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A.G. Barr: Expect to Release Mueller Report Within a Week; Barr Outlines What Will be Public, Failing to Answer if White House Saw Report, if Exonerated Trump; Barr Reviewing Conduct of Russia Investigation & DOJ I.G. Investigating Surveillance; Feisty Exchange Between Barr, Rep. Matt Cartwright over Obamacare. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 9, 2019 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: One of the common themes I hear from U.S. attorneys is how valuable the ATF agents are, and their technology is just outstanding in helping to deal with gun violence and violent crime. Now I --

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much for joining me.

As we have been watching breaking news from Capitol Hill. Attorney General Bill Barr has been facing lawmakers this morning. And also this is for the first time since Robert Mueller delivered his report to the attorney general and the first time since Barr himself released the bottom-line conclusions of the special counsel's Russia investigation.

Barr is revealing this morning some new details on what the public will and will not see and when they will see it. But he also very pointedly is sidestepping some key questions, like has the White House seen the report, is President Trump correct when he says it was complete exoneration. Barr did not answer.

A lot to get to. Let's get to Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, he's been watching all this.

Manu, we learned a lot this morning, including that the wait is almost over.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. He said within a week, the redacted report would be released. But he also pointedly said, Kate, he would not plan, does not plan to provide the full unredacted report to Capitol Hill, as Democrats have demanded.

Also, Democrats have been demanding grand jury information to be provided to the Hill as part of its review process. The Democrats have called for that. He said flat-out he did not plan to go to court to seek the release of that grand jury information. So you're seeing two major flash points bubble up here that between Democrats and Bill Barr.

Barr also spent a lot of time defending his March 24th letter outlining the top-line conclusions. He said that he did not want to release summaries that were apparently drafted by Mueller's team because he didn't want to release piecemeal versions of the Mueller report. Instead, he wanted to provide what he believed were simply the bottom-line conclusions but not an intention to summarize the full 400-some-page Mueller report. He did reveal the Mueller team had an opportunity to review that four-page letter, but he said that the Mueller team declined that offer. So these words were essentially his, not of Mueller's team, that put out the four-page letter.

Now, he also, as you mentioned, sidestepped a number of questions about the contents of the Mueller report. He was asked about what Mueller meant about, "did not exonerate" the president on the issue of obstruction. He said those are Mueller's words. He did not want to answer that. He would not say whether or not the White House has been briefed about the Mueller report. He said he did not want to answer any more questions. He shut down that line of questioning. He did say the White House was not involved in the drafting of that four-page letter.

And something that actually could make Republicans and the president happy, he said he's reviewing the conduct of the Russia investigation, what started in the summer of 2016. He also revealed that the inspector general is investigating surveillance efforts that were ongoing as well. That inspector general report from the Justice Department could be out by May or June. Also something that Republicans have been demanding.

So he has revealed some new information about his process, the revelations, what he won't provide to Congress, and the likely fight that is going to emerge about getting the full report. And signaling, too, that he did the best he could to outline the top-line conclusions because of the high public interest. Nevertheless, what you're seeing here, Kate, Democrats not satisfied. This could tee up a subpoena fight with the House Judiciary Committee if they don't get all of what they want. It's pretty clear at the moment they're not going to get all they want -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: At first pass, he does not seem intending at all that he's open to releasing to the committees the unredacted report. That's exactly what especially the Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, is calling for.

Manu, thank you so much.

We have much more to come. We're keeping an eye on the hearing.

But also, while we're doing that, let me bring in CNN senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez, in Washington. Laura Jarrett at the Justice Department for us. In New York, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Elie Honig. And CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Jennifer Rodgers, here with me.

A lot to weed through.

But, first, Laura, just to you as you have been following this so closely, the process behind the scenes and what is playing out in public. There was a big question if Bill Barr was going to answer any questions with regard to the report since it has not yet been put out, released in any fashion. He did answer some questions but very pointedly avoided answering just as many.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, that's absolutely right, Kate. As he said, he's willing to discuss sort of the historical artifacts, some of the things he's put out through his letters. He's happy to walk through the process, happy to talk about the fact that he wants to put out as much as possible.

