Return to Transcripts main page
Mueller Report Controversy Continues; Topeka Zookeeper Mauled by Tiger. Aired 12-1p ET
Aired April 20, 2019 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: to their children for everything they had done. We've got so much more straight ahead in the newsroom and it all starts right now.
All right thanks for being with me, I'm Fredricka Whitfield. We begin with a major legal fight brewing in the wake of the Bob Mueller report. Democrats have finally issued the subpoena they have been holding close for weeks to see the full, unredacted version as they remain divided on the best plan moving forward. Will they begin impeachment proceedings? Meanwhile President Trump is lashing out once again on the Mueller report on twitter saying it was written as nastily as possible and falsely claiming it found no obstruction. Let's start first with CNN's Kara Scannell in Washington. The Department of Justice already pushing back on this subpoena from democrats. What more can you tell us about where things stand?
KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes that's right Fred. So there really is a standoff between the Hill and the Department of Justice. The lawmakers saying that they want to get the full unredacted version of the report and all of the underlying documents so that they can conduct their own investigation into whether the president obstructed justice.
That's the first step before they would consider moving forward on impeachment proceedings and we hear from the House Leader Nancy Pelosi, trying to give a sense of caution, not to jump the gun and rush toward impeachment. The democrats though do want this information. They subpoenaed, as you said on Friday, the Department of Justice for that information. The DOJ is pushing back on that. They issued a statement in which they say in the interest of transparency, the attorney general released the special counsel's confidential report with only minimal redactions.
The Department of Justice has also made arrangements for Chairman Nadler and other congressional leaders to review the report with fewer redactions. In light of this, Congressman Nadler's subpoena is premature and unnecessary. The department will continue to work with congress to accommodate its legitimate request, consistent with the law, and long recognized executive branch interest. Chairman Nadler is of course, Jerry Nadler, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee who issued that subpoena. If they are unable to reach an agreement between the democrats and the Department of Justice, then it is very likely this could end up in court. Fred? WHITFIELD: And in your article out titled "Mueller's Report Leaves
Open Possibility of Post White House Criminal Exposure for Trump." What can you tell us about those possibilities?
SCANNELL: Yes, so Fred, when Robert Mueller issued his report, he said that because in part of Department of Justice guidelines, that preclude them from indicting a sitting president, they did not even consider that - really answer that question, to decide yes or no. but very interestingly, he also included in the explanation the notes that the president does not have immunity after he leaves office and went on to say they conducted this factual investigation in order to preserve evidence. So they're kind of leaving out on the table here that it's possible that down the road the president could be investigated again for this and possibly prosecuted for it. But it's not the only legal criminal hurdle around the president.
He was also implicated by the U.S. Attorney's office in New York as part of that hush-money payment scheme that Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to and in that case prosecutors identified Trump as individual number one who directed and coordinated with Cohen to make those payments.
Now one prosecutor I spoke with who is no longer a prosecutor, but he said that it is very possible that someone down the road could pick it up. He thought though it might be unlikely because of the political challenges around that and the passage of time. But one thing is for sure, the president's best defense on this is to win re-election and then he could run out the clock on the statute of limitations. Fred.
WHITFIELD: What is the statute of limitations?
SCANNELL: Well so the -- under the charges that could possibly be on the table, if it was obstruction of justice, that's a five year statute of limitations and the campaign finance charges also carry a five year statute of limitations and that clock starts ticking from the date that one of these acts occurred. That spans from the payments in 2016 to these potentially obstructive acts until 2018. So you can see how that would extend after this election cycle. But if the president were to rewin and stay in office again for another four years, he would be outside of that range.
WHITFIELD: Right. With that - with those statutes that you just mentioned, possibly running out in '21. All right. Kara Scannell, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
All right now to the president's latest reversal on the Mueller report after first praising the report as total vindication and saying that Robert Mueller acted honorably, the president is changing his tune, describing Mueller as highly conflicted now. CNN White House reporter Sarah Westwood is in West Palm Beach near where the president is spending Easter weekend with his family at the Florida resort he has there. So Sarah, what's behind this about face?
SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Fred, we do know that the president is unhappy with the way that him and his White House was depicted in the Mueller report. We know for example that he is frustrated that he was portrayed as a dishonest leader, leading a chaotic White House.
And that according to Mueller, some of his aides who received directives from him, including former White House counsel Don McGahn simply ignored those orders. That's obviously someone like President Trump who likes to exert total control, unhappy with that portrayal.
Even though the Russia investigation is over, on twitter, since the report came out on Thursday, the president has been lashing out at the Russia probe and at Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
He hasn't said a lot to the cameras, but has been again active on social media. Just this morning for example he took to twitter to write, "Despite the fact that the Mueller report should not have been authorized in the first place and was written as nastily as possible," and then he repeats his claim that the team was biased.
"The end result is no collusion, no obstruction." And he also took to twitter to do what some people considered a swipe at McGahn when he accused people of producing notes that never existed before they needed to. There's a specific instance in the Mueller report where President Trump chastises his former White House counsel McGahn for taking notes during a conversation. He said, "Good lawyers don't take notes," referring to his former attorney Roy Cohn back from his real estate days.
In June, 2017, according to Mueller, President Trump instructed McGahn to essentially get rid of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. McGahn ignored that directive. Then in January, 2018, when "The New York Times" reported the previous episode, McGahn refused to issue a denial despite the fact President Trump was urging him to tell the media that story wasn't true.
So there's a lot of President Trump's ire directed at Don McGahn, directed at some of the former aides who cooperated extensively with the special counsel, even though it was the orders of the president's legal team at the time. He's letting a lot of his frustration out on twitter, Fred, but we haven't seen him speak directly to the cameras much since this report came out on Thursday.
WHITFIELD: All right, Sarah Westwood. Thank you so much.
Joining me to discuss all of this, retired FBI supervisory special agent, James Gagliano; former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst, Jennifer Rodgers; and White House reporter for "Politico", Gabby Orr. Good to see you all and Happy Easter and Passover. All right, so Gabby you first. You know what do you make of this messaging from the White House?
GABBY ORR, "POLITICO" REPORTER: Well clearly, the president is trying to sor of build out a messaging narrative around the findings in this report that he can use as he launches into the 2020 campaign. We are not really seeing a major difference in what he was saying before this report was made public last week and what he was saying over the course of the investigation. He has continued to remind Americans that this investigation was led
by what he believes were people with biases against him. He continues to say that this was a waste of taxpayer money, this went on too long. I mean, he's returning to a lot of the same talking points he used, that he tweeted during the course of this two-year investigation and, you know, what we are hearing from White House sources and people on the Trump campaign is that they are really going to focus on bringing the president into a lot of these states that he won in 2016, but where there are freshman democrats who are in districts that are walking a fine line in how they respond to the report.
They are going to bring him in. He's going to holding rallies. He's going to really be playing up the fact that he thinks this is a total exoneration of him. In the backyard of a lot of these vulnerable freshmen democrats who don't really know, quite yet, how exactly to respond to the Mueller findings.
WHITFIELD: Trying to upstage those moments. So, Jennifer, the Justice Department, it is pushing back on this subpoena request, you know, from Jerry Nadler and democrats overall. How might this kind of legal battle play out if it gets to that?
JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think the dem's have the better of the legal argument here. It's one thing for the Department of Justice to say, "we haven't yet given you all we are going give you. Let's wait and see whether we can reach agreement." But it's become clear, it's been made clear by the Department of Justice that they are not going to release an unredacted version of the report.
That's a final answer. So now the dems are entitled to go to court and I think they do have the better of this legal battle. It's just a matter of how long it takes. I think there's a little bit of a running out of the clock aspect of this litigation.
WHITFIELD: And by CNN's estimation, about -- in this report, Mueller report, 8 percent of the report is redacted and mostly for the reason of ongoing, you know investigations. So, James, what does that tell you? We already know from the Mueller report that there are something like 14 jurisdictions who have received referrals that they could pick up their investigations, you know, pick up from where this report leaves. So, where do you see these investigations potentially going?
