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Attorney General Barr Refusing To Testify Before House Tomorrow; Interview With Sen. Mazie Hirono (D) Hawaii; Rep. Jerry Nadler (D) New York Says He's Trying To Blackmail The Panel; Pompeo Warns Russia To Stop "Destabilizing" Interference In Venezuela's Uprising. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 1, 2019 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:05]

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Oh, yes, yes, yes.

Everybody squinting properly?

Although we have worked around the clock to address his concerns, Attorney General Barr has just informed us that he will not attend tomorrow's hearing.

Given his lack of candor in describing the work of the special counsel, our members were right to insist that staff counsel be permitted to question the attorney general.

I understand why he wants to avoid that kind of scrutiny. But when push comes to shove, the administration cannot dictate the terms of our hearing and our hearing room.

The Department of Justice has also told us that they will not comply with our subpoena for the full unredacted Mueller report, a subpoena that was returnable today. I will continue to work with the attorney general to reach a reasonable accommodation on access to the full report and the underlying evidence, but not for much longer.

Compliance with congressional subpoenas is not optional. And if good- faith negotiations don't result in a pledge of compliance in the next day or two, the next step is seeking a contempt citation against the attorney general.

There are many questions that must be answered. The committee will convene at 9:00 tomorrow morning, as planned. My colleagues will be present. I hope and expect that the attorney general will think overnight and will be there as well.

Any questions?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

NADLER: We will issue a subpoena -- no, in the morning, tomorrow, we will not issue a subpoena.

But the first thing is to get the unredacted report. And we will negotiate on that for another day or two and, if necessary -- and, remember, that was subpoenaed -- if necessary, go for a contempt citation shortly thereafter.

We will also start a process to get Attorney General Barr there.

QUESTION: Who is your response to the ranking member, who says you're torpedoing this hearing?

NADLER: We're not torpedoing this hearing.

The committee has the right to determine its own procedures. The attorney general has a nerve to try to dictate and the administration has a nerve to dictate our procedures. It's simply part of the administration's complete stonewalling of Congress, period.

And what the ranking members saying is that, by determining how we will proceed, we are stonewalling, as if it's our choice that he should not come. He is trying to blackmail the committee into not following what we think is the most effective means of eliciting the information we need.

And the Congress cannot permit the executive branch, we cannot permit the administration to dictate to Congress how we operate.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

NADLER: Well, I think the -- I think he's going to have to answer for apparently testifying untruthfully in both the Senate and the House, and that's certainly one option.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

NADLER: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Will you start contempt proceedings for not getting the redacted -- the unredacted Mueller report?

NADLER: That's -- that's what I said.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

NADLER: That's down the road. We have -- that's down the road. We haven't issued a subpoena for him to appear yet.

QUESTION: And you're not planning to do that tomorrow?

NADLER: I didn't say that. We will -- we may issue a subpoena. But the first -- our first priority is to get the unredacted Mueller report.

And, by the way, we're looking to get Mueller before the committee on May 15, which is another -- which is another -- which is another priority.

QUESTION: Is May 15 a new date?

NADLER: No, that's the day we have been talking about.

QUESTION: OK.

QUESTION: For Mueller?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

NADLER: Not yet. Well, they have announced that they have no -- the department has announced they have no objection. And we're seeking to firm up the date.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Last question.

QUESTION: Do you really need committee lawyers to ask questions tomorrow? Do you think that's one of the reasons why he is not coming?

NADLER: I think that is the reason he's not coming. He is terrified. He is terrified of having to face a skilled attorney.

The problem is, I mean, in fact, we have all seen congressional hearings. We have very talented members. They ask very good questions, but a five-minute rule is not conducive to follow-up.

Now, we have seen repeatedly administration witnesses, including Attorney General Barr, spend the first four-and-a-half minutes filibustering, the second -- the last half-minute giving a non- responsive answer. And then it's on to the next person.

It is very valuable, as any lawyer will tell you, to have somebody, in this case a staff lawyer, who can follow up, take up loose ends that were suggested by questions from members, and follow up when he gives a non-responsive answer and say, but wait a minute. You said this last week. How can you say this now? Or whatever.

That's effective, the more -- the most effective way of getting at the facts and getting at the truth.

[18:05:02]

And given -- I can understand, given how dishonest he has been since March 24, at the earliest -- since March 24 at the latest -- I can understand why he is afraid of facing more effective examination.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

NADLER: We're finished. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you very much.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, so there you hear it.

Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, announcing, making it official, they have been told by the Justice Department the attorney general of the United States, Bill Barr, will not appear before the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow morning at 9:00, that -- he had been scheduled to appear.

But Nadler says -- and I'm quoting him now -- "He's terrified," referring to Barr. "He's terrified to face a skilled attorney" for 30 minutes who would be able to ask tough questions.

It's a serious development unfolding.

Manu Raju, you broke the story for us just a little while ago. It's going to be a dramatic scene tomorrow morning. They're going to have this hearings. There will presumably be an empty chair. Barr won't be there.

Then they can go and do whatever they want.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right.

And when Nadler made clear that he plans to move to hold the attorney general of the United States in contempt if he does not agree to the subpoena demands that were laid out that require the Justice Department to turn over the full unredacted Mueller report, as well as the underlying evidence, that subpoena says that that information must be turned over to the House Judiciary Committee by today.

