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Dems Call on Barr to Resign as He Downplays Russia Report and Defends Handling in Wake of Criticism from Mueller; Source Says Barr Not Expected to Testify Tomorrow; Democrats Call On Barr To Resign As He Downplays Russia Report And Defends Handling In Wake Of Mueller Criticism; Barr Calls Mueller's Letter Objecting To His Summary Of Report A Bit Snitty. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired May 1, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER: You can Tweet the show @TheLeadCNN, we actually read them.
Our coverage on CNN with the inimitable Wolf Blitzer continues right now. Thanks for watching.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: Happening now, breaking news, Barr sinks in a contentious hearing. The Attorney General William Barr strongly defends his handling of the Mueller report and his controversial summary of the findings. Democrats accuse him of misleading and lying. And tonight, a growing number of them are calling for Barr to resign.
Under the bus. Throughout the hearing, Barr appears to disparage his longtime friend, Robert Mueller, even insinuating that the Special Counsel didn't do his job and calling Mueller's letter critical of Barr, and I'm quoting now, a bit snitty. Will Mueller be called to testify to lawmakers as well?
Eats your soul. Fired FBI Director James Comey publishes a scathing rebuke of Barr even as the Attorney General was testifying. Comey saying that accomplished people lacking inner strength compromised as the President devours their integrity, and I'm quoting him now, in small bites.
And Tweet insanity. President Trump spirals out of control on Twitter, spending the morning Tweeting and re-Tweeting, including trolls and bots, more than, get this, 60 times, one of the re-Tweets, a person who changed his handle to a four-letter insult of the President.
I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in The Situation Room.
We're following breaking news. Growing calls from top democrats for the Attorney General, William Barr, to resign, coming as he testified before the House Judiciary Committee about the Mueller report. Barr downplayed the Special Counsel's findings in his obstruction of justice investigation of the President and defended his own handling of the report, this after the revelation of a bombshell letter from Mueller, objecting to Barr's characterization of his Russia probe. We'll talk about the breaking news with a key member of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Richard Blumenthal. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's get the details on the latest truly remarkable developments. Our Political Correspondent, Sara Murray, is working this story for us. Sara, Barr strongly defended himself and President Trump as he was grilled for some four hours.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We really saw a defiant Attorney General there defending the President and also defending himself, insisting he didn't mislead congress, even though he wasn't particularly forthcoming about his conversations with Robert Mueller before his last time on Capitol Hill. You can imagine how that sat with democrats.
Attorney General William Barr in the hot seat today.
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: And it was my decision how and when to make it public, not Bob Mueller's.
MURRAY: Barr defending his rollout of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report just hours after it was revealed that Mueller criticized Barr for mischaracterizing his conclusions.
BARR: His work concluded when he sent his report to the Attorney General. At that point, it was my baby.
MURRAY: Mueller initially raised objections on March 25th, a day after Barr sent his four-page summary to Congress. On March 27th, Mueller reiterated his concerns, writing, there is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the department appointed the Special Counsel to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.
BARR: I said, Bob, what's with the letter? You know, why don't you just pick up the phone and call me if there's an issue.
MURRAY: Barr recounted the call he had with Mueller after receiving the letter.
BARR: He said that they were concerned about the way the media was playing this and felt that it was important to get out the summaries, which they felt would put their work in proper context and avoid some of the confusion that was emerging. And I asked him if he felt that my letter was misleading or inaccurate and he said, no.
MURRAY: But Mueller does not mention media coverage in his letter, instead writing that Barr did not fully capture the context, nature and substance of this office's work and conclusions. Senators pounced. SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): This letter was an extraordinary act, a career prosecutor rebuking the Attorney General of the United States, memorializing in writing, right?
BARR: The letter is a bit snitty and I think it was probably written by one of his staff people.
MURRAY: Mueller also pressed Barr to release the summaries the investigators had written, something Barr did not do until he released the full report.
BARR: I said to him, I wasn't interested -- the fact is, we didn't have readily available summaries that had been fully vetted.
MURRAY: Now, democrats are accusing Barr of lying to Congress when he said this on April 10th, just weeks after Mueller expressed his concerns.
SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): Did bob Mueller support your conclusion?
BARR: I don't know whether bob Mueller supported my conclusion.
MURRAY: Today, Barr evaded explaining that discrepancy, instead bringing up a different answer from a different hearing.
BARR: The question was relating to unidentified members who were expressing frustration over the accuracy relating to findings. I don't know what that refers to at all.
MURRAY: Democrats weren't buying it.
SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): You lied. And now we know.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): Mr. Barr, your -- I feel your answer was purposefully misleading and I think others do too.
MURRAY: Barr also parried questions about why he concluded President Trump's conduct, like trying to fire Mueller, did not rise to obstruction of justice.
BARR: There is a distinction between saying to someone, go fire him, go fire Mueller, and saying, have him removed based on conflict. They have different results.
MURRAY: But Mueller did not see that distinction writing in the more than 400-page report, that in seeking to fire the Special Counsel, the President sought to exclude his and his campaign's conduct from the investigation's scope. Barr argued that without a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians, an obstruction case was tough to make.
