Trump vs. Rule of Law: Barr skips hearing. TRANSCRIPT: 5/2/19, The Beat w/ Ari Melber.
YASMIN VOSSOUGHIAN, MSNBC HOST: I`m Yasmin Vossoughian, everybody, in for
We begin tonight with the escalating fight between the Trump administration
and Congress. Attorney General Bill Barr, a no show today, at a House
Judiciary hearing with Democrats considering holding him in contempt and
Speaker Pelosi accusing him of a crime.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Well, he`s deadly serious
about it as the attorney general of the United States of America was not
telling the truth to the Congress of the United States. That`s a crime.
He lied to Congress. If anybody else did that, it would be considered a
crime. Nobody is above the law. Not the president of the United States
and not the attorney general.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VOSSOUGHIAN: So that is huge. The speaker of the House accusing the
attorney general of committing a crime for lying to Congress. Today, an
empty chair where Barr was supposed to sit, refusing to come in because
Democrats wanted committee staffers to question him.
Democrats calling him too scared to even face them. With one bringing in a
bucket of KFC chicken, that`s interesting, to make the point.
Chairman Nadler saying they`re going to work for a few more days to get
Barr to turn over the full unredacted Mueller report. And if he does not,
they`re going to vote to hold him in contempt. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY), CHAIRMAN., JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: We will have
no choice but to move quickly to hold the attorney general in contempt if
he stalls or fails to negotiate in good faith. If he does not provide
this committee with the information it demands and respect it deserves, Mr.
Barr`s moment of accountability will come soon enough.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VOSSOUGHIAN: Also today, Trump`s White House counsel blasting Mueller in a
letter revealed today, complaining to Barr that the Mueller report was
“political”. One person who has not responded to that yet or any of the
other news, Bob Mueller. But Democrats say they want him to have – they
want to have him testify on May 15.
With me now, Maya Wiley, former counsel to the mayor of New York City and a
civil prosecutor for the Southern District of New York. And Author
Jonathan Alter who`s now a columnist at “The Daily Beast” and MSNBC
I want to start with the moment that Nancy Pelosi is talking about, now
accusing the attorney general of a crime. And that was the moment – let`s
go to that sound bite, you guys. Let`s play that and then we`ll have Maya
first respond to it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. CHARLIE CRIST (D-FL): Reports have emerged recently, general, that
members of the special counsel`s team are frustrated at some level with the
limited information included in your March 24 letter that it does not
adequately or accurately necessarily portray the report`s findings. Do you
know what they`re referencing with that?
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I don`t. The
question was relating to unidentified members who were expressing
frustration over the accuracy relating to findings. I don`t know what that
refers to at all. I talked directly to Bob Mueller, not members of his
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VOSSOUGHIAN: So you have House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Maya, saying that was
a crime, that he perjured himself right there in his testimony because he
said that he did not know of any sort of thing from Mueller`s team and how
they felt about his findings and his report that he put out there, the
Mueller memo, the four-page Mueller memo.
And then he was trying to explain himself and saying he spoke to Bob
Mueller himself, not Mueller`s team. Let me point out. Bob Mueller is the
head of his team. The definition of a team is the leader along with the
people that are working underneath him. So is this a crime?
MAYA WILEY, FORMER COUNSEL TO THE MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: It is
potentially a crime. And when I say potentially, what I mean is Nancy
Pelosi is completely within her rights in this instance to say, this is a
lie in my book and I believe it should be potentially prosecuted.
Whether it will win a jury is a different question. That`s why I say
potential because what William Barr has done, he`s a very clever lawyer,
right, he is parsing here.
This is like remember the Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky defense I wasn`t
lying and because it wasn`t intercourse, this is that kind of defense. And
so he knew exactly what he was doing.
He understood the – it is hard to believe that he did not understand the
question and it is hard to believe that he did not understand William – I
mean Bob Mueller calling him the day after his summary saying, hey – send
him a letter saying, “Hey, wait a minute.”
And then call – and then having a conversation with him by phone saying,
“Hey, wait a minute.” That he did not understand that to be related to the
concerns that were being voiced in the press from members of Mueller`s
team. That`s what you have to believe, to believe that he was not lying.
But a jury technically might find that not a lie. But I think what`s so
concerning is that a sitting U.S. attorney general should have been
forthcoming in answering that question saying I don`t know but I have had a
communication with Mueller suggesting that he had concerns.
That would have been the appropriate thing to do for a sitting U.S.
attorney general who is addressing congress which has oversight authority
over the agents.
VOSSOUGHIAN: So you have Maya Wiley saying this is a crime. You have the
House speaker saying this is a crime, Jonathan.
So what is to be done about it? How significant is it?
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went on the record and called this a crime.
She`s got to follow through with something on this.
JONATHAN ALTER, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: No, I don`t think she actually
does on that. Look, she`s laying down a marker that his testimony, not
just in this instance but it was a festival of lies. At best, it was
ridiculous hair-splitting or you know, man-splaining, Barr-splaining to the
committee in ways that were very misleading.
