basis for investigating so called "collusion."

JARRETT: "I have long believed that the predicate for investigating the uranium deal, as well as the foundation" -- meaning the Clinton Foundation -- "is far stronger than any basis for investigating so called 'collusion,'" meaning, of course, Robert Mueller's investigation into conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Now, when Barr was confronted with this article and what he said to Peter Baker in "The New York Times" in 2017, here's how he tried to sort of explain away that comment to Senator Patrick Leahy. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, NOMINEE, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have no knowledge of the Uranium One. I didn't particularly think that was necessarily something that should be pursued aggressively.

I was trying to make the point that there was a lot out there. And I think all that stuff, at the time, was being looked at by -- by Huber. That's my recollection. I may be wrong on that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JARRETT: Now, of course, this has not satisfied Senator Pat Leahy. He took notice of Peter Baker's tweet and the e-mail string last night, and he's now saying that he --

TEXT: Barr told me that @NYTimes got it wrong when I asked about his claim that Uranium One conspiracy theory was more deserving of an investigation than Russian collusion. Well, HERE's what he told NYT," repeating the Baker tweet. "I'll follow up with my written questions, under oath.

JARRETT: -- "Barr told me that 'The New York Times' got it wrong when I asked about his claim that Uranium One conspiracy theory was more deserving of an investigation than Russian collusion. Well, here's what he told 'The New York Times,'" repeating the Baker tweet. "I'll follow up with my written questions under oath."

But of course, the larger point as well, Barr seems to be on track for an easy confirmation, here. This does raise questions about how he will proceed with some of these sensitive political investigations, if confirmed as attorney general.

Because, of course, this is still an investigation that, as far as we know, is being headed up by John Huber, that U.S. attorney out in Utah -- John, Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes.

SCIUTTO: You might want to assume that reporters take notes. Just throwing that out there.

JARRETT: Yes. They keep receipts.

SCIUTTO: Laura Jarrett --

HARLOW: Thanks, Laura.

SCIUTTO: -- thanks very much.

Let's bring in, now, former Trump White House lawyer Jim Schultz, and the former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti.

Renato, I've got to say it that way because my father would make sure I would say your Italian name correctly.

Let me start -- because, listen, it looks like the attorney general nominee kind of fudged this answer here a little bit. But I -- but I wonder if the more important bottom line is this. Because Trump has pushed this -- Trump loyalists have pushed this idea that Uranium One, this was clear collusion far more serious than any Trump-Russia collusion.

But you have the president's attorney general nominee. Later, he said, you know, "I wasn't thinking of it in terms of a criminal investigation of the foundation." He just said, there, something that -- he didn't think it was something that should be pursued progressively.

Is the bottom line here that William Barr really took the wind out of what's been a two-year-long argument from Trump and his supporters, about Uranium One being a real crime here?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER U.S. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Are you asking me?

SCIUTTO: That's you -- that's you, Renato. To you, Renato, then we'll ask Jim to respond.

MARIOTTI: Oh. OK. I would say, yes. I think that there's some truth to that. You know, it's easy to fire off an e-mail to a reporter, or to write a tweet or talk about this at the dinner table and spout off about Uranium One or whatever.

But when you're under oath in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, it's a different story. And I think the reality of the matter is, it may be easy on "Fox News" or something to talk about the seriousness of those allegations.

But when it came down to it, Mr. Barr for -- whatever you think of him -- and I understand Senator Leahy has his disagreements -- he is a serious man. And I think when he was presented, under oath, with an opportunity to repeat those claims, he was not willing to do so. [10:45:10] HARLOW: Except, Jim Schultz, this doesn't read like he was

just spouting something off in 2017, when he said this to a "New York Times" reporter. This isn't just sort of spouting off at the dinner table.

And I quote, again, he said to Peter Baker, "I have long believed that the predicate for investigating the Uranium deal as well as the foundation is stronger than any basis for investigating so-called collusion."

Either his opinion changed dramatically in two years, or he was downplaying it yesterday. I don't know. What's your read?

JIM SCHUTLZ, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ASSOCIATE COUNSEL: I think yesterday, he was being responsible in his role as the nominee for the attorney general of the United States. Renato's right.

Renato and I -- folks like myself, lawyers like us speak on television and in the news media all the time on legal issues based upon facts that are only given to us from the news media and what's publicly available.

What we don't know is what we don't know. And Bill Barr certainly doesn't know what's going on with that investigation. And it was very responsible of him to walk it back yesterday in this -- in the forum in which he sat yesterday, rather than, you know, taking the position based upon facts that are reported or that are publicly available.

