Return to Transcripts main page
The Situation Room
Sources Says, Barr Pushed Investigators to Finish Leak Probes, Did Not Brief Trump; Biden Attends First G7 Summit as President, Offers Stark Contrast to Trump's Meeting with World Leaders; Putin Says, Relationship with U.S. at Lowest Point in Years; Putin: Relationship with U.S. at "Lowest Point" In Years; Former Attorney General Barr's Record Under Renewed Scrutiny at Trump DOJ Seizure of House Democrats' Data Revealed. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired June 11, 2021 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN THE LEAD: You're a little surprised there? Or you can tweet the show @theleadcnn. Our coverage now continues with Wolf Blitzer right next door on The Situation Room. Thanks for joining us.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, a new investigation of the Trump Justice Department's secret seizure of data on House Democrats. One target of lawmaker is calling it a shocking, a shocking abuse of power.
Also tonight, President Biden and other world leaders are all smiles as the G7 Summit gets a reset with the pandemic easing and without the tensions of the Trump era.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.
We begin with CNN Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider. Jessica, we're learning more and more right now about former Attorney General Barr's role of the Trump administration's targeting of Democratic lawmakers. Update our viewers.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We are, Wolf. You know, my colleagues, Evan Perez and Kaitlan Collins, they're hearing from people familiar with Barr's role in these leak investigations and they're stressing the fact that this probe targeting Democratic lawmakers, it was more than a year old when Barr became attorney general. They say that Barr came in urging prosecutors to complete investigations quickly, but that Barr does not recall the specifics of this probe involving Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell.
Tonight though, lawmakers want answers directly from Barr as several investigations are being launched.
SCHNEIDER (voice over): Tonight, Democrats are demanding former Attorneys General Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr testify under oath after revelations of secret FBI subpoenas served on apple to obtain metadata for more 100 accounts, according to a source. The Justice Department's inspector general is initiating its own review of what amount to a roundup of non-content records from at least two of former President Trump's most outspoken adversaries, now chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff and Committee Member Eric Swalwell.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I can't go into who received these subpoenas or whose records were sought. I can say that it was extraordinarily broad, people having nothing to do with the intelligence matters there are at least being reported on. It just shows what a broad fishing expedition it was.
SCHNEIDER: CNN has learned members of the committee plus staff were part of the dragnet, but also family members, even one minor. People who had no connection to the Intelligence Committee's Russia investigation, like Schiff's personal office staff were also caught up in the collection.
The New York Times reported the investigation was part of a leak hunt for whomever divulged information about contacts between Trump associates and Russia at the height of the Russia probe. A source tells CNN officials thought the leak investigation would likely end without charges. But when Attorney General Bill Barr took over at the Justice Department, Barr pushed to complete leak probes, even bringing in a prosecutor from New Jersey.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): I hope Trump supporters who fear Big Brother see that Donald Trump was the biggest brother we've ever seen in our country, who did weaponize this to go all the way down the stack into the private communications of people he perceived as political opponents.
SCHNEIDER: President Trump repeatedly made it clear he wanted the DOJ to investigate leaks and Congressman Schiff.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I've actually called the Justice Department to look into the leaks. Those are criminal leaks.
I think it was leaks from the Intelligence Committee, House version, and I think that they leaked it. I think probably Schiff leaked it.
SCHNEIDER: Attorney General Barr notably evaded questions about Trump's push from then-Senator Kamala Harris during a hearing in May 2019.
KAMALA HARRIS, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Attorney General Barr, has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone?
WILLIAM BARR, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: I wouldn't -- I wouldn't --
HARRIS: Yes or no?
BARR: Could you repeat that question?
HARRIS: I will repeat it. Has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone, yes or no, please, sir?
BARR: The president or anybody else?
HARRIS: Seems you would remember something like that and be able to tell us?
BARR: Yes. But I'm trying to grapple with the word, suggest.
SCHNEIDER: Still, today Barr told Politico that while he was attorney general beginning in 2019, he was, quote, not aware of any congressman's records being sought in a leak case and added that he was never encouraged to target Democratic lawmakers, saying, Trump was not aware of who we were looking at in any of the cases.
SCHNEIDER (on camera): And we're also learning tonight from a source that Barr never briefed former President Trump on any of these leak probes, though, of course, Trump frequently brought up those leaks.
