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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump vs. Sanders; Redacted Mueller Report Set For Release Tomorrow. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 17, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brooke Baldwin here in New York.

Let's go to Washington. "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Newsrooms, make sure you have enough toner in your printer. It is Mueller eve, and the redactions are color- coded.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Current and former Trump administration officials say that they are dreading the release of the Mueller report, worrying that the president may -- quote -- "go bonkers" when he sees what they told Mueller under oath with just hours to go until the redacted report comes out.

Triggering Trump? The tweetstorm targeting Senator Bernie Sanders after the senator's appearance on the president's favorite cable channel.

Plus, doctors allegedly trading sex for a fix. Dozens of medical professionals and 32 million pills. The Justice Department announces a multistate prescription drug bust, revealing the shocking scope of the nation's opioid crisis.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead. In a matter of hours, we will finally learn what it is that Robert Mueller knows that we do not. And one Republican source is warning President Trump is -- quote -- "going to go bonkers" when the information is made public.

But, for now, President Trump trying to set the stage, calling the -- quote -- "witch-hunt a total fraud brought to you by dirty cops" -- unquote, and, oddly, simultaneously claiming vindication from those same dirty cops.

Several White House aides tell CNN they are worried the report could indeed be damaging, even if it does not establish conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign, that it will provide the most detailed and credible account to date of Mr. Trump's temper, his work habits, the chaos inside the West Wing, and much more. But even before we see the words, let's take a look at the numbers,

more than 2,800 subpoenas, nearly 500 search warrants, 500 witness interviews, not to mention 199 criminal charges against 37 people and entities.

And while there are no more charges to come from the special counsel, as CNN's Pamela Brown now explains, that does not mean the next few days are going to bring good news for President Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The release of Mueller's nearly 400-page report, an investigation shrouded in secrecy for nearly two years, is expected to fuel Democratic calls for more investigations and reveal details of hundreds of hours of interviews with officials from the highest levels of the Trump administration, many of which could embarrass or enrage President Trump.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Bottom line, the result is no collusion, no obstruction.

BROWN: And while the president has falsely claimed complete exoneration...

TRUMP: I have been totally exonerated.

BROWN: ... the report could explain Mueller's indecision regarding obstruction of justice, detailing evidence that lays out alleged attempts by the president to derail the investigation into Russia's attack on the 2016 presidential election, including the firing of then-FBI Director James Comey and how investigators viewed the actions.

What's unclear tonight is how much the public will see of the underlying evidence Mueller gathered, both of potential obstruction and Russian interference. The attorney general has vowed to redact information from grand jury interviews, as well as other categories, setting up a showdown with Democrats on the Hill, who plan to fight for the full, unredacted report.

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): Congress has need of the entire report, including the grand jury material. If we don't get everything, we will issue the subpoena and go to court.

BROWN: Attorney General William Barr has said much of the evidence in the obstruction case is already publicly known, but it's not clear if Mueller found examples outside of those that happened publicly, something Barr was pressed on while testifying before Congress.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): Did he express any expectation or interest in leaving the obstruction decision to Congress?

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Not that -- he didn't say that to me, no.

LEAHY: So he said the obstruction decision should be up to you?

BARR: He didn't say that either.

LEAHY: All right.

BARR: But that's generally how the Department of Justice works.

BROWN: Sources say one of the biggest concerns is whether Mueller's interviews with the president's top aides reveal embarrassing information about Trump's behavior and operations in the White House.

The president has repeatedly tried to discredit unfavorable accounts of what happened in the West Wing, accusing media outlets of using nonexistent sources.

TRUMP: I'm against the people that make up stories and make up sources.

BROWN: But the current and former officials who cooperated with Mueller are expected to be named and spoke under penalty of lying, giving the details more credence.

It's also possible the report could lay out additional contact between Trump associates and Russians beyond the at least 16 connections already known and could detail more about the multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign that Barr referenced in his letter to Congress.

