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Trump And The Law: After Impeachment. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired June 28, 2020 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is what the end result is.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: An ending and the beginning of retribution.
TRUMP: Well, where did it come from the Inspector General. What's his name?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It came from the inspector general --
TRUMP: No. What's his name?
TAPPER: Firing government watchdogs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This president, he doesn't really want to hear the truth.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Another Friday night firing of one of the most important U.S. attorneys in America.
TAPPER: Turning government investigators on opponents.
TRUMP: I have absolutely no doubt that Obama and Biden were involved.
TAPPER: With An attorney general willing to do his bidding.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Attorney General Barr misrepresented the work of the special counsel.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He believes the president ought to be all powerful.
TAPPER: Tonight, a CNN special report, Trump and the Law: After Impeachment.
Two recent bombshells that confirms the long standing attitude President Trump has for the law.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Truly explosive allegations about President Trump.
TAPPER: First, former National Security Adviser John Bolton alleged in his new book that Trump had a pattern of, "obstruction of justice as a way of life" and was willing to, "give personal favors to dictators he liked."
JOHN DAWSET, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: The President is willing to do favors in his mind for Turkey's Erdogan, the president of Turkey.
TAPPER: And then just days after that revelation, Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr pulled the trigger.
LEMON: President Trump forcing out the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
TAPPER: Trump fired the well respected and Republican appointed U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman. The man leading the investigation into that Turkish bank, an investigation that Bolton says Trump promised Turkish President Erdogan he would stop.
The state run bank pleaded not guilty to charges that it helped Iran evade U.S. sanctions.
Berman's office has also investigated a number of Trump associates, including Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen, and Trump confidant, Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani has said he had no evidence he was under investigation.
PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: The President doesn't like oversight. President doesn't like inspectors general. The President doesn't like independent law enforcement and the President doesn't like the Southern District of New York. He runs roughshod over government because he doesn't trust it unless it is fully in service of his personal interests.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is bombshell after bombshell.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Explosive claims.
TAPPER: Bolton's shocking memoir, "The Room Where it Happened," not only painted a troubling, yet familiar picture of his former boss, erratic and stunningly uninformed from.
But alleged that Trump with Ukraine, China, and in other matters, shoved aside law and national security in exchange for anything that might help him politically.
Bolton said this on ABC News.
JOHN BOLTON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I don't think he's fit for office. I don't think he has the competence to carry out the job.
TAPPER: Trump fired back on Twitter saying the, "book is made up of lies and fake stories."
The Trump administration sued Bolton to block the books release, though a judge ruled against it. All of this after the senate acquitted President Trump and his impeachment proceedings.
TRUMP: This is what the end result is.
TAPPER: Bolton told ABCs Martha Raddatz.
BOLTON: He didn't learn lessons from it, other than that, he could get away with it.
TAPPER: Two weeks after Trump was acquitted of obstruction of Congress and abuse of power charges in the Senate impeachment trial, the President declared --
TRUMP: I'm actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country.
TAPPER: Not acting as if he is above the law, as Democrats repeatedly asserted during the trial, but that he is the law.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is President Trump totally unleashed after he got out of the impeachment trial. It tells us that he thinks that he is king that he can call all the shots at the Justice Department.
TAPPER: And the chief law enforcement official of the land, Attorney General Bill Barr has seemed willing and eager to do the President's bidding.
DONALD AYER, FORMER DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL UNDER PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: He believes the president ought to be all powerful.
TAPPER: Donald Ayer served as deputy attorney general under President George H.W. Bush.
AYER: Bill Barr believes that these checks and balances that have affected and limited other presidents shouldn't apply to his President Donald Trump.
And he is working hand in hand with Donald Trump to realize that goal.
TAPPER: Even many conservatives who had high hopes for Barr have said that he has been more focused on helping Trump than justice.
TRUMP: There was no collusion.
There's no collusion.
WILLIAM BARR, UNITED SATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: As he said from the beginning. There was in fact, no collusion.
TAPPER: It started with the Muller report led by former FBI director and longtime prosecutor Robert Muller. The Special Counsel indicted 34 people, including some senior Trump associates during his 22 month probe into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the 2016. Election.
