Return to Transcripts main page
The Situation Room
A.G. Barr On Trump Accusing Obama And Biden Of Treason, On What Black Families Tell Children About The Jacob Blake And George Floyd Cases; Barr: Mail-in Voting Is "Playing With Fire"; Barr On Election Inference; Barr: Police Shootings Of Unarmed Black People Not Necessarily Based On Racism; Barr: "Wouldn't Surprise Me" If Russia Tries Interfering In Election Again. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired September 02, 2020 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: They have already reserved $5.6 million in ads for this month alone, Pamela, this is why no Republican has ever won the White House without Ohio. He needs these 18 electoral votes. Pamela.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: All right, Jeff, thank you so much. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're joined this hour by the Attorney General of the United States, William Barr.
Attorney General, thank you so much for coming in.
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Hi, Wolf.
BLITZER: I know you're incredibly busy. We have a lot to talk about. I want to talk about Wisconsin, and Oregon. But I want to start and get your reaction to what we heard from the President of the United States about you last night. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Bill Barr can go down as the greatest Attorney General in the history of our country, or he can go down as just another guy. It depends.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is it appropriate for the President of the United States to be putting pressure on you in the way he clearly did?
BARR: I don't feel any pressure from that.
BLITZER: You don't think he's trying to pressure you into going forward with the indictments and criminal charges and stuff like that? BARR: No, that's, you know, when we talk in private he doesn't talk like that, so.
BLITZER: He doesn't talk like that to you have privately but publicly, he is. But is it appropriate for the President of the United States to be speaking like that publicly about the --
BARR: What do you think is inappropriate about what he's --
BLITZER: Well, let me play another clip. This is what he said three weeks ago or so elaborate, listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I hope they're not going to be politically correct. And I hope they do what because the fact is this was President Obama knew everything, Vice President Biden as dumb as he may be, he knew everything and everybody else do everything. They spied on my campaign, which is treason. They spied both before and after I won.
Bill Barr can go down as the greatest Attorney General in the history of our country, or he can go down as just an average guy. It depends on what's going to happen."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I see you smiling, but --
BARR: I sort of responded to that by saying that, you know, if I was really concerned about being politically correct, I wouldn't have joined the administration. And also I held a press conference and said that either President Obama or Vice President Biden were under investigation.
BLITZER: But is it --
BARR: That's how I respond to it.
BLITZER: But is it appropriate? You've worked for another president, President George H.W. Bush, is it appropriate for a president to be urging you to launch criminal investigations against his political opponents?
BARR: Well, we -- he has -- I didn't take that as launching a criminal investigation. We're reviewing the Russia gate thing. And I think he's interested in the results of it.
But I didn't think it was appropriate for either Vice President Biden or Kamala Harris to call for the charging of a police officer before that matter is reviewed and all the facts are in.
BLITZER: Are -- we're going to get to that. Let me just follow up on this. Is it appropriate, though, for the sitting president to be accusing his predecessor, President Obama and former Vice President Biden of committing treason? BARR: Well, treason is a legal term. I think he's using it colloquially. It to commit treason, you actually have to have a state of war with a foreign enemy. But I think he feels that they were involved in an injustice. And if he feels that he can say it.
BLITZER: Are they under criminal investigation?
BARR: Well, who?
BLITZER: Are they under criminal investigation?
BARR: I already said, I've said that they're not under criminal investigation.
BLITZER: But the President is accusing them of criminal investigation. He wants them to be under criminal investigation, because he says they committed treason.
BARR: You found that Vice President Biden?
BLITZER: Vice President Biden and the former President Obama.
BARR: Yes. I said I held a press conference and said they were not.
BLITZER: All right, let's talk about Friday, mark 60 days before the election. And the tradition in the Justice Department is you don't go forward with charges against individuals that could be seen as politically inappropriate or politically against opponents. Are you going to honor that tradition?
BARR: I put out the guidance that is always been put out by the Department of Justice and I'll abide by it.
BLITZER: What is that guidance?
BARR: That guidance says people shouldn't do things for political reasons.
BLITZER: So will you honor that?
BLITZER: You will honor that. The perception is that the Justice Department, potentially if they weren't to honor that could be seen as interfering in the election?
BARR: Well, yes. As I said, I will handle these cases as appropriate. And I do not think anything that we do in the Durham investigation. I assume that's what you're talking about.
BARR: Is going to be affecting the election.
BLITZER: So you don't think there'll be charges in the Durham investigation 60 days before the election? [17:05:01]
BARR: Well, the 60 days is not part of the rule. But I said that I don't think anything we're going to do would violate our policy, be consistent with our policy.
BLITZER: Now let's turn to Kenosha. You and the President were there yesterday. The city is clearly struggling in the aftermath of what happened to Jacob Blake who was shot seven times in the back by a police officer.
Neither you nor the President have a chance to meet with him or to meet with him or his family, for that matter, what would be your message to them?
BARR: To who?
BLITZER: To the Blake family.
BARR: I guess, my message to them would be what it would be to all Americans, which is in cases where it's possible or there's concern over excessive force. We have a process in this country to make that determination and involves initially the state looking at it and also the federal government.
And we are investigating it and that should follow due process and be fair to everybody, including the police officer. And violence is not appropriate. Our justice system has to respond to, you know, analysis, reasoned analysis, not mob violence.
