Return to Transcripts main page


"The Washington Post:" Mueller Told Barr His Memo Failed To Fully Capture "Context, Nature, and Substance" Of Russia Probe Findings; Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) Is Interviewed About Mueller's Objection To Barr's Description Of Russia Investigation's Findings; Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) Is Interviewed About Mueller's Letter To Barr; Biden Takes Commanding Lead In New CNN Poll. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired April 30, 2019 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:10] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

It is one thing to object to how the attorney general of the United States characterized the Mueller report, which President Trump seized on to declare himself exonerated in the Russian investigation, it's another thing entirely when the person doing the objecting is Robert Mueller himself. And it's also the breaking news hitting the night before Attorney General William Barr is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Now, remember, for weeks, all we had was the four-page summary from Barr which seemed to clear the president entirely. At least that's the way it was portrayed.

Well, tonight, we're learning the special counsel had serious concerns about that, serious enough to write his own friend the attorney general.

CNN's Pamela Brown has the late details.

So, explain what we've learned about this letter.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are learning tonight, Anderson, that Special Counsel Robert Mueller sent a secret letter to the attorney general in late March. This was in the wake of that four-page letter that the attorney general had sent to Congress about the special counsel's investigation.

As you pointed out, Bill Barr, the attorney general, provided the principal conclusion saying that the special counsel did not find collusion and that it couldn't reach a conclusion on obstruction of justice and then went on to say there wasn't sufficient evidence to show obstruction of justice. That conclusion reached by Barr.

Well, now, we're learning Mueller sent this letter to the attorney general expressing dissatisfaction that that four-page letter from Bill Barr did not accurately capture the nuance in the more than 400- page Mueller report that we have now seen in the redacted version.

Robert Mueller, according to ""The Washington Post"", saying in this letter to the attorney general who was his boss, of course, is his boss and long-time friend saying that the redaction process of the Mueller report, quote, need not delay release of the enclosed materials. Release at this time would alleviate the misunderstandings that have arisen and would answer congressional and public questions about the nature and outcome of our investigations.

So the principal concern was that Bill Barr's four-page letter to Congress shaped public perception, public understanding of the special counsel's investigation when, in fact, as we know the picture that was laid out in the Mueller report was far more damning to the president, particularly on obstruction, than what Bill Barr conveyed. Even on the aspect of collusion, Anderson. As you'll recall, Bill Barr said there was no finding of collusion but in Mueller's report, he went on to say the campaign expected help from Russia.

And what is interesting is, when Bill Barr previously testified to Congress, he said he included as much of Robert Mueller's report as he could. Well, that was clearly not the case as you look through the report.

We're also learning there were misgivings on the other side in the Justice Department about how Robert Mueller dealt with obstruction of justice, that officials, according to my colleague Laura Jarrett, were puzzled that Robert Mueller and his team never reached a conclusion on obstruction of justice. So, clearly, there were misgiving on both sides.

This is the first time we're learning, Anderson, of Robert Mueller himself sending this letter expressing his displeasure about how Bill Barr has handled the findings of his investigation and this is sure to only give ammunition to those who have been skeptical and critical of Bill Barr's handling. He's going to be appearing before Congress in a hearing.

COOPER: Yes. So, what's so fascinating about it is essentially, Mueller is saying to Barr that he and his team wrote summaries that were ready for publication, wrote summaries that did not need to be redacted that, they had thought was out. Redactions would have no impact on the actual summaries that they had wrote, that those could be released and would give a fuller sense of what was actually in the report.

BROWN: That's right. So, that was conveyed and Bill Barr's point of view, according to what we have learned, is that he didn't want to just release information in piecemeal fashion. His perspective was he wanted to release the full report with the redactions.

Now, we've also learned from a Justice Department official that Robert Mueller did not tell Barr that anything he put in the letter was inaccurate but the concern was more it didn't provide a fuller picture, didn't provide the nuance and didn't provide the summaries that as you pointed out Robert Mueller's team wrote for public consumption for Congress's consumption and that was what Robert Mueller was trying to convey in this letter to Barr in late March, that he could release the summaries to clear up the misunderstanding about the findings while the redaction process was ongoing, Anderson. COOPER: Has the White House had any reaction to this? This story

broke in "The Washington Post" a short time ago.

BROWN: The White House has not had a reaction. I reached out to the White House and they say they likely will not comment at this time. That doesn't mean that the president himself will be tweeting.

[20:05:02] We do know though that before the Mueller report was released, Anderson, that there were communications between the White House counsel's office and the Department of Justice and during the time of these communications, Bill Barr would have already received that letter from Mueller. And so, it remains to be seen whether this was ever conveyed to the White House as as well, Robert Mueller's displeasure.

COOPER: All right. Pam Brown, thank you very much.