BARR: An obstruction case typically has two aspects to it. One, there's usually an underlying criminality -- SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Let's stop right there.
GRAHAM: Was there an underlying crime here?
MURRAY: Now, democrats also expressed concern that Bill Barr will now be seeing more than a dozen offshoot investigations from the Special Counsel's probe. Barr says he has no plans to recuse from those matters. Wolf?
BLITZER: I want you to stay with us, Sara. Evan Perez, our Senior Justice Correspondent, is with us. Our Chief Legal Analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, is with us as well. Evan, as you know, Barr called the Mueller letter was critical of his original letter, and I'm quoting him now, a bit snitty. They're known to be very good friends. But is there daylight between these two men right now?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I think there's a lot of daylight, Wolf. I think what we saw today, and you heard from Bill Barr's description of him receiving this letter and picking up the phone to tell -- to talk to Bob Mueller, and beginning the conversation was like, what's with the letter? I think that tells you everything right there. I think, as we've said today, a lot -- the fact that Mueller wrote this letter is everything. You don't write letters like this inside the Justice Department unless you want to memorialize it, unless you want it eventually to become public.
And again, it shows that there's a real division between what Bill Barr says, this investigation found, and it's clear, Bill Barr doesn't think much of this investigation. And Bob Mueller, who conducted this investigation, believes that there's a lot there, but, again, did not arrive at a conclusion on obstruction in part because the President is the sitting President and cannot be indicted.
BLITZER: Yes. And it's not, Jeff, the only complaint that Barr had on Mueller, not just this letter, but he seemed to be complaining that Mueller really didn't do his job in avoiding the final decision on obstruction of justice.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, I found that one of many extraordinary things Barr said. Because Barr said, look, if he wanted to say that Trump should be indicted, he should have just said that Trump should be indicted. But Mueller was following the policy of the Department of Justice he couldn't indict Trump. He knew he couldn't indict Trump. And the whole reason he didn't come to that conclusion, as he said, was because he didn't want to have an unfair situation where he made an accusation to which Trump didn't have a form to defend himself. So the idea that Mueller sort of dropped the ball or was too lazy or too incompetent to come to a conclusion seems precisely wrong here.
BLITZER: How significant, Evan, will all of this be when Mueller finally, and I assume it will happen probably sooner rather than later, when Mueller appears before the congressional committee?
PEREZ: Well, it's imperative that he does. And according to Bill Barr, he has no objection to this. So I think it's clear that the house democrats will probably be the venue for that, according to Lindsey Graham, he's not very interested. But, again, if Lindsey Graham, as you heard in the hearing today, Lindsey Graham says that he wants to investigate the investigators. He wants to get to the bottom of this. Well, part of that involves Robert Mueller.
And I think it's imperative for you to hear from Robert Mueller as part of that. I can't imagine that you would do that without hearing from Robert Mueller. And again, he's still an employee of the Justice Department for the time being. So you could use that as a way to get him in there. But I don't really understand why so reluctant.
MURRAY: I also can't imagine Lindsey Graham if, you know, the situation were reversed, and, you know, it was a republican situation. You know, he would, of course, want to speak to the person who was overseeing this investigation if there was such a gulf between this.
And that was really perplexing to me to see Lindsey Graham say --
BLITZER: If there were a democratic Attorney General, of course, he would. There are, what, about 14 other cases that have been spun off from the Mueller probe. The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, other U.S. attorneys are investigating. I didn't sense we got a really clear answer from Barr today on whether or not he's discussed any of these other cases, 12 of them of whom we don't know anything about with officials over at the White House.
MURRAY: Right. We got this sort of lawyerly, you know, not to my knowledge, I don't recall. And he said said, you know, I'm essentially pretty sure that I haven't had these conversations. But I think it's interesting because you point out, you know, a dozen of these investigations we really know nothing about. A couple of them we do, including Roger Stone. And you can imagine that President Trump might be interested to know what is going to happen to his longtime political adviser.
It's also an interesting case because Roger Stone is in trouble for obstructing justice and witness tampering, but he's not in trouble for an underlying crime. And if you are Attorney General William Barr, apparently, you don't necessarily think someone can be in trouble for obstructing justice if they haven't committed this underlying crime. So I think there's a lot of reason to question what the sort of backchannel discussions might be and if there are any and if there could be some in the future.
BLITZER: Yes, we know about Roger Stone and Michael Cohen, those investigations were spun off. But there are about 12 others that we don't know much about, if anything. Jeff, is there a chance, and you've covered this kind of business for a long time, that Barr could be forced to resign over all of this? TOOBIN: I can't imagine that happening. You know, the more confrontational he is with Congress, the better the President likes him. And the President is his boss. What we saw today was a unified Democratic Party critical of Barr and a unified Republican Party supportive of him and urging him yet again, yet again, to have the Justice Department investigate Hillary Clinton's emails. You almost couldn't believe it if you didn't hear it with your own ears.
