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THE SITUATION ROOM
Democrats Demand Answers after Attorney General Barr Says He Thinks "Spying Did Occur" against Trump Campaign; Trump's Inner Circle Gave Evidence to Feds on Hush Money Payments to Women; Trump and Treasury Chief Won't Comply with Dems' Demand for Trump's Tax Returns; Interview with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) on the U.S. Intelligence Community and Transparency; Schumer Calls on Barr for Evidence of "Spying" against Trump Campaign or Retract Statement. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired April 10, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MJ LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a pretty high burn rate but it also said that it transferred more than $10 million from Warren's Senate campaign. So that's a pretty big cushion for now -- Jake.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, MJ Lee, thanks so much.
Our coverage on CNN continues right now.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Spy claims: Democratic lawmakers are demanding an explanation for the extraordinary claim by the attorney general William Barr, who tells lawmakers he thinks government spying did occur against the Trump campaign.
He offers no proof but says he's begun his own probe into how the FBI's Trump-Russia investigation got started.
Inner circle interviews: federal investigators have reportedly questioned two former Trump aides, key members of his inner circle, digging up -- and I'm quoting now -- "more evidence that was previously known about hush money payments."
Missed deadline: President Trump and his Treasury Secretary making clear that the IRS will not comply with today's deadline to hand over six years of his tax returns.
How will congressional Democrats respond?
And what's in a name?
During a visit to the home of America's first president, President Trump reportedly criticized George Washington for not naming Mt. Vernon after himself, saying -- and I'm quoting now -- "You've got to put your name on stuff or no one remembers you."
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news: Congressional Democrats are furious and demanding answers tonight, following a stunning assertion by attorney general William Barr, who, without offering any proof, testified that he thinks government spying did occur against the Trump campaign.
Barr confirmed he has launched his own probe into the origins of the FBI's investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. President Trump today renewed his attack on the special counsel's investigation, calling it an attempted coup.
That as a new report says federal investigators have dug up more evidence than previously known from the president's inner circle about hush money payment to women. "The Wall Street Journal" reports former Trump White House aide Hope Hicks and security chief Keith Schiller made phone calls to a tabloid to help bury the story.
I'll speak with Senator Joe Manchin of the Appropriations Committee. And our correspondents and analysts, they will have full coverage of the day's top stories.
Democrats want an explanation for the attorney general William Barr's jaw-dropping claim during a congressional hearing today. Moments ago, the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, angrily attacked the attorney general.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The chief law enforcement officer of our country is going off the rails yesterday and today. He is the attorney general of the United States of America, not the attorney general of Donald Trump.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, let's go to our Justice reporter, Laura Jarrett, she's over at the Justice Department.
Laura, some extraordinary testimony today. Tell us why Democrats are so furious about what the attorney general said.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, Democrats are fuming about the unproven, controversial claim of spying on the Trump campaign, is now back on the scene. And it isn't being propagated just by the White House. It's now being held up by the chief law enforcement officer of the United States.
BARR: I think there's the spying did occur, yes. I think spying did occur.
JARRETT (voice-over): An inflammatory claim likely music to the president's ears.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And this was an attempted coup. This was an attempted takedown of a president.
JARRETT (voice-over): Attorney general Bill Barr told lawmakers today he believes the FBI and intelligence community spied on Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, essentially echoing a charge President Trump has made for more than two years.
BARR: I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal.
JARRETT (voice-over): To look into any alleged misconduct, the attorney general said he plans to examine the genesis of the counterintelligence investigation into possible links between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
SEN. JACK REED (D-RI): Have you any evidence that there was anything improper in those investigations?
BARR: I have no specific evidence that I would cite right now. I do have questions about it. I am not saying that improper surveillance occurred. I'm saying that I am concerned about it and looking into it. That's all.
JARRETT (voice-over): In a possible swipe at former FBI director James Comey or his deputy, Andrew McCabe, Barr said, if there was any wrongdoing, it may have only been a problem with senior FBI leadership.
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.
BARR: I think there was probably a failure among a group of leaders there at the upper echelon.
JARRETT (voice-over): Barr expected Mueller's report to be released next week, telling the senators he wouldn't remove information from the full report just to please the president.
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 holders.
JARRETT (voice-over): Still, Barr has been sharply criticized for finding the president did not obstruct justice, despite Mueller not reaching a conclusion himself.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): Did he express any expectation and interest in leaving the obstruction decision to Congress? BARR: 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.
