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House Judiciary Committee Deliberates Barr Contempt as Trump Asserts Executive Privilege over Mueller Report. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired May 8, 2019 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:00] REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R-TX): Look, Attorney General Barr, if you'll join us in going to court and getting a court order so that we can get the grand jury proceedings and evidence, then we will disregard the contempt. Well, that's evidence of a state of mind by the majority that at least somebody over there knows you cannot be in contempt or failing to produce what would be illegal to produce without a court order. You're on the wrong side of history.
And there's no joy here in seeing the abuses. I hope and pray, literally, for the day when we can join forces and quit trying to push this idea of an attempted coup and uncover the abuses that have truly gone on.
My time is expired. The committee's has, too.
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): The gentle lady from Pennsylvania, for what purpose is the gentle lady seek recognition?
REP. MARY GAY SCANLON (D-PA): I move to strike the last word.
NADLER: The gentle lady is recognized.
SCANLON: Thank you.
It's easy to lose focus when the White House and our colleagues across the aisle engage in what-aboutism or what is the distraction of the day or even misleading legal arguments. Nobody is asking the attorney general to disobey the law. We're asking the attorney general to obey the law and produce the Mueller report and the supporting documentation, the underlying evidence that we've been requesting for a couple of months now and that the American people have been waiting for two years.
Why is this important? If you think there's no collusion and no obstruction, you haven't read the Mueller report. I admit it's not an easy read, but it clearly states that there was coordination, there's evidence of coordination. It clearly states there are multiple instances of obstruction of justice. And it clearly refers that over to Congress to deal with. Over 700 federal prosecutors have now reviewed that evidence. Just the redacted evidence, not even the underlying evidence, and stated unequivocally, that it shows multiple instances that would be felonies if it was anyone other than a sitting president. And that's the reason why Mueller didn't charge. He says in his report, it was a sitting president, under the rule I'm operating under, I couldn't file charges. That's why it's Congress' job to do something about it. And that's why we're staying focused on our job.
I'm not joyful about this. I'm not afraid of where it takes us. What I am is profoundly saddened that we're in a position where we have an administration that is stonewalling, yes, even acting in contempt of not just Congress, not just the rule of law, but the American people.
And with that, I yield back.
REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): Mr. Chairman?
NADLER: Who seeks recognition?
JORDAN: Mr. Chairman?
NADLER: For what purpose?
JORDAN: -- to strike the last word.
NADLER: The gentleman is recognized.
JORDAN: Bill Barr is following the law. What's his reward? Democrats are going to hold him in contempt. I don't think today is about getting information. I don't think it's about getting the unredacted Mueller report. I don't think last week's hearing was about having staff question the attorney general. I think it's as my colleague said earlier, I think it's all about trying to destroy Bill Barr because Democrats are nervous he's going to get to the bottom of everything. He is going to find out how and why this investigation started in the first place. Never forget what Bill Barr said a few weeks ago, three and a half weeks ago when he testified in front of the Senate Finance Committee. He said a lot of important things but he said three -- excuse me, four very interesting things. First, he said there was a failure of leadership at the upper echelon -- term he used -- upper echelon of the FBI. We all know that's the case. Director Comey has been fired. Deputy McCabe, fired, lied three times under oath, according to the inspector general. FBI counsel, Jim Baker, demoted and left currently under investigation by the Justice Department. Lisa Page, demoted and left. Peter Strzok, deputy head of counterintelligence, demoted and fired. Peter Strzok, who ran the Clinton investigation and the Russian investigation. There was certainly a failure of leadership at the upper echelon of the FBI.
Second thing the attorney general said three and a half weeks ago in front of the Senate Finance Committee, spying did occur. Said it twice. Yes, spying did occur.
Third, he said, there's a basis for my concern about the spying that took place. And maybe the most interesting thing, two terms to use that, frankly, I find frightening. He said there was, in his judgment, he thinks there may have been unauthorized surveillance and political surveillance. Scary terms.
