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Democrats React to Barr's No-Show at Hearing; Barr Missing Judiciary Hearing; Nadler Addresses Barr's Absence. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired May 2, 2019 - 09:30   ET

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


[09:30:00] REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): What we'll be doing is doing our job, and that is to have members of the cabinet of the president of the United States to come before this committee and tell the truth. We will not stop until we get the truth, until the truth is told to the American people and the American people will decide, as we go forward, that the truth has to be acted on. And that's what, I think, some of our Republican friends are afraid of.

REP. TED LIEU (D-CA): Attorney General Bill Barr is now one of the most dangerous men in Washington, D.C., for three reasons. First, he intentionally mischaracterized the Mueller report. He was then told by Robert Mueller that he mischaracterized the Mueller report. And instead of apologizing, he doubles down and continues to mislead the American people.

Second, today he ignored the will of Congress, oversight responsibilities of Congress, and lawfully issued subpoenas.

And, third, right now he is suing to eliminate your health care coverage. Let's not forget, right now he is suing in court to eliminate preexisting conditions health care coverage and taking health care coverage away from millions of Americans. We, in Congress, will reign him in. We will hold him accountable.

REP. MARY GAY SCANLON (D-PA): As a first time member of Congress, I can't imagine anyplace else I would rather be right now. I mean as a student of American history, as a supporter of our Constitution, this is just such a grave moment. And I hope everyone is understanding how grave it is, particularly those at the White House.

Thank you.

REP. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL): Good morning, everyone.

You know, I just have to say, as a former police chief, that it was painful and disgraceful to see the nation's top cop abandon his responsibilities to allow an empty chair to speak for him this morning.

However, as a committee member, we were respectful enough to put the Honorable William P. Barr, to put "honorable" on his name tag, if you will, this morning. However, but if you look at what the attorney general has done since he has been in office, he has certainly worked harder to protect someone who does not deserve to be protected. There's not much that the attorney general has done as the nation's top cop that we can consider honorable.

And so this morning was a dark day, a dark morning for the United States of America and all that the Department of Justice should mean to this nation.

So, thank you.

REP. HANK JOHNSON (D-GA): In the 2016 elections, this nation was attacked from outside of its borders by the Russians. As a result of their outside attack, we are now being attacked from the inside by the very Trump administration whom the Russians favored.

This is a very dark day and a very dark time for our republic. It is under attack. The worst kind of damage that can be done to America is from its enemies from within. And we have enemies and we have aiders and abettors of those enemies.

I'm afraid that we have reached a time when the people of this great nation must stand up and demand that Congress take appropriate action to stop this attack on our republic and save this nation, its democracy and all of the ideals of liberty, fairness and justice that we all hold dear.

Thank you.

REP. STEVE COHEN (D-TN): I've been a student of government all my life. I watched the Watergate hearings from the beginning to the end. This smacks so much of Watergate and an attorney general, like John Mitchell, who believes the president is above the law. That is not America. The president is not above the law. And if the president thinks the special counsel's investigation is a witch hunt, he cannot stop it. But our attorney general thinks so.

Chicken Barr should have shown up today and answered questions. He was afraid of Barry Burke. He was afraid of Norm Eisen. An attorney general who was picked for his legal acumen and his abilities would not be fearful of any other attorneys questioning him for 30 minutes. This man was picked to be Roy Cohn and to be Donald Trump's fixer. The black sox look clean compared to this team. It's a sad day in America.

[09:35:16] REP. DEBBIE MUCARSEL-POWELL (D-FL): Good morning.

I did not have the privilege of being born into this country. I became an American citizen when I was 20 years old and I took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution against all foreign and domestic enemies. Attorney General Barr took the same oath. And, today, he shows that the only oath that he is now following is to protect and defend the president, who right now is threatening the strength of our democracy.

Having come from Latin America, I understand very well what it means when a man in power starts circumventing equal branches of government. We must not allow this to happen in the United States of America.

Thank you.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Good morning.

The attorney general has a constitutional responsibility to uphold the rule of law. Instead, he's done everything to undermine the rule of law.

The so-called attorney general is abrasive, evasive and unpersuasive. He is a disgrace to the office that he currently holds. The so-called attorney general is missing in action, absent without official leave and has clearly made the decision to serve as the personal fixer for Donald Trump, inconsistent with the oath of office that he has taken.

