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Pelosi Speaks after Barr Fails to Appear in Front of House Judiciary; A "Reality Check" on Consistencies/Inconsistencies from Barr's Testimony. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired May 2, 2019 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00:] REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): But they are alive and well among the American people. And there's a direct connection. And really the saddest -- probably the saddest of all is, while the attorney general was sitting there, withholding the truth from Congress, misrepresenting, being inconsistent in his statements, the shame. How could he do such a thing? But again, having the support of the Republicans in Congress and the Senators behaving in a way that is said to them we don't care about the branch of government in which we serve. We're not even loyal to strengthening the institution of which we are a part. Was sitting there -- once again, his Justice Department was intensifying its assault on the Affordable Care Act. And they did their filing, their further filing to get rid of the entire Affordable Care Act. So that's what it means to people with pre-existing conditions. His sitting there in that arrogance, I don't care about your pre-existing condition, I care about the special interests in our country. That was the message of Barr. So the connecting of the dots between Mitch McConnell, the Republican agenda, and Congress, such as it is, the special interest agenda, fueled by dark special-interest money, that's what that hearing was about. It wasn't about technicalities. It wasn't about who wrote the letter and how he characterized the letter. That's interesting. But what is deadly serious about it is the attorney general of the United States of America was not telling the truth to the Congress of the United States. That's a crime.

(CROSSTALK)

PELOSI: Yes, Nancy?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What are you considering for members of the administration who don't comply with congressional subpoenas?

PELOSI: Well, I have great confidence in our committees. We have six committees that have -- five of them have subpoenas. So far, we don't have one from the Foreign Affairs Committee. But five of the six committees of jurisdiction have the potential for subpoenas. They haven't all issued subpoenas, but that's where we see some of that activity. As you probably know, on the articles of impeachment for President Nixon, Article III was that he ignored the subpoenas of Congress, he did not honor the subpoenas of Congress. This is very, very serious. But my judgment will spring from the judgment of our committee chairs. And in terms of -- I was just looking at Mr. Nadler's statement. In the close of his statement today relating to the attorney general, he said, "History will judge us on how we face this challenge. We will be held accountable one way or another. And if he" -- Barr - "does not provide this committee with the information it demands and the respect it deserves, Mr. Barr's moment of accountability will come soon enough."

And I think that probably applies.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: -- on the table?

PELOSI: I said the committees will -- the committees are trying to make accommodations in terms of receiving the redacted -- receiving the unredacted Mueller report. Let them work their will and then we'll go to the next step.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did the attorney general commit a crime?

PELOSI: He lied to Congress. He lied to Congress. And if anybody else did that, it would be considered a crime. Nobody is above the law. Not the president of the United States, and not the attorney general. Being attorney general does not give you a back to go say whatever you want, and it is the fact, because you are the attorney general. It just isn't true.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Should he go to jail for it?

PELOSI: There's a process involved here. And as I said, I'll say it again, the committee will act upon how we will proceed.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Speaker Pelosi, last week, you said you wanted your caucus to focus on the investigations that are already ongoing. Given the fact you can't get information, given the fact there has been this unprecedented obstruction from the White House, do you think the time has come to move that impeachment deadline up?

[11:04:37] PELOSI: No, I think the -- I think that the statements being made by the president of the United States has given a blanket statement that he's not going to honor any subpoenas, is obstruction of justice. I think that many of the statements that the administration has made has been about obstruction of justice. We are in a very, very, very challenging place because we have a Republican Party in the Congress who are complicit in the special-interest agenda of the National Rifle Association, the fossil fuel industry, the special interests, writ large. So they're not going to say anything. So that's why I say sometimes impeachment is the easy way out for some of these people, because they know it will end at the Senate's edge. But the fact is that we still have that responsibility. Now, many people -- and I completely agree with them. Our responsibility is to create jobs, protect their access to health care, as we said, and our for-the-people agenda. Lower the cost of health care by lowering the cost of prescription drugs. Bigger paychecks by building the infrastructure of America, and cleaner government by passing H.R.-1 and other initiatives that will spring from that. So there's a direct relationship between health care in America and the behavior of the attorney general of the United States, who is taking the lead on overturning the Affordable Care Act, which has within it the legislation, the law to protect people with pre-existing conditions. And the list goes on and on. So again, every day that goes by, we see more reason why the Republicans in Congress should respect their own oath of office and send a message to this administration that while they share their special interest agenda, that it should not include undermining the Constitution of the United States.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Trump got -- tweeted this week that the working people want to get to yes on the new NAFTA.

PELOSI: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you want to spend time to get a consensus in your caucus on what enforcement is needed for the new NAFTA and how to change the biologics provision so that Democrats can also get to yes?

