Return to Transcripts main page


Comey on Trump's Threat to Investigate the Investigators; Trump Punts on Health Care Until after 2020 Election; Tempers Flare over Concerns about White House Security Clearances. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired April 2, 2019 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Because the Attorney General Bill Barr, having seen Robert Mueller punt the adjudication essentially of whether this happened, Barr had said essentially there's no underlying crime of collusion, therefore, there cannot be obstruction. I'm paraphrasing, but that was part of his argument.


KEILAR: What did you think about what Comey said about this?

BROWN: Well, certainly a subtle jab from Comey against the Attorney General Bill Barr, basically saying, when I read his memo to Congress, I didn't understand his legal theory that there needed to be this underlying crime showing collusion and that's what the president was obstructing. He basically was making a point that in a lot of prosecutions people are charged with obstructing an investigation for different reasons, because they are humiliated, various reasons, even if they didn't commit an underlying crime. So Comey basically said he found that confusing.

Now it is important to point out that, in Barr's letter, he said, along with Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, but that was one factor. They made clear to say it wasn't a determining factor, but it was a factor. And it has caught a lot of attention from legal analysts and so forth that they have raised the question of why that was part of the equation for Bill Barr and Rod Rosenstein.

What was also interesting that former Director Comey is sort of confused, like the rest of us, about why Robert Mueller punted essentially to Bill Barr because the regulations -- the reason there's a special counsel is to have someone who is not political, not a political appointee making prosecutorial decisions, so we're all kind of waiting just like Comey is to find out why.

KEILAR: And he -- he brought up the issue, Carrie, of Martha Stewart, for instance, right. He was saying that people go to jail, and a lot of people go to jail without being convicted of the underlying crime. Martha Stewart was not convicted of insider trading, for instance.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right. This was former U.S. attorney, Jim Comey, who was giving that perspective himself as a former assistance U.S. attorney and a U.S. attorney having prosecuted many cases, including that one, and talking about a different legal interpretation than the one that the attorney general and the president's lawyers, I think, are putting forth, which is that there needs to be some underlying crime by the individual who is being accused of obstruction. I do think -- I know everybody is using this phrase that the special counsel is punting to the attorney general. I think we're doing that because the attorney general wrote this four- page letter that made the decision himself and gave his own interpretation. But until we see that underlying report from the special counsel, we don't actually, at least from my perspective, know how the special counsel teed up the issue of obstruction as to whether or not he actually did deliver the report to the attorney general and said this is for you to decide or whether he simply laid out the facts as they were revealed in his investigation and perhaps was expecting that the report be delivered to Congress.



KEILAR: Maybe he was making a decision that Congress would do it or Bill Barr.


BORGER: I mean, the question is whether he wanted the attorney general to make the decision, was, again, you know, a political person, who had written a memo in June of 2018 outlining why he thought the obstruction case was ridiculous, or whether he intend it had for it to go to Congress where it was to be decided by the elected officials. We don't know what Mueller thought. I don't know if that's going to be outlined in his report or not. What we may know from his -- from his report is both sides, and why they couldn't come to a conclusion that, you know, definitively whether this was criminal or not and how he wasn't exonerated but maybe he wasn't guilty of anything criminal. Maybe it was abuse of power. We just don't -- we don't note answer to that, and Comey was very careful about that fade.

KEILAR: He said he was confused.


KEILAR: He certainly --


BORGER: We all are.

KEILAR: He was certainly confused by what Barr describes as Mueller not taking the traditional step of making a call. He said that he didn't take the traditional -- in the letter. He used the word -- the idea of traditional, the traditional step.

But overall, I mean, what was your impression of James Comey in this interview?

BORGER: I think he was being really care from here? I think that he kept talking about giving people the benefit of the doubt, giving Mueller the benefit of the doubt, giving Barr the benefit of the doubt. I think, like everybody else, he wants to take a look at exactly what Mueller wrote because he knows Mueller very well and he knows how thorough he is. And he knows that if Mueller could have come to a conclusion, he probably would have come to a conclusion. And so the big question is, why. Why didn't he? Maybe there was disagreement among the lawyers. We just don't know. But I think, in listening to Comey today, it was clear to me that he wants to know what Mueller knew and why he wouldn't do it, and doesn't want to come to any judgment about it just yet.

KEILAR: He wants to know what's in the report as we all do.


KEILAR: So where are we, Carrie?

[13:35:01] CORDERO: There's a difference between facts that would establish an indication that somebody was obstructing versus facts that would form the basis of a prosecutor being able to prosecute a case. Because under the Department of Justice guidelines, which the special counsel would have been -- would have to follow, a prosecutor can only bring a case if they have a reasonable success on the merits of prosecuting that case. And so we just don't know sort of how many facts there were that would have established a prosecutable case. On the report, there's no time frame under the regulations that dictate how the attorney general has to actually handle this. And so any time frames that are put on the attorney general really are somewhat arbitrary.

