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CNN NEWSROOM

McConnell Again Blocks Effort to Release Full Mueller Report; A Head Scratching Question -- Why Did Mueller Punt?; Trump Says If Obamacare Is Outlawed, We Will Have A Better Plan; Theresa May Offers to Resign for A Brexit Deal; Prosecutor Who Dropped Charges, Says Smollett Is not Innocent; Senate to Hold Hearing After Boeing Max Crashes. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 27, 2019 - 14:00   ET

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


[14:00:00] KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Here, but the reality is that members of Congress really just want to get the answers as to what the U.S. is actually sharing and what they're teaching the Saudis with this program.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: All right. Kylie Atwood, thank you so much for our exclusive report. That's it for now. "NEWSROOM" with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Brianna, we'll take it. Hi, there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. An intensifying battle on Capitol Hill and the Mueller report is at the center of it all. For the second time in three days the Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has blocked efforts by Senate Democrats to make the report public. He said, the Justice Department needs more time to complete its review, but this fight isn't just about releasing this report. It is also about what it says, specifically on the issue of collusion. The White House based on that four-page summary from Attorney General Bill Barr says that Mueller cleared the President and the campaign of any wrongdoing. House intel committee Adam Schiff says, not so fast. The high-ranking Democrat is not backing away from his claim that there was, in fact, collusion saying his committee will continue to investigate that. And now you have James Comey the man who's firing prompted Mueller's hiring is also weighing in on the other big headline from the special counsel, the decision not to charge or exonerate Trump on obstruction, quoting now. "The part that's confusing is I can't quite understand what's going on with the obstruction stuff and I have great faith in Bob Mueller but I just can't tell from the letter why didn't he decide these questions when the entire rationale for special counsel is to make sure the politicals aren't making the key charging decisions.

Sara Murray is our political correspondent and Greg Bauer worked for James Comey as the FBI's head of Congressional affairs. He was at the bureau from 2016 to 2018 in the Obama and Trump administrations, so great to have both of you on and Greg I'm coming to you first here. You just heard me quote James Comey. He says he's confused by Mueller's decision or lack thereof, are you confused?

GREG BAUER, FORMER FBI HEAD OF CONGRESSIONAL AFFAIRS: Well, I had the same exact reaction, Brooke, that Jim Comey did. It's confusing for two reasons, number one, as Mr. Comey suggested, the whole point of the special counsel concept is to take decisions like these involving such a high profile investigation away from the President's own appointees at DOJ and so, what appears to be the case that Mueller somehow punted the obstruction decision to Attorney General Barr is confusing. Secondly, given Attorney General Barr's history and specifically having written the memo last year on the obstruction issue that caused so many Democrats to vote against his confirmation, it would seem to be the last thing that Attorney General Barr would want to do is to give the appearance that the special counsel is punting that decision to him. It just creates all kinds of questions.

BALDWIN: OK. All this talk of punting, let's go further. Sara, the fact is that Mueller was supposed to make this concrete decision, he was tasked with the legal piece on this and specifically on obstruction he punted, either to Congress or to Bill Barr, both of them make it political.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Uh-hum. Mueller had to have known that by not drawing his own conclusion that whatever happened next was going to become some kind of a political battle and in many ways that's what this was going to be from the start because we have these DOJ guidelines that say you cannot indict a sitting President and so by essentially laying out the facts on both sides, we'll learn more of that when they release more of the report, it becomes a political fight. Obviously, Barr deciding to draw his own conclusion makes it political because he's a political appointee and because of this memo he's previously written. Once it's kicked to Congress, it's a political question that maybe they didn't meet the criminal threshold of obstruction but is there something here where we feel like the President essentially abused his power while he was in the White House that would, you know, inspire them to move forward with impeachment. I think we're already seeing Democrats back away from that a little bit. We'll see when we get more details from the report.

BALDWIN: Waiting for the details on the report. Just reminding everyone we haven't seen the report, we don't know exactly what he found, we don't know how long this report is, so, Greg, is it possible -- hear me out -- is it possible that this was less of a punt from Robert Mueller and instead he could have laid out in however x many pages laid out the bread crumbs of his findings in the report?