And we're also told that just like the president, Attorney General Barr at that time had suspicions about leaks and believed the DOJ'S credibility was at stake if it couldn't show that all of those leaks have been fully investigated.
BLITZER: All right, Jessica, thank you very much, Jessica Schneider reporting.
Let's bring in our Chief Domestic Correspondent Jim Acosta, our Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash, along with former U.S. Attorney, CNN Senior Legal Analyst Preet Bharara.
Preet, all of this obviously raises very serious questions about Bill Barr's involvement in all of this, his integrity, if you will. What's your reaction?
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, a few reactions. There is a great gulf between what was reported in The New York Times very specifically, as we just heard, about Bill Barr's involvement, about his placement of a prosecutor from New Jersey in Washington to oversee the leak investigation, the fact that current prosecutors, according to the reporting, I thought, there was nothing there to justify a prosecution. He pressed on and wanted to continue the investigation. That's very much at odds with what he just said to Politico in terms of not having any knowledge of this. It's also a peculiar statement because he gave it.
It shows, among other things, how serious Bill Barr, among other people, think that these allegations are, that he feels the need to distance himself from them even when the reporting suggests he knows something about it. So I think there's a reason why we have seen so quickly the inspector general at the Justice Department announce a wide-ranging investigation of what went on here and a lot of criticism from a lot of people, including people on the Republican side.
BLITZER: From a legal perspective, Preet, this seems to be a truly unprecedented intrusion. Have you ever seen anything like this?
BHARARA: No, I have not. From time to time, it happens that prosecutors open up investigations and actually prosecute members of Congress. We saw that during the prior administration as well, although in two cases, Trump granted clemency to those members of congress. But those are almost always in connection with certain kinds of crimes, like wire fraud, insider trading, corruption matters and the like.
I'm not aware of any situation which in a leak investigation, all of which are fraught for various reasons and are difficult for various reasons and often don't end up in charges of anyone, again, for various reasons, that in a leak investigation of this nature, you are asking for toll records and phone records of members of Congress, or staff and, according to the reporting, to family members of those folks. I'm not seen anything like it.
And that's why, again, I think you're seeing the uproar that you're seeing, because you have to be incredibly sensitive to the prerogatives of Congress. You have to be incredibly sensitive as to how precise you're being and concrete you're being about what you're seeking. And there's no evidence to indicate at this moment, and maybe there something that will come forward. And that's why I think Bill Barr and Jeff Sessions and others need to come clean and come testify and answer questions about this.
Were they simply on a fishing expedition knowing the fact that there were leaks and various individuals had information and then just concluding that they needed to be investigated or did they have something more particular about these individuals specifically? I think that's an important question that has yet to be answered.
BLITZER: Yes. That started when Jeff Sessions was attorney general, continued when Bill Barr became Attorney General.
You know, Dana, I want to play a clip. I interviewed Bill Barr last fall and I asked him about the public pressure -- public not private -- the public pressure that then-President Trump was putting on him to investigate these, quote, leaks. Listen to this.
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 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 privately, but publicly he is -- but is it appropriate for a president of the United States to be speaking like that publicly about the --
BARR: What do you think is inappropriate?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: How does that look, that exchange now, knowing what we now know?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, he was sidestepping by trying to be precise and saying, well, he doesn't say in public -- in private what he said public. But the reason why it is even more stunning now is because it's a reminder that the attorney general didn't necessarily need to be told by the president this is what I want you to do, or people who worked for the attorney general didn't need to be told because he was saying it in public. The president was saying it in public. And you played it for him.
And so that was one of the hallmarks, I don't need to tell you, Jim Acosta, of the Trump era, which is he always said the quiet part out loud. All of the things that a previous politician or a different kind of administration would kind of work behind the scenes, he would just say in public so that everybody knew what he wanted to happen.
And right now it's kind of a game of not it.
Bill Barr's saying I didn't do it. Other people in the Justice Department, his predecessors, as you're saying he didn't do it. Somebody did it. Somebody had to approve this.
BLITZER: You were covering all of this as our Chief White House Correspondent at the time.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF DOMESTIC CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And I think this is just another example of how Donald Trump was a rogue president leading at many times a rogue administration. I mean, they go after -- these aren't just back ventures in the House Democratic Caucus, this was the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee in Adam Schiff, and Eric Swalwell, who is one of the toughest critics of Donald Trump as president. And so, clearly, they weren't just going after members of Congress.
