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Matthew Whitaker Testifies on Capitol Hill; Mueller Didn't Discuss Probe with Trump; Whitaker Hearing on Capitol Hill. Aired 1- 1:30p ET

Aired February 8, 2019 - 13:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:00:09] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar.

And it's a contentious day of testimony from Acting General Attorney Matt Whitaker, questioned by the House Judiciary Committee. Whitaker repeatedly refused to answer questions from Democrats that were related to the special counsel's investigation and to communications with President Trump.

The hearing continuing any moment now.

But first, a taste of what we just saw.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Have you communicated anything you learned in that briefing to -- about the investigation to President Trump, yes or no?

MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: Mr. Chairman, as I've said earlier today in my opening remarks, I do not intend today to talk about my private conversations with the president of the United States.

But to answer your question, I have not talked to the president of the United States about the special counsel's investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: And these interactions got testy at some points. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Have you ever been asked to approve any request or action to be taken by the special counsel?

MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up, and so I'm -- we -- we -- we -- we -- I am here voluntarily. I've -- we have agreed to five minute rounds and -- NADLER: I will point out that we didn't enforce the five minute rule on -- on -- on -- on attorney -- Acting Attorney General Whitaker.

We will --

WHITAKER: I understand, Mr. Chairman. I was just saying it might be a good breaking point at that point for you.

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Well, the answer wasn't the interesting part there, as you can see.

We have CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill for us.

What have we learned so far?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, one of the big things is that he said that he did not give the president any assurances, not discuss with him anything about the Mueller investigation. But we have not learned a lot more than that. He has not fully explained his decision to recuse -- not to recuse himself from overseeing the probe despite getting the advice from ethics -- career ethics officials at the Justice Department to do so, in part because of the past criticism that he had leveled openly -- he was a private citizen -- against the Mueller investigation. He has not fully explained that. He's gone back and forth a number of times with Democrats who try to push him further about the conversations with the president. He says he will not discuss those because of executive privilege.

But he's tried to make it clear that he has -- he has not interfered with the Mueller investigation, which has been the big concern of Democrats. But I can tell you, Democrats are not assured by his blanket assurances.

In fact, I just talked to one Democratic member, Steve Cohen, who told me that he believes that Whitaker is lying to this committee about his insistence that he did not speak to the president about the Mueller investigation. A pretty remarkable charge from a sitting member of Congress, a Democrat who contends that the acting attorney general is misleading Congress, which, of course, it a crime given that he's talking under oath, talking to Congress, but that's just what he expects.

The question is, what will happen from here on out? We expect more questions about this. We expect more questions about Michael Cohen, the investigation by the Southern District of New York, and the fact that the president was implicated in two crimes. Any conversation that occurred between the president and Whitaker, we probably are not going to get many answers. But we are hearing from Jerry Nadler that he does want to bring Whitaker back in for at least a closed door deposition to answer those questions that he would not answer today. So this may not be the end of Matt Whitaker before this committee, even though Bill Barr, the attorney general nominee for the president, is likely to be confirmed and then he will oversee the Mueller investigation starting next week.

Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Manu Raju, thank you so much, from Capitol Hill.

I want to bring in my group of experts on all of this.

Dana Bash, so when you're hearing this from Matt Whitaker where he's -- he's saying that he's not going to talk about conversations with the president, and yet he does talk about some of them --

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right.

KEILAR: Saying that he hasn't given the president assurances about the Mueller probe, he hasn't discussed the probe.

What do you make of that?

BASH: He's trying to have it both ways. He's trying to be very cautious, as Pamela was saying earlier, noting that it -- it really did not go very well when it was not under oath but in a press conference when he went further than perhaps he even intended to. It maybe -- it looked like it just kind of spilled out of his mouth that the Mueller probe might be coming to an end soon. He clearly has been practicing and maybe doing what they call murder boards here in Washington when you prepare for a committee hearing.

But, you know, he's gotten some tough questioning. He's gotten some speeches. And there is probably a lot more to come on the important nuts and bolts of what exactly is going on, not just with Mueller, but also with the Southern District of New York.

[13:05:02] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And let me throw this out there. When he sort of surprised us by answering questions that we thought he wasn't going to answer about conversations or non-conversations with the president. I mean it seems to me that maybe this was preapproved, that he could answer that because it works, right?

BASH: Because it's a negative.

