Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Democrats Set to Grill Barr About Status of Mueller Report on Capitol Hill; White House Senior Official: Trump Weighing Binary Choice for Migrant Families to Either Voluntarily Separate From Their Kids or Be Detained Together With Them Indefinitely; Trump Ousts Homeland Security Secretary and Secret Service Director; Kansas Secretary of State Kobach Blames Officials at DHS for Foot-Dragging; Boeing to Announce Plane Deliveries as 737 Max Jets Remain Grounded. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 9, 2019 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Attorney General Bill Barr's testimony begins in just moments. "CNN NEWSROOM" has live coverage now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. It's a big morning, lots of news today, we're going to bring it to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. We are just minutes away from Attorney General Bill Barr facing lawmakers on Capitol Hill. It will be his first face-to-face testimony with those lawmakers since he took the nearly 400-page Mueller report and boiled it down to a four-page summary.

Democrats plan to grill him over that summary while Barr plans to talk about the Justice Department's nearly $30 billion budget. That is because this hearing was a preplanned one meant to be about the budget, but don't go anywhere because you know there will be all sorts of questions asked about Mueller's findings.

SCIUTTO: And will he give answers? Barr is not the only Trump cabinet member on the Hill today. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin testifying before two committees. What's he going to be asked about? Well, Democrats expected to question him about the president's tax returns, other ethics issues still up in the air.

We're just about 30 minutes away from the attorney general's hearing. Here to give us a look at what to expect in that hearing, CNN's senior congressional Manu Raju.

There'll be a lot of tough questions coming Barr's way. Will he answer those questions?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's the big question, how much will he say? We don't expect him to get into the investigative details about the contents of the Mueller report, but we do expect some discussion about the process that he is undergoing right now as part of the redaction process for the Mueller report, how he plans to move forward and release that redacted version.

And the question is how much more does he provide to Congress, does he say anything more than he has said already in these written letters and the correspondence with the House and Senate Judiciary Committee? But yes, this is a hearing that's supposed to be about the Justice Department's budget, but Democrats have made no secret about it, they want to understand exactly the process that is going on right now, why Bill Barr took certain actions like not charging the president with obstruction of justice and how he actually developed that four-page letter.

Now the chairman of this committee, Jose Serrano, in excerpts of his opening statement he's about to deliver says this, he says, "The American people have been left with many unanswered questions, serious concerns about the process by which you formulated your letter and uncertainty about when we can expect to see the full report."

And I had a chance to talk to one of the congressmen, Matt Cartwright, who will be doing the questioning today and he said a big question for him is all about those redactions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MATT CARTWRIGHT (D-PA): Well, I think what's on everybody's mind right now is how much is he going to redact? And I hope that he takes a very sparing approach to his redactions because he knows that everybody is going to want to know what's behind the black ink.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: So this is just the first of two days of testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee, tomorrow before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee. We don't expect the full Mueller report to be released as he is on Capitol Hill or even a redacted version of that, but the House Judiciary Committee still has those subpoenas in its back pocket for Jerry Nadler, the chairman, to issue -- to demand the full unredacted Mueller report.

He told us last night he still has not decided exactly when to deliver those subpoenas, but we'll hear how much that Barr plans to divulge in just a matter of moments here, guys.

SCIUTTO: Yes. It's a big week. Got the testimony, you may see the report later this week.

Manu Raju, thanks very much.

HARLOW: All right. Barr's plans to talk about funding requests will likely be overshadowed by Democrats who want answers on the release of the full Mueller report. These are live pictures. There is the Attorney General Bill Barr arriving on Capitol Hill. Just about 27 minutes before his testimony is set to begin. We will bring you that as soon as it does start. But as we wait let's going to the Justice Department, our justice correspondent Laura Jarrett is with us for more. I mean, obviously he's going to be asked these questions. We know

some of what the Democrats are going to say about how they feel about this four-page summary and what they're going to ask him. Do you have any sense of how he's going to answer those questions? Because there is not a single word about the Mueller report in his prepared opening statement.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: No, not a single word, Poppy. And I would expect you should see the attorney general pivot, deflect and do everything he can to avoid the elephant in the room.

We know that he's prepared to talk about the department's priorities. This was supposed to be appropriations hearing, and so he's coming armed to talk about everything from reducing violent crime, addressing the immigration issues, combating the upload crisis, prepared to talk about national security concerns. Really core department priorities, but, of course, Democratic lawmakers as Manu pointed out want to talk about the special counsel report.

[09:05:01] That's what's on everybody's mind right now. Barr has not put out the report yet but he has said it is coming in mid-March if not -- mid-April, I should say, if not sooner. So we could expect it any day now. And there also is the fact that he has agreed to testify next month, May 1st and 2nd in front of the House and Senate Judiciary Committee. And so the Democrats on Capitol Hill are going to get another crack at him.

