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Justice Department Defends Barr's Summary; Effort to Obtain Trump's Tax Returns; Trump Repeatedly Claims Audit Prevents Release of His Returns; Trump Speaks at the White House. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 4, 2019 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:23] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

Today's biggest question, could the attorney general be part of a cover-up? Members of Robert Mueller's team are grumbling that A.G. William Barr's summary of their work is way too kind to President Trump.

Plus, House Democrats add to their oversight demands. And their latest push is personal. The Democrats want six years of the president's tax returns and say the law makes clear he has no choice but to turn them over.

And, make room for Tim Ryan. He's a House Democrat from a blue collar Ohio district, and as of a few minutes ago, he's officially in the very, very crowded Democratic 2020 presidential field.


REP. TIM RYAN (D-OH), 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm going to run for president of the United States. And we're going to make something happen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, so you're in?

RYAN: I'm in.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love that you want to make it official right here on "The View." But there is something to "The View" bump, though. Not this type of bump, but like a campaign bump.


KING: Back to 2020 in a few moments.

But we begin the hour with a messy dispute over the Mueller report and worries from some on the special counsel's team that the attorney general is deliberately misleading Congress and the American people. Last hour, the Justice Department pushing back forcefully, defending Attorney General William Barr and his four-page summary of the Mueller report's bottom line findings.

That statement from Justice coming in response to new details reported today in the pages of "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" and now confirmed by CNN. Sources who have spoken to some on team Mueller quote them as saying they're frustrated with and angry at Barr for a summary they see as far too kind to President Trump. The grumbling includes members of team Mueller telling associates Barr left out derogatory information about the president's actions. The reporting offers a very rare glimpse inside team Mueller, which did its talking during the investigation only through court files.

And these reports only add to the pressure now on the attorney general, who says he will decide soon how much of the actual report can be made public. Democrats say these reports suggesting Barr somehow sugar-coated the findings only adds to their case that the entire report be made public and that Congress also get Mueller's working papers.

The flip side is this, team Trump rushing to say these new leaks prove team Mueller is biased and was biased against the president. Today, the president again on Twitter calling the investigation a hoax and saying Democrats are, quote, fighting hard to keep witch hunt alive. The president's TV lawyer says this.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: They're a bunch of sneaky, unethical leakers, and they are rabid Democrats who hate the president of the United States. And I can't tell you how much false information they have leaked during the course of the information.

I am absolutely confident that the report will bear out the conclusions, the conclusions no obstruction, no Russian collusion of any kind. It will bear that out. Whether they can take some facts and twist them one way or another, we're ready to rebut that.


KING: With me this day to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Kara Scannell, CNN's Shimon Prokupecz, Toluse Olorunnipa with "The Washington Post," and Karoun Demirjian with "The Washington Post."

So what does our reporting tell us about what is the main gripe from team Mueller about Barr's four-page summary?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Right. So this is reporting from our colleagues, Jeremy Herb (ph), Laura Jarrett, Evan Perez, they've learned that Mueller's team is frustrated that some of the derogatory information that they learned related to the president's actions on obstruction was not reflected in that four-page summary. I mean this was a 400-page report that Mueller's team put together and Barr, within 48 hours, had then released this four-page summary to Congress. So there's frustration on that part and there's also frustration that

now this four-page letter is shaping public opinion about the report's findings. And we've seen, you know, the president himself jump on that, using it to say that he's been exonerated, even though that's not what the four-page letter said.

And, you know, on this issue of obstruction, you know, there's the question of, you know, Mueller's report, as quoted by Barr, says that he did not reach a conclusion. You know, there was evidence on both sides. And I think that there's some frustration among the Mueller prosecutors that it was summarize sort of that quickly and that neatly and that it didn't go into additional details.

And one other point of frustration was that Mueller's team had written some summaries around this report and that those summaries they anticipated would be something that Barr could use to be made public and that it wasn't. And so there's frustration there, that they had kind of anticipated that there would be a question about redactions and that they wrote these summaries in order for that to be their way and their voice and their tone to shape what their findings were and that that was not made public. So there's frustration about the public -- you know, really the public's perception of this.

