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THE SITUATION ROOM

Pelosi Says Barr Lied to Congress and "That's a Crime"; Poll: Trump Approval on Economy Hits New High; Manhunt for U.S.-Based Activist Accused in Attack of North Korean Embassy in Spain; Interview with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 2, 2019 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:03]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER: You can Tweet the show @theleadcnn. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Vaccinate your kids.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: Happening now, breaking news, law school exam. CNN has learned that even as President Trump was publicly praising Robert Mueller, behind the scenes, the White House was gearing up to attack him. Tonight, we've obtain the letter from a White House counsel belittling the Mueller report, calling it a law school exam paper and accusing Mueller of not doing his job. Stand by for more bombshell details.

He lied. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accuses Attorney General William Barr of lying to Congress. She's calling it a crime. Pelosi's broad side came after the Attorney General refused to testify before the House Judiciary Committee turning today's hearing into a show, featuring an empty chair and bucket of chicken. Tonight, democrats want to hold Barr in contempt.

Undercover operative. A blockbuster new report from The New York Times reveals the FBI was so concerned that the Trump campaign had been infiltrated by the Russians, it sent a seasoned investigator undercover to question Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos. Will the revelations help or hurt the President?

And Moore is less. A second Trump pick for the Federal Reserve board was just forced to back out. Stephen Moore blames what he calls the unrelenting attacks on my character. Both -- but were both democrats and republicans right to call Moore unqualified for the job?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.

We're following multiple breaking stories in the battle between House Democrats and President Trump's Attorney General, William Barr. CNN has obtained the White House letter to the Attorney General accusing Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team of playing politics with the Russia investigation.

The letter also describes the Mueller report, and I'm quoting now, as a prosecutorial curiosity or truth commission report and part law school exam paper. That's a quote. This comes as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is accusing the Attorney General of committing a crime, saying he lied to congress on Wednesday. House Democrats are furious he skipped today's hearing of the House Judiciary Committee.

Also breaking, The New York Times is revealing new details about the counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign back this 2016, including that an FBI investigator went undercover posing as a researcher to question Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.

Democratic Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, there he is, he's standing by to take our questions. And our correspondents and analyst, they will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with our White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, just as democrats were accusing the Attorney General of lying, the White House leaked this had scathing letter from the White House Counsel, Emmet Flood, saying Special Counsel Robert Mueller did not do his job.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. That's a letter that was written over ten days ago, but it just got released today one day after Bill Barr appeared on Capitol Hill. And it's a scathing evaluation of Robert Mueller and his investigation. And, Wolf, in this letter, is they're accusing the Special Counsel of playing politics. They're also turning an eye toward the fight with democrats, the ongoing ones and upcoming ones, saying that just because the President did not assert executive privilege over this report doesn't mean he won't do so in the future.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: With the Russia investigation still on President Trump's mind --

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: People say how do you get through that stuff, how do you go through the witch hunts and everything else? And you know, what we do, Mike (ph). We just do it, right? And we think about God.

COLLINS: New CNN reporting reveals his White House sent Attorney General Bill Barr a letter last month blasting the Special Counsel, claiming its report suffers from an extraordinary legal defects. Emmet Flood accusing Robert Mueller of playing politics and straying from his commission, alleging his team failed in their duty to act as prosecutors and only as prosecutors.

The White House lashing out at the Special Counsel for how he handled the obstruction investigation into Trump, even though current guidelines say, a sitting President cannot be indicted. Flood said Mueller needed to either ask the grand jury to return an indictment or decline to charge the case, adding the one thing that the special counsel was only gated to do is the very thing that the SCO intentionally and unapologetically refuse to do.

[17:05:00] But Mueller said that DOJ guidance had a major impact on how he conducted the investigation, arguing that even if he failed concrete evidence against Trump, he couldn't charge him. But Mueller making clear he wanted to preserve the facts if investigator want to revisit the case once the President leaves office. Yet Barr testifying yesterday repeatedly disagreed with his longtime friend, Mueller, and the actions he took during the investigation.