KEILAR: Democrats want it.

CORDERO: They do today, in fact.


BROWN: And he was asked by a reporter yesterday, Ross Palombo, Bill Barr was asked, what are you going to do about the Democrat subpoena, and he just kind of smiled and said, we'll follow your law. Not sure what that means, but he said he would release what he's going to release with the redactions mid-April or sooner. But that fight is going to continue after, it's clear.

KEILAR: Pamela Brown, Gloria Borger and Carrie Cordero, thank you so much.

The president punting often health care until after the 2020 election, even though he, along with the White House, promised a plan soon. We're now learning why he changed course.

Plus, drama on the Hill over security clearance concerns at the White House. See what happened between Democrats and Republicans after a whistleblower came forward.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMING, (D-MD), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: She's already seen what has gone on in the White House. She was scared to death.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: It's not like this process has led to classified e-mails being on an unsecured server.

REP. ALEXANDRA OCASIO-CORTEZ, (D), NEW YORK: Folks are suggesting that we are conducting foreign relations with faulty security clearances via WhatsApp. This is ridiculous.



[13:41:16] KEILAR: President Trump now says his new health care plan will just have to wait until after the 2020 election. CNN has learned that the chance -- the change came after several Republican members of the House and Senate spoke directly to President Trump trying to dissuade him. This is according to multiple sources. Just last week, the president called for the courts to strike down Obamacare and declare the GOP will become the party of health care. Well, the president declared that the GOP would become the party of health care as he promised that a new plan was in the works.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wasting no time in calling him out over the about-face. Have a listen.


REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Nixon's secret plan in the war in Vietnam. This is his secret plan. They are not going to pass it until after the 2020 election.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I want to ask you --


PELOSI: If you can view it from Mar-a-Lago.


All week.


KEILAR: Pamela Brown and Gloria Borger back with me now to talk about it.

We're actually learning, Gloria, that the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, was among those.

BORGER: Oh, yes.

KEILAR: This may not be surprising. He doesn't want this to be the issue right now. He talked to the president. But I wonder what we think it is that he said that actually sort of got through the president. BORGER: To summarize what our White House and Hill teams is that he

said to the president, you're going to lose and, by the way, you're going to make us lose. What we ought to be focusing on is the Democrats' Medicare-for-All plan, that prescription drugs costs, which are important to everyone. And, by the way, do you want Republicans to have a debate over health care yet again that will divide us and we could lose in the Senate that wouldn't -- over a plan that might not be able to pass the United States Senate? I think you probably don't, Mr. President. And I think he convinced him when he said losing.

KEILAR: Losing. That was the thing.

BORGER: The president likes winning, and that may have been the key.

KEILAR: And for him personally as well, right?

BORGER: Oh, yes.

KEILAR: Not just for Congress.

BORGER: Absolutely.

KEILAR: It's a problem for both of them.

This president has this habit where he promises a vote on something and promises something after the election, so right now, what he's doing is he's promising there's going to be a vote on health care after the 2020 election. He did this actually with tax cuts before last year's mid-term elections. Here's what he said.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's going to be a tax reduction of 10 percent for the middle class. Business will not enter into it. And this will be on top of the tax reduction that the middle class has already gotten. And we're putting in a resolution probably this week. I think you know about it. And Kevin Brady has been working on it very hard really for a couple of months.


KEILAR: So many details there for something that just never happened.

BROWN: Where is that resolution?

KEILAR: Exactly. The work by Kevin Brady, just disappeared into the ether.


KEILAR: What is to say, when it comes to this health care thing, he doesn't just sort of, poof, it's gone?

BROWN; Yes. I mean, that's exactly right. I don't think that any voters are going to think, OK, right after the election, there's going to be an unveiling of a Republican health care plan. I mean, this is typical Trump, right? He throws things out there and then, all of a sudden, all these people come and try to dissuade him from that and say, what are you doing here. Just this week, let's look at just this week. We obviously have what we've talking with health care and he's backpedaling on that. And then when he said he's going to closes the Mexican border, he's backpedaling on that after aides have talked to him, saying, whoa, this will be really bad for the economy. Now you're seeing his tweets and he's saying now Mexico is really coming to the table more, apprehending more people. I mean, you're even seeing this change in tune after all these aides and have said it's not a good idea.

[13:45:05] KEILAR: No. It was hard to see how that was ever going to happen and perhaps the same can be said with health care. We'll see.

BROWN: Exactly.

