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Attorney General Bill Barr Helping Another Trump Ally?; Warren Slams Bloomberg on 2008 "Redlining" Remark, Says He Should Not Be Democratic Nominee. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired February 14, 2020 - 16:00   ET






Nick Watt, thank you.

And thank you for being here. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Is the top cop playing good cop/bad cop?

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking today: After the attorney general said he will not be bullied into doing President Trump's bidding or anyone's bidding, Bill Barr makes a move that suggests perhaps the exact opposite. Is this all being done with a wink and a nod to please the president?

He's popping up on TVs and all over Instagram, but with new momentum for former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg comes new criticism from his fellow candidates.

Plus, it's deadly, it's unknown and it's up to communist China to be honest about the danger, but now a truth-seeker has gone missing, as the U.S. sees the number of coronavirus cases jump.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin today with the politics lead.

And, today, new serious questions about the independence at the Justice Department and Attorney General Bill Barr. Despite Barr's public show of frustration last night, telling ABC News that President Trump's tweets about Justice Department matters make his job harder, a protest that critics say is rooted not in Barr's desire for independence, but in his desire for the illusion of independence, as even some supporters of the president on his favorite channel seem to suggest. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS: And the media sees the sexy story of Trump vs. Barr, but they missed the fact that Barr was basically telling Trump: Don't worry. I got this.


TAPPER: I got this.

That's because when you look at Attorney General Barr's actions, he largely seems to do what President Trump would want him to

do. This afternoon, U.S. officials told CNN that Barr is ordering a reexamination of high-profile cases, bringing in a U.S. attorney to take a second look at them. These include the case of retired General Mike Flynn.

Former Trump National Security Adviser Flynn, you might recall, pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI. He is currently awaiting sentencing.

New scrutiny of the case would certainly please President Trump, who, three days ago, asked about the sentencing of a different felonious friend, Roger Stone, said this:


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They ought to be ashamed of themselves, what they have done to General Flynn, what they have done to others.


TAPPER: President Trump also openly congratulating Barr this week for taking charge of the case involving Stone by undercutting the Justice Department's own prosecutors and recommending far less prison time for Stone than initially suggested.

It is interesting how often, in the president's world view, the prosecutors seem to be the bad guys and the criminals are the good guys.

Case in point, today, the Justice Department dropped its criminal investigation of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, a Trump nemesis. Now, theoretically, one might see this as a sign of Bill Barr's independence.

But a Trump transition team official told CNN he sees it differently, because, he says, McCabe should have been cleared of this long ago. So, why the delay?


J.W. VERRET, FORMER TRUMP TRANSITION STAFFER: But there's no question this timing is suspicious that it comes right after the finalization of impeachment, and the fact that this was a helping talking point, a useful talking point to Trump, that, no, no, no, it was a witch-hunt, this fed into his witch-hunt.


TAPPER: We should note that McCabe is a CNN contributor.

This pattern has Democrats, such as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, saying -- quote -- "Barr fools no one. He's a witting accomplice to Trump's attack on the rule of law."

As CNN's Boris Sanchez reports, however, President Trump today is insisting that, while he has not yet done it, he has every right to intervene in Justice Department matters.


BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fresh off a denial he can be influenced by the president, Attorney General William Barr facing new scrutiny today, after sources say he secretly ordered a reexamination of Michael Flynn's case, seeking no jail time for Trump's former national security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his ties to Russia.

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The president has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case. I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.

SANCHEZ: Trump today throwing Barr's words back at him, claiming he does have the right to intervene in DOJ investigations, tweeting -- quote -- "This doesn't mean that I do not have, as president, the legal right to do so. I do. But I have so far chosen not to."

While sources say Barr has voiced his frustrations to Trump in private multiple times, officials telling CNN Trump did not know Barr would go public.

Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham now insisting Trump wasn't bothered by Barr's comments, as Trump's Republican allies say the president should listen.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I have confidence in Bill Barr. I think he's doing a good job. And I think he's told the president, this is not helpful, making it difficult for him to do his job. I think the president ought to listen to him.

SANCHEZ: Meantime, Trump eagerly awaiting findings from another investigation launched by Bill Barr into the U.S. intelligence agencies' handling of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

TRUMP: I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be.

SANCHEZ: Despite a consensus among the entire intelligence community that Vladimir Putin launched a covert effort to undermine the 2016 election, "The New York Times" reporting today special investigator John Durham is looking into unfounded deep state conspiracy theories touted by Trump and some of his allies that U.S. intelligence agencies framed Russia.

Sources say Durham is even investigating former CIA head John Brennan, who says the whole thing is:

JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, I think it's kind of silly. I'm certainly willing to talk to Mr. Durham or anybody else who has any questions about what we did during this period of time in 2016.


SANCHEZ: And,, Jake, the president is leaving the White House as we speak.

