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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

U.S. Sharing Nuclear Secrets With Saudi Arabia?; Release of Mueller Report Expected By Mid-April; Sources: McMahon to Leave Post, Join Trump's Political Group; Trump Threatens to Close Border as Soon as Next Week; Trump on Mueller Report: I have Nothing to Hide. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 29, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Just go to CNNHeroes.com, again, CNNHeroes.com.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me on this Friday afternoon.

But stay right here. "THE LEAD" starts right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: We now know when we could see the full Mueller report.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news: new details on plans to release the special counsel's redacted report to Congress, and the attorney general says the president won't be getting his hands on it first.

Dash for cash. We're about to find out which 2020 candidate is winning the fund-raising race and what the numbers could tell us about the battle to take on President Trump.

Plus, giving the Saudis nuclear secrets -- new details of a deal approved by the Trump White House that critics fear could set off of Middle East arms race.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: Welcome to the lead. I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Jake.

Breaking news in our politics lead. The Mueller report will be ready for release by mid-April, maybe even sooner. We are hearing this from Attorney General Bill Barr, who said his team, along with the special counsel, are making the redactions right now.

We're also learning the report is nearly 400 pages' long, not counting exhibits.

CNN justice reporter Laura Jarrett joining me live now.

Tell us what you're learning, Laura LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, the attorney general trying to take the issue of executive privilege off the table.

Of course, there had been some speculation and debate about whether the White House would try to shield parts of this report using the grounds of executive privilege, but Bill Barr saying not so. In his letter to Congress just a short time ago, he says -- quote -- Brianna: "Although the president would have the right to exert executive privilege over certain parts of the report, he has stated publicly that he intends to defer to me. And, accordingly, there will be no plans to submit the report to the White House for a privilege review."

But he does go on to explain that the report is being redacted, as we have reported previously, for grand jury information,as well as ongoing investigations, also to protect the peripheral rights of third parties, whoever that may be, sort of a curious line there.

And he also tries to defend themselves against this accusation that we have heard over the last week that he essentially took 400 pages and condensed them down into his four-page summary, saying, that's not really fair, it was supposed to be a summary of only Mueller's principal conclusions, and that everyone will soon be able to read it on their own, Brianna.

KEILAR: And, Laura, is the attorney general expected to testify about the Mueller report?

JARRETT: Absolutely. He realizes the public interest in this report and what he has to say about it is very strong.

He's offering two dates in this new letter to Congress, May 1 and May 2, throwing them out there for both House and Senate. We will see if they're willing to take him up on it or whether they're going to try to come after some of this information first, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Laura Jarrett, thank you so much for that report.

As we get some new details here, almost 400 pages, we are told, about this Mueller report. And so it really seems that this point as though Attorney General Barr is really trying to be transparent as possible here, at least at this moment in time.

But I would ask all of you if the timing matters for this transparency, and sort of what the effect is of that, having had this four-page summary of the principal findings out already?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it does. Attorney General Barr has been controlling the timing and the narrative all the way to this point.

And he certainly is in saying, this isn't coming out until the middle of April. There are certainly redactions. It's a long report. But it shouldn't take this long. And, believe me, if it were on the Democratic side, it would not take this long.

So I think that we have to be mindful of that. He's not -- I think one of the criticisms of him is that he's not -- he's a biased narrator. He wrote a 19-page memo defending the firing of Comey, essentially, when he was trying out for the job. We need to keep that in mind.

So, hopefully, when this is released, we will see everything we need to see. But there are some categories of redactions that are concerning, and that give him a lot of bandwidth. And I think Democrats and then some will be looking at that and seeing how he uses those, the categories of reductions.

KEILAR: Can he hit the mark of transparency at this point in time, Antonia?

ANTONIA FERRIER, FORMER STAFF DIRECTOR, SENATE REPUBLICAN COMMUNICATIONS CENTER: Sure. Why not?

