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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Democratic Infighting?; Attorney General Launches Investigation of Investigators. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired May 14, 2019 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump attacking his FBI director again. What could go wrong?
THE LEAD starts right now.
Investigating the investigators, the attorney general now looking at how the Russia probe began in the first place, as President Trump denies he had anything to do with this idea.
The fight is officially on between the front-runner, Joe Biden, and the freshman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Whose Democratic Party is it?
Plus, he's been giving Uber rides while awaiting civil trial for war crimes, including torture and attempted murder. How did that slip through the background check, Uber?
Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
Today, CNN is learning that Attorney General William Barr is undertaking a broad effort to investigate how the Russia investigation began. And that's our politics lead today.
A source telling CNN this will be a 360-degree review involving the CIA, the FBI, and the office of the director of national intelligence, all looking into the originals of the Russia probe. Barr is leading this effort, along with U.S. attorney John Durham in Connecticut.
Now, President Trump has, of course, referred to the law enforcement investigation into Russian election interference as an attempted coup. And now the president's hoping for evidence to bolster this false claim, despite all the facts laid out in the Mueller report showing Russian attempts to penetrate his campaign, and despite the expert opinions of his own political appointees that the investigation was justified and that there was no illegal spying on his campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROD ROSENSTEIN, U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Based upon what I knew in May of 2017, the investigation of Russia election interference was justified.
SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-NH): Do you have any evidence that any illegal surveillance into the campaigns or individuals associated with the campaigns by the FBI occurred?
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: I don't think I personally have any evidence of that sort.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Attorney General Barr seems to have a different take, and President Trump today said he's -- quote -- "so proud of Barr" for taking this action. But the president also claims he did not know about it or ask the attorney general to do this, though, of course, we know that President Trump has, well, strongly hinted about his desire for another investigation into how the Russia probe began, including last month, when the president offered this subtle tweet -- quote -- "Investigate the investigators."
President Trump is now attacking those in his administration who dispute his allegations, such as FBI Director Wray, after Wray distanced himself from the president's claims that there was spying on the Trump campaign. President Trump today called that answer in Wray's testimony -- quote -- "ridiculous."
And this follows the president's attacking Wray on Twitter., quoting a right-wing activist saying that the FBI has no leadership and that Wray -- quote -- "is protecting the same gang that tried to overthrow the president through an illegal coup" -- unquote.
Again, no illegal coup.
CNN's Pamela Brown kicks off our coverage today from the White House.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's a great thing that he did it.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump getting his wish. CNN has learned Attorney General Bill Barr is widening his investigation into the origins of the Russia probe by leveraging resources across the intelligence and law enforcement communities.
TRUMP: They want to look at how that whole hoax got started. It was a hoax.
BROWN: The source says Barr is -- quote -- "very involved" in the probe, collaborating with the heads of three major intelligence organizations, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, CIA Director Gina Haspel, and FBI Director Christopher Wray.
TRUMP: I didn't ask him to do that. I didn't know it.
BROWN: While Trump claims he didn't directly ask Barr to investigate, he has long complained about the Mueller probe and publicly urged Barr to look into it, including just a few weeks ago.
TRUMP: What I'm most interested in is getting started, hopefully the attorney general -- he mentioned it yesterday -- he's doing a great job -- getting started on going back to the origins of exactly where this all started.
BROWN: Barr previously testified he intended to look into it, even though the Justice Department's inspector general was already investigating.
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Many people seem to assume that the only intelligence collection that occurred was a single confidential informant and a FISA warrant. I would like to find out whether that is, in fact, true.
BROWN: Barr this week adding another layer to his investigation of the investigators by tapping the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, John Durham, to help conduct a comprehensive, 360-degree review.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): We finally have somebody outside of politics. And I want to give Mr. Durham -- is that his name? I don't even know him -- the space to do his job.
BROWN: The relatively unknown Durham was previously tasked with investigating CIA treatment of terror suspects under President Obama. Durham's installation is already giving a key Senate Republican reason to halt his own investigation.
GRAHAM: I don't want to mess up his criminal investigation, and I don't want to put people at risk. So I'm going to back off.
BROWN: And back here at the White House, President Trump also weighed in on the congressional subpoena issued to his son Don Jr., saying it's unfair.
And we have learned, Jake, through sources familiar with the matter that the deadline to respond to this subpoena was extended yesterday at the last minute, until close of business today, and that negotiations are continuing.
Of course, time is running out today, so we will have to see if any resolution is reached or if another extension happens -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Pamela Brown at the White House, thanks so much.
Let's dive into this with my experts.
Kaitlan Collins, let me start with you.
