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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R) Illinois; Release of Mueller Report Expected By Mid-April; Trump Threatens to Close Border; CNN in Iraq Finds "Defeated" ISIS Lurking in the Shadows; House Judiciary And Intel Chairs Say They Still Expect Full Mueller Report By April 2; Trump Warning He'll Close The Southern Border Next Week After Mocking Asylum Seekers; Justice Department Asks Judge To Send Maria Butina Back To Russia After She's Sentenced In April. Aired on 6-7p ET
Aired March 29, 2019 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: "Everyone" will read it." Barr says he's aiming for transparency, even as he outlines the type of information that's being scrubbed. How much of Mueller's nearly 400-page report will we actually get to see?
Closing the border. President Trump is warning he will cut off traffic and trade in and out of Mexico next week. We have heard similar threats before. Is he really serious about doing that this time?
And ISIS threat. As the president declares the terror group is defeated, CNN goes inside Iraq and finds ISIS has not died. Stand by for our exclusive report on the danger the brutal killers will rise again.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories.
The attorney general, William Barr, notifying Congress that he expects the Mueller report will be ready for release in mid-April, if not sooner. It's not clear how much of the nearly 400-page report will be scrubbed. Barr says the redaction process is moving well along, with the help from the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
And he says there are no plans to send the report to the White House for an executive privilege review in advanced.
Also breaking, President Trump is ramping up dramatically his warning that he's about to close the entire U.S.-Mexico southern border. Tonight, he says he will likely do that next week, unless Mexico completely cracks down on illegal immigration into the United States.
I will get reaction from Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. He was recently deployed to the border with the Air National Guard.
And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our justice reporter, Laura Jarrett, along with our national security and legal analyst, Susan Hennessey.
Laura, tell us more about the plans for releasing the Mueller report.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, April is proving to be a busy month for the Justice Department, as Attorney General Bill Barr announced to Congress today that he does plan to release Mueller's highly anticipated report on the Russia investigation to Congress and the public by mid-month, if not sooner.
The big question, how much will actually be revealed? As Barr explains in his letter to lawmakers today, their redaction process for the report is well under way. He's working with the special counsel trying to figure out what can be made public, what can be scrubbed. He lays out several categories of information, such as grand jury information, which he believes needs to be withheld.
But, of course, Democrats on Capitol Hill are not taking that for an answer, saying that they want to see the full report. One issue he tries to take off the table, however, Wolf, is executive privilege. He writes in his letter to Congress today, "Although publicly he intends to defer to me, although" -- I should say -- "the president would have the right to assert privilege over parts of the report, he has stated publicly that he intends to defer to me. And, accordingly, there are no plans to submit the report to the White House for a privilege review."
So saying there no plans to submit it to the White House. I'm taking it in the first instance, Wolf.
BLITZER: It's interesting, Susan, that Barr says in his letter, everyone will soon be able to read it on their own. But he also notes that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is assisting them in deciding what should be blacked out or scrubbed or redacted and what should stay in.
That's a very significant development, that he's got Mueller helping him in this process.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's significant. It's not especially surprising.
So that category that Barr is legally required to not disclose, he's referring to 6(e) material, grand jury material. Now, Robert Mueller actually conducted the investigation. And so he had has prosecutors are in the best position to identify where they got particular pieces of information and whether or not it was actually through the grand jury process, as opposed to things like voluntary interviews.
So it's not surprising. We knew that there was going to 6(e) material. We know that the law requires its redaction. And it's not surprising that Robert Mueller would be assisting in that effort. BLITZER: But if Mueller, in the end, says that a Barr did the right
thing, he supports everything he did, what was redacted, what wasn't redacted, politically speaking, that will really help Bill Barr.
HENNESSEY: I think that's right.
To the extent that Robert Mueller wants to add his name and his credibility to Bill Barr, that would bolster the argument. But, ultimately, the extent of political pressure is going to come down to how much material Barr intends to redact here.
So he says that he's going to turn over the actual report with redactions. If there's just a few lines, a few words here and there, small sections that are not disclosed, there's going to be less pressure. If, on the other hand, there are very, very large quantities of information that aren't made public, that are withheld, Congress, I think, is going to cry foul there.
BLITZER: Laura, let's go through, together with Susan, the specific four categories of material that the attorney general thinks might have to be redacted.
Number one, material subject to federal rule of criminal procedure 6(e) that by law cannot be made public. Explain that.
So Susan mentioned there, by law, it's a grand jury material. It's protected. You're not supposed to be making it public. However, as Democrats have been pressing, drawing back to Watergate and other examples, you can go to court and try to get an order.
And so that's what House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler wants Barr to do. He wants him to work with him to try and go get a court order so that Congress can at least see that grand jury material. Now, Barr has not made any promises to do anything close to that. But that's what the issue there is. They're trying to protect the grand jury material. And it's just a question of how much they will be able to share.
