Published April 09, 2019
This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," April 9, 2019. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Within a week I will be in a position to release the report to the public. I identified four areas that I feel should be redacted. The Special Counsel is working with us on identifying information in the reports that fall under those four categories. We will color-code the excisions from the report, and we will provide explanatory notes describing the basis for each redaction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: The Attorney General William Barr up on Capitol Hill. He was supposed to talk about the Justice Department budget, didn't spend a lot of time on the budget. He spent a lot of time on the Mueller report, as you can imagine. He mentioned those four areas that will be color-coded. They will be grand jury material, classified information that would reveal intelligence sources and methods, information that would compromise ongoing investigations, and privacy of peripheral players who were not charged.
With that, let's start there with our panel, Ben Domenech, publisher of "The Federalist," Mara Liasson, national political correspondent for National Public Radio, and Matthew Continetti, editor in chief of the "Washington Free Beacon." Mara, it seemed like the attorney general kind of was plainspoken, said he wasn't going to go too far into the weeds until the report is out, which could be in coming days.
MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: That's right, which could be very soon, Congress, Democrats have a choice. They could abide the event, wait till it comes out, see if they feel that he has rejected fairly, and then they can fight about what he redacted. The one thing that did puzzle and concern some Democrats of course is he couldn't say whether he'd briefed the White House about the contents.
BAIER: He later came back and said that there was a discussion about the summary.
LIASSON: Right, right. And then Mueller had the opportunity to look at a summary and decided not to.
BAIER: He was asked how could he finish the summary in just 48 hours and the report itself is 300 to 400 pages. Here's his answer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARR: On March 5th I believe, the deputy and I met with Special Counsel Mueller and his team and had a preliminary discussion about the report. So we had an inkling as to what was coming our direction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: Ben, he is kind of a by the book guy. He's straightforward in his delivery.
BEN DOMENECH, "THE FEDERALIST": He's an institutionalist in a lot of ways, and I think he's a guy who looks at the situation that he's coming in here as one where he had two significant challenges, two messages that he wanted to get across today. The first one was, as Mara said, to basically I think clamp down on some of the rumormongering that had happened in recent days about the nature of the report, about the summary that he wrote, about the process involved, and, frankly, about whether these reductions were going to be something that were done in cooperation with the Special Counsel. He clearly sent that message today.
He also had a message I think to a lot of Republicans today as well, which was to essentially say I'm not going to pretend like everything we just went through didn't happen and that there are not a lot of questions about the process involved. He was very clearly sending a message to Congress that there's going to be additional investigations into this process. And as an institutionalist I think that Barr is convinced that is something that needs to happen in order to identify areas where that process may have failed.
BAIER: As you can imagine, there are two different ways to look at this testimony today. The leaders in the Senate had basically the two different ways.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY, SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: They really going to ask the question whether you trust Bill Barr or not. And I do, and I think he will get us a report that is as open as possible.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y., SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Thus far I don't think that Barr has conducted himself in a manner that earns people's trust. We'll wait to see the report, but color me dubious that he's going to be fair unless he proves otherwise.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEW CONTINETTI, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "WASHINGTON FREE BEACON": I am shocked that Chuck Schumer is dubious about Barr. We have gone from a Trump-Russia conspiracy, which seems to have been disproven by Mueller's investigation, to a Trump-Barr conspiracy, which has been quickly adopted by the Democrats as the new political play. But the way to understand Barr I think is to view him as the anti-Comey. He has done everything by the book, and in contrast to the way that Comey went ahead and inserted himself into the public sphere with his announcements about the investigations.
And starting with that initial letter on that Friday when Barr was literally citing regulations, stipulating this is why I'm sending the letter, this is why I'm going to prepare the report, this is -- the Special Counsel had no objections, did nothing out of line. He has done exactly what one would expect from someone who follows the book.
BAIER: A lot of people following this and wanting to get information on the other side of the investigation, how it started. There was a little bit back and forth about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARR: The Office of the Inspector General has a pending investigation of the FISA process in the Russian investigation. I am reviewing the conduct of the investigation and trying to get my arms around all of the aspects of the counterintelligence investigation. That will be complete in probably in May or June, I am told.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: That I.G. report is obviously the focus of a lot of attention, especially from Republican lawmakers on the Hill.
LIASSON: Republican lawmakers have been trying to say that this entire investigation was tainted because of the way it started. Now, if Barr's summary is correct and it exonerates the president, I don't know why they would want to undercut it at this point. It works for them.
BAIER: To make sure it doesn't happen again.
LIASSON: To make sure it doesn't happen again. But they are interested in finding out exactly how it was begun. Was it begun some with some of a FISA warrant that didn't merit approval, or was it started because of counterintelligence from one of our allies?
BAIER: And Ben, Senator Graham has said he's going to go down this road vigorously.
DOMENECH: Yes, and that pushes back against I think some Republicans who would prefer to just drop it and move on. But it's very important because the reality is if Americans want to have faith in these institutions of law and order which are the center of American life in a lot of different ways, they need to able to have faith that these were processes that are not going to be used by administrations against future presidential candidates or campaigns. And knowing the details of what was involved here I think is critical for that.
BAIER: We could get this redacted version by Friday. It feels like a Friday afternoon kind of thing in Washington.
CONTINETTI: It will be like a rainbow version of Mad Libs for all the different categories of redaction. This is going to end up in the courts as everything seems to end up these days.
BAIER: It seems, too.