According to Nadler, the administration has informed him that they will not comply with those demands. So Nadler made clear here, Wolf, that he's going to spend one or two more days discussing with the Justice Department what the -- about any sort of accommodation, any sort of deal that they could reach.

But if they do not reach any sort of deal to the liking of Jerry Nadler, he said they're going to move to hold the attorney general in contempt of Congress. He also warned of a subpoena to compel Bill Barr to actually appear before the House Judiciary Committee.

He didn't say that that would come necessarily tomorrow, but he did say that the subpoena would come to try to force Bill Barr to appear, and, of course, these objections all over whether or not staff attorneys could question the attorney general after members of Congress are allowed to question.

Republicans say there's no precedent for this, to allow staff attorneys to question witnesses, particularly Cabinet officials. Democrats say there has been precedent in the past. They point to impeachment proceedings. Republicans say, well, this is not an impeachment proceeding.

But, nevertheless, this squabble over process leading to a significant development here, the attorney general skipping a hearing that the Democrats had been eager to question about the Mueller investigation, his rollout, his handling of the Mueller probe, after today's hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

And now Jerry Nadler making clear, Wolf, subpoenas could be coming, contempt citation could be coming, and court action as well, if they don't get what they want -- Wolf. BLITZER: Yes, so many subpoenas on so many different issues from the

Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, and more expected tomorrow.

Manu, stand by.

Laura Jarrett is here. Shimon Prokupecz is here as well.

Laura, you cover the Justice Department for us. You heard Jerry Nadler say that Bill Barr, the attorney general of the United States, is terrified to face a skilled lawyer who would ask tough questions nonstop for 30 minutes with a lot of follow-ups.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Nadler is that the attorney general has been stalwart in the idea that he's not going to take on staff counsel.

But there are something around 30 different members on that committee who are lawyers, and they could decide to deputize one of their members, who's one of the more skilled questioners, to do the exact same thing. They make up the rules here.

So, both sides, I think, are playing it a little bit too cute. Obviously, Bill Barr is perfectly capable of taking on staff attorney questions. Members are perfectly capable of making up their own rules. There's no law that dictates five minutes only. They could situate this however they want.

The real issue, I think, is just that there's been a dramatic escalation in tensions, not just over the attorney general and how he's dealing with the Judiciary Committee, but over former White House Counsel Don McGahn's testimony, other White House officials, like Carl Kline, who have to do with security clearances.

There's just been this building of tension between the administration and House Democrats over a litany of issues.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: And it's very clear that I think what we're seeing here is Bill Barr and the Department of Justice, they don't want to be pushed around here.

I don't think -- what we have seen from Bill Barr today, he's not afraid to answer questions. And he's not afraid to say what's on his mind, whether people agree with him or not. He gave some very interesting answers. Obviously, he knew what he was doing today.

But I think Laura knows this best, that the Department of Justice is just saying, enough is enough. We're not going to let you push us around. And that's ultimately, I think, what this is all about.

[18:10:04]

BLITZER: But you heard Nadler say that the Trump administration cannot -- and this is Nadler -- dictate to the House of Representatives how to conduct a congressional hearing.

PROKUPECZ: Right. They can't. But what's going to happen?

People are defying subpoenas. They're not providing information. Who is going to hold all these people responsible for not responding to subpoenas, for not appearing before Congress? What's the recourse here?

JARRETT: And it takes a while.

I mean, to get the contempt vote, then you have to vote on that. Then they have to go to court to try to enforce it. And they have to decide, is it criminal, is it civil? I mean, this is going to drag out for weeks and potentially months on end. This is not going to be a quick resolution.

Meanwhile, you heard him suggest there that we could see Mueller as soon as May 15. That was the first time I think we had heard that date as firmly as Jerry Nadler put it there.

PROKUPECZ: Yes.

JARRETT: Now, obviously, the Justice Department has to actually produce Robert Mueller in the flesh. It will be the first time we have heard from him in God knows how many years at this point.

So we will see whether he actually shows up on that date. But that would be an explosive day, if he actually comes...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Absolutely would be.

PROKUPECZ: And the big question is, does Mueller want to appear? Does he want to testify? Is there some other way they can resolve this, so that he doesn't have to appear?

He's not someone that wants to go before cameras at this point and tell his story. I think we would see a very interesting side of him. I don't think much would change in terms of what we would expect. And people who know him -- and we have seen him testify before.

It is extraordinary, certainly, that he did this letter and that he defied the Department of Justice by doing this, and not falling in line with what perhaps William Barr expected here, what Rod Rosenstein expected here, and that we have -- we are seeing a different side of Mueller here.

But what will happen if he does go before cameras, before members of Congress? We will see.

BLITZER: Nadler, who was surrounded by other members of the Judiciary Committee, said: "This committee has the right to determine its own procedures." And he's clearly not backing down from what they are demanding.

Stand by. Barr's decision to refuse to testify tomorrow morning comes after his

rather contentious hearing today with senators. He was challenged on his initial letter summarizing the Mueller report, as well as his decision to determine the president didn't obstruct justice.

Joining us now, the Democrat who directly accused the attorney general, William Barr, of lying during today's hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee member Senator Mazie Hirono.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D), HAWAII: Hi.

BLITZER: So what's your reaction, first of all, Senator, to the news that the attorney general is refusing to testify before your House colleagues tomorrow morning?