JARRETT (voice-over): And while Barr deflected many questions on Robert Mueller's ultimate conclusions...
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): It is striking the president claimed complete and total exoneration, if he didn't either see the report or was briefed on the report.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): You cannot possibly surprise (sic) that President Trump would claim exoneration without having read anything. Uh, so.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Attorney General?
JARRETT (voice-over): The attorney general couldn't say if the special counsel agreed with him that the investigation didn't establish the president obstructed justice.
SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): Did Bob Mueller support your conclusion?
BARR: I don't know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion.
JARRETT: As for Mueller's highly anticipated report, which we expect to see as soon as next week, the attorney general said that lawmakers will see more than just the gist of it and he hasn't overruled the special counsel on any proposed redactions -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Laura, thank you. Laura Jarrett at the Justice Department.
I want to bring in our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez and CNN reporter, Kara Scannell.
Evan, the attorney general made this truly stunning statement today, that he thinks the FBI, the intelligence agencies actually spied on the Trump campaign.
What evidence could he possibly have?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It's not clear, Wolf. And I think he says he had some concerns. And look, he was given multiple chances today to sort of clarify what he meant. And he really didn't do that.
I think if you're the FBI, folks there are wondering whether he's talking about the FISA application for Carter Page and, you know, from all the information that has been shown so far, that appears to have been done properly.
Is he talking about the CIA and some of the activities they had, looking at what the Russians were doing on their end, talking to people connected to the Trump campaign?
It's not clear what the attorney general was talking about. It's also not clear what he means is going to happen here.
Is he talking about perhaps a higher standard before you can open a counterintelligence investigation?
If that's what he's talking about, that's a big deal and I think we're going to hear a lot more about that.
BLITZER: We certainly will.
Kara, amidst all of this, there's a new report that federal investigators in New York, they have questioned two key members of the president's inner circle in connection with those hush money payments to those two women, who allege they had affairs with the president.
What's the latest on that?
KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, so "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that the prosecutors in New York last spring interviewed Hope Hicks, Donald Trump's longtime communications adviser, and Keith Schiller, his longtime security official/bodyguard, questioning them about some of these hush money payments, specifically related to American Media. That's the publisher of the "National Enquirer."
The "National Enquirer" was involved in one of these hush money payments that Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to, involving Karen McDougal. "The Journal" doesn't say exactly how this was used but how we know these investigations work is that prosecutors interview a lot of witnesses who have knowledge about events.
And it's possible this was used as leverage against American Media, which eventually signed a non-prosecution agreement, and also with David Pecker, who was the publisher. And he talks to Donald Trump; he's talked to him for years. They're very close.
And he testified in the grand jury against Michael Cohen under an immunity deal. That all culminated last August into Michael Cohen pleading guilty. So we got a little bit more detail about the earlier stages of this SDNY investigation.
BLITZER: Is this SDNY, Southern District of New York, federal investigation potentially a bigger threat to the president than the Mueller investigation?
PEREZ: I think people close to the president have always thought that this is the bigger threat. And the fact that it lives on, Wolf, by the way, we know, again, "The Wall Street Journal" story kind of clarified some things that we've already said and known, which was that this is an investigation that's still ongoing.
The prosecutors in New York seem to be trying to figure out who else may have been involved, who may have known about the hush money payments and whether or not there are any additional laws that may have been broken in this.
So, again, I think this is why people close to the president have always said they expect this investigation to last through the end of his presidency and perhaps beyond that.
BLITZER: Yes, it goes on and on and on. Evan, thank you.
Kara, thanks to you, as well.
There's more breaking news, as a deadline arrives --
BLITZER: -- without the IRS providing Congress with President Trump's tax returns. President Trump made it clear today he's not budging on that, as he also renewed his assault on the special counsel's probe.
Let's go to our White House correspondent, Abby Phillip.
Abby, take us through the late-breaking developments.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, today is that deadline for the IRS to respond to the House Ways and Means Committee request for six years of President Trump's tax returns. But the president appears to be gearing up for a fight.
And he is also in a combative mood over the Robert Mueller report, which is about to released imminently. The president appears to be attacking the investigators, even though he said, just weeks ago, that he wanted the full report to be released to the public.