But starting with Lindsey Graham, we heard again that the republicans want Hillary Clinton's e-mails investigated. And nothing could please the President more. And he's the person who's calling the shots here.
BLITZER: Yes. He repeatedly seemed like the President of the United States was the victim in all of this.
TOOBIN: That, to me, was some of the most extraordinary testimony of the day, that, you know, Barr said on several different occasions, look, we spent two years investigating collusion and the President was exonerated. No wonder he was upset. I mean, it was exactly the opposite of how this investigation actually began. This investigation began when the President fired James Comey, an act that a Mueller ultimately found was possible obstruction of justice.
What Barr has done, and this came out throughout the day, is Barr has said the obstruction is really just peripheral and not important and not relevant. What's relevant is that Mueller found no collusion. But, in fact, you know, obstruction has been in the heart of this case since Mueller was appointed.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by, Jeffrey, including you. We're going to have you all back. There's a lot more to discuss. But right now, I want to bring in a key member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Senator, thanks so much for coming in.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
BLITZER: You say the Attorney General of the United States, William Barr, should resign. What did you hear today that led you to that conclusion?
BLUMENTHAL: What I heard today was continuing evasive, disingenuous and outright deceptive answers to our questions. The Mueller letter was a stunning rebuke. William Barr characterized it as snitty.
BLITZER: A bit snitty.
BLUMENTHAL: A bit snitty.
BLITZER: He also said it was probably written by one of Mueller's staffers.
BLUMENTHAL: Well, let's be very blunt. Bob Mueller does not allow someone else to write that kind of letter for him. It was very carefully crafted. He refers to the context, nature and conclusions, and says that the mischaracterization of them is undermining public confidence in the work of his investigations. This letter memorializes sentiments that go to the core of William Barr's credibility and that's the reason he has to resign, because he has devastated his own credibility.
BLITZER: Do you think the Attorney General perjured himself either today or in the very recent previous testimony?
BLUMENTHAL: Perjury is a pretty serious charge.
BLITZER: You speak as a former attorney general in Connecticut.
BLUMENTHAL: And I speak as a former attorney general and a former federal prosecutor. I want to review those transcripts, but let's look at what he said in response to my colleague, Chris Van Hollen, he said that he didn't know whether Bob Mueller supported his conclusions, exactly the word that Bob Mueller used to say that William Barr was mischaracterizing his conclusions.
So I think there is a really serious question here that, at the very least, put aside the legalities, goes to his ethical standing for this position.
BLITZER: Will you go as far as some of your democratic colleagues are already doing and recommending impeachment of the Attorney General?
BLUMENTHAL: I think that Attorney General William Barr ought to recognize that he has an obligation to resign here. I have called it at the very least for him to recuse himself from those 12 to 14 ongoing investigations into the President of the United States in other jurisdictions. He declined. In fact, he ducked the question entirely as to whether he has had any conversations with the White House about them. He said he couldn't recall, a response that is very difficult to believe. So I think he should resign.
BLITZER: All right. Let me play this clip and then we'll continue this. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLUMENTHAL: I want to ask you whether on those remaining investigations, the 12 to 14 investigations, whether you have had any communication with anyone in the White House.
BLUMENTHAL: And will you give us an ironclad commitment that you will, in no way --
BARR: By the way, I'm not sure -- you know, the laundry list of investigations, but I certainly haven't talked the substance or been directed to do anything on any of the cases.
BLUMENTHAL: Well, let me give you an opportunity to clarify. Have you had any conversations with anyone in the White House about those ongoing investigations that were spawned or spun off by --
BARR: I don't recall having any substantive discussions on the investigation.
BLUMENTHAL: Have you had any non-substantive discussion?
BARR: It's possible that the name of a case was mentioned.
BLUMENTHAL: And have you provided information about any of those ongoing investigations, any information whatsoever?
BARR: I don't recall, no.
BLUMENTHAL: You don't recall?
BARR: I don't recall providing any --
BLUMENTHAL: Wouldn't you recall about whether you gave information to somebody in the White House about an ongoing criminal investigation in the Southern District of New York or the Eastern District of New York or the Eastern District of Virginia or the Department of Justice?
BARR: Yes. I mean, I just don't recall providing any substantive information about a case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So what are your concerns about the way he answered your questions?
BLUMENTHAL: Well, let's recognize, Wolf, that the Mueller report details communications between the White House and Jeff sessions, when he was Attorney General, and attempts to interfere with the ongoing then Special Counsel investigation. That is part and parcel of one of the key claims in the Mueller report about obstruction of justice. For William Barr to be having those same kinds of conversations raises the specter of this ongoing political interference in the Department of Justice.
BLITZER: Well, do you have any evidence that he may have done any of these things that you were asking about?
BLUMENTHAL: I have no specific evidence, but we are going to be looking for it. And I think our committee has plan obligation to find it. And that's the reason that I also asked for the notes that were taken when he and Bob Mueller had a conversation after Bob Mueller wrote his letter objecting to Barr's mischaracterization.