[11:04:51] And he's also sort of trying to lay the groundwork, it seems to me, at explaining to the public that it's really his call on a lot of these issues because of the way the special counsel regulations were written and the context in which they were written. He talks about the fact it's ironic they were first developed in the Clinton administration as a result, really a reaction, to the Starr report, and how Democrats thought too much came out then. And he says now, you know, basically, the bottom line is, I can do what I want here and it's supposed to be a confidential report, I'm not required to put out anything, but I thought that the public interest meant, and it was such a high-staked situation, I should put out the bottom line right away because people wouldn't be willing to wait. That's come back to bite him over the last week or two. But it's interesting he's trying to walk the public through that so they understand how little these regulations actually call for and how he doesn't really think he has any obligation to turn over any of the grand jury, the sensitive material, over to Congress. He said basically, if Nadler, the House Judiciary Committee, wants that fight, he can take it to court.


JARRETT: But he doesn't intend to put out any of that.

BOLDUAN: On that exact point, did you hear him explain why he doesn't have an intention to release the full unredacted report to the committees? As we have noted in the past couple weeks, as this has been percolating, Laura, members of Congress deal with classified information all the time, sensitive information all the time. And no matter, yes, we say Congress is leaky like a sieve, sure, but they do handle sensitive information all the time.

JARRETT: Sure they do. There's been a lot of criticism of the Justice Department and how much was turned over during last year, really, before the House flipped, and how much was turned over on the Russia investigation while it was still ongoing. Remember, Chairman Nunes demanding so much information. That was turned over. But obviously, Barr's position on that is different. He actually seems to think that you take the first pass and you do the least amount possible. You don't do grand jury information. He feels confined by federal rule 6-E. He keeps invoking that. We'll hear that a lot today. His tact is you do as little as possible and don't bifurcate. You don't have a distinction between what goes to Congress and what goes to the public. You do everything out in public and then you fight it out. And if Chairman Nadler wants to take it to court, the Justice Department appears poised on what Barr is saying here today, I think, to fight that.

BOLDUAN: Yes, it would seem to be the clear suggestion from him right there.

Laura, obviously, stick with me.

Evan, let me bring you in.

One part of this -- and I hope we have been able to turn it around because I would like to play it. One thing happened that was, I think, also interesting. The attorney general said that they tried to include, "as much of the special counsel's language as I could," he said. In regard to his four-page summary letter that had a lot of questions this morning in the hearing, and why he did it that way and not releasing more information from the special counsel.

If we have that sound bite, let me play this for you.


REP. TOM GRAVES (R-GA): So now you had time to review. Your team had time to review. You indicated maybe within the next week we'll get the report released. So for the committee, is there anything new you have seen since the review of the entirety of the report that would change your conclusions?

BARR: No, Congressman. As I have explained, my March 24th letter was meant to state the bottom-line conclusions of the report. Not summarize the report. And I tried to use as much of the special counsel's own language as I could. But they were just stating the bottom-line conclusions. And there's nothing to suggest to me that those, you know, that those weren't --


GRAVES: No collusion, no obstruction. It's over, it's done. It's over.

BARR: Well, the letter speaks for itself.


BOLDUAN: It does, but does it speak for the special counsel? I mean, he tried to put as much of the special counsel's wording in there as possible. Really?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. We're talking about fewer than a dozen words from the special counsel were actually included in Barr's four-page letter. I think that's why there's so many questions.

But there was another exchange with the Congressman from Florida, Charlie Crist, in which Barr says -- he was asked essentially about the reports that there are some members of the Mueller team who are not happy with Barr's sort of summary of -- even though he doesn't want to call it a summary, a summary of the findings. Barr responded, he said, "I suspect they wanted more" from the Mueller findings to be included in his letter. So that's what he says he's working on. Now, one thing, Kate, I think is interesting here today -- sort of

like looking at the atmospherics -- one of the things politically that Barr has been trying to do is lock arms with Robert Mueller, with Rod Rosenstein, try to present a united front that, even though this is his letter, these are his summaries, he's trying to say, you know, everybody is onboard. But a couple times in the hearing, so far, he's also said that, you know, Mueller was offered a chance to look at that letter, the first letter he sent, and Mueller declined that opportunity. He didn't apparently look at the second letter either. So we're probably seeing a little bit of daylight between not only between Barr and the Mueller team but perhaps with other people there, because we do know that there's a lot of sentiment in the department to not release much more information. Barr may be going a little further than perhaps Rod Rosenstein would want in releasing information -- Kate?

