Return to Transcripts main page


Joe Biden Leading Democratic Presidential Race; New Court Filing Shows Michael Flynn Helped in Obstruction Probe; Barr Fuels "Spy" Claim in Media Blitz, Zeroes in on Start of Mueller Probe; Biden to Hold First Major Campaign Rally in Pennsylvania Tomorrow. Aired 4- 4:30p ET

Aired May 17, 2019 - 16:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Lisa Respers France, thank you so much. A pleasure to see you. Happy Friday.


BALDWIN: And, with that, we end the show.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: If only someone had raised a red flag to President Trump about Michael Flynn, besides, you know, everyone who had raised a red flag.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The president today reacting after the Mueller team discloses that his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, laid out a potential case for obstruction of justice for people around the president, including a voice-mail message as evidence. So why wasn't anybody charged?

Kickoff. Joe Biden planning a big splash in his home state, as another campaign wonders how to burn as bright as it once did.

Plus, using rape as a weapon of war -- the shocking story of how some women protesters survived a nightmare and led to a revolution.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead.

President Trump this afternoon capping off a wild tweetstorm by reacting to newly unsealed Mueller evidence that showed that his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, aided the Mueller investigation into potential obstruction of justice, offering evidence that members of the Trump team and Congress reached out to Flynn in a way that Mueller asserts could have affected both Flynn's willingness to cooperate and the completeness of that cooperation, potential witness tampering.

Flynn even sharing a voice-mail with the Mueller team of a possible attempt to interfere with the probe.

Now, the president tweeted today -- quote -- "It now seems that General Flynn was under investigation long before it was common knowledge. It would have been impossible for me to know this, but if that was the case, and with me being one of two people who would become president, why was I not told so that I could make a change?"

Fifty-four words, many of them not true. Let's start with -- quote -- "It would have been impossible for me to know this."

It was quite possible for President Trump to know Flynn was under investigation, in part because Michael Flynn himself warned the Trump team about Michael Flynn.

In early January in 2017, before he was appointed, Flynn told senior Trump officials that he was under investigation by the Justice Department for his lobbying work on behalf of the Turkish government, according to "The New York Times."

Now, it is true that the FBI did not tell Trump that Flynn was under investigation as part of the Russian election interference probe. Such a thing could have potentially compromised the investigation.

But, more broadly, it's worth pointing out that, in addition to Flynn warning the team, there were plenty of other warnings about Flynn. Trusted Trump adviser and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has said he knew Flynn was trouble from the day he met him.

"Against my strong and repeated advice," Christie would later write, "Donald had appointed that walking car crash to be his national security adviser."


CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: I didn't think that he was someone who would bring benefit to the president or to the administration. And I made that very clear to candidate Trump and I made it very clear to president-elect Trump.


TAPPER: "Why was I not told, so that I could make a change?" the president asked today.

Only if someone had told him, someone like, say, President Obama, face to face, less than 48 hours after Trump won the presidency. Obama warned Trump against hiring Flynn during their post-election meeting in the Oval Office.

At least one former Obama administration official telling CNN that Obama thought Flynn was not the right person for the job partially because -- quote -- "Flynn's name kept popping up in the ongoing FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election." Why didn't anyone warn you about Flynn, Mr. President? Who didn't warn you about Flynn?

CNN senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown takes a look now at how the president is handling all the fallout today from the Flynn revelation.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump today an Twitter tirade, complaining again about the origins of the Russia investigation, and repeating unfounded claims his campaign was spied on, tweeting -- quote -- "Treason means long jail sentences, and this was treason."

Before taking issue with new details surrounding his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, saying -- quote -- "It now seems that General Flynn was under investigation long before was common knowledge. If that was the case, and with me being one of two people who would become president, why was I not told so that I could that make a change?"

But that's not true. Several people, including President Obama, warned Trump about hiring Flynn when they met in the Oval Office, according to a former Obama administration official. A couple months later, acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned White House counsel Don McGahn that Flynn may have been compromised by the Russians.


SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I had two in-person meetings and one phone call with the White House counsel about Mr. Flynn.

BROWN: Newly unsealed court documents offer more details about Flynn's cooperation with the special counsel, Robert Mueller's probe, showing that Flynn was one of a select few people in the Trump campaign who were involved in discussions about whether or not to contact WikiLeaks regarding stolen Democratic Party e-mails.

Flynn also provided Mueller with multiple examples of people potentially attempting to influence his cooperation. A partially redacted court memo reads -- quote -- "Either he or his attorneys received communications from persons connected to the administration or Congress that could have affected both his willingness to cooperate and the completeness of that cooperation. The defendant even provided a voice-mail recording of one such communication."

