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The Release Of the Redacted Report Is Imminent. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired April 18, 2019 - 10:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER: General out there and getting his narrative, his take on it as vigorously as possible.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: It was basically, Jeffrey Toobin, a repetition of that March 24th letter when he concluded that, yes, the Russians did interfere in the U.S. election, but no American, whether anyone involved in the Trump campaign or outside of the Trump campaign illegally did anything to help the Russians.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It was much more ringing in its endorsement of the President's conduct than even the press conference several weeks ago. I mean, it was an extraordinary political commercial for the President. I mean, this was a discussion of the sympathy and the difficulty and the challenge that the President faced, and how notwithstanding all of that, the White House cooperated.

However, he left out the fact that the single most important piece of evidence that the Mueller investigation could have gotten, they didn't get, which was an interview with the President of the United States. So this enormous -- the President faced an unprecedented situation, and there was speculation in the news media, and isn't it a very sad thing for poor Donald Trump. But all of that is put forward based on a record that doesn't include a sworn testimony from the President of the United States.

TAPPER: And, Carrie, the Attorney General said that Special Counsel Mueller highlighted ten instances for the obstruction charge and that he and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein didn't necessarily agree with Mueller's interpretation of his legal theories in terms of whether or not it was obstruction, and ultimately concluded there was insufficient evidence. But I know we're all going to be trying to look at what those ten instances were when we actually get the Mueller report.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Exactly. We're going to look at what is the factual scenario that the Special Counsel laid out and was the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General's judgment as a matter of law correct, and so we'll be able to see that.

But I have to say, the Attorney General had an opportunity this morning to rise above the politics and to adhere to institutional Justice Department just sticking to what the process was that he was supposed to talk about and which he said he was actually talking about, and he blew it.

I mean, he just came out and to say that the President took, quote, no act that deprived the investigation of witnesses or documents, when, as Jeffrey just said, the President, like other presidents have in the past with investigations, been willing to be interviewed by the Special Counsel's team in addition to all the things the President Tweeted against witnesses and people who were involved in the case that could potentially be taken by them as aggressive or intimidating. It's just not a true statement, what the Attorney General said just now.

And that piece, he should have stuck to the process because on the process, he actually is being consistent with his commitment to transparency. We'll see the report, but he says he's giving most of it to members of Congress, even the information that is redacted in the public report. Congress will then be able to go and challenge the 6(e) information in court if they choose to. So he should have stuck to the process.

TAPPER: And we should point out, Carrie, that before the press conference, you were praising Attorney General Barr, saying if he does what he says he's going to do and just outline in the spirit of transparency, executive privilege, the interactions with the White House and the redaction process, it's great. You are applauding him.

CORDERO: If he's -- I have given him the benefit of the doubt. If he would have stuck to the actual process, then I think he would have risen above the politics of it and he would have been able to say that he is just performing his role as Attorney General. These gratuitous statements about the media, the gratuitous statements about the way the President has been impacted by the investigation, that was completely inappropriate for the Attorney General.

TAPPER: And, Laura, I have to say, I mean, six or seven times saying the same sentence over and over and over. And, look, theoretically, the American people should be happy that there is no evidence that Mueller could find. Mueller, highly respected investigator and law enforcement official, he could not find sufficient evidence that there was conspiracy by any American knowingly or by any member of the Trump team. That's great news. But Barr repeating it over and over and over again six or seven times, I mean, that's a little excessive. Even in Washington, D.C. where people stay on message, like it's a mantra.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It was excessive and suspicious to be pounding the table and pounding it over the American people's head, particularly about looming question for many is, okay, if that was the case, why were there so many lies told after the fact? But also in the first ten minutes of his entire discussion, I thought to myself, didn't the President once ask where is my Roy Cohn. Well, I guess he may have found him today because he should be pleased with the person who now serves at his pleasure.

[10:05:00] Because this person spent an inordinate amount of time talking about, I mean, the Oprah moment of the feelings of the President of the United States, you've got to be kidding me.

