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Top White House Counsel Writes AG Barr About Mueller Report; AG Barr No Show At House Judiciary Hearing; Facebook Is Purging Several High Profile Names From Its Platforms. Aired: 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 2, 2019 - 14:00   ET

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


ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Erica Hill in today for Brooke Baldwin and we begin this hour with Breaking News. We are learning of a letter from a top White House lawyer to Attorney General Bill Barr about the Mueller report.

In that letter complaining, it quote, "suffers from an extraordinary legal defect." Furthermore, that White House lawyer Emmet Flood writes, writing that does not bode well for Congress in its multi- front subpoena fight to get information, of course from the President.

Let's get right to CNN senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown. So Pamela, before we get to those subpoenas, this letter from Emmet Flood that you obtained, it actually accused the Mueller team of playing politics in that report.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it was a strongly worded letter, five pages written by top White House lawyer, Emmet Flood speaking on behalf of the President blasting Robert Mueller and his team for acting politically and varying wildly from its stated mission rather than a prosecutor strictly following the law with this letter saying the Special Counsel his staff failed in their duty to act as prosecutors and only as prosecutors.

And it goes on to blast the Special Counsel team for not doing what the Special Counsel regulations required to do -- make a judgment on obstruction and provide a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions. Instead, it says the Special Counsel quote "intentionally and unapologetically refused to do so" and called the obstruction section of the report, part truth commission report and part law school exam.

Now the Special Counsel addressed in its report why it didn't reach a prosecutorial decision on obstruction, saying that one factor was the OLC memo at DOJ saying you can't indict a sitting President. This letter also addresses the idea that Mueller's report was intended as a roadmap for Congress, as we've heard Democrats on Capitol Hill claim.

Now this letter argues, Erica, that it's not the business of inferior officials in the Executive Branch to provide roadmaps for other branches of government. So basically, this paints the picture by this White House lawyer of the Special Counsel prosecutors going rogue and going beyond what they were supposed to do.

Now, I did reach out to this Special Counsel for comment and they declined to comment -- Erica.

HILL: Well, that letter -- in the letter, too, it also talked about the White House, Pamela, allowing advisers to be interviewed by House Democrats. And the thinking on that, what more did we learn?

BROWN: That's right. This letter argues that just because the President didn't assert executive privilege before the Mueller reports release, that doesn't mean that he won't do it in the future in congressional investigations. And it draws a distinction between the White House being fully cooperative in a criminal investigation such as a Special Counsel investigation by not asserting executive privilege versus a congressional investigation.

So this argument laid out in the letter really draws the battle lines in this escalating fight between the White House and House Democrats over current and former White House aides' testimony. Now, the President hasn't asserted executive privilege yet in trying to block testimony, but this letter makes it clear it is a possibility down the road.

HILL: Pamela Brown with this reporting for us. Pamela, thank you.

Jon Sale was an assistant Watergate special prosecutor, Caroline Polisi is a federal and white collar criminal defense attorney. She was also hired by former Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos in a DNC lawsuit against him. As we look at all of this, and Jon, I will start with you, it sounds like Emmet Flood clearly unhappy, even angry one might say that the Mueller report did not flat out say there would be no obstruction charges against the President -- full stop.

JON SALE, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Well, I think Emmet Flood is an outstanding lawyer. He has been there before. He knows how this works.

Under the Code of Federal Regulations, he is right, that that's all the Special Counsel is required to do. Now, I've never called it a witch hunt. I've never called it 18 angry Democrats. I think it was a legitimate investigation. But they did punt on the obstruction call.

And under the code, it was then up to the Attorney General. And I think the Attorney General is really getting a bad rap. I mean, rather than look at what he wrote or what he said, look at what he did. He did not interfere with the Mueller investigation and he released the 400-page report and the redactions in Volume 2, to the obstruction part were 2 percent.

So we can all read and pour over the report. So does it really matter how it was characterized? And one other thing, in his four-page letter, the Attorney General, he threw in the Mueller comment that we're not exonerating the President. Well, prosecutors don't exonerate.

I mean, I've done this for a long time and I can tell you that I've had my share of successes and investigations that have never gotten an exoneration. They just don't do that. They either prosecute or they don't prosecute.

HILL: Well, it is remarkable that when we look at Attorney General Bill Barr, and that four-page letter he put out, he misrepresented this report, and that was out there for weeks.

SALE: Well, if he misrepresented it, it's inexcusable. But I still think from the public's point of view, the important thing is we can read the report.

