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Homeland Security Leadership Purge?; William Barr Faces Congress; Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) is Interviewed About AG Barr Releasing the Mueller Report. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 9, 2019 - 16:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The complete-ish Mueller report could be out in days.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The attorney general facing Congress for the first time since the Mueller probe wrapped up and setting up a war with Democrats over what we in the public may never see.

It's the Department of Homeland Security, not job security. Today, President Trump denied he ever used the phrase cleaning house, as more Republicans appear ticked off about the so-called purge of top national security officials.

Plus, invisible crisis. Why are so many Native American women vanishing or getting killed? And why is Capitol Hill only now paying attention?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead.

Today, the keeper of the Mueller report, Attorney General Bill Barr, testifying publicly before Congress for the first time since releasing his letter about Mueller's findings, and now the countdown is officially on.

Barr today announcing he expects to release the full Mueller report, well, full-ish, with redactions, within a week, explaining for the first time his plan to provide reasons for each of the redactions, and saying that special counsel Robert Mueller is helping him identify those redactions.

But even though the attorney general answered a lot of questions today, as CNN's Sara Murray now reports, there was one question he curiously declined to answer, and that is whether the White House has seen or been briefed on the Mueller report.


REP. JOSE SERRANO (D-NY): And, of course, Mr. Attorney General, we cannot hold this hearing without mentioning the elephant in the room.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): And address it, they did. Attorney General William Barr telling lawmakers today he will soon be ready to release special counsel Robert Mueller's report.

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think that, from my standpoint, by within a week, I will be in a position to release the report to the public.

MURRAY: But not the complete version Democrats are clamoring for.

BARR: I don't intend, at this stage, to send the full unredacted report to the committee.

MURRAY: Barr's resistance setting off a pointed exchange over 6(e), the rule governing the release of grand jury material. That material is meant to be kept secret, except in certain circumstances. Barr says this isn't one of them.

BARR: I will have to say that, until someone shows me a provision in 6(e) that permits its release, Congress doesn't get 6(e). And the chairman of the Judiciary Committee is free to go to court if he feels one of those exceptions is applicable.

MURRAY: Barr's comments setting up a fight between Congress and the Trump administration over the fate of the Mueller report. Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee already authorized a subpoena for the full report and its underlying evidence. So far, Democrats haven't moved forward with that, but that could soon change.

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): I presume we're going to get the redacted report within a week. When we do so, if we don't get everything, we will issue the subpoena and go to court.

MURRAY: Barr also under fire today for how he crafted his summary of Mueller's conclusions.

REP. NITA LOWEY (D-NY): All we have is your four-page summary, which seems to cherry-pick from the report, to draw the most favorable conclusion possible for the president.

MURRAY: Barr defended the substance of his letter.

BARR: I felt that I should state the bottom-line conclusions, and I tried to use special counsel Mueller's own language in doing that.

MURRAY: Though only about 100 words in the four-page letter were Mueller's. Barr added that Mueller declined to weigh in on it.

BARR: Mr. Mueller's team did not play a role in drafting that document, although we offered him the opportunity to review it before we sent it out, and he declined that. MURRAY: Barr also acknowledged the White House counsel was given a

heads-up about the initial summary sent to Congress.

BARR: We did advise the White House Counsel's Office that the letters were being sent, but they were not allowed or even asked to make any changes to the letters.

MURRAY: But he refused to say whether the White House has seen the full report.

BARR: I have said what I'm going to say about the report today.


MURRAY: Now, even though Barr was standing firm on not releasing that grand jury material, he signaled a little bit more openness to potentially sharing some of the classified information with members of Congress.

He also said that when he does hand over this report to Congress and the public, the redactions will be color-coded, sort of a guide as to what is redacted and why those specific parts are missing -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray, thanks so much.

Let's chew over all of this.

Jen Psaki, Barr clearly did entertain questions about the Mueller report, but there's one big question that he dodged, as Sara Murray noted. Take a listen.


LOWEY: Did the White House see the report before you released your summarizing letter? Has the White House seen it since then? Have they been briefed on the contents beyond what was in your summarizing letter to the Judiciary Committee?


BARR: I have said what I'm going to say about the report today.


TAPPER: Why not answer those questions?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, did you steal my cookie? I have said what I'm going to say today.

I think he's always been a biased narrator. He was not only a Trump appointee. He was somebody who has defended a number of the actions that were under investigation by the Mueller team. So, that's just important to...

TAPPER: The obstruction of justice charge, yes.

