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Sen. Angus King (I-ME) Discusses Mueller Report; CNN Reality Check: A.G. Barr's Politically Motivated Performance; Mueller Sheds More Light On Russian Election Interference. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired April 19, 2019 - 07:30   ET


[07:30:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: -- to where our debate began.

Gentlemen -- Michael Smerconish, Jeffrey Toobin, thank you very much.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: "SMERCONISH" tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. Eastern only on CNN.

CAMEROTA: All right. So what action will Congress take now that they've read the Mueller report? Senator Angus King, his cooler head always prevails. We'll ask him.


CAMEROTA: After nearly two years of investigating Russian interference and potential ties to the Trump campaign, the Mueller report paints a picture of a president who repeatedly tried to remove the special counsel, discouraged witnesses from cooperating with investigators, and pushed aides to lie to the public, as well as investigators who were trying to investigate the Russia probe.

So joining us now to talk about all of this is Independent Sen. Angus King. He's a member of the Senate Intel Committee. Good morning, Senator.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I-ME): Good morning, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Have you had a chance to read all of the 400 pages?

KING: I'll be honest with you. I read about -- last night, until about 210. I haven't read the obstruction part. I read the entire collusion part, if you will, where there are lots of interesting redactions.

[07:35:05] So I've got to be honest, I'm halfway through --


KING: -- but I'm going to make it because you've got read every page, I think. There's a lot there.

CAMEROTA: Yes, for sure. I mean, it's dense stuff. It's not as much of a page-turner as the Starr report, frankly. What are your thoughts this morning as you digest it all?

KING: Well, I think the first is -- and you won't be surprised because I've probably said this five times on your program over the last couple of years -- the big story here is what the Russians did.

We're obsessed with whether the Trump campaign colluded and whether there was obstruction of justice. We can certainly talk about that and those are -- that's important.

But what comes through in the report is the incredible detail, down to the names of the Russian agents, that they hacked into the e-mails, they stole the e-mails, they disseminated the e-mails in order to influence our election. They hacked in -- they went into state election systems and they had a very sophisticated disinformation campaign.

And here's the problem, Alisyn. The president has never acknowledged that and here's why that's important.

I met with a group of people from Eastern Europe. I said how do you deal with this Russian interference? They've been seeing it for a dozen years.


KING: They said the best defense is if the people understand what's being done to them by the Russians.

And for the president to fail to say and to acknowledge what the Russians did is impairing our ability to resist what they're going to do the next time. That's what bothers me about --

CAMEROTA: Oh, he's not just -- I mean, Senator, I'm sorry to interrupt you. He's not just failing to say it, he doesn't believe it.

KING: Yes.

CAMEROTA: I mean, he thinks it's a hoax. He believes Vladimir Putin's word, as he said in Helsinki to the whole world.

He believes -- he doesn't see why it would be Russia. He believes Vladimir Putin. He has no reason not to.

So you are -- I mean, Senator, I don't --

KING: Well, he's about the only --

CAMEROTA: -- think you're going to get the right audience with him.

KING: Well, he's about the only person in the country that believes that.

And the problem that I'm -- the point I'm trying to make is it's hurting our country because if he acknowledged that -- a third of the country are going to follow whatever he says. If he acknowledged it and made a speech today and said there was no collusion and no obstruction of justice, but the Russians attacked us.

It was a serious thing. We need to do something about it. We need to respond. We can't let this happen again.

That would -- that would help our country. And I think that's one of the big points of the report.

Now, we can talk about in the -- in the collusion part, if you will, the first volume of the report. There's a lot of things redacted.


KING: -- and I think -- I remember in law school learning about a concept called conscious parallelism.


KING: And that means there's no agreement but two sides are operating in a way that they know is going to benefit each other. And that's what seems to come through in the report, and I think you read a sentence -- or John read a sentence that indicated that.

They were -- they were playing footsie. They may not have had an agreement --


KING: -- but there were just too many coincidences.


I want to ask you about Attorney General Bill Barr. Do you have confidence in him?

KING: Well, it was diminished yesterday. There was no reason for him to have that press conference and to try to explain away why the president did what he did. And I think he did misrepresent the report, giving a partial sentence about some of these issues.

It was just -- it was unnecessary and I think -- I think he embarrassed himself and I really think that's unfortunate. But again, I think the more important issue is what's in the report. But, he went out of his way to try to give the president what he wanted to hear.


KING: And then, the report comes out and it doesn't say what he said.

Here -- you know, the thing -- a lot of people last week were saying Mueller punted on the obstruction question. I think the football analogy is Mueller passed the obstruction question to the Congress and Barr intercepted the pass --

CAMEROTA: Right, and --

KING: -- and tried to take it over himself.

CAMEROTA: It seems like it now that we read the report.

And so, the question is what does Congress do about that? What do you do about somebody -- the attorney general of the United States who is intercepting your responsibility? And do you think that he is serving the Department of Justice and the country in the best fashion?

KING: Well, of course, he has a -- you know, he's appointed by the president. He's a member of the president's cabinet. But there is a tradition in this country that attorneys general tend to be institutionally independent and that's been observed more than -- sometimes more than others.

