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Barr: Trump's Tweets 'Make It Impossible for Me to Do My Job'; Bloomberg & Trump Trade Attacks as Race Heats Up. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired February 14, 2020 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're saying you have a problem with the tweets.


WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have a problem with some of the tweets.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The president made a great choice when he picked Bill Barr to be attorney general, and I think the president should listen to his advice.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The attorney general is lying to the American people under oath.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: The number of confirmed cases, confirmed fatalities continue to rise each day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we don't understand more about how they were infected or what happened, it's very concerning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This virus, you can start to think of it like seasonal flu. The only difference is we don't understand this virus.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Friday, February 14.


CAMEROTA: It's Valentine's Day. Happy Valentine's Day.

BERMAN: Happy Valentine's Day.

CAMEROTA: I'm waiting for my present. I guess you'll give it to me --

BERMAN: We're the cable news anchors who like each other. That's --

CAMEROTA: That's what make us special. BERMAN: We're the ones who will actually send each other Valentine's.

CAMEROTA: That's true. Yours was fantastic.

BERMAN: Thank you very much.

I didn't get mine from you yet.

CAMEROTA: All right. Right after the show. That'll be coming your way.

It's 6 a.m. here in New York. There appears to be trouble in paradise between President Trump and Bill Barr on this Valentine's Day. The attorney general delivering a rare rebuke to his boss, insisting the president's tweets about the Justice Department are making it, quote, "impossible" for Barr to do his job.

Barr says that he is, quote, "not going to be bullied or influenced by anyone."

BERMAN: So the key questions this morning. What exactly is the attorney general speaking out against? He's not necessarily opposed to leniency for the president's friend. He's just taking a bold public stance against tweets.

Also, why did the attorney general feel he needed to do this interview? Who is the audience, and what does it tell us about anxiety inside the Justice Department?

Finally, the White House claims the president is OK with all this, and as a political proposition, maybe he is. But how long will he be able to stomach the rank infantilization coming from the attorney general and Republicans in Congress, who are basically cheering the idea of limiting his screen time like a 12-year-old?

Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Laura Jarrett.

Laura, you covered the Justice Department for a long time. And this sends a whole lot of signals to you.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: It sends so many signals. But the big question this morning is, was it all staged or is this pushback real?

The attorney general says he can't do his job when the president tweets about criminal cases, but the president's behavior isn't new. So what gives?


JARRETT (voice-over): Attorney General William Barr delivering an unusual public rebuke of President Trump.

BARR: I have a problem with some of -- some of the tweets.

JARRETT: A rare showing of disapproval from one of the president's most loyal cabinet members. BARR: I'm not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody. And I said

it, whether it's Congress, newspaper, editorial boards, or the president. I'm going to do what I think is right. And, you know, the -- I think the -- I cannot do my job here at the department with constant background commentary that -- that undercuts me.

JARRETT: Barr's criticism coming as the Justice Department is under extreme scrutiny after he intervened to reduce the recommended sentence of long-time Trump associate Roger Stone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you talk to the president at all about your decision regarding the recommendations?

JARRETT: The recommendations on this case? Never.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anybody from the White House call you to try to influence you?

BARR: No. No.

JARRETT: But Barr admitting Trump's Tuesday tweet calling Stone's sentencing recommendation a miscarriage of justice, well, it did force him to reevaluate his next moves.

BARR: Once the tweet occurred, the question is, Well, now what do I do? And do you go forward with what you think is the right decision or do you pull back because of the tweet? And that just sort of illustrates how disruptive these tweets can be.

JARRETT: A Trump official telling CNN the president is not upset with the attorney general after his comments, and neither are the president's strongest allies.

MCCONNELL: The president made a great choice when he picked Bill Barr to be attorney general. I think the president should listen to his advice.

JARRETT: Barr is one of the president's biggest protectors. Critics point to what they call his mischaracterization of the Mueller report findings and his willingness to launch an investigation into the origins of the Russia probe.

Last year Barr, pushed back and dismissed those critiques.

BARR: It's everything is gauged by politics. From my perspective, the idea of resisting a Democratically-elected president and basically throwing everything at him and -- and you know, really changing the norms on the grounds that we have to stop this president, that's where the shredding of our -- of our norms and our institutions is occurring.

