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Source Says Some on Mueller's Team Frustrated with Bill Barr Letter; Key House Democrat Request Trump's Tax Returns from the IRS; Preliminary Report Finds Significant Similarity in Ethiopian And Lion Air Crashes. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired April 4, 2019 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi there, I'm Brooke Baldwin and you're watching CNN. After 22 months of the special counsel at work, 34 people charged, five people sentenced, we begin with something never before seen from Robert Mueller and his team. Leaks. About this letter by Attorney General Bill Barr detailing the major conclusions of the Mueller report. Several investigators on the special counsel team are in a word, frustrated.

They believe that Barr did not adequately describe how the case for obstruction of justice included derogatory information about what the President did, from sources familiar with those conversations and you remember the A.G. found that the evidence, quote, is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction of justice offense. Now the President and the DOJ are hitting back.

The President went after "The New York Times," the first two report the story calling it a quote, unquote, fake newspaper. For more let's go to Kara Scannell, what are you learning? Why did the folks from team Mueller speak up like this?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well according to our reporting that several of Mueller's investigators, it is not clear how many share this view, but some are frustrated that the four-page letter summarizing the 400-page investigation that took two years to complete did not adequately reflect the views of the investigators.

And according to the people that -- these concerns rest a lot on the obstruction of justice issue which in the four-page letter Barr said that Mueller's team did not reach a conclusion one way or the other and there was evidence on both sides. Now an issue here is that also the Mueller's team, according to sources, had written summaries about the findings that were prefaced to the sections and there is frustration this was not adequately reflected in the report either.

They thought they would have used that as a guide post to make these explanations more public when Barr was writing his report to say these are what the findings were and using the language of Mueller's team rather than Barr doing a quick summary 48 hours after he received the report, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Kara, thank you so much for that. So much to discuss. I've got with me now CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger and CNN law enforcement analyst James Gagliano and a retired FBI supervisory special agent and CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero who served as counsel to the assistant Attorney General for national security. You sir, just as former FBI I want to begin with you on all of this,

and we didn't hear anything from the investigators for two years. Why now, why not wait until this report is out there?


BALDWIN: Why now? Why not wait until this report is out there?

GAGLIANO: So, Brooke, let's understand how the special counsel started. Special counsel is appointed by the Attorney General they could choose any investigators or prosecutors they want. They don't have to be from DOJ or the FBI. We know the Mueller team, 19 prosecutors, 40 FBI agents. And I think one of the important things here, prosecutors' investigators, they argue.

I argue with my closest friends that are prosecutors. Heated battled and kicking cans ore and the whole nine yards and then you come to a consensus. Former director Mueller decided not to come to that assessment. And as far as the people that the "New York Times" and Washington Post are reporting on, keep in mind second-hand.

"The Washington Post," some of the special counsel team have been confiding to associates, according to people familiar with the responses of some on the special counsel team at "The New York Times," some of Robert S. Mueller III investigators have told associates so we are getting this from people that breaks my heart to say this are current on board employees at a barbecue or bar or family event and spoke to somebody on the team who shared it with the media.

So, it is not the team itself, from what I read in this --

BALDWIN: The associates being the key word there. And nonetheless, we are talking, from the "Times" it sounds like they are speaking because they want to correct the narrative. I don't know if it's the narrative of Republicans and Trump saying exonerated and that whole thing. But --

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I think it is reactive to the President coming out and saying I've been completely exonerated. It is also reactive to the four-page letter that we got from the Attorney General.

[14:05:00] By the way, the Attorney General is upset clearly when you read his letters that he said this wasn't meant to be a summary, it was meant to be a bottom line and sort of in response to what we saw initially in "The New York Times."

He also put out his spokesperson put out a statement saying, you know, every page of the confidential report was marked "may contain material protected under federal criminal law" which protects grand jury information. So, he was sort of saying, well this is why I can't release it, even the summaries, which some of these people, these people clearly talking believe should have been released because they had been pre-scrubbed. So, there is a whole lot of back and forth here and I'm sure Barr is

upset that Mueller's team didn't come to any conclusion on obstruction, he decided to take the bull by the horns and then decide about obstruction. I'm sure Mueller is upset. Because of these leaks and I'm sure his team is upset that their product wasn't used. So, it is kind of a mess.