But it is highly unlikely that they`re going to bring a perjury charge
against the attorney general. What is much more likely is that they`re
going to hold him in contempt for not turning over the unredacted version
of the Mueller report and for not agreeing to testify.
The latter is especially outrageous. The Congress has constitutional and
legal authority for oversight of the executive branch. They can, and in
this case, they will compel him to appear on Capitol Hill.
They`re probably going to have to go to court to do it but he will end up
testifying. Because the law is totally 100 percent on the side of
Now, in the past, what has happened is that witnesses have been able to
negotiate over the timing of their testimony. They say, you know, I can`t
come in next Tuesday but I`ll come in a week from Wednesday.
VOSSOUGHIAN: This is different it seems.
ALTER: And that`s considered acceptable. But there is no precedent for
saying, “Well, I`m not going to come in and testify if you have – because
I`m scared of you appointing the counsel like a Sam Dash or John Doar
character from Watergate who is not a member of Congress but a professional
to do the questioning.
ALTER: That`s what he is afraid of because he knows he did badly in front
of the Senate. He is on very thin ice and he doesn`t want a professional,
instead of a grandstanding politician, to be questioning him. but that is
not grounds for him to refuse to testify. So this eventually –
eventually, he will be compelled to testify.
VOSSOUGHIAN: So you have Chairman Nadler saying we want to negotiate over
the next few days before we decide what he`s going to do next. Obviously,
that is not only about releasing the Mueller report in full without
redactions. That is also about having the attorney general appear before
them in testimony and provide testimony there.
ALTER: That`s the key issue, right.
VOSSOUGHIAN: That is the key issue right now. If the attorney general,
Maya, is found in contempt, that is an incredibly long process. The
question is, is it worth it?
WILEY: It can be a long process. We`ve been referring to the Fast and
Furious when Eric Holder was held in contempt. And that has –
VOSSOUGHIAN: It went all the way until Trump was – became president.
WILEY: Went all the way. Although one of the things that`s important to
note there is the D.C. Courts actually said, no, you don`t have executive
privilege to the Obama administration in a case where I would argue, if
they didn`t have it in that case, there is no way the Trump administration
can assert it creditably.
But the point is, I think there`s the issue of the institutional
credibility and constitutional authority of the Congress. And then there
is how to prioritize getting the story out to the American public.
Because one of the things that Barr is doing is obfuscating. He is making
the picture opaque. He`s misrepresenting things that are in the report.
He`s misrepresenting the law in some instances –
VOSSOUGHIAN: It seems as simply as this, he doesn`t care.
WILEY: Well, I think he cares very much about spinning the narrative. And
he`s been willing to do it in a way that is misrepresenting both Mueller`s
report and even his communications with Rob Mueller about Robert Mueller`s
belief that he is misrepresenting the report.
And I think what is critical here is then getting Robert Mueller to come
and say what is inconsistent.
ALTER: Yes, that`s the most important.
VOSSOUGHIAN: That`s correct. That`s the most important thing. We got to
hear from Bob Mueller.
ALTER: This is the sideshow. Barr is a sideshow. Mueller is the main
And we`ve read the book or some people have read the book. Now, we need to
see the movie. We need to show the movie of Donald Trump`s crimes to the
And that is done through congressional testimony, getting Donald – Don –
VOSSOUGHIAN: Don McGahn.
ALTER: – McGahn in there and the other key witnesses in this case.
VOSSOUGHIAN: And Bob Mueller. Yes.
ALTER: And Mueller is very important.
VOSSOUGHIAN: So we`ve been speaking about contempt here. Before I bring
in my next guest, I want to run through the options Congress has if they
hold someone in contempt.
So Congress could do one of three things after the vote. Try to get House
security to arrest Barr but that has not happened since the 1930s. They
could refer the case to a federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C. but every
federal prosecutor in the U.S. works for the attorney general so that`s
probably a non-starter as well. Or they could ask a judge to issue a civil
citation and there`s precedent for that.
As we were just talking about, about the legal fights, they took years on
that one when Democrats held Bush White House Counsel Harriet Meyers in
contempt. The fight lasted until Obama took office.
And then what we were just talking about when Republicans held Eric Holder
in contempt, the case was still going on into when Trump took office. So
it takes a very long time.
I want to bring in Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin who serves on the
Judiciary Committee and was waiting for Attorney General Barr at the
hearing this morning. Take me into the room this morning, Congressman,
first and foremost, as you were waiting Attorney General Barr and full well
knowing he was not going to show up.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Well, it was a
disappointing thing because we had watched the exchanges in the Senate when
we could intermittently yesterday. And it`s clear that Attorney General
Barr has been exposed as a propagandist and a self-appointed consigliere
for Donald Trump at this point.
When he received the report from the Special Counsel Mueller who was pretty
much ready to go, he could have got it ready and given it to us in 24 hours
or 48 hours, which is pretty much the historical standard with prior
special counsels and independent counsels.
