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Acting A.G. Matthew Whitaker Testifies Before House Judiciary Committee; Acting A.G. Asked About CNN Present for Roger Stone's Arrest; Acting A.G. Whitaker: Will Guard Executive Privilege on Talks with Trump; Bezos Accuses "National Enquirer" of Blackmail & Extortion; Bezos Says David Pecker "Apoplectic" on Probe into Saudi Ties; Roberts Joins Liberal Justices on Abortion Supreme Court Decision. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 8, 2019 - 11:00   ET



[11:00:02] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker on the Hill and under oath. This morning, he's appearing before the House Judiciary Committee. The hearing is on break right now and will pick up shortly. We'll bring it to you when it picks back up.

But honestly, right out of the gate, it was fireworks, it was fiery, it was contentious, especially a contentious questioning by the chairman of the committee, Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler. Big questions going in were essentially the following: What conversations has Whitaker had with the president about the special counsel's investigation, which he now overseas? Did any conversation happen before he was named acting attorney general? And would Matthew Whitaker answer any questions at all or try to claim executive privilege? So far, some answers, but also raising more questions.

Let's get to it. CNN's Manu Raju has been watching all this.

Manu, lay out the headlines we've heard, seen so far from this committee.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The big headlines is Matt Whitaker made clear he did not speak with President Trump about the special counsel's investigation. He said, "I have not talked to the president about the special counsel investigation or senior White House officials." He also said, "I do not believe that I've had -- he's had conversations --"with a third party," an individual who may have later passed on information about the special counsel probe to the president.

He did reveal he had been briefed once about the investigation, but he asked he had been briefed multiple times and he would not reveal any of those matters.

The reason why Democrats are so interested in Matt Whitaker is because he past criticism of the Mueller investigation. And after the firing of Jeff Sessions, the acting attorney general, they view an attempt to install Matt Whitaker as an attempt to interfere with the Mueller investigation going forward, something he now oversees.

But Whitaker tried to tell the committee this morning he's done nothing to impede the investigation.


MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: I want to be very specific about this, Mr. Chairman, because I think it will allay a lot of fears that have existed among this committee, among the legislative branch, largely, and maybe among some American people. We have followed the special counsel's regulations to a tee. There's been no event, no decision that has required me to take any action, and I have not interfered in any way with the special counsel's investigation.


RAJU: But, Kate, there are a lot more questions that Democrats have. Whitaker made very clear he was not going to discuss his conversations with the president, citing executive privilege. That's something that Democrats are not going to accept. They're threatening to bring him back for a closed-door transcribed interview, and they say he will have to answer questions at a later date, even after the new attorney general, Bill Barr, is confirmed next week.

And in a remarkable matter earlier in the haring, Whitaker tried to cut Jerry Nadler off after speaking, going over his five minutes of allotted time. That is something you never see a witness do --


RAJU: -- to a committee chairman. And that prompted Democrats to be - almost blurt out in shock when that happened. But never the less, this is just the beginning of what's expected to be a long day of contentious back and forth questioning. We'll see how much Whitaker ultimately reveals in this day-long hearing -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Absolute. All right, Manu, much more to come. Manu sticking by.

Really appreciate it.

Joining me right now to discuss, let me bring in, first, CNN's Laura Jarrett, at the Justice Department.

Laura, as Manu lays out, what we have heard from Whitaker is that he's not interfered with the special counsel. He also has said he's not talked to the president about the special counsel's investigation. With those two statements, though, he didn't answer other questions, but with those two statements, should folks be reassured? What did you hear?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I think Democrats still have some work to do and plan to press him a little bit further on this. He said he wasn't going to discuss his conversations with the president but went ahead and discussed his conversations with the president.


JARRETT: So it will be up to them to see how far they're willing to press this. And while he said his hasn't discussed the special counsel's investigation with the president, what about the prosecutor's work in Manhattan, in the southern district of New York, investigating the president's former fixer and lawyer, Michael Cohen? As we have reported late last year, myself and Pamela Brown, Whitaker and the president have had conversations about that. The president has bemoaned the prosecutors in the southern district of New York, complained about it. Complained that he thought these were not campaign finance violations. We've also reported that they have had conversations about the Hillary Clinton e-mails investigation and the Clinton Foundation investigations when Whitaker was chief of staff. There's way more to go here if Democrats want to go down this road. Again, it's up to Whitaker to see how far he's willing to put this line in the sand about I won't go there but I will go there, but he's clearly willing to open the door to at least some conversations.