We will you know if he takes questions from reporters. He's going to spend the weekend in Florida.

We can tell you, though, that, privately, he is furious about the Andrew McCabe news that the former deputy FBI director will not be facing charges. Of course, McCabe a frequent target of President Trump's -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Boris Sanchez, thanks so much.

And let's talk about this.

And we hear that President Trump is upset that the Justice Department is not going to charge Andrew McCabe, not going to bring criminal charges against him. But we also heard earlier in the day a former Trump transition team official saying he thinks the very fact that this case has been dragged out until now, so that President Trump could use it as a defense in the impeachment trial, is proof that people are doing Trump's bidding.

It's very difficult to tell.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and then the Flynn case was reopened as well.

So there's some reasons for the president to be happy. I mean, listen, what Barr said yesterday seems clearly now to be a P.R. move, and because his actions really are in line with what the president desires, this McCabe situation notwithstanding.

TAPPER: What do you think man, Mehdi?

You think you think Barr's doing whatever Trump wants?

MEHDI HASAN, THE INTERCEPT: Yes, I mean, this is Barr's M.O.

I mean, he was hired to be the kind of cover-up guy, because he has form when it comes to covering up for Republican presidents who commit crimes -- 30 years ago, under George Bush Sr., when he was the A.G., he encouraged President Bush to pardon six people at the heart of Iran-Contra. It was called a cover-up at the time by the independent counsel, Lawrence Walsh.

He got this job. He helped him on Mueller. He put out very a misleading statement about the contents of the Mueller report. He prevented the Ukraine whistle-blower's complaint from getting to Congress prior to the whole impeachment stuff kicking up.

This is what he does. This is what he was hired -- this is why Trump is so delighted to have him and praised him hem on Twitter. Remember, Trump is the man who said when Jeff Sessions was his attorney general, where's my Roy Cohn, referring to his dodgy personal lawyer from New York in the 1980s?

Now we has Bill Barr. And, yes, yesterday's thing, as Laura Ingraham admitted, was just staged.

TAPPER: What do you think?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's also possible that he doesn't like Trump's tweeting, because only 18 percent of the country likes Trump's tweeting. And he wanted to say that out loud on TV, where his boss would see that, because it might help to be effective in that battle that he's fighting.

TAPPER: Right. It does definitely make his job more difficult. There's no question about that.

HAM: Right. I enjoyed this Barr interlude very much. In that moment, he was my spirit animal.

And this is reminiscent, if you will allow me this gendered Valentine's Day metaphor, this is like when a girlfriend says, all I want is just a low-key takeout dinner, honey, don't worry about it. That will make me happy.

And then the boyfriend gives her exactly what she asked for and what she said she wanted. Narrator, that did not make her happy.

Here we have the Trump official who said very loudly the thing that everybody's been wanting him to say. Now it has to be some other reason.


So, we're the -- the media is the clueless...

HAM: You're the girlfriend.

TAPPER: OK, we're the girlfriend. OK, I got it. I got it.


TAPPER: I'm used to being the clueless guy.

HAM: Well, really the pundits. TAPPER: I got it. I got it.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes. Clearly, the president did not stop tweeting. He tweeted earlier today that he has every right to intervene in Justice Department matters.

So I wouldn't expect the president to actually stop tweeting. I do think that this was, as Jackie said, a P.R. move by Barr. Barr's continued to protect the president. He's continued to do the president's bidding. He's continued to be the Roy Cohn that the president has called for.

And President Trump was on the radio in an interview just yesterday saying that, if he had Barr from the beginning of his term, that he would not have faced impeachment and all of the other scandals that he's gone through.

KUCINICH: And somewhere in Alabama, Jeff Sessions...


HASAN: It's not just Trump carried on tweeting making -- if it was a deliberate move to try and get him, it failed.

But look at what he's tweeting about. He spent -- attacking John Kelly. The fact that the president is attacking the former chief of staff who is no longer working there and not attacking the attorney general who supposedly criticized him tells you everything you need to know.


This is Trump. If he thinks someone is attacking him, he doesn't stay quiet. His White House press secretary said he's not bothered by any of this.

If you think that Bill Barr and Donald Trump have some sort of conflict or gap, I have a certificate from Trump University to sell you.

TAPPER: So you talked about the Rudy -- I'm sorry -- the president's appearing on Geraldo's radio show.

And something else he said on that show was really interesting, because he seemed to admit that he did, in fact, send Giuliani to do all this stuff in Ukraine, to dig up dirt on the Bidens. Let's roll that sound.


GERALDO RIVERA, FOX NEWS: Was it strange to send Rudy Giuliani to Ukraine, your personal lawyer? Are you sorry you did that?

TRUMP: Not at all. Rudy was a great crime fighter. You know that maybe better than anybody.


