Barr is 'under pressure': ABC Chief Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas

The Powerhouse Roundtable discusses Attorney General Bill Barr on "This Week."
15:22 | 02/16/20

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Transcript for Barr is 'under pressure': ABC Chief Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas
Mr. Barr, the president does not like to be told what to do, he may not like what you're saying, are you prepared for those ramifications? Of course, as I said during my confirmation I came in to serve as attorney general and I'm not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody and I said it, whether it's congress, newspaper editorial boards or the president. Attorney general bill Barr in an unprecedented rebuke of president trump from a member of his sitting cabinet. It's anybody's guess how this plays out. Few are better informed than the man who got that exclusive interview, ABC news chief justice correspondent Pierre Thomas, joins the powerhouse roundtable this morning. Alongside associated press Washington bureau chief Julie pace, NPR white house correspondent Franco Ordonez, and Maryalice parks. Pierre, we want to start with you, your interview with the attorney general getting enormous attention this week with Barr saying the president's tweeting makes it impossible to do his job. What's your takeaway with what Barr said? And why he wanted to say it. The word pressure comes to mind. The job is to talk to people who like Barr and people who don't like Barr. If people who respect Barr and people who don't respect Barr. And the one key word they all said to me is he's under pressure. He had a week where he overruled the prosecutors who wanted to give Roger stone seven years to nine years in jail. Four of them left the case. One of them quit the justice department completely. Never seen that in all of the years covering the justice department and then you had the president tweeting over and over again about the case. At one point criticizing the judge. The attorney general had to do something, because to have respect in that building, the justice department you have to have some level of Independence from the white house. Were those in the justice department surprised by this and do they really buy what Barr said, or he's just trying to appease him? There was surprise because as you said, Barr is the first sitting cabinet level official to criticize the president in an interview. Openly in the way that he did. And he told him something that he didn't want the him to do. On the other hand there's some skepticism, because Barr's the president's guy, he believes in his policies. He's much more conservative than people believe. People were surprised because the president is the wild card. No one knows what he's going to do, is he going to take Barr's advice? If he does not, Barr will have to live with it or in a position where he may have to quit. Franco, we have already seen the president respond to the interview which we're told took the white house by surprise, as well. He tweeted, the president never asked me to do anything in a criminal case, A.G. Barr. This doesn't mean that I don't have as president the legal right to do so, I do, but I have so far chosen not to, so more about the reaction from the president. Well, I mean, the president is responding. He's speaking out. There are a lot of questions about whether this will have an impact on the president. So many Republicans came out in support of Barr, kind of rounded, you know, the fences, saying, look, listen to your attorney general, he's a good person, he's the guy you'd want. We'd love for the president to stop tweeting as much. But we have heard that before many, many times, and the president has not stopped tweeting. The fact that he tweeted again on Friday is another indication that he's not going to stop tweeting. So I think we're going to see in the next few weeks. I mean, he's going to continue to do this, Barr wants to show Independence, but we'll see what happens. And on that Independence note, Julie, attorney general Barr struck a critical tone at times during the interview still towing the party line, the change in the sentencing recommendation wasn't influenced by the president. Let's take a look. I could not support the seven to nine years and I didn't need anybody to tell me that seven years to nine years was an excessive sentence. You think I need the president's tweet to tell me that seven to nine years is excessive? So there still doesn't seem to be much daylight between Barr and the president. And this is why this isn't so black and white as a cabinet official pushing back at a president. Because president trump in Barr has the attorney general that he wants. This is an attorney general who believes that president have broad authority, that executive power is almost limitless. And president trump knows that, because he's seen bill Barr act on that recommendation. So, even though he had this public criticism which is something that the president wouldn't put up from most other people this attorney general has helped the president. And Pierre, on this, Andrew Mccabe, no charges against him. They're taking a second look at the case of Michael Flynn, hiring an outside prosecutor. It's all complicated. In the president's world he'd like to have seen Andrew Mccabe prosecuted to the fullest, that didn't happen. The same with former FBI director James Comey, the department of justice didn't that as well. On the Flynn case, there were some issues about how the FBI interrogated him that came up in court. So the fact that Barr is willing to lean in on that is not surprising to me because Barr has expressed questions about the origins of the Russia investigations and he has enormous authority to review whatever he wants to at the justice department. He can do it. But there's one problem -- I was at the courthouse when Michael Flynn agreed to plead guilty and he said over and over again, when asked, did you do this? Did you lie to the FBI? Asked again, was anyone pressuring to do this? He said he was not being pressured. I don't know how you resolve that. That's tough one to get around. I want to turn to 2020 which has dominated our weeks, our year, Maryalice parks, when you look at Iowa, New Hampshire, and leading into the caucus and debate on Wednesday, just go through your take on this. We forgot that Bernie Sanders came out of New Hampshire and this is a very big week for him as well. Look, it's all about who can be in position on super Tuesday, and that's only 15 days away from today, 30% of the delegates are up for grabs on that one day alone. Senator Bernie Sanders' team feels incredibly confident. They're looking at this national infrastructure that they have. They're going into Nevada, he has five-times of staff on the ground in Nevada compared to someone like Amy klobuchar. His team feels really good. I talked to a senior adviser yesterday who told me he thinks the senator is poised to pick up more delegates and more states on super Tuesday than anyone else. You heard senator klobuchar. When they talk about the candidacy is very positive about it, of course, one of