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House Judiciary Votes On Holding Barr In Contempt. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired May 8, 2019 - 10:00   ET


POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: School district posted images of Superintendent Chris Charter (ph) still in school with the kids, there it is.


That school district has canceled classes today due to the flooding.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: A very good morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in New York.

HARLOW: And I'm Poppy Harlow.

The breaking news this hour, we are about to see both the depths and the limits of the power of the House Judiciary Committee to handle what its Chairman called this morning on CNN a constitutional crisis. At any moment, the panel will hold a vote on whether to hold the Attorney General, Bill Barr, in contempt of congress for ignoring its subpoena for the full and unfiltered Mueller report along with that underlying evidence.

SCIUTTO: The Justice Department is now threatening to urge the White House to shield everything the committee is asking for under executive privilege if this contempt vote precedes. And that now seems a virtual certainty.

CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill. So, Manu, walk us through what's going to happen here. Dems, of course, have the majority on the committee, so we know the likely outcome.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no doubt about it. The Attorney General will be held in contempt in just a matter of minutes for defying a democratic subpoena that asked for the full unredacted Mueller report and the underlying evidence after the Justice Department said that was not a legitimate oversight request. They engaged in a back and forth, just try to see whether or not they could reach any sort of middle ground. But the middle ground that was proposed was rejected by democrats.

Democrats came back and offered a counteroffer. The Justice Department said no and then sent a very strongly worded letter last night, making a really serious threat saying that -- essentially, that the President would --that the Attorney General would urge the President to invoke executive privilege with respect to the materials subject to the subpoena. So that could ground everything to a halt in terms of what democrats are looking into as far as obstruction of justice, their investigation into potential obstruction of justice is concerned and it could lead to a prolonged court fight.

Now, what could happen here today is that the democrats will vote along party lines to hold the Attorney General in contempt, then the full House will vote to hold him in contempt. We're not quite sure when the full House will do it but we do expect that to happen sometime soon.

And then afterwards, there will be a court proceeding to try to get the full information to the House. Jerry Nadler said this morning that perhaps the Attorney General could be fined, there could be other impunitive actions taken. But, nevertheless, this is a serious, maybe symbolic, but a serious effort to try to punish the Justice Department for not complying with their requests as part of a larger administration effort to stonewall. The democrats are seeking one of a number of fights we're seeing only intensifying on Capitol Hill as democrats try to pursue investigations into this president and this president saying no. Guys?

HARLOW: All right. Manu, stay there for us. Stick around. This is about to get under way. We'll bring it to you live. As we wait for that, our experts are with us.

So, Eliana, let me go to you first, because Manu used the word like symbolic, right? And that's the question. You point out that this shows how limited the power is right now of the House even though the democrats have the major in this, and that it is symbolic measure, right? I mean, what should the American people expect this to actual end up with?

ELIANA JOHNSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. It's symbolic and that it's not going to have legal ramifications. Bill Barr is not going to be arrested and put in jail for being held in contempt of Congress because the power to prosecute him ultimately rests with the Justice Department and, of course, he controls the Justice Department. He's not going to order his own prosecution.

But it's being covered by the press. And so Congress does have the power, I think, to bring media coverage and draw attention to the fact that they believe the administration is stonewalling them. So they have some power but not unlimited power. And I think you're really seeing the tension between the two branches of government, the congressional power and the executive power right here, right now.

SCIUTTO: Shen, you raise the possibility of what could be a real world effect of this, and that is that Attorney General Barr and any other U.S. Attorney under him would have to recuse themselves because of this. Explain.

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right. They have a couple of options here for enforcing the contempt. The most old fashioned one would literally be to their their sergeant-of-arms do it. That seems pretty tough to do. Number two is the civil version of it, where they go to court seeking civil enforcement. And then number three is where they seek the Justice Department doing the criminal contempt, as Eliana just referred to.

So everyone says, and it makes sense, that Barr is not going to order his own prosecution. But, obviously, I think, as a former prosecutor, he's conflicted from even reviewing that situation. And I think there's an argument that the U.S. Attorneys are conflicted from that too.


So my suggestion would be let the IG do it. The IG can investigate these things and make them into a Special Counsel.

SCIUTTO: I thought you were going to say special counsel too. Imagine that. But the idea there is a sitting president who can make that call.

HARLOW: There you go. To our great Justice Reporter, Evan Perez, so I'm just wondering here if the best outcome for democrats in this, even though they're going to vote to hold him in contempt and how symbolic that is, is that they get negotiation, just like republicans held holder in contempt and were able to get the White House to negotiate and get those documents when it comes to fast and furious. Is that the best case outcome for dems here?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, I do think that that is exactly the eventual outcome that we're going to see, right? I mean, there's a separate track here whereby you sue for these documents, you get a court to finally rule in your favor.