[14:05:08] SALE: I've read it. It speaks for itself. And I'm sure most good reporters have read it, or you've had analysts read it. So the report is out there, so, you know, but if he misrepresented or if he misrepresented by omission, that's just not acceptable for anybody to do.

HILL: Let me just let me just nail you down that way because you said you've read the full report. Are you saying you don't believe that it was misrepresented in that initial summary letter that was put out by Bill Barr? Because you say you've read now the 448 pages?

SALE: Now, I think that it could be argued that he did not totally deliver the message that Mr. Mueller wanted, but Mueller wrote him a letter and said, "Please, release the following," which were 19 pages. And eventually, the Attorney General released everything that Mueller asked him to.

So I'm sort of saying that it's a tough, tough thing to write four pages to summarize what he says was a summary of 400 pages.

HILL: Let's look at in terms of this -- in terms of the letter that we're just seeing here from Emmet Flood. Caroline, when you look at this, in terms of the argument created about this is legal curiosity that hadn't been seen because of not making call either way on obstruction. What's your take on that?

CAROLINE POLISI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this is definitely a shot across the bow on Emmett Flood's part. So he did. The word that jumped out, he called it a prosecutorial curiosity, which was meant to really be derogatory, but actually, I don't think it is derogatory because we really are in unchartered territory here.

He is correct that under the Special Counsel regulations, which are new, by the way, these are new to the American public. This is not Ken Starr. This is not the Independent Counsel regulations. Under that statute, you know, what was required of Bob Mueller was to supply a report on the declinations or prosecutorial decisions moving forward to prosecute to the Attorney General.

And so Emmet Flood's issue is that this was a much more fulsome -- it was it was too good, right. It was too good of a report, too much information here. The idea being that look, if you are not going to prosecute the obstruction of justice charge, which you did not, then why include all of this other information? You know, that to him, he is saying is political.

On Mueller's behalf, he is saying and he stated in the report, the reason I'm memorializing this is I want this to be for posterity's sake in the case that suppose President Trump is not reelected, then a prosecutor could potentially move to indict on obstruction of justice, because the evidence is there.

So yes, I mean, I think to the extent they're arguing over semantics in terms of this language of not exonerated. But, you know, they are both entitled to their own opinions.

HILL: Yes. These may not be the last we hear of those opinions. Caroline and Jon, thank you. Stay with me. The White House, we should point out isn't the only one complaining to or about Attorney General William Barr over his handling of the Mueller investigation.

House Democrats lashing out after Barr was a no show at a House Judiciary hearing this morning. In his place, an empty chair. There is more though that is fueling Democrats outrage, including Barr's earlier claimed that he had no clue how Robert Mueller felt about Barr's four-page summary of the Russia probe.

Well, we now know of course, that Mueller sent his own letter to Barr saying the Attorney General quote "did not fully capture the context, nature and substance of Mueller's team and their work." Barr received that letter and also spoke with Mueller, we learned before he spoke with Congress and that prompted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to say the following.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): 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 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju joining us now. So Manu, the Justice Department called those comments, the House Speaker's comments reckless, irresponsible and false. What is Speaker Pelosi specifically accusing Barr of lying about?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, in his past testimony before a House Committee and a Senate Committee, he was asked -- Bill Barr -- about whether or not the Special Counsel had any concerns about the four-page letter that Barr sent to Capitol Hill outlining the top line findings of the Mueller report. And he said very clearly, in one of his testimonies, I'm reading it from right here. He said -- he was asked by Chris Van Hollen, "Did Mueller support your conclusion?" "I don't know if Bob Mueller supported my conclusion."

Now we know that there was a four-page letter -- there was a letter that was sent on March 27th before that congressional testimony, saying very clearly that Mueller was concerned about the way that this report was characterized, some of the findings and when he was asked about this yesterday in his Senate hearing, Barr said, "Look, what I was referring to was a report that was in the "New York Times" that said that prosecutors -- unnamed prosecutors -- had concerns about the Mueller report, and I didn't know anything about those unnamed prosecutors."

[14:10:25] RAJU: Nevertheless, Democrats are simply not satisfied with that response, and you heard that rather serious charge from the Speaker of the House accusing the Attorney General of the United States of lying and committing a crime.

But this all harkens back to that past testimony and the question is, what do Democrats do going forward? And at the moment, it's not clear what they will do other than hold the Attorney General in contempt over a separate dispute, not over allegations that he may have lied to Congress -- Erica.

