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Soon: Attorney General Testifies Before Senate Judiciary Committee. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired May 1, 2019 - 06:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mueller expressed concern to Barr that Barr's four-page letter didn't fully capture his report.

[05:59:34] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the problem when Barr acts as the personal attorney to the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The special counsel couldn't conclude. Barr was doing what he was supposed to do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are looking ahead to two days of the attorney general testifying. This is an opportunity for him to be completely transparent. If he stands by his statements, he should be forthcoming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is going to get tarnished if he just isn't fully cooperative.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, May 1.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Rabbit, rabbit.

CAMEROTA: Thank you. That's good luck, right?

BERMAN: Yes. You say it -- the first thing you say at the beginning of every month.

CAMEROTA: Oh, every month.

BERMAN: Every month.

CAMEROTA: You're just doing it today for the first time.

BERMAN: I forgot the first 12 months that I was here, but I'm going to start. It's a new tradition, starting today.

CAMEROTA: I think it's going to be very good luck for the show. It's 6 a.m. here in New York.

Bill Barr has some explaining to do. In a matter of hours. the attorney general will face the Senate Judiciary Committee and the country to defend his handling of the Mueller report.

Overnight we learned the special counsel, Robert Mueller, sent a letter to Bill Barr in late March, expressing concern about the attorney general's four-page summary of his report. Mueller told Barr those four pages failed to fully capture his findings. The two old friends then spoke by phone, with Mueller raising concerns about how Barr's conclusions made the public more confused.

BERMAN: So this revelation raises all kinds of questions. Did Robert Mueller get played by William Barr? If he meant to send a message to the American people on obstruction, did he fail because he was outmaneuvered by Barr?

When will we hear from Robert Mueller himself? His testimony now seems guaranteed and crucial. Did the attorney general lie in testimony he has already given on the report? How will he explain his selective quotes from the Mueller report that seem to twist Mueller's intent?

Some Democrats are already calling for impeachment of the attorney general.

This all makes for what could be an explosive day. We want to begin with CNN's Jessica Schneider. She is live from Washington for us this morning -- Jessica.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.

This was already set to be a contentious hearing. Now, it's going to be even more so.

Democrats spent the overnight hours rewriting their questions to zero in on those revelations overnight that the special counsel objected to Barr's characterizations to Congress on the obstruction of justice issue in that late March letter.

Now, the criticism directly from Robert Mueller adds this whole new dimension to Democrats' lingering criticisms, but the attorney general today is planning to defend his actions over the past month.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): New fuel to Democrats' fire ahead of Attorney General William Barr's appearance in a Capitol Hill hotseat. A source revealing Special Counsel Robert Mueller expressed concerns to the attorney general in late March, saying he was dissatisfied with Barr's four-page memo summarizing principle conclusions from the special counsel's 448-page report.

Mueller, first writing a letter, then speaking with the attorney general on the phone, according to Justice Department officials. "The Washington Post" quoting the special counsel's letter as saying Barr's summary "did not fully capture the context, nature and substance" of his nearly two-year probe. Mueller adding, "There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine essential purpose for which the department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations."

In the phone call, Mueller telling Barr his worries about the public's understanding of the obstruction of justice investigation. The attorney general publicly concluding that there was no obstruction case against President Trump.

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The evidence developed by the special counsel is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense.

SCHNEIDER: The special counsel actually saying he was unable to reach a judgment. The new reporting contradicts Barr's comments to Congress about two weeks after his conversation with Mueller.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did Bob Mueller support your conclusion?

BARR: I don't know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion.

SCHNEIDER: The attorney general set to again defend his interpretation of the Mueller probe before Congress this morning, as he did before the redacted report's public release.

BARR: I was trying to state just the bottom-line conclusions and not characterize it or try to summarize the report.

SCHNEIDER: In prepared remarks for today's hearing, Barr notes, "I determined that it was in the public interest for the Department to announce the investigation's bottom-line conclusions. I did not believe that it was in the public interest to release additional portions of the report in piecemeal fashion, leading to public debate over incomplete information."