TRUMP: This was an attempted coup. This was an attempted takedown of a president. And we beat them. We beat them.
PHILLIP (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump going on the attack against the Russia investigation, ahead of the release of the full Mueller report.
TRUMP: So the Mueller report, when they talk about obstruction, we fight back.
And you know why we fight back?
Because I knew how illegal this whole thing was. It was a scam.
PHILLIP (voice-over): As attorney general Bill Barr testifies on Capitol Hill that redactions won't be made to protect him.
SHAHEEN: 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 holders.
PHILLIP (voice-over): Trump gearing up for another battle with Congress over his taxes.
TRUMP: I got elected last time with the same issue.
And while I'm under audit, I won't do it. If I'm not under audit, I would do it. I have no problem with it.
PHILLIP (voice-over): As the IRS appears poised to buck a deadline set by the house Ways and Means Committee to hand over six years of the president's tax returns by today.
STEVEN MNUCHIN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: This isn't just about the president and congressional oversight, as I said yesterday, can you imagine if Kevin Brady, when he was chairman, he had requested tax returns of prominent Democrats. We want to make sure that we follow the law properly.
PHILLIP (voice-over): Meantime, in Texas today, Trump painting a gruesome picture of the situation at the border.
TRUMP: They'll kill you, take your truck, sometimes go and rob the house.
And who the hell can live like this?
PHILLIP (voice-over): And downplaying the influence of his senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller, who sources say has been put in charge of all immigration and border-related issues.
TRUMP: Stephen is an excellent guy. He's a wonderful person. People don't know him. He has been with me from the beginning. He's a brilliant man and, frankly, there's only one person that's running it.
And you know who that is?
PHILLIP (voice-over): Miller's hardline advocacy causing even Republicans to push for a check on his power.
Republican senator John Thune telling CNN, "I do think his voice is influential and I hope it gets balanced out with other voices there."
And increasingly, Republican lawmakers are speaking up about Trump's unconventional picks for another role, the Federal Reserve board. Trump has selected Stephen Moore, a former campaign adviser, who critics say lacks the economics qualifications for the post.
And former Republican presidential candidate, Herman Cain, who faces renewed scrutiny over allegations of sexual harassment.
But Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is privately urging senators to raise their concerns about both men to the White House, sources tell CNN. Trump now won't say if Cain's nomination is in jeopardy.
TRUMP: Well, I like Herman Cain and Herman will make that determination. Herman is a wonderful man. He's been a supporter of mine for a long time. As to how he's doing in the process, that I don't know. You go through a process. But Herman's a great guy and I hope he does well.
PHILLIP: And on immigration, President Trump is also teasing in Texas today that he might ask the military to return to the border, although the Pentagon says they have not yet received a formal request -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Lots going on. Abby Phillip at the White House, thanks very much.
Joining us now, Democratic senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. He's a member of the Appropriations Committee.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: The attorney general, you heard today, he does think that spying occurred, that it's looking -- he's looking into the origins of the FBI probe, of the Trump campaign.
Have you seen -- and you used to be a member of the Intelligence Committee -- during this time, have you seen any evidence of impropriety on the part of either the FBI or the U.S. intelligence community, the CIA or others?
MANCHIN: No, I haven't. And no one on that committee ever told me that they had seen something I hadn't. So I served on Intel for a year, Wolf. And we looked at everything possible. The Intelligence Committee -- or the intelligence community, all 17 of them -- have their job to do. And that's to make sure that we don't have any foreign involvement in any way, shape or form, whether it be --
MANCHIN: -- in our economics, in espionage and sabotage that we're trying to thwart or in our election process.
That's their job. If they see something, they've got to do their job. If they believe that's something different now, then show us. But we have not seen that at all.
BLITZER: The inspector general's office over at the Department of Justice is already overseeing an independent investigation into the matter. Is it appropriate for a political appointee -- and the attorney
general, as you know, is a political appointee -- to begin his own parallel investigation, especially given the way the president has talked about all of this?
Why not wait for the inspector general's report before going out and saying what he said today?
MANCHIN: Well, the attorney general has quite a bit on his plate right now. And he doesn't need to go there, because we're waiting for this full Mueller report. And I think the best and the quickest that we can see that, the confidence of the American people will have, that it was done thoroughly.