BLITZER: So, you testify that you think you understand the conversations. This is when you were testifying before Congress, that black parents have with their children about racism in this country. How do you think African American parents around the country explain to their kids what exactly happened to Jacob Blake, for example, and why that police officer had his knee on George Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes?
BARR: Yes, well, I'm not going to talk about Blake -- the Blake case.
BLITZER: Why not?
BARR: Because I think it's different than the Floyd. OK.
BLITZER: What's different?
BARR: Well, Floyd was already subdued, incapacitated, in handcuffs and was not armed. In Jacob case, he was in the midst of committing a felony and he was armed. So, that's a big difference. From the standpoint --
BLITZER: He's says he wasn't armed.
BARR: Well, I think --
BLITZER: There may have been a knife in the car, but he wasn't armed when he was shot.
BARR: Well --
BLITZER: That's what his family and his lawyer says.
BARR: I stated what I believe is to be the difference. And that's why I don't want to talk about them as if they're interchangeable, OK?
Now, I did say that I do think that there appears to be a phenomenon in the country where African Americans feel that they're treated when they're stopped by police frequently as suspects before they're treated as citizens. I don't think that that necessarily reflects some deep seated racism in police departments or in most police officers.
I think the same kind of behavior is done by African American police officers. I think there are stereotypes. I think people operate very frequently according to stereotypes. And I it takes extra precaution, you know, on the part of law enforcement to make sure we don't reduce people to stereotypes, we treat them as individuals.
BLITZER: Because on this program, Jacob Blake Sr., the father, said there were two justice systems in our country, one that shot his son seven times in the back and one that let the 17-year-old white gunman walk away after shooting and killing two people. Your reaction?
BARR: I think the gunman escaped, and the government of Wisconsin is seeking his extradition.
BLITZER: But are there two justice systems here in the United States?
BARR: No, I don't think they're two justice systems. Let's -- you know, I think the narrative that there's -- that the police are on some, you know, epidemic of shooting unarmed black men is simply a false narrative and also the narrative that that's based on race.
The fact of the matter, it's very rare for an unarmed African American to be shot by a white police officer. There were 10 cases last year, six of them, the suspect was attacking the police officer physically. So these are rare things compared to the seven to 8000 young black men who were killed every year.
BLITZER: Because you've said you don't believe there are systemic racism in the justice -- in our justice system and among the police. But you did say this, you did say I do think it is a widespread phenomenon that African American males in particular, are treated with extra suspicion, and maybe not given the benefit of the doubt.
BARR: That's what I just said.
BLITZER: But doesn't that sound like systemic racism?
BARR: No. To me, the word systemic means that it's built into the institution. And I don't think that's true. I think our institutions have been reformed in the past 60 years, and if anything has been built in, it's a bias to nondiscrimination and safeguards against that. And so, that's what I'm reacting to on systemic. And also, I think we have to be a little careful about throwing the idea of racism around.
Racism usually means, you know, that, I believe that because of your race, you're a lesser human being than me. And I think there are people in the United States that feel that way.
But I don't think it is as common as people suggest. And I think we have safeguards to ensure that it doesn't really have an effect into someone's future. I think we've made a lot of progress in the past 60 years.
To listen to the American left nowadays, we think we've got nowhere after --
BLITZER: There's no doubt there's been a lot of progress. But do you think black people are treated differently by law enforcement than white people?
BARR: I think there were some situations where statistics which suggests that they are treated differently, but I don't think that that's necessarily racism.
BLITZER: For this --
BARR: Well, you know, like, didn't Jesse Jackson (ph) say that when he looks behind them and he sees a group of young black males walking behind them, he's more scared than when he sees a group of white dudes walking behind, does that make him a racist? Does that make him a racist?
BLITZER: But it sounds like there are two systems, one for blacks, one for whites. That sounds like there's still racism in the justice system.
BARR: Well, no. I think we have to make sure that, you know, stereotypes do not govern our actions in the justice system. And I think police departments do a pretty good job of trying to police against that. And I think progress -- there's more progress that could be made and more reform, and we're going about that. But the demonization of the police and the idea that this is so widespread and epidemic is simply wrong.
BLITZER: On Monday night, President Trump compared the police shootings like Jacob Blake's, for example, in his words to a golfer choking and missing a three-foot putt. Is that how you view police shootings like a golf or missing a three foot putt?
BARR: No. I think what the President was saying there, and it's something that I think should be said and has to be said that in many of these shooting situations, it is not because of race, it's because the officer is scared for his life and is in a situation where a half a second could mean the difference between his life and his death. And he's wrestling with somebody. And they sometimes may do things that appear in hindsight to be excessive. It doesn't necessarily mean that it's racism.
BLITZER: Let's talk about Portland while I have you, the President suggested, once again, that sending in, in his words, a massive group of people that are really highly trained to places like Portland, Chicago in New York was something that he would do.
He said, if they don't call and ask for help, he said, we just have to do it ourselves. Do you sit -- do you think sending in federal law enforcement to cities that haven't requested that help is appropriate or legal?
BARR: It was obviously legal but what we what we're trying to do is make clear that it's the state's responsibility in the locality to provide protection. If they are unable or unwilling to do that, at some point, things could reach a state where the federal government has to step in
BLITZER: But the President, he could do that tomorrow under the Insurrection Act, he could send in federal law enforcement to Portland if he wanted to, right?