More with the panel about President Trump's day at the White House after a short timeout.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT: I never said I'm cleaning house. I don't know who came up with that expression. We have a lot of great people over there. We have bad laws.
President Obama had child separation. And I will tell you something, once you don't have it, that is why you see many more people coming. They are coming like it's a picnic, because let's go to Disneyland. President Obama separated children. They had child separation. I was the one that changed.
SEN. MAZIE HIRONO, D-HI: The criteria for the president is very clear with all of his secretaries. They don't last long if they don't agree with him 100 percent and enable him to do all of these asinine things that he comes up with.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: A lot of talk on Capitol Hill about the resignation of the Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and the changes in the cabinet and the administration. In the first 649 days President Trump has had more cabinet changes than all of his predecessors dating back to Woodrow Wilson, as we mentioned yesterday, the first full two years in office. Of the president's 11 cabinet turnovers, nine were departures, two went on to serve other roles in the White House. Back with a panel. What about this, Matthew?
CONTINETTI: It's the businessman president. We've never had a president quite like Donald Trump with no government experience. And I think his attitude towards his cabin officers is the attitude a CEO has toward his management team. And the problem, though, is that all of the personnel changes, specifically in DHS, isn't going to address the root of the problem which is legislative and judicial. You need Congress to act if you really want to close these loopholes that are leading to this surge of migrants to the border. And Congress, especially with Democrats in charge of the House, is not interested in acting.
LIASSON: Except today I talked to a senior administration official who said even though the ultimate solution lies with Congress there so much they believe DHS could do and isn't doing to change regulations. And they feel that the career people at DHS are not mission oriented, in other words, they don't buy into the president's mission. The political people they've appointed over there don't seem to be able to control the bureaucracy. So the president is really frustrated he can't get his vision and his policies enacted and implemented by the Department of Homeland Security.
BAIER: Meanwhile, senior aide Stephen Miller is getting a lot of attention, Ben. He is now seen as the behind the scenes orchestrating this immigration policy and given power by the president. He is also the focus of Congresswoman Omar who tweeted out, "Stephen Miller is a white nationalist. The fact that he still has influence on policy an political appointments is an outrage." He's also Jewish, and he pushed back on all of that.
DOMENECH: The real tension here is between someone in Stephen Miller who really wants to see a lot of movement on this and a president who wants to see movement on this, and the realities of law and court decisions that prevent them from doing exactly what needs to be done in this case.
Back in October of 2017 they sent a lengthy list of requests to Congress, which at that point was Republicans, saying these are all the legislative fixes we need. It was very wonky as a document and went into a lot of different things, particularly related to these asylum issues. The bar is far too low for entering the country when it comes to these claims of asylum, I think particularly when it comes to establishing a credible fear when it comes to the situation back home for these various folks who are coming across, many of them bringing children with them in order to be able to apply. That is not going to change just getting rid of someone like Nielsen who I think was in a difficult position and maybe wasn't the right person for the job anyway.
BAIER: If you look at just the stats from March, from 19 here, southwest border apprehensions, 8,975 unaccompanied alien children, that is up from 6,800 and February, 30,500 single adults, up from 23,000 last month, 53,000 family units, a 45 percent increase from February, and then you have the apprehensions and inadmissibles, as they call it, and you just take a look at the numbers and the scale is right there. It's over 100,000 now. Anybody can look at that and say, that is a major problem.
LIASSON: But they really believe that if DHS changed the way they do the credible fear hearings, even without Congress changing legislation, they said that the credible fear people who have to give the test, in other words, are too credulous. In other words, they are to reflexively believing these asylum-seekers when they say they have a credible fear. They say that can go a long way towards providing a deterrent, the same thing with getting --
BAIER: So you're saying that there's some subjective nature along the border and to comply with the law?
LIASSON: Right. And then there are work permits that are given to asylum seekers while they are waiting for their hearing. They said if they could cut down the number of those that would also be a deterrent. These are all things they think they could do bureaucratically without legislation, and they're not getting the cooperation from DHS.
BAIER: Isn't the onus now on the Democratic Party to say, OK, if you're going to fix it, don't even talk about the wall. Talk about something else. Talk about the fixes.
CONTINETTI: Exactly. And I think that's where presidential leadership comes into play. The president should make the case that Congress needs to address these laws. It would help him politically as well, because no matter all of the executive functions, which they can try to do, and the administrative changes and executive actions, they will all be challenged in court. We saw that the deal that the administration has made with the new Mexican government to house the asylum-seekers in Mexico while their claims are adjudicated, that was overruled by another judge.
BAIER: And they're appealing that --
CONTINETTI: They're going to have to appeal.
LIASSON: Remember the last time that Donald Trump tried to make a deal with Congress, a big deal to have some of the stuff he wanted and some of the stuff they wanted on the Dreamers, that was scuttled because Stephen Miller wanted restrictions on legal immigration and the deal fell apart.
BAIER: We have a lot more to talk about this issue, something tells me.
When we come back, some very interesting dog days. Thank you, panel.
BAIER: Finally tonight, dog Olympics. The Desert Dog Police K-9 competition in Arizona is an opportunity for law enforcement agencies to show off the skills of their four-legged partners. Federal, military, and police canines from all over the country participate. The competition allows the public to see the hard work and dedication of canines and their handlers from around the country.
Join us tomorrow for a live interview with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on this show. We will talk about the agenda going forward, what lies ahead.
Thanks for inviting us into your home tonight. That's it for the “Special Report,” fair, balanced, and unafraid. "The Story" hosted by my friend Martha MacCallum starts right now.
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