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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Attorney General William Barr Appears Before Senate. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 1, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:03]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: No, I don't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Is that perjury?

PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I'm not going to sit here on cable television and accuse the attorney general of perjury, but it's clearly not being straight. It's clearly not being transparent.

And it's odd, also, because, you know, he must have thought maybe it's not going to come out that this letter was sent. And, essentially, that report and the language used by Representative Crist mirrors and tracks almost exactly the language that Bob Mueller used in the letter that was already in the hands of Bill Barr when he said, I don't know what you're talking about.

So, I don't really get it. I don't know that it's an important enough thing in the scheme of other things that he said and other things that he's disputing. But it's really not a good look. And it's a very odd way for an attorney general to, I think, respond to a question that an ordinary person, not a parsing lawyer who's trying to get out of trouble, but an ordinary, normal, thoughtful person would not have answered it that way.

TAPPER: No, he would have said, well, actually, I had a conversation with Bob Mueller, and he said, blah, blah, blah, and I got these letters.

Let me ask you, looking forward, Democrats are questioning Barr's credibility as the attorney general, obviously, many calling for him to step down.

I think Congressman -- former -- I'm sorry -- former HUD Secretary Julian Castro has even gone so far as to call for his impeachment. There are these 12 criminal cases that Mueller handed off to other offices that we don't know what they are. There are 14 total, but we know what two of them are, these 12 other ones.

Take a listen to this exchange between Barr and Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): You can't recall whether you have discussed those cases with anyone in the White House, including the president of the United States?

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: My recollection is, I have not discussed those.

BLUMENTHAL: But you don't recall for sure?

BARR: I just...

BLUMENTHAL: Let me move on

BARR: I -- I -- I can -- I can say very surely I did not discuss the substance of any...

(CROSSTALK)

BLUMENTHAL: Will you recuse yourself from those investigations?

BARR: No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What did you make of that exchange? And do you think he should recuse himself?

BHARARA: I don't know.

He's not going to. He didn't recuse himself from the Mueller investigation as a whole, even though he wrote a memo unsolicited that pre-judged the whole obstruction issue.

I think that's something that Congress needs to pay very close attention to. And I think it's of a piece with other exchanges he had, including one with Senator Kamala Harris, where he said, I struggle with the word suggest on the question of whether the president or anyone else in the White House has suggested that he launch an investigation into some of Donald Trump's adversaries.

So, with respect to that, yes, I have legitimate concerns. It's odd that he was couching himself in these, you know, sort of wiggle words and saying, not about the substance.

You know, I wish that there had been more time for Senator Blumenthal and others to follow up on those questions and say, well, if it wasn't of substance, then what was it? And what kind of conversation might it possibly have been? Why would a name come up?

And maybe ask for some pledges going forward to give some information to Congress. But I think it's something to watch very, very carefully. TAPPER: And, lastly, the attorney general at one point seemed to put

himself in President Trump's shoes and say President Trump has been falsely accused. How did we get here? He was called treasonous. He was called a Russian spy. None of this was true.

What did you make of that? It was unusual, given how many times throughout the testimony he refused to judge lies that the president has told and actions that the president has made, but here he was putting himself in President Trump's shoes.

BHARARA: Yes, it doesn't -- again, like we have been saying, it doesn't present a balanced picture of somebody who is just going by the facts and is acting as the attorney general for everyone, as opposed to the personal lawyer and, you know, in some ways, a spin doctor for the president.

With respect to those particular words, it's actually interesting. I wonder what he would say about the fact that the president himself is using very loosely words like treason and coup and spying, which, you know, on another occasion today, the attorney general said it's a perfectly good English word, it has no pejorative content at all.

So there's a lot of weirdness about the words that are being used, the fighting over the words, whether it's the word firing, whether it's the word cooperation, whether it's the word suggest, whether it's the word summary, all seeming to be done in service of a president who he's trying to, you know, spin the facts about in a way that we haven't seen in a very, very long time.

TAPPER: All right, former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

BHARARA: Thanks, Jake. Sure.