I mean, at the end of the day, it does take a little bit of time. Maybe it's not at the level that Democrats would like to see, but absolutely. And I think all members of Congress in both parties would actually like to see as much of this as possible. When Senator Cruz and President Trump and all Democrats are unified in saying, more transparency, make it public, that's a good thing.

I understand it's probably not at a level that Democrats would like. They have been calling for this to be made public before it was even -- the report was even initially released. So I think it's not on the timetable Democrats would like, but I think it will be...

KEILAR: But the redactions, the summary, allowing the narrative to kind of be -- not kind of, very much be set.

[16:05:01]

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I feel like focusing on the narrative is in some ways kind of silly.

This is a legal matter, an investigative matter. The narrative, worrying about the press strategy, I think, is less important to me. I think, for 400 pages, to take the time to make sure that what you're releasing is not jeopardizing national security, is not jeopardizing individuals who shouldn't be jeopardized, I think it's perfectly fair.

I think, this idea that Barr is going to put out a summary that is in some way materially different than what Bob Mueller found is crazy, because Bob Mueller's folks are not going to allow a false narrative to be outrageous.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Kristen, he made a conclusion. He made a conclusion. Bob Mueller did not make a conclusion.

(CROSSTALK)

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But, in the first few days, it's even been a mystery how many pages the report is. And let's -- having lived through this once before in the Clinton administration, that report went to Congress within two days, 18 boxes, all of the information.

(CROSSTALK)

FINNEY: Hold on. It was a different statute. And lucky for Donald Trump it was a different statute, because he got out of having to testify, didn't he?

And so when we're talking about we've seen roughly 50 to 100 words of what we're -- first, we heard yesterday it was 300 page. Now we think it's about 400 pages. I have to believe they also saw the CNN poll that suggests that the American people vigorously want to see all of the information. They want Congress to continue to press.

That's 56 percent of independents, as well as Democrats, who say, we need to see all of the information. And so I have to believe that, while they're -- and the narrative doesn't matter, like the fact that -- and I said this on Sunday -- the fact that Bob -- Bill Barr was able to say, on Friday, I'm going to give you a summary before the end of the weekend meant we were all sitting here waiting for that summary.

Then that summary, again, 50 words out of now 400 pages, we learned. And , in some instances, we don't even know what the rest of the paragraph says around, for example, why was it that was it that Bob Mueller...

(CROSSTALK)

SOLTIS ANDERSON: And how great for us that, in mid-April, we will know?

(CROSSTALK)

FINNEY: In mid-April, we will still see some version of what Barr decides to show us, unless he gives everything over to Congress.

(CROSSTALK)

PSAKI: That's the piece, I think, to watch, because there are four categories of redactions that he's outlined.

And three of them are understandable, sources and methods, grand jury, ongoing investigations. It's the fourth that is -- I can't remember how it's exactly defined. I wish it was in front of me, but kind of that's so broad. It's not a legal definition of redaction.

And that's where he has a lot of discretion.

(CROSSTALK)

FERRIER: He's going to go before Congress, though.

I mean, he -- we already know Senator Graham -- and I'm sure Democrats in the House, he's going to go up. So any of these concerns will be aired in full public viewing.

(CROSSTALK)

FINNEY: It took us 50 years before we learned who Deep Throat was.

So this whole spin about how, well, of course he's going to tell us everything we need to know.

(CROSSTALK)

SOLTIS ANDERSON: You think this is a Deep Throat kind of situation? Is that really what you're suggesting?

FINNEY: I'm suggesting that there are parts of the information that we may not see for quite some time.

FERRIER: Well, let's not speculate on that until we actually see the report, back to Kristen's point. We will have the most opportunity to have -- and everyone wants it to be released. And it will, and Mr. Barr will go before Congress and everyone will get to attack him or not.

KEILAR: The White House is not -- this is key, especially to your side -- the White House is not getting an advanced copy of this.

FINNEY: Well, but hold on.

We know that -- from what I have heard, and I think there's been some reporting around this, we know that there were some conversations between DOJ and Mueller several weeks ago. Some have suggested that that is part of why the president had his flip-out about John McCain, is that they did have a sense of what some of the principal conclusions were going to be.

