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CNN NEWSROOM

Attorney General Barr Reviews How FBI's Russia Investigation Began; Treasury Expected to Miss Democrats' Deadline to Hand Over Trump's Taxes; Attorney General Barr Faces Congress for a Second Day of Testimony; Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) Interviewed About Questions She Asked Attorney General Barr on the Mueller Report; Investors Set to Watch Fed Over Any Talk of Rate Cuts. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 10, 2019 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The president knew about hush money payments to Stormy Daniels. That's next.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it's Wednesday and it's a big day certainly on Capitol Hill.

Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Jim Sciutto. We are following lots of breaking news this morning. The "Wall Street Journal" reporting just moments ago that federal investigators have interviewed two members of President Trump's inner circle regarding its probe into hush money payments to two women who alleged they had affairs with the president. Former White House communications director Hope Hicks and Trump's former security chief Keith Schiller.

Also breaking this morning CNN has learned that Attorney General William Barr has assembled a team at the Department of Justice to investigate how the FBI began its counterintelligence probe of Russian interference in the election and any potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Expect Barr to be asked about this new investigation today as we are just moments away from Barr facing lawmakers once again on Capitol Hill.

HARLOW: Yes, and that's not it. Today we do, as Jim said, have the Senate questioning Barr on all of this after the House committees did yesterday, and those questions and his answers and non-answers spurred arguably more questions that Barr will face today about the Mueller report and when it will all be turned over.

Case in point, will he continue to refuse to release the fully unredacted version of the Mueller report to Congress? Buckle up, because Democrats want to know why he won't answer those questions and many more about what the White House has or hasn't seen.

And in just minutes President Trump leaves the White House on his way to Texas to continue his border push. Will he talk about all of this as he heads to Marine One? We'll stop, we will see. We're following it. Let's first, though, get to this "Wall Street Journal" reporting that

just broke. The reporter who broke it, one of those on the byline here, Rebecca Ballhaus. Important reporting. Thank you for calling in.

REBECCA BALLHAUS, REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Thanks for having me.

HARLOW: So where do we begin? Let me ask you what you think the most important nugget is from all that you guys have laid out here?

BALLHAUS: I think what the most important takeaway is, is that this Manhattan U.S. attorney's office investigation really went much deeper into the president's circle in this hush money payment investigation than was previously known. So as you mentioned they spoke to Hope Hicks who was one of the people closest to Trump, was with him from the earliest days of the 2016 campaign, and also spoke to Keith Schiller who worked as his security chief for more than a decade before joining him in the White House until the fall of 2017.

So I think the fact that they were willing to bring in these people shows the lengths that investigators were willing to go to in this criminal investigation.

HARLOW: OK.

SCIUTTO: Rebecca, one thing that stood out to me is your reporting here that prosecutors had gathered information about Mr. Trump's alleged involvement before Michael Cohen spoke out in the courtroom, now famously, implicating the president in what is alleged to be a federal crime here, using this hush money to influence an election. Because, of course, the president in his team's defense is centered on whether Cohen himself -- by himself is a credible witness to this. But you're saying that federal investigators have spoken to others and had other evidence even before Cohen came forward.

BALLHAUS: That's right. And I remember there was a lot of speculation around the time that Cohen did come forward about, you know, did prosecutors already know this and if they didn't know this would they have let Cohen say that in court. You know, a lot of people were saying, you know, they don't just let people say anything they want. If they believe this not to be true they wouldn't let this happen.

And so what our reporting today shows is that they really did know this to be true. They conducted many different interviews. They had at least David Pecker confirming that the president has been involved in those payments. So this was really something that they had evidence to back up on and of course prosecutors have since Michael Cohen's guilty plea said in their own words in court documents that the president -- that individual one directed Michael Cohen to make these payments.

HARLOW: If this did happen and if this were deemed to be a campaign donation then it would be illegal because it would be undisclosed. The question comes and you point this out in the middle of your piece that you guys just don't know at this point, you can't determine what the Southern District might do with this, right? Because up to this point they have adhered by the guidelines of the Justice Department that a sitting president can't be indicted. So that's sort of a big remaining question, isn't it?