News of the special counsel's letter ramping up Democrats' list of grievances against the attorney general. Twelve Democratic senators calling for an investigation into Barr's handling of the Mueller report, saying his actions raise significant questions about his decision not to recuse himself from overseeing the special counsel's investigation.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): Now we have Bob Mueller himself saying, in effect, that William Barr's characterization was deceptive and misleading, in effect, a lie to the American people. And that's going to be reframing and adding a new dimension entirely to the questioning.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: And Democrats are digging in from all directions. Of course, those dozen Senate Democrats, led by Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, they sent that letter to the Justice Department inspector general Tuesday, urging an investigation into Barr's handling of the Mueller report.

[06:05:02] And at the same time the Senate hearing gets under way at 10 a.m. this morning, the House Judiciary Committee will be voting on the questioning structure of tomorrow's planned hearing with Barr.

But the attorney general, of course, threatening not to show up if staff attorneys are allowed to also ask questions.

In the meantime, House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler is demanding a copy of Mueller's letter to Barr by 10 a.m. this morning, just a few hours away. And now also reiterating that the special counsel must testify -- Alisyn and John.

BERMAN: All right. Jessica Schneider for us in Washington. So much to discuss about this.

We're joined by Anne Milgram, former New Jersey attorney general and a CNN legal analyst. David Gregory is here, CNN political analyst. And John Avlon, CNN senior political analyst.

And David Gregory, there were a lot of issues here. But I think if we step way the heck back, the thing that is crystal clear is that there is a split between the special counsel and the attorney general. Robert Mueller does not like the way that William Barr has handled the release of the Mueller report. And that's a big deal, especially three hours before we're going to hear from William Barr

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, you said it before. We know Bob Mueller is going to testify now. And, you know, these committees should bring him on first. I mean, they're not going to do that here in the Judiciary Committee.

But they ought to do that because now, it's more important than ever to not just say what's in the report but to give us the bottom line. You know, what were the conclusions that you think should have been drawn from this?

I still think Mueller would say, with regard to obstruction still in the court of Congress to figure that out.

But what's also clear to me this morning is that Barr did what we knew the Trump team would do all along, which was they were going to be in a rush to define how we were all supposed to think about this report. And they did it with a lot of maneuvering and some skill to shape the narrative.

The problem for Barr as he goes to the Congress is now Bob Mueller, you know, is really pushing back, saying the way he described this to the American people is not right.

CAMEROTA: But that was a victory for Barr.

GREGORY: No question.

CAMEROTA: Because he did plant the seed, and for a month, it has already marinated. Everybody has marinated in it. And they -- now the nuances, spare people the nuances.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Don't --

CAMEROTA: He did the high-level -- Look, not us obviously. Not journalists. But I think that what he wanted to do was get the conclusions, however misleading they were, out there. And don't you think that will stick?

BERMAN: Look, I think there's a lot of the Trump political strategy that's predicated on the idea that a large number of the American people are stupid. But there is a deeper importance to the contents of the Mueller report.

Obviously, the administration spun the report. What we didn't expect is they'd have the complicity of the attorney general. Because historically, the A.G.s tried to hold themselves to a slightly higher bar. Think about Bill Clinton's tortured relationship with Janet Reno, for example.

And we know now that Barr basically fulfilled the promise of his memo. He's pre-spun and pre-framed the contents of the report. It's not a surprise that Mueller was frustrated. What's stunning is that, given their long friendship, he apparently really complained and tried to do a brushback pitch --

CAMEROTA: And put it in black and white on a letter.

AVLON: Right. Within the context of their relationship.

We will probably hear a Mueller hearing. It looks like the DOJ is going to try to slow-roll this. Today will be major fireworks on Capitol Hill, because there will be a degree of accountability. And don't forget, you're going to have presidential candidates asking questions of the A.G., as well.