BARR: Well, we don't need the Insurrection Act to send federal law enforcement anywhere in the country. This idea that we're like an Indian reservation, and we can only enforce law inside federal buildings is nonsense.
This country is under two sovereigns, and the federal government is sovereign country wide and every square foot of this country is within the jurisdiction of federal law enforcement.
BLITZER: So if he wanted to, he could send in federal troops tomorrow?
BARR: I was talking about law enforcement. I know that it's, you know, news networks are fond of the word troop when they're referring to federal law enforcements. The first time I've ever heard that --
BLITZER: So, why doesn't he do that if he thinks it's so bad in Chicago, New York, Portland, places like that, why doesn't he do that?
BARR: Well, he's -- I think he's right in saying that there could come a point where we do that, but it's the governor's responsibility and the mayor's.
It's very easy to maintain peace in these cities. In any city where he the mayor backs the police, the police chief is doing his job and the governor is willing to provide backup support, there will be peace on the streets and there has been based on the streets.
BLITZER: I know that you and the President have blamed Antifa, a far left group here in the United States for stirring up the violence in some of these cities. And I know you've set up a task force at the Justice Department to look into this. If Antifa is really behind what we've seen in some of the looting, some of the burning some of the violence, why haven't there been any major arrests made of Antifa? BARR: Well, there have been 300 arrests made across the country.
BLITZER: But currently not --
BARR: But being a member of Antifa -- Antifa is a movement as I've made clear, OK? There's not a group necessarily that is called Antifa. And membership in a group does not necessarily mean you've committed a crime.
The elements of the crime are things like throwing a Molotov cocktail.
BLITZER: But have any Antifa related individuals been arrested?
BLITZER: How many?
BARR: I couldn't tell you that.
BLITZER: Because based on the evidence we've seen, there aren't many at all as far as Antifa directly related individuals.
BARR: Some self-identify them as Antifa. Some refuse to provide even their identity when they're arrested.
BLITZER: I know --
BARR: I've talked to every police chief in every city where there's been a major violence, and they all have identified Antifa as the ramrod for the violence.
They are flying around the country. We know people who are flying around the country. We know where they're going. We know -- we see some of the purchases they're making before the riots, weapons to use in those riots. So, we are following. And Antifa --
BLITZER: Is that illegal what they're doing?
BARR: Crossing state lines to engage in rioting is.
BLITZER: In an interview --
BARR: Federal offense.
BLITZER: In an interview this week, the President claimed that he heard about a plane, in his words loaded with thugs wearing dark uniforms from a certain city that was headed to the Republican National Convention here in Washington. In his words to do big damage.
He didn't offer any specifics. He later the next day changed the story. The plane wasn't coming to Washington, it was leaving Washington. Have you asked the FBI to investigate this?
BARR: I don't have to ask the FBI because we received numerous reports of individuals coming from Portland, Washington, Seattle and several other cities to come into Washington for the specific purpose of causing awry.
BLITZER: Were they wearing black uniforms and were they loaded, if you will?
BARR: I think there were many on planes. We've received multiple reports on this topic.
BLITZER: And so what the President was talking about was information that you provided the President?
BARR: I don't know what the President was specifically referring to.
BLITZER: Because it's widely reported on Facebook there was some conspiracy that was reported weeks ago about this sort of thing.
BARR: I don't know what the President was referring to. But I will say that we are trying to follow these things and we received numerous reports of people coming from other cities into Washington as we receive many reports of people going into Kenosha from various states.
BLITZER: But you're not -- you're saying you don't know specifically what the President was referring to?
BARR: No, I don't know what the President is referring.
BLITZER: When he spoke about this --
BARR: He was seems to be talking in general terms. I don't know what he's referring to.
BLITZER: All right, let's talk a little bit about what the President also said just a little while ago about North Carolina's absentee voting system.
He said, and I'm quoting him right now, "So let them send it in and let them go vote. And if the system is as good as they say it is, then obviously, they won't be able to vote." That sounds like he's actually encouraging people to commit a crime to vote twice.
BARR: I'm sorry, you'll have to read that again.
BLITZER: Right. This is what he said, "So let them send them" -- "So let them send it in," the vote -- the e-mail -- the voting by mail, "and let them go vote," the ballot, "let them send in the ballot and then let them go vote. And if the system is as good as they say it is, then obviously they won't be able to vote."
It sounds like he's encouraging people to break the law and try to vote twice?
BARR: Well, I don't know exactly what he was saying. But it seems to me what he's saying is he's trying to make the point that the ability to monitor this system is not good. And if it was so good, if you tried to vote a second time, you would be caught. If you voted in person --
BLITZER: That would be illegal if they did that. If somebody mailed in a ballot and then actually showed up to vote in person. That would be illegal.
BARR: I don't know what the law on that particular state says.
BLITZER: You can't vote twice.
BARR: Well, I don't know what the law in that particular state says. And when that vote becomes final --
BLITZER: Any state that says you can vote twice?
BARR: Well, there's some, you know, maybe that you can change your vote up to a particular term. I don't know what the law is, so I'm not going to offer --
BLITZER: That's not what he's saying. He was saying test the system --
BARR: Well, you know, what he's saying, why are you asking me what he's saying?
