Return to Transcripts main page


Former Justice Department Officials Call On A.G. William Barr To Resign; Former Deputy A.G., Donald Ayer, In Op-Ed: Attorney General William Barr Must Resign; Fighting Forces Civilians To Flee Homes In Idlib; Federal Prosecutors May Be Closing In On Giuliani. Aired 1:30- 2p ET

Aired February 17, 2020 - 13:30   ET



BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN HOST: Bill Barr must resign -- that's the call by more than 1,100 former Justice Department officials and prosecutors who penned a bipartisan statement calling for the attorney general to leave his office.

Now it stems from Barr's decision last week to rewrite the sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone, the longtime friend of President Trump.

They say, quote, "Mr. Barr's actions in doing the president's personal bidding, unfortunately, speak louder than his words. Those actions and the damage they have done to the Department of Justice's reputation for the integrity and the rule of law require Mr. Barr to resign."

Joining me is CNN Crime and Justice Correspondent, Shimon Prokupecz.

And, Shimon, in this letter, these officials acknowledge that Barr will likely not heed their advice. Why is this significant as it really is?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: It's significant because you have people from the some of the more formal-level people that -- that were senior-level people at the Department of Justice, people who have spent dozens of years, 20, 30 years, from both sides, Democrats and Republicans.

Really what they're saying, in the grand scheme of things, what the attorney general is doing here they say is hurting the entire system. It's hurting the justice system, both defense attorneys and hurting prosecutors.

In some cases, you have -- you have a judge who was forced to put out a statement sort of defending the justice system. That happened last week after the Roger Stone stuff.

So it's significant that you see such a large number of attorneys, former prosecutors. It really hurts them within even the legal communities. They're supposed to be his colleagues. These are people that are also supposed to be working together. And it's clear that there's a big divide now. Even internally at the Department of Justice, senior-level people who

are very concerned that the cases that they're working on could potentially be hurt. They have to go into the courtroom and they have to tell judges certain information. What they're seeing is supposed to be trusted and, then, ultimately, in front of a jury.

Once this starts to get in the way of perhaps justice really and perhaps the outcomes of cases, that is where that is going to be a big problem.

GOLODRYGA: It really does undermine their work. And it's interesting because some of the officials actually supported Bill Barr's nomination to be the attorney general in the first place. So this is something that people are talking about for good reasons.

PROKUPECZ: That's right.

GOLODRYGA: Shimon, thank you so much. Great to have you on.

Well to discuss this in more detail, I want to bring in Joseph Moreno, a former Justice Department and national security prosecutor.

Thank you so much for coming on to talk about this.

You're not a signatory to this letter. I'm curious as to why not. Were you asked to be and do you agree with what your former colleagues have said?


Well, you're right. First off, No, I was not been invited to sign this letter. I certainly reviewed it. I have a heck of a lot of respect for the 1,000 or so individuals that signed this letter. I have a lot of former colleagues on there.

And, look, I understand what they're saying. I completely respect their position. I'm not quite there. I think that the attorney general has an extremely difficult position.

And I think that statements he made, like the one last week to ABC News where he said, look, the tweets have to stop, you're making it impossible to do my job, that's important.

Now I get some people might say that's too little, too late. But I think under the circumstances, you have to look at the history here. The significant cases against people that the president was close to did move forward. The Mueller probe was allowed to be completed.

So I think while this change to the sentencing recommendation, to many people, may seem like, wait a minute, that's a bridge too far, I think, in the big scheme of things, this issue is being blown out of proportion.

GOLODRYGA: Really? Because it's interesting.

And, as Shimon just mentioned, there's a norm that the DOJ is separate from the White House and from politics in general, that it is independent. So many people had questions as to why the attorney general was stepping into a case that was so close to the president.

Obviously, he was saying that these tweets were not helpful. But he didn't walk back any or question any of his own actions.

MORENO: I don't think it's Barr's style to walk much of anything back. He's his own man.

Look, the department did operate independently. He's saying that he, the attorney general, made the decision himself that he felt the recommendation by his line prosecutors was too extreme and it was not because of political pressure from the White House or anywhere else.

I do think it's important to, yes, appreciate the independence of your line prosecutors. But at the same time, there's a chain of command. There's a deputy chief, there's a U.S. attorney, there's a main justice always over any case, especially a case of such political importance.


