Return to Transcripts main page


A.G. Barr Faces Tough Questions About Mueller Report; Barr Will "Work with Judiciary Committee" on Redaction Concerns; Barr: "I think Spying Did Occur" on Trump Campaign. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired April 10, 2019 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I expect that that will be put in.

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

BARR: Right.

COONS: -- who also just happen to be --

BARR: Right. Now, in terms of the safeguards, so for example an easy on in my view, is the classified information. I would just want to make sure that was -- there were adequate safeguards and shared with a limited number of people, that kind of thing. The thing we would normally do in this situation.

COONS: I was struck that the District Court of the District of Columbia reported, recently, the grand jury convened by Mueller has not been discharged and is continuing it's investigation. Did anyone pressure the Special Counsel to conclude his investigation and submit his report before it was complete?

BARR: I didn't.

COONS: Did anyone else to your knowledge?

BARR: Not that I'm aware of.

COONS: Why -- there are press accounts that members of the Special Counsel's team, his investigators, prepared summaries for public release of sections of the report. Why did you summarize the principle conclusions reached by the Special Counsel and the results of investigation rather than releasing some of these prepared for public release summaries?

BARR: So, actually Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and I were expecting a report that would make it very easy for us to determine what had to be taken out and what wasn't, and that's not how the report came to us. So, we -- I immediately recognized that there was going to be some significant lag time between our receipt of the report and when we could actually get it out.

And decided that -- I did -- none of it was releasable as I received it, because none of it had been vetted for sensitive (ph) material, but every page on it said -- had a warning that it could contain sensitive (ph) material. So, as of ...

COONS: So, every page had a warning and you were certain that the Mueller team had not vetted it?

BARR: It had not been vetted.

COONS: They're weren't summaries? Let me get to two other questions, if I could. Forgive me.

BARR: So, I'm just saying that on -- I felt it was important to just advise the country as to what the bottom line conclusions were. I was not interested actually, and if -- even if I had summaries available, which I did not on Sunday, that were vetted, I wouldn't have put out summaries, because I think summaries, no matter who's preparing them, are going to be subject to criticism.

What people have to remember, that generally the Department of Justice does come out with binary conclusions. And so, just stating the bottom line on each of those I think was entirely appropriate.

COONS: Who, if anyone, outside the Justice Department has seen portions or all of the Special Counsel's report? Has anyone in the White House seen any of the report?

BARR: I'm not going to -- I'm not going to -- as I said, I'm landing the plane right now and I've been willing to discuss my letters and the process going forward but the reports going to be out next week and I'm just not going to get into the details of the process until the plane's on the ground.

COONS: At what point will you allow Congress to know whether or not the White House was given the full report, briefed on the report, shared sections of the report ...

BARR: Once I go up to the ...

COONS: It is the striking the president claimed complete and total exoneration if he didn't either see the report or was briefed on the report.

BARR: As I said, once the report is out, I'm happy to discuss the process.

COONS: I very much look forward to that. Given -- my last question, given your unsolicited June 8th letter to the Justice Department regarding obstruction of justice, did you every consider recusing yourself from making a conclusion about whether a charge of obstruction of justice should have been made?

BARR: Well, I consulted with the career ethics officials at the Department.

COONS: And they concluded that your memo on the topic did not require you're recusing? BARR: That is correct.

COONS: Thank you Mr. Chairman.

MORAN: You're welcome. Chairman Graham, the Attorney General has been very faithful to his insistence that he not disclose anything of significance until he's in front of your committee.

GRAHAM: Great, but you cannot possibly be surprised that President Trump would claim exoneration without having read anything. So, anyway, I hate to talk about appropriations committee, but I will.

MORAN: We will welcome that.

GRAHAM: OK. If sequestration goes back into effect and is due to do that, how would it effect the FBI and your ability to defend the nation?

BARR: Can I turn that over to ...



BARR: -- my trusty sidekick here?

GRAHAM: Yes. Boy, did you pick a winning lottery ticket to be here with him.