BLITZER: Well, he said he did confirm there was a memorandum of that conversation that was put down on paper. But he also said he's not going to make it available to you.
BLUMENTHAL: Well, let's see whether he does or not, because I think my republican colleagues are facing a moment of reckoning. Yes, they have, the majority of the committee. They've so far indicated very little interest in getting the truth here. But I think they have an obligation to do more. And I hope that we can subpoena those records because there is no privilege at least that's been asserted that would enable the republicans to conceal those notes of a key conversation goes to the core of Mueller's obstruction to Barr, in effect, creating this false narrative, spawning and sponsoring it across the nation.
BLITZER: The hearing this morning started at 10:00 A.M., wrapped up at 3:00 P.M., there was a one-hour break for lunch, but it continued. Lindsey Graham, at the end of all of this, at the end of the day, he made it clear for him, it's over, no need for anymore hearings, no need to question Mueller, no need to question former White House Counsel Don McGahn. What's your reaction to that?
BLUMENTHAL: I think we have a lot more work to do here. The American people deserve to know all of what Bob Mueller found. This report is an indictment in all but name. It is an absolutely chilling portrait of wrongdoing and criminality at the highest level of our government.
Bob Mueller, far from exonerating the President of the United States, said he couldn't. And he depended on this office of legal memorandum, merely 20 years old, that says a sitting President can't be indicted. That was the reason that Donald Trump, in fact, was not charged with criminal wrongdoing, because there's extensive evidence of it, in the Mueller report. The American people deserve the full picture.
BLITZER: But if Graham is the chairman of the committee, there's no way that you're going to get Mueller or McGahn for that matter to testify before your committee. They could testify before other committees, especially in the House of Representatives, where there's a democratic majority, but you're not going to get them in the Senate.
BLUMENTHAL: I'm going to be talking to Chairman Graham. And he's a respected litigator himself. I think, I hope he will, at the very least, pursue those notes to begin with, of the conversation with Barr that Barr's staff took. And Mueller may have taken notes as well. These are the first rough draft of history that we need to see. And we also have the House of Representatives that can subpoena them.
BLITZER: Speaking of the House of Representatives, Barr is supposed to be scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow morning, as well. But he's threatening not to show up because the democrats, including the committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, say, in addition to representatives asking questions, committee staff, lawyers, will ask questions 30 minutes from a republican staffer, 30 minutes from a democratic staffer. And Barr, at least until now, says that's not going to happen.
BLUMENTHAL: And the question is, why? What is he trying to conceal? What does he think he'll be asked through that kind of sustained follow-up questioning, which can be done over 30 minutes, very difficult to do in the seven minutes or five minutes.
BLITZER: If he does show up tomorrow, what do you want your House colleagues to do? BLUMENTHAL: I want to know about those notes that were taken and I want sustained questioning about the thought process that went into his decision, despite the overwhelming evidence of obstruction, not to charge the President. And there are a variety of questions that I'm going to be suggesting to my House colleagues if he does appear tomorrow.
BLITZER: It's up in the air right now. We'll see what happens. We expect to find out fairly soon, as soon as we find out, our viewers will find out, as well. Senator Blumenthal, thanks so much for joining us.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
BLITZER: The breaking news continues. New details emerging involving the battle between the Attorney General and the House Judiciary Committee. Will he show up for tomorrow's hearing? And we'll also get White House reaction to William Barr's contentious appearing today before senators.
BLITZER: More now on the breaking news. The Attorney General, William Barr, has just wrapped up a rather contentious hearing on Capitol Hill. Democratic senators accuse Barr of mischaracterizing Robert Mueller's Russia report and misleading the American public. Our legal and political experts are here with more analysis.
Jeffrey Toobin, we know that the Special Counsel was not satisfied with the Attorney General's summary, that initial four-page letter that he released of his conclusions. I want you to listen to Barr's comments on this matter both from last month and from earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VAN HOLLEN: Did Bob Mueller support your conclusion?
BARR: I don't know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion.
REP. CHARLIE CRIST (D-FL): Reports have emerged recently, General, that members of the Special Counsel's team are frustrated at some level with the limited information included in your March 24th letter that it does not adequately or accurately necessarily portray the report's findings. Do you know what they're referencing with that?
BARR: No, I don't.
I answered a question and the question was relating to unidentified members who were expressing frustration over the accuracy relating to findings. I don't know what that refers to at all. I talked directly to Bob Mueller, not members of his team.
LEAHY: Mr. Barr, I feel your answer was purposely misleading and I think others do too. SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI): I can't even follow that down the road. I mean, boy, that's a masterful hair-splitting.
BLITZER: All right, Jeffrey, what do you think? How do you explain this?
TOOBIN: I explain this by Barr gave false answers. I mean, you know, he's drawing distinctions between findings and conclusions between Mueller's staff and Mueller himself. I mean, you know, lawyers know how to parse things. But lawyers are also human beings who speak the English language. And you can't compare those two answers and know the facts as we now know them. Mueller, having taken this extraordinary step in the legal world to write a letter like Mueller did to Barr is like throwing a bomb. I mean, that's how dramatic it is.
