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Barr on Special Counsel Report; Harris Launches Campaign; Another Shutdown Possible. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 28, 2019 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Josh, thanks for your reporting. Thanks for coming on. I really appreciate it.

Josh Partlow of "The Washington Post."


BOLDUAN: Thank you all so much for joining me today. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

The shutdown is over and the government getting back to full speed. President Trump under fire from immigration hardliners and already predicting he won't like the border security deal Congress must now negotiate.

Plus, is there a plan to end America's longest war? The White House reaches a draft peace framework with the Taliban and looks to slash U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan.

And big 2020 news. The Starbuck's chief, Howard Schultz, jolts Democrats with talk of an independent run. This as Kamala Harris enters the race with a big crowd and a big rebuke of the current president.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are here because the American dream and our American democracy are under attack and on the line like never before. And we are here at this moment in time because we must answer a fundamental question, who are we?

America, we are better than this.


KING: Back to that in a bit.

But we begin with some new information from the president's pick to be the attorney general trying to answer concerns on Capitol Hill about how much of the special counsel's report the American public will ultimately see. William Barr answering written questions from the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. In those responses, Barr not guaranteeing Robert Mueller's findings would be released in full. His answer is consistent with Justice Department guidelines, but politically problematic with Democrats and some Republicans who want assurances the entirety of the final Mueller report come out in the open.

This is what Barr said in his responses to Feinstein. I would not tolerate an effort to withhold such information for any improper purpose, such as to cover up wrongdoing, Barr said in his responses.

Our justice correspondent, Laura Jarrett, is at the Justice Department.

Laura, what is the most significant information from Mr. Barr in this effort here to win over some Democrats?


Well, Barr once again trying to thread the needle, appease Democrats who are, of course, worried about him protecting the special counsel's Russia investigation, as well as Republicans who have said very clearly they want to see this report in full. And he says today, in these newly released answers, he can't say exactly sure what form the report will take. He says he's going to speak to the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, as well as Mueller.

I want to just read to you his answer here on this important question. He says, quote, I do not know what will be included in any report prepared by the special counsel, what form such a report will take, or whether it will contain confidential or privileged material.

Now, Senator Feinstein had zoned in on this issue of potentially it being blocked by executive privilege by the president's lawyer, something that Rudy Giuliani had asserted in the past on that. And in this, Barr is very, very, clear, he says he doesn't recall any discussion regarding the use of executive privilege to prevent the public release of any such report.

So, again, trying to appease Democrats on the committee there as he is up for a vote next -- sorry, next week, I should say, John.

KING: Up next week, the president's pick to be attorney general.


KING: Laura Jarrett, appreciate the breaking news.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Dana Bash, Michael Bender with "The Wall Street Journal," CNN's Manu Raju, and Annie Linskey with "The Washington Post."

When you read the responses, it's just, welcome to the politics of the moment we live in. If you trust William Barr, he says, I would not tolerate an effort to withhold such information for any improper purposes, such as to cover up wrongdoing. If you're the Democrats and you're skeptical and you think President Trump is going to try to find some legal way to bury the damning stuff from the Mueller report, this does not satisfy you?

MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, Barr is 68 years old. He's been attorney general before. He was -- these were things he talked about during this confirmation hearing, saying, I won't be bullied by this president. I'm too old, I have too much experience to be sort of politically pushed around by this president.

What he's showing here in this statement today is that he's also -- his age of (ph) his experience, he's not going to get backed into a corner by Congress.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and there were several things -- this is consistent with his testimony, too, before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He would not say whether or not he would allow this report to go forward, but wanted to say he would err on the side of transparency, which satisfied nobody, particularly if you're on the Democratic side.

But, going forward, Democrats have honed in on his refusal to say he would release a report fully, and he would not tell Chuck Schumer in a private meeting whether he would not interfere with the Mueller investigation so that he needs to have these meetings going forward. And he also wouldn't say that he would commit to recuse himself if ethics officials at the Justice Department advised him to do so saying he's not necessarily bound by that recommendation if it were to come to pass.