[11:10:36] BOLDUAN: Yes.

All right, let me bring in Elie Honig on this.

Elie, so Barr, he laid out process. He was clearly comfortable talking about process and the fact they're in the process of redactions and what that would look like. I want to get to that in a second. Because almost in the same breath, when he was asked about -- a couple times about questions regarding, has the White House seen the report, has the White House been briefed on the report, he sidestepped that question. He said that he's not going to answer that until the report comes out. Why wouldn't he answer that? Why couldn't he answer that? Do you see a reason?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Kate. So William Barr is a smart, savvy lawyer, but he's a fairly transparent witness. When he wants to answer, we have seen him lean into that mic and give a clear, decisive answer. When he's afraid of something or he thinks something is not going to play well politically, we see him dodge and tap dance in a fairly obvious way. He tap-danced around, does the White House have this report. And someone this afternoon needs to ask him, to your knowledge, does anyone in the White House have the Mueller report. He dodged the question about exoneration. Somebody needs to ask him, is it accurate for the president to say he is completely and totally exonerated by this report.

One thing that Barr was clear about, though, is this grand jury issue. He was asked towards the end, a few minutes ago, do you plan to go to court and ask for permission to release grand jury materials. Barr threw down the legal gauntlet there. He said, no, if Nadler wants to sue me, go ahead. But Barr is tying his own hands. He has already ability to go to the court and say, I would like to turn over grand jury information. That's what Ken Starr did and the court said, go right ahead. Barr is sort of creating his own situation of, oh, I'm helpless to do anything. But --


BOLDUAN: My hands are tied but I have control of everything.

HONIG: Yes, exactly.

BOLDUAN: When you talk about the exoneration bit, I found that fascinating as well, Elie, because on the president's statement -- it's on two fronts basically he side-stepped. On the president's statement that the report and what the president has seen, whatever that is, is total exoneration. And also the statement from Mueller that was quoted in the memo, the summary, the letter from Barr that says that he did not conclude -- it was not exoneration on the question of obstruction. Barr said he was not in the position to discuss it until the report is out. I do --


BOLDUAN: -- wonder about why.

HONIG: Right. He feels free to discuss any number of other things that are good for the president, yet, when it comes to a dicey situation, a question like, is it accurate for the president to say he's been exonerated on obstruction, that pretty clearly, based on Barr's own letter, is a no. It's just a simple no. But Barr has shown time and again a real reluctance to show any independence from the White House and this president.

BOLDUAN: Jennifer, part of what he did talk about, at length, if you will, is the process that they're going through right now. They say they're working on still at the moment of redactions and what should be redacted. He laid out the four categories he believed are the areas of redactions, which he had laid out previously in his communications. But he also talked about a color-coding system for redactions. Is that something -- is that standard procedure? Is that something you're familiar with?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't know that I have seen a lot of color coding, but I think it's a good idea. It's important for us to know when they're blocking out chunks of text why they're blacked out. At least if we know, this is 6-E material, this is material that involves an ongoing investigation, then that will be helpful. Then he also said he would provide at least general reasons. I don't think he plans to go through for each actual redaction of, say, a sentence and say exactly why that particular sentence is, but he'll give a general idea of why it is that that category of redactions is being redacted. So I think it will give us some information.

The real issue here, to me, is I understand all of that from the public's perspective. There's no reason to redact three out of those four categories for Congress. And 6-E, yes, we'll litigate that in the court. But Congress should really --


BOLDUAN: That's grand jury material.

RODGERS: That's right. But Congress should be pressing for all of those other categories, for the reasons that were discussed at the top of the segment. There's no reason they can't have sensitive information, counterintelligence information. And by the way, someone needs to ask Bill Barr if the counterintelligence investigation is ongoing. That is one piece of this that has not been discussed at all, whether that went to a U.S. attorney's office or whether that's still going on in main Justice that I think we did an answer to.

[11:14:56] BOLDUAN: Fascinating.

Guys, a lot more to come, including -- we're going to talk about this after the break -- Bill Barr was also asked about ongoing, if you will, litigation, a fight going on in the court right now about Obamacare and the Trump administration's position on that. You'll want to hear what he has to say.

We'll be right back.


