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Conway Brushes off White House Anxiety; Trump Tweets Regarding Fox News; Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) is Interviewed about Asylum-Seeker Changes. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 17, 2019 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What happens.


ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. Nick Watt in Los Angeles, thank you.

And thank you at home for joining me. "INSIDE POLITICS" with Dana Bash starts right now.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Dana Bash. John King is off today.

This time tomorrow, the redacted Mueller report will likely be out. And as we wait, new polling shows a majority of Americans want Congress to have access to every single word.

Plus, Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson, just back from a trip to the U.S. southern border, will join me on the heels of the attorney general tightening the screws on migrants seeking asylum.

And while President Trump is Senator Bernie Sanders feuded on Twitter, other 2020 presidential contenders get serious about their favorite singers.


REP. TIM RYAN (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm a Bruce Springsteen guy. I mean you can't be from Youngstown, Ohio, and not be head over heels in love with Bruce Springsteen.

WILLIAM WELD (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: K.D. Lang I think is the best singer alive. If I get -- if I get in office, man, she's -- she's singing at the -- the first -- the first party.


BASH: But we begin with the final moments of calm here in Washington, or as close to calm as this town actually gets, before the public release of Robert Mueller's report. Attorney General Bill Barr will release a redacted version of the nearly 400-page document tomorrow morning. Sources close to the president say White House advisers aren't predicting any bombshells but they are feeling anxious because they believe the full report will provide an inside look at some chaos inside the West Wing. Many of President Trump's former and current aides cooperated with the special counsel and the details of their testimonies could prove embarrassing. Publically, however, the White House has its poker face on, insisting it's business as usual, just everything you've heard is just a rumor.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: They'd rather just try to pit us all against each other and the president against current and former and future staff. I can tell you that we're not looking at it that way at all. But in those 400 pages, we know what does not exist, and it's collusion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In two words, will the president speak after the report comes out?

CONWAY: I'd expect.


BASH: I want to get straight to the White House. CNN's Kaitlan Collins is joining me now.

Kaitlan, what's the mood like there. What are you hearing from your sources about the anticipation level?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, there's a sense of apprehension, not just over the White House, but over Washington in general because people do not know what this report is going to say tomorrow.

Now, people back here at the White House are not worried that there's going to be any kind of an explosive bombshell in this report that they don't know about already, but they're worried that the damage is going to be in the details here because some of the people who have worked the closest with President Trump are the people who sat down with the special counsel's team for the longest.

One people that people are going to be -- one person people are going to be keeping their eyes on is Don McGahn, the former White House counsel who was reported to have sat down with the special counsel for around 30 hours. Now, he worked very close to the president. He was close to some of the central aspects of this investigation, especially as it relates to obstruction. So people are wondering what all about what he told the special counsel is going to be revealed in this report.

A big aspect here that we have to keep in mind is, White House officials have not read this report. They do not know what's going to be in it. But they're worried about the details.

But, Dana, one thing that's unclear in a very sense of uncertainty that's going on in Washington right now is that tomorrow everyone is going to be reading this report. Not just people back here at the White House, including Kellyanne Conway, who said she's absolutely going to read this report, but also the president's legal team, the president's campaign, Republican lawmakers, Democratic lawmakers, people who used to work at the White House that sat down with the special counsel, essentially everyone is going to be reading this when it comes out tomorrow.

BASH: Kaitlan Collins at the White House. Thank you so much for that.

And here at the table with me to share their reporting and insights, Michael Shear with "The New York Times," Seung Min Kim with "The Washington Post," Laura Barron-Lopez with "Politico," and CNN's own Gloria Borger.

Hi, everybody. It's kind of amazing to actually wrap our minds around the fact that we're here. We're here after all those hours and hours in bronze -- inside joke, everybody. It's where our (INAUDIBLE) team meets.

But, Gloria Borger, what are you going to --

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: We're going to bronze bronze, I think. Yes.

I'm -- I think what Kaitlan said is accurate. We're all trying to find out about obstruction. We're all trying to figure out just why Bob Mueller and his team left that important issue unresolved and, in fact, punted it over to the attorney general. Did he intend to give it to Congress to handle because he thought it was a political issue? We may find that out.

And the question of how the special counsel describes Donald Trump's actions in the White House. How does he describe Don McGahn's recounting of the fact that according to "The New York Times" that the president wanted his own attorney, the White House council, to fire Mueller and that McGahn said he would quit if he didn't get to fire Mueller. He talked to them for 30 hours. That's a lot of time. And he's had an up close view of this president's behavior. And it's an open secret in Washington, they're not exactly best friends. So I want to -- I just want to see what Bob Mueller's view of this is and -- and give us -- it will give us an indication of why he felt that while he couldn't exonerate the president, he also couldn't charge him.

