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A.G. William Barr Speaks Out on Mueller, Pelosi, and Origins of Russia Probe; Flynn to Mueller: People Connected to Trump Administration & Congress Tried to Obstruct Investigation; WSJ: Intel Suggests U.S./Iran Misread Each Other's Actions. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired May 17, 2019 - 11:00   ET

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


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[11:00:07] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining me.

Attorney General Bill Barr speaking out in his first round of interviews since taking over as attorney general. He says this morning that he was surprised that Bob Mueller did not make a recommendation one way or the other on obstruction of justice.

Now, remember what Mueller wrote in his report about obstruction. He wrote this, "If we had confidence after a though investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we're unable to reach that judgment. While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."

So Barr also calling accusations by Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, that he lied under oath, he's calling that this morning laughable.

But his big focus is on exactly what the president is so focused on, the start of the Russia investigation and whether there was anything inappropriate about the launch of it.

Here's what he had to say about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: People have to find out what the government was doing during that period, if we're worried about foreign influence. For the very same reason, we should be worried about whether government officials abused their power and put their thumb on the scale. And so I'm not saying that happened. But I'm saying that we have to look at that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Let's get over to the Justice Department. Laura Jarrett is there.

Laura, what else did the attorney general say this morning? LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Kate, Barr is saying he's

not prejudging this review that he's undertaking on the genesis of the Russia investigation. But he's also saying it wasn't business as usual, and a small ad hoc group, he's calling it, of officials who are no longer at the FBI and CIA, were undertaking actions he's trying to get to the bottom of. And he's saying he's asking questions and simply not getting adequate answers.

He's also revealing for the first time in a FOX interview today that he's having the January 6, 2017, meeting where President Trump was actually briefed on the infamous dossier having to do with Trump and Russia and all those connections we have heard so much about, the one that was compiled by the ex-British intelligence officer, Christopher Steele, he's saying the leaks coming out of the meeting is something he's looking into as part of this probe.

And then he goes on to talk about how the dossier was used, rehearsing some talking points that we have actually heard from the president and his allies.

Take a listen to what he said on this point.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FOX HOST: Can you tell us what the Steele dossier had to do with this? What role did that play?

BARR: That's one of the questions that we're going to have to look at. It's a very unusual situation to have opposition research like that, especially one that on its face had a number of clear mistakes and a somewhat jejune analysis, and to use that to conduct counterintelligence against an American political campaign is a strange -- would be a strange development.

UNIDENTIFIED FOX HOST: Do you smell a rat in this at this point?

BARR: I don't know if I would describe it as a rat. I would just say that, you know, the answers I'm getting are not sufficient.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JARRETT: Now, how the dossier was used, of course, is something that has been the subject of wide debate for the past several years.

But it's also something the inspector general is already looking into at the Justice Department, the main watchdog office, is looking into whether enough was used and disclosed in the surveillance warrants used by the FBI to obtain that surveillance warrant on the former campaign aide, Carter Page.

But Barr still raising some more questions on that even though the inspector general is looking into it -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Laura. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Joining me now for much more on this, former U.S. attorney, Greg

Brower, also a former FBI official, and CNN White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

So, Kaitlan, you have Barr -- setting the stage where things stand on this, you have Barr saying he's looking into it, but you also have Donald Trump this morning already going toward -- already going to treason and saying treason did happen. This in a tweet. Also at the same time, the president says he's not telling Barr to do anything.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Barr is saying he has more questions than answers. And he's raising a lot of questions about how the probe was started. He's casting a ton of doubt on the senior people who started this. Questioning, as Laura was saying there, the group that started it.

Then the president seems to have prejudged the outcome of what Bill Barr is looking into. He and his defenders have said, for months, even years now, the people who started the probe were biased against the president. They didn't want him to win the election. Once he did win the election, they didn't want him to be in office.

It's interesting to see how the president is framing how Bill Barr is saying and what Bill Barr is staying.

Bill Barr is making some pretty stunning comments there, not only talking about how the investigation started but the way the special counsel, a personal friend of Bill Barr's, conducted himself, too, in a pretty stunning interview.

[11:05:03] BOLDUAN: I thought so as well.

I'm left, after watching Bill Barr speak out this morning, and how Laura said, he says he's not prejudging the outcome of any of these investigations, but what do you think? I know you thought of this. If Barr after this review concludes that everything was on the up and up, and the I.G. kind of reaches the same conclusion, no charges, no firings, none of it.

What does the president do then? Because the president has reached his conclusion.

COLLINS: And people close to the president don't think that if Bill Barr comes out on the other side of this and says actually, there was no bias, there was none of that, even though it's not the way Bill Barr is leaning by the way he's looking into it, they don't think the president would readily accept there was no bias against him.