BERMAN: And there's a legal term for what William Barr here did to Robert Mueller. And that's he ate his lunch. You know, he ate Robert Mueller's lunch.

If the intention of Robert Mueller and the team of special prosecutors was to make the case for obstruction or lay out the evidence for obstruction, they failed. Because William Barr got in the way. So did Mueller blow it?

ANNE MILGRAM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right, so I think you're right about the ate his lunch thing. I think Mueller was expecting, "I'm going to take the high road. I'm going to say here, based on the Office of Legal Counsel opinion, that I can't make a call. It wouldn't be fair to say he's guilty of obstruction, but there's no judge and jury who decides it, so I'm not going to make that call.

He then goes on in the report, essentially, to make that call, in my view, with a number of instances of -- of what I believe, you know, he sort of made the case for obstruction. But he decides, "I'm going to take the fair road and not do it." And he gives Barr this opportunity to walk right in there and do

exactly what Mueller thought it wasn't fair to do, which is to be the judge and jury and to basically say there's no case.

GREGORY: Well, and that's what I want to hear more about, is that apparently, Barr has said that he was dissatisfied in their conversations that he didn't reach some sort of conclusion.

But Mueller lays that out saying, why would I reach a conclusion when the conclusion was baked in? You can't charge the president anyway.

CAMEROTA: But still, it would have been helpful to hear his conclusions.

GREGORY: Well, but the point -- but he's saying it doesn't matter what the conclusion is. This is ultimately a decision for a political process.

Right. But in other words, this is important. As a lawyer and as a prosecutor, you're not going to bring this case. So people can say that it's clear-cut. You're not going to bring the case.

And so the attorney general, who's the boss here of Mueller, said, "Yes. So I'm deciding, we're not bringing the case."

[06:10:04] BERMAN: Let me -- can I just read the line here.

GREGORY: Sure.

BERMAN: Because Mueller says clearly why he's not flat-out saying obstruction. He says, "Fairness concerns counsel against potentially reaching the judgment when no charges can be brought."

GREGORY: But there's no way for the president to challenge the evidence against him.

BERMAN: That's right. "If I can't charge you I'm not going to say explicitly --"

GREGORY: Right.

BERMAN: "-- you did it. However, here are the 11 ways you did it."

MILGRAM: And Mueller's argument, I think, would be, "I'm laying out the road map for Congress, who does get to decide."

GREGORY: Right.

AVLON: But this is the tragedy of being the last boy scout in Washington. Mueller is holding himself to a higher standard. He presumably thought perhaps Bill Barr would do the same, given the fact they've known each other for so long.

But first of all, by relying on Congress as the ultimate question about -- about impeachment and obstruction, it ignores the political realities. Our Congress is not working the way the founders imagined, because of

hitting the high threshold of a two-thirds in a highly partisan, divided Congress ain't never going to happen.

The second thing is, if that was his intention to communicate obstruction, he didn't do it quite clearly enough.

BERMAN: Too cute by half.

AVLON: Too cute. But -- and the reason that matters is he's clearly constrained by the Office of Legal -- the OLC opinion, right?

BERMAN: He thinks he is.

AVLON: But Barr specifically said another issue of misleading the American people, in his letter, that Mueller's conclusions were not constrained by that opinion. So there again, this is sort of a layer upon layer of a misleading characterization.

CAMEROTA: Yes, and that's what, in the letter that we now know, as of last night that Robert Mueller sent to Barr, here is, I think, one of the biggest, most stunning pieces.

Is that he said that Barr's four-page cheat sheet, which is basically what it was, created, quote, "public conclusion about critical aspects of the results."

So that -- he didn't -- Barr did not capture what Robert Mueller set out to show the American public.

GREGORY: Right.

CAMEROTA: He misled them.

GREGORY: This is where Barr is going to get grilled today. Because it was not just the letter, which was so reductive, you know, that it bothered Mueller.

