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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Interview With Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD); Most California Voters Unfazed By Biden Allegations; Bernie Sanders Unveils New Health Care Plan; Attorney General to Investigate Spying on Trump Campaign. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired April 10, 2019 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Evidence-free accusations that the Trump campaign was improperly spied upon. And they're not coming from President Trump.
THE LEAD starts right now.
The new attorney general, Bill Barr, with a bombshell claim, saying he thinks spying did occur against the Trump campaign under President Obama. What did he mean? And is he going to ever show us any evidence of this?
President Trump insisting that he's the decision-maker behind his hard-line immigration policy, as reports say tactics could soon become much more merciless at the border.
Plus, it's the issue we could all be talking about in 2020, Bernie Sanders laying out his plan for Medicare for all and ending the health insurance industry as we know it, but how's he going to pay for it? Well, questions are going to have to wait.
Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We begin today with our politics lead.
Attorney General Bill Barr making the extraordinary claim before the Senate today that -- quote -- "Spying did occur" on the Trump campaign by the intelligence community in 2016, when Barack Obama was president, and that Barr is investigating whether the surveillance was -- quote -- "unauthorized."
The public has, of course, known for sometime that the FBI investigated the Trump campaign, prompted, we're told, by campaign aide George Papadopoulos talking about the Russians having e-mails belonging to Hillary Clinton, but Barr is talking about unauthorized surveillance, though he declined to explain or detail his allegation in any way.
This comes as President Trump earlier today unloaded on special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, calling it illegal, calling it an attempted coup against his presidency, and again repeating the false suggestion that Mueller's findings totally exonerate him on the matter of obstruction of justice, a matter for which Mueller did not reach a conclusion.
CNN's Sara Murray kicks out of our coverage.
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think spying did occur, yes. I think spying did occur.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A stunning statement by Attorney General William Barr, claiming that the FBI or intelligence agencies during the Obama administration may have spied on the 2016 Trump campaign.
BARR: I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal. It's a big deal.
MURRAY: Barr later tried to clarify his claim.
BARR: I am not saying that improper surveillance occurred. I'm saying that I am concerned about it and looking into it. That's all.
MURRAY: And while he stopped short of accusing anyone of breaking the rules...
BARR: I'm not suggesting that those rules were violated, but I think it's important to look at that. Ad I'm not just -- I'm not talking about the FBI, necessarily, but intelligence agencies more broadly.
MURRAY: Barr telling lawmakers he's looking into the origins of the FBI's investigation into possible ties between Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and the Russian government.
The investigation into the investigation already cause for celebration from the president.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's doing a great job, getting started on going back to the origins of exactly where this all started, because this was an illegal witch-hunt and everybody knew it. What they did was treason. What they did was terrible.
MURRAY: But when it comes to special counsel Robert Mueller's report, the president may not be as pleased. Barr told Lawmakers he will not sanitize it to protect Trump.
SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-NH): Does that mean that you will redact information to protect the reputational interests of the president?
BARR: No. I'm talking about people in private life.
BARR: Not public office.
MURRAY: Still, Barr faced another round of criticism for his decision to clear the president of obstruction of justice, admitting he did not know if Mueller wanted him to make that call.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Did he express any expectation and interest in leaving the obstruction decision to Congress?
BARR: Not that -- he didn't say that to me, no.
LEAHY: So he said the obstruction decision should be up to you?
BARR: He didn't say that either. But that's generally how the Department of Justice works.
MURRAY: And he still doesn't know if Mueller agrees with it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did Bob Mueller support your conclusion?
BARR: I don't know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion.
MURRAY: Meantime, the president today claiming he doesn't care about the Mueller report, because:
TRUMP: I have been totally exonerated. I have not seen the Mueller report. I have not read the Mueller report. I won. No collusion. No obstruction. I won. This was an attempted coup. This was an attempted takedown of a president.
MURRAY: Now, Bill Barr also said he will hopefully have a version of this report ready for Congress and the public next week.
But, of course, Jake, that's going to be a report full of redactions and it's not going to be enough to satisfy the Democrats. So the battle will continue.
TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray, thank you so much.
Joining me now to discuss this is Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat from Maryland, who was one of the Democrats questioning Attorney General Bill Barr today.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
TAPPER: Let's get your reaction to Attorney General Barr saying he's concerned about unauthorized surveillance of the Trump campaign and that he has an obligation to investigate the conduct by the intelligence community.