JARRETT: The attorney general denying he is doing the president's bidding.

BARR: If he were to say, you know, go investigate somebody because -- and you sense it's because they're a political opponent, then the attorney general shouldn't carry that out, wouldn't carry that out.

JARRETT: But Democrats remain skeptical of Barr's motives.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI): I think it's very important to question the sincerity of the attorney general, and I think that's why the president's response was so muted. Look, this is an attorney general who, from the day he arrived in office, has behaved as the president's defender.

JARRETT: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi slamming Barr for his handling of the situation.

PELOSI: The attorney general has stooped to such levels. He's lied to Congress, for which he will be in contempt. He has engaged in these activities. What a sad disappointment to our country.


JARRETT: "The New York Times" reports that the attorney general had let the president know some of what he planned to say. Barr is back in the hot seat on March 31, when he's scheduled to testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee, guys.

CAMEROTA: Laura, thank you for all of that. Obviously, we'll be talking more about it throughout the program.


So what are Bill Barr's motives behind that statement? I have some ideas.

BERMAN: Oh, really?

CAMEROTA: John may not like them. Stick around.



BARR: To have public statements and tweets made about the department, about 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.


CAMEROTA: All right. That was Attorney General William Barr criticizing the president's tweets about the Justice Department. And he said all that out loud.

Back with us, Laura Jarrett and CNN legal analyst Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor.


Elie, here's my theory. Bill Barr doesn't like to be made to look like a toady. That's it. This is a face-saving measure. He didn't like that it looked like he was completely acquiescing to what the president's tweet said and just being cowed by the president. Bill Barr doesn't like that, so he had to come out and say, No, I'm independent. I have my own thoughts. I do things for myself.

And also, as Laura points out, because he almost had a mutiny, it sounds like, on his hands.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I agree. I cosign that theory. I'm on team Camerota.

CAMEROTA: Thank you very much.

JARRETT: It's a smart move for you.

CAMEROTA: Excellent.

HONIG: I think -- I think he said what had to be said, what anyone in that position would recognize needs to be said. In order to address, if nobody else, the men and women who work at the Justice Department every day, to reassure them.

But I do not think this some bold, courageous declaration of Bill Barr' s independence. Because we have a record here. Today is February 14. Normal human beings know it is Valentine's Day. I know it as the one-year anniversary of Bill Barr being confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He's been there a year now. This is the first time he's done anything, in my view, to show any independence, and he has a long track record of just doing Trump's bidding, no matter what. So let's take it all sort of in context.

JARRETT: And he wasn't pressed at all about what has changed. We have seen attacks on this Justice Department for the better part of three years. We all remember all of the times he slammed Sessions, like just berating him about all of the cases he wouldn't do.

Barr wasn't, like, just not paying attention to that. He knew exactly what he was getting into. And he wasn't pressed about it. But OK, why now? Why is now the time that you decide to speak out?

CAMEROTA: Because he was embarrassed. Because Bill Barr --

JARRETT: But he should have been embarrassed so many other times, right?

BERMAN: I actually --

CAMEROTA: It was personally about him. People were saying, You're a toady. Right?

JARRETT: Look what he did with the Mueller report, right? Why was he not embarrassed then? He went out and defended the president, would bend over backwards to try to do everything he could to clear him before he'd even put out the report. Why wasn't he embarrassed then?

BERMAN: Because the first rule of fight club is you don't talk about fight club. All right? And what the president did by tweeting, Thanks, Bill Barr, is talking about fight club.

JARRETT: Too on the nose.

BERMAN: Too on the nose. And I do think -- we can argue all day what Bill Barr's motivations were. He did say it. He did say it, and I know a lot of people who -- a lot of Republicans say, you know, there are people on the left who are always calling on people to stand up to the president. But then when they do, you say, Unh-uh, you didn't mean it. You have to do a better job.

He did it. Period. His motivations are in question.

And Laura, when you look at it, though, you see something even more interesting here. You think there was open revolt in the Justice Department.

JARRETT: I don't see any other reason to do this. I think that, you know, these are not people who typically kowtow to liberal outrage on Twitter.

So it signals to me that there were two intended audiences. One, the career prosecutors, who are feeling under assault this week. Maybe other weeks, too, but particularly this week.