Instead, he began this three-week, three-and-a-half-week period of
propaganda in which he tried to create an impression about what was in
there, a false impression about what was in the report, and then to cement
it in the public mind.
And we are still trying to lift this thick fog of propaganda by bringing in
witnesses. And they`re trying to resist us and obstruct us on that. And
we are trying the get the unredacted report as well as all of the
underlying materials that go with it.
And we expect that. And if not, we definitely plan to find the attorney
general in contempt. And understand we don`t have to go to court to start
this off and we don`t have to get him arrested to start it off. We can
find him in contempt in committee.
If you act with contempt for Congress in our lawful powers, we will find
you in contempt of Congress and the rule of law. From the Judiciary
Committee, it then goes to the House floor in which case the House would
vote as to whether or not he`s in contempt. Everything that you mentioned
was the question –
VOSSOUGHIAN: So here`s the big question for you, Congressman. Here`s the
big question for you. What is that going to accomplish, finding the
attorney general in contempt? What are you looking to accomplish there
RASKIN: Well, look, what we have is an administration that is now engulfed
in lawlessness and corruption. And we have to begin to check them at
The attorney general theoretically should be on our side but he`s not. He
obviously has gone over to the side of the president and he is cooperating
in promoting the president`s position now which is that he will not
cooperate with any subpoenas. He will not respond to any lawful orders or
requests from the House of Representatives.
That`s obviously constitutionally intolerable and Congress can`t put up
with it. So we have to make it clear to the public and make clear to the
whole system of government that the attorney general is acting outside of
Then we have to proceed to get to the guts of the Mueller report, to bring
those witnesses forward –
VOSSOUGHIAN: Yes, and you`re bringing up –
RASKIN: – so America can hear what happened.
VOSSOUGHIAN: Absolutely. And you`re bringing up a really good point here.
Because one of the, I think, directives here and the big questions here is,
do we pursue the attorney general until he provides testimony for the
House? Or do we pursue the unredacted Mueller report along with testimony
from Bob Mueller? Is that where we put our energy?
RASKIN: Yes. Well, I think that`s where the focus is going to be. That`s
what we were going after.
We`re trying to determine whether or not the president committed
obstruction of justice. There were 10 episodes of presidential obstruction
or attempted obstruction which were recounted by Special Counsel Mueller in
Obviously, the attorney general did everything he could to pull the wool
over everyone`s eyes and to obscure that fact and he pronounced himself
basically the judge, the jury, the executioner, the Congress and said there
was no obstruction of justice. Obviously, we`re disregarding that
propaganda ploy by the A.G.
Instead, we`re going after what is actually in the report. We want
critical witnesses to come forward and testify to our committee including
Don McGahn, the White House counsel who was ordered by the president to
fire Special Counsel Mueller through Rod Rosenstein.
We want to hear from him exactly what happened. We want the American
people to hear what happened so we can get some semblance of reality.
Really, what we`re after is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the
truth here. And then we`re going to decide what to do.
VOSSOUGHIAN: All right. Congressman Jamie Raskin. Jonathan Alter. You
have the final word, Jonathan.
ALTER: Well, I was going just to say that Congressman–
VOSSOUGHIAN: I`m getting yelled at right now so be quick.
ALTER: –Raskin said we want him on our side. He did not mean on the side
of the Democrats. What he meant is on the side of the law. Barr is the
chief law enforcement officer of the United States. Oversight is in a
book. It`s the law and he needs to –
VOSSOUGHIAN: Not the president`s defense attorney.
VOSSOUGHIAN: Congressman Jamie Raskin, Jonathan Alter, thank you.
ALTER: Thanks, Yasmin.
RASKIN: Thanks for having me.
VOSSOUGHIAN: Maya Wiley, stay with me.
All right. Coming up, everybody, the Democrats` tough new line on Trump,
Barr, and impeachment. Will they follow through?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I think we should begin
the proceedings to remove the attorney general. The person is obstructing
real-time from holding the president accountable is William Barr. And I`m
calling on my colleagues to join me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VOSSOUGHIAN: Also, the Kamala Harris moment that raised the key question,
did Trump order Barr to investigate his political opponents? Hillary
Clinton has some thoughts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON: I mean I`m living rent-free inside of Donald Trump`s
brain and that is not a very nice place to be. It is one of their tools to
fire up their hardcore base. When in doubt, go after me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VOSSOUGHIAN: Oh, what a place to be.
And what the Mueller report reveals about Trump`s desire to get an attorney
general like Bill Barr.
I`m Yasmin Vossoughian, in for Ari Melber. And you`re watching THE BEAT on
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I`ve had him testifying already for 30 hours.
CATHERINE HERRIDGE, CHIEF INTELLIGENCE CORRESPONDENT, FOX NEWS: So is the
TRUMP: And it`s really – so I don`t think I can let him and then tell
everybody else you can`t, because – especially him because he was a
counsel. So they`ve testified for many hours, all of them. There were
many, many –
HERRIDGE: So as far as you`re concerned, it`s really kind of done? It`s
TRUMP: You can`t say that one can and the others can`t.
