Politics of House Democrats' clash with White House

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," May 7, 2019. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY, SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Seriousness is not what we have seen from the Democratic Party in recent days. They told everyone there had been a conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign. Yet on this central question, the Special Counsel's finding is clear. Case closed.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF., HOUSE SPEAKER: Case closed -- I don't think so. That is just not a fact. The case is not closed.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y., SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Of course, he wants to move on. He wants to cover up. He wants to silence on one of the most serious issues we face, whether a foreign power can manipulate our elections.


BAIER: A lot of talk about the Mueller report up on Capitol Hill today. This as we are hours away from a decision by the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler whether they are going to vote on a contempt charge against the Attorney General William Barr. A Republican saying the Democrats could have seen more of the report if they wanted to.


REP. ANDY BIGGS, R-ARIZ., HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Ninety-five percent of this report was already unredacted. What is it they think they are going to get? And then I guess I would ask Mr. Nadler, the chairman, why he hasn't even bothered to go down and look to see if there's any value in that other five percent, because that has been made available to him.


BAIER: So we'll start there with our panel. Let's bring in our panel, Byron York, chief political correspondent for the "Washington Examiner," with me here at the White House, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent for National Public Radio, and Matthew Continetti, editor in chief of the "Washington Free Beacon." A lot of moving parts here, Mara, but let's start with Nadler and this contempt vote.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: It looks like they are going to go ahead. We are still waiting for the final decision. If the Congress decides that Barr is in contempt, then the next thing that happens, it might go to court. And that could take a very long time. The president is resisting a lot of subpoenas, a lot of requests for documents across the board. He has decided to fight. That's what he likes to do. So it looks like we are having a real separation of powers conflict.

BAIER: Yes. Byron?

BRYON YORK, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": The thing is, this fight between Barr and the House Judiciary Committee is basically kind of dumb at the basis of it. We know that certain parts of the Mueller report were redacted for various reasons because of classified information, because of information about ongoing cases, and because of grand jury information. And that attorney general said to the committee, look, I will uncover everything except the grand jury information, and you can come over and read it.

And Doug Collins, who is the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, did go over and read it, meaning he read almost everything, and certainly almost everything in volume two, and he said that it really didn't change anything. And Jerrold Nadler, the chairman, will not go read it, refuses to go read it, and instead wants to threaten Barr with contempt for not releasing the whole thing, which, by the way, the attorney general can't do on his own because it requires a court order to do.

BAIER: Yes, so it could be delayed and delayed as you get back up into an election.

Matthew, the other from Capitol Hill today, you have the Senate Majority Leader saying listen, clearly the Mueller report and all the extraneous activities around it are not a winning issue for Democrats on the campaign trail. Then the Speaker the House, Nancy Pelosi, said this about impeachment.


REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF., HOUSE SPEAKER: Trump is goading us to impeach him. That's what he's doing. Every single day he is just like taunting, taunting, taunting, because he knows that it would be very divisive in the country. So we can't impeach him for political reasons, and we can't not impeach him for political reasons.


BAIER: That is a new argument, Matthew.

MATTHEW CONTINETTI, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "WASHINGTON FREE BEACON": I think that's what's called a Catch-22. Pelosi is walking this tightrope. She's like a gymnast. On the one hand, her base wants her to impeach Donald Trump. But on the other hand, the public does not. And so she has to give her basically appearance that the Democrats are doing everything they can close to impeachment, but not actually crossing the line.

On the other hand, she knows that the second she does that, the public will turn against her. So I don't know if Pelosi is actually capable of walking that tight rope, and that's why you get clumsy phrases like the one today.

BAIER: Also, if you polled the progressives in her own party, a large percentage would say go ahead. Full speed ahead on impeachment. Speaking of rhetorical back and forth, to spy or not to spy. Spying versus surveillance, take a listen.


SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN, D-N.H., SENATE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE: When FBI agents conduct investigations against alleged mobsters, suspected terrorists, other criminals, do you believe that they are engaging in spying?

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: That is not the term that I would use. A lot of people have different colloquial phrases. I believe that the FBI is engaged in investigative activity, and part of investigative activity includes surveillance activity of different shapes and sizes.

SHAHEEN: Do you have any evidence that any illegal surveillance into the campaigns or individuals associated with the campaigns by the FBI occurred?

WRAY: I don't think I personally have any evidence of that sort.


BAIER: So there is the FBI director, Mara, counter to the attorney general who used the word "spying." Obviously the inspector general report and all those investigations is really what everybody is waiting for.

LIASSON: Yes, everybody is waiting for that. Clearly Director Wray sees "spying" as a pejorative term, suggests that something inappropriate happened. What he is talking about is surveillance that was ordered by judge multiple times. Hopefully Michael Horowitz, the inspector general, is going to lay this all out for us, but "spying" is a term that President Trump uses to say that it was illegal. But what Wray talked about today was, look, this is a kind of thing that the FBI should be investigating when an agent of a foreign power makes a contact with a campaign.

BAIER: Byron, I guess the question is splitting hairs here rhetorically, and whether the FISA authorization was based something that the FISA judges didn't know was not real.