HIRONO: I think it's par for the course for this administration.

They are fighting all requests for people testifying. And so this is par for the course with this administration. Practically everything they do leads to people having to file lawsuits and doing those kinds of things that wastes a lot of resources and time.

But, nonetheless, so here's Barr not wanting to present himself to the House. Meanwhile, as you know, it came before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where I did not think that we were going to get much in the way of straight answers from this person. And that's what happened.

And that is why I pointed out the fact that this attorney general is not the attorney general for the people of our country. But, in fact, he acts like a defense lawyer for the president. He should have taken that job when it was offered to him by Trump.

BLITZER: Do you think the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, may be making a mistake by not immediately issuing a subpoena for the attorney general to testify?

Because, if you had subpoena power in the Senate -- you don't because the Democrats are the minority in the Senate -- would you subpoena Bill Barr immediately?

HIRONO: I'm not going to second-guess what Jerry Nadler is doing. They have got a lot on their plates. They have a lot of committees doing a lot of investigations, because the Trump Organization has been doing a lot of things that need to be investigated. So I'm not going to second-guess what they're doing.

Meanwhile, at least they're going to have a chance to talk to Mueller, whereas, on the Senate side, it looks as though Lindsey Graham is not going to be calling Mueller before the Judiciary Committee, which I think is a shame.

And it's more than a shame. It's very disappointing.

BLITZER: Let's talk about your Senate hearing today. You came, as we all know -- and we were watching it -- with guns

blazing. You started by telling the attorney general that he's no different than Rudy Giuliani or Kellyanne Conway.

Explain what you meant by that.

HIRONO: Because they're all in the service of this president.

It's like entering what I would call the moral dead zone that is the White House. And people who otherwise had good reputations before entering this dead zone suddenly become sycophants and do the bidding of the president.

So, I said, you are no better than all these other people, because I emphasized that he is acting like the attorney general -- like the attorney for the president, not the attorney general of our country. That goes to how he dealt with the Mueller report, how he was -- I would say he lied.

[18:15:05]

When you deliberately mislead Congress -- when he did not provide the answer to Chris Van Hollen, when Chris asked him, well, did Mueller have any concerns about the four page so-called summary, and he said no. Well, in fact, he knew that he -- that Mueller did have concerns, so much so that he expressed these concerns in a letter to Barr, which is really not the kind of thing that you would expect a special counsel to do.

BLITZER: And in a dramatic moment, Senator, you told the attorney general right to his face that he should resign. Clearly, that's not very likely.

But do you think Democrats could reach a consensus on perhaps going forward with an effort to impeach Bill Barr?

HIRONO: I think that the House is going to have to go in that direction. I do think that the Mueller report is a lead-up to impeachment proceedings.

But these are not normal times. In normal times, any president who did what he did, I think, would be subject to impeachment. This is not normal times. This is why the House committees have to undergo the kind of investigation into all of the Trump Organization's, I would say, nefarious doings in terms of taxes, real estate, insurance fraud, et cetera, not to mention campaign spending violations, and develop a much greater -- lots more ammunition to go forward with impeachment proceedings, because these are not normal times.

And I know that Sally Yates, our former acting attorney general, said, based on the kind of information that's in the Mueller report that leads to an obstruction of justice, with anybody other than a president, she would have already been indicted this person for obstruction.

So this is a kind of environment we are in. And, by the way, when I asked Attorney General Barr whether it was OK, since obviously he did not think that it was a crime, the 10 items that were listed in the Mueller report leading to an obstruction, does he -- since he did not consider any of those a crime, I asked him, but is it OK?

Is it OK for the president to ask his White House counsel to lie? Is it OK to fire the FBI director because he wanted to...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And, you know, Senator, hold on -- hold on for a moment, because that was a very dramatic moment.

I want to play this exchange, that specific exchange that you had with the attorney general. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HIRONO: Do you think it's OK for a president to ask his White House counsel to lie?

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, I'm willing to talk about what's criminal, but...

HIRONO: No, but we have already acknowledged that you think it was not a crime. I'm just asking whether you think it's OK. Even if it's not a crime, do you think it's OK for the president to ask his White House counsel to lie?

BARR: Which...

HIRONO: Look, if you are going to just go to back to whether or not it's a crime, you're telling me that it's OK.

BARR: No, which event are you talking about? Which event are you talking about?

HIRONO: Let me ask you the last question that I have in 17 seconds.

Do you think it's OK for a president to offer pardons to people who don't testify against him, to threaten the family of someone who does? Is that OK?

BARR: What -- when did he offer a pardon to someone in order to...

(CROSSTALK)

HIRONO: I think you know what I'm talking about. Please.

BARR: What you mean please?

HIRONO: Please, Mr. Attorney General, give us some credit for knowing what the hell is going on around here with you.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Not really to this line of questioning.

HIRONO: So...

(CROSSTALK)

GRAHAM: Listen, you have slandered this man.

(CROSSTALK)

BARR: Yes. What I sort of want to know is, how did we get to this point?

(CROSSTALK)

HIRONO: I do not think that I am slandering anyone.

(CROSSTALK)

HIRONO: Mr. Chairman, I am done. Thank you very much.

(CROSSTALK)

GRAHAM: And you slandered this man from top to bottom.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That was your committee Chairman , Lindsey Graham, going after you, saying what we were doing to the attorney general was totally inappropriate, you slandered this man, he said.