And keep in mind, Wolf, these are phone records. So are we at a point in this country where the government can seize our Apple phone records and just not tell anybody about it, especially when you're a member of Congress? It's just ridiculous.
The other thing, Wolf, that I thinks needs to be underlined, I talked to a former White House official, senior White House official about this earlier today, who said, once again, Donald Trump was pressuring Jeff Sessions as the attorney general to conduct these types of probes. Jeff Sessions was pushing back on the president at that time, and Trump was on a tirade about it, quote/unquote, tirade about it, according to this former White House official.
And, lastly, Wolf, the one final thing I just want to say is they were leaking all the time inside this Trump White House. Dana knows this all too well. She was talking into sources inside the administration. You were talking -- I was talking to sources inside the administration. They were all leaking all the time. If Donald Trump wanted to get rid of the leaks, all he had to do was look inside the building.
BLITZER: Yes. And it's interesting, he was -- this story deals with two of his main critics, Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, but if you take a look at the very secretive investigations of the news media, he was going after three news organizations that Trump publicly always railed against, The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN.
BASH: It's an enemies list. I mean, there's no other way to look at it. It's an enemies list, and the list that we now have is the only thing that we know about. We still don't know what we don't know, meaning, we are now becoming aware of these investigations or these seizures of these phone records, et cetera, because gag orders that were allowed to be placed by a judge are now expiring. So we might have even more information about other, you know, unprecedented seizures of information.
BLITZER: It's pretty much of a bombshell, Preet. Where do you see all of this heading right now?
BHARARA: Well, I think Dana is exactly right and that we might be seeing on a rolling basis other gag orders with respect to other requests for information expiring and coming due and the Biden Justice Department not wanting to stand by those gag orders. So we'll get more information about that.
I think you have, as I said, over the last 24 hours, seen, you know, a really serious outcry and uproar. I think you might see the Senate Judiciary Committee try to investigate, as I mentioned the inspector general is investigating. And I think there's going to be a lot of pressure on Merrick Garland and the top leadership of the Justice Department to think the very confident (ph) folks to figure out how to explain to the public what went on, what they prepared to stand by, what they think was appropriate and what they think was not appropriate. And I think if they don't do that in a way that's going to be shorter than the inspector general investigation for taking many, many, many months, I think that people will going to be upset about that.
BLITZER: Preet Bharara thank you, Jim Acosta thanks to you as well, Dana thanks. And be sure to join Dana this Sunday for State of the Union. The speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, will be among her guests. That's this Sunday morning 9:00 A.M. Eastern. Dana, we will, of course, be watching.
Just ahead, I'll have much more on the controversy with a member of the House Intelligence Committee who was in today's briefing on the secret subpoenas. Was his information seized? Much more on the breaking news right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: More breaking news tonight. Sources are telling CNN that former Attorney General William Barr pushed investigators to finish a probe that included secret subpoenas on House Democrats perceived to be enemies of then-President Trump. The subpoenas extended to some staff and even family members as well as some members of the news media.
Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois is joining us. He was in today's Intelligence Community briefing on the matter. He's a member of that important committee. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
Earlier in the day, you said this and I'll quote you, you said, I assumed a hostile government would do something like this. I just didn't think it would be our own hostile government. How egregious was this intrusion?
REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL): You know, this is pretty bad. You know, members of Congress, there's a clause in the Constitution that allow us a little more leeway in free speech. This is a direct assault on that and the separation of powers. And I also think when this is all said and done, I think it will be viewed as a greater assault on the working press of our country. So it is of great concern and we have to sort this out and find some accountability.
BLITZER: Well, you were briefed on the scope of the operation earlier today. What else can you share from that briefing?
QUIGLEY: Well, I think what I learned is there's a lot more to learn and I am assuming that this Justice Department will fully cooperate with the inspector general's investigation. But I'm also hoping that -- I've heard the Senate Judiciary Committee wants to bring Mr. Sessions and Mr. Barr before them and question them on their oath. I'm also hoping that the current Justice Department will come forward and give us far more details of exactly what they know about what took place.
BLITZER: Well the inspector general at the Justice Department is launching an investigation.
QUIGLEY: Sure. But in the --that -- those investigations, as you know, can take some time. It would be nice for members of Congress, particularly those who were targeted and the committees they serve on, to get information in the meantime to know what took place.
