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Barr A No-Show At House Judiciary Hearing; Vigil To Honor College Students Killed In UNC Charlotte Shooting; Interview With Rep. Ted Lieu; Interview With Rep. Lofgren. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired May 2, 2019 - 10:00   ET

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


POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: To talk about all of this.

[10:00:00]

Laura Jarrett is with us at the Justice Department, again, our attorney, Elie Honig, Jackie Kucinich on the political side of all of it.

So, Elie, just to you on where we go from here, what do you expect? Do you expect Bill Barr will be held in contempt? And as the journalist, one of the journalist in the crowd rightly asked, isn't that just going to get all tied up in the courts and just, you know, drag out the clock here?

ELI HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So I'm not particularly optimistic that their last-ditch effort that Representative Nadler talked about to negotiate will succeed. And assuming it does not succeed, then, yes, the next step would be contempt and then we're going into the courts. And, yes, it will take time and, yes, it will get sort of complex and difficult.

Now, things move through the court at a slower pace than people often imagine. It's hard to see this case getting litigated. And it's not just a one-shot deal because they'll start in the district court, then whoever loses will almost certainly appeal to the Court of Appeals, which is the intermediate, and then perhaps even seek to take it to the Supreme Court.

Now, one thing that does strike as possible is --

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Hold your thoughts just a moment. This is the ranking Republican on the committee, Doug Collins.

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): And we understand that. Then we understand that maybe it's the democrats who have something to be worried about. Maybe they don't like what was in the Mueller report and maybe they don't want to continue to have to answer questions about it. I'll take your questions.

REPORTER: The White House has been fighting subpoenas, fighting for classified information. Do you have any concern that they're eroding your colleagues' ability to investigate? COLLINS: I don't think so. I think they're going to do what they need to do, as other past administrations have done as well, including President Obama and others. They fight subpoenas when they feel like that they have made accommodations or not.

One very much concern I have, and the chairman was just out here talking about going straight to contempt, that's typically a two-week process. You don't typically go straight to contempt. You actually work with the agency, you try to make accommodations. And every time they spend held in contempt from committees, it's typically been a long process.

This democratic majority seems to be impatient. They don't want to wait, they don't want to ask proper questions. They don't want to go through the process. What are they hiding? Why are they so concerned? Because they hate this president, they don't want to see this going and they want to keep the circus going and keep the American people believe that they're actually doing impeachment when they're not.

REPORTER: So beyond the President, is there anything wrong, inherently (ph) wrong --

COLLINS: I'm sorry, I couldn't --

REPORTER: Beyond the President, is there anything inherently wrong with staff attorneys questioning a witness?

COLLINS: Well, as your network access said, there is no precedent for this. And I think after 206 years of this committee actually working where we actually were able to do our job, except in the area -- and this is where it gets interesting. Because the only two areas even the chairman talks about is in impeachment. So what is happening is is my chairman wants to actually let the American people believe by citing impeachment as the President who were actually doing impeachment, when in reality, they don't want to bring impeachment.

So this is the problem, this is becoming a circus. If he would take the accommodations that the Attorney General has made, work with the Attorney General to find better ways instead of rushing to have a press release, rushing to have our committee, and, by the way, trampling minority rights of this committee, that is something that has been amazing to me. Yesterday was a travesty in our committee and our chairman actually should be ashamed.

REPORTER: But what's wrong with having staff attorneys question beyond the president?

COLLINS: The interesting question (INAUDIBLE). The staff questioning is irrelevant in a sense of what they're actually wanting to do. But my question is why does the chairman think so little of his lawyers on his committee that he wouldn't take 30 minutes for himself or others to actually ask questions? He's got great attorneys. To me, it's a slap on the face of his own people.

REPORTER: Will you fight efforts to what the Attorney General (INAUDIBLE)?

COLLINS: We're just going to continue to -- if the chairman wants to continue down that path, my questions are going to be, what is your hurry, have you looked for accommodations, have you actually tried to work with this Department of Justice, or do you simply -- every time you didn't get what you want, which has been the pattern in the first 100 days, this chairman runs to make a subpoena, runs to make a contempt charge. It's almost like they're daring to go to court instead of doing proper legislative oversight. That's a travesty for this country.

Thank you so much.

REPORTER: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: There was the ranking Republican, Doug Collins, with a spirited defense of the Attorney General's decision not to appear before that committee.

Jackie, I just want to ask you a question here. I mean, we were talking about how strong the words and the criticisms coming from the democrats here, talking about a danger to American democracy, a danger to coequal branches of government. Is there a political backing for that position? I just wonder.