[16:05:03]

It's what will be hidden from public view in the report that will also be telling. Attorney General Barr says the report's redactions will be color-coded, concealing grand jury material, information about ongoing investigations, sources and methods, or information about uncharged third-party individuals.

Barr also says he won't withhold information from the report to protect President Trump.

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-NH): Does that mean you will redact information to protect the reputational interests of the president?

BARR: No. I'm talking about people in private life.

SHAHEEN: OK.

BARR: Not about public officeholders.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And sources say the president has not seen the report, nor has anyone else in the White House, but it's still unclear whether there has been any briefing of the report, any more communications between DOJ and the White House over the issue of executive privilege.

Now, the president's attorney Rudy Giuliani has been working on a rebuttal for several months. And I'm told by Rudy Giuliani that they're whittling that down, focusing more of the rebuttal on the fact, in their view, that the president did not obstruct justice.

But it's interesting, Jake. I have spoken to multiple people today who say now some of the former White House officials who spoke to Mueller are second-guessing that decision to sit down with him. Basically, one source said, look, this was a good strategy for the president, because it may have helped him avoid an interview, but maybe not for more than two dozen current and former officials.

Another source said this is indicative of this whole live now and deal with it later. And the later is now. Tomorrow morning, the report is coming out.

TAPPER: All right.

Well, let's continue to have this conversation.

Mike Shields, you're a supporter of the president. Barr says he's not going to redact anything to hurt the president's reputation. As a supporter of the president, what are you most worried about being in this report? Obviously, the conspiracy charge, we're told that that's not proven. So that -- no one has to worry about that.

But what are you worried about?

MIKE SHIELDS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm not worried about a ton, to be honest with you.

But I think that there's going to be some political damage. There's going to be some meetings that happened where things that were said -- those have been leaked before. And then we spend three days talking about it and it's sort of politically damaging.

But from a legal perspective, there just doesn't seem to be anything that -- I mean, we don't know. We haven't seen it.

TAPPER: Right.

SHIELDS: But the summary came out from the attorney general. There's been no other indication that there's a legal problem.

And so I think the country really has a binary approach to this. There was an investigation on legal grounds. There's nothing illegal that's gone on. The rest of it is political noise. We know his opponents are going to attack him. They're going to keep investigating him.

I think next week is incredibly imperative for Nancy Pelosi's tenure as speaker, because her base is going to say, we want blood, the report is out. And she's got to try and stop that. That's why she's been on a media, tour, I think. And so there's nothing I'm really worried about from a legal perspective. It's more political things, I think, at this point.

TAPPER: So there's one former high-ranking Justice Department official told CNN it's impossible to embarrass Donald Trump. It's impossible to embarrass him.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That does seem true, doesn't it?

TAPPER: Well, he does -- he seems fairly impervious to it.

FINNEY: Yes.

TAPPER: So, if it's just politically damaging information, and the president's approval ratings are pretty much where they have been, they're in the 40s.

FINNEY: Yes.

TAPPER: Do you think, even though it's going to be page after page of not flattering information in all likelihood, that it could be a wash?

FINNEY: Well, I'm sort of dubious in terms of how much we're really going to learn because of the amount of redactions.

I don't -- I have all faith and confidence in Nancy Pelosi. I will tell you that. What I think is more likely is -- I mean, this narrative to some degree -- I don't think there's going to be a big reveal.

But the narrative is somewhat baked in, in that if you look at recent polling, there was a Navigator's poll out, and it's consistent with what CNN has found and others. People don't necessarily -- a majority of people, and by that I mean majority of the population and independents -- don't think the president has been fully exonerated.

They think probably something is not right. They're not quite sure what it is. And I actually think that could be politically damaging for the president going into 2020, because, again, this is a president who uses his time and energy to protect himself.

I think you can make a political argument he's looking out for himself over you. And I think that's a powerful argument in 2020.

TAPPER: So, Elie, so the legal decision, it would seem -- and, again, we don't know, we haven't seen the report -- it would seem the legal decisions have all been made. And now it is just the politics. And what do you think could be in here?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I don't know that I agree that there's no risk of there being anything criminal or anything illegal in this, because, remember, what Robert Mueller did with obstruction is very unusual.