PSAKI: The obstruction of justice, specifically the firing of Comey.

Why didn't he answer it? Because he's still protecting Trump, and I think that's clear here. The redactions is -- that debate is going to continue, as we all know, as Democrats and Chairman Nadler has indicated.

Color-coding aside, it's important to remind people that Congress has had access to classified information, to grand jury investigation information, to information about ongoing investigations. That is different from releasing all of that to the public. That is Congress' right to have that information. And that is what a big part of the fight is about right now.

TAPPER: David?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, look, I fail to believe that. I know that that's happened before. They have gotten the grand jury testimony.

But anybody -- that anybody around this table could honestly say that it would not go through that committee like something through a goose, the famous saying. It will be in one door and out the another door the same day.

The entire media will have it. I have no faith in the Congress' ability to protect that grand jury information, as well as sources and methods and other things that I think the attorney general is going to protect here, and rightfully doing so. He's going to disclose why he's doing it. He's going to give his reasons behind it.

And I think he's going to -- as he said in his confirmation hearing, he is going to do everything he can to make this as transparent as possible, because at the end of the day, I think it does serve the president well to get the story out.

TAPPER: So, Mary Katherine, you have been on the record saying that you want as much as possible of this released.


TAPPER: So Barr's identified four different areas to be redacted, to be stricken, grand jury information, material that could compromise sensitive sources and methods, material that could affect ongoing investigations, and information that would -- quote -- "infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of third parties," people not being charged.

Is that OK with you?

HAM: These are all legitimate concerns.

Even my libertarian sensibilities will allow for the fact that there are things you should protect in this report, up to and including methods, even though sometimes I'm skeptical of that.

So, look, there's important stuff here and they should be careful about releasing it. I am fairly satisfied with the timetable. To me, Barr has seemed fairly transparent about this throughout, saying in his confirmation hearings, look, to the greatest extent of the law, I will make this public.

I am happy to wait another week, so that we don't have a bunch of grand jury stuff released by accident, which would cause yet another uproar, if he can keep his nose clean and do it properly. I'm satisfied that he and Mueller know each other and that Mueller has called out irresponsible characterizations of his report, even though he almost never talked, by BuzzFeed during the investigation.

And I feel very confident he might say something had Barr materially misrepresented him. So I'm going to settle in, fasten my seat belt for another week, while we -- some people speculate, and then we will figure it out.


Now, of course, those of us who are used to redactions in Washington, D.C., can identify with this complaint coming from Congressman Ed Case, a Democrat, and this isn't necessarily a complaint just about Republican administrations, but all administrations, that redactions can be a little excessive. Take a look.


REP. ED CASE (D-HI): This is what drives the public crazy, when they see something like this. This is what we have to try to avoid.


TAPPER: I mean, on the right side of the screen there, that entire page just redacted. Are you concerned at all about what might be -- whether there will be excessive redactions?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I will tell you what I'm concerned about. I think he's getting ready to ruin our Easter and Passover weekends.

PSAKI: for sure.

NAVARRO: I'm getting ready for a Good Friday news dump of this.


TAPPER: That's a week from Friday, right? That's not this Friday.

NAVARRO: That's a week from Friday.


NAVARRO: But, OK, seven days, 10 days, who's counting?

In the meantime, we will have 10 Democratic town halls, so we will keep -- lose track anyways. Look, I do think the redaction thing is important. And I do agree

with Mary Katharine that waiting a week is reasonable. But also, you know, had the Democrats not stayed on this, had the spotlight not remained on this, had the pressure, the public pressure and the congressional pressure not continued on this, I'm not sure that they would be releasing it in mid-April.

So I think it's important to see if he lives up to his promise. He said from the get-go that he would be releasing it in mid-April. Mid- April is next week.

URBAN: And let's just remember the reason there's so little being released is because of a backlash after the Starr report and everything that was released.

So after the Starr report came, the Clinton administration, Attorney General Reno and the Clinton administration drafted these exact regulations. The special counsel regulations that are being implemented today were drafted by the attorney general, Janet Reno, in the Clinton administration.

PSAKI: But, David, even the context of that, that was because those were intimate details about Monica Lewinsky and President Clinton's physical relationship.


URBAN: Right, oversharing. Right.

PSAKI: This is about the interactions between the president of the United States' inner circle with Russia and whether or not he obstructed justice.

There is a difference. So, I think actually what will be an interesting thing to watch is, after this, whether there will be a backlash again about whether that was too far.

I do think, on the redaction piece, I think it's important to note that what's being released to the public, no one's talking about grand jury pieces being released to the public.