BALDWIN: So, among all of this, though, Carrie, it is the obstruction piece. Even in the reporting, Bill Barr was surprised, the A.G. was surprised that Mueller didn't come down on that conclusively and it seems from reporting that they felt Barr's letter did not describe how the case for obstruction included what they referred to as derogatory information about the President's actions. Is that significant?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, we haven't seen the report yet, obviously. And so, we don't actually know the way that the lead prosecutors who off drafted that report that special counsel submitted, how they have characterized the evidence.

The Attorney General and deputy Attorney General decided to make a legal judgment in the absence of a recommendation from the special counsel to describe in that four-page letter that the evidence did not meet a prosecutive standard of obstruction. That does not mean that when this report eventually becomes provided to Congress and becomes public, which I think the -- based on the indications from the Attorney General, the vast majority of it will, Congress still will have the ability to evaluate that evidence, that underlying factual scenario to determine whether or not it is an impeachable offense.

But also, I agree with Jim in distinguishing between who is providing information to these reports, just because these reports are saying that associates of investigators on the team, that does not mean that the lead prosecutors are the pop -- are the people providing this information to the press.

BALDWIN: Sure. It is noteworthy that after so long, nothing. And then now we're getting these bits and pieces. And part of the information that we're getting was that the Mueller team wrote summaries of their own and expected more of it to be used which would make you -- wonder why Bill Barr won't use that.

GAGLIANO: Because every page of the Mueller report that some suggest is between 300 pages and 400 pages will be marked with confidential 6- e material that prosecutors have to go through and scrub that. So, I take the Attorney General at his word. It is going to take some time to do that. He wanted to get something out quickly and some have argued against the efficacy, was it prudent to do a four-page report that people will treat like a Rorschach test.

BALDWIN: In the two-page letter he said I've been mischaracterized. But on President Trump, responding on Twitter, and throw the tweet up and we've seen the reversal on I trust the A.G. and get the report out there, it is a disgrace and nothing will satisfy the Dems. Now he said "The New York Times" had no legitimate sources which is illegal and probably they had no sources at all. They're a fake newspaper who have been forced to apologize for incorrect and very bad reporting on me."

We'll be talking to one of the -- Mark next hour and I'll get him to respond to that. But first of all, just, Carrie, have these associates of the prosecutor, have they done anything illegal here, first of all, just by talking about it?

CORDERO: Well, again, it depends -- well first of all, let me say, the President, it is so against the office of the presidency to constantly be talking about the media in this way. So just -- I want to make that point. He shouldn't be doing it. It is dangerous for him to do. But on the illegality, it depends on whether the individuals who were under, for example, grand jury secrecy rules, whether they provided specific information. I'm inclined to think that people know the consequences for doing that and they would not have provided.

[14:10:08] It sounds more like somebody who was on the investigation told somebody else about their opinion about what is being reported in the press and that is very different than actually violating any of the secrecy rules that they would be subject to.

BALDWIN: But looking at the President's words, it seems like he's a little agitated.

BORGER: You think?

BALDWIN: A little worried about this getting out.

BORGER: Very agitated. Rudi Giuliani came out and started talking about 13 angry Democrats again, team Muller. I don't remember it wasn't too long ago after the Barr four-page letter came out that the President said that he thought Mueller was honorable. Now he is worried about what is going to be contained in the Mueller report. Clearly now he has also flipped on whether it should be released.

He was particularly after the Barr letter, let the whole thing hang out.

BALDWIN: Totally changed his tune.

BORGER: Now he is the Democrats will never be satisfied, even if they get the whole thing. There is a total flip-flop on that, you have to assume there is a reason behind that.

BALDWIN: By the way in the last 60 seconds I have to you, you know Mr. Mueller and apparently Mueller and Mr. Barr are quite close. They have known each other for 30 years. Their families are friends. And this must mean there is a little tension.