[11:05:08] BOLDUAN: It has appeared a haphazard application of I'm not going to go there when it comes to the testimony. Let's see what happens when they come back.

Since Manu brought it up -- let me bring in Dana Bash.

Manu brought up this moment. It crystallizes how unfriendly relations are and how hostile it was right off the bat, Dana, when during -- I want to play you the moment. But to set it up, the chairman of the committee, Jerry Nadler, asking questions of the acting attorney general, and the acting attorney general decides to be timekeeper in the middle of this questions. Let's play this.


REP. JERRY NADLER, (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: In your capacity as acting attorney general, have you ever been asked to approve any request or action to be taken by the special counsel?

MATT WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up, and so -


WHITAKER: I'm -- we -- I am here voluntary. We have agreed to five- minute rounds, and --

NADLER: Committee.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: I think that's a fine place to end the five-minute rule.

NADLER: The committee will end -- will come to -- I will point out, we didn't enforce the five-minute rule on the Acting Attorney General Whitaker. We will.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: I understand. I was just saying it might be a good breaking point at that point for you.

NADLER: No. The attorney general was in the middle of saying something. Answer the question, please.


BOLDUAN: Then he goes on.

Dana, chutzpa or something else?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think that's probably the minimum of the words you could use to describe that, Kate. Look, yes, it is contentious. There's no question. But he is in the chairman's committee room. That is one of the benefits of being the chair. You can -- if you are questioning, you can go over time. It happens all the time, no matter what party it is. But also --


BOLDUAN: But, Dana, it's more often than not. I mean, it's more often than not.


BASH: Exactly. It's more often than not. Look, it was snarky. Maybe that's another word I would use on TV. The other thing you would say is, despite how contentious it is, Kate, Jerry Nadler laughed it off. He didn't have to. He could have gotten angry. He could have said, wait a minute, you're not in charge here, I'm in charge here, and been completely within the bounds of his power. He didn't do that. I think maybe he let the moment speak for itself.

Let's just be clear. Matt Whitaker is getting cheers from his base and people who support him for maybe sticking it to the chairman, but I think we have to remember, there are protocols in place, and that's not on Pollyanna thing to say. The protocols should be kept if you have a Democratic administration and Republicans in charge.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Evan -- let me bring in Evan Perez.

There was another moment that I think, while in the time we have, I do want to make sure that this is cleared up maybe once and for all, Evan. The ranking member, the top Republican on the committee, he asked a question of the acting attorney general about Roger Stone's arrest. CNN was there the morning of Roger Stone's arrest at his home in Florida. The ranking member raised a question about that.

Let me play that for you, and then let's talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. DOUG COLLINS, (R-GA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Are you familiar, from public reports or otherwise, that a CNN reporter was camped out outside Roger Stone's House when the FBI arrested him?

This wouldn't be part of the investigation.

WHITAKER: I am aware of that, and it was deeply concerning to me as to how CNN found out about that.


BOLDUAN: The ranking member also floats the idea of CNN getting a draft of the indictment. This can't go unanswered because CNN has been more than transparent about what is the definition of good reporting and a reporters' gut. If you could please, lay out what really happened. And what I believe the acting attorney general probably knows.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Right. I think what you see Matt Whitaker, the acting attorney general, doing there is perhaps auditioning for his next role. He's going to be a man without a job in the next week and he knows the president will be watching this hearing, and there, where he says he was concerned how CNN had knowledge about something, he knows exactly what happened, by now, I'm sure knows that CNN didn't have any advanced knowledge about this.

Look, there was good reporting that went on. Sara Murray, our reporter who has been covering the Roger Stone case, has done amazing work. So every Friday we were waiting and anticipating perhaps that Roger Stone would be indicted, would be arrested. And we were in the conversations with Roger Stone's side about exactly that. So days before the indictment, we saw some hints that made us think that perhaps this was going to be the Friday, including the fact that the grand jury met on Thursday, which is an unusual day for them to meet, the day before. We knew there had been some additional testimony, that one witness was told specifically, we're not going to do you on Friday because Friday is going to be busy. We also saw one of the prosecutors show up to work with a suitcase and then leave late in the afternoon in regular clothes, not in his suit and tie. Again, hints that we thought perhaps indicated that something was up. Out of an abundance of caution, we posted a reporter just outside of Roger Stones house. By the way, in consultation with them before we did that.

[11:10:51] So, that's one of the things that people don't understand. A lot of stakeouts. This was a stakeout. A lot of them, 99 percent, turn up absolutely nothing, and you never see the video, and nobody asks questions. In this case, it was a very lucky shot to do, and it ended up capturing the moment when Roger Stone was being arrested. If you could see the video, Roger Stone has since released his own video of what happened based on his security cameras. You see the FBI handled this in exactly the way you would expect them to. He said he was treated respectfully.

