Return to Transcripts main page


Barr Departs From What Mueller Wrote in Press Conference; Mueller Report: Burr Alerted WH About FBI Targets in March 2017; 2020 Dems Say Voters Not Focused on Mueller Report. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired April 19, 2019 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Let's start by listening to the attorney general about the degree of cooperation from the Trump campaign and the White House.


BILL BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Nonetheless, the White House fully cooperated with the special counsel's investigation, providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, directing senior aides to testify freely and asserting no privilege claims. And at the same time, the president took no action that in fact deprived the special counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation.


KING: Sounds like carte blanche, right? Well, look at what the special counsel actually wrote, and this is just some of it. The office learned that some of the individuals we interviewed or whose conduct we investigated, including some associated with the Trump campaign, deleted relevant communications. The special counsel also made reference to his request denied for an interview with the president instead of the president's written answers to questions, we viewed the president's written answers to be inadequate. So in substance and tone, a disagreement between these two men.

Another interesting piece as the attorney general spoke yesterday trying to make clear I'm the attorney general, he works for me.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was he invited to join you up on the podium? Why is he not here? This is his report obviously that you're talking about it.

BARR: No, he's not. He did the report for me as the attorney general. He is required under the regulation to provide me with a confidential report. I'm here to discuss my response to that report and my decision, entirely discretionary to make it public since these reports are not supposed to be made public.


KING: CNN's Evan Perez and Kara Scannell join our conversation. This has been your work for months. We'll go through some more examples in a minute.


KING: Two years.

PEREZ: Two years. Who's counting?

KING: That's a lot of months. That's a lot of months.


KING: When you look at some of the substance and we'll go through more of this in the next few minutes, and some of it is tone or omission on the part of the attorney general, I would call it a political spin on the part of the attorney general. Does he or his people explaining this at all while if you read the report and match it up with the attorney general's words, it's a parallel universe in some cases?

PEREZ: They seemed really struck I think and surprised I think by the coverage by the reaction to what Bill Barr said yesterday. They really didn't see this coming, and I think --

KING: A team of incredibly talented lawyers at the Justice Department didn't understand that we would actually read the report and compare it to the attorney general's words?

PEREZ: Yes. Look, I'm mystified. You know, just in the last one that you were just citing there. I think, you know, what we come away from reading this report is that the president got all of the benefits of being a cooperating witness but did just the minimal of it, right? He allowed White House people and, you know, people to go testify, to go provide evidence, information to Robert Mueller's investigators. In that way actually, he helped protect himself so that he didn't have to go sit down with Mueller.

But, you know, he didn't actually -- as you saw -- I mean, the Mueller investigator said that his written answers were inadequate, so he gets all of the benefits of being a cooperative witness without actually cooperating. And then he gets protected because he's president so he cannot be indicted so he's essentially above the law. And that's exactly what the attorney general is trying to portray that the president is not. And I think that if you read that report, again, read it a couple of times, that's the distinct impression you come away with.

KING: And so let's look at another one, this is on the question of collusion. And again, the special counsel said there was no conspiracy, but let's again look at the words so I just want to highlight some here as we do it. This is the attorney general speaking yesterday.

After nearly two years of investigation, right, did not find the Trump campaign or other Americans colluded in those efforts, right? And the efforts to illegally interfere with the election. But here's what the special counsel said. The investigation established multiple links between Trump campaign officials and individuals tied to the Russian government. Ultimately the investigation did not establish that the campaign coordinated or conspired in the election interference activities.

But the attorney general didn't say, you know what, Don Jr. and others were playing footsie with the Russians but there wasn't a criminal conspiracy. He left that part out. He just tried to say, this is great. Why?

PEREZ: It was incredibly misleading. I think if you read the report, again, volume one gives us in great detail all of the ways in which the Trump campaign, people associated, people that the president's family members, essentially were encouraging the Russians. They saw the benefits of what the Russians were doing. All the while they're telling us that it is complete BS and that the Russians were not actually involved, and they knew it.

