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Barr Talks about Investigation; Flynn Discussed WikiLeaks; Sanders Starts Southern Campaign Swing. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 17, 2019 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:16] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

Attorney General William Barr says he is objectively investigating the origins of the Russia investigation, but he, again, uses the word spy and suggests the FBI had its thumb on the scale. The boss is happy.

Plus, a new court ruling filing raises new questions about White House efforts to get the president's former national security adviser to stop cooperating with the special counsel. And there's an intriguing nugget that someone in Congress also tried to get Michael Flynn to bite his tongue.

And the 2020 campaign trail is crowded today. Bernie Sanders begins a southern swing this hour, as new poll numbers show he's struggling to match his 2016 clout.

And the new entry, Steve Bullock, hoping it's not too late to make friends and supporters in Iowa.


CHERYL SCHERR, IOWA VOTER: I've seen Delaney. I've seen Amy Klobuchar. I've seen Cory Booker. I've seen Michael Bennet. And I can tell you who else I've seen.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: So many you have to look at your list.

SCHERR: Yes. I've seen Beto O'Rourke.


KING: Back to 2020 a bit later in the program.

But we begin the hour with the attorney general and a remarkable interview in which he makes clear keeping the boss happy, forgive me, Trump's waiting for all the facts to come in. We know the TV's on Air Force One were tuned in to Fox News today as William Barr laid out why it is so important that he investigates the origins of the Russia investigation.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think people have to find out what the government was doing during that period. If we're -- if we're worried about foreign influence, for the very same reason we should be worried about whether government officials abuse 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.


KING: The attorney general is correct, making sure the 2016 probe of Russian links to the Trump campaign was done by the books is critically important. But a lawyer as smart as Barr is, and in as sensitive a position as Barr is, knows how to choose neutral words. Instead, he channels his boss with words like abuse of power, thumb on the scale, even as he then says the fact finding is nowhere near done.

The president, this morning, tweeting he was, quote, conclusively spied on. His attorney general, again using the word spy, in a separate interview with "The Wall Street Journal."

The crossover is noteworthy and, again, Barr says his fact finding is in its early stages, but he does not hesitate to share his questions about the intelligence chiefs who led the early investigation and who looped then president-elect Trump in back in January 2017.


BILL HEMMER, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Between Election Day and the inauguration, did anyone in government or in intelligence, did they take action to justify their decisions?

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Between Election Day, did you say?

HEMMER: Between Election Day of 2016 in November, and Inauguration Day.

BARR: I think there were some very strange developments during that period. That's one of the things we want to look in to.

HEMMER: Such as?

BARR: Such as the handling of the meeting on January 6th between the intelligence chiefs and the president and the leaking of information subsequent to that meeting.

HEMMER: Was that meeting in New York City?

BARR: Yes.

HEMMER: In Trump Tower?

BARR: Yes.


KING: CNN Laura Jarrett joins us live from the Justice Department.

Correct me, please, if I'm wrong. I would love to be corrected on this. But here's the attorney general who says, we're starting this investigation. I'm nowhere near done yet. But he keeps channeling the words of the president of the United States. That's unusual.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, Unusual, indeed. It's unusual to have the attorney general talking about an ongoing investigation in the first place. He says on facts that this leaked out, but he confirms all of our reporting and suggests that this U.S. attorney, now in conjunction with the FBI and CIA, are all reviewing how the Russia investigation got started and surveillance issues surrounding the Trump campaign.

And, John, he says somewhat incredibly that even though he is the attorney general of the United States, he can't get the answers that he needs probably it seems like from his own team. He says things aren't just hanging together. He says people make a lot of assumptions about what happened, how this probe all got started, but it's not all fitting together for him.