PELOSI: Yes, and I would add to that the environmental provisions. But the three provisions are -- what it means for America's workers, and we want it to be positive for America's workers. But you don't help America's workers by exploiting workers in Mexico. The lower their pay, the worse it is for American workers. It's about American workers. It's about the environment. And again, the climate issue. We're voting right now on climate action now. The environmental issues are very important to us. As a Californian, I can attest to the need for us to improve the provisions there. And then the biologics. There's a concern for members. But the overarching issue is enforcement. You can have all the good language in the world that you want, but if you don't have enforcement, you're just having a conversation. You're not having a real negotiation.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you working to get a consensus on what kind of enforcement is needed?

PELOSI: Yes, there's different suggestions. But I say it has to be part of the agreement. It can't be a sidebar or a side letter, or later legislation or anything like that. But to your basic first question, yes, we would like to get to yes. I thought it would be easier than this because we have been clear about enforcement in any trade agreement, whether it's with China or whether it's with -- in our own hemisphere, that enforcement is key to all of it.

Yes?

(CROSSTALK)

PELOSI: Did you have a question?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You answered it.

PELOSI: No. Are you sure?

Yes, sir? UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: On infrastructure, with your big meeting earlier this week with the president, in a couple weeks, you're expecting him to come up with pay-fors. But what do you have in mind? Talking to Republicans on Capitol Hill, it sounds like they're not really looking at a gas tax, increasing the gas tax. What is your opinion on this?

PELOSI: My opinion is that we'll wait to hear what the president has to say. He's worked -- I spoke to him since the meeting and he said we're going to be putting together of some of the acceptable pay-fors are to him and we'll look forward to hearing what he has to say. We were pleased the president took it up to $2 trillion. What we would like to see is that they would make a commitment that would be 80/20, 80 from the federal government, 20 from the locality. It would be in terms of climate, have resiliency in it. You can't build infrastructure for the future without resiliency relating to the climate. And we want to see women, veterans, and minority owned businesses to participate in the prosperity that this will bring. And we want to see prevailing wage to be part of it because we have always been about building bigger paychecks, by building infrastructure of America in a green way. That's what we hope we can do working together. It was a positive meeting. We advanced the discussion down the road. And we'll have to see what the president has to say when he acts. But this is about commerce. It's about clean air, clean water. So it's a public health issue. It's about the jobs of building infrastructure, but also the commerce that it would create. It's a quality of life issue for people to get them out of their cars so they can spend more time with their families.

[11:10:39] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You said that you spoke to him after the meeting. Was that strictly on infrastructure or did you talk about immigration or anything else?

PELOSI: No, we talked about bringing down the price of prescription drugs, but only touched upon the fact we want to, as we finish up with the funding, et cetera, and our proposal, not finished, but as we progress on our proposal for the infrastructure, that we would move on to how we can lower the cost of prescription drugs.

Thank you all very much.

Let me just say, as I leave, we had such truly sad, sad new with the passing of Ellen Tauscher, of California. She was a wonderful leader when she served in the Congress. Took her experience and values out to the community, being a fighter for nuclear nonproliferation. In her history before she came to the Congress, she was one of the youngest and I think the first or one of the earliest women to have a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. She was a pioneer every place she served. She was a leader. She was a friend, a mom. Took great pride in her daughter, Catherine. And it's really a sad loss for us. I was so pleased so many Californians and others joined us in a moment of silence for her on the floor of the House the day before yesterday. Was that yesterday? I lost track. Yesterday, it was just yesterday. But we'll be honoring her more, but we'll always be missing her. We carry her in our hearts. Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher of California.

Thank you.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: You're listening there to the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, honoring a former member of Congress who has recently passed. But also, before that, making a very serious statement and a very serious charge against the attorney general of the United States.

Let me bring in right now CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.

Manu, Nancy Pelosi saying a second ago, the attorney general was not telling the truth to the Congress of the United States. That's a crime.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Significant. Very significant. Her exact words: He lied to Congress. He lied to Congress. If anybody else did that, it would be considered a crime. Nobody is above the law. Not the president of the United States, not the attorney general." She was asked if Barr should go to jail, and she said, "There's a process involved here, and as I said, the committees will act as how we proceed."

Of course, all this comes after Democrats have been furious at the attorney general for not appearing before the House Judiciary Committee this morning in light of their demands to schedule the format of the hearing that would allow for staff attorneys to question the attorney general. Bill Barr said, no, he wasn't going to listen to that format, he wasn't going to appear. This is just a part of a series of efforts to essentially stiff-arm Congress and not provide information that Democrats have been asking for. Republicans say this is all a Democratic fishing expedition, but Democrats have the subpoena power and they plan to move forward.