So just because they didn't say, here you go, or here's your briefing, doesn't mean they don't have a sense of what's in there or how this process is proceeding.

KEILAR: But Democrats make the argument that you need to see the entire report, because while there may be things that don't rise to the legal level of collusion, there could be a lot of unsavory things in there that do not play well for the president.

And he's not going to be able -- the White House is not going to be able to make an argument about executive privilege. And that is key, isn't it?

PSAKI: Yes, it sounds like it is.

However, Attorney General Barr is his handpicked person, as it works always for attorney general. And he has shown himself to be a defender of Donald Trump's actions, including firing Comey at the time, writing a 19-page memo.

KEILAR: You think he's acting de facto in a way of scrubbing executive privilege information from the report? PSAKI: Well, he made a decision that Mueller didn't decide in the four-page memo he released.

So that's why I'm concerned, and I think people should be concerned, about his categories of redactions, because it leaves him an enormous amount of discretion.

FERRIER: I mean, I would just say, as to Comey, I -- look, I think Democrats and Republicans are unified in not liking the man. I'm sorry, you guys hated him when he went in July of 2016. And Trump and all of his supporters hate him now.

SOLTIS ANDERSON: And the polls back you up on that fact.

FERRIER: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

PSAKI: That doesn't mean he should have been fired when he was leading an investigation.

FERRIER: I understand that. But it is also absolutely the president's prerogative to be able to fire any member of his Cabinet.

[16:10:03]

I agree with you. The circumstances were not exactly what one normally expects. But it is his discretion. And I think that's what Mr. Barr was actually just arguing.

(CROSSTALK)

FERRIER: Mr. Barr was not saying, this is all great way that Donald Trump fired him. He was saying he has the authority to do that as the commander in chief of the country.

PSAKI: But I think that is -- if he were firing the EPA administrator, that is one thing. He fired a person who was investigating him. That is why it is...

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Any moment, President Trump is going to be making an announcement, as he is launching dizzying attacks on his opponents and threatening to shut down the southern border in just a matter of days.

Then, the United States accused of sharing some of America's top nuclear secrets with the same country accused of killing a U.S. resident and "Washington Post" journalist.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: We're back with the politics lead.

[16:15:00] A source tells CNN that Linda McMahon, the head of the Small Business Administration, is planning to announce as soon as today that she is stepping down. McMahon is a Trump Cabinet original and headed to the president's outside political group, according to sources. But as CNN's Abby Phillip reports as one cabinet official gets ready to leave, another is trying to grin and bear it after the president reverses course.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After a week of publicly and privately disagreeing with several cabinet members.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have overridden my people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: President Trump is losing one of the few members of his team that he never publicly disagreed with.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: She's done a fantastic job. Linda McMahon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon who once ran world wrestling entertainment is leaving to take a senior role at America First, an outside political group that supports the president. This is after the president's public split with another member of his cabinet education secretary Betsy DeVos and her plans to scrub federal funding for the Special Olympics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I just told my people I want to fund the Special Olympics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: DeVos who spent three days defending the defunding decision, today trying to laugh off the hard days on the job.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm glad you're Education secretary. Are you?

BETSY DEVOS, EDUCATION SECRETARY: I am indeed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good.