RIVERA: I interviewed him.


TRUMP: And Rudy is totally on his game. Rudy is on his game.


TAPPER: So, was it strange to send Giuliani to Ukraine? Are you sorry you did that? He says not at all.

But this is what the president said in November before impeachment to Bill O'Reilly.


BILL O'REILLY, FORMER HOST, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": Giuliani is your personal lawyer. So you didn't him to go to Ukraine, to do anything or put any heat on...


TRUMP: No, I didn't direct him.


TAPPER: What are we to make of that, Jackie?

KUCINICH: Sounds like the president to me.

He does this. Once he thinks he -- once he knows he can get away with something, he will just tweet it out, say it on the radio.

And the president doesn't tell the truth, until he does.


TAPPER: And Justin Amash tweeted that this is a standard Trump progression. I didn't do it. I didn't do it, but I could do it. I did do it. So what? I did do it, and it was right to do it.

HAM: Yes. That's the exact progression. You're taking the words out of my mouth, which I don't appreciate, Jake.


TAPPER: It was Justin Amash who took them out your mouth, just for your...


HAM: But that's exactly what he does.

And this is yet another case of it. And there will be more and they will be in tweet form. KUCINICH: There's no guardrails. Right. You know Congress isn't going

to stop him.

HASAN: Because he's a pathological liar.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. We got a lot more to talk about.

Can the president really intervene in a legal case whenever he wants? Should he ever? We're going to talk to a former federal prosecutor about that next.

Plus, it's your tax dollars that were supposed to pay for one thing. Instead, they're being used to help President Trump fulfill one of his biggest campaign promises, that Mexico was supposed to pay for.

Stay with us.




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We are back with more on our politics lead.

Attorney General Bill Barr ordering a review of several high profile cases, including the one against President Trump's former national security adviser, retired General Michael Flynn, sources tell CNN.

This is all comes after Barr intervened in the sentencing of Trump crony Roger Stone, and as President Trump insists he can step in on any case the Justice Department is prosecuting.

Joining me now to discuss, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Shan Wu. Also with me, CNN political correspondent Sara Murray.

Shan, let me start with you. How unusual is it that Barr has assigned this outside prosecutor to evaluate the Michael Flynn case and others?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Extremely unusual. It just isn't done. When I worked as counsel to Janet Reno, we were extremely careful even with making an inquiry about an ongoing case in the U.S. attorney's office or in one of the sections. To actually have somebody go in and review, he's effectively taking the case away from the U.S. attorney's office. That's what he's really doing.

TAPPER: And what do you make of Barr's declaration of independence this week, telling President Trump to stop tweeting, you know, and Trump is reportedly angry about Andrew McCabe about not being sentenced?

WU: Sure. Well, with 20/20 hindsight, it seems like it was just camouflage for what he was doing. I had some doubts about the insincerity at the time. But now, it really looks like what he's really saying to Trump is not, I need to be independent of you. What he's really saying to him is, don't worry. I'm asserting control over your cases. That's all he's saying.

TAPPER: McCabe not being charged, I meant to say.

Sara, Barr also arguing he was intervening (ph) in the Stone case, he was simply resolving a dispute over sentencing and that's part of his purview as attorney general. Is that unusual for an attorney general?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, it's not unusual to have disputes I think internally at the Justice Department. It's unusual to have those disputes after your prosecutors have already submitted their memo with the judge and then to go out publicly and essentially say we don't believe in this. You know, the initial statements we got from top DOJ officials on background were extremely critical of what the prosecutors had done. The way this all played out is very unusual, especially given the person at the center of this, which is a friend of the president's.


MURRAY: And he was someone that if the president is so upset, if the judge does decide, you know, she wants to throw the book at him, the president still has an avenue to pardon Roger Stone. So it really makes you wonder why Barr wanted to involve himself in that way.

TAPPER: So, the president says that he has the right to intervene in any case he wants to. Barr has said -- he told ABC News that as a general note, that's fine when it comes to we should be looking into this terrorism case, we should be looking into this money laundering case, but not when it comes to political opponents.

What's the reality of this? Is it really just actually built on the honor system?

WU: I think it is, Jake, because, I mean, theoretically, you know, he might have the power to control things. He's the head of the executive branch. But might doesn't make right. And traditionally, the White House normally is very careful about looking like they're interfering, and that's the foundation upon which the public confidence in the criminal justice system works. If they thought that every political leader that came in got to run the criminal justice system the way they wanted to, nobody would have any trust in it. So, it is a question of the honor system.

TAPPER: As so much in this country, it's just about like, yes, here's the power but we know you'll use it right.

MURRAY: Well, right. And that's why, you know, the check on this has all become clear, which as you said is the public. I mean, the voters are going to be the check on it. I think the Republican Senate has made it very clear that they don't intend to act as a check on presidential powers. The president believes there is no check on his powers. And so, if you're at home and you're watching this and you're not

comfortable with that, and, you know, that's your answer on what you do in 2020.