BOLDUAN: Attorney General Bill Barr, as you're seeing there, still testifying on Capitol Hill as we speak. He's facing more questions about the Mueller report, the special counsel's investigation, and the resulting 300, 400-page report, and what Congress and the public is really going to eventually see, as he says, within a week. We're watching that, monitoring that for you.

Also, just moments ago, there was another testy exchange on another topic between the attorney general and Democratic Congressman Matt Cartwright. This was all over Obamacare. And Barr's boss, you'll remember, the president, has renewed his push recently to strike down the whole law entirely. That is being fought out in federal court right now.

So listen to what Bill Barr had to say about it.


[11:20:18] REP. MATT CARTRIGHT (D-PA): If you're successful, 12 million people nationally and 750,000 people in my home state of Pennsylvania, who have coverage under the Medicaid expansion, would also likely lose that coverage. Am I correct in that, sir?

BARR: Do you think it's likely we're going to prevail?

CARTWRIGHT: If you prevail -- well, you're devoting scarce resources of your department toward that effort, are you not, attorney general?

BARR: We're in litigation. We have to take a position.

CARTWRIGHT: The answer is yes.


BARR: We take a position in litigation.

CARTWRIGHT: And if you succeed, that many people will lose their coverage nationally from Medicaid, and 750,000 from Pennsylvania alone, right? BARR: I'm just saying, if you think it's such an outrageous position,

you have nothing to worry about. Let the courts do their job.


BOLDUAN: That really fascinated me.

Let me bring back in Elie Honig, he's here. Jennifer Rodgers back with me. And also joining us, CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dana, shockingly, there are theatrics coming from a Capitol Hill hearing. I know, I know. Everyone, you can't believe it.

But I was -- do you get a sense of what Bill Barr was trying to say in that line -- in answering that line of questioning? I was really both fascinated and surprised.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He was trying to be tough and trying to do it within the lane of being a lawyer and the attorney general. And trying to kind of throw it back in the Congressman's face about the courts. You know, letting the courts decide. But look, what is this all about? Of course, it's all about the president's attorney general, the Republicans, obviously, making a decision that they have no choice, on the one hand -- on the other hand, they probably don't want to have a choice -- but to fight Obamacare in courts in a way that they were unable to do legislatively. They were unable to do legislatively when they had complete control of Washington. You know, up until, of course, in November, they had the whole entire Congress, and they couldn't repeal and replace Obamacare. So they have made a decision that they are going to fight it in the courts. And, look, I talked to an administration official about this recently who said that, when I said they don't have a choice, that that was the overriding feeling. Because, how do you say to your base, how do you say to your voters, to Republicans who you promised for 10 years that you were going to repeal Obamacare, never mind, we're going to go fight to save Obamacare in court. It is a tough situation. The problem now is the problem we have seen over the past 10 years is, let's say they are the dog that catches the car and they are able to repeal Obamacare, what are they going to replace it with? There's no answer.

BOLDUAN: They couldn't -- they couldn't agree on the answer --

BASH: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: -- when they had control of all Washington, right?

BASH: Exactly.


So, Elie, how should -- if you were attorney general, or if you were an attorney for the government and you're sitting before Congress and they start asking you these questions, how would, how should you answer? HONIG: Yes. I would never get confirmed. But --


BOLDUAN: That's a given.

HONIG: But I think --

BOLDUAN: Beyond that.

HONIG: -- Dana is right. There's definitely a subtext that I think Attorney General Barr was trying to put out there, which is almost, this kind of --


HONIG: -- I'm just following orders.


BOLDUAN: Elie, hold on one second.

I actually want to dip back into the hearing because I think he's asked about Obamacare one more time. Listen to this.

BARR: -- legislative response if, in fact --


CARTWRIGHT: That's absolutely true. I'm asking you to speculate --


CARTWRIGHT: -- and if questions are proper in this room, Attorney General, if you win the case, will you agree that we ought to stay the effect of that until a new plan can go in place rather than strand all the people with pre-existing conditions and all the people whose health care will lapse because of that ruling?

BARR: Well, from my experience, the Supreme Court would likely deal with that in their opinion and provide some kind of period to wind it down.

CARTWRIGHT: You want them to do it on their own motion with no prompting from the Justice Department, is that it?

BARR: I didn't say that. I would say whatever the administration's position is at that point, we'll carry out, from a legal standpoint.

