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Mueller Report May End Next Week; Judge Delays Cohen's Sentence; Interview with Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA). Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired February 20, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Right now.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.
And underway right now, we begin with breaking news. We have the clearest indication yet that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is nearly done with his almost two-year investigation and that the endgame here is near. Sources say the Justice Department is preparing to announce as early as next week that Attorney General Bill Barr has received Mueller's confidential report. And soon after that announcement, Barr will review the findings and then submit his own summary to Congress.
We have crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz, justice reporter Laura Jarrett and senior justice correspondent Evan Perez with us.
So we know that the timing could change on this. Walk us through what, by regulation, the attorney general has to do once he receives this report from Robert Mueller.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, so the -- the way the regulations work for the Justice Department is that the -- the special counsel submits a report to the attorney general. It's a confidential report to the attorney general. And then he reviews it and decides what he can report publicly or to the members of Congress.
Now, there's a lot of discussions going on inside the Justice Department about exactly how to handle this. We don't know how long the Mueller report is, what it's going to contain, per se, what the contours of it are, or the findings. But we know that that's what the Justice Department is prepared to do, essentially to take a look at what he says and then submit something to members of Congress.
Again, of you heard Bill Barr during his congressional testimony recently, he said he -- you know, he wants to make sure that as much of this is made public, is provided to members of Congress. I think he wants that whatever goes to Congress is also going to be made public because he does know that there's a responsibility that the Justice Department has to provide some answers to exactly what Mueller has been up to. So here's what we expect. We expect that it's going to happen probably
within the next week. The timing could slide before and after. The president, as you know, is leaving for a trip to Vietnam. And so I think people inside the Justice Department are very wary of stepping on the president as he makes an international trip. So I think this is how we expect it to happen.
KEILAR: When Evan says there are discussions about how to handle this, I mean that really comes down to what is in this report, right? Because if there's something that is very bad for the president, it would necessitate actually more of a public airing or a congressional airing, right?
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: I think part of the challenge for the Justice Department is that typically they don't disclose what they call derogatory information about uncharged individuals. And under the regulations, the special counsel's office is supposed to explain all of their prosecution decisions, but also their declinations (ph), so decisions not to prosecute people. It may also have classified information in the report.
And so that's the challenge for Barr is to figure out exactly how to slice it and dice it and what to give Congress. And during his Senate confirmation hearings, he was questioned at length about this because, of course, Congress wants everything. So let's remind our viewers of what exactly Barr said and how he tried to thread the needle on this.
KEILAR: Yes, and --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I also belie it is very important that the public and Congress be informed of the results of the special counsel's work. My goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law. I can assure you that where judgments are to be made, I will make those judgments based solely on the law and I will not let personal, political or other improper interests influence my decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JARRETT: So, once again there, consistent with the law. Well, what exactly does that mean for what Congress gets to see?
KEILAR: And there -- but there's a -- no matter how you cut this, no matter what the findings are, there's a huge appetite after two years and we've talked a lot about the findings. We've talked about every single move that is publicly available to us.
A lot of folks look back at what happened with Hillary Clinton and her e-mail investigation, a model for when there was such an appetite, Shimon, to get information. In the end, Jim Comey basically -- he ended up speaking publicly and saying, look, no one -- this isn't a case that anyone would really put up. However, he talked -- PEREZ: He softened (ph) it.
KEILAR: He did. He wanted to make clear that what she had done was not OK and they're good --
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right.
KEILAR: They don't want a repeat of something like that.
PROKUPECZ: They do not. This is the big thing here, you know, as Evan and Laura know in talking to people at the Department of Justice. The big concern is they do not want to do what James Comey did. They do not want to hold a press conference and tell people everything that people connected to the president may have done wrong, what the president may have done in this case. If people are not charged, the Department of Justice has a long standing policy that they don't talk about anything that involves people who have not been charged. And that's what we saw in the James Comey press conference, right? And William Barr has said publicly that he was opposed -- he was against what James Comey did. Rod Rosenstein has been against what Comey did. Other veterans of the Department of Justice were very much against what Comey did. And so, as a result of that, they are very concerned about doing and making that kind of mistake again.
[13:05:16] The other thing -- I think what's important in all of this, that this is the clearest indication to us that Mueller is done and that most of the investigative steps that he undertook are now complete. There are some indications that we haven't seen the grand jury -- the Mueller grand jury that's been doing -- seeing -- that's been overseeing this investigation has not been seen since Roger Stone was indicted. So that's about a month ago. We've seen other signs that things may be wrapping up at Mueller's office.
And that is the most important thing, that after all this time, you know, we're all going to want answers. People are going to want to know, what exactly went on here? And I think everyone's been cautioning us that we may not get all the answers we want, that this report may not contain the answers that people are looking for necessarily.