But I think, as you covered guys in the last hour with Elie Honig, he pointed out that this is the weakest of the cases that the democrats have. I mean, I find it odd that the democrats decided to use this as the thing to hold the Attorney General in contempt over. I mean, look, they have a lot of things to be mad at him over. They accused him of misleading testimony. Obviously, he didn't show up for a hearing in the past week. So there's a lot of things that they could be mad about.

And this one, this is a report that is 92 percent public. Only 8 percent of it was unredacted. The Attorney General last week in his testimony said, only 2 percent of volume two, which is a thing that the democrats say they care most about, the obstruction, is redacted. So it's kind of hard to understand how they went nuclear so quickly on this. It seems rather like they have started a constitutional crisis, not the other way around.

SCIUTTO: Tolu, I want to ask you a quick question but also just to explain to our viewers what we're watching there. These are the members of the House Judiciary Committee gathering. Shortly, there will be opening statements and then a vote in the committee with a majority of democrats. We expect to hold the Attorney General of the United States in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over 100 percent of the Mueller report. And there is the Chairman, Jerry Nadler.

Tolu, though, is this part of a series of steps we should expect from democrats? And at the end, are impeachment proceedings there or are they kind of winging it as they go along?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, we spoke to Nancy Pelosi. She came over to The Washington Post earlier this week -- earlier this morning. And she basically said she made the comparison to the Nixon impeachment proceedings and she said that this was a months-long process. And she sort of hinted at the idea that this is what's happening here, that this is a long process, it involves a number of different investigative steps before you actually get to impeachment.

And that is what the democrats are rolling out, from looking at the President's tax returns to potentially holding his Attorney General in contempt. These are a number of different instances that show that the democrats are going to use their powers, their levers of oversight. And if it leads to impeachment over the course of the next several months, that's something that they are starting to prepare for and get ready for with these types of hearings and committee events.

HARLOW: All right. As we wait for Chairman Nadler to gavel this hearing into order, Evan, to you. How significant is it that Nadler said on CNN this morning, he is, quote, less confident than I was that Mueller, the Special Counsel, will testify?

PEREZ: Yes, I know. I think that's a big deal. Look, I mean, I think that that's the testimony that everybody want to hear. And it looks like this crisis that has now been generated by the politicians is going to prevent us from seeing that, the President certainly having this reaction that he wants to block it. So I think that's a big deal. We don't know whether or not that's going to be caught up in all of this drama that they have created here.

SCIUTTO: There is Jerry Nadler getting his papers together, the Chairman of the Committee. We expect an opening statement from him, the Chairman, democrat, as well as from the ranking republican on the committee as well, followed by this vote on contempt. Doug Collins is, of course, the ranking republican. And you can imagine you will hear two very different views on the case from those two sitting congressmen.

Shan, anything else to listen for today as they proceed here? Will they telegraph perhaps how they intend to enforce a contempt?

WU: I think they will make that plain. Although it sounded from this morning that they were only going the civil route, which was a little surprising. Perhaps they already decided no point in going the criminal route. I would slightly differ with Evan and Elie's analysis of the strategy here, because Barr is actually pleading for help from the White House. He's saying please assert executive privilege. Because, to me, he feels like he has no other defense.

And, strategically, by making them assert executive privilege, it brings it to a head, because all the other stonewalling is going to depend on executive privilege. So they're forcing Trump's hand, they're forcing Barr's hand and this will be the opening salvo in a long series of battles over executive privilege, which I think, ultimately, it's not going to be a blanket answer. [10:10:04]

It's not going to be completely privileged. It's not going to be a complete waiver. It's going to get parsed. And that is just the beginning of that process right now.

HARLOW: Evan, as we wait for this thing to get underway, explain to us a little bit more of what you said there at the end of your last answer about, you know, is it the democrats that have sort of sparked a constitutional crisis here?

PEREZ: Well, no. I think -- I'm not sure. I think it takes both sides to get to this point. So I think that pretty much is clear, the President clearly feels that he doesn't want to have any more discussion about the Mueller report because it's not good for him. And so I think that's partly what is happening here. The democrats are reacting to that.

I think Jerry Nadler is perhaps trying to speed up the process. That eventually what Shan just described, which is, you know, eventually, a judge is going to have to sort of split the baby and give the democrats some of what they want and, you know, enforce the executive privilege, which is clearly a privilege that applies to some of this stuff.

