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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Redacted Mueller Report Set For Release Tomorrow. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired April 17, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:45]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And we have some breaking news for you now.

We are learning more about the release of the Mueller report tomorrow morning.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House.

And, Kaitlan, there's just been an announcement. Tell us more.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jake. The Justice Department has just announced that the attorney general, Bill Barr, is going to hold a press conference tomorrow morning after the redacted Mueller report is released.

Now, this is big news. We did not know we were going to hear from Bill Barr this soon, even though he's assured lawmakers that he will answer questions about the report and what he's redacted from it and why he redacted certain things after it was published.

Now we have a firm date that he is going to speak tomorrow. And I should remind you that the White House yesterday, Kellyanne Conway during an interview said she does expect that the president will likely say something also after the Mueller report comes out.

She said the president, she expects him to talk, and, of course, he's been preparing behind the scenes. Even though White House officials have been dreading the fact this report is coming out, the president has been eager for it to come out because he thinks it's going to clear his name.

But Bill Barr is expected to hold a press conference, and we're told by the Justice Department to my colleague Laura Jarrett that he is going to take questions from reporters -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much. Continue to monitor the news and bring us more as you learn it.

Let's go now to CNN's Laura Jarrett at the Justice Department.

Laura, what are you learning? And what is the reasoning, if you have been told at all, behind the attorney general giving this press conference tomorrow, either before or after or simultaneous to the release of the redacted version of the Mueller report?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the timing here is interesting, Jake.

We don't yet know when the actual redacted report is coming out. All we know right now is that the attorney general, Bill Barr, will appear at 9:30. But if he does it before we see the report, that's obviously a different sort of move than if we see it afterwards and we have the benefit of having pored through it, asking informed questions.

Either way, we know he is going to take questions. He is going to make a statement. No questions off-limits there, so we will, of course, have free rein to pepper him about anything we like.

And Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who's been overseeing the investigation for the better part of two years now, he will also be there. So, he could potentially be asked questions as well, Jake. So it will be an interesting start of the day for tomorrow morning.

TAPPER: All right. Laura Jarrett at the Justice Department, thanks so much.

Let me bring in CNN legal analyst Elie Honig.

Elie, what do you make of this decision to hold a press conference tomorrow morning? Certainly coming as a surprise to all of us, even as we have been all preparing for the release of the redacted version of the Mueller report.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It is a surprise, Jake. And I think it's a smart move by William Barr.

I think by standing in front of the cameras and reporters and taking questions, it will promote at least a sense of transparency. I think the last thing an attorney general wants to be seen as is someone who's hiding the ball or hiding himself.

And I think it's a pretty powerful thing for Attorney General Barr to be able to say, look, I stood in front of cameras, I stood in front of reporters, I took your questions, I answered your questions.

I think that will go a long way. Now, perhaps he's trying to soften the fact that it will be full of redactions, but this will be a point, a talking point, I think, in the attorney general's favor and potentially the administration's favor in terms of transparency.

TAPPER: Also, I would guess it's fair to say, Elie, that the attorney general coming forward and talking, presenting his view of the report, what it says, what it does not say, is depriving oxygen from people who might be less willing to support President Trump who might be on all of the TV news channels commenting at that hour.

HONIG: Sure. William Barr has shown a pretty astute eye for controlling the

narrative. I think he took a big step in that direction by releasing his four-pager going on three weeks ago, more than three weeks ago now. And I think by doing that, he sort of took control of the public narrative, I think very much in the president's favor.

And by getting back in front of the cameras tomorrow, I think he can assert some control over what the narrative is.

TAPPER: Karen Finney, what do you think?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This is exactly what I would do. It's exactly the same pattern that we saw with the summary that he put out, right?

Again, he's going to frame the narrative from the beginning. Imagine if reporters are sitting there and they just have gotten a copy of the report and you're trying to answer questions in real time.