So I think it can't be that the attorney general has no ability to reach into cases if he has a bona fide concern about how it's being handled, even if that case involves someone close to the president.

No attorney general could ever get involved in the case regarding a president that appointed he or she.

GOLODRYGA: Nonetheless, it's striking that all four line prosecutors did remove themselves and step down from the case.

I'm going to ask you a question about what happens next and that -- in that specific case in a moment.

But I want to bring you to the story that took place within the last hour and that is an op-ed that was written by Donald Ayer, the former deputy attorney general under President H.W. Bush. He wrote this in "The Atlantic" just this morning, and it's titled: "Bill Barr Must Resign."

In it, he writes that, "Barr has appeared to function much more as the president's personal advocate than as an attorney general serving the people and the government of the United States."

Your reaction to that?

MORENO: I fully acknowledge that there's a lot of unforced errors here on the behalf of Barr. They started with his rollout of the mueller report. I fully acknowledge that. He could have handled that a lot better. And he certainly gave a lot of ammunition to people to say, wait a minute, he does seem like he's basically getting the president's back an awful lot.

Very different than how Jeff Sessions ran the Justice Department in two years. He was criticized for having no hand on the steering wheel with respect to the White House issues that concerned them.

But I think, looking back, people think maybe they like the Sessions model better than the Barr model. And I fully understand the criticism.

Again, I'm just not sold that we're at the point where Bill Barr has to resign, because I don't think anything he has done has certainly skewed justice or done anything to irreparably harmed the Justice Department's reputation and confidence.

GOLODRYGA: Quickly, because I mentioned it, Judge Amy Berman Jackman is expected a conference call that she scheduled tomorrow ahead of her hearing on the sentencing of Roger Stone. How unusual is that?

MORENO: Well it could be for one or two or any number of things here. I'm not sure why that call is being done. It could be in reaction to current events. It could be a move to postpone the sentencing, which certainly might happen.

But I think it's important to note that all of these things that we're fighting about here, these are recommendations. The judge -- she will decide what sentence Stone will actually ultimately. And she will have her own determination of what the sentencing guidelines dictate.

So at the end of the day, this was a recommendation from the line prosecutors overruled by a recommendation from the attorney general. But ultimately, the judge will decide.

GOLODRYGA: Tough to judge Jackson.

Joseph Moreno, thank you. We appreciate it

MORENO: Thanks, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Well, right now, hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing for their lives in northwest Syria trying to escape an escalating war there. We'll show you the nightmare that they are living. That's up next.



GOLODRYGA: A humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. In the last month and a half, in Syria, more than 850,000 people have been forced to flee their homes around Idlib Province. They majority are women and children. They're on the run from the Russian-backed Syrian regime.

And CNN's Senior International Correspondent, Arwa Damon, is the only Western journalist reporting from inside Syria.

We warn you, some of what you may see is disturbing.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There is barely enough light to see as we head towards Samiya's (ph) tent in one of Idlib's sprawling camps. A couple of nights ago, temperatures dropped well below zero and the family didn't have enough to eat.

"I put my baby and he went to sleep," Samiya (ph) tells us still in shock. "At 6:37, the children woke me up screaming. I touched him and he was icy."

The doctors told them he froze to death. Her husband walks out before he breaks down. She does not have a photograph of Abdul Wahab (ph) alive, just this image as they said their final goodbyes.

She can't forgive herself. She can't understand how life can be so cruel. Few people here can.

We have made multiple trips into Idlib Province, none like this. Roads throughout the province are clogged with the traffic of those on the run, unending waves.

Many have been displaced multiple times before, but this time, it's different. They feel like no matter what they do, they won't be able to outrun the war.

These children walked for seven hours in the middle of the night to get away from the bombing near their village, but it's not far enough.


DAMON (on camera): They want to leave from here but they try to figure out transport or something, because, if they try to go walk, it would just be impossible.

(voice-over): Down the road, Dima (ph) and Bathuleh (ph) clutched their stuffed animals for the last time. For theirs is a world where toys are not considered essential. Survival is. They don't cry or complain, as they are loaded into the truck.


There is a sense of finality, claustrophobia, compounded by the collective misery of those trapped here with the regime rapidly closing in and emptying out entire areas.

One village settled down among these third-century ruins two weeks ago.


DAMON: A little boy shows us a picture in his father's phone of the bombing overnight.

