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INSIDE POLITICS

Pelosi Says Barr Committed a Crime; Barr Testimony Conflicts with Mueller Report. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 2, 2019 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00] REP. LUCY MCBATH (D-GA): America deserves. And so 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.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, and your son, Jordan Davis, no one will forget his name. I know you will always lift it up.

Thank you so much, congresswoman. Appreciate your time..

MCBATH: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you guys so much for joining me. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

Democrats scold an empty chair and warn of a constitutional crisis. Attorney general William Barr a no show on Capitol Hill today, and the House speaker says he lied to Congress. It's a dramatic escalation of the Trump White House war with House Democrats and their aggressive oversight.

Plus, new CNN polling shows a new high for President Trump when vote are asked how to rate his handling of the economy. Health care, though, a very different story. The president gets weak grades there and now his Justice Department is suing to invalidate Obamacare.

And Michael Bennet makes it 21. The Colorado senator, just weeks removed from cancer treatment, joins the quest for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My plan is to run for president. I called my mom, and I said to her, somebody has to be 22, and that's why I'm running. And it turns out I'm not, I'm 21. So I've already made a little bit of progress.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: We begin, though, with high drama in Washington. The attorney general's Capitol Hill snub, a contempt threat, and a constitutional collision course now set in motion.

This haymaker last hour thrown by the speaker of the House. Nancy Pelosi telling reporters in the Capitol, she thinks the attorney general, William Barr, is a criminal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): What is deadly serious about it is that 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That blistering statement from the speaker, a dramatic escalation, and it adds to a morning chorus of Democrat after Democrat accusing the nation's top lawyer of leading a cover-up for the president.

The House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler opened the morning by scolding the empty chair that was for the attorney general. Nadler says he'll make one more what he calls good faith attempt to get Barr back before the committee. But if Barr does not agree, and if the Justice Department does not fold and allow committee lawyers to ask questions, Chairman Nadler says he will hold the attorney general of the United States in contempt.

Nadler framed today's stare-down and the Trump White House's blanket defiance of congressional investigations in big constitutional terms. Republicans say this morning nothing more than a charade.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): We go back to a circus political stunt to say we want it to look like an impeachment hearing because they won't bring impeachment proceedings. That's the reason.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's Manu Raju live on Capitol Hill tracking all of this drama.

Manu, it was a tense day to begin with. The speaker of the House saying the attorney general has committed a crime. Wow.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a very significant escalation of words. The question is, what do Democrats do next? You mentioned one of the steps they plan to take, hold the attorney general in contempt. That in reference to the failure of the Justice Department to turn over the un-redacted Mueller report with the underlying evidence. The Justice Department so far only providing the full Congress with a redacted version of the report, allowing the less redacted version to be viewed by 12 members of Congress. That's not sufficient to Democrats. Also, they plan to issue a subpoena to force the attorney general to come to Capitol Hill.

But what we've seen from this administration is battling subpoenas. That's leaving some Democrats to say, what should we do next now that they're essentially ignoring our request to compel either testimony or records? Some Democrats, including Ted Lieu, told me that it's time to start talking about impeachment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TED LIEU (D-CA): If the Trump administration wants impeachment, they're doing a good job of pushing the Democrats there because we want to first gather facts to decide if we should impeach. If we can't gather facts, then we're going to launch Article III impeachment of -- under what Nixon -- happened to him, Article III of his impeachment proceedings was obstructing Congress. So if we can't gather facts, that may be the only tool we have left, and we're going to use it if we have no other tools available.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: So I asked him whether or not he had gotten any assurances from Jerry Nadler or Nancy Pelosi about pursuing the impeachment route. He just said that this is his opinion, but he said it's, quote, unifying his caucus.

And, John, Pelosi referenced the same fight about concerns about defying congressional subpoenas, but she also raised concerns again about impeachment dying at the Senate's edge. So that tension bound to play out as the administration rejects Democratic requests after request.

