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WikiLeaks Founder Arrested In London; Attorney General Facing Severe Backlash Over His "Spying" Statement Before Congress; Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) Interviewed Regarding AG's "Spying" Remark in Congress. Aired: 2-2:30p ET

Aired April 11, 2019 - 14:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: You are watching CNN here on this Thursday. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me. Here's a quote, "A narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interest." Harsh words from British Judge. Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who seven-year stay -- seven -- at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London came to this abrupt and startling end today after British Police forcibly removed him from that embassy partly at the request of the United States.

Hours later, the Justice Department announced an indictment against him. Assange now faces one count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. This is all related to a 2010 pact that he made with former Army intelligence analyst, Chelsea Manning. Officials say Assange agreed to help Manning crack a password on Defense Department computers in order to gain access to classified documents.

Now, let me back up because Assange first became a household name back in 2006 when he founded WikiLeaks, and over the course of the next few years, the organization would become infamous for publishing everything from the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center manual to classified information on both wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And in 2016, WikiLeaks made all kinds of headlines for publishing hacked e- mails from the DNC and Clinton campaign Chair, John Podesta.

Fast forward to today's indictment and the Justice Department calls it quote, "one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States." But all along, Assange and his colleagues have maintained their work was all about the pursuit of truth and journalism, a claim his attorney doubled down on today.


JENNIFER ROBINSON, ATTORNEY FOR JULIAN ASSANGE: This sets a dangerous precedent for all media organizations and journalists in Europe and elsewhere around the world. This precedent means that any journalist can be extradited for prosecution in the United States for having published truthful information about the United States.


BALDWIN: And President Trump moments ago, weighed in. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, do you still love WikiLeaks?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know nothing about WikiLeaks. It's not my thing, and I know there is something having to do with Julian Assange. I I've been seeing what has happened with Assange and that will be a determination, I would imagine mostly by the Attorney General who is doing an excellent job. So he'll be making a determination. I know nothing really about him. It's not my deal in life.


BALDWIN: President Trump knows nothing about WikiLeaks. It's not as thing. He doesn't have an opinion. Roll it.


TRUMP: This just came out -- WikiLeaks. I love WikiLeaks. This WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable.

Another one came in today. This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove.

Getting off the plane, they were just announcing new WikiLeaks and I wanted to stay there, but I didn't want to keep you waiting.

Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks.


BALDWIN: Shimon Prokupecz is CNN's crime and justice reporter and Sarah Ellison is a staff writer for "The Washington Post" who wrote this whole profile on Assange for "Vanity Fair" back in 2013 on the one-year anniversary of his entrance into the Ecuadorian Embassy.

So welcome to both of you and Shimon. So Assange and his team, as we mentioned a second ago, you know, they've long term maintain that he should be protected as a journalist, but behind the scenes, DOJ has struggled with that question.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: They have struggled this for many years now, and they've struggled this in other situations -- with this and other situations as well. And for a long time, we certainly have been hearing that they did not want to bring charges against Julian Assange because they were sort of on that line whether or not to treat him as a journalist.

He is publishing information, information that was shared with news organizations, "The New York Times," with "The Guardian," other people certainly have picked up on a lot of the information that they put out there. So there was always a struggle of how do we charge, let's say, WikiLeaks, but then not charged other people for engaging in this material?

The difference is clearly what we're seeing here from the government today, is that they're saying, "Well, it wasn't just that he was publishing this information; that Julian Assange was, but he was directing Chelsea Manning how to do this and assisting," and that is where things starts changing.

BALDWIN: I want to come back to that. We're going to come back to that in just a second. But Sarah, just to bring you in the conversation because just looking at that extraordinary video from earlier today. You see Assange being forcibly removed from this embassy. He is 47 years of age, but he's got this now long white beard and he is shouting which is quite the change from the man we were accustomed to seeing.

SARAH ELLISON, STAFF WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right, I mean, I think put any of us inside for seven years and there's going to be a big change in your demeanor.

[14:05:05] ELLISON: So obviously this day in the Ecuadorian Embassy has been hard on him, and it's also been hard on the Ecuadorian Embassy. I mean, some of the things that came out included how he was sort of a bad houseguest. But I do think that the larger question is, what does this indictment mean? Not just for him but for other press organizations around the world?

BALDWIN: So -- and to go back to your point on this is all related to that 2010 Chelsea Manning indictment, which was filed under seal until March of 2018. So why is all of this happening today?

PROKUPECZ: I do think under this administration, what happened was -- towards the end of the Obama administration, certainly the view of WikiLeaks started changing. I think the Russia -- the hack and his participation in that issue -- certainly, the information that was put out by the Russians. No one is saying that Julian Assange was in any way involved, let's say, right now, at least as far as you know that he was involved with the Russians and knew this was the Russians that were giving this to him.

