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Bill Barr Judiciary Hearing Delayed by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) Car Accident This Morning; Use of Force in Response to Protests Expected to be Issue at Hearing; Bill Barr Opening Statement Distorts Black Lives Matter Statistics. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired July 28, 2020 - 10:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:30:00]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to bring you that hearing when it happens, live. Expect hard questioning from Democrats on a number of issues, of (ph) the attorney general.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, just a few minutes away from that.

Also, Senate Republicans have now unveiled their version of basically a phase four stimulus, a relief plan. It looks like it will include direct stimulus checks, but also a pretty significant cut in extra unemployment benefits that people have been relying on getting every week. It was $600; now they're proposing $200 a week.

SCIUTTO: Yes, that's a big gap, certainly for people at home, also between negotiators there. Our Manu Raju has been covering this story.

I wonder, is there a middle ground there? I spoke to Steve Cohen, a Democrat, in the last hour. He mentioned the possibility of phasing out the $600 -- or not phasing them out, but reducing them over time as opposed to immediately. Speaking to folks in both parties, is there a potential middle ground?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There is, but that's going to have to be sorted out between the Democratic leaders and the administration, with the support of Mitch McConnell. Those are ultimately the people who are going to make that decision.

The Democrats have contended that the $600 a week, while not perfect, they say it's easiest to implement. If they do something that the Republicans are proposing, their argument is that it would be harder to implement, take harder -- take a longer time to get into the system.

What the Republicans are seeking is $200 a week, and then a two-month transition period that would allow for 70 percent wage replacement for federal unemployment benefits. The Republicans (ph) -- Democrats are ruling that out, but they're not ruling out going under the $600 a week.

Now, that is just one significant difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. The Democratic plan is $3 trillion; the Republican plan is $1 trillion. They have a whole host of differences on funding, whether it's for education, whether it's for state and local governments.

And there's significant differences over policy. One red-line matter for Mitch McConnell, the majority leader in the Senate, is to ensure that there's liability protections for businesses, schools, hospitals and others. Democrats are concerned about the sweep of that proposal, they have their own plan.

So those are all the different things that they have to sort out. They have to get an agreement, both sides have to ultimately support something and send it to the president's desk. All the while, so many people are waiting for an answer from Washington, particularly over those unemployment benefits, set to expire this week. People will stop receiving some of those checks pretty -- very soon --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

RAJU: -- so a lot is riding on this, and uncertain how it pans out -- guys.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Legislative game of chicken going on on Capitol Hill, with that deadline approaching. Manu Raju, thanks very much.

[10:32:43]

Any minute now, the House Judiciary Committee and Attorney General Bill Barr will go face-to-face. That's the chair he'll be sitting in, what we expect to be a contentious hearing. We're going to bring it to you, live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: Welcome back. Any moment now, the attorney general, Bill Barr, will testify before members of Congress for the first time in more than a year. And even before it starts, he is already laying into Democrats.

HARLOW: The start of this hearing was delayed by about 45 minutes, after news that House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler was involved in a car accident on his way there this morning. We're glad he's OK, it'll get started soon.

So as we wait, let's bring in our experts. Good morning, one and all. Thanks for sticking around. I know we thought this was going to start a while ago.

Jeffrey Toobin, if I could just begin with you, I'd like to get at sort of the goal of this. Because the letter was very clear, inviting him to come. And it's the first time that Bill Barr is testifying every before this committee. Remember when he didn't show up about a year ago?

And so what's the goal? Because Nadler had talked about, you know, potentially trying to impeach him and then Nancy Pelosi threw cold water on that. What are they trying to get at today? JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think the core Democratic complaint about William Barr is that he has acted as the president's personal attorney, not the people's lawyer, as the attorney general is supposed to be.

Whether it's downplaying or misleading the findings of the Mueller report, whether it's intervening in the Roger Stone case by asking the court for a lower sentence, by having the Michael Flynn case thrown out of court altogether, all of these issues relate to the attorney general -- according to Democrats -- doing Donald Trump's bidding rather than acting like an impartial custodian of the law.

SCIUTTO: Evan Perez, you cover the Justice Department. Jeffrey Toobin, for instance, mentioned the Flynn case. Of course, that case brought by the Justice Department itself under Republican leadership, then reversed by Bill Barr.

I wonder -- and we're going to hear a lot of back and forth today from Democrats to the attorney general, who's clearly digging in here -- what do lawyers inside the Justice Department think of these decisions by the attorney general, particularly on Flynn or even on Roger Stone, right? Again, you know, a sentence sought by Justice Department lawyers there, and then changed by the attorney general.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, I think that's a great way to sort of surmise everything -- summarize everything that has been happening here, but I think the people inside this building, and certainly around the country, inside the Justice Department, you know, they began losing faith in the department -- in the attorney general's management of the department, I think, with the Roger Stone decision. You saw a couple of prosecutors quit the case as a result of the attorney general's intervention there.