And, obviously, you have made this point before, Wolf. There were interviews that took place outside of the grand jury, and so those would not be subject to 6(e).
BLITZER: Susan, you used to work at the National Security Agency. You understand the sensitive -- sensitivity of classified information.
The second category in this letter for potential redaction is material the intelligence community identifies as potentially compromising sensitive sources and methods. That's legitimate.
HENNESSEY: Absolutely. That's legitimate to conduct a review for classified information. However, Congress is entitled to see classified information. So to
the extent that Barr is talking about a report that's going to be made public, that sensitive sources and methods information would need to be redacted. However, whenever it comes to members of Congress, there is -- the Justice Department cannot assert, hey, this is classified information, we can't show it to you.
BLITZER: But would they normally just share with the so-called Gang of Eight, the top leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, plus the congressional leadership, or as opposed to, what, all 435 members of the House?
HENNESSEY: So, as a general matter, no, all members of Congress are cleared by certificate of election, they are entitled to see classified information.
Now, there is a category of sort of especially sensitive information that is restricted to that Gang of Eight. So it is possible that if there's some material that relates not just to generalized sources and methods, but something very, very specific, there's a very compelling need to keep that information secret, that can be limited just to that Gang of Eight.
But keep in mind, there are four Republicans and four Democrats in that core group. And the White House and the Justice Department cannot refuse to disclose classified information to that group.
BLITZER: The so-called Gang of Eight.
The third category, Laura, is material that could affect other ongoing matters, including those that the special counsel has referred to other department offices, for example, if they referred various cases to the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York or the U.S. attorney here in the District of Columbia or Northern Virginia. If these are ongoing cases, they don't want to do anything to jeopardize those cases.
JARRETT: That's right.
So think about the case of former Trump confident Roger Stone. That's being handled here by the D.C. U.S. attorney's office. We have, of course, still got the offshoot of the Michael Cohen investigation in the Southern District of New York, and Trump's former national security adviser has been helping out, as we have reported, with investigations in the Eastern District of Virginia there.
So there's plenty of work here that is still being done by U.S. attorneys across the country. And so they're trying to make sure, as with typical department policy, that they don't tread into ongoing investigations, do anything to step on those, especially if those are just in the early stages.
Some of them may be in different levels at this point. So they don't want to do anything to cut those off unnecessarily.
BLITZER: And the fourth and final category, Susan, information that would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.
In other words, if there was any damaging information to someone who has not been charged with any crime, you don't want to smear that person's reputation.
So this is an area of really tremendous discretion. And we will see how far Barr decides to lean forward on this. Now, if Barr is talking about removing information related to somebody who's just a witness, was interviewed, really wasn't involved at all, I don't think people would necessarily argue with that.
However, if he intends to route to remove information related to anyone who wasn't charged, there could be a very substantial sort of fight over that, especially as it relates to the conduct of individuals who were within the Trump campaign.
The other question is how he goes about doing those redactions. So if what he's talking about his is removing individuals names, replacing them with things like Individual 1, Individual 2, as we have seen in other filings, I think that will be less objectionable.
If instead he's saying that he's not going to disclose any information related to the conduct of any individuals who isn't charged, obviously, the result of that would be the Mueller report would not tell the full story. Congress is going to object pretty strong.
BLITZER: Yes. All right, guys, good work.
Susan, Laura, appreciate the analysis very much.
Also tonight, the Democratic chairman of the House -- chairmen of the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees are not satisfied with the attorney general's plans for the Mueller report's release.
Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.
Manu, those key Democrats, they are responding to what we heard today from the attorney general.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and they're not happy.
They've been demanding the full report, the underlying evidence. They have been saying precedent is on their side to get all the information, including grand jury information. They cite the Watergate case. They have talked about the Ken Starr investigation into Bill Clinton, and they have talked about the Republican investigation into the Clinton e-mail probe, in which the Justice Department did hand over hundreds of thousands of pages of e-mail and underlying evidence to Congress.
They say the same thing should happen here and they're vowing a fight. Now, the Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, put out a statement saying this: "As I informed the attorney general earlier this week, Congress requires the full and complete Mueller report without redactions, as well as access to the underlying evidence, by April 2. That deadline still stands. He should work with us to request a court order to release any and all grand jury information to the House Judiciary Committee, as has occurred in every similar investigation in the past."
Now, Nadler goes on to say he is not -- he will take Barr's suggestion to testify on May 2 under advisement, but he wants him to come before the committee sooner than that to explain his decision to put out that letter, to not charge the president with obstruction of justice.
No signs that that will happen. But the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee also just responded, not happy with this notion of several categories of redactions, saying this: "Congress has asked for the entire Mueller report and underlying evidence by April 2. That deadline stands. In the meantime, Barr should seek court approval just like in Watergate to allow the release of grand jury material. Redactions are unacceptable."