DEVOS: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good. DEVOS: Most days I am.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: With the clearing cloud of Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, President Trump gearing up for a fight with Democrats over health care.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: But doing something that is going to be much less expensive then Obamacare for the people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: White House officials acknowledged that they don't have a plan ready to go to replace Obamacare. If a lawsuit seeking to throw it out succeeds. But the president claimed there is a group of Republicans that include senators Bill Cassidy, Rick Scott and John Barrasso working on an alternative. When asked, aides could not confirm that there's any organized effort to draft a health care replacement bill. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also staying away from the fight telling "Politico," "I look forward to seeing what the president is proposing and what he can work out with the speaker." The president is also renewing his fight for a border wall.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: -- that it come in into that country we're not letting them in our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: Vowing to shut down the border as early as next week and dismissing concerns that shutting down the border could harm trade.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: All trade. Mexico is making absolutely a fortune with the United States. We'll keep it close for a long time. I'm not playing games.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: President Trump has made this threat to close the border before. But he's never actually done it in part because lots of people here in Washington in his administration and including many lawmakers have told him that doing that could cause economic damage. But at the same time, Brianna, Department of Homeland Security officials are saying that they are moving resources from parts of entry to deal with an influx of immigrants between parts of entry who are crossing illegally. But as of right now they have not yet closed any parts of the border. Brianna? KEILAR: I asked the deputy director of Customs and Border Protection today about this and he completely sidestepped the question. So that might tell you about what they do or don't want. Abby Phillip at the White House, thank you.

Let's talk about Linda McMahon moving over to this pack affiliated with President Trump. Is this a smart move for her and for the pack? What are you reading into this?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST AND POLLSTER: Well, this tends to be the place where many folks upon leaving the administration go. They remain supportive of the president and want to be a part of his real election experts without actually moving all the way over to formal campaign. So this is sort of a landing place when someone leaves the administration is a pretty common step for the Trump administration. I don't think anything about this raises any kind of unusual concern. And I think she's a woman in Donald Trump's cabinet focused on economic issues. The economy has done pretty well under this president. So it's not as though she is levering under any cloud of scandal. I mean the economy has done well. To me, this just sounds like someone who's been in the administration for over two years and is deciding to do something else.

KEILAR: But if she has been in the administration and she hasn't had a cloud of scandal over her. She's one of a few. Why not stick around?

ANTONIA FERRIER, FORMER STAFF DIRECTOR, SENATE REPUBLICAN COMMUNICATIONS CENTER: Because you know what, Linda McMahon, I'll tell you. We did some work with her during tax reform and she is a complete matter badass. I think she's fantastic. I think she was under- utilized. She did a lot of stuff around the country. She won successful, very interesting business, WWE as a woman and very male dominated business. She has got big plans ahead I think for her and for Donald Trump. I think it's a great move for her. I think it makes a lot of sense and I think it's great.

KEILAR: OK. So let's talk about Betsy DeVos because she spoke today at an event. She was asked about how she feels about her job. Of course this is after she just had a dust-up with the president over the Special Olympics. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm glad you're education secretary. Are you?

BETSY DEVOS, EDUCATION SECRETARY: I am indeed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good.

DEVOS: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good.

DEVOS: Most days I am.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: Maybe not this week.

(LAUGHTER)

KEILAR: Quick on her feet there to inject a little humor into what must have been a pretty tough week for her. She had to defend the cut of Special Olympics funding in the budget and then the president just said he was overriding her. At least she did rhetorically, undercut her for sure.

[16:20:05] KAREN FINNEY, FORMER SENIOR SPOKESWOMAN, HILLARY CLINTON 2016 CAMPAIGN: It seems like she knew she was setup this week. I mean, come on, the fact that the president didn't know. I mean, you know, these budget documents, right? We always say there is statement of values, right? So are you really -- are we really trying to say that the president or someone in the president's office didn't have any idea what was going to be in the budget? And this came as a total surprise? If it did, that's not good. If it didn't, which I don't think it did. It set him up for his favorite thing which is to be come in and be the good guy and you know override his people and say, I'm going to save this programs.

KEILAR: So when he says, as you've said, he said I didn't know about this until Thursday. You just don't --

FINNEY: Really?

KEILAR: I mean -

FINNEY: Really?

KEILAR: You just don't take him --

FINNEY: He's not someone who's known to tell the truth very often. So, yes, I think it's more likely --

KEILAR: He doesn't look good admitting that either though.

FERRIER: I believe it that he didn't know. I mean budgets are massive documents that across - you know that span the entire federal government. I can easily see him not knowing it. Was it bone headed to cut the Special Olympics in the budget? Absolutely. I mean it is just to your point a statement of values. And it looks pretty stupid and pretty poor. Congress never would have gone along with it but at the end of the day it was an embarrassment.

