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Mueller Report Delivered to Justice Department; A.G. Barr Reviewing Mueller Report Now; Parts of the Mueller Report Could Be Held Back or Redacted; U.S.-Backed Forces Declare Victory Over ISIS in Syria; Hundreds of Thousands March for Second Brexit Referendum. Aired 12-1p ET
Aired March 23, 2019 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. I'm Fredericka Whitfield in Washington D.C. where right now the nation's attorney general is reading through Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, the culmination of 675 days of investigation. He will then decide how much of it will be released to U.S. Congress and the American people. The Attorney General, William Barr, says the principle conclusions of the Russia report could be released as early as today. We just saw him leaving his Virginia home and shortly after arriving at the Department of Justice where he continues to review that report.
Arriving right after him, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, while details of Mueller's report remain a mystery, we do know one major headline. A senior justice official says there will be no further indictments from the special counsel. Right now President Trump is golfing at his club in West Palm Beach, Florida. He's spending the weekend at Mar-A-Lago surrounded by top staffers and key members of his legal team. So far there has been an unusual silence from the president on the Mueller report, but the White House is already privately framing it as a win for President Trump.
And in just a few hours House democrats will huddle for a phone call to discuss the latest developments. CNN's team of reporters and analysts have been covering this story very closely for 22 months now, and they are standing by to bring you details of everything you need to know.
So, let's begin with Congressional Correspondent Sunlen Serfaty live on Capitol Hill. So Sunlen, what can we expect to come out of this conference call with House democrats later today?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is such an important moment for House democrats, Fred. They are essentially today getting prepared. They will convene a conference call with the entire House democratic caucus a little bit around 3:00 p.m., just a few hours, Eastern time where they're going to be talking to leaders and the committee chairmen, important people to talk to and such base about where this is going over the next 24 - 48 hours. Not only preparing to potentially receive that new information from the attorney general that could come as soon as today, but also to preparing for what many admit will be a very long, and very tense and fierce battle ahead over what exactly is made available to the public and what exactly is made available to Capitol Hill. We have heard very quickly from many democrats saying that they want not only the full Mueller report released to them but especially and notably the underlying documents -- the supporting evidence that Mueller used in his investigation. Listen to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) NEW YORK: Now that Special Counsel Mueller has submitted his report to the attorney general, it is imperative for Mr. Barr to make the full report public and provide its underlying documentation and findings to Congress. Attorney General Barr must not give President Trump, his lawyers or his staff any sneak preview of Special Counsel Mueller's findings or evidence.
SERFATY: Now, the push to release the full report is a sentiment that many republicans up here on Capitol Hill share as well, notably the top republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Congressman Doug Collins. He called for the entire report to be released. He says, quote, "I expect DOJ to release the special counsel's report to this committee and public without delay and to the maximum extent permitted by law."
And there's certainly up here on Capitol Hill, Fred, will also be a push very likely for Robert Mueller to come here and testify, for the attorney general to come here and testify, so we'll see of course where that goes in the days, weeks and months ahead. But at this very moment essentially Capitol Hill is in a waiting pattern, just holding, waiting for the new information from the attorney general.
WHITFIELD: Also, Sunlen, we're learning that President Trump's son-in- law, Jared Kushner, has agreed to provide records to the House Judiciary Committee relating to its obstruction of justice probe. What can you tell us on that?
SERFATY: That's right, Fred, and this is significant and notably this is a different investigation outside of the Mueller investigation, one of the many on Capitol Hill. Jared Kushner has agreed to - and this is according to my colleague Gloria Borger and Manu Raju, he's agreed to provide the documents requested by the House Judiciary Committee. Chairman Nadler, as well as Jared Kushner, and as well as many, many other people in the Trump orbit to turn over what they have, documents related to potentially in terms of Kushner's case, related to his time on the campaign the transition and certainly his time at the White House as a senior advisor to President Trump. This is a good reminder that while we're talking about the Mueller report ending, the investigations on Capitol Hill certainly are not.
WHITFIELD: All right Sunlen Surfaty, on the Hill. Thank you so much.