Republicans are taking a different approach. They are aligning themselves with the president. The Judiciary Committee chairman in the Senate, who is Lindsey Graham, didn't make a judgment one way or the other on the letter.
But the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Doug Collins, said this, said: "While I join Chairman Nadler in looking forward to reviewing the classified information in the report at a future date, he stands alone in setting arbitrary deadlines for that release and in calling for the attorney general to break the law by releasing the report without redactions."
But, nevertheless, the Democrats are in the majority in the House. They have subpoena power. They're demanding the full report. What will they do next? They have not said whether they would -- when -- if they will, in fact, issue a subpoena, now that at least it's clear that this report won't be coming by April 2, but they're demanding everything.
They don't know how much will be redacted. Even Jerry Nadler, Wolf, I'm told after he spoke to Bill Barr last week, Barr did not indicate to him how much ultimately will be redacted -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Good point.
Thanks very much, Manu Raju. Appreciate it.
Also tonight, President Trump says he has great confidence in the attorney general, Bill Barr, and he has nothing to hide when the Mueller report is released.
Let's go to our White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.
Kaitlan, does the president support Barr's plan to release the redacted report, as described? KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He said today, Wolf,
that he's on board with what Bill Barr is deciding here.
And, as you know, the president has already used the key findings from Barr's letter on Sunday to declare victory in the Russia investigation. But, behind the scenes, some of the president's allies are worried that what's included in these 400 pages could prove politically damaging for the president.
COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump giving the all-clear.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have nothing to hide.
COLLINS: Voicing confidence in Bill Barr after the attorney general announced Congress will have Robert Mueller's redacted report within weeks.
TRUMP: I have great confidence in the attorney general. And if that's what he would like to do, I have nothing to hide. This was a hoax. This was a witch-hunt.
COLLINS: Barr telling lawmakers the White House will not see the document before they do and that Trump is deferring to him on asserting executive privilege.
Despite calling the special counsel's investigation a witch-hundred, Trump saved his harshest words for Mexico today.
TRUMP: I'm very upset with Mexico.
COLLINS: Repeating his threat to shut down the southern border, but this time with a deadline.
TRUMP: There's a very good likelihood that I will be closing the border next week. And that will be just fine with me.
COLLINS: Trump warned earlier today that if Mexico doesn't stop undocumented immigrants from crossing into the U.S., he will close it down and halt all trade.
TRUMP: And we will keep it closed for a long time. I'm not playing games.
COLLINS: The presidential threat coming days after the nation's top border official warned that a crush of asylum-seeking families has put immigration enforcement at its breaking point.
KEVIN MCALEENAN, U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION: This is an unfortunate step and very challenging for our law enforcement professionals to digest.
COLLINS: But also one day after Trump total crowd in Michigan that those fleeing violence and poverty are sometimes faking it. TRUMP: They're all met by the lawyers and they say, say the following phrase. I am very afraid for my life. I am afraid for my life. OK. And then I look at the guy, he looks like he just got out of the ring, he's the heavyweight champion of the world. He's afraid for his -- it's a big fat con job, folks.
COLLINS: In his first rally since the end of this special counsel's 22-month investigation.
TRUMP: And after three years of lies and smears and slander, the Russia hoax is finally dead. The collusion delusion is over.
COLLINS: As Trump took a victory lap around Democrats.
TRUMP: The Democrats have to now decide whether they will continue defrauding the public with ridiculous bullshit, partisan investigation, or whether they will apologize to the American people.
COLLINS: The president taking delight in going after the House intelligence chairman in particular.
TRUMP: They're on artificial respirators right now. They're getting mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, little pencil neck, Adam Schiff, got the smallest, thinnest neck I have ever seen.
COLLINS: Now, Wolf, the president has threatened to shut down the border before, but he's never offered a timeline like he did today.
Now, he said today he believes it could be a profitable endeavor if he did it. But there will be questions about the factories and businesses it would disrupt and whether or not it would affect air travel. Right now, that's a question that the White House has not answered -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us, thank you very much.
Joining us now, Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
And I want to discuss your recent deployment to the border with the Air National Guard, the U.S.-Mexico border. But let me start, though, with these late-breaking developments on the Mueller report. As you know, President Trump supports the release of the report. He says he has absolutely nothing to hide.
Do you think that's the case? Or could the full report contain information that is maybe not legally damaging, but politically damaging, even if it doesn't amount, let's say, to a crime?
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: Well, I don't know. I don't know what's in it.
So there can be anything in there. What I do know is that the attorney general said there was no Russia collusion. And as somebody that supported the independent counsel investigation at the beginning, I made it clear that, if I support this, the hope was to take this out of the political realm.