[12:05:41] BASH: Yes, and it is an open question what we are actually going to see about Don McGahn's testimony.

BORGER: Right.

BASH: Anybody's testimony and their conversations with the special council because there wasn't -- you know, their -- the conclusion with -- was that there was no crime committed and the question is how deep is the Justice Department, Bill Barr in particular, going to go in protecting people from their point of view and from the other point of view is, you know, white washing. If you're -- if you're the Democrats.


BASH: And I want to play what Jamie Raskin, who is a Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee, said last hour here on CNN.


REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): It's not a good sign that Attorney General Barr has said that he's using a color-coded system in order to implement the different categories of redaction. In all of these other cases, it's Congress that's done the redactions. We've gotten the complete, unexpurgated material and then we've decided what the public can see. The attorney general seems to want to usurp the congressional function in saying, oh, I'll take care of that for you guys. So I think it's likely that we're going to be fighting for the uncensored report.


MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes, I mean, look, I think one of the things that -- one of the reasons that people are more focused on the obstruction piece too is there is at least a sense that when it comes to the collusion piece, there are perhaps more legitimate reasons to, you know, to sort of hold back sources and methods that, you know, and involve -- the collusion piece involved questions of, you know, involvement with Russian agents and Russians that might -- you might have to sort of protect some of that.

It's less clear and -- and I think members of Congress, Democratic members of Congress would argue less legitimate for the redactions to happen on the obstruction side where really you're not talking at that point about, you know, sort of spy games and protecting intelligence sources. You're just protecting people's reputations. And that's something, I think, you know, the congressman and others like him would say is not a legitimate thing for the White House to do on its own.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And Michael really hits on the point that just how much of this report is redacted is going to be something that we're all going to be watching tomorrow because we know the report's about 400 pages. But in terms of actual content, is it really 100 pages, 200, 300? And we'll wait to see and find out.

But you kind of see the battle lines drawn already over -- between Democrats and Republicans about whether they're going to be satisfied with Barr's handling of this because Democrats have already made it clear the report should not be redacted. We are willing to subpoena for the full report and the underlying evident. They don't trust Barr. And if they had any sort of sympathy towards Barr, that kind of went away with his testimonies before the committees last week.

But Republicans have said, we trust Barr. He is a good man. He is a, you know, solid legal expert and we trust his rationale and his decision make for his redaction. So your -- that's just going to be a very bitter fight that we're going to see (INAUDIBLE).

BASH: And it appears right now that the public is on the Democrats' side. If we go to a poll that asks Americans -- whether Americans believe Congress should get an un-redacted report, six in ten say, yes. There you see, 60 percent say that Congress should get the full report, 30 percent redact some. I don't know if it's, you know, an accident or not that that 30 percent is about where the president's support for his base hovers as well.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": Right. I mean I think that Democrats are playing a balancing act, right? They know that the majority of the public does want to see this full report, which is why they feel comfortable with pushing this, with continuing their aggressive nature and saying, look, we're going to subpoena. They're already readying the subpoena because they expect this report to be heavily redacted.

But that being said, they are still being very careful not to use the impeachment word. They're saying, you know, that this doesn't necessarily mean we're going to start proceedings. They have a lot of other investigations that they are pursuing that aren't related to the Mueller report. And so, so far, you know, I was just out on the campaign trail and I don't see this really impacting the presidential race right now. I mean no voters are talking about the Mueller report. Elizabeth Warren was just in South Carolina and out of the questions that she was asked, this didn't come up once.

BASH: Yes. I mean that's interesting, Gloria, on that note. Obviously, we've seen, since the Democrats took over the House, that they've expanded where they're looking way beyond Russia.

BORGER: Right.

[12:10:03] BASH: And even another part of this Monmouth poll, it says that most people also want Congress, after this is over, just to move on.

BORGER: Right.

BASH: I mean what do you think politically about the notion of sticking with this?

BORGER: Well, I think they're going to stick with this for the next week or so.

BASH: Yes. Of course. Yes.

BORGER: You can -- you can be sure because they want to -- they want to look at how Donald Trump behaves in the White House.

But the questions of Donald Trump's behavior are already baked. Everybody knows it. That's why we're not hearing it on the campaign trail. That's why you're not seeing it in the polls. People have kind of baked opinions of him. And it's difficult to shock people anymore when it comes to Donald Trump.