I also think an intended audience was the federal courts. He says it quickly in passing in that interview, but he talks about how Trump is constantly attacking the federal judiciary. We've seen that. We saw it this week. He's calling out Jane [SIC] -- Judge Amy Berman Jackson.

And I think the fact that Judge Beryl Howell, the chief judge on the district court, in a rare statement, comes out to defend the judiciary. I think Barr knows the integrity of those prosecutors. They have to get up every day in front of those judges. And so that's another audience.

HONIG: Just building on that --


HONIG: -- first audience, the people who work on the line at DOJ, having been one of them. Normally, when you're on the line, you don't really know or care that much what's happening in D.C., the attorney general. It didn't really make much of a difference to me day to day.

But this is different. I mean, I know plenty of people who are still on the line who took notice of what happened this week with Roger Stone and saw it as different in kind from what they'd seen before.

BERMAN: More people were going to quit. More people -- They still may.

JARRETT: They still may. We have been hearing people were furious on Tuesday when all of this went down. And maybe tempers have cooled in the past few days. But I truly believe he knew he had a mutiny on his hands. And if he didn't go out -- even if it's all staged, even if it's all for show, it means something. CAMEROTA: One other notable thing was that Mitch McConnell, Senate

majority leader, sided with Bill Barr. And so he said -- I mean, he stuck to his talking point like glue. He was asked many times, many different ways what -- if he wanted to expound on this. But here's what he said last night.


MCCONNELL: The president made a great choice when he picked Bill Barr to be attorney general. I think the president should listen to his advice.

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: So you have a problem with the president's tweeting, as well?

MCCONNELL: I think that the attorney general says it's getting in the way of doing his job, maybe the president should listen to the attorney general.


CAMEROTA: I mean, we're at the point in this country where that is notable.

HONIG: Maybe it's like a high-level intervention. Right? Because I think -- I think if you could get into the minds and hearts of all the Republicans, they would tell you, yes, he should stop tweeting. And maybe they're sort of seeing a chance to subtle -- or not subtly, explicitly, tell the president, like, We love you. We've got your back, but just ease up on the Twitter.

BERMAN: And this is what I think is one of the interesting things that will develop over the next 24 hours. The White House says the president is OK with this. And as a political proposition, I bet he is. Because this was good politics. It put out a fire.


However, the way that Bill Barr and the way that Mitch McConnell are now talking about the president in public -- I have to read this because I have trouble with all the syllables.

JARRETT: You've got this.

BERMAN: Infantilization. Infantilization of the president. I don't think he's going to be able to take it. They're basically saying, The baby can't use his cell phone. We have to take the cell phone away from the baby. That's what they're saying. And I don't think over the next few hours the president's going to be able to stand it.

JARRETT: I agree with you. I think they are treading on a thin line here.

We saw a statement out from Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the president's fiercest defenders. Not even an hour after that interview from Bill Barr yesterday, Graham puts out this glowing statement. If the president starts to feel like this is a pile-on, we're going to see a reaction on Twitter. He will not go quietly into the night if he feels like they are exposing him too much.

CAMEROTA: Maybe we have the montage of how other Republicans, when asked how they felt about the president meddling in the Justice Department, they said something quite different than what Bill bar did. This was sort of a more typical response when Manu Raju caught up with them. Listen to this.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Should the president even be weighing in on a case involving his friend?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am not somebody who's going to tell the president what to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's going to express things that he's thinking about.

MANU: What are you thinking? Do you think it's a smart idea?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not the president.

MANU: Do you have any concerns about what happened with the Roger Stone case?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not the kind of thing that I've been following.


CAMEROTA: He hasn't been following it.

BERMAN: There we go.

CAMEROTA: I mean, again, so that's why yesterday was, whatever the motivations as you point out, yesterday was notable, because it was so different than those typical responses.

HONIG: Yes, and one of the benefits to those Republican senators is they no longer have to give that ridiculous eye-rolling response. Now they can at least follow the lead of Bill Barr and Mitch McConnell and say he should not overtly meddle in our cases. So it did them a favor.

CAMEROTA: Or covertly, I would submit.

HONIG: Well, covertly is worse, yes.