As we know, the last two years, it stayed political regardless, but that we all would accept the results of this investigation. And as somebody that said let's do this, now to see my friends on the other side of the aisle now setting up that, well, we have to see the full report. OK. Well, we're going to see the full report.
Well, there can't be any redactions. They're putting up a standard that's unachievable, because I think they have invested so much in this Russia collusion narrative, they can't afford to lose it. So I don't know what's in it. I think we're going to get a really good idea of what's in it.
But there has to be redactions in this, because we have to protect people that spoke frankly, openly, knowing that some of that was going to be protected, like in the grand jury, which is extremely important for our justice system.
BLITZER: The House Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff -- he is, of course, a Democrat -- he just tweeted this.
He said: "Congress has asked for the entire Mueller report and underlying evidence by April 2. That deadline stands. In the meantime, Barr should seek court approval just like in Watergate to allow the release of grand jury material. Redactions are unacceptable #releasethereport."
What's your reaction to that?
KINZINGER: So, first off, Watergate was Richard Nixon being corrupt, and then resigning.
This is not the same thing. It's been found out that the president did not collude with Russia. So, to compare this now to Watergate.
And this is Adam Schiff, who, look, I get along with Adam Schiff personally, but we all have to admit that, for the last two years, he would come on every television network he could get in front of and say, I have information that I'm privy to that I can't say what it is, but I have information I'm privy to that's going to prove Russia collusion.
And he became a nationwide name off of that. People didn't know who Adam Schiff was two years ago. They all know who he is now. He used that to become famous or to become known.
And now what we're seeing is, in fact, there was not that information.
KINZINGER: I like him as a person.
BLITZER: Do you agree with your Republican colleagues on the House Intelligence Committee -- I know you're not a member -- that he should resign as chairman?
KINZINGER: Look, I don't -- I don't want to get in -- I don't like doing the whole everybody should resign or this.
I want to just get past all this. I want to give the president finally for the first time in two-and-a-half years a fair shot to be president, have an election based on issues. So I'm not going to jump out that far.
I do think, frankly, if I was on the committee, I would probably have a view that's a little bit different, because, I mean, probably more supportive of the Republican side, because, again, it's been two years of Adam Schiff saying, I have this information that I would tell you if it wasn't classified.
And it doesn't exist. So, yes, I'm disappointed, because this was a very bipartisan committee up until recently.
BLITZER: All right, let's talk about a substantive issue that's very close to your heart right now, illegal immigration into the United States.
You were recently deployed to the border between Arizona and Mexico with the Air National Guard. Do you want President Trump to completely shut down the border with Mexico next week, as he is now saying will happen if there is any continued illegal immigration into the United States from Mexico?
And I think, look, Mexico is one of our biggest trading partners. So there would be some massive unintended consequences, more than likely. I don't know what a border shutdown would actually look like. Does that include all traffic?
I mean, I don't know. What I do know, though, is this. There is a real problem on the border. I saw it personally. If you talk to the experts, not the people that put on a windbreaker and go to the border, and say, I'm an expert now because I have been to the border -- people that are involved in these operations, this is a serious issue.
And I will tell, Wolf, where I come from on this. I'm actually what people used to call a moderate on immigration. I want border security. And I want to fix the whole immigration process, including the people that are here illegally, find a way for them to stay.
But we're way talking past each other now. We have people that don't accept that there's a problem with illegal immigration. And we have people that are unwilling to talk to the other side about, what do we do with the folks that are here? You can't deport everybody.
We need to all take a deep breath. We need to speak differently about this and fix this issue, because it is not compassionate for somebody in El Salvador, for instance, to spend their entire life savings of $7,000, give it to the drug cartel, to have the drug cartel mule them into the United States, a good chance of being sexually assaulted on the way, and then abandoned in the desert to die.
That is not compassionate. There's a way we can fix this. But we got to get out of our political corners on this.
BLITZER: Yes, you got to get comprehensive immigration reform, which I know you would support.
You did here just a little while ago the president mock these asylum seekers who are coming into the United States, saying they're all being coached by lawyers to pretend they're really afraid of the conditions back home, whether El Salvador, Guatemala, or other -- or Honduras.
Do you think these asylum seekers who enter the United States are simply faking?
KINZINGER: No, look, I'm not sure if the president mocked them.
I will be honest. I didn't watch his speech. But I think there is truth to the fact that they are being coached of how to come here and declare asylum as a way, in essence, to keep from having to do it a different way.
I have a deep amount of compassion for people in Central and South America and Mexico that are coming to the United States for a better way of life. I'm very familiar with those regions. It's a tough place to be. And I would love to see the United States, as we're doing in Venezuela, work with the people in these areas to create a better way of life, so they don't want to flee their homeland.