What I thought to myself was, well, naturally, you would have these ten or so discrepancies and differences because you wrote an 18 to 19- page memo before you got the job outlining why you thought obstruction was going to be completely an untenable position to take. And now, you have a controversial dynamic at play here where you essentially said, well my self-fulfilling prophecy is now complete because I have the ultimate decision in the prerogative to say what happened.

I have one part that I honed in when he said, apart from whether the acts were obstructive, this evidence of non-motives weighs heavily against any allegation. Are we dismissing the very note, the obstruction element that actually concerned two former presidents of the United States? He is the head of the executive branch. To be dismissive of, aside from whether or not -- well, aside the play, how was your night, Mrs. Lincoln? That was the moment I took from this and thought, well, I'm sorry, Mr. Barr, but did you intend to give us a sound piece, a sound bite of the President of the United States or what you intended of the processes Carrie was talking about.

TAPPER: And I just want to point out that President Trump has just tweeted an image. What would you -- kind of Game of Thrones-esque and says no collusion, no obstruction. Game over.

BLITZER: Precisely what the President wanted to hear from the Attorney General. Pamela Brown has a specific question she wants to ask our legal team over here. Pamela, go ahead.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, one of the things that stuck out to me early on in what the Attorney General had to say was about the Trump campaign individuals being involved at all in the dissemination of those hacked emails. It seemed to me, Laura Coates, that the Attorney General didn't rule out that anyone on the Trump campaign participated in or encouraged the publication of those emails but rather it wasn't illegal because no one on the Trump campaign -- the Mueller team found no one on the Trump campaign actually was involved in the hacking of those emails. Is that a correct understanding and what is your take on that?

COATES: Well, that is the high bar we're talking about again that, frankly, it was a little bit odd to note that that was the new criteria and the element to set about the actual complicity in the hacking element of it. Remember, we had known from when the indictment was filed. They were going to be unwitting and perhaps other people that were named as individuals who were not actually named individually by Mueller in this instance.

But what's so shocking to me about that notion is that we all know the cat is out of the bag, we're not going to get jurisdiction over those people who were part of that particular hacking endeavor. That was a speaking indictment, more symbolic, more than it was going to be hauling them into court any time soon to be able to take action against them. So for Barr to, on the one hand, talk about a high bar, number two, to know that we are not going to be able to see information in the redacted portions because they deal with the ongoing investigation of the IRA, which we'll never get jurisdiction over to ever be able to see. Of course, it leaves out there this possibility that you're going to have people who were initially unnamed, initially who may have been unwitting or we don't know if they were witting or complicit, we're never going to see it.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: It leaves open two possibilities though, right? Because if his legal standard is that you have to participate in the theft of the materials, it leaves open the possibility, one, for knowledge, that, indeed, the Trump campaign or Stone or Others got a heads-up that these materials were coming out, but -- and you're the lawyers here, but does it not also leave open the possibility that they might even have helped disseminate. Because if he's saying it's only criminal if you steal rather than disseminate, is that door still open?

TOOBIN: In fact, I mean, I think Pamela raised a very good point that this was a very artfully lawyered section of Barr's statement. Because he was saying that it can only be a crime if you hack emails and disseminate them.

SCIUTTO: Is that true legally?

TOOBIN: I think it is. But if you only disseminate them, it's not a crime. And there is evidence that Roger Stone and others did help disseminate the hacked emails. And the way he writes about it, it's in the guise of total exoneration of any connection to the hacked emails. And if you parse the language, it's a lot closer.

TAPPER: What's interesting about that also is that in the section of his remarks, Attorney General Barr, where he talked about the unprecedented situation that President Trump was in. And, again, you referred to it as an Oprah moment, but I think Barr, when asked about it, he was saying, the President's state of mind is relevant to this in terms of obstruction of justice. But that said, he did refer to the illegal leaks that President Trump was facing. In other words, when The Washington Post broke the story about the fact that Michael Flynn had lied to FBI investigators about his conversations with the Russian Ambassador, so Barr was -- his outrage was sufficient to say hose leaks were illegal. But, I mean, well, he is talking about these other matters that took place, and he said, well, it didn't rise to the level of the law, which is interesting.