But it certainly raises a lot of questions. But I also do feel that there was a lot of pressure on the Intelligence Community -- put on by the Intelligence Committee on the FBI, on the Department of Justice, to finally do something with Julian Assange, because we did here, you know, Pompeo, who was the CIA Director, those words that he ordered about WikiLeaks and Julian Assange and what they were doing. That seems to have changed everything.

And I do think this administration's view on this is a little different probably than what we saw during the Obama administration.

BALDWIN: Looking -- okay, so when you read through this indictment, which when you read through the indictment, so around March 8, 2010, before the two entered into this whole password hack agreement, Manning told us on, quoting, "After this upload, that's all I've really got left." To which Assange replied, "Curious eyes never run dry in my experience." So it seems like Assange is pushing for more information.

PROKUPECZ: He is and that is where the Department of Justice is saying, "You have crossed the line. You are now directing him to do this and to engage in this kind of conduct that, you know, is illegal that, you know, he's not allowed to leak. It's classified information." It's one thing if someone comes to you as a journalist and says, "Hey, I have this information for you."

But when you start directing and start with -- the allegation here is that he was also trying to help Chelsea Manning hack, right?

BALDWIN: And conceal.

PROKUPECZ: And conceal and all sorts of things that -- he was a much bigger player in all of this and just accepting the material and putting it out there. And I think that's their argument. The Department of Justice is saying, "You crossed the line here," and those words, you know, when you read them and you're saying it shows, through them. They're saying, "Look, you were directing. You were telling him -- Chelsea Manning -- how to do this."

BALDWIN: Julian Assange, the man, Sarah, you know, you write in this profile. You wrote, quote, "The U.S. government has tried to decapitate his organization, which has only made him a martyr." Do you think, based upon what we saw of him today and the events, do you think that'll make him more of one?

ELLISON: Well, I mean, I think his circle of supporters has sort of shrunk in fact, over the years because he has alienated in succession, not just the U.S. government, but now the Ecuadorian government. When he came out with a leak of CIA tools that they use, that really alienated the CIA, naturally. The fact that he was going after -- and WikiLeaks was publishing e-mails from the top leadership of the Ecuadorian government. I mean, he's made a lot of enemies.

I do think that there has been historically this real effort to separate him. He is a terrible spokesperson for the cause of information transparency because he keeps doing things that are personally objectionable to people. I mean, as we've heard also in this -- when we talked to the Ecuadorians, they say that he was a bad houseguest. And so I think that he is sort of a martyr and his lawyer today said that his feelings of paranoia about this were very much justified. He said to her, "I told you so," because he always suspected that he was going to be arrested.

And so I think that it makes him something of a martyr. But I also think we should wait and see if there are other charges that are coming, other indictments. We do hear that that's likely in the offing. And I think that there's a lot of fear that this relatively narrow indictment, although there are elements of it that would apply to any journalist, if you use an encryption tool then that seems to be a problem, and so many journalists do that.

But this is narrowly written. It could be a wedge into other indictments and other issues because as you've covered, you know, people want WikiLeaks for a lot of different things including possible 2016 election violations.

[14:05:06] BALDWIN: Yes, yes. When you look at this indictment, it's just only a couple of pages. So we'll wait and have that future conversation about those additional potential charges. Sarah and Shimon, thank you so much for that.

I want to now get to the Bill Bar backlash. The Attorney General is facing severe backlash over his statement that he thinks, quote, "spying did occur on the Trump campaign," a notion that just received as you would expect a massive nod from the President. So here he was from the Oval Office moments ago.


TRUMP: I think what he said was absolutely true. There was absolutely spying into my campaign. I'll go a step further. In my opinion, it was illegal spying, unprecedented spying, and something that should never be allowed to happen in our country again, and I think his answer was actually a very accurate one and a lot of people so that a lot of people understand; many, many people understand the situation and want to be open to that situation. Hard to believe it could have happened. But it did. There was spying in my campaign. And his answer was a very accurate one.


BALDWIN: CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large Chris Cillizza is with me. And what's your take on the President's strategy here, you know, praising Barr for saying spying happened on his campaign?

CHRIS CILLIZZA CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes, I mean, his strategy is what it has always been -- over exaggerate to the point of breaking the truth in service of an idea he believes.

Remember way back in March 2017, Brooke, he was at Mar-a-Lago very early in the morning, he sent three tweets alleging that he had just heard that Barack Obama had ordered his phones at Trump Tower wiretapped during the campaign, called it McCarthyism.

