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Barr Over Mueller Investigation; Accusations in McCabe Book; Trump to Declare National Emergency. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired February 15, 2019 - 09:30   ET



[09:34:11] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Today is William Barr's first full day as U.S. attorney general. His second stint in the job. The big question, how will Barr handle Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. An investigation which Barr and the president have openly criticized. Some conservatives believe that Barr's arrival marks the beginning of the end for Mueller. American Conservative Union president, Matt Schlapp, tweet yesterday, and this raised a lot of attention, tomorrow will be the first day that President Trump will have a fully operational confirmed attorney general. Let that sink in. Mueller will be gone soon.

Joining me now to discuss, former FBI Special Agent Asha Rangappa.

Asha, thanks so much for coming on this Friday.

Was that a threat from Matt Schlapp?


Well, he doesn't have any authority over this. So I wouldn't consider it a threat. I think it's a very misinformed opinion.

You know, the special counsel regulations lay out very clearly the grounds for terminating a special counsel. And there's five grounds. Those are misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, and then there is a general other good cause. And so, you know, the question is, would the new attorney general actually sign his name to any of those reasons for firing Robert Mueller, who he's even said in public hearing that he respects him and his work very much.

[09:35:30] So, you know, I think the other piece here is this misconception that somehow Mueller leaving makes the investigations go away. It doesn't. He is simply overseeing active investigations. And if he were to be fired, his investigations would be transferred back to the Department of Justice. And then, as we know, there are also other ongoing investigations in, say, the Southern District of New York that would continue on as well. So I think he needs to learn a little bit more about how the Department of Justice operates.

SCIUTTO: All right. We hope he's listening. On another topic, you're a former FBI special agent. You're, of

course, aware that the former acting director, Andrew McCabe, has a book out now with a number of revelations about his time in the bureau. And one that caught our attention today, he says that the president, in his words, refused to believe U.S. intelligence reports that North Korea had test fired an intercontinental ballistic missile. This in July 2017. Why did he not believe it? Because Vladimir Putin had told him that wasn't true.

Tell me your reaction to that, because this is certainly not the first time this president has rejected the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community for either his own judgments or the judgments of Vladimir Putin.

RANGAPPA: Exactly. I think it's startling. And I think that it is very concerning. Our intelligence community exists to provide, you know, intelligence product so that the president of the United States can make good policy decisions. And, obviously, for him to reject that in favor of opinions by our adversary is very concerning.

I think this goes to why there would have been a basis for the FBI to open a counter-intelligence investigation on the president because it's things like this where you're seeing that someone may actually be coopted and being overly influenced by a hostile foreign adversary over the interests of the United States that would lead them to want to examine why that might be the case.

SCIUTTO: Let's me ask you -- let's say you're in the FBI, and a lower level FBI agent, mid-level, comes to you and says, listen, I don't buy the FBI's assessment on this threat from North Korea because my Russian contact told me that that's not true. How would you react to that?

RANGAPPA: Well, you know, in the intelligence world, it's all documentation and looking at the totality of the facts and evidence. So if there was a Russian asset, double agent working for us, who gave us a piece of information, that would be documented. But you would have to look at that in the context of all of the other intelligence that's coming in from our CIA, from the NASA, from our intelligence allies and see, does this corroborate or is this on outlier? If it's an outlier and it's not consistent with what everything else is saying, then it's not something that you would credit.

SCIUTTO: Well, know the source, too, right, if it's coming from Russia.

RANGAPPA: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: Final thing. Another excerpt from McCabe's book, this describes comments that Jeff Sessions made while he was attorney general of the United States, saying, the FBI was better when it, quote, only hired Irishmen, saying, they were drunks but they could be trusted.

What do you make of this and what does this say about Sessions' leadership of the FBI? RANGAPPA: Jim, I think that that is a disgraceful statement for anyone

in our government to be making. But especially for someone who is leading the Department of Justice. This is someone who is charged with upholding the Constitution, including equal protection of the laws, and overseeing a civil rights division within that department.

I think it also demonstrates a fundamental ignorance of the kinds of threats and crimes that we have in this country which actually require a diverse workforce of investigators to be able to go into those communities and actively and effectively investigate those things. So, you know, he took an oath to uphold the Constitution, and I think that it's a disgrace.

SCIUTTO: Well, I'm half Irish. I can reject it as well.

Asha Rangappa, thanks very much.

Still ahead, any minute now, the president expected to declare a national emergency in this country to bypass Congress in order to get funding for his border wall that Congress, by bipartisan votes, rejected. Stay with us. We're on top of the story.