BALLHAUS: That's right. So they have given every indication that they are adhering to that DOJ guidance and they haven't given any indication that they are going to try and charge Trump after he leaves office, but what our reporting shows is that they have evidence that were they to choose to bring a case, we just don't have any signs that they are planning to do so.

HARLOW: OK.

SCIUTTO: Rebecca Ballhaus, thanks very much.

[09:05:02] Let's discuss now with former federal prosecutors Elie Honig and Jennifer Rodgers, as well as Sabrina Siddiqui, she is White House correspondent for "The Guardian."

Elie and Jennifer, so approach this as prosecutors as you can. So they have more than Michael Cohen testifying to this apparently, at least according to the "Wall Street Journal's" reporting, but also apparently a recorded phone conversation, the "Wall Street Journal" says, between the president's lawyer Michael Cohen and lawyers for the two women who alleged these affairs.

Jennifer, if I could begin with you, what is the standard to establish, if true, criminal wrongdoing by the president here?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, they're going to be looking for evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the president committed this crime, right. Even though you only actually technically need probable cause to indict, you're really always looking for more than that in case it goes to trial of course where beyond a reasonable doubt is the standard.

So neither Elie nor I are surprised that they had a lot more evidence than just Michael Cohen when they came forward with him. You know, the question is what does it mean? Who are they going to charge? You know, I was really interested in this reporting because had we learned that they have been recently speaking to Hope Hicks and Keith Schiller then that to me would suggest that they are still moving towards charging someone.

HARLOW: Right.

RODGERS: Maybe executive two who might be Don Jr. But this is old reporting so -- reporting new from old interviews from last spring so it doesn't necessarily mean that.

HARLOW: Although we don't know definitively from it if they've -- you know, the reporters may just not know at this point if they have spoken to them subsequently.

RODGERS: That's right. HARLOW: Because there has been recent reporting about the extent of

Hope Hicks' communication and cooperation, et cetera. I think it's interesting these are two people we know the president trusted, probably still trusts a lot, Hope Hicks, Keith Schiller. Very close to him. Keith was with him at Trump Org forever before this.

What does it tell you, Elie, that they're not currently working for- slash-with employed by the president?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It probably makes it easier for them to cooperate, right. It's a hard thing when you're working for somebody and your livelihood depends on that person but you're also being asked by prosecutors for information about that person. Now when that happens, you have to prioritize I think. You have to put your own criminal liability.

HARLOW: Of course.

HONIG: First and foremost. But it puts them in a better position to cooperate. They have fewer conflicts of interest, I don't mean that in the technical sense, but they're being pulled in fewer different directions and both of these people, Hicks and Schiller, both inner, inner sanctum people. They were deeply trusted by the president who really keeps a pretty tight inner circle around him. It's basically his family, these two and maybe a handful of other people. So they'd be in a pretty unique position to give inside info to the Southern District.

SCIUTTO: Keeps them close, keeps them close for years. Michael Cohen with him more than a decade, Keith Schiller I believe even longer than that.

Sabrina Siddiqui, there is the law and then there is the politics of this. What is the political appetite for pursuing these charges further? Again, you know, federal prosecutors here have to make their own decisions based on the law. They appear to be pursuing this case, but politically, what is the appetite for pursuing these and how much do Democrats risk this kind of sense that, you know, always investigating the president?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that Democrats have made clear that these hush money payments and what exactly the president knew about them and when he knew it is an area of focus and that they fully do intend to investigate those matters, especially after Michael Cohen not only directly implicated the president in a violation of campaign finance law, but entered what he said was evidence for the public record that Trump personally signed off on at least one of those reimbursement checks, as did his son Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg. And they have said that they intend to, in fact, call Allen Weisselberg on Capitol Hill to testify.

On the idea of investigating to investigate, I think that the fact that this is also being pursued by investigators in the Southern District of New York does give Democrats some credibility to say that this is not simply politically motivated, that this is something that the authorities are themselves looking into.

SCIUTTO: Right.

SIDDIQUI: Now, of course, you know, the aftermath of the Mueller report does mean that the present Republicans will continue and say that Democrats are harassing the president, that's what Trump called it, presidential harassment, but they do have at least some very serious allegations that have been made that are a reminder that the legal perils the president faces are not by any means limited to the Mueller report.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: Right.

