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A "Reality Check" on Consistencies/Inconsistencies from Barr's Testimony; Head of Venezuela's Secret Police Breaks with Maduro; Rep. Lucy McBath (D-GA) Discusses Pelosi Saying Bill Barr Lied to Congress, a Crime; Barr Failed to Appear Before House Judiciary Committee. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired May 2, 2019 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST & CNN ANCHOR: 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." That's one way to say misleading.

Speaking of misleading, that's what Bill Barr seemed to be doing in April when he said he didn't know whether Mueller supported his conclusions. Again, the letter says otherwise.

On the key question of obstruction, Barr, again, said that DOJ policy that a sitting president can't be indicted had no impact on Mueller's work. That's despite the text of the report itself.

Barr also reiterated the Republican talking point that because Mueller wasn't fired, there was no obstruction. That wasn't for lack of trying. We know President Trump asked multiple people multiple times to derail the investigation. He tried to get his former White House counsel, Don McGahn, to get his former A.G. Sessions to un-recuse himself. He even asked the campaign manager to re-enforce the message. The fact they repeatedly ignored his orders isn't exoneration as much as evidence that they knew what he was asking was wrong.

Barr also showed a strange unfamiliarity with basic facts of the report, like whether polling information had been given to the Russians. Even admitting to Kamala Harris that he hadn't read through all the underlying evidence. In fact, we even learned that Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham hasn't even finished reading the report, two weeks after it was released.

Barr also conveniently forgot a lot, like how many ongoing investigations were referred to the special counsel. By the way, the answer is 14, with all but two redacted. And he had convenient amnesia about whether he had spoken to anyone in the White House about these cases.




AVLON: Now, "I don't recall," that's often legalese for telling the truth would cause problems than it solves. It's a move President Trump made over 30 times in his written responses to the special counsel.

Barr had a much clearer memory when it came to questions about former FBI Director James Comey.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Did you have a problem with the way Comey handled the Clinton email investigation?

BARR: Yes. I said so at the time.


AVLON: Except it would appear he didn't always. Don't take my word for it. Here's Bill Barr himself writing in the "Washington Post" before the election, "James Comey did the right thing."

Look, Lindsey Graham made it clear that all of this is case closed to him, ignoring the ongoing cases and House investigations. Well, Barr and Graham made it clear they would follow the president's command to investigate the investigators. It's another sign of a dangerous precedent being set as democratic norms are undermined in front of our eyes.

And that's your "Reality Check."

BOLDUAN: You have a "Reality Check" on contradictions, but there's also something, I would say, is new or that hasn't emerged yet or is emerging that I want to get your take on. A real divide that we're seeing between Bill Barr and Bob Mueller. And the context, of course, as you know, and all of our viewers will remember, these two men not only have they been working together, they have been friends in real life. Not --


AVLON: Not TV friends, real friends.


BOLDUAN: They've been real friends for some 30 years. And then Barr, more than once during the hearing, either, like, hit him directly or implicitly was criticizing his work. I know you know this moment.

AVLON: Sure.

BOLDUAN: But I want to play this moment. It all comes down to snitty.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 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? I know of no other instance of that happening. Do you?

BARR: I don't consider Bob at this stage a career prosecutor. He's had a career as a prosecutor --

BLUMENTHAL: Well, he was a very imminent prosecutor.

BARR: He was the head of the FBI for 12 years.

BLUMENTHAL: He's a career -- he's a career law enforcement professional.

BARR: Right. Yes.

BLUMENTHAL: I know of no other instance of --


BARR: But he was also a political appointee and a political appointee with me at the Department of Justice. You know, the letter is a bit snitty, and I think it was probably written by one of his staff people.


BOLDUAN: He's like, I'm going to read it again. It really is striking. What do you make of this?

AVLON: What I make of it is Harry Truman's own line, if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.


Snitty is the sound of the bus rolling over his long friendship with Robert Mueller. It's sad because that was one thing that created a lot of confidence in Bill Barr, in his nomination.


AVLON: Not that that there would be any favoritism, but that he credibility in the legal community. But there was this decades-long personal relationship and, therefore, he'd be less likely to pursue the president's vendettas. But he was dismissive of Bill Barr, in addition to overriding and being dismissive of his legal reasoning. At least as it comes to his characterization of the report, the report is clear. Bill Barr seemed to be carrying the president's water.

BOLDUAN: It's not just the after-the-fact stuff he was getting snitty about. It was also on substance. The fact he clearly was not happy Mueller didn't reach a conclusion on obstruction.

AVLON: Right. BOLDUAN: And he said that he was surprised and also said he didn't reach a conclusion, saying, "It was the very purpose, the function he was carrying out."

