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Attorney General Bill Barr Faces Questions on Capitol Hill; Barr to Face Tough Questions over Mueller Report. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired April 9, 2019 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Speaking there, Bill --

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Redacting portions of this report as Democrats have -- Democrats have demanded him not to do so --

SCIUTTO: Bill Barr, Manu, as you're speaking, Bill Barr there just sitting down before the committee there. Right on time. It was supposed to start at 9:30. Look, it just hit 9:30. There is the attorney general shaking hands.

We're going to listen for those opening statements.

Sorry, Manu, continue -- finish your thought. Apologies to interrupt.

RAJU: No, that's no problem at all.

He's going to -- we don't expect him, in his opening remarks, Jim and Poppy, to actually talk about his thinking about the Mueller report. We'll see if he deviates at all. But his written statement that he gave to this committee did not broach that topic at all.

But, we do expect when he's asked about the Mueller report to talk about the process that he's undergoing right now to redact the Mueller report. We don't expect him to get into any of the details of the investigation, the contents of the report. He's probably going to sidestep questions about that. Will that satisfy Democrats on this subcommittee? Unlikely. Will this satisfy Democrats in the House Judiciary Committee who are defending the full un-redacted report? Almost certainly it will not satisfy them. So no matter what Barr says today, he's bound to anger particularly Democrats who control the House.

There's a subpoena fight looming in the House Judiciary Committee. That could be served shortly, potentially, depending on what Bill Barr here says about the redactions that he plans to undertake as part of the Mueller report. But a key moment here, the first time we are hearing from the attorney general since the end of the Mueller investigation. What will he say? Will he shine any more light than he has said before? All questions as he's about to deliver these opening remarks.

SCIUTTO: Manu Raju, thanks very much. Just a sense of the order here, of course, Democrats control the

House, so Democrats have the chairmanship of this committee. The chairman of the committee is going to give the opening comments first and then we'll hear from Republicans and then we'll hear from Bill Barr.

Let's listen in.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Let's listen in.

REP. JOSE SERRANO (D-NY): The subcommittee will come to order.

Today we welcome the new attorney general, William Barr, before this subcommittee. As the attorney general during the George H.W. Bush administration, he has testified before this committee in the past, but this is his first time in quite a while.

Welcome and congratulations to your new and old position, sir.

We also welcome assistant attorney general for administration, Lee Lofthus. Because Attorney General Barr was not confirmed when this year's budget proposal was largely formulated, he has asked that the assistant attorney general be allowed to join him in the table -- at the table to answer some of the nuts and bolts questions that we will ask regarding the budget.

This year we have held several hearings for components of the department, including the FBI, the ATF, the civil rights division and the executive office for immigration review.

I appreciate the willingness of the department to come and testify before our subcommittee, even though we may have different opinions on different issues.

Let me take a moment to describe some concerns prompted by those hearings.

We have heard what appears to be a lack of commitment to the department's traditional mission to defend civil rights, disability rights and prevent discrimination. We have discussed what appears to be a clear animus towards policies that protect individuals' health care, voting rights, access to education and much, much more. We have discussed the need for additional resources to address gun violence in this country, while at the same time hearing ATF say that the budget request would result in staffing reductions.

We have talked to the head of the executive office for immigration review about the need to protect due process and fairness in our immigration courts and the many policy changes that make such goals more difficult to achieve. We have heard the FBI describe the threats that our nation faces, but also that their budget request will not fully fund their efforts to address those threats.

As we discuss the departments today, we're faced with a budget request that fails to address many of these concerns and raises new problems. And, of course, Mr. Attorney General, we could not hold this hearing without mentioning the elephant in the room, and I'm not referring to my colleagues on the other side. Two and a half weeks ago the Mueller report was completed in extremely quick fashion. You turned a 300-plus page report into a four-page letter that supposedly summarized the findings.

Last week, "The New York Times" reported that the special counsel's office had already created summary documents that were ignored in your letter and that some investigators within the special counsel's office felt that within the special counsel's office the summary understates the level of malfeasance by the president and several of his campaign and White House advisers.

[09:35:14] The American people have been left with the many -- 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. I believe the American people deserve to see the full report and to be trusted to make our own determinations on the merits based on what the special counsel has presented.