So as speculation swirls around what's in the Mueller report, the first family is spending the weekend at MarA-Lago and so far President Trump has remained silent. National correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is near Trump's Mar-A-Lago resort in West Palm Beach this afternoon. Suzanne, nothing directly from the president today. We saw him arrive at his golf club this morning and at dinner last night seemingly very relaxed.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's amazing that we haven't seen anything from his twitter account. Everybody keeps checking periodically of course and whether or not there's any movement in Mar- A-Lago. You would look at the pictures and maybe it looks like a normal weekend but it is anything but normal.
We did see the president and his motorcade extensively reading a newspaper, holding a newspaper as he entered into his club. He is now golfing we have confirmed and that is a normal activity. But what is not normal is the entourage that is around him, his legal team, two press secretaries as well as a chief strategist and attorney Emmet Flood. He is the one who is responsible for the messaging and the reaction of the White House once they learn what is inside of the Mueller report.
So far, nothing from the president, but we did see a couple of signs last night that he was, in fact, meeting at Mar-A-Lago with Mr. Flood, that they were seen speaking with each other privately. We also saw the president at a major fundraiser - a republican fundraiser close to the estate there and he did not speak but he introduced what he called his real friend, Senator Lindsey Graham.
Lindsey Graham went all in in terms of the investigation and criticizing, saying that one of the key documents that was integral in this investigation was a piece of garbage in his words. He mentioned Hillary Clinton as well as classified information to which the crowd, the audience there erupted in the "lock her up, lock her up" chant there.
That is how that all played out. It gives you a sense of where he's going and where his supporters are going with the reaction here. The president over the last two years insisting, Fred, up until yesterday that this is all a witch hunt and a hoax, that type of thing. His press Secretary Sanders, she emphasized here that the process will play out with the attorney general, that they do not yet have this report. They're still waiting for that but there are so many different ways they could go. Many of them spinning that this is going to be a positive development but we still have to wait and see. Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right, Suzanne Malveaux, thank you so much I appreciate it.
Let's check in with CNN's Jessica Schneider at the Justice Department. The attorney general looking over the report for the last 24 hours now. What are you looking for when it comes to these principle conclusions? What does that mean?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, this is essentially going to be a summary of this confidential report that the Special Counsel Robert Mueller, submitted to the attorney general late yesterday afternoon. We do know that Attorney General Bill Barr, he reviewed it yesterday for a few hours but he was back at it. He's at the Justice Department now.
He arrived here just before 10:00 this morning. He was followed closely behind when entering the DOJ complex by the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. So he is reviewing that now. We don't know how long it could take. We haven't received any guidance as to when he may actually be moving into that portion where he writes up these principle conclusions and submits them to Congress and also releases them to the public.
Now, we have heard from an aide to Senator Dianne Feinstein and the members of Congress, they're expecting that this will, in fact, be only in writing, that there will be no in-person briefing and these conclusions could actually be submitted to them by the attorney general via e-mail. So that's all percolating now. We don't have any exact idea on the timing here, but we do know that as part of this review, the attorney general is reviewing this confidential report.
We know that he's consulting with the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, as well as special counsel Mueller. Here's what he wrote to Congress yesterday. He said, "I intend to consult with Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and Special Counsel Mueller to determine what other information from the report can be released to Congress and public consistent with the law, including the special counsel regulations and the department's long-standing practices and policies."
Of course, even though this special counsel investigation is over, Robert Mueller is actually still special counsel. He'll remain in that role at least for the next few days as this officially wraps up. One thing, Fredericka, we do know definitively here because the attorney general has told Congress, we do know that there were no instances where either Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein or acting attorney general at the time Matt Whitaker or even Attorney General Barr, there were no instances where they put the kibosh on anything that Mueller's team wanted to do.
That was spelled out quite explicitly right at the top of this letter to congress late yesterday afternoon. I'll read it in part.
