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Barr Says, Trump's Tweets Make It Impossible For Me To Do My Job; New Poll Shows Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) Overtakes Biden In Texas. Aired 7-7:30a ET
Aired February 14, 2020 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is New Day.
This morning, the attorney general's big, brave, bold, public stand against tweeting. Attorney General Bill Barr did a high profile interview that's getting all kinds of attention this morning. He did not oppose the president's position asking for a lighter sentence for his friend, convicted felon, Roger Stone, he didn't oppose that notion, but Barr is bent out of shape over the president tweeting about it. He says the president's tweets are making it impossible for him to do his job.
Now, the public stand is notable. The question is why did Barr come forward now, who is his audience, and what does it say about outrage inside the Justice Department?
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN NEW DAY: Criticizing the president can be career-ending. Just ask any retired lawmaker who tried it. So this open rebuke from the attorney general begs the question, were Bill Barr's somehow coordinated with the White House?
Well, The New York Times is reporting that A.G. Barr did give the president a heads up on some of what he planned to say.
Joining us now to talk about all of this, we have CNN Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin, CNN Legal Analyst Carrie Cordero and CNN Political Director David Chalian. Great to have you all. Happy Valentine's Day.
Jeffrey Toobin, Bill Barr's statement is certainly interesting. It was interesting to hear him speak out against the president because it is so rare. You also say that some of what he didn't say was interesting. In other words, why did he feel compelled to intervene in the Roger Stone sentencing?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Right. But, I mean, let's be fair and say that the attorney general was right. It does make it impossible for him to do his job in an appropriate way with the president injecting comments about individual cases like this.
However, I mean, there are still a lot of unanswered questions about how the Justice Department works and why, for example, just to pick one question, why did the Justice Department decide to inject itself at the top level in this sentencing as opposed to any of the thousands that go on every year in American courtrooms. That's a question we need an answer to. But if this really has an impact, if it does stop the president from injecting himself into individual cases, good. I'm skeptical that that will happen, but let's see if it happens.
CAMEROTA: This is a start.
BERMAN: Let's listen to the attorney general exactly what he said about this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM Barr, ATTORNEY GENERAL: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Now, Carrie, again, he doesn't answer the question about what his position is really in the Roger Stone case and why, why this case and not others, the point that Jeffrey is speaking up, but he takes a public stand against the president's tweeting and making public statements about this, there are all sorts of questions about why, why he's choosing to do this. And I think it is reasonable to suggest that there was concern. He is concerned about what is going on in the Justice Department, and by that, I mean, he's concerned about the outrage within the Justice Department over the last few days and he realized he had to do something about it.
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. I can't emphasize enough what a shot it must have been for the four prosecutors to all withdraw from the Stone case and one actually quit the department. And then I think CNN is also reporting that there have been potentially other prosecutors who might quit the department or who have perhaps told management that they are thinking about it.
And so I really viewed Attorney General Barr's views as having an audience of the Justice Department. He was speaking in that interview to the workforce. He was trying to reassure them that he is doing the right thing, that he is not going to be influenced by the president.
From my perspective, it's too little -- it's too late. Bill Barr destroyed his own credibility on April 18th, 2019 when he misrepresented the Mueller report and he has made numerous statements, speeches, things that -- remarks that are political in nature.
And so I just think it's too cute by half that at this particular instance when all of a sudden it is starting to impugn his own integrity perhaps before a court and within his own department that he's finally speaking out about the president's tweets, which have been going on throughout his entire administration. CAMEROTA: But, I mean, Carrie, to your point, it's making it -- it seems unmanageable for him to do his job. At least that's what he was saying. I mean, he used the word, impossible. And so he was also asked in this ABC News interview, do you have a problem with the tweets, more broadly, David. So listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PIERRE THOMAS, ABC NEWS CHIEF JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: So you're saying you have a problem with the tweets?