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think that if he felt that he shouldn't go down the path of making a traditional prosecutive decision, then he shouldn't have investigate it. That was the time to pull up.

COLLINS: The White House telling Barr in its letter that Mueller overstepped his mandate because some democrats now want to use his report as a roadmap for impeachment. Under oath yesterday, Barr stood by his assertion that the Trump campaign was spied on.

BARR: I'm not going to back off the word spying.

COLLINS: And today, a report in The New York Times could give Trump and his allies ammunition for their claim. According to The Times, the FBI sent an investigator who is posing as a research assistant to meet with former Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, in 2016 as part of its efforts to look at the campaign's links to Russia. The bureau's moves are now under investigation by the department's Inspector General.

BARR: Many people seem to assume that the only intelligence collection that occurred was a single confidential informant and a FISA warrant. I'd like to find out whether that is, in fact, true.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Wolf, that's not the only news out of the White House today. The President also announced he will no longer nominate Stephen Moore to a sit on the Federal Reserve Board after his past comment about women surface. That prompted a big sigh of relief from Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill who were telling the White House in recent days that he was going to have a very tough confirmation fight and that they were not ready to throw their weight behind him.

Wolf, this makes him the second person in recent weeks, in addition to Herman Cain, that the President has floated their name out there, said he could nominate them for this position in the end after their past comments and conduct the surface. They were only later pulled or withdrew their names.

And, essentially, republicans are sending one message to the White House after this, Wolf, and that's that they need to vet their nominees better.

BLITZER: Got to do a much better job vetting before they put out those names. All right, Kaitlan, thank you very much.

The Attorney General of the United States was supposed to answer question in front of the House Judiciary Committee earlier today but infuriated democrats by simply refusing to show up. Our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju, is up on Capitol Hill. So, Manu, what's next in this increasingly bitter standoff?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Attorney General could soon be held in contempt of Congress and he could soon be served with a subpoena compelling him to appear before the House Judiciary Committee. Now, this comes as the White House has defiled a number of requests from House Democrats including subpoenas. Democrats are now debating their best way to enforce their subpoenas, whether it's going to court, levying heavy fines or even impeachment.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): The Judiciary Committee will come to order.

RAJU: The clash between the Trump administration and House Democrats took a dramatic turn today after Attorney General Bill Barr was a no- show at a highly anticipated hearing about his handling of the Mueller report.

NADLER: We will have no choice but to move quickly to hold the Attorney General in contempt if he stalls or fails to negotiate in good faith.

RAJU: Nadler's threat coming after Barr defied a subpoena to turn over the full unreducted report to Capitol Hill. Democrats ridiculed the Attorney General, saying he was too scared to appear, but Congressman Steven Cohen bringing a glass chicken and a bucket of KFC for effect.

REP. STEVEN COHEN (D-TN): It shows the fact that he is a coward and he's a chicken. And that's his new name, as Chicken Barr.

RAJU: Barr boycotted the hearing although the democrats demand that he also be questioned by staff lawyers, and extremely rare requests.

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): We've go back to a circus political stunt.

RAJU: Republicans accused democrats of sabotaging the hearing for political gain.

COLLINS: My question is what are the democrats scared of? They don't want Bill Barr here today. They've had the report, they've read it, they don't want what's in it.

RAJU: But some believe that democrats strategy may have drag this fight out and could back fire since they may have lost their best chance to question the Attorney General.

Haven't you, in a sense, made it harder to get the answers that you've been asking for?

NADLER: We cannot concede to the administration the ability to control the manner in which Congress does its job. RAJU: The rhetoric intensified outside of the hearing room, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi charging that the Attorney General lied to Congress.

[17:10:04]

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The Attorney General of the United States of America was not telling the truth to the Congress of the United States. That's a crime.

