Return to Transcripts main page


Barr on Spying in the 2016 Campaign; Trump Defends Against Obstruction; WSJ: Evidence Given to Feds on Hush Money Payments to Women. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 10, 2019 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:14] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

We begin the hour with a stunning statement on Capitol Hill, that there was spying during the 2016 campaign. That amid a big and important debate over the Mueller report. The promise from the attorney general, William Barr, today to the Senate, that he won't redact information in that report just because it harms the president.



SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-NH): Does that mean that you will redact information to protect the reputational interests of the president?

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: No. I'm talking about people in private life.


BARR: Not -- not public office holders.


KING: Barr not answering many of the questions from Senate Democrats, saying he doesn't want to explain the report or go more deeply into why and how he reached the conclusions he detailed in a four-page summary letter until Congress and the American people actually have the report in front of them.

But the attorney general did open eyes with his answer when explaining his decision to take a detailed look back at how the Russia investigation got started in the first place. Attorney General Barr saying he wanted to make sure what he called spying on the Trump campaign was justified.


SHAHEEN: So you're not -- you're not suggesting, though, that spying occurred? BARR: I don't -- well, I guess you could -- I think there's a --

spying did occur. Yes, I think spying did occur.

SHAHEEN: Well, let me --

BARR: But the question is whether it was predicated, adequately predicated. And I'm not suggesting it wasn't inadequately predicated. But I need to explore that.


KING: CNN's Laura Jarrett is at the Justice Department.

Laura, the attorney general not willing to talk about many issues, but talking in several questions about what he called spying and then surveillance and he wants to know, was it legit.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Talking about really one of the president's favorite topics, John, and opening seeming -- seeming to open, I should say, a can of worms over this whole idea that President Trump's campaign was spied on during the 2016 election by the FBI.

Now, Barr said he doesn't think that there is something endemic at the FBI that was wrongdoing here, but he does say he wants to look at some of the upper echelons, sort of a hint to former FBI Director James Comey and the Deputy Director Andrew McCabe possibly there, saying he wants to take a look at that. And he acknowledged the fact that the inspector general, the internal watchdog over here at the Justice Department, has already been reviewing this issue. Months ago was called upon to do so by the former attorney general, Jeff Sessions. But Barr saying he wants to take a look at it more broadly. He wants to take a look at everything that's been done into any unauthorized surveillance.

He was pressed at length to explain what he saw as evidence, any basis for concern, and he declined to really elaborate further on it, but saying he does think it's a problem. As for the consequences, he says that depends, John. He said it may not necessarily be something criminal, but he really wants to take a look at it.

So this is going to be just the beginning of a pretty long and contentious conversation over spying, John.

KING: A contentious conversation over that and a contention still to come over when we see the report and what's in it.

Laura Jarrett, appreciate the live report from the Justice Department.

With me here in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Catherine Lucey with "The Associated Press," Olivier Knox with Sirius XM, CNN's Evan Perez, and Rachael Bade with "The Washington Post."

Evan, he used the word spying, which, if your -- if your -- you know, for those of us in the, you know, mainstream or people watching at home, you might think that's James Bond or Jason Bourne. Within the community, that word has meaning. It is a term of art. EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That -- it is a loaded


KING: He was later pressed and he said unauthorized -- he wants to see if there was unauthorized surveillance. But when the attorney general of the United States says "spying," number one, he's channeling his boss, the president. Number two, how significant do we believe his concerns are about this and where do they come from? Is it just because it's -- this is the conservative chatter or is there something in the Mueller report about this?

PEREZ: Well, I don't believe it's going to be addressed in the Mueller report. I think the attorney general is -- he said towards the end of the hearing there, he said that there were -- he had his own concerns. He didn't want to discuss what specifically they were. But it's a big deal. What he said today was a big, big deal because, you know, again, he's raising the prospect of investigating the investigators, something the president has been calling for. And if the message that the Justice Department and the FBI get from what the attorney general is saying is that there ought to be a higher standard if you're going to do a counterintelligence investigation, something a national security investigation, that's very important, then there could be consequences.