[11:05:40] We have to go back to January 3rd, 2017. Senator Schumer, on the "Rachel Maddow Show," talking about then-President-Elect Trump, says this, "If you take on the Intelligence Community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you." I don't know if the FBI went after President Trump in six ways, but I sure know they went after him in two ways. And the first one is the now famous dossier. On October 21st, 2016, the FBI used one party's opposition research document as the basis to go to a secret court to get a warrant to spy on the other party's campaign. That happened. Democrat National Committee, the Clinton campaign paid Perkins Coie Law Firm, who hired Fusion GPS, who then hired a foreigner, Christopher Steele, who did what? Talked to Russians and put together this salacious, unverified document that became the basis to get a warrant to spy on the Trump campaign. They did it. And when they went to the court, they didn't tell them important things, like who paid for it. They didn't tell them Christopher Steele had already told the FBI and the Justice Department that he was, quote, "desperate to stop Trump." And they didn't tell the court that Christopher Steele had been fired by the FBI because he was out talking to the press. They did that.
And second, just last Thursday, just last Thursday, "New York Times" story, FBI sent investigator posing as an assistant to meet with the Trump aide in 2016. FBI sent someone in, pretending to be somebody else to talk with George Papadopoulos, who was with the Trump campaign. Do you know what they call that? Do you know what they call that? It's called spying. They did it. They did it. They did it twice and who knows how much more. What I know is Bill Barr has said he will get to the bottom of it. And think about the term he used again, this is important, political surveillance, in the United States of America.
NADLER: Will the gentleman yield?
JORDAN: I will not yield.
Think about that term. He's going to get -- he said he's going to put a team together, going to investigate all of this. This is critical. And never forget, the guy who ran this investigation, Peter Strzok, ran the Clinton investigation and then launched and ran the Trump/Russia investigation. Never forget what he said, "Trump should lose 100 million to zero. We need an insurance policy." Told Lisa Page, "Don't worry, Lisa, we'll stop Trump." This is what Bill Barr wants to investigate. As my colleagues have said, this is the House Judiciary Committee. With the history this House has in protecting the liberties and the Constitution.
Last week, there was another important document, a document Emmet Flood sent to the attorney general. I just want to read a couple of sentences. "Under our system of government, unelected executive branch officers and intelligence agency personal are supposed to answer to the person elected by the people, the president, and not the other way around. This is not a Democrat and Republican issue, it's a matter of having a government responsible to the people. To we, the people. In a partisan - and the partisan commotion surrounding the Mueller report, it would be well to remember that what can be done to a president can be done to any of us. And this committee is supposed to look out for that fundamental fact more than anything else and we are not doing that today.
I yield back.
NADLER: I would simply observe that, to his credit, Mr. Jordan has been second to none in asking for access to the materials we're asking for -- for the -- asking -- simply asking, is he still supporting his own request for that the committee and the Congress be given access to the entire report and ongoing information?
JORDAN: Consistent with the law. And I would ask the chairman, my understanding is Mr. Mueller is going to be here next week. Why are we doing it -- you're going to get to ask the guy who wrote the whole document. We're all going to get to ask him questions. Why don't we hold off on this contempt until at least the guy who wrote the thing, spent 22 months and $35 million with a whole bunch of Democrat lawyers putting it together, why don't you wait and ask him next week before we do this resolution?
NADLER: I'll answer, well, essentially, because it would be useful to read the material before we have him in front of us.
NADLER: The gentleman, for what purpose does the gentleman from Georgia seek recognition?
REP. HANK JOHNSON (D-GA): To move to strike the last word.
NADLER: The gentleman is recognized.
[11:09:17] JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
For most people in American, the end of the Mueller investigation did not equal the end of the story. The American people want to see and hear the full story and they deserve to do so, and in fact, investigate a Mueller intended for the American people and for Congress to have the full story. He did so in his unredacted summaries for both the obstruction and the Russian influence investigations. And what happened when he issued his report, William Barr did something unprecedented. He put together his own four-page summary, which was misleading, which failed to properly and adequately and accurately characterize the conclusions of the Mueller investigators. He did that. He waited for about a month while that narrative marinated among the American people and it was reduced down to four words, no collusion, no obstruction. And they ran with that for a month before finally the redacted report was issued by Bob Barr (sic). But before he issued the report, two hours before he issued the report, he had a press conference to, again, summarize the Mueller report's findings and, again, he failed to accurately portray and represent those results. And so finally the redacted report was revealed to Congress and to the American people. And the American people and Congress saw clearly that Bob Barr (sic) was a part of the president's ongoing obstruction. He obstructed the Russia investigation. He instruct -- obstructed all matters that Mueller was investigating. And now he is trying to obstruct Congress and the American people in finding out what is in that report. And what is very troublesome is my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are aiding and abetting them in their cover-up. So, still the full results of the Mueller investigation are not known.