Joining us, CNN Chief Legal Analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, CNN Senior Political Analyst, David Gregory, also "New York Times" White House Correspondent, CNN Political Analyst, Maggie Haberman, and Elliot Williams, who served as deputy assistant attorney general under President Obama.

Jeff, I mean, the Mueller letter, it certainly indicates and echoes what you and others have been saying before the full report was released, that Barr was clearly trying to shape the narrative and very obviously had alternatives and ignored them.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: And distorted the meaning of the report. I just don't think there is any doubt now that we have read the vast majority of it, that Mueller was right. That Barr put out a misleading summary designed to spin it in a much more pro-Trump direction, shape the public perception of the Mueller report forever because for weeks, there was no alternative view out there.

And what we didn't know until today is that Mueller was pissed. Mueller was -- you know, saw what was going on and was powerless to do anything about it.

COOPER: And, Maggie, it's obvious the attorney general of the United States was trying to make things look better for the president of the United States.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's hard to come to any other conclusion than he was putting the best possible face for the president. The argument for people who support Bill Barr has been, well, he was frustrated Mueller did not come to a conclusion on the issue of obstruction, and he then had to handle this himself.

You know, the argument that Mueller makes is that the letter and Mueller's team had made previously is that the letter from Barr cherry picked from the report and it basically, you know, plucked certain clauses out here, certain steps there all of which painted this medley of Donald Trump being, you know, more or less exonerated, even though the letter acknowledged that there was a sentence in the report saying it didn't exonerate him. Mueller seems to have learned a lesson of a lot of people who have

been around Donald Trump, Mueller learned because they were witnesses from him, you have to put everything down on paper. This was not enough just to voice his concerns privately to Barr. There had to be a letter documenting it. It's a stunning letter.

David Gregory, if Mueller was upset by the four-page letter, one can only imagine how he felt about William Barr the day the report was released, hours before it's released, the way he characterized it even then?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I think there's no question that Bob Mueller was upset about that. The fact that Barr took it upon himself to I think execute on what was the original strategy of the White House, which is to get this report and pounce on it to create the narrative of what the response would be, what the reality of it would be such that they have their own counter argument, the rebuttal that they never released because they had Bill Barr to do that work for him.

He did in that four-page letter say what I think is a crucial sentence, which is the president was not exonerated on the obstruction of justice. But lacking the context which was so much more powerful when we were reading the report is what Mueller was upset about.

Now here's the problem for Barr, is that Mueller is much more likely to testify now on the Hill and they haven't been able to secure a date and I bet they secure one now. I talked to somebody who was a friend of Mueller walking over here actually, suggesting what they ought to do is call him first. Let him now on Capitol Hill, Mueller, set the phone for how he characterizes his own reporting what comes next.

COOPER: Elliott? I mean, Elliot, if the reporting is correct, and Justice Department officials were taken aback by the tone of Mueller's letter and it came as a surprise to them that he had such concerns, how could everyone not be on the same page?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: How could everyone not be on the same page?

The interesting thing is that Mueller frames his concerns as looking out for public interests. He's looking out for sort of how the Justice Department comes out of this. I think a lot of guest whose have come on talks about how Barr seemed to be protecting the interests of the United States and not the interest of the Justice Department more generally.

You know, this whole exercise was a fool's errand to begin with, to try to summarize a 440-sum-page document into a sort of cliff notes version. As Jeffrey Toobin knows very, very well, when the Supreme Court issues opinions and issues summaries of them, they will issue paragraphs upon paragraphs of summary taken directly from text. You just can't do it without getting into trouble. And we saw that William Barr did.

So, it's not just a function of inaccurately doing it, it's also -- he went into it with a bias and an attempt to try to benefit the president of the United States and it completely backfired. So, you know, today we can thank Robert Mueller for looking out for the interests of the general public and the Justice Department because it seems that the leadership of the Justice Department wasn't quite there.

[20:10:07] COOPER: Yes. Jeff, what does this say about the attorney general?

TOOBIN: You know, the reason this is such a big deal is that William Barr will never do anything as attorney general remotely as important as that four-page letter. That was the defining moment of his service as attorney general and the defining moment of the Mueller report for millions of people, and he misled the public.

COOPER: Wasn't that why he was hired? I mean, wasn't that his audition?

TOOBIN: You know, it depends how cynical you are. I mean, that's not what he's supposed to do as attorney general. I mean, he's supposed to be an honest broker. He is supposed to be someone who is not the president's lawyer, who is not Roy Cohen, who is someone responsible for the entire Department of Justice in U.S. government.

And he misled the public at this critical, critical moment, and shaped the perception of this report forever in a way to benefit the president.

GREGORY: Can I just offer one contrary view though? I think there is a fair argument to be made that this is a special counsel who works for the attorney general. The special counsel concluded that he couldn't conclude.