The FBI, that's five years from now, right? Somebody -- we find out that the FBI decided not to open something on -- on something that was of concern because they were concerned of exactly this, then I think we're going to remember this day, right? I mean the Justice Department deals with this -- with this issue -- a very, very, very difficult issue all the time. And what happens with counterintelligence investigations is that often we never know about them, right? They open them, they take a look at these people and then they close them without ever -- without any of that becoming public.

[12:05:21] Why this became public, some of this stuff, including the FISA on Carter Page, was because Republicans in Congress demanded for it to be made public. And so that's the consequence that we're seeing here.

KING: And so some of the Democrats are going to say, gee, you won't answer how you reached your conclusion, the president didn't obstruct justice. You won't tell us when we ask you questions about what's in the Mueller report. But you're happy to sit here and say you're going to go back and look at the investigators. Democrats might take that as, well, you're being -- you're being a Trump appointee now and you're making Republican talking points. But it is also -- it's a critical issue that has come up from the beginning. What are we learning?

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUS XM: Well, there's a lot of -- there are a lot of inconsistencies in what he's say. And I don't know -- when he talks about unauthorized surveillance versus surveillance that wasn't correctly predicted, those are two different things, right?

KING: Right. KNOX: One is justified, the other is someone freelancing. He's gone back to the well on this idea that he -- it would be improper for him to summarize the Mueller report. But his March 24th letter literally says that he thinks it's in the public interest for him to summarize the report and the results of the conclusion.

Now, he's refused to say whether he briefed the White House on the Mueller report. I don't know if that's changed today.

KING: Right.

KNOX: It -- there's a lot of stuff going on here where I think the senators might want to get another couple more rounds of questioning.

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, and Democrats have got to feel extremely frustrated on The Hill right now because, you know, we are starting to see -- or have been seeing over the past 24 to 30 hours why the president picked Barr. Republicans are thrilled. I mean this whole idea of investigating the investigator, for a long time a lot of people oh sort of dismissed it, even though Republicans on The Hill had been talking about it. It was sort of seen as this conspiracy theory, that there were some, you know, rogue FBI agents who had this anti-Trump bias. He has very much elevated that.

And then yesterday he seemed to actually take a crack at Jerry Nadler, who is the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee investigating the president, when he was like, you know, some of the Democrats, during the Clinton era, argued against releasing the Starr report, and he said, I'm not -- I'm not interested in releasing grand jury information. And he specifically suggested that Jerry Nadler was a hypocrite for arguing against releasing that information in the '90s and then wanting to have it released now. So Republicans are very pleased. Democrats, frustrated.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE ASSOCIATED PRESS": Yes, if President Trump was watching from Air Force One this morning, I'm sure he was thrilled. This reinforces everything he's been saying and was saying just this morning about questioning the investigation, questioning the investigators, talking about dirty cops, and this plays into a line we're hearing from him on the 2020 campaign trail. He's really framing himself as a victim to his supporters.

KING: And the attorney general, near the end of the hearing, which is now over, said, look, I want to look at this. We'll see what happens. Maybe it was all legally predicated. But if I find that it wasn't, he was asked would he prosecute. And he said, well, sometimes you prosecute, sometimes you just change the rules and you say -- he went back to the Vietnam era when there was surveillance on civil rights groups. Sometimes you just change the rules internally to make it clear.

So, we'll watch this one. And, again, if there's evidence of wrongdoing, people going over the line, be transparent about that as well.

One of the key question for Democrats was, to your point about the summary letter. The Mueller report, which we will see, at least part of, next week, says that there was no collusion and Bob Mueller did not find collusion, but he left open the question. He said he could not exonerate the president on obstruction of justice, but he wasn't making a case of obstruction of justice.

Patrick Leahy, one of the senior Democrats on the committee, asking the attorney general, did Bob Mueller ask you to say what you said in your letter?


SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-V): Did he express any expectation or interest in leaving the obstruction decision to Congress?

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERA: 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.

LEAHY: All right.

BARR: But that's generally how the Department of Justice works. Generally, grand juries are to investigate crimes and a prosecutor's role at the end of the day is binary. Are there charges or no charges or is this a crime or not a crime?