Listen, they have a role here in Congress. You can see the angle they're coming from. But I just wonder if that will strike some even in their own caucus as hyperbole here? I mean, do they have the backing for that view of what's going on here?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: In terms of in the public, or in terms of the Congress?

SCIUTTO: In the public.

KUCINICH: In the public, I mean, I think among the base, yes. But I think this is more. If you listen to Jerry Nadler, this is about the battle of the branches. This is about what Congress is there for, what their oversight ability. And they're making it about bigger than the Trump administration. I think Jerry Nadler during his initially statement said if they don't stand up to this White House, they will relinquish the ability to stand up to White Houses in the future.

[10:05:08]

So they're trying to make this a real constitutional question rather than get mired in the politics. Now, the reality, this is mired in politics. And we've seen this between congresses and presidents over and over again, the Bush administration, the Obama administration. This is what happens when you have divided government and you have passions as high as they are right now.

HARLOW: So the question though becomes on the political angle, when is it pressing it too far, Jackie? Because David Chalian last hour mentioned our brand new CNN polling, and just shows something that should be a warning to democrats. 44 percent of Americans say democrats are doing too much in terms of investigating the President, okay. And this is all wrapped up in that, right, too much. 28 percent say they're doing enough. 25 percent say they're doing too little. I mean, is that a sort of a blinking red light for democrats here?

Yes, the majority of Americans in this poll do want them to get the full unredacted Mueller report. They do want them to investigate if the President obstructed justice. But they think overall, dems are maybe doing too much here.

KUCINICH: There's a reason we were talking about a $2 trillion infrastructure bill earlier this week. Democrats know, particularly Speaker Nancy Pelosi knows, that particularly democrats that were the majority makers on those from Trump districts that elected Trump need something else to take home. They're not as entrenched in the Mueller report, in the Mueller investigation.

So, yes, they need to be able to walk and chew gum and, you know, get some wins on the board for these members that were elected not to go after the President but to try to get things done in a divided Washington.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Manu Raju on the Hill standing outside that committee hearing there with one of the members from the hearing who had some of the most explosive comments, the representative, Ted Lieu. Manu.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, thanks, Jim. Yes, Ted Lieu, Congressman who is on the House Judiciary Committee, talk to me about what the Justice Department is saying just now, that are saying, look, why can't you have -- you guys are attorneys, most of you are attorneys, you can question a witness. Why do you need to have staff attorneys insist on having staff attorneys question when it's something you can easily do yourselves?

REP. TED LIEU (D-CA): We definitely could do those ourselves and we will when Barr comes in after we subpoena him, but we also want staff counsel, because these are complicated issues. Obstruction of justice is a complicated issue. Issues related to conspiracy are complicated issues. And it's nothing extraordinary that we're asking. When I was on the House Judiciary Committee last year under Republican control, there were numerous witnesses from the Department of Justice that were questioned by staff counsel.

RAJU: I mean, are you worried though now you're going to move down this process of contempt? It's going to take time. You may not actually get these answers that you were hoping to get at today's hearing.

LIEU: It will take time, but I don't think it's going to take that much time. We can control our contempt proceedings within Congress. And once contempt passes off the House floor, not only can we litigate, but we also get inherent contempt powers that the courts have upheld, including the ability to impose fines on the person without having to go to the courts. RAJU: Do you want fines levied against anyone who doesn't comply with the subpoenas?

LIEU: Absolutely not, but we will go there if they continue to ignore congressional subpoenas.

RAJU: Is this something that's been seriously considered fines and if people don't comply for subpoenas?

LIEU: Ultimately, we're going to have to enforce what the framers wanted, which is coequal branches of government, checks and balances on the executive branch. And if they continue to ignore Congress, if they continue to hide from the American people the truth, then we are going to use all the tools at our disposal.

RAJU: One of the tools is, of course, impeachment. The democratic leadership has been hesitant in going this route. Do you think they should have changed their approach and start to more seriously consider the prospects of impeachment?

LIEU: If the Trump administration wants impeachment, they're doing a good job of pushing the democrats there because we want to first gather facts to decide if we should impeach. If we can't gather facts, then we're going to launch an Article III impeachment under what Nixon happened to him. Article III of his impeachment proceedings was obstructed Congress. So if we can't gather facts, that may be the only tool we have left and we're going to use it if we have no other tools left available.

RAJU: You seem pretty confident that you're going to go that route. Have you got any assurances from Jerry Nadler or Nancy Pelosi that you guys are going to go that route if you don't get compliance?