[16:35:03]

It mean -- it guarantees -- as Elie said, it gives the appearance of transparency. It means that they will be driving the narrative for at least the first part of the day tomorrow. And it means that probably, as we start to learn things or have other questions, as people actually have the opportunity to really go through, catalog the redactions by the various color codings, that'll be a follow-up, but again, they will be again trying to cement that initial narrative in people's minds.

TAPPER: Mike?

MIKE SHIELDS, FORMER RNC CHIEF OF STAFF: It is transparency. And it is him going in front of the press.

The reporters are going to be able to ask him questions. And if something hasn't come out and he's not able to answer the question, that's not a good look for him, right? So he's going to want to be out there being able to answer as many of these questions as he possibly can.

I think it's kind of hard to criticize that. And just keep in mind the context. He's just been raked over the coals over the last 24 hours for previous letters that he had put out. And people are already sort of preflighting an attack on Barr before this comes out.

And so he's saying, OK, great, I'm going to go stand in front of the press, I'm going to answer questions and sort of put that down so you can see that this has been done transparently. And keep in mind, Rosenstein being there as well, he also signed the letter.

It was a Barr-Rosenstein letter that was the summary that they did together because he's overseen it before Barr even came into the administration. There's going to be questions that he's going to have to answer as well. And he's going to be transparent about this. So, I don't see how you can criticize this. JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I will tell what would be really transparent would be if Mueller was there, right, and then give people the opportunity and a chance to ask the special counsel why he did certain things, why he made judgments, and what those judgments were, and not have to depend on Trump's appointed political...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Yes, Mueller, who was the venerated man of integrity for months and months and months...

SIMMONS: I'm not saying he's not.

SHIELDS: ... is now the person who needs to stand in front of people so we can question him.

SIMMONS: I didn't say he wasn't a venerated...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: I mean, both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill have said they want Mueller to come up to Capitol Hill and testify.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: He will testify before...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Republicans have said that, as well as Democrats.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: And we should also note that President Trump, I believe he's going to Mar-a-Lago tomorrow, which means he will walk to Marine One.

And the odds are, if I know anything about President Trump, he might take a couple questions on this as well.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, he probably will. They should all talk. They should all talk. I ain't going to be mad at them taking questions from press.

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: He's happy about it. He wants to -- he was celebrating when the first one came out. So...

(CROSSTALK)

HAM: Hold on.

And, in addition, I do think having both Barr and Rosenstein there is helpful, I think, to pushing back on the idea there is some hiding of the ball, because Rosenstein, of course, famously, endlessly heckled by the president, I think is unlikely to be involved in that. And he will be there answering questions as well.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Let me just -- I will come back to you in a second, Karen, but let me just bring back Kaitlan Collins, because, Kaitlan, is there any indication?

Am I right that President Trump is going to Mar-a-Lago tomorrow? He might -- he might theoretically take questions from the South Lawn on his way to Marine One and on his way to Florida.

COLLINS: Yes, he typically does when he's going to get on the helicopter.

And it's hard to see how he wouldn't tomorrow after this report comes out, because the president has been so excited for this report to come out because he says it's going to clear his name.

Now, if the president does speak to reporters, Jake, this is going to be two very different press conferences, press conferences, press availabilities that will be happening, because Barr is likely going to be explaining his redactions, what he did, his thinking behind all of this and how this report, what he's going to publish tomorrow came about, answering questions from reporters on that, while the president, in his mind, will likely be declaring vindication over all of this, as he's been doing ever since Barr released those key findings from Mueller's report.

So two very different things. The president tomorrow on his schedule right now does have a wounded warriors event. And then he's having lunch with the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.

So if he does speak with reporters on it, the question, Jake, will be what White House officials have been dreading about tomorrow's publication, is that there's going to be potentially embarrassing information about how things work inside the West Wing in this report, and if the president wants to address claims like that that are made in this report, if he's speaking to reporters tomorrow.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins.