And the other thing I want to point out is that there are parts of this investigation that are still going to live well beyond Mueller.
KEILAR: Sure. I mean there's a bunch of -- it's almost in a way like spin-off series, right?
KEILAR: And one of the indications, you guys are saying, this is the clearest indication yet, but if you're following this day in and day out as you are, you've been seeing other things, boxes of documents that have been going off to other prosecutors who will be looking off --
KEILAR: Looking at some of these spin-off cases.
PEREZ: Yes, we've seen -- we've seen some of the prosecutors who worked on the Mueller team depart the Mueller team. So we've been seeing sort of a willowing down of the team that's been doing this investigation. And as Shimon and Laura have talked about, I mean I think one of the things that we've seen is certainly that pieces of this investigation have gone to other offices. We only know about a few of them, but there are many more pieces that have been farmed out to another U.S. attorney's office.
And here's a deal. I think Mueller is -- and certainly the Justice Department leadership is very aware that they cannot have a special counsel that goes on forever. So one of the things that they've been trying to do is figure out how to make sure that the nucleus of this investigation, that Mueller was really appointed to do, right, which is what happened in 2016 and sort of that part of the investigation is handled by Mueller and then the things that are more complicated, things that have to do with perhaps financial issues perhaps could be handled by the Southern District of New York, by the U.S. attorney's office here in Washington, the U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria, Virginia. All of those teams are still going to be working.
And then, keep in mind, there a -- there's a counterintelligence aspect to this that may be going on for years and years and we may never see simply because they want to know what the Russians are still up to.
PROKUPECZ: And the --
KEILAR: And just -- I just want to loop in our viewers again real quick because the Mueller report, clearest indications yet that they are preparing at the DOJ to receive this as early as next week. The clearest indication that this is wrapping up.
PROKUPECZ: I want to make one point. This doesn't mean that the investigation of the president or the people associated with the president is in any way over because there's still this very much a lingering problem for him out of New York, out of the Southern District of New York. And I think as Evan has made this point several times, that that is one of the things that concerns the president --
PROKUPECZ: And the president's people much more, people close to him, than this Mueller investigation. That is where he still is facing a lot of jeopardy. He's already been implicated in one crime there. They've just now subpoenaed all the financial records for the inauguration.
PEREZ: For the inauguration, right.
JARRETT: The inauguration, the organization. PROKUPECZ: They're still working through the Trump Organization and that investigation. And the hush money payment investigation is still ongoing. So there's still a lot that's going go on here.
JARRETT: There's a similar issue with Roger Stone, the president's longtime confidant and adviser. We saw the D.C. U.S. attorneys joining that case so that it sort of provides a seamless transition for when Mueller is done with the investigation, you have someone already on the case who can take over. And so all the questions about whether there would be a superseding indictment, whether Stone could have other charges that he might face down the line, D.C. prosecutors can handle all of that without Mueller.
KEILAR: When the special council -- when ultimately a report -- I think of Bill Clinton when Congress was informed of what was going on, there were also supporting documents that weren't even in the report that were sort of housed away but that members of Congress could have access to. A lot of information.
KEILAR: Actually information that might have actually motivated their impeachment more than what was in the actual report. So all of this extra information that maybe doesn't find a home in the report even to the DOJ, even to Bill Barr, or in the report that Bill Barr sends to Congress, what happens to it?
PEREZ: Right. I mean that's -- that's the big question I think members of Congress are going to have a lot to say about this because they're not going to like the answer. I think the initial answer from the Justice Department is, look, we're going to handle this like every other investigation. We're going to tell you what steps we've taken. But the -- where we've declined to bring charges, we're not going to just let it all out. So I think you're going to see some litigation.
KEILAR: They have in other cases though, right?
PROKUPECZ: And legal -- there's going to be legal battles to get this information.
PEREZ: There's going to be legal battles.
PROKUPECZ: So, here's the thing. In the Hillary Clinton investigation, remember, the FBI did wind up releasing a lot of 302s, a lot of information that they normally wouldn't. So it could be that that -- what they did there has set the precedent perhaps from some legal battles going forward about getting our hands on the documents used in the Trump investigation and the campaign investigation.
[13:10:16] JARRETT: I think this is also why you see this bipartisan push on Capitol Hill to have a different sort of regulation going forward. We've see Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, along with Senator Chris Coons, saying, look, we need way more than what these regulations provide -- PEREZ: Right.
JARRETT: Because under the regulations, Barr can say Mueller's done, good-bye. I don't have to tell you any more.
PEREZ: He could give them a -- he can give them a one-pager that says, this is what Mueller did. Look at the indictment in the public record and that's it.