TAPPER: What's going to happen next? Will the public ever get to hear directly from Bob Mueller?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:38:47]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLUMENTHAL: Did anyone, either you or anyone on your staff, memorialize your conversation with Robert Mueller?

BARR: Yes.

BLUMENTHAL: Who did that?

BARR: There were notes taken of the call.

BLUMENTHAL: May we have those notes?

BARR: No.

BLUMENTHAL: Why not?

BARR: Why should you have them?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That was Attorney General Bill Barr and Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, in the final combative exchange of Barr's hearing, Barr refusing to hand over notes to Congress on what could be a key phone call between him and special counsel Robert Mueller.

I want to bring in CNN justice reporter Laura Jarrett now.

Laura, Barr is supposed to have another hearing tomorrow on the House side. Is that hearing going to happen?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Really unclear at this point, Jake.

Barr has made it crystal clear he does not want to testify, especially if staff members are going to be asking him questions, staff counsel. He said he's not going to do it if that happens. He also doesn't want to talk about the unredacted version of the report behind closed doors.

He says he's happy to answer members' questions, but not under that format. So he may not come at all. We may see an empty chair.

But the real question after the last 24 hours in all of this reporting on the rift between Mueller and Barr is whether Mueller is going to testify. And if that happens, how exactly will he explain his concerns? We have now seen it in the letter. We have heard about the call, but he clearly has a story to tell, Jake.

[16:40:10]

TAPPER: All right, Laura Jarrett, thank you so much.

Let's chew this over with my experts here.

There's no way this ends without Mueller testifying, right? We already have -- there's so many questions that remain unanswered.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, right.

And, right now, it -- it -- what we understand is that Mueller wants to testify, and his DOJ isn't setting a date. Now, he doesn't have to be at the Justice Department forever. He could leave. So, either way...

TAPPER: That's right. He's still employed by the Justice Department.

(CROSSTALK)

KUCINICH: Yes, he's still employed by the Justice Department.

So he has to go kind of by what they say. And that's who Congress is working with to get him in there. But, yes, he's going -- I mean, I can't imagine that he's not going to testify in front of Congress. Do I think that will put an end to all of this? No.

This is going to go on in perpetuity. But I think it will answer a lot of questions that lawmakers and the American public have out there.

TAPPER: And in addition to whether or not Mueller will testify, which I can't imagine the Trump White House wants him to do, is the question of whether or not they're going to try to invoke executive privilege to keep Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, from testifying.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And that did not get cleared up today when they asked about that, when Bill Barr made clear -- he said, we have not waived executive privilege on that yet.

TAPPER: We.

COLLINS: We.

That's a discussion we have been having with a lot of White House people and DOJ people lately about whether or not they would try to block that, because we reported that when they first issued a subpoena for him, they were going to try to prevent him from testifying.

So, the question now is whether or not that's going to happen, based on what you heard today. I think Mueller is making pretty clear with this written record that he's made here, with this letter, that he has a problem with how this was perceived in the public for the first three weeks, that Barr continued to cite the media coverage of it today, even though that's not in the letter.

But I think one key thing that was missing from that today is there was another letter that Mueller wrote to Bill Barr, because in his letter that they released today from the Justice Department after it was reported on, he says, in my first letter to you.

So there was one letter from Mueller to Barr, a second letter, and then the call from Barr to Mueller. So, there are a lot of questions about what not -- or what all was said in that. But what's clear is, Mueller has an issue.

If McGahn did get up there, there would be more questions answered about whether or not there was that conflict of interest that McGahn said he did not believe was a conflict of interest that the president said he thought Mueller had.

TAPPER: It's such a cliche, Jen, but, in Washington, D.C., it's never the alleged crime. It's the cover-up.

And here we have President Trump, all this attention, really, is on whether or not he tried to obstruct justice, and not the conspiracy with Russia, which they did not find sufficient evidence to prosecute on.

And I guess one of the questions is, if you look in the Mueller report and you read the stuff about Don McGahn, that is really deep and complex stuff, because not only does the president tell him, essentially, get rid of Mueller. He then tries to get McGahn to lie about that, lie in McGahn's view.

