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Top Judiciary Democrat Issues Subpoena For Full Mueller Report; Sarah Sanders Digs In Despite Admitting In Mueller Report She Lied About FBI Reaction To Comey Firing. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired April 19, 2019 - 10:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: For his part, President Trump seems to have read or heard quite enough. A day after seeming to celebrate not being charged with any crimes, this morning the president is blasting what he calls the crazy Mueller report.

Parts of what he says are, and I'm quoting the President of the United States right now when he says in this statement that that Mueller is, quote, total bullshit.

Let's go to CNN's Manu Raju on the subpoena fight that may well become a major court battle here in Washington. The President using very, very strong words, Manu, but tell us about the late developments on the court battle that is about to begin.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Jerry Nadler, the House Judiciary Committee Chairman, issuing a subpoena for the full report and the underlying evidence and giving the Department of Justice until May 1st to turn that over to Capitol Hill. Now, this comes after the Justice Department suggested that they would be open to providing the committee leaders along with a select group of members of Congress a look at a classified setting at a report that had fewer redactions but still would be redacted. And that version would be the grand jury information that Jerry Nadler is demanding.

Clearly, that accommodation is not satisfying the Democrats. Nadler saying this in a statement, I am open to working with the department to reach a reasonable accommodation for access to these materials. However, I cannot accept any proposal which leaves most of Congress in the dark as they grapple with their duties of legislation, oversight and constitutional accountability. My committee needs and is entitled to the full version of the report and the underlying evidence, consistent with past practice.

Now, the democrats are preparing for this to end up in court. They are not expecting the Justice Department to comply. They've already suggested they would be willing to go to court to get a court order to release the grand jury information.

But, Wolf and Jake, this fight is going on multiple fronts. The Judiciary Committee plans not only to demand this information but pursue its own investigation into obstruction of justice. They have five subpoenas that are authorized to former White House officials, including Don McGahn, who is featured rather prominently in the Mueller report. Expect those subpoenas for those former officials to go out soon,

In addition to other committees that are planning to do their own investigations, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who wants to look into the financial aspect of the President, which was really not delved into, at least in the redacted version of the report. So democrats pushing ahead as republicans are pushing back. Doug Collins is a top republican House Judiciary Committee just put out a statement calling the subpoena wildly overbroad.

Wolf and Jake?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER: All right. Manu Raju, thanks so much.

I want to bring in CNN's Pamela Brown. And, Pamela, yesterday, President Trump seemed to declare victory. He said no collusion. They put up a Tweet with a Game of Thrones motif, saying game over. But the President's mood seems to have changed with the weather.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly does. It seems to be sinking in a lot of the unseemly things about the President's behavior in this report. Yes, there are parts of this report that are in Trump's favor and the Trump campaign's favor, but there are also parts of this report that are unflattering for Trump and make it look like he is obsessed with self-preservation, particularly in the obstruction probe where there are several examples laid out where Trump is asking officials or outside adviser to do things that ultimately they did not do because they were concerned about it, concerned it would cross a line.

And in Tweets this morning, President Trump said that some of these people are essentially making it up, told Robert Mueller's team that things that were false. Remember, these witnesses who are named in the report, including former White House Counsel Don McGahn, Reince Priebus, Rick Dearborn, White House officials, they were speaking to the FBI under penalty of lying, which they could be charged for, which people in the Robert Mueller probe were charged for lying. And so you have to remember that.

And Robert Mueller's team, through this report, went into painstaking detail, analysis, corroboration of what witnesses told them. For example, in the episode about Donald Trump telling his White House Counsel to call Rod Rosenstein and remove Robert Mueller because of conflicts of interest, the President then later told Don McGahn that he actually just meant to call DOJ and tell them that there was a conflict of interest and convey this information.

But then, Robert Mueller's team analyzed that, and how that wouldn't make sense for the President to call his White House Counsel on a Saturday just to convey something to DOJ. And so, on all accounts, Robert Mueller's team tried to corroborate this information, But the President is clearly trying to undercut it, saying that they were making it up and that this was a hoax. It seems to be getting under his skin today.

BLITZER: Pamela Brown, thanks very much. We're going to get back to you.

[10:05:00]

We've got our team of experts here. And, Gloria Borger, let me get your reaction first of all to this very angry statement from the President. He Tweeted it this morning, calling the Mueller report crazy. and then he says some of it is, in his words, this is the President, once again, of the United States, some of it is total bullshit.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the President is trying to have it both ways. On the one hand, he lauded the report as total vindication for him. You know, he says no collusion. no obstruction way back, which is, I think, a week or two ago, he said that Mueller was an honorable man.