He declined to make a prosecutorial decision. I don't think he declined because he just couldn't make up his mind. I think he did that for a reason. Robert Mueller has been in law enforcement. He's been director of the FBI for decades. He's used to making difficult decisions. That's what prosecutors do every day.

I don't think he just said, I can't figure it out, somebody else do it. I think he declined for a reason. And I'm interested to see if that report, in the report, Mueller says, here's why and here's what I intend to be done with it.

And I think the best prediction, if I had to make one, is that he intended Congress to do it. We just heard the testimony from William Barr saying, no, Mueller did not ask me to opine. I did it anyway, and I think did him a big -- did the president a big favor in doing that.

[16:10:02]

But I'm really interested to see, why did Mueller not make a decision on obstruction, and who did he intend to make that decision?

TAPPER: What do you think?

BROWN: Yes, you know, I was talking to some sources today who said the expectation among them and former people who have been -- former White House officials who have been interviewed by Mueller is that Mueller is going to lay out a narrative that could be construed as the president trying to steer the investigation one way or the other, but not actually crossing the legal bar.

Folks I have spoken with say that that's an expectation that there will be some examples of White House officials at the time stepping in and saving the president from himself.

So it's going to be more of a political issue. And what we don't you know -- what we forget is, it's not just former officials like Don McGahn, the White House counsel, that could have some potentially problematic or politically damaging information in there against the president, but also his deputies, I have learned, were interviewed by the special counsel, including Ann Donaldson.

And some of this information, remember, we haven't seen. I mean, Bill Barr said most of it's been out there, but not all of it. And so people are going to be, I think, honing in on what some of these other officials said that we don't already know about.

SHIELDS: Right, but Barr -- go back and read Barr's summary. He actually addressed this, not specifically about a lot of things, but on this obstruction question, he talked about the conundrum of this being public statements the president had made.

So we do have a little bit of a window into where this obstruction question that Mueller had, because some of the things that would have caused it were public things the president said. That does throw it back to Congress. That inherently makes it political.

And that inherently puts Nancy Pelosi into a very difficult position, because if Mueller's intention was, as you say, to have Congress handle it, the American people then look at that as an inherently political decision, which it is, and that makes the base of the Democratic Party go completely bonkers, and now Nancy Pelosi can't talk about health care.

She has to fight back her own base from trying to impeach the president.

FINNEY: I think that's great spin, but remember what Barr said in the summary that has, what, 50-some-odd words out of 400 pages.

So we still haven't -- there's so much we haven't seen. He said most of which, I believe, has been in plain sight. There's still plenty that has not yet been seen about the case for obstruction.

BROWN: Yes.

FINNEY: You know better than I do.

(CROSSTALK)

FINNEY: And I think when we see that and what was the underlying evidence, that could prove to be pretty interesting.

HONIG: So, A, you can obstruct in plain sight. You can commit any manner of crimes in plain sight. I have seen plenty of them. Some people are brazen. Some people are arrogant. Right? So that's number one.

Number two, let's remember William Barr has a very specific and extreme view of obstruction of justice. We know this because he spent 20 pages writing it up before he became attorney general in 2018. His view of obstruction of justice is essentially the president can do whatever he wants because he's the president.

He went so far as to say the president can shut down an investigation, even if the reason is because the investigation threatens him, because he's head of the executive branch.

I don't think it's correct, as a matter of law, and I know that it's extreme.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Is it fair to say it's unsettled, though; it has not been decided.

HONIG: Sure. This -- right. We have never had a specific decision from a court.

TAPPER: It would have to go to the Supreme Court, right.

HONIG: Right. And, look, this is one of many issues that could land in the Supreme Court, for sure.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Yes. And I hope that there is some explanation in this report about why Mueller didn't make the decision, but also why he never sought a subpoena against the president, why that didn't happen.

But, also, we're so focused on obstruction, for good reason, given all the reasons we laid out, but also we could learn a lot tomorrow on the issue of conspiracy. Yes, there was no finding, but we could learn more about potential communications, other communications, those offers from help from the Russians to the Trump campaign that were never accepted.

