Return to Transcripts main page


New York City Subway Bomber Plotter Spared More Jail Time; White House Lashes Out at Mueller Report; Attorney General Under Fire. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired May 2, 2019 - 15:00   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: But here is what Flood says. And I'm reading from the report now.

He says: "The special counsel instead produced a prosecutorial curiosity, part truth commission report and part law school exam paper."

Essentially, Flood is accusing the special counsel of simply just transmitting evidence, without making it clear that he wasn't going to charge the president with obstruction of justice.

And then he goes on to say that the report is being seen now by congressional Democrats, particularly House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, as a -- quote -- "road map" for continuing to investigate the president over obstruction.

That, too, is something that Flood is objecting to, saying that that is simply not the role of the special counsel at all.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: The letter also specifically addresses White House -- the White House allowing advisers to be interviewed by House Democrats. What is the take on that?

PHILLIP: Well, this is the next step here.

So, now that congressional Democrats are saying they want people like Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, to testify, Flood basically is laying out that the White House has not waived their right to exert executive privilege over any of this information.

They're saying the president still has the ability to say that all of this is privileged, including future testimony by people who participated voluntarily in the special counsel's probe. And, essentially, they're laying down the marker. They are not claiming privilege at this moment, but saying that they have the right to do so in the future.

That could complicate efforts by these congressional committees in the House to force these people to testify. The argument from folks like Jerry Nadler is that this information is already out in the public sphere. The White House can't exert privilege. Flood is saying the exact opposite, that when they volunteered to have these people participate in the special counsel investigation, they made it clear to the special counsel that they were not waiving the president's rights in that respect.

So I think this is really them just putting a marker down and saying, we're going to fight this in the future. They can't just call these people and subpoena them to testify.

HILL: Setting up the next round. Abby Phillip at the White House, Abby, thank you.

CNN contributor John Dean was former White House counsel for President Nixon. And Susan Crabtree is senior national political correspondent for RealClearPolitics.

Good to have both of you with us.

So, John, as we look at this letter that we see from Emmet Flood, clearly unhappy with what he saw from Robert Mueller, specifically for not writing in the report that the president will not be indicted on obstruction of justice, full stop.

Where does that go?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think the letter is a diversion. I think it was released today because Barr has got his own problems.

It was addressed to Barr and signed by Emmet Flood. And Barr has got some news problems today. He has been accused of lying by the speaker of the House and others. He didn't show up at a hearing. And this is a nice little kind of technical diversion that doesn't mean much.

You can't un-waive once you have waived, as they have done. And his criticism of the report is, frankly, un -- not well placed, because the special counsel went out of his way to be fair to the president in the way he presented the evidence, saying the president couldn't defend himself, so we can't really reach a prosecutorial decision.

So I think Flood is just being used in the news today.

HILL: But is it effective? Because, actually, in releasing this, couldn't this just prolong the discussion, the investigation and, in fact, bring more attention?

DEAN: Well, I think it is Trump's plan to try to block everything the House does.

He has indicated he's not going to cooperate and send any witnesses, he's not going to honor any subpoenas. And that is a constitutional crisis. The courts don't like to wade in. The remedies of Congress for supporting subpoenas are somewhat limited.

They can go the criminal route, but the criminal route won't work because the Department of Justice won't pick it up. They can go the civil right. That is a very protracted, and it takes about a year to a year-and-a-half. Congress has considered legislation to expedite it, but never adopted it.

And the other route that actually they're talking about is, they have arrest powers, and they could put somebody in the jail -- in jail. They could lease a jail somewhere, and they could incarcerate somebody under their own inherent power.

HILL: We will see if we get to that point.

Susan, I want to get your take -- your take, though, on this letter, because, in looking at it, it was hand-delivered, according to the letter, on April 19, the day after, of course, if my dates are correct here, the redacted version of the Mueller report was released.

What do you see as the point of this letter? Is it about trying to please the audience of one, President Trump?

