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The Lead with Jake Tapper

U.S.: Russian Forces Gaining "Momentum" On The Ground Toward Kyiv; Biden: U.S. & Allies Will Suspend Normal Trade Relations With Russia; Interview With Former Trump Attorney General Bill Barr; Americans Suffer At The Pump While Oil Companies Make Record Profits. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired March 11, 2022 - 16:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To get this family, and, you know, to see the child jumping on the bed and just happy. And smiling and laughing, just being a kid. Definitely a good feeling.

It's good to have wins, you know, in a situation like this. And this was definitely a win.


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Remarkable. For more, go to CNN


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Russia is shelling Ukraine less than 100 miles from the border of a NATO country.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Another Ukrainian city has fallen to Russian troops as U.S. officials say Russia is making advances and there are growing fears around the world that Russia may be planning to use chemical weapons.

Then, the pain at the pump is much worse for some families. We're going to talk to one mother who has to choose between filling up her gas tank or throwing her daughter a birthday party. This while oil companies make record profits.

Plus, we're going to sit down with Bill Barr, the former attorney under Donald Trump, now sounding the alarm about his former boss's temperament.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We start with breaking news in the world lead. Russian forces advancing on multiple key Ukrainian cities, including the capital of Kyiv and intensifying and expanding the brutal assault. That's the latest assessment from Pentagon officials today as we see devastating new images such as this. Ukrainian officials say Russian missiles targeted a residential area in the strategic port city of Dnipro, demolishing multiple apartment buildings and a school. And giant balls of fire filled the sky after Russian forces attacked targets in the far west of Ukraine for the first time in this war -- west.

Local officials say missile strikes damaged at least two airports near Lutsk, killing one person. This development particularly worrying for NATO countries, given the attack happened some 70 miles from Ukraine's border with Poland. Poland, of course, a NATO ally where thousands of American troops are deployed.

Today, President Biden announced further steps aimed at punishing Putin, saying that the U.S., along with the G7, and European Union, all of them will move to suspend all normal trade relations with Russia. Biden also announcing the U.S. will ban imports from major sectors of Russia's economy, including diamonds, vodka and seafood and prevent luxury items such as clothing, jewelry and cars from being sold to Russians.

CNN's Clarissa Ward starts off our coverage from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

And, Clarissa, the brother of Kyiv's mayor told CNN today that the Russian siege of Kyiv he fears could happen at any moment. What's the situation on the ground right now?


He also went on to say that he estimates this city has about enough food to last for two weeks if that siege just start, you can imagine two weeks is not a very long time at all. What we're seeing around the city is intensified fighting in the west, around an area called Stayanka (ph), also in the northwest and the north, around an area called Hostomel, quite close to where we were today. We could hear constantly fighting going back and forth, artillery shells going back and forth.

There is been a lot of fighting to the north of Kyiv, in the city of Chernihiv, which has seen some of the ugliest bombardments since this conflict began. And also, a number of strikes as well in, heavy fighting there. Again, that's also in the west.

But the thing that is really troubling authorities here in Kyiv is that the Russians are also making a push on the eastern side of the city. We talked yesterday, Jake, about the suburb on the east on Brovary, and major battles that were taking place there with Ukrainian forces literally picking off Russian tanks as they tried to press further into the city. It was a little quieter in Brovary today, but that has not stopped Russian troops from continuing to advance.

And, of course, all of that is feeding into this very real fear that it could be a matter of days and not weeks before this city is entirely encircled. We heard from the mayor of Kyiv himself who said, listen, this is still the prize, Kyiv. This is objective, to surround it, to starve it, to bombard it, and to try to enforce regime change. TAPPER: Clarissa, we're now more than three weeks into this war.

Millions of Ukrainians are still there in Ukraine. When you speak to the civilians, what do they tell you about their new reality?

WARD: Yeah, I think what is most extraordinary to me, you see ordinary people who had ordinary lives just a couple weeks ago, stepping up into extraordinary situations. We spent the day today with a lawyer called Daria and a scientist Anton who no longer do their day jobs. They're now driving into the suburb of Irpin which has been hit so hard now for more than ten days. They're going in to rescue people, taking incredible risks to try to help remaining civilians who are stranded and don't know how to get out safely.