[09:44:09] SCIUTTO: In just minutes, President Trump will hold an event in the Rose Garden where he is expected to announce that he is using executive action to reallocate $8 billion to fund his border wall, crucially to declare a national emergency at the southern border.

We have a team of experts here. We're going to be following this story as we await the president.

I want to begin with Kirsten Powers, who's here in Washington with me.

I want to play a bite from the vice president, Mike Pence, on his prior positions on presidents using executive authority like this. Have a listen.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (November 19, 2014): Well, I think it would be a profound mistake for the president of the United States to overturn American immigration law with a stroke of a pen.

The president ought to sit down in January with the new Republican majority in the Senate and the historically large new majority in the House and search for common ground. That's what leadership looks like.

[09:45:01] Signing an executive order, giving a speech, barnstorming around the country defending that executive order is not leadership.


SCIUTTO: Sounds remarkably like what President Trump is doing right now.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Well, and much more so because really what they were talking about with President Obama were executive orders. So I think that there's no question that if Barack Obama was doing this, that they would absolutely be freaking out. And either -- we're talking about the president completely bypassing Congress, taking on an authority that really -- well, I think most people think doesn't belong to him, that --

SCIUTTO: It's in Article One of the Constitution, right?

POWERS: Yes. And is likely going to be challenged in court. And even if it wasn't -- even if somehow he could prevail in court, it is something that I think most people recognize they don't want. At a minimum, the person in the opposing party to have this kind of authority because of all the things that people could do, if you're going to get upset about an executive order, what are you going to do when people are declaring state of emergencies over policy disputes?

SCIUTTO: Charlie Dent with us now, of course former Republican congressman.

Charlie Dent, Republicans have been very public, not just during the Obama term, but in the weeks and days leading up to this decision that we expect in 14 minutes now from the president opposing -- declaring a national emergency here. The big question is, will they put their money where their mouth is, in effect? Do you believe that Republicans will join Democrats in a resolution to block a national emergency declaration?

CHARLIE DENT (R), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Oh, Jim, they better block this. This is simply beyond the pale. It is outrageous. It breaks the law.

I was the guy who wrote the military construction bill for the Appropriations Committee before I left Congress, got it through committee. By the way, there's a total of eight, usually annually, somewhere between $8 billion to $12 billion for all military construction projects around the world. It's going to take $3.5 billion. That's five-year money. They get to spend it over five years.

But the bottom line is, the president cannot move money from a defense purpose to a non-defense purpose. The budget law prohibits that. There is a strict firewall.

Now, with respect to transfer authority and moving money, reallocating or reprogramming these dollars, the Pentagon would routinely come to me and say, would you please move, you know, $3 million from this project in Mississippi to one in Alaska. And then ordinarily I would sign a letter allowing that transfer, because we don't want to have to pass a law every time they need to move money from one account to the next. There -- you know, we have to have some flexibility and we have to work together.

This blows up that arrangement. The appropriations subcommittee chair and subcommittee chair must sign off on these transfers. And I can't imagine Nita Lowey as chair, or in this case Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was my ranking member, now full chair of the subcommittee, would sign off on this. This is outrageous. It sets a precedent. What if there's a -- what if there is a President Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris and they want to move money from, oh, the Defense Department and the F-35 to pay for homelessness? I mean people would yell and scream about it.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes.

Abby Phillip joining us now as well.

Abby, you cover this White House. The president -- we know the president has been warned about these consequences. And until yesterday, when he went on the floor, Senator Mitch McConnell opposed a national emergency declaration until he performed his own flip-flop there and yet the president is proceeding. Does he expect, not just a fight on The Hill, but a fight in the courts?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. The White House is pretty clear-eyed about the high likelihood that they're going to face some challenges. They're even clear-eyed about the possibility that this could be halted pretty much immediately once it gets to a favorable court. They view it as sort of the court shopping that they've talked about in other venues. But they believe that it could very well be halted pretty much immediately. But at the same time, the argument that you're going to hear publicly from the White House is that this is an authority that President Trump actually has right now and that -- that it's too bad if a future president Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren decides to do something differently with this power that the president has. And so, in some ways, they're not really even disputing the idea that this could be used against Republicans in another administration. They're just saying he actually has this power. And if Congress doesn't like it, that's too bad. And they plan to move forward with this.

And I think they expect that when all is said and done they might -- they might win out. But the problem with this, as they've experienced with the travel ban and with other cases, is that it can be held up for quite some time in the courts as the appeals process goes forward.

SCIUTTO: Viewing the political loss is worse than a potential legal loss.

We have Jeffrey Toobin with us as well, who knows a thing or two about the law.