HILL: Manu Raju with the latest for us there. Manu, thank you. Jon Sale and Caroline Polisi are back. So Jon, as we look at this, Speaker Pelosi says the Attorney General committed a crime when he lied to Congress. Even if that were proven to be true, it would be Barr's own Justice Department who would be in charge of charging him, so I mean, realistically, what would the consequences be there?

SALE: Well, it's a paper tiger, because obviously, the Justice Department is not going to criminally prosecute the Attorney General. But I think stunts like the empty chair that does not promote the American people to have confidence in our system. I think I'd like to see Mueller testify, I'd like to see the Attorney General come back. And the way for that to happen is they should be negotiating behind the scenes, work out some accommodation so the Attorney General will come back, rather than have subpoenas having it go to court and the clock run out and the American people just throw up their hands and say, "All the politicians are just interested in their own careers."

I don't see why the House Judiciary Committee -- I think two thirds of them are lawyers -- why they can't ask the appropriate questions of the Attorney General. Let's bring him back. Let's bring Mueller all back. And let's have all these questions we are speculating about answered.

HILL: And that's a question that's come up actually, several times today that it didn't need for us to get to this point, the Democrats did not need to force it to this point. And Caroline, whether they are, you know, in some ways, shooting themselves in the foot over that, that's probably more of a political question. I won't make you answer that one since you're here in your legal capacity, obviously.

But as we look at this, you know, we also heard from Nancy Pelosi earlier today, saying that what the President has said about subpoenas, and they are not going to comply with any subpoenas when it comes to these congressional investigations. She likens that to obstruction of justice, you know, again, as we keep going down this road of what can they do legally, how does any of that get enforced? That's the big question.

POLISI: Yes, there's two routes. I mean if you're asking strictly on a legal basis, I mean, typically, history would provide us with the answer that these things usually get, you know, bartered behind closed doors.

HILL: Somehow it gets the results.

POLISI: However, there is a criminal route and there's a civil route. And typically what I would think here, they would go the civil route, meaning hold somebody in civil contempt if you don't comply with a subpoena. And that would just be in the court. You would duke it out in the court system, but that would take a long time.

So, really, you know, we use this word a lot, "constitutional crisis," Erica, but this is really a constitutional crisis, because it's one branch of government against another branch of government. That's what -- they're co equal branches, right, so the question is, who is going to prevail in the end, and ultimately, as you rightly noted, I mean, come on, is Bill Barr going to allow his Justice Department to prosecute him? I mean, it's silly, right? Are the U.S. Marshals going knock down his door? I don't think so. We'll see what happens.

HILL: And here we are, Caroline and Jon, appreciate it. Thank you both. Another point of contention when it comes to the Barr hearing. The notes that he took during the phone call with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Senator Richard Blumenthal wants to see those notes, Bill Barr refused. So could he actually be forced to turn them over?

Plus a new CNN poll finds the President's approval rating on the economy hitting a new high. That poll also reveals how the President is doing in head-to-head matchups against the top Democratic candidates. We'll take a look at those numbers with Van Jones.

And President Trump's second pick for the Federal Reserve Board bowing out. So what was it that may have finally forced Stephen Moore to end his bid?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:18:40] HILL: One exchange in the Bill Barr hearing that we all watched yesterday is prompting more questions about what Congress actually has a right to see from administration officials. This latest tug of war has to do the phone call between the Attorney General and Robert Mueller.

So Barr testified he was the one to call Mueller to talk about that letter that Mueller sent expressing concern over how Barr was portraying the Mueller report before the redacted version, of course was released. So here's an exchange between Bill Barr and Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): Did anyone -- either you or anyone on your staff -- memorialize your conversation with Robert Mueller?

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes.

BLUMENTHAL: Who did that?

BARR: There were notes taken of the call.

BLUMENTHAL: May we have those notes?

BARR: No.

BLUMENTHAL: Why not?

BARR: Why should you have them?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: CNN crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz joining us now. So Shimon, can Congress actually obtain those notes about the call between the Attorney General and Special Counsel despite the "No"?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, quite a shocking response there from the Attorney General. Certainly, you know, you would have thought maybe he would turn around and say, "Let me see. Let me see what I can do. Let me look into it, and see if I can provide those to you." Especially given all of the issues that have been ongoing now with this letter, the fact that he didn't reveal that Mueller had written this letter that he didn't reveal until really yesterday that there was this phone call.

[14:20:12] PROKUPECZ: Yes. Can Congress get their hands on it? Absolutely. They can ask for it. They can subpoena it, you know, they're still obviously this whole issue before the House, they can vote to subpoena this information. I'm sure there will be follow up from Members of Congress requesting this information.