RAJU: A charge that Justice Department called reckless, irresponsible and false.

Republicans said that the real goal is to impeach President Trump.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Nadler has been wanting to impeach the day after the election. He can't have the facts to prove of why he should but he will not stop.

RAJU: Yet while Pelosi tempts down calls for impeachment, a growing number of democrats say that the continuing defiance of congressional demands means that may be their only option.

REP. TED LIEU (D-CA): If the Trump administration wants impeachment, they're doing a good job of pushing the democrats there that's unifying the caucused.

RAJU: Today's standoff comes as there are new questions about what Barr has been discussing with the White House, including concerns that Trump or others in his administration have suggested or directed Barr to open investigations.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA): Has the President or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone? Yes or no, please, sir.

BARR: The President or anybody else --

HARRIS: Seems you'd remember something like that and be able to tell us?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU: Now, Nancy Pelosi wants to continue to focus on oversight and they hope to bring in the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, by mid-May before the House Judiciary Committee. Even the Senate republicans, Wolf, are ready to move on. But once Senate Republican Mitt Romney told us earlier today that he would actually like to see Robert Mueller testify in public, that's something that the republicans are not willing do at this moment. Wolf?

BLITZER: Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill, thank you. We're joined by Democratic Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York. He's a member of the House Judiciary Committee. He's also the House Democratic Conference Chairman. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. Let's get to the news of the day. And you just heard our reporters, instead of spending today questioning the Attorney General, your committee, the Judiciary Committee, held a hearing with an empty chair. You could have asked him pretty tough questions if you had gone along with that hearing. Was that a mistake?

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): It was not a mistake because the House is a separate and coequal branch of government. We don't work for Donald Trump. We work for the American people. We're not going to take orders and directives from either Donald Trump, the Trump administration, his minions or the so-called Attorney General.

We have a constitutional responsibility to serve as a check and balance on an out of control executive branch. We're not going to overreach, we're not going to over-politicized, we're not going to over investigate, but we are not going to run away from our constitutional responsibility to do meaningful oversight of the administration on behalf of the American people.

BLITZER: Do you think your committee could have done more to accommodate the concerns of the Attorney General?

JEFFRIES: No. There will be ongoing discussions and hopefully the Attorney General will see the light and he will agree to come forward and testify before the House Judiciary Committee based on the rules of engagement that we set forth on behalf of the American people. I think Jerry Nadler did the right thing.

BLITZER: Will the Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jerry Nadler, subpoena the Attorney General to appear and testify?

JEFFRIES: That's certainly a possibility. But the next step is to make sure that the Attorney General complies with the subpoena that he has already chosen not to follow, which is the one that called for the unredacted Mueller report that was due yesterday. They failed to provide that document. They failed to provide the underlying evidence that we also requested on behalf of the American people so we can understand the full story in advance of his testimony.

We're going to move on as well to make sure that we secure the testimony of Robert Mueller so he can tell his story to the American people. That is going to be highly relevant.

BLITZER: And I'll get to that in a moment. But what can your committee do if they refuse to comply with the subpoenas?

JEFFRIES: Well, one of the things that is being contemplated is holding the Attorney General in contempt of Congress. That will be a decision that will have to be made by the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in consultation with the staff and, of course, with Speaker Pelosi and the leadership team. That is certainly one way to go.

We have to make sure that we do not allow this administration to move us away from our democrat republic and to speed towards a dictatorship because we have an individual sitting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue who clearly has some authoritarian tendencies.

This is not a republican issue or democratic issue. It's an issue about whether we are going to continue to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

BLITZER: But if Nadler moves forward and your leadership moves forward with contempt, and they still refuse to comply, what do you do next? How do you get this thing moving? Do you post fines?

[17:15:00]

Do you suggest maybe even, as some have said, jail time for the Attorney General of the United States?

JEFFRIES: Well, jail time is not something that I believe is being seriously contemplated. And, look, Wolf, we understand that we're going to have to continue to proceed along two tracks.

