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Any Moment, Attorney General Barr to Testify Before House Panel; Democrats' Grievances Against Barr DOJ; A.G. Barr Faces Grilling from Judiciary Committee Democrats. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 28, 2020 - 11:00   ET

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


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[11:00:14]

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everybody. I'm John King, in Washington.

We're moments away from a Capitol Hill stare-down. The witness today in front of the House Judiciary Committee -- you see the committee room there -- is the attorney general, William Barr. The hearing guarantees fireworks.

Democrats have a very long list of grievances. Their baseline contention is this, that ever since he took the job and was confirmed as an attorney general, William Barr, the Democrats say, has acted as the president's lawyer, not the president's lawyer.

Democrats see evidence in the Barr Justice Department decision, for example, to drop charges against Michael Flynn, and to lay out a version of the Mueller report way back then that dramatically that favored the president.

Barr, though, says any accusations leveled against him mark an attempt by Democrats to discredit him and prevent him from unearthing what he calls the, quote, "grave abuses involved in the bogus Russia-gate scandal."

As we await the hearing to begin and the attorney general, let's start with our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez.

Evan, this is a major showdown. The Democrats have a lot of things they want to ask about. And 98 days from an election, this is guaranteed to be contentious.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. And you know the attorney general is coming out swinging. He is defending himself.

He knows that the Democrats have a lot of questions regarding the influence of politics, and, in fact, the president's hand in things that are going on inside the Justice Department, from the attorney general's intervention in the Roger Stone and the Michael Flynn case to his handling of any number of other matters inside the Justice Department, including the deployment of federal police and law enforcement officers to Portland and to other cities.

Now, I'll read you just a part of what he says in defense of what he says are these attacks from the Democrats. I'll tell you and read a part of what his opening remarks are.

He says, quote, "My decisions on criminal matters have been left to my independent judgment based on the law and fact without any direction or interference from the White House or anyone outside the department."

That's him saying that, yes, you know, the president does his tweets, but my decisions are my own.

And, look, is one of the things that we've seen over the last couple of years from the attorney general is repeatedly he seems to do things that favor the president. He intervenes in things that the president cares about.

One of the questions that I think ,if I were on this panel I would ask him: Can you cite a single case that didn't have to do with the president in which you took a personal interest to intervene with?

And I think that will be I think a telling answer if he decides to give it --John?

KING: Evan, also, stay with us as we continue the conversation.

Also with us, our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, our CNN legal analyst, Carrie Cordero, and Elliot Williams, former federal prosecutor is with us as well.

Dana, I want to start with you because the Democrats have been clamoring for this moment for months. They have been asking to get the attorney general in the chair.

It is, if we have tradition anymore in this town, which is an open question, it's tradition for cabinet secretaries to go up for accountability. The animosity between the Democrats and this Republican administration and the Democrats on this committee and this Republican attorney general are quite deep.

What is it that the Democrats most hope to accomplish? Is it that broad brush? We think you're the president's lawyer, not the country's lawyer, or do they have whether it's the deployment of the federal authorities now into Portland and other American cities, whether it's the attorney general's role in clearing those protesters from Lafayette Park, are we going back to the Mueller report?

Is it a long list of grievances, or do they have something they want to focus in on?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: My understanding is it's all of the above. And, you know, they certainly have the capacity to -- to do all of that.

If you kind of want to try to bottom line it, it is very much that there's really deep concern that Barr, since he has been there, since everything that happened with the Mueller report, has acted as the president's lawyer and, therefore, has acted based on and in the interest of the president's best politics not the country's best policy.

I mean, that is likely to be the through line from Democrats if they can keep their focus, which this is true on both sides of the aisle. When you get to big hearings like this, it's not always given that the members of Congress deliver on that focus.

But there's no question that that is it. And the backdrop and the background of all of this is the fact that the president believes that his single best option for a path to re-election is by pushing law and order. Well, Bill Barr is his main tool for that.

KING: Bill Barr in this job, again. He was in this job at the end of the George H.W. Bush administration as well. They tried that in the 1992 campaign. We'll see how it plays out in the 2020 campaign.

[11:05:02]

Carrie Cordero, the moment is interesting again. Oversight is part of the tradition here in Washington. But if you look at what the Democrats have said coming into this hearing, especially if you read what Evan just went through, attorney general's statement, in defiance.