Ultimately, I do think it's probably going to have to be handed over. They are going to have to allow Members of Congress to see it. And the other thing is, is for us in the media, right, we can request it, too? There is FOIA. There could be lawsuits for this information.

So eventually, what what's not totally clear to me is why Barr is resisting when eventually he is probably going to have to turn this over. He is probably going to have to make this public just like he did with the letter. At first, they wouldn't say that there was even this letter, he wouldn't even tell us that he had these conversations with Mueller. And then ultimately, it does get released, it just looks really, really bad. And it just seems like they're trying to consistently hide information from the public, instead of just saying, "Hey, here's the information. Here's what happened. We have nothing to hide."

Ultimately, this does become public. It could take some time. But I do think ultimately, people will be able to see and read these notes or these memos that perhaps are created. And the other thing is there could be memos on the Mueller team, right? You know that just because Barr had his aides and people from the Department of Justice in this room on this call, which was on a speakerphone, we should probably expect that Mueller did the same, that he had people with him present during this phone call.

So eventually, yes, I do think it will get public and people will be able to read it and we'll see, we'll see how it matches up with what the Attorney General said yesterday.

HILL: Yes, it's just all about the when, right? And perhaps which side we get to see in terms of notes first.

PROKUPECZ: Right. And it just doesn't make sense, in the end, why they wouldn't just put everything out there, put everything forward, and just give it all out there. Eventually, it's going to come out, so why not just get ahead of it and get it out there. And I think that's been one of the most puzzling things in all of this.

And the fact that they have not learned their lesson in all of this, that they should have just come forward and brought everything out and let everyone see everything that's been going on. It just raises all sorts of questions, necessary questions that folks need to keep digging in on and trying to find out.

Eventually, I think the entire thing will come out, and we'll be able to see for ourselves exactly what this conversation was. It was a 15- minute phone call, Erica, is what he says. That's a really long time. So you can imagine all the things that they were talking about that we just don't know yet about. Eventually it does come out, I think.

HILL: Indeed it does. And we know you'll let us know as soon as you hear anything more. Shimon, thank you.

Well, speaking of Barr and Mueller, you know they were once friends? Really good friends. Barr took multiple jabs, though at Mueller during that hearing on Wednesday. We have a few of them to remind you. Plus, this just coming in, Facebook has now banned several high profile users for being dangerous. We will show you which names made the list.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:27:43] HILL: Just in to CNN, Facebook is purging several high profile names from its platforms; among them Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan; right-wing conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones; as well as his media outlet InfoWars. They're being banned for spreading quote, "dangerous ideology."

CNN Business senior media reporter Oliver Darcy joins me now. So what more do we know about this ban and who else is included?

OLIVER DARCY CNN BUSINESS SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Yes, this is a very strict action from Facebook, Erica. Basically they've deemed these individuals to be dangerous is what Facebook is saying. Those individuals include Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan, who has a history of anti-Semitic remarks. People like right-wing conspiracy theorists, Alex Jones, and then also some right wing media personalities who are pretty popular online. People like Milo Yiannopoulos, Laura Loomer, Paul Joseph Watson -- those people are banned, as well as a failed congressional candidate, Paul Nehlen, who had made a number of anti-Semitic remarks.

Facebook has given us a statement and they do say in their statement, I'll read part of it to you right now, they say that, "We've always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate regardless of ideology. The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive, and it is what led us to our decision to move these accounts today."

Facebook told me that the process they use is to engage a number of factors, have they promoted hate speech on Facebook? Have they been banned for violating the rules in the past? Have they'd self- described themselves as part of a hate movement or hate ideology? Those are the factors that Facebook was weighing and, you know, they're taking this really strict action moments ago.

HILL: And banning from Facebook and Instagram, correct?

DARCY: Yes, Facebook obviously owns Instagram. And so someone like Alex Jones who had been banned from Facebook a while back last year in the summer, but he was still having a presence on Instagram and that had drawn a lot of scrutiny from people who are saying, "Hey, you know, you guys banned him from one of your platforms, why are you allowing him to have a presence on Instagram?"

And so yes, now Facebook is going to be banning Alex Jones and InfoWars from not only their main platform Facebook, but also from Instagram. I checked in also to see if these people would be banned from WhatsApp, which is also owned by Facebook, and a spokesperson cannot say immediately because it's, I guess, unclear whether some of these people have WhatsApp accounts according to the spokesperson.

HILL: All right, but we know you'll continue to check on it. Oliver Darcy, good to see you. Thank you.

DARCY: Thank you.

[14:30:09]