Just this week, even though we've had a disagreement with the administration about the failure of the Attorney General to testify, it was a high level conversation between the Speaker and Donald Trump to see if we can come together around a meaningful infrastructure plan to repair our crumbling bridges, roads tunnels, airports, mass transportation system and public housing development.

The very same House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday passed four bipartisan bills designed to address the anti-competitive practices of the pharmaceutical industry as part of the House Democratic effort to drive down the high cost of life saving prescription drugs.

So we're going to continue along the track of trying to find common ground on behalf of the issues that would improve the lives of everyday Americans while at the same time understanding that there is another lane which is going to require for Congress to hold the administration accountable when it steps over the line, and we are not going to shirk that responsibility either.

BLITZER: Well, let's hope you guys can work out some sort of bipartisan deal on infrastructure spending, as all of us know, as the country really needs that, really needs it badly. Representative Jeffries, thanks so much for joining us.

JEFFRIES: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, will the President and his allies be helped by the latest New York Times the revelations about the FBI using an undercover operation targeting his campaign? And now that Speaker Nancy Pelosi is accusing the Attorney General William Barr of lying to Congress, will democrats take legal action?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:20:00]

BLITZER: All right, let's get to the breaking news. CNN has obtained a scathing letter from the White House to the Attorney General accusing Special Counsel Robert Mueller of politicizing the Russia investigation. Our legal and political experts are here to discuss. And, Laura Coates, you are one of our legal experts. In this letter, you've read it, we've all read it. Now, it is scathing. It was dated April 19th, so it's been there for a while. It's all memorialized but it's only been released today. And it really goes after the Special Counsel.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It really does. And, essentially, what he's saying is, listen, all you had to do is make a binary choice. It was either yay or nay, prosecutor not prosecute, nothing else should have been permitted. All the context, all the 400 plus pages essentially was fodder and a roadmap to give to the members of Congress, the democratic house in particular, to try to give them some fodder to be able to impeach or at least have a roadmap to do so.

Now, of course, it is ironic to condemn the report for being thorough after all the millions spent to conduct this investigation. And, of course, people would have been enraged, the public, members of Congress and probably White House counsel as well if there had just been a yay or nay and not the context. Because, of course, it would have allowed the American people's minds and imaginations to go as to what took 22 months to come to composition about.

The President has said it's been a witch hunt all of this time. So you would think that they want to be holistic as possible particularly given that this President, who has White House Counsel behind him, thinks he's totally exonerated. Why not more detail, the better?

BLITZER: Let me get Jeffrey Toobin to weigh in. You've read single space, five-page letter from Emmet Flood, Special Counsel over at the White House to the President. It's not one of the President's personal attorneys, this is the White House Counsel. Is it legally sound, the arguments that he makes here?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the thing that's so peculiar about it is that Robert Mueller was not allowed to indict the President. He is an employee of the Department of Justice. He is someone who was bound by the opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel that a sitting President cannot be indicted. So how you can criticize him for failing to ask for an indictment is mysterious to me.

You know, the irony here is that Mueller was trying to bend over backward to be fair. He was trying to say, look, because of the President can't defend himself if I say he should be indicted, I'm not going to come to a conclusion on that. So I am going to layout the evidence and just let people draw their own conclusions.

In return, he gets slammed by the White House here for failing to come to a decision. So I don't think any of this is going to change people's minds particularly, but it does seem like a particularly unfair criticism of Mueller.

BLITZER: You know, Chris Cillizza, the White House Counsel, Emmet Flood, he's accusing the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, in this letter of playing politics. CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR AT LARGE: I mean, you can accuse anyone of anything you like. I don't know to Laura and Jeff's point. I guess I don't know where the the politics would be here and that it seems as though Mueller is a damn if he do damn if you don't situation.