SCIUTTO: Eliana, as we wait here, but as we -- the Mueller report has come out, the President's approval rating has been ticking up noticeably, from 39 percent, the Gallup poll in March, to 46 percent, highest it's been in that survey of his presidency. Are the democrats you speak with nervous that their voters aren't with them on this effort?

JOHNSON: Well, I think, Jim, we've seen democrats are divided between those who want to rush head long into -- continuing to investigate the President, some of those democrats want to begin impeachment proceedings and the 2020 presidential candidates who I think agree with many republicans, that the Mueller report is over and they want to talk about bread and butter issues. And I think those democrats --

SCIUTTO: Sorry, Eliana. We've just gaveled in. Let's listen to the Chairman of the Committee.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): -- pursuant to committee rule 2 and house rule 11 clause two, the chair may postpone further proceedings today and the question of approving any measure or matter or adapting an amendment for which we recorded vote for the ayes and nays are ordered.

Pursuant to notice, I now call up the committee report for a resolution recommending that the House of Representatives find William Barr, Attorney General U.S. Department of Justice, in contempt for refusal to comply with a subpoena duly issued by the Committee of the Judiciary for purposes of markup and move that the committee reported favorably to the House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman, I demand the question of consideration.

NADLER: Before we read the bill?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe this is when the motion lies.

NADLER: The question of consideration is not debatable. The question is, shall the committee consider the committee report. All those in favor say aye. Aye. Opposed? The Ayes have it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roll call, please.

NADLER: Roll call is requested. The clerk will call the roll.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Nadler votes aye.

Ms. Lofgren?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ms. Lofgren votes aye.

Ms. Jackson Lee?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ms. Jackson Lee votes aye.

Mr. Cohen?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Cohen votes aye.

Mr. Johnson of Georgia?

Mr. Deutsch? Mr. Deutsch votes aye.

Ms. Bass? Ms. Bass votes aye.

Mr. Richmond? Mr. Richmond votes yes.

Mr. Jeffries?

Mr. Cicilline?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Cicilline votes aye.

Mr. Swalwell?

Mr. Lieu? Mr. Lieu votes aye. Mr. Raskin? Mr. Raskin votes aye.

Ms. Jayapal? Ms. Jayapal votes aye.

Ms. Demings?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ms. Demings votes aye.

Mr. Correa?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Correa votes aye.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ms. Scanlon? Ms. Scanlon votes aye.

Ms. Garcia?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ms. Garcia votes aye.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Neguse votes aye.

Ms. McBath?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ms. McBath votes aye.

Mr. Stanton?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Stanton votes aye.

Ms. Dean?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ms. Dean votes aye.

Ms. Mucarsel-Powell?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ms. Mucarsel-Powell votes aye.

Ms. Escobar?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ms. Escobar votes aye.

Mr. Collins?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Collins votes no.

Mr. Sensenbrenner?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Sensenbrenner votes no.


Mr. Chabot?

Mr. Gohmert?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Gohmert votes no.

Mr. Jordan?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Jordan votes no.

Mr. Buck?

Mr. Ratcliffe? Mr. Ratcliffe votes no.

Ms. Roby?

Mr. Gaetz?

Mr. Johnson of Louisiana?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Johnson of Louisiana votes no.

Mr. Biggs? Mr. Biggs votes no.

Mr. McClintock?

Ms. Lesko?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ms. Lesko votes no.

Mr. Reschenthaler? REP. GUY RESCHENTHALER (R-PA): No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Reschenthaler votes no.

Mr. Cline?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Cline votes no.

Mr. Armstrong? Mr. Armstrong votes no.

Mr. Steube?

Mr. Gaetz, you are now recorded. Mr. Gates votes no.

NADLER: Gentleman from Georgia?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Johnson of Georgia votes yes.

NADLER: Gentle lady from Florida?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's already voted.

NADLER: Is there any member of the committee who wishes to vote who hasn't voted? Clerk will report.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Chairman, there are 22 ayes and 12 nos.

NADLER: The motion for consideration is adopted. The clerk will report the committee report.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Resolution recommending that the House of Representatives find William P. Barr, Attorney General U.S. Department of Justice, in contempt of Congress for refusal to comply with the subpoena duly issued by the committee on the Judiciary.

NADLER: Without objection, the committee report is considered as read and opened for amendment at any point.

I will begin by recognizing myself in an opening statement.

Today, we consider a report recommending that the House of Representatives hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for defying a valid subpoena issued by this committee. This is not a step we take lightly. It is the culmination of nearly three months of requests, discussions and negotiations with the Department of Justice with the complete, unredacted report by Special Counsel Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 election along with the underlying evidence.