And if you listen to Nancy Pelosi, and I know we all do, and she's been out there saying, we're going to talk about what the people care about. We're going to talk about bread and butter issues. We're going to talk about their health care. We're going to talk about their income, minimum wage, et cetera, et cetera. And so the Democrats understand this. But I also believe that there are a lot of Democrats who believe that

if there is a constitutional issue here, that they have the responsibility not to let this just go away because then they give up their rights as members of Congress to see the whole report. So I think there is something institutional at stake here for them beyond what's politically at stake.

BASH: Chances that this goes to court, maybe all the way to the Supreme Court?

BORGER: Maybe 100 percent. I really -- I really don't know.

But one thing I want to point out is that --

BASH: Yes. Yes.

BORGER: Is that Bob Mueller is involved in the redactions here. And that's kind of an interesting side story because obviously he's a traditionalist, as we all know, but he does want his work to be out there. And if he's sitting on Bill Barr's shoulder someone in the vicinity, I wonder what the impact of that's going to be on the redactions.

BASH: Such -- that's such an important --

SHEAR: To be a fly on the wall in that room.

BASH: Yes, that's -- that's -- that's really -- it's really important reporting. Thanks, Gloria.


BASH: Everybody, don't go anywhere.

Up next, President Trump gets into the debate over who will be his 2020 Democratic competition.

Stay with us.


[12:16:14] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I guess the president watches your network a little bit, right?


BASH: Right, indeed, Senator Sanders. President Trump is firing off multiple tweets musing about the Vermont senator following his record- breaking Fox News town hall appearance. The president also gave his own 2020 prediction where he said, I believe it will be crazy Bernie Sanders versus sleepy Joe Biden as the two finalist to run against maybe the best economy in the history of our country and many -- capital m-a-n-y -- other great things. I look forward to facing whoever it may be. May God rest their soul. Now, that is usually what you say about someone who passes away. A

very much alive Bernie Sanders responded saying, quote, looks like President Trump is scared of our campaign. He should be.

Back at the table and CNN's Lauren Fox joins our conversation.

And as we start this conversation, I just have to put up one other Trump tweet because this is so telling. So weird to catch crazy Bernie on Fox News. Not surprisingly, Bret Baier and the audience, in quotes, was so smiley and nice. Very strange, and now we -- see the "we" there, it's highlighted for you -- have Donna Brazile? I mean at least he's just owning it, right, the "we." Like he is Fox News. He's using the word "we" to describe Fox News.

OK, back to Bernie Sanders.

This is like the best thing in the world that Donald Trump could do for Bernie Sanders, which is why he's doing it because he wants Bernie Sanders as his opponent, right?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, that's absolutely right. You know, I think some of the concern for Democrats on Capitol Hill and the Democratic establishment is that Bernie Sanders is very liberal and they're very worried that if he wins, you know, the nomination, that eventually when they get to a general election it becomes very easy for Republicans to basically run against socialism, which is what they've wanted to do on health care and other policy priorities on the left. So I think, you know, Democratic -- Democrats in the establishment are getting a little nervous about how much Bernie Sanders has a hold on those base voters that everybody has to win to win the primary.

BASH: You know that's -- that -- your reporting is mirrored by Jonathan Martin in "The New York Times," your colleague, who's a frequent guest on this program. He said the following in his story today, how some Democrats are beginning to ask do they thwart a 70- something candidate from outside the party structure who is immune to imitation or incentive and wields support from an unwavering base, without simply reinforcing his, the establishment is out to get me message, the same grievance Mr. Trump used to great effect?

SHEAR: Yes, it's actually -- it's actually remarkable how similar the kind of dynamics of the Bernie Sanders insurgency is to the Trump insurgency, that in -- obviously succeeded in Trump's case, didn't succeed the last time around in Bernie's case, but they -- you know, but they are plotting essentially the same play -- or running the same playbook again and hoping to both appeal to this sort of young populist liberal base and to sort of play off against the -- the old -- what they would consider the old, tired Democratic establishment, the Clintons, the Bidens, even to some extent the Obama, you know, presidency and use that as the energy for their campaign.

BASH: Although, obviously, to state the blatantly obvious, the big difference between then and now is that it was Bernie Sanders, the end, versus Hillary Clinton. And now you have Bernie Sanders and all of these other competitors, many of whom completely espouse what he believes in, they're just not Bernie Sanders.