And we've also heard him echo his boss today and the president's allies talking about some unusual situations regarding that opposition research compiled by the former British intelligence officer, Christopher Steele, saying he wants to look into that because it's just strange -- it's a strange development. Not explaining what he thinks was a miss. Not even explaining the fact that Rod Rosenstein, the former deputy attorney general, actually signed off on one of the renewals that was used in order to monitor that former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

[12:05:04] But the attorney general saying he thinks something is amiss here, just not explaining exactly what he thinks that is. But does say he's sympathetic to the fact that the president is calling it a witch hunt.


KING: Laura Jarrett live at the Justice Department. Appreciate it.

With me here in studio to share their reporting and insights as well, Margaret Talev with "Bloomberg," Michael Bender of "The Wall Street Journal," CNN's Manu Raju, and CNN's Kara Scannell.

To the point that Laura Jarrett just finished on, again, the attorney general is supposed to be the country's lawyer, America's lawyer, the people's lawyer. He says, and he has ever right, there was a counterintelligence investigation of an American presidential campaign. Set the names aside. Any new attorney general would want to go back, check the boxes. Was this done right? Was this done by the books?

But, listen here, as Laura just noted, he says, well, the president, witch hunt. Remember how the president used witch hunt. Bob Mueller's corrupt. The FBI is corrupt. The Justice Department is corrupt. My attorney general, in the case of Jeff Sessions, is a clown. Bill Barr says, I'm fine with that.


BILL HEMMER, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Are you comfortable using those words, witch hunt, hoax?

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I use what words I use, and it was an investigation. But I think if I had been falsely accused, I'd be comfortable saying it was a witch hunt.


KING: A very smart lawyer. A very accomplished lawyer. He knows, again, if you read the back half of the Mueller report on the obstruction question, Bill Barr made the determination it wasn't a prosecutable case, but there's a lot of damning information about the president in there. Embracing witch hunt, is he sending a signal to his own employees at the Justice Department what the president did to disparage them for years, two years, is OK?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: I mean it's really extraordinary to have the attorney general make such statements and also statements that are echoing the president. It feeds into the Democrats' criticism that he is acting as a president's lawyer and not the lawyer for the United States.

I mean and not only just witch hunts, but he's embracing the concept that he was falsely accused. And he did that when he was testifying before Congress, as well. And that -- you know, an attorney general is supposed to, you know, back up an investigation. You know, if you're going to -- if there's evidence or suspicions that you would support looking into an investigation and the conclusion was the conclusion, there was, you know, no evidence that a crime of, you know, conspiracy existed. But, you know, he's -- he's kind of leap frogging that and forgetting that and not backing up the department by saying that, you know, adopting the president's words here, and that's really shocking for the attorney general.

KING: And, again, if they went off the rails at the beginning, if they broke rules, if they broke laws, if they just did things that are unethical or wrong, lay it out, lay it out. But if you want Democrats and independents to believe that and you're the attorney general of the United States, don't you have to stop channeling the words of the president of the United States if at the end of this you want to have credibility in those findings?

MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Yes. I mean that's a really good point. And you can see Barr, what he's saying is leading the coverage exactly where -- exactly down that road. That interview opened up with a question of what he was looking at. And he -- and Barr explained kind of what you said, that he wants to see if government officials were putting their thumb on the scale. A very, in itself, in -- you know, that phrase alone is a worthwhile pursuit.

But the way he said it, the way he described it, the next question from Fox was, well, this appears to run very deep. And the attorney general did nothing to rein that back in and instead fed into that.

And I can tell you, inside the White House, it is -- that interview is being cheered this morning, how articulate Mr. Barr was, how he channeled the White House and the language that he used is, I mean, variable cheering inside the White House.

KING: He's a -- he's attorney general now. He was attorney general in the H.W. Bush administration. He -- in between that, a generation of successful law practice. He knows what he's saying.

He could say, look, a presidential campaign was investigated. We're going back to day one. We're going to make sure everything was done by the book, period, stop.


KING: And when he gets asked a question about it he says, no, ask me when we're done. Ask me when we're done. We're going to have an investigation. We're not jumping to any conclusions. I'll get back to you when we're done.

