Return to Transcripts main page


Attorney General William Barr: Donald Trump's Tweets "Make It Impossible For Me To Do My Job"; Mitch McConnell: Donald Trump "Should Listen" To Barr's Advice And Stop Tweeting; New York Times: Durham Investigation CIA Decision-Making Over Intel Sharing; Bernie Sanders "Personal Attacks" Made "In My Name"; DOJ Drops Criminal Investigation Of Former FBI Deputy Director. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 14, 2020 - 12:00   ET




NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN HOST: Welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm Nia- Malika Henderson. John King is off. President Trump tweeting about interviews where his Attorney General complained about the President's tweets.

But 2020 Democrats are getting more comfortable name checking each other and members of Congress they are just like us they celebrate Valentine's Day but they also get questions about Valentine's Day from reporters.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What song puts you in the mood to make love?

REP. DEN CRENSHAW (R-TX): I've been going back to my roots. I listened a lot of '90s rock.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you go back?



HENDERSON: We begin the hour with a dose of irony. The President responding to his attorney general's plea to stop tweeting with a tweet. The President today picking and choosing the parts of William Barr's interview that he likes Barr says the President never asked him to middle in the Roger Stone case.

But the President this morning claims that still his choice to make. The tweet acknowledges but it doesn't directly respond to a very direct and very public message yesterday delivered on ABC News.


WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: To have public statements and tweets made about the Department, about our people in the Department, our men and women here, about cases pending in the Department and about Judges before whom we have cases, make it impossible for me to do my job. I think it's time to stop the tweeting about the Department of Justice's criminal cases.


HENDERSON: CNN's John Harwood is at the White House for us. And John, we've been told that the President - he wasn't exactly surprised by these comments from his Attorney General.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. You know, we've been learning that there was a conversation or had been conversations in recent weeks between the Attorney General and the President with Bill Barr expressing the view that that kind of public outreach or statement by the President is not helpful.

But it's not surprising at all. Bill Barr and President Trump see the issues the same way in terms of the investigation of the President that was conducted by the Intelligence Community the Mueller investigation. They are playing on the same team.

And I think what Bill Barr was saying in that interview with Peer Thomas yesterday was that the President has been making it harder for the team to win. The more backlashes you generate against the idea that the administration is inserting itself into these prosecution decisions, the more difficult it is to insert yourself.

They filed that censuring memorandum that undercut the career prosecutors and Bill Barr had a revolt on his hands. This was an attempt by the Attorney General, who has the same views as the President, to quell that revolt.

HENDERSON: Thanks, John, for that reporting from the White House. Here with me to share their reporting and their insights we've got CNN's Jeff Zeleny Julie Hirschfeld Davis with "The New York Times" Tarini Parti with "The Wall Street Journal" and CNN's Shimon Prokupecz. Happy Valentine's Day everybody, thanks for being here.

And Shimon, I'm going to start with you. You of course cover the Justice Department. This was certainly something that's unexpected from this particular cabinet member loyal cabinet member. We haven't seen cabinet members do this. Why did he do this?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I think most importantly every indication that we get he knows that he has a problem inside the department. The Department of Justice morale there right now is pretty low. People are kind of fed up what's going on.

And so there is a lot of concern that he needs to rally the troops and try and get people to feel like what they are doing is important. Integrity is the key here, that department needs to hold its integrity. And I think it's taking a hit right now. And he's certainly feeling it and I think that was really, to me, that was the whole purpose of yesterday.

I know a lot of us are making this big deal about this rebuke. Is it really real or is there some kind of yes, I'm going against the President here and standing up to him. Is that really real and is that sincere? I mean I guess that's something that is going to take time to figure out. But most important thing in all this is for him to get a message across to his troops and may be a little too late though.

HENDERSON: I think some Republicans clearly hoping that the President also gets the message from his Attorney General. Here's what Mitch McConnell had to say.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I think the President should listen to his advice. I think the Attorney General says it's getting in the way of doing his job maybe the President should listen to the Attorney General. I think the President ought to listen to Attorney General. 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.


HENDERSON: Julie, do we have any reason to believe that the President will listen to his Attorney General?


JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CONGRESSIONAL EDITOR, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Not much. But I do think that and John made the point earlier that part of the reason for Bill Barr to have done this was to essentially telegraph to the President we're on the same team here, we want the same things. I'm helping you. I'm doing what you want me to do.