And we should also point out that President Trump, who just gave a six-minute interview to Larry O'Connor on WMAL Radio here in Washington, D.C., announced not only the Attorney General Barr press conference, but that he, President Trump, might give a press conference himself as well.

He said -- quote -- "Maybe I will do one after that. We will see."

(LAUGHTER)

FINNEY: I don't think any of us are surprised to hear him say that.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Classic Trump language, yes. But you were going to make a point. I'm sorry.

FINNEY: No, I was just going to say, let's -- so, let's just remember what we will be discussing tomorrow is a redacted report. It is not going to be the full Mueller, which I'm now going to refer to it as.

It's going to be a report that will -- we already know a whole system of redactions. So, it may appear to be transparent. It is a transparent way to proceed. It will make it seem as though they're doing everything they can to get all the information out there, but until all of the information is out there, all of the information is not out there.

(CROSSTALK)

HAM: But can we also concede that some of it literally has to be redacted because it would be against the law to put it in...

FINNEY: Of course. Of course it does.

(CROSSTALK)

HAM: It's not all nefarious shenanigans here. Like, there are some things you actually have to redact and that innocent people actually should be protected from.

SIMMONS: And just to get to the strategy point...

HAM: And they might give you a chart with all the highlighter colors.

SIMMONS: And just to get to the strategy point...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: It's color-coded.

(CROSSTALK)

SIMMONS: The strategy point that Karen made a little bit ago, this is also smart, because they're going to give us a video of them talking.

That video will exist throughout the rest of the day. Members of Congress are on recess. So, a lot of them aren't here in Washington. There aren't going to be a lot of places for them to kind of engage.

[16:40:11]

So, for them, it is a way for them to dominate again this very first day of media coverage that will set the tone.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. We're going to keep talking about this.

There's more on our breaking news coming up. Back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Breaking news.

The Justice Department just announced that Attorney General Bill Barr will give a press conference tomorrow morning on the release of the Mueller report, the redacted version, of which we -- we, in Congress, we in the public and Congress, should get tomorrow.

[16:45:00] President Trump in a radio interview just a short time ago also confirmed that news and said "maybe I'll do one after that, we'll see. CNN's Pamela Brown is back with me now. And Pamela, what do you make of this?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, tomorrow is going to be a busy day and it just got busier with this news, Jake, that the Attorney General will be holding a press conference at 9:30 in the morning Eastern Standard Time. And the President himself said he may hold one after that.

So what's interesting here is we don't know from the Justice Department yet whether this press conference in the morning will be held before or after the release of the 400 page redacted Mueller report and that is -- that is key here because it certainly raises the question whether this press conference is being held in the morning to sort of control the narrative.

But clearly, there has been communication between the White House and the Justice Department about this because the President himself mentioned in an interview recently on WMAL. Remember last week Bill Barr the Attorney General said during the hearings that he didn't want to speak more about the report until it was out. So it would sort of undercut that argument if he holds a press conference tomorrow before he does -- you know before the report is out so we'll just have to wait and see, Jake.

TAPPER: But Pamela, if I could just ask you a follow-up here. It is interesting because no matter what -- even if the report has been delivered to reporters and posted online and given to Congress tomorrow morning by the time of Barr's press conference, it's an almost 400-page report. It will not -- it will not be enough time for people to really dive into it before he comes before the tough questions from journalists.

BROWN: That's absolutely right because you know 400 pages, you need time to read to digest it. And the Department of Justice has said it's going to release the report in the morning, we don't know the timing on that. And so you're right I mean in order to you know, ask informed questions assuming that you will be taking questions, you've got to be able to read through it. And so the timing of this certainly raises questions, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Pamela Brown, thanks so much. Let me bring back CNN Legal Analyst Elie Honig. Elie, what would you ask Barr tomorrow morning assuming you're -- you are attending this press conference. ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So Jake, I'd start off with some

questions about Barr's process. I would ask him, are you willing to turn over an unredacted or less redacted version of the report to Congress specifically to the intelligence committees who were charged with maintaining it under lock and seal? Would you consider going to a court and asking for permission to release at least some of the grand jury materials as Ken Starr did in 1998 was given permission?