But that I think is the last check left.

TAPPER: And, Sara, Barr also defended the Stone prosecution and the conduct of the attorneys despite what President Trump had to stay.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: The Stone case was prosecuted while I was attorney general, and I supported it. I think it was established he was convicted of obstructing Congress and witness tampering, and I thought that was a righteous prosecution. And I was happy that he was convicted.


TAPPER: Again, that seems to be something that sounds like President Trump wouldn't like it.

MURRAY: It does. He also went on to say he's not a fan of Roger Stone. I think these are all things that he, you know, may believe and also may have to say because we've seen all this uneasiness at the Justice Department. I do think this is obviously cold comfort for any of the prosecutors who worked really hard to bring this case over the finish line, to get these convictions against Roger Stone, and who subsequently have all removed themselves from this case.

TAPPER: All right. Sara, Shan, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Disgraced lawyer Michael Avenatti today found guilty on three charges in connection with extorting millions from Nike. Avenatti rose to fame by representing Stormy Daniels in her case against President Trump and at one point toyed with running for president himself. He's got more legal trouble ahead, however, two more trials including one for ripping off Daniels' book advance for the case. He faces more than 40 years in prison.

Michael Bloomberg facing new attacks for some of his old controversial comments. That's next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: The 2020 lead. Sanders campaign co-chair Nina Turner are throwing a haymaker at Mike Bloomberg at a campaign rally in Durham, North Carolina, this afternoon.

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NINA TURNER, NATIONAL CO-CHAIR, SANDERS PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN : We're not going to do "yes, we can" and then, all of a sudden, have all these Democrats that's bandying President Obama's image on their commercials. Hello, somebody. Meanwhile back at the ranch, they supported stop-and-frisk. Hello, somebody.


TAPPER: That somebody is former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who is facing tough criticism on his record in New York City on issues important in particular to many minority communities, as CNN's Kyung Lah reports.


KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Mike Bloomberg rises in national polls, his past is drawing fresh scrutiny. The former New York City mayor apologized again Thursday for the controversial stop and frisk policy used by the NYPD during his time as mayor.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I can do is learn from my mistakes.

LAH: The city policy allowed police to stop and search anyone for weapons discriminately targeting people of color, a policy Bloomberg supported as heard in recently resurfaced comments from 2015.

BLOOMBERG: We put all these cops in minority neighborhoods. Yes, that's true. Why do we do it? Because that's where all the crime is.

And the way you should get the guns out of the kids' hands is to throw them up against a wall and frisk them.

I defended it, looking back, for too long, because I didn't understand then the unintended pain it was causing to young black and brown families and their kids.

LAH: His Democratic rivals say his words are just not enough.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think at the end of the day, when people, A, learn about Mr. Bloomberg's record of stop-and-frisk in New York city, I think that will change some minds.

LAH: Older Bloomberg comments also roaring back. In 2008 he appeared to defend redlining, a discriminatory housing practice which denied loans and assistance to people in low-income neighborhoods.

BLOOMBERG: It probably all started back when there was a lot of pressure on banks to make loans to everyone.

LAH: Bloomberg seemed to suggest that ending redlining led to the financial crisis.

BLOOMBERG: And then Congress got involved, local elected officials as well, and said, oh, that's not fair. These people should be able to get credit. And once you started pushing in that direction, banks started making more and more loans where the credit of the person buying the house wasn't as good as you would like.

LAH: His campaign put out a statement after those comments came to light, saying: Mike saying that something bad -- the financial crisis -- followed something good, which is the fight against redlining he was part of as mayor.

His Democratic rivals pounced.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That crisis would not have been averted if the banks had been able to be bigger racists. And anyone who thinks that should not be the leader of our party.


LAH: Now, Amy Klobuchar is among the candidates who says she wants to debate Mike Bloomberg. She says she can't beat him in the national ad wars but the debate stage is an even playing field.

But Mike Bloomberg does need to meet the threshold for one more poll before qualifying for the next debate here in Nevada -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kyung Lah in Nevada, the site of the next caucus, a week from Saturday.

Let's discuss this.

So, Toluse, let me start with you.

Bloomberg was New York City mayor through 2013 in the height of stop- and-frisk. Many New Yorkers are now talking about stories like the following one from Jamaal Bowman. He's running for Congress in New York.

He tweeted, quote: One day driving home from school, I was pulled over by the cops. Taken out of my car. Handcuffed. Placed in the back of a police car. Then released without explanation.

Bloomberg has not shown he understands the pain he caused in our community at all.

Now, in his apology, Bloomberg says he didn't understand then the unintended pain stop-and-frisk was calling -- causing.