And I think, again, you come away from reading this report and you see that look, it may not have been a formal agreement. There was nobody sitting down and the president didn't sign a letter of intent with the Russians for them to help his campaign and help him get elected but it was everything short of that, and it certainly looks like collusion. I mean, I know that he likes to say no collusion, and by the way, the attorney general yesterday, using that word -- those two words, no collusion multiple times, did not do himself or the Justice Department any favors.

[12:35:04] And he didn't do the White House any favors either frankly, because you want -- this is a moment where the attorney general should have stood independently away from the White House.

KING: Well, he's smart enough and experienced enough to have processed that. He made a choice yesterday with what he did.

PEREZ: He did.

KING: Let's look at the question of obstruction, and this one here is more of a difference of opinion on the judgment I think more than the words itself. But if you look through here, again, using the highlighter, the deputy attorney general and I concluded the evidence developed by the special counsel is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense. That's the attorney general's reading. What the special counsel says he kind of flips it, it's a different emphasis. If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice we would so state.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: I know. And I mean, I think the key thing there is, you know, Barr is saying that there wasn't sufficient evidence. The report goes into extremely specific detail about, you know, actions and activities, about a dozen instances that they put under -- they put under the umbrella of obstruction.

KING: And Mueller, forgive me for interrupting, he actually makes clear, applicable legal standards meaning Justice Department guidelines say he can't indict a president. So Mueller decided, I'm not the fire department here, I'm just going to lay out the evidence. I'm not going to make the judgment.

SCANNELL: Exactly. I mean, that whole OLC opinion, this guidance that you don't indict a sitting president, something that Mueller seem is saying we had to follow that and because of that we couldn't really make this determination. You know, they used that as saying, you know, it's not right to say that someone committed a crime when you can't charge them and they can't defend themselves at trial, and it would really tarnish, you know, the administration. But they stopped well short of saying that the president, you know, did not commit obstruction. They're saying there's a lot of evidence here and --

KING: There's 10 examples.


KING: Which gets to the next part. It was striking watching Bill Barr yesterday, had the job in the H.W. Bush administration. I'm the boss. The attitude yesterday now that he has the job again saying that this report comes to me. I make the decisions. So it's very clear that's his attitude.

But he said this is the attorney general of the United States saying, Special Counsel Mueller did not indicate that his purpose was to leave the decision to Congress. That's what the attorney general said yesterday, standing at the Justice Department. Here's what Bob Mueller says in the report. With respect to whether the president can be found to have obstructed justice by exercising his powers under Article II of the constitution, we concluded that Congress has the authority to prohibit a president's corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.

Bill Barr says, a, Bob Mueller's report says z. Bob Mueller's report specifically says Justice Department guidelines say I can't indict a sitting president. Congress has the right, the responsibility, and the constitutional authority to do this. How can the attorney general say he didn't say leave this to Congress?

PEREZ: Right. And I think he was freelancing, frankly, and there were a lot of things he said that just were not based on what the report says and we saw that. He talked about the president's feelings. Again, there's a lot of criticism to what has Jim Comey did in July of 2016 castigating Hillary Clinton while saying that she was not going to be charged. This is the opposite. This is where essentially the attorney general is endorsing what the behavior -- the behavior by the president and people in his campaign in 2016 while saying they are completely cleared, they're exonerated while the report does not say that. It says the opposite.

SCANNELL: And putting his thumb on it by saying --


SCANNELL: -- you know, that the president was frustrated and angry and it was, you know, sincere which is not at all reflected in the Mueller's report.

PEREZ: And that's not his point. That's not what his job is as an attorney general.

KING: Well, yes, he was saying the president is a victim. And again, if the president is a victim, it's because the FBI picked up his people talking to Russians during a campaign and that alarmed them --

PEREZ: They did that to themselves.

KING: -- and then they lied about it.

PEREZ: Right.

KING: And so, maybe there was no conspiracy but there is every reason to investigate because they were doing things way outside the norms, way, way outside norms.