Plus, we understand we were told, it was in the article, that this investigation was closed. Here's a fair question. Is it completely closed or just closed as it relates to members of Congress? Obviously, again, the press was targeted as well. BLITZER: And you say what was going on as first the press is concerned was even worse than was going on involving these two members of the House Intelligence Committee, did I hear you right?
QUIGLEY: No. I just think that's quite possible given Chairman Schiff talked about how broad this was, how it was viewed as a fishing expedition. And I think what he's alluding to is that there seems to have been a lot of people on this targeted list and I surmise that a great number of them are members of the working press. They were looking for leaks. Obviously, they weren't just going to look at members of congress.
BLITZER: Were there others that have not yet been publicly identified? Is that what you're saying?
QUIGLEY: Well, that's a great question. I would say that Apple's process of notifying members was less than sufficient. So what's going to be taking place in the next several days is the discussions with Apple given the numbers of other members of the committee, who else might have been targeted as well.
BLITZER: Do, you know if you personally were targeted?
QUIGLEY: I have no idea. And, again, we are now in a process where we're asking through the committee to communicate with Apple as far as who else was on this list. But, again, a shortcut to that might be the Justice Department telling us in the meantime.
BLITZER: Yes. Well, do you worry that this is just what they say the tip of the iceberg, that former President Trump weaponized the Justice Department in ways we're only now beginning to understand?
QUIGLEY: Absolutely. And I think what you just look at open sources, you can discern that. I mean, look at the work they did with Stone and General Flynn, you know, pressuring the Justice Department to work on those sentences for those two and the charges on those two. And the fact that Attorney General Barr acted as, what, almost additional counsel for the president, if not, his press secretary when the Mueller investigation report came out.
We've heard the White House doing this with other issues, Mr. -- you know, reports of Mr. Meadows pressuring the Justice Department on the election lie. What else is out there? If they've got rogue actors, it's hard to imagine they weren't just in the Justice Department. Where else were they? I think we need a four-year damage assessment.
BLITZER: Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois, thank so much for joining us.
QUIGLEY: Thank you.
BLITZER: Coming up, the pictures tell the story of a new mood within the G7 alliance as President Biden takes his place on the summit stage. Stay with us. You're in The Situation Room.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:25:00]
BLITZER: President Biden has wrapped up a business first day meeting with world leaders at the G7 Summit. His interactions and message of cooperation presented a stark contrast to what we all saw during former President Trump's tenure.
Our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins is covering the president in England right now. Kaitlan, the tone, the body language during this summit clearly very different than in recent years.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Almost entirely, Wolf. And you can even almost see more in the body language than you can in the public statements that you get from these world leaders, though some of them have said publicly that they're grateful for Biden's presence, a clear jab at his predecessor. And you see today the embraces, the handshakes, there are fewer arm crossings and looks of disapproval that we became used to in the Trump era at these G7 Summits and others with world leaders. But, Wolf, just because they are more diplomatic, does not mean they see eye-to-eye on everything.
COLLINS (voice over): Face-to-face diplomacy is back tonight as President Biden surrounded himself with other world leaders at the G7 Summit. After being forced to meet remotely for a year, it was the first gathering of the four leaders since the COVID-19 pandemic.
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It is genuinely wonderful to see everybody in person. I can't tell you what a difference it makes.
COLLINS: Biden arrive intent on restoring the traditional alliances that his predecessor often undermined. Some of those allies are already noting the difference in Biden and his predecessor including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR: Being able to meet Joe Biden is obviously important because he stands to the commitment to multilateralism, which we were missing in recent years.
COLLINS: Merkel, had a notoriously fraught relationship with Donald Trump, summed up by this 2018 photo of Merkel standing over Trump, who had his arms crossed, as he refused to sign the joint agreement with other G7 leaders.
TRUMP: We're like the piggy bank that everybody's robbing and that ends.
COLLINS: Even Trump's allies around the world appeared to welcome the change in U.S. leadership.
JOHNSON: It's wonderful to listen to the Biden administration and to Joe Biden. It's fantastic. He's a breath of fresh air, a lot of things, they want to do together.
COLLINS: It remains to be seen how Biden's diplomatic outreach changes the substance of those relationships. But tonight, the G7 leaders were joined at dinner by Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles and Prince William in the queen's first visit with world leaders since the pandemic.
Earlier today, another royal connection as the duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton and First Lady Jill Biden visited a school together.
CATHERINE, DUCHESS OF CAMBRIDGE: I want to say a personal thank you and welcome to you, Dr. Biden.