Before the report was released to the public, Barr misrepresented Muller's findings in a four page summary.
BARR: No collusion.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYT: Barr said, as the President often said, no obstruction, no collusion. What Muller said was I can't prove collusion. And there was plenty of evidence of obstruction of justice.
TAPPER: Weeks passed before Americans could read the redacted report.
TOOBIN: And that gave the President an incredible gift. Weeks of a false public understanding that there was no obstruction and no collusion.
TAPPER: The report concluded that while the Muller team could not find prosecutable evidence of conspiracy, there was evidence of at least 10 potential separate instances of obstruction of justice.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- that people were concern that you were trying to protect the President?
TAPPER: Decidedly not the no collusion, no obstruction spin that Barr gave the public.
CARRIE CORDERO, FORMER SENIOR DOJ NATIONAL SECURITY LAWYER UNDER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH AND PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Attorney General Barr is over the course of the President's term, trying to undo major activities that the state Federal Council engaged in.
TAPPER: Carrie Cordero was a senior Justice Department National Security lawyer under President George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
CORDERO: He has unwound substantial parts of that investigation. And it certainly seems that his intent is to try to unravel as much of that investigation as he can.
TAPPER: A year later, a federal judge said that Barr's handling of the report caused, "the court to seriously question whether Attorney General Barr made a calculated attempt to influence public discourse about the Muller report in favor of President Trump."
But even that was not enough for Trump. He sought to hit back harder, claiming the investigation itself was politically motivated.
TRUMP: So I call it the witch hunt, it's all a big hoax. This was an attempted coup. This was an attempt to take down of a president.
TAPPER: Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz disagreed with those claims. His investigation found that while the FBI made mistakes in the Russia probe, it was legally justified. EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: And that debunks one of the key conspiracies from the President and his allies that there was some kind of deep state plot against them.
TAPPER: But Barr intervened again, rejecting key findings in the Horowitz report, saying, "the FBI launched an intrusive investigation," on, "the thinnest of suspicions."
And Barr ordered his own criminal inquiry headed by US Attorney, John Durham.
AYER: Bill Barr did not want to be stuck with the results of the IG investigation, so he created his own investigation.
TAPPER: Around the time Trump tweeted "investigate the investigators."
PEREZ: And that is one of the problems with the President's tweets, it says it looks like the Attorney General is following the President's instructions.
TAPPER: In April Barr said this on Fox.
BARR: There was something far more troubling here. And we're going to get to the bottom of it. And if people broke the law, and we can establish that with the evidence they will be prosecuted.
TAPPER: While we wait for the results of the Durham investigation, the FBI counterintelligence investigation and the Mueller probe did turn up massive Russian interference in the US election and filed dozens of criminal charges.
PEREZ: One of the great ironies is that after complaining for three years that the Russia investigation was overshadowing his presidency, they keep talking about it. They expect that Bill Barr is going to be able to deliver a report from John Durham sometime before the election. And they believe this is one thing they can use to his advantage.
TAPPER: Attorney General Barr did not respond to our request for an interview.
Coming up Barr intervened in the case of a Trump ally and ignited a firestorm.
PEREZ: What happens next is a revolt by the prosecutors.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Gram (ph), not guilty. Mr. Grassley.
TAPPER: Emboldened after the Senate acquitted President Trump of abuse of power and obstructing Congress to aid his own reelection and with a renewed sense of invincibility. President Trump launched an attack to help an old friend, Roger Stone. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Roger Stone, longtime Trump, associate and advisor was taken into custody by the FBI.
TAPPER: Stone had been arrested in connection with Special Counsel Robert Muller's probe into whether anyone associated with the Trump campaign conspired with the Russians who attempted to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
The Special Counsel alleged that Stone was a conduit between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, which released Russian hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee involving Hillary Clinton.
In June of this year, through the Freedom of Information Act, CNN obtained a less redacted version of the report, noting that former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, former Deputy Chair Rick Gates and former Trump attorney Michael Cohen all told investigators that in July 2016, Roger Stone told Donald Trump and others that WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, told him that the website would soon begin publishing damaging documents
BLITZER: As a longtime Trump ally faces criminal charges, prosecutors accused Roger Stone of lying to protect the President.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Roger Stone and Donald Trump have been Friends or sometimes frenemies, for essentially 40 years. Roger Stone was long an advocate of Donald Trump running for president. He actually briefly worked on Trump's 2016 presidential bid before he was either fired or quit depending on which of these men you ask. So they've had a very up and down relationship, but they've always reconciled.