BLITZER: He doesn't believe in the mail-in voting. You're the Attorney General of the United States.
BLITZER: You know, he said, if you expand mail-in voting, this is the President --
BARR: This is, you know --
BLITZER: This is reckless.
BARR: Well, this is a, you know, sort of cheap talk to get around the fundamental problem, which is a bipartisan commission chaired by Jimmy Carter and James Baker said back in 2009 that a mail-in voting is fraud with the risk of fraud and coercion.
BLITZER: But since then --
BARR: Let me talk.
BLITZER: Yes, please.
BARR: And since this -- since that time, there been in the newspapers, in networks, academic studies saying it is open to fraud and coercion. The only time the narrative changed is after this administration came in, but elections that have been held with mail have found substantial fraud and coercion.
For example, we indicted someone in Texas, 1,700 ballots collected from people who could vote he made them out and voted for the person he wanted to. OK?
BLITZER: Because --
BARR: That kind of thing happens with mail-in ballot. And everyone knows that.
BLITZER: But there were individual cases, but as far as widespread fraud, we haven't seen that since --
BARR: Well, we haven't had the kind of widespread use of mail-in ballots as being proposed. We've had absentee ballots from people who request them from a specific address.
Now, what we're talking about is mailing them to everyone on the voter list when everyone knows those voter lists are inaccurate. People who should get them don't get them, which is what has been one of the major complaints in states that have tried this in municipal elections. And people who get them are not the right people. They're people who have replaced the previous occupant, and they can make them out and sometimes multiple ballots come to the same address, with a whole generate -- several generations of occupants.
You think that's a way to run a vote?
BLITZER: Well, the only thing I'm saying is that so far, we haven't seen widespread fraud.
BARR: So far we haven't tried it.
BLITZER: Well --
BARR: The point is --
BLITZER: There's been a lot of us -- there are several states that only have mail-in voting including a Republican --
BARR; Wolf, this is dealing with fire. This is playing with fire. We're very closely divided country here.
And if people have to have confidence in the results of the election and the legitimacy of the government. And people trying to change the rules to this methodology, which as a matter of logic is very open to fraud and coercion is reckless and dangerous, and the people are playing with fire.
BLITZER: I will point out there are five states that only have mail-in voting including Utah and Colorado and Washington State, Oregon, Hawaii, and they've reported over the years they've had virtually no problems. But who's trying to change the rules right now?
BARR: I would say to people who want to go to mass mailing ballots.
BLITZER: But you understand why. There is a coronavirus pandemic.
BLITZER: And there are a lot of people, potentially, if they waited long lines, when they go to the polls, they could get sick, especially older people or people with underlying conditions. As a result, a lot of people want to change the rules so they don't have to go wait on lines. They don't have to touch all this --
BARR: And the appropriate way to deal with that is number one, arrangements at the polls that protect people which can be done. And number two, people who are -- have preexisting conditions and are particularly vulnerable can get an absentee ballot.
I have no problem with -- I voted by absentee ballot, not by mail. I actually went to the office to cast my vote, but absentee ballots are fine.
BLITZER: All right, let's move on and talk a little bit about another suggestion. You've said you were worried that a foreign country could send thousands of fake ballots, thousands of fake ballots to people that it might be impossible to detect. What are you basing that on?
BARR: I'm basing -- as I've said repeatedly, I'm basing that on logic.
BLITZER: But have you seen any evidence that a foreign country is trying to interfere in that way?
BARR: No, I'm saying people are concern about foreign influence. And if we use a ballot system with the system that some, you know, that states are just now and trying to adopt, it does leave open the possibility of counterfeiting. Counterfeiting ballots either by someone here or someone overseas.
BLITZER: So you think a foreign country could do that?
BARR: I think anyone could do it.
BLITZER: Have you seen any evidence that they're trying to do that?
BARR: No. But most things can be counterfeited. That's why we go to the trouble of, you know, counter -- of making our money the way we make it.
Now, you know, should we have Minnesota print up our money on a regular parchment paper?
BLITZER: I asked the question because U.S. intelligence officials have said they've seen no information or intelligence that foreign countries whether Russia, or China --
BARR: Yes, but you ask the question, but I've answered that question several times. I said no, I don't have any information because this is the first time we've tried such a thing. BLITZER: During your tenure as Attorney General of the United States, how many indictments have you brought against people committing voter fraud?
BARR: I couldn't tell you off the top of my head, but several I know of.
BLITZER: Like a handful?
BARR: I can't -- I don't know.
BLITZER: What several doesn't sound like too many.
BARR: Well, I don't know. I don't know how many we have. I know there are a number of investigations right now. Some very big ones in states.
BLITZER: The President also has said and I'm quoting him directly, that he's "ready to send sheriffs, law enforcement and U.S. attorneys to polling places on Election Day." You're the Attorney General. Can the president do that legally?
BARR: It depends if he's responding to a particular criminal threat.
BLITZER: Well, he says he just wants to do it as a precaution.
BARR: I didn't hear him say that.
BLITZER: The Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, said on CNN, we don't have any authority to do that.
BLITZER: That's what he specifically said. Is he right?
BARR: Well, if there was -- no. If there was a specific investigative, a danger that we detected some problem and risk.