Jeffrey Toobin, you've got this 1976 National Emergencies Act. Is the law clear on whether a president can divert funds? Because that's what's different here. The president can declare a national emergency about anything. But what's different here is, he's taking money that Congress allocated for one thing, including military construction, and going to use it on a border wall that Congress explicitly did not give him the money for. What does the law say?

[09:50:04] JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Let me give you an emphatic answer to that, Sciutto. SCIUTTO: I'll take it.

TOOBIN: I don't know. And I don't think anyone knows. I mean this is not a case that has been resolved before. You know, this -- it is true that this National Emergencies Act, which you just had up in the air -- up on the screen was in 1976 and there have been more than 40 examples of presidents using it for various purposes, but never in the face of explicit congressional repudiation of the money they're planning to spend. And that's a very different scenario than what we've seen before.

You know, the precedent you're going to be hearing a lot about in the next few days and weeks and perhaps months is 1952, the famous steel seizure case where during the Korean War President Truman tried to get Congress to give him the authority to stop a strike and seize control of the steel mills. Congress didn't do it and he seized the mills anyway and the Supreme Court, in a very famous decision, said, no, you can't do that. That when -- in the face of, you know, congressional lack of authorization, we are not going to let you do that.

Now, the question is, does the National Emergencies Act trump the steel seizure case? The legal arguments can get very complicated. But, you know, Brett Kavanaugh, now on the Supreme Court, is a great supporter of expansive presidential power. It's one of the reasons he was appointed. This will likely wind up there. And I think the Trump administration can be pretty optimistic that ultimately this authority will be upheld. But it certainly will be a major change from how our constitutional arrangements have been understood in the past.

SCIUTTO: Just to be clear, can Congress over -- if Congress were to pass a resolution blocking this declaration, does that hold sway or does it still go to the courts? Whose decision is it ultimately?

TOOBIN: Well, the resolution, it has to pass the House, pass the Senate --

SCIUTTO: If it does. Let's say if it does. But what takes precedence? Does Congress blocking it or would a court -- a court's decision have the final say?

TOOBIN: Congress blocking it.

SCIUTTO: All right.

TOOBIN: But, remember, the president has to sign it or veto it and so they would need two thirds in the House and Senate to overturn it --

SCIUTTO: Right. Understood. To override.

TOOBIN: Which seems very unlikely in this environment.



SCIUTTO: OK. A lot of questions here. We're going to stay on it. Please, stay with us.

Still ahead, we are waiting for this big ceremony in the Rose Garden. It's just moments away. President Trump set to declare a national emergency in this country before quickly leaving afterwards to go for a long weekend.

Stay with us for our live, special coverage.


[09:57:06] SCIUTTO: A good Friday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington. And welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

Any moment now the president expected to sign the border deal avoiding another shutdown but crucially, at the same time, declaring a national emergency in this country. The president bypassing Congress, using executive action to spend some $8 billion on border barriers, going against the U.S. Constitution which says that Congress, and only Congress, is in charge of spending the nation's money.

This is a move that many Republicans have railed against in the past, including Donald Trump himself. When President Obama used executive power in 2014, Trump tweeted, quote, Republicans must not allow President Obama to subvert the Constitution of the U.S. for his own benefit and because he is unable to negotiate with Congress.

Sounds familiar. Constitutional battles certainly on the way here. Democrats say they will challenge the emergency declaration immediately in court and are likely to do so as well on Capitol Hill with possible help from Republicans. Big worry here for both parties is precedent and whether future presidents will therefore use a national emergency for any policy goal that they can't get through Congress.

Let's get to CNN's Joe Johns. He is live at the White House with more.

Do we have any details about how the president's going to attempt to justify this?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you one thing, you were just talking about that question of precedent and White House officials really pushed back on the idea that Mr. Trump would be setting any type of a precedent on declaring an national emergency declaration here in the United States simply because they say that many other presidents have declared national emergencies for a variety of other issues going, you know, back years and years and years and that 30 some declared by other presidents have already been put into play. So there's that.

Now, the good news, of course, that we have to keep emphasizing is, due to everything that's gone on here, we're not going to have another government shutdown apparently. That said, the president is expected to sign a couple important documents, the first being that legislation that the House of Representatives and the Senate just passed to keep the government operating. And then he's also expected to sign essentially some other documents that will include perhaps an emergency national declaration. These documents provide several pots of money totaling up to around $8 billion for the president's border wall.

[09:59:49] Now, let's look at the graphic that gives you some idea of where that money's coming from. $3.5 billion for military construction. That is the part that requires the declaration of a national emergency. And we have $2.5 billion for drug interdiction, $1.375 billion, that, of course, is in