TAPPER: Stone was convicted by a federal jury on witness tampering, obstruction, and lying to Congress. The jury found Stone guilty of lying during his testimony to the House Intelligence Committee in 2017. To conceal his role in the Trump campaigns efforts to learn about those hacked DNC emails.
On February 10 of this year, federal prosecutors submitted their sentencing recommendation of seven to nine years in prison for Roger Stone, in line with federal sentencing guidelines.
MURRAY: I remember being at Roger Stone sentencing and being outside the courthouse and just waiting for the moment when the President was going to weigh in in real time because it just felt inevitable.
And then, of course, the President weighed in on Twitter, specifically on Judge Amy Berman Jackson and calling into question her fairness, calling into question her credibility, essentially suggesting that she was out to get Roger Stone.
STUART GERSON, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL UNDER PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: It's an unprecedented action on the part of the executive, who traditionally would keep his hands off. Criticizing a federal judge in the midst of the sentencing of Roger Stone. It's a blatant attempt to interfere in the carriage of justice. A president just doesn't do that.
CORDERO: One of the most damaging things that the President has done has been to disparage and really verbally attack individual judges. It undermines the rule of law because judges need to be independent.
TAPPER: Hours later Attorney General Barr ignited a firestorm when justice officials intervene and overrule their own prosecutors asking for a lighter sentence for Stone.
PEREZ: What happens next is a revolt by the prosecutors handling the Roger Stone case. They resign from the case. One of them resigned from the Justice Department entirely.
TAPPER: Barr's action prompted more than 2000 former Justice Department officials to call for his resignation, including Stuart Gerson, who served as an assistant attorney general under President George H.W. Bush.
GERSON: The point was less to have the Attorney General resign that isn't going to happen than it is to call attention to the breaches of normal procedure, the front to the rule of law.
MURRAY: It looked and felt to everyone watching from the outside like this was the President's Attorney General weighing in to help the President's friend.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About Roger Stone --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- isn't your tweet political interference?
TRUMP: No, not at all. He was treated very badly.
I want to thank the Justice Department for seeing this horrible thing. And I didn't speak to him, by the way, just so you understand.
PEREZ: The Justice Department is saying that there was no communication between the President, between the White House and the Justice Department over this.
TAPPER: Under intense criticism, Attorney General Barr broke with the President slightly.
BARR: To have public statements and tweets made about the department, about people in the department, our men and women, hear about cases pending in the department and about judges before whom we have cases make it impossible for me to do my job.
PEREZ: Bill Barr wants at least the public to think that he is doing things based strictly on the law. In this case, though, it was clear that the President and the Attorney General we're on the same page here. They are on the same page about getting a lenient sentence for Roger Stone.
TAPPER: Swatting aside the Attorney General's request that the President stop tweeting about the matter, President Trump claimed he has the legal right to ask the Justice Department to intervene in a criminal case. And either way, Barr was doing what the President wanted, helping his friend, one who could potentially damage the President himself.
TRUMP: The Attorney General is a man with incredible integrity. Just so you understand. I chose not to be involved. I'm allowed to be totally involved.
GERSON: The President has said that the Article II, the part of the constitution that conveys and describes executive power gives him the ability to do in his own words, whatever he wants, the fact is that this President has overreached he has a very limited if any respect for the constitutional separation of powers.
AYER: It's very damaging because I think as a people, we all have the idea that the President is not above the law, that no person is above the law. But he is also echoing something that the current Attorney General Bill Barr has told him.
And Bill Barr told him that first in a memo that he wrote in June of 2018, before he was Attorney General, and he specifically there talked about how the president is the executive branch, he necessarily has control over everything that goes on in the Justice Department. And he specifically said that the president has the power to effectively negate an investigation of anybody or a case against anybody, even if it's involving himself.
TOOBIN: Barr has politicized the Department of Justice in a way that certainly without precedent since the Nixon years and perhaps even before that.