And the idea that Barr could then answer a question saying, well, I don't know how Mueller feels, come on, it's just not true and he -- his efforts to dig out from it today struck me, at least, is unsuccessful.
BLITZER: And, Gloria, look at the timeline here, that four-page letter was originally released March 24th. On March 25th, Mueller first informs the Justice Department of his concerns. And then a couple of days later, on March 27th, he puts those concerns in writing to Barr. Does that mean Barr was lying in April when he told congress, under oath, he didn't know if Mueller supported his conclusions?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, look, it's -- it is here in black and white. You know, this is not a letter, by the way, that the Attorney General released or wanted out there. And when he was asked about it and when he was asked about the staff, as Jeffrey was talking about, he could've said, you know, I don't know how the staff feels, but I have had a discussion with the Special Counsel.
Of course, he did not volunteer that. He just -- he just sort of threw it away. And now, he can't be surprised that people are coming back at him when they have a copy of this stunning letter that was thrown at him by the Special Counsel, who is not a drama person, you know.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: You know, there's a --
BLITZER: You know, Phil, you know -- you know about --
BORGER: This is dramatic.
BLITZER: You worked with Bob Mueller --
BORGER: This is dramatic.
MUDD: Yes. BLITZER: -- when he was FBI Director. You know him well. For him to
put in writing on March 27th this letter, which is very, very critical of the way the Attorney General explained the so-called bottom line principle conclusions, it's pretty dramatic.
MUDD: It is. It's more -- it is not pretty dramatic, it is dramatic.
MUDD: I mean, if you look at a guy -- I did maybe a couple of thousand threat briefings with him, I never heard him talk about a member of Congress. And he went to the White House, I -- once, twice a week. I never heard him make disparaging remarks about the White House.
He didn't talk that much about the media. In fact, he hated doing media. The press guy was like the most underemployed guy at the FBI.
For him to step out of his lane, which is to say here is what happened in the investigation, here are the facts, to say the facts in this investigation were misrepresented to the American people and I'm going to write a document that's going to go public, I don't know how to explain that to a viewer, but I know Mueller.
This is about three lanes over on the Washington beltway, which is about eight lanes. He is checking out of his lane as a guy who grew up as a Marine who says I don't do this.
One quick comment, by the way, on Barr. I think there's another interesting optic. We're focused on what he's telling the American people. One, the words "Trump" -- the word "Trump" rarely came up. He protected the President. He was deflecting to himself. So he succeeds with the White House.
And finally, how many headlines do you get out of this? If you're testifying, one of your goals, especially in contentious testimony is, I don't want a real bombshell. I -- you know, as a guy watching for how Middle America might interpret this, he might've walked away saying, I didn't damage the President and I didn't drop a bombshell, so.
BORGER: But he called the Mueller letter snitty.
MUDD: He did.
MUDD: Don't get snitty.
BORGER: Don't get snitty with me, Phil.
BLITZER: He signed -- and he signed this letter. And not only did he say the -- Barr said the letter was a bit snitty, the exact quote; he said it was probably written by some staff.
MUDD: You've got to be kidding me! After -- Director Mueller would show up at a threat briefing and he'd say, what happened on surveillance a couple of nights ago? You know, we used to call them, "what color was the car?" questions. What's going -- and the investigators would be like, you know, there are 3,000 investigations going on, I don't have every detail on the color of the car.
And for the most important political investigation in this country in 50 years, with that kind of psychology from Director Mueller -- Special Counsel Mueller, to think that he maybe said, I didn't really look at it, that's ridiculous.
BLITZER: And he called up -- Barr called up Mueller the next morning after he read this letter, and he said, what's up with the letter, basically.
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, and basically told him next time you pick up the phone and call me because no lawyer wants to have a record of a conversation where somebody is justifiably snitty because you misled the public.
He didn't use the word "media" in that letter, from Mueller to Barr.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Right.
COATES: He misled the public on the information, and I'm asking you to immediately let it be made public to Congress as well. He is right to be snitty if he was snitty about it.
And you see a trend with Barr, that he has a real hierarchical thing going on. The idea of trying to relegate Bob Mueller, who is Special Counsel, who's supposed to have equal parts autonomy and some oversight to lead that report -- relegate him to say he's some kind of lowly U.S. attorney -- which is not a lowly position as well, anyway -- and then talk about, it was probably some staffer who wrote this letter trying to get to me, and it's my baby at this point in time.
He made it abundantly clear that he wanted to be the person to shepherd this. But in doing so, he undermined his credibility because one of the big things about this letter that Mueller wrote to Barr, essentially, is saying you keep alluding that there is a chicken and the egg game going on, of which came first, that I am annoyed at the media coverage, or you exposed a very -- distillation that was not holistic at all, made me and my team look inept and then I'm telling you to cut it out and give the full report when I've already written two summaries about this very thing.
Barr wanted to make it seem like, well, this is an issue he had with the media, and that -- that's all of this was. In reality, it was, I have a problem with what the media is covering because what you gave to the media is inaccurate.