[12:10:15] It says, "The special counsel regulations require that I provide you with a description and explanation of instances, if any, in which the attorney general or acting attorney general concluded that a proposed action by the special counsel was so inappropriate or unwarranted under established department practices that it should not be pursued." And the attorney general here telling Congress, "There were no such instances."
So there was nothing that Robert Mueller's team came to the Department of Justice with that was actually declined. So that's pretty -- pretty pertinent, pretty important, as well.
So Fredricka, the attorney general working hard here. This could be a swift turnaround. He just got the report, the confidential report, late yesterday afternoon. Back at it at the Department of Justice this morning, arriving just before 10 a.m. And who knows? It could be as soon as today, but definitely the attorney general looking to get these principle conclusions to Congress and, in turn, out to the public, as well, at some point this weekend. So we watch and we wait -- Fredericka.
FREDERICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: We do indeed. All right. Jessica Schneider, thank you so much.
Let's talk more about all this now. With me now, CNN political correspondent Sara Murray; CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin, a former federal prosecutor who was Robert Mueller's former special assistant at the DOJ; and assistant editor for "The Washington Post" and CNN political commentator, David Swerdlick. Good to see all of you.
All right. So Michael, we keep hearing, you know, these principle conclusions; and we're also hearing, you know, from a DOJ aide that this report was very comprehensive coming from Robert Mueller. Wouldn't that be expected, that after 22 months, there's going to be a comprehensive report; but then really, what does that mean for us?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So it appears from the word "comprehensive" that Mueller didn't write a skeletal, "I declined and there was no evidence. That's the end of my report." It seems as if he was fulsome in the narrative. That's what I read the word "comprehensive" to mean.
I expect, though, that he gave a skinny executive summary of what it is that the principle conclusions will be based upon. I believe that Rosenstein and Mueller have been working on this for a while, that this is not something that just arrived to the Justice Department yesterday for the first time and is catching them all by surprise. I believe that Mueller and Rosenstein, logically, would have been working on this and that they are now sort of finetuning that executive summary so that it can be passed forward without there being anything classified, government-protected like grand jury, and executive privilege protected.
WHITFIELD: So Sara, that would make sense, then, that Rosenstein would be there with Barr to -- you know, at the DOJ to go over these comprehensive notes, to go over these, you know, conclusions. How is he assisting him, Rosenstein, likely?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, you have to look at, you know, what has been happening at the DOJ the last couple of years. There's been a lot of turmoil, you know? So Rod Rosenstein has really been there from the beginning.
WHITFIELD: He's been the constant.
MURRAY: He has been the constant throughout this, you know. And so he can really walk Bill Barr through how Mueller has been doing this work, what the primary conclusions were, you know, some of the decision-making, because he's been in constant contact. He's been overseeing Robert Mueller from the beginning of this investigation, despite all of the chaos that's been going on around it. And so I think that's why he's playing such an important role today.
WHITFIELD: Almost acting as a translator? MURRAY: Yes, a little bit. You know, Bill Barr is brand-new to this
job, and obviously, he knew what he was walking into. He knew this report was going to come out on his watch. But Rod Rosenstein can walk him through that and translate that.
And I think that Michael Zeldin is completely correct that, you know, Bob Mueller is not immune to the conversation that's been going on in Washington. He's not immune to the fact that Congress wanted to see -- they want to see the entire report, but they certainly want more information rather than less. And I'm sure he took that into account when trying to come up with this summary of his conclusions.
I don't think Bill Barr showed up at the Justice Department this morning and decided, "I've got to write out these top conclusions and put them out to Congress today."
WHITFIELD: Right. And it looks like Mueller is the one who actually came up with these principle conclusions, his recommendation.
So David, we're talking about 22 months investigation, 675 days. And this investigation has hung over the president and his administration all of this time.
It has netted, you know, some pretty significant results: 199 criminal counts, 37 people and companies charged, 29 of them Russian. Seven people have pleaded guilty, 5 sentenced to prison. And among some of these people caught in this probe, Trump associates.
So can the president claim this a political and legal victory, even if we're talking about no additional indictments? You know, there are going to be recommendations, details that come from this report.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I think the president will claim this as a victory, and I think that actually explains, in part, why we haven't heard from him that much on his Twitter this Saturday morning like we often do on Saturday morning.