HAM: I'm saying mistakes could be made.


PSAKI: I understand that.


PSAKI: But, just for clarification, or classified information.


PSAKI: The category that's of biggest concern, I think, is the one about reputational risks, because that is not a legal category. That is something Barr oversees and he has pure discretion on what is

included in that category. And that's where we don't know what we don't know.


URBAN: That's declination of prosecution.


NAVARRO: In this entire debate, I keep thinking of that famous Ronald Reagan line about, I paid for this debate -- for microphone.


NAVARRO: Well, OK, I'm an American taxpayer? Taxes are due again next week. I paid for this damn report. I want to read it. I don't want to read the national security threats in it. I don't want to read any issues that should be redacted.

But I want to -- I don't want to given some summary that feels like a novel, where I read the dedication, to my lovely wife and my children and my -- and then go, the end. I want to see what's in between those pages.

TAPPER: So, but as David pointed out, what are called declinations, all the information that did not lead to a prosecution, if that's what Barr is referring to when he refers to...

URBAN: Sounds like it.

TAPPER: ... infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of third parties, people not being charged, that could theoretically mean anything damaging to the president, to anybody in his family. I mean, that's what it theoretically could mean.

Everyone, stick around. We're going to -- we will keep talking about this.

One group that will certainly be decoding the colors of the redacted Mueller report, the House Intelligence Committee. And a member of that committee will join me with reaction to Barr's new details.

Plus, President Trump facing heat from big names in his own party about all the changes at the Department of Homeland Security.

Stay with us.


[16:16:19] TAPPER: Welcome back.

Attorney General Bill Barr telling lawmakers on Capitol Hill today that he is expecting to deliver a public redacted version of the Mueller report within a week and that special counsel Robert Mueller is working with him on those redactions. Joining me now is Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier. She serves

on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congresswoman, thank you very much for joining us.

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: You heard Attorney General Barr say that the special counsel is participating in the review of redacted information and that once the report's out, he's consult with members of the committee about gaining access to the redacted information. Take a listen.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I would not only give it to the chairman of the judiciary committees, but I would talk to them and engage with them about what additional information they feel they require and whether there's a way of accommodating that.


TAPPER: Are you satisfied with that? Is that OK?

SPEIER: Well, it's double speak, in my respects. Certainly, the House Intelligence Committee has a right to access that document for counterintelligence purposes. That's one of the receptions in the law.

So, I fully expect that we will see the entire document. And if we don't, I think the American people are going to speak out loud and clear. They paid for this investigation. They have every right to know what's in it.

And the fact that we have seen this orchestrated effort to say that the president's exonerated and Mr. Barr came out and said there was no obstruction of justice, even though special counsel Mueller couldn't make that assessment suggests to me that there's, there's more than smoke here, there may be fire.

TAPPER: Let me ask you, because it's long been a concern among people in the executive branch that Congress leaks like a sieve. This is long before Trump, long before you came to Congress.

How do you address individuals who say, we'd be happy to share this with you, we'd be happy to share it with every member of congress, but we can't trust that you'll keep it to yourselves?

SPEIER: Well, first of all, Jake, what I would say to that is it's the White House that leaks like a sieve. I think if you look at the House Intelligence Committee, we are, you know, sworn to secrecy. And if we do not commit to that or if we were to leak something that was top secret, we would be subject to ethical review. So, I think that there should be high confidence that the committee will review that in a manner that is consistent with all the meetings we have. Every hearing we have is typically classified and you do not hear of leaks coming out. TAPPER: Barr, the attorney general, implored lawmakers today to let

the report come out, let him testify, and if there are further questions, he'll be happy to answer them. Do you think it makes sense for your party to let that process play out?

SPEIER: Well, I think the process is going to play out. It will be interesting to see how much of that 400-page document is redacted. And we'll get a better sense, I believe, once it is out, to see whether there's a real genuine effort to be forthcoming or whether this is more smoke and mirrors.

TAPPER: Barr also defended his four-page letter, laying out Mueller's findings and whether members of Mueller's team are frustrated with the contents of that four-page letter. Take a listen.


BARR: I was not interested in putting out summaries or trying to summarize, because I think any summary, regardless of who prepares it, not only runs the risk of, you know, being under-inclusive or over- inclusive, but also, you know, would trigger a lot of discussion and analysis that really should await everything coming out at once.


TAPPER: What do you think? What's your response?

