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CNN NEWSROOM

Barr in Interview: Mueller "Could've Reached a Decision on Obstruction"; Ashton Kutcher Testifies in Hollywood Ripper Serial Killer Trail; Doctors for "Jeopardy's" Alex Trebek Say His Cancer Is Near Remission; Book: Clinton Initially Cheered When Trump Fired James Comey; Book: Harry Reid Pushed Obama to Repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"; Book: Jesse Jackson Started Movement that Got AOC Elected. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired May 30, 2019 - 14:30   ET

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


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[14:32:48] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: This just in. Just a day after Robert Mueller contradict the him on camera about major details in the Mueller report, we are now hearing from Attorney General Bill Barr.

He just talked to CBS News saying that he does not agree with Mueller's assertion he was not capable of determining if the president committed criminal activity because of that DOJ policy that directs that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

Here he was.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAN CRAWFORD, CHIEF LEGAL CORRESPONDENT, CBS NEWS: We saw the special counsel yesterday make that statement. He analyzed 11 instances where there was possible obstruction. And then said that he really couldn't make a decision. Do you agree with that interpretation?

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I personally felt he could have reached the decision.

CRAWFORD: In your view, he could have reached a conclusion?

BARR: Right. He could have reached a collusion. The opinion says you can't indict a president while he's in office. But he could have reached a decision as to whether it was criminal activity.

But he had his reasons for not doing it, which he explained. And I'm not going to argue about those reasons.

But when he didn't make the decision, the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, and I felt it was necessary for us, as the heads of the department, to reach that decision.

CRAWFORD: Well, he seemed to suggest yesterday there was another venue for this and that was Congress. BARR: Well, I'm not sure what he was suggesting. But the Department

of Justice doesn't use our powers of investigating crimes as an adjunct to Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: CNN justice reporter, Laura Jarrett, is with me.

And it is so significant to hear this interview. Because, as we talked, Mueller stood there yesterday morning saying it wasn't up to me. Here are the findings and now it is on you, Congress. And clearly, Mr. Barr feels Mueller could have made a call.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: It is interesting that he's saying that Mueller should have made a call when he is the one who of course who lambasted the former FBI Director James Comey for doing what he suggesting Mueller could have done, which was to put out derogatory information about someone not ultimately going to be charged.

He knows, as of March 5th, that Mueller will not make a decision on obstruction of justice. But he never pushed him to make that decision. He just -- he admitted that he is bound by the long- standing Justice Department policy on not indicting a sitting president, a policy in place for decades here at the Justice Department.

[14:35:15] And Barr understands that Mueller is abiding by that policy but, yet, still saying he somehow should have made a call one way or another.

It is an odd statement, I think, for the attorney general to make, given that policy. And not just the policy in terms of the OLC opinion, but one of fairness.

As Mueller explained, both in the report and yesterday, he feels as if you're not going to indict somebody and not going to put that evidence in court, then you cannot put out a report from a government official that again puts out derogatory information about that person.

And on the issue of Congress, he feels as though the -- the attorney general does, he mentioned this at his press conference last month -- that the prosecutor is here to investigate crimes and bring charges. They're not to make a referral to Congress.

And interestingly, Mueller yesterday pointed out in the OLC opinion that there's another path here, and it isn't prosecution. It is for Congress to do something about it.

BALDWIN: And this is just the first little bit of a clip that we have from Bill Barr. We'll wait to parse through the rest of it.

Laura Jarrett, thank you.

JARRETT: Sure. BALDWIN: "Jeopardy!" host, Alex Trebek, shares what he calls mind-

boggling news about his battle with cancer.

And why Ashton Kutcher took the stand in a murder trial.

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[14:41:07] BALDWIN: Hollywood star, Ashton Kutcher, taking the stand as a star witness in the murder trial of a man accused of killing several women, including a woman Kutcher was trying to date.

Kutcher testified in the so-called Hollywood Ripper case and said, the night he went to pick up his date from her Hollywood Hills home, he later discovered she was lying dead in a pool of her own blood.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is here with this dramatic testimony.

What did he say?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Definitely, Brooke, you're talking about a man who was about 21 at the time. Think about that '70s show, all of that happening at the time in 2001.

In February, he was at a Grammy's watch party and said he was going to go by and pick up Ashley Ellerin afterwards. He said cell phone signal wasn't good. He talked to her through her cell phone and through a friend's cell phone at 8:24 p.m. And realized it was later than he anticipated to get over to her house. He tried her again and she didn't answer.

And then he drove to her house and got there after 10:00 p.m. He did say he noticed that the security gate was open. And then went on to say -- and I'm reading this from what he told the court -- "I knocked on the door, there was no answer. I assumed she left for the night. I didn't think anything of it."

He also told the court that he was trying to take her out on a first date and he didn't want to seem over-eager. Now thought she might be annoyed with him being late and think she left with a friend.