Just don't be public about telling everybody that you're intervening to make do things because that will undermine and undercut the credibility of my actions. And I think when you heard Senator Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham last night have those strong shows of support for the Attorney General they were in part also talking to the President and saying, and he went on Fox News to do it which is the best way to talk to the President in many of these instances, let him do his job.

He's doing what we want him to do. And so I think that they are really hoping that the President does heed the advice, obviously with these tweets there is not very much evidence that he's doing that.

HENDERSON: Right, and Jeff, it was clear that the President knew that Barr was concerned about this, that there was some indication that he told the President this might happen. But we also know that the President often reacts to things based on how it's covered in the press. How do we think he is going to feel about this going forward after he sees this all over TV?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: It is a great question. There's always generally a short term reaction, it is fine it is totally fine. And then in a longer term reaction after the news coverage sets in. The reaction is not always in real time because we know the President watches news, sometimes hours after the fact. So he'll consume all this. But look this was not a surprise to the White House. This was not the Attorney General surprising the President. He's very familiar with this line of thought. Our reporting is that he's said that to him privately as well but it entirely how this plays out.

I mean, if the President somehow seems that he looks weak by this and he sees the news coverage that Bill Barr is kind of trying to school the President he won't like that. The reality is I would assume the President to realize that this Attorney General is on his side. There are myriad examples when he had his back and front.

So I think we'll see how this plays out over the weekend and what people are whispering in the President's ear. But boy, can you imagine if you added the Attorney General on the list of people who are on the outs with this President. That would be a real issue. I don't think we have any indication that that's true. What's Shimon was saying it was about inside the building trying to cool people down. We'll see if that works.

HENDERSON: And this is what he had to say William Barr about the decision made on the Stone case.


BARR: I had made a decision that I thought was fair and reasonable in this particular case. And once the tweet occurred the question is well now what do I do? Do you go forward with what you think are the right decision or do you pull back because of the tweet? And that just sort of illustrates how disruptive these tweets can be?


HENDERSON: And Shimon do we get the sense that this was kind of choreographed? You know, obviously Barr is going out there on television. He is going to give them an interview he is going to give a radio interview. What's your sense of that?

PROKUPECZ: I think parts of this were choreographed in many, many ways and certainly based on our reporting, the CNN reporting that he gave the White House some indications that what he was going to do. So I don't think that if he was going to go out there and blindly just go against the President likes this and he really caught the President by surprise.

I suspect we would be seeing a different response even on Fox News. I mean, last night they were supporting him. So I think that gave us some indications even more indications that this was not a surprise. I think the President and the White House certainly realize that the Attorney General needed to do something.

When you have four prosecutors walking away from a case, and threats of potentially other prosecutors walking from a case, it's very clear that there's a problem inside this Department and they needed to do something. There's still a problem inside this Department. What the Attorney General did last night does not make anything better. People still have issues with and they're going to continue to have issues with it.

HENDERSON: And we, of course, are looking for this Durham investigation that the President has talked about and this from "The New York Times," the Justice Department is investigating CIA resistance to sharing Russia secrets.

Prosecutor John Durham appears to be pursuing a theory that the CIA under its Former Director John Brennan had a preconceived notion about Russia or was trying to get a particular result and was nefariously trying to keep other agencies from seeing the full picture unless they interfere with that goal that people said. Jeff what do you make of that? This will be music to the President's ears.

ZELENY: Well, certainly I mean we know that he has no love lost for John Brennan. He's been deeply suspicious of him, et cetera. We'll see. This is a part of the latest example of this is going to be the sound track for the rest of the election year. The President likes that in many respects because it keeps things sort of mixed up and churned up. We'll see where this goes in the near time.


PROKUPECZ: The thing with the Durham investigation, I think there are some mitigation obviously that the President wants to use that to his advantage. That's what this is; in end I think if the President keeps talking about this and he keeps raising the issue it is going to hurt the credibility of that investigation.

HENDERSON: Which is why Barr might want to come out now and essentially say listen I'm independent of this President. That's the context I saw it in or Barr speaking about it. Thanks Shimon we appreciate it.

Up next we turn to the 2020 Presidential Race. But as we go to break remember the President's first Attorney General and how he was repeatedly berated and belittled by the President. Jeff Sessions he wants you to know there's no hard feelings and that he's running for his old Senate seat.


JEFF SESSIONS, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: I keep fighting for President Trump and his agenda. I'm Jeff Sessions, I approve this ad.