If there are still concerns, there's concerns. If there's not, there's not. If he says he has to redact it for whatever reasons, then so be it. But then it should not be held from the representatives, such as us, in the Senate and the House. Those especially on whether it's beyond Judiciary Committee or on Intel.
There should be no holding back from those to be able to see what you're redacting and if it qualifies to be redacted.
There's got to be transparency, Wolf. And there's got to be confidence in the system. That's who we are. And attorney general Barr takes the same oath of office that we all take, to uphold the Constitution.
BLITZER: You heard the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, just say a little while ago, the attorney general, in her words, is going off the rails. She accused him of acting as the attorney general for President Trump rather than the attorney general for the United States.
So you voted to confirm Bill Barr.
Do you have confidence he's making the decisions right now that are necessary, independent of the president?
MANCHIN: I have the ability to call attorney general Barr, ask him directly and hold him accountable for his actions, if that's the direction that he's going. I did that and I did that not in a partisan way, it's in a non-partisan way that I did it.
And I believe that he's qualified to do his job. Now if he tells us he's going to be transparent and all-inclusive and he's not, you think I'm not going to call?
I'm concerned about the Affordable Care Act. I asked him, point- blank, are you going to, if the 5th Circuit -- if the United States Supreme Court basically turns down and rejects Texas, are you then going to enforce the law?
The Affordable Care Act is law of the land. And basically, he will enforce that, he says. If he doesn't, I won't hesitate a second to call. BLITZER: Because if that law is completely overturned, the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans will lose their health insurance, because they have pre-existing conditions. And unless a new law is passed, they're going to be stuck without anything.
As you know, the attorney general was asked also today whether he shared the president's view that the Mueller probe was illegal, an illegal witch hunt. He refused to give a clear answer.
Shouldn't the attorney general, though, of the United States, be able to answer a simple question like that?
MANCHIN: I would have thought he could be more direct on that, because if he's seen the entire 400-page Mueller report, if he sees how that investigation was conducted, you would know it's not a witch hunt.
It's basically a deep dive, making sure foreign entities aren't infiltrating in our election process, changing the whole outcome of some of the election process or not and intending to continue to be involved.
And if they believe they can get by -- and the Russians, there's no doubt at all, 17 agencies of our intelligence came to us on a regular basis and all of them had the same basically advice, that Russia has done and will continue to do everything they can to alter our elections. And we've got to prevent that from happen.
And, in all honesty, this administration, from what we're understanding, has basically allowed our cyber group, basically, our cyber defense, to attack back.
BLITZER: Well, I suspect you're absolutely right on that point. And the president did, he went one step further. He not only called it a witch hunt, a hoax, he called it today phony. And he also said it was a treasonous hoax.
Treason is a very strong word, Senator. You know the death penalty comes with treason. He's accusing these individuals who launched this investigation of engaging in a treasonous hoax.
MANCHIN: Well, let me tell you. We have 17 intelligence community. For them to start something down this absolutely intensive as they've done and this widespread, they have to all come in agreement that there was activity. There was definite confirmation of activity of what Russia was trying to do.
Now if they have proven -- and I think if the report comes out -- if it proves what the president says, there was --
MANCHIN: -- no collusion, they weren't working with anybody, that's fine. That reaffirms this.
I would want this entire report. I would want people to see the entire report. That's the thing I think needs to be done for the confidence that we need to start bringing this country together.
We're so tribal, Wolf, it's unbelievable.
What side are you on?
I'm on the side of this great country of the United States of America. Doesn't matter whether you're Democrat or Republican. The facts are what they are. You're entitled to your opinion. You're just not entitled to fabricate your own facts to support your opinion.
BLITZER: Senator Joe Manchin, as usual, thanks for joining us.
MANCHIN: Thank you, Wolf. Good to be with you.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Up next, new information emerging right now about the legal problems facing the star actress, Lori Laughlin.
Is the federal government pressuring her to make a plea deal in the college cheating scandal?
BLITZER: The breaking news: congressional Democrats are demanding answers after the attorney general William Barr's surprising testimony today, that he thinks the government may have spied on President Trump's campaign.
Let's bring in our political and legal experts to discuss this.
The Senate minority leader, the Democratic leader, Gloria, Chuck Schumer, just tweeted, "AG Barr admitted he had no evidence to support his claim that spying on the Trump campaign did occur. AG Barr must retract his statement immediately or produce specific evidence to back it up. Perpetuating conspiracy theories is beneath the office of the attorney general."