KEILAR: So the president is expected to pick Morgan Ortagus to be the new State Department spokesperson. This is a pretty prominent role. This is according to sources. And Ortagus was a contributor to Fox News. She's replacing Heather Nauert, also Fox News alum. You served in this exact role, Jen. And I wonder what you think about this pick and just this constant polling from Fox News for these positions within the Trump administration.

JEN PSAKI, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: Look, I don't know her. But I think this should be separated from a concerning alignment between the Trump administration and Fox News at the highest levels. She has a national security background. The big test of this job is whether you can check your politics when you walk in the door. And if she can do that and if she has a close relationship with the secretary and if she travels with him and if she has seat at the table, then she can be strong and effective at this job. So I think we should give her a shot. That doesn't separate from the fact that I and many people are quite concerned by the kind of state-run media situation that is happening between Fox News and the White House. But I think she's someone we should give a shot in this position.

ANDERSON: And if I could just say I am someone who knows her. And she to sort of just classify her as she's a Fox News contributor as the primary bio line -- I think really undersells a lot of what I hope she will be able to bring to the administration. She is coming in not just with experience from the communications side, being someone who is able to be a good spokesperson for her own views in her role as a Fox contributor, but being able to pivot. And now, it won't be about her own views, it will be about the views of the administration being able to bring those skills plus her foreign policy experience. I am excited about this pick.

KEILAR: The president praises his favorite network. He has used the Fox ranks as we mentioned, to populate the administration including cabinet positions, ambassadorships, top communications jobs in the White House, other departments. Are there any risks - are there any risks associated with this?

FERRIER: Not for the president, no.

It is his network. He is not a huge fan of this network. Hate to say but that's OK. For him he loves Fox. And so, there is absolutely no downside.

KEILAR: He watches a lot of CNN.

(LAUGHTER)

FERRIER: That is absolutely true. He absolutely does as has been made clear by his tweeting. But look, I think at the end of the day from him there is no downside. If you look at where Republican voters actually get a lot of their news, it is from Fox. At the end of the day, there is also a lot of very solid and good people who do work at Fox. I know we are on CNN right so this feels strange saying all of this. Love CNN. We obviously do. But I don't think at the end of the day there's that much downside. And to Kristen's point, it is really about what she can do -

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: But the flow - let me ask you the flow - OK. Let's - looking at all of you the flow is normally you're in politics then you come in to pond the tree, right? It's not always as you look sort of broadly that you're in maybe pond the tree and then you go more prominently in the politics.

PSAKI: It's funny that I'm the defender but - (LAUGHTER)

KEILAR: I mean more broadly not just -

PSAKI: She had worked. I mean with -- if you look at her jobs she had worked in governments before. So she is somebody who has become a pundit. She has worked in -

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: This one makes more sense --

PSAKI: It does. I think there are other - their relationship that is concerning to me is the fact that Fox anchors are people who portray themselves as journalists are actually just talking heads for the administration. That's absurd and unacceptable. But I don't think that should reflect on her and her ability to do -- or us allowing her to try to do this job.

KEILAR: Show me the money. A critical fundraising deadline for the 2020 candidates is coming. And someone is already preparing for a potential buzz kill.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:29:23] KEILAR: Moments ago, President Trump answered questions from reporters on Attorney General Barr and the Mueller report. Let's listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: -- to Congress and to the public. Do you agree with that decision and do you want the White House to take a look over --

TRUMP: Well I have great confidence in the attorney general. And if that's what they would like to do I have nothing to hide. This was a hoax. This was a witch hunt. I have absolutely nothing to hide. And I think a lot of things are coming out with respect to the other side but I have a lot of confidence in the attorney general.

QUESTION: Are you going to be talking to go President Putin -

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: All right. He is saying he has nothing to hide. He was actually - didn't answer what he was asked which is about the White House looking over it for privilege. And he was asked about the fact that this report is going to be released redacted.