COLLINS: Biden will visit the Queen at Winsor Castle on Sunday before ending his trip with a high-stake summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
REPORTER: Mr. President, what's your message to Putin?
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'll tell you after I deliver it.
COLLINS (on camera): Now, Wolf, after the president delivers his message to President Putin, we are expecting to hear from him, but we may be hearing from only him, because right now, we are told by sources that they are not currently expected to hold a joint press conference. Of course, that is the side by side you saw that President Trump held with President Putin in Helsinki three years ago, of course, when he sided with Putin over U.S. intelligence.
And one thing we should know about the agenda of that meeting, a Kremlin spokesperson told our colleague, Matthew Chance, earlier, they did not expect the political prisoner Alexei Navalny to come up or be on their agenda. The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, responded to that, by saying just because it's not on the Kremlin's agenda does not mean it's not on President Biden's.
BLITZER: I suspected is. All right, thanks very much, Kaitlan Collins reporting.
Now, let's go to CNN's Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward. She's also in England covering the G7 Summit. Clarissa, the president, President Biden interactions with other world leaders clearly looked different than Trump's. Did he make progress, do you believe, in repairing some vital relationships with U.S. allies?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There's no question that even if there hasn't been any substantial change yet in terms of solving all the world's problems, which is obviously a tall order, Wolf, there has been a shift in public opinion. You can feel it and see it looking at those pictures you just saw them in Kaitlan's piece, world leaders seemingly relaxed in each other's presence.
This isn't just about the shadow of President Trump sort of looming large and all of the memories of awkward situations and uncomfortable gaffes, but this is about world leaders being able to stand face to face in each other's presence. You saw French president, Emmanuel Macron, walking along with President Biden, the two of them frequently touching as they spoke. This is about body language. This is other ways of communicating. And as absurd as it sounds, it is actually a really important part of diplomacy.
Macron and Biden had a one-on-one meeting. They're going to have another one. Afterwards we saw a tweet from Emmanuel Macron where he said, now that we are together, united, determined to make a difference, it's time to deliver. I'm sure we will, Joe Biden, with that exclamation mark.
And I think that really summarized the mood here. There is a sense of positivity and a sense that things are possible. No one is saying it's going to be easy, Wolf, but certainly for the first time in a couple of years there is a sense of renewed, invigorated and indeed enthusiasm about the G7 and making this count for something, particularly ahead of that all-important summit with President Putin.
BLITZER: Yes, well, that's really encouraging to hear that. All right, Clarissa thank you very, very much.
Let's get another perspective on President Biden's summit debut. We're joined now by the former national security adviser to President Trump, John Bolton. He's also the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and author of the book, The Room Where it Happened, A White House Memoir. Ambassador, thank you very much for coming in.
Take a look at the pictures, some are show the picture once again, some of the leaders at the G7 Summit today. It looks to me -- it like it was a pretty stark contrast to what we saw during President Trump's summit with these leaders, what, back in 2018. You were there. I was covering it. What did you think?
JOHN BOLTON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: well, I think Trump obviously didn't enjoy these gatherings. He didn't much like meeting with allies.
BLITZER: Why wouldn't he like meeting with allies? Didn't he realize how important the U.S. alliances, NATO, the G7, the E.U. all those alliances are?
BOLTON: Well, I wouldn't put the E.U. in that category, but I think Trump looked at Germany, France, others and saw U.S. trade deficits. He saw -- that's how he saw international relations. And he didn't frankly see what much Donald Trump got out of G7 meetings. And that is the fundamental measure for him of nearly everything.
So I think Biden has done and will continue to do here what's necessary to show the world that Donald Trump is an anomaly. But let's not let the champagne flow too freely here. This is process and pats on the back and good feeling. It's not substance yet.
BLITZER: Well, because there are obviously still differences. At least publicly, they're trying to be nice about it all.
Let's look ahead to next Wednesday, the summit with President Putin of Russia. Is it a good idea, from your perspective, that President Biden is going to have this summit?
BOLTON: I don't think so. And I think primarily because I don't think he's ready for it.
I don't we've seen --
BLITZER: Who's ready for it?
BOLTON: Biden. Biden. He's not ready for it. I think it's pretty mature. I don't think he has laid out and I don't think he has in his own mind clearly what his own strategy is on a number of key issues.