JAMES GAGLIANO, RETIRED FBI SUPERVISORY SPECIAL AGENT: Sure, Fred. First of all, for all of us it's been a long slog, 675 days. And I know Jennifer can speak to this, too. That's generally the length of federal investigations. They generally last somewhere around two years. They're not quick by-bust operations.
In this instance, we have a 448 page report. We know there were some 900 redactions as counted by our network and 1,600 lines that were blocked out.
Now, look, generally speaking, (inaudible) material which for the viewer is grand jury material is protected. People have a reasonable expectation of privacy that when they do give their testimony, it's going to be protected unless there's some circumstances that -- that lead you elsewhere.
In this instance, there were also a number of ongoing investigations. You mentioned the 14 referrals; 12 that we didn't know about before the report's release. So I'm certain they want to protect that. I'm comfortable with this being released in an unredacted form to the gang of eight, not comfortable with it going out to all of congress, but I'm sure there's people have differing opinions on that and see things a little differently.
WHITFIELD: And then Gabby, you know this investigation was one thing -- two years. You know, and some members of the House are happy at least that they've got the redacted version, but that doesn't stop so many committees from launching their own investigations. You have judiciary, you know, you have House Intelligence Committee, Oversight, Ways and Means. So, you know, is this really about transparency? Is that what the goal is or is it really in the pursuit of some sort of censure or something else?
GABBY ORR, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER FOR "POLITICO": You know it's a good question. I think a lot of House democrats are keen on figuring out what some of these redactions meant - some of the actions that President Trump may have asked his officials, his aides to pursue that were redacted in this report. They want clarity on that. There's a reason why many, many democrats in the House of Representatives are asking for and unredacted version so that they can continue these investigations so that they can drive closer to figuring out what some of those things are.
On the other hand, you have democratic leaders who are treading very carefully. If you watch the language used in the wake of the report, if you look at how they responded to some of their more progressive members calling for impeachment proceedings against President Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the House Majority Leader Hoyer, they're saying let's be very careful on how we approach this and I think that...
WHITFIELD: And is that caution because they're trying to gauge the voters? They are just not quite sure where the American people are on this or are they primarily thinking about how it potentially influences 2020?
ORR: It's probably a mix of both because if you look at public opinion, there's still a pretty large swath of voters who want everybody to move on from this investigation now that it's over. But then there also progressive members of the democratic base who really want the House Oversight committee and the House Judiciary Committee and a lot of these tools in the House of Representatives to sort of continue this investigative approach to the president and look beyond what was found in the Mueller report. His financial dealings and a lot of things that weren't necessarily addressed in this 448 page report and I think that they are trying to figure out how to walk that line, how to respond to both of those groups of democratic voters. WHITFIELD: And Mueller is letting the report speak for itself. He's
been quiet throughout the entire investigation and even post-game now. So Democrats are calling on Mueller to publicly testify before Congress. Jennifer, if he is indeed subpoenaed, will this be reluctantly that he appears or, you know, is he eager to kind of set the record straight, do you think?
RODGERS: Well, it's hard to say, but from what folks say about Mueller who worked with him and what we have seen from him during the course of the investigation, I think he will be reluctant to go beyond what he's already said in the report. He may fill in a little bit about how they got there and the process, but I think he's probably someone who just wants to let the work speak for itself. So, you know, I actually think it would be illuminating if he would go into kind of his thoughts of how Bill Barr has represented his work and what the president has been saying but I suspect that he won't - we won't want to do that.
WHITFIELD: And James, as everyone pours through, you know, these more than 400 pages, when you look at the conclusions or the details of the discoveries, are you, you know, impressed by what you see? Do you feel like this was a, you know, honest, thorough, investigation?
GAGLIANO: I do, Fred and I know you and I have had conversations before about former Director Mueller and I served under him 12 years at the FBI; half of my career. I did not agree with everything he did but I agree with Jennifer to her point. He is going to be very reticent to go public on this. He's going to let the work speak for itself. I think the most confounding thing for me was, I thought he'd call it straight up on the obstruction charge as he seemed to do so on the collusion charge but he didn't do so much on the obstruction of justice charge. What he did was lay out 10 incidents, kind of walked up to that line, talked about how Congress could view it if there was the (inaudible) of perjury.
