Return to Transcripts main page


DOJ: Details of Mueller Report to be Issued in Weeks; Author: Barbara Bush Felt Abandoned by GOP; Sen. Gillibrand Takes the Lead on A 2020 Promise. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 27, 2019 - 12:30   ET



[12:31:52] PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A Justice Department official now confirms it will be weeks, not months before the attorney general releases some version of the Mueller report to the public. A source tells CNN the White House still has not seen the full report, but that's not keeping the president from praising its conclusions while damning the whole process.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think what happened is a disgrace. I don't believe our country should allow this ever to happen again.

The Mueller report was great. It could not have been better. It said no obstruction, no collusion. It could not have been better.


MATTINGLY: Now Republicans on the Hill say President Trump had every right to celebrate. Senate Republican Johnny Isakson from Georgia put it this way, quote, he's doing a victory lap no doubt about it, but he earned it. He spent two years going through all this stuff with Mueller.

Now Senator Lindsey Graham, a close ally of the president says, the president wants the Mueller report released and says the White House won't invoke executive privilege related to that report. To Graham, the criminal investigation is now over.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: That's the end of the criminal matter. The goal of a prosecutor is to bring the case or not. And if you can't meet the beyond the reasonable doubt standard, if you're confused about the law and the facts, then you don't bring the case. The goal is not to exonerate people. The goal is to find out whether or not a crime was committed.


MATTINGLY: So that's Lindsey Graham, and if you want to kind of to underscore where the White House is, take a listen to where some top White House officials including the president were yesterday.


TRUMP: They and others created a fraud in our country with this ridiculous witch hunt where it was proven very strongly, no collusion, no obstruction, no nothing.

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: Mueller and Barr exonerated him on collusion, and the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, and OLC exonerated him on obstruction.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: The president is in a great mood, and he's been in a great mood for a very long time because as he has said for a very long time, there's no collusion, this was a hoax and a witch hunt from the beginning.


MATTINGLY: Framing? We got it.

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: This is now a public relations battle. Of course, the president's relieved because if Mueller's report had come out and said all that other stuff he'd be in a world worth of trouble right now and nothing would ever be the same, point of no return.

But he also sees a moment and is politically right to take advantage of that moment to snuff this out so that no one's talking about it anymore heading interest the 2020 election. He's trying to make it such a dud of an issue for Democrats that they can't keep it alive.

Now, first of all, the Mueller probe and everything that came out of it took down a number of close Trump associates and it's -- I mean, look at the damage in the wake of that probe, I mean, from Michael Cohen to Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn's in trouble, this goes on and on, it's not like nothing came out of this report. But the -- sort of the charging or sort of criminal cloud over the president from this particular probe has now been lifted, and what he's trying to do is take -- use that moment, and what -- I mean, he could use the moment and say I'm not completely out of the woods yet, there were a number of probes with SDNY, he's not going to do that.

[12:35:02] He's going to say, look, you guys were saying this and Robert Mueller didn't find that. Can we please stop talking about this now and move on?

MATTINGLY: Yes, hedging doesn't really seem like his style. First time in the past three years.

LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: You know, there's also an effort by the White House to make Democrats seem like if they continue these investigations and of course they are continuing a number of investigations into President Trump, his family, entities on Capitol Hill, they look like they're pursuing his favorite term of art, witch hunt. You know, I'm not sure how well that's going to stick. I have to tell you as someone who spent a fair amount of time at these Democratic primary presidential events, this is just not something that comes up. When these candidates have a town hall meeting, people are asking about healthcare, they're asking about guns, they're asking about climate change. They're not really asking about impeachment, and I also think this is not -- the attorney general's interpretation of the Mueller report is not changing any minds. It's hard to imagine the Democratic voter who said, well, who is saying, OK, I thought he's a criminal but now this report comes out and I don't think he's a criminal anymore.

I mean, most of those voters are pretty set in their views of the president. So the place to really watch for political impact is these suburban swing voters who played such a big role as you were reporting in the midterms, and they're voting on the president's character. So you know it's --

MATTINGLY: Yes. The numbers (INAUDIBLE) it feels like everything is baked in but --


MATTINGLY: -- from your reporting, how the Democrats balance this? They know right now there is a PR war and I think some of their members were a little bit downtrodden over the course of the last couple of days. Where are they now on how this goes forward?

HEATHER CAYGLE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: I think -- so yesterday, we saw Speaker Pelosi try to rally her troops essentially. They were -- a lot of them were dejected, there was no smoking gun in the summary and stuff like that. And she was, like, guys, keep your head up, publicly, let's pivot, let's talk about healthcare and climate change, things that make Republicans uncomfortable and make them go on defense.

And privately, you know, we're going to continue all of these investigations that are happening on the Hill. And she said, quote, let's get the goods and go from there. And, you know, she's been warning for months, like, we're not going to have a smoking gun in the Mueller report, we need to slow down on impeachment and things like that, and we really saw that she was vindicated this weekend.