I think this early meeting likely benefits Putin, whether they have a joint preference conference at the end of it or not. I think Putin comes pretty clearly with an idea of what he wants on a lot of things. And I think Biden may have been talked into this again as a process matter when he's really not ready on substance.
BLITZER: Because the Russians are now saying that the relationship between the U.S. and Russia right now is so bad only a summit can fix things.
BOLTON: Yes. Well, I think, as I say from their point of view, I think being on the same stage and world view with Biden is a plus for Putin. He needs it right now. I think he will play it to maximum advantage. And I think my guess would be he has something up his sleeve that we'll find out next Wednesday.
BLITZER: I want to move onto some of the breaking news. But what's the most important message that Biden should send to Putin?
BOLTON: Well, again, that he is not Donald Trump. Look, Biden represents a return to normalcy in the American presidency, a center- left democratic normal, to be sure, which is not where my preference was, but certainly not Donald Trump. And I think making that point to Putin, as with the G7, at the NATO summit, which will come next, is an important thing to do.
BLITZER: Well, we know that Biden is not going to say he agrees with Putin and disagrees with the U.S. Intelligence Community, as Trump did in Helsinki. And you were there, I was there as well.
BOLTON: Right. But the question is does he know what he wants to achieve with Russia? He's demonstrated through what he's done with Nordstream II pipeline saying he doesn't want it completed but then waiving the sanctions. That's an open invitation to more from Putin.
BLITZER: What do you think about this, what's been going on for justice -- what we're learning what the Justice Department investigating, opening up these very secretive investigations of key members of the House Intelligence Committee as well as major news organizations?
BOLTON: Well nobody needs to explain to me how Donald Trump abused power to go after people who disagreed with him. I've been subject to that and still am. I won't say anything more about myself here. But I --
BLITZER: When you say you still are, what does that mean?
BOLTON: Well, cases are still continuing.
BLITZER: Against you?
BLITZER: By initiated by Trump?
BOLTON: This is on the book, the question of prepublication review. I'm convinced I'll be vindicated but they're still in train. But what I think we're seeing here is the possibility of even more widespread abuse by Trump of the judicial process, of the legal process against people because of political opposition to him. And that is serious.
Now, the one thing I would say is it would be nice to have more facts here. We've seen some reported. I think it's very important that the inspector general at the Department of Justice proceed with his investigation. I'd rather not see this turned into a circus on Capitol Hill. I'm not very optimistic about avoiding that. But I think it would be useful to restoring normalcy in the American body politic to get more facts before everybody's knees jerk.
BLITZER: You were President Trump's national security adviser. Did you have any idea at all that they were launching these kinds of potentially criminal investigations into intelligence leaks?
BOLTON: Well, he talked about investigating leaks all the time. He had a pretty distorted view of what the predicate for such an investigation would be. It's not just that somebody leaks damaging information about Donald Trump, but that there's classified information involved, national security or other sensitive information that would form a predicate for a criminal investigation.
And I think that's what's going to be critical here. Did the Justice Department, for whatever reason, launch these investigations without an adequate predicate? It's true both with respect to the members of Congress and the journalists.
You know, there are extensive department regulations on investigating journalists. The current version, I think, by and large, written by Barack Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder. Are those regulations now in question or did they follow the regulations? That's a pretty important question.
BLITZER: It looks like these investigations were part of the so-called enemies list that Trump had, right?
BOLTON: Look, it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest. I'm not, in any way, trying to excuse what he did and I'm prepared to believe the worst. I'm just saying let's get some facts this time. BLITZER: Yes, once again, the book is entitled, The Room Where It Happened. Let me show the book cover, there you see it right there, A White House Memoir. Ambassador John Bolton, thanks for coming in.
BOLTON: Glad to be with you.
BLITZER: Coming up, former Attorney General William Barr called out by critics for doing former President Trump's bidding, a closer look at his controversial tenure. We'll have that when we come back.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news right now, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, speaking out just ahead of next week's summit with President Biden.
Now, let's go back to our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, so what is Putin saying tonight?
COLLINS: Well, he's commenting pretty extensively on relations with Biden, comparing him to his predecessor. And, Wolf, this is a 90- minute interview, according to NBC, that President Putin did with Keir Simmons. This is just a small excerpt of that interview. But, of course, it is vitally important and could foreshadow what we should expect to happen in Geneva next week when Biden does come face-to-face with him for the first time since he became president. And this is what Putin had to say about Biden comparing him to Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: We have a bilateral relationship that has deteriorated to its lowest point in recent years.