BLITZER: He kept making the point about criminal intent. You need to have criminal intent to prove there was a crime, and he said, you know, there may have been other reasons why the President and his associates are were doing what they were doing.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: But the President never spoke to them. Okay. The president never sat down with the Special Counsel's office, and we have to -- maybe that's explained in the report why that did not occur. But it's very difficult to discover intent when you're actually not talking to the person who may have intended to obstruct justice.

One other thing here that's interesting is these ten episodes involving the President that Barr talks about. And he says very directly that he and Rosenstein disagreed with some of the Special Counsel's legal theories, and felt that some of the episodes examined did not amount to obstruction. So we didn't rely solely on that in making a decision. So what we need to see is what the Special Counsel is saying.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Because of all of the things that the Attorney General just did at the beginning of this press conference to say - follow for himself to say how they was no collusion and how horrible this was for the President and all of that. Later, this key line, Gloria, I agree with you fundamentally about warning that obstruction is going to be an issue, because what are we talking about here? We're talking about the question what Congress is going to do when they read this report. And if the Mueller report does lay out, as the Attorney General is strongly suggesting by saying that they disagreed with legal theories that Mueller pursued on obstruction, then it's just really going to be a big question and a big pressure point for Congress because this is directly about the President's actions while in office.

TOOBIN: And can I just talk about this issue of the President's concerns about leaks? You know who else was concerned about leaks? Richard Nixon. And he set up a group called the Plumbers, get it, Plumbers leaks. And it was illegal. And it was one of the reasons he was impeached. And the idea that being frustrated by leaks is exculpatory is exactly backwards.

BORGER: Or something new.

TOOBIN: That a concern about leaks and response to them can be evidence of criminal intent. That's what it was in Watergate and, potentially, that's what it was here.

BASH: Never mind that it's important for us as the public to know, The Washington Post reporting about Michael Flynn led to Michael Flynn being fired, which would not have happened despite the actions he has admitted to if not for the report.

JOHN KING, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And to that point, the Attorney General was summarizing the Mueller report. He did not mention that six people close to the President of the United States had been charged.

TAPPER: Including the National Security Adviser.

KING: Including the National Security Adviser, including an attorney, Michael Cohen, including the chairman of the campaign, the deputy chairman of the campaign. They never mentioned that, never mentioned that there were crimes committed. And so I took that as these are my crib notes. Don't read the book. That's what the Attorney General was just trying to do with that statement. BLITZER: And a lot of democrats feared he would do in having the statement and this news conference before anyone had a chance to read the whole document.

KING: And the one half full part of it was that the President did not assert executive privilege. Everybody should be happy with that. We still need to read the record, and he said he was open to Mueller testifying. Let's not -- he said he was not going to try to block Mueller from testifying before Congress. So let's hear from the former FBI Director who became the Special Counsel as to whether he would use the same language as the Attorney General.

SCIUTTO: And in terms of Jerry Nadler, of course, Chairman of the House Oversight has released a letter -- House Judiciary, sorry, he wants Mueller to testify no later than May 23rd.

TAPPER: Okay. So just to go back to the point you made about what Barr did not say, he did not mention the six close associates of President Trump who are now in legal jeopardy. And to Carrie's point, Barr did say that the White House provided the Special Counsel unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, directing senior aides to testify freely, asserting no privilege. At the same time, the President took no act that, in fact, deprived the Special Counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete this investigation. Except we know, so it's written in a very clever way, which is he didn't do anything to prevent the Special Counsel from finishing his report, which is factually accurate. But we also do know that he refused to sit for an interview, as Carrie pointed out, which certainly couldn't have helped the report be as thorough as possible.

KING: And we know from our reporting and other news organizations that he called in his White House Counsel and his Chief of Staff at one point and asked how can I fire the Special Counsel? Let's see how that's addressed in the report. The Attorney General didn't mention that either.

And to the other point about the President's emotions, the Attorney General -- look, a lot of democrats, even the democrats who voted against Bill Barr, thought he's an adult, a Bush republican, this will be different.