We also today met an American called Dwight Crow. He's from San Francisco, California. He works for a start-up company with hearing aids. He said once he heard about the invasion, he felt he had to come and contribute. Take a listen.


DWIGHT CROW, VOLUNTEER: When I saw the invasion, I bought a plane ticket and came as fast as I could. This is the biggest fight for freedom I've seen in my lifetime.

WARD: Have you ever been in a war zone before?

CROW: Not like this.

WARD: For most Americans, this would be a little out of their comfort zone.

CROW: This is a little out of my comfort zone. It's scary when you hear the bombs going off. There are people a lot closer to it than us and they're in harm's way. I'm just doing my part to get them out of here.


WARD: And those people, many of them are still trapped. Not just in Irpin. In Bucha, in Borodyanka, in Vorzel. There are many places. There are many Kyiv suburbs that have been hit so hard, Jake, and it has been really tough to get people out. Humanitarian corridors have been very spotty in being effective. They've often been stopped by Russian forces, or fired possible.

Authorities say they have taken about 20,000 people out of those areas. But still, a lot of people remain trapped and are desperate to get out. And the other thing you hear, Jake, over and over again for people who do get out. Where do we go now? This is not where their journey ends. This is not where their problems and challenges end. Honestly, it's just the beginning of another journey, Jake.

TAPPER: CNN's Clarissa Ward, live in Kyiv, Ukraine, thank you. Please stay safe. Joining us to discuss, Natalie Jaresko, the former Ukrainian minister

of finance.

Thank you so much for joining us.

President Biden announced further economic punishments of Russia today in partnership with the G7 and the European Union.

Do you think the U.S. is doing enough right now to deter Putin, to help Ukraine?


I am grateful for what has been announced today, in particular, on the trade side. But no, it's not enough. We're acting too timidly. We're not acting with the level of urgency that this deserves. Ukrainians are fighting for their very existence and we're trouncing this out week by week, piece by piece.

TAPPER: What specifically do you want the U.S. to do? These are the toughest economic sanctions ever put on Russia in the history of Russia or the Soviet Union, for that matter. What more should be done?

JARESKO: Well, it's also the worst war that Russia has started and the largest number of killing, slaughtering, the biggest threat to our world order.

In terms of what more, I think we need to go broader and deeper. We've sanctioned a select number of state-owned banks. We need to sanction all state-owned banks. We need to sanction all the state-owned energy companies. We need to sanction all the state-owned commodity companies.

We've sanctioned some of the political elite. We need to go deeper and farther. We need to take top 100 oligarchs on the Forbes 100 list. We need to take the full Russia national security council, the federation council, their parliament as well as the government members. We need to do this to isolate that economy right now. We need to do this in order to stop financing and fuelling this war.

TAPPER: Today, Putin claimed there have been certain positive advances, he said, in diplomatic negotiations. Shortly after that, Vice President Kamala Harris said this.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: From everything that we know and have witnessed, Putin shows no sign of engaging in serious diplomacy.


TAPPER: How do you think this war ends? Is there any diplomatic path?

JARESKO: I always hope and we always need to try but no, I don't believe that he's good for his word. Every humanitarian corridor that's set up, he shoots at the civilians. Every time he comes to the talks, the diplomatic talks, the demands are basically for the annihilation of the country as it stands. Again, denying our existence as a nation, to have our territorial sovereignty. He -- we'll accept nothing less is what he keeps saying.

So, I think if we take him at his word. If we take him at the op-ed he published last summer saying the Ukrainians don't exist as a nation, then it's hard to believe that diplomatic solution is possible. We need to help Ukraine defeat him at war.

TAPPER: A journalist for the website Unheard said, quote, Ukraine's survival is the world's only guarantee that this conflict does not expand into Europe and the wider world.

I think there's this expectation by the NATO countries that Putin would not go beyond non-NATO countries. Do you think it is possible or even likely that Putin would start to take over other countries if he is successful in Ukraine?


JARESKO: I think that we've seen a history of him going further. So, it starts with Chechnya, then it moves in 2008 to Georgia. Then in 2014, Crimea, and Donbas and now this.