What's your reaction to that?

HIRONO: Truth is a defense, and opinion is not slander. That's my response to that.

You know, truth hurts. So I'm asking legitimate questions of this attorney general. Apparently, with this administration, questions of right or wrong or morality has absolutely no place in the moral dead zone that is the White House.

So we expect our attorney general to represent the people of this country, not the president of the United States. But that's exactly what he's doing. And so he just continues to compound.

He just obfuscates. And one of the most troubling responses, so- called, was when Kamala Harris asked him whether the White House has suggested that he investigate anybody, and he asked, what do you mean by suggest?

We would expect an attorney general who's an attorney general for our country to say, hell, no, that's not how we do things. We do not go after people, investigate people for political reasons.

We already know that this president is fully capable of asking his attorney general to go after political enemies like Hillary Clinton. That was a very troubling "Hmm, I have to think about that" response from the attorney general.

[18:20:10]

And, believe me, Wolf, it gives me no pleasure at a public hearing to call upon the attorney general to resign. But there you have it. These are not normal times.

BLITZER: Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, thanks so much for joining us.

HIRONO: Thank you.

BLITZER: These are very dramatic times, indeed.

Let's discuss.

Dana, what do you think, first of all, about the decision by the Justice Department, the attorney general to refuse the invitation to appear before the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow morning, as earlier scheduled, because of the format that Jerry Nadler, the committee chairman, and the Democratic majority came up?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, it's unfortunate, just from the perspective of the American people, those of us who have been covering this for a long time, and people who have the right to hear what the attorney general has to say.

We saw round one in the Senate today, but there are two -- two sides of the United States Capitol. And the House has every right to do to do what they do. The differences over who's going to do the questioning or not, I mean, you would think that, in normal times, that could be worked out.

Now, of course, I said in normal times, and these are not normal times. It pays for the attorney general, who is clearly going for an audience of one, Donald Trump, who's going for his own audience, his base, on this issue., it pays for him to say, uh-uh, I'm not going to go there.

And it also pays for the House Democrats to say -- to continue this fight with the attorney general politically. On policy and oversight, maybe not.

BLITZER: Let me get Bianna to weigh.

The chairman, Jerry Nadler, Bianna, said that the attorney general is terrified -- he use that word -- terrified to face a skilled staff attorney for 30 minutes uninterrupted.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I don't know if he's terrified. I haven't spoken to the attorney general. I don't know how to characterize his emotions.

I think that he is perfectly skilled and prepared to answer these questions. This is his second time around as attorney general. This isn't as if it was Matt Whitaker, who was in this position, and sort of hemmed and hawed when he was answering questions. It may be more of a situation where he doesn't want to have to face questions that he doesn't want to answer.

And you saw a few moments with Senator Harris and Senator Blumenthal where he either tried to buy time, said he didn't read the -- didn't read that part of the report, didn't know.

And going back to Dana's point of an audience of one, it didn't look good. It wasn't a good moment for him. And I'm assuming that he could probably expect more of those types of moments, whether or not he was expecting what he got today. I'm assuming he walked in knowing that he was going to get some of these tough questions.

What I was surprised by was, I'm not sure he really read the full report. There were times where he seemed to not know some specific instances that stand out to all of us, as we all read the report, and yet he seemed to be surprised.

And somebody brought up a question about sharing polling data. And somebody had to remind him of what he wrote in his own 19-page memo to the Justice Department last year.

So I think questionings along those lines is something that he doesn't want to have to and he doesn't legally have to do. So I think that's why he wants to avoid embarrassing himself and angering the president tomorrow.

BLITZER: We just got a statement, Susan, from the Department of Justice spokesperson.

And let me read some of that specifically.

"Chairman Nadler placed conditions on the House Judiciary Committee hearings that are unprecedented and unnecessary. Chairman Nadler's insistence on having staff question the attorney general, a Senate- confirmed Cabinet member, is inappropriate.

Further, in light of the fact that the majority of the House Judiciary Committee, including Chairman Nadler, are themselves attorneys, and the chairman has the ability and authority to fashion the hearing in a way that allows for efficient and thorough questioning by the members themselves, the chairman's request is also unnecessary."

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, it's factually wrong that this is unprecedented. It's certainly unusual.

But there are instances of using staff questioning in the past. I think the hearing today was a pretty good example of why they might seek this format. It's really not about the skill of the members, although it's a little bit about that. It's about this five-minute format, and whenever you're actually trying to conduct oversight, where really trying to get information out of people.

It's really, really difficult to operate in that format. This is the Department of Justice essentially playing hardball. We will see whether or not the House Judiciary Committee now moves to actually subpoena him, if they do subpoena him, whether or not they would proceed either to essentially contempt proceedings. But this is -- oftentimes, the executive branch and the legislative branch square off over these very issues. And, ordinarily, 99.9 percent of the time, they resolve it in a compromise. And so I do think that, in the next few days, we may see these committees and the Department of Justice coming to some sort of compromise agreement, so that Barr ultimately does testify.

[18:25:07]

In their last part of the statement, Sabrina, the spokeswoman for the Justice Department says: "The attorney general remains happy to engage directly with members on their questions regarding the report and looks forward to continuing working with the committee on their oversight requests."