BORGER: Because it's -- right, it is a negative.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. I actually -- I actually --

BORGER: And I believe he wouldn't have done that unless it was arranged that, oh, yes, it's OK for you to say that you haven't talked to the president about this. We know the president has publicly said that he hasn't discussed this with -- with anyone. And so I think, you know, it's kind of a PR move because it works for -- it does work for the administration.

BASH: But it sets him up.

PEREZ: I think it -- I do think that is a strategy today. If you see exactly where he's going, the line that they've drawn is that he can say what I've not told the president or what I've not said.

BORGER: Right.

PEREZ: But he's definitely not saying what he has said, what he say -- what conversations -- what anything -- what kind of advice or any kind of conversations he's had with people in the White House, for instance. He's made sure that he stayed within those lines.

So even though he's a bit sloppy, I think that's the line he's trying to observe.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. And, you know, but what I was trying to say was like he's sort of setting himself up, though, by saying he hasn't spoken to the president about the Mueller probe because then, inevitably, the question will be, OK, what about the SDNY probe, which hasn't been asked of him yet. And our reporting is that, yes, actually, he did talk to the president about Michael Cohen, about the revelations that came out about that. So he did talk to the president, according to our reporting, about the SDNY investigation.

So it will be interesting to see how he handles that line of questioning. Manu said, expect that to come.

KEILAR: You had great reporting in December with Laura Jarrett where you detailed that, that the president had been so upset about being implicated in these crimes with SDNY, crimes that Michael Cohen had pleaded guilty to, that he sort of unloaded on Whitaker about it. So we know, according to your reporting, they've had this discussion. We're going to see that will likely be on the agenda ahead.

We're going to take a quick break and be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Let's listen in now as the testimony of Matt Whitaker, the acting attorney general, continues.

[13:09:14] REP. TOM MCCLINTOCK (R), CALIFORNIA: And I am concerned about many alarming developments in the conduct of the FBI and the Department of Justice that -- that call its (INAUDIBLE) question. I've been reading Gregg Jarrett's book and the Comey investigation into the Clinton e-mails and the Uranium One deal and the Mueller investigation into the Trump campaign. And in it, Mr. Jarrett meticulously documents case after case of political bias by the FBI, of illegal conduct at the highest levels of the Department of Justice, destruction of evidence, possible obstruction of justice by Mr. Comey himself, a perjury by top DOJ officials, prosecutorial misconduct and political bias throughout Mueller's team.

Now if the Russia investigation was initiated because of a patently false dossier, why aren't we seeing an equally aggressive investigation into these very meticulously documented charges?

WHITAKER: Congressman, as you mentioned at the beginning, we do conduct our investigations independent of political interference at the Department of Justice.

MCCLINTOCK: That's not what...

WHITAKER: Let me -- let me finish...

MCCLINTOCK: The preponderance of evidence is telling me from sources such as this one.

WHITAKER: Well, and specifically related to the document you just described, that is the subject of the Inspector General's review -- investigation together with the U.S. Attorney from the district of Utah that was appointed by General Sessions to look into and review certain matters that this Committee had asked he review.

MCCLINTOCK: Can we expect a full, complete, and aggressive investigation of charges of wrongdoing by officials in the FBI and the Department of Justice on these matters?

WHITAKER: Congressman, I can assure you than any allegation of misconduct by and employee of the Department of Justice will be looked into thoroughly.

MCCLINTOCK: Well, I think back to the Lois Lerner scandal, and that never was addressed. Why should I be more confident in your assurances now?

WHITAKER: Congressman, I was a private citizen when the Lois Lerner situation occurred. In fact, it occurred mostly under the previous administration. I know that General Sessions did a review of that matter before I was Chief of Staff, so I really don't have any visibility as I sit here today as acting Attorney General as to what happened in that situation.

MCCLINTOCK: Well, let me talk about the apparent double standard and disproportionate show of force in cases like the arrest of Roger Stone. As I understand it, Stone's attorneys were in constant contact with the Department of Justice. He's 66-years-old, doesn't own any firearms, and yet he was the subject of a predawn raid by 29 combat armed officers.

As Mr. Jordan pointed out, CNN was obviously tipped off to cameras there. And in fact, they arrived to set up before the raid began. They were allowed to stay to film the entire spectacle, despite the fact the public was kept out ostensibly because the FBI was so concerned of violence by the 66-year-old unarmed man in this predawn raid.

