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Attorney General Barr Faces Lawmakers After Mueller Objected To Report Summary; Attorney General Barr Testifies Before Senate Judiciary Committee. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired May 1, 2019 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The facts stated, were as they were and they should have been released, and I have repeatedly asked you to do so.
And more than three weeks later, when by before you had Barr give a hearing in a conference in front of everyone and then wait an additional 90 minutes before providing it.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we know that Barr has been completely dismissive of Mueller's legal theory of obstruction, and he made that very clear in his four-page letter. He said, well, I considered them. I disagreed with them. So I'm wondering how much of a surprise it actually came to Barr as that -- I mean, to Mueller that Barr did at this.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: And, I mean, one thing to keep in mind how easy it would have been for Barr to have done the right thing here, to release the report and to release the executive summaries, to offer his own opinion, he could have also given his read on whether he thought this was obstruction, but to give that minimal level of transparency to preserve his own credibility and integrity, it really is baffling why someone with his record could just do this.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: I want Elie to weigh in. But just to let me set the scene at the top of the hour, looking at live pictures of the Senate Judiciary Committee right now. The testimony is about to begin. We'll be hearing from the Chairman, Lindsey Graham, with an opening statement, the ranking member Senator Dianne Feinstein of California with an opening statement, we assume, and then Attorney General of the United States, Bill Barr, will be sworn in.
Each senator will then have seven minutes to ask questions. They'll go back and forth between republicans and democrats, and that will be the first round. We don't know if there will be a second round, but this will be intense, Elie.
ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It will be, Wolf, and I think further intensified by this letter. So two things jump out at me. First of all, even after he got this letter from Robert Mueller saying, please released the summaries. Bill Barr still sat on those summaries for 3.5 weeks, and let's remember how devastating those summaries are. We've now all see them. Those summaries lay out the 11 different potentially obstructive acts by the President. Imagine if those had come out on March 24th when Bob Mueller wanted them to come out. Those summaries lay out the fact that the Trump campaign -- no criminal conspiracy, but knew about and expected to benefit from the Russian hack of Hillary Clinton and the DNC. Again, first impressions are powerful. Imagine if they came out back in March 24th.
BLITZER: Bill Barr is now arriving. He's sitting down. We will listen to this.
We are also told by our White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, that officials there, obviously, are going to be paying very, very close attention to the Q & A, what unfolds over the next several hours. And --
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Can I raise one question? I'm just curious.
BLITZER: Maybe you know the answer to this, Jim. Why did he wait 3.5 weeks before even releasing the summaries that Mueller and his team had prepared, brief summaries on both of these issues, conspiracy and obstruction? Why not release those? They were ready to go.
SCIUTTO: He appeared to want to color the findings before they came out in the public eye. He did it with the summary, he did it with the press conference before releasing the full report. I mean, that's a question he should face.
And I think this is the question. Will Congress do its job here now of oversight outside of partisan politics? Will it be purely democrats asking hard questions and pushing for consequences and republicans defending or will some be willing to go outside those partisan lines? Because Bob Mueller clearly in this letter makes it clear that this is Congress' decision. He wants it to go to Congress. Will Congress perform that job of oversight outside of partisan? It's a test.
BLITZER: I suspect, and, Jim, you can correct me if I'm wrong, that a lot of republicans will be asking Barr about his assertion earlier that there was spying on the Trump campaign in 2016 during the Obama administration. I suspect we'll be hearing a bunch of questions from republicans along that allegation.
SCIUTTO: As we did in prior hearing as well. So will any of these members here be willing to ask questions outside of that kind of partisan purview? That's a test. I mean, is it a constitutional crisis? I don't know. It's a constitutional test.
HENNESSEY: There's difficult substantive questions here as to how Barr can justify his conclusion that this conduct doesn't support a charge of obstruction of justice. Robert Mueller's report makes quite clear that on multiple instances every statutory element of obstruction of justice statutes are met but he finds no plausible legal evidence. Now, Bill Barr has said, I don't think there's -- I don't agree with his legal theory but he has actually not articulated any defensible reason as to how any lawyer could read this and conclude there's not the potential for criminal obstruction.
BORGER: Well, he was dismissive in his letter. He was completely dismissive of Bob Mueller's legal theory and that is why Bob Mueller, in his letter, said that because there is now public confusion about their work that it undermines the Special Counsel, which is supposed to assure full public --
BLITZER: All right, hold on a minute. Chairman of the committee, Lindsey Graham, is speaking.