WHITFIELD: And you don't think it's because he knew he really couldn't indict a president? So, giving them this information to Congress saying you do what you think is appropriate?
WHITFIELD: I really can't because of the Justice Department policy.
GAGLIANO: One hundred percent spot on Fred. So why not punt it back to Attorney General Barr and the deputy attorney general and say we found these things that are indictable but we cannot indict.
Some people have argued it's because of his humility and his sense of dignity and grace and professionalism that he's going to leave it to Congress and to the - to the political process if it needs to go there.
WHITFIELD: All right, James Gagliano, Jennifer Rodgers, Gabby Orr, thanks to all of you, appreciate it. Still ahead, U.S. Attorney General William Barr is coming under fire
for his handling of the Mueller report. Why some House democrats are calling on him to resign.
WHITFIELD: We are following breaking news out of Topeka, Kansas. Emergency crews there responding to a tiger attack at the Topeka Zoo. We're told the tiger attacked an employee. On the phone with us now is Molly Hadfield, Director of Media Relations for the City of Topeka. So what can you tell us about how this unfolded? How did the two find themselves in the same space?
MOLLY HADFIELD, DIRECTOR OF MEDIA RELATIONS FOR THE CITY OF TOPEKA: Hi Fredricka. About 9:15 this morning, the keeper and the tiger were in the same space.
Our keeper was injured and transported to the hospital by AMR(ph). She was awake and alert at the time. At that point the zoo then shut down for about 45 minutes where we put our tigers in holding. The zoo currently is back open after that but with tigers, we have to remember they are wild animals and, you know, when they are in the same space, things like this unfortunately can happen.
WHITFIELD: Well what do you know about why the zoo keeper was in the same space or what is, you know, the routine, if it's feeding time, you know, is it removing the tiger, you know, from the location where, you know, a zoo keeper might come in? What do you know about the circumstances? What brought the zoo keeper in that same space as the tiger?
HADFIELD: We currently don't know right now. That's something we are evaluating and trying to figure out. It happened not long ago so we are talking with staff and trying to figure out what happened.
WHITFIELD: Okay. Then I understand there were people who witnessed it. What can you tell me about that? Were they people who worked there or were these visitors of the zoo? What was seen?
HADFIELD: The zoo was open at that time, so there were some zoo visitors who did witness the incident. And at this point, that's all that I know. We are trying to gather more information right now.
WHITFIELD: OK, can you tell me anything more about the zoo keeper? How long has she been there? How is she doing, most importantly, right now? And what do you know about her?
HADFIELD: So, I don't want to give any personal information about her out right now. We do know that she is at the hospital and in stable condition.
WHITFIELD: OK. Well we are wishing her, of course, the best and we look forward to hearing more about how all of this happened. Molly Hatfield, thank you so much. All right, shifting gears quite a bit, U.S. Attorney General William
Barr coming under fire from critics after his generous summary of the Mueller report. Barr spent much of his Thursday press conference framing the special counsel report on the premise that its findings were favorable to President Donald Trump, emphasizing the report found no wrong doing by the president.
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: 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. At the same time, the president took no act that, in fact, deprived the special counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation.
WHITFIELD: With me now is Richard Ben-Veniste who is a former Watergate Special Prosecutor and a CNN Legal Analyst. Good to see you, Richard.
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, FORMER WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR AND CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Good morning.
WHITFIELD: So what were your thoughts when you were watching and listening as it was happening?
BEN-VENISTE: Well, I would say that Attorney General Barr was very generous toward Mr. Trump in suggesting that he gave full cooperation to the special counsel. I would say there's a big asterisk there. He refused to testify; he refused to meet with the special counsel. He refused to answer many, many, many questions that are still pending. So I think it...
WHITFIELD: But Barr then said, he described it as "unfettered access." He was voluntarily providing information.