And then he tries to get him to write a memo stating for the record, having nothing to do with "The New York Times" or "The Washington Post," stating like that he never asked him to fire Mueller. And, eventually, you know, with President Trump attacking McGahn so often, McGahn might feel the need to come forward and say, no, this is what happened.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No question.

I mean, he was taking clear notes and his assistant was taking clear notes, when he knew that there was an investigation under way. Anyone who's a lawyer, Don McGahn, obviously, Mueller, they know where this is going. When there's a written record of something, that is information that can be -- you know, can go to the public. And they did that knowing that, I think.

I think what's pivotal here is for Democrats to not get distracted by Barr. Yes, it's a call for him to resign. He doesn't care what he thinks, but that's good politics. Call for him to be impeached if you're a presidential candidate.

But this is about Donald Trump. The pivotal people are Mueller and Don McGahn for the Democrats to press on. And that what I think the House needs to be really focused on.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I agree.

I have been thinking about, how will these events that are playing out now in Congress play out on the campaign trail? And Bill Barr's idea that President Trump has been falsely accused sticks in my mind, because it sort of plays into the idea that they are above reproach, Donald Trump is above the law.

And when you see this pattern of the administration defying subpoenas, saying, we're not going to talk to you, and that these people are never held accountable for these actions, that's something that can stick in the craw of voters.

And if Democrats choose to use these events and make the 2020 election an accountability exercise, that could be powerful.

TAPPER: What did you think of Lindsey Graham -- as a fellow Republican, what did you think of Lindsey Graham saying, I'm not going to call Mueller, I'm not going to call Don McGahn?

CARPENTER: There used to be a time when Republicans cared about the rule of law. Lindsey Graham was one of those people. And that time has passed. TAPPER: Is that how the White House would see it? What do you think

their response would be? Obviously, they're happy Lindsey Graham is not going to call Bob Mueller.

COLLINS: They are. And they're actually downplaying the news that broke yesterday. They were exasperated by it because they thought, finally, the Mueller investigation had been put behind them. But now, today, with these reports, it had not.

[16:45:00] But they actually downplayed both Mueller -- or excuse me, Bill Barr appearing today because they said it's not going to change the underlying outcomes of this investigation so they feel like it's fine. They think Democrats are going to actually hurt themselves in the next election because they're focusing on it way too much and voters don't care.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Well see. The president fired off 58 re- tweets about something today. That's not even counter -- counting his Mueller frustration. What is he so focused on? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Back with breaking news. The White House firing back at Senate Democrats today making it clear they stand behind Attorney General Barr. Just moments ago, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tweeting, "Attorney General Bill Barr served President George H.W. Bush honorably as Attorney General, has done the same for President Trump. Democrats only disgrace and humiliate themselves with their baseless attacks on such a fine public servant."

The White House saying it's time to move on but did President Trump get that memo. CNN's Abby Phillip now reports from the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: I think people should start showing him some respect.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The White House today rushing to defend Attorney General Bill Barr. He was coming under fire for his decision to release a four-page summary that Special Counsel Robert Mueller said did not adequately represent the investigation's findings.

CONWAY: To impugn the integrity, reputation, character, and competence of Bill Barr and coming from certain people who are doing that is really rich.

PHILLIP: Some of those people Senate Democrats now calling for Mueller to clarify his concerns by testifying before Congress.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): I think we should hear from special counsel Mueller.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): We must hear from Director Mueller.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): Should he be allowed to testify before this?

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES: I've already said publicly. I have no objection to him.

PHILLIP: But the White House seemingly disagrees claiming the case is closed.

CONWAY: We've heard it all. What else do you want to hear?

PHILLIP: Aides tell CNN that regardless of Barr's summary, Trump was likely to latch on to the positive elements of the report anyway. But even with a rose-colored view of Mueller's findings, Trump today is still on the attack criticizing the Russia investigation and retweeting criticism nearly 60 times of a Firefighter Union's decision to endorse former Vice President Joe Biden.