KING: And so, to that point, you knew this would be controversial. You knew there would be sources and methods. You knew some of it would have to be redacted to a degree anyway.

[12:05:03] How much of this is the perception from team Mueller that the attorney general is somehow trying to put his thumb on the scale and unfairly tip it toward the president, or how much of it is the frustration you see all the time in investigations, where investigators spend years doing something, they can't prove it or their boss decides we can't prove it, we can't take it to court. So tradition is, if it's a bank robbery, if it's an assault, and, in this case, the president of the United States, you say, we tried and you put it away and no one ever sees it.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: And that's kind of where my thinking is on this, that I think there are people on the team -- we saw this during the Hillary Clinton investigation, too -- there were people on the team that were investigating her that felt she -- there was criminal behavior there and that she should be charged. And I wouldn't be surprised if there are people on the Mueller team that feels this way. That's the whole point. You have a team. Everyone has different opinions, different ideas.

But I think in terms of what the attorney general here is trying to say is, look, I had, you know, x amount of time do this. I tried to get out as much information as I could in the limited time, and I'm going to do my best to give you more once we're done with the review process.

I did find it interesting that in the statement that they put out today talking about these summaries, because there's been reports indicating that, you know, these summaries that the Mueller team put together were made to -- were going to be -- supposed to be made public. That's why they put them together. Well, the attorney general says, well, not -- not -- it's not quite true because everything that was in this report was marked as grand jury material, potentially grand jury materials, this 6E material that needs to be reviewed, perhaps maybe even by a judge.

So, I don't know, there's a lot of talk and a lot of discrepancies here. It's not surprising that there would be frustration. But we don't really know who these people are that are raising these frustrations. We just know that there are frustrations.

KING: Right. And so I'm going to read you a little bit from "The New York Times." And so there certainly is the legal questions. There's the institutional questions. Investigators often disagree. You're right, it happened in the Clinton e-mail investigation. It happens every day in law enforcement. Cops go out. The investigators go out and the boss says, nice try, I believe you, too, but we can't prove it, and you put it away. And how much of it now -- but how does that play into the political environment in which the Democrats say, OK, this is even more evidence to us. We need to see it all. We don't trust the attorney general. He was appointed by the president. We want it all.

This is from "The New York Times." We're not saying that every member -- this, I'm sorry, let's play it. This is Nicholas Fandos, one of the -- one of the reporters here speaking this morning.


NICHOLAS FANDOS, REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": We are not saying that every member of the Mueller team is frustrated by this. We don't know what Bob Mueller himself thinks. He remains one of the black boxes at the center of this investigation. But there are members of the team who were involved in the decision-making around these issues that we've been talking about who have watched and been disappointed and angry about how it's being characterized.


KING: If you're the Democrats and you control the House, you say, let's have some witnesses and let's see the whole report.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Right, which I think is basically what this reflects at the end of the day, which is that there is no way of resolving this dispute until you actually see what the dispute is over. And at this juncture, it's not surprising, as Shimon was saying, that you would have a difference of opinion within Mueller's shop, just as you do in Congress, which is waiting with bated breath to see what exactly it is that we're talking about. It's just that those -- those frustrations are clearly behind amplified because they're happening in the political sphere right now where the question is, what is Barr doing and does he -- is he trying to shift the balance of this so that everybody thinks no big deal even if it turns out there is a big deal once that report actually comes out.

Now -- so we're basically in the same boat that we were before, waiting to see if Mueller -- excuse me, if Barr does actually put out the full extent of the report, how many redactions there are, if they appear to be critical, if it's something that he's willing to show lawmakers. And I don't think you're going to actually be able to resolve what the frustrations are, what's maybe missing here and what the intentions were until you see what we're talking about.

KING: But -- but we are in the same boat. However, what has changed is, to the point you made, and you saw Rudy Giuliani at the top of the program, you saw the president's tweet today, they believe that they can spin this in a very favorable light based on the letter.

There's some stuff in the letter that's damning about the president. It says the special counsel could not -- would not exonerate the president on obstruction of justice, nor would he prosecute him. So it leaves -- it did leave some open questions. It's not as great as team Trump says, but in a political environment you can spin I that way.