I appreciate the fact that the department responded to the offer we made to them last week and met with us yesterday in a last-minute effort to reach an accommodation. We heard the department out. We responded to them in good faith. And after all was said and done, we unfortunately were still unable to reach agreement and we proceeded with our markup today.

As I have said before, we remain ready and willing to consider any reasonable offer made by the department even after today's vote. But if a letter I received late last night from the department is any indication, I am concerned that the department is heading in the wrong direction.

In response to our latest good faith offer, the department abruptly announced that if we move forward today, it would ask President Trump to invoke what it refers to as a protective assertion of executive privilege on all of the materials subject to our subpoena. Just minutes ago, it took that dramatic step.

Besides misapplying the doctrine of executive privilege since the White House waived at these privileges long ago and the department seemed open to sharing these materials with us just yesterday, this decision represents a clear escalation in the Trump administration's blanket defiance of Congress's constitutionally mandated duties. I hope that the department will think better this last-minute outburst and return to negotiations.

As a coequal branch of government, we must have access to the materials that we need to fulfill our constitutional responsibilities in matter consistent with past president. This is information we are legally entitled to receive and we are constitutionally obligated to review.

And I would remind the members that the Mueller report is no ordinary document. It details significant misconduct involving the President, including his campaign's willingness and eagerness to accept help from a hostile foreign government, numerous misstatements, if not, outright lies concerning those acts and 11 separate incidents of obstructive behavior by the President that more than 700 former prosecutors have told us warrant criminal indictment. If Congress is not entitled to the full unredacted Mueller report, one must wonder what document we would be entitled to.


I've exhausted negotiations with the Department of Justice have unfortunately left us back where we began. With unprecedented obstruction by an administration that has now announced its intention to block all attempts at congressional oversight of the executive branch. It is our constitutional duty to respond. Let me be clear. The information we are requesting is entirely within our legal rights to receive and is no different from what has been provided to Congress on numerous occasions going back nearly a century.

But we do not need to go back that far to find the precedent. As recently as the last Congress under republican control, the department produced more than 880,000 pages of sensitive investigative materials pertaining to its investigation of Hillary Clinton as well as voluminous other material relating to the Russia investigation and other ongoing investigations. That production included highly classified material, notes from FBI interviews, internal text messages and law enforcement memoranda.

With respect to grand jury information in past cases involving allegations of presidential misconduct or misconduct by other high ranking public officials, the Department of Justice, as a matter of course, has sought the permission of a court to release relevant information to Congress, if not, to the public.

Notably, this includes several cases that were not impeachment inquiries, including the investigation into former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy and the Iran-Contra investigations as well as other investigations that were not governed by the independent counsel law.

But no matter the fact that the law and history clearly support the release to Congress of this kind of information, the Trump administration has taken obstruction of Congress to new heights. Unfortunately, the Attorney General has been all too willing to support the President in this endeavor.

I would also like to respond to two of the concerns often raised by my good friend, the ranking member. He asks, how can the committee hold the Attorney General in contempt for merely complying with the laws on the books and how can we hold him in contempt when I have refused an offer to allow me to see certain redacted portions of the report?

The answers are simple. First, we issued a valid subpoena for the full report and all of the underlying evidence. The department has come nowhere close to satisfying its obligations under that subpoena. The department has never cited a legal basis for withholding the underlying evidence, including last night's threat to invoke executive privilege which was utterly without credibility, merit or legal or factual basis, as is, of course, the assertion of or the statement that they will exert executive privilege by the White House this morning.

To the extent that we have asked for access to grand jury information, which is protected by federal law, all we have ever asked is that the department join us in petitioning the court to determine if it is proper for us to have access to this material. The department, as I said, has done this on many occasions in the past. We ask for your commitment to join us in that effort again last night, as it is done in many previous cases, and the department refused.

Second, with respect to the offer to limit -- to lift some of the redactions for me and the handful of my colleagues, the department has placed unacceptable limitations on access to that information. Their offer would block the members of this committee from reading those sections of the report for themselves. It would require me to leave my notes behind at the Department of Justice. It would prevent me from speaking with my colleagues with other members of the committee about what I might see.

What good is it? Of what use can this committee make of information that I have but can't discuss with any other member of the committee? I have consistently stated that if we are to do our jobs as members of the House Judiciary Committee, all of the members require meaningful access to the report and the underlying documents, we need to be able to confer with each other about what we have seen. We need to be able to take official action on what we have seen, if warranted. And if necessary, we need to be able to inform a court of law of what we have learned, even if perhaps under seal. If we can find an accommodation that satisfies those basic principles, I would be happy to continue negotiating with the Department of Justice.