[12:05:10] John.

KING: Tension an understatement, I think.

Manu Raju live on The Hill. Appreciate the live reporting.

With me here in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Michael Bender with "The Wall Street Journal," Paul Kane with "The Washington Post," and Laura Barron-Lopez with "Politico."

The question, let's start first with the speaker and House Democrats, to say the attorney general of the United States committed a crime is only going to stoke the liberal faction of her base. You just heard Congressman Lieu, he says, look, if they're not going to answer the subpoenas, if they're not going to give us documentation, they won't even give us a witness, why wait?

How does she hold that balance together when we know her personal opinion is, have weeks and weeks if not months of hearings and lay out the case, don't rush? PAUL KANE, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST":

That's a -- this is the trick. I don't know. She's standing on a ledge. This is much further than she was two weeks ago before the congressional recess. And she has got these swing district Democrats who spent two weeks at home and they didn't hear anything about impeachment. They barely heard anything about Bob Mueller or the Mueller report. But back here, her caucus is real pushing harder and harder on this. I don't know where -- where this goes in the next few weeks.

KING: And let's have more of the speaker, because, you're right, she has moved -- you called it a ledge. There are some people who think the White House is nudging them out on this ledge, that they actually want this fight to see if the Democrats go for it.

But listen to the speaker here, who has said for weeks, slow down, the votes aren't there in the Senate anyway. It's not worth doing. Just have your hearing. She doesn't like to talk about the details of impeachment. Here, today, she talked about the details.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): When the articles of impeachment for President Nixon, Article III, was that he ignored the subpoenas. I think that the statements being made by the president of the United States has given a blanket statement that he's not going to honor any subpoenas is obstruction of justice. We are in a very, very, very challenging place. So that's why I say sometimes impeachment is the easy way out for some of these people because they know it will end at the Senate's edge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: How does she keep this together?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": I mean I was just talking to a top House Democrat who said that Pelosi, in their caucus meeting today, yes, she said that what Barr did she considered a crime, but she also didn't lay out any specific actions that they should take. She pretty much just said that her committee chairmen and chairwomen need to start helping connect the dots for the American public. So that means holding hearings. So they're going to push forward with these investigations, but that's different than starting the actual impeachment proceedings.

And also this Democrat, John Yarmouth of Kentucky, he said that he doesn't think that there's a risk for Democrats politically. In his district, yes, it's a little -- it's bluer than some of the more battleground ones, but he hears a lot about, why aren't you guys pushing harder against Trump? And as Paul said, in the battleground districts, you go to them and you don't hear about Mueller at all. These voters are concerned about health care, and they're concerned about other issues. So they may not be hearing what's going on in D.C.

KING: And in this fight, calling the attorney general of the United States a liar, saying a criminal because he did it under oath before Congress, the Justice Department spokeswoman saying this baseless attack on the attorney general is reckless, irresponsible and false, that from Kerri Kupec at the Justice Department, pushing back.

But -- but let's get to the core here. The speaker of the House says the attorney general lied under oath, the nation's top attorney. This is the issue. The last time, not yesterday, when the attorney general is before the Senate. Before that, this is back in April 9th, he was before the House and he was asked this question by Democratic Congressman Charlie Crist of Florida.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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 24th letter, that it does not adequately or accurately necessarily portray the report's findings. Do you know what they're referencing with that?

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He went on to say, the attorney general did, that there was some frustration. He acknowledged some frustration.

The question is, that is April 9th. OK. This is the March 27th letter from Robert Mueller, the special counsel, to the attorney general complaining, saying, hey, what you put out does not accurately portray what my report says.