He knows what's coming. And his essentially -- these are my words, not his -- but he's essentially telling the Democrats to go to hell. We disagree.

Put the moment in context in that you have such a big divide between the Democrats who run this committee and the president's attorney general.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: There's a huge divide between them. And part of the difficulty is the contrasts that Bill Barr presents himself.

So on one and he often says the right thing as attorney general. For example, in his written statement for today, he says that there should be one standard of justice that applies to everyone equally. That is a long-standing norm of the Justice Department, an unobjectionable statement that everybody across partisan lines would want to get behind.

And yet his actions throughout his tenure as attorney general call into question his commitment to that principle.

So as Evan was describing, actions in which he has intervened have appeared to all be cases that are individuals connected to the president in some way, whether it was the reversal of the Stone -- the Roger Stone sentencing, the dropping of the case against Michael Flynn, the appointment of an investigation into the investigation that launched the special counsel's inquiry.

So much of his tenure has been about unraveling everything that the special counsel did.

And then we layer on top of that the current public environment where we have this protest activity. We have deployment of the Department of Homeland Security and some Justice Department elements in Portland and in D.C. last month where there are allegations of excessive use of force.

And the question is: Is he going to get to any of that substance? Is he really going to be asked questions and explain his decision-making in all of those instances, or is it just going to be political barbs back and forth?

KING: Well, that is one of the questions.

And -- and Evan Perez, you mentioned this at the top. This is an interview that the attorney general did with CBS. The question was about Michael Flynn, but the attorney general at the end gets to the broader question here.

Michael Flynn, for those of you who -- the attorney general now coming into the room. We're waiting for Chairman Nadler to begin this hearing.

In this interview with CBS -- and you see him there, the attorney general of the United States, William Barr, so we know we're going to get started pretty soon.

I'm going to take a risk here, Evan. This is the attorney general in an interview with CBS News. Michael Flynn twice, twice said he lied to prosecutors and twice was in a plea agreement with the federal government. This attorney general said, I don't like how this began. I'm dropping the charges.

Here's how he explained it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We feel really that a crime cannot be established here because there was not, in our view, a legitimate investigation going on. They did not have a basis for a counterintelligence investigation against Flynn at that stage.

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: Are you doing the president's bidding in general Flynn's case?

BARR: No, I'm doing the law's bidding. I'm doing my duty under the law as I see it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That is his argument on Flynn, on Roger, Stone and on other issues.

One of the remarkable things about the Flynn case is that the federal judge involved has tried to fight the Justice Department on this.

Evan, I'm going to -- hang on one second here.

Chairman Nadler is in the room now. Let's see if he's ready to begin the proceedings.

Until he does -- all right.

We'll go to the chairman. This is Jerry Nadler of New York. I should note the hearing has been delayed about an hour. Chairman Nadler's car was in an accident today on the way to work. He was not injured. We don't believe it was a serious accident. But this hearing was delayed about an hour.

As this -- because of that -- the attorney general waiting, taking a sip of water as well.

Welcome to the House of Representatives and the House Judiciary Committee and we begin.

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): The House Committee on the Judiciary will come to order.

Without objection, the Chair is authorized to declare recesses of the committee at any time. We welcome -- we welcome everyone to this morning's hearing on oversight of the Department of Justice. I apologize for beginning the hearing late.

As many of you know, I was in a minor car accident on the way in this morning. Everyone is fine except, perhaps, the car but it did cause significant delay. I thank the Attorney General and the members for their patience and their flexibility and we will now begin.

Before we begin, I want to acknowledge -- I want to note that we are joined this morning by the distinguished Majority Leader, the gentleman from Maryland, Mr. Hoyer.

[11:10:01]

Leader Hoyer has long recognized the need for vigorous congressional oversight of the -- of the Executive Branch under both parties and we appreciate his presence today as we question the Attorney General.

Before we begin, I would like to remind members that we have established an e-mail distribution list dedicated to circulating exhibits, motions or other written materials that members might want to offer as part of our hearing today.

If you would like to submit materials, please send them to the e-mail address that has been previously distributed to your offices and we will circulate the materials to members and the staff as quickly as we can.

I would also remind all members that guidance from the Office of Attending Physician states that face coverings are required for all meetings in an enclosed space, such as this committee hearing.

I expect all members on both sides of the aisle to wear a mask except when you are speaking. I will now recognize myself for an opening statement. Thank you for being here, Mr. Barr.