If someone is playing politics, I mean, it strikes me that Donald Trump saying total exoneration, no collusion, no obstruction the day that the Barr -- well, I guess it's not summary letter anymore, a top line letter.

BLITZER: Principal conclusion.

CILLIZZA: Well, right. Sorry. Words are important. Him saying that over and over again and saying well, look, I've been clear, we won, he said that at a rally shortly after. Well, if what Emmet Flood is saying is true, then you can't have your cake -- I'm using a lot of metaphors. You can't have your cake and eat it too though. And you can't say, on the one hand, this is nothing more than a law school hypothesis.

[17:25:01]

And on the other, I'm using said law school hypothesis to totally and completely declare myself exonerated.

BLITZER: Is this letter going to change any democrats' view potentially going forward with impeachment proceedings in the House?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, I think the most important person to look at is Nancy Pelosi, Nancy Pelosi and the leadership. They've been pretty dug in on this, essentially saying that they would rather see investigations play out. They're not taking impeachment off the table, but they want to focus on these investigations. And we saw some of the back and forth obviously go on today with Barr refusing to testify in -- folks on the House still wanting the unredacted Mueller report.

I think there are two problems with impeachment, right, and those aren't going to change, we don't think, anytime soon. One of which is just the procedural problem, right? They control of the House, they don't control the Senate, so they can remove the President anyway. The other is that the public isn't on their side. 56 percent of the public at this point is against impeachment, it's about the same among independents, democrat are for impeachment. But, again, they only control half of the branches above the legislative branch at this point. So I think we're going to stay right here if you listen to Nancy Pelosi, and she's controlling it.

BLITZER: You know, Bianna, why do you think Flood, the White House Counsel, put his concerns that are, you know, in detail here in writing while his client, we're talking about the President of the United States, continues to tout that the Muller report completely exonerated him?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I would guess that Emmet Flood read the entire report and his client probably did not. And in reading the entire report, he saw that there were areas of deep concern.

And I agree with the panel. This is sort of lose-lose situation that Mueller was put into. Imagine the outrage if he had just issued a one-page, one-sentence report that said no obstruction, no collusion or vice versa. There would have been outrage. This was an investigation. His opinion was not anywhere throughout this piece. It was layer-by-layer of thorough investigation over the two years, the same, by the way, as had been in part one of this report about Russia and Russia's involvement. You have the details as you would have in any investigation.

The timing obviously is interesting that this letter just happens to come out to the public the day after Barr had a horrible day yesterday before the Senate and members of Senate. And so I think this could very well have been a situation where the White House was trying to throw him a bone given what we saw happened today and obviously what we saw happened yesterday and finding out the night before, not one, not two, but three interactions, two letters, one phone call with Robert Mueller.

BLITZER: And his bad day yesterday got worse today when the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, accused him of lying under oath before Congress, and she said that is a crime. Much more on that when we come back.

[17:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're back with our political and legal experts.

And, Nia, the Attorney General, he refused to face the House Judiciary Committee this morning. And as that was happening, Nancy Pelosi was having a news conference. She is not mincing any words, the Speaker of the House, about his previous -- Barr's previous testimony. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: He lied to Congress. He lied to Congress. If anybody else did that, it would be considered a crime. Nobody is above the law. Not the President of the United States and not the Attorney General.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That's pretty serious. So what are the consequences?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: It's hard to say. I mean, what they -- what can they do? I mean, they can't impeach him, although you have some folks like Julian Castro call for his impeachment. Again, it's a problem.

I mean, they can sort of pound their chest here, call him a liar. Of course, they're talking about his testimony about what he knew about Mueller's sense of the four-page letter. He -- at least, he was -- you know, at most, he was sort of misleading. Whether or not he perjured himself is unclear.

But I think this is what Democrats want to talk about, this idea of not only Barr thinking he is above the law, Barr being a liar, but, in some ways, tie that to the President too and essentially just paint Republicans, paint Donald Trump, as someone who is corrupt.