(on camera): This is Mohammed and he's 10. And he said he's very scared last night because this entire area, the hillsides all around it were being bombed.

DAMON (voice-over): They almost took off walking in the dark.

"I would rather die than not be able to protect my children," Sef Edim (ph) vows.

He used to be the village's elementary school director. His tent is considered a palace by this wretched existence's standard.

(on camera): Two of his kids have fallen into the stove. Her face was burned.

(voice-over): His children are too young to know anything but war hardship.

"Let Trump get a bit angry and send a couple of tomahawks," Sef Edim (ph) says, half joking. For those here know too well that in the world's view they are dispensable. The last nine years have taught them that.

Obei's (ph) tent is perched on a hilltop, away from the countless other makeshift camps.



DAMON: Our conversation is broken up by warnings from an app he has on his phone about where the planes are flying and bombing.

His elderly mother lies in the corner. She's been that way ever since they found out that his brother died in a regime prison. And the regime is getting closer.


DAMON (on camera): Yes, you can hear --



DAMON: This is his brother who was detained in 2012 when he was part of the protests. And then, in 2015, they got notification that he was dead.


DAMON: This is the photograph they got of him, dead, in prison.

(voice-over): "All I have is this photo, just this memory," he says, haunted by his pain. "Even if the regime tried to reconcile, it's impossible," he swears. "You can't trust them."

Nothing in this forsaken place is guaranteed.

Gone is the schoolyard laughter and crowded classrooms. They have been converted into shelters and smoke-filled living spaces.

But even as new families arrive, some of those here are getting ready to flee again. Sef Edim (ph), who we met at the camp in the ruins, sends me a

distressing voice message.


DAMON (on camera): He's saying that the bombing was all around them overnight and that the aircraft are flying over the camp.

(voice-over): When we arrive, the sounds of the violence closing in echo through the hills.


DAMON: Sef Edim's (ph) children are playing in the mud, seemingly oblivious to the encroaching danger or just used to it.


DAMON (on camera): They've called for a truck but they're being told that --


DAMON: -- there's no one who can come here, virtually, because it's so -- the roads are so crowded and clogged up with other people fleeing.

(voice-over): Those who manage to get transport are packing up. They still cling to a hope that someone, something will save them, that the world will realize it can no longer turn away, that they won't be abandoned to desperately search for a lifeline that doesn't exist.



DAMON: Arwa Damon, CNN, Idlib Province, Syria.




GOLODRYGA: Federal prosecutors may now be closing in on Rudy Giuliani. Sources say they are weighing new charges against indicted businessman, Lev Parnas, and one of his business partners. Parnas is linked to Rudy Giuliani's efforts to dig up dirt in Ukraine.

Our Kara Scannell joins me now.

Kara, what is the latest?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Sources tell me and our colleague, Erica Orden, that prosecutors are weighing in on new charges in the case related to this half-million-dollar payment that Rudy Giuliani received. Investigators are now considering whether to charge Parnas and at

least one business associate with misleading investors and potential investors into the company that paid that payment to Giuliani. That company is called Fraud Guarantee, that was set up by Lev Parnas.

So investigators are looking into whether investors were misled about the value of the company and what they intended to do with the money. And that brings it closer to Rudy Giuliani because he received the payment.

An attorney for Giuliani tells us that he had no role in the marketing of this company, didn't have any role or communications with Lev Parnas about that. And he didn't authorize the use of his name in these pitches. He says Giuliani, in fact, did some legal work for this company.

The lawyer for the investor that made that half-million-dollar payment, he said he invested in the company based on Rudy Giuliani's reputation and that he expected Rudy Giuliani to act as a spokesman.


So big questions of, how do these stories line up and intersect. And a person close to Fraud Guarantee says that the company did not receive any work from Giuliani, either legal or promotional.

And attorney for Lev Parnas tells us that they do expect there to be additional charges in this case and they're prepared to defend them.

GOLODRYGA: It's so hard to wrap your head around all of this. The Fraud Guarantee, the names, Rudy Giuliani saying he didn't do anything wrong, under the investigation, at the same time, feeding information to the DOJ.

But I know you are on top of this.

Thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Well, as we are learning that 14 of the 300 American citizens evacuated to the U.S. from a cruise ship in Japan have tested positive for the coronavirus. Details on why some chose to stay behind in Japan.