SUSAN CRABTREE, REALCLEARPOLITICS: I see we're having these flurry of letters -- or at least two. One was the snitty letter from Bob Mueller and now we're seeing the White House sort of try to reframe the argument and the narrative with their side, saying that they didn't think that he, Mueller -- Mueller's report was fair to begin with.


I see a lot of politics. I'm shocked, shocked that politics is going on here. We see a lot of irony. If you look back to what Ken Starr did and how the Democrats reacted to that in 1998-1999, they basically rescinded the entire independent statute -- counsel -- the statute for the independent counsel.

They didn't believe that the Starr report, Democrats, and especially Jerry Nadler, didn't believe the Starr report should be released to the public. He didn't believe that Bill Clinton obstructed justice. He didn't think that it would be fair to release the Starr report because of people's privacy.

We're seeing completely -- complete reversal right now. And I think we're -- what we really know, every American knows around the country is that you see what you want in this entire debate. The Democrats wanted to impeach President Clinton -- President Trump.

They wanted to impeach him. And now they did not get what they wanted from the Mueller report, so they are taking issue with these -- with this letter that he sent, the way that it was distributed and the media narrative now.

But I see a lot of irony in all of this and certainly as a reporter I like -- I think it is my job to point that out.

HILL: Listen, both of you stay with me for just a moment, because, from the White House, we want to move now to Capitol Hill. A lot happening obviously on this Thursday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi not mincing words today when it comes to the attorney general, talking about his words and actions in the aftermath of the Mueller report. Take a listen.


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.


HILL: Those extraordinary comments coming just hours, of course, after Barr had defied Democrats, refusing to appear before the House Judiciary Committee this morning.

Barr objected to the format, which would have allowed staff attorneys to question him. So, in his place, we saw an empty chair.

CNN's Phil Mattingly is on Capitol Hill.

Fiery words from the speaker. She's not the only one. Do we know, though -- talk to us more about what specifically Speaker Pelosi was referring to in what she says was, in fact, a crime.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Erica, it doesn't get much stronger than that from the speaker or really any member of Congress.

You have noted we've heard it from a number of members. Here is the hint we got in terms of what she was referring to. In a closed-door meeting of the Democratic Caucus before the press conference, a person that was in the room tells me she pointed directly to Congressman Charlie Crist and said, "He lied to you."

And this is a reference to a hearing back in early April where Charlie Crist asked the attorney general about reports that had become public that members of the Mueller team were frustrated about how the report or how the four-page summary, if you will, characterized the findings of the report.

Attorney General Barr said, no, he did not know what they might be referring to. But he did say he suspected they wanted more information out. There was also another hearing where Senator Chris Van Hollen, the Democrat from Maryland, asked a similar question about if he knew if Mueller agreed with his conclusions.

The attorney general said he did not know that. This is kind of the driving force here behind a lot of frustration, frustration from Democrats related specifically to that hearing, frustration to the lack of the -- Attorney General Barr's president during today's hearing, and also frustration overall about subpoenas that haven't been complied with, a White House that has made very clear they will defy pretty much anything that House Democrats ask related to either the Mueller report or even broader investigations.

I think you're starting to see that spill out a little bit. Now, I should note the Justice Department did put out a statement regarding Speaker Pelosi's comments, saying: "The baseless attack on the attorney general is reckless, irresponsible and false."

But I think kind of to underscore everything that's going on right now, there is a very real fight that is ongoing between Democrats in the House, between the Justice Department, between the White House, between President Trump.

It's not something you're going to see anytime soon. I think one of the big questions, given the attorney general chose not to participate in the hearing today, is what comes next. There are a lot of options out there, whether it's holding him in contempt, whether it's impeachment.

The reality, I think, when you talk to people involved with the Judiciary Committee, Democrats on that side, their next kind of target, what they're most focused on right now is the special counsel.

Robert Mueller is expected to testify at some point in the coming weeks. You don't have an exact date yet, but that is what Democrats want to see more than anything else. And, obviously, they will continue express plenty of frustration with the attorney general, Erica.

HILL: All right, Phil Mattingly with the latest for us. Phil, thank you.

And we just want you to hear for yourself the moments that Democrats are now pouncing on. So, last month, of course, as we heard from Phil, Barr testified before two committees, one in the House, the other in the Senate.