[12:05:03] So all those things are just going to be fodder for Democrats. But we have not heard the same thing from Republicans, which means that he's probably a safe bet to be confirmed.

KING: Right. And the Democratic concerns are well understood in the sense that the president has made clear from day one he views any attorney general, Jeff Sessions being exhibit a, supposed to be a loyal lap dog, who's supposed to do whatever he wants at the White House, regardless of what the facts are. If -- but are the Democrats putting Bill Barr in a box where he says, I don't know what Mueller's going to report. I don't know when he's going to report. I don't know -- you know, some of it will be classified because of the counterintelligence nature of the investigation and Russia.

So they're asking him questions he can't answer. And I assume that, you know, again, if you're a Republican you say he's doing the best he can.


KING: If you're a Democrat, what, you say he's trying to hide something or give himself wiggle room?

BASH: Yes, absolutely. And I think Manu's right, the first goal is getting confirmed, to state the obvious, but it is a very obvious thing. He's not there yet. He likely will be there, but he's not there yet.

Once he gets to that point, then it's -- this is all a reminder that it is an open question how and when and whether the Robert Mueller report, that we've all been talking about, we've all been waiting for almost two years now, a little less, what's going to come of it? How are we going to see it? Are we going to see it? What form are we going to see it in? And those are open questions. And, you know, as much as everybody is waiting with baited breath to know what Robert Mueller decides, we don't know if we're going to know all of the details beyond just the things that he can claim or that the Justice Department, the administration, can claim are classified.

ANNIE LINSKEY, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, I guess you do have this expectation, you know, from the Clinton impeachment, we saw the full Starr report.

BASH: Exactly.

LINSKEY: And every single detail of it. But the difference here is that you are dealing with a foreign adversary and there could be methods. I mean he could have a very legitimate reason to want to be able to, you know, redact parts of it, much like a different report, the 9/11 report, where there still is -- there still is fighting over what was not released.

KING: Not to go back in history, there are some people who say we had too much in the Starr report, but we won't -- we won't -- we won't go back -- we won't go back to that one.

But as we're at this moment, again you mentioned Bill Barr was the attorney general in the H.W. Bush administration. I believe he was confirmed unanimously. That is a different time, a different age, a different era. He's poised to be voted on. There's no reason to believe the Republicans -- the Republicans have the majority. They will put him in.

But will he get any Democratic votes? Do we have any -- not one Democrat, correct, not one Democrat has publically committed to voting for him?

RAJU: Not yet. I think it's possible the usual suspects, like Joe Manchin for one, he has not said one way or the other whether or not he would vote for Bill Barr. We even heard from some of the other newer senators, like Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona. She (INAUDIBLE) -- there's no -- I haven't spoken to her about it. So it's possible.

But Schumer has tried to get his colleagues to line up against Bill Barr. Will they listen to him? But the problem for Democrats, too, is that do they want Matt Whitaker as the acting attorney general, who they have more concerns with overseeing the Mueller investigation. So they don't have -- what do you get if you stop Matt Whitaker now? And that's why, I think, Republicans are likely to get behind him as well.

KING: And I think if -- just in Mr. Whitaker's defense, the Stone indictment went ahead. There's no public evidence that Matthew Whitaker has done anything, correct, to slow down Robert Mueller? BASH: No public evidence.

KING: No public evidence.

BASH: Who knows what's going on, right (ph)?

KING: No public evidence. Well, the Democrats are going to call him up. He's supposed to be -- that's within the next week or two as well up on Capitol Hill.

All right, so breaking news from the president's pick to be attorney general. We'll see how that vote comes out. We'll keep track of that.

When we come back, the Democrats have a new, big entry into the 2020 race. She announced in California. She's in Iowa for a big national moment tonight.