Well, guess what? The boss gets to decide and he gets to conclude there was no obstruction of justice and time to move on. He's still releasing the report to Congress. Congress is still going to take a look, could decide to initiate impeachment proceedings.

I think there's an argument in defense of Barr that says he was doing what he was supposed to do and, yes, you can argue with how he characterized it publicly in coming out.

COOPER: He did characterize it, to your point, literally repeating the words of the president.


COOPER: It seemed as much of a love letter to the president as possible from an attorney general.

GREGORY: Yes, but he included the key line which is that he couldn't establish obstruction nor exonerate him. I mean, if you were doing the sound bite, you'd lift that line right from the report.

HABERMAN: Yes, his press conference was actually worse to that.

GREGORY: I agree.

HABERMAN: It wasn't a press conference in a meaningful way because of a few questions. But he used the term collusion. Mueller went out of his way in the report to say collusion isn't a legal term. It is a political PR term that people are using and the president has used. He amplified a lot of the president's language about the report and about the investigation, the president's own feeling that he was falsely accused, and that I thought went farther than the letter, to your point.

But I think it is why when Jeffrey is talking about what Barr's intent was, it's hard to come away from that press conference thinking of what was he trying to do was just paint the facts picture of the report.

TOOBIN: I mean, Maggie's exactly right. I mean, remember at that press conference, he said the president was sincere in his upset about being thought guilty. I mean, how does he know? I mean, that wasn't part of the report. That just -- it was entirely distorted.

Now at least the press conference was followed immediately by the release of the actual report, you know, by a matter of hours, so we could see how misleading it was. But the problem with the letter was it was a month of the only thing any of us could see.

WILLIAMS: I want to push back on David's point a little bit. It's not just a question of deciding or not deciding on the obstruction question. It was literally misrepresenting the findings of the report. Again, you cannot reduce -- you can't reduce a legal finding to one sentence or a sound bite. That's why the whole thing is 400 pages long.

It's not 400 pages of fluff. It's legal analysis that lays out the arguments, the elements of the various offenses, the arguments as to -- well, here's where we could reach the elements but our views of indicting a sitting president got on the way of our ability to bring indictment, or here's where the elements of the offense weren't met, or where's where other factors counseled against our bringing charges.

It's far more complex. I think we should be a little more cautious about giving Barr a bit of a free pass as to, well, he was just summarizing the findings because now, the facts have borne out that number one, you can read the face of it, and it's clear that the letter didn't just define the report. But moreover, now we know the person who drafted the report disagreed with the, quote/unquote, summary of it. So, for those reasons we should be very cautious in the amount of latitude now we're extending to Barr as to how he crafted what he crafted.

COOPER: Maggie, what does this do? Barr is set to testify tomorrow in front of the senate. He was supposed to speak in front of the House tomorrow on the next day. What does this do? I mean, what does Lindsey Graham do? It's sure to certainly make this potentially a lot more contentious.

HABERMAN: I think a lot of people rewriting their questions tonight, heading into this event tomorrow. Look, this was always going to be an interesting dynamic. Barr has made clear he feels safer testifying in the Senate than he does in the House. There's been all of this haggling about the House.

And, frankly, I do think this letter gives additional context as to why.

[20:15:03] I think that it was clear that Jerry Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, was going to be more contentious with Barr, shall we say? But I think there's going to be a lot of pressure on folks like Lindsey Graham, on a lot of Republicans who are aligned with the White House to be perhaps tougher than they might have been.

It's also, you know, complicated for them because the White House has embraced this report as the gold standard. You know, it cleared him. And so, when the person who authors this report is saying that there was a misrepresentation, you can't keep cherry picking. There are enough people.

GREGORY: I don't think Lindsey Graham is changing his questions. He said over the weekend this is done for him and I don't think Bob Mueller's misgivings are going to change that for him.

Now, yes, there's going to be more pressure from Democrats but you want to put it squarely in the political realm, I don't think anything has changed.

TOOBIN: Julian Castro, who was one of the many Democrats running for president, has already said as a result of this, Barr should either resign or be impeached. Now, I don't think that's going to happen, but I think that's indicative of the level of anger you're going to see on the part of Democrats, more in the House if he actually shows up on Thursday. But even tomorrow in the Senate.

COOPER: I want to thank, everybody.

Coming up next, new details just now emerging. Also, we'll be joined by one of the senators who will be questioning the attorney general. Richard Blumenthal is here. We'll also dig deeper on this with investigative reporter Carl Bernstein, and former Watergate figure, John Dean.


COOPER: We're just now learning some late details about a breaking story. Robert Mueller's objections to how Attorney General Barr characterized his report.

Our Laura Jarrett joins us now with that.

What have you learned?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, we're getting more color and details on what exactly transpired in that week after Barr released his four-page summary. I'm told by a source of knowledge with the letter and all these calls that here's what happened. On Wednesday, on March 27th, the attorney general received a letter from the special counsel's office essentially laying out his misgiving with that four-page summary that had come out the previous Sunday.