And he was asked about these concerns reportedly coming from Mueller's team and Mueller himself. Here are two of those key exchanges.



REP. CHARLIE CRIST (D-FL): Reports have emerged recently, General, that members of the special counsel's team are frustrated at some level with the limited information included in your March 24 letter, that it does not adequately or accurately, necessarily, portray the report's findings.

Do you know what they're referencing with that?


I think -- I think -- I suspect that they probably wanted more put out. But, in my view, I was not interested in putting out summaries or trying to summarize, because I think any summary, regardless of who prepares it, not only runs the risk of being underinclusive or overinclusive, but also would trigger a lot of discussion and analysis that really should await everything coming out at once.

So I was not interested in a summary of the report. And, in fact, at the time I put out my March 24 letter, there was nothing from the special counsel that wasn't marked as potentially containing 6(e) material, and I had no material that had been sanitized of 6(e) material.

So I felt that I should state the bottom-line conclusions. And I tried to use special counsel Mueller's own language in doing that.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): Mr. Attorney General, the thing is, you put this out there. I mean, the president went out and tweeted the next day that he was exonerated.

That wasn't based on anything in the Mueller report with respect to obstruction of justice. That was based on your assessment. That was on March 24. And now you won't elaborate at all as to how you reached that conclusion, because I'm not asking you what's in the Mueller report. I'm asking about your conclusion.

Let me ask you this. You said in...


BARR: Well, it was the conclusion -- it was the conclusion of a number of people, including me, and I obviously am the attorney general.

It was also the conclusion of the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, as well as others.

VAN HOLLEN: I understand. No, I have read your letters.


BARR: And I will discuss that decision after the report is...


VAN HOLLEN: Did Bob Mueller support your conclusion?

BARR: I don't know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion.


HILL: Well, that was April 9, April 10.

Of course, we now know that Robert Mueller did inform Barr about the issues that he had with Barr's conclusion, that in a letter which was dated March 27.

John Dean and Susan Crabtree are back with us.

So, John, as we look at all of this, we heard from Nancy Pelosi making that very serious allegation that she believes the attorney general lied to Congress based on what you just heard. He obviously has a different take on this. What is your take here?

Who's right here? Is it the speaker, or is Barr technically correct, because he's saying, again, that he spoke to Mueller directly, not with members of his team, and he was saying, that's what I'm referring to?

DEAN: Well, it's interesting, Erica, that he was aware of this issue before he testified yesterday before the Senate, that when the letter came out showing him at odds with his earlier testimony, he was careful yesterday to parse that and try to give further explanation of his position vis-a-vis what is said in the letter vs. his testimony.

And it's not entirely clear. I think, at this moment, he's obviously not being candid. He wasn't being open with the -- with the Congress. He's now in a situation where he's doing very fine-line parsing of what was said, how it was said, what he meant.

This is not healthy. This is not being square with the Congress. Whether it's perjury or not is another big step. And I don't think we're going to go there.

HILL: OK, so you're not going to go there.

But, Susan, I do want to get your take. Another moment that stood out to a lot of people on Wednesday is a response that the attorney general had, and specifically the way he said it and who he referred to, which raised questions again about not only his view of executive power, but where his loyalties lie.

Take a look in this exchange.


SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL): Do you have any objections, can you think of an objection of why Don McGahn shouldn't come testify before this committee about his experience?

BARR: Yes. I mean, I think that he's -- he's a close adviser to the president. And the president...

DURBIN: But never -- never exerted executive privilege.

BARR: Excuse me?

DURBIN: He may have already waived his...

BARR: No, we haven't waived the executive privilege.


HILL: "We." It's the "we" there that stopped a few people.

What's your take on that?

CRABTREE: Right. Well, the attorney general needs to maintain his independence

certainly here. But I do feel like, in that situation, the underlying Mueller report did not believe that that constituted obstruction of justice that was criminal.


And he -- if he had every opportunity to go ahead and make that conclusion, and he didn't, and he is actually -- Barr said yesterday that that was not because of the Office of Legal Counsel's statement that you cannot indict a sitting president.

