Return to Transcripts main page


Barr to Lawmakers: "I Think Spying Did Occur" on Trump Campaign; Barr Says He's Assembling Team to Look into Russia Probe Origins; Back and Forth Between Leahy, Barr on Mueller Redactions; Barr: Mueller Didn't Ask Me to Decide Obstruction Question. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired April 10, 2019 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He said, that he believes spying occurred on a political campaign. He said, "I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal." Moments ago, he was asked by Democratic Senator Jack Reed whether or not he had evidence of any wrongdoing on -- to begin the investigation, the FBI wrongdoing. He said, "I have no specific evidence that I could cite right now." He said he has concerns about various aspects about it. And that's why he's convening a group to look into exactly what happened here.

But he did mention other aspects of the Mueller report that were interesting, as well as the four-page letter that he sent to Congress, outlining the top-line conclusions of the report. The big question is why Bob Mueller's special counsel decided not to charge the president with obstruction of justice, why he kicked that decision to the attorney general, whether he meant to kick that instead to Congress on the question of obstruction. Barr just revealed that Mueller did not indicate that he wanted Congress to make that decision on obstruction of justice. He also said that Mueller did not specifically ask the attorney general to make that decision. He said, that's generally how it works, the Justice Department makes that decision about charges with obstruction of justice.

Now there's been lots of questions about the redactions. He's making it clear that he does plans to hand over a redacted version of this report but has not discussed overruled the Mueller redactions with the Mueller team and he has not discussed redactions with the White House. So a little more information than yesterday but still Democrats want to see that full report. No indication that's going to happen -- Kate?


Manu, thank you very much.

Joining me right now -- and we'll add a lot of other players to this - but, importantly, let me bring in Evan Perez.

Even, let's start with this important news -- and this was some of your reporting this morning -- about how Bill Barr was assembling a team to look into origins of the Russia investigation, something he suggested yesterday, and you had more on it today. What did you make of his, I guess, further explanation of what he's interested in looking into and why today?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Kate, I think that was a little bit of a clean-up in the FISA aisle there at the hearing. But then the attorney general seemed to wade more deeply and cause more spills in that aisle.

Here is what he said to Jean Shaheen -- I think we have the sound -- about what exactly he's trying to do with regard to the origins of the FBI investigation.

Do we have that?


SEN. JEAN SHEHANN (D-NH): News just broke today that you have a special team looking into why the FBI opened an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. I wonder if you can share with this committee who is on that team, why you felt the need to form that kind of a team, and what you intend to be the scope of their investigation.

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes. As I said in my confirmation hearing, I am going to be reviewing both the genesis and the conduct of intelligence activity activities directed at the Trump campaign during 2016. And a lot of this has already been investigated and a substantial portion of it has been investigated and is being investigated by the Office of Inspector General at the department. But one of the things I want to do is pull together the various investigations that have gone on, including on the Hill and in the department, and see if there are remaining questions that need to be addressed.

SHEEHAN: Can you share with us why you feel the need to do that?

BARR: Well, for same reason, we're worried about foreign influence in elections, we want to make sure that during -- I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal. It's a big deal. The generation I grew up in, which is the Vietnam War period, people were all concerned about spying on anti-war people and so forth by the government and there were a lot of rules put in place to make sure that there's an adequate basis before our law enforcement agencies get involved in political surveillance. I'm not suggesting that those rules were violated but I think it's important to look at that. And I'm not -- I'm not talking about the FBI necessarily but intelligence agencies more broadly.

SHEEHAN: You're not suggesting, though, that spying occurred?

BARR: I don't -- well, I guess you could -- I think that spying did occur. Yes, I think spying did occur.


[11:05:07] PEREZ: That was quite a statement from the attorney general. And I think you're going to hear, there will probably be phone calls from the FBI to the attorney general to try to clarify exactly what he's trying to do.

Look, Kate, I think this is a highly political issue. The president today, he called this investigation, the beginning of the investigation illegal. So far as we know, it wasn't illegal. The FBI was investigating whether or not there were certain people who were associated with the campaign, who were doing things with Russians, and that was something that the FBI -- that's the job of the FBI. So one of the things we have to keep an eye on here is, whether as a result of this, there are changes in the way the FBI, what the standard is for the FBI to begin a counterintelligence investigation. That seems to be where the attorney general is looking at.