Upon receiving that the deputy attorney general's office, it was about a page in length, they then transmitted to Attorney General Bill Barr. He sees it and he immediately calls Mueller.

[20:20:02] And he essentially says words to the effect of, Bob, we've been friends a long time. Let's hash this out on the phone. The call was described as polite and cordial but there was clear disagreement between the two men on what should be done next.

Mueller and his team clearly wanted more context to come out, more analysis to come out, but Barr really didn't think that should be done piecemeal. He wanted the report to come out in full and was not interested in just putting out the summaries as we have previously reported.

And there's a part of that letter, that short letter that had come out just a day before that Wednesday, Mueller's team had actually provided redacted copies of the introduction and the summaries that we ultimately saw in the full report. The problem was those hadn't yet been deconflicted with the intelligence community. So, again, Barr and other justice officials surrounding him didn't think they could put it out.

But it does show once again that there were some clear miscommunication and significant disagreement between old friends and Justice Department veterans about how the significant report should be handled, Anderson.

COOPER: Laura Jarrett, Appreciate it. Thank you.

All the breaking news tonight means that tomorrow's scheduled testimony by the attorney general before the Senate Judiciary Committee will have at the very least some extra residents.

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, member of the Judiciary Committee, and back with us, is also CNN Chief Legal Analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, who I know also has some questions for the senator.

Senator Blumenthal, what is your reaction to this new reporting about the letter from Mueller to Barr and the phone call from Mueller to Barr?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: This letter is unquestionably and unprecedented stunning rebuke of the attorney general of the United States, very severely undermining, in fact devastating his credibility now in the Department of Justice, and likely tomorrow in our hearing. There is going to be some tough questioning of him tomorrow about not only his four-page summary, which then Mueller said in effect mischaracterized his report, but then why he doubled down three weeks later in a press conference and in effect lied again to the American people. I realize that characterization sounds harsh. We said it at the time.

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 tomorrow.

COOPER: It certainly only raises the interest, I'm sure, by Democrats at the very least to hear directly from Robert Mueller in hearings and also I assume as part of that to get hold of this letter that he wrote.

BLUMENTHAL: No question that we need to hear from Bob Mueller who, as you know, is the penultimate in discretion. He conducted this investigation without any public disclosure and now really strikingly puts in the file, writes to the attorney general, memorializes his objections and rebuke to his superior.

I can think of no prior instance of this kind of very severe rebuke to the attorney general of the United States from a career prosecutor with this kind of respect within the Department of Justice.

COOPER: It's one thing for him to put out the summary and then to have Mueller respond with the criticism that he does and then to choose not to put out the summaries that the -- the explanations that Mueller and his team have already sent, which according to Mueller don't need to be redacted and are free from that pressure.

For him to then go on television again the day the report is released and to shade the truth even more seems even now particularly more egregious.

BLUMENTHAL: Shading the truth is a very, very kind and charitable way to put it. He in effect lied to the American people saying that Bob Mueller concluded there was insufficient evidence of obstruction. The fact of the matter is that Bob Mueller said nothing of the kind. In effect he said that this report is an indictment in all but name.

If Donald Trump were any other official, if there were no office of legal counsel memorandum saying a sitting president cannot be indicted, he would be under indictment right now. And, in fact, he is an unindicted co-conspirator in the Southern District of New York prosecution.

You're absolutely right, Anderson, that three weeks after this rebuke from Bob Mueller, William Barr went again before the American people and distorted, deceived, misled them.

TOOBIN: Senator, Julian Castro, who's one of the Democrats running for president said in light of this, Barr should resign or be impeached. Do you agree?

BLUMENTHAL: I voted against William Barr.

[20:25:00] I said then he was unfit to be attorney general. I believe he is unfit even more so today. There's more evidence of it. And what the remedy should be, I'm going to be talking to my colleagues tomorrow about his explanation or attempted explanation of this kind of misconduct. In effect, he harbored obstruction of justice and he is continuing to do so.

He is also belittling and demeaning the real threat from the Russians. He is downplaying the kind of continuing attack that we're seeing from the Russians, playing into the hands of Donald Trump and Jared Kushner, who have adopted a similar tactic.

TOOBIN: But what accountability is there? What you're seeing from the White House is they're not producing documents in response to the House. They're not producing witnesses. They're trying -- they're suing to stop a bank, their bank, from turning over documents.

What can you do about that? Nothing -- I mean, is there anything that you can do?

BLUMENTHAL: There are legal remedies. Enforcement of those subpoenas, the lawful subpoenas. The ones that have been issued and the ones that will be issued. The one for his tax returns, for other information that have been issued by the oversight committees in the House.