I don't know why we would be surprised if we don't stop him here, that he doesn't continue with his appetite for rebuilding the empire. That said, you know, we have risks today with the bombing of nuclear reactor plants, if God for bid one of those walls cracks, this is going to affect NATO without anyone ever invading NATO. So I think we need to take had extraordinarily seriously. This has to be put to rest in Ukraine as quickly and urgently as possible.

TAPPER: I misread that, by the way. That's something that you said to a journalist on the website, Unheard.

We've seen Russian forces indiscriminately bombing Ukrainian cities. They're hitting hospitals. They're leveling neighborhoods. Do you worry about how hard it will be for Ukraine to ultimately rebuild? I mean, it seems like this could set the country back possibly generations.

JARESKO: I think it has to be the next big issue we discuss. This is the Marshall Plan of Marshall Plans. We're going to need to rebuild. We're going to need to use the frozen assets that we've sanctioning these entities and these individuals.

We need to take those frozen assets and invest them into rebuilding. This will be hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars. We'll have to make sure that Russia, that cause of this unprovoked aggression, pays its share of the damages.

TAPPER: What goes through your mind when you see the Russian government officials and Russian propaganda saying that, for instance, that maternity and children's hospital that was bombed, those are crisis actors, this is not real, that there were Ukrainian terrorists and militia hiding in the hospital? What goes through your mind when you hear that?

JARESKO: It's just surreal, frankly, to think that you need to bomb a maternal hospital, that there are terrorists inside a maternity hospital. There is so much untruth here. So much disinformation. When I was in government in 2014 to '16, President Putin began the story of calling our government a Nazi government. He's calling our Jewish president a Nazi.

All of these lies are just for his domestic population. But we can't fall for them. Ukraine has been a peaceful country. It has never attacked anyone.

TAPPER: Former Ukrainian Minister Natalie Jaresko, thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate it.

It is sounding like a page out of Putin's playbook. Why there are growing fears Russia maybe preparing to use chemical weapons in Ukraine.

Then, former Attorney General Bill Barr will join to us talk about his time in the Trump administration.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, the White House is calling out Russia and China for pushing what they call a coordinated conspiracy theory that falsely claims the Pentagon is operating a biological weapons lab inside Ukraine. The Biden administration says Ukraine operates a little over a dozen bio labs for bio defense and for public health and the U.S. has provided assistance to the labs in the past in the context of bio safety as the U.S. has done elsewhere.

But the White House insists the charge of a bio weapons lab in Ukraine is false. The White House says Russia is using this claim as a false flag to justify its own potential use of chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine.

Now, as CNN's Nina Dos Santos, President Biden says Russia will pay a, quote, severe price if they do that.


NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): first it was nuclear weapons Russia claimed Ukraine was working on. Now, the Kremlin, with no evidence, is suggesting Kyiv has a secret chemical stash, too.

These allegations have been debunked multiple times, but fresh talk of chemical weapons is giving cause for concern.

PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE (through translator): What are these allegations of preparing chemical attacks? Have you decided to carry out de-chemicalization of Ukraine using ammonia? Using phosphorus? What else have you prepared for us?

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They not only have the capacity, they have a history of using chemical and biological weapons and in this moment, we should have our eyes open for that possibility.

DOS SANTOS: The White House warns Russia could be setting up a false flag operation, laying the ground work for a chemical attack of its own, just as in Syria where Russia was accused of providing cover for Bashar al-Assad's regime to use toxic gas on his own people.

KENNETH ROTH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: Russia has this indirect complicity in chemical weapon use, and indeed even went out of its way to try to cover up the Syrian military's use of chemical weapons.

DOS SANTOS: Thus far we haven't seen Russia engaging in chemical weapons warfare on innocent civilians in large numbers, have we?

ROTH: It hasn't done that so far, but this is not beyond the realm of possibility.

DOS SANTOS: What weapons does Moscow have? No one knows exactly. There's no evidence Russia used more common chemical weapons like chlorine and sarin, all are banned internationally for their cruelty.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia will pay a severe price if they use chemical weapons.

DOS SANTOS: That price not yet clear, though.

How do you think the world would react?

BOB SEELY, MP, UK FOREIGN AFFAIRS SELECT COMMITTEE: It will be crossing a line, but not one necessarily that would spark a military response. If Putin knows that we will react militarily, then we know that he can decide on what terms the U.S. enters this war or NATO enters this war, which would be incredibly unwise.