According to the Congressional Research Service, this is the first time you have appeared before the House Judiciary Committee both during your first tenure as attorney general 30 years ago and during your current service in the Trump administration. Welcome.

150 years ago last month, in the aftermath of the Civil War, Congress created the Department of Justice. We did so with two missions in mind. First, we wanted to replace of system of party spoils with a corps of professional government attorneys.

Yes, these attorneys would be supervised by the attorney general, and yes, the attorney general would remain a political appointee, but at its heart the department would rely on a foundation of professionals dedicated to the impartial administration of the law in an unbiased system of justice.

Second, Congress established the Department of Justice to enforce the nation's first civil rights laws after the Civil War. From that moment on it became the department's responsibility to ensure the right to vote and to stem the tide of systemic racism.

Now, not every attorney general in the intervening 150 years has given full expression to these two goals. I am certain that every administration has fallen short of those promises in some way over time. But today, under your leadership, sir, these two objectives are more at risk than at any time in modern history.

Your tenure has been marked by a persistent war against the department's professional corps in an apparent attempt to secure favors for the president.

Others have lost sight of the importance of civil rights laws, but now we see the full force of the federal government brought to bear against citizens demonstrating for the advancement of their own civil rights.

There is no precedent for the Department of Justice to actively seek out conflict with American citizens under such flimsy pretexts or for such petty purposes. 150 years later we are again at a pivotal moment in our nation's history, Mr. Barr.

We are confronted with a global pandemic that has killed 150,000 Americans and infected more than 16 million worldwide. We are coming to grips with a civil rights struggle long swept under the rug, if not outright ignored, by our government. We are, as a nation, witnessing the federal government turn violently on its own people.

And although responsibility for the government's failure to protect the health, safety and constitutional rights of the American people belongs squarely to President Trump, he could not have done this alone. He needed help. And after he finished utterly humiliating his first attorney general he found you.

In your time at the department you have aided and abetted the worse failings of the president. Let us recount just some of the decisions that has left us -- that have left us deeply concerned about the Department of Justice.

First, under your leadership the department has endangered Americans and violated their constitutional rights by flooding federal law enforcement into the streets of American cities against the wishes of the state and local leaders of those cities to forcefully and unconstitutionally suppress dissent.

Second, at your direction department officials have downplayed the effects of systemic racism and abandoned the victims of police brutality, refused to hold abusive police departments accountable for their actions, and expressed open hostility to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Third, in connection with the -- in coordination with the White House, the department has spread disinformation about voter fraud, failed to enforce voting rights laws, and attempted to change the Census rules to flaunt the plain text of the Constitution, and even defied court orders on this subject, all in the apparent attempt to assist the president's re-election.

[11:15:12]

Fourth, at the president's request, the department has amplified the president's conspiracy theories and shielded him from responsibility by blatantly misrepresenting the Mueller report, and failing to hold foreign actors accountable for their attacks on our elections, undermining both national security and the department's professional staff in the process.

Fifth, again and again, you personally have interfered with ongoing criminal investigations to protect the president and his allies from the consequences of their actions. When career investigators and prosecutors resisted these brazen, unprecedented actions, you replaced them with less qualified staff who appeared to be singularly beholden to you.

The message these actions send is clear. in this Justice Department, the president's enemies will be punished and his friends will be protected, no matter the cost -- no matter the cost to liberty, no matter the cost to justice.

Finally -- and perhaps most perniciously -- the department has placed the president's political needs over the public health by challenging stay-at-home orders in the states hit hardest by the pandemic. The department's persistent efforts to gut the Affordable Care Act will make recovery that much harder.

These actions come at a price: real damage to our democratic norms, the erosion of the separation of powers, and a loss of faith in the equal administration of justice.

In the hands of President Trump, a Department of Justice that adopts a dangerously expansive view of executive power and demonstrates a willingness to shield him from accountability represents a direct threat to the liberty and safety of the country. And we were warned. At your confirmation hearing, Professor Neil Kinkopf testified -- and I quote -- "public confidence in the rule of law depends on there being an attorney general who will not allow the president to do whatever he wants with the Justice Department. William Barr's views of presidential power are so radically mistaken that he simply the wrong man at the wrong time to be attorney general of the United States," close quote.