HERRIDGE: So is it done?
TRUMP: I would say it`s done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VOSSOUGHIAN: Wow. So breaking news. That was President Trump moments ago
saying that he won`t let Don McGahn testify about the Mueller report. And
we just got breaking news as well on Mueller himself possibly testifying.
The House Judiciary Committee has now started discussions directly with
Mueller`s team about coming to testify before the committee. Nothing has
been finalized but this is big news right now.
The committee is now in talks with Mueller`s team directly. Not just the
Department of Justice.
Joining me now to discuss this breaking news, Senior political
correspondent for “The Hill”, Amie Parnes. And “The Daily Beast” Michael
Tomasky. His latest column is head of “The GOP`s Just a Racket Now, and
Trump Is Its Godfather, Barr Its Wartime Consigliere.”
Amie, I`m going to start with you on this one. And this is some pretty
huge news. Not surprising necessarily because we have heard sort of some
whisperings of this from the White House that he did not want Don McGahn to
AMIE PARNES, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE HILL: Right.
VOSSOUGHIAN: Although we do know where Don McGahn stands on everything
because he has issued some statements after the Mueller report.
VOSSOUGHIAN: What do you make of this?
PARNES: That this gives fuel to the fire to Democrats. This is exactly
the reason why Democrats are saying we have to pursue this because he is
obstructing people from coming and testifying.
And that is the reason why you`re seeing people saying, OK, we`re going to
hold him in contempt of the Congress if he doesn`t do this. And this is
why this is kind of giving Democrats the energy they need right now to
pursue Barr and to pursue other leads down the road.
VOSSOUGHIAN: So what happens now here, do you think, Michael if he`s
resisting Don McGahn testifying.
MICHAEL TOMASKY, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, I think the House
Judiciary Committee does everything it can to compel him to testify. And
they take every step they can in that direction.
McGahn is a big fish here. He`s a very big deal because as we know he was
very central to the Mueller report, to the allegations in the Mueller
report, not exactly allegations but to the descriptions in the Mueller
report that got toward obstruction of justice.
Trump telling McGahn to do this, to not do that in Volume II of the report
where the obstruction sections are laid out. So McGahn would be a very key
witness for the House to get.
I don`t know how they get him but they`re going to push very hard to do so
because he would make for some pretty dramatic television.
VOSSOUGHIAN: And – but here`s the question, Michael. McGahn has already
spoken to Bob Mueller. We know what took place with Don McGahn.
And not only has he spoken to him, he released a statement saying
everything in the Mueller report that was laid out with regards to him and
his interactions with the president was accurate. So why is the president
resisting this Q&A with Don McGahn?
TOMASKY: Because he knows what John Alter just said in your last segment,
there is nothing quite like seeing it. It is not the same as seeing it.
It`s not the same as seeing Don McGahn sit there under questioning from
Democrats and admitting this and this and that is true and watching those
film clips be played on this network and the others for four days. That
will have impact that mere words on paper do not.
VOSSOUGHIAN: Amie, let`s talk about Bob Mueller now that we`re hearing
that he`s actually directly negotiating with Jerry Nadler, the chairman.
What do you make of that?
That`s pretty unprecedented. We thought that he was negotiating his time
in the House with the DOJ but he, in fact, is not doing that.
PARNES: Well, it speaks volumes about where he is, where his team is in
terms of how they see this whole thing. Their story has essentially been
told for them. They are upset about that. They are now saying, OK, we`re
taking this out of your hands and we`re essentially going to cut the middle
man and come straight to you.
And I think this is why we`re seeing this drumbeat of essentially
protesting the last few days. This letter was the first thing. You`re
hearing rumblings from behind the scenes saying it was a
mischaracterization. This is why he needs to come forward.
VOSSOUGHIAN: Yes. No, go ahead.
PARNES: So I think that that`s – this is essentially why they`re doing
that because they want their story told.
VOSSOUGHIAN: So Michael, you can`t help but think, is this a reflection of
the fact that Bob Mueller does not trust the A.G.?
TOMASKY: It`s hard to see that it could be anything other than that. And
I think Mueller is itching to tell his story. There is a risk there for
I should just add. Democrats will ask him questions. Expecting him to say
things like, yes, I would have brought an indictment against Donald Trump
if he were not the president of the United States. Things like that would
be the money quotes they`ll be looking for.
Mueller worded things much more cautiously in the report than that. So he
may not be willing to go much farther in person than he went in print in
the report. The Democrats I think need to be mindful of that when they get
him up there.
VOSSOUGHIAN: Yes, it is an incredibly good point, Amie, because we know
Bob Mueller to be a company man. He does not stray outside of the lines.
He knows what to say and not to say and he hasn`t said a lot over the last
couple of years. We haven`t heard much from him.