You compare that to cases like of Bob Menendez who was allowed to quietly turn himself in. The obvious explanation is that this was a political act whose purpose was to terrifying anyone thinking of working in the Trump campaign in the future. Again, it hearkens back to the conduct of the IRS terrifying rank-and-file Tea Party members with tax audits because of their political views. How do you explain this, and what are you doing about it?

WHITAKER: Congressman, this is a very serious situation that you raised, but just know that the FBI makes arrests in a manner most likely to ensure the safety of its agents and of the person being arrested. The FBI must also consider the safety of the surroundings...

MCCLINTOCK: Well then how do you explain the discrepancy between the way Roger Stone was treated and the way Bob Menendez was treated?

WHITAKER: Again, the arrest team has to consider numerous factors in making a judgment as to how to conduct the operation.

MCCLINTOCK: Do you at least understand the appearance of impropriety that that projects to the country and undermines the faith that the American people have in their justice system and in its detachment from politics?

WHITAKER: Congressman, I cannot provide the details in this open hearing without revealing what factors the FBI considers in those decisions, and obviously that information could be used to put other FBI agents conducting other operations in harm's way.

What I can assure you, Congressman, is that the FBI is prepared to brief this matter on the decisions that were made in that particular arrest in a closed session of this Committee.

NADLER: (OFF-MIKE)

RICHMOND: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Whitaker, the DOJ was created in 1957 under the Civil Rights Act, correct?

WHITAKER: Congressman, I believe...

RICHMOND: Well, it was...

WHITAKER: ... it was a grant signed...

RICHMOND: No, no, no. It was. We're just not going to do all this delay stuff. It was. And it was created to protect against discrimination based on race, color, sex, disability, religion, familial status and national origin, wouldn't you agree?

WHITAKER: You're talking about the Civil Rights Division specifically?

RICHMOND: No, DOJ.

WHITAKER: The Department of Justice was set up to...

RICHMOND: You know what? Never mind, let's keep going.

You were Chief of Staff when Jeff Sessions testified in this Committee in 2017, correct? November.

WHITAKER: I was, and in fact I sat right behind him... RICHMOND: Right. That's exactly where I'm going because do you remember me asking him a questions about diversity and leadership at DOJ and the fact that they had not African-Americans in leadership at DOJ. Do you have any African-Americans at the top leadership in the Department of Justice?

WHITAKER: If the Senate confirms my friend Don Washington to be the Head of the U.S. Marshalls which I believe he is pending on the floor of the Senate currently, then the answer to the question would be yes. But as we sit here today, I do not believe -- but what do you consider the leadership of the Department of Justice?

RICHMOND: The hierarchy with people responding to them, head of a division, deputy attorney generals. If you look at the flowchart, the upper echelon. So think about the image to me. DOJ created to protect civil rights and advocate for all. We've had the last two attorney generals come here. Not one of them thought they could find or did find an African-American at DOJ to bring with them, and you're charged with enforcing civil rights and making people feel that you're fighting for equality.

You mentioned Charlottesville and charging a person with 30 counts and I applaud you for that. Do you believe that in Charlottesville there were good people on both sides?

WHITAKER: Congressman, I think the act, while it's -- you know, again, part of an ongoing prosecution, I could tell you ...

RICHMOND: Let me just say this ...

WHITAKER: ... the act was charged as a hate crime.

RICHMOND: I -- I agree with you and I applaud you -- I applaud you for that, but that's one individual. I'm asking you in general, do you believe that there were good people that were protesting and there were good people that were anti-protesters?

So I'm talking about the people watching with lights -- I mean the tiki torches and the chants. Do you think that some of them were good people is the short question.

WHITAKER: Congressman, there is no place in a civil society for hate, for white supremacy or for white nationalism.

RICHMOND: Thank you. Also, out of the 115,000 employees that you have at DOJ, are any of them transgender?

WHITAKER: Congressman, as I sit here today, I -- I don't know the answer to that question. I could imagine that generally, based on the way the population is distributed that we would. I would also be happy to get back to you that answer if those people identify that way.

RICHMOND: Would you have a problem with a transgender person being from a clerk to a agent in the field for any of your law enforcement agencies?

WHITAKER: No.

RICHMOND: Thank you. You mentioned also that voter fraud is of a serious concern. How many voter fraud cases have you all initiated?

WHITAKER: Congressman, as I -- as I mentioned in previous questioning, I'm happy to get those specific details back to you. As I sit here today, I don't know off the top of my head.