BLITZER: A lot of the Democrats are now saying he should -- Barr should resign. We heard that from Mazie Hirono among many others. And some go so far as to say, if he doesn't resign -- and I suspect he's not going to be resigning --
BLITZER: -- they're talking already about impeachment.
[17:34:55] HENDERSON: Yes, you really heard these calls begin last night when this story hit the papers. You heard people like, obviously, Julian Castro, who's running for president. He has called for impeachment.
And others are basically saying that resign, like Kamala, Harris who, of course, was there cross-examining, essentially, Bill Barr today, as well as Mazie Hirono. Then Beto O'Rourke, the same position, basically calling on him to resign.
The question of impeachment for the Attorney General is the same as the question for impeachment for the President. It's basically an obstacle. They have to get two-thirds. They can file Articles of Impeachment in the House all they want to. The problem has always been the Senate.
They -- the Democrats don't control the Senate. They would need two- thirds of senators there. Obviously, we can see how Republicans are going to behave in relation to this president and this issue of Russia and the Mueller report, so it's unlikely.
But I think, politically, this is what Democrats feel they have to do, sound tough in terms of calling for his resignation. And you'll see, I think, a few say impeachment is appropriate but, listen, it's the same sort of obstacles in conversation. And probably smaller caucus of Democrats are going to push for impeachment.
BLITZER: There are new developments unfolding right now. I want to take a quick break. Much more on all of these dramatic developments right after this.
[17:40:48] BLITZER: We've got breaking news. Let's quickly go to Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill. Manu, tell our viewers what you're learning.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bill Barr, he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee today. We do not expect him to appear before the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow. A House Judiciary Committee aide says that Barr is not expected to appear before that committee's hearing about the Mueller report.
Now, the committee is expected to receive a formal letter saying that Barr will not appear, but this has been communicated to the committee, that he will not appear because of the committee format. That's one big reason why they've been fighting for the past week.
Democrats want to allow for staff attorneys to question Bill Barr for about an hour split between both sides. This, after all the members have a chance to question. But Barr has pushed back about allowing staff attorneys to question him. Also, he's pushed back on the Democrats' demands to allow for the members to talk about the redacted sections of the report in a closed session.
Now, as a result of his dispute, he's threatened not to come. And now, we are learning, Wolf, that he will not, in fact, come to tomorrow's hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.
Now, Jerry Nadler, the Chairman of the committee, has said that he does plan to move forward and still have this hearing tomorrow. So there could be visuals of an empty chair and there could be a subpoena.
Jerry Nadler has been very clear that if Nadler -- that if -- if Bill Barr doesn't show, that they will issue a subpoena for the Attorney General, compel his appearance. If he does not listen to that subpoena, they could take other steps potentially, possibly hold him in contempt.
So a dramatic escalation here. Bill Barr saying that he will defy the request of the Democratic Chairman over a dispute over the format, and Democrats plan to take steps to try to get him to appear b1efore their committee -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And clearly, Jerry Nadler's not backing down. He wants those staff lawyers to have an opportunity to spend 30 minutes on the Republican side, 30 minutes on the Democratic side, to ask questions in addition to the lawmakers.
Laura Jarrett, you cover the Justice Department for us. What are you hearing?
LAURA JARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're still waiting to hear from the Justice Department formally as they're expected to notify Capitol Hill in a letter.
But it's interesting, you know, we had heard all week that Barr had really dug in on this issue of the staff attorneys questioning. And although that had happened behind closed doors in the past -- there had been precedent under Attorney General Janet Reno and other situations -- he was not willing to do the staff attorneys' questions out in the open.
And so really, it's a question of how quickly Chairman Nadler can now issue a subpoena. He has said, as Manu mentioned, that he wants to do that, but then that's going to take a while. This isn't -- this is not going to be a process that is resolved this week.
He's going to have to go to court. He's going to have to try to get that enforced. And so it could be sort of a prolonged, protracted process. At the same time, of course, Nadler is also trying to get the fully unredacted version of the Mueller report.
Obviously, there is a copy sitting over at the Justice Department that is mostly unredacted, save for a couple of issues on grand jury materials, and so members can come over to the Justice Department to look at it. Nadler and other Democrats have rejected that. They want the full, unredacted copy, and they want him up on Capitol Hill. But right now, Barr is saying no to both, Wolf.
BLITZER: Interesting. You know, Laura Coates, what's the problem here? Why does the Attorney General of the United States refuse to answer questions from the attorneys, the Democratic and Republican staff attorneys?
COATES: I mean, it's shocking because, of course, it's the top lawyer in the nation, the Attorney General, who is, essentially, recoiling at the thought of having to speak to another attorney.
Perhaps it's because these are going to be very pointed questions that aren't going to be marred in politics, which is what the attorneys are supposed to be doing when they're not asking on behalf of a re- election campaign, perhaps, or to sustain momentum from their actual constituents. Perhaps he fears that's for a direct interrogation.