But I think what he's hurt is his own credibility with the Congress. I don't think there's any action the Congress needs to take. But I think the next time he appears before a committee and makes these kinds of declarative statements he's going to have a credibility problem.

CAMEROTA: So you don't think that he should somehow -- that Congress should somehow work to remove him?

KING: I don't think so.

And you haven't asked the question but I think the other question that you've been talking about all morning is the question of impeachment.

[07:40:00] And the -- as all of your commentators have been saying, essentially, impeachment is a political process.

And in my view, there's an even better political process coming right down the road on almost the same timeframe, and that's the elections of 2020. I think that's where this decision should be made about the president's conduct with all this information out in the public.

And it strikes me as not a terribly effective political motto to say hey, I wasn't indicted. I mean, that's not a -- that's not a big plus. But that's where I think the decision should be made.

For Congress to go through an impeachment process would be -- it would take probably 18 months, which would lead right up to the election, and it would be divisive. Many people in the country -- probably a third of them would feel that it was the Democrats' revenge from 2016. I think it would actually strengthen the president if we went through that process.

I think it's much better for these facts to be out there for people to talk about them -- what the administration did, what the president did -- and let the people decide in 2020. That's the political process I believe in.

CAMEROTA: Senator Angus King, we always appreciate your perspective. Thanks for being on NEW DAY. KING: Thanks, Alisyn.


CUOMO: All right. Up next, what Attorney General William Barr said and did not say is igniting a lot of criticism. Reality check, next.


[07:45:04] CUOMO: All right.

Our attorney general, William Barr, facing criticism for acting less like the top law enforcement officer of the United States and more like the president's attorney.

John Avlon, reality check.


All right. So, quote, "About the only thing transparent about his performance is how politically motivated he is." That was former federal prosecutor and CNN legal commentator Shan Wu's assessment of Bill Barr's press conference yesterday before releasing the Mueller report.

But after three weeks in which Barr controlled the terms of the debate, allowing team Trump to declare victory, once the Mueller report was actually released it became apparent that Barr had misled the American people, and he did it in an apparent attempt to put the report in the most positive light possible for the president.

Here are just a few key examples.

Now, Barr only quoted 101 words from the report in his letter to Congress and his favorite line was this.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.


AVLON: It's a big line and he really wanted to highlight it, referencing it three times in his 4-page letter and multiple times in yesterday's presser. But, Barr left out the first half of that sentence and it's a doozy.

Quote, "Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome and that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts..."

This isn't conspiracy or coordination but it certainly is an unusual and many would say unethical arrangement. Kind of a friends with benefits with a hostile foreign power.

But in the same vein, Barr concluded the evidence was not sufficient to charge the president with obstruction. But the Mueller report sets out almost a dozen specific examples of that, dictating false statements, pushing senior staff to lie, intimidating witnesses through proxies, dangling pardons.

Now, Barr wrote this letter that, quote, "For each of the relevant actions investigated, the Mueller report sets out evidence on both sides of the equation (sic)."

It does not do that. There is no concrete evidence on the other side, just questions about the ability to truly divine (ph) the president's intent. But that didn't stop Barr from doing just that.


BARR: ...frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency propelled by his political opponents and fueled by illegal leaks.


AVLON: As you know, prosecutors are famous for caring about feelings.

Barr was asked by CNN's Laura Jarrett whether the Justice Department's policy that presidents can't be indicted influenced Mueller's decision not to charge the president with obstruction. He said it didn't.

But the report says the opposite. Quote, "Fairness concerns counseled against potentially reaching that judgment when no charges can be brought."

Barr also said there was no indication that Mueller punted on obstruction because he felt this was a job for Congress rather than the attorney general.

But the Mueller report spends nine pages detailing how Congress can take up the question of obstruction because of DOJ policy against indicting a sitting president.

It says explicitly that the, quote, "Conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the president's corrupt exercise of powers of the office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law."

Finally, Barr shared the redacted report with Trump's legal team, stating it was standard practice. But for what it's worth, when Bill Clinton's lawyer asked Ken Starr for an advanced look at his report back in the day, Starr refused.

Look, the Mueller report presents a picture of a president with little regard for the rule of law. But it's President Trump's good fortune that he came up against a special counsel with such respect for the rule of law that Trump dodged a bullet on the key question of obstruction despite ample evidence. And that's your reality check.

CAMEROTA: Yes, John. How does A.G. Barr know the president's sincere feelings?

AVLON: Proximity, affection. And no, I mean --

CAMEROTA: A mood ring.

AVLON: It is -- it is one of the obvious tells in yesterday's presser that he's operating as part of the president's defense rather than with the independence expected of an attorney general.

CAMEROTA: For sure. That one jumped out.

Thank you very much for that great reality check.

AVLON: Any time.

CAMEROTA: All right. The Mueller report leaves no doubt Russia interfered in the 2016 election, as we all know. So what's being done ahead of 2020? We discuss that, next.


[07:53:27] CUOMO: The Mueller report says Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election in a, quote, "sweeping and systematic fashion." "The Wall Street Journal" headline now reads, "Putin Has Won."

