Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Soon: Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) Kentucky Invokes Nuclear Option To Push Through Lower-Level Trump Nominees More Quickly; New York Times: Some On Mueller's Team Say Report More Damaging For Trump Than Attorney General Indicated; Washington Post: Mueller Investigators Says Evidence On Obstruction Is Alarming And Significant; Democrats Demand Six Years Of Trump Tax Returns From IRS; Rep. Mike Quigley, (D- IL), Interviewed Regarding Mueller Report; Rep. James Comer (R) Kentucky Says Every High Level Politician Should Disclose Tax Returns. Aired 10-10:30 ET

Aired April 4, 2019 - 10:00   ET

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


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: -- the Senate to look like the House.

[10:00:01]

Guys?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Yes, checks and balances designed by the founders for a reason.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Yes.

SCIUTTO: We'll see if these arrive. Of course, the next Congress, whoever controls it would have the same powers.

HARLOW: There you go.

SCIUTTO: Manu Raju, thanks very much.

HARLOW: All right, top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

As if the stakes, the pressure, the drama surrounding the Mueller report weren't high enough, some new and powerful voices are weighing in this morning. They're not happy. The New York Times and Washington Post both reporting that some inside the Special Counsel's deep bench of lawyers, investigators and others are voicing their frustrations over the Attorney General's four-page recap of their two years and some 300 to 400 pages of work.

One source tells The Washington Post that Mueller's still confidential report is much more acute than Bill Barr suggested in his summary. Evidence gathered on obstruction, The Post says, is, quote, alarming and significant.

HARLOW: We'll have much more on that in a second. But this morning, we're also following the most consequential move so far in that fight to see the President's tax returns. The Democratic Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has formally made a request that only three people in the country can actually legally make, whether that request will be fulfilled, that's an entirely separate matter. First, though, to what The New York Times calls the simmering frustrations on the Mueller team and escalating pressure on Barr.

Kara Scannell, our colleague in Washington, has more on that. Look, they're all unnamed, so sources here, but The Times says these are folks, so that'd be lawyers or investigators on Mueller's team.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Yes, that's right, Poppy. We have both The New York Times and The Washington Post saying investigators from Mueller's team, which could be the attorneys or the FBI agents, have expressed their frustration to associates, and this frustration deals with how they -- both reports say, about how the Mueller investigation report is being portrayed through the Barr letter.

Now, Bill Barr, the Attorney General, wrote a four-page letter to Congress summarizing Mueller's report, which spans about 400 pages. So there is some frustration among the investigators of their conclusions and how they were portrayed.

Now, both news reports say that there were summaries that were written by Mueller's team and that some of the attorneys and investigators with Mueller's team had expected those to be made public. And they were written with an eye toward being made public. Now, Bill Barr did not do that and he has that discretion as the Attorney General.

The one area that The Washington Post said that the Mueller's team, at least some of them, were frustrated with was the issue of obstruction of justice. And that goes to that question where The Washington Post says that the associates who had heard from the investigators said that their findings and evidence about obstruction of justice and the president's role was alarming and significant, and that was not reflected in Bill Barr's report.

In Bill Barr's letter, he says that there was evidence on both sides, and that Mueller's team did not reach a conclusion. And then Barr himself reached a conclusion. This, of course, comes as the President has used Bill Barr's letter to say he's been completely exonerated.

And as democrats on the Hill want to see the full report, the House Judiciary Committee voted yesterday to authorize a subpoena for the full report and the underlying materials. It's not clear when the House Chairman Jerry Nadler is going to move forward with that, but this is all now coming together and peaking at a moment where there's a lot of pressure to see what the full report is, especially as there is now some frustration that maybe is portrayal is not how Mueller's team would have done it.

Jim, Poppy?

SCIUTTO: Kara Scannell, thanks very much.

Let's discuss now with CNN Legal Analyst, Shan Wu. Shan, good morning, always good to talk to you.

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Hi, Jim.

SCIUTTO: The simplest question here, based on what you see in those two stories, is it fair to say that Bill Barr got the summary of the Mueller report wrong?

WU: I don't know we can say he got it wrong, but I think we can say with increasing certainty that he was exercising in full his sort of editorial powers on it to characterize it. And the fact that there were summaries prepared by Mueller's team, those are very, very careful lawyers. We've seen during the two years how careful and meticulous they are with their wordsmithing any time they talk to the public. If they were preparing summaries with the notion that it could be seen, then, really, it's very, very troubling that Barr wouldn't have used more of their summary.