Mr. Attorney General, if there's one thing I would like to leave with you today, something you already know, but just my role to remind you is that this Congress voted unanimously to see that report. That the Congress and the committees of jurisdiction want to see the report and that the American people want to see the report. I think it would strike a serious blow to our system and, yes, to our democracy if that report is not fully seen.

And when it comes to redactions, we would hope that you could tell us when something was redacted, if you feel it has to be, what area it covered, not just a blackout. It doesn't tell us where it came from and why it might have been redacted.

We're not here to -- today to be in a -- in a confrontational situation with you. We want to help you do your job and you will need to help us do ours. But what cannot happen is that somebody higher than you tells you that you don't have to answer our questions or you don't have to deal with us at all. That's not who we are as a country. That's not who we are as a democracy. That's not who we are as an appropriations committee.

So let me just say this, since 2017, our nation's Justice Department has too often failed to meet the needs of the American people. I hope that with your ascension to attorney general we can work together to change that.

And with that said, I will turn to my colleague and friend, Mr. Aderholt.

REP. ROBERT ADERHOLT (R-AL): Thank you for yielding, Mr. Chairman.

And I, too, would like to welcome Attorney General Barr and Assistant Attorney General Lofthus to the Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee to testify regarding the FY 2020 budget request.

Your stewardship at the Department of Justice is important to all our communities and your budget proposes key investments in what we can all agree on are critical criminal justice priorities, such as strengthening national security, reducing violent crime, enforcing our nation's immigration laws, combating the opioid crisis and reducing recidivism.

Attorney General Barr, we recognize that you have an incredible demanding job. Your presence here this morning reveals how seriously you take the department's FY 2020 budget request, as well as the role of Congress and this committee in making the funding decisions. So, thank you for being here this morning.

We want to work with you, as the chairman said, to ensure that the programs you administer to help keep this country safe are as effective and that they're efficient as possible. I hope your testimony today will address many of the issues that affect our local communities.

I'm particularly interested in the Justice Department's efforts to help curb the deadly opioid epidemic. I hope to learn more about high tech law enforcement initiatives you're using to disrupt the sophisticated transnational criminal organizations at the heart of this scourge and how we can best support these efforts.

I'm also interested in hearing about your perspective on the humanitarian and the security crisis that we now have on our southern border that we're hearing so much about and how it affects the workload at your department.

I look forward to working with Chairman Serrano on these and many other issues with the appropriations process as we move forward for the FY '20 appropriations process.

So with that, we look forward to your testimony this morning and I yield back.

SERRANO: Thank you, Mr. Aderholt.

Let me now turn to the chairman of the full committee, my colleague from New York, Mrs. Lowey.

REP. NITA LOWEY (D-NY): I'd like to thank Chairman Serrano, Ranking Member Aderholt for holding this hearing.

And, Attorney General Barr, welcome and thank you for appearing this morning.

Before getting into your budget request, I want to address a series oversight matter, your unacceptable handling of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report.

It's been reported that the report is 300 to 400 pages. And I use the term reported because we have no idea how long it actually is. 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. And in many ways, your letter raises more question than it answers. [09:40:33] I must say, it is extraordinary to evaluate hundreds of

pages of evidence, legal documents, and finding based on a 22-month- long inquiry and make definitive legal conclusions in less than 48 hours. Even for someone who had done this job before, I would argue it's more suspicious than impressive.

Your conclusion is something we've seen before. In fact, we've seen it in your own legal writing. In June 2018 you wrote a memo as a private citizen and a former attorney general to the Department of Justice, laying out the president's case against obstruction of justice. Your audition clearly went well.

I look forward to reviewing the Mueller report myself. I know my constituents do as well. I understand that portions of it must be redacted as a matter of law, but my hope is that you will stop there and bring transparency to this process as soon as possible. The American people deserve the facts.

Now, to your FY '20 budget request.

The request provides a significant increase for immigration judges and a modest increase for most federal law enforcement. However, it either eliminates or significantly cuts respected grant programs at the Department of Justice that really make a difference in our constituents' daily lives.