So what is being done to prevent this from happening again?

Joining us now, Jane Harman, former Democratic congressman from California, and director, president, and CEO of the Wilson Center.

And, Lisa Monaco. She was once Robert Mueller's chief of staff at the FBI and is a CNN senior national security analyst. And has one of the best remote shots that I've ever seen in television right now. It looks like a -- it looks like a set from a movie --

CAMEROTA: Beach, yes.

CUOMO: -- or something like that.

So --

CAMEROTA: Somewhere on a faraway beach.

CUOMO: It's good to have both of you.

Jane, thank you for joining us this morning for this. I think it's one of the most ignored aspects of what we're all dealing with collectively.

Russia did it. They did it big-time. They can do it again. We've done nothing to stop them.

Fair assessment?


First of all, Vladimir Putin can fly the "Mission Accomplished" sign on his -- whatever carrier squadron or whatever he has or whatever he's building. That's one.

And yes, he interfered big-time in 2016. He's trying to interfere now in 2018 -- not just here, but there are rumors that he is supporting one of the candidates in the Ukraine election. That's in the press today.

[07:55:00] But what we have done since 2016 is declare election infrastructure -- critical infrastructure. And the Department of Homeland Security, although it doesn't have any leaders at the top, is focused on election interference.

Our Constitution says that states regulate the time and manner of elections, so each state leads here. And some of them resent the federal government, quote, "interfering." On the other hand, if they want to have fair and free elections, they've got to play.

And I think resources have been made available. The tech companies understand that social media is a prime tool, along with hacking, and they are cracking down on this.

And so I think we're in better shape -- not perfect -- for 2020 than we were in 2016 or 2018.

CAMEROTA: Do you agree, Lisa, we're in better shape?


One of the things that has been done is the Department of Homeland Security has built a greater infrastructure, frankly, for dealing with, and communicating with, and coordinating with the states who, after all, are the ones who administer, own, operate, and handle all the elections in this country.


MONACO: It's not a federal responsibility. It is, in fact, a state and municipal responsibility.

So, the Department of Homeland Security, I think, has made good progress in the last few years of building out a coordinating infrastructure with the states. It's also elevated the agency within the Department of Homeland Security that deals with cybersecurity issues and increased the visibility and responsibility of that part of the Department of Homeland Security.

But I'll tell you one of the things we have not done is, as a federal government and as a Congress, funded state cybersecurity efforts. We still do not have the Secure Elections Act.

And it is kind of unbelievable after all of this that we do not have a regular sustained source of funding for state cybersecurity efforts in light of everything that we've learned. And the Mueller report adds to the detail.

CUOMO: Jane, if you look at what happened in Florida, I mean it seems like when people make the play they're pretty effective. We don't have any proof that any tabulation of any vote was affected in 2016 or 2018. But, the Florida example of them trying to mess with infrastructure during an election works, it seems, whenever they try it in earnest.

HARMAN: Yes. It's not just the mechanical effort though, Chris. It's also the disinformation campaign --


HARMAN: -- which splits voters and drives many of them not to vote -- I mean, because it's all so negative.

And I'd add one more thing. The White House did have Homeland Security czar. His name was -- is Tom Bossert. He was canned a year or so ago and not replaced. The whole function has been downgraded.

It was critical all these years to have a Homeland Security person, since 9/11, looking out over the whole U.S. homeland.

Let me make one more point and that is that while we are so consumed with the Mueller report our enemies -- or our frenemies -- whatever you want to call them -- but China, North Korea, and Russia are gaming around us.

As well all know, Kim Jong Un is going to meet with Vladimir Putin next week. He's starting to talk about tactical missile tests again.

And I don't think we have enough brain cells on any other targets. And it's a real scary thing to think that ISIS is now -- although it doesn't have a caliphate, it certainly has an idea, and there's not enough attention at the top of our government about things like that.

CAMEROTA: Lisa, just help us understand this in the minute that we have left and that is the president likes Vladimir Putin. He's said it a million times he wants to be friend with him. In fact, he believes Vladimir Putin's word over his own Intel guys.

However, the Trump administration, as a whole, has imposed lots of sanctions on Russia. More, they say, than the Obama administration.

So which one is it? Are we punishing Russia or rewarding Russia?

MONACO: Well, we're not doing enough of the punishment from my perspective. I think that there has been a massive disconnect between the messaging going out from the president's team and what is coming out from the president and from the White House directly.

And what we do know about Vladimir Putin is that there's one voice that counts and that's the man at the top.

And so, as long as President Trump does not actually agree with or undercuts the Intelligence Community, as we have seen him do so many times, including standing with Putin in Helsinki, taking the word of Putin over the Intelligence Community, then it will not be a strong message to Russia that we mean business.

And that's what we need for Putin to take any of the punishment or sanctions that we do seriously.

CAMEROTA: Jane Harman, Lisa Monaco, thank you both very much for all of the expertise.

CUOMO: All right. Up next, we have two of the president's biggest defenders making their case. What do you say? Let's get after it.