What did you think when he said that? And do you think he ever landed on a clear explanation of what he was exactly saying?
SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D- MD): No, he did not, Jake. This was really a shameful moment for the attorney general, who was up
before the committee and really not answering questions about why he was taking so long to provide the public with the report, really wouldn't talk about why he exonerated the president on the obstruction of justice charges, even when Mueller did not exonerate the president.
And while he wasn't answering those questions, he floated this whole thing, this surprise statement, about spying, but then quickly said he didn't have any evidence that he would provide to the committee.
So it looks like he's doing the political bidding of the president. This has been something the president has wanted for a long time. But the job of the attorney general is not to do the bidding of the president. The job of the attorney general is to pursue justice.
TAPPER: Take a listen to President Trump. He has praised Barr's decision to investigate the investigation, so to speak.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Hopefully, the attorney general -- he mentioned it yesterday. He's doing a great job, getting started on going back to the origins of exactly where this all started, because this was an illegal witch- hunt and everybody knew it. What they did was treason. What they did was terrible.
What they did was against or Constitution.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: What's your reaction, sir?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, clearly, Barr was, you know, essentially doing what the president's been asking him to do, even when he refused to provide any evidence to the committee.
That sounds to me like political interference, rather than, you know, an unbiased look into this. It sounds like a fishing expedition based on what the president wants.
As you know, Jake, this has been well-plowed territory. There was surveillance pursuant to the FISA warrant, and committees of Congress have looked into this issue. So, for Barr to sort of spring this at the same time that he hasn't provided the Mueller report to the public, again, just stinks of politics, rather than justice and the rule of law.
TAPPER: Here's what Barr had to say about the investigation into decisions by the FBI:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARR: To the extent there were any issues at the FBI, I do not view it as a problem that's endemic to the FBI. I think there was probably a failure among a group of leaders there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Do you agree that there were issues within the FBI's leadership at this time?
VAN HOLLEN: Look, Jake, I do not know all the details here.
What I know is that Barr threw out this bombshell, and at the same time refused to present any evidence of it. That is, in my view, reckless and clearly political, especially given the fact the president has been urging him to do this, and now is celebrating the fact that he did.
And it obviously took away a lot of attention from the fact that Mueller has continued to stall in making the Mueller -- excuse me -- the attorney general has stalled in making the Mueller report public and has refused to explain the basis for his -- quote -- "exonerating" the president, when Mueller expressly did not do so.
TAPPER: Here's what Barr had to say about his concerns regarding possible abuse of FBI surveillance powers. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARR: There was a lot of, you know, people upset at the FBI, you know, spying on or surveilling civil rights groups or anti-war groups.
Part of my responsibility is to protect the civil liberties of the American people. And I think -- I think something that is important is that the law enforcement and intelligence agencies respect the limits on their powers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Senator, I don't need to tell you that the FBI does have a long history of abusing their powers when it comes to surveillance.
All intelligence agencies in this country at one point or another have come under fire. Is it not possible that that happened here?
VAN HOLLEN: Look, Jake, we don't know the facts.
And that's why it was reckless of Attorney General Barr to throw this out there without providing the facts. As Senator Warner said earlier today -- he's the ranking member, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee -- we have looked at this, committees have looked at this, and they found no evidence of wrongdoing when it came to the FISA warrants that led to the surveillance.
And so for Barr to come before the committee, not provide any evidence, but make those kind of statements, in my view, is grossly irresponsible.
Obviously, obviously, we want to make sure that law enforcement abides by the law and by the rules. But before you throw out public accusations, you would think you would at least provide some basis to the committee and some evidence, which he did not.
TAPPER: Obviously, for years now, President Trump has been doing everything he could to undermine this investigation, especially in the court of public opinion, bad-mouthing Mueller, bad-mouthing Comey, bad-mouthing the people conducting the investigation.
Do you see what happened today, the comment by Attorney General Barr, as part of that? Because this Mueller report is going to be released in some way, shape, or form with redactions, but it's 300-, 400-plus pages that detail not great things, even if not criminal activities, but not flattering activities by people in the president's orbit.
VAN HOLLEN: Well, I'm not sure I understood your question.