GAGLIANO: I served under former director Mueller for 12 years. He was the FBI director for 12 years. The man does not suffer fools. He is as straight as an arrow. No one is going to question his courage he has a bronze Star from Vietnam. No one is going to question that.

The issue here that made it difficult for him I think was obstruction of justice. Because it is so much subject to interpretation and people can look at it, good people can look at it from the legal and investigative ends, somebody can say --

CORDERO: Brooke, just real quickly, superfast, lawyers at the Justice Department and senior officials at the FBI and the Justice Department, disagree all the time. And doesn't happening to do with their personal relationships. They have disagreements over fact. They have disagreements law and how it applies to facts. It is just part of the professional relationship.

BALDWIN: I got you. Carrie, thank you and Gloria and James. A big punt for Trump, moments ago the President walking back is threat to shut down the US border with Mexico, he now says he's giving Mexico a one-year warning to stop massive amounts of drugs coming into United States or base a border shut down and tariffs on vehicles made in Mexico.

So, here's what the President said just a little while ago.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Frankly better but less drastic than closing the borders to tariff the cars coming in. And I will do it. You know I will do it. I don't play games. We're going to give them a one-year warning. And if the drugs don't stop or largely stop. We are going to put tariffs on Mexico and products.


BALDWIN: Let's go to our White House correspondent Abby Philip. So, President first was shut down the border and then shut down parts of the border and now he's saying, all right, you get one year.

ABBY PHILIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This is the slow walk back days in the making since last week President Trump was beating the drum against Mexico saying they weren't doing enough to stop illegal immigration saying he would close down the southern border with the U.S. if they didn't do more and now all of a sudden the President has completely changed course and now saying that closing the border is a sort of a last resort, but he's adding a new criteria.

He's asking Mexico to stop the flow of drugs and in addition to dealing with the immigration issue and if they don't, if they don't within the next year, then he'll turn to tariffs first and if that doesn't work, then he's going to close the border. So, it is hard to imagine a more complete walk-back for the President than what he's done in the few minutes in the White House this afternoon.

But it demonstrates what has been happening behind the scenes for the last several days. White House aides, even Republicans on Capitol Hill, you heard them publicly and privately saying to the President, it would be catastrophic to the U.S. economy if we closed the border with Mexico and so now the President is walking back from that. Just on the eve of him making a trip to the border, I think he's clearly going with a different tact and is giving Mexico more time and frankly he's just kicking the can down the road on this issue for yet another year, Brooke. BALDWIN: Even the President the other day with the NATO Secretary

General acknowledging the negative impact shutting down the border would have. Abby Philip. Thank you so much.

[14:15:02] And Democrats now closer than ever before to getting their hands on President Trump's tax returns. Specifically, one key Democrat on one key committee. How he could get the documents and soon and what the President has to say about that.

Plus, CNN is the first to receive the preliminary report from the deadly Ethiopian Airlines crash and outlook not very good for Boeing. We have the details.

And South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg opening up about his faith and why he's reluctant to call President Trump a Christian. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


[14:20:02] BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN, I'm Brooke Baldwin. This is the start of a political showdown between Democrats and the President. The House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal has formally requested President Trump's tax returns from the IRS hoping to shed a little light on his finances. In a letter to the IRS, it was first obtained by CNN, he cites a little-known IRS code that gives him the authority to request the tax information from any individual, even the President of the United States.

He has also requested the tax returns of eight of Trump's business entities. And CNN's warren fox asked the Congressman this morning why the committee chose six years, just six years to request instead of any individual, even the President of the United States. He has also requested the tax returns of eight of Trump's business entities. And CNN's Lauren Fox asked the Congressman this morning why the committee chose six years, just six years to request instead of ten?


REP. RICHARD NEAL (D-MA): We followed IRS guidelines which suggest to taxpayers that six years is generally the measurement that they use for advising taxpayers on how long to keep their forms. So, we didn't want to have the case perhaps dismissed on a technical glitch so again as I said to you now for a long period of time, we've taken a very methodical approach to will likely be an established court case.