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think what began as a dispute over process has now devolved in fairly dramatic fashion and in a way that I think really captures the state of affairs between Democrats in Congress and the attorney general of the United States.

There is a fundamental lack of trust between congressional Democrats and Attorney General William Barr. For Barr, he does know that some of the questioning from attorneys would be tougher than the questioning of Democrats sitting on the committee.

And for Democrats, I think that they don't have a lot that they can really do to force William Barr's hand. I think, as Susan pointed out, they might move to issue a subpoena. They could even hold him in contempt. But, ultimately, he can continue to stonewall their requests.

And I think that really reinforces that, as Democrats try to get more answers, as they try to get the full unredacted version of the Mueller report, there's not much cooperation that they're going to have from the Justice Department. Ultimately, these are matters that are going to be resolved most likely in the courts.

BASH: Ironically, just real quick, the one thing that House Democrats -- because they're in charge, and they're in charge in a pretty big way in the House, obviously, vs. the Senate, where Republicans are still in charge -- that they can do if they don't get Barr is go straight for Mueller, and bypass Barr, which, if you're Barr, might not be the...

BLITZER: Yes, they clearly said they want...

BASH: They're going to do that. But...

BLITZER: Lindsey Graham, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says, as far as he's concerned, he doesn't need to hear from Mueller, doesn't need to -- need to hear from former White House Counsel Don McGahn.

It's over, as far as Lindsey Graham is concerned.

BASH: Yes. BLITZER: A very different position from Jerry Nadler, the House

Judiciary Committee chairman.

BASH: Exactly.

And if the attorney general declines to make his mark before that committee, and if it's just Robert Mueller, that's a little bit risky for the attorney general.

BLITZER: Yes, and he said probably May 15. That's what Nadler said as far as Mueller appearing before the House Judiciary Committee.

BASH: Yes.

BLITZER: What are you hearing?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Mueller testifying would be fascinating, because today Barr was essentially daring him to contradict him on the characterizations of not only their phone call, which Barr said a staff member took notes of, but also the way he shaped the report.

And you can tell there's clearly a bit of a conflict emerging between the special counsel and the attorney general over the way this report was handled. That's evident in the letters that Mueller sent to Bill Barr, one of which we saw today, one of which we did not see, and there weren't a ton of questions about.

I think this is not a surprise that Barr is not showing up. This has been going back and forth for several days, that he did not want to be questioned by these staff lawyers. He was fine being questioned by the members.

And I think today kind of showed why, because if there was someone like a Kamala Harris, a former prosecutor, sitting there questioning him in the way she did for 30 minutes straight on, that would be a very different format than having someone who questions him, and they typically pontificate for a few minutes, and then get to the questions.

So it's a very different format if it's just a lawyer, one-on-one, questioning you for 30 minutes, even though the Republicans would have a staff lawyer presumably as well to question him too. So I think that plays a big part in it.

But I do not think it's a surprise inside the White House that he's not showing up tomorrow.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... comes at a time -- hold on for one moment.

It comes at a time when we see a lot of stonewalling come from the administration, in response to a lot of subpoenas and questions coming from the Democratic majority in the House.

COLLINS: It's kind of par for the course for the last several weeks.

This isn't something new or groundbreaking for the White House to do, because they have been pushing back on requests. They have been pushing back on subpoenas, and essentially saying that Democrats are overreaching here.

And that's the argument the Justice Department is trying to make, that they're going so far that they need a staff lawyer to question the attorney general. They're saying that that's uncalled for, essentially. And that's just fitting with this narrative we have seen from the White House, aggressively pushing back on everything that Democrats have been asking for.

BLITZER: Yes, Bianna, go ahead. I know you want to weigh in.

GOLODRYGA: Well, one thing that was clear, even prior to this morning's hearing, was what we didn't know.

And that was the increased tension between Barr and Mueller. Going back a few weeks ago, you would have thought, from Barr's perspective and how he played it out, that they were more or less along -- on the same lines.

Obviously, now we know that there were two letters issued, which surprised a lot of people at the Justice Department. There was that phone call. We still don't have any written documentation of Mueller suggesting that the media misinterpreted his statements, as opposed to what we heard from Barr, suggesting that it was more of a miscommunication on the media side.

And so I think that growing risk, where, at times, you even saw Barr trying to undermine Mueller, saying, listen, he works for me. I have final say, not Mueller. Mueller was described as a career prosecutor. And he sort of questioned that, well, not a career prosecutor.

So I think you're seeing that come out to the open. I'm also really interested in hearing Rod Rosenstein's perspective on this as well.

[18:30:02] This comes on the heels of his announcing that he would be stepping down just yesterday.

He, at times, was sort of thrown under the bus, especially with regards to the questioning from Senator Harris when Barr said, well, listen, I made this decision with Rosenstein as well. I don't know why he didn't recuse himself. And she asked him why you didn't read the underlying information and he sort of threw it under Rosenstein's purview.

So I'm really interested in hearing out how he thought today played out.

BLITZER: That's an important point, that in reaching his own conclusions on obstruction and conspiracies, so-called collusion and all of that, he just read the report. He didn't see the -- go through the underlying evidence. HENNESSEY: So I don't think it's necessarily a case in which you would expect something like this to review all the underlying evidence. One thing was really clear from Barr's testimony today was this substantive weakness of his argument. He really was not able to offer any kind of a convincing explanation for how the facts Mueller laid out do not constitute criminal obstruction of justice.