But he did peer through the window. And this is also what he told the court, saying, quote, "I thought it odd the lights were all on. I didn't want to be the guy looking through her window, then I saw what I thought was red wine on the carpet."

Now, the prosecution saying that they now believe that the evidence will show that that was blood. And they're trying to establish a timeline.

Ashton Kutcher did not find out until the next day that Ellerin had been stabbed 47 times and was dead.

So now they're saying that this is trying to form a timeline to show Michael Gargiulo, a 43-year-old man, who is being called the Hollywood Ripper, that they allege is this killer, that this place is -- that she was already dead by the time this -- this time in the night here. And it is worth noting, too, Brooke, the defense is saying that

there's no concrete evidence to link Gargiulo to Ellerin's murder. However, investigators know there are other murders they're pinpointing in -- where he may have been the murderer in the other cases because he cut himself in one of the incidents in 2008 and that DNA led them to home in on him.

BALDWIN: So gruesome. So gruesome.

Stephanie Elam, thank you for the reporting.

Meantime, this veteran game show host was diagnosed with the most- deadly form of cancer and vowed to beat it. And according to his doctors, he is near remission. Answer -- who is "Jeopardy!" host, Alex Trebek.

In the June issue of "People" magazine, Trebek opens up about his battle with stage for pancreatic cancer. He talks about how well his treatment and recovery are progressing. Saying, quote, "It is mind- boggling. The doctors said they hadn't seen this kind of positive result in their memory. Some of the tumors have already shrunk by more than 50 percent."

And Dr. Matthew Weiss, on oncologist and deputy physician-in-chief of surgical oncology, at Northwell Health Cancer Institute, is with me now. He specializes in pancreatic and liver surgery.

Great to have you on.

DR. MATTHEW WEISS, DEPUTY PHYSICIAN-IN-CHIEF OF SURGICAL ONCOLOGY, NORTHWELL HEALTH CANCER INSTITUTE: Thank you.

BALDWIN: I see, not as an oncologist, tumor is down 50 percent and near remission, sounds like awesome news. You say?

WEISS: Absolutely. Obviously, we should be positive. Alex Trebek was diagnosed with stage-four cancer, which classically has a very poor prognosis.

BALDWIN: Yes.

WEISS: But we're seeing is the patients now with new regiments of chemotherapy are doing well. And what is more surprising is how well Alex Trebek seems to feel while on chemotherapy. It's amazing. It actually seems chemotherapy has gotten more and more effective and patients are tolerating it better and better.

[14:45:03] BALDWIN: Which is wonderful that it is more effective.

When I read near remission, what does that mean?

WEISS: I think near remission is we could be cautiously optimistic about it. I think what they're referring to is the tumors have dramatically shrunk in size. With the new chemotherapy agents, we're seeing that as many as 50 percent of tumors will shrink.

It used to be that we gave chemotherapy and the tumors just stayed the same size or progressed through it.

I think what they're trying to say is, for Alex Trebek, the chemotherapy is working. This is great news. He's only been on therapy two or three months, because he announced his diagnosis in February, and this is great news.

BALDWIN: So when it is shrinking, that doesn't mean it is gone. It is important to -- to the delineation of that. And people watching and thinking, oh, my gosh, this is Alex Trebek, and he has best doctors in the world and the best treatment, he has the money for this type of treatment.

But your point, again, to underscore, is how the improvement of patients with this sort of cancer, with chemo, how it is improving.

WEISS: Absolutely. I think when you look at patients that have stage-four pancreatic cancer, honestly, the prognosis or the chances of surviving the disease is pretty low.

But what we're seeing with this chemotherapy is that patients are living longer and longer. And we're actually seeing some patients that are having remarkable responses.

And it sounds like Mr. Trebek is one patient having a remarkable response to the chemotherapy he's on.

It is really a testament to how far we've come. If you think back 10 years ago we didn't have any drugs that even touched this cancer. Now we have drugs that actually show remarkable responses.

BALDWIN: We wish him well. We hope only the best, most positive for him and his family.

Dr. Weiss --

Thank you very much.

BALDWIN: -- thank you very much. Thank you.

It is hard to imagine a moment when Hillary Clinton would have possibly cheered Donald Trump. But a new book said that is exactly what happened after he chose to fire James Comey. We have those details for you.

Also, just in, another setback for the president in the courts. Why a judge has denied the administration's request to continue work on border wall projects.

We'll be right back.

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[14:51:33] BALDWIN: It is one of the central questions of Mueller report: Did President Trump obstruct justice when he fired James Comey? But before the president admitted on TV that he gave him the ax over

the, quote, "Russia thing," you may remember a different explanation, the mishandling of Hillary Clinton's email probe.

Clinton has long lamented that Comey is one of the main reasons she lost in 2016 in a new book is revealing how Clinton initially reacted to the Comey firing. The book is "We've Got People," written by Ryan Grim.