BALDWIN: And President Trump's reaction was swift but familiar.


TRUMP: We're under audit despite what people said and we're working that out as -- I'm always under audit it seems. But I've been under audit for many years because the -- the numbers are big and I guess when you have a name you're audited. But until such time as I'm not under audit, I would not be inclined to do that. Thank you. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Chris Cillizza. CNN politics reporter and editor at large. What's going on?


BALDWIN: He mentioned audit. Take us down memory lane of all the reasons why Trump said he can't release his tax returns.

CILLIZZA: There have been a lot but audit is the one we come back to. He repeatedly says I'm under audit. But just one point, you can release your tax returns when you are under audit. Richard Nixon did it in 1973 to prove he wasn't a crook. That is common. But hard to prove he's under audit or not. We don't know that. IRS keeps that information and doesn't release it publicly. Let's go to the next Trump explanation.

This one is really -- I laugh because it is ridiculous. So, they're extremely complex. He said this a lot of different ways but you don't need to see them and you wouldn't understand them. I think we have sound of him saying that. Let's play that.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Point blank, Democrats go after your tax returns, will you try to block that or will you allow them to have it?

TRUMP: Well, look, as I've told you, they're under audit and they have been for a long time, they're extremely complex, people wouldn't understand them.


CILLIZZA: My favorite part -- that is the day after the election. That press conference and my favorite part is he goes on to say, a lot of big firms working on them. I don't know what that has to do with anything. But OK, so that is two reasons. Let's go to explanation number three. People didn't care. Now this is more Trump Senior Counsel Kellyanne Conway but she was asked about this and I think we have sound of that, of why they shouldn't release it. We'll play that.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The White House response is that he's not going to release his tax returns. We litigated this all through the election. People didn't care. They voted for him and let me make this very clear, most Americans are very focused on what their tax returns will look like while President Trump is in office and not what his look like.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CILLIZZA: Now here is the problem with that. There is no way of people measuring that people voted on tax returns or not, no question on the exit polling suggesting this is a referendum on his taxes.

BALDWIN: But you could measure if people care.

CILLIZZA: Absolutely. So, let's go to a poll question. That I believe we have. OK.

And Quinnipiac University, March 1- 4, should Donald Trump publicly release tax returns? Yes, should, two-thirds. I'm no mathematician but that is more than the people who say no. And again, this is just -- they don't want to do this, Brooke. Where they've decided that whatever is in the returns, he is not going to release them under any circumstances unless he is forced to legally.

They make up a bunch of excuses, audit and you wouldn't understand and big firms and people don't care. There is no factual basis out of those three reasons that would suggest he can't. He is choosing not to. And that is the important thing.

BALDWIN: Sounds like Chairman Neal is on it and is using one little rule to see if they could get their hands on the six years worth of tax returns.

CILLIZZA: That is the only path by which this is going to happen.

BALDWIN: Chris, thank you.

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

[14:25:00] We have also now today learned some details -- disturbing details about the Ethiopian Airlines crash. First on CNN, what it was like in the doomed plane's final minutes and what it says about pilot error versus mechanical failure. We're live at Boeing headquarters next. And meet number 17, Tim Ryan the latest Democrat to join the 2020 Presidential race and why he has what it takes to send President Trump back to Mar-a-Lago full time.


[14:30:00] BALDWIN: There are major new developments in the investigation into last month's crash of the Ethiopian Flight 302 that killed everyone on board. CNN is the first to obtain a copy of the preliminary report and it states there are significant similarities to October's deadly Lion Air crash in Indonesia.

Both planes a Boeing 737 Max 8 but doesn't give a probable cause for the accident and CNN spoke to the CEO of the airline and he said it looks like the automated anti-stall software was activated which clears his pilots were of any wrongdoing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TEWOLDE GEBREMARIAM, ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES CEO: We're very proud of our pilots because it is proved in the preliminary report that they have done beyond what they are expected to do and today was a day light for us to prove wrong all of the speculators with false allegations.


BALDWIN: Drew Griffin is our CNN senior investigative correspondent live in Washington.