BOLDUAN: A huge deal.

PEREZ: And if that's the case, that's a huge deal. Right, exactly. And, again, I think the political leaders, members of Congress, the president, everybody has to get together and decide, OK, if we want to change the standard, we also have to understand what the consequences of that might to be. Because let me tell you, if something in the future happens and the FBI is blamed for, hey, you missed this, they will look back and say, well, you guys told us we have to raise the standard to start an investigation. A lot of what happened here, Kate -- by the way, I think we can talk more about this later on -- but members of Congress, last year, exposed the fact that there was a FISA. Those FISAs are not supposed to be ever known publicly. And so that's the result of what has happened here. And now it looks like the attorney general is calling for a broader look at this. And I think, again, it's going to be a big deal going forward.

BOLDUAN: We don't know exactly -- he said later on -- our colleague, Manu Raju, tweeted about it. He said there are concerns -- he has concerns about various aspects of the FBI investigation or how it was launched. He's not being specific -- nor should we really expect him to be, considering what we've been seeing -- about which aspects he's talking about. Is it the FISA warrant for surveillance of Carter Page, the Trump campaign adviser that they distanced himself from? There's been saga about that. Is it something else? Because when you talk about the origins of what launched the counterintelligence investigation that then led to the Russia investigation, it had to do with George Papadopoulos.

PEREZ: Right. Exactly. That's exactly right. I think, if you look at -- so far, everything we know about what the FBI did, including about George Papadopoulos, if you're the FBI, you have to look that and investigate that. None of that is supposed to become public if it ends up at nothing. But some of this stuff became public because Republicans in Congress decided they needed to make public the FISA application on Carter Page. And then that sort of -- because they believed that was done nefariously. So far, everything we've seen, it was not.

But, again, our political leaders have the ability to change the law. If they want to increase the threshold for the FBI to investigate these things, they can do that. What Bill Barr was doing today was sort of feeling around this dark

room, and I think he caused himself more problems there in trying to explain this. Later on, he also said there was no panel. He's like, not yet. It sort of is very unclear exactly what he means.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

All right. Evan, we've got much more to come on this. Stick with me.

Let me bring in chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, on this.

Gloria, I want to get your take on what you heard from Barr. It is quite a statement when he says he believes spying on the Trump campaign did occur.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. It is a huge statement. And I think that, as he said, he doesn't have evidence but he does have questions about it. Compare that with what the president said this morning. The president said that what occurred was illegal and was treasonous. So you have a president of the United States saying, you know, this never should have begun. This was illegal. This was -- you know, this was because you had all these angry Democrats, et cetera, et cetera. And the president gave a list of names, you know. He talked about Lisa Page, Mr. Strzok, McCabe, and he went on and on. Now you see what the attorney general is saying, that I have questions about this and I'm going to look into it. The question I have about this is, is he listening to the president, who clearly wants this investigated, and Republicans in Congress, who clearly want this investigated, or is this something that the attorney general has looked at a little bit and said, wait a minute, maybe we have to change the way things are done here. His line is -- but the question is, was it adequately predicated?


BORGER: Mean, I believe there was spying but was it adequately predicted. My translation of that is, was everything kosher when they were issuing the FISAs. I think that's may be something that he wants to get to the bottom of. He may end up saying, you know, yes, it was completely fine, that they had real reasons to worry about whether spying was going on and they had an obligation to follow up on it, which would put him in conflict with the president of the United States.

[11:10:34] BOLDUAN: That's a great point, Gloria. It seems there will be a long road to get to that conclusion, if you will.


BOLDUAN: Stick with me, Gloria.

Elie Honig and Jennifer Rodgers are with me as well.

Is it fair if -- so if -- and we don't know. If what Bill Barr is talking about, that spying did occur on the campaign, if that has to do with the FISA warrant on Carter Page, I mean, there's a universe where spying did occur and it was entirely appropriate. And what he's saying is there's a universe where if spying occurred and it was appropriate, that was launched. Am I getting that right?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think he's using spying in a way that sounds worse than what it is. I think really he means surveillance, right, he means the Carter Page FISAs and other that kind of thing that went on. I think he's trying to do two things here. On the one hand, he's saying, listen, there were investigations into this, we have the DOJ, inspector general's report coming down, Congress is looking at this, there are all these different areas where there are pieces of information, I want to collect of all that together and take a look and see if anything more needs to be done. Meanwhile, the president is yelling in my ear this is treason, it's illegal, and so I have to appease him by doing that. The question is, of course, does he then open an investigation?