[12:12:47] KING: Some new 2020 wrinkles today, including some big buzz about the latest entry into the crowded Democratic field. Early buzz, mind you, can be as much a curse as a blessing. Ask Scott Walker or John Edwards. But early buzz Kamala Harris' has, fresh from a carefully scripted campaign rollout that culminated with a Sunday launch back home in Oakland.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was just a couple of blocks from this very spot nearly 30 years ago as a young district attorney I walked into the courtroom for the first time and said the five words that would guide my life's work, Kamala Harris for the people.


KING: California factors big time in the Harris 2020 strategy, but, as always, Iowa comes first and Senator Harris is there tonight or CNN's first candidate town hall of the new cycle. A big, national stage, but also some all politics is local tensions. Complaints from some Iowa Democrats that they prefer visits to their homes and farms over, or at least before, their state is used as a national TV studio. The town hall is moderated by CNN's Jake Tapper. You see images there from Drake University.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is there with us.

So, Jeff, a big, national moment for Kamala Harris in a big state where, put the grumbling into context, is it just sour grapes from maybe people who already have another candidate?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, there's no question that Iowa voters like to see their candidates in living rooms and other things, and they will, I have no doubt. But at this point, there's also no question that Senator Harris has vaulted herself at least into the front row of this big contingent. And, as you said, there is upside for that and there is downside for that, but you have to, of course, capitalize on the upside of it. That is exactly what she is doing by accepting this invitation here to be at the town hall. She will be taking questions from Iowa voters. She'll be talking about things that matter to them and she will be positioning herself.

But, John, I am talking to other Democrats who are working for other candidates, and they are paying very close attention to her, largely because of the crowd at her speech yesterday in Oakland, California, largely because, in their view, a successful first week rollout. But we should remind everyone, this is a very long process. With the ups always come downs as well. And that's what tests and makes a candidate, to see how you climb up from those moments.

[12:15:07] John, as I talked to Iowa voters here, hearing a lot of comparisons to a candidate, a junior senator, some 12 years ago, Barack Obama. He announced on February 7, 2007. And if you'll remember right, history will show he was not the frontrunner at the time, but was certainly viewed as someone who had a -- you know, whose star was on the rise. But then he had some tough months as well. So anyone who thinks that the frontrunner's position will hold, that almost certainly is not true.

But any sign of grumbling from Democrats, John, usually means a sign of envy, a sign of jealousy and there may be a lot of that here in the early stages for Senator Harris.


KING: It's a fun beginning.

Jeff Zeleny, nice to see you back in Iowa, Jeff, looking forward tonight.

ZELENY: Always good to be here.

KING: Let's bring it back into the room.

Always -- it is always good to be there. I'm jealous. Mark me down -- mark me down as a little jealous. I'll see you out there soon.

Let's start with, you know, look, she has the early buzz. Jeff lays it out. You can have it or not. Most candidates would rather have it. It comes sometimes with a downside. But she does have it. She's proven she can put on a big event. That was a good show yesterday in Oakland. She had the book tour. She's done a very successful rollout. Now she's in.

One of the question for all of the Democrats, including Senator Harris, is, listen here, how do you pay for all this?


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We will deliver that right with Medicare for all!

We will guarantee that right with universal pre-pay and debt-free college!

We will deliver the largest working and middle class tax cut in a generation. Up to $500 a month to help America's families make ends meet. And we'll pay for it. We'll pay for it by reversing this administration's giveaways to the top big corporations and the top 1 percent.


KING: That is where the base of the party is, without a doubt, or at least a big chunk of the base of the party. But you're going to see -- you're going to hear from Mayor Bloomberg. We're going to get to Howard Schultz a little bit later in the program. Really? You might hear it from Joe Biden if he gets into the race, that these are all great ideas. Pick. Pick. Because where -- where's that money coming from?

BASH: Well, even if you don't pick, just pick just one of them. Let's just say Medicare for all. I mean we went through this in trying to dissect and get Bernie Sanders, who talked about this four years ago, to explain where the money is going to come from. He had answers about it all kind of -- I'm obviously trying to give the bottom line here, but it all coming out in the wash because if you give it here, then you're going to get more money other places, so on and so forth.