There already were two investigations into the origins of the Russia probe. The Justice Department inspector general, Michael Horowitz, was looking into it. The U.S. attorney in Utah, John Huber, was looking into some of the surveillance issues, although he's no longer doing that. Rosenstein last night said that this was justified, the probe. Wray
has said it was done appropriately. What's the reason that this is happening?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, ever since this report has come out, we have only seen the calls from the president and his allies grow to have this, to have the investigators be investigated.
And not only that. They wanted a special counsel to investigate this, which would be a pretty high step for them to take, but they felt that was what they wanted to counter Mueller.
Now, this, of course, is much lower than that. This U.S. attorney is not going to have the independence that a special counsel would have to look at this, but it does seem to be a significant step that they are trying to please the president and do by -- do what he would like here, because he does want this. And his calls for it have only increased in the coming days.
TAPPER: David, what's -- I mean, is there any substantiative reason to think that this is going to result in proof of an illegal coup?
DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, listen, I think what is warranted is -- you know, is a thorough investigation of the Steele dossier.
I think that's what's being called for. Right? I think it gets blown up a little bit here and taken out of context. As you know, I would rather be talking about the front page of "The Philadelphia Inquirer" story yesterday that said, you know, Pennsylvania economy thrives under Trump, a problem for Democrats in 2020.
URBAN: I think that's a better path to be going down for the president. I think that's a better path to victory, but we're not going that way for whatever reason.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. No.
Look, the essence -- the essence of his message to his supporters is that you are under siege from forces that are out to oppress me and suppress you. And, you know, it's either contemptuous elites from above or minorities and immigrants from the other direction.
And a critical part of his message is, I think, within that broader context, is that there is this deep state conspiracy that is trying not so much to sideline me as to sideline you.
And so he needs this narrative. And whatever they find, he will be making this argument in 2020 that it was a coup designed, really, to silence you. He will be telling his supporters that over the next year-and-a-half.
ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And, frankly, it's a distraction, right, because there are some things that still exist in Mueller's report.
There are some things that are still going on with congressional investigations.
What's amazing to me is, on one hand, Donald Trump will argue that there are too many investigations, this needs to be over with, it's time to move on, but, on the other hand, the Department of Justice inspector general, who is independent, Kaitlan, as you said, that's not good enough.
They need to have some political ammo, to your point, Ron, to keep this going. So that's what's fascinating here.
TAPPER: And here's the FBI -- the former FBI general counsel, James Baker, defending the FBI's action in the Russia investigation on CNN last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES BAKER, FORMER FBI GENERAL COUNSEL: There was no intention to do anything wrong or illegal and not to spy on a campaign. The focus was Russia, foreign intelligence information, evidence of a crime related to Russian activities, and any Americans that were in connection with them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: What's also curious about this is that the Mueller report, which the president has sometimes praised and sometimes criticized, but he called it the gold standard the other day, details all the ways that Russia was trying to interfere in the election, not -- again, there was no proof of criminal conspiracy that was prosecutable.
But the Mueller report, the gold standard, in the president's words, shows why there was this investigation.
COLLINS: That's right.
And not only that. It also shows that the Russians did interfere in the election and that they did hack into Democratic e-mails. But the president's line, ever since this report came out, was not only that there was no collusion from his camp, but that, on the other side, that's where the crimes were, meaning the Democrats, which is actually the opposite of what the Mueller report says.
It says the Democrats were hacked into by the Russians. So that's what's interesting about this, is the president is not only taking parts of this that he likes and highlighting those. He's also ignoring the parts where it says actually the Democrats were hacked into.
And the president is saying that the Democrats should be investigated. That's a claim he's made repeatedly. URBAN: And I would just say, along their lines, that if you're going to start throwing dust in the air to look at things, if I was the president and the administration, I would say, listen, this all took place under the watch of Clapper, Brennan, the Obama administration.
Why don't we have those folks in and let's have them before committees and ask them, why didn't they step up and do more?
BROWNSTEIN: Because when they get in front of the committee, they will say they wanted to step up and do more, and Mitch McConnell -- Mitch McConnell said that he would go public and say this was a partisan effort to tilt the election.
URBAN: And they need to be heard more.
I think that's what -- because you're not getting to that. That's what you're not getting.
And the other side, right, the people who believe the Steele dossier is not true, right, that's what you need to uncover here. There needs to be a lot of sunlight. Somebody showed up with George Papadopoulos, some woman, right, who was an FBI agent or CIA operative. And so -- and it feeds the narrative, right? It continues to feed the narrative.
BROWNSTEIN: But -- but -- go ahead.
TAPPER: What were you going to say, Angela?
I think that my issue here is, there are congressional investigations that are still going on. And if you want to shed some light on them, then you have to cooperate with them.