BAUER: Right. We simply don't know. Like James Comey, I do implicitly trust Robert Mueller and so this four-page letter really doesn't do a great job of explaining what exactly transpired. That'll have to be explained probably in testimony on the hill.

[14:05:00] But -- let me just make one point, with respect to this idea of Bob Mueller referring or deferring to Congress, that, of course, is inevitable regardless of what bob Mueller did or does and, in fact, even without a special counsel being appointed, even without a special counsel investigation, Congress could take up an impeachment proceeding on this President or any other President any time it wishes for whatever reason.

BALDWIN: But it's more nebulous for them.

BAUER: Exactly. All of this is going to have to be explained, again, bob Mueller's reputation would suggest very strongly there's a logical, legal explanation from this but it's not clear from that letter.

BALDWIN: Thank you so much.

I want to move on to the Trump's administration effort to get rid of Obamacare. The full law should be struck down. So here is President Trump talking about what will happen if the court rules against Obamacare.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The only difference between now and the other administration is that we're administering Obamacare very well, so we've made it better, but it's still horrible, no good. I understand health care now, especially very well, a lot of people don't understand it. We are going to be the Republicans, the party of great health care, so we're coming up with plans. We have a lawsuit right now going where phase one of the lawsuit terminates Obamacare, essentially terminates Obamacare. You know that, that's the Texas lawsuit. We think it'll be upheld and do very well in the supreme court and if the supreme court rules that Obamacare is out, we will have a plan that's far better than Obamacare.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: CNN is also learning the administration's choice to go against all of the Obamacare was as a result of a month's long debate between members of the President's inner circle and Acting Chief-Of- Staff Mick Mulvaney and his allies came out on the winning side. The losers, those who disagreed, two of the most relevant members of the cabinet regarding this very issue, Health and Human Services Secretary, on the left of your screen here and Attorney General Bill Barr who we've been talking a lot about. So, CNN political analyst Eliana Johnson, you helped break the story wide-open.

Azar and Barr did not want to invalidate all of Obamacare for different reasons. Let me just start with your reporting on Mr. Azar. Why was he protesting this move to go against the full law?

ELIANA JOHNSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Azar and Barr were opposing this move because the Trump administration came in saying that they were going to repeal Obamacare but those efforts failed in Congress because there was no consensus Republican alternative and though you hear the President saying step one is the court will invalidate Obamacare and step two is will put in place a much better alternative, I think history shows going back to 2017 that Republicans have failed to unite behind an alternative and so simply repealing Obamacare without Republicans coalescing behind an alternative would throw the health care system into chaos and that's not to mention the fact that Democrats control the House right now so it would be impossible to pass a Republican alternative in the first place. BALDWIN: Also, just to hear the President there quickly saying, we

will have a plan. This is the chief Republican essentially saying, Yes, we don't have a plan. We will have a plan but we don't have a plan. You also report that health and human services said that there was no dispute whatsoever between Azar and Mulvaney and the White House, DOJ declined to comment about the internal divide within the administration. What did your sources tell you about Barr's opposition to this whole thing?

JOHNSON: Barr himself -- the Trump administration got into this by backing a lawsuit that seeks to invalidate Obamacare and that lawsuit conservatives, even though who have vocally opposed Obamacare are very skeptical of the legal merits of that lawsuit. You played the President saying he's very optimistic that the supreme court will rule in favor of that lawsuit but that's really not what you hear when you talk to even opponents of Obamacare in a conservative legal world. I think Barr is interested in replenishing the reputation of the Justice Department, particularly among conservatives who have been skeptical about the Mueller investigation and the source of his opposition was really that, the backing this lawsuit that seems likely to be overturned isn't a good move.

[14:10:00] BALDWIN: Got it. Eliana Johnson, thank you. Good to have you on.