RICHMOND: Is it a lot? Is it a few? I mean -- it -- if we're talking about a serious concern in the United States of America, I would think we're talking over 100 or we're talking less than 25? Just -- but if you don't know a ballpark, I'm fine with that.

What about North Carolina? Because that is the only congressional seat that has not been determined because of widespread voter suppression in that race. Is the DOJ -- have they opened an investigation in that? And if they have, I guess you can't talk about it.

WHITAKER: Congressman ...

RICHMOND: Are you looking at that?

WHITAKER: While I can't talk about open investigations and -- and I appreciate your acknowledging that there might be open investigations, I am very aware of what is happening in North Carolina. We have previously done voting rights cases in North Carolina and we're watching that situation very carefully.

RICHMOND: Well I don't want to go over my time, and I guess in the last 12 seconds, I will just implore you to implore, which will now be the third Attorney General during this term, that after two years, we should be doing better with diversity in the Department of Justice, and I'm talking more specifically black and brown people and women.

I applaud you for having one woman with you, but the DOJ should look like the country and you all have been here twice and it is not a fair representation of what makes this country great. With that, I yield back the balance of my time.

NADLER: Thank the gentleman. Mr. -- Mr. Cline? Oh, I'm sorry -- I'm sorry, Ms. Lesko?

LESKO: Thank you. You know, I have to say that I am very disappointed in this hearing. You know, I -- I ran for Congress to get things done and at the beginning of this, you know, we were told that this is about asking about DOJ oversight and some legitimate questions.

And here we are, it's nothing but character assassination, harassment of -- of our witness and it's really disappointing. At first, I was mad, I have to tell you. When this thing started hours ago, I went outside and a reporter asked me what do you think of the hearing? I -- I said it's a joke.

But -- but now I'm just sad, I'm sad because we were on the floor just a little while ago, talking about how we are honoring our late Representative Dingell and talking about bipartisanship and how we need to get things done.

And yet here we are with a blatant political show that doesn't help anything. I imagine if American people are watching this right now, they'd be shaking their heads, like what are you doing there? We need to work together to get things done.

And so that's my statement, but I do have a question for -- for Mr. Whitaker about DOJ oversight. Following the New York Governor Cuomo's support of abortion up to the moment of birth and Governor Northram of Virginia's comments indicating support of an action which, in my opinion, relates to infanticide, are you concerned about some of these actions of late that implicate the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Act that criminalizes gruesome procedures?

I mean I -- I am getting really concerned that this is violating the law and has DOJ looked into this?

WHITAKER: Yes, as an American citizen, I am very concerned.

LESKO: And can you also tell me -- I -- I read recently a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, it was from 2018, and in that it said New York City -- in New York City, thousands of more black babies are aborted than born alive each year.

And my grandkids are African American, and so, you know, if there was a crime occurring in this country that exceeded the number of deaths of -- from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, accidents combined, which abortions do, is that something that the DOJ would get involved in and be concerned about and try to stop?

WHITAKER: Congresswoman, every life is valuable, and I -- I -- while I can't wade into the political issue that you raised, the members of this committee have a lot of power as to how we value life and -- and how we enforce the laws at the Department of Justice.

And this is an issue that I know there are -- there is a lot of passion about and I appreciate your passion and it's something that we actually share together. And if you look at my statements previous to joining the Department of Justice, especially during the 2014 campaign for the United States Senate, I was very outspoken in this regard.

But it's -- it's -- as I sit here as Acting Attorney General, I think it would be inappropriate for me to comment more fulsomely on this issue, but we're going to enforce the laws that Congress passes and we're going to hold those accountable that violate the law.

LESKO: Thank you, I yield back my time.

NADLER: Thank you. Mr. Jeffries?

JEFFRIES: Mr. Whitaker, I thank you for your presence here today. This hearing is important because there are many Americans throughout the country who are confused. I'm confused, I really am. We're all trying to figure out who are you, where did you come from and how the heck did you become the head of the Department of Justice? So hopefully you can help me work through this confusion. WHITAKER: Well I mean, Congressman...

JEFFRIES: Mr. Whitaker that was a statement, not a question...

WHITAKER: OK.

JEFFRIES: I'll assume you know the difference. The investigation in the possible Trump-Russia collusion in the 2016 election has resulted in 37 indictments, is that correct?

WHITAKER: I believe that number is correct, but most of those folks were Russian citizens.