TAPPER: In congressional testimony on June 24 of this year, Aaron Zelinsky, a Mueller deputy and prosecutor in Stones case described significant political pressure in the Justice Department.
AARON ZELINSKY, MUELLER DEPUTY: The Department of Justice treated Roger Stone differently from everyone else. I was repeatedly told the Department's actions were not based on the law or the facts, but rather on political considerations, Mr. Stone's political relationships, and that the acting US Attorney was afraid of the President.
TAPPER: In response, the Justice Department stated, "Mr. Zelinsky did not have any discussion with the attorney general, the U.S. attorney or any other member of political leadership. Mr. Zelinsky's allegations concerning the US Attorney's motivation are based on his own interpretation of events and hearsay.
TRUMP: I want to address today's sentencing of a man, Roger Stone, and I want to see it play out to its fullest because Roger has a very good chance of exoneration, in my opinion.
TAPPER: Even after Stone sentencing, the President did not relent and he targeted for criticism a private citizen who had served as the forewoman of the jury.
TRUMP: It is my strong opinion, the forewoman of the jury, the woman who was in charge of the jury is totally tainted. When you take a look, how can you have a person like this? She was a anti-Trump activist.
MURRAY: The President, Roger Stones allies have again done an extraordinary thing, which is to take aim at a specific member of the jury and that's the forewoman to say that she was tainted, that this was an unfair process to suggest that somehow she was out to get President Trump from the beginning.
TAPPER: At a hearing in February, Stones attorneys argued for a new trial on the basis of social media posts by the jury forewoman, saying it showed that she was biased against Stone. Stones defenders went after her record of running for office as a Democrat. In fact, Stones defense team did not challenge during jury questioning.
As that hearing was proceeding, President Trump lashed out again.
CORDERO: He uses his Twitter platform as a bludgeon against his political opponents, but then more concerning against individuals. And it's hard to see how that doesn't provide a intimidation to those individuals trying to carry out their lawful functions.
TAPPER: In response, Judge Amy Berman Jackson issued a warning. "Any attempts to invade the privacy of the jurors or to harass and intimidate them is completely antithetical to our entire system of justice."
GERSON: The core of the problem lies with who is the president right now, and what little regard that president has shown for the rule of law.
PEREZ: The President by his actions is knocking the knees out from under these institutions that have held up for hundreds of years.
TAPPER: A president getting involved in a federal prosecution of a friend of his unprecedented.
Attacking a jury foreperson unprecedented, setting new standards that Republicans would rightly criticized unprecedented, attacking a jury for person unprecedented, setting new standards that Republicans would rightly criticize a democratic president for doing and yet, silence from most Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Coming up, President Trump again testing the rule of law, this time over a case involving his former National Security Adviser General Michael Flynn.
PAUL ROSENZWEIG, FORMER SENIOR COUNSEL, WHITEWATER INVESTIGATION: The Flynn case is a perfect example of Barr's abuse of power.
TRUMP: General Flynn was under enormous pressure.
What they did to General Flynn was a disgrace.
GERSON: The Flynn case is an unusual case.
TRUMP: They tormented him, they destroyed him.
GERSON: This is a case where the administration quite frankly is attempting to substitute its own view of facts or non-facts for that which has been demonstrably shown to the court.
TAPPER: A case that following the President's impeachment acquittal, critics say, exposed the administration's renewed zeal to undermine the rule of law, intervene on behalf of friends and attack perceived enemies.
CORDERO: The common thread throughout the Trump presidency is abused of power.
AARON BLAKE, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: The president talking over and over again over the course of many months about how illegitimate the prosecution and the investigation of Michael Flynn was, and then we have the Barr justice Department moving to withdraw the case, even though they already had a guilty plea. These were extraordinary moves by themselves.
TAPPER: Earlier this year, in a stunning reversal, the Department of Justice, under Barr's leadership, requested to drop its own prosecution case against Michael Flynn. Flynn's legal troubles date back to phone calls he had with then Russia ambassador to the US, Sergei Kislyak, before Trump's Flynn inauguration.
According to declassified transcripts, Flynn asked Kislyak to "reciprocate" moderately against sanctions imposed by the Obama administration in response to Russia's interference in the 2016 election.