the things that propelled her out of the New Hampshire at number three was her debate performance. That was compelling. So what does she do in this upcoming debate and everybody else's going to be looking for that moment as well? Well, this debate is going to be unlike any other we have seen, because it's likely Bloomberg is on that stage, and that changes the stakes for everyone. People like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, they're itching to go toe and toe with Bloomberg. Bernie Sanders has run the last four years against billionaires. You're exactly right. Everyone saw what happened to Amy klobuchar in New Hampshire. Liss Beth Warren's team in particular. They really took notes. I talked to one of the surrogates yesterday they're totally aware this upcoming debate is a sink or swim moment for her. Voters are waiting until the last minute to decide and they need to make an impression on that stage. Sanders won on Tuesday, but by a slim margin, no near the 22-point lead he had in 2016, you wrote this week, his narrow victory has raised concerns about his ability to broaden his coalition. What we've seen from Bernie Sanders, he has loyal base of supporters. What we haven't seen is an ability to broaden that out, to bring new people into his coalition. In some ways it's not surprising. Bernie Sanders doesn't change. He wants to bring people to him. He's not moving toward where other people are. The challenge he has is that his support could be very easily overtaken if moderates are able to coalesce one candidate. Of course, I think what he has going for voters aren't coalescing around one candidate. But one of Sanders' main arguments, Franco, is that he'll be able to energize, bring out nonvoters, does he have a point there? He's saying that and he can say bring out nonvoters, he didn't bring out as many as voters out in Iowa and new Hampshire as he did in 2016. He also said he can beat Donald Trump. He's kind of playing this electability card that others have played. But I think we'll find out whether he can do that in these other states because Iowa and New Hampshire are much different than Nevada and South Carolina. The mix of the population is so much different, Latinos are going to play a big role, 30% of the population in Nevada is Latino. African-Americans in south Carolina, 60% of the democratic delegation is African-American. So it's going to be -- it's a new ball game now, I'd argue. To that point, you and I, Pierre, we have been talking about this, former vice president Joe Biden has banking on support from African-American voters in South Carolina, do you think that fire wall as he calls it, in South Carolina is as strong as the Biden campaign says it is? I think he needs to win somewhere. The fact that he didn't do well in Iowa and New Hampshire, black voters, African-American voters are like all voters, they're very practical with their vote. They vote with their interests lie and they want to see someone who can beat Donald Trump. If you recall when Hillary Clinton was running against Barack Obama, I think before the primaries and caucuses, she was polling ahead of Barack Obama in the African-American community. He wins Iowa and wins in south And Maryalice, the moderates and the Progressives, when you looked at the polling numbers or the positions as they came out of New Hampshire, people were saying, Bernie got this, if you add together the three moderates, do voters look at at it that way? Voters don't look at it as some binary choice. I meet people who say Bernie's their first pick, Biden is their second pick, because they think both these men speak to the working class and feel authentic. I talked to a lot of women who say they're picking between the two women in top tier because they just want to vote for a woman. I think we'll see a lot more Bernie Sanders and mayor Bloomberg crossover voters. They might surprise Bloomberg. But they both have an independent streak. Some voters who are tired of both parties. I don't think that the average voter is experiencing this race as a binary choice. And beyond the binary choice issues, they may look at a woman and say we want a woman, or whatever, Franco, you reported this week that Jared Kushner has been working to revive trump's immigration system overhaul, is immigration a big issue for these democratic primary voters? It's a big issue. It will play a very big role in Nevada for example. This is a massive issue that immigrants have been pushing for, that Latinos have been pushing for, and I think in Nevada and on the debate stage in Phoenix, I think it's going to be very apparent that there are no Latinos, there's lack of minorities on this stage. That's an issue that could come up and Latino voters want to know what the Democrats are going to do for them and president trump is trying at least to say, look, this she what we're trying to do, the presentation, obviously president trump is taking a different tact in regards to immigration. He's right to reach out the business community at least saying we want to bring in more workers for you. Julie, we haven't talked too much about Pete buttigieg speaking of Latinos, has a new spanish-language ad running. He has a challenge running in front of him. Two strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire, overwhelming white states. And buttigieg has struggled with his record in South Bend on issues of policing, on issues that are important to minority communities and there's a lack of confident when he talks to minority voters and you hear it all all the time when you go then into the crowd and ask voters, they just don't think he's quite as comfortable. For his campaign to go on, and he has the money to do it, he needs to prove to Democrats that he can draw support from the core of this party. He has a big challenge in proving that he can carry that mantle forward. Pierre, the black voters I talked to in South Carolina, some of them are concerned about Michael Bloomberg, the stop and frisk, we talked to Amy klobuchar about her prosecution of a black teenager, so when they look at those issues, how important it is to black voters especially with stop and frisk with Michael Bloomberg? Extremely. Many African-American voters look at the empathy issue, can you put yourself in the position of African-Americans on this issue? At least early on, Bloomberg did not, he's now apologizing for it. But here's what I mean. If you're an African-American like I am and I have a son, even if he were living in a high-crime area I wouldn't want my son pulled over just because he's black and frisked. Because there's no evidence that he did anything wrong. And that's the issue, empathy. And Pete buttigieg said he has to make progress on this. Did that resonate? Is that enough to hear a candidate, look, I'm going to do better, or an Amy klobuchar? I think the African-American voters are still getting to know these people, they'll be absorbing a lot of information. We'll have to do our job to provide it. And they're all trying to change all that. Thanks very much to all of you.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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