Return to Transcripts main page


Barr Talks about Mueller Report to Congress; Barr Testifies Before House Committee; Trump Blames Obama for Separations; Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY) is Interviewed about Trump's Tax Returns. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired April 9, 2019 - 13:00   ET



[13:00:20] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, still no Mueller report, but today the man behind the cliff notes testifies before Congress and reveals when we'll finally see it.

Also, on the hot seat, the Treasury secretary. Will he stop the IRS from releasing the president's hidden tax returns?

Plus, whether it's members of his cabinet or border agents, the president of the United States forcing them to choose between him and following the law.

And with Stephen Miller pulling the strings on immigration at the White House, Republicans lash out and a freshman Democrat calls him a white nationalist.

But first, we now have a better idea of exactly when we will see Robert Mueller's report. Attorney General William Barr says he will release the redacted version within a week. He just wrapped up his first public hearing on The Hill since he sent out his four-page summary of the report. And right now a DOJ team is combing through these nearly 400 pages to decide what they will remove.

Barr says they're redacting four different categories, including grand jury information, information that would reveal intelligence sources and methods, information that could interfere with spin-off cases from the probe, and information that harms the privacy of what are called, quote, peripheral players.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: 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.

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, about any further requests that they have.


KEILAR: CNN's senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill for us.

And, Manu, there were quite a few headlines from this hearing. What stood out to you?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, setting up a major clash between House Democrats and the Trump administration over the release of this full report.

Bill Barr made very clear that while he did plan to provide the redacted version of the report to Congress within a week, he would not provide the un-redacted version to Capitol Hill, as has been demanded by Democrats. And Democrats have threatened to subpoena for the full, un-redacted report.

Now, in addition to that, he made very clear that he was not going to go to court and demand court -- grand jury information, transcripts from grand jury testimony, people who came before the Mueller probe. That's something also that Democrats have demanded, that grand jury information. He said he did not intend to do that.

Now, in addition to that, he declined -- he noted for the first time that Bob Mueller's team had a chance to review the four-page letter that Barr put out summarizing the Mueller report. He said that that letter -- they gave him a chance to review it, but Mueller's team notably declined to review that letter before it was publicly released.

In addition to that, he would not answer a number of questions. He would not say whether the White House has reviewed this report or been briefed about the full Mueller report. He said the White House was not involved in the drafting of the four-page letter, but he would not say that about the report.

He also would not explain the decision not to charge the president with obstruction of justice and why the president was not exonerated, according to Mueller's own words that were quoted in the Barr letter. He did not reveal that.

But what could -- what he could make the president happy, Brianna, because he noted that he is looking into the start of the Russia investigation, how that was handled. He also revealed that the inspector general is going to put out a report by May or June looking into the surveillance activities that occurred in 2016, also what the president has been demanding. But we learned something -- we learned a lot, but there's still a ton of questions ahead of next week's release of the redacted report, setting up a big fight here on Capitol Hill, Brianna.

KEILAR: Many more questions for Bill Barr. Manu, thank you so much for that.

The attorney general says he's relying on his own discretion when deciding what to release from the Mueller report.

We have Kara Scannell and Gloria Borger here with us to talk about this.

So, within a week. That was interesting to hear the attorney general say that we should have something within a week, or Congress should have something within a week, I should be more clear about that.

But let's listen to what he said when he was asked if the White House, as Manu was talking about, has been shown or briefed on this Mueller report.

[13:05:04] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NITA LOWEY (D-NY): 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?

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Um, I've said what I'm going to say about the report today.


KEILAR: I love that quote, actually.


KEILAR: That said a lot about how he was approaching this.

But what did -- what did you think about that?

BORGER: Well, he sort of clarified that, in fact, the White House had been read his four-page letter earlier on. But as you just saw, he's not going to give away what he's told the White House, what attorneys, to say the president's counsel has -- has -- knows or what the president's personal lawyers know.

We do know -- what we do know is that the president has changed his tone on whether the report should be released from, let it all hang out, to, no, I don't think so. So, whether that has anything to do with what he knows remains to be seen.

KEILAR: That's interesting.

So he says, when asked about what he's redacting, Kara, that he's relying on his own discretion, that he's also leaning on the special counsel's office to help him prioritize the redactions here.