BARR: For the hard ones.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can tell you, the last time we --

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And with the key word of "sequestration," we will come back out as we continue to listen to the Bill Barr hearing before the Senate right now.

[11:35:04] Elie Honig and Jennifer Rodgers are here with me.

Some of what we're listening to kind of gets to what has, at least to me -- and tell me if you heard this differently -- today, Bill Barr giving a bit of a different answer than he did yesterday when it came to, what are people going to see. Yesterday, it was, my intention is to release to the public and to Congress a redacted version of the report. That's why he went into an exhaustive explanation of the four categories of why there are these redactions. Today, Bill Barr gives something of a different answer. He says that he intends to take it up with the Judiciary Committee on what areas they feel that they need to have more access to, and how I can accommodate them and I'm willing to work with them. Is he giving a different answer today than yesterday?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: He is. He has been much more fort forthcoming today. That's a welcome thing. This notion that the public and the Congress will see the same thing was always ridiculous. And so I think he got some pushback on that, started thinking harder about it, and realizing he was going to have to work with them.

BOLDUAN: I totally -- that seems logical, considering it's been 24 hours and a different answer. It seems illogical to me that that wasn't established already when -- hold your thought, Elie, I'm going to go back in.

Lindsey Graham still talking with Bill Barr.

BARR: It's one of our most cherished civil liberties.

GRAHAM: So you think that's an appropriate thing to look at and you will look at it?

BARR: Yes.

GRAHAM: OK. Do you share my concern that if you're going to open up a counterintelligence investigation against a presidential candidate that you have to have a very good reason?

BARR: Yes absolutely.

GRAHAM: And a counterintelligence investigation is designed to protect the target of foreign influence, is that correct?

BARR: That is correct.

GRAHAM: It's not a prosecutorial function, is it?

BARR: No. Unless -- unless espionage or some violation of the espionage laws is -- develops.

GRAHAM: So would it be odd that the candidate was never really briefed by the Department of Justice that your campaign may be targeted by a foreign entity?

BARR: That is one of the questions I have, is -- is I feel normally the campaign would've been advised of this.

GRAHAM: OK. And can you think of a good reason right now why they wouldn't have been?

BARR: I'm -- I'm interested in -- in getting that answer. They had two former U.S. attorneys in Chris Christie and -- and Rudy Giuliani involved in the campaign and I don't understand why the campaign was not advised.

GRAHAM: Apparently when Senator Feinstein had a person on her staff that was supposedly connected to the Chinese government she was briefed. Is that the normal way you do things a counterintelligence investigation?

BARR: I think --

GRAHAM: Well she was briefed about a staff member that they thought might be connected to the Chinese government and she took action and fire the guy. Is that sort of what you're supposed to be doing?

BARR: That's what I would -- if I were Attorney General and that situation came up, I would say yes, brief -- brief the -- the target of the foreign espionage activity.

GRAHAM: OK. So you're pledging to this committee and I guess to the country as a whole is to find out what happened with the warrant application, find out about the counterintelligence investigation to make sure that the law was followed and if there was any abuse of the law to report to the Congress and the public, is that accurate?

BARR: That's accurate. I -- I just, you know, want to satisfy myself that there were no abusive of -- of law enforcement or intelligence powers.

GRAHAM: Well, I'm glad you're doing that. When it comes to Mr. Mueller are you talking to him about the 6(e) material?

BARR: I haven't personally talked to him about the 6(e) but his people are -- are working on the 6(e) material.

GRAHAM: So there's a collaboration between your people and Mueller people about what to take out what to leave in on the grand jury side?

BARR: Yes. As it was described to me, people are sitting at the same table.

GRAHAM: All right. When it comes to ongoing criminal investigations you're making sure the prosecutors -- they have a say about what's released because it may jeopardize their cases?

BARR: That's right, the people involved in those cases.

GRAHAM: And when it comes to classified information, you're talking to the intelligence community to make sure they're OK?

BARR: Yes. Yes.

GRAHAM: Thank you very much. Senator Schatz.