You talked about protecting out redacted out information on peripheral third parties. Now, William Barr said I do not include the president in that. There will be information about the president. But do you include Donald Trump Jr. in that category? Do you include Jared Kushner in that category? Are those people that were going to be sort of benefited by redactions?

And then I would ask Barr some questions about his view as the role as the nation's chief law enforcement officer, perhaps you did not see enough to charge a criminal conspiracy. But did you see anything in the Russian contacts that gives you alarm, that you think needs to be addressed in your role as the chief law enforcement officer of this country?

TAPPER: All right, I hope somebody was writing this down, Elie Honig --

HONIG: I'll type them up.

TAPPER: Send them our way when you get a chance. Thanks so much. Let's continue our conversation about this. Mike?

MIKE SHIELDS, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO REINCE PRIEBUS: Well, and those are pretty tough questions. And so to your point, maybe the reporters won't have the -- all the -- read through the entire report yet. But if you're going to go stand in front of them and take questions, you're going to get tough questions like that.

TAPPER: Oh sure.

SHIELDS: And so it is a legitimate thing as we pointed out. But Rosenstein to be there as well who oversaw the entire investigation going all the way back to its inception to be able to answer questions of the press. It's not as though the press haven't been stacking up questions about this for months and months and years at this point to have a go at them so --

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, that's the thing right. They have a pretty good sense of what the basic questions are going to be at this point. And I have to believe there is what we would call a murder board going on where you are you know prepping for those questions --

TAPPER: The Attorney General's --

FINNEY: The Attorney General and probably Rod Rosenstein as well. I would assume that both of them are prepping to be able to answer those questions. And I think the trick is I'm just going to play devil's advocate, you know, I like to do that. You have to be able to give enough of an answer that it sounds like it's a satisfactory answer as to why no collusion, why no obstruction. Knowing that people are going to have that sack of 400-page isn't going to go through it themselves to try to figure out if what you just said matches up with what they can find in the documents.

TAPPER: And one of the things also as Barr and Rosenstein prepare for this press conference tomorrow, I guess the question is who is their audience. Is their audience the American people, is their audience the 20 percent in the middle that don't really know what to make of this? Is their audience President Trump?

We've seen the people in the administration act as if they're only talking to President Trump in some instances.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Although notably not Rosenstein.

TAPPER: Rosenstein, definitely not. Well, except when he wrote that letter explaining why that he fired James Comey, right? I mean that was a foreign audience of Donald Trump. So I mean, what would you advise them? Do it for the Mary Katharine Hams of the world who were kind of like trying to figure out what to make of it all?

[16:50:03] HAM: Yes, I would -- I would -- I would say put yourself in this position is like hey, this is -- this is a good time to address people because we actually have things we can talk about. There were two years in there where we had very little, and that people were speculating a bunch and he can say with some real (INAUDIBLE), Rod and I are here to talk about something we were intimately familiar with and we actually have documentation for so let's get to it. And I think that's a that's more edifying than much of what we've been doing.

TAPPER: What do you want Barr to do? I know what you don't want him to do. What do you want him to do tomorrow morning?

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: What I want him to do is to explain to me why Jared Kushner was trying to have a secret meeting with the Russians in the embassy, a secret back channel and put some context around that. I'd love for him to explain why the President of the United States was cooking up a false story about the meeting that happened in Trump Tower on Air Force One and trying to give his son -- his son a reason for that why that meeting occurred other than the actual reason why that meeting occurred.

I think there are enough facts that we already know why the President of the United States seemed to be lying and people around him seem to be trying to curry favor with Russians. It'd be interesting to know why they were doing that.