HARLOW: And, look, the Congress has a mandate for oversight as well and let's get to the other part of the other side of investigating the investigation with news of what Bill Barr, the attorney general, has ordered as it relates to the Russia probe of the 2016 election. That's more breaking news this morning that he is investigating how the FBI opened its investigation into possible Russian -- into the Russian interference with the 2016 election and any possible ties to the Trump campaign.

Manu Raju is on the Hill. So this isn't -- I mean, he talked about this yesterday in his testimony and now we're learning more details about this and how it's different from the IG's investigation.

[09:10:10] MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're learning from a U.S. official that the attorney general has actually assembled a team to look into how the Russia investigation began. This is, of course, something that the president has railed on for months and months, raising concerns about bias, that allegedly may have been involved with launching this probe to begin with and asking and directing his attorney general to look into this matter.

Well, we have learned that Barr is, in fact, looking into this. He alluded to this yesterday at the subcommittee hearing before the House and he said at the time -- yesterday he said, I am reviewing the conduct of the investigation and trying to get my arms around all of the aspects of the counterintelligence investigation that was conducted during the summer of 2016, and he also revealed that a separate inspector general report about the surveillance activities that occurred also during the campaign season, that those findings will be out in May or June of this year.

So on at least two fronts things that -- probes are moving forward that the president could be happy with, and we'll see if he reveals any more at today's closed-door hearing as well.

SCIUTTO: OK. So Barr faced House members yesterday, is facing senators today. What are Senate Democrats planning to zero in on today with Barr after the House hearing yesterday?

RAJU: Well, expect more questions about whether or not the White House had any knowledge about the full Mueller report, has been briefed in any way. Of course, yesterday Barr refused to engage on that question, saying he's not going to answer that anymore, though he did discuss -- or at least telling the White House about the four-page summary right before it came out. The questions will be why -- can you talk about that but not about the full Mueller report? Expect more of that and also expect Democrats to demand the release of the full Mueller report, something that Bill Barr said that he would not do yesterday.

Yesterday when he said that he'd only provide the redacted report to Congress that provoked quite a backlash from House Democrats who are going to move to subpoena for the full report and also move on other fronts. One front that Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, told me yesterday was to demand all of the counterintelligence information that the Mueller probe has uncovered and he took a shot at Bill Barr in his testimony and said to me yesterday he's simply trying to protect the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I think that's a betrayal of what he promised during his confirmation, but it is what he was hired to do which was to protect the president. The president wanted his own Roy Cohn and apparently he's got one. But it is deeply concerning.

We have an independent basis to want the counterintelligence information and after all this began as a counterintelligence investigation determined to find out whether the president or people in his campaign had been compromised in any way by a foreign power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: But Republicans, of course, have said that he's doing what he's supposed to, Bill Barr, he's doing what the regulations call for. So you expect that split on this panel here on the Senate side today as we saw yesterday in the House -- guys.

HARLOW: OK. Manu, thanks very much. We know you'll be in there and update us.

SCIUTTO: Our experts are back. Elie Honig, Jennifer Rodgers.

Elie, the question, of the course, with this investigate the investigators thing, is this a criminal investigation or is it a "please the president" investigation? Because we've seen both, I mean, we saw it, for instance, you know, were there three million fake voters in the election? You know, was the inaugural crowd size bigger or smaller than Obama's, right? Is Barr looking to -- can we tell now whether this is going to go down a serious path or more political path?

HONIG: Well, you said it and that's the question that some senator needs to ask real quick today. You have now opened up -- you're taking a look at the investigation itself.

SCIUTTO: Right. HONIG: Is that a criminal probe that you've opened and if it is I

think it is remarkably dangerous. This idea of you had a group of investigators looking at conduct, did not result in criminal charges, now you get investigated. Now you might go to jail. That is a horrible precedent and I think you said it, is it a criminal probe or is it carrying the president's political water? I'm paraphrasing, it could be both.

SCIUTTO: And folks have to remember, the description here. The counterintelligence investigation, was there Russian interference in the election? What they then turned up was were communications between Trump aides and Russians. So it didn't begin as an investigation of the president --

HARLOW: It led to these FISA warrants.