But either way, it's absurd given the fact that the American people, a couple of months ago, it was left indelible in our minds, to paraphrase her own words, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford --
[17:44:50] COATES: -- received and fielded questions from somebody who was an attorney, a former prosecutor, a sexual assault prosecutor and expert, because members of Congress and the Senate did not want to ask her questions.
She did not recoil to that request. She appeared in public. So what was -- what was held of her to have to do in front of the public in this hearing, the Attorney General will not do? That's extraordinarily absurd.
Now, it's not the first time in history that we've had an Attorney General say, I'm not going to comply with your demand, House Committee. Remember, Eric Holder was held in contempt by Congress back in 2012 over the fast and furious refusal to hand over documents. So we have a little bit of a precedent, but we didn't want that to be repeated.
BORGER: Well, in Watergate, we had lawyers.
BLITZER: Let me ask Jeffrey Toobin.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: But, Wolf --
BORGER: We had lawyers asking questions.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, go ahead.
TOOBIN: Wolf, this is -- this is a real lesson in the powerlessness of the House Democrats. So they'll issue a subpoena. So they'll find him in contempt. So what? It's not going to make any difference. Eric Holder's reputation is entirely intact, even though he was found in contempt.
This just shows that if the Trump White House and the Trump administration want to tell the Democrats who now run the House of Representatives to go pound sand, they're going to have to go pound sand.
BORGER: Well, I mean, and you --
TOOBIN: And they have no recourse that will actually get their witnesses or documents in.
BORGER: So the question is, how eager would Barr have been to appear if it were just before the members of the House Committee? I mean, he knows that it's run by the Democrats and that it would be a pretty tough questioning for him. I think the attorneys would be tougher, no doubt. He understands that.
And I think after today, in which part it was very -- it was very clear that the Democrats were not giving him one inch, that it was going to be -- that it was going to be tough. I think, in the end, I don't see how they don't come to some agreement. It seems to me that the Attorney General and the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee are going to have to find a way.
BLITZER: Manu is getting some more information on Capitol Hill. Manu, what are you learning?
RAJU: Yes. We do expect Jerry Nadler to make some remarks about this in just a matter of minutes. We do expect him to raise some significant concerns about the lack of compliance and potentially warn -- warn of a subpoena, maybe detail exactly his plans about issuing that subpoena.
I had asked him whether or not, Thursday, he would use that moment of Barr not showing up to actually deliver and serve that subpoena to the Attorney General. He said that he would not commit, initially. We'll see if he lays out more details.
But they've been also waiting all day to get a clear response from the Justice Department for their initial subpoena request for the full, unredacted Mueller report, as well as the underlying evidence. There's no expectation that the Justice Department will comply with that request, so Nadler is expected to make some remarks about his next steps there.
And what Democrats have been saying about that, Wolf, is that they will go to court, try to force the release of the full, unredacted Mueller report and the underlying evidence, as well as the grand jury information that the Justice Department says is off-limits even to a select group of members.
So Jerry Nadler is expected to make all those remarks in just a matter of minutes here but -- at least to lay out the next steps here and the expectation that tomorrow's hearing will probably still take place, even if Bill Barr doesn't show, Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, Nia, let's talk about one of the reasons he may be reluctant to appear before the committee. Thirty minutes, let's say, a Democratic experienced counsel, a lawyer, working for the committee, the members -- and there are so many in the House Judiciary --
BLITZER: -- they each get five minutes. So you really can't press and follow up and keep on going and going and going. When you've got 30 minutes of uninterrupted questioning, you can really get somewhere. And presumably, it's one of the reasons why the Attorney General's reluctant to appear.
HENDERSON: Yes, I think that's right. An attorney is going to know the law much better, is going to know sort of the ins and outs of the arguments that they want to elicit from Barr and the statements they want him to make and what they want to put him on the record.
We saw today, a lot of the Democrats, for instance, filibuster in some ways. I mean, these --
BLITZER: They were giving speeches instead of asking questions.
HENDERSON: They were giving -- exactly, they were giving speeches instead of asking questions. Some of them did ask really pointed questions, people like Kamala Harris, but if you got -- who is a prosecutor and sort of would probably -- you know, you would see probably the same kind of aggressive questioning from a staff attorney if Bill Barr was to come before this committee with a staff attorney.
I think one of the things to think about here is the real testimony, I think, that is -- that I think a lot of people are most looking forward to is Bob Mueller. And we got a sense today. You heard from Bill Barr that, at some point, he is going to testify. It seems like the DOJ is willing to make that happen. Mueller wants to testify himself.
No date has been set. You heard from Lindsey Graham today saying, essentially, he doesn't need to hear from Bob Mueller. But that in some ways, I think, is going to be quite interesting because we don't know -- we know what Bill Barr has said. And in some ways, you know, you imagine that another hearing would go over the same ground, but it's Bob Mueller that we haven't heard from at all.
BORGER: It's interesting, we haven't heard from Mueller. And the big question out there is Don McGahn which --
HENDERSON: Yes, Don McGahn.