SCIUTTO: Yes, you make a great point there, because some of the pushback to the story from Justice Department officials is that, well, in those summaries, there were still grand jury information, classified information, et cetera. Do you find it hard to believe that the Mueller team, with the experience they have, would let something like that slide into a summary that appears to be intended or had been intended for public release?

WU: Yes. I find that very hard to believe. They may not have been writing it as a press statement release, and so there might still -- I think one of the reports says that there might have been a little bit of redaction that still might need to be put in there.

[10:05:01]

But they would not have been putting into the summaries raw material that they know somebody else less able than them, meaning less versed in the investigation, would have to do all of that redacting.

Grand jury testimony is pretty easy to redact. You can tell what they testify to. But what arose from the grand jury, classified, sensitive things, they were in the best position to make those calls. So it seems odd that they would have punted that to someone else.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Let me ask you this, the big picture. So according to these stories, if it's true, Mueller summarized his own findings with the intention of making those summaries at least able to be seen in the public view. The A.G. looks at that and says, no, I'm going to do my own summary. I'm going to summarize the summary.

Under the law, did the Attorney General go beyond his powers to do so? Because I thought that the Attorney General had to exercise caution and oversight, say, listen, I've got to protect and make sure there's not damaging information, that it's not classified. But if the Special Counsel already took that out and then the Attorney General went further, does that go beyond his powers?

WU: It probably doesn't go beyond them to the letter of the law, because, as we have heard a lot about the distinction between the current regs versed the old counsel statute, it's not necessarily part of Mueller's job. It's not, as a matter of law, to produce a public report. His report is only going to the Attorney General. So that does at least legally give Barr that discretion as to what he wants to say, if anything. I mean, obviously, he could have said I'm saying nothing about this, but that's politically and realistically impossible. So I don't know if he's over stepped his bounds, but it certainly seems like he is acting more like a, potentially, political appointee than, as an impartial, Attorney General the way he's acting about this.

And I know that the Justice Department is putting out the argument that it's the A.G. that had to be concerned about avoiding the James Comey-like area, and that, fair enough, he has that responsibility. But, again, from what we know about Mueller and his team and from what they have done, they would not have been out there. They are not going to be just putting out damaging information for the heck of it.

SCIUTTO: They're pretty darn careful, I'll tell you that, in dealing with them over the past two years. So it's hard to imagine just kind of letting something slip. Shan Wu, thanks very much.

WU: Sure, Jim.

HARLOW: All right. So long before there was a Special Counsel report or a Special Counsel controversy was simmering, the President was waffling over his tax returns.

SCIUTTO: Outright refusing to release them, as all presidents, as Nixon had. Now, with democrats in charge of the House of Representatives, a Committee Chair has finally taken the one step that could show lawmakers what the President has refused to show anybody, maybe she you and me.

CNN's Lauren Fox is on Capitol Hill. So tell us about the process now. He's got the power, the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, under the law. But we know the President is going to challenge this.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL: Well, that's right. And this is a 1920s era law. And I just spoke with the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Richard Neal. And he basically said the reason this took several months was because they had to make sure that they had the case locked and ready to go when this goes to the federal courts, which they expect to happen.

Here's what Neal told me just a few minutes ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RICHARD NEAL (D), M.A.: Position from day one, as you recall, was that this would be measured. This is likely to wind its way through the federal court system, and we wanted to make sure that the case that we constructed was in fact one that would stand up under the critical scrutiny of the federal courts.

(END VIDEO CLIP) FOX: And, of course, we asked Neal what happens if his deadline is not met by next week. He asked the IRS to turn over six years of the President's tax returns for both personal and business returns. We asked what happens if he doesn't meet it? And Richard Neal basically said, we will follow up and then there will be next steps. Now, he didn't clarify specifically what those steps would be, but he told me, quote, surely, there will be one.

So you can expect that this is going to be a long and protracted fight to get the president's tax returns. And even if democrats on this committee can get them, it's still a question of if the public would even ever see them or if other committee chairmen would see them. All of that still to be determined and this is not ending today. We expect it to go on for much longer.

Jim and Poppy?

HARLOW: All right. Lauren, thank you. Kudos to you, by the way. 15 terms in Congress and you do not see Richard Neal doing many interviews, whatsoever. I know you were up there in his office the day after the midterms, so good reporting on breaking this. Thank you very much.

Let's continue the conversation with Jackie Kucinich. She's the Washington Bureau Chief of The Daily Beast. Good morning, my friend.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: Good morning.

HARLOW: What I find so interesting about Neal being the voice here is that this guy is not a flamethrower. This guy doesn't like to show off. This guy doesn't even like to go on TV very often and talk about things. This is a guy who is about the work. And I wonder if that is helpful to democrats here in terms of making sure this doesn't look like a, quote/unquote, witch hunt.