And we should have in the Senate, Robert Mueller and others testify here. I might just add in terms of accountability, the court ruled literally this afternoon in the emoluments lawsuit that I brought with Jerry Nadler as a co-plaintiff, that we were right on the law. The president can be held accountable for his acceptance of payments and benefits from a foreign government and we're going to be pursuing discovery as the next step, disclosure of all of the information relevant to this financial influence.

And there are ongoing investigations, as you well know, 14 of them that may also expose the president to legal accountability, including one in New York where he was as an unindicted co-conspirator.

COOPER: Can the White House try to claim executive privilege to stop Robert Mueller from testifying? I mean, he was working for the Department of Justice in his capacity as special counsel?

BLUMENTHAL: Absolutely not, because the executive privilege applies to, in effect, White House employees whom the president may consult for advice or counsel. And Bob Mueller is as far from that status as he could possibly. There is no executive privilege as to Robert Mueller, or for that matter, William Barr.

TOOBIN: But these legal remedies you talk about, subpoenas, trying to enforce subpoenas, I mean, isn't it a guarantee that even if you win, it will be months and months from now?

BLUMENTHAL: The timing is going to depend on the courts. Remember, you well know, the Watergate issue came to the Supreme Court on a very fast track. If the courts decide they want to hold the president accountable, if they really believe the president is not above the law, they can fast track these subpoenas as well. You're absolutely right that courts determine their own timing. But I

think a court ought to be absolutely outraged by this defiance of constitutional rules and norms that have prevailed for centuries, and that also demean the importance and status of the other branch of government. The president, in fact, is saying that he has ultimate power.

COOPER: Senator Richard Blumenthal, appreciate it. Jeff Toobin as well, thanks so much.

Up next, we're going to get reaction to all this from two key figures from the Watergate era, pretty much more this one as well, journalist Carl Bernstein and White House counsel John Dean.


[20:31:10] COOPER: We've been talking about Robert Mueller's objection to William Barr's characterization of the Mueller report, namely that Barr mischaracterized his report.

You may recall that during Senate testimony earlier this month, the attorney general was asked, "Did Bob Mueller support your conclusion?" His answer, "I don't know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion." So we now know that wasn't true, he did know.

Joining me now is legendary Watergate reporter, Carl Bernstein, and by phone, Richard Nixon's former White House Lawyer, John Dean. John, first of all, your reaction to this reporting. How big of a deal is this?

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL (on the phone): I think it's a pretty big deal. It certainly shows a riff between the men, if not their staff, and it shows that Mr. Barr is going to have some serious questions they have to answer that he may not have anticipated when he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow and possibly the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

COOPER: Carl, A, what do you make of this and the timing of it obviously coming on the eve of that testimony.

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The timing is extraordinary as is the substance of the letter. I mean, the letter could not be more definitive in saying that Mr. Barr misrepresented not just the letter of what is -- of the Mueller investigation was, but the context, the nature and the conclusions is the language that Mueller uses in his letter to Mr. Barr.

So, there clearly is an attempt by the special prosecutor who says very clearly as well that this action by the attorney general has undermined public confidence in the special prosecutor's investigation and in fact notes, Mueller does, that that was the purpose of the investigation, was to have public confidence.

And he accuses -- really, even though the language is may be polite later on in the letter, he seems to accuse Mr. Barr of undermining that public confidence. So this is an extraordinary and stunning development.

And the other aspect of it is that like those who saw the report when it was released in the press and said, "Wait a minute here, this report has nothing to do that's consistent with the way that Barr characterized it four weeks earlier," Mueller now seems to be saying the same thing.

COOPER: John, how unprecedented is it that Mueller took this step and wrote a letter on the record objecting to conclusions and that this leaked or gets out the night before he's supposed to testify?

DEAN: It's very unusual. And "The New York Times" on their -- base on the story is -- have a little different nuance pointing out that the Barr and Justice Department people were very unhappy with the fact that Mueller did not end his investigation with a clear finding of guilt or innocence, rather, he offered this nuanced position that since a sitting president can't be indicted it's unfair to come down one side or the other, so there's no way he can respond to it as a normal defend it would in a speedy trial.

Well, according to special prosecutor, they knew exactly what they were doing and seems that the Barr people and Mr. Barr himself do not like nuance. They want black and white and now they've really got a muddy pile they've selected here.

COOPER: Carl, I mean it's clearly problematic for Barr. He'll obviously face, you know, at least tough questions from Democrats about this on the hill tomorrow when he talks to the Senate. Isn't the public's perception of the report though already kind of baked in at this point?

[20:35:02] I mean, wasn't that the whole point of Barr doing -- releasing the information in the way that he released the information, which was to shape the way most people will see this. Most people haven't read the 448 pages.

