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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Redacted Mueller Report Set for Release Thursday; Flames Engulf Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired April 15, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:01]

DOMINIC THOMAS, CNN EUROPEAN AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR: But all that was contained within it and that has come under attack here in the guise of these flames.

So, you can expect Emmanuel Macron, in his first declaration, to announce and to talk about the history of this building, but to make an unequivocal commitment to the rebuilding, even if it takes a generation to do so, which, in the broader realm of history, given the decades and centuries even that it took to build this building by hand, will seem like a relatively small feat.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And we know that there there's still so much that we don't know at this hour. We don't know if there were any casualties. We don't know the condition of any of the artwork or any of the religious artifacts, the Crown of Thorns, the Holy Sacraments, are more.

Dominic, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it.

Joining me now on the phone is Patryk Bukalski. He lives in Paris. He's on the scene there.

And, Patryk, you were at a nearby restaurant when you heard that Notre Dame was on fire. You didn't think it was real at first.

PATRYK BUKALSKI, WITNESS: Well, yes, definitely.

Good evening, by the way.

And it was something incredibly -- like, something that you really don't want to see. And I was just having a regular coffee with my colleague from Poland who visited me this morning.

And so we smelled that something is burning. And we were sure that something was going wrong in the kitchen, in the restaurant, but then the bartender told us that apparently the Notre Dame is on fire.

So, for us, it was very unreal. So, we left the restaurant. And so we went to see, and it was real. It was something you really don't want to see in your life. And right now, I'm sitting in front of Notre Dame. So, I can see -- at this moment, we can see on the left tower and also like the middle some flashlight. I don't know who's there, so some people are actually right now there.

I think that the fire is not there anymore. We can see some white lights, some flashlights. I don't know if there's investigators or firemen who are trying to calm the fire that are inside right now.

So I hope that it's not going to get worse, even though I got photos from my friends that live just in front of the Notre Dame, the photos from behind, that were horrible.

So we can see that the roof just collapsed. And so the -- so, what I see right now, standing in front of the facade -- so it's the front of Notre Dame -- I don't know what was behind. And I feel like -- I mean, I have seen the photos on the Internet.

And I just don't want to so it live. I think that everything that survived is just in front of me we can see right now. And with all of those flashlights of, I guess, firemen or the investigators that are right now inside the building, I don't know what else to say. I think it's just -- it's horrible.

TAPPER: Yes, Patryk -- yes, Patryk, one of our reporters there said that the crowd that had formed outside Notre Dame, it's almost like a small vigil mourning the loss of this building.

BUKALSKI: Yes.

TAPPER: Tell us about the mood of the individuals with whom you're standing.

BUKALSKI: So, well, I'm standing -- there are like thousands here, I would say.

We were thousands. I think that now people are trying to go back home. And most of the people on my left side, I can hear the prayers. They're singing in front of the Notre Dame. They pray. They're crying. Everybody's sad. Nobody's laughing.

And it's -- like, I think that when you're standing in front of the Notre Dame, and you hear all the prayers and all the mood that is sad, it just gets you. You really get how serious it is, actually.

And right now, when I'm talking to you, I see another flashlight from inside of the building of Notre Dame. So -- and on the left, I can hear people praying.

It -- and then a (INAUDIBLE) the street, you cannot really move. You cannot really get close to the cathedral. And, yes, I mean, I don't know how it looks somewhere else, but, here, it's very -- everybody is very, very, very, clearly sad and praying that nobody lost their life inside.

TAPPER: Yes.

An eyewitness to this tragedy, Patryk Bukalski, thank you so much.

Joining me on the phone, Lindita Kulla and Paige Walters. They're American students studying abroad. They're visiting Paris on their spring break.

Lindita, I hope I'm pronouncing your name correctly.

You were on the Eiffel Tower, I'm told, watching parts of the cathedral collapse. Tell us about that.

LINDITA KULLA, WITNESS: Yes, I was going up to the top of the Eiffel Tower with my friend Paige.

And as we were going up, we saw lots of smoke billowing out from the middle of the city. And I looked over, and we heard people talking about Notre Dame. And so we were getting multiple texts from our friends and family, just asking about what was going on, if we were safe, and just trying to figure out what was happening.

[16:35:11]

We then found out about the fire there. And I then took some photos. And we were just like very confused, because, earlier that day, we actually had gone to Notre Dame and were standing in front of it, and everything was completely fine.

TAPPER: And, Paige, tell us about that. You visited Notre Dame -- Notre Dame. You walked by earlier today. What was it like there before the fire struck?