I can`t tell you how many times I`ve re-watched when Mike Viqueira chased
him down outside church one day and tried to get a statement from him but
we certainly didn`t hear anything from him at that point either. He just
said no comment.
VOSSOUGHIAN: So what do we actually expect to hear from Bob Mueller? What
are you going to be looking for?
PARNES: This is going to be a historic event either way. I mean this is
what everyone has been waiting for, for two years. To hear it straight
from the horse`s mouth exactly what happened, exactly where.
If Democrats do have a case going forward, they can actually say this is
going to make for compelling television and they can point to his exact
words, his exact testimony and say this is why we`re going to proceed going
This is the case that we are building and this is exactly what they need
right now. And that is why I think Trump will be a little bit nervous
about what happens.
VOSSOUGHIAN: Yes. OK. Amie Parnes and Michael Tomasky, thank you guys
Ahead, everybody, Senator Harris rattles Barr on White House contacts.
Today, new questions about Trump`s possible abuse of power. We`re back in
VOSSOUGHIAN: Welcome back. The image of the day, witness chair at this
morning`s House Judiciary hearing empty because Bill Barr, he never showed
up. One impact, Democrats didn`t get a chance to follow up on the
startling moment, Kamala Harris asking Barr whether Trump secretly leaned
on him to open new probes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS: Has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or
suggested that you open an investigation of anyone? Yes or no, please,
BARR: The president or anybody else?
HARRIS: It seems you`d remember something like that and be able to tell
BARR: Yes. But I`m trying to grapple with the word suggest. I mean there
have been discussions of matters out there that they have not asked me to
open an investigation but –
HARRIS: Perhaps they`ve suggested?
BARR: I don`t know. I wouldn`t say suggest.
BARR: I don`t know.
HARRIS: Inferred? You don`t know? OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VOSSOUGHIAN: So Barr appearing to squirm, unable to answer direct
questions about Trump`s conduct or question touching on potential abuse of
power that has come up before. Back in 2018, “The New York Times” reported
that Trump told White House Counsel Don McGahn that he wanted to ask the
DOJ to prosecute James Comey and Hillary Clinton. McGahn resisted, warning
it could lead to impeachment.
And the Mueller report shows Trump pushing Then-Attorney General Jeff
Sessions to investigate Clinton. Clinton addressing both of those reports
during an interview with Rachel Maddow last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: I mean I`m living rent-free inside of Donald Trump`s brain and
it`s not a very nice place to be. I`ve been investigated repeatedly by the
other side. And much to their dismay but to my satisfaction, it has been
This is a diversion attack. It is one of their tools to fire up their
hardcore base. When in doubt, go after me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VOSSOUGHIAN: All right. Joining me now is Julian Epstein, former chief
Democratic counsel to the House Judiciary Committee. The same type of
staff lawyer who would have been questioning Barr if he showed up today.
And Natasha Bertrand, political reporter for – who has covered the Russia
probe from the start.
Julian, I`m going to start with you on this one. What type of questions
would you have been asking Bill Barr in this morning?
JULIAN EPSTEIN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I would have specifically
gone after the four obstruction areas. I think Mueller was rather specific
that the elements of obstruction were met in at least four areas. Barr`s
explanation yesterday was that Trump was merely trying to clear up a “New
York Times” story. I think that`s demonstrably false.
So I think that I would certainly start there and I would certainly start
with the evasions about the character – the mischaracterization about the
Mueller report. I don`t even think – I think Bob Barr has misserved the
president I think a couple of weeks ago.
Democrats were very divided and the public was starting to turn its
attention elsewhere. I think the mischaracterization of the Barr report,
together with the attacks on Mueller today and the stonewalling of
subpoenas is exactly the lessons that we learned not to do in 1998 in terms
of effective pushback.
What they`re doing is they`re keeping this issue in the media for a much
longer period of time. They`ve reignited this debate. They`ve unified the
Democrats. They`ve done all the things wrong in the last two weeks, even
though the storyline was kind of headed in their direction, was headed in
They`ve done everything possible to reverse it. And I think the White
House counsel and Bill Barr, the real story is here, it`s that they are
dramatically misserving the president who wants to get this story to its
completion. And they`ve extended this thing into the foreseeable future.
VOSSOUGHIAN: Julian, one of the reasons that the attorney general cited
that he wouldn`t show up this morning was because staff lawyers were going
to be – that was the reason, was because staff lawyers were going to be
questioning him in addition to Congress people. What is the advantage of
EPSTEIN: Well the advantage is you have 30 minutes and you have skilled
attorneys that can get in and get to the crux of the legal matter.
Members, I love them all, no disrespect to them, love to make big speeches
and get on T.V. for their constituents at night and not – often are not
the most effective questioners.
It is true that it is not common for staff to question a cabinet official.
It happens very, very rarely. But in 1998, we questioned Ken Starr who was
standing in for the Attorney General as the Independent Counsel at that
point. During Iran-Contra, they questioned cabinet-level officials. And
there`s precedent for it for the kind of like time stands still earth-
shattering investigations into administration corruption. There`s plenty
of precedents even if it`s not common.