One of the things she was asked also at this press conference, Kate, is whether or not she has changed her tune a bit on impeachment. Of course, she's thrown cold water about proceeding on impeachment. But she referred to one of the articles of impeachment involving President Nixon, which was essentially defying Congress, showing contempt towards Congress, not listening to subpoenas of Congress. And in light of the administration ignoring these -- refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas, namely, turning over the full unredacted Mueller report to the how Judiciary Committee, some Democrats, including Ted Lieu, have told me that they will pursue impeachment in light of that. Pelosi did not go that far, but she did reference that. That's going to be one of the Democratic arguments going forward to pursue impeachment. Of course, Republicans are saying, bring it on, if you want to impeach the president, bring it on, because any effort will be fruitless -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Also on this moment where Nancy Pelosi is taking a stand here, and when she was asked, did he commit a crime, and she said, he lied to Congress, which, as we know, is a crime, and that's what she's implying. She also did not lay out and was careful not to lay out what she thinks should happen now. Leaving it to the committees. That's significant. But where does that leave the Congress? Where does that leave the attorney general right now? [11:15:22] RAJU: Well, the House Judiciary Committee is signaling

they're going to move forward to hold the attorney general in contempt. That is a step that, in a large way, is symbolic. It doesn't amount to a whole lot. Republicans did a similar move for Attorney General Eric Holder in the Obama administration. So the Republicans are not too concerned about that. There's really little recourse that Democrats can do other than try to fight some of their demands for records in court. The rhetoric could be certainly sharpening, as we heard here, essentially calling the attorney general of the United States a criminal. Saying something that other people are going to jail for, lying to Congress, including Michael Cohen, the president's former attorney. But she's making it clear -- she sidestepped that question, whether or not she thinks the attorney general should be jailed. No one thinks that that's going to happen because the power of Congress in a lot of ways is symbolic in the issue of holding these people in contempt, which they plan to do. But what more likely will happen is court fights playing out to get everything that Democrats are demanding. Will they succeed? That's a whole entirely different question.

BOLDUAN: Entirely different question and a long way off. That's the thing about when you move in the contempt front. Leveling a threat, no less. That's definitely one thing that happened today. A very new threat coming from the House speaker.

It's great to see you, Manu. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Let me bring in now Asha Rangappa, a CNN legal and national security analyst, a former FBI special agent, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, a CNN political analyst, congressional correspondent for the "New York Times," and Michael Zeldin, CNN legal analyst and Robert Mueller's former assistant at the Department of Justice for a time.

Michael, let me start with you. From what we just heard from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and as Manu was perfectly laying out kind of the state of play, as Nancy Pelosi said what the attorney general did in not telling the truth to Congress is that he -- she said that is a crime. That gets to perjury. Where are you on this? What is the bar for perjury here for the attorney general of the United States?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's a very high bar. The Supreme Court in this case, Braunstein, set a bar that does not allow for prosecution of materially misleading statements that aren't technically untrue. I think that this case, which would have to go from Congress in a referral to the United States attorney's office for consideration for prosecution, that whole process, is from one sort of Trump person to another Trump person, is not likely to result in a prosecution. But even if it was, I think that what we saw with Barr's answers was an intent to mislead or an attempt not to answer the question, but not rising to the level that is a prosecutable crime. So I think Pelosi's response was more visceral, that this guy is just not being forthcoming with us, rather than this guy committed an actionable criminal offense that the United States attorney's office in the District of Columbia should consider prosecution for. But I may be wrong. She may really think that the question and answer by Crist and Van Hollen were specific enough and the answer was specific enough to support a lie. I don't think so though.

BOLDUAN: Let me, for important context, as you're pointing out Charlie Crist, he was speaking at an Appropriations Committee hearing in early April. Van Hollen, in a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, one day later, that is, we assume, what Nancy Pelosi is getting to in terms of telling a lie to Congress.

Asha, let me play for our viewers the context, the back and forth with Charlie Crist and the attorney general and what this is all kind of centering around and what this is also why one of the reasons we have Bill Barr not showing up and why there was an empty chair at the hearing that was supposed to be happening today in the House. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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?

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: And then we know the letter came out that had already been sent to Bill Barr at that time, the letter we have recently seen from the special counsel himself, Asha, who said he was taking issue with the summaries Bill Barr had been laying out. What do you make of this, Asha?

[11:20:03] ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You know, at this point, I think -- I agree with Michael, that he was trying to mislead and obfuscate really at every step. And you know, I don't know. I disagreed that his statement there doesn't meet the threshold. At that point, we know that he had several contacts with the Mueller team and with Mueller himself indicating they were displeased with the way he had put out his information. That's even memorialized in writing. It strains credulity to believe he did not know that his answer was false. And so I believe that, you know, there's a "there" there in this case.