DOS SANTOS: At a U.N. Security Council Friday the U.S. was in to mood for disinformation.


LINDA THOMAS GREENFIELD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: Today, the world is watching Russia do exactly what we warned it would.

DOS SANTOS: Russia is already facing calls for a war crime investigation for its alleged use of other banned weapons. The mere mention of chemical ones is a worrying escalation.


DOS SANTOS: Well, Jake, Russia does have some history in making these type of false claims in countries that it has grabbed chunks of. I'm thinking of Georgia back in 2018. It announced it discovered an illicit weapons stash about ten years after invading that country. That has been widely discredited.

It's for this reason that the United States and the U.K. were aggrieved that Russia was able to secure the hallowed halls of the U.N. Security Council to again repeat these falsehoods. The U.K. in particularly is very sensitive to this, because remember, people have been poisoned with nerve agents and nuclear materials on U.K. soil allegedly by Russia, Jake.

TAPPER: Nina Dos Santos in London, thank you so much.

Coming up, quote, you're all losers. That's one of the many insults former President Trump used against his closest advisers, according to the new memoir from the then-Attorney General Bill Barr, who joins us live next.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Topping our politics lead, former Attorney General Bill Barr is out with a new memoir highlighting his role in helping confront former President Trump with the reality that he had indeed lost the 2020 election.

Joining us live to discuss, former Attorney General Bill Barr.

His new book is "One Damn Thing After Another: Memoirs of an Attorney General."

Great title. I know it's not your saying, but it's a great title.


You write in your book -- this is one of the most memorable scenes in the book -- about seeing the president throw a fit. You call it a tantrum. This is the summer before the election during the protests outside the White House, in the wake of George Floyd's murder at the hands of a white police officer.

You write -- quote -- "The president lost his composure, glaring around the semicircle of officials in front of his desk. He swept his index finger around the semicircle, pointing at all of us. 'You're all losers,' he yelled, his face reddening. He felt we were responsible for the violence around the country, especially around the White House. 'You're losers,' he yelled again, tiny flecks of spit arcing to his desktop."



TAPPER: "'F'ing losers.' It was a tantrum. I was taken aback and indignant."


TAPPER: Well, it's a very -- a very -- a very well-rendered scene. I wanted to read the whole thing for you.


TAPPER: But this is not the only time in the book you write about the president and his temperament which, you think is -- you suggest is disqualifying?

Did those outbursts ever cause you to question his fitness for office or his stability?

BARR: No. And I didn't consider them disqualifying.

I supported his policies. I was very conscious of his personal failings, especially his pettiness and his temper when he's not getting his way, his disposition to listen to what -- want to hear what he wants to hear.

But, up until the election, I felt that, if you had strong Cabinet secretaries who were willing to do battle, you could keep things on track. And I personally felt that we did a pretty good job of that. But after the election, I -- there was no -- he just went off the rails. He wasn't listening to any of his normal advisers.

He was listening to this coterie of people who were telling him that he lost the election.

TAPPER: Well, you definitely write...

BARR: I mean, that he -- was stolen.

TAPPER: That he was -- right, exactly.

BARR: Yes.

TAPPER: But you definitely write that he -- that something changed after the election, that he went off the rails.

BARR: Yes.

TAPPER: But you do write, throughout your time, you say that you were disgusted by things he said or did. You say he took a dangerous turn after election.

BARR: Yes. Yes.

TAPPER: You talk about the Pompeo -- but significantly detached from reality. "His constant bellicosity diminishes him in the office."

In the spring of 2020, you said he was acting like a hyperactive maniac.

BARR: Yes. Well...

TAPPER: You say he doesn't have the temperament to lead the country going forward.

BARR: Well, he's not my idea of a president. And I feel that -- I felt he was going to lose the election, because he was not controlling himself. He was allowing this pettiness to come through.

And I feel it's one of his great failings. I think a lot of people agree with his policies. They like his strength and his directness. But to the extent they support him, it's despite these -- this kind of obnoxious behavior. It's not because of it, in my experience.

TAPPER: Your book ends with the conclusion that the party and the country would be better suited if a different candidate led the way going forward. You say there's an impressive array of younger candidates.

If Trump runs and others challenge him, which might happen, you never know, would you get involved in the primary fight to defeat him, to...