BLITZER: That's an important point. I want to go to our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju, once again up on Capitol Hill. This latest news, Manu, on the Attorney General, Bill Barr, comes after a rather contentious hearing in the Senate today.

RAJU: Yes. It would just be a taste of what Bill Barr would face tomorrow before a committee controlled by Democrats, today, a committee run by Republicans. But democratic members made clear that they were displeased by the way the Attorney General has handled the Mueller report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: It was my decision how and when to make it public, not Bob Mueller's.

RAJU: Attorney General Bill Barr defiant while under fire for his handling of Robert Mueller's report. Hours after new revelations that the Special Counsel sent a letter to Barr expressing concerns about how he summarized the findings of the sweeping probe.

BARR: His work concluded when he sent his report to the Attorney General. At that point, it was my baby.

RAJU: Barr said he spoke to the Special Counsel about Mueller's frustrations.

BARR: I said, Bob, what's with the letter, you know? Why don't you just pick up the phone and call me if there's an issue?

RAJU: In contended that Mueller was complaining about the media's portrayal of the findings.

BARR: He said that they were concerned about the way the media was playing this and felt that it was important to get out the summaries, which they felt would put their work in proper context and avoid some of the confusion that was emerging. And I asked him if he felt that my letter was misleading or inaccurate. And he said no.

RAJU: But Mueller does not mention media coverage in his letter, expressing instead that Barr did not fully capture the context, nature and substance of this office's work and conclusions. Democrats pounced on that.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: This letter was an extraordinary act, a career prosecutor rebuking the Attorney General of the United States, memorializing in writing, right?

BARR: You know, the letter is a bit snitty and I think it was probably written by one of his staff people.

RAJU: Democrats argue the revelations contradicted Barr's previous sworn testimony and accused him of lying when he said this on April 10th.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: Did bob Mueller support your conclusion?

BARR: I don't know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion.

RAJU: Today, Barr evaded explaining the discrepancy, instead bringing up a different answer from a different hearing.

BARR: 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.

RAJU: Democrats did not buy his answer.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: I feel your answer was purposely misleading. And I think others do too.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: That's a masterful hair- splitting.

RAJU: The senators sharply questioned why Barr chose not to prosecute Trump on obstruction of justice despite ten episodes cited in the report detailing Trump's efforts to undercut the probe including asking then White House Counsel Don McGahn to remove Mueller as Special Counsel.

BARR: There is a distinction between saying to someone, go fire him, go fire Mueller, and saying, have him removed based on conflict. They have different results.

RAJU: But in his report, Mueller wrote that in seeking to fire the Special Counsel, the President sought to exclude his and his campaign's conduct from the investigation scope.

In a tenth line of questioning, Senator Mazie Hirono lashed out at Barr.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D), HAWAII: You lied to Congress. But now, we know more about your deep involvement and trying to cover up for Donald Trump. I am done. Thank you very much.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: And you slandered this man from top to bottom.

[18:35:00]

RAJU: Republicans meanwhile didn't focus as much on the Mueller report, instead criticizing the Justice Department's handling of the Clinton email probe and pointing to texts from former FBI agent, Peter Strzok.

GRAHAM: We know that the person in charge of investigating hated Trump's guts.

RAJU: And questioning why the Russia probe even began.

SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R), MISSOURI: It's open blatant prejudice would try to use that in order to overturn a democratic election. And to my mind, that's the real crisis here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU: Now, Democrats try to pin down the Attorney General about a number of topics but they had a hard time doing, including whether or not he had substantive conversations with the White House about the 14 investigations that have been spawned by the Mueller probe and Barr said he did not have, quote, substantive conversations. We could not say whether he had non-substantive conversations. He said he did not recall. Wolf?

BLITZER: Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.

Dana, you watched all of that hearing today. It was very dramatic, very powerful, very different questions from Republicans as opposed to Democrats. What jumped out at you?

BASH: Well, look, going in especially after the news of last night about this Mueller letter and the fact he was clearly perturbed at the way that Bill Barr presented his findings initially and wanted -- as Senator Blumenthal said, clearly wanted to memorialize, which is why he wrote it in the letter and didn't just pick up phone and call. He wanted to make it clear for the future and for history that he felt that way.

So the question was, why did the Attorney General do that, A, and B, why did he tell members of Congress under oath something different? And we don't have the answers to either of those questions at the end of today, which is unfortunate.

Why did he do it? The only thing that we can surmise is from his press conference and from his letter, which is he sees himself as somebody who is representing the President of the United States, that is the President's expectation and that that is the message that he wanted to send to the President and to the President's supporters.

And the answers that he gave on saying it's the media misinterpreted it. As Manu just pointed out really nice in that piece, that wasn't in the letter that Robert Mueller wrote at all, which is why he wrote the letter to be very crystal clear so we could see why he thought that the Attorney General was not accurately portraying this two-year investigation that he did.

SIDDIQUI: Absolutely. Mueller wrote in the letter that Barr did not fully capture the context, nature and substance of the Special Counsel's findings. He did not mention the media. He directly traced the public confusion over the Special Counsel's work back to that letter that the Attorney General wrote in late March.