But it was the press conference, which was really, really an exercise in going beyond his role as attorney general. We talk about this kind of Comey standard, where Comey went too far when he said there were no charges against Hillary Clinton on the e-mails and then offered all these judgments.

Well, you know, so did Barr going too far, saying, you know, that he didn't obstruct justice and these were the conclusions of the report. And there was no collusion. That was a big thing, right? He kept saying no collusion.

CAMEROTA: But also, the president was justifiably outraged.

GREGORY: Right. And that he was angry. And he was -- right. No. And I think that was the overreach. And that's where, look, I think Barr was way too cute with all of that. And he's going to create far more fireworks than were necessary over all of this on the Hill today. Although, you know, you wonder. People are redoing their questions,

of course, the presidential candidates. I mean, this is still the fundamental political problem. This is so polarized. I don't think Lindsey Graham, who's the chair of the Judiciary Committee, I don't think he's rewriting his questions. He said over the weekend this is over for him. I think it's still over.

BERMAN: He said no obstruction. "I don't see obstruction." So I don't know that he's going to learn from him much today.

Anne, you've been waiting patiently. I'm sorry.

MILGRAM: No, I was just going to say, even the fact that Mueller put it on paper says a lot. I mean, he papered the -- the sitting attorney general. And Bob Mueller is the most respectful chain of command person out there.

And for him to put something on paper and send it to the attorney general and say, "You're wrong," that means a lot. So we do need to see Mueller.

BERMAN: Will we see this letter? I mean, it seems inevitable we'll see.

MILGRAM: I think we'll see it.

BERMAN: Let me just read another part of it, because -- and Jessica put this in her piece. But there are two words that jump out to me --

CAMEROTA: Yes.

BERMAN: "The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not capture the context, the nature and the substance of this office's work and conclusions." The words "substance" and "conclusions" to me seem fairly important.

AVLON: Yes. It's pretty basic. And, you know, and that's why -- some of the DOJ's characterization is, well, he didn't contest, you know, whether the -- Barr's comments were misleading. You can't do both. I mean, that's pretty clear.

The fundamental substance of the report was -- was being -- you know, was not being truthfully communicated to the American people by the attorney general. In any other language, that's being misleading.

GREGORY: It's just, you know, the problem is short handing this is wrong. And that's what Barr did. He shorthanded it.

AVLON: Right.

GREGORY: But it doesn't change the conclusions. You know, the way that this was structured, the fact we don't have an independent counsel, we have a special counsel --

AVLON: That's important. GREGORY: -- who works for Barr, means that this is a guy who works for me. He didn't reach a conclusion. I'm going to. This is now done. And then you lose this context, which people should be absorbing.

BERMAN: The only part of it, though, that isn't necessary or required by law is the "I'm going to." Barr did something that isn't required by the law or by the special counsel law.

And in fact, the Office of Legal Counsel says if you can't prosecute a president, you know, William Barr saying it was completely unnecessary. So why did he do it? How did he do it? We've got a lot more questions, because there's another whole layer to this.

No. 1, did the attorney general lie in his last testimony?

CAMEROTA: Yes. We'll play that for you.

BERMAN: And also, what's going to happen when three people running for president get to question the attorney general on all of this today? What's next after this? Stick around. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:18:40] CAMEROTA: All right. In just hours, Attorney General William Barr will be in the hot seat on Capitol Hill to defend his handling of the Mueller report and this stunning revelation last night of a letter from Robert Mueller to Bill Barr changes the whole equation.

So we are back with Anne Milgram, David Gregory and John Avlon.

OK, so if people are just waking up, let us spell out to people what happened after Bill Barr got the Mueller report. Here's the chronology of events as we now know for the first time because of this letter last night.

On March 24, Barr issues his four-page summary. Apparently, Robert Mueller is so displeased and distressed by what he sees in that cheat sheet he then writes a letter to Bill Barr that Bill Barr gets three days later, with his objections that he thinks that Bill Barr did not accurately capture the findings.