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, yes. The Democrats are up in arms about what he said. I mean, he believed he said that spying did occur. Then he tried to walk it back a little bit and said he had concerns that spying did occur.
I think what he was trying to say is, I want to make sure they had enough reason to go issue these FISA warrants and that it was all kosher. And I think he's been echoing the president in a way, who's been coming out and saying, this is a witch hunt, this is illegal.
Barr did not go that far but he said it is an obligation to make sure that the government power is not abused. And he also went on to say, look, normally, a campaign would have been
advised on this and you had Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie in the campaign at the time.
And why weren't they advised?
And we know from James Comey's testimony to Congress that the reason they didn't do that -- I mean, they told both campaigns that there were adversaries who might potentially spy on their campaigns.
The reason they did not give them chapter and verse -- and I'm sure this is going to be discussed a lot -- is because we didn't know whether we had anything, said Comey. We wouldn't want to either alert people that we were investigating them by doing a defense of people or smear people.
So I think that's why they erred on the side of being general to both campaigns, rather than being specific. But Barr clearly believes maybe they should have been more specific.
BLITZER: It's interesting, U.S. attorney, used to work for the U.S. national intelligence community, director of communications.
Is there evidence to support, to suggest that intelligence agencies, whether the CIA, the NSA or other U.S. intelligence agencies, did, in fact, spy on the Trump campaign?
SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST At this point, absolutely not. And attorney general Barr actually agrees with us. He has said that there's no evidence.
I think it's not only inappropriate but it's really unfortunate that he used a term like spying to describe what, by all accounts, is an absolutely legitimate and necessary counterintelligence investigation.
This feeds into this idea that there was some sort of witch hunt or inappropriate investigation. Based on all the evidence that we had, it was absolutely necessary for us to ask this question as to whether or not there was some sort of relationship between people on the Trump campaign and the Russians.
The question was asked and it was answered. And for anyone who suggests now that we should have never asked the question is simply not showing an appropriate level of concern for our national security.
So if Barr wants to look at process, to make sure that, as these warrants were granted and as this process was carried out, that everyone behaved in a way that was appropriate in keeping with the values of the IC, I think that's fine. But to suggest that they're spying does a real disservice --
BLITZER: He used that word spying today, that caused a huge, huge uproar. He also, Laura, the attorney general told lawmakers, he doesn't know
if Robert Mueller agrees with his conclusion that -- on whether or not the president actually obstructed justice. So that seems to be a significant admission.
JARRETT: Of course, it is. I mean, it tells you the left hand and the right hand actually never did a handshake after a 22-month investigation.
Think of the idea, not only did he say that Mueller did not explicitly ask him to reach this conclusion but he hasn't even bothered, I guess, to endeavor to figure out if Mueller in fact actually agrees with it.
Wouldn't this be the person you would like to speak with if there were really true questions of law or questions of fact actually resolved?
That he hasn't had that conversation says to me that he was acting autonomously and it is the prominent (ph) of the AG, the person who heads the Department of Justice, to make very hard decisions and be perhaps the final arbitrator.
But when you have an independent counsel like Robert Mueller, where the mandate actually says, he has to reach conclusions, it still begs the question -- and in my mind, requires the question to be asked of Robert Mueller as to what communication was there, where he felt entitled to reach a conclusion that you did not feel capable of making.
BLITZER: We'll see if he explains that in that 400-page report and the redacted version we expect to be released next week. We'll see how far he goes and we'll see eventually if Mueller himself testifies before Congress.
You know, Rebecca, the Attorney General says he won't redact information in the Mueller report that's expected to be released next week just to protect the President. As the fight though over the release of this redacted version heats up, do you think that pledge is enough to satisfy the democrats?
REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: I'm going to guess no, Wolf. And all you have to do is look at what democrats have been saying. For example, today, following Barr's testimony to Congress, they've been suggesting that they don't trust him, that he's not a reliable witness, that he's working as a political actor on behalf of the President. And so they're suggesting that any decision he makes is going to be influenced by President Trump and what the President wants.
So anything he redacts is going to be open to questions from democrats. And I think we're going to see possibly a long battle, but certainly a battle on behalf of democrats trying to get as much information as they possibly can.