Congress, the House of Representatives, the Judiciary Committee has demanded an unredacted report that should be available to all of the members of at least the House Judiciary Committee. The attorney general Barr has stonewalled, as he has been instructed to do by the president. And he's a willing participant in this, mind you. They are obstructing the American people's ability to understand what happened. They are hiding behind rule 6-E of the federal rules of evidence, which make grand jury proceedings secret. But as my colleague from Wisconsin should know, there are five exceptions listed in 6-E that enable the disclosure of grand jury information. He knows that. There's no reason for the American people to be misled about that. And Bob Barr (sic) -- William Barr knows that also. And he also knows that previous attorney generals in his situation have gone to Congress -- have gone to the courts with the House of Representatives and obtained grand jury materials when necessary. And so this is all part of a cover-up. And it is up to this committee to ensure that we get that report because we have lawful responsibilities, constitutional responsibilities to engage in, one of which is possibly impeachment. How can we impeach without getting the documents? So we must get this document. The American people expect us to do it. Once we get it, our hearings can continue and lead to whatever they may lead to, including impeachment. So I ask my colleagues on the other side to stop obfuscating and start working with us to carry out your constitutional responsibilities.
And with that, I yield back.
NADLER: The -- for what purposes the gentleman from Florida seeks recognition?
REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): To strike the last word.
NADLER: The gentleman is recognized.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Glad to see that the microphones are working this week.
My good friend from Georgia just asked the operative question: How can we impeach if we don't get the documents? How can we impeach if we don't get the documents? Ladies and gentlemen, this hearing is not about the attorney general. It's not about the Mueller report, 92 percent of which everyone in America has had the opportunity to read. It's not about the fact that even the portions that the American people haven't been able to read, the chairman has been able to go read, had he chosen.
[11:15:06] This all about impeaching the president. Now why don't they just say it, just jump to the impeachment proceedings like their liberal media overlords are telling them to? The reason is the American people don't support impeachment. And it's easy to understand why. They actually went and elected Donald Trump president of the United States. And I don't think people are going to support impeaching a president who is doing so well. You've got 3.2 percent growth in the economy. The Trump economy is hot. The reason we're doing so well is a consequence of the president's policies. At a time when my Democratic colleagues are focused on the next election and not solutions to the problems facing Americans, they can't attack the president's policies, because people are doing well.
So typically, they roll next to identity politics that, based on what you look like, who you pray to, who you love, you can't possibly support Republicans. But African-Americans are doing better, Hispanics are doing better, women are doing better. We're seeing a rising tide that truly lifting all boats in this country. Now we have this effort, not to argue with policies, not to typically go to the identity politics that functions as the organizing principle of today's Democratic Party . They have to delegitimize the guy that -- one, delegitimize the guy that people voted for, but they don't the guts to do it directly and so they're going after the attorney general.
Now, the gentleman from Georgia, in his last remarks, said we are hiding behind the rules. Hiding behind the rules? These are federal laws that dictate what the attorney general can and cannot do. We're not hiding behind the rules. We just like to follow them.
By the way, it's not following the rules that got us in trouble in the first place. When the inspector general testified before us, he said it's the fundamental fact that during the investigations of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, you saw continuous examples of a one-off here, a violation of protocol there. The inspector general said never before had he seen a circumstance where the very same team that was investigating Hillary Clinton would then go and investigate the other person that was involved in the 2016 presidential contest.
About a month ago in this committee I laid out the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I think that folks watching at home can probably follow along and see where we're headed. First, my Democratic colleagues were in denial when they saw there was no collusion after saying for 22 months that the president was an agent of the Russian government. After saying for 22 months that there was actual evidence of collusion. They were in denial when they saw the collusion that there wasn't. Then there was anger. It had to be the attorney general's fault. Mueller didn't make a decision on obstruction. Somebody had to. The attorney general did. So they got mad at him and made this whole kerfuffle of anger. Now we know the third step, bargaining. Well, Mr. Attorney General, you've given us 92 percent of the Mueller report. But we have to bargain for the remaining 8 percent. That's where we think the action is. Well, Mr. Attorney General, you spent five hours before the Senate Judiciary Committee, three of our presidential candidates got to question you. You offered to come before the House Judiciary Committee, you offered to come for an additional hour of questioning, but we have to bargain so our staff lawyers can ask you questions. Now, I don't think it's a good sign that the next sign after bargaining is depression. So I feel for my Democrat colleagues. But after that, we get to acceptance and that's sure something I'm looking forward to.