[10:40:12]

But what I've seen just in the last few weeks, certainly with the firing of the U.S. attorney, Geoff Berman, in Manhattan, as well as the attorney general's management of that crackdown in Lafayette Square, I think that's where I started hearing for the first time from people around the country -- other U.S. attorneys' offices, other employees of the department -- that they certainly had had enough of the way the attorney general has behaved in his office.

I think people were willing to abide by some of his rhetoric, the fact that he was using some of the president's charged rhetoric, some of which you see in his opening statement today, fiery statement today.

But when you see him behaving as he did in Lafayette Square -- trying to clear the crowd, cracking down on peaceful protestors to make way for a photo op for the president -- and defending it in the way he did, I think that's where a lot of people lost faith in him. And it takes a lot for people in this building to lose faith because of politics. They try to put all of that stuff aside. And it's things like that, I think, has really damaged his standing inside the department. HARLOW: And to carry that forward, Carrie Cordero, Evan's point about

Lafayette Square continues. Look at the protests in Portland, look at the federal forces being sent in there and what has ensued. And the president, now, saying, you know, he's open to sending up to 75,000 federal policing forces to cities across America, even without invitation. You have an interesting question that you would pose to the attorney general on that.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. Well, my question -- I have several questions for the attorney general. One is with respect to some activities that he authorized as it pertains to Lafayette Square. So there's a lot of question as to whether he gave directions to federal -- the federal presence that was at Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. when they released pepper balls and what was perceived as tear gas to that crowd, so there's questions about that.

There's questions about an authorization that the Justice Department provided to the DEA, the Drug Enforcement Administration, to authorize surveillance activities related to protesting activity.

So there's some really substantive questions that need to be (INAUDIBLE) at this hearing today, and they pertain to whether or not the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security under an acting chief right now, whether they are being used as, A, a police force, a federal policing force throughout the country; or, B, as an internal security service.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

CORDERO: And these are things that Congress needs to wrestle with. I wonder if we'll really get to those substantive questions, or if this is just going to be political banter back and forth.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, it could --

TOOBIN: -- or if -- if -- can I just add --

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: Go ahead.

TOOBIN: -- a C to Carrie's list? Are these Justice Department officials in Portland and elsewhere, being used as props in Donald Trump's re-election campaign. Is the Justice Department trying to create controversy, create confrontations that can be used so the president can say, I'm fighting Antifa and all these left-wing groups he likes to talk about?

SCIUTTO: Yes.

TOOBIN: So, you know, the --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

TOOBIN: -- it's not just the improper use of federal law enforcement, it's the political use of Justice Department's forces. That's something that is really without precedent, even as an accusation in my experience.

SCIUTTO: We had Tom Ridge on yesterday, of course, first Department of Homeland Security secretary under George W. Bush, Republican administration, saying that, you know, as a practical matter as well, injecting military-style forces there, adding fuel to the fire as opposed to calming things down, legitimate question as to whether that's deliberate.

Let me ask you, Dana, the politics of this because the president excoriated the prior appointee in this post, who is -- most recently lost his Senate race, of course, Jeff Sessions. The idea being in Barr, he finally got the attorney general he wanted, right? Do you expect -- and seeing that opening statement today, it appears that the kind of rhetoric as well will be what the president wants in a confrontation like this.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And, you know, what Jeffrey said about the politics of this is so key because if you take a step back and look at what the president and his campaign aides think is the potential narrow path to re-election, it goes along the rhetoric of and the perception of a law and order problem.

[10:45:09]

I mean, it's -- if you look at the president's Twitter feed, every so often, he'll just tweet out, "Law and order." I mean, it's not -- it's pretty transparent. I mean, there's that and then there is the very real execution of the -- of the strategy --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BASH: -- in places like Portland and elsewhere, which is, you know, whether it's needed, that's a whole conversation that hopefully they will have at this hearing today. But on the perception, on the optics and the political reason for this, there is no question that the Trump campaign is hoping that this will play into the fears of, say, suburban voters --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BASH: -- or even other voters who -- even rural voters who look at this and say, oh, you know, maybe the president is right.

That is a very deliberate tactic. And the question is whether or not the attorney general, as Jeffrey said, the person who's supposed to be representing America and not the president and not his re-election prospects, is helping aid in that.

SCIUTTO: The law, right? He's supposed to be representing the rule of law --

BASH: Yes. SCIUTTO: -- there are echoes of the focus on the caravan. Remember

the panic about the caravan in 2018 in the midterms? Politically, that did not work in the midterm elections for the president.

Listen, everybody stand by. We've got moments to go before this hearing, we'll bring you right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:51:06]

HARLOW: All right, we are waiting for this hearing. The attorney general, Bill Barr, appearing for the first time before the House Judiciary Committee. A delayed hearing, it's going to get started momentarily. As we wait, let's bring our experts back in.