Today, he is saying there are parts of it that are untrue, total B.S., as you point out, and accuses people of effectively lying. Not only lying, but he's really talking here about his former White House Counsel, who I might add, is a lawyer and was testifying under oath, which Donald Trump did not do with the Special Counsel.

So, again, when he likes it, the Mueller report is great. When he doesn't like it, it's B.S. I mean, he's got to pick a side here because, you know, if Mueller did his job, and did his job well, then you can't see it both ways.

TAPPER: Susan, let me ask you about the subpoena that Jerry Nadler, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has put forward today. What might democrats hope to learn from the redacted portions? Personally, I was surprised at how little was redacted. It was roughly 8 percent of the report was redacted. Obviously, as a journalist, I'm in favor of no redactions, but I was expecting much more. What is in that 8 percent do you think democrats might find?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Well, certainly, I think that this was a report with fewer redactions than people might have suspected and that Bill Barr did in some ways lean forward. That said, there are substantial portions that are redacted, especially for this category of harm to an ongoing matter.

One of the most interesting things that is behind those redactions, which Congress actually will be allowed the opportunity to see in some form eventually, is conversations about President Trump's personal knowledge, right? So we have seen that sort of that pick-up, particularly discussions about knowledge of hacked materials, knowledge of future releases. We start with in the President's office, there's a big redacted block, and then it moves on, or he and Rick Gates are in the car. There's a redacted conversation. And then the President says, okay, great.

And so those are the types of sort of small, perhaps legally insignificant pieces in terms of criminal culpability, but really incredibly important whenever we think about what did the President personally know about the Russian efforts during the 2016 election, and in circumstances in which not only did they fail to warn the American public, but actively encouraged those efforts.

TAPPER: And just to put a button on this, you're referring to President Trump knowing of WikiLeaks' dumps, allegedly, and Mueller was very clear that in order for anybody to have been criminally charged, they not only would have to had known about it, they would have had a -- actually had a hand in the hacking of the material.

HENNESSEY: Exactly. The piece that Mueller found to be lacking was the explicit agreement. So he essentially says that both the Trump campaign and the Russians were working towards a common purpose. They both took steps towards that purpose. They just didn't have that meeting of the minds that's required by the criminal statute.

BLITZER: In the Mueller report, Mueller makes it clear he was investigating 10 or 11 specific episodes of what he described as potential obstruction of justice, including this one, and I'll read from the Mueller report. On June 17th, 2017, the President called Don McGahn, his White House Counsel, at home and directed him to call the acting Attorney General and say that the Special Counsel had conflicts of interest and must be removed. McGahn did not carry out the direction, however, deciding he would resign rather than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre.

Now, a lot of people, David, are suggesting McGahn did the President a huge favor by refusing to carry out that order.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. Strictly legally speaking, even if the President endeavored, and that is the legal word, to obstruct justice or someone defined it that way, that would still be something that could be looked at as obstruction of justice.

But McGahn probably did do him at least a political favor in the sense that, number one, obstruction of justice in the sense of firing the Special Counsel wasn't carried out and it's also the case, Wolf, that you have a situation where I think when the public looks at this, people can, if they want, come to the conclusion, well, even if the President said he wanted the Special Counsel fired or endeavored to do it, it wasn't done. The report was completed. And therefore, you know, nothing to see here. Maybe it's not all the way to obstruction.

The fact that there are 10 or 11 instances that are laid out in the report, I think, is the Special Counsel laying out bread crumbs for Congress so that if they want to take this up in, let's say, a potential impeachment hearing, they have got the material to do it even though he declined to --

TAPPER: And, Gloria Borger, take a listen to President Trump in January 2018, when asked about this episode, which was reported by The New York Times at the time that the President told Don McGahn, then His white house counsel, to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

[10:10:06]

Here's what the president said about it at that time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: Mr. President, did you seek to fire Mueller?

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: Fake news, folks. Fake news.

REPORTER: What's your message today?

TRUMP: Typical New York Times fake stories.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Not fake. True. The person dispensing with the person offering fake news, President Trump.

BORGER: Yes, exactly. I mean, you know, the President threw a lot of these stories, not just this one, started calling them fake news. And here, they are detailed, chapter and verse, in the Mueller report. And, again, I want to emphasis, these are people who were testifying under oath, not talking to journalists, where you don't have to take an oath, but testifying under oath. And even today, in the President's Tweet, he's saying the same thing. He's saying it's total B.S. These people, Don McGahn in particular, are lying.