And again, I think Barr is not a very important witness. I think Mueller
is much, much, much more important at this point. But I think Barr`s
conduct has again really miss-served this president by fueling the fire,
unifying Democrats, and extending this issue in the – in the public – in
the public square now for a good another six months at least.
VOSSOUGHIAN: Natasha, I want to replay the exchange between the Attorney
General and Kamala Harris when she asked him about whether or not he was
ever asked to open up an investigation, and then I`m going to follow that
up with the first time we heard the Attorney General used the word spying.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Has the President or
anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an
investigation of anyone?
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES: I`m trying to grapple with
the word suggests. They have not asked me to open an investigation but –
HARRIS: Perhaps they suggested.
BARR: I don`t know, I wouldn`t say suggested.
BARR: I don`t know.
HARRIS: Inferred. You don`t know, OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARR: I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you`re not – you`re not suggesting though that
BARR: I don`t – well, I guess you could – I think there`s – a spying
did occur. Yes, I think spying did occur.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VOSSOUGHIAN: Natasha, you can`t help but think when you listen to the
exchange between the Attorney General and Kamala Harris, and Senator
Harris, and then here the Attorney General talking about spying and wanting
to look into that during the Obama administration. You also can`t help but
remember how many times the president has used the terminology spying and
talks about how he believed his campaign was being unlawfully spied upon.
What do you make of that connection there?
NATASHA BERTRAND, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Yes. And I
would also add the big New York Times piece from this morning outlining how
Rudy Giuliani, the president`s personal attorney, has been really pushing
the Justice Department to go hard on Hunter Biden`s ties to Ukraine and you
know, certain issues having to do with Ukrainian interference in the 2016
election. This is – a report that said that Giuliani was actually talking
to the President about pressuring the Justice Department to look into these
So the idea that the President who has in the past pressured people in the
Justice Department, his Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General to go
down certain investigative avenues whether it`s Clinton, or Comey, or the
investigators in 2016 and beyond who investigated the Russia Russian
interference. It just seems virtually implausible and impossible that he
wouldn`t have had these kinds of conversations with Bill Barr.
And I think that is why Barr hesitated at the hearing yesterday. He knows
that he could not say no, I have never had a conversation with anyone in
the White House about certain avenues of inquiry that they want me to go
down because that would have been a lie. So there are many, many things I
think that the President would like to see investigated. Of course,
Clinton is one – the Clinton Foundation is one that they toss out there
every now and then.
And then of course, people like Comey and Andy McCabe who you know pursued
the investigation in 2016, and then the Ukrainians which of course was the
counter to the Mueller report. They were saying well, it wasn`t the – it
wasn`t Republicans that were colluding with the Russians, it was a
Democrats that were including with the Ukrainians. So there`s a ton out
there that I think he would have a lot of – lot to say to the Attorney
VOSSOUGHIAN: You also feel like the Attorney General definitely pause
there when he was obviously trying to answer and figure out what exactly
Kamala Harris was asking him, the senator was asking him. And you can`t
help but think about the fact that he has a President who tweets a lot and
could feasibly have tweeted, I did ask the Attorney General to look into
something and I`m allowed to do that because the president has a history of
doing such things as that. And then the Attorney General could have very
well found himself in hot water.
Julian Epstein, Natasha Bertrand thank you guys both very much. I
appreciate it. Ahead, a former Clinton cabinet member says Congress should
be ready to arrest Attorney General Barr. He joins us live. And more on
the breaking news, everybody. Mueller`s team talking directly with
Democrats about testimony. We`ll be right back.
VOSSOUGHIAN: Welcome back. A possible sign that Mueller might not fully
trust Attorney General Barr. The breaking news, Chairman Nadler`s House
Judiciary Committee is talking directly with Mueller`s team about coming to
testify before the committee. Nothing has been finalized but Mueller now
in discussions with the Democrats not just the Department of Justice.
This news coming as Hillary Clinton says Bill Barr is acting like Trump`s
personal defense lawyer.
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that the Democrats
on the committee did a good job today in exposing that, that he is the
President`s defense lawyer. He is not the Attorney General of the United
States in the way that he has conducted himself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VOSSOUGHIAN: And today, Barr is ducking the hard questions from lawyers
but is this surprising? Before Trump tap Barr, he sends an unsolicited
memo to Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein saying Mueller`s obstruction probe was
“fatally misconceived because Trump`s actions were under his presidential
authority.” A point Barr repeated in his testimony yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARR: If in fact, a proceeding was not well-founded, if it was based on
false allegations, the President does not have to sit there
constitutionally and allow it to run its course. The president could
terminate that proceeding, and it would not be a corrupt intent because he
was being falsely accused.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VOSSOUGHIAN: With me now is Tim O`Brien, Executive Editor of Bloomberg
View and Author of Trump Nation, and Maya Wiley is back with us. They`ve
both been shaking their heads when we were listening to the Attorney
General. So I`m just going to let you guys go on this one because it seems
like you have an opinion.