I wonder if it gets to as simple as that, that Barr doesn't think that Mueller did his job.

[11:35:09] AVLON: I doubt that very much. There does seem to me, and if you hear from the president's attorneys, a bit of dismissiveness that he couldn't make up his mind. That said, it's clear Mueller felt constrained by the Office of Legal Counsel opinion because --

BOLDUAN: Exactly.

AVLON: -- despite Barr's dismissal. And also, the whole reason Barr told Congress he was able to write his conclusion and release the top line letter in 48 hours of that 448-page report was he was already familiar with Mueller's top-line conclusions. So you know, it was not like he was taken aback by it.

BOLDUAN: Also, I guess then, how do you criticize that he didn't do his job if then you base your conclusion, and you say his findings are the final word, but also not even seeing the underlying evidence that he provided?

AVLON: There's a little bit of contradiction there that you're right in pointing out.

BOLDUAN: You may have found one more.

AVLON: Just one more. But, look, this is serious stuff.


AVLON: Because not only because -- Robert Mueller is kind of the last Boy Scout. And Bill Barr came in with a really pretty sterling reputation, despite having a strong view about executive power. That friendship would appear to be fractured on professional grounds because one guy played it by the book and the other guys seemed to have played it with the executive.

BOLDUAN: The last person with the last word on that may be Bob Mueller. We'll see --

AVLON: We'll see.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, John. Great to see you. Really appreciate it.


BOLDUAN: We actually are friends in real life, just saying.

Coming up, we want to go back to Venezuela. Protests are escalating there as the head of the country's secret police is now joining the opposition and as the United States is warning that it's ready for military action. We'll take you there, live. Be right back.


[11:41:20] BOLDUAN: Now, we have been watching violent clashes erupt over the last few days in Venezuela. This is amid the Opposition Leader Juan Guaido's call to rise up against the embattled president of the country, Nicolas Maduro. Now a new twist, the head of Venezuela's secret police is breaking ranks with Maduro, writing an open letter criticizing the, quote/unquote, "thieves and scoundrels" he says are plundering the country.

CNN's Michael Holmes is joining me now from Caracas with much more.

Great to see you, Michael.

This is another break from Maduro as this all really started escalating 48 hours ago. What are you seeing there now?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR & CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's all about momentum, isn't it, Kate? That's a question at the moment, is where that momentum lies. We had two days of protests. Tuesday, Juan Guaido pretty much was saying this was the beginning of the end for Nicolas Maduro and he stood there with some military uniformed officers next to him. And that was certainly a significant moment. But it was only a few. Let's be realistic about this. And by the end of Tuesday's demonstration, it was Mr. Maduro on state television surrounded by generals saying, hey, I'm still here.

Yesterday, the clashes did intensify. We were down among it. There was a lot of tear gas fired. There were many injuries. Probably a couple of deaths. We're working to confirm at the moment as well. We heard firing being done as well. It was a pretty dramatic day. A lot of tear gas and a lot of people being treated for inhalation as well as other wounds.

As I said, you have Juan Guaido and Mr. Maduro calling for more protests today. Interestingly, it's getting towards the middle of the day and nothing significant is happening on the streets. That's got to be concerning for Juan Guaido and his mission to unseat Mr. Maduro because, if he doesn't maintain that momentum, his supporters are going to start to think their sacrifice on the street is getting nowhere and their whole campaign is slipping back into stalemate once again. This has been going on for months, let's remember. And a lot of people had high hopes that Tuesday would lead to something. Yesterday, a lot of people out there at his bidding. Today, not much going on. That's pretty pivotal -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: That's a big statement, especially, as you say, it's all about who has momentum at this very moment, and a critical moment it is.

It's great to see you, Michael. Thank you so much.

[11:43:47] Coming up still for us, House Speaker Pelosi saying the attorney general of the United States lied to Congress, and she says, before reporters, definitively, that's a crime. So what happens now? We'll ask two Democrats on the all-important House Judiciary Committee, next.


BOLDUAN: Just in to CNN, the rabbi, who was shot and wounded last week at his synagogue near San Diego, where one woman was shot and killed as she was jumping in front of him, that rabbi, he spoke just a few moments ago at the White House. Rabbi Goldstein is in Washington for the National Day of Prayer. He was speaking in the Rose Garden. Let's listen to what he said.


RABBI YISROEL GOLDSTEIN, CHABAD OF POWAY SYNAGOGUE: I should have been dead by now, based on the rule of statistics. I was in the line of fire, bullets flying all the way. My fingers got blown off, but I did not stop. The Revie (ph) taught, as a Jew, you are a soldier of God. You need to stand tall and stand fast and do whatever it takes to change the world. My life has changed forever, but it changed so I could make change.