For example, your request significantly decreases essential programs, including the COPS program, which advances community policing on a state and local level would be cut by $205 million. The DNA Initiative program, which provides grants to reduce the rape kit backlog by ensuring evidence that could lead to meaningful convictions, does not sit on forgotten shelves, and that would be cut by $25 million. And the Juvenile Justice program, which helps prevent youth crime, violence and reduce recidivism, which would be cut by $48.5 million. These are simply unacceptable reductions.

I look forward to a productive discussion today. I hope you can shed some light on how this budget request can adequately respond to the grave task the Department of Justice and its grant programs undertake daily.

Thank you again for appearing before us. I look forward to an open discussion, an honest discussion and address the many challenges before us today.

Thank you very much.

SERRANO: Thank you.

And now Attorney General Barr, you are recognized to give your opening statement. We ask you please to try to keep it to five minutes and your whole statement will be included in the record.

Thank you.

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Madam chair and Ranking Member Aderholt.

I'm pleased to be here today to present to you the president's fiscal year 2020 budget for the Department of Justice.

HARLOW: All right, so William Barr, the attorney general, testifying before the Appropriations Committee and Subcommittee here.

We have his prepared testimony. It's expected to take 10 or 15 minutes or so. Here it is. We've read through it. And, you know, Jim, he doesn't -- not once does he note the Mueller report.


HARLOW: And that is what obviously all the Democrats want to ask him about. He's talking about budget requests for about a $30 million budget for fiscal 2020.

SCIUTTO: Which is the original focus of this hearing. But, of course, Democrats, they can ask whatever they want to. They're going to ask about his summary of the special counsel's report.


SCIUTTO: And to be clear, we will bring you his answers to those questions as well.

HARLOW: Yes, of course.

[09:45:00] SCIUTTO: We have an array of folks here to break this all down. We're going to be back in just a moment.

Stay with us.


SCIUTTO: Live pictures from The Hill. This is the attorney general delivering his prepared remarks, which are focused, we should note, on budget issues, priorities for the Department of Justice.

He is already, though, facing a bit of a grilling from Democrats, the chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee called his handling of the special counsel's report unacceptable, to come with the best -- the most favorable outcome possible for the president. You can expect a lot of grilling like that from Democratic members as we continue.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes. And called it more suspicious than impressive.


HARLOW: How quickly he put together that summary.

Our experts are here. Evan Perez is with us on The Hill. John Avlon is here in New York, along with attorneys Elie Honig and Jennifer Rodgers.

[09:50:03] Evan, just listening so far to what we've heard from the Democrats there on the committee, what does that lay out what the next few hours will be like in terms of questioning for Barr?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Questions about the Mueller report. I think Bill Barr's answer to some of these questions is the following, is that it didn't -- it wasn't just 48 hours that he was able to put together the four-page summary that he -- that he issued after receiving the Mueller investigation. Obviously, people at the Justice Department had known for months what the findings were likely to be. They were getting updates. And so some of that was already in the works before the attorney general even took office about a month ago.

And then I think also, one of the things that -- that we might expect to hear, obviously, in light of everything going on at the Department of Homeland Security in the last few days, you might hear questions to Bill Barr about immigration enforcement because the Justice Department has played a role in cracking down on reentry, immigration judges, which -- who play a role in some of the asylum cases. There's a lot going on at the Justice Department that handles some of the -- some of the things that come from the hardline approach that Stephen Miller and some of the people at the White House have been pushing. So, I think you expect to hear a lot of that in the next couple hours.


SCIUTTO: Evan, stand by. Barr's already taking questions here. We're going to have a listen.

SERRANO: FBI Director Wray, the national's top counterintelligence investigator, told us last week he had not read the special counsel's report. My question is, with regard to your March 24th and 29th letters to the Judiciary Committees, is Special Counsel Mueller or anyone in his team -- on his team have a role in drafting them or reviewing them and events? Did you use any of the summary documents prepared by the special counsel in drafting these documents?

BARR: The 24th and 29th.

We -- on -- the letter of the 24th, 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.

The letter on the 29th, I don't believe that that was reviewed by Mr. Mueller or that they participated in drafting that letter.