Well, look, I think he's talking about and I don't know if Barr is talking about it. I think what Trump is fixated on is this FISA warrant that was approved by a FISA court in October 2016 for Carter Page, who was a former Trump foreign policy adviser. That is the FISA Act allows American citizens to be surveilled. But it's a very detailed process.

You go to a judge -- all 11 of the judges on the FISA court are confirmed and appointed by the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts in this case. So the idea that President Obama ordered this, this was the result of several years' worth of information gathering about Carter Page in concerns that Carter Page had been compromised by the Russians.

There were concerns as early as 2013 that he had been targeted potentially by the Russians and concerns in October 2016. And I'll note, only was the original FISA warrant granted, Brooke, three times going forward into 2017, it was re-granted. Sort of they assessed again because again, this is a serious thing -- surveilling an American citizen. In Trump's case, he's just saying stuff. In Barr's case, it seems to

me he knows the difference between saying the word "spying" and saying the word -- a legal surveillance measure as run through FISA, right? I mean, they're two very different -- like spying dredges up a lot of very pejorative negative imagery. The other one is a legal matter.

You can disagree whether it should be a legal matter, but that's current law. It's legal.

BALDWIN: Well, we're going to talk to a Member of Congress and we'll get his take on what he thought of the word "spying" coming up. Chris Cillizza and "The Point," thank you very much.

CILLIZZA: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Just in, rare remarks from Cindy McCain, who is asked about Senator Lindsey Graham's defense or lack thereof of the late Senator John McCain after attacks from President Trump. Plus freshman Democratic Congresswoman, Ilhan Omar forced to defend her patriotism again. This time it's comment she made about 9/11.


[14:18:18] BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. I want to place for you now some rare remarks from Cindy McCain, who was asked about Senator Lindsey Graham's defense, really lack thereof, of the late Senator John McCain after attacks from President Trump. So I'll let Mrs. McCain speak for herself.


HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR ANCHOR: What about the Friends of Senator McCain who are silent in the face of this? I mean, they seem too scared to challenge the President for their own political careers.

CINDY MCCAIN, WIDOW OF SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Well, I think that that whatever their decision is their decision on any of this. The important part is that the country knows who John McCain was in the country, believed in him and loved him the way we do.

And so, you know, we don't need praise or we don't need, you know, for our -- as far as our family goes, we do don't need any help. But we welcome any that comes.

SREENIVASAN: Lindsey Graham is somebody who considered himself a friend to John McCain even throughout the eulogy. There have been several instances where he's had an opportunity to point out the record of the late Senator and dispute some of these claims that have been made, I mean, the President has attacked your husband's patriotism, the loyalty to the Republican Party, and Lindsey Graham, his responses are tepid at best.

And you know, you're still going to have a relationship with Lindsey Graham, you're going to Africa soon with him. Right.

MCCAIN: Lindsey is a good friend. He was literally like a son to my husband. You know, these are Lindsey's decisions. I don't dislike him for any of it. I love him and will always love him. He is a part of our family. So it you know, life goes on and whatever he decides to do he decides to do. It's his decision.

[14:20:08] MCCAIN: But let me say, he is a good friend and like I said, I love him very much.


BALDWIN: Cindy McCain. It's nice to see her. Returning though to the controversy surrounding Attorney General Bill Barr saying that he thinks quote unquote "spying" did occur on the Trump campaign. Barr later clarified saying that he has concerns that there was quote "improper surveillance" but some Democrats are so frustrated by Barr's comments that they're now questioning if he can be a good faith arbiter of the Mueller report. Barr's redacted version is expected to come out sometime within a week.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Let me just say, how very, very dismaying and disappointing that 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.


BALDWIN: With me now Democratic Congressman, Dan Kildee of Michigan. Congressman Kildee, a pleasure, welcome.

REP. DAN KILDEE (D-MI): Thank you.

BALDWIN: So that was Leader Pelosi, you heard. You know, a moment ago, we played how President Trump says he supports his AG. You know, we all watched Bill Bar yesterday use the word "spying." Congressman, what do you say to that?

KILDEE: Well, it's pretty disappointing and it's a really bad start for Mr. Barr. If he wanted to be Michael Cohen's replacement as Donald Trump's mouthpiece, he should have applied for that job.

He is the Attorney General of the United States and it's pretty shameful that he is willing to use language that he knows will be used by Donald Trump in a way that obviously mischaracterizes and it doesn't help to go back later in the hearing and say, "Oh, I really didn't mean that." He knew what he was saying when he said it. He was playing to the audience just like so many of President Trump's sycophants do.