BOLDUAN: Wow. That's some important perspective coming from a man who has ultimate perspective right now. Rabbi Goldstein speaking at the White House on the National Day of Prayer.

We keep thinking of that and that perspective. And perspective is something that seems is lacking a lot in Washington right now, because in this escalating fight between Democrats and in the House and the White House, and the Trump administration over the Mueller report, we have reached a new level.

I want to play for you what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, what she said just moments ago.


[11:50:05] REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): -- 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.


BOLDUAN: And that is a threat, but what does it mean?

Joining me right now is Congressman Lucy McBath, of Georgia. She sits on the House Judiciary Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for being here.

REP LUCY MCBATH (D-GA): Thank you for having me.

BOLDUAN: I just want to ask you, do you agree with Speaker Pelosi and what she said that Bill Barr committed a crime?

MCBATH: Well, I would say, in a sense, these are crimes against Americans. When we cannot effectively do our job in the United States Congress and get the truth to the American people, that's an obstruction of justice.

BOLDUAN: But what do you do about it?

MCBATH: Well, we continue to do what Chairman Nadler has said that we need to, that we will do with our committee. We'll continue to press Attorney General Barr to come before us. We'll continue to press Robert Mueller to come before us. The American people deserve to have the truth. And, you know, the fact that even the Trump administration filed a motion to effectively repeal the Affordable Care Act, this is a tragedy to all -- all of the American citizens. So as I said earlier today, it's not just about the Mueller report. We're talking about, you know, affordable health care. We're talking about our elections. We're talking about national security. And these are the things that we need to effectively make sure that we are dealing with for the American people.

BOLDUAN: Can you still hear me, Congresswoman?

I think her ear piece might have just popped out of her ear. I think we'll -- you know. You know what, let's jump to a quick break and, hopefully, we'll reconnect with the congresswoman. We'll be right back.


[11:56:19] BOLDUAN: Welcome back. I think we have reconnected with Congresswoman Lucy McBath, of Georgia.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for sticking around and the technical glitches as always.

We were talking about what Nancy Pelosi had said earlier about how she said Bill Barr lied to Congress, that is a crime. Let me play that, just a reminder, for our viewers one more time.


PELOSI: 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.

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 and not the attorney general.


BOLDUAN: Congresswoman, you just told me that is obstruction of justice. If -- do you think that Bill Barr should go to jail over this?

MCBATH: Well, I -- it's not my decision to decide whether or not he goes to jail. I mean, once again, we need to make sure that we get into the bottom of the truth, making sure that everything that is exposed in the Mueller report, everything needs to be unredacted that comes to us. That is how we effectively, through our checks and balances, with congressional oversight, make decisions going forward. So I can't say that at this time. But I do have to agree with the speaker that, yes, you know, there have been behaviors that are very, very troubling, behaviors not accountability to the American people and this has to be dealt with.

BOLDUAN: One thing we were talking about today is the fact that Bill Barr did not show up for the hearing before your committee today. I do wonder, the next steps are, you can consider contempt, but there's a big question as to what the committee and the Congress can do to force the attorney general to come over you. If the goal is -- the fight was over the format, having staff attorneys ask some questions. If the goal is to get the attorney general to ask questions, Congresswoman, why not work with him on the format to get him in that chair rather than basically now having to take him to court over it?

MCBATH: Well, simply because we know that the Attorney General Barr will be very evasive. He will not answer the questions in the format that he needs to, which is direct. He needs to tell the truth. He needs to be honest. He needs to be transparent. We know that's not going to happen. So to effectively have individuals, also the attorneys, also, to ask him more specific questions, to be able to get the information that is not going to be exposed just from the members that are asking questions on the Judiciary Committee, this is the format that we have chosen to be able to get as much information as we possibly can. So if we're not being afforded the opportunity to do that, the only other recourse we have at this point is the subpoena.

BOLDUAN: We'll see the next steps on that.

I want to end, if I could, right before we came to you, we played sound from Rabbi Goldstein, at the synagogue, who was wounded, and one of his congregants was killed in an anti-Semitic hate crime. You know very personally the tragedy of how gun violence can change a life in an instant. And that's what Rabbi Goldstein was talking about there. Just want to get your thoughts on this National Day of Prayer as he was speaking about this.

MCBATH: It's a very important day. But again, it's so sad because we're having more and more opportunities where we're having to pray over the senseless carnage of gun violence in this country. And -- and the fact that, you know, each and every day, you can turn on the television or listen to the radio or read on the media that there's been another tragedy, this has been completed unfounded. This is not what America deserves. And so I -- I grieve along with the rabbi. I grieve every single time something like this happens because I know what people feel and what they think, and I don't wish this on anyone.