SHIELDS: And so but back to Karen's point, I mean yes, what kind of answer can he give. It won't ever be enough for Democrats on Capitol Hill. It won't ever be enough for the Democrats running for president. It won't be enough --

SIMMONS: Is that enough for you? Wouldn't you love to have the answers to those questions?

SHIELDS: Well, I thought what we said before was we trust Robert Mueller to get to the bottom of this.

HAM: That was the --

SHIELDS: That is what we used to say and now that the Democrats are briefed, they're grieving over this.

SIMMONS: Wouldn't you want to know why the President of the United States and his team were having such -- so many contacts with Russians that seem to be nefarious.

SHIELDS: Of course. Of course. I said from the beginning that the Mueller investigation was actually a good thing to exonerate them. As someone who worked around --

SIMMONS: I not issuing exonerating them, I'm issuing finding out why --

SHIELDS: My point is -- my point is the administration should never shut the investigation down because they should want the facts to come out. That was my point.

TAPPER: OK, everyone, thank you so much --

FINNEY: That was what Mueller actually said.

TAPPER: All right, well, we're going to be covering this a lot tomorrow so we'll see you all then. More on the breaking news plus a drug bust spanning multiple states involving dozens of doctors, nurses, pharmacists accused of trading opioid prescriptions for things like sax and cash. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: In our "HEALTH LEAD" today, a truly shocking glimpse into how out to control the opioid crisis in the U.S. has become. The Department of Justice charged 60 individuals today in five states, doctors, pharmacists, and other medical professionals, with illegally prescribing millions of pain pills, including doctors who prosecutors say traded prescriptions for sexual favors.

One even inviting prostitutes to his home to abuse illegal drugs. CNN's Tom Foreman takes a closer look now at the scandal and how these doctors were caught.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A river of pills pouring into the Appalachian Region and beyond. That's effectively what the Justice Department has described in this bust of 60 health professionals, now charged with illegally pushing opioids into communities where addiction is already an epidemic.

BRIAN BENCZKOWSKI, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: These cases involve approximately 350,000 opioid prescriptions and more than 32 million pills. The equivalent of a dose of opioids for every man, woman, and child across the states of Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and West Virginia combined.

FOREMAN: The details are staggering, according to the feds. In Tennessee, in one case, a doctor who branded himself the Rock Doc allegedly prescribed powerful and dangerous combinations of opioids and benzodiazepines, sometimes in exchange for sexual favors. This is the Rock Doc YouTube T.V. show.

In Kentucky, a dentist is accused of removing teeth unnecessarily to push painkillers. And another doctor is accused of leaving pre-signed blank prescriptions for his staff to hand out. In Alabama, a doctor is charged with providing pills while having knowledge that patients failed drug screens and were addicts, preferring cash payments and charging a concierge fee.

Pill mills, pills for Facebook friends, as many as 15 pills per day for some patients. The accusations go on and on against those charged as --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Simply white-coated drug dealers.

FOREMAN: The administration has long agreed this is a health care crisis, even as other big busts have made news in the past.

JEFF SESSIONS, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES: It is the resolute policy of this administration and this Department of Justice to reduce these overdose deaths.

FOREMAN: Others have put a finer point on it.

We got here, I believe in part, because of the greed of the drug companies.

FOREMAN: But some of the sharpest legal action against drug companies has come at the state and local level. Earlier this year, Purdue Pharma agreed to pay Oklahoma $270 million over its aggressive marketing of OxyContin. Many analysts believe this may be the first big win in a wave of similar lawsuits.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: So plenty of states are looking at what happened in that case and trying to build off of that. And certainly, the charges today and cases like that in all of these headlines are getting attention and encouraging to the people who are trying to overcome this devastating epidemic.

But it is still a huge uphill battle when you consider that the Center for Disease Control say 130 Americans die every day from these pills, both legal and otherwise, which means, Jake, that a little more than five have died since this show began.