BERNSTEIN: I can't be inside Mr. Barr's head, but there certainly are appearances that that might have been his purpose and that there was that interact (ph) them of four weeks during which a certain perception was allowed to form, including the President of the United States claiming total exoneration both on obstruction and "collusion." And, in fact, the report goes out of its way to talk about the fact that collusion is not a legal term, et cetera, et cetera.

What we have here is we need to hear from Mr. Mueller. And I can't predict what the American people are going to do and how they're going to process this information. We have a polarized country and so far everything having to do with the Mueller report has fit into that pattern of polarization, whether this is going to figure in the same way who knows.

But what is clear is that in terms of what the facts are that the special prosecutor has taken the unprecedented and extraordinary step of saying that the attorney general of the United States misrepresented the nature and context of the most important investigation, federal investigation of the last 40, 45 years. And that is going to stick as part of the national record and presumably Americans are going to debate it in a serious way.

COOPER: John, I mean, the Judiciary Committee chairman in the House, Jerry Nadler obviously Democrat, tweeted that in light of this reporting, Mueller must be allowed to testify. Do you think that's actually going to happen? I mean, do you think Congress will get to see the letter? Can Mueller be stopped from testifying?

DEAN: I don't think you can stop him from testifying. I think that if the Senate doesn't invite him first, Nadler will certainly invite him, if not issue a subpoena for him. It's clear that we need both men on the record under oath to wash out what's going on and I suspect that Mueller is on the high ground on this one and needs to be clarified that that's the fact.

COOPER: John Dean, Carl Bernstein, gentlemen, thank you very much.

Up next, more on this breaking and a look at William Barr himself, the man now at the center of a political firestorm.


[20:40:22] COOPER: Again, our breaking news, Special Counsel Robert Mueller wrote a letter to Attorney General William Barr expressing concerns about his four-page summary of the Russia probe findings. It turns out Americans are already divided over the attorney general's handling of it.

A new CNN poll conducted before tonight's blockbuster report shows 44 percent approve of what Barr did, 43 percent disapprove, 13 percent are unsure. Now, we look at Barr's path to his -- to this point, to the center of a political controversy. Here's CNN's Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to wish our new attorney general great luck and speed and enjoy your life. Bill, good luck, tremendous reputation.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Bill Barr came to the Trump administration with a long resume dating back to the George H.W. Bush administration.

MICHAEL MUKASEY, ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: He was deputy attorney general and he was attorney general. He's had quite a government career in addition to having been partner at a substantial law firm.

BORGER: And now a political lightning rod, largely because of the way he handled the release of the Mueller report in a way that pleased the President and angered Democrats.

(on camera) Was he putting his thumb on the scale for the American public?

RON KLAIN, CHIEF OF STAFF FOR VICE PRESIDENTS AL GORE AND JOE BIDEN: He was putting his fist on the scale for the American public. It was a lot more than a thumb.

BORGER (voice-over): And when he said this --

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think that spying did occur.

BORGER: -- he made the President very happy.

TRUMP: Yes, I am. I think what he said was absolutely true. There was absolutely spying into my campaign.

BORGER: Now, Barr, a Republican with establishment credentials, faces Congress at the center of a political firestorm. It started with his decision to summarize the special counsel's 488-page report in a four- page letter and even some on Mueller's team thought downplayed and mischaracterized their damaging findings about the President.

KLAIN: He wrote up a spin letter. He then went before Congress and spun the spin letter. He then did a press conference where he used a non-legal phrase, non-collusion, as many times as he could without being chemical in a short period of time.

BARR: There was no evidence of the Trump campaign collusion. No collusion. No collusion.

BORGER: Barr also cleared the President of obstruction, even though the special counsel made no decision.

BOB BAUER, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL FOR PRES. OBAMA: I don't think he should have participated in the decision on obstruction and to have substituted his legal judgment for Bob Mueller about the appropriate legal theory I believe was a significant misjudgment on his part and I don't think it reflected well in the department.

BORGER (on camera): Did you get that sense from Barr that he wished Mueller had made a decision?

MUKASEY: Sure. And so the only person left who could make a decision is the attorney general and he did.

BORGER: What if Barr had just decided not to do anything?

MUKASEY: And sort of leave it out there?

BORGER: Uh-huh. Impossible?

MUKASEY: Not impossible, irresponsible.

BORGER (voice-over): And the explained it in a press conference before anyone had read the Mueller report.

BARR: The President was frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency.

BORGER (on camera): Could that be interpreted as excusing the President's bad behavior? GEORGE TERWILLIGER, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR PRES. GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I don't think it should be interpreted that way because I don't think he was trying to excuse the President's behavior bad or otherwise. I think he was simply trying to explain the basis for a decision he as a prosecutor was reaching.

KLAIN: He didn't explain a decision. He went out there justifying reckless behavior by the President. He wasn't serving as attorney general, he's serving the President's guidance counselor.