BLITZER: Has he raised that possibility with you to send Justice Department --
BLITZER: -- law enforcement --
BLITZER: -- to polling places on Election Day, November 3?
BLITZER: As a precaution?
BARR: No. But sometimes they have been in the past to enforce civil rights.
BLITZER: As he said, we're going to send sheriff, law enforcement --
BARR: Wolf, Wolf, we've done so in the past to enforce civil rights to make sure that people were not being harassed and there was no suppression of vote against African Americans.
BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about foreign interference, Russia's specifically. The top elections official in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, our Office of National Intelligence revealed publicly last month that Russia is working to help President Trump get elected, while both China and Iran prefer Joe Biden to win.
First of all, do you accept that Russia is once again interfering in the U.S. presidential election?
BARR: I accept that they're there's some preliminary activity that suggests that they might try again.
BLITZER: Well, what does that mean?
BARR: Well, that's all I'm saying.
BLITZER: You think that Russia is -- you've seen that intelligence --
BARR: It wouldn't surprise me if Russia tries something again, of the same general genre before. I mean, this influence basically is two kinds of things. It's hacking dumb, you get into someone's mail system and then try to disclose embarrassing documents. It wouldn't surprise me if they try something like that or any other country tries it.
The other way is, you know, social media and putting things out on social.
BLITZER: Because the intelligence community says Russia, China and Iran are seeking to interfere in the U.S. presidential election for various reasons. But mostly they want to sow dissent in our country, exacerbate racial tensions, et cetera, like that. Of those three countries that the intelligence community has pointed to Russia, China and Iran, which is the most assertive, the most aggressive in this area?
BARR: I believe it's China.
BLITZER: Which one?
BLITZER: China more than Russia right now?
BLITZER: Why do you say that?
BARR: Because I've seen the intelligence. That's what I've concluded.
BLITZER: What are they trying to do?
BARR: Well, I'm not going to discuss that.
BLITZER: But they're trying to help who?
BARR: I'm not going to get into that.
BLITZER: More aggressive than Russia?
BLITZER: Because the U.S. intelligence community --
BARR: On trying to influence the United States, yes.
BLITZER: Yes. I'm just trying to be precise on that area.
And one of the most explosive revelations from the recently submitted Senate Intelligence Committee which is bipartisan, Republicans and Democrats, they report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. And they say that they had confirmation that the Russians did interfere.
They cite the case of Paul Manafort who is the Trump campaign chairman, was working directly with someone in the U.S. intelligence community, considered to be a Russian intelligence officer. Do you accept that?
BARR: I accept that Russia made some efforts to influence the election. I'm not -- I wouldn't say I necessarily accept that.
BLITZER: But do you agree with what the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that Russia did directly interfere in the 2016 presidential election with the goal of helping Donald Trump?
BARR: Based on the intelligence I've seen, I don't dispute an assessment, an assessment that they attempted to interfere.
BLITZER: I know we're almost out of time. You got a lot of stuff going on. And I'm grateful to you for joining us. This is an important interview.
If the President is reelected, will -- do you want to stay on as the attorney general?
BARR: That'd be presumptuous for me to say anything on that I'm not going to.
BLITZER: But what do you think?
BARR: I'm not going to discuss that.
BLITZER: Are you enjoying what you're doing?
BARR: I wouldn't use the word enjoy. But it's satisfying.
BLITZER: It's not what you anticipated. You enjoyed it more the first time around when you were attorney general?
BARR: Well, political climate, and the media was a lot different. And so --
BLITZER: And you got a different president, George H.W. Bush, you were the attorney general.
BARR: Yes. But the media should be fair and balanced no matter who the president is doesn't give the media license to lie the way a lot of the media is.
BLITZER: I can speak for us, we are fair and balance.
BLITZER: I'm sure you would appreciate that.
BLITZER: And I'm sure you appreciate that presidents are different. And President George H.W. Bush was a very different president than President Trump.
BARR: Yes. And faced a different set of problems.
BLITZER: Very different sets of problems.
BLITZER: Including the first Gulf War.
BLITZER: Attorney General --
BARR: Thank you.
BLITZER: -- once again, good luck.
BARR: Thank you very much.
BLITZER: Thank you very much for coming on.
BLITZER: We'll welcome you back.
BARR: OK. Thanks.
BLITZER: We have a lot to discuss. We're going to take a quick break. We're going to discuss what we just heard from the Attorney General of the United States William Barr when we come back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: All right, let's discuss what we just heard from the Attorney General William Barr, my exclusive one-on-one interview. Our correspondents and analysts are with us.
Evan Perez, you cover the Justice Department for us. What jumped out at you?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, look I've known the Attorney General for many years. And one of the things that we've noticed this time around as he's serving as an Attorney General under President Trump is that we often have the President goes out and says sometimes outlandish things.
And then the Attorney General tries to figure out a way to make that true. And we've seen that repeatedly in the last few months, the President went out and talked about how Antifa was responsible for all of the violence.
What we've seen in the intervening months, we've seen a number of cases involving some right-wing groups, the Boogaloo movement, that they've been actually carrying out, attempted terrorist attacks including in Las Vegas. Even in a number of those cases, we've seen very few of people associated with Antifa. The Attorney General though, only focuses on the Antifa violence or anything related to it.