And then telling that after their phone conversation, it was then that Barr issued a second letter saying that he did not intend for that initial memo to be a summary of the full Mueller report. I think there was a rift between the Special Counsel and between the Attorney General that Mueller wanted to make his misgivings clear for the public record.

And the only way that we are really going to get a clear picture of what Mueller thought of the way William Barr characterized it is by him appearing himself on Capitol Hill. As we know, the House Judiciary Committee wants Mueller to testify on May 15th and they are waiting for the Justice Department to confirm that date.

HENNESSEY: I think this really is an incredibly important point. At this point, Mueller is the only person with any credibility. After the Attorney General's performance today, there's just no one who is not sort of excessively sympathetic to the President who would want to take him at his word. It's hard to even take him at his word regarding phone conversations with Robert Mueller considering the extent to which he has mischaracterized both the letter and actually the report itself.

And so at this point, there is certainly going to be additional wrangling over getting Barr's testimony but the real testimony that is going to be critically important is for Robert Mueller and other individuals, like Don McGahn, to come before Congress and tell their story directly.

BLITZER: And in the letter, Bianna, that Mueller wrote to Barr on March 27th after initial Barr summary, the principal conclusions were released, he specifically said, as a result of what Barr was saying, he writes this, there is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the department appointed the Special Counsel to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigation. So you clearly see how angry and upset he is.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. And the public confusion wasn't directed from news coverage. You don't see that written in that letter either. I mean, it became pretty clear today that the Attorney General did not walk into getting this report as an objective-minded Attorney General. He had already assumed. He already came to the conclusion that there was no obstruction of justice. He already surmised that the President was very frustrated, he hadn't done anything wrong.

[18:40:02]

So maybe some of the speculative and questionable things that the President did and some of the actions he took were justified because he was in this unprecedented situation.

I will also say what I was a bit struck by was there was not that much attention directed towards section one of the Mueller report. I did not get a sense of urgency from the Attorney General that the Russians attacked the U.S. in our election system and continue to do so.

In fact, he even questioned what would the Trump administration, what would the Trump campaign have called the FBI for when the June Russia meeting happened at the Trump Tower. I did not get a sense of urgency from this Attorney General that both the President and he feel that more action needs to be taken to prevent Russia's aggression.

BLITZER: What kind of reaction are you getting from your sources over there at the White House, Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They're downplaying this. They don't think that Mueller or that Bill Barr's appearance today is going to change the outcomes of this report and that anything is going to change underlying for the President. So they feel fine about it.

And the President himself said he thought Barr had a strong performance today. Of course, the President's perceptions of things often change with the media coverage. So that will be question going forward, how the President feels about that.

BLITZER: Amidst all of this, Dana, the former fired FBI Director, James Comey, even as this hearing was underway at the Senate Judiciary Committee, writes an op-ed in the New York Times. Let me read a couple of sentences.

Proximity to an amoral leader reveals something depressing. I think that's at least part of what we have seen with Bill Barr and Rod Rosenstein. Accomplished people lacking inner strength, can't resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump and that adds up to something they will never recover from because Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites.

BASH: I'm not really sure what he's saying there. I think he should be more explicit there. Look, it's a message we have heard from a lot of people who, to be fair, do not like Donald Trump, even and especially a republican, maybe some former Republicans.

James Comey might not be the perfect messenger for this given the fact he has an understandable beef with Rod Rosenstein, given their history that Rosenstein's letter very critical of Comey was used to help fire James Comey. But what he says is something that other people have said.

I just want to also say one other quick thing in defense of the news media, which I don't think I should have to do this but I'm just going to say it. What a red herring. I mean, come on. The entire news media, every reporter in the world just got it wrong?

No. We were reporting on the content of William Barr's letter. And that's what we were doing. And it was the content of the letter, according to Mueller, that was misguided, not the reporting of it.

COLLINS: But going back to what Comey says, I think he actually sees this differently. Bill Barr is not someone who has had this long relationship that dates back years with the President. He doesn't have this great sense of loyalty to Donald Trump specifically or personally. And you'll hear that from people inside the White House. They did not know each other very well before the President picked him to be the next Attorney General. What it seems more to be, based on people who know Bill barr well, is that it's a loyalty to the office of the presidency and that's who he thinks he's protecting here, the office of the presidency, not Donald Trump specifically. And that's why you have seen him making the arguments like he did today.

Now, he clearly has some parts of disdain for this report, including where he said today that in conversations with Mueller, he did not think Mueller made a decision based on that guideline that you can't indict a sitting President. When you read the report, that's actually a major impact on how Mueller did this and how he conducted it.

And today, Barr expressed confusion why Mueller would continue investigating the President for obstruction of justice if he was never going to charge him with that. But Mueller notes in his report that a president does not have immunity when he leaves office.

BLITZER: Good point. Everybody stand by. There's more news we're following.

The Trump White House defends William Barr Senate testimony as the Attorney General is refusing to face the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow morning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:47:59] BLITZER: Tonight, as the Attorney General William Barr is refusing to reappear before House committee tomorrow, the Trump White House is defending his defiant testimony before the Senate today.

Let's go to our Senior White House Correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Pamela, what are you hearing from the administration tonight?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, White House officials here are praising Bill Barr's performance. Even President Trump just said recently in a radio interview that he did a solid job, he did a great job from what he heard. The president clearly liking the fact that the attorney general was defiant today during the hearing, unapologetic in face of criticism.