Again, this failure of leadership comes at great cost. This administration has twisted the Department of Justice into a shadow of its former self, capable of serving most Americans only after it has first served those in power.

This committee has a responsibility to protect Americans from that kind of corruption, Mr. Barr. We have a responsibility to ensure that the Justice Department and its attorney general administer justice equally and fairly.

And this is what has brought us to this hearing room today. We want to give you a chance to respond to our questions, to these and other matters, and we hope and expect that you will do so in a clear and forthright manner.

Our members expect sincere answers today, and our country deserves no less. I now recognize the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, the gentleman from Ohio, Mr. Jordan, for his opening statement.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): Spying. That one word, that's why they're after you, Mr. Attorney General. Fifteen months ago, April 10th, 2019, in a Senate hearing, you said this sentence. Quote, "I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal." Spying on a political campaign is a big deal? It sure is.

And since that day -- since that day, when you had the courage to state the truth, they attacked you. They've been attacking you ever since. Every day, every week, for simply stating the truth, that the Obama-Biden administration spied on the Trump campaign.

One year ago, New York Times headline said this, one year ago. Quote, "FBI Senate Investigator Posing as Assistant to Meet With Trump Aide in 2016." The FBI sent a young lady who used the name Azra Turk to meet Papadopoulos in September of 2016. They sent someone, pretending to be someone else, to meet a person associated with the Trump campaign. You know what they call that? You know what they call that? Spying.

One month later, October 2016, they used the dossier to spy on Carter Page -- the salacious, unverified dossier -- Jim Comey's words, not mine.

They took it to the FISA court, didn't tell the courts that the Clintons paid for it, didn't tell the court that the guy who wrote the document, Christopher Steele, had already communicated to the Justice Department that he was, quote, "desperate to stop Trump from getting elected." And guess what? There were 15 more lies that they told the court, 17 in total, they're outlined by the Inspector General, each and every one of them, in his 400 page report but guess what?

[11:20:07]

Chairman Nadler refuses to allow Mr. Horowitz to come here and testify and answer our questions about the 17 lies the Obama-Biden administration told to the secret court.

The Obama-Biden DOJ opened the investigation in July, they used a secret agent lady to spy on Papadopoulos in August, they lied to the FISA Court in September and they did all this without any basis for launching the investigation to begin with.

How do we know that? How do we know there was no basis? They told us. Now they didn't want to tell us but thanks to Rick Grenell, who released the transcripts of their testimony, we now know there was no basis for them to start the investigation in the first place.

Sally Yates, Rhodes, Samantha (ph), Susan Rice -- here's what Susan Rice says -- "I don't recall intelligence I would consider evidence of a conspiracy." How about James Clapper? "I never saw any direct evidence that the Trump campaign or someone in it was conspiring with the Russians to meddle with the election." Say that again -- "I never saw evidence that the Trump campaign was conspiring" and yet they investigate them.

There was never a proper predicate so why'd they do it? There was no reason to do it, why'd they do it? They told us that too. Peter Strzok, August 2016, asked "is Trump going to win?" What's his response? Remember, this is Peter Strzok, this is the guy who ran the investigation. "No, no, he's not, we'll stop it."

August, Peter Strzok says "we'll stop Trump." September, they spy on Papadopoulos. October, they used the fake dossier to lie to the court but guess what happens in November -- guess what happens in November? November 8th, 2016, the American people get in their way -- 63 million of them, to be exact. Not every -- now, everything changes.

Now, the real focus is "wow, wait a minute, we didn't stop him. He won." Now what do they have to do? They have to do the cover up. And who do they have to go after? Who's target number one in their cover up? The former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the guy who's about to become National Security Advisor to the President of the United States, Michael Flynn.

They can't have him hanging around cause he'll figure it out. So they decide to go after Michael Flynn, three star General, served our country for over three decades and we know they went after him because they told us that too.

Bill Priestap, head of counterintelligence at the FBI, the day they interview Flynn, January 24th, 2017, his notes say what? What's our goal? To get Flynn to lie so we can prosecute him or to get him fired. Think about what the Obama-Biden DOJ, what their administration did in the last month -- the last month they were in power.

January 4th, the agents investigating Flynn want to drop the case. Comey tells them no. January 5th, they have the now famous meeting in the Oval Office. Obama, Biden, Rice, Comey, they're all in there, they're plotting their strategy of how they're going to get Flynn.