So, that was, of course, good for the Trump campaign. But that is also important for our democracy, lessons learned that we could be finding out tomorrow.

TAPPER: Yes, the Russians clearly were trying.

BROWN: Yes. Exactly.

TAPPER: And that, at the end of the day, might be the most important thing that we talk about tomorrow, when the report actually drops.

BROWN: Exactly. Absolutely.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

The attorney general makes a ruling that's music to President Trump's ears. And it has nothing to do with Mueller.

Then, sex, drugs, greed fueling an addiction crisis -- the monumental opioid bust involving dozens of doctors and so many pain pills. Prosecutors say it was enough to give every man, woman, and child in five states a pill.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:17:41] TAPPER: The politics lead now -- as the president braces for the Mueller report, he is digging in on his own Trumpian tone, attacking Democrats over illegal immigration, pushing back on House investigation.

And as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports, he's getting a major assist with a tough new ruling on asylum seekers from his attorney general.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: With one day left to go before Robert Mueller's report goes public, President Trump is passing the time tweeting, demanding that Congress return from recess and change immigration laws, predicting he'll be up against Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden in 2020, slamming the Bernie Sanders town hall, calling the special counsel's investigation a total fraud, and offering his condolences during a phone call with the pope.

As the president airs his grievances online, the White House is digging in its heels, refusing a growing number of requests from House Democrats on Trump's finances, West Wing security clearances, and his meetings with foreign leaders.

Democrats say the administration is stonewalling them.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): We don't think the administration has the right to be keeping any of this information from us.

COLLINS: The stand-off could lead to a lengthy legal battle over subpoenas between the White House and Congress. And as Washington waits on the Mueller report --

(on camera): Are you going to read the Mueller report?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Me? Oh, absolutely, yes.

COLLINS: -- the attorney general is turning his attention elsewhere.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Asylum is a ridiculous situation.

COLLINS: Bill Barr issuing an order that could clamp down on asylum seekers by keeping them in jail indefinitely while they wait for their claims to be considered. The move is a major reversal from a prior ruling and means it will be up to the Department of Homeland Security to decide whether to release immigrants who cross the border illegally and later claimed asylum.

TRUMP: It's a big con job. That's what it is.

COLLINS: Barr's decision coming amid the president's growing frustration with soaring immigration numbers after border crossings hit a 12-year high last month.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now Jake, that new ruling from the attorney general is expected to go into effect in 90 days. It's the latest effort from the Trump administration to deter migrants from crossing the border, but legal experts are already saying they do expect it to face challenges in the courts.

[16:20:04] TAPPER: The president has an attorney general who does things he likes now.

Kaitlin Collins, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Let's start with the White House stonewalling, as Democrats put it. The White House is refusing to answer questions from Congress on a number of topics, including the president's tax returns, former campaign and administration officials, payments to two women alleging affairs with the president, his interactions with Russian President Vladimir Putin, White House security clearances, that's just a few.

How long do you think the White House can just refuse to answer questions?

I realize this is annoying. Every Congress does this to presidents of the opposing party. But you do have to answer questions at some point.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You got to answer some of them, yes. But I think this White House is probably uniquely suited for stonewalling because it's -- I don't think the downsides of that, they react to in the same way another administration would.

But I think it's best practice to try to cooperate as much as possible and at least look cooperative. I don't think we'll see a ton of that.

TAPPER: Is there a risk for Democrats at all? Obviously, the Congress does oversight. And that's appropriate. But is there a risk for Congress at all, for House Democrats to be seen as trying to do more to harass the president, in his description, instead of legislating to make life better for the American people? Is there a risk there at all?

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Of course they should be trying to legislate to make life better for the American people, but the president isn't interested in that.

The president is interested in sowing discord. He's interested in undermining the separation of powers. He's undermining American institutions.

He doesn't do what's best for the country. He does what's best for Donald Trump and what's best for Donald Trump is to have as much discord and dissonance in the American political atmosphere as possible because he thinks in that environment, he can win. Everything is about his own personal benefit.