BARR: Absolutely.

TAPPER: To support one of those other candidates?

BARR: Yes, I think the coming presidential election would be a good opportunity for the Republican Party, because, from my standpoint, the progressive left has -- is sort of showing a -- sort of a totalitarian temperament and has -- and I think the Republicans can win a decisive majority.

But I don't think we can do it with Trump. He's just too divisive a candidate.

TAPPER: Who are some of the Republicans you're looking at?

BARR: Well, there are a whole slew of them, I think.

TAPPER: Right.

BARR: And I'm going to let them run around the track for a while.

But I definitely would support those -- any of those individuals over...

TAPPER: Liz Cheney? Would you support Liz Cheney over Donald Trump?

BARR: I don't think she could get the nomination, so...

TAPPER: As much as you criticize Trump now in the book you're selling, and you say you're disgusted by things he did, the tone of your departure letter obviously was quite different.

You wrote -- quote -- "I'm greatly honored that you called on me to serve your administration and the American people once again as attorney general. And I'm proud to have played a role in the many successes and unprecedented achievements you have delivered for the American people. Your record is all the more historic because you accomplished it in the face of relentless, implacable resistance."


Why weren't you saying then what you're saying now? This is December 2020. It might have had an effect on what happened January 6.

BARR: Right.

Well, I -- at the time -- that was December 14 -- the states had already certified their votes. I felt the die was cast, the Rubicon was crossed. He was leaving office.

I felt the thing for him to do and what I kept on telling him is, parade your accomplishments out there, leave with some dignity, and put your record before the American people.

TAPPER: So that's what you thought at the time. I get that.

BARR: Right.

And that's why I wrote a letter that laid out his achievements. I think those are achievements. I'm proud of those achievements for the administration. And I didn't want them to be lost sight of.

TAPPER: But...

BARR: And...


BARR: And, yes, I am critical of him, definitely, in the book.

TAPPER: You praised him.


BARR: But I also give him a lot of credit.

TAPPER: Absolutely.

BARR: Yes.

TAPPER: Do you -- looking back on it, though, knowing that he didn't take your advice, he didn't run around the country talking about Operation Warp Speed, talking about the Abraham Accords, talking about the many things you talk about in this book that you're proud of, the border security, et cetera, do you regret not saying something in December more vociferously than you did, which may have had an effect on dampening what happened and stopping what happened January 6?

BARR: Well, first, I twice came out publicly, not only on December 1 to the AP reporter, but also I had gave a press conference before I left where I reiterated that, that there was not evidence of fraud that would affect the election. And I refused to appoint an independent counsel to look into the election and so forth.

I thought he was history. And I was right. He was history as of December 14, with the state-certified vote. I believed he was leaving office. And that was that. I couldn't see ahead to the disruption of January 6. So I didn't see any point and getting up and attacking him at that point, other than to say, look, you lost the election. Leave with dignity, and...

TAPPER: But he didn't.

BARR: No, he did not.

TAPPER: You told NPR that January 6 was -- quote -- "a riot that got out of control."

So, you don't think that the individuals who ran up there were trying to stop the counting, trying to stop the -- quote, unquote -- "steal"?

Because a number of defendants have been charged....

BARR: Yes.

TAPPER: ... by the Justice Department with seditious conspiracy. Do you think -- do you disagree with those charges?

BARR: I have no reason to disagree with those charges.

It looked to me -- and I just know what I see, like everybody else. It looked to me that there was this hardcore group there that sort of came dressed for battle with protection and so forth.

TAPPER: Right.

BARR: And they were definitely looking for a fight.

And if those groups -- if those people, whoever, those or anybody else, had a plan to use violence to stop the count, that would be a seditious conspiracy.

TAPPER: You write that Rudy Giuliani will -- quote -- you say nice things about him too. But you say he will go down as a man who helped President Trump get himself impeached, not once, but, as it turned out, twice.

Can you elaborate?

BARR: Yes, I think -- I think this thing that was done in Ukraine to get the Ukrainians to investigate Biden was a silly stunt.

And Giuliani was deeply involved and obviously played a major role in that activity. And I thought that had no upside and only downside, and was stupid. And then, later on, after the election, he was one of the key figures with this "The election was stolen" line.