KING: It's just this sort of calm, laissez-faire answer. But the Democrats want to know, you know, did you decide -- did you decide to write in your letter -- I don't see a case to prosecute an obstruction of justice. Did Mueller want you to do that? He says Mueller didn't ask him to do that. That was -- he decided that's my job as attorney general.

PEREZ: Right. I think that was an important answer because it answers something that I think everybody's been wondering, which is, was Mueller leaving this pregnant, so to speak, so that the Congress wouldn't pick it up. And he's saying, no, Mueller didn't tell me that. Now, we're going to see whether there's language in the report that sort of maybe hints at that. We don't know.

But I think it's important -- and he's right, by the way, the attorney general's job is to make these calls. The Justice Department's decision is to make a decision on whether or not to bring charges. And when you decide not to bring charges, you're essentially doing a declination. And so he's right, you know, that that's what this is.

KING: And, to your point about him not wanting to answer some questions that one would think would be easy to answer, the president of the United States said this morning he has not seen the Mueller report. We're going to get to that in a little bit in more detail.

[12:10:04] But this is Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, asking, because the attorney general yesterday left it unclear as to whether he had shared -- the day he released his summary letter, he said he had not shared the report with the White House. But in the time since, yesterday he left it unclear. Democrats tried again.


SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Anyone in the White House seen any of the report?

BARR: You know, I'm not going to -- I'm not going to -- you know, as I said, I'm landing the plane right now, and, you know, I've been willing to discuss my -- my letters and the process going forward, but the report's going to be out next week and I'm just not going to get into the details of the process until the plane's on the ground.


KING: So he's willing to get into the details of the process of going back to investigate the investigators, but he's not willing to say yes or no as to whether he -- the president said he hadn't seen it today. The attorney general won't say whether he shared it with the president or the president's lawyers or anybody else. Why?

LUCEY: That's definitely suspicious, right? Democrats have said since, you know, Barr sent his letter to Capitol Hill that he better not share this report with the White House. You know, there was some speculation that he could do that with some White House lawyers saying they want to go through it and look for information that they could claim executive privilege. Democrats on The Hill say absolutely not. When you decided to participate in this investigation, you waived that privilege. But, again, this is just another point of contention that we could potentially see between Barr and Hill Democrats if he did give him a sneak peek.

KING: And I want to go back to the -- near the very end of the hearing. The chairman of the subcommittee, Senator Moran of Kansas, brings this issue, comes back to the spying question. I just want everyone to hear this.


SEN. JERRY MORAN (R-KS): And what are the consequences for those who committed unauthorizing -- unauthorized surveillance?

BARR: Did you say that I said that it occurred?

MORAN: You indicated -- I think -- I tried to at least reflect on what your quote was, that you thought spying on a political campaign occurred in the course of an intelligence agency's investigation into Russian interference in 2016.

BARR: Well, I thought the question was, did I have any basis for saying that?

MORAN: And I'm now asking what the basis is or what the facts are that lead you to that thought. BARR: 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.

MORAN: And what's potential consequences for those who violated the law?

BARR: Well, it depends what -- it depends what the facts ultimately prove to be.

MORAN: Which would be determined in a prosecution?

BARR: Possibly, but, you know, there are also -- there can be abuses that may not arise to the level of a -- of a crime, but that, you know, people might think is bad and want to put in rules or profilaxies (ph) --


KING: Again, the language of the trade is very important here in the sense that he's not saying a bunch of Republican congressmen have said it happened so I'm going to take a look at it.

PEREZ: Right.

KING: He said I believe there's a basis. That's a -- as a lawyer, as a topo -- the country's top prosecutor, he's saying something there, that he believes he at least has a predicate, a reasonable certainty that he wants to look at this question.

PEREZ: Look, I -- and this attorney general is very careful usually in saying exactly what he means. And so we usually listen very carefully to his words because he chooses them very carefully.