BLITZER: You know, Gloria, you heard the speaker today just a little while ago, Nancy Pelosi, say that Barr is acting as the Attorney General of the President rather than the Attorney General of the United States.
BORGER: Well, I think this goes back to Shawn's point about, you know, this notion that -- of Barr saying, maybe, you know, this investigation wasn't warranted, that he had concerned about it and that, you know, there were -- why wasn't Trump briefed. I have to investigate this. When, in fact, there is an inspector general investigation into this very matter going on at the same time.
And when you had the President come out this morning and say that this investigation was treasonous, that it was an attempted coup effectively and then you had Barr come out and raise the sort of the same questions about whether this was an abuse of power, you have to ask the question about whether Barr was speaking to an audience of one at this point and whether -- his answer was too political. You know, you can't -- you can't say that, you know, Barr is not a professional, he understands the Justice Department, he's served there, et cetera, et cetera. But, you know, these -- they were kind of in sync today.
And you have to wonder or not whether they've communicated. He didn't answer questions about how much the White House knows about what is in the Mueller report. And that's another question I wish he would have answered.
TURNER: Yes, Wolf. And I think just one thing to add to what Gloria said. There's all of this talk about why the FBI didn't go to someone in the Trump campaign. The truth of the matter is, is that all of the evidence that the intelligence community was collecting left the intelligence community going, we don't know how deep this potentially goes. We don't know who's involved and who's not involved. Who do you go to when there are multiple people on the campaign who are having meetings with Russians and then they're lying about those meetings? You've got to figure out who the actors are, who you can actually share this information with. And as we've seen now that the investigation is done and we have all of these indictments, it was unclear from the very beginning.
BLITZER: Laura, you're the lawyer, the legal expert. It's one thing of the President to accuse people of engaging in a witch hunt or a hoax, to say it's phony. But when he throws out the word, treasonous, and says someone is engaged in treasonous behavior, an attempted coup, you know what the penalty is if you're convicted of treason.
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And remember his reaction when Steve Bannon made that comment about treasonous behavior with respect to the now infamous Trump Tower meeting and how the President and his team thought it was absolutely absurd because of the penalties associated with one being treasonous in this country.
And, of course, what I think is really savvy about William Barr in this case that was shown through the testimony he said, he was able essentially t blow three different dog whistles with just one air. He touched on the issue of the dossier and how that was an issue, whether that was a genesis. He touched on the issue of whether George Papadopoulos was, in fact, the person to actually alert people to have this be a threat. And he talked about the upper echelon of the FBI as perhaps being blameworthy or complicit in this overall theme of witch hunt.
And he actually said in response, was it a witch hunt. Well, he said, it depends upon where you sit, depending upon people may ask they have been falsely accused. I mean, that's a rose by any other name. I think he showed today, he may be an ally to the President of the United States in a way we did not expect.
BLITZER: It's interesting. You think the President fully understands that the word, treason, if you're convicted of that, that carries the death penalty?
BUCK: I don't think he cares, Wolf. And that's really the fundamental thing here, is that he doesn't care about the literal meaning of his words. He cares about what it means for him politically. And from a political perspective, treason is a very weighty word that his supporters will understand. And for the President, it is all about loyalty, as we know. Everything comes back to loyalty. Are you with me or are you against me? And that's kind of the message he's sending here.
BORGER: I think what this all shows in the President's Tweeting again today about this and has been Tweeting nonstop is that somebody told him what's in this report. Because, originally, he's saying, let it all out, he said, I'm completely exonerated, I would like everybody to see it, and there has been a total flip on this.
Why has there been such a flip on this? And I think the reason perhaps that the Attorney General wouldn't answer this question about what the White House knows about what's in the report is because they know something and the President has -- talk about going off the rails, the president has gone off the rails on this, after he said he's been exonerated. What other explanation is there other than he knows that he's got to be prepared for what's coming out. And I think they're trying to change the subject here. Because I think Barr knows there's a lot of stuff that's going to come out that the President doesn't like. And he's sort of turning the page and saying, well, I'm wondering how this investigation got started in the first place. And I think it's a political act more than any kind of legal act.
BLITZER: And once again, today, in the latest Tweet, he was saying, someone has now been determined by 18 people that truly hate President Trump that there was no collusion with Russia. So he's going back to that right now. All of a sudden, now, it's 18. I used to say a lower number of angry democrats who were involved in this investigation.