Most of them probably love being in El Salvador or Honduras more than they want to come to the United States. But, at the same time, as a country, we have to have a system that's not abused. We can have a generous immigration system, but not one that just says, if you live in a bad environment, come to the United States, because, frankly, we have to be able to control that part of it.
BLITZER: I'm going to play a little clip of the president mocking these asylum seekers. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: They're all met by the lawyers and they say, say the following phrase. I am very afraid for my life. I am afraid for my life. OK.
And then I look at the guy, he looks like he just got out of the ring, he's the heavyweight champion of the world. He's afraid for his -- it's a big fat con job, folks. It's a big fat con job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, you want to react to that?
KINZINGER: Well, look, as I said, I'm not sure if that's directly mocking these folks, besides understanding the fact that some of them are coached.
But I -- look, I have a real heart for what's happening in Central and South America and Mexico. But I also think that our asylum laws are being abused. And we see right now where we have so many folks that we have -- we are holding that we're now releasing them out into the middle of the United States with basically a promised court date a year into the future.
That can't be the right way to do immigration. So, like I said, Mexico has got to step up. Frankly, a lot of these countries should be declaring asylum in Mexico, because that's the next country. And then we have to work with these nations as best we can to give them a better way of life, because I think there's nothing more sad than somebody from, say, Guatemala or Honduras feeling like they have to leave their home because they're not safe.
So I have a ton of compassion. But I think we all are talking past each other in this. And, frankly, we all agree on about 80 percent of this.
BLITZER: I want to thank you, Congressman Kinzinger, for your service with the Air National Guard. I know you served also in Afghanistan with the U.S. Air Force as well.
Thanks so much for joining us.
KINZINGER: You bet, Wolf. Thank you.
BLITZER: All right, just ahead, the attorney general, Bill Barr, says the Mueller report is nearly 400-page-long. He says it's being scrubbed for sensitive information, will be ready for by mid-April.
Top Democrats say that's not acceptable.
BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news on the timetable for the attorney general, Bill Barr, to send a redacted version of the Mueller report to Congress.
He says they expect that report to be sent to Congress by mid-April, if not sooner. Barr revealing that the report is nearly 400 pages. He's offering to testify about the report before the Senate and House Judiciary Committees on May 1 and May 2.
Let's bring in our analysts and our experts. And, Ryan Lizza, what do you think about this proposal, this letter today from Bill Barr to Congress?
RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think that it's going to set off a pretty serious fight between Congress and the Justice Department, because the Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler especially, is not backing down from his demands.
And I think the Democrats view that letter as giving Barr way too much authority to what they see as essentially censoring the report. There are too many categories, in their view, of materials that he can with his own discretion not release.
And committees in Congress get classified, secret information from the executive branch all the time. They have ways of dealing with that themselves. So I don't think this -- this is just -- we haven't seen the last of this.
He's -- I think the chairman of those two committees are going to put up a serious fight on this.
BLITZER: I'm sure they will.
Ron Brownstein, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, said this: "As I informed the attorney general earlier this week, Congress requires the full and complete Mueller report without redactions, as well as access to the underlying evidence, by April 2. That deadline still stands."
Redactions are unacceptable.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, look, I mean, I think, as Susan mentioned before, I think what has made public and what is provided to Congress may be two very different things.
And, certainly, there is ample precedent for Congress having a robust access to the report. Public opinion is very clear. I mean, we had another poll out today with 75 percent of Americans saying the report should be made public.
And it's not even clear that this strategy that the White -- the attorney general is pursuing is working in the broad sense of changing public opinion.
By withholding so much of the report, yes, they have been able to shape the narrative in the first couple days. But if you look at the polling that's come out in the CNN poll, only about -- a little over 40 percent say that the report, in effect, cleared the President. CBS and the NPR Marist poll today only about a third of Americans. They ultimately need to have the credibility of more of this out to the public.
BLITZER: Susan, in a conference call with the House Democrats last week, last Saturday, the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said she would reject any classified briefing being made available, any gang of eight briefing, apparently because she said she was worried that could be a tactic to shield the content of the report, sensitive information that Congress should not only see but make public.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, SENIOR FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTE: Well, there are clearly two prongs to this investigation. There was the criminal investigation element and there was the counterintelligence investigation element. So Bill Barr's sort of initial summary letter addressed the criminal investigation element. I think it's understandable for Nancy Pelosi to say, look, we're not going to allow you to brief some subset of members of Congress as to the content of that report and to use the inclusion of classified information to prevent them from talking about it to the public
With that said, there was a robust counterintelligence investigation. And it's really not plausible that Congress could be fully informed of all of the findings, all of the elements of that investigation without having at least some of the information in a classified setting.