BOLDUAN: Julie, this has led --

(CROSSTALK)

ZELDIN: Kate, may I just add one thing?

BOLDUAN: Sure.

ZELDIN: Could I just add one thing. And I don't mean to disagree with Asha because she's at Yale and I'm at Harvard. That has nothing to do with it. The issue here is that, in that clip, when Barr said, no, I don't, and then we ended it. He goes on to say, but I suspect that they probably wanted more information to be released. So he continues his answer. And it's the continuation of that answer that I think undermines the possibility that this is a prosecutable offense.

BOLDUAN: OK.

So, Julie, let me bring you in. Where this has led to today is what has gone from a packed House to an empty chair on Capitol Hill. The hearing that was supposed to happen this morning at 9:00, the attorney general supposed to sit before the House Judiciary Committee answering questions about all of this, he did not show up. The reason is format, is what they say. Right? Because the chairman, he wanted to have committee attorneys asking some questions at some point to the attorney general.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Why do you think Nadler went this route?

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: Well, why did he go the route of the empty chair? I think because Democrats are trying to show and sort of to dramatize for the public the degree to which they're being stiffed by the administration on some of these questions. In the wake of that testimony yesterday, there's obviously a lot of follow-ups that House Democrats want to ask and not just following up on the point that Crist raised with the attorney general but also this whole issue of why Mueller disagreed with the way he characterized -- Barr characterized the report and some of the underlying issues. I think the challenge here for Democrats is they're trying to sort of lay the predicate that might lead to impeachment without actually actively talking about impeachment. The precedent we have for when staff attorneys have questioned a cabinet official in the past was the Nixon impeachment. Right?

BOLDUAN: Right.

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: But they don't want to go that route. You heard Nancy Pelosi very carefully dance around that question and say, you know, it's a process. We haven't decided. It's up to the chairman, which she's been doing, I think pretty effectively. But it gets more and more difficult the more of these confrontations we see. Now that she's said -- now that Pelosi has said the attorney general has committed a crime, the question is naturally going to be, what are they going to do about it. If they are able to carry on a set of hearings with people interviewed by the special counsel and lay out in a more vivid way for the public what the actual obstruction elements are that they keep referring to, they're ultimately going to be faced with the question of, OK, so what then. So there's kind of maneuvering in a difficult space. They're trying to figure out how to impeach without impeaching in a certain way, and that's some of what we're seeing unfolding today.

BOLDUAN: As you see, Nancy Pelosi coming out and making the statement, that really amazing statement that she did, you do wonder if that increases the chances at all, one iota, that Bill Barr is going to come to some agreement with the Judiciary Committee to come appear to testify in the coming days. I would argue probably not. But god knows we are --

(CROSSTALK)

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: It is a negotiation. It is a negotiation.

(CROSSTALK)

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: So that's something to keep in mind.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: And maybe that's it. This is the latest, this threat, without saying now we're going to move towards perjury, whatever, this is the part of the negotiation to get him to appear. We'll see.

Good to see you guys. Thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

[11:24:21] Coming up for us, a deeper dive into Attorney General Bill Barr and his dramatic testimony yesterday. Speaker Pelosi saying he lied to Congress, committed a crime. Is that going too far? A "Reality Check" on the consistencies or inconsistencies from Bill Barr's testimony. "Reality Check" is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Breaking just moments ago, the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accusing the attorney general of the United States, Bill Barr, of lying to Congress, which, as everyone has learned in the past few years, is a crime. But this is just one of many inconsistencies that we're talking about when it comes to the attorney general.

CNN political analyst, John Avlon, has been taking -- he's taken a deep dive into the inconsistencies.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST & CNN ANCHOR: Yes, a little more context on that tough talk from Nancy Pelosi today.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

AVLON: Let's delve back and figure out what had people fired up yesterday. As you know, justice is supposed to be beyond partisan consideration. Its credibility comes from being objective and fair, rooted in facts. But yesterday, the head of the Justice Department, Attorney General Bill Barr, again seemed to show he considers himself part of the Trump legal defense team. Time after time, Barr showed an unwillingness to confront facts unfavorable to his boss and even unfamiliarity with the content of the Mueller report itself.

They got off to a rocky start because we just found out Mueller expressed concern about Barr's conduct in late March. Now, a Justice Department spokeswoman said Mueller, quote, "emphasized that nothing in the attorney general's March 24th letter was inaccurate or misleading." But Barr's (sic) own letter said that Barr "did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office's work and conclusions."

[11:30:00]