And so there's a message to take back to the Trump administration. If you really do want to get to the bottom of things, you have to in some ways cooperate, even if it results in culpability.
RYE: No, go ahead.
BROWNSTEIN: I was going to say, there's also a contrast here.
No matter what else the Trump campaign did, it did not go to the FBI. It did not go to law enforcement and say, hey, we have this sequence of events in which Russians are trying to interject themselves into our campaign. Whatever else you can say about the FBI, they took vastly more
seriously the evidence that Russia was trying to insert itself into the 2016 presidential election and kind of undertook a kind of -- a counterintelligence investigation, in contrast to Trump, son, campaign manager, others, who basically, as -- and what was the language in the Mueller report?
BROWNSTEIN: Basically knew this was happening and thought they would benefit from it and did not go to law enforcement.
TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around.
Joe Biden is picking a fight on the campaign trail with one of the most well-known members of his party.
And then a CNN exclusive on how an accused war criminal became a highly rated Uber driver right here in the United States.
[16:16:16] TAPPER: The 2020 lead now. Former Vice President Joe Biden today is facing challenges as he pursues dominance in the Democratic presidential race. Entering the Biden centrist lane today, a brand-new candidate, Montana Governor Steve Bullock, a Democrat who can appeal to Trump voters. On his left, party progressives, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders taking subtle jabs at the front-runner.
CNN's Arlette Saenz is traveling with Biden, who's defending his record today in New Hampshire and telling his critics to calm down.
ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER (voice-over): Joe Biden on the trail in New Hampshire and defending his record on climate change.
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You've never heard me say middle of the road. I've never been middle of the road on the environment.
SAENZ: That statement comes after New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez appeared to take a swipe at Biden.
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): And I will be damned if the same politicians who refused to act then are going to try to come back today and say, we need a middle of the -- a middle of the road approach to save our lives. That is too much for me.
SAENZ: The former vice president pushed back, insisting his looming climate change plan, expected later this month, will satisfy progressives. BIDEN: She'll find that nobody has been more consistent about taking
on the environment and the green revolution than I have. I don't think she's talking about me.
SAENZ: Biden is navigating through a Democratic primary field, filling up hole from the left, on issues like the Green New Deal and Medicare-for-All.
BIDEN: There are very loud voices on the very new progressive side of the agenda. And I think it's useful. I think they're good. They're smart people, and they should be able to be making their case.
SAENZ: As Biden wraps his New Hampshire swing, the 2020 field added one more.
REPORTER: Any thoughts on Steve Bullock getting in the race?
BIDEN: He's a good guy.
SAENZ: Steve Bullock becoming the 22nd Democrat to join the presidential race.
GOV. STEVE BULLOCK (D-MT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, to be honest, I never thought I would be running for president.
SAENZ: The little-known Montana governor focusing his campaign as a fight against dark money in politics and promoting his ability to win in a red state.
BULLOCK: As a Democratic governor of a state that Trump won by 20 points, I don't have the luxury of just talking to people who agree with me.
SAENZ: You'll remember Joe Biden has only been in the race for a little over two weeks. And on Saturday, he'll have his final kickoff rally in Philadelphia and then he's turning to another phase of the campaign. A Biden campaign official tells me that he will have a series of policy rollouts over the next couple of months -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Arlette Saenz traveling with former Vice President Joe Biden.
Angela, you heard Biden say he never said middle ground or middle of the road the way that Ocasio-Cortez was, I think, very clearly going after him. One of Biden's climate change advisers did use the term. "Reuters" reported her saying, quote: What we heard from the Obama administration is unless we find middle ground on these issues, we risk not having any policies.
And Senator Bernie Sanders, we should point out, also tweeted last night, there is no middle ground when it comes to climate policy.
So, it's on. I mean, progressives are taking issue with Joe Biden.
RYE: Yes, I think that it's not even just Joe Biden. It is the middle of the road approach. You cannot, I think, in this day and age, have a good progressive backing and still try to be slightly conservative. I think our reality is that Joe Biden regularly touts from being from Scranton, Pennsylvania, being able to talk to that rural or blue collar worker who tends to lean conservative. That is absolutely what he does.
Is he going to be able to say that he is the biggest champion of climate change in history?
[16:20:01] Like, whatever he said in this clip? Not exactly. It's a slight overstatement.
And so, I think he is going to have to come to terms with his record. And also talk about the future. What is he going to do going forward.
BROWNSTEIN: He does seem to come to term -- he does seem to have come to terms with, that is not going to be his coalition in the primary.
BROWNSTEIN: If you look at the polling, he is much stronger with older than younger voters, who tend to be more moderate.