SEN LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): The Attorney general will be testifying here in a bit about the Mueller report. And I want to thank him for coming to the committee and giving us an explanation as to the actions he took and why he took them regarding the Mueller report.
And here is the good news. Here is the Mueller report. You can read it for yourself. It's about 400 and something pages. I can't say I've read it all but I've read most of it. There's an unredacted version over in the classified section of the Senate, a room where you can go look at the unredacted version. And I did that and found it not to change anything in terms of an outcome, but a bit about the Mueller report.
Who is Mueller? For those of you who may not know, I don't know where you've been but you may not know, but Bob Mueller has a reputation in this town and throughout the country as being an outstanding lawyer and a man of the law who was the FBI Director, who was the Deputy Attorney General who was in charge of the criminal division at the Department of Justice. He was a United States marine, and he has served his country in a variety of circumstances long and well.
For those who took time to read the report, I think it was well written, very thorough and let me tell you what went into this report. There were 19 lawyers employed, approximately 40 FBI agents, intel analysts, forensic accountants and other staff, 2,800 subpoenas issued, 500 witnesses interviewed, 500 search warrants executed, more than 230 orders for communication records so the records could be obtained, 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence, over $25 million spent over two years years.
We may not agree on much but I hope we can agree he had ample resources, took a lot of time and talked to a lot of people. And you can read for yourself what he found. The Attorney General will tell us a bit about what his opinion of the report is.
In terms of interacting with the White House, the White House turned over to Mr. Mueller 1.4 million documents and records, never asserted executive privilege one time, over 20 white house staffers, including eight from the White House Counsel's office were interviewed voluntarily. Don McGhan, Chief Counsel for the White House, was interviewed for over 30 hours.
Everybody that they wanted to talk to from the Trump campaign on the ground, they were able to talk to. The President submitted himself to written interrogatories. So to the American people, Mr. Mueller was the right guy to do this job. I always believed that Attorney General Sessions was conflicted out because he was part of the campaign. He was the right guy with ample resources and the cooperation he needed to find out what happened was given, in my view.
But there were two campaigns in 2016 and we'll talk about the second one in a minute. So what have we learned from this report? After all this time and all this money, Mr. Mueller and his team concluded there was no collusion. I didn't know, like many of you here, on the republican side, we all agreed that Mr. Mueller should be allowed to do his job without interference.
I joined with some colleagues on the other side to introduce a legislation to protect the Special Counsel that they could only be removed for cause. He was never removed. He was allowed to do his job. So no collusion, no coordination, no conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government regarding the 2016 election.
As to obstruction of justice, Mr. Mueller left it to Mr. Barr to decide after two years and all this time. He said, Mr. Barr, you decide. Mr. Barr did. A bunch of lawyers on this committee, and I will tell you the following.
You have to have specific intent to obstruct justice. If there is no underlying crime, pretty hard to figure out what intent might be if there was never a crime to begin with.
The President never did anything to stop Mueller from doing his job. So I guess the theory goes now, okay, he didn't collude with the Russians and he didn't specifically do anything to stop Mueller but attempted obstruction of justice of a crime that never occurred, I guess, is sort of the new standard around here. We'll see if that make necessary sense. To me, it doesn't.
Now, there was another campaign, it was the Clinton campaign. What did we learn from this report? The Russians interfered in our election. So can some bipartisanship come out of this? I hope so. I intend to work with my colleagues on the other side to introduce the deter act and to introduce legislation to defend the integrity of the voting system.
Senator Durbin and I have legislation that would deny anyone admittance into the United States a visa through the immigration system if they were involved in interfering in an American election. I'm working with Senator Whitehouse and Blumenthal to make sure that if you hack into a state election system, even though it's not tied to the internet, that's a crime.
I would like to do more to harden our infrastructure because the Russians did it. It wasn't some 400-pound guy sitting on a bed somewhere. It was the Russians, and they're still doing it. And it could be the Chinese, it could be somebody next. So my takeaway from this report is that we've got a lot of work to do to defend democracy against the Russians and other bad actors, and I promise the committee we will get on with that work hopefully in a bipartisan fashion.
The other campaign. The other campaign was investigated not by Mr. Mueller, by people within the Department of Justice. The accusation against the Clinton, Secretary Clinton, was that she set a private server up somewhere in her house and classified information was on it to avoid the disclosure requirements and the transparency requirements required of being Secretary of State. So that was investigated.
What do we know? We know that the person in charge of investigating hated Trump's guts. I don't know how Mr. Mueller felt about Trump but I don't think anybody on our side believes that he had a personal animosity toward the President to the point he couldn't do his job.