Tim, I`ll let you go because Maya was with me in the last half. Go ahead.
TIM O`BRIEN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLOOMBERG VIEW: Well, you know, the premise
there the Barr makes that the president, if he believes that the
accusations are false can then stick his fingers in the middle of a federal
investigation I think is a completely bogus philosophic approach to this
from either legal or an institutional perspective, because Trump didn`t
know what all the underlying evidence was necessarily. We still don`t.
Kamala Harris made it very clear during the hearing that Bill Barr himself
didn`t look at the underlying evidence. So I don`t think the President
gets to sit on essentially on a throne above the process and say I know
better than everyone else involved in this if. And I feel it`s going the
wrong direction, I can derail it.
VOSSOUGHIAN: It seems very basic to me to put it in basic terms, that if
there`s an investigation that I don`t like that was started about me, that
I can go ahead and fire the person that is looking into me. OK, I`m going
to let them investigate and find out that I`m completely guilt – not
MAYA WILEY, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Exactly.
VOSSOUGHIAN: So if the President felt like this investigation was
unjustified, then where is the evidence to back that claim up?
WILEY: Well, that – yes, exactly. It`s like we didn`t have a two-year
investigation with 30 some-odd indictments and a whole bunch of guilty
pleas, and several people close to the president winding up in prison
because there was just false accusation. That`s – and even Robert
Mueller`s report says we didn`t have sufficient evidence to establish, to
establish conspiracy with the Russian government, and then named three
separate reasons why it was difficult to get sufficient evidence to
determine whether or not there was, right, which is folks took the Fifth
Amendment, people lied, witnesses were overseas and they couldn`t get
access to witnesses.
That – all that says is so we can`t exonerate them either. But – so when
you have an attorney general of the United States simply make the
suggestion that a sitting president can remove any – the reason we have a
special counsel is exactly for this reason. And what you`re really saying
is we don`t have a legal process that can be trusted.
The President of the United States would essentially be saying, I as
president United States do not trust the United States law enforcement.
That`s – that in and of itself is a statement.
O`BRIEN: And Mueller went out of his way in his report to point exactly at
this, that no one in the United States is above the law, that we had these
processes in place for a reason, and that in his view I think was pretty
clear in that report he thought that the Congress should be the final
arbiter of what occurred here, not the Attorney General.
VOSSOUGHIAN: Go ahead.
WILEY: This is – that`s exactly the next point I was going to make as
well because Tim, your brilliant. Which is that –
VOSSOUGHIAN: Just the lovefest here, everybody.
WILEY: Which is that part of the job is to amass the evidence for Congress
to determine whether or not there`s been an abuse of authority. Because
part of what the obfuscation was of this – of that hearing yesterday was
Barr suggesting, unless you meet a criminal standard, a criminal standard
that Congress can`t act. But that is not the way the Constitution is
structured and that`s not what congressional authority for impeachment.
VOSSOUGHIAN: So a lot of people are asking today and over the last couple
of weeks they`ve been asking this, what happened the Bill Barr we thought
we knew. Because not to call you out Maya, but I know a lot of people who
were up here in the legal community, I didn`t know necessarily Bill Barr.
O`BRIEN: I was not of that opinion.
VOSSOUGHIAN: That said we can trust him. He – this is a guy who knows
what he`s doing. He has been here before. He`s going to do the right
thing, and so on and so forth. But there was a Jim Comey New York Times
op-ed and he tried to answer the question as to what happens to people that
work in the Trump administration. And the title of this op-ed was James
Comey: How Trump co-op`s leaders like Bill Barr.
And here`s a quote from it. Trump eats your soul in small bites. Go
O`BRIEN: This behavior from Bill Barr didn`t begin with his advisory role
to Donald Trump. Bill Barr during the Iran-Contra investigation when he
was George H.W. Bush`s Attorney General advised him how he could use
pardons to prevent that investigation from rolling into the Oval Office.
Bill Barr has a long history of using legal methods, maneuvers decisions,
philosophically I think because he leaves any strong imperial presidency to
derail congressional scrutiny and specifically to derails special council
So this didn`t happen because Donald Trump ate Bill Barr`s soul. This is a
meeting of the minds. This is a meeting of the minds. He is not Jim
Mattis. Jim Mattis left. He is not Sarah Saunders who subsumes herself to
Trump every day. This is an individual who came in intending to do this,
and I think they discussed it when he was auditioning for the job.
VOSSOUGHIAN: Maya, I got to let you have your ten seconds to –
WILEY: My ten seconds is we – everyone knew that Trump was only going to
hire someone he believed would protect them and that that was going to be
the conversation. But I think many of us thought he was going to try to
protect him within the bounds of the law. Lying to Congress, keeping
information from Congress, and blocking Congress from doing its
constitutional duty is not – it`s a kind of boundary crossing we didn`t
think that one needed to do even if you thought your job was to create the
best legal path for the president.
