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Barr Grilled on Capitol Hill; Justice Looking Into Start of Mueller Probe; Barr Questioned About Obamacare Lawsuit. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired April 9, 2019 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:12] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

The attorney general tells Congress a redacted version of the Mueller report will be made public next week, but he dodges and refuses to answer some questions, including whether it has already been shared with the president and his lawyers.

Plus, the Trump purge at the Department of Homeland Security alarms Republicans in Congress, who worry about management of critical programs and also about the type of erratic presidential behavior that hurt the GOP in the last election. The courts also push back at the president's border agenda.

And remember that crowded 2016 GOP presidential field? Well, the 2020 Democratic pack now even bigger, 18 and counting. The challenge for the latest entry, Congressman Eric Swalwell, begins at home.


STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": You've got Republican parents. They've got a Trump/Pence magnet on their fridge. Are mom and dad going to vote for you? Do you have that guarantee?

Mrs. Swalwell?


COLBERT: Ma'am, your son says he's running for president of the United States. Are you going to vote for him?

SWALWELL: Well, uh, as long as none of his other brothers are running against him, I'll vote for him.


KING: Back to 2020 in a few moments.

But we begin the hour with the just-concluded Capitol Hill drama and what the attorney general will and won't say about the Mueller report. Today, William Barr telling Congress he does intend to deliver and deliver on time.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: My original timetable of being able to release this by mid-April stands. And so 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.


KING: Now, General Barr said there will be redactions, but that he is ready to come back to Congress and explain why some parts of the report need to be, in his view, kept secret.

One source of conflict already obvious. Barr said he has no plans, as Democrats have demanded, to ask a judge to free him up to release sensitive and secretive grand jury material. Now, Barr is up on The Hill, ostensibly, to testify about the Justice Department budget, but his handling of the Mueller report dominated the questions from Democrats.

He said he wanted most questions to wait a week, until the review process is done and the report released, but he did concede, some of Robert Mueller's investigators are probably frustrated by the Justice Department's four-page summary, and he raised eyebrows here when asked if the president has seen the full report.


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.


KING: Let's get straight up to Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.

Manu, the Democrats pressing and pressing. I assume they're frustrated the attorney general was not ready and willing to give and give.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is going to set the stage for what could be a drawn-out fight between House Democrats and the Justice Department after the attorney general made very clear, he is not planning to provide Congress with the full un- redacted Mueller report, as Democrats have demanded. And he said that he has no intention of going to court and getting a court order to release the grand jury information, which Democrats have also demanded.

Now, he tried to, throughout the course of this morning's hearing, defend the four-page letter that outlined the conclusions of the Mueller investigation. He said it was not intended to be a full summary of the 400-page report, but he said that it wasn't just done in 48 hours. He said that there was roughly three weeks in which he had an initial meeting with Mueller's team to get an inkling of what exactly Mueller was going to conclude and that helped him draw the -- write that four-page letter.

He did reveal, John, that he gave the Mueller team an opportunity to review that four-page letter, but he said the Mueller team declined that offer. He said he did not know exactly why they declined, perhaps they were just deferring to him because he's the attorney general, but he did not know.

But he also -- what really frustrated Democrats -- sidestepped a number of questions about the investigation, why Mueller did -- said he was -- the president was not exonerated on the question of obstruction of justice. He would not explain that in any detail. And as you've noted there at the top, not saying whether or not the White House was briefed at all about the full Mueller report. He did say they were not involved in the drafting of that four-page letter, but wouldn't say whether or not the president or the White House had any knowledge of the full report.

However, John, one thing that will get the -- make the president happy, he did say he's undergoing a review of how the Russia investigation started and said that there was an inspector general investigation about the surveillance process that is underway that occurred during the 2016 campaign. The president, of course, has been demanding all of that.

[12:05:17] But, nevertheless, a lot of questions still remain despite this hearing when he revealed that at least a redacted report would come out within a week, John.

KING: And it sure seems that we'll have the attorney general back up on Capitol Hill in a week or soon thereafter.

Manu Raju, appreciate the live reporting.

The hearing just concluded.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Abby Phillip, CNN's Shimon Prokupecz, CNN legal analyst Shan Wu, and CNN's Kara Scannell.