When FBI agents questioned Flynn in early 2017, Flynn lied, denying he discussed sanctions. Trump fired Flynn in February of 2017, before FBI charges were filed, for also lying to Vice President Pence and others in the White House about the cause. In December 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
In a statement at the time, Flynn acknowledged that his actions, "We're wrong. And through my faith in God, I am working to set things right." He said, "My guilty plea, an agreement to cooperate with the Special Counsel's Office reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country. I accept full responsibility for my actions." But the case took a turn in January of this year after Flynn facing possible jail time told the court that he wanted to walk back his guilty plea. He now says he's innocent, and alleges government, "vindictiveness and breach of the plea agreement."
In February of this year, Justice Department prosecutors doubled down, and asked Federal Judge Emmett Sullivan to deny Flynn's plea change request. They appeared to waiver on seeking a prison sentence.
On March, Trump floated the idea of a presidential pardon saying, "I am strongly considering a full pardon." In April, the President went after the FBI investigators.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: These were dirty filthy cops at the top of the FBI, and they were dishonest people.
TAPPER: Then in May, a bombshell that reverberated through the halls of Justice and the White House.
The Justice Department is dropping its criminal case --
TRUMP: He was targeted by the Obama administration, and he was targeted in order to try to take down a president.
PAUL ROSENZWEIG, FORMER SENIOR COUNSEL, WHITEWATER INVESTIGATION: Michael Flynn pled guilty not once but twice to the charges against him. I have never, ever seen a prosecutor intervene to dismiss a case after a defendant had pled guilty. I think it is very clear that Attorney General Barr is acting as an attorney who represents Trump and not the interests of the American public.
TAPPER: Speaking to CBS News, Barr said he followed the recommendations of outside federal prosecutor Jeff Jensen. Back in February, in another unusual step, Barr had appointed Jensen to review the Department's case against Flynn.
WILLIAM BARR, US ATTORNEY GENERAL: He found some additional material and made a recommendation that we dismiss the case, which I fully agreed with, as did the US attorney in D.C.
TAPPER: The government's motion to dismiss following Jensen's recommendation, asserted that the FBI had Flynn and Kislyak's call transcripts so there was no need to interview Flynn, other than to "Elicit those very false statements, and there by criminalize him." The motion concludes that Flynn, "Pleaded guilty to making false statements that were not material to any investigation.
Minutes before Jensen's findings became public, lead prosecutor Brandon Van Grack withdrew from the case. Van Grack had reached the plea agreement with Flynn in 2017. In that same CBS interview, Barr argued that Flynn's statements to the FBI were not part of a "legitimate investigation," feeding Trump's attempts to discredit the entire Mueller-Russia investigation.
Barr responded to criticism that he is doing the President's bidding.
BARR: No, I'm doing the law's bidding. I'm doing my duty under the law as I see it.
TAPPER: Some legal experts have questioned whether or not Flynn should have been prosecuted for lying to the FBI to begin with.
In 2017, the former FBI Director James Comey said in closed door testimony, "I think there's an argument to be made that he lied. It is a close one." So it's not as if Barr's take on this is out of the realm of debate, but it is highly unusual, and indicative of why it's a problem to be an attorney general perceived as looking out for President's interests and not that of justice.
We reached out to Barr, the White House counsel, and private attorneys who have represented the President. But all either declined to be interviewed or did not respond to our requests.
STUART GERSON, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: At the very moment that Flynn lied, it became material. No one told him to lie.
BLAKE: The question from there is did Bill Barr do this because of what the President wanted him to do, or is this because of his pre- existing views of how these investigations were handled.
TAPPER: Judge Sullivan called on former Federal Judge John Gleeson to serve as a friend of the court, and take an independent look at the Justice Department's dismissing its own case against Flynn. Gleeson called it a "gross abuse of prosecutorial power."
In his analysis Gleeson said, "They reveal an unconvincing effort to disguise as legitimate, a decision to dismiss that is based solely on the fact that Flynn is a political ally of President Trump."
Gleeson argued that Fynn should be sentenced for lying, including for perjuring himself in court by admitting his crimes and then disavowing them. Just days later, Flynn appealed to a higher court.
JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking developments this morning, in the big back and forth legal fight over the Michael Flynn case.
TAPPER: In a surprise 2-1 decision, the Appeals Court panel ordered Judge Sullivan to drop the case against Flynn. The opinion written by Judge Naomi Rao, a Trump appointee, concluded that the Department of Justice has the power to dismiss its own case even if the defendant pleaded guilty.
TRUMP: What happened to General Flynn should never happen again in our country. He was persecuted.
ROSEZWEIG: The most depressing thing about this opinion is that, it continues the perception of the judiciary is being politicized. And if that's really the message buried here, that's a deeply unfortunate message.
TAPPER: If unchallenged, the ruling is a major victory for Flynn, and puts an end to a keystone chapter of the Trump era. When we return -- TRUMP: Did I hear the word inspector general? Really? Well, where did he come from, the inspector general? What's his name? No, what's his name?
STEVE LINICK, INSPECTOR GENERAL: Hello, I'm Steve Linick, the Inspector General for the Department of State. And IG is the only job in the federal executive branch that is truly
independent and removed from politics. No one can stop us from doing the audits and investigations we think are necessary.
TAPPER: Two years after that video, Steve Linick and other inspectors general were fired or removed from their posts in a mass expulsion of administration watchdogs willing to criticize the President and his administration.
JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE: Acquitted of the charges in said articles.
TAPPER: Again, this all happened following the Senate acquitting the President in those impeachment proceedings.
TRUMP: We went through hell unfairly, did nothing wrong.
TAPPER: A move that seemed to unleash the President even further.
GORDON HEDDEL, FORMER INSPECTOR GENERAL, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE AND LABOR: We are right now in the midst of one of the greatest purges of inspectors general in four decades.
TAPPER: Inspectors general or IGs are supposed to be non-partisan watchdogs of their departments. But President Trump seems to see them mainly as either friend or foe.
BLAKE: Trump's dismissal of the intelligence community's Inspector General Michael Atkinson comes after he made very cheer he
was unhappy with how Atkinson handle a whistleblower complaint.
TRUMP: The whistleblower gave a lot of false information --
BLAKE: That dealt with the President's interactions with Ukraine and the complaint eventually led to the President's impeachment.
TRUMP: I thought he did a terrible job. He took this terrible inaccurate whistleblower report, right? And he brought it to Congress.
TAPPER: In point of fact, Atkinson had been following the law. Notifying Congress as he was required to do, and testifying honestly, which in this case meant unflatteringly about complaints about the President's behavior.
HEDDEL: I think this President, he doesn't like bad news. He doesn't like to be embarrassed. He doesn't really want to hear the truth, and we have seen that repeatedly.
Trump: The coronavirus, which is you know, very well under control in our country.
HEDDEL: Like in the case of the acting inspector general at the Health and Human Services Department who issued a report, and her
report said that we, in fact, were not properly stockpiled with protective equipment for healthcare workers.
TAPPER: That report followed the same Standards as a similar one about preparation for the Ebola epidemic during the Obama years. But when it was about Trump era mistakes, it prompted a very different reaction.
TRUMP: Did I hear the word inspector general, really? It's wrong, and they'll talk to you about it. It's wrong.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But this is your own government.
TRUMP: It's -- well, where did it come from? The inspector general? What's his name?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It came from the inspector general report --
TRUMP: No, what's his name?
TAPPER: Not he but she. Kristy Grim was demoted out of her oversight position after publishing that coronavirus report. Glenn Fine was removed before he could even get to work overseeing $2 trillion in pandemic response funding.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How does the American public have confidence at the lead oversight?
TRUMP: Yes. We have a lot of IGs, but when we have, you know, reports of bias and when we have different things coming in, I don't know Fine. I don't think I ever met Fine. I heard the name. I heard the name. I don't know where he is. Maybe he was from Clinton, OK? You check that out.
GLENN FINE, FORMER INSPECTOR GENERAL: Serious misused --
TAPPER: Fine worked for Clinton, Bush, Obama.