But to go back to something you said in your opening statement about the availability of the report. As I've said, as you pointed out, since my confirmation, I do think it's important that the public have an opportunity to learn the results of the -- of the special counsel's work. And I said then that I would work diligently to make as much information public as I could and available to Congress as I could. You will recognize that I'm operating under a regulation that was put together during the Clinton administration and does not provide for the publication of the report. But I am relying on my own discretion to make as much public as I can.

Now, in my letter of the -- March 29th, I identified four areas that I feel should be redacted. And I think most people would agree. The first is grand jury information, 6E (ph) material.

The second is information that the ICE, the intelligence community, believes would intelligence sources and methods. The third are information in the report that could interfere with ongoing prosecutions. You'll recall that the special counsel did spin off a number of cases that are still being pursued. And we want to make sure that none of the information in the report would impinge upon either the ability of the prosecutors to prosecute the cases or the fairness to the defendants.

And, finally, we intend to redact information that implicates the privacy or reputational interest of peripheral players where there is a decision not to charge them.

Right now, the special counsel is working with us on identifying information in the reports that fall under those four categories. We will color code the excisions from the report and we will provide explanatory notes describing the basis for each redaction. So, for example, if a redaction is made because of a court order in a pending prosecution, we'll state that and we will -- we will distinguish between the various categories.

This process is going along very well. And my original timetable of being able to release this by mid-April stands. And so I -- I think that, from my standpoint, by the -- by -- within a week, I will be in a position to release the report to the public and then I will engage with the chairman of both judiciary committees about that report and about any further requests that they have.

[09:55:31] SERRANO: So let me just get one thing clear for the record.

My concern during my opening statement that when you redact something, we should know what area it falls under. That you say will happen.

BARR: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.

SERRANO: Your March 24th letter indicated that some actions the special counsel investigated is potentially raising obstruction of justice concerns had not been publicly reported. Will these actions be identified in the report sent to Congress?

BARR: As things stand now, I don't think that they will be redacted, so they will be identifiable. Yes, sir.

SERRANO: All right, thank you.

Mr. Aderholt.

ADERHOLT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Attorney General, as you know, there is a serious humanitarian crisis at the southern border. In fact, the previous administration explicitly noted that trends, national organized crime in Mexico makes the U.S. border more vulnerable because it creates and maintains illicit corridors of border crossings that can be employed by other secondary criminal or terrorist actors or organizations. Of course, the -- your FY 2020 budget proposes an additional $18

million in resources to help advance the fight against transnational organized crime.

Can you talk a bit about the Department of Justice and how it is addressing the smuggling networks that are endangering so many of the lives that are being smuggled and trafficked across the southern border, and particularly the children?

BARR: Yes, sir.

The problem we face on our southern border is really unprecedented. Not just the volume and the makeup of the people coming across from an immigration policy standpoint, but by the strength of the criminal organizations in Mexico.

One of the things that has changed a lot in the 30 years prior, where -- when I was attorney general, has been the strengthening of these criminal organizations in Mexico. These cartels that are not only getting -- not only involved in multiple kinds of drugs and the transportation of those drugs into the -- and distribution in the United States, but also into human trafficking. So attacking those transnational criminal organizations is a high priority.

The FY 2020 budget requests, in -- a total of $3.2 billion that is targeted at dealing with these transnational organizations, and we're seeking an increase of $109 million this year. The -- we're also seeking $29 million programmatic enhancements, including $18 million to strengthen the FBI's ability to monitor and target the transnational organizations and $10 million to strengthen DEA's ability to operation its judicial wire intercept program in Central America, and another $1.7 million for DEA's sensitive intelligence unit, which is targeting these groups and their illicit trafficking in narcotics.

I personally believe that an important part of securing the southern border is to have a barrier system on the border. And I think that that will help not only in narcotics interdiction, but also in suppressing human trafficking. And it's an important part of our enforcement.

ADERHOLT: Let me switch gears just a minute.

One of the most sacred rights, as you know, as Americans, is the right not to be spied on by the government. A FISA order may only be issued based on a finding by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. That probable cause exists to believe that the target of surveillance is the agent of a foreign power.

[09:59:55] One of our colleagues, Representative Nunes, has referred eight persons to the FBI for investigation concerning alleged misconduct during the Russia investigation, including the leak of highly classified material.