RAJU: Yes, he could also choose not to comment, as most people do when there's an investigation that's ongoing.

It's actually been notable to see this shift in his rhetoric from his confirmation hearing until after he was confirmed. During the confirmation hearing he didn't call it a witch hunt. He was very complimentary of Bob Mueller. He made it very clear that the Muellers and the Barrs were very good friends, as he said, during his testimony. He shifted his rhetoric considerably since then. And, you know, his -- he's even tried to paint the president in a very favorable light, he -- as a sympathetic figure before the release of the Mueller report when he did that press conference to lay out the findings before anyone saw the report. He said that the president had every right to be concerned about this investigation.

So, even though the report showed very significant allegations and revelations about the president's conduct and tried to thwart the investigation that could potentially be obstruction of justice. So, you've seen this shift in the rhetoric and the way he's handled his job and, obviously, the president likes it.

KING: And -- and one of the --


KING: Sorry.

TALEV: Well, I was going to say, one of the president's favorite things to do on Air Force One is to watch TV. And one of his favorite places to watch TV is Air Force One and he can focus. There's this nice cabin. The TV's great. And he had these two kind of competing things to absorb on his way back from New York today. One is concerns about Michael Flynn and all of that and on kind of the other end of the rainbow was Barr's public signaling. I think when you're attorney the general and you speak in public at all, particularly in an interview, you're messaging to someone. In this case, he is messaging to the president. He is saying, what he appears to be saying is, I am your attorney general. Give me some running room to conduct these things.

[12:10:29] I think rights now this is rhetorical. We don't know what he's going to find or not find and how he's going to pursue that. But with this president at this time in his presidency, the rhetoric matters because it creates the space for him to pursue all sorts of policies that so far line up to pushing back Congress, forcing tests to the courts, challenging the norms, doing things his way. And at this moment in time, Barr is giving him running room to do that.

KING: That's a key point. It's not just the Russia investigation. It comes at a time when, if you're a Democrat, you're looking for some cooperation. Sure, the administration can make the case the Democrats might be overreaching in some of these. Absolutely. But if you're trying to get some of these documents, either the White House Counsel or the attorney general to go to the president and say, sir, we have these things called laws, we have to comply to some of these. They don't have an opening right now.

To that point, the Democrats think that he misled them -- some say lie, including the speaker of the House -- when during some questioning he was asked if he knew about the concerns of Mueller's team when he did know about them. He had received a letter and had a phone conversation with the special counsel and Bill Barr said, I don't know what they're talking about. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, says he lied. Here's the attorney general's response.


BILL HEMMER, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Nancy Pelosi, she -- she believes you lied under oath. What do you think of that charge?

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, I think it's a -- it's a laughable charge and I think it's largely being made to try to discredit me, partly because they may be concerned about the outcome of a -- of a review of what happened during the -- during the election.

But, obviously, you can look at the face of my testimony and see on its face that there's nothing inaccurate about it.


KING: Again, he sneaks it in there. In the middle of that answer. He could just answer, look, I didn't lie. If they misunderstood my answer, OK, but I didn't lie.

RAJU: Yes.

KING: I told the truth. I'm confident I told the truth. But he sneaks it in, again, they may be concerned about the outcome of a review of what happened during the election.

RAJU: Yes, exactly. And he's probably not happy either that the House Judiciary committee voted to hold him in contempt. The House Intelligence Committee could do that next week as well. The full House is likely to do that in the coming weeks. And we still don't have the answer to whether or not Bob Mueller disputes what Bill Barr said in his testimony about that phone call and --

KING: When will we get that?

RAJU: And when will we get that?

Well, that's -- well, Lindsey Graham had sent a letter asking if Bob Mueller wants to dispute that in any way. He has not gotten a response to that. And we don't know if Bob Mueller is going to testify before the House Judiciary Committee or when. It's probably not going to happen next week. that means it may not happen until June at the earliest. So these questions can continue. And if he can do -- push this narrative, he'll be the only one making that argument.