So, Bill Barr says he's not lying because he was asked about reports. And so he wasn't being fully honest. There's no question he was not being transparent. He didn't say, no, congressman, I don't know what the reports are about, but I talked to Bob Mueller, he's mad at me. He sent me a letter. He could have said that, but he didn't. But is that perjury or is it just fine tune spin by a trained lawyer?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, and though Pelosi made that statement today, it didn't sound like she was ready to take it any steps further because she said if it was anyone else who did this, they would be facing the consequences essential for doing so.

[12:10:00] But White House officials who watched that moment yesterday when he was trying to explain that away, when he told the lawmaker, no, I did not -- or I don't know what they're talking about, they thought that was one of the weaker moments of Bill Barr's testimony yesterday because he did have such a struggle in explaining it because he was saying, well, I don't know of any of the frustrations from his team, but he obviously heard not once but twice from the special counsel himself. So that was not a great moment.

What White House officials are counting on here is that Democrats are going to get out ahead of their skis or they're going to try to get in this legal fight over the subpoenas, trying to get Bill Barr to come and be questioned by staff lawyers. And it's going to be a legal fight that's going to drag out and they're not going to have to deal with it.

KING: But to the staff lawyer question, that's why Bill Barr would not come today. He was willing to come and be questioned by House members. The chairman on the Democratic side wanted staff lawyers to question him. Why? They wanted trained prosecutors to follow up on questions like Charlie Crist, to try to get the attorney general in a trap, to say that, you didn't tell the truth. They wanted to do more.

Here's another example. This is Kamala Harris during the questioning in the Senate side yesterday, where Democrats say, why can't the attorney general give a straight answer?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone, yes or no, please, sir?

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The president or anybody else.

HARRIS: Seems you would remember something like that and be able to tell us.

BARR: Yes, but I'm -- I'm trying to grapple with the word "suggest." I mean there have been discussions of matters out there that -- they have not asked me to open an investigation, but --

HARRIS: Perhaps they've suggested?

BARR: I don't know. I wouldn't say suggest.

HARRIS: Hinted?

BARR: I don't know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Again, whether it's the, oh, why didn't you mention Bob Mueller? Why weren't you honest about this letter or to that. That's why the attorney general didn't want to be there today to be questioned not by a member of Congress who may have been a courtroom lawyer 20 years ago, but doesn't have the sharp -- maybe as sharp a skill set. Is that why he doesn't want to be in the chair, they think at the Justice Department, at the White House that the attorney -- if the attorney general is forced to answer, we might learn something?

MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Yes, I think that's a bit part of the reason to. I think a big part of the reason here is trying to goad the House Democrats into getting out in front of their skis and taking an action that they regret later. You know, I think we can all sit around this that and agree, it's hard to ask questions. And -- but -- and, you know, I think we talked about this before when the Senate Judiciary brought -- Republicans brought in an attorney to question Dr. Christine Ford over the Kavanaugh hearing. You know, these lawmakers are elected to do their job. They should sit up there and do their job. I understand Mr. Barr is an attorney. They've questioned attorneys before. They should be able to, you know, ask the right questions here and feel competent in their own ability to do that.

But, you know -- and inside the White House they're saying that whatever President Trump is out there saying, that they are not going to agree to any subpoenas, they're not going to turn over any records that -- that inside that the -- inside the White House that discussion is a little more nuanced and that they would be willing to have some negotiations if Democrats narrowed down their -- their requests some. So far we don't see any -- you know, any give or either side of this.

KING: Today does not indicate we're getting any kind of narrowing of the divide (INAUDIBLE).

BENDER: No. Exactly. And if Pelosi thinks she's getting lied to, if Pelosi thinks her branch is under attack, you know, I think that goes pretty well to explaining her position today.

COLLINS: And the White House does have a point that it's pretty unusual to bring in a staff lawyer to question a cabinet member. There are not -- aren't a ton of instances to look back on and see that. And when Republicans brought that lawyer in, that was an optics thing because otherwise it was going to be a committee full of men questioning a woman who was accusing the Supreme Court nominee of sexual misconduct. So that was a big aspect of that.