I want to come back to the question that Congresswoman Lowey asked. Members of Congress often frustrate us by asking multi-part questions, so it's hard to know what the answer was. But the attorney general just said, I've said all I'm going to say.

Now, she said, did they know about it before your summary. The attorney general did say in a previous -- when he released that letter that the White House was not told. The White House said then they didn't have the report. And the president has tweeted in recent days that he didn't have the report.

So was that just the attorney general saying, I'm not answering your question, or, in the last several days, is it possible that the White -- the president and his lawyers have been given the report?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think that is the question right now because it puzzled me as to why he wouldn't be willing to say, even an answer to part of that question, because, as you pointed out, both parties, both the White House and the Justice Department, have been actually kind of clear about when or about the fact that there has not been a briefing on the full report, up until probably about a week ago.

So the question is, has that changed in the last several days? And it's possible that it has. And that might be why he wouldn't say. That if he started to answer one part of the question, he would need to answer the second part.

But I think it does raise some eyebrows. And, you know, the White House hasn't wanted to talk about this on the record at all, but in private, off the record, officials have been able to say, no, we haven't seen it. The president has even said it. The next -- last couple of days is a different question.

KING: The easy answer there was, the president will get it when you get it.


KING: He didn't say that.


And given what the president's been tweeting, I have the right see it, I think Barr may have been concerned about blundering into that area right now.


SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, the thing -- what we did learn, you know, there was some confusion I think today -- even up to today, whether or not the attorney general had notified the White House, read any parts of the letter, the March 24th letter. He did correct that later on, he clarified it, and said, well, actually, we did tell them that it was coming and we actually read it to them. They never had the letter. They never saw it. They were never able to edit it in any way.

So we are learning a little bit more. There has to be some sort of communications between the Department of Justice and certainly the president and through maybe the White House Counsel's Office. And they have to tell them what's coming. So you would think there has been some.

How detailed have they gotten into some of the information within the report, that we really don't know. Evan Perez, you know, our CNN's Evan Perez has been saying that, according to the president's lawyers, the have been saying that they have not seen the report. So it begs the question, though. It certainly does. KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: And Barr made clear today that the

question of executive privilege was up to him and he had no intention of exerting it. So I think that tells us something, too, that he's -- he doesn't want to be seen as that he's editing the report for the White House, while we're all going to be focused on the redactions and how broad they are and how much of the report is actually released.

KING: And part of the issue here, the question here, some would say the problem here, is the suspicions. Nobody trusts anybody in this town anymore, in the sense that you have a man, who even most Democrats, when the president picked him privately said, wow, this is an adult. He was the attorney general 30 years ago in the George H.W. Bush administration, not viewed as a Trumpy, you know, ideologue, if you will. They're beginning to get more suspicious.

If you just listen to the attorney general and if you didn't buy into all of those suspicions, he was very reasonable in his approach. He said, I'll get it to you in a week like I promised. Yes, I'm going to have to keep some stuff out. There's sources and methods here. Remember, this was a counterintelligence investigation of Russian election meddling. We can't give you that. There's grand jury testimony. I'm not going to give you that initially. There were some people here who might have been investigated, we decided we don't have a case. I'm going to redact some of that.

But he also said he would be very careful, give Congress a road map, and then they could talk about it.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: 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 will state that and we will -- we will distinguish between the various categories.


KING: And he said he would be willing to come back up and talk about that and he'd be willing to meet with the two chairmen, and I assume the ranking members, as well. But he specifically mentioned the two chairmen of the House Judiciary Committee, a Democrat, the Senate Judiciary Committee, a Republican. That -- it was incredibly reasonable, well laid out, in detail. And yet, in today's Washington, it's, what, going to raise suspicions?

[12:10:06] WU: Absolutely. And the idea that he can have transparency by using a color code, I mean, it's just silly. It's like a grade school show.

PROKUPECZ: I don't think that ever been done before.

WU: Right.

PROKUPECZ: I've never seen the Department of Justice put out a report with color coding. I mean --

KING: Well, his point was, you know, if I'm making up the colors, if it's red, it's redacted because it's grand jury testimony. If it's purple, it's redacted because it's somebody's privacy and they weren't charged with anything and we're not going to do that.