As Trump sweats Biden in private and on social media, his aides insist he's not worried.

CONWAY: I don't think we're worried about Joe Biden. I think we're worried about different union endorsements so much as a little bit -- certainly not frustrated but a little bit bemused.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: And White House aides have been watching the hearing all day today and they seem to be pretty happy with what Bill Barr under oath testifying before Congress. He did give credence to a lot of things President Trump has been talking about, investigating the basis for the FISA warrant, investigating the Steele Dossier.

And President Trump gave a radio interview to the Boston Herald not long ago had he had this to say about Barr's testimony. He said I heard that the Attorney General was really, really solid and did a great job today, Jake.

TAPPER: I heard. All right, Abby Phillip, thank you so much. Let's talk more about it. One of the things, Amanda, that I found a little -- a little distressing in the hearing was the fact that the Attorney General did not say clearly and unequivocally if somebody who is from a foreign government offers you information on a rival on a campaign you should go to the FBI.

He later when asked about it said, well yes, if it's a former intelligent agent -- foreign intelligent agent. But you don't always know. I don't think Don Jr. had any idea who that lawyer was with the Russian government, and it seems like this is like almost like a theme. You have Rudy Giuliani telling me a couple of Sundays ago there's nothing wrong with taking information from the Russians.

You had Jared Kushner downplaying what the Russians did in the election interference is just a couple Facebook adds. Does this concern you at all?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Because I have no reason to believe that if these offers were made again in 2020 that the Trump campaign would turn them down. Why would they? They've suffered no consequence. And we know from the report that there was attempted collusion and many attempts at obstruction.

And so if there is no consequence, why wouldn't they do that again? Why wouldn't they welcome a barrage of Russian trolls to help them win the election in 2020? There was a factor. I'm not saying it was the factor that won Trump the election. I actually think Michael Cohen stuffing the hush payments and depriving the public, having that information probably had more effect.

But certainly part of Trump's momentum that allowed him to win the Republican primary was in part driven by social media that we know was a product of foreign influencer.

TAPPER: Jen Psaki, how much are Democrats saying to themselves, Democrats working on campaigns, we should just play by the same rules Trump does.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think they're having that thought in their minds. Look, I think what Senator Hirono did today was interesting because she didn't pretend like this was all on the level, and I think that's a lesson for Democrats. Whether you argue she went too far or not, I think Democrats need to stop pretending that Trump and the people on -- speaking on behalf of his administration are speaking the truth and being honest and start calling them out on that.

We saw people -- we saw some of the members a little more aggressive today, thought today was a very good day for Senator Harris. She was very strong, and firm, and clear, probably her best performance at one of these hearings, so I think they're going to be a little more aggressive. I don't think they're going to cross the line of accepting influence from foreign powers because they don't morally believe in that and Democrats will hold them accountable and I certainly hope they don't. But I do think they're going to be more aggressive about calling people out.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I think that's -- I think it's a lot like when we saw in the Republican field where Republicans were trying to be like Trump and they completely failed. I think that will happen to Democrats if they decide to try to play the game that Trump does. There's -- I mean, he's the only one who can do it. And there's -- they don't believe in it and I don't think they'll get away with it like he has.

COLLINS: And also I think campaigns in the future will look back at what the Trump administration has gone through, and that this investigation has completely loomed over his presidency the entire time, which the White House has feared, and they'll be more cautious going forward.

But also, you have to look at what kind of campaign people are running -- campaigns people are running because the Trump campaign in the last election was not the smoothest-running machine. And the first people who will tell you that are the people who worked on it. CARPENTER: Just real quick. There has not been a single reform for what happened on social media yet. And so I don't know why we are pretending like it won't happen again.

TAPPER: All right, we'll be right back with more on our breaking news about Barr's testimony. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: That's our coverage. You can follow me on Facebook or at Twitter @JAKETAPPER. You can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. We actually read them. Our coverage on CNN with the inevitable Wolf Blitzer continues right now. Thanks for watching.