The Mueller report published that voice-mail from the president's personal attorney to Flynn's attorney. "If there's information that implicates the president, then we have got a national security issue. So, you know, we need some kind of heads-up."


BROWN: And despite having the Flynn voice-mail and other evidence provided by Flynn, Mueller never prosecuted any members of Trump's team, members of Congress or congressional staffers for possibly obstructing the investigation by trying to influence Flynn.

Jake, it is likely that lawmakers would want to ask Robert Mueller this during potential testimony. We know that negotiations have been going on, but a source saying today that it's not likely to happen before June -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Pamela Brown at the White House, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Let's chat over all of this with our experts here.

Scott, let me start with you.

The president did not get a warning from the FBI, hey, this guy is under investigation, because the FBI doesn't do that sort of thing, but he was warned about Flynn repeatedly.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, milk was a bad choice. You know...



TAPPER: I'm always a sucker for an "Anchorman" reference.


I mean, look, there were other people who could have filled this job. He could have picked any of them. I'm sure if we could build a DeLorean and get it up to 88 miles an hour on the White House lawn, we would do that, go back in time, and prevent this hiring from happening.

It happened. He's gone. And it was one of those things that I wish we hadn't have done, but we did it, and there's no way to defend it today.

TAPPER: You were shaking your head.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Oh, well, the idea that it wasn't knowable at the time that he was a train wreck, it was -- I think anybody who was paying attention, you didn't need any like inside information to see that this was going to be a problem.

And, yes, he -- and we also know that he was warned by lots of different people, by President Obama, by Chris Christie, you know, and other people. But, like, you don't even need the warnings. Like, you just need to be sentient and paying attention to know this was going to be a problem.

TAPPER: And then there's Sally Yates coming to the White House after the inauguration...

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the former deputy attorney general.

TAPPER: ... saying -- she's an Obama holdover, but she is like this guy Mike Flynn is lying to you and his lies mean, A, the vice president is now lying to the nation because he's repeating Flynn's lies, and, B, we now think that he is subject to blackmail by the Russians.

And within a few days, Sally Yates has been fired, not Michael Flynn.

COLLINS: Exactly.

And this -- a lot of this has to do is not just that they hired Michael Flynn and then he left, and they kind of brushed their hands of it. We're seeing that it was actually what happened within the president and his legal team that has made this still a story in 2019, so much longer, because of John Dowd reaching out with this voice- mail, essentially communicating that he does not want Michael Flynn to flip on the president and to reveal any damaging information.

Now, what's stopping us from seeing how much further this goes is that John Dowd was the president's lawyer, so their conversations were protected by privilege.

And, of course, the president did not sit for an interview with the special counsel, so the special counsel couldn't have said, hey, did you direct John Dowd to call Michael Flynn and leave this voice-mail?

TAPPER: Right.

And, Laura, let's bring that voice-mail up, the transcript, I think -- this is what we're talking about, right? "If there's information that implicates the president, then we have got a national security issue, so you know we need some kind of heads-up."

I mean, that's concerning. What national security issue could there be? I mean, was now know that the president has been essentially cleared of conspiracy with Russia, no criminal charges brought against him or any team. What is he talking about?


That's the question and that's why so many Democrats on Capitol Hill want to see the underlying evidence of this report. That's a big piece of it. They want to see the unredacted, full report.

And it's because there's all of this information that no one really knows. And I think that that's the key thing about this filing that was just revealed, is that there's so much more to learn, and there's so many cases that Mueller handed off, more than 12 or so, that could potentially have more information that comes to light.

TAPPER: And, Kirsten, what's interesting about this is that the accusation that people on the Trump team or somebody having something to do with Congress, whether it's a member of Congress or a staffer, reaching out to potentially obstruct justice. But nobody's charged.

POWERS: Right.

Well, that's the biggest question when you look at this, is, this is exactly the kind of behavior that Barr described in his testimony would be obstruction of justice, if it happened.

And so why did he look at this and not conclude that this was obstruction of justice? It seems pretty clear, when you have people reaching out and trying to influence somebody's testimony, that that is de facto obstruction of justice.


So why did he -- why did Barr look at this and not conclude obstruction?

JENNINGS: Well, Barr looked at the president's conduct, but I think the question I would have is, Mueller -- or the answer that we have is that Mueller looked at this and decided not to charge anybody, right?


POWERS: That's just not true. I can't take it anymore.

TAPPER: But he wasn't...


JENNINGS: What is not true?

POWERS: It's not true that -- he didn't make a decision about charging people.

JENNINGS: About Donald Trump.


POWERS: No, no, no, no, he never made a decision about whether to charge Donald Trump with obstruction of justice.


POWERS: That was something that he put in the report. He put all the information...