Because he's convinced and set in that that those people were biased against him and that's how the investigation was conducted. That's the question there of how this goes forward.

But right now, Bill Barr seems to be more siding and agreeing with the president's view of all this than with other people.

That's where this is going to get interesting. How does he square this with the FBI director, Chris Wray, who said he would not have used the term "spying?" That is something that infuriated the president and he did not like seeing Chris Wray make that answer.

BOLDUAN: He's made that very clear. Let's see where that relationship goes.

Let me bring Greg in on this.

Greg, you also have Bill Barr saying that it isn't -- sorry, you have Bill Barr saying if it's important to look into Russian interference, it's just as important to look into why the investigation was started in the first place. Do you see that?

GREG BROWER, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: In the absence of any evidence that the investigation was started for any improper purpose, it would seem curious that the A.G. would be focused on this. There's an I.G., an inspector general investigation, ongoing. It seems to me, and I think to most others in Washington, that the A.G. should let the I.G. finish his work.

But of course, in the abstract, it's important for the attorney general, as the head of the Department of Justice, to know if there was any misconduct.

But in the absence of any evidence of misconduct, it would seem to me to be improper for the A.G. to initiate a review based on what appears to be nothing more than presidential tweets.

The A.G. has said he's not satisfied with certain answers he's received about the beginning of the investigation. But by whom? Who is giving him those answers? We haven't heard from any other DOJ officials that the investigation was begun for any improper purpose.

BOLDUAN: That's a really interesting point, because he was not giving on that at all in this interview with FOX News.

He also spoke with the "Wall Street Journal," Greg, and said that his investigation into the origins of the Russia probe, it could lead, and the way, he put it -- the "Wall Street Journal" put it, is it could lead into changes in the rules of how investigations are conducted or allowed to be conducted into a campaign going forward.

BROWER: Sure.

BOLDUAN: What could that mean to you? What are the rules? What could the changes be?

BROWER: There are attorney general guidelines that govern a broad range of different types of investigations, DOJ investigations, including investigations of political candidates and campaigns.

But again, in the absence of actual evidence that anything improper happened here, it would seem curious to talk about an investigation in a way that tracks what the president has been saying. That has caused many people in Washington, and around the country, frankly, to think that the attorney general is simply playing politics with this. I would like to think that he is not playing politics with it, but to

the extent that his comments track the president's, that's the appearance.

KAITLAN: And the response that White House people and the president's allies would have to that is Bill Barr is not someone who knew the president before he became attorney general.

He has this long great reputation, people say, and he has earned that. And they say he would not throw himself in front of a train for President Trump. They say that is something they want people to keep in mind as he's conducting this investigation.

BOLDUAN: Dually noted.

Good to see you, Kaitlan. Thank you so much.

Great to see you, Greg.

Greg's going to stick around. Got more questions for him.

Not done with you yet.

There's also word this morning that some of the redacted portions of the Mueller report are going to be released by the end of the month, by court order.

And already we're learning more about what Michael Flynn, the president's former national security adviser, what he told Bob Mueller and the cooperation level there. It's raising new questions about obstruction of justice, and it could come down to a voice mail.

Senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez, is in Washington with this side of it.

Evan, what did Michael Flynn tell Mueller? What are we learning here?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENTED: We're learning a lot of new information about exactly what kind of cooperation the special counsel got from Michael Flynn, over 19 interviews that he sat down with them for.

He told them - obviously, he was one of the closest people to the then candidate Trump, and so he had a window into some of these conversations that were going on, including some conversations about WikiLeaks.

I'll read you just a part of what the special counsel says in this document that was unredacted and released by the judge yesterday: "The defendant related to the government statements made in 2016 by senior campaign officials about WikiLeaks in which only a select few were privy. For example, the defendant recalled conversations with senior campaign officials after the release of the Podesta emails during which the prospect of reaching out to WikiLeaks was discussed."

[11:10:21] Kate, obviously, all of this information was baked into the Mueller report. The investigation is now over.

But clearly, the fact that this information is now being released by the judge has gotten to the president. You know how he loves to tweet when something is on his mind. So this morning, he's already tweeting, claiming that Michael Flynn apparently was under investigation for much longer than people realize and he knew nothing about it.

But that's not really true. Look, right after the president was elected, President Obama warned him against hiring Michael Flynn for his national security adviser.

There were multiple other warnings that came forward, including, by the way, Michael Flynn himself told the White House, right at the beginning of 2017, before the president's inauguration, that he was under investigation for lobbying for Turkey.

So again, there's a lot of information that's being released and I think this is very much on the president's mind, and we'll see more of it come forward in the next few weeks.

BOLDUAN: And that's a question I had.