SCHATZ: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Attorney General, for being here. I want to give you a chance to rephrase something you said because I think when the Attorney General of the United States uses the word "spying" it's rather provocative and, in my view, unnecessarily inflammatory. And I -- I know what you're getting at because you have explained yourself in terms of answering Senator Graham's questions and -- and the questions of others. Do you want to rephrase what you're doing? Because I think the word "spying" could cause everybody in the cable news ecosystem to freak out and I think it's necessary for you to be precise with your language here.

You normally are and I want to give you a chance to be especially precise here.

BARR: I'm not sure of all the connotations of that word that you're referring to but you know, authorized surveillance. I want to make sure there was no unauthorized surveillance.

SCHATZ: OK. Thank you.

BARR: Is that -- is that more appropriate in your mind?

SCHATZ: This is your call. I really did want to give you a chance to -- to say it how you wanted to say and make sure that you didn't misspeak, because you talked for a long time, you had yesterday and I want to make sure --

BARR: I appreciate that (ph).

SCHATZ: -- that you use the words that you want to use. OK. On the Mueller summaries -- on the Mueller team summaries within the report, I get that on every page there was a sort of admonition that this may contain 6(e) material. The question I have relates to your desire to make sure that the whole thing is intelligible. Are these reports going to be -- excuse me, are these summaries when the report is released going to be intelligible? I assume there may be some redactions, there may be none, but the basic question I think for the public is are we going to get the gist of this or is it going to be, you know, on January of 2015 and then -- and then you have to flip 15 pages to find the next text.

BARR: You will get more than the gist.

SCHATZ: Thank you. I want to ask you about the coal memorandum. In your confirmation hearing you said, I'm not to go after companies that have relied on the coal memorandum. Are you planning on restoring it? Are you planning on establishing your -- your new guidance? I heard what you said about marijuana generally but those are public policy questions. Assuming we can't come to an agreement on a new statutory framework, what's the plan for the Department of Justice?

BARR: I'm going to have to make some difficult choices.

SCHATZ: Do you care to elaborate?

BARR: Well for example, Reliant suggests people who have already taken action based on the coal memorandum -- I mean, one open question in my mind is if states continue to pass these laws, are we going to continue to forbear in those new states. I would like to see Congress address this issue.

SCHATZ: Is there any internal guidance regarding these sort of difficult questions?

BARR: Not -- none (ph) that I've given.

SCHATZ: So the Department of Justice is operating without guidance?

[11:42:33] BARR: The Department of Justice is operating under my general guidance that I am accepting the Cole Memorandum for now but I have generally left it up to the U.S. attorneys.

BOLDUAN: We're listening to Democratic Senator Brian Schatz questioning the attorney general.

Evan, can I bring you back in on this?

Because as we have been talking about, the attorney general had said that he, earlier in this hearing, he said he believes that there was some spying, did occur on the campaign. And given -- and he seemed to then try to explain it, that it happened. It could have been authorized or unauthorized. And that's -- oh, no. It could have been appropriate or inappropriate in how was launched, predicated, as he said. Then he was asked to clarify once again and he said spying means unauthorized surveillance. It almost seems like now the attorney general is making it even worse.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. He kind of is. Look, the Senator there was trying to help him out and suggesting, perhaps, that cable news is going to go crazy on this. But let me tell you, everybody who covers --


BOLDUAN: We are so crazy. That is true.

PEREZ: Right. Well, that's true. But I think everybody who has covered this investigation, everybody who has covered 2016 and on forward, thinks that what the attorney general said today is a big deal. Let me tell you that the way he is characterizing this stuff is important, because it suggests that he already has some predisposed notions and, perhaps, after he looks at this, will come to a different conclusion. I think it's an unusual way for the attorney general to speak. You know, again, those of us in the news business like when attorneys general say stuff. We're getting an attorney general who says stuff.