This is what Strzok said on February the 12th 2016. Now, he is in charge of the Clinton email investigation. He's Trump's abysmal. I keep hoping the charade will end and people will just dump him, February 12th, 2016.
Page is the Department of Justice lawyer assigned to this case, March 23rd, 2016. God, Trump is loathsome human being. Strzok, oh, my God, Trump's an idiot. Page, he's awful. Strzok, God, Hillary should win 100 million to nothing.
Compare those two people to Mueller. March 16th, 2016, I cannot believe Trump is likely to be an actual serious candidate for president. July the 1st, 2016, Trump is a disaster. I have no idea how destabilizing his presidency would be. August the 8th, 2016, three days before Strzok was made Deputy acting in charge of the Counterintelligence division of the FBI. He is never going to become president, right? Page to Strzok, no, no he won't. We'll stop him.
These are the people investigating the Clinton email situation and start the counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign. Compare them to Mueller.
August the 15th, 2016, Strzok, I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy's office that there's no way he gets elected but I'm afraid we can't take that risk. It's like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you're 40. August 26th, 2016. Just went to the Southern Virginia Walmart. I could smell the Trump support.
October 19th, 2016, Trump is a (EXPLETIVE) idiot. He's unable to provide a coherent answer. Sorry to the kids out there.
These are the people that made a decision that Clinton didn't do anything wrong and the counterintelligence investigation, Trump investigation was warranted. We're going to end a bipartisan by a whole deal (ph) with Russia. But when the Mueller report was put to bed, and it soon will be, this committee is going to look long and hard in how this all started. We're going to look at the FISA warrant process.
Did Russia provide Christopher Steele the information about Trump that turned out to be garbage, that was used to get a warrant on an American citizen? And if so, how did the system fail? Or is there a real effort between Papadoupolos and anybody in Russia to use the Clinton emails stolen by the Russians or is that thought planted in his mind? I don't know but we're going to look. And I can tell you this, if you change the names, you're all going to look too. Everything I just said just substitute Clinton for Trump and see what all these people with cameras would be saying out here about this.
As to cooperation in the Clinton investigation, I told you what the Trump people did. I'll tell you a little bit about what the Clinton people did. There was a protective order for the server issued by the House and there was a request by the State Department to preserve all the information on the server.
Paul Combetta, after having the protective order, used a software program called BleachBit to wipe this email server clean. Has anybody ever heard of Paul Combetta? No. Under protective order from the House to preserve the information, under request from the State Department to preserve the information on the server, he used a BleachBit program to wipe it clean. What happened to him? Nothing.
18 devices possessed by Secretary Clinton she used to do business as Secretary, how many of them were turned over to the FBI? None. Two of them couldn't be turned over because Judith Casper took a hammer and destroyed two of them. What happened to her? Nothing.
So the bottom line is, we're about to hear from Mr. Barr the results of a two-year investigation into the Trump campaign, all things Russia, the actions that the President took before and after the campaign, $25 million, 40 FBI agents.
I appreciate very much what Mr. Mueller did for the country. I have read most of the report. For me, it is over.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and welcome, Attorney General.
On March 24th, you sent a letter to Chairman Graham and the ranking member of this committee providing your summary of the principal conclusions set out in Special Counsel Mueller's report. This letter was widely reported as a win for the President and was characterized as confirming there was no conclusion.
Following this letter, the White House put out a statement declaring the Special Counsel, and I quote, the Special Counsel did not find any collusion and did not find any obstruction, end quote. And that the report, quote, was a total and complete exoneration, end quote, of the President.
However, last night, The Washington Post reported that Special Counsel Mueller sent you a letter in late March, where he said your letter to Congress failed to, quote, fully capture the context, nature and substance of his office's work and conclusions, end quote. And that he spoke with you about the concern that the letter threatened to undermine the public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.
That's in quotes as well.
Then on April 18th, you held a press conference where you announced repeatedly that the Mueller report found no collusion and no evidence of a crime. An hour later, a redacted copy of the Mueller report was provided to the public and the Congress, and we saw why Mueller was concerned.
Contrary to the declarations of the total and complete exoneration, the Special Counsel's report contained substantial evidence of misconduct. First, Special Counsel Mueller's report confirms that the Russian government implemented a social media campaign to mislead millions of Americans and that Russian intelligence services hacked into the DNC and the DCCC computers, stole emails and memos and systematically released them to impact the presidential election.
Your March letter stated that there was no evidence that the Trump campaign, quote, conspired or coordinated with Russia, end quote. However, the report out lined substantial evidence that the Trump campaign welcomed, encouraged and expected to benefit electorally from Russia's interference in the election.