Is that the usual process for this?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well, I mean, we haven't really seen a special counsel operate under these guidelines that came into effect after the Starr report. And Barr seems like he's really making clear here that he wants to stick exactly to those guidelines. You know, he is not even required to release a public report. So he's saying that he is going to do this, he wants to do it in a transparent way with these color-coded tabs so people can follow the redactions and see why they're making certain claims, if some's grand jury or some is about an ongoing investigation.

You know, he wants to stick to this. And he's getting the input of the special counsel's team because they're the ones that do the investigation and they're the ones who know what came up through a grand jury, what was obtained in a different matter. So it sounds like he's trying to say, I'm trying to work with you, I'm trying to give this to you, whether Congress is going to be happy with that, it does not seem like that at this point.

KEILAR: Well, one of -- one of the moments that was so interesting was when he was talking about the cliffs notes, right, the four-page summary of the Mueller report, and he said that he tried to use as many words as possible in his memo from the Mueller report. Let's see what he said.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: And 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.


KEILAR: Well, he chose 101 words from almost 400 pages of this report. And when you look at the quotes, they're all in lower case. These are not full, complete sentences. They're sentence fragments.

What did you make of that?

BORGER: Well, I -- I -- what I think is that he didn't use a lot of stuff and that that's why CNN's reporting and first reported, I believe it was in the "Times," that people who work with Mueller have told people that they weren't happy because at least they had written summaries -- and these are smart people. They didn't come to Washington yesterday. They knew that when putting out their summaries of every section, that it would not have to be redacted. So I think the big question still remains as to why didn't you just use Bob Mueller's team's summaries of what they found?

KEILAR: And he -- there's -- and there's some differences on that.


KEILAR: He seemed to say there was too much sensitive information in that. Of course, we don't know, because we haven't seen the Mueller report.

BORGER: Exactly. KEILAR: That's very important to note.

It was interesting that he revealed he gave Robert Mueller the chance to look at this four-page summary and Mueller declined. What did you -- what did you -- does that even mean?

SCANNELL: I know. I think that's so interesting. It's so interesting. And it raises, I think, the obvious question of, you know, did Mueller's not want his fingerprints on this first letter to Congress and leave it for Barr to set whatever stage he's going to set, and then Mueller's team, you know, if brought to The Hill, can respond to that. But it seemed very clear he did not want his fingerprints on this, wanting his report to speak for itself, whatever version of that actually makes it to the public.

BORGER: Right. And he probably -- I agree with you totally -- and he probably also didn't want to get into a fight with his boss. Don't forget, the attorney general is his boss. If he were to disagree about the way Barr characterized his conclusions or lack of conclusion on obstruction or could he say, well, you could have used these summaries, you know, I think he didn't want to go down that road with -- with the attorney general and maybe save it for Congress. Who knows.

SCANNELL: And not be seen as possibly endorsing the letter before anyone has seen the whole report.

BORGER: Exactly. Exactly.

KEILAR: Really punting on some of these political issues. It's pretty fascinating.

Gloria and Kara, thank you so much.

Now, President Trump is responding to questions about whether he plans to resume separating children from their parents at the southern border. Just moments ago, he said he's not looking to restart the program, which he blamed on -- and wrongly, we should say -- on the previous administration.

[13:10:15] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Those cages that were shown, I think they were very inappropriate. They were built by President Obama's administration, not by Trump. President Obama had child separation. Take a look, the press knows it. You know it. We all know it. I didn't have -- I'm the one that stopped it. President Obama had child separation.

Now I'll tell you something, once you don't have it, that's why you see many more people coming. They're coming like it's a picnic, because let's go to Disneyland. President Obama separated children. They had child separation. I was the one that changed it.


KEILAR: All right, Jeremy Diamond, our White House reporter.

None of that is true. Tell us -- walk us through this fact check.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, I think it's important to point that out, first of all, here, Brianna, because the president is essentially saying, I rescinded a policy that was in place from the Obama administration, and that is not true.

What the president ultimately rescinded was his own administration's policy, which was a zero-tolerance policy that resulted in any family that crossed the U.S. border illegally being separated, the children from the adults. And that is a policy that was under this administration. In previous administrations, there were cases of family separations, but it was not this across-the-board effort that we saw under the Trump administration.

But nonetheless, there is some news in what the president is saying here, in saying that he is no longer considering renewing that policy of across-the-board family separation. We had been told in recent weeks that the president was once again pushing to reinstate this policy. He felt that it had been a successful deterrent to migration numbers. But now the president saying that he is no longer considering that.