PEREZ: John, it also raises questions as to why the attorney general is claiming essentially that he's going to launch a review of how this investigation began. Essentially investigating the investigators. If you look at that report, you can see why this investigation happened and why -- you know, essentially the president and his people brought this upon themselves with their behavior.

KING: Well, Spygate as Devin Nunes says.


KING: And the attorney general use the word spying. But you know what, have -- let's let the inspector general, let's see his report soon.


KING: Let the attorney general do it as long as he's transparent about it. Lay it out, and if there were offenses then those people should be held accountable. And there weren't, he should say, guess what, this was all by the books, it was not a witch hunt.

Up next for us, more clues on Joe Biden's political future as in announcement day is coming.


[12:44:01] KING: Topping our political radar today, Joe Biden inching closer to that long-awaited official campaign announcement. Sources close to the vice president, former vice president, says he's poised to make it official next week. That, of course, would make him into the crowded field of Democrats. Getting close to 20 now for the 2020 nomination. Wednesday is the target date, although other officials in the campaign say be careful. They haven't locked that quite in yet. More, the location for the big reveal.

Colorado Senator Michael Bennet recovering after surgery for prostate cancer. The spokesman for the Democratic senator says he underwent a, quote, complete and successful surgery over the weekend adding that Bennet requires no further treatment. His spokesperson says he'll return to work in the Senate after the recess. This nugget from the 400-plus pages of the Mueller report. The Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee apparently alerted White House lawyers about the targets of the FBI's Russia investigation. That way back in March of 2017 before then FBI Director James Comey revealed the investigation's existence at a House hearing. Comey has briefed the Intel Committee and congressional leaders ahead of time.

[12:45:03] And a footnote to the Mueller report says that Senator Richard Burr, in turn, briefed the White House counsel's office on the existence of four to five targets, including the president's national security adviser Michael Flynn and his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Wow. And Moscow now weighing in on the Mueller report. In a conference call with CNN, the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claims, claims, emphasis on claims, the redacted report contained no new information or as Peskov put it in a quote, reasoned evidence supporting the allegations of Russian interference into the U.S. elections. Peskov says it confirms what he and President Putin have said all along. He actually said that.

The U.S. secretary of state has a different idea.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: To your third question was when I engage with the Russians where I raise the issues of the Mueller report? We will talk about the steadfast requirement that Russia did not engage in activity that impacts the capacity of our democracy to be successful. And their interference in an election creates risk there and we will make very clear to them this is unacceptable behavior and as you've seen from this administration we will take tough actions which raise the cost for Russian malign activity and we'll continue to do that.


KING: There's a lot interesting in that segment there, but to me, Chairman Burr gave White House lawyers a heads up after being given a classified briefing on an FBI counterintelligence investigation.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: This is a really fascinating and complex little footnote to the report. I mean, Burr for his part is saying he does not recall these conversations specifically taking place.

KING: A lot of I don't recall.

DEMIRJIAN: A lot of I don't recall. The question is though -- so this is around the same time that Nunes -- Chairman Nunes at the time was going back and forth to the White House and raising all sorts of concerns about whether he was disclosing classified information. And the question is was Burr doing a similar thing in a way or was he just speaking very loosely and making mistakes and divulging things that he shouldn't? The Gang of Eight top Intel members and the top congressional leaders of both parties had this briefing on March 9th. Comey didn't announce publicly there was this counterintelligence investigation until March 20th. On March 12th, Don McGahn, the White House lawyer learns that the president really, really wants information. He's nervous, he's looking for anything Russia-related. And on the 16th, they talked to Richard Burr.

They think they're talking about the Senate investigation but he basically tells them the road map for what the FBI is doing. Is it just loose talk because he hadn't quite set up his own investigation yet or he's planning on following that lead or was he actually telling them what the FBI is doing? It's strange because the White House counsel's office says they couldn't rule it out. It's one of those --

KING: Chairman of the Intelligence Committee. With that title, comes a pretty high bar of responsibility. Uh-huh.