YORK: You're right. It is all parsing. If you just look at the actual facts, the FBI did wiretap Carter Page. It was a court approved wiretap, but it was a wiretap. They use a confidential informant, the college professor named Stefan Halper, to seek information on Page and George Papadopoulos. And recently we found out that they used an undercover agent who went by the alias Azra Turk to try to tease information out of George Papadopoulos. That was undercover. Now, if you have undercover agents and you have wiretaps, a lot of people would say that is the stuff of spying. Clearly there is a rhetorical battle, but these actual facts are what they are.

BAIER: Let along what we don't know, and hopefully a lot of these reports and investigations will illuminate all of that.

OK, panel, stand by. Next up, China trade talks and the U.S. moving military assets closer to Iraq.



WARREN BUFFETT, BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY CEO: If we actually have a trade war, it will be bad for the whole world, and could be very bad depending on the extent of the war.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: I don't know how you get China to stop cheating unless somebody stands up to them. So I am all for getting a good deal.

GENG SHUANG, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY: Adding tariffs will not solve any problems. It is normal for the two sides to have differences.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, D-MASS.: Tariff policy by tweet does not work. And we have had two years of experience now with that, and it just seems to keep getting worse and worse and worse.

SCHUMER: We have to be strong with them. Any time they detect weakness they take advantage. So I believe we ought to hang tough.


BAIER: Some mixed messages from Democrats on the issue of tariffs and China. This is the Dow, and the markets took another dive today, a big dive for a while, bouncing back a little bit at the end. World markets slowing on all this news as the Chinese delegation comes here to Washington.

We are back with the panel. Mara, all that optimism kind of went away with the president's tweets and some of the messages. But they are still coming, the Chinese delegation.

LIASSON: They are still coming even though the president and his advisors say at midnight on Thursday, I guess one minute after, they are going to raise tariffs, put more tariffs on, because they think that the Chinese have tried to back away from some commitments that they were about to make. The president and his team thinks the U.S. economy is strong enough to withstand whatever hit they get from the tariffs. They think that the Chinese economy is weaker. So it is a real standoff, and we're going to see who blinks first.

BAIER: Byron, it is something to see Chuck Schumer say hold the line, stand with the Trump administration here.

YORK: I'm sure the president is very happy to hear that. Look, this is the one things, the one tariff issue in which the president has his strongest support. He made a lot of people in Washington very unhappy, both parties, when he was talking about tariffs with Canada or Mexico or Europe. But on China there is a large agreement on the abuses that have brought us to this point. And when you have Lindsey Graham, and when you have Charles Schumer telling the president to hang tough, I think the president is going to hang tough on this.

BAIER: And we'll see whether that changes the dynamics in that room as they come to a conclusion.

Matthew, I want to turn to Iran, and we have this carrier strike group heading to the Persian Gulf. We have B-52 bombers. We have the secretary of state going to Iraq, assuring them we have their back even if Iran acts against U.S. interests in Iraq. It seems like tensions are building.

CONTINETTI: Tensions are building, I think illustrating two things, Bret. The first is that designating the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization, and also ending the waivers on sales of petroleum from some of our allies from Iran had real bite. And so the Iranians now are trying to get us back to the negotiating table or to exact some price in terms of national security.

The second thing this illustrates is just how hard it is for America to extricate ourselves from the Middle East. It's now the policy of two subsequent administrations, Democrats and Republican, to get us out, or try to at least. And you see by the Iranian moves how difficult that is because of the region's importance strategically. Not only our allies are there, its centrality geographically, and of course the existence of resources which we might not need because we are energy independent, but our allies definitely do.

BAIER: It's another interesting coalition, Mara, because you have Senator Tim Kaine just putting out a statement saying he is worried the Trump administration is pulling the U.S. into a war in the Middle East.

LIASSON: It depends on how this confrontation escalates or doesn't escalate. We are sending warships. We are sending resources over there. What do the Iranians do? Do they decide to totally pull out of the Iran deal? That is one thing that they have talked about, start producing fissile material again, then it escalates.

BAIER: We've got a lot of hot spots, Byron, at the same time, North Korea, Venezuela, Iran, not to mention what's left in Syria and the rest.

YORK: And you do have to worry how this thing is going to play out. Matthew is right about the Revolutionary Guard. And also, you have to remember these oil sanctions, we have stopped giving anybody a waiver for buying oil, putting a lot of pressure on them. The question is, how does this actually end?

BAIER: Panel, thank you. When we come back, going the extra mile for a blind classmate.


BAIER: Welcome back to the White House. Finally tonight, a school shows support for one of its own. R.J. Sampson is a visually impaired student in Conifer High School in Colorado. When Sampson was a freshman, he asked one of his teachers if a yearbook could be made in braille. And this year, Sampson's senior year, the yearbook staff made it happen, a yearbook in braille for him.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: R.J. Sampson asked Ms. Thompson if she was going to make him a braille yearbook, and I'm proud to say that we've done it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's completely amazing that the students and staff went out of their way to make one for me.


BAIER: Well, that's pretty cool.

Thanks for inviting us into your home tonight. That's it for the “Special Report,” fair, balanced, and unafraid. "The Story" guest-hosted by Ed Henry starts right now.

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