PROKUPECZ: And that's --

KING: At least to give them a sense of how much of it is what. How much of it is a, b, c, and d.

WU: Yes.

PROKUPECZ: And that's what we're -- you know, and what we're seeing is that's their way of being transparent.

KING: Right.

PROKUPECZ: He's going as close to the line as he possibly could. He's going to put this in the report, but we're not going to be able to see it. And, obviously, we're going to start deducing, and we're going to all -- reporters, everyone's going to start trying to figure out what exactly all of this means. So they're going to go as close to the line as they possibly could.

And then the other thing, John, to your point about suspicion in Washington. When you look at what they said about Mueller, they gave Mueller the opportunity to review this letter before it went out. What does that say about where Mueller is? He sort of wanted no part of this in the end, it would seem. It would be like, you guys make the decision what you want to do. I've done my job here. Here's everything, now it's up to you.

It will be interesting to see -- obviously they want Mueller to come and appear before Congress. Whether or not that actually happens. It's going to be such a big day because Mueller has not said a word about this investigation. So if he does appear, it's going to be a big deal.

KING: Right. And so the question is going to be, and, again, the attorney general presented himself as quite reasonable today. But here's the House Judiciary Committee chairman saying, I'm not so worried about what day of the week we get it next week. My question is, how much is redacted and then what happens after that.


REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): The timing isn't the question. I mean if he -- releases it Friday as opposed to next Tuesday, I don't care. What is the question is what we receive. Do we receive a full copy of the Mueller report and the documentation underneath it? Do we receive most of it with a little redaction or does -- or do they completely extricate it.


KING: It's the documentation underneath it part that strikes you in the sense that if you listen to the attorney general today saying, no, I have no plans to go to a judge and say, free me up to send the Mueller grand jury testimony, which is normally kept secret. He said that if the Democrats in Congress want to go to a judge and ask for that, you can. Does that tell you that Barr's position out of the gate is, here's the report, here's the redactions, we can talk about that. You're not getting the files. You're not getting the work product. That's not the way we do business.

WU: No, I think that's right --

PHILLIP: That (INAUDIBLE) that that is the case. I mean there's a veneer of transparency in a lot of these other things that he's saying we're going to give you, a color coding system or what have you. But when it comes down to it, the question is, is he going to do everything in his power to release as much as possible? It doesn't seem like going to a court and asking for grand jury information is that much of an ask. But he's saying that he doesn't want to do that. And I think that's what's going to raise some concerns.

PROKUPECZ: It is for Bill Barr because he is an institutionalist. He wants to stay as close to the line as possible under DOJ guidelines.

And I think what we heard from him today certainly indicates that he expects there to be court action. He expects to get sued for this information. And if a judge decides to put this information out there, that's up to the judge. And that's up to the judicial system. And if that's how this goes, that's how this goes. But he himself, you can tell, does not want to violate any kind of the guidelines, at least as they are now.

SCANNELL: Or set any precedent because (INAUDIBLE) --

KING: As we talk, I just want to tell our viewers, you're seeing live pictures of the president standing outside the West Wing of the White House with the Marine guards there. The president of Egypt is arriving for a visit with the president. We'll keep the pictures up. You see the limousine pulling in right now. President el-Sisi will go in and meet with the president in the Oval Office. They have a working lunch as well. It's possible, in the 45 minutes here, or in the hours ahead, we will hear from the leaders. So we'll keep their pictures up now as we continue the conversation. We'll pause if there are any comments that we need to listen to. More likely that will happen in the Oval Office.

Again, the president of Egypt, President el-Sisi there, shaking the president's hands. They're about to go inside the West Wing. It is a nice day here in Washington, as you can see from those pictures.

Another thing, the attorney -- it was interesting listening to the attorney general. The Democrats wanted to push him on transparency. The Democrats wanted to push him more on, does the president know about this? Why did you write that summary? Did you give the, you know, the special counsel a heads up? The Republicans wanted to push on, now that Mueller's done, are you going to look into how Mueller began? And if you listen there, they were talking about -- they -- again,

they stretch the truth sometimes about how important the FISA warrant was, how important the dossier was to the birth of the investigation, but that is one of the Republican talking points. Bill Barr did say, number one, the Justice IG is looking into it. And, number two, I might.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The office of the inspector general has a pending investigation of the FISA process in the Russian investigation. And I expect that that will be complete in probably in May or June, I am told.