And we've also seen, you know, the President talk recently, in last few days about people clad in black, trying to fly into Kenosha and other localities to carry out violence. And I was stunned to see the Attorney General sort of try to hang some measure of truth to what the President seemed to be passing on, which was a conspiracy theory that has been living on Facebook. I don't know that even inside the Justice Department or the FBI, people have the evidence to back this up.
The Attorney General sort of was trying to grasps at straws to try to make that true. And that's part of the problem, Wolf, with the Attorney General and why he's perceived in the way he is. He's very defensive when people accuse them of trying to defend the President, being there simply for the sake of the President. And it's incidents like what we just saw today that make people make that accusation. And I think that's one of the problems for this Attorney General.
BLITZER: Yes. You know, Jeffrey Toobin, it was interesting that he seemed to defend what the President was suggesting over these past couple days, there were these groups of individuals flying into Washington, and they were plotting to do violence at the Republican National Convention here in Washington or they may have been flying out of Washington, he said the next day. And he said that was based on intelligence, it wasn't based on this Facebook conspiratorial theory that sort of emerged a few weeks ago. JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's all part of the theme that Evan described, which is the Attorney General acts is kind of a simultaneous translator. The President says something completely outrageous, completely false. And then the Attorney General says, well, know what he really meant was something less insane.
And, in fact, the President says exactly what he means. I mean, you know, at the beginning of the interview, when it was completely obvious what the President has been doing, leaning on the Attorney General, to put out the Durham report, to embarrass Biden, to embarrass the previous administration, it's completely obvious what the President is doing there.
And in with all ingeniousness, Attorney General Barr says, no, I don't think that's what he's doing. Oh, give me a break. I mean, you know, we are actually familiar with the English language here. And I think those kind of answers are just an embarrassment.
BLITZER: And, Jeffrey, when the Attorney General was asked by me to react to the President accusing President Obama, Vice President Biden of committing treason, which as you know, carries the death penalty. He said, well, that was just sort of a phrase he was using. He didn't really mean it.
TOOBIN: Well, I mean, again, I mean, he just, you know, tries to sanitize what the President says. And, you know, as far as I'm aware, the President says exactly what he means. You know, when the President says he has the potential to be a great Attorney General, by attacking my enemies, that's what he means. When he says Biden and Obama committed treason, that's what he means. And the fact that the Attorney General tries to sanitize it, you know, doesn't change, you know, the fact that we have a lawless President.
BLITZER: I want to get Dana and Nia to weigh in. Dana, what jumped out at you?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Playing with fire, that to me -- that was his quote, and he was talking about the notion of voting by mail. And you rightly push back on him a number of times as he suggested that voting by mail is rife with fraud, and that it can't be done safely.
And the fact is, as you said to him, Wolf, in recent years, we have seen a handful of states do it without any evidence of widespread fraud or even close to widespread fraud. He was referring to a commission that was more than 10 years ago, which seems to be out of date.
But I think if you also look at the, quote, playing with fire, that is, again, the Attorney General of the United States of America saying, if Americans do the safest thing possible during a pandemic to exercise their most sacred right as a citizen of America, which is to vote, it's playing with fire as opposed to you know what, I'm the Attorney General. I'm a member of this administration. Let's make sure that people can vote safely and if that means by mail, let's make sure that we prevent fraud. That's what they should be doing in the Justice Department. Not, you know, months before -- I guess in some states weeks before voting actually takes place, say it's going to be fraudulent, well go out, that's your job. Go out and make it so that that's not the case. Even though the accusation that it's based on that it's going to be fraudulent is based on nothing that we've seen with regard to evidence where we've seen mail-in voting in the states that you talked to him about, Wolf.
BLITZER: Especially at a time of a coronavirus pandemic --
BASH: That's the point, right.
BLITZER: -- that's killing almost 1,000 Americans every single day, and people are understandably, Nia, are going to be nervous about going to polling places and waiting in long lines and in order to vote when they could much more safely just doing it by mailing in a ballot.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right. And he was really animated, frustrated, agitated during this section of the interview in really kind of floating all sorts of theories about, well, what if a foreign country tries to counterfeit the mail-in ballots.
He, at one point, said that there are very large investigations going on in multiple states about voter fraud. He really, to Evan's point, tried to make this idea a true that this could be open to widespread fraud. Again, mail-in ballot has been going on in several states for many, many years. And, obviously, this President is nervous about it. So he is really trying to attack it, and in many ways successfully attacking it. And a lot of Democrats at this point and Republicans don't necessarily want to vote by mail, because of the ways that this administration have gone after a vote in -- vote by mail.
What else struck me was the passages in the sections he talked about race and racism and really wanted to avoid this idea that there was any racism at all or systemic racism involved at all in terms of the way police officers engage with and interact with African Americans. He said, well, maybe their interactions are different because it's based on stereotypes. The officers are interacting with African Americans based on stereotypes, but I imagine they're interacting based on stereotypes that are race-based stereotypes, right? It's not a stereotype based on height, you know, or weight, it's based on race.
So he was sort of all over the place, in that instance, but really trying to land where the President lands, which is squarely on the side of police and squarely on the side of this idea that there is no systemic racism in this country and particularly not any systemic racism when it comes to police officers.
PEREZ: And, Wolf, if I can just interrupt real quick, you know, one of the biggest, I think one of the biggest takeaways from the Attorney General's comments during this interview was he's making a distinction between the shooting in Kenosha where Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back and the George Floyd case in Minneapolis and he said that Blake was armed.