SCIUTTO: Exactly.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: It began as an investigation of Russian interference, point of order.

HARLOW: It's a really important point. Listen to this from Barr yesterday because I think it's going to come up a lot today. Let's play it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Until someone shows me a provision in 6-E that permits its release, Congress doesn't get 6-E. And the chairman of the Judiciary Committee is free to go to court if he feels one of those exceptions is applicable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: All right. 6-E is obviously is grand jury information being protected and redacted in this report. He's going to be asked about that again today. Who has a better shot in court? Now we know he's not going to help Nadler in court on this, so what are Nadler's legal shot -- chances in court on this?

RODGERS: You know, it's really all up to the judges. One of those things where if the judge decides in his or her judgment that it's in the interest of the public to release this information and --

HARLOW: So that's it --

RODGERS: To hold that --

HARLOW: It's public interest or not.

RODGERS: Yes, it really is, and so we'll just have to see who they draw. I mean, this -- one of those things where literally who they get out of the bin, the judge is going to make a huge difference here. So we'll have to see -- HARLOW: Interesting --

SCIUTTO: That's why legal judge appointments make a difference.

HARLOW: Make such a difference --

SCIUTTO: Right?

HARLOW: Thank you both.

HONIG: Thanks again --

HARLOW: We'll be watching, he'll be with us for it. All right --

SCIUTTO: Coming up, the President Trump set to depart the White House any moment now, heading to Texas this morning. He may speak to reporters on his way to Marine One, he tends to. We'll bring that to you right away.

Also, the president's chief adviser Kellyanne Conway will join us live, much to discuss with her this morning including lots of breaking news this morning. She will be here soon.

HARLOW: All right, and of course, we're getting ready for round two. Attorney General William Barr will testify before the Senate Committee and subcommittee today, that's in less than an hour. I will speak next to the congresswoman who questioned him yesterday on a lot of important topics ahead.

[09:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: All right, welcome back, moments from now, the Attorney General Bill Barr will face another round of intense questioning when he appears before the Senate Appropriations Committee. This comes as we're learning that Barr has put together a team to investigate how the FBI and Russia probe and the FISA warrants that were requested as part of it came about.

Congresswoman Grace Meng is a Democrat from New York, a member of the House Appropriations Committee -- of course, she questioned Barr yesterday. She's also a Vice Chair of the DNC. She joins me now, good morning.

REP. GRACE MENG (D-NY): Good morning, thanks for having me on.

HARLOW: Of course, let me just get you on that breaking news that we've learned that Bill Barr has assembled a team to investigate basically the investigation, to look into these FISA warrants that were issued as the Feds were investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. Are you glad that he's doing that?

MENG: Well, he did allude to this very generally --

HARLOW: Yes --

MENG: Yesterday. He said him and his team were still reviewing this within the agency. However, this does nothing in terms of us in Congress still needing to see the full content of the Mueller report. And I know we talked about this a lot on --

HARLOW: Yes --

MENG: Our subcommittee yesterday, but that is still the case. The American people still deserve to see it, Congress in a very bipartisan way voted --

HARLOW: So --

MENG: To express the will of the American people that we want to see the report.

HARLOW: So it doesn't sound like you oppose him though, assembling a team to just look into whether there were any political motivations behind these FISA warrants, et cetera. Is that a fair read of your stance?

MENG: Honestly, I don't know his intentions and motivations behind doing that. He is obviously the head of the agency and has a right to do that. But I sincerely hope that this is not meant to be any sort of distraction from revealing the content of the reports.

HARLOW: All right, so the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee Nita Lowey yesterday questioned him obviously, and then this morning on CNN's "NEW DAY", she said that all members of Congress must see the fully unredacted report.

She said, look, we can go to the SCIF, a secure location on Capitol Hill, we can -- we can read it there. But on Monday on this show, we had on Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna, and he told me, no, I don't need to see the report, not every member of Congress needs to see the fully unredacted report.

You know, the committee chairman of Intelligence and Judiciary, et cetera, should. What do you think? Does every member of Congress need to see these fully unredacted Mueller report?