So I honestly think that that use of the "we" is problematic. We want an independent attorney general, even though every attorney general is appointed by the president. We want a sense of fairness here and transparency.

But, in this case, I think the Democrats -- I will continue say the Democrats' real beef is with the fact that Mueller didn't go ahead and say that there was enough obstruction of justice in his mind to bring criminal charges.

And you -- if you're Mueller, you really can't have it both ways. He came out. He had that letter because he didn't like the way it was distributed. But Democrats -- it was the Democrats who reined in the independent counsel statute after the Starr report.

And it -- and he said -- Barr said yesterday he is going above and beyond by releasing it. He doesn't have to release the report. In fact, Democrats didn't want to release the Starr report, as we recall. And he went above and beyond and he's releasing it now.

And he's providing -- he's going to go before Congress. He's not going to go before the House Democratic Judiciary Committee, the Judiciary Committee members, because they changed the rules on him after the fact and wanted him to submit to staff questioning.

There's a big debate about that. But, in essence, I think the Democrats really want to keep this narrative going, want it they cannot impeach the president based on the Mueller report, but they can hoist up and roast Bill Barr for -- and parse his statements on whether he received this letter or not, which I think is of value.

I think it's an incredibly newsworthy letter. If I would have gotten it as a reporter, I would have definitely reported on it. And it's certainly newsworthy. Whether it's something where -- where we can say Bill Barr lied or not, I cannot get into his head and figure out exactly what was said during that meeting vs. the first meeting vs. what the letter said.

I certainly wish he would have been more forthcoming. But all of this is definitely something that is newsworthy, that we should pursue as journalists, all aspects of this. But what impact it has on the 2020 race and the Democrats' move to impeach, I think they might be -- because they have to be concerned that they're overplaying their hand a little bit here. HILL: Be interesting to see if we learn more if and when we see the

notes from that phone call between Robert Mueller and Bill Barr, which, as we heard Bill Barr, he doesn't want to give them up.


HILL: But, of course, there are other ways to obtain those notes. And we will see when they come out.

We're going to have to leave it there. Susan Crabtree, John Dean, not the last time we will talk about these events. Thank you.

Still ahead, $6.5 million, that's the price tag for one Chinese family. They reportedly paid $6.5 million to get their daughter into Stanford -- details on this latest twist in the college admissions scandal.

Plus, news just coming into CNN. President Trump's pick for the Federal Reserve is out, the past comments that Stephen Moore just couldn't escape.

And breaking news out of Baltimore, where the city's Democratic mayor is embroiled in scandal over a book deal. We are moments away from an announcement by her attorney.



HILL: Breaking news: The man who plotted to blow up New York City subways a decade ago and a bit of a surprise from the courtroom.

I want to go straight to CNN's Shimon Prokupecz, who has more on this development -- Shimon.


And the surprise here is that the government has said, we're told from court, the judge has just sentenced Najibullah Zazi, the man who plotted, who was behind this plot some -- almost a decade ago to blow up the New York City subway at the time.

The then attorney general called it one of the most serious threats that this country has faced. Well, today, after being really gone for 10 years -- we have not seen Najibullah Zazi for the last 10 years or so. He's been cooperating with the government, providing them highly valuable information, they say.

And as a result of that cooperation, the judge today sentencing Najibullah Zazi essentially to time served, that is, that he's not going to have to serve any additional jail time, any additional prison time, since he's been cooperating with the government, has been in their custody since his arrest for the last 10 years.

What's really interesting in this investigation is that it's very rare for the government to get this kind of cooperation from a terrorist, essentially. And they did. For the last 10 years, the government says that he's met with them over 100 times, providing all sorts of information on al Qaeda.

He trained at one of their training sites in Pakistan. And, as a result, they have been able to glean a lot of information about the terrorist group. And because of that, they did ask the judge for a downgrade in his sentence. And, as a result of that, the judge today sentenced him essentially to time served.

HILL: All right, Shimon Prokupecz with that development for us, Shimon, thank you.