KEILAR: Pamela Brown and Gloria Borger, thank you so much.

Coming up, as tempers flare in a hearing on Capitol Hill on security clearances, Democrats are taking first steps to issuing subpoenas for several current and former White House officials. The attorney for the whistleblower who revealed the clearance questions will join us, next.


[13:50:09] KEILAR: A House panel is investigating new concerns about access to the country's most sensitive secrets. The Oversight Committee is looking into a whistleblower's claim that the White House award security clearances to 25 people whose applications have initially been denied.

Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings, the chairman of the committee, praised the whistleblower for coming forward.


CUMMINGS: This lady was scared. You hear me? She's scared. She's small in stature and she's already seen what is going on in the White House. She was scared to death. And she was afraid, sadly, of our Republican colleagues.

I am going to -- and I will do it and I've done it over and over again. And we have a history of doing it. I will protect whistleblowers, period.


KEILAR: Ed Passman is the attorney for Whistleblower Tricia Newbold.

And you heard what Elijah Cummings there, he said your client was, quote, "scared to death." What is she afraid might happen?

ED PASSMAN, ATTORNEY FOR TRICIA NEWBOLD: She's afraid she may lose her job. She's a civil service employee with almost 19 years of service and had never had any prior discipline but under this administration she received first a letter of expectation and then a two-week suspension and, more recently, she's been removed from her position as supervisory adjudication manager.

KEILAR: And she tried multiple times to address these overturning of denial of security clearances internally before going externally. That is very clear.

But I do wonder, as we look at, you know, she spoke at length to the committee. There's 10 pages outlining in a memo the summary of those hours and hours of testimony. Can you tell us who Senior White House Official Number One is and Senior White House Official Number Two is, two of the people who are overturned? These are senior White House officials who were issued denials by her, by your client, and "a first line adjudicator after background investigation revealed significant disqualifying activities, including foreign influence and outside activities and personal misconduct."

PASSMAN: I'm sorry, I cannot reveal that information. First, I'm not positive who they are. But secondly --

KEILAR: Are they still employed? Do you know in the White House?

PASSMAN: I believe they are.

KEILAR: You believe they are.

So 25 people who are overruled, do you know how many, through your client, how many of the 25 are still working in the White House and in the administration?

PASSMAN: No. She didn't know exactly because, you have to realize, when she was interviewed by Elijah Cummings' committee, she didn't have the files with her and she probably adjudicated on several hundred cases during the last couple of years. And without having the files in front of her, she would have no way of knowing which ones they were, except several that stood out because they are very prominent.

KEILAR: So she started keeping a list of the reversals. The number got to 25 where, initially, these were folks who should not, by the normal process, should have gotten security clearances and then they were overruled, she was overruled. In the past, has she ever been overruled under other administrations?

PASSMAN: Just once or twice. She recalled one instance, and when that happened, her supervisor then set forth a rational why he did it and willing to mitigate the risks. She went along with that because it was understandable why he made the decision.

KEILAR: She also outlines -- and we should be clear her boss is not a political appointee. He's a career person. So he's very familiar with the ins and outs of this process of security clearances. She talks about how laying out the reasons for the disapproval or the recommendation of not giving a security clearance, normally, what would happen is, if it is reversed, there's a process of spelling out why the risks would be accepted and what has been done to mitigate it. In these instances, what happened?

PASSMAN: The supervisor just summarily overruled her and never gave her any explanation and refused to discuss with her his rational.

KEILAR: What are the concerns that prompted her to come forward as a whistleblower?

PASSMAN: She was concerned about the risks to national security. A number of reasons why it could be denied a clearance, including foreign contacts, foreign businesses, financial issues, criminal record, drug and alcohol use. And I'm not saying all of these are applicable, but they all pose risks to national security, and that is her major concern. That is her job.

KEILAR: She went back to work, which seems like an unusual step when this is someone who has -- she's pulled back the curtain on the very place where she works. What was that like for her?

PASSMAN: It was very difficult. She was really nervous. She went back to work yesterday after being off for a while. And so far, she's hanging in there. That is all I can say.

[13:55:05] KEILAR: Is it tough?

PASSMAN: It is. Very tough. Because, again, she's a civil service employee working in a political environment. It is a very difficult situation.

KEILAR: Ed, thanks so much. Ed Passman, appreciate you coming in to chat with us.

PASSMAN: Thank you.

KEILAR: With a manhunt underway, police are releasing new details about the suspect in the murder of Grammy-nominated rapper, Nipsey Hussle. What we're learning about their relationship, next.


[14:00:07] BROOKE BALDWIN CNN ANCHOR: Hi. I'm Brooke Baldwin. And you're watching CNN. Thank you for being with me.