BORGER (voice-over): But Barr's decision not to prosecute wasn't a complete surprise. He'd already made his views known in an unsolicited 19-page memo sent to the Justice Department in June of 2018 saying among other things that the theory of the obstruction investigation against the President was fatally misconceived.

(on camera) Is this something people do all the time?

BAUER: You mean former government officials who produce long legal memoranda and bring them to the government on pending issues and ask, you know, officials then empower to look at them?

BORGER: Yes, that's what I make.

BAUER: No, no. That is not common practice. I think it's a reflection again of the passion with which he views that issue but it's unusual.

BORGER: Do you think it was an audition for a job? I mean, that's --

TERWILLIGER: Definitely not.

BORGER: How do you know?

TERWILLIGER: Definitely not. We talked about the memo at the time. I mean the idea of being attorney general or taking any job with the administration was the farthest thing from his mind.

[20:45:00] BORGER: Really?


KLAIN: He didn't get this job by accident. He got this job because he promised in advance essentially that he wouldn't find the President guilty of obstruction. And so he did exactly what he said he was going to do.

BORGER (voice-over): Back in a 1998 interview unearthed by CNN's KFile, Barr was more sympathetic to the independent counsel's plight, complaining that Attorney General Janet Reno wasn't doing enough to protect Ken Starr from hatchet jobs and ad hominem attacks. Yet he has remained silent as the President continues to lob grenades almost daily at the Mueller team.

TRUMP: We just went through the Mueller witch hunt where you had really 18 angry Democrats that hate President Trump. BORGER: Barr's loyalties are bound to be tested once again as the President says he will not comply with House Democratic subpoenas.

TRUMP: Fighting all the subpoenas. Look, these aren't like impartial people.

BORGER: And he could well have Barr on his side. In 1989 in another memo, Barr warned against what he called congressional incursions against the office of the presidency.

TERWILLIGER: I think Bill's view is a constitutional one. It's grounded in the separation of powers. And if one of the branches over steps its bounds, he will call that branch on it.

BAUER: It would be really disappointing if he enabled the President to pursue a theory like the one the President has articulated, which is that because the House that is asking for this information is in the hands of the other political party, he's not going to permit anybody to testify. That is a lawless position, is one thing for the department --

BORGER (on camera): Lawless?

BAUER: Lawless. It's utterly lawless.

BORGER (voice-over): And a matter ultimately that another branch of government, the courts, could decide.


COOPER: That was CNN's Gloria Borger. Now, returning to the very latest chapter on all of this and joining us now by phone is Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democratic presidential candidate and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator, I'm wondering what your reaction to this letter is. You're going to question Barr tomorrow. Does it change what you want to talk him about?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I'm going to ask the question about this, because I think it's just one more example of how this four-page letter that he sent out was political. And this is not about politics, it's about protecting our democracy.

And this is someone who has just pointed out, you know, tried out for this job with this 19-page memo that was executive summary of what he thought should be about a broad, broad interpretation of executive power. He then gets into the job and no surprise he is political.

And what really bothered me about this is that this is about protecting our country, Anderson. This is about (INAUDIBLE) intrusion. And when you look at the 448-page report, there was literally a roadmap to how a foreign country invaded our election. They might not have done it with missiles or tanks or ships, but they did it all the same. They tried to hack influencing equipment and they certainly hack into Hillary Clinton's campaign, got all those e-mails out, slowdown her momentum. That happened in the United States in America.

So no one should be playing politics with this, and that's why tomorrow I'm going to be asking the attorney general, of course, about Russia and about what they're doing about it and why they (INAUDIBLE) secure Election Act which was a bipartisan bill, as well as what's going to happen with --


KLOBUCHAR: -- going forward with the number of these points. Yes, you had a question.

COOPER: Yes, another presidential candidate, Julian Castro, said tonight that Barr should be impeached or resigned. Do you agree with him?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, I didn't support Barr to begin with so, you know, it's clear I don't want him there.

COOPER: Do you think --

KLOBUCHAR: I mostly want to have a Justice Department that has just and represents the American people.

COOPER: How critical now is it given what we now know Mueller wrote to Barr and said to Barr in conversations that Mueller himself testify and how possible will it be? I mean, can -- well, I've had legal people say the White House can't exert executive privilege or claim it in relation to Mueller. Is that how you see it?

KLOBUCHAR: Exactly. So, you know, we might not be able to make people resign here, but what we can do is push Mueller to testify and then allow these other investigations to keep going. Of course, the House has subpoena power.

And I think it's pretty apparent when you have witnesses like Don McGahn who were interviewed for reports that was made public, things that were not redacted for security reasons, then we should be able to have those people come in and testify. And that's the fight that's going on in the House.

Meanwhile in the Senate, what we're trying to do because we know the House will pass these bills, is to do work to protect our election in 2020 and get these Republicans on board.

[20:50:02] COOPER: Yes.