PAIGE WALTERS, WITNESS: Yes, it -- today, it was beautiful. We just -- we walked on the entire thing, got to see the amazing sights.

Everyone was eagerly going inside and looking at all of the views. And we took some pictures. We were just so happy to be there, walking along the river and just taking in all the beauty. And then to be up on the top of the Eiffel Tower, so excited to see that view, but then to see this beautiful view that we had just experienced just completely up in flames.

The flames were getting worse. As the hours went on, we just saw the flames even -- growing even greater. And we -- it was silent up at the top. It really was. People weren't talking, I feel like, as they would have been.

It was very somber.

TAPPER: Paige, I want to just make sure, before I let you guys go, you and Lindita have -- you have called home and let your moms and dads, let -- know that you're OK, yes?

KULLA: Yes.

WALTERS: Yes. They know that we're safe.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: OK. Good.

KULLA: It's just really amazing. Also, you could just smell the smoke.

And just -- we, like, looked through the telescopes, and you can just see like the firefighters working and trying to contain the fire. It was very, very sad.

TAPPER: Stay safe, ladies. We appreciate your time. We appreciate your calling in.

WALTERS: Thanks.

TAPPER: We are going to have more on our breaking news coming up. We are going to take a quick break.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:41:27]

TAPPER: We are continuing to monitor the breaking news out of Paris, the Notre Dame Cathedral on fire. We're going to bring you more as we learn it.

But let us now turn to our politics lead for the day. The Justice Department just announced that they expect to release the redacted version of Robert Mueller's report to Congress and the public on Thursday morning.

The redacted report will no doubt set off questions about what is behind those censored black bars and a fight with House Democrats, who want to see the entire report, with no redactions. President Trump is seemingly as angry as ever, arguing today that the Mueller investigators are the ones who should be investigated.

CNN's Abby Phillip has more from the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump today changing his tune on the Mueller investigation, from this just a couple of weeks ago...

QUESTION: Mr. President, do you think Robert Mueller acted honorably?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, he did. Yes, he did.

PHILLIP: ... to now unleashing a series of furious attacks ahead of the report's Thursday release, tweeting: "The Mueller report, which was written by 18 angry Democrats, who also happen to be Trump haters and Clinton supporters, should have focused on the people who spied on my 2016 campaign and others who fabricated the whole Russia hoax."

And: "Since there was no collusion, why was there an investigation in the first place?" As the president tweets his frustration, his lawyers are updating their rebuttal, written months ago, anticipating that the report will not be redacted for executive privilege. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders also downplaying the possibility that the full report could be more critical of the president than the four-page summary released by the attorney general.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't think it is going to be damaging to the president, because the entire purpose of the investigation was whether or not there was collusion. Mueller was crystal clear in the fact that there was no collusion.

QUESTION: But he wasn't crystal clear on obstruction.

(CROSSTALK)

HUCKABEE SANDERS: But they couldn't make a determination, which is basically Mueller's way, legally, of saying, we don't -- we can't find anything.

PHILLIP: Meantime, the president is keeping up the drumbeat on threats to bus undocumented immigrants to so-called sanctuary cities, even after Department of Homeland Security lawyers deemed that idea illegal.

TRUMP: We will bring them to sanctuary city areas and let that particular area take care of it.

PHILLIP: And while he targets Democrats in those cities and tries to take the focus off of Mueller, it's a subject he just can't stop tweeting about, even attempting to redirect accusations of collusion and obstruction onto his former political opponents, Trump claiming: "These were crimes committed by crooked Hillary, the DNC, dirty cops, and others."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: And Jake, Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, says that the plan for the Mueller report is going to be for them to release a short statement and then do something a little bit longer once they have a sense of what's actually in the report.

They plan on also potentially taking questions, according to Dana Bash, who spoke to Giuliani over the weekend. So they're planning on, it seems, a multistage rollout of their reaction to whatever is in that report, especially considering that they are making it clear that Barr has not consulted the White House Counsel's Office about what, if anything, in there they will be redacting.

TAPPER: All right, Abby Phillips at the White House, thanks so much.

Let's chew on all of this.

"The New York Times" is reporting that President Trump's plan of attack is to act as if the report itself is extraneous to the letter written by the attorney general, Bill Barr. It's been three weeks since that letter was first released. Do you

think that public opinion on this issue has solidified since then?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I do, but I think we are forgetting what this is all about.

Russians tried to interfere in our election. And there is a story there not just for Trump but for America about how campaigns are influenced. I was very interested in what the Barr memo has said is that there were multiple offers from the Russians to assist the Trump campaign. Good for them. So far it appears that the Trump campaign resisted that but I want to know how that worked, and I think that's what will be the big takeaway here.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's not just that they attempted to interfere, they actually interfered. And whether or not the Trump campaign colluded, we know that they did have the assistance of the Russians, and we know that our own national security infrastructure that they are attempting again to do that.