But when you look at the level of detail in the Mueller report, where the President calls in Don McGahn and said, I never said that to you, and Don McGahn says, yes, you did. You told me to call so-and-so and get this done. And the President even denies it to Don McGahn face- to-face, and then makes fun of the fact that McGahn was a contemporaneous note taker as an attorney and the President said, well, none of my attorneys ever used to do that. And we know his favorite attorney in the world is Roy Cohn, who was disbarred in the '80s.

TAPPER: And just to put -- not to put too fine of a point on it, but when you say Don McGahn was speaking under oath, he was speaking under oath to somebody who sent other people to jail for lying under oath.

BORGER: Exactly, absolutely.

TAPPER: So you have to tell the truth with Robert Mueller because he will send you to prison.

BORGER: Well -- and also, don't forget, he was the White House Counsel. This is a man of some repute who got a huge legal job inside the White House, and who continually, according to this report, saved the President or tried to save the President time and time again. And as a reward for his efforts, he got continually yelled at by the President of the United States and criticized to his face.

BLITZER: You lie to the Mueller team, you have basically committed perjury, and you could potentially wind up in jail. And there are several of the President's associates --

BORGER: 30 hours, by the way, 30 hours of testimony.

TAPPER: Thanks, everyone. I appreciate. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders is digging in today after she admitted to federal investigators she lied to the American people regarding the firing of former FBI Director James Comey. Hear what she's saying now following the release of the Mueller report. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:15:00]

BLITZER: One of the enduring phrases from the Mueller report will be an admission from the White House Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders, that a claim she made disparaging the newly fired FBI Chief, James Comey, was not founded on anything. Listen to what Sarah Sanders said at a briefing back in May of 2017.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: What's your response to these rank and file FBI agents who disagree with your contention that they lost faith in Director Comey?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We heard from countless members of the FBI that say very different things.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Special Counsel writes that Sarah Sanders admitted to her investigators that she had no basis for making that remark, which she tried to frame as a slip of the tongue made in the heat of the moment.

TAPPER: This morning, that is still Sarah Sanders' position. Here is Sanders on Good Morning America.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC GOOD MORNING AMERICA: Special Counsel writes that those comments were not founded on anything. That's when you talked to the Special Counsel about when you were facing criminal penalties if you didn't tell the truth. But now, you're trying to walk away from it. Why can't you acknowledge that what you said then was not true?

SANDERS: I said that the word I used countless and I also said if you look at what's in quotations from me, it's that and that it was in the heat of the moment, Meaning it wasn't a scripted talking point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: We're joined by CNN White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins and here in the studio, Julie Pace, Washington Bureau Chief for the Associated Press. Julie, let me start with you.

Some of your colleagues think Sarah Sanders has lost the confidence of the White House Press Corps with this definitive assertion by Special Counsel Robert Mueller that she lied to the American public, a lie for which she is expressing zero contrition and no apology, whatsoever. Do you agree? Has she lost the confidence of the White House Press Corps?

JULIE PACE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the White House Press Office, as a whole, has lost the confidence of the White House Press Corps far before yesterday. I think we've been dealing with a situation where you have people who come out and speak on behalf of the President, on behalf of this administration, who say things that are factually inaccurate. We've been dealing with that literally since the first day of the administration.

But I think it's really important to point out that the problem here isn't that Sarah Sanders or other people who speak for this administration are lying to journalists. It's that they're lying to the American people. That's the real problem here. And I would hope that no matter what your political persuasion is, the fact that an administration is lying to the public would really bother you.

BLITZER: You know, Kaitlan, that clip we just played from 2017, that's not the only time that Sarah Sanders made that bogus claim, is it?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, Wolf. She said it several times, and even when reporters gave her the chance to follow up on it because they didn't think what she said was accurate, even one reporter saying, really, to her during a press briefing when she said a large number of FBI agents had reached out to personally, she said, even though she didn't know that many people at the FBI, that was her indication that that many people had lost confidence in James Comey.

So, Wolf, she said it multiple times under different iterances, said it a lot throughout several press briefings though.

[10:20:04]

So saying it's a slip of the tongue doesn't really compute since she made that argument so many times.