BERMAN: Yesterday was also notable, because the president seemed to catch himself in a lie and/or admit to something that was a key part of the entire impeachment investigation.

I want to go back down memory lane to November 27, when in a withering interview, facing withering questions from Bill O'Reilly, the president said he didn't order Rudy Giuliani to go to Ukraine. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL O'REILLY, HOST, "THE O'REILLY UPDATE": Rudy Giuliani -- but he's -- he's your personal lawyer. Giuliani's your personal lawyer.


O'REILLY: So you didn't direct him to go to Ukraine to do anything or put any heat on anyone?

TRUMP: No, I didn't direct him.


BERMAN: That was then. But now, under questioning from Geraldo Rivera, listen to the answer.


GERALDO RIVERA, HOST, ROADKILL WITH GERALDO": 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: Of course, yes.


BERMAN: So in November he said he didn't do it. And then yesterday, he said, I'm not sorry that I did do it. Boom. I mean, his story just changed 100 percent.

JARRETT: Look, if anyone thought that Rudy Giuliani just went on a frolic in the Ukraine all on his own, I think that that was probably dreaming.

And the president admitted on the July 25 phone call. He said to Zelensky, Get with -- get with Rudy. Right? Like, we all knew exactly how this went.

The problem is that he's already been impeached. The House has already done the worst possible thing that they could do to a president. So what do they -- what do they do with this?

As more and more of these sort of distinct stories and lies come into the fold, as we continue to see more and more documents, as we get John Bolton's book, and say it goes completely against what the president has said, what's the result?

CAMEROTA: Speaking of the July 25 phone call, Bill Barr was asked about it, and Bill Barr, it turns out, was not pleased to be part of the July 25 call. Listen to this moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARR: I was a bit irritated by it. But you know, the conversation jumped around. So I'm not sure what he meant by some of what he was saying.


CAMEROTA: I wasn't sure what the president meant by some of what he was saying on that July --

BERMAN: I know exactly what he meant. He told President Zelensky to talk to the attorney general of the United States about an investigation into a political rival.

CAMEROTA: That part we know.

BERMAN: Completely unambiguous.

CAMEROTA: That part is unambiguous.

BERMAN: So why is it irritating to Bill Barr? Is it irritating because he was found out, or is it irritating because Bill Barr knew nothing about it? We don't know the answer to that question.

CAMEROTA: Also, if he didn't understand what the president was saying, I suppose he could ask the president.

HONIG: I guess he could. I mean, of course he was a bit irritated.

Buy the way, what he should have done there is recuse himself. I mean, that's a no-brainer of a move if you're a lawyer. You get mentioned in a call like that, you're a witness.

And the thing that Donald Trump said in the Geraldo Rivera interview that I think was extra crazy, was at one point, he said, Well, look, I had a choice. I could go through the Comeys, or I could go through Rudy. OK, the Comeys, that's the FBI. How you're supposed to do these things. Rudy is a private citizen.

I mean, if he wants former prosecutors to go out and do things independently, I'll do it for him. I mean, let's not go with Rudy. I mean, that's -- that's crazy. I'm not really really suggesting it. But --


CAMEROTA: I'm not sure he'd pay you that well.

HONIG: I'll do it for free. He's the president.

CAMEROTA: That's right. All right.

BERMAN: Elie Honig, Laura Jarrett, great to have you on this morning. Thank you very much.

The battle of the billionaires. Michael Bloomberg, President Trump now playing out in the presidential campaign. And also we have a really interesting new poll out from a key Super Tuesday state, and it has a major headline. That's next.



MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump is scared as a cat at the dog pound, but since I'm from New York, I put it this way. We're scaring the living hell out of him.


BERMAN: That is Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, punching back at President Trump on the campaign trail. This after the president's really been going after Bloomberg a lot, a whole lot for a number of things, including his height.


Joining us now is CNN business and politics correspondent Cristina Alesci, who has been covering the Bloomberg campaign; and CNN political commentator Jen Psaki. She was White House communications director under President Obama. And I just want to give you a little more of the flavor from Michael Bloomberg, who wastes no opportunity at this point to go directly after the president.