The question is, what does he mean exactly? It's not exactly clear. Does he have information that indicates that James Comey, that people at the top of the FBI did things, had essentially bad intentions when they approved some of these moves. We don't know. But he seems to be saying that they're going to take a wide look at this. And if you're the FBI, and you're looking at a campaign that has someone in the periphery, who you met before -- Carter Page I'm talking about. The FBI had discussed with him the fact that he was a target of Russian intelligence in a previous case and then they see him surface again. They see him show up in Moscow. They hear the candidate mention Carter Page as an adviser. What is the FBI supposed to do, right? That's the big question, I wonder, whether the attorney general is sort of fully aware of the power of the words that he's using today. And does he understand that, you know, people might be making different decisions just based on the fact that he is saying that something might have gone wrong here? I think that's a big question, Kate, going forward.

[11:45:26] BOLDUAN: Yes, absolutely.

Gloria, Lindsey Graham, this is something that he cares a lot about. He says he is going to champion, and he is going to take on, and he's going to investigate himself as the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. You can see that in his line of questioning with the attorney general. You can be sure it's something that they've discussed before. They've had dinner and a lot of meetings with each other.

But when he was also -- he said to the attorney general, why wasn't the candidate briefed on the launch of a Russia investigation, and Bill Barr's answer was, I don't understand why the campaign wasn't advised.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. He said normally the campaign would have been advised. And he pointed out that you had both Chris Christie, at that point, involved in the campaign as well as Rudy Giuliani, who are well versed in issues of law. And I think the question here -- I mean, he made it very clear that what he's trying to get into is whether there was some kind of abuse of power here.


BORGER: And I don't know the answer to this. Maybe your lawyers do. But if the FBI had some idea that perhaps some of the -- some people in the campaign were willing participants in this, would you then have briefed the campaign, or would you have continued your investigation? We don't have the answers to that. Maybe Barr will find out. Maybe the inspector general will find out.


Elie, Jennifer, what do you think?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That whole line of questioning began with a false premise, which is either it's a counterintelligence investigation or it's criminal and there's a bright line between the two. The reality is that it can be both at the same time. Gloria was alluding to this. If you are starting an investigation, you know there's wrongdoing and potentially criminal, you might make a decision, let's hold off, not notify people so they can cover their tracks or stop doing what they're doing if we want to make a criminal case. You'd have to balance all the factors. But there absolutely could have been a legitimate reason to not tip people off or at least not tip people off immediately.

BOLDUAN: It could have been either. And that's what you're saying.


BOLDUAN: It could have been wrong or completely appropriate, I guess, that the campaign was not -- on this very specific issue that Lindsey Graham brought up, that the campaign wasn't notified when the FBI launched a counterintelligence investigation into Carter Page?

RODGERS: Yes. If you have the situation that Graham brought up with Dianne Feinstein, someone in the campaign who is isolated, that's the only person you're concerned about, you go to the top person and say, we're concerned about this person, you should get rid of them. If that's not what's happening here, if it's infusing beyond that and they're concerned about other people, then they wouldn't notify them. And we don't know that. That's speculation. But they may be opening a Pandora's Box here when they really start to dig around in all of this.

BOLDUAN: So everyone knows Jennifer and I had different takes on what we heard from the attorney general on the question on spying. Jennifer thinks I'm one of those crazy people on cable news.

What do you think is this?

RODGERS: I think you would be a very good litigator because you can pick out one piece of information and another piece of information and put them together say this is what he meant. When you take the totality of his testimony on this, what he was saying was, I'm looking at whether the authorized surveillance that we know happened here was appropriate or not, was the FBI hiding things, were they not disclosing things to the FISA judge that the FISA judge needed to know? I think that's what he's digging into. But you would be great in court, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Let's hope I never end up there. Or at least you're my attorney.

Lindsey Graham was actually on this issue of investigating the investigators, has actually asked for a special counsel, a second special counsel to be appointed. Do you see a responsibility that that is needed here?

HONIG: It's a political decision, right? It depends how far the Department of Justice feels obligated to go. But appointing a special counsel is a precipitous --


BOLDUAN: OK, well, let me ask you this. Does it -- and I guess the answer is yet, abuse of power should be rooted out. But does it matter what the origin of the campaigns. If it all was appropriate, is how I have to predicate this. How begin, does it matter if where it ended up was 34 people, three companies indicted, convicted or pleading guilty to crimes and, in the end, it found no evidence of conspiracy or collusion on the part of the president?