But you're right, that is the question. I think that -- the point that you make about the Democratic base being there, I'm not so sure that the base is going to be so, so hungry, the base that elects the nominee, so, so hungry for the answers to those questions. It's our job to try to get the answers, but they want to know the best ideas.

And we've said this before and we are going to say it again for the next two years, Democrats like to fall in love with their candidate. They just do. And they fell in love with Barack Obama. I was with him the first time he went to Iowa for the Harkin (ph) steak fry back when he was a senator and saw the love. You do see something very similar. You saw it when Kamala Harris went to Iowa for the first time. The question is whether she can be that person or whether one of the other 50 people running is going to be that person.

KING: Right. And you mention the 50 people running. I mean, you know, we say it as a joke, but we have nine or ten already in. There's another at least ten people looking at it. Does the fact that she has some early momentum, emphasis on early -- again, go back to Scott Walker, you can go back a bunch of years to John Edwards, early sometimes is good, sometimes it's not. But you have Cory Booker. He hasn't announced officially yet, but he's pretty much in. But do you -- do you -- when do you get out from behind the maybe, maybe? Beto O'Rourke, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Sherrod Brown, Amy Klobuchar. That's just some. There's a bigger list than that.

Is there pressure when you start to see -- Elizabeth Warren's been strong out of the gate, putting a tax proposal. Kamala Harris out of the gate. Do the others have to say, I wanted to wait a couple months, I better not? LINSKEY: I think so. I mean I do also think that they're all eyeing each other, these candidates and the campaigns and waiting about what their rollout's going to be. And Kamala Harris has created a new bar for just sort of a fabulous rollout. I mean it was extremely successful. Out in Oakland there were people who were saying it was presidential, that they were saying, is she already president? I mean there was a -- you know to have 20,000 --

KING: Beware -- beware of that.

LINSKEY: Sure, but to have -- to get a crowd of 20,000 people, I don't know --

KING: Right.

LINSKEY: Who else do you think can do that right now? Can -- I guess maybe Biden can do it, but I think that certainly does mean something.

KING: Part of that --

LINSKEY: It doesn't mean everything, but it does mean something.

KING: You're right, part of that is her and part of it is she's got very good people. If you look at the letterhead of who's working for her, people who work for Jerry Brown, people who are working other things.

LINSKEY: Hillary Clinton.

KING: She's got a -- she's got a good group of people on paper.

Go ahead.

BENDER: Right. And this kind of laundry list of ideas she has brings -- raises the question of how are you going to pay for it but also how are you going to define yourself?

I'm not sure what watching Harris' speech, which no question was a -- it was a wonderful rollout. It was great pictures there. It was a well-delivered speech, but what's her presidency about? We know what Warren's running on. We know what Gillibrand's running on. You know, there was a comparison that's been made over and over about to the junior senator from Illinois. I think a more apt comparison right now is the junior senator four years ago from Florida, a candidate that came in with a lot of hype, with a lot of promise, and a late state strategy, quite frankly.

[12:20:30] BASH: Marco Rubio.

BENDER: Correct, Marco Rubio.


BENDER: So, you know, I think there's a lot still to be played out here. And as far as, you know, tonight, you know, I think recent history is littered with candidates who have a -- she's great in California. She looks pretty strong in South Carolina. Can you, you know, can you irritate these voters in Iowa and New Hampshire and get away with it?

RAJU: And I think that she -- a lot of her record has just not been defined, too. I mean she is a new senator. I mean she has not been fully vetted. She will certainly be fully vetted sort of by the national media when she's a candidate. How does she respond to bad stories? There are a lot of tests that she's going to have to overcome in order to get to where she ultimately wants to be to become the nominee. And how does she respond to adversity. All big questions going forward.

Not to mention, as you're saying, she's rolling out a laundry list of ideas. How exactly will those be implemented? That is beyond the personal issues of her record that need examined as well.