BLITZER: Laura Jarrett, the letter from Bill Barr to Congress says that as part of the redaction process, and they are scrubbing it right now, the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller is, quote, assisting us in this process. If Mueller signs off on all of the redactions that Bill Barr eventually goes through, politically speaking, that's certainly going to help the Attorney General.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes. I think from a political standpoint, it was quote savvy of Barr, who is a political appointee and knows he comes with baggage to this job, given the 19-page missive he wrote to justice officials saying that the President couldn't obstruct justice in the firing of Comey, he knows where he is coming from on this. So to have Mueller come in, who is ,for many democrats, seen as this white knight up until recently, using Mueller to work on the redactions, I think, makes a lot of sense from a political standpoint.
Obviously, it's also from a practical standpoint. He has been running the one running the investigation. He knows all of this this inside and out. And his team is the one who has gathered all of this information. So it makes a lot of sense to have him intimately involved for many reasons.
BLITZER: In the letter, Ryan, the Attorney General says that because the President has stated publically that -- I'm quoting from the letter -- that he intends to defer to me. There are no plans to submit the report to the White House for a privilege review. And the President just responded to that. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: Well, I have great confidence in the Attorney General. And if that's what he'd like to do, I have nothing to hide. This was a hoax. This was a witch hunt. I have absolutely nothing to hide. And I think a lot of things are coming out with respect to the other side. But I have a lot of confidence in the Attorney General. BLITZER: So what do you make of that, Ryan?
RYAN LIZZA, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, ESQUIRE: I think it's fascinating that the Attorney General is relying on a public comment from the President rather than, say, discussing this with the White House counsel. I'd be curious to know if he actually formally discussed this with the White House and was not just relying on a comment from Trump. I mean, if cabinet officials in the Trump administration relied on Trump's public comments to strictly guide policy, you'd have a lot of chaos.
But one thing I think it gets at, Wolf, is that the President can tell Barr what to do on some of these categories of redactions. If the President really, really wanted the public to see as much of this report as possible, as he has said he does, he could order Barr to do that. I don't know about the grand jury material, if the President has the authority to do that. But on a lot of the other stuff, he is the President. This is an executive branch report. He could tell Barr, put it all out.
And the thing that I think is a clashing here are these regulations that guide this report and the Special Counsel law that were written after the failure of the Ken Star investigation and the nature of this very unusual Special Counsel investigation, which was about an attack on the country. This may be the only fulsome account of what happened in 2016, because the congressional investigations haven't really been so great. And there is an enormous public interest that more of this could see the light of day than less.
BLITZER: Let's get to this rally that occurred last night, Ron Brownstein, the first presidential rally -- political rally since the Mueller report was completed. The President spent a lot of time railing, hitting the democrats very hard. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The collusion delusion is over.
Robert Mueller was a god to the democrats, was a god to them, until he said there was no collusion. Little pencil neck Adam Schiff, got the smallest, thinnest neck I have ever seen. Well, we don't really know. There could still have been some Russia collusion.
These are sick people. They came from the valleys. They came from the mountains. They came out of the damn rivers. I don't know what you were doing in the river. I have a better education than them. I'm smarter than them. I went to the best schools, they didn't. Much more beautiful house, much more beautiful apartment, much more beautiful everything.
The democrats have to now decide whether they will continue defrauding the public with ridiculous bullshit. Darling, I want to watch television. I'm sorry, the wind isn't blowing. The wind, the wind mill being resistant. Resist. Resist. The rush to the border. Another two caravans now are pouring up. They're all met by the lawyers and they say, say the following phrase, I am very afraid for my life, I am afraid for my life. Okay. And then I look at the guy. He looks like he just got out of the ring. He is the heavyweight champion of the world. He is freshman [ph]. It's a big fat con job, folks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Sounds like it could be some themes for the upcoming 2020 presidential campaign.
BROWNSTEIN: As others have noted, you can imagine on earth two that Donald Trump would have responded to the Bob Mueller report saying we've had two years of division, we have this cloud hanging over the country, we need to find a way to come together and put this behind us. Instead, he has returned to the kind of the vision where if you all is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, where you go back to inciting your base and really pursuing a kind of very base first divisive strategy toward that second term.
I mean, the fact is that Donald Trump's biggest political -- single biggest political problem is that he is underperforming a typical republican among white collar white voters, most of whom are doing very well in the economy but who view him by temperament and behavior and comportment unfit to be President. And you can see in that rally how the elimination or the retreat of the Mueller threat could encourage him to compound that problem and to behave in an even more vindictive and somewhat volatile way.
BLITZER: When you heard that, Susan, what did you think?
HENNESSEY: The most powerful man in the world making fun of some of the most vulnerable human beings on earth. Now, not every person who presents at the border meets the legal standard for asylum. And that's important. And we have a process to adjudicate those claims. All of them are fleeing desperately sad, desperately tragic conditions. Think about Ronald Reagan talked about the United States, a shining city on a hill. George W. Bush talked about secure borders, open doors. This is now the policy of the Republican Party. And I do think that's something that every republican is going to have to grapple with.