CARTWRIGHT: I'm dismayed to hear that you're willing to drive our health care system off the cliff with no plan for replacing it.

BARR: Well, I think your premise that the Justice Department makes health care policy is simply wrong. We take legal positions in cases.

CARTWRIGHT: I'm going to follow that up. Numerous reports have indicated that you, the chief lawyer for the federal government, and Secretary Azar, who is the lead on health care policy for our federal government, strongly argued against supporting the complete repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. However, reports indicate you and Secretary Azar were overruled by acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, and the president himself.

[11:25:18] Now, at any point, did you convey either to Mr. Mulvaney or the president any concerns about either the effects of this lawsuit prevailing, if it does, or concerned about the dubious legal arguments in this lawsuit? And did Secretary Azar communicate concerns about the effects on our American health care system?

BARR: I'm not going to get into the internal deliberations of the administration on this point. I had ample opportunity to present my views. And I believe that the final decision reached is a legally defensible and reasonable legal position. It is a position that prevailed in the district court. And it is a position taken by the four dissenting justices in the NFIB case, which is that, once you do away with the mandate, the rest of the statute cannot stand.

CARTWRIGHT: Are you citing executive privilege by declining to tell me about the discussions between you, Mr. Azar and Mr. Mulvaney?

BARR: Call it what you wish. I'm not discussing it.

CARTWRIGHT: You're refusing to discuss it. All right.

Well, it's a decision that makes more extreme and, in fact, even contradicts -- the decision to go forward with this position, it contradicts the DOJ's June 2018 position on the case, which was so controversial then that three of the four career attorneys representing the government refused to sign on to the briefs and actually removed themselves from the case. The American people deserve to understand if you and Secretary Azar support this lawsuit based on sound rationale or if it was just bald politics talking.


CARTWRIGHT: I'm requesting you submit this exertion of executive privilege in writing to this committee if that is what you're doing. Don't ask us to call it what it is. I'm asking you, if you're exercising executive privilege, we need to know it and we need to know it in writing.

I yield back, Mr. Chairman.



And, Attorney General Barr, in your testimony, you mentioned cybersecurity. And being that the FBI is the lead federal agency for investigating cyberattacks by criminals, overseas adversaries and terrorists --

BOLDUAN: You're hearing, there, Bill Barr taking more questions from the same congressman about the issue of Obamacare.

Jennifer, let me bring you into this because we kind of -- I cut Elie off, but let me bring you in.

Barr -- for background, the congressman brings up some very interesting reporting, why the questions to Bill Barr were very interesting here about Obamacare. Because the reporting is "Politico" had this reporting that in the deliberations about, are they going to take on Obamacare in court, are they going to go down this road, there was basically a fight, a debate that went on within the administration. "Politico" reporting it was the attorney general, Bill Barr, and Alex Azar, that were against going down this legal route because Barr, at least, according to the reporting, said that he did not think it was going to be a successful challenge. And now Bill Barr is faced with this, and asked to discuss it, and he said he's not going to discuss internal deliberations. That might be the least surprising of what we're hearing about this, but what do you make of this, Jennifer?

RODGERS: Very interesting because, you're right, reading between the lines, it seems as if, when Bill Barr was speaking about this with Mulvaney and others, potentially the president, his position was this was not a good legal argument. That's why he would have been there. He's not a policymaker on this issue. So his point was to come in and say, listen, we had this position, are we going to do a 180 and change our position and here's why that's a hard thing to do and why, legally, it's not the best argument to make, and he lost that fight. He said, a moment ago, he thinks it's a reasonable position that's legally defensible. Those are code for pretty bad legal arguments. They're now stuck making, you know, really not a great legal argument that he suggested they will lose, and it sounds like something he didn't want to do in the first place.

BOLDUAN: Dana, really quick, in another dynamic of all this, it wasn't just an internal debate within the administration about whether or not they should go down this route of taking on Obamacare again. After the fact, if you will, there was real discussion --


BOLDUAN: -- between the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, and the president about if Congress was going to be able to do anything about it. Bottom line, Mitch McConnell says, we're not doing it.

BASH: Exactly. Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House, and almost everybody down the line, almost everybody down the line. And that is why we saw a rare pullback by the president last week after he had taken this discussion about the legal action that his administration is doing after this internal debate.