And we, as House Democrats, recognize that we are a separate and co- equal branch of government. We don't work for Donald Trump. We work for the American people. We have a constitutional responsibility to serve as a check and balance on an out of control executive branch. Donald Trump, the so-called attorney general and his minions are out of control right now. We won't overreach, we won't over politicize, we won't over investigate, but we will do our constitutional oversight responsibility. The so-called attorney general can run, but he cannot hide.

REP. LUCY MCBATH (D-GA): Today, Attorney General Barr and this administration have done a great disservice to the American people. It's not only about the Mueller report, but this is about protecting the integrity of our national security. This is about protecting the integrity of our elections. This is about protecting the integrity of people in this country being able to have affordable health care. They have done a great disservice to the American people. And we, Congress, have the responsibility, as a co-equal branch of government, to protect and to serve and to make sure the American people have the facts and the information that they need to make sure that they know that government is truly working on their behalf.

And my colleagues and I will continue to stand to fight for the truth, continue to stand for what is right to make sure that democracy works for each and every individual in this country. Today we will still continue to stand to wait for the truth because you deserve it.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) how about you put some teeth behind your enforcement and demands given this unprecedented level of what you said is White House defiance?

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI): Well, I think the -- oh, sure. I mean I -- I -- I think the members -- I think we all believe very strongly that the next step is to begin proceedings to hold the attorney general in contempt for the failure to comply with the subpoena yesterday. I think we are all pressing our chairman to do that. He's, as he has been, attempting to negotiate in good faith to see if the attorney general will do it voluntarily. But in the absence of an agreement there, it is our position that the attorney general is in contempt of Congress, that we have a responsibility to compel his compliance with a lawfully issued subpoena because, as I said earlier, if the executive branch can willfully violate lawfully issued subpoenas, they will have successfully eliminated congressional oversight. It cannot be up to the executive branch to decide what witnesses and what evidence we will collect in our constitutionally mandated oversight responsibility.

So the next step will be an effort to begin proceedings to hold the attorney general in contempt, if, in fact, this negotiation or conversation doesn't result in an agreement. I think we all --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think --

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: (INAUDIBLE) the contempt proceeding would take quite a long time. It's going to be drawn out in court. By your insistence on this format, haven't you essentially blown the opportunity to question the attorney general here in a public setting?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At this point --

[09:40:02] CICILLINE: No, but I -- I think Pramila is going to answer.

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): Well, I -- at this point, I think there's also a question of what the attorney general is going to continue to say and do. He did not show in the Senate hearings yesterday that he was going to answer some of the very difficult questions. In fact, he made it clear on several occasions that he thought that it was fine for the president to lie, for the president to say things to people and encourage them to not tell the truth.

So at this point, another step that we will be taking, and that the chairman has already put into place, is, we want Robert Mueller to come and testify before us. At this point, I think we need to hear directly from the special counsel about his report and about his findings. Clearly he felt troubled enough by what Attorney General Barr did and said that he wrote not one but two letters to the attorney general. He even prepared summaries of his two volumes that could be released immediately to the American people. And yet we did not see that happen. It was almost 32 days, I think, from the time that he delivered his report to yesterday when we learned that he had these summaries prepared and ready to go to the public.

So at this point, I think, in addition to holding the attorney general in contempt, should these negotiations not work out, we need to have Robert Mueller. At this point, I don't feel that I can thrust anything that the attorney general is saying because I don't know who the attorney general works for. He certainly is not working for the American people.

QUESTION: But why --

QUESTION: But how, sir --

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)? Why was that (INAUDIBLE) --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well --

QUESTION: Most of you are attorneys, you could ask the questions too.

LEE: Well, there is -- well, first of all, the one thing I'd like to say is, Democrats are not rushing toward impeachment, but neither are we afraid of it. The format that we're using is a format to be able to educate the Congress and the American people about how much untruth has been said.

These are dangerous times because if we set the precedent, as General Barr has done, who is next not to respond to the Congress? What cabinet officer in the midst of a crisis, is it the acting Department of Homeland Security secretary in the midst of a crisis? Is it the Health and Human Services?

So, one of the things that we will continue to do is use possibly the contempt proceeding as our chairman may decide to do. In addition, we will not take off an ultimate act that we are allowed to do under the Constitution.