And this is the -- I think this is the broad sort of framing that they're going to go with. Again, they don't have any power to oust Donald Trump, they don't have power to oust Barr either, but they can continue to kind of sort frame how they think about these Republicans and essentially say they're unfit to run the country.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And you think about it, what are the options Congress has as opposed to accusing him as being a liar? First of all, there is the at Groundhog's Day element. Remember Jeff Sessions also trying to decide whether he had committed perjury about his amnesia with regards to a Russian ambassador, et cetera.

So you have this whole notion going on, but Congress has certain limited functions. Contempt is one of their main vehicles to actually be able to hold anybody accountable, and there is the impeachment process.

But if they were to pursue contempt, for example, one of the ways they do that is through the criminal process, which relies on the 90 plus U.S. attorneys across the country. And guess who their boss is? William Barr and the President of the United States, who are not going to be very eager to do so.

So the limit to the -- to the -- to what happened in the civil courts, then we've seen that that takes a very protracted process. Ask Eric Holder in Operation Fast and Furious, ask George W. Bush and the Obama administration when it came time to Harriet Miers, et cetera. It all goes into the next administration. So they're kind of -- their hands are tied but to make these accusations.

BLITZER: His refusal to appear --

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It's not --

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead, Jeffrey. Make your point.

[17:35:01] TOOBIN: Well, it's not a hundred percent tied. I mean, if the Democrats really wanted to play hardball -- and I haven't heard many people talking about this, but Congress still has the power of the purse.

And Congress can say we are not allocating money to the Justice Department unless the following changes are made. We are not allowing the White House to have the budget it wants unless the following documents are produced. This is within the power of the Congress.

Now, I don't think even Nancy Pelosi is ready to play that kind of hardball. But these meaningless contempt citations -- and frankly, I think there is no doubt it would be legally and practically meaningless -- is not the only remedy available to the -- to the House of Representatives.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And, look, there's no doubt the ball is in the Democrats' court right now. One thing they want to avoid is going too far. And one tactic that they could take is to follow up on what Nancy Pelosi thus far has said with regards to impeachment for the President. She says he's not worth it, let's not go there, I'm not ready. Let's get stuff done.

You could make the argument that you're not going to get anymore from Barr. He has now been before Congress multiple times for hours at length. He has made himself clear as to what he is willing to say and what he's not, even in the most heated of moments. You could say, you know what, no more Barr, let's get Mueller up here.

And we need to hear from Mueller because you're clearly seeing more and more tension between the two. In fact, one thing I noticed at the -- was the -- the few times that you did see Barr become irked yesterday or incensed was when he had to remind everyone that he, in fact, was Mueller's boss. And there, you know, were contradictions that he made about Mueller's assessment.

So there could be an argument of saying Barr is not worth it, we're not going to get anything out of him. Let's go straight to Mueller.

BLITZER: His refusal to appear this morning, Chris, before the House Judiciary Committee followed several moments yesterday when he was clearly struggling in the face of House -- Senate Judiciary Committee members asking him some pretty pointed questions. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), MINORITY MEMBER, SENATE COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY: -- when Congressman Crist asked you that question a few days later?

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I'm saying that this was -- the --

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), MINORITY MEMBER, SENATE COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY: But you don't recall for sure?

BARR: I --

BLUMENTHAL: Let me move on --

BARR: I could -- I can say --

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), MINORITY MEMBER, SENATE COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY: Has the President or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone?

BARR: I wouldn't -- I wouldn't --

HARRIS: Yes or no. BARR: Could you -- could you repeat that question?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: I mean, yes, let -- every time he was asked specifically about what seems to be, as Nia said earlier, willful misrepresentation at best as it relates to his answer to Charlie Crist -- and were you at all aware of dissatisfaction -- he did that, "uh, you know, why."