RODGERS: It would matter if it would lead to changes on how the FBI opens investigations, the oversight that occurs at the FBI. If they're doing improper things, yes, of course, that should be determined and that should be fixed, no matter what the results were. Those of us who have followed this closely and from what we've learned of the Carter Page FISAs think there's nothing there.

BOLDUAN: Evan, as this is very clearly where the focus is turning right now, I do wonder if folks at the FBI and over at Justice, they're seeing the attorney general laying this out, what they're thinking and how they're thinking their jobs might be changing right now.

[11:50:00] PEREZ: Exactly. I think that's exactly what's happening right now. Bill Barr, when he reviewed, frankly, people in the FBI, people at the Justice Department were relieved because they thought, finally, we can put all the stuff that's been sort of hanging over us behind us. And what I think is about to happen is the opposite, is Bill Barr is about to usher in a new period of new clouds. And there's a lot of politics involved in this. And I think that's where this gets a little tricky for the attorney general, is that, you know, the -- it's fine if you believe that there's some wrongdoing. There's already an inspector general investigation that will tell us a lot of that. If there's a new sort of investigation of the investigators, that's where this has the potential to go really, really bad because of the politics. Because the president just before he left today, for instance, talked about how this was an illegal investigation, and nothing we know so far says that it is. So, look, I think the attorney general will -- a lot of people trust him to carry out this -- his decisions the right way and we'll see how that happens.


And, Gloria, kind of to what Evan was touching on right there, what the president said today, what the president has said all along, you do also hear Bill Barr, I don't know, walking a fine line with regard to a couple of things and how the president characterizes things and has, right?

BORGER: Right.

BOLDUAN: The president calls it an illegal witch hunt. Bill Barr was asked was it a witch hunt, and he says, I'm not going to characterize it, it is what it is.

BORGER: Right.


BOLDUAN: Hold on, Gloria, I'm going to go back to the chairman of the committee. Apologies.

Senator Moran.

SEN. JERRY MORAN (R-KS): What is the basis for reaching that conclusion or a belief that something like that occurred? And what are the consequences for those who committed unauthorized surveillance?

BARR: Did you say that I said that it occurred?

MORAN: You indicated -- I think -- I tried to at least reflect on what your quote was, that you thought spying on a political campaign occurred in the course of an intelligence agencies investigation into Russian interference in 2016.

BARR: I thought the question was, did I have any basis for saying that.

MORAN: And I'm now asking what the basis is or what the facts are that lead you to that thought.

BARR: OK, I felt -- I am concerned about it and I was asked about whether was any basis for it, and I believe there is a basis for my concern, but I'm not going to disucss the basis.

MORAN: And what's the potential consequences for those who violated the law?

BARR: Well, it depends what the facts ultimately prove to be.

MORAN: Which would be determined in a prosecution?

BARR: Possibly, but there are also -- there can be abuses that may not arise to the level of a crime, but that people might think is bad and want to put in rules or prophylaxis against it.

I mean, I remember when there was a lot of people upset at the FBI spying on or surveilling civil rights groups or anti-war groups or nuclear freeze groups and so forth, and as a result of that, there were a lot of safeguards built in. There were also concerns about surveilling reports, and so safeguards have been put in.

So, it doesn't necessarily have to result in a criminal investigation or a finding of the crime. But, part of my responsibility is to protect the civil liberties of the American people and I think something that is important is that law enforcement and intelligence agencies respect the limits on their powers.

MORAN: I share that view with you Mr. General and I'm of the same generation in which those things occurred and were alleged to have occurred. Senator Shaheen.

SHAHEEN: Yes. Mr. Chairman, I remember that too and I remember J. Edgar Hoover's FBI surveilled student groups as well, having been in one of those student groups that was surveilled.