FOX: Right. That's right.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Right. And nine months out, I mean, we don't know how people like Elizabeth Warren or Booker or Buttigieg are going to pull from Sanders. I mean I think that the diehard Bernie Sanders voters aren't necessarily going to be with this crowded field in all these options necessarily going to say, no, I'm not going to vote for whoever the nominee is, the way they maybe did last time around. Biden jumping in is going to also totally shake up the field. I mean I think it's safe to say now that we can expect him pretty soon to be getting in and --

[12:20:12] BASH: Thank you so much for that segue. That was so much fun (ph), because I want to bring you brand new reporting from my intrepid colleague, Jeff Zeleny, who reports that Greg Schultz, who is poised to be Joe Biden's campaign manager, met with top Democratic aides on Capitol Hill and was talking to them about all of the work that he's done for all of these members in the midterm elections, but, most importantly said, everything is going ahead as scheduled. That's reporting from Jeff Zeleny.

KIM: And it's really interesting how clearly the president is -- knows who he wants to elevate. So one is obviously Bernie Sanders and the other is obviously the former vice president, particularly because of their -- the higher -- the higher nature of their polling right now early in the Democratic race.

But I do think that how Biden fairs, once he officially does get in -- and there is -- I mean there's already been a lot of scrutiny already of this past record, but once that scrutiny escalates to his legislative decisions, his role in the Anita Hill hearings, our Democratic voters are -- in this day and age really how -- how accepting will they be? And I think that's a question that a lot of us are going to be reporting and watching.

BASH: OK, everybody stand by.

Before we go to break, I want to tell you about something that just happened with President Trump. He says he just spoke with Pope Francis about the devastating fire at Notre Dame, the cathedral, of course, in Paris. Here's his tweet from moments ago. He said the following, just had a wonderful conversation with Pope Francis offering condolences from the people of the United States for the horrible and destructive fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral. I offered the help of our great experts on renovation and construction.

Up next, the latest move by the attorney general that could keep some asylum seekers in custody indefinitely.

Stay with me.


[12:26:38] BASH: A new Justice Department ruling could result in thousands of asylum seekers being held indefinitely by immigration authorities. In a major reversal of previous DOJ policy, Attorney General Bill Barr now says that asylum seekers apprehended along the southern border are no longer eligible to be released on bond while their cases are being processed. The new decision comes amid a broader crackdown on asylum claims as part of the Trump administration's efforts to deter would-be migrants.

I want to bring in the senator from Wisconsin, Ron Johnson, who is chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.

Senator, thank you so much for joining me today.

I know you're working on legislation, and I want to get to that in a moment. But first I just want to ask about this order. Do you think that it's going to help the crisis at the border?

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): Hello, Dana.

Well, first of all, I want to be able to read it and really understand exactly what the attorney general is saying. But the news report says thousands. You've seen my chart. Just since 2012, we had -- it's approaching now 900,000 unaccompanied children and members of family units. I doubt this order will apply it those. But 900,000 of those individuals have been -- you know, came to this country illegally. They were apprehended. They were processed. And they've been dispersed all over America.

And I was just down at the border in El Paso. I was talking to ICE ERO (ph), asking, have we kept track, do we know where any of these people are? And the basic answer is, no, we really don't know where they are. So this is a crisis. We have a completely unsecured border. We are basically being used by the human traffickers in their multi -- their hundred million dollar enterprise here and we're helping them out.

BASH: Sure. And I have seen your chart. And it's very in depth. One that might be more digestible for our viewers, and I want to show them right now, is just about the asylum applications because, you're right, it has spiked in a dramatic way. 2012 started at 44,500. Now at least in FY 2018, and that was the last fiscal year, 161,000, and it is still spiking. And then that's not even factoring in the fact, as you mentioned, that a lot of them are unaccompanied minors who are being preyed upon by these -- by these human traffickers.

Having said all that, America's system of justice is -- is set up in a very specific way. And given that, should the American government be detaining people and not allowing them to go out on bail?

JOHNSON: Well, again, so this year, just in six months, 240,000 unaccompanied children, but now primarily people coming in as family units, are exploiting our laws and being basically shoved into -- or allowed to go into America. And it's completely out of control. So the way to solve this problem, in the end, once adjudicated, only about 15 percent have a valid asylum claim. So what we need to do is we need to have a more rapid and more accurate initial determination on asylum claim while we have people in custody for a few days.

You know, until this really spiked, it took about eight days to come to that initial determination. Now it's about 40 to 45. So we have to provide the resources. We have to have the facilities to maintain people in custody because if we don't detain people, we don't remove them. Only about 7 percent of non-detained individuals are actually removed, even though 85 percent don't have their asylum claim granted.

[12:30:02] So this process is being completely exploited. And people need to understand, I was just down at the border, they turn themselves in.

BASH: Right.