The narrative that's at least gelling on the conservative, the Republican side is that this is a win, even if a narrow win, for the president, because no further indictments come out with this report and because, again, we don't know what's in the principle conclusions. But the sense is, is that we know already a lot of what's in this report.
[12:15:16] And the president will be able to sort of let this marinate over the weekend as a narrative that he's not the subject of a criminal charge. He obviously can't be indicted because of DOJ regulations and that he will just let us talk about it, let it play out and then later, Monday morning, he'll probably be able to have something to say about this, combine this with his victory in -- over ISIS over the weekend, or at least the coalition victory over ISIS. And I think the president sees this as a win; let's go golfing.
WHITFIELD: But Sara, at the same time, you know, there are some details in there that Congress will be pouring over. It still could invite further investigation. I mean, there may not be more indictments coming out of it, but Congress still has a role.
MURRAY: Right. First of all, Congress is going to want an answer about how Bob Mueller viewed President Trump in all of this. You cannot indict a sitting president. That's the DOJ guidelines. But they're going to want to know. You know, if Donald Trump was Joe Schmoe on the street, would you have found evidence to bring an indictment against him?
And I don't know how Bob Mueller is going to square that or how he's going to be able to answer that, but certainly, he knows that that's a question that they're going to want answered out of that report.
In addition, you just ran through a list of all of these charges. I mean, it has been, in that sense, a comprehensive investigation.
WHITFIELD: Yes, it's not a nothing.
MURRAY: No. Roger Stone is about to go to trial, the president's longtime political advisor. Michael Cohen, the president's longtime lawyer and fixer, is going to jail. Paul Manafort is sitting in jail. Rick Gates, you know, a deputy, high up on the campaign, is awaiting his sentence. And we learned, you know, there were 16 Trump associates who had contacts with Russians and, instead of reporting those contacts to the FBI at the times they should have, they instead lied about them.
So it's not like Donald Trump can point to this report and say, "Me and all of my associates are completely clean; we're completely blameless here."
WHITFIELD: And still unanswered, what was all the lying about? We still don't really know.
All right. We're going to have you back. We still have so much more to talk about. Sara, Michael, and David, thank you so much.
Stay with us. Of course, we'll continue this discussion. But first, we've got this breaking news, this being out of London.
Hundreds of thousands of people filling the streets right there in protest of Brexit, Britain's vote to leave the European Union. They are demanding a second referendum.
CNN's Hadas Gold is live for us now in London. It's a significant turnout.
HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred, there's been a huge turnout here. Organizers say that they estimate one million protestors took to the streets of central London. They started from Hyde Park and worked their way through some of the most important streets of London and ending up here in Parliament Square, just outside of the houses of Parliament, where the members have been trying to sort out this Brexit mess for some time.
The people at this protest are demanding that they have a say. They want to have a second referendum, a vote on whether they agree with Theresa May's Brexit deal that she's negotiated with the European Union, that she's having so much trouble to get Parliament to approve, or whether they cancel Brexit altogether.
Most people here voted to remain. They're pro-European Union; they're pro-immigration, and they say that Brexit was sold to them on a bill of lies.
There's a lot of anger here, a lot of anger towards Theresa May. They're hoping that there will be a series of indicative votes this week that will hopefully put forth the possibility that there will be that second referendum that they so want, Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right. Hadas Gold, thank you so much. We'll check back with you there in London.
Meantime, back here in the U.S., the Russia investigation, well, it may be over and now pressure is on, however, for the man who controls how much of the information from that report goes public. So what will the U.S. attorney general, Bill Barr's, next move be? Our breaking news continues.
[12:2:50] WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. We continue with our breaking news. I'm Fredericka Whitfield in Washington, D.C.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report is now in the hands of the U.S. Attorney General William Barr. At this hour, he is at the Department of Justice, continuing to review the report, and says he may hand over the, quote, "principle conclusions" to lawmakers as soon as this weekend but no further indictments will be coming.