BARR: Yes. Well, I have a problem with some of the tweets. I'm not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody. And I said it whether it's Congress, the newspaper editorial boards or the president. I'm going to do what I think is right. And, you know, I think the -- I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: What do you hear there, David Chalian?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, I hear a lot of what Carrie was just referring to. I mean, Bill Barr needed to flex a little bit to solve a problem, an immediate problem inside the morale of the Justice Department. He's been doing his job while the president has been tweeting for the entirety of the time that he's there. I join Jeffrey's skepticism and perhaps even more so. I don't think anything that Attorney General Barr said is going to change Donald Trump's behavior in any way. And it doesn't seem to me that the president or the White House is indicating that this is an actual problem for them, what the attorney general said.
So it seems he needed to solve an immediate morale problem. He's doing that by saying, hey, this makes my job impossible. But what I don't see here in any way, whatsoever, is a real pushback of the president that what he's doing by interfering and commenting is wrong, is breaking down the norm of the independence that exists between the president and Justice Department in presidencies past. There's not a scolding of the president of some complete breaking of those norms. It is simply, it seems to me, hey, this makes it really tough for me and I've got to try to bring the morale back into the department right now.
TOOBIN: And the White House press secretary, the woman who never speaks to the press, she issued a statement last night basically saying the president has the right to free speech and he's going to continue to exercise it. In other words, he's not going to change his behavior at all. So --
CAMEROTA: I couldn't tell if she was talking about the president or she was talking about Bill Barr. Like, well, he can say whatever he wants to say. I mean, it doesn't matter one way or another.
TOOBIN: I thought it was the president. And the idea that he has free speech, he's not just some guy, he is the boss of the attorney general. And the whole point is how he exercises his right to free speech. So we'll see if there's any change.
BERMAN: Well, look, the context from the last few weeks matters since the president's impeachment trial. He was impeached for abusing power. And since he was acquitted, he has showed that he will continue to use his power in ways that are unprecedented, firing people from the National Security Council staff, recalling ambassadors, and now this, and Bill Barr did not take issue with that. Again, the first rule of fight club is you don't talk about fight club. What he took issue with is that the president was tweeting and talking about it.
The other side of it though, Carrie, is that people always say, why aren't more people taking a stand against the president, why aren't more people speaking out about certain things the president does. Bill Barr spoke out, I guess, against the president's tweeting. That's something. Does he deserve credit for that?
CORDERO: Well, it's something. But, again, it comes at a time when it's -- when the tweets all of a sudden are inconvenient for him. I mean, the question is if he says that the president's tweets and this constant running commentary, which has been going on for the entire administration, if that makes his job, quote, unquote, impossible, then what is he going to do when the president continues to disparage Justice Department, current or former leaders, when the president continues to disparage sitting federal judges, which he is going to do as we continue to approach the sentencing of Roger Stone. And the Michael Flynn case is still out there waiting to be resolved.
So what is he going to do? It either makes his job impossible and he's going to resign if the president continues to do it, or this was just an effort at public relations.
CAMEROTA: This was also an interesting tidbit, David, that The New York Times reports this morning. The attorney general had let the president know some of what he planned to say and his remaining at his job, a person familiar with the event said. But as with other issues, Mr. Trump's view may depend on how the news media, particularly Fox News, covers Barr's comments. If the attorney general let the president know some of what he planned to say -- well, I mean, it's still significant. It's still significant. It's not as big of a bombshell, but it's still significant that he said it out loud because it's rare.
CHALIAN: It is rare. I acknowledge that. And having Mitch McConnell go on Fox News and back it up and how this is playing out specifically on Fox and in the conservative media echo chamber that the president sort of gets his feedback loop on will all matter to how this moves forward from here.
But read the heads-up that The New York Times is reporting about is, hey, I do have this problem with my prosecutors, I do need some space here to have a little pushback on this. But, I mean no disrespect. I don't know what he said. But like I think the point if indeed Barr gave the White House a heads up, it was to make sure that the president didn't think of this as some huge rebuke. TOOBIN: The good news is Chief Justice Sean Hannity of the Supreme Court of Fox News decided it was okay yesterday. So that's all good.
BERMAN: I don't -- I think, over time, the president is not going to like the fact that the attorney general, that all these senators, that Sean Hannity are saying what a good idea it is to take junior's phone away, because that's what they're saying. They're saying, you know what, the president can't be trusted with his phone. He's not going to like that over time. We'll have to wait and see.