BOLDUAN: But, Jennifer -- OK, so review is short of investigation.


BOLDUAN: Do you think, with all the information that he would be gathering, do you -- and the fact that the I.G. is also investigating this, do you think it's appropriate for the attorney general to be launching a review or an investigation into the origins?

RODGERS: I think what he has actually said he is doing to date is fine, which is collecting the information that is being gathered by others, and has been gathered by others, and taking a look at it to see whether anything is warranted. The problem is we, of course, don't have all the information that he will have access to, right? Some of what has been learned is not public. It's hard to say at this point whether it would be appropriate to open an investigation beyond that. That's what we don't know.

I will say that he did say something that troubled me, which is after saying, you know, that he really was just looking at other information, he didn't know where it was going to lead, later, he said he didn't have any evidence, he just had concerns. But he did say he thought there was a failure of leadership at the top of the FBI. The FBI is great, blah, blah, blah, but we saw a failure of leadership here. They're going after Comey. I feel like, no matter what is determined here --


BOLDUAN: He's saying, he's saying the opposite in the same hearing. He's saying a lot of conflicting things at the same time.

RODGERS: That's to appease the president and that troubles me.

BOLDUAN: Yes, I would say so.

On the most basic level, Elie, why would Barr be launching review of his own if the inspector general is doing -- I think, doing exactly this at the same time?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It certainly looks political. And --


BOLDUAN: Do you think it is? I mean --


HONIG: I do. I do. It's not necessary. You have a very competent, nonpartisan, in fact, Obama-appointed inspector general, who has shown he's not afraid to make a call. He issued a pretty scathing report on Andrew McCabe. So why would you then double up on an ongoing investigation? That's contrary to sort of basic law enforcement fundamentals. You never want to run two investigations parallel to one another. I think it's a really problematic precedent, this idea of investigate the investigators. We know prosecutors and criminal investigators open cases all the time. A lot of times, you have to walkway. The evidence -- maybe there's some evidence, may be there's no evidence, maybe there's not quite enough to charge. The idea that, if that happens, now it's time to investigate the investigators and maybe subject them to criminal charges, is retribution and feels really political. Especially when this comes, what, 20 minutes after the president, before he's about to board his helicopter, talks about this was a coup and this was treason. I think it's a problematic message that's being sent.

BOLDUAN: You can be sure, no matter what the motivations are for Bill Barr, he did not hear what Donald Trump was saying on his way out to Marine One and probably he doesn't appreciate it. And --


HONIG: Same wave length --


BOLDUAN: -- to say the very least.


BOLDUAN: All right, guys, stick around with me because we're going to have much more on this breaking news. We'll continue monitoring the Bill Barr hearing. There are more very important questions being asked. Clarifications giving somewhat different answers and more context than even his hearing yesterday.

[11:14:42] We'll take a quick break. Be right back.


BOLDUAN: You are back, watching Attorney General Bill Barr testifying before the Senate now, facing an appropriations hearing, but we haven't heard much about appropriations. Because there are a lot of important questions that the attorney general is taking and answering with regard to the Mueller report, the special counsel's investigation, and how much he is going to release and when.

Let me bring back in Evan Perez who has been following this.

Evan, there was a back and forth between Senator Leahy and Bill Barr about the redactions and the redactions process that is ongoing, he says, as they speak. Let me play what they -- what went on and then we can talk about it.


SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): Have you overruled Mr. Mueller or his team on any redaction question?


LEAHY: One way or the other?


LEAHY: Have you discussed any specific redactions with the White House?



BOLDUAN: What do you think of that?

PEREZ: I think that's an important clarification of what's going on behind the scenes. Look, I think the question of who is making the redactions, one of the things that Bill Barr has tried to do is to lock arms with Robert Mueller to sort of present a united front, saying, look, this is my letter and this is going to be my version of the report, essentially, my redacted report. But Bob Mueller is fully on board with this. And I think that's --


BOLDUAN: And I'm going to cut you off, only to head back into the hearing.

Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen asking questions now.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): -- in making that assessment.