MENG: Well, every Congress member certainly can decide for him or herself whether they want to review the report. I know for myself and many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, we want to see a fully unredacted version of this report.

And like you said, these are instances -- this happens a lot where we go into a SCIF where there are privacy concerns and, you know, this is something that's done very frequently with Congress members and we deserve to see it.

HARLOW: You questioned him yesterday about any communication with the White House on this report before the Mueller report is released. Let's play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MENG: Was the president or anyone at the White House alerted in advance of your letter's release?

BARR: The March 24th letter, I don't believe so. But as I said, once the report is out, I will be testifying and I will be glad to discuss all aspects of the process and also explain the decisions I've made.

MENG: Did you or anyone on your team consult with anyone in the White House in the crafting of that letter?

BARR: Are you talking about the March 24th letter?

MENG: Yes.

BARR: The answer to that is, no, but as I say, I'm not going to discuss this further until after the report is out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Do you feel like -- and he will be on the Hill, by the way, after the report is out, May 1st and 2nd --

MENG: Right.

HARLOW: Did you feel like you got a fulsome answer to your question?

MENG: Well, I appreciate him being on the Hill to answer our questions. I did want to know what conversations he had in terms of the March 24th, and there was a March 29th letter as well. But also just in general, what types of conversations has the Attorney General and his team been having with the White House on this report in general.

So, of course, there is more information to know. He was hesitant understandably to answer some of these questions, and that is yet another reason why we need to see the full report.

HARLOW: OK, so let's move on to your role as Vice Chair of the DNC, obviously, the Democratic Party, we've got 18 contenders so far for 2020 in the presidential race. Let me ask you about Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of course, you're born in Queen as well -- Queens as well as she was, and now you're both representing in Congress.

[09:25:00] She tweeted on March 30th, encouraging small dollar donors to instead of giving money to the DCCC, to give it directly to progressive candidates pushing back against the committee's decision to break ties with consultants and pollsters who are working with primary challengers. Do you support that idea or does that further fracture your party?

MENG: Well, look, I think donors have a right to donate whether they want to donate to a Democratic Committee, whether they want to donate directly to candidates. And donors, if you talk to them have different preferences all the time. I think that we are still having a lot of conversations on this issue.

We want to make sure that the public knows that the DCCC of course has raised and has spent a lot of money not only in flipping seats, but also helping to elect Democratic and Progressive candidate members and progressive causes as well.

HARLOW: So you don't -- I mean, you obviously don't like to hear a message that says don't donate to the DCCC, but you're saying people should have freedom to donate wherever they want and they do. Final question --

MENG: They --

HARLOW: Bernie --

MENG: Yes --

HARLOW: Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Senator Bernie Sanders will release his Medicare for All plan today. You've been a big proponent of this. You know that even the left-leaning urban institute says, look, the cost is $32 trillion over a decade. How specifically would you propose paying for that?

MENG: Well, I think part of my reason for wanting to sponsor a bill like Medicare for All and to push for it is because I think we need a lot more conversation, whether on Capitol Hill or throughout the country, and how we can make sure that more people have equal access to healthcare.

HARLOW: Totally --

MENG: And however --

HARLOW: But how would you pay for that? Because that's the price tag. I just -- I'm wondering, is this just increase taxation across the board?

MENG: No, it's not just about increased taxation, it's also about a shifting of priorities. There are a lot of issues that we might pay for in Congress that I think sometimes we need to re-assess and re- analyze, but priority is healthcare and being able to take care of our fellow Americans, and that's why we desperately need to have that conversation.

HARLOW: OK, conversation about how you cover people, how you pay for it, we'll have you back for that.

MENG: Yes --

HARLOW: Thanks very much Congresswoman Grace Meng, I appreciate it.

MENG: Thanks for having me.

HARLOW: You got it.

SCIUTTO: Interesting conversations as always, we are following the breaking news this morning. The Attorney General launching an investigation into how the FBI started its Russia probe of Russian interference in the campaign, possible Trump campaign involvement. We're going to speak to the president's senior adviser all about it, next.

And we are moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Investors are going to be watching for any insight from the Federal Reserve for clues on possible interest rate cuts or moves this year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:30:00]