VOSSOUGHIAN: All right, Tim O`Brien, Maya Wiley, thank you guys both. I
O`BRIEN: Thank you.
VOSSOUGHIAN: All right, coming up, I`m going to talk to a former Clinton
cabinet member who says Congress should be ready to arrest Bill Barr.
Robert Reich, next.
VOSSOUGHIAN: Welcome back. The question how to handle an Attorney General
who you believe committed a crime.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should he go to jail? Should he go to jail for it?
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): There`s a process involved here and as I said,
I`ll say it again, and how many your questions you had, the committee will
act upon how we will proceed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VOSSOUGHIAN: That was Pelosi today saying Barr lied to Congress, but
avoiding the question about actual jail time. And then there`s the
provocative take from my next guest, former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert
Reich who wrote before Barr`s testimony that one remedy, if Barr does not
cooperate with Democrats in Congress, could indeed be arresting him and
putting him in jail.
Robert Reich is joining me now. And thank you so much for being here,
Robert. I very much appreciate it. You wrote that before Barr testified
obviously yesterday. Has your view changed at all?
ROBERT REICH, FORMER LABOR SECRETARY, UNITED STATES: No, Yasmin. He
refuses to testify before the House. Now, there is some negotiation going
on. Maybe he will testify before the House. but there is an old precedent
in this country under the Constitution of the United States, affirmed by
the Supreme Court that says that the House and the Senate, each chamber has
an inherent power to compel a witness to testify if that witness just
refuses and that includes arrest and it even includes jail.
And we forget that because it`s been such a long time. It`s been 1935 –
34 since that happened, but it`s there and the Supreme Court has affirmed
that authority. And I`m just – the reason I put that out there – and
that was even before Nancy Pelosi said what she said today – because we
really have to think of this in terms of a constitutional crisis.
If the president and the administration are stonewalling and say there will
be absolutely no information, no testimony, no report, no Mueller Report
that goes to the House, then the House is powerless unless the House takes
VOSSOUGHIAN: It seems though, I have to say with the people I have been
speaking to incredibly unrealistic to imagine the attorney general being
put in handcuffs and behind bars. Here`s what you – here`s what you
wrote. The House can order its own sergeant at arms to arrest the
offender, subject him to a trial before the full House. And if judged to
be in contempt, jail that person until he actually appears. Do you think
this is a realistic scenario or just a threat?
REICH: This is a realistic threat. But let me say – let me say why this
is an important threat. Otherwise, the Trump administration can run out
the clock. In other words, Congress could decide, the House could decide
to hold the witness in contempt which is criminal and then it would just
languish through the courts.
And because the Justice Department really runs the show, it could take
another year and a half, and then the clock runs out. The way it expedites
this issue up to the Supreme Court and not let the Trump administration run
the clock is to actually act on the constitutional authority that the House
And that constitutional authority as I said enshrined in a Supreme Court
case. I think it was called Jurney versus MacCracken, 1935. You go look
back at it. It`s clear that the House could do that, but in so threatening
it would. And even if you had a sergeant of arms go to the Justice
Department, I mean, I doubt that there would actually be such a clash, but
you have to get what – it would force the Trump administration to get an
injunction in court and that would be expedited I expect up to the Supreme
VOSSOUGHIAN: You actually serve in the Clinton administration. I want to
take a listen to Lindsey Graham back in actually 1998 talking about
presidents who defy subpoenas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): It`s your job to tell us what we need. It is
your job to comply with the things we need to provide oversight over you.
The day Richard Nixon failed to answer to that subpoena is the day that he
was subject to impeachment because he took the power from Congress.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VOSSOUGHIAN: I`m going to bet Lindsey Graham has changed his tune today
which I think we all know he has. But could the same actions apply now?
REICH: Of course. Even Sam Ervin. You remember Senator Sam Ervin, the
Watergate – Chairman of the Watergate committee. He threatened and very,
very explicitly anybody from the administration, including the president
that did not show up for a subpoena that they would be arrested. He was
threatening arrest at that time back in the early 70s under Watergate.
So this is not completely out of the question. And although Republicans
like Lindsey Graham you know, will talk about it when their person is not
actually – their administration is not under the gun, this is something
that is necessary to threaten because otherwise – and this is the
important point, otherwise there is no power in Congress, in the House or
Senate, each chamber separately to oversee what the administration is
The Constitution makes these branches of government co-equal branches. And
it`s not co-equal if the President can just say, well, forget it. I`m
going to order everybody to basically reject any subpoena, any request for
information. And it doesn`t matter if you hold anybody in contempt.
VOSSOUGHIAN: All right, Robert Reich, thank you so much. His latest book
is The Common Good. We`ll be right back.
VOSSOUGHIAN: That does it for me, everybody. I`m going to see you back
here tomorrow morning on “FIRST LOOK” at 5:00 a.m. Eastern. “HARDBALL”
with Chris Matthews starts right now.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Flanking the bar exam. Let`s play HARDBALL.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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Copyright 2019 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are
protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the