BARR: That's not a question I really can answer until I think --


VAN HOLLEN: Well, you did. But you made - you looked at the report, right, and you looked at the evidence of the report and you made a decision, and you said the president is not guilty of criminal obstruction of justice. I'm asking you in your review of the report did you agree with Mueller that there were difficult issues of law in fact?

BARR: I'm going to give my reaction and comments, you know, about the report after the report... VAN HOLLEN: Well, it would have been - but you - you put your view of the report out there on this issue of obstruction of justice, right? Nobody asked you to do that.

BARR: I didn't put my view of the report...

VAN HOLLEN: Well, you put your assessment on - you made a conclusion on the question of the obstruction of justice that was contained in the Mueller report, and I'm simply asking you when you looked at the evidence did you agree with Mueller and his team that there were difficult issues of law in fact?

BARR: As I say, I am going to explain my decision and to the extent that requires any assessment of the Mueller report. I'm going to do that when the Mueller report is out (ph)...

VAN HOLLEN: Did your decision - did you decision require you to look into the intent of the President of the United States with respect to obstruction of justice?

BARR: I'm not going to discuss my decision. I will lay it out after the report is out.

VAN HOLLEN: Mr. Attorney General, the thing is you put this out there. I mean the president went out and tweeted the next day that he was exonerated. That wasn't based on anything in the Mueller report, with respect to obstruction of justice. That was based on your assessment. That was on March 24.

And now, you won't elaborate at all as to how you reached that conclusion, because I'm not asking you what's in the Mueller report. I'm asking about your conclusion. Let me ask you this. You said ...

BARR: Well, it was a conclusion - it was a conclusion of a number of people, including me. And I, obviously, am the attorney general. It was also a conclusion of the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

VAN HOLLEN: I understand. No. I've read your letters ...

BARR: (Inaudible) I will discuss that decision after the report is out.

VAN HOLLEN: Did - did Bob Mueller support your conclusion?

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

VAN HOLLEN: So in your - in your June 2018 memo, you indicated that a president can commit obstruction of justice, in the classic sense, of sabotaging of proceedings, truth finding functions. Did you see any evidence in this report about whether or not President Trump committed what you call a classic sense of obstruction of justice?

BARR: I'm not going to characterize or discuss the contents of the report. The report will be made public ...

VAN HOLLEN: In reaching your ... BARR: ... hopefully next week, and I will come up and testify at that point about it.

VAN HOLLEN: Right. But - but the thing about it is, Mr. General, you put your conclusion out there. And now, you refuse to talk about any basis of your conclusion. I'm not asking you of what's in the report. I'm asking you how you reached your conclusion. Last question. Can you assure us that the key factual evidence, relevant to charges of obstruction of justice, will be included in the public report?

BARR: You ...

VAN HOLLEN: Do you assure us that the key factual evidence in the Mueller report, related to charges of obstruction of justice, will be available in the public report?

BARR: I believe it will, and that's one of the reasons I want to review it after the - you know, when the redaction team is done making the redactions to make sure that there's nothing in there that would prevent that.

VAN HOLLEN: So my ...

BARR: And to the extent - and - and by the way, redactions can cut both ways.

VAN HOLLEN: Can I - can - my last question relates to redaction process. My understanding, from your House testimony, was you're allowing the Mueller team to make the redactions in three of the four areas you mentioned, all of them except for intelligences. Is that - is that correct understanding of your testimony yesterday? In other words, you're leaving the discretion to them on the three of the four criteria that you mapped out?

BARR: I have stated what the categories are, and the people implementing it are the justice lawyers, with the special counsel lawyers. They're implementing those categories.

VAN HOLLEN: And you - you're not going to overrule the special counsel's judgment, with respect to any of those categories, right?

BARR: I haven't.

VAN HOLLEN: And you - well, can you tell us you will not?

BARR: If an issue comes up, you know, I don't want to prejudge it. But - but it's not my intention. My intention is to allow the team to make the redactions, and the people in the department are making those redactions.

MORAN: Senator Boozman.

BOOZMAN: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you very much for being here. We appreciate your service. We've really talked about a lot of things that are very important. [11:23:59] I want to talk about one that really is sweeping the

country, as we mentioned briefly before, and that's the opioid epidemic. And not just that. We have an opioid epidemic but we have an addiction epidemic. And in Arkansas, we're number two --

BOLDUAN: All right. Questioning continues, moving on to other topics, important ones, like the opioid epidemic.