On March 28, they have a phone call. OK? So these two old friends speak about it, because Robert Mueller is still upset with how it was depicted.

On March 29, whatever happened in that phone call gets Bill Barr to write to Congress, basically clarifying, saying the letter was not a summary.

BERMAN: Though it uses the word "summary" twice, I will note, in its four pages. That aside.

CAMEROTA: On April 10, Barr gives his Senate testimony, which we'll get to in a moment. And then on April 18, he gives that presser which was just, you know,

most people saw as a spin machine. And the Mueller report, the redacted version is released.

[06:20:08] And I just think, David, that it's just really interesting to hear. I mean, we didn't know, because Robert Mueller is so tight- lipped what was going on behind the scenes. But we did hear in a few reports that his people, his team was really distressed about it. And now we just have, you know, finer details about all of that.

GREGORY: Well, and to Anne's point, too, the special counsel was upset enough that he wrote a memo. He committed it to paper so it would be part of the record to say that "This wasn't right. They took my report, and they spun it. And I disagree with how they did that." And, you know, it was basically calling them out for what they wanted to do, which was to get out way ahead and to spin the conclusions that would be favorable to the president and changed the narrative of what we knew all along was largely going to be a political process.

And you know, Mueller lays it out in the report, what ways Congress could then pick up this report and move into an impeachment proceeding, if they so chose.

BERMAN: Did someone say politics? Because there are three presidential contenders on the Democratic side who will be part of this hearing today. Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris are all on the Judiciary Committee. Amy Klobuchar last night said she's revising her questions.

CAMEROTA: Of course. Why not?

BERMAN: What do you expect here, John?

AVLON: This is going to be a primetime moment for these three candidates. I mean, Harris is in the top tier. Booker and Klobuchar are having a hard time breaking through. This is a chance for them to show that they can be tough, that they can be principled. They know they're going to have the national spotlight on them.

Klobuchar and Harris did very well in earlier hearings, and Booker had his famous Spartacus moment, which fell a little bit flat. So expect a lot of politics, some grandstanding. But they're going to be aware that the spotlight is on them.

And in contrast, Lindsey Graham, the chair of the committee, is going to be presumably carrying a lot of water for the Trump administration and trying to tamp that down.

But this is going to be not just a consequential interview of the questioning of the attorney general. This is presidential politics, people.

CAMEROTA: Let's look back at when Bill Barr spoke to Congress. Because it turns out that some of his answers look different this morning in the new light of knowing about Robert Mueller's letter. And it turns out that Bill Barr is not always a reliable source of information, we now know. So let's watch what he said to some lawmakers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did Bob Mueller support your conclusion?

BARR: I don't know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion.

REP. CHARLIE CRIST (D), FLORIDA: Reports have emerged recently, General, that members of the special counsel's team are frustrated at some level with the limited information included in your March 24 letter, that it does not adequately or accurately, necessarily, portray the report's findings. Do you know what they're referencing with that?

BARR: No, I don't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: True. Not true.

MILGRAM: Not true.

CAMEROTA: That was April 9. And we now know that he got the letter and had the phone call with Robert Mueller days before that.

MILGRAM: And what the senator should do is put those exact pieces together and say, "You said this. Did you" -- you know the first thing you would say is, "Did you read the report?"

"Yes, I did."

"Did you see that it said this line?"

"Yes, I did."

"Did you say this?"

"Yes, I did."

"Aren't those contradictory?" And then the American people gets to see it piece by piece.

The one thing I'd say about the questioning today is I agree that they should focus on this piece. This is one important piece, but there are a lot of other important pieces. And I fear that, if it's just this, they're missing the opportunity to say things to Bill Barr like, you know, what -- if -- "Shouldn't you call the FBI if a foreign adversary steals your campaign opponent's information? Right? Isn't that the right and the American and the patriotic thing to do?"

And so I don't want them to get lost in the sort of rush of the day, which is incredibly important. But there's so much here for them to cross-examine him on.