Meantime, in Chicago, boy oh, boy, this decision to drop charges against Jussie Smollett has sparked outrage across the country. Some are furious with the prosecutors, some are furious with Smollett and Chicago police are furious enough to take action. We'll talk to a member of the fraternal order of police.

Also, Betsy DeVos is fighting back. How she is now defending her decision calling for funding cuts to the Special Olympics?

And some news just in about the fate of the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, why she just offered to leave her post as P.M. early? This is CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

[14:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Just in to CNN, Theresa May just offered to leave her post earlier than expected in order to get a Brexit deal done. CNN's Bianca Nobilo is outside the Houses of Parliament there and this is incredibly significant for folks in the UK. What exactly is she offering here?

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, I was right outside the room where the Prime Minister made that announcement. It's in one of the corridors deep within the oldest part of Parliamentary buildings and all of her party were gathered there. The mood was really subdued when they all went in because they know the country is facing this national crisis and the party is in the doldrums, they don't know what to do and how to move forward, then the Prime Minister announced that she wouldn't be the leader to take the helm of the next phase of negotiations and that is something which members of her party and lawmakers in the U.K. have been pushing for because Brexit has gone through such a messy, chaotic point they argue that the leader who got us to this point cannot be the leader who takes us through the next phase of negotiations so the Prime Minister, Brooke, will be hoping that by bargaining that and pledging that she will stand down if her Brexit deal passes that she'll be able to get those last votes that she needs in order to pass her deal at this 11th hour in the process. But it still looks like an incredibly tricky order for her to do that, and, in fact, today Parliament is wrestling back control from the British government trying to impose their own view of what Brexit should look like, all of this happening in the very week that the United Kingdom was supposed to leave the European Union. So British politics is definitely nothing that I recognize having worked in the building behind me for a few years and it is definitely a very chaotic situation which politicians now are referring to as the new normal here in Britain.

BALDWIN: You can hear those protesters and it sounds like a whopping big if, if she gets her deal through, then she will be out. Bianca, thank you for the update there from London.

The Chicago Police Department has just released two police reports in the Jussie Smollett case but those reports still don't really reveal any new information as to why prosecutors abruptly drop those charges against the "Empire" star. Smollett had been facing 16 felony counts after investigators accused him of staging this elaborate attack himself. Smollett says two men targeted him because he's black and gay. He says prosecutors' decision to drop the charges vindicate him but prosecutors say that's not the case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think Mr. Smollett did what he was charged with doing?

JOSEPH MAGATS, COOK COUNTY FIRST ASSISTANT STATE'S ATTORNEY: Yes, we stand behind the CPD's investigation in this case.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you consider him innocent?

MAGATS: No. This was not an exoneration. To say that he was exonerated by us or anyone else is not true. I called an alternative disposition in that he agreed to do community service, he agreed to forfeit his bail to the city of his Chicago and in return for him doing those things, we agreed to dismiss the indictment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: But here's the thing, Smollett walks away with his entire record expunged and what appears to be an extremely clear conscience.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUSSIE SMOLLETT, ACTOR: I've been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one. I would not be my mother's son if I was capable of one drop of what I've been accused of. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Now Chicago's police union is calling for a federal investigation into state Attorney General Kim Fox. Emails and text messages obtained by CNN show communications between Fox and Smollett family friend Tina Chen who is the former chief-of-staff to Michelle Obama. This was when Smollett was being treated as the victim. Fox recused herself soon after the case took a turn and my next guest is one of the officers calling into an investigation into possible interference. He is Martin PREIB. He is the second vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police in Chicago, Lodge 7. Martin thank you so much for being here.

MARTIN PREIB, SECOND VICE PRESIDENT OF THE FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE IN CHICAGO: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Got to get your reaction first, though, to the prosecutor's decision and his comments that dropping the charges does not exonerate him.

PREIB: Well, you're in an Orwellian Chicago world here where one prosecutor is saying one thing, the investigation that the police conducted and brought to the prosecutors has been completely messed up. It's just a disaster.

BALDWIN: What are you being told?

[14:20:00] PREIB: No, I don't think he's exonerated. Pardon?