But we do know the administration had been considering one form of that, which is called binary choice, and that's something that two senior administration officials told us had been under discussion. Essentially, it would give those families a pretty difficult choice, either remaining together in detention facilities or being separated. If they remain together, though, they would be waiving certain rights, and those parents would likely face pretty quick deportation.

So we do know the administration had been considering that, but a senior administration official also telling us today that the administration felt recently that it would be very difficult to actually implement that administratively. And now we're hearing the president backing away from that consideration.

He also talked about this idea of cleaning house at the Department of Homeland Security, even though his own Secret Service director, who is being forced out, said that he was told of broader transitions at the Department of Homeland Security. The president saying he's not cleaning house.

But again, we've seen the secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, being forced out. The Secret Service director, and also the president's nominee to lead ICE.


KEILAR: Yes, up was down in that press availability.

Jeremy Diamond, thank you so much, at the White House for us.

Let's take a look back at why the president's initial family separation policy fell apart. Let's bring in CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider.

Take us through this.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, of course, this was a policy last summer that really sparked chaos, as well as outcry from the public, once they saw the images of those children ripped from their mothers and fathers. And, of course, the policy was reversed by executive order of the president, but we are still now seeing the repercussions.

So reports from late last year from inspectors general, it revealed that the Department of Homeland Security actually wasn't fully prepared for the rollout of this zero-tolerance policy that led to these family separations last year. For example, the Border Patrol didn't take these crucial steps, like taking fingerprints, providing wrist bracelets, or even taking photographs to ensure that children who were just too young to talk could later be correctly identified, and then linked to their separated parents. In addition, computer systems that were meant to keep track of these children, some of them actually erase large portions of these data.

Plus, Health and Human Services, they never actually had a central database for location information for the separated families. Instead, we learned, it was actually just a spreadsheet that was manually updated by all of the agencies involved, including HHS, CBP, and ICE. So, obviously, with all of those different agencies, it should lead to some oversight and perhaps slip-ups.

But despite all of that, it doesn't actually appear that the zero- tolerance policy had its intended effect. This is the graph of all of the family units that continued to flood the border in the months the policy was in place. We can see that they continued to stay strong all throughout those summer months, where the policy was in place, although right after the executive order from the president rescinding the policy, the numbers actually did spike a little bit in August of 2018.

[13:15:03] But the fallout for this has been ongoing. It was recently revealed that thousands more children may have been separated than the 2,737 children that officials initially acknowledged and they just say that there's no exact count here. And because of that stark reality with the thousands more children probably being separated, officials actually recognized in a court filing this week that it could take up to two years, two years for the government to identify all of the immigrant families that were separated at the southern border in those months during summer of 2018. And you know, Brianna, that was a policy that only officially lasted two and a half months, and now we're looking at two years to actually get them reconnected with their families.


KEILAR: That's a very good point. Jessica Schneider, thank you.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin faces Congress, testifying about the president's tax returns. Will he block a potential release? See what he said.

Plus, she's accused of breaching security at Mar-a-Lago, and she had dozens of spy-like gadgets. Is she a Chinese agent? We'll be asking former director of national intelligence, James Clapper.

And this just in, officials in Louisiana say that the fires at three black churches were intentionally set. Stand by.


[13:20:39] KEILAR: The fight over President Trump's tax returns gets an airing on Capitol Hill. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin faced questions from Democrats, pushing to get their hands on the president's taxes. They argue that President Trump broke with tradition by not releasing his returns.


REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL): The public has a right to know and make the decision on their own whether a lawmaker is making a decision based on their own interests or on someone else's.

STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: I believe that these presidents released their returns on a voluntary basis. I'm not aware of that there's any law that required them to. I am aware --

QUIGLEY: But would you acknowledge that there is a reason they did it? That they're not doing it --

MNUCHIN: I don't --

QUIGLEY: To show people how to fill out a tax return if you're the president.

MNUCHIN: Again, they made individual decisions.


KEILAR: New York Democratic Congressman Tom Suozzi is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee. Thanks for joining us from Capitol Hill, sir.

REP. TOM SUOZZI (D-NY): Yes, Brianna, thanks for having me on.

KEILAR: Your chairman, Richard Neal, is leading this tax fight for Democrats. He's found this way to request, as the chairman of the committee, to get -- to try to at least get these tax returns. What is your response to Secretary Mnuchin's comment that it's an individual decision by presidents whether to make their returns public?