More generally, I am reviewing the conduct of the investigation and trying to get my arms around all the aspects of the counterintelligence investigation that was conducted during the summer of 2016.


[12:15:05] KING: He said it calmly, but the Republicans have pushed for this. The president has pushed for this. The question is, where's it going to go?

SCANNELL: Right. I mean I think that's pretty significant. And we've talked about this a lot where, you know, how did this investigation get going? And when we heard from the now former acting FBI director, Andy McCabe, he's talked about how there was kind of a rush when they were seeing these signals of Russian interference and then some actions by the then incoming president and then the president, that they jumped on this and they decided they needed to make some moves here in order to preserve this in case Comey -- you know, when Comey was fired. And that was a really kind of moment that they made a lot of, you know, critical decisions here. So I think that's all going to be very much under scrutiny, and there will be a lot of lookback on that of whether that was appropriate.

PROKUPECZ: I also think that you need to look at what was going on during the campaign, you know? We've done so much reporting about what the FBI was seeing with the intelligence community, and I think this is something that hopefully Bill Barr and the current Department of Justice will look at -- look at, whether or not the FBI did enough at that time, whether or not they were aggressive enough.

You know, obviously, there was an Obama administration who didn't want to do much more because they didn't want to affect the election. And certainly people didn't think Trump was going to win, so that had an effect on it. But I do think you need to take a look at the FBI and how they conducted this investigation. And hopefully, you know, we'll get some answers from the inspector general and then, obviously, we'll see what Bill Barr, what he sees in terms of what was going on during that time.

KING: Is there a chance we get any of those answers from the special counsel, a former FBI director? Is there any chance that in his report he discusses the birth of all of this?

WU: I think it's possible, but he tends to be a guy who really stays just focused on his mission. And I -- overall, my impression today is that Barr is really leaning into exercising his discretion about what he's going to show. I mean one thing that struck me is that he used as much as he could from Mueller's report, and there was barely a sentence. Did he run out of ink or something?

PHILLIP: For Barr, though, when it comes to the emergence of the investigation, he's damned if you do, damned if you don't.

KING: Right.

PHILLIP: In some ways, the FBI and the Justice Department needs to sort of clear their name here, otherwise they're going to have this cloud of conservatives raising suspicions about their intentions in starting this investigation for -- until the end of time. And in some cases, if an investigation into that is required, it might be the only way to clear up what really happened.

KING: But before Rod Rosenstein leaves the building, maybe the new attorney general wants to have one quick conversation about how that all works out with the soon-to-be former deputy.

Up next for us, the attorney general also made news on some other fronts, talked about the immigration policies of the president and a lawsuit his department now handling to wipe Obamacare off the books.


[12:21:43] KING: The attorney general today went beyond the tough questions about the Mueller report. His Justice Department now leading the Trump administration effort to wipe Obamacare off the map, meaning off the books. Asked if he thinks the administration will win in court, the attorney general answered the question with a question.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Do you think it's likely we are going to prevail?

REP. MATT CARTWRIGHT (D-PA): If you prevail, well, you're devoting scarce resources of your department towards that effort, are you not, attorney general?

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


BARR: If you think it's such an outrageous position, you have nothing to worry about. Let the courts do their job.


KING: Joining our conversation, Eliana Johnson with "Politico," Heather Caygle, also with "Politico," and Lisa Lerer with "The New York Times."

So how do we read that? You know, he's the relatively new attorney general. The administration has decided to reverse course and to now try and have all of Obamacare declared unconstitutional. Some read that as even the attorney general thinks they're going to lose by his body language, so don't get worried about this. Really, we're not going to win this case. Is that the right way or is that -- are we reading too much into the body language?