And, Wolf, it's also not the only instance in the Mueller report of her making a statement that was not true. She also said that the President certainly did not dictate that original misleading statement about the meeting that Donald Trump Jr. had at Trump Tower, when later, it was revealed that his lawyers actually told the Special Counsel that, yes, the President had dictated that statement. When Sarah was asked to clear that up today, she essentially made the argument that she was given bad information.

And, Wolf, I do think that's important, because a lot of what you're seeing in this report starts at the top. And this report does have a pretty damning portrayal of a president who not only pressured his staff to lie but also to minimize true events, deny stories that had been reported in the media, and at times, just simply make things up.

TAPPER: And, Kaitlan, let me ask you, I mean, does the White House not see that all these lies actually to the American people, forget lies told to journalists, lies to the American people, that it's self- defeating. They tell lies about things important and inconsequential, big and small, and ultimately, all it does is hurt them, their credibility, especially when they then want to talk about issues that are of real significance that have to do with policy and things that affect the American people's lives. Do they not understand that?

COLLINS: Well, a lot of people in the West Wing have a problem with the communications team, and they have had one ever since essentially the beginning when it was back When Sean Spicer was the Press Secretary. So they realize that it's a problem because often it's the communications team here at the White House that becomes the story because of what they say.

And I think it's important to keep in mind, this isn't just the White House press shop and the reporters that cover the White House here going back and forth over whether or not Sarah Sanders is telling the truth. She's a taxpayer funded Press Secretary, and what she says goes on the record, and she's supposed to say truthful things so the American people know what's going on inside the White House. Yes, she may put a positive spin on it for the White House, to their perspective, but it's still supposed to be based in some sense of reality. And we're seeing that with these remarks, especially the ones about James Comey, it's just not true.

And also, another pretty damning instance in the Mueller report about the White House press shop is when they wanted Rod Rosenstein to hold a press conference saying it was his idea to fire James Comey. They were essentially trying to send the number two at the Justice Department to go on television and say something that was not true, so it would back up the President and make him look better. If that gives you any kind of instance of how the White House press shop is functioning here, and instead of trying to put good news out about what the President is doing, they're instead trying to make the President's decisions look less bad.

BLITZER: You know, Julie, there's only been, I think, two White House press briefings in the past 100 days or in this current year. And I guess the silver lining is if you can't believe what the Press Secretary is saying, maybe it's better than they don't do those press conferences.

PACE: Yes. I'm really torn on this. Because, on the one hand, you go into these press briefings in the Trump administration and you got information that frankly isn't very useful to you. In some cases, it's inaccurate. In some cases, it's just not really relevant.

On the other hand, I do think it's really crucial, again, to the point about informing the public, not because we want to sit in the briefing room, not because we think we want to have our FaceTime on camera, because that is how a lot of Americans get information about what their government is doing. And the fact that that is gone, the fact that that is just no longer an expectation, not only at the White House but also at the Pentagon, at the State Department. There are major policies that are being undertaken by this administration and we simply don't have the opportunity to get the public information on a daily basis. That's a real problem.

BLITZER: It certainly is. Yes, go ahead, Kaitlan. COLLINS: Wolf, I want to note one thing that we could start to see over the next few days. You saw it with that interview that Sarah Sanders did this morning where she was trying to essentially back off the claims that she made to the Special Counsel's investigators. They made it pretty clear in the Mueller report that what she said was not founded on anything, that that is what she told them. And today, she was trying to frame it as simply a slip of the tongue, something she made in the heat of the moment, despite that being a comment she's made multiple times.

And so what you're going to see is potentially people trying to back off the comments that they made under the penalty potentially of lying to investigators when they told the truth, then in the public, when they're speaking to reporters and anchors on news shows, they may be changing their tune a little bit.

BLITZER: Because if you lie to Mueller's team, that's perjury. You can wind up in jail. So she had to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in that particular instance. Kaitlan and Julie, guys, thanks very much.

Up next, I'll be speaking with a republican member of Congress who once told me that Barr should release the full report to the public. Does he still feel that way? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:25:00]

BLITZER: This morning, democrats fighting to expose the full Mueller report, the top house democrat in the Judiciary Committee, the Chairman, Jerry Nadler, issuing a subpoena last hour. This as democrats dismiss Attorney General William Barr's findings and demand to hear from the man who authored the report, Robert Mueller.

Joining us now with reaction, Republican Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah, he serves on the Intelligence Committee. Congressman thanks so much for joining us. We've had this conversation before. You previously told me several times you think every word of the Mueller report should be made public, should be presented to Congress.

[10:30:05]