JOHN KING (HOST): The attorney general of the United States, just moments ago, raining on the president's weekend parade. The president, we are told, while up at Camp David told many of his guests that he believes raising the issue of quote-unquote “Obamagate" is critical.
He wants Republicans in Congress to investigate even though there aren't any facts behind the president's assertions. Also he has been saying this is the crime of the century, but just moments ago, the attorney general -- Mr. Trump's attorney general, William Barr saying, not on my watch.
WILLIAM BARR (U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL): And we cannot allow this process to be highjacked by efforts to drum up criminal investigations of either candidate. And I'm committed that this election will be conducted without this kind of interference. Any effort to pursue an investigation of either candidate has to be approved by me.
Joining me now, CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod and the former Republican presidential candidate, former Republican senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum.
David Axelrod, I just want to start the segment by watching you on live television say that Donald Trump's attorney general Bill Barr did the right thing right there.
DAVID AXELROD (CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR): Well no, he did do the right thing. He didn't -- you know obviously there are other questions about how he's conducted but he's absolutely right that a contrived investigation for purposes of winning an election would be the wrong thing to do.
I mean, I remember the pressure that was on President Obama and the criticism that he took afterwards because he did not make a more of a public point about the -- the Russia investigation in the campaign of 2016 but his point after the fact was that he did not want to appear to be putting his thumb on the scale. And so I think that was the right approach. President Trump obviously has a different approach. But it's good that in this case the attorney general is standing up for the rule of law and the appropriateness of actions by the Department of Justice.
KING: And Sen. Santorum, to that point, the fact that the attorney general was asked the question, isn't that his boss's fault because the president constantly keeps saying Obamagate, Obamagate, Obamagate.
He blames President Obama and former Vice President Biden even though the intelligence community, when it sent up the documents to Congress, said nothing improper was done and all the request about Michael Flynn. Should the president dial it back?
RICK SANTORUM (CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR): Well, I think there's plenty of issues surrounding Obamagate that are legitimate issues that the prosecutor Durham and others are looking at, that Bill Barr is looking at.
But to the point of looking to Joe Biden or particularly Barack Obama in this case, I think is just inappropriate. We don't prosecute former presidents. And for the things that they did in office whether they were where they should have been or not, it doesn't matter. We just -- we just don't do that.
We didn't do it when George Bush was pressured by some conservatives to go after Bill Clinton for what he did. As you mentioned, there were people who were going after I'm sure Obama for saying Bush lied, he should be prosecuted for lying about going to war. There's always recriminations for previous presidents.
And we just have never gone down that path and we shouldn't go down this path in this case too. And there are other -- now there are other lower officials that if they did improper things like Jim Comey and others, yes, let's -- we need to investigate them. But we stay away from the Bidens and the Obamas and the Bushes and the Clintons.
KING: We should stay with -- in any of those examples we should stay with the facts. Go ahead.
AXELROD: Let me just -- because I know Rick probably misspoke and I just and I don't want -- I don't want him to leave here not having been corrected. The -- President Obama never said during the campaign or his presidency that President Bush lied and should be prosecuted and in fact it was President Obama who decided --
SANTORUM: No, I said he was pressured. He was pressured -- yes, he was pressured to do something is what I said.
AXELROD: -- that the members of the Bush administration should not be persecuted for decisions that were made relative to the war in Iraq. And that was a controversial decision with some Democrats. So I know that Rick didn't mean it, and he wants to get his facts straight.
KING: He said -- he said -- he said pressured by others. Sen. Santorum did say he felt pressure from others in the party. Let's in every case -- we should follow the facts in every case, whether it's a Democrat or Republican being investigated or doing the investigating, it would always help if we could just stick to facts. I know that's wishful thinking in the environment
Let me come back into the more political context though, to you first, David Axelrod. President Obama did give two virtual commencement speeches this weekend, in which he was very critical of the president of the United States, and President Trump fired back.
BARACK OBAMA (FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES): Doing what feels good, what's convenient, what's easy, that's how little kids think. Unfortunately a lot of so-called grown-ups, including some with fancy titles and important jobs, still think that way, which is why things are so screwed up.
DONALD TRUMP (PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES): Look, he was an incompetent president. That's all I can say. Grossly incompetent. Thank you.
KING: Help me understand, Rick Santorum's run for president, David Axelrod, you ran two successful presidential campaigns. To Mr. Axelrod first, how is this or does this matter in the 2020 campaign?
Is it just entertaining or does a Trump-Obama fight, if you will, impact a Trump-Biden race?
AXELROD: Well, look, I think that Obama is going to be campaigning for Biden and making the case for Biden and for change, as he did in 2018 during the midterm elections. And he's a popular figure and he will be valuable to Biden.
I think from the Trump side, they probably see this as a way to rile up and arouse their base, where anti-Obama-ism has always been a tried and true. The question is, do you overshoot the runway and drive people away who should be in your camp by suggesting things that are just now consonant with people's understanding of who Obama was.
KING: So, Sen. Santorum, where's the sweet spot then? Do you think this is helpful to the president or should he move on to something else?
SANTORUM: Well I mean, in this case, I mean, you have to give Barack Obama some of the credit here. I mean, he's the one that brought it up and caused the rebuke and the -- I think it was inappropriate for President Obama to do that. If you look at previous presidents, they have tacked away from being critical.
I mean, Barack Obama made a career of criticizing George Bush for the first four years and blaming him for the recession, and George Bush didn't say anything. And I -- and so I -- I understand Barack Obama is different, that he is more political, that he is going to get more involved, but I think there's a difference between getting involved and promoting your candidate Joe Biden than going out and attacking a president based on what his policies are. I think previous presidents have tended to stay away from that. Sort of disappointed that Barack Obama has gone there.
AXELROD: Well let me -- let me -- let me --
KING: We'll see --
AXELROD: -- just let me just say --
KING: Very quickly. Very quickly.
AXELROD: OK. Barack Obama never mentioned George Bush by name and we just talked about the fact that the president of the United States accused President Obama of a crime, part of a fusillade that began from the beginning of the administration, most of which President Obama hasn't responded to. So, Rick can't lean back on the precedence of the past, because this is this the president doesn't abide by the precedence of the past.