BROWNSTEIN: And also, where 60 percent of all of the Democratic primary voters in 2016 were over 45. And you know, Heather Zichal, who was the aide, when she's talking about in the Obama administration, that was the reality. They passed cap and trade climate legislation through the House. They could not take it up in the Senate.
And if you look today, the 20 states that have the most per capita carbon emissions, that are the most tied into the energy economy, Republicans have 35 of the 40 Senate seats from those states. So, ultimately, if you are going to pass something and not just do something with executive action, which is vulnerable to the courts, you do need a policy that can win over at least some support in the energy-producing parts of the country.
URBAN: I would just point out that AOC is not running for president and doesn't have to win in Pennsylvania, where there's Carbon County, Pennsylvania. What do you think comes out of Carbon County? Coal.
TAPPER: She's got one of the safest districts in the country.
URBAN: I'm saying carbon county, because there's a county named after coal in Pennsylvania.
RYE: She might have -- and I just want to say this in her defense. She may have one of the safest districts in the country, but she's taking up some of the toughest issues right now in the country. So, we shouldn't -- I hope that we can get to a place where we don't just divide based on where people live or where they work or what zip code.
The reality of it is, the people that are in those high energy producing areas are the most likely to be hurt by the lack of climate change policy.
BROWNSTEIN: Yes, absolutely true.
COLLINS: But this is what the Trump campaign is hoping for. That people like AOC will push some of these candidates further to the left, so then it will be easier for the president. Especially people like Joe Biden, who the Trump campaign and President Trump clearly from his Twitter feed, are very focused on, because they are worried that they'll take those moderate voters.
TAPPER: And you just said, President Trump is in Louisiana right now. He's attacking Biden right now.
COLLINS: Speaking about a natural gas event, talking to people. And it's an official taxpayer funded White House event, but the president instead of focusing on the remarks he had prepared for him, actually took time on stage to go after a lot of the people who were hoping to run against him in 2020, calling them out by name, not only Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Beto O'Rourke, but also Joe Biden and that's not typically what you see, where it's a taxpayer-funded event, but the president uses it as a political stage.
TAPPER: Something else Biden is being attacked on from the left is his role in the 1994 crime bill. He talked about that earlier today. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: Let's get something straight. Ninety-two out of every 100 prisoners end up behind bars or in a state prison, not a federal prison. This idea that the crime bill generated mass incarceration, it did not generate mass incarceration.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So, he's -- you're shaking your head and putting your head. He's playing defense.
URBAN: He's clearly not -- I'll say that much.
RYE: Well, OK.
TAPPER: He's saying that the crime bill is not the reason that there's so many are in prison.
RYE: No, I hear what he's saying. I'm trying to understand why. And who advised him to take this path?
The reality of it is, in an era where the young people who are going to vote in this election had parents who were incarcerated, perhaps it wasn't in federal prison, but you cannot separate the fact that federal policy often is a game changer and the thing that sets policy for the states. He should just own it and distance himself from that and say what he's going to do now.
BROWNSTEIN: And point of fact that -- he's right that the vast majority of prisoners are in state prison. The crime bill which I covered specifically did provide states more money to fund prison and require them I think to increase truth in sentencing type reforms.
And it is just one example of this larger problem. I published something today on CNN.com. Biden, if he is the nominee in 2020, will be the nominee 50 years after he first won public elected office in 1970. That has never happened in American history going back to 1828, to the formation of the modern party system.
It would be the biggest span between initial election and further nomination as a presidential nominee. The only one that's close, by the way, is Bob Dole in '96. So you can see, all of these issues in an ordinary circumstance would be a huge weigh to them, all the views, busing in the '70s, crime in the '80s and '90s.
BROWNSTEIN: The big difference, though, is that with Trump as the backdrop, there are clearly a lot of Democratic voters who are going to be more forgiving about this record because they believe he has the best chance to beat him.
TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around.
Vladimir Putin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo one on one, and not only did they talk about Russian interference in the 2016 election, but Putin brought it up first with some surprising words about Robert Mueller.
Stay with us.
[16:29:16] TAPPER: And we have some breaking news for you now. CNN has confirmed that the House Intelligence Committee is seeking information from attorneys representing President Trump and his families, specifically as it relates to Michael Cohen's false testimony about the proposed Trump Tower Moscow Project, which Cohen says was changed by Trump lawyers. "The New York Times" was the first to report this story.
CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill.
And, Manu, what can you tell us? What is the committee specifically asking for?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they want these lawyers to turn over documents and submit to interviews as part of this committee's investigation into potential obstruction of its own previous probe into Russian interference.
Now, this all stems back from Michael Cohen's testimony to this very committee, when he downplayed the effort to try to get that Trump Tower Moscow project back in 2017, when he testified. He downplayed the role of the Trump organizations pursued.