He proved today he's a Trump republican. It's very clear now that he is a Trump republican.

To the idea that the President is a victim, okay, maybe, Robert, let's read the report. Maybe Robert Mueller says, you know what, again, they took a lot of stupid meetings. They shouldn't have done this, they should have known better. It wasn't illegal. Let's actually read the report. But if the President is a victim, he's a victim because the FBI saw his campaign meeting with Russians during a presidential election and monitoring conversations where they find out they're offering dirt on his opponent. If he's a victim, it's because Michael Flynn lied to journalists and to federal investigators about his meeting with Russians, about Jared Kushner said he didn't meet with the Ambassador, it turned out he met with the Ambassador. If he's a victim, he's a victim of the lies of all the people around him that got the FBI thinking, what the hell is going on here.

BASH: And also, if he's a victim, let Rudy Giuliani say that, let Jay Sekulow say that, let his personal attorneys say that. The legal minds across the way here, is this something that we are supposed to see from the Attorney General of the United States, not the Attorney General of the President of the United States?

COATES: Of course not. But when I talk about the feelings and why I call it the Oprah moment, I think it misleads the public to believe whether the President is sensitive and lashing out in some way, that could somehow absolve anyone from finding actual intent of a crime. I can't even tell you how rare it is for there to be a true full-fledged confession of someone saying, here is my specific intent of why I have committed this crime and the interview will give you all the information. You can use context. You can use other evidence that can talk about this very issue.

And so I think that the conflict they're having and why I point out why he was so in tune to the sensitivity of the President is because without that direct interview and without an actual confession of what his intent would have been, all you had was circumstantial evidence to support, and you've got Tweets, what's public out there. And so for the Attorney General to focus on that, I think, is so odd because he knows full well as a top prosecutor that all the time direct evidence is not available, but you can still investigate and go forward.

BASH: So why wasn't that done here?

TAPPER: Let me bring in Pamela Brown who has a question and a point she wants to make. Pamela?

BROWN: Yes. Just on this line of Bill Barr sort of playing the role of the President's protector, something that also stuck out to me beyond the fact he's using the President's term and not a legal term in saying there was no collusion repeatedly. He also said in this graph about the obstruction probe and the context. He said as he entered into office and sought to perform his responsibilities as president, federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinizing his conduct before and after taking office and the conduct of some of his associates.

This is key because, as far as we know, it wasn't until May of 2017 that the President actually became a target of an investigation. The FBI at the time the President entered office wasn't scrutinizing the President's conduct, they were scrutinizing four targets we know of associated with the Trump campaign. And remember how this all started with the Trump campaign associate, George Papadopoulos, telling an Australian diplomat that the Russians had stolen emails from Hillary Clinton before the WikiLeaks dump. That's how this started, that's what the FBI was scrutinizing, not President Trump when he entered office. Of course, they were looking at his campaign.

But this appears to be an effort by the Attorney General to paint the President as a sympathetic figure and it's not truly truthful, frankly, to say that the FBI was focused on the President's conduct, because, again, even James Comey said that he was not a target of the investigation until after he entered office, until after, frankly, the firing of James Comey in May of 2017.

TAPPER: Let me ask the panel here a question because I can already hear conservatives saying, okay, so let's say that Barr is protecting the President. And President Trump has said, I wish I had an Attorney General, he said this during Jeff Sessions' reign, I wish I had an Attorney General that protected me the way Eric Holder protected Barack Obama. You can't compare Barack Obama to Donald Trump in any number of ways.

But there is something in the Hillary Clinton email investigation, not to bring up what about her emails, but there is something in there where the FBI was convinced Loretta Lynch, then the Attorney General of the United States under Obama, and those under her, were never going to be bringing a criminal case against Hillary Clinton. And you can -- I mean, the idea of the Attorney General as this non-partisan, above reproach, never doing anything to protect the executive branch or people that they like, I don't think that squares with history. I mean --

TOOBIN: John Kennedy's Attorney General was his brother, literally. So, I mean, I think we are all aware that the Attorney General is a member of the President's cabinet, is invariably a political supporter of the President, and there's nothing wrong with that. That's part of how the system is set up. However, there are institutional interests that have, by tradition, made the Attorney General different from the Secretary of Commerce, that the idea that law enforcement should operate at some remove from the political interests of the President.