There are some really good ideas that my Democratic colleagues have, once they kind of get to acceptance on the no Russia collusion thing. My friend, the gentleman from Rhode Island has excellence ideas about how to change the way that consumers interface with big companies. My colleague from the state of New York is right that if the First Step Act is the only step act, then that would be a bad thing. We need to do more on criminal justice reform. My colleague, who is not with us, from California, Mr. Swalwell, he has great ideas to unlock potential cures with medical cannabis reform. But we're not doing any of those things. And by the way, I've got a bunch of my friends on the other side of the aisle who wish that their actual bills that would impact the lives of Americans would get heard instead of this garbage.
The Obama administration ran an intel operation against the Trump campaign. Peter Strzok opened it up. The dossier kept it going. And now the Democrats need to get over it.
I yield back.
UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSWOMAN: Mr. Chairman? Mr. Chairman?
REP. TED DEUTCH (D-FL): Mr. Chairman.
UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSWOMAN: I move to strike the last word.
NADLER: The gentleman from Florida. What purpose is the gentleman from Florida seeks recognition?
DEUTCH: To move to strike the last word, Mr. Chair.
NADLER: The gentleman is recognized.
[11:19:50] DEUTCH: Thank you.
Mr. Chairman, we're here today because we're witnessing the breakdown of our nation's constitutional order. That's why we're here today. In 1974, IN U.S. v. Nixon, the Supreme Court warned of moments just like this when they said, "Once executive privilege is asserted, co- equal branches of the government are set on a collision course." The court went on to explain that such a collision, and I quote, "Places courts in the awkward position of evaluating the executive's claims or confidentiality and autonomy, and pushes to the fore difficult questions of separation of power and checks and balances. These occasions for constitutional confrontation between the two branches are likely to be avoided whenever possible."
Why are we on this collision course today? Because the attorney general of the United States refused to provide information that is not privilege and is subject to the committee's subpoena. The committee issued a subpoena for information gathered by the special counsel. There's no privilege for this information. Executive privilege is not a cloak of secrecy that drapes across our nation's capital from a White House to the Justice Department. Yet, last night the attorney general threatened a blanket-privilege claim over materials that he knows are not privileged as retribution for the mark-up that we're holding right now. And this morning, he asked the president to do just that. It's striking how empty that gesture is.
Chairman Nadler pointed this out last night. The attorney general's request for a blanket-privilege claim is empty of any credibility. It's empty of merit. It's empty of any legal or factual support. The attorney general ordered his staff to send what he would define as a snitty letter last night, but those words were empty. Executive privilege exists to helps the presidency function, to ensure that the president get good advice and can make important decisions without interference from Congress. That's not at stake here. We're asking for information that is no longer held in confidence among the president and his closest advisers. We're just asking for the truth. The truth that many already know but is being withheld from the public. Investigators know the truth. Private attorneys know the truth. The ranking member of this committee has seen it. The privilege no longer applies. What does apply is the American people's interest in the truth and the need for this committee to do its job, to protect our elections, to protect our national security, to hold the president accountable, and to draft legislation to ensure that no one, not the attorney general, not the president, is above the law. Yet, the attorney general continues to mislead the American people. And after being cause in a lie in his testimony to Congress, he has now joined the president in his ongoing obstruction of the House.
Congressional hearings and document requests are normal. They're normal. This committee holds an oversight hearing with the attorney general every year. That's normal. But this? This course that the president and attorney general set us on is not normal. This collision is the definition of a constitutional crisis. And the breadth of this obstruction is beyond anything in our nation's history. The president has said that Mueller should not testify here. He has ordered, without authority, Don McGahn to refuse to testify here. He has ordered, in violation of the law, that the treasury secretary continue to hide his tax returns. He has blocked or delayed more than 30 requests from Congress. He has blocked testimony about the security clearances granted to his family members. He has blocked testimony about the humanitarian disaster caused by the Trump family separation policy on our southern border. This sweeping repudiation of Congress and congressional investigations is unprecedented and it is unconstitutional. This is a government of, by and for the people. The attorney general of the United States is stonewalling the people. He is misleading the people. And he is working, actively working to suppress the truth.