KEIR SIMMONS, NBC, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You once described Trump as a bright person, talented. How would you describe President Biden?
PUTIN: Even now, I believe that former U.S. president, Mr. Trump, is an extraordinary individual, talented individual. Otherwise he would not have become U.S. president.
He's a colorful individual. You may like him or not. And he did not come from the U.S. establishment. He had not been part of big time politics before. Some like it, some don't like it, but that is a fact.
President Biden, of course, is radically different from Trump because President Biden is a career man. He's spent virtually his entire adulthood in politics. Just think of the number of years he spent in the Senate. A different kind of person.
It is my great hope that, yes, there is some advantages, some disadvantages. But there will not be any impulse-based movements. (END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: And, Wolf, that was a fascinating answer for several reasons. He was asked what do you think about Biden and he spent the first half of that answer, more than that, describing President Trump and talking about him, and describing his career before he became president.
And it's notable I think saying how many years President Biden has been in public life and been in politics, of course, as a senator for several decades and then as vice president and now as president, because Putin is someone himself who has been in public life for some time. Of course, he was in the KGB. He's been someone who has been president for several years. He's really been a figure in Russia. He is not someone who came out of nowhere with no political background in the way that former President Trump did.
But I think what the White House is going to be doing is watching this closely, watching what he says on Monday, going into that meeting, because they say they want to get face to face with Putin to hear him talk similar to what he's saying there, about what he envisions for the U.S./Russia relationship.
And he is saying there something we've heard from the White House, which is that they think that relationship is at its lowest point it has been in decades.
And I do think it was notable, Keir Simmons did in that excerpt, pushed Putin several times on whether or not he is a killer. That is something that several U.S. figures have referred to Putin as, including most recently President Biden. When he was asked in an ABC interview, do you think Putin is a killer? And he said very quickly without skipping a beat, that yes, he is.
So, of course, that is really just part of this tense stage-setting that we're seeing going into this face-to-face meeting. So, what that actually looks like, how long that meeting goes on, we're still waiting to see, Wolf, and it should be fascinating.
BLITZER: We will watch it very, very closely. The stakes clearly are enormous. Putin, what, he's been the leader of Russia for some 20 years and he's complaining -- maybe he's not complaining but he seems to be complaining that Biden has been in public office for so long, 36 years in the Senate, 8 years as vice president and now as president.
But, clearly, Kaitlan, Putin really likes Trump a lot. That's obvious.
COLLINS: Of course he does, because Trump was someone who embraced him over his own intelligence agencies in front of the entire world, on camera in front of the press corps in Helsinki. And so, Donald Trump was really kind of his dream president because he was someone who, despite what Trump has said, did not go to lengths to hold him accountable for actions like when it came to political prisoners and election interference.
So, now, he is dealing with a very different president. The White House says they don't want to push Russia and push Russia. They want to have a working relationship with Russia because they do think it's important. But he is dealing with someone who is very different than the president he has been interacting with for the last four years.
BLITZER: Yeah, in Helsinki when Trump sided with Putin and dissed the U.S. intelligence community, one of the most awkward moments I've covered. I was in Helsinki covering that. But that was so, so awkward.
All right. Kaitlan, we'll get back to you. Thank you very, very much.
Coming up, former Attorney General William Barr called out by critics for doing President Trump's bidding. We'll take a closer look at his controversial tenure when we come back.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news. Sources telling CNN that former Attorney General William Barr pushed investigators to finish a probe that included secret subpoenas of data on House Democrats perceived to be enemies of President Trump. The revelation has Barr's record under renewed scrutiny tonight.
CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us.
So, Brian, this is what -- just the latest controversy stemming from Barr's tenure as attorney general.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: the latest among many controversies, Wolf. Tonight, we're taking a deeper look into William Barr's turbulent ride as attorney general and the legacy he left at the Justice Department.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight, some critics are citing a litany of instances where then Attorney General William Barr bent the law or the truth to protect Donald Trump.
ELIE HONIG, AUTHOR, "HATCHET MAN": Bill Barr as attorney general was called out multiple times by multiple federal judges for being dishonest, for misstating the facts, for lacking candor, for being disingenuous.
TODD: Just a few weeks after Barr took office, he gave the public a glimpse of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by Trump, saying that while the report didn't conclude Trump committed a crime, it also didn't exonerate him.