Why is this, real quick, why is this coming out now, and what more could be coming?

PEREZ: There was a lawsuit on behalf of news organizations seeking to get access to some of this information. Now that the Mueller investigation is over, why is this stuff still under redaction?

This judge has seen it fit to not only -- he's told the Justice Department to release the parts of the Mueller report that were redacted that have to do with Michael Flynn. He's saying release that by the end of the month. Release the transcripts of this voice mail from people outreaching to Flynn, telling him essentially don't cooperate.

And then there was also this conversation that Michael Flynn had with the Russian ambassador at the time, the thing that got him in trouble.

BOLDUAN: Right.

PEREZ: All of that, the judge says, needs to be released.

BOLDUAN: That was the basis, that was what Michael Flynn lied about that got him in trouble in the first place.

PEREZ: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Evan. Thank you so much.

PEREZ: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Really appreciate it.

So for more on this, Greg Brower, back with me. And also Shan Wu is joining us, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor.

Thanks for being here.

Shan, Mueller here is saying, in what we're seeing now in the court documents coming out, that people around Trump -- and here's the quote, "People around Trump could have affected both Flynn's willingness to cooperate and the completion of the -- the completeness, rather, of that cooperation."

Is that obstruction? And if so, why was no one charged?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It certainly sounds like obstruction, Kate. And rule number two, in criminal defense, when you are speaking to the lawyer of a possible cooperator, you should avoid making intimidating statements. That's what this sounds like.

I don't see why it wouldn't have been investigated. Some of the things I have seen with regard to privilege making it difficult don't really seem to answer the question. There would have been no privilege in the conversation between the attorney for President Trump and the attorney for Flynn. So it's somewhat of a mystery to me.

BOLDUAN: Interesting.

Greg, what Shan is getting to, let me read what we know of the voice mail that went from, between Trump's personal attorney and Flynn's attorney, and this is what we have not seen before.

This is what we have got. This is a voice mail. "It wouldn't surprise me if you have gone on to make a deal with the government. If there's information that implicates the president, we have a national security issue. So you know, we need some kind of heads up."

Greg, is that a call that you have ever made? The fact that they had this, and additional fact that this voice mail seemed to happen just as they had severed the cooperation agreement between the time-out teams. Does that play into this?

BROWER: Well, let me agree with Shan in saying that this is the type of conversation as a defense lawyer that you want to stay as far away from as you possibly can. Lest it be misconstrued later on.

This one apparently was considered by the prosecutors as vague enough to avoid constituting obstruction. But it is, in my view, in my experience as a prosecutor and as a defense lawyer, this is the kind of conversation you just don't want to have.

This also points at an apparent disconnect in my mind, which is that for someone as experienced and as tough as a prosecutor as Bob Mueller to recommend no prison time for Flynn, and yet for his cooperation to result in no additional charges is sort of mysterious to me.

I was expecting, frankly, that given the apparent nature of Flynn's cooperation, that more charges were coming, based upon his cooperation, and we just haven't really seen that.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

And, Shan, Mueller makes it clear in this court filing that he didn't know if Trump himself had prompted the call, what he knew about the call, if you will. So is any of this that's coming out in any way bad news then for the president?

[11:15:14] WU: It could be bad news in the future. But to get to that bad news, as Greg was alluding to, as a former prosecutor, you would want to first go after the lawyer who made that statement and find out what he's got.

There's the crime fraud exception that could pierce some privilege issues. You would want to target that person first to see if you could get back to whether the president had directed him to do that.

One thing that's possible, I suppose, is they may have spun this off to some office we don't know about. But I don't really see why -- it makes sense they pause on the president because Office of LC ruling, you can't indict a sitting president. It doesn't make sense they would pause or not reach a decision about a lawyer or someone who had conveyed this message.

BOLDUAN: Right, interesting.

The court filing, Greg, says that communication -- and here's how it was worded -- "came from persons connected to the administration or Congress that could have reached out to Flynn."

That kind of raises your attention a little bit. If that is in some way suggesting that a member of Congress was involved reaching out to Flynn before or during the cooperation with Mueller, what would that mean?

BROWER: Well, nothing good for that member of Congress, I would submit. And that is going to have to be flushed out.

This is another reason why Bob Mueller simply has to testify in front of Congress in an open hearing some time soon.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWER: And he has to be able to answer all of these questions.

The more that -- the more is unredacted, the more that this is reviewed, the more questions that have come up, and they need to be answered and can only be answered by Bob Mueller.

BOLDUAN: It's somewhat reassuring that you both have questions in your mind, because all of this raises to us lesser minds, not legal minds, a lot of questions we don't understand.