PROKUPECZ: What's to say that won't happen? I mean --
KEILAR: Oh, my God, can you imagine?
PEREZ: Right. I mean could you imagine if that would be the answer?
KEILAR: I can't -- I can't even imagine and yet I kind of can.
PEREZ: But as Shimon says, I think -- I think some important precedents have been set.
PEREZ: I think -- I think the Justice Department, as much as they would like to close the barn doors, you know, I think all the farm animals are already out, so, I mean --
KEILAR: They are, and running around. Running amok.
PEREZ: Running around.
KEILAR: All right, you guys, thank you so much for great information, great analogy, as well. Evan --
KEILAR: Laura and Shimon.
So as Vladimir Putin is threatening to attack the United States, the former number two at the FBI says, yes, it is possible that President Trump is a Russian asset.
Plus, we're just getting word about when former Trump fixer Michael Cohen will report to prison and the timing may impact potential testimony.
And, as California's bullet train goes nowhere, the state is now accusing the president of political payback for suing him over the wall.
[13:15:52] KEILAR: This just in to CNN, a judge has granted Michael Cohen's request to delay the start of his prison sentence until May 6th. The former Trump attorney had been scheduled to begin a three year prison sentence just two weeks from now for campaign finance violations and also for lying to Congress. His lawyers arguing successfully that he needed to delay that because of a recent shoulder surgery.
The news follows a "New York Times" report that says the president tried to get acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker to intervene in the investigation of Michael Cohen and those hush money payments. Specifically "The Times" reports that the president asked Whitaker if a U.S. attorney, viewed as a Trump ally, who had recused himself from the Cohen case, could oversee the Cohen case.
The president was asked about "The New York Times" report during a photo-op. Listen to this exchange.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Mr. President, did you ask Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to change the leadership for the investigation into your former personal attorney Michael Cohen?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, not at all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Now, "The Times" says the president's unrelenting attacks on the investigation swirling around him have evolved from a public relations strategy to a legal strategy.
Former Justice Department and national security prosecutor Joseph Moreno with us and CNN legal analyst Ross Garber.
Let's start with this Cohen news.
So, Joe, what does this tell you that there has been a delay, because when I hear about it I think, are we perhaps going to hear him testify publicly before Congress?
JOSEPH MORENO, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY PROSECUTOR: I think we will. I mean I think that, you know, members of Congress on both sides, Democrats and Republicans, were pretty frustrated when his testimony fell apart earlier this month. So I think this is a definite sign that it's not only interesting, but welcoming to them that they want this testimony and they're willing to put off the prison, you know, sentence.
KEILAR: This is going to be pretty interesting, Ross, to say the least. I mean that's a huge understatement.
ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, it will be very interesting. And, honestly, it doesn't surprise me that there's this delay. The government didn't object to a delay. You know, apparently, he's got this shoulder injury. But I do think there are committees in Congress that really do want to hear from him, expect to hear from him. And it's much easier to do if they don't have to ship him back from prison to do it.
KEILAR: So -- and if, as we're just reporting that there is the clearest indication yet that the Mueller investigation is wrapping up, so he would be more free to speak potentially in that case. There are other ongoing investigations.
I want to talk to you about Matt Whitaker, though, the then acting attorney general. He testified before a House committee about a week and a half ago. He was asked about the investigation that the president reportedly tried to get him to intervene in. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to know whether you talked to President Trump at all about the Southern District of New York's case involving Michael Cohen.
MATTHEW WHITAKER, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: Congresswoman, as I've mentioned several times today, I am not going to discuss my private conversations with the president of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Ross, he did talk about the Mueller probe. He did not want to answer a question about the SDNY probe.
Is this going to be problematic for Whitaker?
GARBER: Yes, I don't think it's problematic for Whitaker. It was very interesting testimony. I watched the whole thing. And Whitaker said repeatedly, I'm not going to talk about my private conversations with the president, but then went on to talk about his private conversations with the president on certain subjects. Other subjects he avoided.
You know, one thing that was notable is I have great respect for members of that committee, but the questioning was awful of Whitaker, and I think it was a missed opportunity to get some information and to actually even press that point, wait a minute, Mr. Whitaker --
KEILAR: What should they -- what should have been asked of him?
GARBER: Well, if there -- I think there were probably a lot of direct questions that could have been asked of him. And even this point pressed. Now, wait a minute, you are actually talking about private conversations with the president with respect to certain topics, but not about others, and why is that, Mr. Whitaker?
KEILAR: And even just highlighting that. Yes.
GARBER: And what basis are you -- yes, yes, yes. But I think there was a -- it's notable that not a lot of news came out of that testimony from Whitaker. We didn't learn very much.