TAPPER: I don't think you're disagreeing.


TAPPER: I think his point is, he could have charged someone else. He decided...


TAPPER: ... that, because of the OLC memo, he wasn't going to do anything about Trump. POWERS: OK. Then I misunderstood you. I thought you were saying

that, because he didn't actually charge the president with obstruction of justice, that there was no obstruction of justice.


TAPPER: He is saying that he -- that Mueller had no compunction about charging other people.


POWERS: But I also think -- I think the idea that Donald Trump didn't know about this is also kind of hard to believe.

I mean, he's invoking Donald Trump. He's saying...


POWERS: Yes. He's saying, you know how much Donald Trump likes you.

So, do you think that Donald Trump didn't know about this?

JENNINGS: I don't know.

POWERS: Well, if he did, then it's obstruction of justice.


COLLINS: Well, and the day after that, that's when Flynn's attorneys called the president's attorneys and said he wasn't -- they weren't going to be able to talk anymore because of whatever.

And then -- and Dowd in turn responded, according to the Mueller report, that essentially he was going to have to inform his client about the hostility that Mike Flynn now felt toward him, meaning, of course, the president.

POWERS: Right.

TAPPER: That's right.

Everyone, stick around. We got more to talk about.

Bill Barr acting like the attorney general President Trump has always dreamed of -- what he's saying now that sounds a lot like his boss when it comes to the Russia investigation.

Plus, Senator Bernie Sanders sliding in polls -- his new ideas he's rolling out today to try to generate some attention and get that Bern back.

Stay with us.


[16:15:49] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The politics lead now. Reading from the same song book as President Trump, Attorney General William Barr repeating the claim that spying occurred on the Trump campaign and questioning the motives of the FBI officials who launched the initial Russia investigation.

As CNN's Laura Jarrett now reports for us, we know that Barr's investigation into the investigators is getting a thumbs up from the big man.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have more questions today than I did when I first started.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More questions than when he started. Attorney General Bill Barr short on specifics, long on rhetoric today, in a pair of interviews on how the Russia probe all started.

BARR: 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.

JARRETT: As the president was tweeting this morning that he was conclusively spied on, Barr echoed his boss' claims to the "Wall Street Journal," saying, quote: Government power was used to spy on American citizens. Refusing to delve into the basis for his concern, Barr traced over more familiar talking points from Trump and his allies, calling into question officials' use of the infamous dossier, compiled by an ex-British intelligence officer.

BARR: 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.

JARRETT: Despite the fact that the special counsel's report shows the Russia investigation wasn't triggered by the dossier, Barr now giving Trump an investigation he can get behind.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's going a great job getting started on going back to the origins of the exactly where this all started.

JARRETT: While offering a sympathetic portrayal of a president wrongly accused.

BARR: If I had been falsely accused, I would be comfortable saying it was a witch hunt.

JARRETT: And even though Barr's work is just getting started, he told "The Wall Street Journal" it could ultimately lead to big changes down the line in intelligence collection practices when it comes to political campaigns.

(END VIDEOTAPE) JARRETT: In that same interview with Fox, Barr really dismissed claims by some Democrats that he's acting more like the president's lawyer than the attorney general, saying they may just be worried what his investigation will turn up -- Jake.

TAPPER: Hmm. Laura Jarrett at the DOJ, thanks so much.

Let's chew over this.

Kaitlan Collins, let me start with you. How are Barr's comments in "The Wall Street Journal" and to Fox News being received at the White House today?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Comments like that, like the Democrats being worried about the outcome of his probe are exactly what the president wants to see his attorney general saying. He has never been more pleased with someone than he has with Bill Barr. He often tells people, thank God we finally have a real attorney general.

And you can see why when you watch these interviews, because Bill Barr goes out there and says he doesn't think the president was wrong to call it a witch hunt, because he says he was falsely accused, so he says he understands what the president says, even when that's a space where some other officials maybe in Barr's position, people like Chris Wray, say they wouldn't use terms like that. Bill Barr is exactly the kind of person the president wants to see making comments like that in interviews.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: And it's why Democrats also feel that he's working at the behest of the president. It's why Kamala Harris asked him during his testimony, has anyone in the administration suggested that you open an investigation into the origins of the counterintelligence probe? And why Barr had trouble answering her. And she also sent a follow-up letter, which Barr has not responded to so far.

TAPPER: Interesting. Barr told "The Wall Street journal," origins of the Russia probe could lead to rule changes. He also said, quote, government power was used to spy on American citizens.

The framing of all of this is interesting, because the government uses its power to spy on American citizens all the time, thousands and thousands of times a day. But he's not talking about defending -- look, this is -- the Mueller goes into a lot of things, including stuff that you like, but also, all the reasons why there was an investigation. I mean, all the efforts by the Russians to interfere.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, he sort of puts them on par, you know, saying, if you're concerned about foreign government interfering in our election, and you should be concerned about what the FBI did.