TAPPER: Do you think he believes it? I mean...

BARR: Giuliani?

TAPPER: Yes, because it's just nonsensical claims, as you point out, because you and the Justice Department looked into them. I mean, you went through to make sure that you weren't missing anything.

Do you think that these people believe these claims?

BARR: I don't know. I really can't get into their mind.

I think -- I think some don't really care. They think it's the proper -- it's a convenient posture to be in. But I will say that the people who were telling this to the president were so aggressive and they're so certain about what they're saying that, sometimes, I paused and said, what am I missing? Why are these people so certain?

But it was all bogus.

TAPPER: In your book, you recount telling the Associated Press, as you just noted, that the Justice Department had found no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

There -- before the election -- and you write this in the book also -- you voiced your concerns about the potential for fraud because of the increased use of paper ballots.

BARR: Yes.

TAPPER: In June 2020, you raised concerns on NPR about mail-in ballots. Take a listen.

BARR: Yes.


BARR: There are so many occasions for fraud there that cannot be policed. I think -- I think it would be very bad.

But one of the things I mentioned was the possibility of counterfeiting.


QUESTION: Did you have evidence to raise that specific concern?

BARR: No, it's obvious.


TAPPER: NPR later issued an article correcting that claim, saying -- quoting experts who called your claim nuts and ridiculous.

In September 2020, you came on CNN with Wolf Blitzer, and you called it evidence of voter fraud. Take a listen.


BARR: Mail-in voting is fraught with the risk of fraud and coercion.

For example, we indicted someone in Texas, 1,700 ballots collected. He made -- from people who could vote. He made them out and voted for the person he wanted to, OK?


TAPPER: Your staff later admitted that you have been given wrong information.

But that was not accurate. It was one single ballot. Prosecutors reviewed 700 ballots, found one, hardly widespread, and it was also a state case, not a DOJ one.

Do you bear any responsibility for all the people out there that thought that there was going to be all this widespread voter fraud, given the fact that you were very vocally sounding the alarm, based on theories and bad information?

BARR: Not at all. And I stand by all of that.

And my view is that, in such a closely divided country, with so much at stake, we have to keep strong protections against fraud and protect the integrity of the election. And I think, when they are diluted and reduced, which they were, then people are not going to have confidence in the election, whether or not fraud occurs.

I think the issue of ensuring -- having the public feel that it's a fair election requires a lot of vigilance and not diluting the safeguards. That's a separate question about whether fraud actually can be shown to have occurred.

Now, I also was not generally attacking mail-in, but universal mail-in ballots, where they send out the ballots to the people on the voting list.


TAPPER: Like they do in Utah, and have for years.

BARR: Perhaps.

But the bipartisan commission that looked at that -- this -- I think it was in 2006 -- said that that kind of process is fraught with the risk of fraud. And I think it is.

And the other thing I was talking about is ballot harvesting, which I think is a terrible practice.

TAPPER: Right.

BARR: And with these practices in place, whether or not fraud occurs, people are going to think there was fraud.

One of the problems we have persuading people that this was a fair election is their concern about those kinds of practices. TAPPER: Yes.

I have more. And we're going to take a quick break.


TAPPER: We will be right back.



TAPPER: We're back with former Attorney General Bill Barr and highlights from his new memoir, "One Damn Thing After Another: Memoirs of an Attorney General," which just came out this week.

Attorney General Barr, thanks for joining us again.

In your chapter on President Trump's July 2019 call with Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine, in which he pushed Zelenskyy to investigate this wild conspiracy that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the election, and also an announcement of an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden, Zelenskyy on that call was trying to get weapons he needed, military aid he needed to defend his country from Russian attacks that were going on in the east of the country and that are going on right now in the whole country.

And those weapons, we should note, did ultimately go through, because people like Pompeo and Esper and others were pushing Trump to do the right thing.

But looking at what Ukraine and Zelenskyy are going through now, wasn't what Trump did worse than what you called unseemly and injudicious?

BARR: Well, when you look at the call, he does not condition the aid on doing an investigation of by...

TAPPER: You're a law enforcement guy.

You know nobody says, you do this for me, then I will do this for you. It's more -- and when quid pro quos happen...

BARR: Well, at the end of the day, if the weapons were delivered -- I think it was unseemly.