Very quickly on this Wall Street Journal story today, reporting to federal investigators, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, they have interviewed two additional people at the center of the alleged hush money payments to these women who claim they had an affair -- affairs with the President. If you take a look at this inner circle, and I'll put them up on the screen, among those now confirmed interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Hope Hicks, close former aid to the President, Keith Schiller, who used to be in charge of security for the President. This is potentially a significant development as well.
COATES: You bet it is. I mean, the notion here that people presume that this dragon against the President had one head, well, you see the six-headed hydra coming out. One of the most formidable ones is, of course, the SDNY because they don't have to be beholden to the same restraints and constraints that Mueller was. They don't have the same mandate. Their mandate is far more expansive. And, remember, they are the ones who have the hook in Cohen who's -- very soon, talking about individual number one. We cannot possibly believe that all of his testimony and documents he provided to Congress would have just fallen the wayside. This is them following up and they actually are very legally prudent to do so.
BLITZER: And it's going to be a big story, I'm sure, as well.
To our viewers, be sure tune in later tonight, 10:00 P.M. Eastern. I'll be moderating a CNN Democratic Presidential Town Hall with Washington State Governor Jay Inslee. That's at 10:00 P.M. later tonight.
And stay with us. We're getting new details about the legal problems facing the star actress Lori Loughlin. Is the federal government pressuring her right now to make a plea deal?
BLITZER: Tonight, there are new questions about whether the federal government is trying to pressure a star actress into pleading guilty in the college entrance cheating scandal. The actress Lori Loughlin and her husband are among the parents facing new charges for allegedly resorting to bribery and fraud to get their children into top colleges.
CNN's Brynn Gingras is working the story for us. What are learning, Brynn?
BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. Criminal defense attorneys are some who are handling clients in this case, others who are not, say, it's not time to cut a deal. Their strategy, or at least part of it, get the government to show its cards. What evidence is there to prove these parents, like Loughlin, conspired to commit these alleged crimes to get their kids into these elite schools?
GINGRAS: Tonight, a law enforcement source says, Fuller House actress Lori Loughlin has not yet engaged in substantial plea discussions with prosecutors, but added, it's not too late. This after Loughlin was among 16 parents indicted Tuesday on an additional charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer, Mossimo Giannulli, are accused of paying $500,000 to facilitate their daughter's admissions into USC as rowing recruits. Court documents detail conversations the couple had with ski mastermind, William Singer, to facilitate the payments.
The couple as well as the dozens of others caught up in this scandal were previously facing a charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. That charge carries a maximum of 20 years in prison, as does the money laundering charge. Criminal defense attorney Vinoo Varghese, who was not representing a defendant in this case, says if he was Loughlin's attorney, he would have advised her to not take a deal.
VINOO VARGHESE, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: All the payments were done by her husband. And it makes that very clear that her husband wired the money over to Singer, that, to me, does not lead to her being guilty in a criminal conspiracy to commit what they call honest services fraud or money laundering conspiracy.
LORI LOUGHLIN, FULLER HOUSE ACTRESS: I know.
GINGRAS: The additional charge Loughlin, her husband and 14 other parents are now facing is a move prosecutors warned would happen if they didn't cooperate early on in the case. An aggressive tactic, says Varghese.
VARGHESE: So the government, to push to plea this quickly, it's really not a fair position for them to take. Because, basically, you're not giving them an opportunity to really challenge the evidence, to review it.
GINGRAS: The evidence, according to a law enforcement source, is plentiful in the case and a recent court filing shows possibly what the government has against some parents. Surveillance photographs, Academic records. The government even noting there are others involved who have not yet been charged.
Defense lawyers representing the 16 charged, including Loughlin, filed a letter arguing that the government putting all parents in a single indictment is unorthodox and a strategy that could be considered as judge shopping.
The U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts calling the claim a Hail Mary.
13 other parents did take the government's deal this week, including actress Felicity Huffman. Huffman was accused of paying $15,000 to alter her oldest daughter's college admissions test scores. The government will ask for the minimum punishment for Huffman in exchange for the quick plea. Huffman issued a statement taking full responsibility for her actions, saying, quote, I want to apologize to the students who work hard every day to get into college and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices to support their children and do so honestly.