[11:54:13] I want to ask a couple of what I hope will be very short questions. Over the past two years, the subcommittee in Congress has provided record levels of funding for the Office of Violence Against Women. That is true about the recent omnibus as well. We have not yet reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act. And I want to be reassured that the Justice Department --

BOLDUAN: All right. So as for, again, further clarification on his comment earlier in the hearing that he said that he believes some spying did occur on the campaign.

Jennifer, now what?

RODGERS: So I think he was a little puzzled by the suggestion that he was saying necessarily that it was unauthorized.

BOLDUAN: Say what you mean and mean what you say. I mean, when you're an attorney, you're very good at being careful with your language. [11:55:00] RODGERS: Then he said spying and changed it to

surveillance. I think he was using spying the same way he was using surveillance and his goal is to find out whether or not it was appropriate or not appropriate.

BOLDUAN: But he did say I have -- I think there's a basis for concern with regard to, call it surveillance, call it spying, call it whatever you want, a basis for concern about how the Russia investigation was launched, is what he said there, but he wouldn't discuss. Why?

HONIG: That was even a walk-back, right, from saying earlier, I think spying did occur. To "a basis for concern" is a little bit less. But where is he getting it from? I mean, the pattern with Barr is --

BOLDUAN: Look, he may have evidence. He may have not.


BOLDUAN: He has given us a lot -- this is a very serious matter and it's very confusing what he's trying to say he's even doing.


HONIG: And note he's not willing to give some opinion or put some meat on the bone in areas like this and other areas that people want to know about the conclusion on obstruction, I won't address that.


HONIG: So there seems to be a little bit of a double standard in the way he is answering questions.

RODGERS: This is a way for them to just stall things, I think. He needs to collect information. He's going to look at this. This keeps this narrative alive for them to say investigate the investigators while we head toward the 2020 election. It kind of gives them a talking point.

BOLDUAN: Gloria, let me get you back in on this because we had to cut you off to go back into the hearing.


BOLDUAN: What we were talking about is how Bill Barr is also walking a line when it comes to answering to what the president has said and giving his take on it. With regard to witch hunt, he said I'm not going to characterize about it, it is what it is. When asked about, totally exonerated, Bill Barr said he's not going to discuss it until the report is out.

BORGER: Right. You're right. He's clearly walking a fine line. But as it regards to what you guys have been talking about a moment ago --


BORGER: -- about the unauthorized surveillance or the spying, he made it very clear where he comes down on this. He said, I would say brief the target, which would be, I presume, Donald Trump and the campaign.


BORGER: Rudy Giuliani or Chris Christie or whomever it was. Very clear where he comes down on it. And then he said, there is a basis for my concern, but I'm not going to talk to you about it.


BORGER: So it's clear that he's already started looking at this. And, you know, I don't know that he comes down to the sort of illegal witch hunt of the president of the United States, but as Evan Perez was saying earlier, if you are working inside the FBI, you are wondering, how are you supposed to do a counterintelligence investigation if you believe that perhaps people you were looking at were willing participants? Do you brief them? Not necessarily the president of the United States, but who are you supposed to talk to about this while this is an ongoing investigation? I think that's what the inspector general is clearly looking at.


BORGER: And so the question that I have -- and I think Evan may have alluded to this before -- the question I have is, why would you need two investigations if you already have one?


I mean, Elie, Gloria, give me -- I mean, Elie, Jennifer, give me a final take on hat.

HONIG: I think it's for show and I think it's political. It's not necessarily investigatively. It sends really confusing messages to people inside the Department of Justice about what their job is and when they'll be second guessed in potentially really consequential ways.

BOLDUAN: All right.

RODGERS: I agree. I think he's trying to appease the president. Any time Congress asks you to do something, you say, sure, I'll take a look, I'll do it, I'll gather the information, I'll take a look. I think that what he's doing here. And we'll have to see where it goes.

BOLDUAN: Guys, thank you so much. It's been a wild hour. It always is.

Thank you so much for joining me.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with John King is going to pick up with this after a quick break.