BALDWIN: What are you being told?

PREIB: Well, we're being -- I haven't had any direct contact with Kimberly Fox or with the second person in charge that you showed there, so, you know, I don't even think they have a clear message of what they're trying to put out here. It just is a true message, another mess in the Kimberly Fox administration. This has been going on for the second person in charge that you showed there, so, you know, I don't even think they have a clear message of what they're trying to put out here. It just is a true message, another mess in the Kimberly Fox administration. This has been going on for the entire two years she's been in office.

BALDWIN: If it's such a mess, what's the missing -- what's the missing piece here? Do you think Kim Fox was still involved in this decision despite as we just mentioned her own recusal?

PREIB: You know what? Everybody in Chicago is wondering about the motive behind this and what's going on and the speculation runs rampant. It's very clear she should have appointed a special prosecutor. The law is very clear. She can't recuse herself and not her entire administration. There's, for one, a blatant conflict of interest there when you're second in command takes over, of course they're going to be -- there's a conflict of interest with your boss. She should have given it to a special prosecutor immediately and it should have been gone to trial. BALDWIN: In this decision, prosecutors are basically making this case

that Chicago has no shortage of serious crime, law enforcement, justice resources are already overwhelmed and pursuing this Smollett case farther just wasn't worth the resources, wasn't worth the effort. Is that valid?

PREIB: Who would believe such nonsense? Who would believe such nonsense? As you said there were 16 felony counts here. That is one of the lamest excuses we've ever heard. This isn't the only thing that we've criticized Kimberly Fox for. She's transformed her office into a political advocacy agency, not an agency that goes after prosecuting criminals and protecting public safety and backing up good investigations by police officers. Our members of the union have very little faith in her ability and in her office at this point.

BALDWIN: I hear you. You're making that crystal clear, but on the case itself, martin, what if -- playing the what if game, what if Jussie Smollett wasn't famous? Do you feel like there are two justice systems in the city of Chicago?

PREIB: I don't believe there's much of a justice system at all in Chicago at this point. The criminal justice system is on life support. I don't think that's because of the police officers, although a lot of people on the left, you know, constantly attack the Chicago police department, but I think this gives an important window for the national audience to see how the public institutions in Chicago often function which is to say that they don't function very well at all, and, you know, this is a violent city and there are a lot of people -- Mr. Smollett saying that he protects marginalized people and those things, well, you know what? That's what the police do. That's what the police do every day. They go into whatever neighborhood is out there, whatever group of people it is and they try and enforce the law fairly and equitably and so -- no, I think that -- you know, there's a tremendous loss of faith. Mayor Emanuel spoke very passionately yesterday condemning this decision and we certainly hope he's going to join us and ask for a federal investigation into this incident.

BALDWIN: Martin PREIB, thank you for not holding back. I hear you and what is the message all of this sends the people of Chicago when it comes to trust and justice, thank you very much for coming on. I appreciate your opinion.

I want to move on. Freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez once again going viral with a lecture on climate change as the Senate shoots down her Green New Deal.

Congress set to grill the FAA over the grounding of those Boeing Max jets.

And just in, the company revealed a company overhaul after two deadly crashes.

[14:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: The FAA is moments away from its first hearing on Capitol Hill about airline safety in the wake of two deadly crashes involving Boeing 737 Max jet. U.S. senators are expected to press Federal Aviation officials on whether the flying public, whether any of us are at risk. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chow has already appeared before the appropriations committee. She expressed concerns about possible inappropriate relationships between federal regulators and plane manufacturers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELAINE CHOW, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: Having the manufacturer also be involved in looking at these standards is really necessary because once again, the FAA cannot do it on their own. They need to have the input from the manufacturer. Having said that, I am, of course, concerned about any allegations of coziness with any company, manufacturer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Secretary Chao also defended the FAA's decision not to immediately ground those 737 Max 8s. She said the agency makes fact- based decisions not hasty ones.

Boeing executives meantime meeting with pilots and officials to reveal new training.