That will not stop them today from pressing him on the redactions. And, of course, the reporting from last week that showed sort of the break in the special counsel's team and how they were disturbed about his four-page summary I'm sure is likely to come up as well. So we'll see how he answers all of that, but I think we should expect him to try to pivot and deflect.

HARLOW: OK. Laura Jarrett, thank you very much.

SCIUTTO: Joining us now former federal prosecutor Laura Coates and former president adviser to just a few presidents, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Clinton, David Gergen. You might have heard of him.

Laura, I want to start with you first just because it's a legal question here. If I was in that room and I think the big question folks want answered is OK, what evidence did Mueller turn up of wrongdoing by the president, if any, both for collusion and for obstruction of justice, and then what was your rationale, Mr. Attorney General, for determining that there was no obstruction of justice, you know, kind of a decision that the special counsel punted to him.

Will Barr feel pressure? Will he have to answer those questions or will he say listen, that's secret, I don't want to sully anyone's reputations, didn't meet the standard for prosecution?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think he will be pressured to answer but this will be more of a form over substantive hearing, Jim. I mean, the idea here, he'll be asked a lot of questions and fairly right that he'll be asked questions about the process, about the redaction, about the real big question here which is why did you decide to actually make a recommendation or a decision about the obstruction aspect of it?

That's not asking him what the actual evidence is, it's asking him whether Mueller actually intended for him to be the final arbiter and decision-maker here. Therefore, he can't punt and try to go around the issue of what's in the substantive, it's about why he chose to make the decision. I think that's really fair game more than the questions right now pre-redaction about what he'll actually provide.

In addition to that questions about whether or not he will provide a redaction sort of log that said, look, you've identified four different categories from classified information to prejudicial information for peripheral third parties to information about grand jury and the like. Do you intend to let us know which particular black ink marks correspond to which section or will we all be in the dark?

Those are process questions that don't have anything to do with the substance and he should answer those questions.

HARLOW: David Gergen, we know a little bit of what the Democrats or the chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee Nita Lowey, what she's going to say, Democrat of New York. She's going to call his handling unacceptable. She's also going to say that the fact that he did this summary in just 48 hours is more suspicious than impressive.

I'm interested if you find it as suspicious as she does.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Do I find it as what?

HARLOW: I mean, she finds it suspicious that he did this summary in 48 hours, do you?

GERGEN: I don't think it's time to make a judgment on that. When we see the report I think we can determine whether it was too hasty, especially if there are discrepancies between what he said, the four- page summary, and the report itself, or are there implications in the four-page summary that led us in one direction when, in fact, there was a lot of evidence --

HARLOW: So is there a risk here for Democrats to make statements like that like we know she's going to do, of going too far too fast?

GERGEN: I think there is some risk for the Democrats. You know, in retrospect did the Democrats -- did the press overplay the nature of what was coming? There was certainly an assumption that it was going to be a blockbuster negative report that might bring down the president and when it wasn't, you know, it gave enormous relief to the White House, but it also let them make the argument, fake news, you people have been misreporting this the whole time.

I don't think that was a fair argument on the part of the White House, but nonetheless gave them ammunition to make that kind of argument. So I think here this process is going to play itself out over the next few weeks. I think we should be careful about rendering judgment now even as we press for more information. We simply have to have more information to make intelligent --

HARLOW: And we're going to get it soon. I mean, the question is just how much are we going to get.

GERGEN: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Right.

GERGEN: And what's his philosophy of redaction. Is it to be sweeping or is it to be quite limited?

HARLOW: Right. Right. Yes, we don't know.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, Laura Coates, he has telegraphed his philosophy of redaction a bit because early on he made the case in public comments that you don't want to sully the reputations of folks who -- you may have discovered evidence of possible wrongdoing, but if you don't meet the standard of criminal wrongdoing you don't want to just lay it all out there because some folks will view that as kind of prosecuting in the public sphere as opposed to in the courts.

Is that a fair argument for the attorney general to make?

COATES: It is.

[09:10:01] I mean, it's a policy at the DOJ, you don't want to just tar and feather in the public square and then not actually bring a case. We've seen that illustrated time and time again.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

COATES: And particularly with the Comey press conference with respect to Hillary Clinton. We do not want that to happen. Having said that, however, there is a wide variety of information can be made available aside from that kind of peripheral third party disparaging comments.

We know that there was grand jury testimony. We know that there was actually voluntary witnesses as well and voluntary interviews. We have search warrants and subpoena requests, all could be made public without that same, you know, gravitas about trying to shield the prejudice against people who are not going to be charged.

These where things can come out, so the question will really be given the fact that there are policy and guidelines and judicial redaction that should be made public, well, what is your approach going to be to identifying those aspects that you do redact to alert the Congress why you have redacted it.