Jeffrey, I do want your take on something else, the president admitted to yesterday after denying. And it takes some set up. Back in November, he did an interview with Bill O'Reilly, where he was asked directly if he sent Rudy Giuliani to Ukraine to dig up dirt on the Bidens. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, HOST, THE O'REILLY UPDATE: Rudy Giuliani -- but he's your personal lawyer. Giuliani is your personal lawyer. So you didn't direct him to go to Ukraine to do anything or put any heat on anyone?
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: No, I didn't direct him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Okay. That was then. Now, listen to this yesterday.
TOOBIN: With Geraldo, yes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GERALDO RIVERA, HOST, 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TOOBIN: I mean, it's actually a very enormous development that the president is acknowledging that tThis whole initiative with Lev Parnas going to Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden to try to find out about this CrowdStrike, this fantasy from the 2016 campaign, that it was all his idea. And he was behind it.
Now, Lev Parnas said that was the case. Rudy Giuliani would not have done this just on his own without approval. So, I mean, I think all he's doing is admitting that, you know, what was apparent. But, you know, in the broader context of the Ukraine story, I think it's a very big deal.
BERMAN: He's also admitting he lied in November.
TOOBIN: Oh, yes, that.
BERMAN: And when presidents lie, I never think it's a small deal.
TOOBIN: Aren't you naive.
CAMEROTA: I mean, if only there were a trial where he could have gone and talked about some of these things and admitted some of that.
TOOBIN: We'll just have to wait for my book.
CAMEROTA: Okay, yes.
BERMAN: Forget the John Bolton book. The Jeffrey Toobin book is even bigger.
CAMEROTA: Yes, that's juicy. Carrie, David, Jeffrey, thank you all very much.
We have a brand new poll in a delegate-rich Super Tuesday state. I took an allergy pill, I'm not kidding, this morning, and it has kicked in, okay? It has just kicked in. I am so out of it. We have a very big headline for you. That's all I know, and we're going to bring it to you, or John is, next.
CAMEROTA: We have a new poll this morning from the all-important State of Texas and it shows Senator Bernie Sanders ahead of Joe Biden. But in head-to-head matchups with President Trump, the president beats all the Democratic candidates in that state.
This comes as Michael Bloomberg is gaining traction in the Democratic race focusing all of his on Super Tuesday states. CNN's Jeff Zeleny tells us more.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not afraid of Donald Trump and he knows it.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Michael Bloomberg is taking delight in suddenly being the center of attention in the Democratic presidential race.
BLOOMBERG: And that's why he keeps tweeting about me. Thank you, Donald. Keep sending it in, I love it.
ZELENY: He's trying to win the nomination as it's never been done before, writing new rules fueled by a multibillion dollar personal fortune.
BLOOMBERG: Now, you don't see many presidential candidates here in Greensboro. They're spending all their time in South Carolina, but I think the voters here in North Carolina deserve just as much attention.
ZELENY: The former New York City mayor didn't just happen to be in the neighborhood as early voting opened for the primary on March 3rd, also known as Super Tuesday. When he finally plunges into a race, he's already reshaping.
The first true test of Bloomberg's candidacy comes that day when voters in 14 states, coast-to-coat, weigh in. He spent nearly $130 million on Super Tuesday ads and $381 million overall, trying to make the point he's the strongest candidate to challenge President Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By an angry out of control president.
ZELENY: No matter where you live in America, Bloomberg is inescapable at least on television. That has allowed him to shape his own narrative until now.
He's suddenly on the defensive over the controversial stop and frisk policing policy in New York after an audio clip of a 2015 speech came to light where Bloomberg argued one way to reduce violence was to throw minority kids up against the wall and frisk them.
BLOOMBERG: I don't think those words reflect how I led the most diverse city in our nation and I apologized for the practice and the pain that it caused.
ZELENY: In three stops across North Carolina today, he did not address it. Several voters we talked to who admire Bloomberg say they wished he would have and believe he must.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's really an issue. And if he resolves it, then we can move on and get my vote.
ZELENY: Days before he jumped into the race last year, Bloomberg rejected his long embrace of the discriminatory stop and frisk policy.
BLOOMBERG: I realized back then I was wrong, and I'm sorry.