So the White House's thinking is, this isn't normal. Why would we put a cabinet member in this position to be questioned when an elected member of Congress could just do it.

KING: There is a bit of irony that for -- so for the first time in two-plus years, the White House wants things in Washington to be normal. There's a bit -- there is a bit of an irony there.

Up next, we continue the conversation. The attorney general's testimony versus the Mueller report. We'll break down where these two friends, said to be friends, contradict each other.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:18:10] KING: You probably already know this, Democrats are mad they did not get a second chance to question the attorney general today in the House, but Democrats say they heard more than enough yesterday from his testimony in the Senate. William Barr must go is the new Democratic refrain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a person who should conduct himself with the highest level of integrity.

But this is not how Attorney General Barr has conducted himself. He's clearly biased. He is clearly reluctant to share the truth with the United States Congress. And clearly unable to perform his duties as the attorney general of the United States. SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): He's acting as the president's

personal defense lawyer, not as the people's lawyer, the attorney general of the United States.

His credibility was shredded yesterday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It's easy to take that as, they're the Democrats. He's a Republican. He works for President Trump, therefore, you know, Ds and Rs in your tribal pit.

But let's go through some of the examples. We just went through one on the question of, was he fully honest about the reservations raised by the Mueller staff.

Let's look at some others. Here the question of Don McGahn, right, the White House counsel, how he's portrayal in the Mueller report. A very damning portrayal of the president from Don McGahn.

William Barr in his testimony saying the president never directed him to fire. There's a distinction, the attorney general said, between saying to remove someone, go fire, go get him, and saying have him removed based on conflicts. So Barr trying to say, well, you know, he didn't really say fire him.

The special counsel report is quite clear, call McGahn to have the special counsel terminated. Why is the attorney general spinning? He's a lawyer, but that's political spin, trying to say, well, you know, there's six or eight ways to read this when the Democrats want, tell us what the Mueller report says.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yes. And this is the question a lot of Democrats have, which is that -- and that's why they also now believe, and they did a little bit when he was appointed, that he was a political appointee to shield the president, to be there to protect him, and they don't think that that is what he should be doing.

[12:20:06] I mean, as we were sitting here, a freshmen Democrat on Judiciary just issued a statement calling for him to resign. So we are seeing this bit of a snowball effect around the number of Democrats that are asking him to step aside.

Also, earlier there was a freshman Democrat who's in a vulnerable district, who was also willing to talk about this on CNN, and she was saying she didn't necessarily agree with Pelosi that -- that Barr committed a crime, but that she wants more hearings to happen.

KANE: If your boss called you and said, go tell Kaitlan that she's not wanted here anymore, how would --

KING: That would never happen, sir.

KANE: How would -- if --

KING: It might happen the other way. KANE: Yes. If Kaitlan came to you and said, hey, Mr. Zucker wants you

gone, how would you take it? And so that's -- there's just a sort of, it doesn't pass the laugh test.

KING: Right.

COLLINS: Well, and Don McGahn is not some unserious figure. He knows what message the president was send when he called him multiple times at his house.

And it wasn't just Don McGahn either. There were other people that the president made these comments to, comments about not only getting rid of the special counsel, but also limiting the investigation to where he even went outside of the White House to his former campaign manager to do that.

So most people, when they read this report for themselves, that Bill Barr did release, could see what the president said, what he did. It painted a pretty damning picture.

So for Bob Mueller -- or, excuse me, Bill Barr to go out there and say, well, it wasn't that black and white, to most people it did seem pretty black and white.

KING: And you've got the control room laughing, by the way. They're -- they're in a good mood about Kaitlan coming to give me a message from the boss.