And there is a reason for that, because he is under oath. And he knows that if he says straight out, no, I never, he can't do that because of the penalties there. It seems to me there were obvious places where there were weaknesses -- ongoing investigations as it relates to the White House, his seeming contradiction in not telling the full truth when it came to whether or not he knew the Special Counsel was unhappy.

But I'm with Bianna. He is not going to -- let's say he appeared before the House today. He is not going to suddenly say, you know what, it's my bad, guys. I should have told Charlie -- I'm sorry about that. Is it -- is it cool?

Like, he's not -- he has said what he is going to say. And so in some ways, it's sort of -- you can keep beating that dead horse, but Bill Barr is not going further than he went yesterday.

BLITZER: We really want to hear from Mueller right now. We really want to hear from Don McGahn, the former White House Counsel. Let's see if they appear before Congress.

Coming up, a new report sheds light on the extraordinary steps the FBI took to probe suspicions that Russia had infiltrated the Trump campaign. But, first, which of the 21 Democrats running for the White House has the best chance of unseating President Trump? We have an exclusive new CNN poll.

[17:39:14] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A fascinating new CNN poll contains some mixed news for President Trump. Let's bring in our CNN political director David Chalian.

David, there's some good news for the President as far as the economy is concerned, but it's not necessarily translating into his overall job approval numbers.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: That's right, Wolf, but that -- those economic numbers are a big deal. Take a look at this.

President Trump is at 56 percent approval on his handling of the economy. And we know that that is a driving issue. And look at this over time. That 56 percent number is a high watermark. We have never, in CNN's polling history during the Trump presidency, seen the President this high on the economy.

But as you noted, that doesn't necessarily translate into his overall approval rating which is still quite under water -- 43 percent approve, 52 percent disapprove. I should note that 43 percent also near a high watermark. I mean, we haven't seen him that high in CNN polling since the first 100 days. And so it's a good moment for President Trump but not necessarily an ideal approval rating that you would want heading into a re-election.

BLITZER: And on these early numbers, hypothetical contests between the President and some of the Democratic challengers, he's been going after Biden a lot. But Biden might not necessarily be his only problem.

CHALIAN: No. I think these numbers show us a baseline and a quick snapshot against the top six Democrats that he's got a real challenge out of. Let's look at some of these numbers.

[17:45:01] Bernie Sanders besting him 50 percent to 44 percent. You mentioned Joe Biden. He is beating the President right now 51 percent to 45 percent. Take a look here at Pete Buttigieg. He is besting the President 47 percent to 44 percent. This is all within the poll's margin of error, by the way.

Kamala Harris, 49 percent to Donald Trump's 45 percent. Elizabeth Warren, actually, is the only Democrat of the top six who comes up, numerically, just one shy of the President. And it is Beto O'Rourke, the former Congressman from Texas, who is besting him 52 percent to 42 percent. Again, you're talking about a 5-1/2 percent margin of error.

What I am showing you is a baseline snapshot at the beginning of this race. This is going to be close, and the President has a big challenge ahead of him.

BLITZER: David Chalian, thank you very, very much. Coming up, new details emerging right now about a bizarre attack on North Korea's embassy in Spain and the U.S.-based activist accused of organizing it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:50:34] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news on the President's White House Counsel sending a scathing letter to the Attorney General, complaining Special Counsel Robert Mueller didn't do his job. I'll be talking with the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Mark Warner. That's coming up, his first T.V. interview since the Mueller report came out.

But there's other important news we're following first, new details emerging tonight of a bizarre attack on North Korea's embassy in Spain and the U.S.-based activist accused of organizing it. CNN's Brian Todd has been working the story for us.