[10:10:06]

KUCINICH: So he was under a lot of pressure to do this a lot sooner. He was getting pushed both at home and in Congress to really go after the President's tax returns. So to your point, the fact that he did take his time and make sure that this was something that was rock solid, that the Congress does have the authority to do under the provision Lauren mentioned there that is in the tax code that allows tax rating committees to request the tax returns for any American. It's just never been tested with a president because, you know, presidents usually release their tax returns.

So this was kind of the original question about then-candidate Trump that we knew at some point, if the democrats ever took over, would be raised and would be pursued. This was a foregone conclusion.

HARLOW: Listen to this from a very conservative Republican Congressman, James Comer, of Kentucky, to us just this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. JAMES COMER (R), K.Y.: I think that every high level politician should disclose their tax returns. I'm one of eight members of the House of Representatives that have disclosed my tax returns. It's ironic that so many in the House of Representatives on the democratic side are calling for the President to disclose his taxes when they don't in fact disclose theirs. I have been here two full years and I have done that both years and will continue to do that, but it's not the law. If it were the law, I am confident that President Trump would do that.

So President Trump is not breaking the law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: He is wrong on the last point. I mean, it is part of IRS code. But just to his point about every high level politician should do it from a republican who's voted with the President 94% of the time, significant?

KUCINICH: That is significant. Because we're talking about the person who helps steer policy, if not, makes policy when you're talking about executive orders, but he's also signing the laws. So where his money is and what he's investing in is relevant, whether or not, I know the White House would say that this is a witch hunt and intrusive and democrats are just trying to embarrass the President. This is bigger than him. This is about -- this is about norms, and it's about transparency and what is behind the authority that is wrested in that office.

HARLOW: Politically speaking, Jackie, yes, democrats have the right to investigate all of these things. I'm just wondering what you think the most prudent course is for democrats. And they've got this fight over the tax returns, they have got the subpoenas over the Mueller report, and they've got the subpoenas over, you know, what the whistleblower says in the White House's 25 people who got their security clearance in a way that they, you know, shouldn't have, right? So --

KUCINICH: And there's one more too. Elijah Cummings yesterday said that he is going to request financial documents from another source affiliated with the President. I believe it's one of his -- it's not an auditor but another entity that has financial records of the President. So he got a kind of a triple-pronged attack yesterday looking for these records.

Politically, this isn't going away. Let's not even talk about Congress. We're about to head into 2020, and the President's tax returns are going to be front and center again because it's a question that hasn't been answered. And when you have that, if you're a democratic candidate, why wouldn't you -- if you've released your tax returns, why wouldn't you make that an issue? It didn't work last time, but who knows about it this time?

HARLOW: Right. I do wonder, finally, if, you know, if democrats should tread cautiously in terms of how much focus they put on these four things that you just laid out when we know what the number one issues are for Americans in terms of healthcare, et cetera, and prioritizing those, especially for the 2020 candidates.

KUCINICH: I think you're right. And I think that when they're on the campaign trail, you are hearing more about healthcare, which is probably one of the reasons the President backtracked on that fairly quickly. And so that is the balance that they are going to have to, and that particularly with Nancy Pelosi and the leaders in the House are going to have to try to walk because you're right.

Outside of the beltway, this isn't being talked about as much by your average everyday Americans who aren't necessarily primary voters, right? We're talking about House races. You're talking about Senate races, particularly those marginal districts that were majority makers in the House, they're not going to be focused on this, and they're going to be drawing distinctions to their accomplishments on kitchen table issues rather than some of these investigations.

HARLOW: Jackie Kucinich, good to have you. Thanks.

KUCINICH: Thanks, Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Still come, Ethiopian investigators say the pilots did everything they could, in fact, everything they were told to do by Boeing to prevent a Boeing jet from crashing. So what happens next in the safety crisis plaguing the manufacturer?

[10:15:02]

Plus, in just minutes, democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg takes the stage, this as he drops new hints about whether he's going to make a potential 2020 run official. I got my money on something there.

HARLOW: I think, yes, he's going to. We'll see.

And things get heated on the Hill. Democratic lawmakers confront Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta over his handling of a sex trafficking case back when he was a federal prosecutor. You're going to hear that tense exchange ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:49:51] SCIUTTO: This morning, signals of tension between the Attorney General, Bill Barr, and the Special Counsel's office. The New York Times reporting that some members of Mueller's team say their report was more damaging for the President than Barr indicated in his summary.

[10:20:03]

Here to discuss, Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois. He serves on the Intel Board Committee in this investigation and Appropriations Committee as well. Congressman, thank you for taking the time this morning.