WILLIAM BARR, THEN-ATTORNEY GENERAL: He made it clear that he had not made the determination that there was a crime.
TODD: Barr's assertion that the report vindicated Donald Trump brought immediate pushback from Robert Mueller himself who believed Barr mischaracterized his findings.
[18:55:00] CARRIE CORDERO, FORMER COUNSEL TO U.S. ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: They were a misrepresentation of what the report actually said. In my view, that moment damaged the rest of his tenure as attorney general because he damaged his own credibility.
TODD: Critics also lament Barr's refusal to investigate Trump's call to the president of Ukraine, his decisions to drop the case against Michael Flynn and ask for a shorter sentence for Roger Stone, his public backing of Trump's false claims about voter fraud in 2020, including on CNN.
BARR: Elections that have been held with mail have found substantial fraud and coercion.
BLITZER: You said you were worried that a foreign country could send thousands of fake ballots, fake ballots of people that 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.
TODD: And on foreign election meddling.
BLITZER: Of those three countries 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 was China.
TODD: Barr was believed to be behind the effort to clear protesters from Washington's Lafayette Park last summer, so Trump could walk to a church and flash a bible, an accusation Barr denied.
All developments which surprised some analysts who had had high hopes for William Barr when Trump nominated him.
HONIG: Bill Barr seemed like a safe, sound pick from Donald Trump. Bill Barr had been attorney general before from 1991 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush. He seemed to understand the job and the Justice Department.
TODD: William Barr did not respond to CNN's request for comment on our reporting on his overall tenure as attorney general, but he did tell "Politico" today that he was never aware of any effort to go after the records of Trump's Democratic rivals on the House Intelligence Committee -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Brian, thank you very much. Brian Todd reporting.
Other important news we're following, the CDC now says there's growing evidence that a rare heart inflammation may be linked to COVID-19 vaccinations. An advisory panel is now set to hold an emergency meeting on this subject.
Let's bring in our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Sanjay, how concerned should young people especially and their parents for that matter be about this?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think people should be aware but not alarmed by this, Wolf. We are talking about something that increasingly looks like there's some sort of association here between the vaccines and this condition known as myocarditis. I can show you the numbers. We're getting some numbers of what we're talking about. You'll see it's a fairly rare condition in people 16 and 17, 2.3 million doses given, 79 reported cases.
For those who are older, about 196 reported cases out of 9.8 million doses. So it's rare, Wolf. I think the bottom line number there is what the myocarditis background rate is and that's how these experts sort of made this conclusion that there seems to be some link.
Be aware, chest pain, fever, those are some of the symptoms. If somebody has those symptoms after the vaccine, get it checked out. All these patients were able to go home and treated successfully.
BLITZER: How much do we still need to learn about potential side effects from all of the various COVID vaccines?
GUPTA: Yeah, that's a great question, Wolf. I mean, we know a lot in the adult population. We're learning more and more in the 12 to 15 population as well.
But when I say a lot, remember the clinical trials involved tens of thousands of people and they followed for side effects and adverse events two months out. Now, you look around the world and you have hundreds of millions of people who have received the vaccine so you get a lot of real world data.
There's few things out there in medicine that are as widely distributed as a vaccine so you do get a lot of information about side effects. We don't know with younger children yet until we see the trials. That's one of the things the investigators are looking for as they conduct these vaccine trials.
BLITZER: Let me also get your thoughts, Sanjay, yesterday sometimes contentious FDA advisory vaccine on authorizing COVID vaccines for children under the age of 12.
You spoke to one of the doctors involved in that last night. What were his concerns?
GUPTA: Well, he was framing this as a risk versus benefits, which is the correct framing. That's how everyone is framing it so that wasn't a surprise. The thing is the risk obviously to children is lower than it is to adults. So the benefits are going to have to outweigh those lower risks so you have to have a higher bar of evidence for the benefits. It's worth keeping in mind still, Wolf, that younger people are
becoming increasingly the reservoir of COVID in this country, that's why vaccines are important. Even though they're not hospitalized and they don't die nearly as often, they still, if they get infected, there could be long-term symptoms as we've talked about, Wolf. You don't want to get this infection.
Finally as we go back into the fall, Wolf, there may be some outbreaks again. You may have some resurgences and you want to make sure that you have vaccines available, especially for school-age children at that point.
BLITZER: You certainly do.
All right. Sanjay, as usual, thank you very, very much.
And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Have a nice weekend.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.