LINSKEY: Well, and how much does she really believe them? I mean how long -- how long has she been pushing those ideas? I mean other candidates in the field, or will be in the field, have long records on --

KING: Have a longer --


KING: That's a great point there.

Now, we're going to see it tonight. We're going to see it tonight. She's going to get questions from Jake. But more importantly, no offense to Jake, she's going to get questions from Iowa voters. We'll see -- that will be everything, from foreign policy, to environmental policy, to Medicare for all and everything else. That's when it's fun. We're in the early process of this stage (ph). We're going to see them -- see them out of the track. We're going to kick the tires a little bit.

Up next, federal employees finally back to work. But the president warns we might be headed toward another shutdown. Tick-tock.


[12:26:46] KING: Welcome back.

A pressing deadline and, yes, the looming threat of yet another government shutdown. First, the good news. This morning, 800,000 federal employees heading back to work. That after a 35-day long partial shutdown. Now, the short-term deal to reopen the government is a Band-Aid at best. A bipartisan group, 17 lawmakers from the House and Senate, it's called a conference committee, you see the faces here, will begin meeting on Wednesday. They'll have less than three weeks to cobble together a deal that can clear Congress and, more importantly perhaps, one that the president's willing to sign.

Don't bet on the last part. This is the president talking yesterday to "The Wall Street Journal." Quote, I personally think it's less than 50-50, but you have a lot of very good people on that board. Asked by the newspaper if he would accept less than the $5.7 billion in the next round of negotiations, Mr. Trump said, I doubt it, adding, I have to do it right.

Mr. Bender was not on weekend duty yesterday, but this to your colleague. The president says it's possible we'll have another shutdown. I know he's trying to spin this as not a concession. He just caved. His own staff is despondent. His anti-immigration base is mad at him. Does he really think that he has the political high ground, if you will, to lead us into another shutdown?

BENDER: So I think he -- no, I don't think so. Listening to the interview that he did with my colleague Peter Nicholas, I think Trump is -- in Trump's mind he's much more likely to declare a national emergency now than he is to have another shutdown. I think that's -- that's going to be his next card to play. Maybe his last card to play.

He feels like, again, what he's doing here to sort of right this in his own mind is he's pulled the scope way back. He thinks that, you know, what he says is the stage has been set. You know, what the last five weeks in his mind has done is sort of is put in America's mind what -- how significant of an issue the border wall is, and he's giving -- he's simply given them a little bit of room to try to get a deal.

He told Peter that it's less than 50-50. I think in the president's mind, listening to the interview, he thinks that's closer to zero than 50-50.

KING: That they're going to come up with a deal that he's willing to accept.

BENDER: Correct. That's right.

KING: Which means that will send him legislation -- he'll either sign it or veto it. But if he signs it, it commits to one level of appropriations and then he does a national emergency and he'd be taking money from somewhere else. Welcome to the court case that would bring.

But to the point where he thinks this has brought the American people greater focus, to paraphrase you --


KING: Here are the headlines from the weekend. "The Daily Caller," Trump caves, "Breitbart," government open and no border wall, "Tampa Bay Times," Trump retreats, "Dubuque Telegraph Herald," Trump's retreats, "Cleveland Plain Dealer," Trump concedes.

The president's approval rating is at 38 percent in the CNN poll of polls, averaging together the most recent national polls, 56 percent disapprove. Help me. From those headlines and those numbers, show me the president's position of strength heading into this again?

[12:29:37] RAJU: He doesn't have a position of strength. And I caught up with a senator this morning, Lamar Alexander, who's a close adviser of Mitch McConnell, he told me the president should stay out of these next round of negotiations. His also thinks Pelosi should stay out. But his message is that the president's position complicates things. He thinks that there's a possibility that there could be a deal among the 17-member House-Senate conference. Now that's still going to be hard to get a border security deal that could check all the boxes and how do you deal with the wall, do you deal with other immigration policy issues. The president telling "The Wall Street Journal" he wouldn't accept any deals