BLITZER: Ryan, what did you think?
LIZZA: I think that this president is never going to be the kind of President that Americans are used to. So we have known that for a long time. But this is just more evidence that he is, first and foremost, an entertainer and someone who is addicted to this bond he has with a certain kind of republican voter that thinks he can do no wrong.
And so you watch that super cut of that speech. And, one, you can't believe that's all from one speech. And at the same time, as you are shaking your head thinking, I can't believe that the President of the United States talks like this, he is also, you have to admit, quite entertaining, right? And then he delves into sort of these demagogic attacks on asylum seekers, the most vulnerable people in the world. And you just think how awful it is that someone as powerful as him would attack someone that vulnerable.
BLITZER: Everybody stick around. There's more news we're following. We are getting new information right now about the fate of the accused Russian spy, Maria Butina, as she faces sentencing very soon.
[18:43:59] BLITZER: We have some breaking news involving Maria Butina, the Russian national, now in a U.S. prison accused of acting as an illegal agent while trying to infiltrate republican political groups here in the United States.
Our Political Correspondent, Sara Murray, is joining us. Sara, what are you learning?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the judge -- the Justice Department is formally asking the judge to send Maria Butina back to Russia after she is sentenced. Now, this isn't a big surprise. She obviously has been charged with a crime. She pleaded guilty to a crime as part of a plea deal agreed to cooperate. And when she was signing this plea deal, there's actually a line in it that says, as part of admitting you've committed a crime, you are Russian national, you are not an American citizen, you are likely to be deported, in this paperwork all but makes that official. It's almost certain the judge will agree to this.
And as part of it, Maria says she's not going to come back to the U.S. any time in the next ten years. So, of course, she will be leaving her relationships, her contacts in the U.S. behind. And just to remind people, she ended up pleading guilty to a crime of conspiracy. But prosecutors said she tried to infiltrate republican political circles, tried to infiltrate the NRA.
[18:45:00] BLITZER: You earlier reported yesterday she did sit down with Robert Mueller and his team for an extensive interview. So it clearly looks like she's cooperating.
MURRAY: That's right. She is cooperating. And I think, you know, the special counsel's team is sort of the biggest name we've heard that wanted to speak to her. It's also part of this plea agreement, she basically has to cooperate with any prosecutor who wants to talk to her about anything.
And so, Mueller's team wanted to talk to her about her interactions with this former Trump campaign aide. His name was JD Gordon. The bulk of her cooperation has been about her boyfriend Paul Erickson and his role in the conspiracy.
And what's interesting is, Wolf, is they have now set, you know, a sentencing date. She's going to be sentenced in late April. They have not brought charges against her boyfriend, Paul Erickson, which begs the question, if she's the only person who is going to end up being charged in this whole conspiracy.
And remember, because she's a Russian national, the judge agreed that she would have to sit behind bars until the sentencing. She's been sitting in a jail cell for about 8 1/2 months.
BLITZER: If she's allowed to go to Russia at the end of April, she will have done time served. And then they will let her go.
MURRAY: Almost certainly. That's what her attorney will push for. And I think the judge is likely to be amenable to that. It's the judge's call. So, we'll see what she says. I think that's likely.
BLITZER: As usual, good reporting. Thank you very much.
Just ahead, CNN investigating the state of ISIS in Iraq. Is the terror group defeated or simply laying the groundwork for a comeback? Stand by for our exclusive reporting.
[18:56:02] BLITZER: Tonight, a CNN exclusive on the ground in Iraq where the remnants of ISIS are waiting to rise again.
Our senior international correspondent Arwa Damon is joining us right now. She's doing a much more courageous reporting for us as she always does. She's joining us from Istanbul.
Arwa, we have heard President Trump repeatedly declare that ISIS has been defeated. What did you see on the ground inside Iraq?
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what we found out was that there is a massive disconnect between what the White House is saying and in fact what Iraqi politicians themselves are saying when it comes to the reality on the ground.
DAMON (voice-over): This is western Iran's no-man's-land, historical terror hiding grounds, hard to control terrain, far flung areas without a permanent security presence.
It is in these lands that once night falls, ISIS gangs attack, kill, and plunder with impunity. We are heading to the site of a recent horrific ISIS assault. Within minutes of veering off the main road, we arrive at what is little more than a cluster of mud homes.
Death has never come to 72-year-old Yousef Hawaz's (ph) village this way.
He says he's devastated.
(on camera): There's still blood stains on the ground.
(voice-over): Yousef's older brother and five other relatives were murdered in the dead of night just days ago.
(on camera): She has been cleaning up or trying to at least.