And, you know, I know for a fact that, you know, he's a -- he reads everything. He reads a lot of stuff. And, you know, "The Wall Street Journal's" editorial page, for instance, has been hammering this point that this was an illegally predicated investigation. That is not supported by the evidence we've seen so far, but that's what -- that's what certain quarters of the media have been hammering on.

And so is the attorney general talking about that? I don't know. Or is he -- did he see something from perhaps from some of the finding of Horowitz, maybe some of the things that he's been briefed on. We don't know.

But he's very -- usually very careful in saying what he means. And so that's why I think I -- you have to think that there are phone calls going on right now between the FBI, across the street to the Justice Department, trying to get a little clarity on exactly what the attorney general intends to do, what he -- what he means exactly because he's -- you're right, I mean these are loaded terms, "spying." Again, this is what we do overseas. What the FBI does here is different.

KING: Right. And he -- again, he tried to amend it some to surveillance, but he used that word the first time, a couple of times, and so he does -- you know, he knows what he's saying when he says it.

Up next for us, we continue the conversation, but in a different way. The president says he hasn't seen the Mueller report, doesn't care about it. His Republican ally in the Senate says, we should all know by now that's how the president operates.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): You cannot possibly be surprised that President Trump would claim exoneration without having read anything.



[12:18:55] KING: The president spoke to reporters before leaving the White House there -- as he left the White House today. And if you listened, he made pretty clear he's keeping close tabs on what his attorney general is saying about the coming release of the Mueller report. On the one hand, so what, is the president's take.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have not seen the Mueller report. I have not read the Mueller report. I won. No collusion. No obstruction.

As far as I'm concerned, I don't care about the Mueller report. I've been totally exonerated. No collusion. No obstruction.


KING: But if he doesn't care, why this? The president again attacking the investigation and the investigators in a very clear effort to raise doubts about anything in the report that casts him in an unfavorable light.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, after wasting all of this money and all of this time with people that were haters, people that worked on the Hillary Clinton Foundation, people that were absolutely haters of Trump, they found no collusion.

It was an illegal investigation. It was started illegally. Everything about it was crooked.

[12:20:02] There were dirty cops. These were bad people.

And this was an attempted coup. This was an attempted takedown of a president. And we beat them.


KING: Illegal, crooked, dirty, attempted coup. That is what he's worried about. He clearly shows some worry as opposed to, I don't care.

KNOX: Yes, this -- that was not a president who doesn't care about the Mueller report.

LUCEY: Maybe he's protesting (ph) a little too much.

KNOX: The question of whether he's been briefed on it, because of course he hasn't seen it or read it. That's like George Bush saying I haven't read the 9/11 Commission report. No, presidents don't typically do that.

But the question of whether or not he's been briefed on it and its findings, not just the criminal stuff but the counter -- counterintelligence stuff, would explain why we've had this incredible u-turn from total exoneration to this blend of total exoneration but also a coup -- also a coup attempt and also dirty cops. It would certainly explain why. If he -- if he -- if he's been told, you know, this isn't great. If Bill Barr, for example, elaborated on did not exonerate you, you know, laid out sort of a balanced case, that would certainly explain why he's reacting this way.

LUCEY: Though another reason for the coup language and the dirty cops and the railing against the report is this for only a year now has been a very effective line for him with his supporters. He's using it out on the campaign trail. I think we're going to hear more and more and more about this. He's found it to be a really -- like a powerful line on the trail.

KING: Right. And the question that Mueller leaves open and that Barr -- Barr made a conclusion that there was not a prosecutable case in his summary letter, the attorney general, a Trump appointee, said that, he doesn't see a case to pursue on obstruction of justice. The special counsel, he said in that letter, leaves that question open. The question of obstruction comes up. Here's the president.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We fight back. And you know why we fight back? Because I knew how illegal this whole thing was.


KING: There he goes again to the idea -- and, again, you made this point earlier, Bill Barr says he's going back to investigate the beginning of the investigation. But every time Robert Mueller was challenged in court, every time the legitimacy of the investigation was challenged in court, Robert Mueller won. So the public record is in favor of this not being an illegal investigation, as the president says, but that is a message mainly to his base, but also anyone else out there who's a little confused, don't believe anything they say because they shouldn't have been there in the first place.