Grim writes, quote, "She had spent the winter and spring pouring over survey and turn-out data, calling friends and former aides, relentlessly analyzing and reanalyzing. It was, her friends believed, both part of her grieving process but also holding her back from moving on. When she learned that Comey had been fired by Trump, she was ecstatic. Comey had finally gotten what he had coming."

And author, Ryan Grim, is with me. He's also the Washington bureau chief for "The Intercept."

So, Ryan, thank you for being on and talking about your book.

RYAN GRIM, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE INTERCEPT & AUTHOR: Thank you.

BALDWIN: And tell me more. Because it is not often Trump and Hillary Clinton agree on anything. But on the Comey firing, they did.

GRIM: Yes, and first -- in her defense, I think she's right. And I think it is fairly uncontroversial, statically.

And pollsters will tell you the numbers did move in a substantial way when Comey came out with that announcement.

BALDWIN: Yes.

GRIM: And then with his follow-up announcement the weekend before, which galvanized Trump supporters because, they were like, wait a minute, how did you analyze 100,000 emails in like five days, you're just trying to clear her name right before the election.

So I think she's right. But the problem is, Donald Trump has always taken the advice of Jared Kushner for some reason. I understand you listen to him once or twice but he's been wrong consistently across the board.

He told Trump, if you fire Comey, Democrats will applaud because they blame -- they blame him for Hillary's loss.

BALDWIN: Sure.

GRIM: So, all right, I'm going to do that and to cite the way she -- he handled that when I fire him.

And so he was wrong on every single Democrat in the country except one, and that was Hillary Clinton.

BALDWIN: Who is ecstatic.

GRIM: Yes.

BALDWIN: You have a revelation on former President Barack Obama because people look at him as sort of this bastion of the most forward-thinking and progressive when it comes to LGBTQ issues. And it was actually -- he had to -- he was not initially prioritized repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Who got in his ear?

GRIM: Well, in some ways, it was Harry Reid. But he didn't necessarily get in his ear. He just pushed it forward.

And now to be clear, the president, by the end of 2010, very much wanted "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to be repealed. That is the key question.

The question is whether or not there was time in the lame duck to dedicate to it, because once the Tea Party is in, forget about it, because you won't get there through the Tea Party, even today through a Republican Congress.

BALDWIN: Sure.

GRIM: And so, Obama told me his top priority was the START Treaty, the nuclear treaty he was negotiating with Russia that was going to usher in an era of Russia-U.S. relations to bring us to --

BALDWIN: Yes.

GRIM: So Reid tells him, you want your start treaty, fine, but then you have to get behind "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." And they put it on the floor and it fails.

[14:55:03] So he and Obama talk, and Reid said, I think I could get the votes, I'll put it back up. Obama didn't think he could get it done. Reid said, I'm going to roll the dice and hangs up, and puts it on the floor and passed it with 63 votes.

And I think we make an argument, and we in the book, that if you don't repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"," then you don't get the marriage equality ruling. Because repealing it allowed the administration to then say, well, we're no longer going to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, in court. And when that gets struck down --

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: There's a public --

GRIM: There's no public outcry. That is the key thing. There had never actually been any pro-LGBT action taken by Congress because they were afraid of the backlash. But they repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." And everybody woke up the next day and it was fine. Then the court knew, we could do this and it will be fine.

BALDWIN: One more. I want to get all of the bits in about your book. We've been talking since midterms about wealth and Wall Street and you see the new faces up on Capitol Hill, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez. But you point to, this movement really started in '88, when Jesse Jackson wanted to be president.

GRIM: Right.

BALDWIN: Why do you think the movement now is so coming to a head and is it here to stay.

GRIM: Well, we'll see. Nothing is -- nothing is ever here to stay. But it will go to build something that will be here to stay and will influence things that come after it. But it is right.

So Jesse Jackson's argument was, look, instead of what Democrats are doing to respond to Reagan, which was kind of going to Wall Street and going to corporate America and trying to just outspend them or match them dollar for dollar, he said forget that. Instead, let's build a populous, progressive Rainbow Coalition majority that could challenge them on the basic terms of the debate. Stop trying to be Republican light.

And that was the key debate going on then. That wing of the party lost to the Clinton wing back then. But today, there's an easier mechanism for them to fund that operation, and that is the phone and that is the -- just clicking and giving $5, $6.

That didn't exist for Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition. You would have to mail in your check so there was no way to harness the grassroots energy and turn it into campaign fundraising. And now you can and that makes it a fair fight.

Ryan Grim, the new book is "We've Got People." Congratulations.

GRIM: Thanks.

BALDWIN: Thank you very much.

GRIM: Thank you for having me.

BALDWIN: Thank you for coming on.

And just a programming note for you. Tune in tonight for a CNN town hall. Democrat presidential candidate and Senator, Michael Bennet, joins Dana Bash at 10:00 Eastern, live, here on CNN.

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