January 6, Comey goes up to Trump Tower, briefs President-Elect Trump on the dossier that they already know is false, just so they can leak it to the press and the press will write the story that they briefed the President on the dossier.

And then of course January 24th, the day they go set up Michael Flynn -- set up Michael Flynn in his interview. Guess what else they did -- guess what else they did between Election Day and Inauguration Day?

In that two month time, guess what else they did? 38 people 49 times unmasked Michael Flynn's name. Comey, Clapper, Brennan, Biden, seven people at the Treasury Department unmasked Michael Flynn's name, for goodness sake.

And of course Flynn resigns on February 13th -- Flynn resigns on February 13th, now the cover up is complete. Flynn's gone, everything's fine, they think, until May 9th, 2017, when President Trump fires Jim Comey. Now they got a problem again. The guy who was going to keep it all quiet, he's been fired.

Now how do they continue the cover up? Real simple -- Jim Comey leaks his memos with the express purpose of getting a Special Counsel appointed to investigate something they already know is not true and that's exactly what happened.

We get two years, 19 lawyers, 40 agents, 500 witnesses, 2,800 subpoenas and a $30 million cost to the taxpayer and they come back with nothing -- absolutely nothing. And so all they got left is to attack the Attorney General who had the courage to state the truth right from the get go, the first time he testifies after he's confirmed, and you guys attack him every day, every week and now you filed articles of impeachment against him. It's ridiculous.

He had the courage to do what no one else would do at the Justice Department, Sally Yates wouldn't call it spying, Jeff Sessions wouldn't do it, Rod Rosenstein wouldn't do it, Chris Wate -- Wray sure as heck isn't going to do it.

[11:25:00]

So Mr. Attorney General, I want to thank you for having the courage to call it what it was -- spying. I want to thank you for having the courage to say "we are going to get the politics out of the Department of Justice that was there in the previous administration" and maybe most importantly -- and we're going to talk about this in our side when questioning -- I want to thank you for defending law enforcement, for pointing out what a crazy idea this "defund the police" policy -- whatever you want to call it is and standing up for the rule of law.

And frankly, we have a video we want to show that gets right to this point. Could we play that video, please?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNKNOWN): -- clear in how I characterize this, this is a -- mostly a protest, it is not -- it is not, generally speaking, unruly--

(UNKNOWN): -- peaceful protests--

DON LEMON: -- peaceful protesters--

(UNKNOWN): -- peaceful protests--

(UNKNOWN): -- peaceful protests--

(UNKNOWN): -- peaceful protests--

(UNKNOWN): -- peaceful protests--

RACHEL MADDOW: -- peaceful protests--

(UNKNOWN): -- peaceful protests--

(UNKNOWN): -- peaceful protests--

(UNKNOWN): -- peaceful protests--

(UNKNOWN): -- peaceful protests--

(UNKNOWN): -- peaceful protests--

(UNKNOWN): -- peaceful protests--

(UNKNOWN): -- peaceful protests--

(UNKNOWN): -- peaceful protests--

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- peaceful protests--

JOSEPH BIDEN, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE.: -- peaceful protesters--

(UNKNOWN): On behalf of myself, my children and the family of David Dorn, we'd like to thank friends, neighbors, coworkers and the community for showing all of the love and support we've suffered through the tragic loss of my husband -- my beloved husband David Dorn.

We'd also like to thank St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department for their hard work and perseverance through this investigation, as well as the District (ph) Attorney's Office. He dedicated his life to the city of St. Louis, retiring at the rank of Captain after 38 years of distinguishable service, then as a Chief of Moline Acres for almost six years.

During those years, he's touched so many lives as a friend, mentor, coworker and guardian. His life was senselessly taken from me, from us by an opportunist who had no regards for human life or the law. This didn't have to happen but it must've been God's plan for David.

We need to come together as a community and do better. We need to teach our young people that life is very precious. We as a family are going to be taking some time to focus our attention on healing, which is very important as we move forward.

We would like David's legacy to be remembered as a loving husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, friend, colleague, and most importantly a child of God.

I want to thank you all for coming and God bless you all.

(UNKNOWN): Oh! That's the (inaudible). Oh (inaudible)!

(UNKNOWN): Oh, (inaudible) -- oh!

(UNKNOWN): -- (inaudible) slow down (ph).

(UNKNOWN): -- oh my God--

(UNKNOWN): (Inaudible), come on.