Up next, when it comes to the Mueller report, the 2020 campaign trail sounds a lot different than the conversation here in Washington.



[12:52:07] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm cross-eyed from watching the Mueller report. So as Democrats, where do we go from here?

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Deb, it's an issue that I had a bunch of reporters asks me about and I want to just one thing to say, we should say as Americans where do we go? I'm going to be one of those folks on the Judiciary Committee pointing to have hearings, pointing to make sure that we bring Mueller in to give us a fuller, more detailed understanding of his perspective on all the work that he did for over a year.


KING: Senator Cory Booker there echoing a common call from the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates for the Special Counsel Robert Mueller to come to Capitol Hill and testify in public. But while that and all things Mueller are a hot topic here in Washington and across Capitol Hill, much less of an issue, at least up until now out on the campaign trail and that part is interesting. That is where the candidates will tell you, and actually let's just listen to them right off at the top. This is Congressman -- former Congressman Beto O'Rourke, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand saying, yes, it comes up every now and then but not much.


BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's some like 550 questions over the last four and a half weeks. The Bob Mueller investigation has come up two or three times. Folks are focused on the fact that they can't afford prescription medications, they're talking about working two or three jobs just to make ends meet.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Certainly not at the top of mind of most voters around the country. They're concerned about their families. Poverty, jobs, healthcare, and making sure people are working and working to their fullest potential. Those are the issues that the American people want to talk about.


KING: Will that change now, or do the candidates when they are out there need to stay on drugs, the economy, healthcare, and leave the other stuff here? Or will this change the dynamic of -- especially among activist Democrats who some will want impeachment, some will want to make sure Mueller testifies, some are mad at Bill Barr, et cetera.

MICHAEL WARREN, CNN REPORTER: And keep in mind, these candidates are talking with Democratic voters or people who are interested in the Democratic candidates. So it's striking to me that these candidates are saying we're not hearing that much about it. Maybe it does change a little bit.

I was just up earlier this week before the Mueller report was released in the really high valley of Pennsylvania which is very much a swing area, a place where Republicans think they have to win if they can win Pennsylvania again in 2020, and I talked to people on the Republican side, Democratic side, mixed in between. They all say we can't understand what's going on with the Mueller report. It's too dense, it's too much. They're not interested in it. They mentioned the same issues that those candidates mentioned. I think that's where -- the voters in many ways are leading the candidates on this.

KING: With 19 or 20 candidates in the race, my question is, does somebody break? Eric Swalwell along shut a House member yesterday said the attorney general should resign. He thought the attorney general's press conference was beyond the pale. So that's one way as a candidate. If you're a long-shot candidate to somebody who've raised their hand and say we should move to impeachment, I think that's something to keep an eye on.

But, to that point, the candidates follow what's happening out there. Look at this from Google search trends yesterday, the Warriors, the Sixers, Good Friday, "Jeopardy," the Mueller report was number 19.

[12:55:04] The Mueller report was number 19.

I don't expect it to change on the campaign trail for this reason. I mean, the Democratic voters are much more motivated by issues. They want to talk about healthcare and climate change and immigration. And the major candidates -- you're right, there may be some minor candidates who try to use this issue to, you know, to gain some attention, to gain some oxygen but the major candidates said, first, let the Mueller report come out, now they're saying let Barr and Mueller testify, then they'll say let the House committees do their job and pursue their investigation.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: They don't want to give President Trump any ammunition to say these people don't want to take me on, they can't beat me at the ballot box so they're looking for a back door to oust me. Nobody wants him to say that.

KING: Check your digital records to see if you're reading the Mueller report or searching about Jason Momoa shaving his beard.

Thanks for joining us on the INSIDE POLITICS.


KING: Hope to see you back here Sunday morning, 8 a.m. Eastern. Get up early with us. That'll be great. Brianna Keilar starts after a quick break. Have a great afternoon.