BLOOMBERG: President Trump knows only how to divide and destroy. And he has no idea how to create and unify. And it reminds me of Sam Rayburn's saying that you might know: "Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a good carpenter to build one." He's a one-trick pony, and I'm running to make sure he's a one-term president.


BERMAN: So if you're keeping score at home, in the same event, Bloomberg talked about dogs, cats, jackasses, and ponies. A menagerie of political insults going on here.

Cristina Alesci, though, the bigger issue here is -- and I have a whole list of other things that Bloomberg says directly about President Trump. The insults. What does Bloomberg and the Bloomberg campaign, what do they think they're getting out of this? Why?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Oh, wow. They are getting a whole lot out of this.

First and foremost, the narrative of Trump versus Bloomberg is exactly what they want to play out. Because the narrative of Bloomberg versus Democrats is a whole heck of a lot more complex to play out. So they want to keep the focus on the fight between these two men.

And it also has the benefit of, if Bloomberg's not engaging or attacking the other Democrats, is a unifying message. Every Democrat can get behind attacking Trump. Also, in every stump speech that I've heard him when I've been on the

road with Bloomberg, we've heard him say, "Trump is scared of me. That's why he's attacking me." So these kinds of things feed into Bloomberg's stump speech.

Also, the Bloomberg team believes there is a pent-up demand from Democrats to get in the mud and see this kind of fistfight with -- with Trump. And they are feeding on that demand. And you see that on Instagram with the memes. We see that on Twitter.

You know, this is not the first time that these -- this language is being used. You saw a couple of weeks ago one of Bloomberg's spokespeople were teasing Trump for his fake tan and lying about his obesity.

CAMEROTA: Yes. They seem to be enjoying this, actually. The Bloomberg team and Mike Bloomberg himself seems to be enjoying it, Jen. And I guess my question to you is, is trading insult for insult effective?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think not on its own. But what the advantage that Mike Bloomberg has at the moment is that he's on the air with $250 million in ads. And anywhere you are in the country, you see a Mike Bloomberg ad. And those are, as Cristina was saying, you know, they're introducing him to the country. They're talking about rebuilding America. His work on gun safety. They have him with Barack Obama. They're attacking Trump.

And then at the same time, what people are seeing is that he's getting under Trump's skin. Every Democrat is attacking Trump. But what Democrats are looking for is somebody who can get under his skin and land a blow that will get him to respond.

Now, I also agree with what Cristina said, you know, that it's easier for him to run against Trump. And obviously, to run in very well-put- together ads, than when he gets into the debates with the Democratic candidates. Because there are real questions he's going to have to answer, and he's already had to start to answer that -- that, you know, may be more difficult for him.

ALESCI: I just want to add one thing to what Jen said. When I was in -- when I was on the campaign trail with him over -- over the past two days, I pressed him on when he's going to start making the case about why he's a better candidate than Joe Biden. He will not engage in that question. And it's remarkable --

CAMEROTA: What did he say?

ALESCI: He basically said, I don't -- he gave a pretty lame response, to be honest. He said, basically, I don't know other people's platforms. I don't know their policies. I'm here to talk about myself.

BERMAN: You know, one interesting question. If Michael Bloomberg qualifies for next week's debate in Nevada, which he might, if more national polls come out. He very likely will. Will he choose to go?

ALESCI: Yes. BERMAN: Will he choose to stand on that stage with the other --

CAMEROTA: Why wouldn't he?

BERMAN: Because he doesn't want to answer the question that Cristina has been pressing him on.

Jen, do you think that he'll choose to engage?

PSAKI: I agree, John. If I were him, I wouldn't go. Because ultimately, he has enough money to introduce himself to the public. He's doing that. It's effective right now.

And if he's on the stage, it's not just his choice as to whether he's going to criticize the other candidates. You know, he deserves credit for not doing that. But he's going to have a lot of incoming, because the other Democrats see him as a real threat of their possibility of winning the nomination. And he could get that not just from Bernie Sanders, who loves to have him as a foil, but also from Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar and others who also want to be in the more moderate lane.

BERMAN: I want to bring up a poll that came out last night from the state of Texas. This is a poll from "The Texas Tribune." Why is this important? Texas is a Super Tuesday state, where Cristina will tell us that Michael Bloomberg has spent a fortune.

Look at this poll from Texas. This is a primary poll.