But what we do know, Jake, is this, that the Mueller -- the Mueller team in that report specifically said that there were difficult questions of fact and intent with respect to whether or not the president of the United States obstructed justice.
They didn't find beyond a reasonable doubt that the president obstructed justice in a criminal way, but, clearly, they saw a lot of evidence that could lead to that conclusion.
And instead of allowing the public to see the report and see what Mueller's team has found, Barr substituted his own judgment and his own conclusions for that of Mueller and his team, as he's continued to stonewall the report.
So, you know, the president, you know, continues to tweet out the top lines from the Barr report, as if they were conclusions from the Mueller report. But, on obstruction of justice, that was not a Mueller conclusion.
And we heard today that Barr doesn't know whether Mueller would agree in any way to that. I doubt he would, because, otherwise, he would have said so in his report.
TAPPER: It doesn't sound like you have such high regard for the attorney general.
VAN HOLLEN: I think, every day that goes by, it's become clearer and clearer that the attorney general is doing the political bidding of the president.
Many of us were concerned about this when he wrote that about 14-page memo last year that looked like a job application for the attorney general position. That memo, if you recall, essentially said that the president could not be found guilty of obstruction of justice if there was no sort of underlying crime, when, in fact, there are many possibilities of a president being involved in obstruction of justice.
And so, the reality is that that memo that raised so many concerns during his confirmation hearing, in my view, was early proof that this attorney general is just doing the political bidding of President Trump.
TAPPER: All right, Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, thank you so much.
VAN HOLLEN: Thank you.
TAPPER: You know who else was taken by surprise by the attorney general's spying claim? The vice chairman of a congressional committee looking into President Trump for more than two years.
Then: new poll numbers out about former Vice President Joe Biden and the claims by some women that he has made them uncomfortable, the results might surprise you.
Stay with us.
[16:18:04] TAPPER: And we're back with our politics lead today.
Today, the attorney general of the United States claimed he believes the Trump campaign was spied on by the intelligence community under President Obama.
One of the senators who has spent the last two years investigating this matter, Intelligence Vice Chair Mark Warner, says he's never heard of it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA): I'm amazed that the attorney general would make that kind of statement. I think it is, in many ways, disrespectful to the men and women who work in the Justice Department. And it shows, I think, either a lack of understanding or willful ignorance of what goes into a counterintelligence investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Let's chew over all of this.
Congresswoman Mia Love, what do you make of all of this?
MIA LOVE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I certainly hope that if he's going to put that accusation out there, that he actually comes up with some evidence to provide some light on this. If there is -- if that was happening, the American people still deserve to see what was going on. So, if he puts it out there, he should just make sure he puts all the evidence he possibly can to make the American people know what's going on.
TAPPER: Yes. I mean, we should remind people that there's been a Republican attorney general since 2017.
TAPPER: It's interesting to think that like only now would the new attorney general provide this information.
Senator Moran from Kansas pressed the attorney general, trying to find out what he was talking about. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JERRY MORAN (R-KS): I'm now asking what the basis is or what the facts are that lead you to that thought?
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: OK, I felt -- I am concerned about it and I was asked about whether there was any basis for it and I believe there is a basis for my concern, but I'm not going to discuss the basis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: What do you think of that?
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, I think what he said today is perfectly reasonable. He has a concern, he wants to look into it. He didn't make any allegations that anything improper had happened, but there are a heck of a lot of Americans and certainly a lot of Trump supporters who believe something here happened that at a minimum needs to be looked at for the possibility of abuse.
[16:20:01] What is wrong with looking into something? I mean, for the last two years, we've been looking into this collusion lark. Why isn't this a legitimate line of inquiry, too, to reassure people that there wasn't? If there's no abuse, let's reassure people there wasn't.
TAPPER: I don't think there's anybody saying it shouldn't be looked into, but should you be saying at a congressional hearing that "I think it happened" without any evidence?
MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Exactly. And I think that's where there is something very wrong with the way he's doing it, because if he really thought that, Jake, we all know this, he wouldn't have rolled it out this way. There would already be something ongoing in terms of, OK, let's find out more. There would be a team that would be focused on actually trying to figure out if there is any evidence to actually make that kind of accusation. There isn't! And so if there was, I think he would have said that yesterday.
LOVE: I actually think it's the opposite. I think he wouldn't say it unless he had something that's led him to believe to say it. He's going to be pushed to ask for, what is the evidence.