But I don't -- if he had withheld the weapons and actually used that leverage to extract something, that would be a different story in my mind.

TAPPER: But, in looking at what they're going through now, though, doesn't it make it look even worse, because, I mean, they really did need those weapons?

BARR: Well, he was the president who delivered lethal aid.


BARR: I mean, he was willing to arm the Ukrainians.

TAPPER: You said that you weren't purposely helping Trump allies when you intervened in the cases of Roger Stone and Michael Flynn.

Out of the 80,000 or so cases on the DOJ's annual criminal caseload, though, why did you step in with these two, which just so happened to be Trump pals that he ultimately pardoned?

BARR: Right.

Well, those weren't the only cases I step in. If a case comes to me, if something comes to me to make the decision, I try to make the decision.

TAPPER: So there were other cases that you stepped in and you said, this is too overzealous?

BARR: Not just cases, but any incident that comes to my attention. People come for guidance, or...

TAPPER: How many, do you think?

BARR: Oh, I don't know. Several dozen.

TAPPER: But is that what happened here, or did you involve yourself because these were high-profile?

BARR: No, these -- so, they were different.

The Stone case came to me by the -- the U.S. attorney brought it to me and felt that the line prosecutor who had worked for Mueller were going for much too heavy a penalty, two to three times what was justified. And he felt that they were doing this potentially to create a political storm.

And that basically was put in my lap. And I said, I'm not going to be extorted. I think we should do what wherever the right penalty is. Let's leave it to the judge. And that's the judge's job to set the penalty, and lay out the considerations.


And the judge ultimately decided on the penalty that I thought was fair, which was about three, three-and-a-half years. So, no one's ever come up with an explanation why it was bad for me to take a recommendation to do seven to nine and say, no, it's more like three, 3.5. And the judge came to that conclusion.

TAPPER: One other thing I wonder just...

BARR: By the way -- excuse me -- but I knew I was going to get crucified for that, because that's when the president tweeted about it.

TAPPER: Tweeted about it, yes.

BARR: And -- but I said, at the end of the day, my job is to do what's fair to this individual. And I am.

I personally thought he should go to prison.

TAPPER: One of the things that occurred to me when I was reading the section, in fact, when I just -- when I was looking at those cases when they happened, is, if you thought that there was overzealousness with the sentencing or with the -- quote, unquote -- "entrapment" of Mike Flynn, don't you think that that happens a lot more often than just with wealthy friends of Trump?

Like, don't you think that law enforcement quite often pursues maximum penalty when they don't have to or does whatever they can to get -- to book somebody for a crime, and not just with rich friends of the president's, but with...

BARR: Yes, absolutely.

TAPPER: ... poor people, black people, Hispanic people?

BARR: Absolutely.

And that's why my principle was that everyone deserves a right of appeal. And outside lawyers, they're worrying about escalating a matter. And I said, they can take it up, and they can take it all the way to the attorney general if they want, and let that happen.

And I also stressed to the prosecutors from the very first day, I said, I don't want headhunting. I don't want people going after people for headlines or any other purpose, beyond being fair and exacting the penalty that that person deserves by virtue of their conduct.

I believe strongly in that. And I, frankly, think the Department of Justice needs a heavy dose of supervision along those lines. And had I remained as attorney general and I had more time, my plan was actually to set up a panel to advise on this.

Fairness is what we have to be all about. And it's easy when you're a prosecutor to start throwing your weight around and bullying -- acting like a bully.


One last question, which is about Russiagate. That's what you call it in the book...

BARR: Yes.

TAPPER: ... which you largely dismiss as a caper and a hoax and fantasy of Democrats.

It's true, I want to just say, that Mueller found and his team found no prosecutable evidence that there was conspiracy between the Trump team and the Russians. And I don't want to revisit that. BARR: Sure. OK.

TAPPER: But I do wonder, if by so blithely dismissing the whole thing as just nonsense, are you not -- you're dismissing legitimate Russian interference in the election, which they did, which you don't contest -- you admit they did -- and a legitimate attempt by the Russians to influence foreign policy through Manafort and others changing the Republican platform, et cetera, and a legitimate attempt by the Russians to make the president more hostile to NATO, more hostile to Ukraine, which they also, through Manafort and others, did?