KLOBUCHAR: Because you just -- listen to the words of the FBI director, he said 2018 was a dressed rehearsal. The President's own intelligence adviser had said Russia is getting bolder. Why would you not take action?

COOPER: Yes. KLOBUCHAR: And you can't let the President's ego get in the way.

COOPER: Senator Klobuchar, appreciate your time. Thank you.

Coming up next, exclusive new polling on the Democratic presidential primary now that Joe Biden is in the race. We'll show you how big of a difference his presence has already made when "360" continues.


COOPER: What's Joe Biden might put at folks? Here's the thing. With the former vice president on his first campaign swing through Iowa, the first CNN polling since he entered the race is out, shows him outpacing not just his nearest Democratic rival but his nearest four opponents combined. We're showing the top six. Biden is at 39 percent, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders at 15, with the rest in single digits.

Now, the normal caveats apply. It is a long, long way until the Iowa caucuses, let alone Election Day and a lot as we all know can change between now and then. Joining us is 2004 Democratic presidential candidate and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean.

Governor Dean, first of all, just on this breaking news about Robert Mueller's dissatisfaction with the way Bill Barr characterized his report. You run for president. You certainly must have considered cabinet official. What do you make of how Attorney General Barr is conducting himself?

HOWARD DEAN (D-VT), FORMER GOVERNOR: Well, you know, Trump does not pick cabinet officials based on their merits. He picks cabinet officials based on their -- whether they're willing to be his flunky and Barr is a flunky. Barr was a flunky and he was mixed up in the Iran-contra deal with Reagan and Bush -- or Bush Sr. and now he is doing Trump's bidding and he should never have been confirmed.

COOPER: There are certainly -- just in terms of the Democrats, there are certainly very strong numbers for Vice President Biden right out of the gate. As we said, it is a long, long race and a lot can happen between now and then. This is not going to be -- you know, you see those numbers and people think, "Oh, this is going to be a cake walk for the former vice president."

DEAN: No, it's not going to be a cake walk. Anderson, of course there's a lot of talk about that in Washington. But, what you have to remember is you're exactly right, it's a long, long way to Iowa, first of all. Second of all, I'd much rather have Joe Biden's numbers today than having to go in the other direction, which could have happened.

[20:55:02] But it certainly means that he's in good shapes starting out, better shape that I thought he was going to be in because I thought that he was that at 28 and I didn't think he was going to go any higher, but he certainly has.

COOPER: Vice President Biden said in "Good Morning America" today when ask what his motto would be, he said make America moral again, make America return to the essence of who we are, the dignity of the country, the dignity in treating our people with dignity. He focused and mentioned obviously the President. Is that the right message?

I mean, he's -- you were saying on the program earlier and others have said that, you know, he is kind of elevating it to make this a direct challenge to President Trump. But Democrats also -- there's plenty of them who believe these candidates need to be talking about health care, you know, the economy, table top issues.

DEAN: Right. I think at this point it's a good broad brush opening stroke. I mean, there's nothing wrong with what Joe Biden said today. It does cast him in the light of somebody who does believe in morals and a lot of Trump's voters are voting for him because he's frank and blunt but -- you know, he did hit the 10,000 lie mark today which is pretty extraordinary after two and a half years in the office. We're going to see.

As you said at the top, we're far from getting in the nitty-gritty here. Let's get and find out what's going on with two weeks to go before the Iowa caucus votes and the Nevada votes and then we're really going to find out what people's messages are and they cannot be about Trump.

Trump will remind us that we don't like him every day. What we have to do is remind people why they want to vote for the Democrats and that's because we're going to do something about people's health care. We're going to get people jobs again and we're going to stop screwing up our trade relations so that we lose dairy farms in Wisconsin and factory jobs in Missouri.

COOPER: It is interesting because once Joe Biden starts focusing on the nitty-gritty on issues as all candidates have to, that's often when poll numbers start to decline. It's one to kind of be seen from a distance and that a great height. But suddenly once you're in the trenches, it's very easy to get dirty and get compared to other people's programs.

DEAN: That will happen, but that's going to happen to everybody. Everybody is going to have to show that they can be President of the United States and that means they have to be successful in good times and bad times on the campaign trail. That's why as awful as this process is, it's the right process.

You know, if you can't get through this process, what are you going to do when Putin asks for Alaska back? Now, Trump of course would say, "Here you go, sir." But nobody else is going to do that and you have to be tough. And you have to be tough to get through this process and the toughest person is going to have a very big advantage.

COOPER: Governor Howard Dean, always appreciate it. Thank you.

DEAN: Anderson, thanks.

COOPER: We'll be right back with more.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Quite a night. We -- someone show that we run out of time for story that we have planned for the space. And the news continues, so I want to hand it over to Chris for "CUOMO PRIME TIME."


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thank you Anderson. I am Chris Cuomo and welcome to PRIME TIME.