HENDERSON: We're just eight days away from the next 2020 contest in Nevada and much of the Democratic field is out campaigning and fundraising, many candidates hitting the trail today spreading out across California, Nevada, Texas and both Carolinas.

You're looking right now at some live pictures of Democratic Presidential Candidate Senator Bernie Sanders. He's down in Durham, North Carolina. And he and other contenders are taking a much more combative approach as the field narrows. Here's Sanders leaving no room for interpretation in his feelings about Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think he should be on the debate stage?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Of course not. That is what being a multi-billionaire is about. Some very good friends of mine who are competing in the Democratic nomination, people like Cory Booker of New Jersey, Senator. Julian Castro worked really, really hard. Nobody changed the rules to get them in the debate. But I guess if you're worth $60 billion you can change the rules.


HENDERSON: And Ginger Gibson with Reuters she is joining our conversation now. Ginger, I'm going start with you on this. It's getting real out there between these candidates, no more sort of nice play between these folks because the field is narrow and you got these upcoming contests in Nevada and South Carolina and on to Super Tuesday.

GINGER GIBSON, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They are in making it or break it mode. It is either win now or go home and the stakes are very clear in front of them. We saw Elizabeth Warren in Arlington, Virginia last night take some of her most aggressive attacks against Michael Bloomberg.

We see - the nice out for Michael Bloomberg I think it probably is summering here. And I think we're going to see more aggressive targeting of Bernie Sanders, of Pete Buttigieg and of Amy Klobuchar especially after her finish in New Hampshire.

HENDERSON: And Pete Buttigieg, he finished strong in New Hampshire. We'll see what he's able to do in them much more diverse states of Nevada and South Carolina and as you mentioned Klobuchar.


PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've heard some people say that, you know, my experience is not relevant because you have to have Washington experience in order to become a President. But some of those same voices are among those who voted to confirm Kevin as the CBT head who presided over for example the horrifying conditions that children were kept in. And we have to look at what kind of judgment that experience has brought.


HENDERSON: To read those opposition researchers doing their job, they're digging into Klobuchar's record because we know that this has been a fight on the debate stage, right? Amy Klobuchar saying listen our Washington experience matters just as much as your small town experience does.

TARINI PARTI, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Right. I mean, it's clear though it is opera time now for these candidates especially in the moderate lane because it's getting crowded between Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Biden and now Bloomberg coming up.

So they're trying to differentiate themselves and what Buttigieg has been trying to say when he gets attacked on his lack of experience is the fact that experience doesn't matter as much as judgment. We've seen him use that line against Biden and that's kind of what he's trying to do with Amy Klobuchar at this point.

I will say early on in Iowa there were a lot of voters who were deciding between Warren and Buttigieg but now out on the campaign trail in New Hampshire and some other states I've been hearing Klobuchar's name come up people deciding between Buttigieg and Klobuchar.

So I think this is kind of his early shot at getting some of those people maybe, especially in a state like Nevada that cares about immigration.

HENDERSON: And Sanders strong finish. Not as strong, obviously, as last go around but a bit of a hiccup in Nevada with what's going on there with the labor union there. Here's what he said about personal attacks being launched in his name.


SANDERS: Let me be very clear. Anybody making personal attacks against anybody else in my name is not part of our movement. We don't want them. I'm not so sure to be honest with you that they are necessarily part of our movement. You understand the nature of the internet. It's a strange world out there.


HENDERSON: Listen, Jeff, this is something of a new tack, sort of new framing from Bernie Sanders saying that he doesn't really know if the Bernie bros are actually--

ZELENY: At his own rallies in New Hampshire that evening of his victory party when Pete Buttigieg came on television, you know, crowds were screaming Wall Street Pete which isn't the worst attack. Of course they are Sanders supporters and of course this is the same pattern that Bernie Sanders has done.

He's never said anything against them at his own rally. In interviews he's asked about it. He says you know of course I disavow that. But I'm not sure if they're with me. So the reality is we'll see how this goes? HENDERSON: It hurt him very much in Nevada because of the culinary union there, a lot of attacks against them because they don't like Medicare for all.

ZELENY: And that is the substances that are out here. We're about to see this re-litigated against. His Medicare for all proposals has been supported by a lot of Democrats. Exit polls in New Hampshire show that a majority more than a majority supported that.


ZELENY: But other places we're not seeing that at all. So Senator Sanders clearly, you know, is probably going to take a hit in Nevada because of his support for Medicare for all. It certainly cost him any type of endorsement. I'm not sure how much of that endorsement of that union matters. They decided to stay out.