Jeffrey Toobin, back to you. Reading -- we have the entirety of the opening statement from Attorney General Bill Barr, and he talks about the racial reckoning, frankly, the country's going through. And he talks about what he deems to be a horrible killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

But then he spends a lot of time defending police officers and laying out the number of white men killed by police this year as well, citing Washington Post statistics, but distorting it and not making it relevant to the proportionality of the population versus black men killed at the hands of police. And that's a really important distinction, and it's the same thing that the president did a few weeks ago.

TOOBIN: It's exactly the same thing the president said. And, you know, the fact that more white people have been killed by the police than black people have been killed by the police? I mean, you don't have to be a demography expert to know that there are a lot more white people in the United States than there are black people. So the idea that you should compare the number killed, and that's a meaningful comparison, is just ridiculous.

And it just shows that, you know, the Black Lives Matter movement, you know, has a serious opponent in the United States Department of Justice. I mean, if you believes that the Black Lives Matter movement is a national reckoning about the -- the price that black people pay with regard to their confrontations with the police, that's just not something the Trump administration believes is a serious problem in the United States, other than isolated examples like the one in Minneapolis.

I mean, that is just a fundamental disagreement that the president and the attorney general have with the Black Lives Matter movement, which is very much now a mainstream movement, now some exotic cause just supported by a few.

SCIUTTO: Yes, with broad support, the public polling shows that -- very broad support, and it's grown over time.

Carrie Cordero, you served as a prosecutor. Of course, attorney generals have always been political appointees, and many have been accused of being political for the president that they serve. In your experience, is Bill Barr particularly political, particularly aligned with the president on issues -- for instance, Black Lives Matter -- of political importance?

CORDERO: I think the part of Bill Barr's written statement that is in line with prior attorney generals is his defense of policing, and I think his statement does try to take on that traditional role of being the chief law enforcement officer. So from that perspective, I think this statement does that.

But having served in the Justice Department across different political administrations, this particular attorney general does seem to go out of his way to make political arguments on behalf of the president.

One of the things I was surprised about by his written statement, was that it really came across to me more as a political speech, not as a document that you would see the attorney general.

For example, one of the things that I think is really missing from it is an explanation of what the Justice Department's deployment of additional investigators throughout the country is doing to be. He gave a press conference about it a few days ago, but this would have been a really good opportunity to explain that.

Because a lot of the commentary has mixed together what we're seeing in Portland, and particularly the DHS response in Portland, and some activities by the Marshals Service, which falls under the Justice Department. And a lot of concerns about abuses of civil liberties and violations of federal law in those activities.

[10:55:09]

But actually, what the Justice Department is doing in terms of supplementing investigators in other cities where there is a violent crime thing, is a very different thing. He says that in his statement, but he doesn't explain it at all. And instead, much of his statement is this opining about sort of his view of society and the different civil reckonings that are going on.

HARLOW: Dana, Jerry Nadler, the chair of the committee who -- this is delayed, he got in a car accident on his way. He's OK, he's going to be there shortly and it will begin. But he threatened to subpoena the attorney general. Obviously, he agreed to appear, that didn't need to happen.

But then he's been pushing, to some extent, for a move to impeach the attorney general, but then he seemed to walk that back and then Nancy Pelosi said, no, better to go to the ballot box, you know, and vote this administration out in November.

Talk about how real the threat of impeachment of Attorney General Barr really is.

BASH: At this point, it's really not. I mean, as you said, it's the House speaker who is the decider on these things, despite the fact that Nadler has significant power as Judiciary chair. And despite the impeachment of the president of the United States that we saw earlier this year, or maybe it was late last year, the space-time continuum is a little off these days.

But -- but in general, the House speaker agreed to do that. She agreed to do it reluctantly. When she did, she was all-in. I mean, she is somebody who does not think impeachment in general is a good --

HARLOW: Right.

BASH: -- move of any of these people.

But I will tell you that there is a grassroots effort among some liberals to try to disbar William Barr, to say that he has, you know, run amok, run afoul of the rules of being a lawyer and being a member of the bar.

You know, I don't know how far that's going to get. It worked with Roy Cohn, and that's what they're arguing that they should do as it comes to Barr politically trying to find a reckoning with him.

HARLOW: That's interesting.

(CROSSTALK)

PEREZ: Guys, I think --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

PEREZ: I think one thing I wanted to try and jump in and mention --

HARLOW: Sure.

PEREZ: -- Jeffrey talked a little bit about the attorney general's -- the part of his opening statement where he talks about the aftermath of George Floyd. One of the things he lays out is the rise in crime in some cities, and some the defund the police talk that you've heard. And of course, he's against that.

But what he's also laying out is this idea that, you know, trying to reform the police is going to cause crime to go up, and I think that is something you (ph) want to keep an eye on --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

PEREZ: -- coming forward.

TOOBIN: Can I --

SCIUTTO: Yes, that's a very different argument. We're going to have to leave it there, Jeffrey, I'm sorry, because we're running up against this hearing.

Thanks very much to all of you, moments away from hearing from Bill Barr.

HARLOW: We are. We'll see you tomorrow. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. NEWSROOM with John King starts after a very quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:00:00]