And White House officials are criticizing Democrats during the hearing with one White House official telling me Democrats didn't lay a glove on Barr.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's presumed that someone is innocent and the government has to prove they clearly violated the law.

BROWN: The White House tonight taking aim at congressional Democrats following the contentious Senate hearing with Attorney General Bill Barr.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: I think some people are respectfully are starting to sound a little bit desperate, especially the partisans on Capitol Hill. They must be mad at Bob Mueller for not doing their bidding, and not producing the goods that they promised to the American people for two and a half years.

BROWN: White House officials watching the Barr hearing with the touch of exasperation as the Russia investigation will not stay out of the headlines, particularly in the wake of a newly released letter from special counsel Mueller objecting to Barr's depiction of the principal findings from late March.

BARR: My understanding was his concern was not the accuracy of the statement of the findings in my letter, but that he wanted more out there to provide additional context to explain his reasoning on why he didn't reach a decision on obstruction.

He felt that was in inaccurate wads the press coverage and what they were interpreting the March 24th letter to say.

BROWN: Ahead of the hearing, Trump took to Twitter to defend himself, repeating some of his favorite phrases -- tweeting: no collusion, no obstruction.

[18:50:02] Besides how can you have obstruction when not only was no collusion by Trump, the greatest con job in history of politics.

This as the White House once again rebuffs House Democrats' request for security clearance information, citing privacy concerns and political harassment in a nine-page letter, the latest in a standoff between the legislative and executive branch.

House Democrats making accusations of their own, releasing a memo detailing different ways the administration has stonewalled various congressional investigations, calling it a, quote, massive, unprecedented and growing pattern of obstruction.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: I never thought our country would get to this point where one branch of government is being blocked from simply doing the job that we are sworn to do. The American people do not want a king. They elected a president.

BROWN: And the president sending a strong signal that he believes former Vice President Joe Biden is his main opponent in the 2020 election, retweeting nearly 60 messages about Biden's endorsement by the nation's largest firefighters union. Trump himself tweeting this morning: I've done more for firefighters than this dues sucking union will ever do, and I get paid zero.

All of this comes as President Trump has seen his highest approval rating since his 100 days in office, 43 percent, but still underwater with 52 percent disapproving.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And so far, there isn't White House reaction on Barr's decision not to testify before the House committee tomorrow. Wolf, I've been asking White House officials their reaction of Barr

saying that he didn't exonerate the president. Today, White House officials have been shrugging that off saying it's clear it's not his role as a prosecutor. But the White House view is that in late terms, Barr did exonerate him -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pamela Brown at the White House, thank you.

Just ahead. The United States and Russia clash over the uprising in Venezuela. There are new protests and violence tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:56:45] BLITZER: We've been tracking the breaking news. The attorney general, William Barr, refusing to testify before the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow. We'll have more on that in a few moments.

But, first, a very tense confrontation between the United States and Russia over Venezuela's political upheaval. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warning the Kremlin must stop its destabilizing interference as he's calling it as his Russian counterpart, accusing the United States of aggressive moves in Venezuela.

Let's go to our Senior International Correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh. He's joining us from Caracas.

Nick, as the U.S. and Russia spar, what's happening there on the ground?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the second day of isolated pockets of clashes on the streets here with pro-government folks on motorcycle attacking the opposition. But, really, that opposition hasn't come out in numbers as expected on the streets today. Here's what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALSH (voice-over): The battle for control playing out in the streets of Caracas and across Venezuela as supporters and opponents of President Nicolas Maduro hold competing demonstrations.

Now, it's day two of the violent clashes which has left one person dead and more than 100 injured.

The embattled president hoping to quell the uprising, taking to the air waves overnight.

Stating: With the truth as a sword, as a shield, we face so many attacks, we have emerged victorious in every situation and we will continue to emerge victorious.

The government has been impeding at times Venezuelans' access to social media and news platforms.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido, the president of the national assembly here, addressing the crowd. He admitted he hadn't gathered enough military defectors yesterday, yet still declared this as, quote, the final phase to oust Maduro.

Encouraging his supporters, he calls for daily protests.

The uprising is being closely monitored by the U.S. government and though the top military brass has said they don't presently see a role for American armed forces in the conflict, the joint chief's chairman cautions.

GENERAL JOSEPH DUNFORD, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: We're doing now what we can to collect intelligence, to make sure we have a good visibility of what's happening down in Venezuela, and also be prepared to support the president should he require more from the U.S. military.

WALSH: But just a day after the U.S. claimed it was only Moscow that managed to convince Nicolas Maduro not to flee his country in a jet to Cuba, tonight, the Russian foreign minster is warning of grave consequences if the U.S. continues, quote, aggressive steps in Venezuela.

The rhetoric between the U.S. and Russia now escalating. The Trump administration believes the walls are closing in on Maduro.

JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think Maduro is now surrounded by scorpions in a bottle and it's only a matter of time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALSH: Huge amounts of pressure from the U.S. The Acting Secretary of Defense Shanahan canceling a trip to Europe to partly focus on Venezuela. But has this outside pressure changed things inside? We've had a crazy 48 hours but it does look like it's slipping back into a stalemate, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh on the ground for us in Caracas, be careful over there, Nick. We'll stay in very close touch with you.

To our viewers, thanks very much for watching. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSitroom.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

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