And if you look at attorneys general who are greatly admired in the history of the Justice Department, like Edward Levi, who was the Attorney General under Gerald Ford, who was a revered figure in the Justice Department because he took the Justice Department out of the politics of the Watergate era, this was the precise opposite. This was a political speech endorsing the President's behavior beyond the legalities of the situation. And that's just not what the Attorney General is supposed to do among attorneys. It's not --

SCIUTTO: Saturday night massacre, the Attorney General refused to carry out the President's order and they quit, as did the deputy, because they thought the President was giving them an order they should not follow.

BORGER: And this is an Attorney General who took it upon himself to say that the President essentially had non-corrupt motives, period. End of sentence. He was frustrated. He was being attacked. I don't know one president who hasn't been frustrated and who isn't attacked when he's in office. And he is accurate that the President's attorneys, Ty Cobb at that time and John Dowd, gave everything to the Special Counsel's office, provided, you know, over a million documents and told everybody to testify.

But in the end, the President, this is the one piece of testimony that I'm really interested in reading in the Mueller report, is what about his counsel? What about Don McGahn, who spent over 30 hours testifying before the Special Counsel? We know The New York Times and others have reported that the President wanted him to fire Bob Mueller. Is that obstructive or is that just because he was frustrated? And, you know, what Barr said is apart from whether the acts were obstructive, comma, the evidence of non-corrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the President had a corrupt intent.

TAPPER: A trump defender would say the desire to fire Special Counsel Mueller and the act of firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller are two very different things.

BORGER: That's why we need to hear what Don McGahn said. Don't forget, the reporting is that McGahn then told somebody to tell the President, I can't recall who it was, that he would quit if he were told to -- if he were to fire Mueller. And then the President kind of let it go.

BLITZER: I want to go to Kaitlan Collins over at the White House. She's getting White House -- they must be thrilled over there, Kaitlan, as to what the Attorney General of the United States just said a very, very strong defense of the President, not just the President but the President's aides, his associates and others, clearing them of obstruction of justice, clearing them of conspiracy or collusion.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And, Wolf, what we have to keep in mind is the President and his lawyers already know what's going to come out in the next 40 minutes or so because during that press conference, Bill Barr made some news by saying not only had the White House Counsel seen the redacted report because they needed to review it to decide whether or not they were going to invoke executive privilege, which he said they did not, but Bill Barr also said the President's personal legal team requested an early look at the redacted Mueller report. He said they did not make any redactions, and they were not given that option, but they did get a view of it. Listen to what he said.


WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: No redactions done by anybody outside this group. There were no redactions done by anybody outside this group. No one outside this group proposed any redactions. And no one outside the department has seen the unredacted report with the exception of certain sections that were made available to I.C., the Intelligence Community, for their advice on protecting intelligence sources and methods. The President's personal lawyers were not permitted to make and did not request any redactions.


COLLINS: So he says they were allowed to get an early look at this. So they know essentially what all is coming down the pipeline when this report does comes out in the next 40 minutes, Wolf and Jake, and that's before lawmakers have seen this report. That's before anyone in the American public has seen this report. But he did say earlier this week, they were given a look at it. Now, we don't know what day that is.

And what's interesting about this is that a lot of people we have talked to in the West Wing do not know the details of what's in this report. So, obviously, this was kept small if they were allowed to read -- since they were allowed to read this and get an early look at it, but essentially, they know already what's going to come out today that we're going to be reading and that Capitol Hill is going to be reading in the next half hour or so.

And I should also note, we're expecting to see the President at a Wounded Warriors event in the next 20 minutes or so. Right now, we're not sure if the President is going to talk. But based on what Bill Barr just said, you can't really see why the President wouldn't take that opportunity to make some remarks.

BLITZER: Yes. And I would assume the President couldn't resist to go out there and speak about what he sees as a glowing statement from the Attorney General of the United States.