BEN-VENISTE: Well, the independent counsel has subpoena power. If it wasn't provided voluntarily, it would have to be provided under subpoena. So I would say that it was less than an objective evaluation of what's in the report. The content of the 400-page report is very disturbing. While there is no evidence that was shown to have been found regarding the president or his campaigns active collaboration with the Russian intent to put their finger on the scale of the 2016 election, quite clearly, the Trump campaign was the beneficiary of an attempt by the Russians to affect the outcome. How much of the outcome was affected, we still don't know but it is something we need to be aware of for the future; the Russians didn't simply go away.
WHITFIELD: So, in addition to analyzing, you know, this 480-something page report, people are also trying to analyze, you know, William Barr. Why? You know, what's in it for him? How do you explain exactly as you described, you know, his description is in the antithesis of the body of the work.
And he came out of retirement. He wrote that memo, you know, in defense of the president. Why? Why jeopardize his legacy as a lawyer's lawyer?
BEN-VENISTE: Well I think you have to go back to the memorandum that he sent to the Justice Department that many have interpreted as a job application for attorney general. His views were predetermined and he simply has acted inconsistently with that predetermination. Look, the report lays out in chapter and verse at least ten different episodes of obstructive behavior by the president, lies and attempts to curtail the investigation, to reward those who don't cooperate with the investigation and to punish or warn those who are cooperating.
Under any traditional view of obstruction of justice such as we had in Watergate, where there was less tolerance in the country for presidential lying and obstructive behavior toward the Department of Justice and a grand jury, we found very similar actions being regarded as part of a conspiracy to obstruct justice and here, Mr. Mueller has provided a similar road map to the one provided in Watergate to the Congress for potential follow up.
Impeachment is not the only remedy. Certainly, there are lesser acts that can be taken, such as censure if there is outrage over the nature of the activities.
BEN-VENISTE: We still don't have answers.
BEN-VINESTE: The answers to the question of why the president was so protective of the Russians, why he continued to challenge the U.S. intelligence community.
WHITFIELD: Yes, those answers are not in that report.
BEN-VENISTE: Why did he do it?
BEN-VENISTE: You know, Americans normally use their God given common sense to answer questions like this.
WHITFIELD: Yes, and that same question of why is being asked of a Bill Barr. This attorney general has been attorney general before and overseen special counsels and investigations before, but it seems his motivation is, perhaps different or, you know, some believe it may be compromised. Still, it's why? Why is his approach to something like this unfolding the way in which it is? What would be Barr's motivation?
BEN-VENISTE: In the law there's an expression Fred...
WHITFIELD: What? BEN-VENISTE: ... in Latin -- res ipsa loquitur. It means 'the thing
speaks for itself.' I won't go beyond that. But objective analysts have not covered Mr. Barr in glory for his interpretation of the Mueller report.
WHITFIELD: We'll leave it there for now. Richard Ben-Veniste, always a pleasure. Thank you so much.
BEN-VENISTE: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: Coming up, a militia group takes the border crisis into its own hands, but many, including Customs and Border Protection are condemning the group. More, right after this.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, ANCHOR, CNN: Welcome back, New Mexico's attorney general says members of a self described militia group, the United Constitutional Patriots -- they call themselves, are stopping migrants crossing into the U.S. illegally, and then holding them for Border Patrol agents. In one incident this week, the group is seen on video holding nearly 300 people. CNN's Nick Valencia joining us now with more on this. This is pretty extraordinary, and that it's on video tape, tell us more.
NICK VALENCIA, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, these videos, these clips, are posted to social media and they purport to show this group, the United Constitutional Patriots taking into or intercepting migrants who have just illegally crossed the border.
Now this group, this militia group, their heavily armed, they're wearing military fatigues in some videos and some images they're wearing balaclava's, they're masked, and they do have weapons when they're intercepting these migrants, as you can see here, the video's here on your screen.
We have tried to reach out to this group unsuccessfully, but what they say according to the New York Times, what they're doing is lawful and they've equated it to a citizens arrest. Now in the video that we're about to show you, why people have taking expectation with this group is because in this video one of the members identifies themself as Border Patrol, and not only does he say he is Border Patrol, he seems to act like a Border Patrol agent as well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)