I don't understand, still, every time we have one of these hearings, how it is that none of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle seem at all concerned about Russia's attack on our democracy and their desire to do it again.
I close with this. The Mueller report finishes by reminding us that the protection of the criminal justice system from corrupt acts by any person, including the president, accords with the fundamental principle of our government that no person in this country is so high that he is above the law. We will continue to assert our oversight authority out of a duty to maintain the checks and balances that preserve the powers of separation and co-equal branches of government. A failure to do so would be a failure of our constitutional system of government.
I yield back.
[11:25:08] NADLER: What purpose does the gentleman from Colorado seek recognition?
UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: An amendment at the desk.
NADLER: The clerk will report the amendment.
UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: Mr. Chairman, I reserve a point of order.
NADLER: Gentleman reserves a point of order.
Is there an amendment?
REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): Mr. Chairman?
NADLER: What purpose does the gentleman from Louisiana seek recognition?
JOHNSON: Move to strike the last word.
NADLER: The gentleman from --
UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: I'll withdrawal my amendment. It's not ready at this point.
NADLER: I appreciate that.
The gentleman from Louisiana is recognized for five minutes.
JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
We've heard some extraordinary claims this morning. I've been taking notes, as my colleagues have commented on all of this. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee said, quote, "The administration is taking a wrecking ball to the Constitution."
And, Mr. Chairman, you said that the DOJ doesn't recognize us as a co- equal branch of the government or acknowledge our oversight responsibility.
Mr. Cohen said, "We're trampling upon Article I."
Anyone who looks at these facts objectively know it's exactly the opposite. The attorney general and the DOJ is objecting to this charade based on the rule of law. They're trying to protect the integrity of our institutions.
Mr. Chairman, you said that, "The preliminary protective assertion of executive privilege this morning was a last-minute outburst." It's exactly the opposite of that.
In fact, the letter that the DOJ sent to you this morning says, and I quote, "Regrettably, you, Mr. Chairman, have made this assertion necessary by your insistence upon scheduling a premature contempt vote." The letter goes on to say, "You've terminated our ongoing negotiations
and abandoned the accommodation process. And as we have repeatedly explained, the attorney general could not comply with your subpoena in its current form without violating the law, court rules and court orders and without threatening the independence of the Department of Justice's prosecutorial functions." That's a quoting from the letter.
The facts matter. The letter that the attorney general sent to the president this morning that accompanies all this says, quote, "The committee demands all the special counsel's investigative files, which consists of" -- everybody listen -- "consists of millions of pages of classified and unclassified documents, baring on more than two dozen criminal cases and investigations, many of which are ongoing. These materials include law enforcement information, information about sensitive intelligence sources and methods, and grand jury information that the department is prohibited from disclosing, by law." That's the letter that the attorney general sent to the president, explaining all of this.
Look, we're attorneys on this, most of us are committee lawyers on this committee. What does the law say? The courts have repeatedly affirmed the rules on all of this. April 5th, last month, U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in McKeever v. Barr, "The district courts may disclose grand jury materials only where they have positive authority to do so, particularly through the exceptions to grand jury secrecy, listed in rule 6-E." The Court of appeals explained the vital interest, they said, "that the rule of grand jury secrecy seeks to protect, including preserving the willingness and candor of witnesses called before the grand jury, not alerting the target of an investigation, who might otherwise flee or interfere with the grand jury, and preserving the rights of a suspect who might later be exonerated."
These are critically important principles and traditions for us to uphold. It is, again, the law. That the chairman can file suit for access to the 6-E material, but instead he blasts the attorney general for not joining him in doing so. Why hasn't the chairman taken that step? I think I know why. Because he knows that his rationale for demanding the unredacted report is wholly insufficient.
Look, this bears repeating. The chairman claims he needs the full unredacted report as part of the March 4th investigation into 81 individuals and organizations related in some way to President Trump. But let's make a couple of facts clear. The investigation, we don't even know if it's still ongoing. We haven't heard much about it lately. The lack of activity surrounding the investigations makes it clear.