Doesn't that help Putin by just dismissing the whole thing as a hoax, when, yes, I understand your argument about the Steele dossier and the dirty tricks and everything? But, certainly, Russia was a pernicious player here.

BARR: Well, without necessarily agreeing to your characterizations of Manafort's activities and so forth, yes, the Russians tried to influence our election.

They did it mainly through a hack and dump. They grabbed some -- hacked into e-mails, and then dumped them into the public. That was the influence. And they tried to affect the election in some way. And that was bad.

But that doesn't mean that Trump was involved in that and that it's appropriate to try to lump him into that to hurt him politically and ultimately try to drive him from office.

TAPPER: I have more questions for you, but I'm told we have to go.


TAPPER: Come back, and we will...

BARR: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: We will talk more about your book. I really appreciate it.

BARR: Thank you. I appreciate your time on this.

TAPPER: We'll be right back.



TAPPER: In our money lead, bad news every day at the pump. Gas prices continue to reach new highs in the U.S. today averaging $4.33 a gallon according to AAA.

While many factors are at play, COVID and inflation, now, the war in Ukraine, CNN's Gabe Cohen takes a closer look now at how the world's largest oil companies are making record profits while many Americans are struggling to afford the costs of daily life.


GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Karissa Warren's gas tank has been nearly empty for two weeks. With record prices, she's only adding enough fuel to get to and from her job and her daughter's daycare.

KARISSA WARREN, MARYLAND RESIDENT: Because if we were to fill our tanks, we wouldn't have enough cash for the rest of the week to cover the rest of our bills for that week.

COHEN: And that squeeze is getting tighter after President Biden bans Russian oil exports. Gas could now cost families an extra $1,300 a year.

WARREN: We like to be able to splurge from time to time. It's not an option. We're considering not doing a birthday party for our daughter this year because we can't afford to.

COHEN: Economists say price hikes are the expected result of oil supply and surging demand.


But while that squeezes people like Karissa, oil companies are making record profits.

A watch dog report found last year, as gas prices surged, 24 of the world's largest oil coils made $127 billion in profits.

KYLE HERRIG, PRESIDENT, ACCOUNTABLE.US: Americans were paying more at the pump and executives are getting richer by the day.

TYSON SLOCUM, ENERGY PROGRAMA DIRECTOR, PUBLIC CITIZEN: When your ability to sell your product is more than double what your costs are to produce oil, you're going to experience massive profits. That's exactly what we're seeing right now.

COHEN: Democratic senators are now proposing a wind fall profits tax for the oil industry which would compare their new profit to the years before COVID and tax half of that excess revenue.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: The prices have gone through roof because of an international cartel that drive so much of oil pricing.

COHEN: And while President Biden has vowed to investigate price gouging by oil and gas companies --

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is no time for profiteering or price gouging.

COHEN: Oil and gas producers are calling on Biden to relax regulations to make it easier to ramp up production which crash in the 2020 because of the pandemic. But some economists claim some oil producers are strategically stalling to keep gas prices high. They're currently sitting on more than 9,000 unused drilling permits for U.S. land. JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So, the suggestion that we are

not allowing companies to drill is inaccurate.

COHEN: The U.S. Energy Information Agency projects U.S. crude oil production will reach a record high but not until next year.

WARREN: And that's even more frightening because we don't know when it's going to stop.

COHEN: For hard working families like Karissa's, little trips are now draining, like visiting her mother who is about to have surgery. And it doesn't sit well that corporate pockets are getting deeper as her wallet takes a hit.

WARREN: It's just not fair.


COHEN (on camera): And, Jake, today, I heard from the American Petroleum Institute, which represents the oil industry and they again stress that market forces, not individual companies, control these prices. But, look, to so many leaders and activists and everyday Americans, it really boils down to a simple question of whether or not oil companies should be able to make these sort of excess profits as a result of a war in Ukraine.

As President Biden is telling Americans they need to be ready to make sacrifices and to do their part, which for millions of people means paying these higher prices, potentially for many more months -- Jake.

TAPPER: Dave Cohen, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Millions of innocent Ukrainians have escaped Ukraine since Putin's war began. Next, I'm going to speak to a mother and father who traveled for 10 days to get to safety with their seven-week-old baby. Stay with us.