TAPPER: Mike, is there not a risk for the administration that when you don't answer questions, even if you have decent answers, you look like you're guilty of something.

SHIELDS: I think if there hadn't been a Mueller report, that would be more true. I think that this now just looks like they're after the president. And the Democrats, one Congress, they had a hundred days.

Does anyone in the country know what their agenda is in the House or what it is they stand for? They got in a huge fight in the shutdown. They were angry about immigration. And we have investigation after investigation.

So they are the investigation party, and that's where that trickles down. When you get to a focus group and start talking to people who live normal lives and ask them about this, they think they're just out to get him now.

And that's what happened to Republicans. I worked for Republicans in the '90s, and we had the exact same thing happen to us when we did this to Bill Clinton. Once the big thing is over, it just looks like you're going after them over and over again.

HAM: That was a very big thing.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I disagree with that, not surprisingly. I think Pelosi has done a good job. I think there's a danger. That's why they have to have that balance between continuing to do things like trying to pass gun control reforms or fighting for health care.

I mean, the president certainly has given them a great fight on health care, standing up for our values with regard to immigration, keeping children out of cages. He's given them plenty of fodder on that. I think the president would like to make this a fight about now they're just after me, I'm the victim.

But again, you know, even with the Mueller report coming tomorrow, the idea that we're getting a redacted report, I think that potentially also fuels people's belief that they're hiding something. Still, we can't see the whole thing. I think that's part of why you're seeing Democrats continue to press to see the whole thing. I think as long as they continue to make this about transparency and accountability, I think they'll be OK.

TAPPER: What do you make of the attorney general's decision saying that the courts can deny bail to asylum seekers and keep them in jail indefinitely? This is the first time the attorney general has used his position to overrule a precedent.

HAM: So, the executive branch does have quite a bit of leeway in making decisions of how you police the border. And I am sympathetic to the idea they really are up against a crisis, and the people who work at the border are up against a crisis. And trying to stem the flow is something that could help the overloaded court systems.

The question is how you do that. In this case, the people who are denied bail would not be the ones who came through ports of entry and surrendered there. They would be only the ones who came over in the more rural areas entering illegally. I think that's what the attempt is, to try to cut down on some of those.

But we're also -- while these attempts, some of them very clumsy and immoral, to stem this flow have been going on, the flow has not stemmed. So we've got some serious issues here.

TAPPER: Did you want to weigh in on the fact that Ivanka Trump is confirming her father did actually offer the job of leading the World Bank, according to the "Associated Press"? Ivanka Trump in an interview said her father raised the job with her as a question, and she told him she was very happy with the work she's doing.

President Trump told "The Atlantic" magazine last week his daughter would have been good at the job because she's good with numbers.

SIMMONS: Yes, this is just another example of them putting the Trumps first and America second, right? We see this over and over again.

I want to get back to this question about the border and asylum seekers. There are -- we are one of the largest economies on the planet.

[16:25:02] We have the largest military on the planet. We have the most robust culture that everyone seems to enjoy.

People are at the border, trying to get into our country, not trying to get out. The idea the most powerful man in the world in charge of one of the most powerful countries in the world is picking on people who are running for their lives, trying to protect their families at the border, it just feels like he's being such a bully, when it's a time for him to be gracious and open armed and welcoming to people who are trying to do better by their families.

That's another example of why Donald Trump really just doesn't seem to be morally fit to be president.

HAM: I disagree with a lot of the policies, but also just calling someone a bully every time they attempt to deal with the problem does not actually deal with the fact there's a very serious logistical --

(CROSSTALK)

SIMMONS: Well, come up with a comprehensive solution to solve the problem.

HAM: -- actually comes up with that, although Ron Johnson was talking about something interesting, but no one will listen him.

TAPPER: We have to take a quick break.

Spewing hate at the man who could be the nation's first gay president. How Mayor Pete Buttigieg is facing down some protesters, some of whom were dressed like Satan today.

Stay with us.

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