GLENN FINE, FORMER INSPECTOR GENERAL: Our report made five recommendations --
TAPPER: And Trump as an IG in multiple agencies. He was removed from his role as acting inspector general of the Department of Defense, the single largest US government agency and replaced by a policy adviser from Customs and Border Protection.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The President has decided that he's going to fire inspectors general, and he has the ability to do so. But he has done so in a way where it really looks like he's firing inspectors general who are investigating things the President doesn't like, the issue with firing the inspector general at the State Department who had been looking into Mike Pompeo, a close ally of President Trump for quite some time, certainly raised a number of red flags.
TAPPER: Oversight of the Secretary of State might sound like business as usual, based on Inspector General Steve Linick own description of his job.
LINICK: Like all IGs, I'm committed to promoting economy and efficiency in preventing, detecting waste, fraud and abuse and gross mismanagement.
TAPPER: Linick told Congress he had opened multiple investigations into Pompeo. One involving his bypass in Congress to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, another regarding reports that Pompeo used a political appointee to run personal errands for his family.
TAPPER: When Pompeo was asked on Fox if Linick was fired for investigating him, Pompeo said this.
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: He was investigating policies he simply didn't like, that's not the role of an inspector general, so I recommended to the President he terminate Steve Linick.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Mr. Linick is now the fifth, yes, the fifth inspector general to be fired by President Trump from his or her post in the last few months.
TAPPER: Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush also stirred controversy when they tried to replace every inspector general at the start of their terms. President Obama caught congressional ire when he removed an IG during an investigation of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a vocal supporter of Obama.
LINICK: An agency head or even a president who wants to fire an IG first has to explain why, and writing to Congress first.
TAPPER: But Trump in some cases did not need to cite a reason for his actions, because many of his inspectors general were not presented to Congress for constitutionally mandated vetting. They were, like so many Trump appointees, even those in important national and homeland security positions, acting officials.
TRUMP: I like acting because I can move so quickly. It gives me more flexibility.
CORDERO: He recognized early on that he could control these acting officials more precisely, more deliberately, and with more political pressure, and that they would be more accountable to him and not accountable to Congress.
TAPPER: Critics say regular IG removals call into question one of President Trump's predominant campaign promises.
TRUMP: Drain the swamp.
HEDDEL: But the only people right now, since this President took office in 2017, who are draining the swamp are the inspectors general. This President is not draining the swamp.
TAPPER: A former inspector general told me simply, Trump is, "Sending a message to inspectors general, do your job at your peril." Next --
ELIZABETH COBBS, AMERICAN HISTORY PROFESSOR, TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY: We are in uncharted territory.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: The entire Trump presidency has been an exercise in shredding the norms of how presidents behave.
ROD BLAGOJEVICH, PARDONED BY PRESIDENT TRUMP: We want to express our most profound and ever lasting gratitude to President Trump.
TAPPER: It was only two weeks after President Trump had been acquitted of impeachment that he granted clemency to ex-Illinois Democratic Governor and former "Celebrity Apprentice" contestant Rod Blagojevich and ten others.
TRUMP: I think you see the way I'm using them, and yes, I do have an absolute right to pardon myself but I'll never have to do it because I didn't do anything wrong.
TAPPER: Trump's action set off alarm bells for using his presidential power to his political advantage, and for bypassing traditional processes.
CORDERO: He eliminated the rule of the Justice Department Office that normally conducts a thorough review of whether or not a pardon is appropriate.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: What we've seen is repeatedly in a number of cases that pardons are given because of your connection to the President.
TAPPER: Paul Pogue was convicted of federal tax fraud, but Trump pardoned him after the Pogue family donated at least $250,000 to Trump 2020 Political Action Committees and the Republican National Committee. Pogue's son Ben can be seen here socializing with Donald Trump Jr. in August 2019. The same Ben Pogue made $40,000 in donations to various Trump campaign groups according to the Federal Election Commission.
In a statement to CNN, Ben said, I never brought up a pardon with Donald Trump Jr. And he said, the pardon granted to his father was, "in recognition of his 30-year record of providing
significant humanitarian aid to countries around the world." TOOBIN: The controversies involving pardons in recent decades have all involved cases that have skirted the Justice Department. When George Herbert Walker Bush pardoned the Iran-Contra figures, when Bill Clinton pardoned his half-brother and the fugitive Marc Rich.