It cannot be simply that page after page is black inked out because it would not actually be able to be confirmed what the process was. And so if he's promising transparency as a floor and not a ceiling, he has to be accountable to actually inform as to why he's made certain redactions.

HARLOW: David Gergen, one thing we know from Barr's summary is -- and this is a quote from what he wrote -- most of the obstructive actions by the president have been publicly reported. The word "most" is something that a lot of people struck on when we read that the first time so I assume some folks are going to ask him what he means by most.

GERGEN: Well, they should. They should. It's not at all clear. You say 80 percent? You know, that extra 20 percent could be explosive. We don't know that. I do think that there is a time tested device in Washington that could be used on these redactions. And that is, OK, we appreciate we're going to get redacted stuff, we're going to see black marks. We would like to have the full report with no redactions that's available only for the leadership of our committees, the investigatory committees.

SCIUTTO: Right.

HARLOW: Right.

GERGEN: Maybe in a closed room where nobody can take an oath but you'll have an opportunity to come in --

SCIUTTO: Just like an intelligence briefing. Right?

GERGEN: Yes.

SCIUTTO: I mean, they will get things in private that they don't share in public.

GERGEN: Exactly. And that seems to me to be a fair way to settle and this balances this out.

HARLOW: All right. Stand by. Don't go anywhere. We're watching the live pictures of the hearing room right now.

Laura Coates, David Gergen, stick with us as we prepare to hear from Bill Barr, the first time he has testified since that summary of the Mueller report.

Still to come, the White House is weighing a so-called binary choice for migrants, stay together indefinitely in a detention facility as a family or be separated at the border. This as we're learning the president ordered a partial border shutdown, backing off that demand, though, but just a few weeks ago. Those details ahead.

SCIUTTO: This as we are waiting to hear from Attorney General Barr facing those tough questions on Capitol Hill just minutes from now. We're going to bring that to you live when it kicks off.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00] SCIUTTO: Live pictures there from Capitol Hill. Just minutes from now, the Attorney General will face a House Committee and face hard questions on his decisions regarding the Mueller report. We're going to bring that to you live. Stay with us.

HARLOW: All right, CNN has also learned that President Trump is pushing to reinstate his controversial family separation policy at the southern border. This is a big deal. This reporting according to a senior administration official that under discussion right now is a so-called Binary Choice.

This proposal would give undocumented families apprehended at the border the option either they stay together as a family while detained or agree to be separated while the parents go through the process.

SCIUTTO: Joining us now, CNN's Joe Johns who is live at the White House. Joe, so many folks in this administration were opposed to this policy, many of whom have now been sent out the door.

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Who is with the president on this decision to reinstate separating parents from their children?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Interesting question. What we do know, of course, is that Stephen Miller; the influential presidential adviser who has been there all along has now gotten immigration as part of his portfolio and he's looking at all options, however few.

There are certainly concerns in this administration that there aren't any good options left. We are told that this Binary Choice is one of the things they're going to look at very carefully under discussion, under careful consideration. We know also that the incoming, acting, Homeland Security Director Kevin McAleenan also is taking a look at it as well.

So, it's a very difficult choice, this Binary Choice, if you will. It's a choice for parents to after 20 days of detention either decide with their children whether the family should separate or whether they should stay together. It's important also to say that the immigration process can take years, so that's a Hobson's choice, if you will. We have that graphic that we can show you.

The choice number one, the whole family remains in detention, choice number two, the families agree to be separated as the parents go through the process together. A very controversial idea, of course, especially because the United States, there is a rule that says when the government takes control of a child, they have to do so in the best interest of that child. And the question would be what happens to the child? Jim --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Call it what you like, binary, I mean, straight up, do you want to stay with your kids or not, imagine answering that question?

HARLOW: Joe Johns, thanks very much. Let's talk about this with John Sandweg, he's former acting director of ICE and former acting general counsel for DHS during the Obama years. Nice to have you here.

[09:20:00] I should preface this by saying, you've been very complementary of Kevin McAleenan who now has this job, Kevin McAleenan. I mean, you've said like he's as good as they come, et cetera. That said, is he in an impossible position here?

JOHN SANDWEG, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, U.S. IMMIGRATION & CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT: Well, potentially. What we've seen so far is that the administration has pushed these policies on the department. They've been ineffective, they've been incompetently kind of managed, and in many instances they've been unlawful.

So if McAleenan is required to kind of implement this White House policies, which really meant out to a series of symbols, but no strategy. He continued to see the numbers of people we're seeing at the border, yes, I think then he is in an unwinnable position. He's going to be held accountable for the failures of policies that arguably he doesn't devise.

SCIUTTO: One issue that has attracted understandably a lot of attention is the president directing, it seemed, on his visit to the border, U.S. border agents, to violate U.S. law. To turn folks away at the border when law requires that they be dealt with, and that appears to be a central area of disagreement with his now departing DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

Tell me the significance of a sitting president because he doesn't like the law, telling folks not to follow the law as it relates to asylum seekers.