GREGORY: A couple things I think should be said. One is that, in the end, President Trump got exactly who he wanted as attorney general. BERMAN: I think he got more than he ever could --

GREGORY: Yes, because he wanted someone. What he wanted Jeff Sessions to do was to take care of him, to look after him in the way that he thought Eric Holder did for President Obama. He really had that.

Because with all the focus today being on Barr -- did he tell the truth, how did he represent the report -- it really doesn't change the ultimate outcome of the report. It doesn't make the question less tense for Democrats in Congress about whether to initiate impeachment proceedings. It's still really polarized, really divided, not the way you want to go into an impeachment proceeding. The Democratic leadership recognizes that.

But one of the things, to your point, that it does get in the way of is absorbing what's damaging about the report and figuring out how do we avoid this kind of thing again?

BERMAN: I think it's a really important point. Two things: One, I think William Barr is too good of a lawyer to get caught in perjury. So I think Democrats and liberals out there being, like, "Oh, we got him, we got him, he's going to jail." You know, slow your roll. I don't going to get him. He probably has an explanation.

However, that doesn't clear him of misleading -- deliberately misleading and knowing in his head exactly what he knows and stalling for the two weeks like he did.

[06:25:04] CAMEROTA: And also just being shamelessly partisan --

BERMAN: Yes, I mean --

CAMEROTA: -- which is what you hope that the attorney general, the top law enforcement officer of the land, won't be.

BERMAN: You can be deceitful without perjuring yourself legally. So I think -- I think that is something that took place here.

And the other thing, John, I just want to take into account, for all the drama of this Barr -- this Mueller letter to Barr we now have seen the Mueller report. We now have seen the full report. Yes, it's redacted, but it doesn't seem to me that the redactions take away from the thrust of it. But we've seen it. So in a way, can't we draw conclusions from the report itself and leave this drama behind?

AVLON: That's how we know that Barr was misleading. Because we've seen the full report. We recognize that the press conference in particular, the attorney general was playing the role of White House press secretary. And I think that's why, to Anne's point it's so important that members of Congress and the Senate don't simply get stuck on this question.

Look, if you look at those two questions that we know the answer to now, he is not being truthful. The attorney general is not being truthful. But very often members of Congress don't ask the most precise questions.

They need to go deeper into the context of the report. The open questions. The very significant open questions that exist. Because there is such a gap between the -- not only the characterization of the report and the contents but things we still don't know. And that's where there's a -- there's an obligation not to simply play the surface politics of this, but really get into substance that matters.

GREGORY: One thing we haven't mentioned and we talked about Lindsey Graham as the chairman, one thing I think Republicans are going to advance, and we'll see to what extent Barr cooperates is advancing these questions, these challenges to the beginning of the investigation itself.

And that, I think from their point of view, will be a major story line, which is to get out the idea, well, there ought -- we ought to investigate the investigators.

CAMEROTA: Yes, they will try to turn the focus and Bill Barr will play along. Because as we know, he considered it spying for a minute until he decided that it was surveillance.

BERMAN: What's the over/under on how long before either Lindsey Graham or William Barr bring up the idea of spying?

AVLON: Opening statements.

BERMAN: Opening statements? We've seen most of them.

GREGORY: The other question is does Bob Mueller, does the House Judiciary Committee try to get Mueller before Barr? I know he's scheduled to testify. Do they try to rush Mueller in, and where's Mueller's head? I mean, he obviously is upset enough to write the memo. So I think he knows he's got to testify.

BERMAN: I think the American people deserve to hear from him. Whether or not he wants to or he's reluctant, it's time for him to speak publicly.

All right. Thank you all.

Next hour, we will speak with Senator Chris Coons. He is on the Judiciary Committee. He will be part of this questioning today. What specifically will he ask?

CAMEROTA: All right. Also, there have been violent clashes that have broken out on the streets of Venezuela for the past 24 hours as the battle for the power in that country intensifies. So what the opposition leader, Juan Guaido, is urging people to do today.

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