The Mueller report also details how time and time again, the Trump campaign took steps to gain advantage from Russia's unlawful interference. For example, President Trump's campaign manager, Paul Manafort, passed internal campaign polling data, messaging and strategy updates to Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian national with ties to Russian intelligence.
The Mueller report explains how Paul Manafort briefed Kilimnik in early August of 2016 on, and I quote, the state of the Trump campaign and Manafort's plan to win the election, end quote, including the campaign's focus on the battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Minnesota.
Next, the Mueller report documents the Trump campaign's communications regarding Secretary Clinton's and the DNC's stolen emails. Specifically, the report states, and I quote, within approximately five hours of President Trump calling on Russia to find Secretary Clinton's emails, Russian intelligence agency GRU officers, quote, targeted for the first time Clinton's personal office, end quote.
The Mueller report also reveals that President Trump repeatedly asked individuals affiliated with his campaign, including Michael Flynn, quote, to find the deleted Clinton emails, end quote. These efforts included suggestions to contact foreign intelligence services, Russian hackers and individuals on the dark web. The report confirms that Trump knew of WikiLeaks' releases of the stolen emails and received status about -- status updates about upcoming releases while his campaign promoted coverage of the leaks. Donald Trump Jr. communicated directly with WikiLeaks and, at its request, publicly Tweeted a link to emails stolen from Clinton's campaign manager.
Second, in your March letter to Congress, you concluded, and I quote, that the evidence is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction of justice offense, end quote. However, Special Counsel Mueller methodically outlines ten episodes, some continuing multiple actions by the President to mislead the American people and interfere with the investigations into Russian interference and obstruction.
In one example, the President repeatedly called White House Counsel, Don McGahn, at home and directed him to fire Mueller saying, quote, Mueller has to go. Call me back when you do it.
Then later, the President repeatedly ordered McGahn to release a press statement and write a letter saying the President did not order Mueller fired.
The Mueller report also outlines efforts by President Trump to influence witness testimony and deter cooperation with law enforcement. For example, the President's team communicated to witnesses that pardons would be available if they, quote, stayed on message, end quote, and remain, quote, on the team, end quote.
In one case, the President sent messages through his personal lawyers to Paul Manafort that he would be taken care of and just, quote, sit tight, end quote. The President then publicly affirmed this communication by stating that Manafort was, quote, a brave man, end quote, for refusing to break.
Similarly, the Mueller report stated, the President used inducements in the form of positive messages in an effort to get Michael Cohen not to cooperate and then turn to attacks and intimidation to deter the provision of information or undermine Cohen's credibility.
Finally, while the March letter to Congress and the April press conference left the impression there were no remaining questions to examine, this report notes several limitations Mueller faced while gathering the facts that Congress needed to examine. More than once, the report documents that legal conditions -- excuse me, conclusions were not drawn because witnesses refused to answer questions or failed to recall the events.
In addition numerous witnesses, including but not limited to Jared Kushner, Sarah Sanders, Rudolph Giuliani, Michael Flynn, Steve Bannon and John Kelly all stated they could not recall events. The president himself said more than 30 times that he could not recall or remember enough to be able to answer written questions from the Special Counsel.
The Special Counsel also recounted that, quote, some associated with the Trump campaign deleted relevant communications or communicated during the relevant period using applications that featured encryption or do not provide for long-term retention of data, end quote. Based on these gaps, Mueller report concluded, and I quote again, the office cannot rule out the possibility that the unavailable information would have shed additional light on or cast a new light on events described in the report, end quote. And contrary to the conclusion that the Special Counsel's report did not find evidence of communication or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, the Mueller report explicitly states, and I quote, a statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean there was no evidence of those facts. Volume two, page two.
Let me conclude with this. Congress has both the constitutional duty and the authority to investigate the serious findings contained in the Mueller report. I strongly believe that this committee needs to hear directly from Special Counsel Mueller about his views on the report in his March 24th letter. I also believe senators should have the opportunity to ask him about these subjects in questions directly. I have requested this to our Chairman to authorize a hearing with Special Counsel Mueller, and I hope that will happen soon.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
GRAHAM: Thank you.
Before we receive your testimony, Mr. Barr, we have the letter that Mr. Mueller sent to you march 27th, 2019. I'll put that in the record now. The floor is yours. I've got to start again, sorry.
Do you solemnly swear that the testimony you're about to give this committee is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, swear to God?
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes.
GRAHAM: Sorry about that.
BARR: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and ranking member Feinstein, members of the committee.