SANDWEG: Yes, I mean, that's -- I think, listen, there is an existing framework of laws that are in place, and this president has consistently shown a resistance to enforcing those laws. Instead, he is seeking to modify the laws or seeking a series of short cuts.

We have laws that have managed mass migrations like this in the past. The problem is the numbers of individuals showing up now are straining those resources greatly. All we need to do is surge resources into frankly, the immigration courts and the adjudication officers who decide these asylum claims, process these claims quickly and get these people out.

Instead, what we've seen --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

SANDWEG: Is this kind of -- this family separation and then this remain-in-place in Mexico, both of which have now been explicitly found to be unlawful by federal courts. And not only are they unlawful, they've been ineffective. Since the implementation, you know, there was no dip in the numbers after a family separation was implemented.

There has been no dip in the numbers since --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

SANDWEG: Remain-in-place in Mexico was implemented.

HARLOW: Right --

SANDWEG: That these are just not effective strategies --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

HARLOW: Right --

SCIUTTO: Even if it is meant for deterrents, you're saying it's not working. Let's get you on this, so the question now becomes who replaces Kirstjen Nielsen, right? Will Kevin McAleenan get the job full time? We don't know. There are some who are wondering if it's going to be former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. He was on "Fox News" last night. Here is the case he made.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KRIS KOBACH, SECRETARY OF STATE, KANSAS: Leadership at that agency for the past two years ever since the president took office has been unwilling to execute many of the president's plans.

And I can say from direct personal experience, I have been in the room when the president has given express orders to leadership at DHS and been assured that, yes, those orders will be carried out, and then a year later, nothing has happened. So there has been deliberate foot- dragging.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: He's saying this is all just because people aren't doing what the president says. What do you say?

SANDWEG: Well, first of all, I think that would be an interesting confirmation hearing to see Kris Kobach go through the Senate. But listen, this is -- Nielsen, I think has -- her legacy is tarnished, and I think rightfully so by family separation. I think the way she handled that, the way she misled the public, she deserves some blame for that.

But at the end of the day, the failure here at the border falls on the White House, not on the department. You know, the department couldn't -- this is not an issue of trying to be, you know, someone more tough or less tough. Tough is just a sound bite, it's not a strategy.

And what we're not seeing here is an effective strategy to manage what's going on at the border within the framework of laws that we have. Quite candidly, this administration is just not enforcing the current law, instead they're trying to push the margins of the law because I think it sounds good or it sounds tough and that their base is going to enjoy it.

With their simple --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

SANDWEG: Solution here, and we -- you know, this administration refuses to adopt that, but to blame Nielsen who kind of oversaw one of the -- frankly, the cruelest and if you will, toughest policies that we've ever implemented at our border that was ineffective, to say that somehow it was an execution issue, that's just -- that is unfair.

SCIUTTO: Yes --

HARLOW: John Sandweg, good to have you, come back and join us because this issue is not going away.

SCIUTTO: Yes --

HARLOW: Thanks for your time --

SCIUTTO: It's hard to pass new laws so it would be a lot easier just to break the existing ones, but we got laws.

HARLOW: You can't do that in this country, right?

SCIUTTO: Moments from now, the Attorney General William Barr; he's going to face tough questioning from Democrats on the Hill. How will he answer questions about how he handled the Mueller report, what's in it? What should you and I know about what's in it, we're going to bring you the hearing live.

HARLOW: And we're moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Investors are set to watch some very key corporate earnings today, including Boeing set to announce the number of planes it's delivered since all of those 737 Max jets were grounded.

[09:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: Well, that chair you're looking out there, facing all those cameras, you could describe that as a hot seat, I think. Attorney General Bill Barr about to face lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Lots of questions.

HARLOW: This is his first testimony since he released his four-page summary of the Mueller report. But before the actual report is released to Congress, our senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is live on Capitol Hill. We're about to get into these opening statements at any moment. What are you expecting?

RAJU: Yes, Bill Barr is here, he arrived about 25 minutes ago, he's been in the holding room right across from this hearing room. He's going to be walked in just momentarily. Lawmakers are arriving, expect the tone to be set right at the beginning of these opening statements, particularly by the Democrats here to make it clear they are not satisfied with the four-page letter that Bill Barr released, summarizing the top line conclusions of the Mueller report.

Expect them to say there are lots of questions that they need answers to in addition to why he's taking --

SCIUTTO: Speaking there --

RAJU: Redacting portions of this report as Democrats have --

SCIUTTO: Bill Barr, Manu --

RAJU: Demanded him not to do so --

SCIUTTO: As you speak, Bill Barr there.

[09:30:00]