BADE: Yes. And Barr in his letter specifically said, you know, he quoted Mueller saying that he wasn't exonerating the president when it came to obstruction of justice. He mentioned something else, which I think is important, and perhaps why we're seeing the president react like this, and that is that most of the obstruction issues were publicly reported, but that was most, he said specifically in the letter. That sort of suggests that there were other things that happened that have not been reported that perhaps could be used in trying to make the case that the president did obstruct justice. And we will potentially see those when the Mueller report comes out and maybe he's threatened and worried.

PEREZ: No, I agree with that. I think -- I think we are going to be reading that part of the report very closely for exactly those reasons.

KING: Right. And another thing that the attorney general has said about the redactions. He says, one area that he has to redact or ongoing cases or cases that have been spun off from Mueller to other prosecutors.

There's some new reporting in "The Wall Street Journal" today about one of these cases. And it shows just how far federal investigators reached deep into the president's inner circle. "THE JOURNAL" saying the feds had two important cooperators in what became a campaigns finance investigation, Hope Hicks, the former White House communications director, and Keith Schiller, the longtime Trump security chief and former director of Oval Office operations. Both Hicks and Schiller, according to "The Wall Street Journal," made phone calls to David Pecker. He, of course, the tabloid "National Enquirer" boss who had a so-called catch and kill agreement with the president to help bury the stories about what Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal say are affairs with then businessman Donald Trump. Among what prosecutors want to know, whether Mr. Schiller, during a phone call with Pecker, passed the phone to then candidate Trump.

So more details about these investigations. Part of this was in the case against Michael Cohen, where individual one, the president of the United States, is essentially named as an unindicted co-conspirator in a campaign finance violation.

Do we have any good reporting on where they want to take this? Are they trying to learn more? Are they trying to develop a case against the president, even though the Justice Department guidelines say you can't indict him, but do they just want to have it in a file?

PEREZ: Look, I think all of those things are a possibility. I think the idea that the investigation is going to continue through the end of this presidency is very much I think on the minds of the Trump lawyers who are dealing with this.

What "The Journal" story does is it definitely puts a lot of meat on the bones of what we knew already, which was that this investigation was continuing and that they were continuing to look at whether or not anyone else was aware of the hush money payments, which could be a campaign finance violation. And so you would talk to Hope Hicks.

We know that she went in to the interview -- had an interview. There was something that happened. Perhaps she wasn't feeling well, had to come back a second day. There are different versions of that story. We also know Keith Schiller also talked to them. And so is that

something that they are still looking at? We don't know exactly where the Southern District of New York will go, but this is a reason why the president's lawyers have always been more worried about this investigation than anything else because they knew they could deal with the collusion stuff and the obstruction stuff. They thought they had that handled. This is definitely much harder to deal with because you can't fire the Southern District of New York.

KING: Right.

[12:25:22] PEREZ: You can get rid of Bob Mueller. You can't get rid of these guys. And they don't go away. And they fully expect that this is going to follow the president through the end of his presidency. And, again, if he doesn't get re-elected in 2020, it is possible that you could bring charges against a former president.

BADE: Yes, I think it's interesting that, you know, Democrats on The Hill, this is an issue that they really haven't been going after very much. I mean they're talking about Russia. They're talking about obstruction. They're talking about, you know, security clearances. But we haven't seen them touch this very much. I mean maybe on the perimeters they're sending inquiries. But when it comes to, are they going to impeach the president? This -- you know, his lawyers are very concerned about this. And so far Democrats on The Hill want to be --

PEREZ: Rightly because of Bill Clinton.

BADE: Yes, exactly. They don't see this as safe grounds.

LUCEY: I asked Trump about this, this morning as he left and he said he has no idea anything about this reporting. But clearly it's a --

KING: He -- that's the -- I don't want to talk -- that was more of an, I don't want to talk about it than I know anything about it, because he knows. He keeps track of all of this.

And when we come back, as we continue to track the investigations, another big proposal today from one of the leading Democrats for president. Bernie Sanders back with a new version of Medicare for all.