LIEU: So that's my personal opinion. But I can tell you, it's unifying the caucus. So whether you're a liberal, moderate, conservative member of the democratic caucus, you understand that you cannot have Donald Trump and the executive branch blowing off Congress, ignoring Congress. And so if they push us to go there, we are going to go there.

[10:10:03]

RAJU: Congressman Ted Lieu saying it's unifying the caucus, the talk of impeachment in light of this noncompliance of the administration. Guys?

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: That is interesting, an example of the members perhaps overruling the leadership on that question.

HARLOW: Yes, it's a great point. We -- of course, Manu gets the important interview right there. We appreciate it very, very much.

SCIUTTO: We have Laura Jarrett. Just before we go, Laura, because I want to get your reaction to what the members of the Judiciary Committee and the broader democratic caucus seem to be threatening, how does the Justice Department respond?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, it's interesting. If I heard Nadler correctly at that gaggle with the press, he said we're not afraid to use our inherent contempt authority. I take that to mean using a sergeant-in-arms to get the Attorney General.

Now, we're a long way away from that. They haven't even subpoenaed him to appear yet, but it's quite a threat to make, I think, at this stage, especially when it's really about form over substance. It's really about the issue of just having the staff question him. That's where the stalemate is, and and it's kind of a constitutional stalemate. There is no provision in the constitution that says members of Congress get to, you know, investigate in this way.

And so it's really going to be an interesting question to see whether the courts want to weigh in on this and how they come out. It's kind of untested ground here.

HARLOW: Laura, can I ask you to put a button on it? Can they hold Barr? Are they on good strong legal ground to hold Barr in contempt for not appearing at the hearing, the format of which they wanted with this lawyer, right? He would show up if they had changed it back to the regular format of the five minutes of questioning and not the 30 minutes additional for a staff attorney to question. Can they still hold him in contempt by saying, you have to appear at the form of hearing we want?

JARRETT: Well, they would have to subpoena him first, and they haven't even done that. They were having all sorts of these background conversations. So the first step would be the subpoena. If he flouts the subpoena and still doesn't show, then the contempt vote would come. But even on that, I don't think they're on necessarily 100 percent firm ground there because, as I mentioned, you know, there hasn't been a whole lot of precedent for having a senior cabinet official come and have to take staff questions outside of impeachment proceedings.

And so they're going to have to show why this is so necessary given the fact that there are attorneys on that panel that can easily question, and this whole idea about five minutes, they get to set the rules on how long. The attorneys -- they could pick the best attorney on the panel and have them go the whole time. So I think that's a hard argument to make.

SCIUTTO: Well, by the way, majorities have set the rules on a lot of consequential things, even, for instance, the number of votes necessary to confirm justices, just a point of order there. Jackie, Elie, Laura, thanks very much.

Still to come this hour, his sacrifice saved lives. We know that. North Carolina police are calling one student a hero after witnesses say he rushed a gunman who opened fire on a university class room. We'll honor the life of Riley Howell ahead.

HARLOW: Plus, were cruise ship passengers and moviegoers exposed to the measles? Health officials raising concerns about the disease, new ones.

And a new CNN poll drops and the President's approval rating on the economy jumps, good news for the President, is it bad news for his 2020 challengers?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:15:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIEU: Attorney General Bill Barr is now one of the most dangerous men in Washington, D.C.

REP. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL): You know, I just have to say as a former police chief that it was painful and disgraceful to see the nation's top cop abandon his responsibilities.

REP. STEVE COHEN (D-TN): Chicken Barr should have shown up today and answered questions. He was afraid of Barry Burke. He was afraid of Norm Eisen. An Attorney General picked for his legal acumen and his abilities would not have been fearful of any other attorneys questioning him for 30 minutes.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): The so-called Attorney General can run but he cannot hide.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Very strong words from the democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee speaking of Bill Barr's no-show at a hearing today.

Joining me is Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California. She serves on the committee as well. Congresswoman, first of all, thanks very much for taking the time this morning.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): Sure.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you. You heard those words here, a danger to democracy. You heard the Chairman, Jerry Nadler, talk about the need to respond to the possibility of the President acting like a dictator here. Do you share those concerns today or is that hyperbole?

LOFGREN: Well, when Attorney General Barr refused to show up, it was improper, and I think it was arrogant. I think of graver concern, honestly, is the refusal to provide to the Judiciary Committee the full Mueller report, which has been subpoenaed along with the evidence underlying that report. We have a right to see that material. The Attorney General has -- we've subpoenaed it. The Attorney General has said simply, no.