And you saw Rudy Giuliani doing it again, don't believe what you hear from those people now. That's what the president said throughout the investigation. Mueller's out to get us. I assume they're going to just try to put their foot on the accelerator there.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, the Mueller team had to have known that the president was going to spin this as much as possible and try to take whatever conclusions they made and basically say that this is complete exoneration, total vindication. And so they had to have written the report knowing that that was going to be the case.

And I think that's part of the frustration that you're hearing in some of these news reports that the president has taken not the Mueller report but the Barr summary of the Mueller report and used that to say total and complete vindication. And it makes it easier if it turns out that the 400 page Mueller report is much more damaging and much more damning than the four page Barr report, which we expect that to be the case. It makes it easier for the president and his team.

And they came out very strong last week saying that they were completely vindicated. The president said the collusion delusion is dead. He said no obstruction. And multiple times, speaking in front of big crowds, he said, the Mueller report said x, y, z. And as we all know, we have not seen the Mueller report. We've only seen a few words from the Mueller report. And I think that's part of the frustration you're seeing from the Mueller investigation.

[12:10:09] PROKUPECZ: I just want to make a point.

I think it's interesting that people are raising this whole thing about derogatory information, that there wasn't more derogatory information. To me that's the whole thing that got Comey in trouble in all of this.

KING: Right.

PROKUPECZ: When he went ahead and put out derogatory information about Hillary Clinton and her involvement, obviously, in the server issue. So now we have people on the Mueller team who are saying, well, we

want more derogatory information out there about the president and on the obstruction issue. And William Barr, the attorney general, has been resistant, that this is something that he does not want to do, just is not something that the Department of Justice and the -- also the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, they don't want a replay of the James Comey episode. So it's going to be interesting to see what, in the end, obviously happens.

But you have people now that are complaining, who were on this team, that we need to put out more derogatory information. What does the attorney general do? He has said, look, this is not something that I want to do.

DEMIRJIAN: But this is the precedent problem, right, which is that we could have spent years criticizing what the FBI did before, what the DOJ did before, but when the political tables have flipped, if they don't do the same thing again, darn it, we're going to be very dissatisfied because they set the expectation that this is what you get to learn. And so --

KING: They also --

DEMIRJIAN: Again, the people -- cooler heads are not going to prevail on that.

KING: And they also set the expectation because the president leaned on his own Justice Department to give them the working papers of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation.

DEMIRJIAN: Right. Yes.

KING: It's hard to say now, even though you have a new attorney general, you know, oh, no. Oh, no, no. So we're at the early stages of this chapter.


KING: But these leaks don't happen by accident. There are people out there who are trying to nudge the attorney general to make more of this public. And we shall see.

A big question now, what's next for the Mueller report and for the special counsel?


REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): Yes, I think it's inevitable that Mr. Mueller is going to testify at some point. But the first thing we need is all the -- is the release of the report and the documents.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You think it's inevitable that Mueller's going to come before your committee?

NADLER: At some point, yes.



[12:16:04] KING: The White House today is labeling as all politics a new Democratic demand, one that we know gets under the president's skin. House Democrats served notice they want six years of the president's personal tax returns and the tax filings for eight Trump- owned entities. Will the president turn them over? Well, that was the question to the White House press secretary.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, we're not interested in playing a bunch of political games, like the Democrats in Congress clearly want to spend their time doing. The president's focus on actually solving real problems, like the crisis at the border, dealing with health care and a number of other fronts. We're not engaging in that. And the president commented on it yesterday. I don't see any sense that that's changed since then.


KING: You can take that as a no.

CNN's Lauren Fox joins us live from Capitol Hill.

Laruen, you spoke this morning with the man leading this effort, the Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, who seems to already know he's got a fight on his hands, right?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, that's right. And he's been preparing for this fight for a long time, John. You know, I talked to him the day after the election and he said he was going to make this request.

But, of course, it's taken him several months to get to this point. The reason is because he knew that this would be an arduous battle. Moving forward he knows that the president is not going to hand over these tax returns willingly, that the IRS is likely to put up a fight.

Here's what he told me about why it took so long.