So it's important to know as you point out Amanda, what they were doing to know what -- are they are they trying to do it now and how are we trying to stop it.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And Bill, Sarah Sanders, you just heard her in the piece there, she says basically the report doesn't matter because all the matters is whether or not there was conspiracy and there was none according to Barr's summary and quoting from Mueller, and that's really all that matters.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: And all the evidence apparently that came very close to leading Mueller to conclude that there have been obstruction of justice doesn't matter. He didn't conclude there wasn't. He simply left it open for Congress. Bill Barr has this opinion. That is going to be very interesting.

That was when this president -- I agree the collusion was the initial question, the work with the Russian intervention is the initial thing. The collusion was the initial question. But he was President of the United States and the account of what he did and didn't do as president, as president to obstruct the truth in this case I think will be very interesting.

TAPPER: And Paul, the President, and Sarah Sanders, and all the rest are saying that Attorney General Barr has ruled on the obstruction issue and it's done. But take a listen to the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler, he says Barr doesn't get to make that decision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): The fact of the matter is we should see and judge for ourselves and that's for Congress to judge whether the president obstructed justice or not and for the public ultimately.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: Basically he's saying that that the legal determination by the Attorney General is not at that point here. What's -- what matters is the political determination by Congress.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If that's the question, is the President above the law? Now the Justice Department, not the Supreme Court, the Justice Department has for decades rule the President can't be charged with a crime while in office. I'm not a constitutional lawyer, that seems to -- I certainly accept that. That seems to be the better reading.

But it means that we must have all the facts. Congress must have the facts. One of the things Barr in his letter, while only quoting 75 words from Mueller, not even one whole sentence, Barr goes on and on about 6E, which is a little arcane. That's the rule that says grand jury testimony is secret. It's a really good rule. It's an important rule. But it must be waived when you're talking about a president because the president can't be charged, right.

So we waived it for Nixon. In the Nixon case, Leon Jaworski went to Judge Sirica, Sirica waived the rule and the information came to Congress. In the Clinton case, Ken Starr went to the judge, the judge waived all the grand jury -- all of that grand jury material needs to go to the Congress so they can decide.

If Mr. Trump is right and this exonerates him, let's exonerate him fully. Let's get all the details of his innocence out before the American people so this good and honorable man can clear his name fully.

TAPPER: So sincere. Amanda, the day after the letter Barr -- from Barr came out, President Trump said Mueller acted honorably, but now he's back to tweeting angrily accusing Mueller's team of being "dirty cops" saying "investigate the investigators." So what changed from the day of Barr's letter to -- you know, on the eve or a few days from now we're going to get the actual report?

CARPENTER: I mean, Trump always acts according to his own interest. But I think we would be mistaken to follow him down this rabbit holes. Yes, there is a legitimate question about what surveillance was conducted on the campaign. I hope the report explains why. But the bigger gray area question where I think we deserve answers goes back to the Russian contacts. There were many contacts.

What knowledge did Trump have of those contacts, we still don't know. And how did that lead him to act in the public square both as president, and when he stood on that stage and called for Russia to release the e-mails. Those are open question.

KRISTOL: But we know what's changed. We know what changed. What changed is that the White House was briefed by the Attorney General, somewhat surprisingly to me I would say over the last several days about at least the outlines of the report, and they were obviously briefed that this report would be full of or at least have some evidence and some evidence that the President wouldn't like. And that's what's changed. The President sort of believed the Barr

letter or the summary of the -- summary of the Barr letter as if it was -- were exonerating or thought he could spin it that way. And then the White House Counsel got a briefing from Barr himself or from one of his deputies of Justice and they reported back to the President, and the President realized oh my God.

FINNEY: But it's going to be hard to see -- I mean obviously, we'll be discussing this for days, but remember, I mean Barr very wisely was able as you pointed out Paul, with just a few fragments of sentences to really frame this conversation in the -- and I say this is a communications person not just as a partisan. They framed the nature of the conversation and the narrative from the beginning for the first 24-48 hours.

We're still here discussing based on partial information. And that is what I think Trump is counting on being able to do going forward by saying he's been exonerated.

[16:50:24] TAPPER: And coming up next, we're going to talk to the first major Republican who's going to take on President Trump in 2020. No, it's not Bill Kristol. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: We have some breaking news in our "2020 LEAD." The former two-term Republican Governor of Massachusetts Bill Weld is here with me live in studio, and Mr. Weld has something to announce. Governor?