KING: And, again, if the special counsel is not going to testify for weeks, the longer you have the press and the attorney general out there saying these things, just like you write a letter about the Mueller report that actually is very out of context of what's actually in the Mueller report, it becomes the public narrative. OK.

Well, up next for us, we move on. Margaret just mentioned it, new information from the Michael Flynn case raises new questions about interactions between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks.


[12:17:49] KING: New information from the Russia special counsel about Michael Flynn and the deep extent of his cooperation. In a court filing yesterday, lawyers laid out evidence that Flynn gave to the government that includes something we should have paid more attention to earlier, a voicemail detailed in the Mueller report from one of the president's attorneys giving Flynn a not so subtle push to not cooperate. The government also says Flynn indicated someone connected to the Trump administration or Congress tried to persuade him to keep quiet.

There's also this new and surprising disclosure from prosecutors. They say Flynn told the government about conversations senior Trump campaign officials had about WikiLeaks. Information team Mueller says, quote, to which only a select few people were privy from the filing. Quote, the defendant recalled conversations with senior campaign officials after the release of the Podesta e-mails, during which the prospect of reaching out to WikiLeaks was discussed.

CNN's Evan Perez joins our conversation.

What's the most significant new thing we're learning here about the deep, probably deeper than we knew, extent of Flynn's cooperation?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, I think that that -- the thing that you just mentioned right there, which was the way Flynn essentially gave the special counsel an inside look at what was going on inside the transition, inside the campaign, you know, with the president and all of these discussions that were ongoing about essentially reaching out to WikiLeaks to try to see if they could encourage, you know, the help that they were trying to get from the Russians. Again, you -- some of this was reflected in volume one of the Mueller report and a lot of -- a lot of the attention immediately went to volume two, the obstruction part.

But I think a lot of us should go back and read volume one because the picture that is drawn there is one of a campaign that was clearly, tacitly encouraging help from a hostile foreign power and I think that should not get lost on people.

KING: Oh, the case is closed, don't you listen to the Republicans on Capitol Hill?

PEREZ: It's -- right. But, I mean, this is -- right, and the thing is, is like, you know, if that's OK, then --

KING: Right.

PEREZ: 2020, you know, everybody should be doing that, right?

KING: That's one of the things. And, again, that's on the chapter one, which is dealings with a foreign government. Bob Mueller said he could not prove a criminal case, so Republicans say, we're done, no collusion.

[12:20:02] There was a lot of conduct there that you might want to explore publicly. Even take the names out of it. Don't try to look backwards, try to look this way and say, really, should we --

PEREZ: Is that OK?

KING: Do we need laws about this? Is this OK? Should we at least agree in principle? And then you come forward to the other part of it, the potential obstruction.

Here's a voicemail left for Michael Flynn from the president's personal counsel. This is on November 22, 2017. It wouldn't surprise me if you've gone on to make a deal with the government. If there's information that's implicates the president then we've got a national security issue. So, you know, we need some kind of head's up. Um, just for the sake of protecting all our interest if we can. Remember what we've always said about the president and his feelings toward Flynn, and that still remains.


RAJU: Yes, I mean --

KING: Hello, that's the attorney for the president, hey, we love you, Michael. You don't really want to implicate anybody here.

RAJU: In this, of course, fueling calls and concerns raised about potential obstruction of justice. Why didn't' Bob Mueller make a decision on obstruction of Justice. How could Bill Bar ignore this as part of -- as he looked at the full pattern of activities by this president and it's going to fuel calls on Capitol Hill from Democrats to get the underlying evidence. The Justice Department so far has said that it would not provide that information to Congress. Democrats have been fighting to get that. They said -- but they're saying, look, this came out after the Mueller report. This was not reflected in the Mueller report. What else is in there? So that's going to be part of their argument. We'll see what this ultimately says, because the judge says to release it in just two weeks' time.