REP. RICHARD NEAL (D-MA): 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.

The last eight presidents have released their tax forms. And we think here that there is a mechanism where these forms could be reviewed in a non-partisan basis and then we would have a chance to decide from there what to do with them.

(END VIDEO CLIP) FOX: And, John, the deadline here is very tight. There is only a week to reach his deadline for the IRS to turn over those documents related to the president's taxes of both his personal tax returns and his business returns. So it's unlikely that the IRS will meet that deadline.

What comes next, Neal said he will send another letter. But the question, of course, what comes after that?

KING: And the question I think coming soon to a court near you is most likely to be the result of that.

FOX: That's right.

KING: Lauren Fox on Capitol Hill, appreciate the reporting there.

"Bloomberg's" Margaret Talev and CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson join the conversation.

Again, the Democrats are asking for a lot and they say it's legitimate oversight. Republicans say it's overreach, but we know it's the Mueller report. We know it's the inaugural committee. We know it's other things.

This one, though, for a long time has been the one that you see gets under the president's skin.

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "BLOOMBERG": Yes, and it's also been on the one that, you know, I think Democrats have been incredulous that he's been unwilling to release it this entire time because there is a pattern and a practice. There is a history for this. This is a matter of kind of -- there's the tradition of public disclosure. And there's, obviously, a reason why he doesn't want to release it. We just don't know exactly what the reason is.

So I think the way the Democrats see this, if you don't pursue it, you won't get it. And if you do pursue it, you'll at least get some message on it. Maybe it will turn some Republicans. We've already seen a couple of Republicans who say, you know what, we actually think this is an important tradition of disclosure also. And so what's the downside in pursuing it?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, I mean, more argument for the downside would be, oh, Democrats are overreaching, Democratic voters actually want to focus on -- on something else, bread and butter issues. Certainly when I'm on the -- out on the trail, no one brings up the president's tax returns. Nobody brings up the Mueller report necessarily.

But, at the same time, this is why voters voted in Democrats in 2018. It was all about oversight. It was all about putting a check on -- on this president. And we've been talking about this. I mean way back to the president's -- when he was a candidate and claiming all the time that he was under audit. So it's not a surprise that it came at this point and that they (INAUDIBLE) --

TALEV: Right, the initial message was, I can't do this while I'm under audit.


TALEV: But now it turns out that he -- he assumes he will always be under audit.

HENDERSON: Right. Right.

TALEV: Someone who has that much money is always under audit.

KING: He's the only man in America who wants to be constantly under audit right now so he can have that excuse.

TALEV: Right.

KING: So this is not just the president personally. The Democrats want all these holding companies. They want to see where the money comes from essentially.

[12:20:06] These are the holding companies, the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust, DJT Holdings LLC, DJT Holdings Managing -- you see all these names. It's different corporations set up. A lot of this involving the Trump business. He sells his name essentially. Leases his name for building projects around the world, for other projects around the world.

Democrats want to see where the money is coming from. The IRS falls under the Treasury Department. Here's the Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who knows, guess what, the boss is watching and watching you closely.


STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: I have discussed with the legal department in the Treasury that we will most likely receive this request. And as I've said, based upon the request, we'll examine it and we will follow the law.

I'm not aware if there's ever been a request for an elected official's tax return, but we will follow the law and we will protect the president, as we would protect any individual taxpayer under their rights.


KING: Follow the law sounds to me is likely to be, there's never been a request like this before, so let's go ask a judge. Let's let a judge settle the law.

DEMIRJIAN: Yes, and I think the Democrats always knew that they were going to be in for a court battle on this one. But like Nia was saying, you can't not do this. You -- there is so much criticism of Trump during the election. There's been so much scrutiny on his businesses. And, look, they're going to want to have more information about his businesses than just what the tax returns can show. But you can't start to go after deeper financial records and kind of ignore the tax return issue. So this is kind of the gesture that they have to make and the court battle that they were always going to have to fight.

Whether it means they'll actually get their hands on those returns before the 2020 election, that's really anybody's guess and potentially not even that likely, but they've -- they've set this as meeting the promise that they made. And, frankly, the -- the other potential downside, just because we were talking about that, is this now sets a standard for any of the bajillion and four Democratic candidates getting in the race too that they better put up their tax returns because --

HENDERSON: Bernie Sanders.