JEFFRIES: Thirty-four individuals have been indicted, true?

WHITAKER: While I haven't counted those as I've prepared for my hearing preparation, I believe those are consistent with the numbers as I know them.

JEFFRIES: Three corporate entities have been indicted, correct?

WHITAKER: I believe so, correct.

JEFFRIES: The investigation has identified 199 different criminal acts, true?

WHITAKER: I haven't counted every indictment, but that sounds consistent with what I understand.

JEFFRIES: There have been seven guilty pleas, correct?

WHITAKER: Yes there have been seven guilty pleas.

JEFFRIES: Four people have already been sentenced to prison, true?

WHITAKER: I believe so, but again I do not have this information in front of me, so to the extent that I disagree with you -- it's because these are facts (inaudible)...

JEFFRIES: Understood, thank you. Trump's best friend, Roger Stone was recently indicted for lying to Congress in connection with his possible involvement with WikiLeaks and Russian interference with the 2016 election, correct?

WHITAKER: Yes, and I mentioned Mr. Stone's indictment and arrest.

JEFFRIES: Trump's campaign chairman Paul Manafort pled guilty the conspiracy to defraud the United States, true?

WHITAKER: Mr. Manafort did plead guilty, yes.

JEFFRIES: Trump's deputy campaign manager Rick Gates has pled guilty to lying to the FBI, correct?

WHITAKER: Well I don't have the indictment in front of me, I have no reason to disagree with you. JEFFRIES: Trump's former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has pled guilty to lying to the FBI, correct?

WHITAKER: That is a true fact, yes.

JEFFRIES: Trump's longtime, personal attorney and consigliere (ph) Michael Cohen plead guilty to lying to Congress about the Trump Real Estate Organization's Moscow project, is that true?

WHITAKER: I believe that was one of the basis for this plea agreement, I actually -- there were several other reasons that Mr. Cohen pled guilty...

JEFFRIES: Trump -- Trump's campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos has pled guilty to lying to Federal investigators about his contacts with Russian agents during the 2016 campaign, true?

WHITAKER: While I'm sure there are many that would disagree with that title that you put on Mr. Papadopoulos, it is true that he has plead guilty, yes.

JEFFRIES: So despite all of the evidence of criminal wrongdoing that has been uncovered, do you still believe that the Mueller investigation is a lynch mob?

WHITAKER: Congressman can you tell me specifically where I said that?

JEFFRIES: I'd be happy to. So in a tweet that you issued on August 6, 2017 you made reference to, "a note to Trump's lawyer, do not cooperate with Mueller's lynch mob," do you recall that?

WHITAKER: I recall that I said that I retweeted an article that was titled that, I did not necessarily agree with this -- that position. But my point was that it was an interesting read for those that want to understand the situation.

JEFFRIES: OK, reclaiming my time. Manafort, Gates, Flynn, Cohen, Papadopoulos, and Stone all in deep trouble -- one by one all of the President's men are going down in flames.

It's often said where there's smoke there's fire. There's a lot of smoke emanating from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue right now. Yet you decided not to recuse yourself, is that right?

WHITAKER: Congressman, the decision to recuse was my decision to make. I looked at all of the information, I consulted with many people that I've discussed today, and I determined that it was not necessary for me to recuse.

JEFFRIES: And Donald Trump considered the Session recusal to be a betrayal, is that right?

WHITAKER: Congressman I have no idea as I sit here today, what the president believed about General Sessions recusal.

JEFFRIES: OK so let's be clear, the investigation in to Russia's attack on our democracy is not a witch hunt, it's not a fishing expedition, it's not a hoax, it's not a lynch mob -- it's a national security imperative. The fact that people suggest otherwise comes dangerously close to providing aid and comfort to the enemy in your final week, keep your hands off the Mueller investigation. I yield back.

NADLER: Thank the gentleman. I now recognize the gentleman from Virginia, Mr. Cline.

CLINE: Thank you Mr. Chairman, thank you Mr. Acting Attorney General. I was hopeful that we would get in to some oversight over the array of areas of the Department of Justice that are so critical, and so important to addressing the problems that are facing my community -- drugs, crime.

All of these issues are of top concern to my constituents, and one of the most important things that I hear about when I get back to my district is, "are you going to keep the government operating?" "Can you reach an agreement on immigration issues?"

[13:29:51] So when we talk about immigration, I can ask you a couple of questions that would probably help get to an immigration agreement.