[16:20:05] And it was like, those aren't really the same thing. You know, like you said, the FBI actually does do this all the time. And it's completely legal. So, you know, they had a reason to be concerned. You had a campaign

adviser who had information about Russian hacking before it was made public, George Papadopoulos. And so, this was something that would reasonably get their attention.

And so, I don't think that it's so outlandish. And now we now know of all these contacts that was happening. So, it's not outlandish that they would investigate this. So I think he is, you know, kind of doing Trump's bidding here obviously. I don't think this is serious.

TAPPER: Scott, the attorney general said about the Steele dossier, it's very odd for opposition research to be used to launch an investigation. I don't know how unusual it is or not, but I do know that a book against Hillary Clinton, Peter Schweizer, funded by the Mercers, in partnership with Steve Bannon, like, that was one of the reasons the Hillary Clinton investigation was launched. People in the FBI saw this book, saw all of these allegations and said, we need to look into it.

So it's not that unusual at least in terms of recent memory investigations of recent figure figures.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I don't know how unusual it is historically.

But, look, I supported the idea that we needed a Mueller investigation to find out what Russia did.


JENNINGS: And I support the idea that we need a Barr, FBI, DOJ, I.G., whatever you want to call it investigation to find out all this other stuff too. They are not the same thing, but they are equally important.

And so, I think if everything was done correctly and we find that out, we will rejoice for knowing that our law enforcement community and this organization and the intelligence community acted appropriately. And if there need to be policy changes, we'll have that too. I don't know why anyone would be worried about those either.

POWERS: You know, I've always been skeptical of the FBI. So, I've never been onboard with the idea that they were above reproach. But I think that when you listen to the way he's coaching this, it's hard to take it seriously. I mean, he's invoking, you know, surveillance of Vietnam activists in the '60s as though he cares about that. I mean, really?

That's not -- that's not something that Republicans have really been particularly concerned about, and now you're saying that I'm now concerned about the FBI because of surveillance that happened decades ago? It's hard to take seriously.

COLLINS: And the question is, what happens with the outcome? Because people close to the president say he's already made up his mind about what happened and the outcome of the investigation, if it clears the FBI, is not going to change the president's mind.

TAPPER: OK, everyone, stick around.

Three weeks in leading in all the polls, Joe Biden is already starting a new chapter in his campaign. Stay with us.


[16:27:09] TAPPER: In our 2020 lead today, Joe Biden's campaign is entering a new and riskier phase as the former vice president shifts his focus to policy. And as CNN's Arlette Saenz now reports, it could mean new opportunities for Biden's Democratic opponents and President Trump to attack.


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER (voice-over): With the first three weeks of his 2020 run behind him, Joe Biden turning to a new phase in his campaign.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'll be president for all America, not just the base.

SAENZ: First, a campaign headquarters and kickoff rally in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a state Democrats lost to Donald Trump in 2016, and one where Biden sees an opening. A recent poll found Biden beating Trump in a head-to-head matchup there by 11 points.

BIDEN: If I'm going to be able to beat Trump in 2020, it's going to happen here.

SAENZ: In the early weeks of his campaign, Biden enjoying his stronger-than-expected front-runner status, topping national polls, lining up endorsements in key early states, and raking in more money in the first 24 hours than any of his Democratic rivals.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nice to see you again.

BIDEN: Good to see you again.

SAENZ: He's taken his brand of politics to six states across the country, from an ice cream shop in Iowa to fielding voters questions in a New Hampshire backyard.

BIDEN: Folks, we can change this again. And the best way to change it, and I'm not joking, is to get Donald Trump out of that office.

SAENZ: Biden framing his campaign as a showdown with President Trump, a move that's drawn the president's ire.

REPORTER: How do you beat Joe Biden?


SAENZ: The former vice president also facing friendly fire from his Democratic opponents.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I disagree with him. That crime bill, that 1994 crime bill, it did contribute to mass incarceration in our country.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No. I don't think that Joe is the most progressive candidate in this race.

SAENZ: Biden largely aiming to stay above the fray.

BIDEN: I will not speak ill of any of the Democratic candidates. I will not do it.


SAENZ: Now, Biden tomorrow in his speech will present his vision for unifying the country. And Jake, the speech is taking place here in Eakins Oval, right near those famous Rocky steps.

TAPPER: All right. Arlette Saenz in the great city of Philadelphia, thanks so much.

As Biden holds on to his front-runner status, a first for Bernie Sanders and his own 2020 campaign. What is it?

Stay with us.