But let me show you the example. When the tapes were found with Richard Nixon, the American people said, enough is enough. I can assure you, as we build the blocks of finding out the truth, there is still that proceeding. But we will not be baited into it, as our friends in the committee choose to try and do. We will only do it as this Constitution gives us the power to do.

So we're not intimidated by the fact that it may be a little longer. The idea of the attorneys, as many have seen, is the continuity of questioning. That means that you can cross-examine in the midst of your time frame. Collectively, the excellent members of Congress that are on this committee, I have been stunned and excited by their questioning and their thoughts. We will put all that together.

But what happens when the lawyers -- and I have been on impeachment proceedings in this committee, judges and others, is the line of reasoning that allows even the American people to see the building blocks and the story narrative of truth that is so very important.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) how long are you willing --

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Come out?

Well, Democrats there certainly not mincing words.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Wow.

SCIUTTO: Some pretty remarkable proclamations. I mean Ted Lieu saying Barr is now one of the most dangerous men in Washington, D.C., description of enemies within --

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: As in -- Americans -- American officials who are acting against their own country. A sad day for America. Taking this moment very seriously.

HARLOW: It was startling, I think, the word choice. And it was intentional. I mean, Ted Lieu going up there and saying --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: Very intentionally the first words out of his mouth, Attorney General Bill Barr is now one of the most dangerous men in Washington.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: The question now becomes, what are they going to do about it, right?

SCIUTTO: Right. And they did bring up -- they said the members, at least, are pushing to hold Bill Barr in contempt now --

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: Saying that the chairman, Jerry Nadler, has been doing his best to negotiate. Of course, Nadler has raised this possibility. The question is, has he -- does he feel he's reached the end of negotiations with the attorney general.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: But they also talked about calling Bob Mueller to come testify.

HARLOW: Yes. Which could happen very soon.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely.

HARLOW: Let's bring our experts back in.

Elie Honig also joins us, along with our political director, David Chalian, Laura Jarrett at the Justice Department.

[09:45:01] Laura, if you could just tick through for us -- I think you were in the middle of answering when we jumped back in there, what now, because you heard Rep. Cicilline and the Democrats say we are pushing our chairman, Jerry Nadler, to proceed with contempt again, you know, holding the attorney general in contempt.

What would that look like if it happens?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: So assuming that they're successful with that contempt vote, they have a couple different options. Some more realistic than the others. They can try to use what are their inherent contempt powers and get the sergeant-at-arms to go arrest Bill Barr. That seems like a long shot.

They could try to get a U.S. attorney to prosecute him for criminal contempt. Given that Bill Barr oversees all of the U.S. attorneys across the country, again, doesn't seem like that's going to happen.

So the third -- not likely. So the third option, I think is, if they want to pursue this, and they really want to press it, is the most likely, which is to go into court and to try to get a civil contempt order from a federal judge.

Now, again, it's going to be a slog. It's going to be a process. And especially on something like this, both sides are going to try to make their best case for why they offer reasonable accommodations and the other side was so outlandish. The Justice Department will say this is unprecedented, there have only been a few cases that they've pointed to where senior administration officials, really Senate confirmed cabinet officials, were questioned by staff, and that happened in the context of impeachment proceedings.

HARLOW: Right.

JARRETT: So the Justice Department's position is, this isn't an impeachment proceeding. Chairman Nadler obviously disagrees with that. As you pointed out, there have been plenty of people who weren't cabinet officials that were question by staff. But it would be rare to have the attorney general there questioned by staff in front -- behind closed doors.

So at this point I think the remedy for them would be to try to do that civil contempt order. But, again, they -- you know, they have to decide where -- where do they want to sort of use their power here and where do they want to flex their muscle. They have a number of other issues going on and they want to get Robert Mueller in. Of course, they want to hear from the man who was actually writing to the attorney general --

HARLOW: Sure.

JARRETT: Voicing his concerns at the same time. And so they're negotiating with the Justice Department on that, at the same time as they're going after the attorney general for his own testimony.

SCIUTTO: Right.

Christine Blasey Ford is an example outside impeachment hearings where a witness was questioned by a lawyer on the direction of the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. That just being a few months ago.