SUOZZI: Well, that's true. That's the law. The law is that it's not required that they reduce their -- that they release their taxes. But for the past 40 years, every president, every vice president has released their tax returns. But, again, the request from Chairman Neal has nothing to do with that. The request from Chairman Neal has to do with the fact that under the IRS manual, since the Carter administration, the IRS is required to audit every single president and vice president. And he's asking for the president's tax returns and for the IRS to tell us, have they conducted the audit the way it's required under their own procedures and processes?

KEILAR: And the secretary, Secretary Mnuchin, acknowledged for the first time that the White House and Treasury lawyers held what -- he called it informational -- so informational conversations about this request for the president's tax returns. Mnuchin said he personally had not been involved. What did you think about that?

SUOZZI: I think that's smart on his part if he's not involved because this is really about policy, not about politics. And we shouldn't let -- the administration shouldn't let this become politicized from their end. They -- the law is very clear that the IRS -- through the Treasury secretary, through the IRS, is required to release the tax returns when requested by the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. And they should comply with that. The law is very clear, shall release these documents. So they should not politicize it, they should keep it focused on the policy issues that the chairman is trying to keep it focused on.

KEILAR: This issue of politicizing it, you have Republicans and people in President Trump's corner who say it is becoming politicized. We actually -- and we had someone who wasn't in President Trump's corner, we had the former IRS commissioner, Mark Everson on our show last week, and he said that this is really troubling that -- going this route. That this makes the IRS become politicized. And that's actually really damaging to American institutions.

What do you think of that?

SUOZZI: Well, actually, we shouldn't politicize the IRS. In fact, under the Carter administration, they changed the rules and they said, every president and vice president should be audited by the IRS. That was so that nobody in the IRS would have to make a political decision or use their discretion or be accused of making a political decision. Every single president, every single vice president, is supposed to be audited by the IRS. And they found things under President Nixon, for example, in the old days, a half million dollars more he had to pay in taxes.

Because the president has really called so much attention to this issue by becoming the first president in 40 years to not release his taxes, people have started to dig in here. I didn't know about this provision of the IRS manual before. I don't think most Americans know about that provision in the IRS manual. Now people are looking at this much more carefully.

We need to see, in a very targeted and focused way, is the IRS doing its job to actually audit the president and the vice president? I mean there's all kinds of procedures and processes. The president's taxes are supposed to be kept in a special safe, they're supposed to be kept in orange folders, nobody's supposed to look at it except for the people who are doing the audit. Have they done that work?

So the president's -- the president has called more attention to this issue by not releasing his tax returns in the first place. Chairman Neal has said since day one he became chairman, we're going to be very deliberate, very judicious. We're going to make sure we use judgment that will hold up to scrutiny by others and by a court of law. We cannot politicize this.

[13:25:14] KEILAR: I want to ask you, while I have you here, about something that one of your colleagues has said. Ilhan Omar was talking about presidential adviser Stephen Miller, who really is pulling the strings at the White House when it comes to immigration policy now. This is what she tweeted. She said, Stephen Miller is a white nationalist. The fact that he still has influence on policy and political appointments is an outrage.

I just -- I wonder, do you share in that assessment that Stephen Miller is a white nationalist?

SUOZZI: Well, I don't know whether Steve Miller is a white nationalist or not a white nationalist. I do know that his anti-immigrant rhetoric and his policies are wrong-headed, misguided, and they're bad, and they're hurtful. And we need to solve this problem related to immigration, which you and I have discussed before on this show, but we're not going to do it by having this harsh rhetoric coming --

KEILAR: But let -- I want to ask -- to that point, you said, we're not going to do it having this harsh rhetoric. Is it a problem that the congresswoman used that language? Does that make these discussions more difficult?

SUOZZI: I think that his policies make it more difficult and I think that that type of talk from her also makes it more difficult. We need to take the temperature down. We need to find common ground. We need to solve problems on very serious issues that affect real people's lives and try and make the country work better than it's currently working. And whether -- either side, using harsh rhetoric and not talking about solutions and common ground is hurtful to the country.

KEILAR: Congressman, thank you so much. Congressman Tom Suozzi joining us there from the House side of the Capitol. We appreciate it.

SUOZZI: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: Disturbing news involving a hearing today on hate crimes. Why YouTube had to stop live streaming the event.

Plus, why some intel experts believe that the Mar-a-Lago intruder may be a spy.