Turning now back to Washington, Democrats -- there was no doubt when Democrats just grilled Bill Barr when he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A question, though, from Senator Chris Coons of Delaware was supposed to be somewhat of a softball for the attorney general. And that's when this moment happened.


SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Going forward, what if a foreign adversary -- let's now say North Korea -- offers a presidential candidate dirt on a competitor in 2020?


Do you agree with me that campaigns should immediately contact the FBI?

If a foreign intelligence service...

BARR: If a foreign government, foreign intelligence service?

COONS: A representative of a foreign government...

BARR: Yes.

COONS: ... says, we have dirt on your opponent...

BARR: Yes.

COONS: ... should they say, I love it, let's meet, or should they contact the FBI?


BARR: If a foreign intelligence service does, yes.


HILL: He later went on to say this about foreign adversaries:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARR: Absolutely, I think the -- the danger from countries like China, Russia and so forth is far more insidious than it has been in the past because of nontraditional collectors that they have operating in the United States.

And I think most people are unaware of how pervasive it is and how -- and what the risk level is. And I think it actually should go far beyond even campaigns. More people involved in government have to be educated on this.


HILL: CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem served as homeland security -- as a homeland security official under President Obama.

That first answer there...


HILL: ... there was a long pause. You could almost see the wheels turning there in his head.

And then there was the clarification of a foreign intelligence service. Remind us there, because he's making that distinction.

KAYYEM: Right. Coons was not.

HILL: What does the law say?

KAYYEM: Well, the -- this is the problem, is that, as Mueller made clear, volume one -- in volume one, about the contacts between Trump and the Russians, the Trump team and Russians, and why he could not build a criminal conspiracy case was because there is no direct law sort of prohibiting it.

And so people throw out words like was there collusion or cooperation? And so this is the problem. And so you're starting to see legislators and others begin to talk about, well, we need to draft clear rules about the capability of getting information from a foreign adversary, whether it's the government or an intelligence agency...

HILL: Or anyone else.

KAYYEM: ... because, most of the time, you can't tell the difference.

Barr's pause was one of the most, like, sort of shocking and terrifying things ever, because in -- what you're wondering is, does he already know about contacts that are or have been made between 2016 and 2020 between the Trump campaign and some foreign adversary, Russia, North Korea, whoever else, Russia probably, and didn't want to perjure himself?

I mean, the whole point of what Barr was doing there was, I can't perjure myself. So he's trying to come up with an answer that doesn't make him perjure himself. HILL: But also interesting, too, when you then hear him say afterwards, yes, there are actually -- and I'm obviously paraphrasing, summing it up here.

KAYYEM: Right.

HILL: But there needs to be further education across government with a lot of officials, so that people better understand what the threat is out there.

KAYYEM: You know, I heard him say that. Like, I mean, you're not running for president.

But if like the Russians came to you and said, we have intelligence against your adversary that we stole from WikiLeaks, like, I think your moral compass would say, this does not sound right.

So that's sort of, we need to educate people, no. There's only one campaign in the history of running for president in the United States that has shown so many consistent outreaches, cooperation, information flow, meetings over the course of a campaign to get information against their adversary, and then did not disclose it to the FBI ever.

And then add the third piece, which Barr got wrong yesterday, the Trump campaign had been told by the FBI to be on the watch out for this kind of game from the Russians, and still did not disclose.

Barr either conveniently forgot or, once again, didn't want to perjure himself in that testimony about what Trump -- what the Trump family and the Trump campaign did, which is sort of laid out in volume one, which we don't talk enough about, and that's why I was glad that Senator Coons sort of raised the issue.

HILL: Juliette, good to see you.

KAYYEM: Thank you.

HILL: And nice to see you in person.

KAYYEM: I know. Nice to see you.

HILL: Thank you.

New today, President Trump's pick for the Federal Reserve withdrawing his name from consideration -- why Stephen Moore is now taking himself out of the running.

Plus, sources telling CNN the family of a Chinese student who was admitted to Stanford University paid millions of dollars to the ringleader of that U.S. college admissions scandal. They haven't been charged. We will tell you why.