[16:20:00] SPEIER: Well, I think it's very hypocritical. He does a four-page interpretive summary, and yet, the summary that was provided by the special counsel after two years of investigations is not made available to the members of Congress. As the speaker said, we don't need to be spoon fed information. We can interpret information for ours.

So, again, I think there is far too much orchestration going on here, which really troubles me. Let's hope that the report is not heavily redacted and that we'll have the full impression of what the special counsel actually found out.

TAPPER: When Barr talked about, in a prior letter, the information that he's talking about redacting, it seems like there's some areas that make sense -- sources and methods, things that are irrelevant to information still ongoing. And then there's in information, what may be called declinations in legal terms, but it's information that is damaging to somebody who has not been charged with any sort of crime.

Does that concern you? Because that theoretically could be, theoretically, could be the president, members of his family, other individuals, if he's talking about, we're going to block anything that's damaging to somebody who hasn't been charged, there's a lot of powerful people could be in that group.

SPEIER: Well, not only are they a large group of powerful people, but they could, in fact, be subject to beyond a reasonable doubt or a preponderance of the evidence. I mean, a criminal action is different from an impeachment action. In impeachment, you do not have to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt. You could do that with the preponderance of the evidence.

If we don't have access to the information, how can we assess whether or not impeachment is appropriate? But more importantly, we want to make sure that our country is safe. And we want to make sure that the president of the United States follows the law. If there is indications that he obstructed justice, we have a right to know that, because if we did it before, he'll do it again.

TAPPER: So, you brought up impeachment just now. You're looking to the Mueller document and you're -- you think there might be information in there that could, theoretically, serve as a basis for impeachment proceedings against President Trump. Is that what you're saying?

SPEIER: We've always said that we wanted to see the Mueller report before we move forward with any kind of an impeachment action. I've always said that. So, certainly, that would be one of the alternatives upon receiving the report, if it was, you know, fulsome in its discussion of issues.

So, again, we have to see the report. I want to see the entire report. I think as a member of the House Intelligence Committee, certainly under the counterintelligence exception, we should have access to that document.

TAPPER: Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California, thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it.

SPEIER: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: President Trump dusting off the classic "blame Obama" when it comes to a problem plaguing his administration. That's next. Stay with us.


[16:27:37] TAPPER: The politics lead now.

President Trump barely acknowledging this afternoon the sweeping personnel changes he's bringing to the Department of Homeland Security.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a lot of great people over there. We have bad laws. We need homeland security. That's exactly what we want. There's no better term, there's no better name. We want homeland security. And that's what we're going to get.


TAPPER: In the last few days, the president forced the resignation of homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen. He fired the head of Secret Service. He pulled the nominee for ICE director and the clock is ticking for other senior officials there, according to senior administration sources.

But as CNN's Abby Phillip now reports, the sudden departures, combined with the president's desired hard line tactics at the border are being met with concerned by top congressional Republicans.


TRUMP: Take a look --

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An afternoon of denials for President Trump, first telling reporters his administration is not planning to reinstate a family separation policy for undocumented immigrants entering the U.S.

TRUMP: We're not looking to do that, no.

REPORTER: You're not looking to bring it back?

TRUMP: It brings a lot more people to the border.

PHILLIP: Then, regarding the recent firings of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and the head of the Secret Service.

REPORTER: You seem to be cleaning house at DHS. What would you like to achieve with the new leadership?

TRUMP: Well, I never said I'm cleaning house. I don't know who came up with that.

PHILLIP: But Trump is making it more difficult to for migrants to claim asylum based on a credible fear of returning to their home country, a senior administration official said today. That official also saying the White House considered offering undocumented immigrants a so-called "binary option", staying in detention indefinitely with their children or risk being separated from them at the border.

The shake up at DHS and the reboot of Trump's zero-tolerance policy have some on Capitol Hill taking notice.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): They're changing the crew on the Titanic, but they're headed for a shipwreck.

PHILLIP: Republican Senator Chuck Grassley telling "The Washington Post" in an interview that Trump is pulling the rug out from the very people that are trying to help him accomplish his goal on border security. All this as Trump officials face scrutiny on Capitol Hill over the president's policies, revealing that thousands of children being held in facilities at the border risk being traumatized.

JONATHAN WHITE, HHS COMMANDER: We do not have the capacity to receive that number of children, nor do we have the capacity to serve them, nor is it possible to build a system that will prevent the mass traumaticization of children.

PHILLIP: And Trump lashing out at a federal court, ruling that the Trump administration cannot return asylum seekers to Mexico while they wait for their immigration case.