[16:55:08] BILL WELD (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Jake, I'm announcing that I'm running for president of the United States as a Republican against President Trump in 2020.

TAPPER: So you're hoping to take him on in the primaries?

WELD: In the primaries. I really think if we have six more years of the same stuff we've had out of the White House the last two years, that would be a political tragedy and I would fear for the Republic. So I would be ashamed of myself if I didn't run myself and run.

TAPPER: So his -- President Trump's re-election campaign just announced they have raised $30 million in the first quarter. The Republican party is -- has been reshaped to meet President Trump's desires. He has the support within the party at nearly 90 percent. Do you really think you can defeat him in the primaries?

WELD: Yes, I do. I've done it before and particularly in New Hampshire, where I'm spending a lot of time. It's one vote at a time and one voter at a time and you've got to meet him. But you know, what we have now is a president who mocks the rule of law. I spent seven years in the Justice Department trying to keep the politics out of law enforcement. He's trying to put it in.

A president who says, we don't need a free press, who says, climate change is a complete hoax. He's not paying attention. I doubt very much he's made a study of any of those issues, but he seems to have difficulty, in my opinion, and I was a prosecutor for quite a while, he has a difficulty conforming his conduct to the requirements of law. That's a serious matter in the Oval Office.

TAPPER: So, just in terms of your political strategy, you want to spend a lot of time in New Hampshire, and that's -- New Hampshire is a state where Independents can vote in either primary.

WELD: Yes, it's a crossover primary. New Hampshire, really all six New England States, the mid-Atlantic states, California, Oregon, Washington, very receptive territory. The president is not well liked in California, the intermountain west, where I spent a lot of time in the last cycle. It would be a national campaign.

The 20 states do permit that crossover voting, which is more than a beachhead, so I'm very much looking forward to the campaign. Anyone that wants to be helpful, weld2020.org.

TAPPER: weld2020.org. The Mueller report, you talked about -- you served in the Justice Department, you know Bob Mueller.

WELD: Bob was my deputy in the Justice Department. He's the straightest guy I've ever met, wonderful human being, very thorough, very great prosecutor.

TAPPER: So how much do you think of his report that we're told is going to be released to the public and to Congress Thursday morning, how much do you think can be redacted and still be a credible presentation to Congress?

WELD: It's a piece of cake. All you really have to do is redact classified information and needlessly derogatory personal material. But that's not a great labor. I mean, I think the whole report should be made public, so that everybody can see it, not just two committees of Congress, but the American public can see it. They paid for it.

TAPPER: The President says he's been exonerated on these allegations of conspiracy with Russia and that you can't obstruct a crime that hasn't taken place, which obviously, the Attorney General Bill Barr, agrees with, to a degree. We know Democrats in the House Judiciary Committee and elsewhere are going to keep investigating. What's your take on the obstruction of justice charge and the president's claim that he's been exonerated?

WELD: No, I'm not really buying that. And if I were the president of the United States and I had been found not guilty of one of 20 charges that could have been levied against me, I'm not sure I would be holding a press conference to celebrate that.

TAPPER: What -- and what do you make of the obstruction charge?

WELD: In the Mueller report, you know, I don't think the jury has come back on that one. But there's plenty of other potential witness tampering, obstruction possibilities arising out of all the Manafort and Michael Cohen material that has nothing to do with the Mueller report. TAPPER: Let me give you the criticism that I think you're going to face. You are a Republican from a different era in American history. You are a moderate Republican, you were the Massachusetts governor. You were able to work with Democrats. You represented a sort of --

WELD: Well, precisely!

TAPPER: -- country club Republicanism.

WELD: No, no, no, no, no. A Republican who works across the aisle and gets things done. I was re-elected with 71 percent of the vote because I brought everybody in. I would have a bipartisan cabinet if I get to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And, you know, I'm an Economic Conservative. I was voted the most fiscally conservative governor in the United States by the Wall Street Journal and the Cato Institute. I cut spending year over year.

Donald Trump is not an Economic Conservative. He doesn't even pretend to be. And, you know, it's -- the country deserves to have some fiscal restraint and conservatism and cutting spending in Washington, D.C. Right now, all that really is coming out of Washington is divisiveness, and both parties are responsible for that. Bu the grand -- the grand master of that is the President himself.

TAPPER: If you don't --

WELD: I've never seen such bitterness in this country.

TAPPER: If you don't win the nomination, are you going to run as an Independent?

WELD: No, no. I don't think so. But I could not support Donald Trump for the president. I'm not saying I would ever endorse a Democrat in this race, but I could not support the President.