Back with me, Sara Murray, Michael Zeldin and David Swerdlick. Good to see you all back. Thanks so much.
So Michael, the attorney general has said in the past that he, you know, quote, "wants this to be as transparent as possible," but do you see that he will editorialize in any way the release of any details, similar to that which we saw with Jim Comey on the release of a report with Hillary Clinton?
ZELDIN: Right. I think not. I think that Mueller will not make the same mistake or follow the same path that Comey did, which is to say Comey said, "I found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, but let me give you an editorial comment on what I think was sloppy, reckless sort of behavior." I don't think you'll get from Mueller the editorial. I think you'll just get the facts: "I looked at this, and this is what I found," which makes it easier for Barr to take that in whole cloth and say, "The findings of the attorney general" -- rather, the findings of Mueller, "I as attorney general, finding of Mueller is this." Nobody found excessive sloppiness or anything like that.
So I think we're going to get a clean recommendation from Mueller, passed through Barr.
WHITFIELD: So David, Congress, the American people might get a portion of, if not all of the principal conclusions, but of course, members of Congress want all of it. They want the entire report --
WHITFIELD: -- so that they can make whatever editorial judgment or determine what's next, how their role of oversight should kick in.
SWERDLICK: Yes, exactly. So far, this process in the early stages has played out as it has supposed to. The special counsel regs require the confidential report to go from Special Counsel Mueller to the attorney general. That's happened. The attorney general has signaled that he's going to give a portion of this, the principal findings, to Congress. That's according to the regs.
But he can, the attorney general, give the entire information to the Congress and to the American people if he wants. He's not required to, but he is allowed to.
[12:25:08] And I think, to your point about Comey, right, with -- with Special Counsel Mueller in this case, he's the guy that both sides wanted to be sort of a neutral arbiter in this.
On the other hand, I do think, if you look back on what FBI Director Comey did with the Clinton investigation and with other investigations, even though he was criticized by both sides at different times, we at least had a window into his thinking on all these cases. The American people knew, disagree or not, what he was doing. And I think ultimately, we in the media and the American people want to know what happened here.
WHITFIELD: And so Sara, now a big test: how does the executive branch, DOJ, Congress work together, work against each other? What's next here? Who gets the upper hand, essentially?
MURRAY: Work together, that's a cute thought.
You know, I think obviously, they're going to get the sort of top-line conclusions and then we're really going to see Congress pushing for more. I mean, we have seen both Republicans and Democrats say that they want to see the full report.
I think that, you know, one of the concerns within the Justice Department is the precedent they may have set with Hillary Clinton's e-mail investigation. This was a situation where they declined to bring charges against someone, someone you know, lower on the totem pole than the president, but they still made public an extraordinary amount of amount of information.
People went to the Hill. They testified. They provided, you know, an extraordinary amount of documents to lawmakers. And I think that you are going to see members of Congress, even though they hated that in the context of Hillary Clinton, the Democrats did, you're going to see them try to push for that when it comes to this investigation and say why would -- why can you get all that stuff when we're talking about Hillary Clinton, but we can't get that stuff when we're talking about the president, or his allies or his family members?
MURRAY: And so I think you're going to see a fight.
WHITFIELD: So Congress will want the full report. If they don't get it, Michael, they'll likely subpoena for it. At the same time, they could subpoena Bob Mueller. I mean, his job is over, special counsel, now. He's over. He's, you know, a free citizen.
WHITFIELD: Can he be subpoenaed?
ZELDIN: He can be subpoenaed. I think that Congress wants not only the report but all the underlying documentation that gave rise to the report, because they want to be able to read that and make, to David's point, their own conclusions, their own editorial comments on it. And yes, they can bring in Mueller, theoretically, ask him --
WHITFIELD: Could he refuse?
ZELDIN: -- what was the basis -- well, he could be held in contempt if he refused as a private citizen. I don't think he has that prerogative. I don't know, for certain, as a former DOJ employee, whether you have prerogatives in that way. I don't think so. So he may have to answer the question, what gave you the, you know, information that led you to conclude this? And that's what it will be.