ZELENY: But he's rarely addressed it since, hoping to move beyond through a series of high-profile endorsements from African-American members of Congress and big city mayors. One way he's trying to soften his image is through an ad featuring former President Barack Obama's praise for Bloomberg years ago during his time as mayor.
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Mr. Michael Bloomberg is here.
ZELENY: After only declaring his candidacy less than three months ago, Bloomberg is building a massive campaign battleship, 2,400 employees and growing. It's a general election size operation bigger than Obama's was at the end of his first run in 2008. It's all part of the Bloomberg plan to overwhelm his Democratic rivals in hopes of showing signs of strength against the man he's aching to run against.
BLOOMBERG: Let me just be clear. I am running to defeat Donald Trump. (END VIDEOTAPE)
BERMAN: Our thanks to Jeff Zeleny for that report.
So the attorney general, Bill Barr, says he won't be bullied by anyone. So does this count as standing up to the president? A member of the Senate Judiciary Committee joins us next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARR: To have public statements and tweets made about the department, about the 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: That's the attorney general, William Barr, speaking out about President Trump, or at least speaking out about his tweets.
Joining me now to talk about this is Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut, who serves on the Judiciary Committee.
I think we woke up yesterday, we weren't expecting to hear the attorney general say that. I think we can agree on that. But that's your reaction?
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): My reaction is what the attorney general is really saying is, I know what President Trump wants. I'm going to do exactly what Trump wants. I just wish he wouldn't tweet about it because it is so embarrassing.
The attorney general was facing a full scale revolt within the Department of Justice as a result of the political interference, the over-personal influence by Donald Trump in favor of one of his friends and political cronies, Roger Stone. The attorney general acknowledged in that interview extraordinarily that he personally had a role in overruling his line prosecutors and he offered no explanation, no justification whatsoever for this kind of interference in the prosecution.
BERMAN: What could the attorney general have said that would have satisfied you?
BLUMENTHAL: What the attorney general could have said to satisfy me is that he was resigning. I called for his resignation. I think that he is part of a pattern of political interference in the Department of Justice that is absolutely intolerable. And he offered no justification for this unprecedented action.
John, I can tell you as a former United States Attorney for four and a half years, the chief federal prosecutor in Connecticut, I still have on my wall the seal of the Department of Justice. It stands for the integrity and independence of federal judicial enforcement. And he has compromised it.
BERMAN: How? What you're saying is that you want to hear an explanation from Barr himself about why the attorney general overruled the four prosecutors on that case, is that what you're saying?
BLUMENTHAL: Well, there's no justification for it, so I don't know what his explanation could be.
BERMAN: He said he disagreed.
BLUMENTHAL: He disagreed, but the recommendation already had been submitted to the court in a sentencing recommendation calling for seven to nine years within the sentencing guidelines by the prosecutors, professionals, dedicated public servants who tried the case. If there were mitigating circumstances, some reason for mercy for Roger Stone despite his tampering with witnesses and other obstruction, then the judge could have considered it.
I think the judge is going to be very angry and I hope the judge will ask for an explanation to call the prosecutors and maybe the attorney general.
BERMAN: A lot of Democrats have said for some time why doesn't someone call the president out for the things that he says, the statements that he makes, including on Twitter. So the attorney general just did, to an extent. He said, the president's tweets and the president's words are making it hard for us to do our job in the Justice Department. Does that matter? If it gets the president to stop, is that a good thing for America?
BLUMENTHAL: Well, you know, this position I just wish the president would stop tweeting is the default for Republicans who want to make some criticism of the president. My colleagues in the Senate say, I agree with his policies, I just wish he wouldn't tweet about it. The president is going to continue tweeting. And what we need to do is to defend the independence and the integrity of the Department of Justice. Because if the Department of Justice can weaponize law enforcement against enemies or friends in this way, nobody in this country is safe.
BERMAN: You just brought up your friends in the Senate. And this is an interesting moment because I have heard from other Democratic senators. Sherrod Brown was on our show yesterday saying he has heard from Republican senators who are critical of the president behind closed doors. Why aren't they coming out and saying it publicly, they're afraid of the president.
But Senator Brown won't name names. Senator Brown won't name names. Are you willing to call out -- if you think that Republican senators are somehow allowing.