That's not something that the Justice Department has announced that there's been a finding. We know that there's been talk that he had -- that they suspected he had a knife in the vehicle, which is one reason why the altercation happened.
But the Justice Department has not concluded this. So I'm not sure whether the Attorney General is sort of getting ahead of the actual investigation that is going on. Or, you know, his answer was sort of a little unclear, because he said, that's just my belief based on what I know. So, again, there's a little bit of a distinction that he's making between these two shootings. And it tells you a lot about the way the Attorney General approaches these events.
He doesn't see them as something that, you know, we need to improve the way police handle these types of events. He simply is looking at, well, is there anything we can make an excuse for the cops in these circumstances? And, look, I think you've been looking at both those cases and you can see that there are improvements that police could be -- could make in the way they handle these types of incidents.
TOOBIN: You know --
BLITZER: Go ahead, Jeffrey.
TOOBIN: Well, that part of the interview struck me, particularly as the moment when the Attorney General was at his most sincere and saying exactly what he believes. He does not believe there is a problem with race in this country. He does not believe that the police have anything to change or apologize for. This is, you know, the government's policy under Donald Trump, which is that the police are fine, that the Black Lives Matter movement is more of a problem than the problem they're trying to address.
So, I mean, I just think, you know, we need to recognize that this is where the Justice Department of the United States is that the police are fine and there is nothing they need to improve.
BASH: And, Wolf, if I may, can I just add one other point that I think it is important to underscore separate issue and that is countries that are trying to interfere as we speak with the election process that we're in right now. The fact that he said that he believes based on the intelligence that he says he has seen it is China, that is much more aggressive now than Russia. That flies in the face of CNN's reporting and others. That it is actually Russia still, just like in 2016 that is far more aggressive.
And we know that China is the country that the Trump administration and more importantly, the Trump campaign is trying to use as a campaign issue against Joe Biden. And to use it as against really the coronavirus and against everything that they can to show the ills of this country that is not Donald Trump's fault, but another entity or countries fault and I thought that was very fascinating that he leans so far into that. PEREZ: All you have to do, Wolf, is look at the statement that was issued by Bill Evanina, who's the top --
PEREZ: -- official of -- the director of national intelligence who is handling the election security and he said that the Russians are actively interfering to hurt the Biden campaign.
What he said about what the Chinese and the Iranians are doing is that they have a preference for President Trump to lose the election. So, if you listen to that -- if you read that statement, what you see is that there's one country that is actively interfering in the current election, according to that public statement from the DNI and that is Russia.
Now, look, the Chinese are a serious threat. And I think the Attorney General was trying to portray that without divulging in a new intelligence. But, you know, I think it is an issue that, you know, that he's trying to draw a distinction that Bill Evanina is not making.
HENDERSON: And in some ways, he sort of kind of downplayed it, right? He was talking about this idea of you kind of, you know, hack something, you know, hacking e-mail and dump information and then social media. But we obviously know from what we saw in 2016, this can be -- these can be very complex million dollar operations involving all sorts of people out of Russia. And so, that was interesting.
But, again, I think this is -- Donald Trump got the Attorney General he wanted in Bill Barr. He was obviously dissatisfied with Jeff Sessions. And he's got the kind of person who is going to be able to use in these political back and forth.
At some point in here, he actually went after Joe Biden, went after Kamala Harris for some of the remarks they've made about the Jacob Blake shooting. So he is going to be somebody that this President can use as a political ally in a way that we haven't really seen attorney generals playing that role before administrations.
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting -- you know, Jeffrey, I want you to respond, because in the U.S. Intelligence Community's report that was released on July 24th, they specifically said this is the thoughts of the U.S. Intelligence Community. We are primarily concerned about the ongoing and potential activity by China, Russia and Iran. They said this, they said, we assessed that China prefers that President Trump does not win re-election. We assess that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia establishment.
And it says, as far as Iran is concerned, we assess that Iran seeks to undermine U.S. Democratic institutions, President Trump and to divide the country in advance of the 2020 elections. It looks like all of them primarily, they want to do as much damage to the U.S. credibility around the world as they possibly can and to sow dissent here in the United States, which is clearly working for them.
TOOBIN: Well, it is but I believe it was Dana who said, you know, the -- that intelligence assessment said the only one of those three countries that is actively doing something is Russia, just as it did in 2016. And what is the Attorney General doing about Russia? He is not trying to address the problem. He is inventing the idea that China is a bigger problem.
And he's launched an investigation through U.S. Attorney Durham to try to discredit the investigation of Russia in 2016. So you see, again, the Attorney General doing the political work of the President of the United States. Everything in all of these high profile cases, whether it's the Michael Flynn case or the Roger Stone case or the Durham investigation, or discrediting absentee ballots, or diminishing the importance of police misconduct, it is all part of the Trump campaign. It is not part of the traditional work of the Department of Justice. And this is why you have thousands of former Department of Justice employees expressing their outrage at how he is doing his job.
BLITZER: You know, Dana, I want I want to play a clip in exchange I had with the Attorney General and he was explaining why he doesn't believe their systemic racism in U.S. law enforcement. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Do you think black people are treated differently by law enforcement than white people?