(voice-over): Fatima is one of the victim's relatives. Every couple of months, there's an attack in the area, she tells us. We were just waiting for our turn.
(on camera): This is how they found one of the bodies of the women and what we're being told is she was taken to here, the shower area and this is where they just executed her.
(voice-over): Despite having been declared defeated, ISIS has not died. It is lurking in the shadows, waiting for the groundwork that will allow it to arise again.
Iraq's security forces have rounded up tens of thousands of accused ISIS members. In Baghdad, we meet the four men who have been sentenced to death. They admit they were a part of the terrorist network. Two were fighters, one a nurse, and one transported suicide bombers.
Like all captured fighters we have spoken to over the years, they too say joining ISIS was a mistake. But this is how one of them justifies it.
We have been hurt by the security forces, he says. There were a lot of arbitrary detentions. When ISIS came, we had security.
That sentiment of being abused by the Shia-led government, of a desire for revenge, was and will continue to be central to ISIS' ability to seduce people into its ranks. When we asked if they still believe in the ideology -- the question is ominously met with silence. The men unwilling to immediately condemn the twisted thinking that gave them a scene in these photographs such intoxicating power, a purpose, a sense of control over their lives and the lives of others.
In a nearby building is the courthouse where those on this day awaiting trial don't want to appear on camera, but their cases are classic examples of the Sunni population's grievances.
[18:55:06] (on camera): There are six men here who are facing terrorism charges. Half of them say the charges against them are politically motivated, going back to 2011. The other half aren't even sure exactly what they're being accused of, but they all say they were forced into confession under torture.
(voice-over): Human rights organizations have long criticized Iraq for its culture of rampant torture and flawed trials.
But Judge Abdul Sattar Barkidar says that Iraq upholds international standards and abides by its own anti-terrorism laws.
When I sentence someone to death or life in prison, the judge explains, I am giving the victim their justice, but I'm giving a deterrent to society.
The issue is that also caught in the dragnet are those who are innocent, victims of Iraq's historic polarizing dynamics, pitting its Sunni and Shia populations against each other. It's a dynamic that's amplified at the sprawling refugee camps for those who fled the fighting, but are still unable to go back home. Or those who were affiliated or suspected being affiliated with ISIS are afraid of retribution.
In one tent, we meet the parents of three men who were detained and then disappeared into Iraq's murky judicial system. Their mother says she hasn't seen or heard from her sons since they were picked up three years ago.
The security forces came at night, she tells us, and now our sons are gone. They're innocent.
As she talks, her anguish becomes overwhelming.
She doesn't know where they are or if they're even alive.
We meet one of her detained son's children. Their mother doesn't want to appear on camera.
(on camera): The kids are having problems. They're being harassed by other children who know their father isn't here and they're telling them, oh, your dad is ISIS. Your dad is ISIS.
(voice-over): Their mother tells them it's a lie. But it still tarnishes their young lives, condemns them to a life of isolation and rejection.
Theirs is but one story, one example of what many in this Sunni population believe is part of a revenge campaign by the Shia-led government. Another emotional paradigm ISIS can prey on.
It's a sentiment that reverberates throughout these destitute camps with their prison-like feel, dreams traced in dust, the sense of despair. Especially vulnerable are the children of those whose fathers, brothers, uncles, innocent or guilty, or disappeared, killed or detained.
District director Salah Hassan says the government cannot afford to abandon the younger generations. They pose a danger for the future, he explains, when all they're hearing from their mother is that their father was disappeared or killed by the government.
The hatred that festers within them instills yet another complex emotion that ISIS can easily manipulate. There is little that has been done to emotionally or physically rebuild the ruins left behind by Iraq's war on ISIS. And so far, the government has not dispelled the factors that allowed ISIS to emerge, the sense of abandonment, of being perpetually punished, arbitrarily targeted. Unless that changes, the next incarnation of terror seems destined to haunt this country once more.
DAMON: And, Wolf, while there is yes, a big burden of responsibility on the Iraqi government, there is an equal burden of responsibility many would argue on the United States and other nations not to abandon Iraq at this juncture because as we know too tragically well, ISIS' violence affects all of us.
BLITZER: Arwa, what is ISIS' current capability inside Iraq?
DAMON: Well, as you saw there, Wolf, they're operating in the small gangs, launching these strikes and then retreating back into their hiding grounds. But if we look at their capabilities outside of Iraq, this is what analysts say needs to be focused on because they still have a vast digital footprint they can use to recruit.
And then there are, of course, ISIS' finances. ISIS has investments across the entire globe and there are -- they're a very forward thinking organization, very willing to wait and bide their time and emerge more powerful as they have in the past, than before.
BLITZER: Arwa Damon, doing amazing reporting for us, thank you so much. Very, very excellent report. We're grateful to you.
That's it for me.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.