So I think a lot of the complaints you're seeing nowadays about what happened and about CNN's role in here are sort of a bit of a conspiracy being hatched for the purposes of politics.

BOLDUAN: There's no conspiracy. If we need to say it once and for all.

Evan, thanks for that.

Here with me in studio is Elie Honig. He is a former prosecutor for the southern district of New York and also former U.S. attorney as well.

Let's dig into -- as we can see, there's a lot that's already happened and we're only two questioners in, Elie. A lot more to come as we keep an eye on the committee room.

Elie, on kind of on the main point that he was asked if he had been briefed on the special counsel's investigation, he says yes. Then asked multiple times -- multiple times he says yes, he's been briefed but also multiple times he doesn't say when and how many times. Do you see that as sensitive information? I'm trying to get at the application of I will answer or I won't answer.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Theoretically, it could be sensitive, but practically, who cares? I think what will be interesting to watch for is, when is he going to invoke executive privilege? That's when the rubber hits the road. Where I think it could happen is what Laura Jarrett talked about before, when he gets asked about the conversation in the White House with the president about the southern district's investigation. It's clear that conversation happened. Laura had reported that the president lashed out at Whitaker. The president then said, I didn't lash out, but he clearly admits the conversation happened. I do not think what executive privilege then, we'll see a real dispute break out. I do not think that is what executive privilege is intended to do. It's intended to protect sensitive information, like you said, national security information, but not behind-the-scenes conversations about, hey, make sure these guys don't hurt me.

BOLDUAN: And also executive applying -- asserting executive privilege works. It actually comes from the president. The attorney general doesn't, willy-nilly, asset executive privilege. But it seems in this day and age, it seems like a formality.

Harry, what's the most important thing you are listening to when this picks back up? We've had some answers, but it seeks it raises more questions coming from the acting attorney general.

HARRY LITMAN, PROFESSOR, UCSD POLITICAL SCIENCE: Right. Well, first, just the level of fireworks, as you put it, you might have thought that Nadler and others were going to be sort of tame, at least off the bat, and on the contrary, they came right after him.

Second, I think it's important when and how he asserts executive privilege. And what he really said is -- he took a baby step from asserting, and he said, I would assert it if you asked me about conversations with the president, but then he, as you say, would have to be the president himself. So we're not going to have an assertion. And finally, the point Laura made, he draws the line, but then he tiptoes over it, which I account in large part for nerves. I think he's not --


BOLDUAN: I was going to ask --


BOLDUAN: a strategy or something --


LITMAN: He seems ill at ease. The same thing with a five-minute rule, but that's a dangerous witness, someone who is ill at ease. He was sort of looking around to his assistants at that point. That might mean even if they're going overall with kid gloves, that they'll get some good stuff, some good admissions. And as Elie said, executive privilege is not a cure-all. The more you talk about the conversations, the possible of waiver and the like come up.

BOLDUAN: Yes, which if it's the scenario, as you point, the longer -- we know these committee hearings can go on for hours. The more questioning, you get, you could even be asked the same question that you asked hours before.

LITMAN: That's right.

BOLDUAN: How you answer -- how you answer the second time, the third time is just as important.

BOLDUAN: Guys, much more to come.

We are going to bring you back to the House hearing with the Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker as soon as it starts back up. Many more questions about his oversight of the Russia investigation, what conversations were had, and when with the White House about the special counsel's investigation and much more, when they come back from what they're taking right now, which are votes on the House floor. We'll bring that to you.

[11:15:15] But while we are on pause there, there's another big story that we have the opportunity to bring to you today. This explosive allegations of blackmail and extortion. Now Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, is taking on the "National Enquirer" after he says the publication threatened to publish revealing pictures or else.


BOLDUAN: The headline would grab your eye, for sure, while standing in the check-out line in the grocery store. Billionaire Bezos Turns Table on Tabloid." It is catchy. And it's true. Amazon founder and world's richest man, Jeff Bezos, is accusing the "National Enquirer's" publisher of extortion and blackmail. Bezos claims the company, AMI, threatened to release compromising photos of him unless he dropped his investigation of the "Enquirer" and publicly stated his coverage was not politically motivated. He clearly hit a nerve.

Joining me now, CNN Business senior media reporter, Olivier Darcy.

Oliver, it's great to see you.

This is an extraordinary turn of events. Lay out what Bezos is saying here.