And I think -- I hope -- I certainly think that he does have something that is concerning him, that will come up later. But he did not want to mention what that was until he fully investigated it.
TIFFANY CROSS, CO-FOUNDER AND MANAGING EDITOR, THE BEAT DC: Look at the optics here. When you look at the optics of this president, who has lauded praise on Vladimir Putin, who was a foreign adversary, who has clearly tried to influence our elections, and now his hand-picked attorney general is deciding to investigate the investigators and spending a lot more energy on that, than a foreign adversary who as speak is still trying to impact our elections. What's in a skit, I feel like it's an "SNL" skit, I feel like an extra
on a "Saturday Night Live" skit. This is ridiculous.
TAPPER: Let me ask you, Scott, because House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, Democrat of New York, responded to Barr's comments by tweeting, quote, these comments directly contradict what the Department of Justice previously told us. I have asked the Department of Justice to brief us immediately. In the meantime, the attorney general still owes us the full Mueller report.
If Barr really contradicted what the Department of Justice has previously said, what do you make of that?
JENNINGS: Look, I think we have never gotten a full accounting of how all of this started. We have never got an full accounting of all the people inside the FBI that were clearly concerned about the possibility that Donald Trump was going to get elected president. And we're still waiting to get a full accounting on the Russian interference, as well.
There is no reason that all of us this should not come out in a timely fashion. What I heard Barr today say is, he's going to deliver the report and he's going to do an investigation on the other end. And I can't believe anybody would think we should look at one issue and not the other.
LOVE: Frankly, I'm sick and tired of the whole thing. We are -- we've got members that are investigating members that are investigating the administration. In the meantime, the American people, I'm telling you right now, I heard a conversation about, just people so frustrated that all of this is going on and not one issue that is important to them, immigration reform, when it comes to health care, none of that is being addressed by the current Congress.
LOVE: It is not being addressed by the current Congress. Immigration has been taken care of?
CROSS: It hasn't been taken care of. It's a false narrative.
LOVE: It's not a false narrative.
CROSS: It is a false narrative, to know that the Democratic majority in particular in the House cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. Certainly, there have been policy issues that are pushed out every single day in the House, that fall flat by a Republican-controlled senate. And I don't understand how people who purport to be patriots are saying, wait, don't worry about the Russian collusion, just focus on --
LOVE: No, no, no. We've talked about the registration conclusion -- the Russian issue a long time ago. If you remember --
CROSS: We should still keep talking about it!
LOVE: -- it was Mitt Romney that was debating Barack Obama that warned the American people about the Russian issue.
CARDONA: Tiffany --
LOVE: Let me finish for a second. And I was a member of Congress. We sat there and we pushed immigration reform. We did everything we possibly could. Not one vote on the Democrat side that actually gave people a pathway to citizenship.
So, this is something that is not about --
CARDONA: Well, that narrative --
TAPPER: All right, Maria?
LOVE: It's about one side --
CARDONA: That narrative is not true.
As a member of Congress, you should know that there are committees that are focused every single day on having hearings on issues of health care, on issues of border security, on issues of financial security, on every single issue that the American people care about, but the fact of the matter is, with this president in the White House, and every single bizarre, ridiculous that I think he says and comes out of his Twitter account, and then you have an attorney general that is doing his bidding, of course that is what the media is going to focus on.
But if you take a look at the 2020 candidates, what are they talking about? They aren't talking about health care. They are talking about border security. If the president is the one who is obsessed with this, than that is his issue.
LOVE: I just want to say this also, is that when you look at things, this is not what the American people are feeling. The American people are feeling like we are going back and forth with investigations and, trust me, I am not an apologist for the president.
CARDONA: I agree with you on that.
LOVE: There are several things that have to be done that Congress is not worried about. It's more about the political battle and who's going to win the 2020 election.
TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.
[16:25:00] President Trump in Texas sharing horror stories he says he's heard about life along the border as he touts a controversial aide's growing role on all things immigration. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know what, we have the media here --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: In our politics lead -- right now, President Trump is in Texas and on something of a tear, calling in reporters in the last hour for impromptu remarks where he just went off about immigration. He said what's happening at the border is, quote, crazy. He recounted a story he was apparently told today by someone who lives near the border. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)