This is something going forward about the unity of the party. But there is no question I was on the road with Michael Bloomberg yesterday as well in North Carolina and he suddenly is taking delight at being the center of all of this. But the question here is, you know, Joe Biden was going after him, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, others. The question is when he steps out of his television commercial what type of a candidate is he?

HENDERSON: If he ever does. We don't really know.

ZELENY: I was struck by being at his events how much it seemed like we were stepping into his television commercial because it was just not, you know, as much of a - didn't take questions from voters, et cetera. Keep your eye on him.

HENDERSON: It is going to be fascinating. And we've got some news just in from the Justice Department about the FBI official who authorized the investigation into President Trump. We've got CNN's Shimon Prokupecz who is back with us and you're in Washington. Shimon charges or no charges for Andrew McCabe?

PROKUPECZ: No charges for Andrew McCabe. We're just getting word from Andrew McCabe's Attorney that the Department of Justice has decided to drop the investigation into the Former Deputy FBI Director.

Of course, important to know that Andrew McCabe is a CNN Contributor we're now getting word from his attorneys that the Department of Justice which has been pursuing charges, looking into whether or not the Former Deputy Director had lied to the Inspector General during their investigation into leaks, whether or not he lied to them about his contact with a newspaper, with a reporter and that information was subject of an investigation by the Inspector General who then referred the case for criminal charges to the Washington field office the U.S. Attorney here in Washington, D.C.

It's kind of been in limbo. We haven't had any word on where the case was going. There was a lot of expectation. There was word that perhaps the Department was close to charging Andrew McCabe. That there was some word he was about to be indicted. And then all of a sudden everything just disappeared. The Department would not respond any questions certainly to Andrew McCabe's Attorneys for months. They were trying to figure out what was happening with the case and well now today the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Washington field U.S. Attorney's office which is the same U.S. Attorney's office that is handling the Roger Stone case.

And now the Michael Flynn case as well and has been handling the Andrew McCabe case, they sent a letter to Andrew McCabe's Attorney where they say that after careful consideration the government has decided not to pursue criminal charges against Andrew McCabe, arising from that referral that I talked about from the Inspector General.

So now, obviously, this is now over. The key question here in all of this, of course, is how is the President going to respond? Because for months he has railed against the Former Deputy FBI Director saying that he was part of this witch-hunt. Of course he and Former FBI Director Comey all caught the attention of the President, the attacks against them, constant attacks by the President.

It was believed that the President was putting pressure on the Attorney General to try and build a case against Andrew McCabe. Well, now that's all over. Obviously the big question is going to be how will the President respond to all of this? Important also to note, about the U.S. Attorney now, the acting U.S. Attorney here in Washington that's overseeing this case is Timothy Shay.

He is the same person, he's on the letter. His name is right at the top of the letter. He's the same person who is overseeing the Roger Stone case, the sentencing. Same person who was supposed to brief the Attorney General about the latest on the sentencing regarding Roger Stone which started the whole Roger Stone saga of the Attorney General being unhappy with the sentencing.

Now, again, we have Timothy Shay in the middle of this saying in this letter that they're not going to file charges against Andrew McCabe.

HENDERSON: Shimon thanks so much for that breaking news. We'll bring it inside the room here. Julie and Shimon talked about this the President's response. I guess at some point we're all going to be checking our twitter feeds to see what his reaction is to this.

But as again this is somebody he though should be investigated and possibly be put in jail, possibly indicted and none of that will happen.


DAVIS: Right. As Shimon said the President spent months attacking McCabe. He talked about how McCabe wife ran for the Senate as the Democrat in Virginia and got money from Hillary Clinton he was not at all shy about in - motive and trying to make it clear that he thought that he should be prosecuted and action should be taken against him.

I cannot imagine he'll be very happy with this outcome. At the same time the time is very interesting. And Shimon said that the connection with the Stone case is interesting. This could be one of those moves that the Attorney General and Justice Department are making at this moment to show that there is independence because the President's contact commenting on Andrew McCabe's case had created problems for the case and for the appearance of impropriety.

These things were all tied together I'm sure in some ways when discussions about how to go forward with this? We should just all keep our notifications up.

HENDERSON: That's right let's see--


HENDERSON: --response yes, we know he will. Next, harsh criticism prompts a new apology from Michael Bloomberg.