[13:20:03] KEILAR: So "The Times" has also reported that one of the president's lawyers reached out to attorneys for Michael Flynn and for Paul Manafort to, quote, discuss possible pardons. You'll recall that Bill Barr, the -- now the attorney general, was asked about this pardon during the issue of confirmation and he said that that would be a crime. Do you agree with Barr when you hear this news about talking about pardons? MORENO: I do. And I think it was one of the shining moments of his
confirmation hearing because he didn't give a long, meandering, lawyerly answer. He gave that kind of yes or no or, in this case, yes, it's a crime answer that, you know, we expect to hear. He said without -- you know, without -- emphatically he said that would be a crime. So dangling a pardon in exchange for someone to give favorable testimony or to remain silent would be a crime. So now I've shown the reporting. I question whether lawyers would do something that spectacularly awful. I mean it would be like malpractice to do that. That being said, you know, they've done a lot of strange things in the president's defense team so it wouldn't totally shock me.
KEILAR: Real quickly, is it the lawyer's problem or would it be the president's problem if they floated it?
MORENO: Well it's everyone's problem. Its every -- I mean the optics --
MORENO: The optics are terrible. Legally, it could be terrible. I mean it's just, you know, the pardon power is almost absolute, but you can't use it corruptly. And if there were conversations, whether it was directly or indirectly through surrogates, like lawyers, terrible optics, terrible legality for all involved.
KEILAR: Joe Moreno, thank you so much.
Ross Garber, thank you as well.
And, next, the California governor is calling it political payback. One day after his state announces a lawsuit against the Trump administration, the federal government comes after more than $3 billion in grants given to the state. I'll be joined live by California Congressman John Garamendi to get his take on that.
Plus, we have more on our breaking news. CNN reporting the Justice Department is close to getting the Mueller report as early as next week.
[13:26:34] KEILAR: The Department of Transportation is canceling almost a billion dollars in grant money for California's high-speed rail project. And it may also try to force the state to give back $2.5 billion it already received for the project.
California Governor Gavin Newsom says that this is political retaliation. This is coming a week after Newsom announced plans to scale back the length of this rail line due to cost and time constraints. And it's happening one day after California led a 16- state coalition challenging the president's national emergency declaration.
This is what Newsom says, quote, it's no coincidence that the administration's threat comes 24 hours after California led 16 states in challenging the president's farcical national emergency. Newsom also pointed to this tweet from the president. In it the president says, quote, the failed fast train project in California, where the cost overruns are becoming world record setting, is hundreds of times more expensive than the desperately needed wall.
Officially the government claims the reason they are canceling the grant money is because they believe that California has, quote, failed to make reasonable progress.
We have California Democratic Congressman John Garamendi joining us now.
Sir, thank you for being with us.
REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: Sure.
KEILAR: And when you look at this, do you think it's payback? And, if so, what recourse does your state have?
GARAMENDI: Well, of course it's payback. And it's not the first time the president has threatened California. We had 27,000 people burned out of their homes, 87 people died in the Paradise fire and what does the president do? He said, well, unless you clean up your forests, I'm not going to have FEMA help those people. Fortunately, everybody pushed back on that kind of inhumane action by the president.
The tax policy. It goes on and on and on. The president has it in for California. And we just shrug our shoulders and go about what we're doing, which is to create the fifth biggest economy in the world, continue to create jobs and to continue to push back against some terrible policies by an angry man in the White House.
KEILAR: You introduced a bill to stop the president from taking military construction and disaster relief funds to pay for the wall, but the White House can still take a big pot of money, $2.5 billion from the Defense Department's drug interdiction program, $600 million from Treasury's drug forfeiture program, without being stopped there by lawsuits.
KEILAR: Can Congress do anything there or are your hands tied?
GARAMENDI: Well, in fact, the lawsuits are very, very much about that. The president is threatening to take the $2.5 billion -- actually $3 billion from the military construction project. I'm the chairman of the committee that oversees that and that is near -- that's well over a third of the total annual appropriations for military constructions at bases all around the world. Some bases that are, frankly, in harm's way in the Middle East. So this is a very, very important matter. Those projects are not going to go forward.
He's also taking over $2 billion from the military's counter drug enforcement program which, guess what, deals with the drugs in Colombia and in the Central American area and provides money for the Navy to patrol the Caribbean sea together with the Coast Guard to stop the drugs before they even get close to the border.
KEILAR: But lawsuits -- but it seems like lawsuits may not have an ability to touch that money in the way that the construction funds that you mentioned could be addressed.
[13:29:58] GARAMENDI: Well, with the construction -- there's two different parts. One is the Army Corps of Engineers civil works project and, yes, I do have a bill on that and, yes, we would try to do both lawsuits as well as pass legislation.