KING: The judge says to release even more of it. And the president tweeting today. He sees this in the news and he doesn't like it. It now seems 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 the two people who would become president, why wasn't I told so that I could make a change?

TALEV: Right.

KING: Well, this is "New York Times" reporting and some of our own reporting, President Barack Obama warned Donald J. Trump against hiring Michael T. Flynn to be part of his national security team when Mr. Obama met with his successor in the Oval Office two days after the November election, two former Obama administrations said on Monday. Now, maybe they didn't say the former president and Chris Christie of the transition team didn't want to hire Michael Flynn because Chris Christie knows people in the law enforcement and national security community who told him, stay away from this guy.

So what the president says in that tweet there, let's just say runs afoul of the facts.

TALEV: No, that -- does that -- no, that doesn't make any sense. I mean President Trump knew as much as he wanted to and needed to know about Michael Flynn and he's talked with him anyway.

But this is so in the weeds. Even us talking about it, that if he were just like a regular voter, just thinking about the economy or whatever, it's going to be pretty hard to engage and drill down on Michael Flynn if you're already sick of the Mueller probe. And the president's counting on that. So it now -- this now moves to Congress and is up to Democrats to try to figure out if and how to talk about it. And, if not, it will be decided by the election most likely.

KING: We would hope voters care about the honesty and integrity of public officials and whether or not the Congress would at least oversee the executive branch. Wouldn't that come into play some times?

BENDER: This is putting the -- certainly should put more pressure on Democrats to act on the big picture and take a -- take a -- take action on the big picture because inside the White House I -- they are viewing anything that comes out more about the underlying evidence or any of these Flynn transcripts. Mueller had all of this, right? It is in volume one. It is all sitting there for us, for the public, for the Democrats in charge of the House to weigh in on.

KING: When we come back, we go to the 2020 campaign. If you're Kamala Harris or Cory Booker or Kirsten Gillibrand, you look at Bernie Sanders' poll numbers and you say, I'd like those. But if you're Bernie Sanders and you look at them, do you have a problem?


[12:28:11] KING: The 2020 campaign trail now and Bernie Sanders, he's making a southern swing this weekend. Live pictures here from Asheville, one of two stops in North Carolina today. South Carolina and Georgia tomorrow. Sunday, Senator Sanders visits Alabama.

Any other Democrat in the race not named Joe Biden would love to have Senator Sanders' poll numbers. But should he be worried? Let's take a look at the numbers.

This is a new Fox News poll, a national poll of the race. Senator Sanders in second place. That's a big lead for Joe Biden. But second place, that's not bad, right?

Here's the problem for Senator Sanders. He's going in the wrong direction. You see some of his rivals coming up. And the frontrunner moving up. Not good if you're Bernie Sanders, especially, let's go back, and you take here. Remember, he's run before. Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, California. Again, if you're any of the other candidates, you would love those numbers. But if you're Bernie Sanders and you did better than that in these states in 2016, is this a sign of trouble? Is the more crowded race, is the fact that you're now a known name, should you be worried about this? We'll talk about that in a second.

But one thing in Senator Sanders' credit, at least, he has the president's attention.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm looking at the competition. You sort of dream about competition like that. But, who knows. Who knows.

You know, Bernie's crazy. Bernie's crazy. But Bernie's a lot more energy than Biden. So you never know. No, no, Bernie's got a lot of energy, but it's energy to get rid of your jobs. He's got the opposite energy that you produce. Not good energy. You don't like his energy.


KING: The president's -- OK.

Lisa Lerer with "The New York Times" joins our conversation.

Should Sanders be worried in the sense that, again, I'm going to say this, I'm a broken record, nine months until anybody votes. It's early in the race. If you're any other candidate, you would love to have his numbers. But given that he did run before, should he be nervous that he seems kind of stuck in the teens? [12:30:00] LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK

TIMES": Well, I think what he should be nervous about is Elizabeth Warren's gain, that she has been sort of -- it's not a surge, right? A surge requires a lot -- gaining a lot