Elie Honig, people go to jail for being held in contempt by Congress for not appearing. Again, unusual, obviously, to pursue that course with a sitting attorney general. But if you or I were to refuse to come, we would face that risk, would we not?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You're right, Jim. I've actually had cases, unfortunately, where I've sent people to prison for failing to comply with lawful subpoenas or lawful court orders in the criminal context. You try to do it as sparingly as possible because it's a very heavy tool. But, yes, that possibility does exist.

Now, is it going to happen to William Barr? No way, because, as we noted before, he happens to be in charge of the Department of Justice, which has the authority to make this decision. So there's no possible way that happens.

Look, there's a narrow issue here of will Bill Barr testify or be made to testify, which is very important. And there's also an even more important issue here of just the fundamental constitutional powers between the branches, between Congress and the executive branch. We're going to see this come to a head some way, some how. Maybe it will be this. Maybe it will be with efforts to get Mueller to testify. Maybe it will be with the controversy over the background checks. There's four or five of these brewing now.

HARLOW: Right.

HONIG: Invariably, it's going to go to the courts and it will come down to Congress versus the executive branch with our third branch, the judiciary, deciding.

HARLOW: And on the Mueller point, I mean, you know, Nadler has said the Department of Justice has not objected to that request to have Mueller come testify, which could happen very soon.

David Chalian, step back for a moment. Help us understand politically the big picture here. You've got a president who has an attorney general that has just proven that he will go to the mat for this president by his testimony yesterday and by not showing up today.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right.

HARLOW: So what do Democrats do? Are they just out of luck here?

CHALIAN: Well, in case the four-page letter of principled conclusions --

HARLOW: Right.

CHALIAN: As the attorney general called it, or the press conference, or his appearance yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, or now his refusal to come hadn't done it, we -- Bill Barr is now the political lightning rod in Washington, which means he is going to become an even more polarizing figure than he already has been. It is going to be something that will work for each side's base, which is, there's political incentive for each side to keep this fight up. So that's sort of the larger political picture of what's happening here.

But I do think what you just heard Elie say, and what Nadler, I think, is probably on his strongest ground about is this notion of the battle between the branches. That constitutional question is one that will be fleshed out and deserves to be fleshed out. There's no doubt about that.

[09:50:11] If you look in our recent polling, guys, it is clear that the American public has some contradictory feelings about what the Democrats should do. They do --the country does think investigating the obstruction of justice charges is something Congress should continue to pursue. They think Congress should pursue getting a fully un-redacted copy of the Mueller report.

HARLOW: Right.

CHALIAN: There is -- there is support across the country for that. But there is also a warning to Democrats in our polling that says that Democrats may be going too far in investigating everything. So I do think the Democrats politically are going to have to figure out their targets here. They're not going to be able to fight every single fight and keep the country with them.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: It's a tough balance.

Just quickly, Laura, before we go, does Bill Barr -- you've covered that Justice Department for a long time, does he feel damaged at all by this? I mean we have our silos in Washington. He's getting a lot of praise on the right. "The Wall Street Journal" has an editorial saying, finally a real attorney general, which the president notably retweeted.

What are you hearing from around Bill Barr as to his assessment of his own performance?

JARRETT: Well, I think you saw a little bit of frustration spill out at the hearing yesterday, especially at the end, where he's asked about the letter from the special counsel where he voiced his concerns about the fact that Barr's four-pager, he felt like, hadn't told the full story. And he said it was a little bit snitty.

And at that point, you know, you really kind of saw sort of Bill Barr unleashed in a way where he had been mostly, I thought, pretty together throughout the hearing, pretty nimble. Obviously, being very lawyerly and splitting hairs on different issues. But at that point, I think that he was pretty much done.

And so I think he's -- I think he's dug in on this. I think he's not going to be bullied. I think he wanted to show yesterday who was boss and he's certainly not going to give in to Chairman Nadler on this if he thinks then it's going to allow for further ground later on.

HARLOW: Yes, I think you're exactly right.

Laura Jarrett, thank you.

David Chalian, as always.

Elie, great to have you.

Thank you one and all.

The Trump administration, also this is really notable and sort of got lost in the headlines over the Barr hearing --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: But this matters a lot because late yesterday the Trump administration revived its fight over Obamacare, now arguing in new court filings that the entire law should be struck down. So when the president says, well, pre-existing conditions, I'll protect those, they're actually fighting in court to do something that would eliminate that protection.