ELIANA JOHNSON, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "POLITICO": Well, given that we at "Politico" reported that Barr advised the president against backing this lawsuit, I think it made it easier to read between the lines that Barr didn't support this move. He declined to tell the lawmakers on that panel about the internal administration deliberations and what his position was. But he said that nonetheless the administration has staked out a, quote, legally defensible position. And it was a very lawyerly answer in that I think Barr can see how to argue both sides. But I think it was pretty clear which side he himself came down on.

KING: And it's a case of enormous consequence, not just for the millions of Americans who rely on Obamacare, but as we head into a presidential cycle, we know in the rearview mirror, health care was a huge issue for the Democrats in 2018. They view this lawsuit -- to them it's, in some ways, a political gift, but in other ways a policy challenge.

It's the Fifth Circuit, am I right, the Fifth Circuit is going to get this case next, which is a more conservative circuit. So the attorney general seems skeptical, but they could possibly win here.

PHILLIP: Well, they could win along the road -- the long road toward the Supreme Court. But, you know, after "Politico" first reported that about Barr's position, you know, sources told me that the -- that there are a lot of lawyers, conservative lawyers, in the Justice Department, outside of the Justice Department, who do not believe the merits of the case that underlie it are particularly strong. So there is -- while there might be a legally defensible position that they can take and that they can take as they go through the process in the courts, there are a lot of people who don't believe that they will win at the Supreme Court. And Barr is basically saying, well, if we don't win, then everything is just going to go back to what it was.

And, in fact, the president's position seems to be that, too. That he's sort of like, what -- what else do we have to lose? We have 18 months to kind of go through the courts and maybe we'll get a replacement plan. And maybe we won't. And at the end of the day, you know, this is still two years down the road. So they have time to sort of do -- have this political fight in the meantime. It's sort of like throw your hands up in the air and kind of position that they're taking, but that's what --

KING: If you study the 2018 election and you're a Republican, especially trying to win in the American suburbs, I would take huge issue with the idea -- hey, let's just let this play out and let's not have a position. Another issue, the attorney general, you're right, he did not want to talk about internal deliberations. [12:25:03] Listen here. We have reporting at CNN, and other news

organizations as well, the president is trying to push his team as part of this Department of Homeland Security turnover that we're going to talk more in detail about in a minute, to reinstate the family separation policy at the border. The attorney general was asked, what down do you know?


REP. GRACE MENG (D-NY): According to an article in "The New York Times" yesterday, President Trump has been pushing to restart this practice of separating parents from their children. The term binary choice policy has certainly been getting traction. Is that something that you support?


MENG: You haven't heard that?


MENG: So would you enforce and put forth policies of new discussions that have been happening about President Trump wanting to restart this separation practice?

BARR: All I can say -- I personally, sitting here, am not familiar with those discussions.

MENG: Would you support continuation of separation of families?

BARR: I -- I support the president's policy, which is we're not going to separate families.


KING: The current policy is to not separate families. But that's very telling. He did not -- again, he did not say, I'm not going to talk about internal deliberations. He said, I'm not aware. And he was on the record, under oath saying, I'm -- so I'm not part of that, which tells you, number one, this is now a White House operation. This is the president, and Stephen Miller, and people at the White House, not the agencies that actually have to go to court or go to the regulations or do the business of issuing the regulations and enforcing the policies.

HEATHER CAYGLE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": I think -- yes, I mean I think we saw this with Nielsen stepping down and the other purges at DHS, too. This is all coming out of the White House. Republicans on The Hill have been blindsided by these moves. They don't really know what's coming next.

And, you know, Barr kind of illustrated that in the hearing here, saying, I'm not aware of these, even though CNN and several other outlets have reported multiple administration officials have confirmed that this is where they want to go. LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": And it

also makes you -- certainly raises questions about whether the administration did their due diligence before shifting course here. They clearly weren't -- regardless of what was going on on The Hill, and sometimes we know White Houses don't like to talk to The Hill because they've -- are about as leaky as any, you know, sieve or pick your kitchen utensil, right, it always comes out. But they didn't talk to the agencies that have jurisdiction over pieces of this policy to see, you know, what a shift would entail. And, you know, this is not surprising necessarily from this administration, but --

KING: It's not new. And to that point, when we come back, more of the details. A giant turnover at the Department of Homeland Security. Some Republicans on Capitol Hill worried both about the politics and the policy.