MATTINGLY: Yes, I believe she also said, relax.

CAYGLE: Yes, right.

MATTINGLY: Do you want to know how happy the president was yesterday? It was actually his idea to go on Capitol Hill and go into the Republican lunch. He wasn't initially invited, they called over to Senate Republicans that the president is showing up, remove your next guest.

So, how long does that sustain? And I think you talked about ACA, you talked ObamaCare, it seems like news cycle goes so fast. How long does this hold? TARINI PARTI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BUZZFEED NEWS: I think we'll get a preview of that tomorrow when the president is in Michigan at a MAGA rally. I think we'll see how he uses the post-Mueller wrapping up messaging in a district that voted for him but then also voted for the Democratic governor in 2018. So I think it'll be interesting to see how he balances healthcare and Mueller while he's out on the campaign trail.

MATTINGLY: And I should note, Jeff Sessions was asked about the report. Elaina Plott over the Atlantic tweeted out, "Asked if he wanted to comment on Barr's review of the Mueller report, Jeff Sessions texted, 'Beautiful day in Alabama! No, not now. War Eagle!'

But Alabama fans will tie, got some issues there. Richard Shelby, the senior senator from Alabama would not appreciate what his former colleague had to say.

All right, up next, a bedside clock counting the days until Trump's term expires. Just one detail from a new book on former First Lady Barbara Bush. And a few others when we come back.


[12:42:40] MATTINGLY: Topping our political radar, and this is something everyone should take the time to pay attention to today. President Trump will be presenting his eighth Medal of Honor today. He will be honoring Army Staff Sergeant Travis Atkins of Montana who was killed while tackling a suicide bomber in Iraq in 2007. His heroic sacrifice saved the lives of three of his fellow soldiers. Atkins was 31-years-old and the father of a young son.

And just weeks before her death last April, former First Lady Barbara Bush said, with Donald Trump in office she didn't really consider herself a Republican anymore. That revelation comes in a new biography from journalist Susan Page. Mrs. Bush also said she kept a, quote, Trump countdown clock on her bedside table given to her as a joke and she blamed the June 2016 trip to the hospital on angst caused by Donald Trump's attacks on her son Jeb during the presidential campaign. And despite her differences with the new president, she did write a letter to Melania Trump welcoming her to the White House.

And Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is testifying before a Senate Appropriation Subcommittee today and facing some tough questions on the recent Boeing 737 MAX crashes. Chao says she's concerned about allegations of coziness between the FAA and Boeing. She was also asked why it took so long to ground the aircraft.

Here's that exchange.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Why it took us so long to ground that plane when we have been the leader in the FAA and we set the standard, gold standard? It looks like we're following now the rest of the world. ELAINE CHAO, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: There was no factual basis upon which to ground the planes. So conversely, if you don't have the factual basis upon which to ground a plane, how do you un-ground a plane?


MATTINGLY: All right, Barbara Bush. It's not a secret the Bush family has some issues with the president. Key takeaways from what we've seen so far from Susan Page's biography?

TALEV: I mean, I can't wait to read it. But I think -- you know, there's -- from the latest revelations, there's kind of two pieces. There's Barbara Bush the mother, the person who has a human reaction to protect her children, to defend their honor and integrity, to feel angry at someone who tries to chip away that legacy. And then there is the Bush family, the establishment, like the ultimate establishment Republican family of our time, of our generation. And the kind of -- the measure of change of the reshaping of the Republican Party and how the establishment has tried to react to it.

[12:45:02] And I think -- I'm not at all surprised that she sent Melania Trump a letter. I mean, this is precisely what establishment people do is they try to preserve the establishment even as they sort of cringe at the changes that the change is representing, you know. So, I think it's going to be a fascinating read.


LERER: President Trump has rebuilt the Republican Party and he's remade it into -- and bought and conquered that party and this is another example of that happening. The old Republican Party is no more. The question is, what happens eventually when the Trump administration comes to an end. What does the party look like then, and that's something we just do not have the answer to.

MATTINGLY: Yes. If you have the answer, you're probably going to (INAUDIBLE).

TALEV: Put in a book, yes.

LERER: I'm out of the prediction business.

MATTINGLY: We all should be after 2016. Look, Susan page is outstanding, I'm really looking forward to reading the book about somebody. I think everybody was keenly aware of her for decades.

All right, up next, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand does what other 2020 candidates have promised to do.


[12:50:11] MATTINGLY: Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand now leads the 2020 PAC in at least one category. She's the first candidate to release her 2018 tax returns. Now a lot of us haven't even filed yet. I believe my list, I'm -- it's like the 17th thing, it's now starred, underlined, it's been there for like six weeks. But with April 16th, it's still a couple of weeks away so I feel like I'm OK. But Gillibrand says by being the first she hopes to encourage other 2020 candidates including President Trump to do the same.


SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want voters to know that I'm beholden to no one. That my values are not for sale and that I'm working only for you. Join me in calling on every presidential candidate to disclose their taxes. This is what transparency and accountability is all about.


MATTINGLY: Now in her public -- published tax returns, Senator Gillibrand reports earning roughly $214,000 through a congressional salary and a book deal. What's the plot -- it seems like -- let's break out, let's do something different. We can -- actually, let's pull up the latest poll numbers we have in terms of where the Democratic field is. And you can see and probably hear from some of the candidates that are in kind of the lower tier at the moment that things like this are helpful to perhaps, get some notice. Is that an accurate assessment, do you think?

LERER: Yes. This is a very crowded field. I believe we're up to 15, it's possible we could get up to closer to 20 by, you know, the time of the first debate in two months or so. And so she, you know, Senator Gillibrand has struggled to get oxygen and she's trying to break out of the PAC. She also was, of course, the congresswoman who represented upstate New York district and her views at that time reflected that. She had more conservative positions on things like immigration and guns. She's now renounced those positions.

But this idea that she has a more conservative background is trailing her a little bit, so I think she's trying to really push the envelope on issues that the liberal base cares about and disclosure and financial disclosure and money and politics and all of this sort of thing is definitely one of them. For the record, I have filed my tax returns.


PARTI: I also think that Gillibrand has been the Democratic candidate who's tried to draw a contrast between herself and Trump. We've seen this over and over again. She had her announcement speech this past weekend outside the Trump Hotel, and obviously, Democrats have been trying to get Trump to release his tax record, so this is kind of another way for her to do that.

MATTINGLY: Yes. And look, we -- it's very clear, no one can ever win the presidency if they don't release their taxes. That's been the (INAUDIBLE).

So, you actually brought up an interesting point though. And we've seen a lot of these, KFile, CNN's KFile had some reporting the other day about some gun issues. The senator has made a sharp pivot over the course of the last decade away from some initial positions. And she was asked about those, and particularly on the gun issue.

Take a listen.


GILLIBRAND: And the truth is I have a very proud rating by the -- of an F by the NRA now. I didn't do the right thing. I mean, I think someone who can't recognize when they're wrong is far more concerning if you can never admit when you're wrong. And not only was I wrong, and not only should I have cared more about gun violence in other parts of my state or other parts of my country, I just didn't. And so now I know I need to be far more thoughtful about all issues.


MATTINGLY: And look, to be clear, the district that she was representing when she was in Congress is a very different district than the broader state of New York. Really -- and particularly at that time, a different place in the country is. But I guess, Heather, my question is, is that going to be problematic going forward? Given the fact, it's been a full decade since she kind of moved away from those positions.

CAYGLE: Yes. I mean, I think that's the big question. I think she's dealing with it in an interesting way because she's taking it head-on and saying look, I was wrong, I'm sorry. Whereas in the past, we've seen some candidates get flustered by their past record and be very defensive. And I think she hopes that by apologizing now, it will neutralize it and move on. You know what I mean?

And so, I think we'll have to see if it keeps coming up or not but.

LERER: Her team also thinks they can make an electability argument around that idea. I mean, the thing that Democ -- we know Democratic primary voters care the most about is beating President Trump. They care about electability, they're just not quite sure what electability looks like, but they -- her team believes that they can make an argument that she can speak to people on the other side because she once had those views but she has the zeal of a convert and -- I mean, we'll see if that works out. We just don't -- we don't know yet.

TALEV: (INAUDIBLE) Joe Biden can take a page from that. Like, get away from the microphone, call Anita Hill and invite her to lunch and have a discreet conversation, see if you can take that and turn in into someone who will become a supporter of yours. That's -- if you're going to make a public statement, make it. You can't like half-way make it.

If you're not -- if you're dipping your toe in the water, do that (INAUDIBLE).

MATTINGLY: (INAUDIBLE) Margaret Talev from Bloomberg. You can reach here at -- no, I'm just kidding. But I had to steal something from one Lisa Lerer during the commercial break, it's early. We'll see what happens. It's early.

All right, up next, an unexpected question on the 2020 campaign trail.


[12:59:30] MATTINGLY: And before we leave this hour, a little lighter moment on the 2020 campaign. Mayor Pete Buttigieg has teased that all signs point to an official candidacy launch soon. But the question this morning was about another presidency. One from, you know, a long time ago. BuzzFeed asked the potential 2020 candidate to weigh in on James Buchanan and if he is the first real gay president.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), LAUNCHED PRESIDENTIAL EXPLORATORY COMMITTEE: Um, it kind of sounds that way, but my gaydar is not great, to begin with, and it definitely doesn't work over long stretches in time. So, I think we'll just let the historians figure that one out.