SCIUTTO: That's an issue that's always top of people's voting issues.

HARLOW: Totally.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: All right, we're live with that, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: We're just about to hear from the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler there, following this abbreviating hearing where Barr did not show up.

Have a listen.

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): The failure of Attorney General Barr to come to the hearing today is simply another step in the administration's growing attack on American democracy and its attack on the right of Congress to be a coordinate branch of government and to have the information it needs to legislate and act on behalf of the American people.

[09:55:10] The administration, by its policy of across the board -- across the board defiance of congressional subpoenas and of -- is saying that only the executive matters, that we don't need, we don't want limitations by Congress that the Constitution imposes on us.

This is a grave danger for American democracy, and we must do all we can in the name of the American people to insure that when the Trump administration ends, we have as robust a democracy to hand to our children as was handed to us.

And today is a day of testing and everyone will be judged by history by -- in terms of how they react to this.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, how concerned are you that this is all just going to get bogged down in the courts and that because of your insistence on letting staff attorneys do some questioning, that it will now take even longer for you to get the answers that you've been demanding?

NADLER: We are going to use what process we have in the courts and elsewhere to get the answers and the information we need, in particular, the subpoena for the entire un-redacted Mueller report and the underlying documents was due yesterday. The attorney general, we got a letter late last night refusing us -- refusing to adhere to the subpoena. This is indefensible. And it is part of the attack on American democracy by this administration.

We will make one more good faith attempt to negotiate and to get the access to the report that we need. And then, if we don't get that, we will proceed to hold the attorney general in contempt. And we'll go from there.

QUESTION: Why not -- why not negotiate a bit of --

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, what's your timeline on that? I mean how long are you going to give the attorney general to answer your questions and to negotiate in good faith before you hold him in contempt?

NADLER: A day or two.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman --

QUESTION: So just by the end of the week you want this resolved?

NADLER: Maybe by Monday. We'll see.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, why not negotiate a middle ground about the format of today's hearing? I mean haven't you in a sense made it harder to get the answers that you've been asking (INAUDIBLE)?

NADLER: We cannot concede to the administration the ability to control the manner in which Congress does its job. The attorney general is bound, as are other witnesses, to come before the committee. And he cannot dictate to us how we will do our job. We feel this was the most effective way of doing it and that's our decision.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) --

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) the idea of full -- of using fines as part of the --

NADLER: Say it again.

QUESTION: Your colleague before you came out and brought up the idea of maybe imposing fines under inherent contempt as a -- as a way to try to get him to comply. Is that something that's on the table? How would that -- how would that work? That's not something we see every day.

NADLER: We will explore all the options. And inherent is certainly one of the options.

QUESTION: How do you respond -- how do you respond to the DOJ saying that you're a lawyer, why can't you question Attorney General Barr yourself?

NADLER: The administration -- the attorney general apparently is afraid of proper cross-examination. We ask questions under the five- minute rule. And we've seen a pattern from this administration. The administration witnesses filibuster for four and a half minutes and then give a non-responsive answer for the next five -- for the next half a minute, and then it's on to a different question, who may have other questions in mind or may not properly follow up the way a good cross-examiner would. So we feel the best way of doing this is to have all our members ask their five minutes of questions each and have counsel be able to bat cleanup, so to speak, at the end, follow loose ends, and be able to hold the witness, the attorney general in this case, to ask follow-up questions so that he can't evade as easily as he can.

And, obviously, the attorney general is afraid to face that kind of questioning. I mean what -- what we saw today is besides the attitude of contempt the administration has for Congress, what we saw was fear. Fear of effective cross-examination, period.

(CROSS TALK)

SCIUTTO: There was the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee there, again, you know, Poppy and I both were talking about this, not mincing his words. He's talking about a growing attack on American democracy --

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: His refusal to come. Not just Barr's refusal, but other administration officials.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: A grave danger for American democracy.

HARLOW: Look, the Democrats are dug in here. They're going to fight this. You know, he talked about just a few days between now and when he will issue a subpoena, perhaps hold Barr in contempt.

[10:00:00] Let's talk about all of this. Laura Jarrett is with us at the Justice Department. Again, our attorney, Elie Honig, Jackie Kucinich on the political side of all of it.