I do want to pick up on the conversation on what we are learning from this back and forth about Bill Barr, the attorney general's decision to not move forward on charges on obstruction.

With me here, Jennifer Rodgers, Elie Honig.

A basis for our viewers, this gets back to what the attorney general wrote in his memo, in his summary. This is the one line that sticks out and this is the only basis we have because the attorney general is not speaking about it any further. The special counsel states that, quote, "While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."

What do you make of what you hear from Bill Barr now?

RODGERS: In a way, I get it. He is reluctant to talk about what evidence led to the conclusions before the report is out. He doesn't have a lot to fasten on to. On the other hand, this is what people are curious about. It was great that they got into some of this questioning before about, how did Mueller decide that he wasn't going to decide? What did he tell you about that?

BOLDUAN: Essentially, what Barr says is that he didn't tell him one way or the other.

Because the question has been, after this letter came out, Elie, did Robert Mueller intend for the question of obstruction to be left to Congress to decide? Did he intend it to be decided by the attorney general? And what I gather from what Bill Barr said, Mueller didn't say one way or the other.

HONIG: Yes. It solves one of the mysteries of Barr's four-page letter. Barr use this had ambiguous language, saying Mueller's report leaves it to the attorney general to decide obstruction. A lot of people looked at that and said, well, did he ask you, Attorney General, or are you taking it upon yourself?


HONIG: I think we have the answer now.

BOLDUAN: But do we have any impression of what the regulation actually requires because --

[11:25:04] HONIG: Right.

BOLDUAN: -- when it comes to special counsel regulation, by and large, everything is left up to the attorney general. HONIG: Yes. The regulation actually says the special counsel,

Mueller, should make prosecutorial or declaration decisions.

BOLDUAN: So then in absence of that, what?

HONIG: That's a question that Robert Mueller may be asked some day or maybe we'll get clarity in the report. I think when Barr was asked earlier today, did Mueller ever tell you he intended this to go to Congress, the answer was no.


HONIG: But the follow-up would have been, did he say anything in the report about whether it was intended to go to Congress? I'm sure Barr would not have answered. But maybe there will be an answer in the report. Maybe he just put it out there and said, whoever wants it, take it.

BOLDUAN: Someone is taking it, that's for sure.

Gloria, let me bring you back in on this.

I think this is an important point on this obstruction question.

BORGER: Well, it is. I think, in an exchange with Senator Leahy, the attorney general said, yes, that Mueller has a fuller explanation of this question of obstruction and why he could not decide one way or another in the report, which he also said would be hopefully delivered next week. So, I think that -- and he believes that will be included in what is released to the public. So, we will get some sense of whether -- you know, why Mueller decided he couldn't decide. And, of course, you know, Barr made it very clear that he just took the bull by the horns.

He said, look, this is what the attorney general is supposed to do and that he was never told by Mueller, OK, as you folks have been talking about, that it's going to be left to Congress or it's going to be left to me. He said, I'm the attorney general, and that's what I do. But he refused to explain to, you know, Senator Van Hollen about why he did that, because he said, I have to wait until you see the whole report and see the whole context in which I was operating as to why I did this along with the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. So he didn't explain his thinking on this at all. Although, we've seen his thinking in that memo that he did send in June of 2018 on obstruction.

BOLDUAN: And I think you hit on what is somewhat of a confusing aspect, as we've been following this hearing --


BOLDUAN: -- is that Bill Barr, in his memo, and in his testimony, is explaining his thinking in some respects, like why he's thinking about why he's reviewing the origins of the investigation, but with regard to other aspects, he is not. Still promising that he will come back to testify about it, so there is that.


BOLDUAN: Guys, we'll continue to listen to this. Please stick with me.

We will be right back with much more as we're watching Capitol Hill and this very important testimony happening, THE Attorney General Bill Barr. We'll be right back.


BOLDUAN: All right, Democratic Senator Chris Coons questioning the attorney general right now. Let's listen.

BARR: It says, you know, apart from whatever we feel like impinging on the case, there's a gag order that would be implicated by release. I expect that that will be put in.

[11:30:06] SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): And are those safeguards likely to be worked out with the chair and ranking of Judiciary --

BARR: Right.