The other thing of grave concern is the President's comments that he's going to have the members of the administration refuse to comply with any subpoenas issued by the House of Representatives. That's not the way our system of government works. SCIUTTO: Is that a danger to U.S. democracy, in your view?

[10:20:01]

LOFGREN: Actually, I think it is a very serious problem because the executive branch for the last more than 200 years going back to the days of George Washington has been subject to oversight by the Congress. That's fundamental to our system of checks and balances. And so for the President to say he's going to break that and he's not going to allow subpoenas to be responded to is extraordinary and it's improper, and it does threaten our system of checks and balances.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, because the question now really is how far are you willing to go? When we heard the Chairman, Jerry Nadler, talk about using all of the committee's powers here to compel Bill Barr to testify, among those powers is sending the sergeant-in-arms to arrest him and bring him before your committee. Would you support going to those lengths to get the Attorney General to testify?

LOFGREN: I would be very surprised if that occurs. Obviously, there is a process that needs to be engaged in. We have not subpoenaed the Attorney General to appear. We merely asked him to come. Obviously, we want to pursue that, and we issue a subpoena. If he still refuses to comply, we would engage in a mediation to see if we could come to an agreement. And if he still refuses to respond, then you'd have to go see what further remedies are available. But, as I say, the more serious problem today is the refusal to provide the documents that already have been subpoenaed.

And let me just say something about the Attorney General. I didn't get to see all of the testimony in the Senate because I was busy in hearings and work here in the House. But I did have a chance to look at some of it. And, really, I think in many instances, he was not very candid, maybe not even honest, in his testimony. So I'm not so sure I'm very interested in what he has to say since he doesn't necessarily tell the truth.

SCIUTTO: Are you saying that the Attorney General lied before the committee?

LOFGREN: Well, I'll tell you what. He certainly needs to explain why he lied to Charlie Crist when he came before the House and said that he had no idea what Mr. Mueller thought when he already had Mr. Mueller's letter. That -- I can't understand how that is anything other than false. You know, I would like to hear his explanation.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, because Ted Lieu as well said that the only recourse may be impeachment proceedings. Our colleague, Manu Raju, pressed him on that because, as you know --

LOFGREN: Against Barr?

SCIUTTO: -- democratic leadership, that's a move that they had not been willing to make, but he said members of the caucus may support that move. Would you support impeachment proceedings against this President? LOFGREN: Or against Mr. Barr? Was that what Mr. Lieu was saying?

SCIUTTO: Actually, he was talking about against the President as a process, talking about, I think, what you've been referencing there more broadly that this administration refusal to provide documents, witnesses, et cetera. First, let's start with the President. I would ask you about Barr as well. But would you support the beginning of impeachment proceedings against the President?

LOFGREN: I certainly don't think we're there yet. We have some further discussions that need to occur between the House and the executive branch. But I'm sure you know that Article III of the Nixon impeachment was Nixon's refusal to provide information that the Congress legitimately had a right to see. So I don't want to see our president marching down that road.

SCIUTTO: And that's exactly the point that Congressman Lieu made. He was talking about Article III and he cited the Nixon impeachment articles.

The final question then, and you bring it up, do you support the impeachment, the removal or the resignation of Bill Barr as Attorney General?

LOFGREN: Well, based on his performance to date, I don't think he is doing an adequate job. I don't think he has been honest with the Congress. And I think we could do a lot better than him. I'd like to see him go. But on the other hand, we've had a series of inadequate attorney generals, including Mr. Whitaker, whose improper temporary appointment was a disappointment. So I'm not sure President Trump is really interested in somebody who is interested in telling the truth and defending the rule of law.

SCIUTTO: Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, thanks very much, always good to have you on.

LOFGREN: Thank you.

HARLOW: Interesting. I mean, she said she thinks he lied to Congress.

SCIUTTO: She did straight up, but not willing to take the step. She said we're not there yet on impeachment for the President, but also even for the Attorney General.

HARLOW: Yes, all right. We'll keep asking those questions.

Ahead for us, an incredibly sad story. A student who was killed at a shooting this week at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, is now being praised as a hero. What police say he did that may have saved many lives.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:25:00] HARLOW: What a night. What a moment to honor. Thousands there honoring two students killed in that shooting at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte this week, 19-year-old Reed Parlier and 21-year-old Riley Howell.

SCIUTTO: Those poor kids and their parents. Howell is now being praised as a hero for tackling the shooter and stopping any more lives from being taken.

[10:30:05]

Dianne Gallagher, she has been following the story. Dianne, he could not run.