You know the President, I know the President. Sure, he's going to be gloating about this fairly soon.

TAPPER: I suspect no collusion will be something that he says. No collusion. No obstruction. Yes, I'm good that way. I'm a regular Uri Geller.

I want to bring in some of the quotes and Tweets that we're getting from democrats right now who have a less than favorable impression of that Attorney General Barr press conference. Senator Schumer, the Democratic Minority leader in the Senate, Tweeting, quote, now that President Trump's campaign press conference is over, it's time for Congress and the American people -- the American public to see the Mueller report. Of the democrats running for President, Cory Booker, the Senator from New Jersey, saying the American people deserve the truth, not spin from a Trump appointee. Senator Warren, it's a disgrace to see an Attorney General acting as if he's the personal attorney and publicist for the President of the United States, and it goes on and on and on along those lines.

I want to bring the conversation back to the obstruction of justice charge. And let's go back and take a listen to Attorney General Barr just a few minutes ago talking about the ten episodes that Special Counsel Robert Mueller highlighted in the Mueller report about potential obstruction of justice.


BARR: Instead, the report recounts ten episodes involving the President and discusses potential legal theories for connecting those activities to the elements of an obstruction offense. After carefully reviewing the facts and legal theories outlined in the report, and in consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel and other department lawyers, the Deputy Attorney General and I concluded that the evidence developed by the Special Counsel is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction of justice offense.


TAPPER: All right. So let's talk about this. One thing we should point out is that Special Counsel Robert Mueller did something that I think a lot of people found unusual, which was he did not reach a conclusion, at least according to what we know, he left it up to the Attorney General.

CORDERO: Right. And as I've talked to former Justice Department colleagues, this actually is the most surprising thing to those of us who had worked in Bob Mueller's orbit, which is that he didn't actually make that decision.

What I did find really interesting from the Attorney General's comments is I think I heard him say that he did not really have a substantive conversation with the Special Counsel about this decision. And I found that really surprising. This is a matter of the utmost importance. It's the most important decision that this Attorney General will make in his tenure.

And the fact that there was legal disagreement between the Special Counsel and his team and the Attorney General, and the Attorney General, again, if I heard him correctly, did not talk to the Special Counsel about it. I remember when I was in government, there was an issue of national security where Attorney General Mukasey disagreed with somebody else in government, and he reviewed all the materials personally and then called that person up to have a substantive conversation about it.

And so I'm really curious when Special Counsel Mueller and when the Attorney General testify, if they will be asked about, did you actually talk to each other and have a meaningful legal conversation about this decision? Because it is -- let's -- to be clear, the President was not going to be prosecuted for obstruction. It is relevant because Congress has a job to do, and they need to consider whether the facts that are outlined in the Special Counsel's report form a basis for an impeachment inquiry.

BORGER: Could it be that Rod Rosenstein -- I'm just trying to play this out a little bit because Rod Rosenstein was there with Barr the whole time, one would presume, so could it be that Rosenstein, who had been in charge of the Mueller investigation may have been an intermediary so that the Attorney General didn't have to talk to Mueller?

CORDERO: Well, it's possible, but that is not the job of the A.G. I mean, once Bill Barr got there, he's the Attorney General. He's made it very clear, this was his decision. His prerogative about what was going to be released. He made clear he didn't even have to release this report. It was a confidential report delivered to the Attorney General. So I think he took it on and --

BASH: And there's one person who knows the intent of the President of the United States with regards to obstruction, and that's the President of the United States. And this is at least with the take- home test, the written questions and answers, that was strictly free inauguration. It was about during the campaign. There were no questions either written or orally about obstruction of justice that the President could have answered.

KING: And again, we're going to, presumably within minutes, get a report that will tell us what does Robert Mueller think, not what does Bill Barr think, and that's a lot more important. And in an odd way, the Attorney General may have done the President a disservice by what he just did if Robert Mueller's conclusions are as favorable to the President.


As Bill Barr just noted, then the Attorney General, from a political standpoint, should have probably stayed out of it.