I think it was a very responsible position and I think he did the right thing.

SCIUTTO: Renato, another topic. We learned more -- yet more -- about Robert -- rather, Paul Manafort, the president's former campaign chairman, and his conversations with a Russian known to be working for Russian military intelligence, and lying about it again.

It appears to be another example of Mueller -- of Manafort, rather, protecting these Russian relationships. How significant?

MARIOTTI: I think it's very significant. Now, we don't know exactly what he was lying about. Obviously, there's a lot of redactions, there, which itself tells us that there's a lot more that we don't know. And that -- more shoes that may be dropping.

But, look, you have the former chair of the president's campaign lying repeatedly and at length about his relationship with a former Russian intelligence officer who Mueller has alleged is -- still has a relationship with Russian intelligence. So very alarming, and we're going to -- we're going to, I think, hear a lot more about that in the weeks and months to come.

HARLOW: Jim, 30 seconds. Your read?

SCHULTZ: I agree. I agree that it's very alarming that the Russians had leverage over Manafort or allegedly had leverage over Manafort, that he -- that he -- it's continually (ph) alleged by the Justice Department that he's lying about it. His lawyers are in a really tight spot here. They don't want to admit he's lying. They also don't want a full-fledged hearing on this thing. It's --

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: Wow.

SCHULTZ: -- it's going to be very tough for Manafort on this. But I think it's very important to note, Manafort's never been charged with conspiracy. And I think it's very important to think about this.

If he was dealing with the Russians, was he dealing in the -- in the course and the scope of his position with the campaign? Or was he just out there on his own, protecting his own tail?

HARLOW: We don't know.

SCIUTTO: And that's a fair question, there, right?

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Working for himself, working for the campaign --

HARLOW: Sure, sure.

SCIUTTO: -- and let's hope Mueller has an answer to that question, because it's an important one.

Renato, Jim Schultz, thanks very much.

HARLOW: You know, Jim doesn't get the, like, emphasis on his name, like Renato, from you. So.

SCIUTTO: I've got to -- you know, I'll keep shouting from the hilltops.

HARLOW: All right, Sciutto.

We'll be right back. There is chaos across the pond. This is a really big deal, getting lost in a lot of the other news this morning. The British prime minister facing a no-confidence vote after her Brexit plan comes down crashing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:52:50] UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN, the most- trusted name in news.

HARLOW: All right, welcome back. Hours from now, British Prime Minister Theresa May will face a no-confidence vote. This comes after her Brexit deal. The plan for the U.K. to leave the E.U. suffered an historic defeat.

SCIUTTO: So what does this mean for the key U.S. ally, for Europe? I want to bring in CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson. I think really -- Nic, the question most want answered -- I know there's not a clear answer to this, but does this mean that Brexit may not actually go forward?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: That's a possibility, but that's still one of the remoter possibilities at the moment. I think the reality of the situation is that Britain is in a period of political chaos and uncertainty, and no one really knows the way forward.

The prime minister is expected to win that vote of no confidence in the government later today, principally because those more than a hundred conservative members of parliament -- from her own party, of course -- who voted against her yesterday, they will back her today because they obviously don't want to give the opposition party a chance to form a government. And she'll also have the support of those Northern Irish M.P.s, those 10 M.P.s who underpin her slender majority in government.

So she is expected to win it today. But it may not be the last time that we're in this position. And also, no one in the country is clear at the moment, about what Prime Minister Theresa May plans are, going forward, with Brexit.

What does she plan to change fundamentally, in the agreement she put forward yesterday that didn't pass? There simply isn't consensus in parliament on one central issue.

So at the moment, it appears -- she says she's reaching out to other political parties, but it seems to be a very limited outreach and it seems to be focused on continuing with her previous plan. And that's something that the European Union is saying just won't fly at the moment either.

HARLOW: Wow. Nic Robertson reporting for us there -- thank you very much. We appreciate it -- outside of 10 Downing Street.

SCIUTTO: Raining just a little bit there.

HARLOW: Political chaos for a key -- a key U.S. ally in that big vote today. Yes.

SCIUTTO: Raining literally and figuratively.

[10:55:00] HARLOW: Horrible -- yes. That's a good point.

In just minutes, also, back here, the president is set to host a bipartisan group of House members at the White House -- they're going to try this, day two after it didn't happen yesterday -- over the shutdown.

This as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling on President Trump to postpone his State of the Union address. Much more on that in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [11:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR, AT THIS HOUR WITH KATE BOLDUAN: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. We start with breaking news this morning.

American service members on patrol in Syria, killed in a possible suicide blast claimed by ISIS.