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), I.L.: Good morning. SCIUTTO: So first question here. Are you concerned based on the stories in The Post and The Times that the Attorney General whitewashed the Special Counsel's report with his summary?

QUIGLEY: I don't doubt at all that the special -- that Mr. Barr did that. I mean, the fact of the matter is, he was hired to do that. He applied for this job with a 19-page memo saying he agreed with -- he disagreed with the theory of law about the obstruction in this case. So I think he was put in place by the White House to do exactly what he did, it was to keep this report from getting to the American public and arguing against obstruction, despite a two-year investigation which said he couldn't be exonerated.

SCIUTTO: The line in The Washington Post was notable to me because this indicates, and I'll read it, so some members of the office were particularly disappointed that Barr did not release summary information the Special Counsel team had prepared. It appears that the special counsel summarized their own evidence, scrubbing it because they had been around a while, I know you can't put confidential information in there or grand jury information. Scrubbed it for public consumption, but the Special Counsel did not release that summary. He, in effect, summarized the summary. If Bill Barr did that, did he overstep his duties as Attorney General?

QUIGLEY: Well, absolutely. And I believe what he did that was worse is he misled the American public. That's why this report needs to get out. It's a complete form to Congress. There's a process in place to protect classified information. There's a process in place to deal with the grand jury information. We can do all that and the American public can find out exactly what the Mueller report is telling us.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, because, as you know, the Special Counsel law is different from the independent counsel law that ruled during, for instance, the Clinton investigation, Ken Starr, et cetera. So the Special Counsel is, by chain of command, under the Attorney General to some degree here. Based on your understanding of the law and as Americans should understand the law, does Barr have more leeway to do this kind of thing under the Special Counsel law as it stands today?

QUIGLEY: It's conceivable that what you're saying is accurate. It doesn't get past the fact that both parties have agreed that the American public has a right to information when it's in the public interest. So whether or not the law favors Barr in some aspects of what he is talking about versus the fact that the law and the Justice Department regulations all say if it's in the interest to the American public for this information to get out, it should. I think that's more important than any nuance he might be using.

SCIUTTO: Okay. Other information that the American public might have the right to see, the President's taxes, one of your colleagues, of course, now demanding them as the law grants him the power to do as the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. The President again falling back on, well, I'm under audit, as an excuse. As you know, Michael Cohen testified on the Hill, he doesn't believe the President is under audit, that, in fact, the President just wants to avoid oversight of his taxes and avoid the possibility the of having to pay tax penalties. Who do you believe? Do you believe the President's excuse for not releasing his taxes?

QUIGLEY: I think the President has used any excuse he can to be the head of the most opaque administration in our country's history. He is not revealing anything anytime soon. And he's never been held accountable for anything he's done in his life. The only way we're going to know how to move forward on any of these investigations or how to proceed, as Chairman Neal is talking about, with requiring that a President gets audited is to see how these function and how they go forward.

The fact is, what Mr. Neal is attempting to do here has nothing to do with the Russia investigation. But it's indicative, it's evidence of, it's just a part of a pattern of behavior of opaqueness. And we talk about what's taking place at Mar-a-Lago, I introduced legislation to make those visitor logs available to the American public. Wherever the President is, if he's conducting official business, the American public has a right to know who's attempting to influence him. They have fought these efforts. President Obama made those records available.

SCIUTTO: Final question, if I can, because this just gets to the politics of this. As you know, some of the more recent polling has shown that Americans, I don't know if losing interest is the right term, but there is less interest at least in investigating the President, even some waning interest in the ongoing Mueller investigation, even as all these important questions hang out there.

[10:25:01]

And I just wonder do you see less support among your constituents for making the next two years about investigating the President? Are your constituents running out of patience?

QUIGLEY: I think my constituents understand that we're capable of doing more than one thing at a time. Clearly, we won the house back on policy, on healthcare and other issues like it. But it doesn't mean the American public doesn't need to know exactly what took place. We remember four months before Richard Nixon resigned, the majority of Americans felt he shouldn't resign and they were getting tired of the Watergate investigation. These are long, complicated investigations. But the truth must come out.

SCIUTTO: Fair enough. Congressman Mike Quigley, thanks for joining us today.

QUIGLEY: Any time. Thank you.

HARLOW: Very clear where he stands on that.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, he said it right out, that Bill Barr was hired to do this.

HARLOW: Yes, that struck me at the beginning of the interview. Okay, so ahead for us, a preliminary report reveals pilots did exactly what they were supposed to do in the moments before that deadly Ethiopian airlines crash. What does all of this mean for Boeing, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:30:00]