[11:20:16] OLIVER DARCY, CNN BUSINESS SENIOR MEDIA REPOTER: Yes, this is an absolutely explosive story. Let's take everyone back. A few weeks ago, the "National Enquirer" published a story revealing that Jeff Bezos had been having an extra marital affair. In that story, there were text messages between Bezos and his mistress. Bezos wanted to know how the "National Enquirer" got those text messages, how did they come into the possession of the "National Enquirer." He launched an investigation into this, and that brings us to yesterday's event. Bezos reveals in this blog post -- I'll read from it. He says, "Something unusual happened to me yesterday. Actually, for me, it wasn't just unusual, it was a first. I was made an offer I couldn't refuse. Or at least that's what the top people of the "National Enquirer" thought. I'm glad they thought that, because it emboldened them to put it all in writing."

So Bezos published the e-mails from the "National Enquirer" and the parent company, AMI, and basically threatening him, saying if he did not drop his investigation into how the "National Enquirer" obtained those text messages, he would be -- they would publish more risque photos of him, they would publish things he did not want to be published. He effectively is saying that they were blackmailing him, that they were saying, if you did not drop this, we are going to go after you in other ways and embarrass you.

BOLDUAN: Bezos in this also hints at a connection with Saudi Arabia. This may seem to get at the heart of the issue here.

DARCY: Right. There are so many overlays with this story. One of them is the Saudi connection. Obviously, Bezos owns the "Washington Post." Its columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, was murdered last year, and they've been investigating the Saudi government and its involvement in that murder. And so the "National Enquirer" is generally aligned with the president, and the president is aligned with the Saudi government, so there's that connection. And also the "National Enquirer" publishes a very glowing issue of the Saudi government last year. So there had been a lot of connections between the Saudis and the "National Enquirer" that people have been speculating that maybe the "National Enquirer" was doing the bidding, if you will, of the Saudi government. And perhaps there's a connection here between the Saudis and the "National Enquirer" that didn't like Jeff Bezos' publication publishing an investigation, so they helped them release these messages. At least that seems to be the implication. But there's no hard evidence of that. It's just the implication, it seems like, in Jeff Bezos' post.

BOLDUAN: It doesn't seem that any suggestion that Jeff Bezos is going to slow down in what he's looking into.

AMI did respond a while ago. What are they saying?

DARCY: AMI is saying they behaved ethically. In a statement, they said, "American Media believes fervently that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr. Bezos. Further, at the time of the recent allegations made by Mr. Bezos, it was in good-faith negotiations to resolve all the matters with him."

That said, AMI says that it takes the allegations Bezos made very seriously and it's going to be investigating him. If they find anything, appropriate action will be taken.

BOLDUAN: OK. Let us see what comes of that investigation.

DARCY: Yes. AMI investigating AMI, I don't think many people are expecting anything interesting to come from that.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Oliver. It looks like there's much more to come on this. Really appreciate it.

DARCY: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead for us, we're going to bring you back to the House Judiciary Committee with Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker as soon as it resumes. You can see everyone is basically waiting for it to do just that. They're taking a pause. They're taking votes on the House floor. They'll be back in. And you can only expect that the fireworks we saw will be picking back up as soon as they begin once again.

[11:24:54] Also coming up, Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the liberal members of the Supreme Court to block a controversial abortion law from going into effect. What does it signal? Does it signal a shift on the high court? What does it also signal for the future of Roe v. Wade?


[11:58:53] BOLDUAN: A controversial Louisiana abortion law blocked by the Supreme Court for now. That's a victory for opponents of the measure who say that it would unlawfully restrict abortion rights in that state. But there's much more to this.

Joining me is CNN Supreme Court reporter, Ariane De Vogue.

Ariane, Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the liberal-leaning members of the court on this point. What happened here?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: As you said, the Supreme Court have blocked this law from going into effect. Opponents said it would leave only one abortion provider in the state. The law requires those providers to get admitting privileges in a local hospital. So the opponents went to the Supreme Court and said, put it on hold for now. We're going to ask you to take up the legality, but for now, put it on hold. As you said, Roberts, he sided counter the liberals here. And Kavanaugh -- we haven't heard a lot from Justice Kavanaugh -- he sided with the conservatives. But, Kate, to really understand what's going on, you have to walk back

to 2016. The Supreme Court heard a similar case out of Texas. They struck that down. That's when Justice Kennedy was on the bench. If you look at what happened there, you look at what Roberts was facing, and he didn't feel like, if the court had struck down that Texas law, and it was --