Shan, the judge overseeing this case has decided, as Evan was pointing out, that some of the redacted portions of the Mueller report that are relating to Michael Flynn, they're going to be released. It's going to be out there by the end of the month.

Do you think this means that through the courts, the full report is eventually going to drip out?

WU: I think there's a good chance of that. I mean, Judge Sullivan is, in my opinion, doing a great service to the American people for transparency. And this effort to ask the courts to decide this issue, I think, is a good one.

And I think judges generally don't like redactions. They don't like sealed proceedings. They very much think of the courts as being a public forum. They don't like that. Conservative, liberal, I think their tendency is going to be to want the American people to see the information they can see.

BOLDUAN: All right.

BROWER: Kate, if I --

BOLDUAN: Go ahead, Greg.

BROWER: I was simply going to say, I would agree with that and say that putting the classified information from the report aside, the other two types of information that were redacted, the ongoing investigations and the so-called grand jury information, the ongoing investigation, for instance, should not be released until the ongoing investigations are completed.

But I see no reason at this point that the grand jury investigation information should not be made public. It would take a court order, but it seems to me that the House ought to go to court and get such an order. DOJ ought not oppose that, and that information should be made public.

BOLDUAN: Add that to the category of let us see altogether.

Shan, Greg, thanks, guys. Really appreciate it.

BROWER: Good to see you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, a new report that rising tensions with Iran could be due to a misunderstanding. Did the United States and Iran misread each other's actions? How dangerous is that?

[11:19:36] Plus, a deadline day. It's deadline day again in the battle over the president's tax returns. Will Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin defy a congressional subpoena? The Democrat who issued the subpoena tells CNN what he's going to do next, if it gets there.

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BOLDUAN: Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf outfitted with missiles and other weapons. That is what a U.S. official tells CNN new images show. It's this intelligence that's partly behind the increased tension between the Trump administration and Iranian leaders. But could those movements have actually been a reaction to the United States?

The "Wall Street Journal" is reporting this morning that Iran's leaders believed it was the United States that was preparing to attack them. And so they were preparing. That is a potentially catastrophic misunderstanding if that is the case.

Where do things stand between Washington and Iran?

Joining me, CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, from the Pentagon, and CNN senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, from Tehran.

Barbara, what more are you hearing?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Kate, right now, what concerns the U.S. military most, I think, is this notion of any kind of miscalculation. The Iranian regime is one set of entities, but all of the proxy forces, the militias that come under him, Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, there's continuing concern about how much influence the regime exerts over them.

And if any of those units, carrying the missiles on their boats, which are maneuvering, may not be under control of the central government and could there still be a miscalculation?

[11:25:09] President Trump yesterday, when asked if there was a possibility of war with Iran, said he hoped not. And that's what you would want any president of the United States to say.

The Pentagon is very adamant that they really do hope all of this deterrence, the aircraft carrier, the B-52 bombers, really works.

You know, it is worth noting, we're now almost two weeks into this and there has been no confrontation, so that is really the good news. The Pentagon wants to keep that streak going -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: I would say so. That's a good point.

Good to see you, Barbara. Thank you so much.

Fred, what are you hearing from there?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Iranians officially haven't commented on the reports about potential missiles on boats.

However, there was an interesting nugget we picked up from Iran's ambassador to the United Nations. He came out and said, look, Iran isn't preparing for any sort of conflict, but Iran wants to be prepared in case some sort of conflict erupts.

Essentially what he's saying is any sort of moves the Iranians are making, at least according to what they're saying, are defensive in nature. That could lend credence to some of the "Wall Street Journal" reporting we have been hearing that perhaps both sides may have been miscalculating each other's intentions.

At the same time, I want to give you color on the ground. It's quite a strange mood on the ground in Tehran. We were expecting, after a week like this with all these tensions, with an aircraft carrier being deployed, with B-52 bombers being deployed, Friday prayers would be anti-American and fiery and anti-American. Really hasn't happened. It seems the government here doesn't want to continue to fan the flames of all this and maybe wants to bring the temperature down a little bit, if you will.

At the same time, the Iranians aren't budging on one key point. They're saying absolutely no negotiations with the Trump administration. They say that, for that to happen, they still want to be able to sell their oil on international markets. They want some of the sanctions to go away. They want European and other companies to be able to invest here in Iran without having to fear the backlash of the United States.

And of course, by and large, what they really want is for the U.S. to go back to the nuclear agreement, but as we have been saying this entire week, it doesn't look like that's something in the cards at the moment -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Not at all, but so interesting what you're picking up from the ground.

So great to have you there, Fred. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Coming up for us, still, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin facing another deadline to hand over the president's tax returns to Congress. Is there any chance he's actually going to comply? You can answer that. While the Democrat leading the charge is now laying out what he'll do next.

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