Let's do more of this and let's listen to some of the attorney general, too. I just showed you some of what he said yesterday, but this is the question, Democratic Senator Pat Leahy, one of the senior Democrats on the committee, trying to get to the idea, did the president fully cooperate? If you listen to the attorney general, the president did everything. Everything. He went above and beyond. Told everybody, cooperate. Was fully cooperative. Patrick Leahy, here, the Democratic senator, saying, not so sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): Mr. Mueller found the written answers to be inadequate, is that correct?

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think he wanted additional, but he never sought it.

LEAHY: And the president never --

BARR: Well, he never -- he never pushed it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: All right. So, again, let's put this to the test here. He never sought it, right? He never sought it, the attorney general says. He never pushed it.

This is what the Mueller report says. This is -- and this is what the attorney general's allegedly testifying about, the actual Mueller report. This office sought for more than a year to interview the president on topics relevant to both Russian election interference and obstruction of justice. Recognizing that the president would not be interviewed voluntarily, we considered whether to have a subpoena for his testimony. We weighed the cost of lengthy constitutional litigation, resulting delay in finishing our investigation against the anticipated benefits for our investigation and report. Apples and oranges, a and z, this is why Democrats say we can't trust what you're telling us.

BENDER: Frankly, I think the question about why the president didn't get interviewed is probably a better one for Mueller than it is for Barr. But we know this --

KING: Sorry to interrupt, but you make a very important point there in that Barr's testimony has increased not only the Democrats' desire but the public case for Mueller has to answer questions now.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yes.

KANE: Oh, absolutely.

BENDER: And we know this debate played out for months practically in public the internal debate within the White House. The president kept saying he wanted to talk to Mueller. He was willing to talk to Mueller and wanted to set him straight, while all the attorneys he was -- he -- they were cycling through this process for him were telling him, like, that is absolutely not going to happen.

KING: And to that --

BARRON-LOPEZ: We --

KING: Go ahead.

BARRON-LOPEZ: I say we can hear from Mueller relatively soon. I mean Democrats are hoping for mid-May that Mueller will come before House Judiciary and talk to them. They're still negotiating with DOJ about the terms of that -- that hearing.

KING: Right. And to that point, where do those negotiations go. Bill Barr's on the record saying, I don't mind. It's fine by me. However, based on what happened today, based on the escalating confrontation, we'll see if the mood changes.

Because, in addition to that, Bob Mueller, still a Justice Department employee. This is the letter I talked about where the special counsel, a career FBI/former U.S. attorney before that, put in writing his objections to what the attorney general did. The attorney general didn't quite like that. Listen to him describing the letter at yesterday's testimony.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The letter is a bit snitty and I think it was probably written by one of his staff. His work conclude when he sent his report to the attorney general. At that point, it was my baby and it was my decision how and when to make it public, not Bob Mueller's.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: There's not just a very important constitutional power play at play here between the administration and the House Democrats. There's a power play at play here between Bill Barr and Bob Mueller. Bob Mueller has the stature of being the FBI director, he had his term extended, he was the FBI director on 9/11. Bill Barr saying, this is my baby. Bob Mueller reports to me.

KANE: This is the first time Bob Mueller has ever been called snitty in his life. He served in Vietnam. A career prosecutor and investigator.

But Michael's right, this -- the Mueller hearing, it is going to come. He will be a private citizen soon. He is still technically a DOJ employee. But the attorney general said his work is done at DOJ. So at some point, private citizen Mueller will testify.

[12:25:16] COLLINS: And watching the Barr/Mueller relationship deteriorate in this way is just one of the most notable aspects of yesterday because these aren't just two men who worked together or anything like that. They are very close, personal friends. They've attended each other children's weddings. They've been to Bible studies together. And Barr testified as much under oath about their personal relationship. So to see him clearly showing disdain for certain ways that Mueller handled this report is really, really striking.

KING: I think Barr is placing a bet that that history, plus Mueller's history as an institutionalist, will temper what Mueller is going to say publically. That may not be a safe bet. We shall see.

Up next, new poll numbers give the president a hit at his best message for 2020, if he follows it.

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