[17:50:00] BLITZER: The former White House Counsel. BORGER: The former White House Counsel who is at the center of this
question of obstruction. And when Barr was asked about it today, he said we haven't made a decision on that and used "we," which was sort of -- you know, I did a little -- I did a little sort of mm-hmm because "we"?
He's the Attorney General. He's not the White House Counsel. The White House is going to make the decision on whether they exert privilege on that. And I don't think it looks good for McGahn because I bet they will try to put the toothpaste back in the tube on that one.
BLITZER: Go ahead.
MUDD: Let me be a little bit snitty here.
MUDD: If I were Bill Barr, I would tell Jerry Nadler to pound sound.
MUDD: I would tell him to hit the road. Let me give you a couple of reasons why. Biggest hearing you might have in your entire chairmanship. You're can't bother? You're too lazy to learn the portfolio well enough to ask your own questions, and your members don't have the discipline not to sit here and speak without asking a question? Really?
And my second question, who was elected by the American people to oversee the Department of Justice in the most important investigation they have? Was it the members, or was it some lawyer that you want to set up Barr with?
This is a setup. I think it's petty, and I think the Democrats are overreaching. If I had -- if I were Barr, I'd say I'm going to get martinis, have a good time. Have an empty chair, I'm not going.
COATES: So for you, it's more form over substance?
COATES: Because if the lawyers were actually to give the questions to these actual members of the House, it actually airs (ph) the question. So in a way, I think it's a little bit of a stall tactic to say --
COATES: -- knowing, as you talked about the idea of, look, there is a way to resolve this issue where everyone can be satisfied. But if we're really going to look at form over substance, then what is the delay about?
Remember, the issue of delay is a theme for William Barr at this point because, remember, we've been accusing him through -- and Mueller himself, in this idea of using delay as a tactic to the advantage for partisan reasons.
And so if you're delaying knowing that there was -- the resolution is that, fine, here are your -- here are your questions, members of Congress. Here is what I want you to ask for about 30 or whatever time you have. If that's all it is, then why the delay?
BORGER: I think they can do it.
BLITZER: And you know, if they just have the hearing tomorrow, Jeffrey, and William Barr, the Attorney General, is not there but they just have an empty chair, and you hear the Democrats and the Republicans talking amongst themselves and arguing and going back and forth and threatening a subpoena or ready to deliver a subpoena -- you seem to be smiling as I set the scene.
TOOBIN: Well, it's just going to be -- you know, nothing the American people like better than a committee hearing where members of Congress fight with each other. It's just -- you know, it brings joy to so many members of the public.
I mean, you know, I think it would be a bit of theater. It probably would be effective for about 10 minutes, but knowing the House of Representatives, it'll probably go on for about four hours. And you know, I don't think it will accomplish much.
But I think, you know, it's important to remember that the Republicans and the White House, they hold the cards here because they can withhold cooperation. And the Democrats can fulminate and they can issue subpoenas and find people in contempt and go to court, but all of that is going to take months, at best. And that's -- and that may be good, it may be bad. I just think that's the fact.
BLITZER: You think since Barr did answer questions from Republicans and Democrats for four hours -- although the Republicans asked very different questions than the Democrats today.
BORGER: They wanted to know about Hillary.
BLITZER: They were in two different worlds.
BLITZER: But do you think Barr has more to say? Let's say he appears tomorrow before this committee, will we learn anything that we didn't hear today?
BORGER: Well, you would be asked different questions. I mean, look, the Mueller report is 488 pages. This letter, as we have been talking about earlier, was a dramatic letter from Mueller. I think, you know, there is -- there is more to ask him about the question of obstruction and why he decided -- why he started writing his opinion or his -- on obstruction before he read the Mueller report. I mean, that's interesting.
HENDERSON: And why he didn't look at the underlying evidence, which is something else (ph).
BORGER: And why he didn't look at the underlying evidence.
COATES: In fact, before he was Attorney General, he wrote his opinion on obstruction of justice.
BORGER: That's right, in June of 2018. We know that, so, yes, there's always something to ask. Whether it's productive is, of course, another question. And I don't know what the Democrats are going to do. I think we have to wait to hear from Chairman Nadler.
BLITZER: We're going to hear from him presumably fairly soon.
BLITZER: He'll walk out to the microphones. We'll have coverage to hear what he says. It's going to be his next move. We're standing by to hear from the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Dramatic developments unfolding. We'll take a quick break.
[17:54:36] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're following breaking news.
CNN has learned that the Attorney General of the United States, William Barr, is refusing to testify before the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow morning after a heated Senate hearing on his handling of the Mueller report today.
We're standing by to hear directly from the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler. He's about to walk out to the microphones and give us an official statement and answer questions from reporters. Our senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju broke this news for us just moments ago.
Manu, we saw the Attorney General clearly on the defense today. He's now planning to skip -- hold, here is Jerry Nadler.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY: -- wait until everybody lines up.
[17:59:59] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is everyone good?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Talk to the cameras while everyone's sitting down (ph).
NADLER: Oh, yes, yes, yes.