Brian, lots of questions surrounding this case.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this case just keeps getting more bizarre at every turn. Tonight, the alleged ringleader of that raid is being hunted by U.S. Marshals. And for first time, we're hearing a startling claim from that man's lawyer about why his team went into that North Korean embassy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ADRIAN HONG, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST FOR NORTH KOREA: My name is Adrian Hong. I'm here --

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, Adrian Hong is on the run. His face is plastered on a U.S. Marshals' wanted poster and he's allegedly armed and dangerous. Hong, who strangely uses the name Oswaldo Trump as an alias, is accused of being the mastermind behind the bizarre raid on North Korea's embassy in Madrid on February 22nd.

According to court documents from prosecutors just unsealed in Los Angeles, U.S. and Spanish officials accused Hong and several others of breaking into the North Korean embassy using knives, iron bars, machetes, and fake guns.

They tied up embassy staff members and beat them, court documents allege, before making off in embassy vehicles with a stash of thumb drives, hard drives, computers, and at least one cell phone.

The North Koreans call it a grave terrorist attack. Spanish authorities have asked the U.S. to find and arrest Adrian Hong, but his lawyer tells CNN tonight the U.S. Marshals aren't the only people hunting for him.

LEE WOLOSKY, ATTORNEY FOR ADRIAN HONG: We know from credible sources that the North Korean government has -- is seeking Adrian Hong and some of his associates from the Provisional Government of Free Joseon and is seeking to target them for assassination.

HONG: And as a brutal totalitarian regime ruled by a real family --

TODD (voice-over): The goal of Hong's group, the Provisional Government of Free Joseon, is to overthrow Kim Jong-un's regime. U.S. authorities raided Hong's apartment last month, but he wasn't there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Police!

TODD (voice-over): His lawyer says Hong is scared for his life and that he denies roughing up anyone at the North Korean embassy. He says they were invited into the embassy that day, and he points to these surveillance photos of another member of the group entering.

Attorney Lee Wolosky says members of the group had contact with someone at the embassy in the days before the incident. But why would members of a group which wants to overthrow Kim Jong-un be invited into that embassy?

WOLOSKY: It is there where the defections generally occur. It is individuals who are posted outside of North Korea who, when given the opportunity, will choose to defect.

TODD (voice-over): So did they go to the embassy to help someone defect?

WOLOSKY: They have said that they were responding to an urgent situation in that embassy. And I really -- you know, out of the concern for the safety of some people who may still be in that embassy, I would prefer to just leave my answer for now at that.

TODD (voice-over): U.S. prosecutors now say Hong's group tried to get a top embassy official to defect but, quote, he would not betray or desert his country. Still, analysts say, Hong's group has succeeded in embarrassing the violent and vindictive North Korean dictator.

BRUCE KLINGNER, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: He would see it as a threat. I mean, he has assassinated or executed any number of senior officials that he saw or perceived to be a threat, so he would go after these members as much as he could.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Tonight, Hong's attorney is slamming the U.S. Justice Department for exercising warrants against Americans, he says, based on the accounts from North Korean officials. Justice officials promise the suspects will get due process -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, this embassy is now being hunted by U.S. Marshals, but didn't -- didn't he also meet with the FBI?

TODD: The ringleader of that raid, yes, he did, Wolf. Hong -- Adrian Hong shared material taken from the embassy with the FBI shortly after flying to the U.S. right after the raid, so he did come face-to-face with FBI agents not long ago. Then not long after that, the U.S. Marshals were after him. The FBI is not commenting on any of this.

BLITZER: The embassy raid suspect being hunted by U.S. Marshals right now. Brian Todd, thank you so much.

[17:54:52] Coming up, breaking news, more details emerging from the White House letter attacking the Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation in a moment. Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, joins me for his first T.V. interview since the Mueller report came out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Extraordinary defect. The White House blasts Robert Mueller's investigation and accusing -- accuses the Special Counsel of playing politics by failing to determine whether President Trump obstructed justice.

That's a crime. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accuses Attorney Gen3eral William Barr of lying to Congress in his testimony on the Mueller report as Barr refuses to show up for a House hearing. Will Democrats hold him in contempt?

[18:00:02] Clandestine meeting.