And it's just really disappointing to see somebody who came into this job with a reasonably good reputation having it all thrown away, because he is so willing to do anything Donald Trump likes and it's just really disappointing, and I think in many ways disqualifying.

BALDWIN: I have a follow up to that, but on this notion that words matter, and that he knew what he was saying in using the word "spying." I want you to listen to this. This is Republican Senator Marco Rubio.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): I think he went back and rephrased that. I mean, the terminology is a loaded term and if he had to do it over again, I imagine the word "spying" wouldn't have been used, but there was most certainly surveillance. And we have laws in this country, and how you surveil any American citizen has to go through a legal process to show probable cause for the need for it. And so sure, that should be open to examination.


BALDWIN: Congressman Kildee, back to your point on you know, this is disappointing and maybe even disqualifying. Are you more upset about the use of the word "spying" or more upset of just the investigation he is conducting? Because if there was wrong doing, you would want to know about that, correct?

KILDEE: Well, if there was wrongdoing, one would expect that the FISA Court through whom I assume this had to go because this was surveillance on foreign interference with our election. The idea that the President or anybody would use this to support their own arguments when the cause of this, the reason that the connection was made is because there was an investigation going on regarding foreign interference.

So what I'm really most upset about is the obvious implication that Mr. Barr is supporting that somehow there was a deep state conspiracy against Donald Trump, which is Donald Trump's fantasy. And it just is really disconcerting that a person who previously had a stellar or a reasonably good reputation, I wouldn't say stellar, but a good reputation as a public servant would be so in the tank for this delusional President that we have. It's just kind of frightening to see this take place.

BALDWIN: Speaking of the President, let me turn the page because you are a member of House Ways and Means. Your deadline is up on getting, you know, six years' worth of Trump's tax returns. So, deadline is past, what's your plan now?

KILDEE: Well, we will use every bit of legal authority we have to make sure that the law is enforced. Section 6103 of the Tax Code is very clear. It doesn't say that the Secretary may produce a tax return or could possibly produce a tax return. It says the Secretary shall produce the tax return as directed by the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

BALDWIN: But the Secretary --

KILDEE: We believe that the Secretary and -- pardon me, go ahead.

BALDWIN: But the Secretary's reasoning, if I may, you know is that the House last determined that such a request would be, his words, an abuse of authority and set this dangerous precedent by targeting a single individual's confidential tax returns political reasons.

[14:25:11] BALDWIN: That's what he is saying. Let me add to that, and then I want to hear from you. Because yesterday I talked to the IRS Commissioner under President Obama yesterday, and he said, well, yes, he agreed that, you know, the IRS Commissioner should produce them. He did say this.


MARK EVERSON, FORMER IRS COMMISSIONER: I again -- I do not like the way they've made this request. So I think that there's a certain amount of hair on it that can compromise the whole system. It just increases the partisanship in the country.

And in look, Americans, Brooke, across the country are going to file their taxes next week, if they hadn't already done it. To put our tax system in the middle of politics is not a good thing.


BALDWIN: So basically, Congressman Kildee. You know, his message to your party is it's not worth the fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. What's your response?

KILDEE: Well, first of all, it's just nonsense to use the sort of specter that everyone's tax return is now going to be subject to 6103 requests. That's just absurd. He is the President of the United States of America with unique and quite extraordinary power, the power to sign laws into effect. And he is the least transparent President in the modern era.

The fact that with all that surrounds this President, with serious questions as to whether or not the IRS is properly enforcing tax law on this President and those concerns being exacerbated by the fact that we now know that there has been communication between the Treasury Department and the White House on this very subject even before the request came in.

So that makes for me, it increases my concern that the IRS is not properly auditing or enforcing tax law on the President and it's not up to the President or any lawyer or Secretary or Commissioner of the IRS to determine whether or not the inquiry that we have offered, that we have provided, is a legitimate legislative inquiry. That's up to the Legislative Branch to determine.

We're trying to determine whether legislation to move forward that deals specifically with the question of the enforcement of tax laws on the President of the United States. This is necessary for that deliberation and the idea that they could say, "Well, we don't like that, so we're not going to allow you to have access to information that's critical to that assessment," goes beyond their authority.

BALDWIN: Sure. Well, much of America is watching to see if you guys are able to procure those tax returns. Congressman Dan Kildee, we will stay in touch. Thank you very, very much.

KILDEE: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: You've got it. Freshman Democratic Congresswoman, Ilhan Omar once again at the center of controversy, this one involving Fox News and her comments about September 11th. Plus, President Trump is the subject of several investigations. We will talk to the person who says that there are six that could be the most damaging to the President.