But now, by invoking executive privilege in all of the materials subject to our subpoena, that process has come to a screeching halt. The administration has announced loud and clear that it does not recognize Congress as co-equal branch of government with independent constitutional oversight authority and it will continue to wage its campaign of obstruction. When the administration says it will oppose all subpoenas, presumably regardless of its merits, it is saying that it does not recognize Congress having a constitutional oversight authority over the executive branch.


And to those who consider the matter case closed in the words of some of our leaders and to urge us simply to move on, I would say, that to do so is to announce loud and clear that such a course of action has the effect of aiding and abetting in the administration's campaign of total blanket and unprecedented obstruction.

The Trump administration and its enablers may brazenly try to cover up the misdeeds uncovered by The Special Counsel. But in this committee, we will represent the American people and ensure the truth is known. I urge my colleagues to think about how the department's latest position, their insistence on ignoring our subpoena affects our committee overtime.

Our fight is not just about the Mueller report, although we must have access to the Mueller report. Our fight is about defending the rights of Congress as an independent branch to hold the President, any president, accountable.

Every day, we learn of new efforts by this administration to stonewall Congress and through Congress to stonewall the American people. The Ways and Means Committee has been denied the President's tax returns when the law states clearly that they are entitled to them upon request. The Chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee has been sued in his personal capacity to prevent them from acquiring certain financial records from the Trump organization.

The President has stated that his administration will oppose all subpoenas and, in fact, virtually all document requests are going unsatisfied. Witnesses are refusing to show up at hearings. This is unprecedented. If allowed to go unchecked, this obstruction means the end of congressional oversight. As a co-equal branch of government, we should not and cannot allow this to continue, or we will not be a co-equal branch of government.

I urge my colleagues, whether or not you care to see the full Mueller report, and we should all want to see the complete report, to stand up for the institution we are proud to serve. I expect we will have a full debate today on the measure before us. I hope that at the end of it, we will do what is right.

No person, and certainly not the top law enforcement officer in the country, can be permitted to flout the will of Congress and to defy us a valid subpoena. No person, not the Attorney General, not the President, can be permitted to be above the law. That is what is at stake today. I urge all of my colleagues to support this report.

I now recognize the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, the gentleman from Georgia, Mr. Collins, for his opening statement.

REP. DOUG COLLINS, (R-GA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Chairman, this and the folks watching here, this log continues. Last week, I urged you and my fellow members, the Judiciary Committee Democrats, to respect the histories and traditions of this committee and conduct business accordingly. We still a crisis on our southern border, China is stealing our intellectual property, yet here we are wasting another a valuable week of legislating calendar against the majority's war against the administration.

Today, we are meeting to consider a resolution to hold Attorney General Bill Barr in contempt of Congress. So let's take just a few minutes and go through this. What is the justification for holding Attorney General Barr in contempt of Congress? Perhaps that he failed to abide by the Special Counsel regulations? No. He went above and beyond what the regulations required by transmitting the full report to Congress with limited redactions.

Could it be that the Attorney General failed to accommodate the Chairman's demands for information? No. He offered to let the Chairman and five other democrat leaders review the less redacted report at the Department of Justice, including 99.9 percent unredacted volume on obstruction. In an odd move for anyone demanding access to information, the Chairman and other elected democrats given access have declined to view that report.

The Attorney General also volunteered to testify before this committee about the report's conclusions and his role in sharing the report. And as we all witnessed, the democratic gamesmanship forced the Attorney General to forego the scheduled hearing last week. On Monday, the Justice Department offered to meet to discuss accommodations. Yesterday, they made a reasonable offer to avert this spectacle and once again they were rebuffed and the Chairman declined.

Perhaps then the democrats believe that there has been an unreasonable delay in the Justice Department's response to their subpoena. No, that's not true either. In fact, the Chairman is moving to this contempt resolution at lightning speed. It has been less than 20 days since the Chairman, Nadler, subpoenaed documents from the Justice Department.

When the Oversight Committee held Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt, more than 250 days had passed between the subpoena and the committee's vote to hold him in contempt. More than 450 days passed between the committee's initial request to the Justice Department and the committee's contempt vote. Judiciary Democrats are moving more than ten times faster than oversight did with Holder. They have moved from request to contempt vote in only 43 days. And yet the Justice Department is still at the negotiating table waiting for the democrats to arrive in good faith.


Why this rush? Without any valid legislative or administrative reason.