KING: They -- they should. Bernie Sanders -- Bernie Sanders among those who keeps saying soon.

DEMIRJIAN: Their party said they (INAUDIBLE).


KING: No. No. You want to lead the charge against President Trump, well, there's your responsibility. The day's still young, Senator Sanders. We could get that done.

We know -- we know, again, you're Steve Mnuchin, you're the IRS commissioner, you're talking to the lawyers, but you also know the audience of one, as we call it here in Washington, is watching closely.

This is the president over the past two plus years when this issue comes up.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (February 25, 2016): I'm audited every single year. And when it's under audit, you don't discuss anything.

TRUMP (May 26, 2016): I'm releasing when we're finished with the audit. I have to say, the IRS has been very professional.

TRUMP (September 7, 2016): When the audit is complete, I'll release my returns. I'll have no problem with it.

TRUMP (January 12, 2017): Well, I'm not releasing the tax returns because, as you know, they're under audit.

TRUMP (November 7, 2018): As I've told you, they're under audit. They have been for a long time. They're extremely complex. People wouldn't understand them.


KING: The first one of those from 2016 where he said, I'll release them when the audit is over. HENDERSON: Yes.

KING: This is the longest audit, if there is such an audit, it's the longest audit. It's --

OLORUNNIPA: Yes. And one of the questions and one of the things that Chairman Neal asked for is whether or not that is actually true.

HENDERSON: Yes. Right.

OLORUNNIPA: The IRS would know whether or not an audit is taking place. And he asked for that specifically because we have heard the president make claims that turned out not to be true in the past.

TALEV: But he's less likely to get that information than just actually get the taxes.


TALEV: I don't think the IRS usually says who's being audited.


TALEV: But --

HENDERSON: And Michael Cohen, I think in his testimony, this came up as well, and he essentially said he didn't necessarily think that the president was under audit. He just didn't want a lot of thing tank type people looking over his taxes.

KING: Think tank type people.


KING: Probably understand them better than us reporter types. But we'll see how that one goes.

Up next, Joe Biden says he's learned his lesson and is ready to listen. What do the voters think?


[12:28:09] KING: Welcome back.

We're just moments away from hearing from the president of the United States. He has a meeting at the White House, in the cabinet room. A group called the Opportunity Revitalization Council. Obviously economic development there. The president has several members of his cabinet on hand, as well as other officials for this meeting.

He has taken questions from reporters, and we know those questions include negotiations with China on a big trade deal. The president will announce later today at a separate event -- he's planning a summit with the Chinese President Xi Jinping. We know that from administration officials. The president voicing some optimism in this session with reporters that he can get to a deal with China. Other issues also coming up during the conversation at the White House.

Remember, on the table right now, what about releasing the Mueller report. The conversation we just had about the president's taxes. A lot to ask the president about. He's in the cabinet room. Let's listen.

Not quite ready yet. Sorry, we're waiting for the president of the United States. We try to time these things out. Again, the president meeting with the Opportunity Revitalization Council at the White House. A long session. He went around the room with members of the cabinet. But the Q&A with reporters we'll feed now.


QUESTION: Mr. President, what authority (INAUDIBLE) --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, guys.



TRUMP: Trade's coming along well. We're having a big meeting this afternoon. I think you folks are going to be at it for a little while at least.

The vice premier is here and lots of top people from China. They very much want to make a deal. We'll see what happens. Got to be a good deal.


TRUMP: It's got to be a good -- it's got to be a great deal. It's got to be a great -- look, we've been losing over many years $400 billion, $500 billion, $600 billion a year. We're losing a few years ago 200 routinely to China. We can't do that. We're going to turn it around. It's got to be a great deal. If it's not a great deal, we're not doing it.

But it's going very well. Top officials are here. And, you know, we're very well along on the deal. It's a very complex deal. It's a very big deal. It's one of the biggest deals ever made. Maybe the biggest deal ever made.

[12:30:07] It will be a great deal for our farmers.