TAPPER: Trump has embraced controversy throughout his presidency, and even conservatives say he has repeatedly pushed the limits of executive power and the constitution.
GERSON: We're living in a time of constitutional corruption.
COBBS: We have a chief executive who denigrates the institutions he's supposed to lead, who fights every legal decision that doesn't go his way.
TAPPER: A chief executive who has historically used the courts to fight his personal battles, to punish or intimidate perceived foes who publish facts and opinions that he did not like.
TRUMP: The story in New York Times is total a fake. It's a fake newspaper and they write fake stories.
TAPPER: Trump ramped up his attacks against news outlets from rhetoric to lawsuits, lawsuits that legal experts say, have no merit.
He sued the New York Times and the Washington Post claiming op-eds they published were false and defamatory, ignoring that such pieces are protected by the first amendment of the constitution. And if your polling doesn't pleased him.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Brand new CNN poll, it shows a huge drop in the President's approval rating.
TAPPER: You can expect a factually and legally baseless letter from the Trump campaign threatening another lawsuit. It's a case no reasonable attorney thinks they could win, but for Trump it seems it is as much about bullying as it is about winning.
Often Trump goes so far as to falsely accuse others of criminality where there is no evidence of it, whether falsely saying an MSNBC host committed murder or suggesting Ted Cruz's father played a role in the JFK assassination.
And I should disclose here that President Trump has accused me, specifically (inaudible) of illegally smearing him. No specifics, of course, just a general objection to coverage he does not like.
And in an apparent attempt to win reelection this November, Trump has made this vague allegation against his predecessor.
TRUMP: You know what the crime is, the crime is very obvious to everybody.
TAPPER: The crime, according to Trump, is an old, baseless and vague conspiracy theory he has given new life with a new name.
MURRAY: Obamagate is, it's essentially the President's belief that even before he took office, Obama administration officials were Conspiring to try to undermine his presidency.
TAPPER: And an convenient fact in all of this, the FBI did not even comment on the existence of the investigation in 2016, while at the same time it was openly discussing the investigation into Hillary Clinton, it unquestionably helped candidate Trump and hurt her, undermining significantly any theory that Obama was trying to prevent Trump from becoming President.
BLAKE: When it comes to his adversaries, the President almost always talks about the Justice Department not being hard enough. Obamagate is the most recent example of this, the conspiracy theory that Joe Biden and Barack Obama somehow oversaw a corrupt beginning of the Russia investigation.
TRUMP: It's treason. Look, when I came out a long time ago, I said, they have been spying on my campaign.
TAPPER: There are serious questions about the Justice Department and FBI's investigation, including its use of FISA warrants and its disclosure of information in the prosecution of Michael Flynn. But as the President did with the Ukraine scandal, he is now attempting to muddy the waters, and cast this all as a grand conspiracy by Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
GERSON: It is unusual for the United States to have a leader who is constantly threatening to lockup his political opponents.
TRUMP: So crooked Hillary, wait, crooked, you should lock her up, I'll tell you.
GERSON: That's more likely to be found in the Venezuelas of this world, in truly authoritarian governments. It's very disturbing.
TOOBIN: The entire Trump presidency has been an exercise in shredding the norms of how presidents behave.
TAPPER: Now, the President reading polls suggesting he will be defeated is claiming, with no evidence, that millions of ballots will be illegally cast. Experts say this is false and unhinged. The attorney general is backing the President up.
BARR: There is so many occasions for fraud there that cannot be policed.
TAPPER: What might this mean for November?
When he campaigned for president in 2016, Trump said it is time to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C. to make our government honest once again. And he constantly tweets in all caps "LAW AND ORDER." And yet, the facts are the swamp is not trained, the government is even less honest, and President Trump shows not just disinterest but sometimes down right hostility towards structures of law and order, accountability, transparency and Traditions intended to curb abuse of his office.
Previous presidents have crossed lines, but the degree to which this president has attempted to weaponize the Justice Department. In the words of John Bolton, "Obstruction of justice as a way of life is shocking." Founding father John Adams declared the United States a nation of laws, not of men. Long after Trump has departed the White House, the precedent to invert Adams' declaration will have been said.