She also said her daughter did not know of her involvement in the scheme, an important line in the long apology, as investigators say it's considering more arrests, possibly of students who knowingly participated in the scam.
GINGRAS: And USC says it's considering plea deals when deciding the fate for its students connected to this scam, and that would include Loughlin's daughters. It's unclear what schools, if any, Huffman's daughters have been accepted to since she would have been applying when these arrests came down. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. We'll watch this story together with you, Brynn, thank you very much. Brynn Gingras reporting.
Coming up, what's President Trump's problem, with of all people, President George Washington?
BLITZER: During a visit to the home of America's first president, a visit that's been called truly bizarre, President Trump had some criticism for George Washington and revealed his own ignorance about U.S. history.
Brian Todd has been looking into all of this for us. Brian, what are you learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a new account of the visit occurred almost a year ago by the Trumps and the French President and his wife to Washington's home, Mount Vernon. The report says President Trump didn't show much awareness of or curiosity about the estate but he was critical of it.
TODD: When he left the White House in Washington, D.C. last April with the French President, Emmanuel Macron, to visit George Washington's home, Mount Vernon, President Trump flew past the Washington Monument, over the George Parkway and beside the George Washington memorial in Alexandria, Virginia. And yet once on the grounds of Washington's Home, Trump apparently told the people around him, quote, if he was smart, he would have put his name on it. You've got to put your name on stuff or no one remembers you, that's according to a stunning story in Politico, which cites several sources briefed on Trump's comments.
MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR, THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP: That does tell you where the President's head is at. This guy wants to stamp his name and likeness on everything and he thinks Washington missed a chance to do that.
TODD: Politico describes Trump as bored during that 45-minute tour, disinterested about learning about Washington and Mount Vernon, that it was a challenge for Mount Vernon's CEO and tour guide who described the evening as quote, truly bizarre. And the guide, according to Politico, told others something embarrassing. DANIEL LIPPMAN, REPORTER, POLITICO: The CEO, Doug Bradburn, told people after that the Macrons knew much more about the history of the residence and American history than the Trumps.
TODD: The thing that got Trump most excited, according to Politico, was when he was told how rich Washington was. But Trump criticized the estate, Politico says, saying rooms were too small, the staircases too narrow, the floors uneven, apparently ignoring the fact that the house was built in 1734 and expanded in 1758.
D'ANTONIO: This is just par for the course with Donald Trump. Speaking of par for the course, I think he probably feels Washington missed a point when he didn't build a golf course on the property at Mount Vernon because that sure would have enhanced the real estate values.
TODD: Trump often seems astonished by history, often telling crowds that they should be surprised by basic stories from America's past.
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: A lot of people don't realize that Abraham Lincoln, the great Abraham Lincoln, was a republican.
TODD: At one point, even suggesting Americans were only just now learning about Frederick Douglass, a former slave who became a famous abolitionist leader.
TRUMP: Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who has done an amazing job, that is being recognized more and more, I notice.
TODD: At his golf course in Northern Virginia, Trump even has a memorial to civil war battle at the spot which historians say never happened. And unlike his predecessors, Trump isn't known for reading histories of other presidents, something historians say is worrisome.
ALLAN LICHTMAN, PROFESSOR, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Many of the presidents have made a point of reading books about predecessors and learning from their predecessors. And learning doesn't mean you have to blindly follow what your predecessors have done. You could like Donald Trump believe in shaking up the status quo but you should do it from a position of knowledge.
TODD: The White House has not responded to CNN's request for comment on the President's behavior at Mount Vernon. But the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, which runs Mount Vernon, just moments ago, issued a statement. The association does not deny any of the specific quotes in the Politico story. But it does say that during the tour, all parties were interested and engaged in the story of George Washington and his home. The Mount Vernon Group says, comments from sources who were not present don't properly convey tone and the context in which they were delivered. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. Brian, thank you very much. Brian Todd reporting. Coming up, breaking news, democrats are furious right now and they're demanding answers, accusing the Attorney General, William Barr, of going off the rails after he says he thinks government spying did occur against the Trump campaign.
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Lowering the Barr. Attorney General William Barr alleges the Obama administration spied on the Trump campaign but offers no proof, sparking outrage among congressional democrats.
Circling Trump. A new report says New York prosecutors have moved in on President Trump's inner circle interviewing some of his closest former aides and gathering more evidence in the hush money case.