WILLIAM BARR, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think there were some situations where statistics, which suggests that they are treated differently, but I don't think that that's necessarily racism.
BLITZER: What is --
BARR: Well, you know, like, didn't Jesse Jackson say that when he looks behind them and he sees a group of young black males walking behind them, he's more scared. And when he sees a group of white dudes walking behind them, does that make him a racist? Does that make him a racist?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: OK, what did you think about that, Dana?
BASH: Well, it's funny. As he was saying that I was Googling to see if I could find that Jesse Jackson statement. May be he said it a long time ago. I couldn't find it recently. And I -- it's possible that I could stand corrected on that.
But more broadly and much more importantly, I defer and refer back to what Nia said, which is that on the one hand, he admitted the reality that blacks tend to be treated differently by law enforcement, OK?
But then, at the same time, he said it's maybe because of stereotypes not because of systemic racism. Well, the stereotype is steeped in racist situations and racist biases. That's just the -- There's no way to get around that. And by denying that, it really makes no sense because it completely flies in the face of every experience so many, not every but experiences, so many African Americans have had, whether it's just getting pulled over experiences that I don't have, that you don't have, Wolf, that Jeffrey doesn't have.
And it's just the reality of what happens on the streets of cities and suburbs and everywhere in between in this country. It is just a different experience and that is based in racial biases.
BLITZER: Nia, go ahead.
HENDERSON: I think the Jesse Jackson quote did happen, it was many years ago.
HENDERSON: But there -- it's also true that racism is an idea, right? So anyone can have a racist idea. So if you're Jesse Jackson, if you grown up in America which are sort of invented around ideas, around race in black people being lesser than white people, then perhaps Jesse Jackson has sort of internalized those ideas about black people.
So, I mean, so it's perfectly reasonable that some African American cops hold racist ideas about other black people, you know, other black men as more dangerous or whatever, because that is what it is so prevalent in American society. This idea that black people are more dangerous than black people or less than white people.
So, you know, I mean, that's not a contradictory thing that he's saying there in terms of what Jesse Jackson might have said in some of the beliefs that that African American cops might have. But my goodness, he is certainly trying to avoid what Black Lives Matter folks are trying to point to, which is the fact that black people are treated differently by cops than white people. The statistics show this in terms of them, black people be more likely to be shot by police officers than white American.
So listen, this is part of what Republicans want to do. We heard this at the RNC. Nikki Haley saying America is not a racist country, although there are racist people in this country. So that's essentially what he was trying to do there. I think there's no systemic racism.
Maybe there are a couple of cops here in there who treat black people differently based on stereotypes. Those stereotypes are obviously racist stereotypes. So he was all over the place. But, again, this is what Donald Trump's message I think is about cops as well as American --
BASH: And, Wolf, can I just say Jesse Jackson did say it in the early '90s. HENDERSON: Yes.
BASH: It's nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and turn around to see someone white and feel relieved. But, again, let's just go back to what he has said. It's based on --
BLITZER: All right.
BASH: -- a lot of things that are very deep seated.
BLITZER: Let me bring Kaitlan Collins in from the White House to get her thoughts on what we just heard. what you think, Kaitlan?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what was so telling about how he doubled down on something that he said in his congressional testimony earlier this summer that he does not have evidence that foreign countries are actually going to try to interfere in the election by using these fake ballots in a way that they believe could be successful. After he said that the first time, we had election experts who said that is not a concern of theirs when there are legitimate concerns about mail-in voting that certainly is not one of them.
And what was so revealing about the Attorney General's answer to you is that he made clear he has zero evidence that he's basing this off of and is instead basing it off of logic he said. However, when you asked him if he just accepted something pretty basic, this idea that Russia is interfering in the election again or trying to interfere in the election again, he said, quote, there is some preliminary activity that suggests they might try again. That is a really basic answer where he is not just saying, yes, they are. He's saying there's preliminary activity that suggests they might try again.
That's a very antiseptic answer from the Attorney General on something that U.S. intelligence has said is happening. And if you're the U.S. Attorney General, you might rely on logic to believe that Russia would interfere in the election again, given that they interfered in the election in such a sweeping form in the last presidential election we had.
Yet he would not just come out and simply say that because, of course, we do know that there are multiple senior officials in the administration who go out of their way to say certain things about Russia because they know how the President will react to it.
BLITZER: Very quickly, Kaitlan, how's the President going to react when he gets word? Maybe he was watching the interview. The Attorney General saying when the President accuses Obama and Biden of treason, he really doesn't mean it, he's just using a figure of speech.
COLLINS: That is how some aides have tried to defend things that the President has said, not just something like that is jaw dropping is that. But trying to write it off as the President is just saying that he's speaking colloquially, I think is what the Attorney General said.
That's not the case, Wolf. The President legitimately thinks that Obama is guilty of treason, and that's why he has said it repeatedly for the last several years.
BLITZER: He certainly has.
All right guys, everybody standby. We're going to have much more on all the breaking news coming up, including all the latest developments on the coronavirus pandemic. All that and much more right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're following breaking news. The coronavirus death toll here in the United States has just passed 185,000 as the total number of confirmed U.S. cases surges beyond 6.1 million. And this just in the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now telling states to prepare to distribute a potential coronavirus vaccine as soon as late October.
Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci is warning Americans not to let their guard down at all.