SWERDLICK: Yes, I --
WHITFIELD: Last word, David.
SWERDLICK: Obviously, this month -- and you've reported this a lot, Sara, that Congress voted 420 to nothing, this month that -- this is both sides of the aisle -- that they want to see the full report and that they want the public to have this information.
Imagine the reverse logic on this. If you were Attorney General Barr, to come out this weekend and say, "We've done this for almost two years. We've put all these resources into it. We can't tell you what we found out. This is premium content. You don't have a subscription."
MURRAY: You paid $25 million in your taxpayer dollars.
SWERDLICK: They -- it would just fly in the face of common sense. The American people are the ultimate judge and jury.
WHITFIELD: All right. We'll see if, indeed, that could potentially come. All right. Appreciate it, Sara, David, Michael. Appreciate it.
WHITFIELD: All right. The Mueller report is in the hands of the U.S. attorney general, but significant questions remain. Did President Trump obstruct justice, and what was the extent of the Trump campaign contacts with Russia?
[12:33:07] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. As we wait for details on the principal conclusions in the Mueller report which could be released at any point this weekend, there are a series of questions that have shadowed the presidency for the last two years as this investigation has gone on.
CNN's Tom Foreman has more.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What did Donald Trump know and when did he know it? Those are the top questions that could be answered by the Mueller probe. U.S. intelligence agencies have long said Russians hacked computers, spread fake news stories, and more trying to help Trump win.
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: It should be clear to everyone that Russia brazenly interfered in your 2016 presidential election process.
FOREMAN: Trump has steadily questioned that assessment.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I mean, it could be Russia but it could also be China.
FOREMAN: And he's insisted even if it happened, he was not involved.
TRUMP: There was no collusion at all.
FOREMAN: But the investigation has put other key questions into play. Did Donald Trump Jr. and other campaign officials have more contact with Russians than previously known? Did Don Jr. tell his father about that meeting at Trump Tower as former Trump attorney Michael Cohen thinks he overheard?
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: I remember Mr. Trump saying, OK, good, let me know.
FOREMAN: And was there more to that meeting than an unfulfilled promise of dirt on Hillary Clinton?
DONALD TRUMP JR., DONALD TRUMP'S SON: It went nowhere and it was apparent that that wasn't what the meeting was about.
FOREMAN: The Mueller report could shed light on whether any Trump associates played a part in the theft or released of damaging Democratic e-mails. On how or if the alleged relationship between the Russians, WikiLeaks, Roger Stone, and the White House came to be. Whether the Russians had compromising information on Trump.
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: It's possible but I don't know.
FOREMAN: And most importantly, the report could tell if Trump was involved or tried to hide anything, obstructing justice.
TRUMP: I did nothing wrong. There was no collusion. There was no obstruction.
[12:35:00] FOREMAN: Other big questions, why didn't Mueller interview Trump, and who else was involved, and what else? In indictments, Mueller has hinted at improprieties without naming names, who might have helped Michael Flynn decide what to tell Russians about new sanctions from the Obama team during the transition?
TRUMP: There's been no president ever as tough as I have been on Russia.
FOREMAN: And lastly, what comes next? Democrats have been treading gingerly around the question of impeachment while awaiting the completion of the Mueller probe. They've also pressed for a full release of the results, which could supercharge congressional investigations. Mueller has referred some cases to other parts of the Justice Department for further scrutiny.
Furthermore, and don't forget, even if Trump rolls out pardons for some of his old cronies, top targets of Mueller, those would have no impact on state investigations which could follow if the Mueller report points the way.
WHITFIELD: Tom Foreman, thank you so much.
All right, still ahead, the U.S. attorney general says he could release some findings from the Mueller report to Congress as soon as today. But could concerns over classified information within the report keep it from going public?
[12:40:19] WHITFIELD: It isn't clear yet how much of the Mueller report could remain secret because some of his conclusions may be based on classified intelligence. Even the near-unanimous House vote calling for the full release left a narrow window for redactions that could be related to classified material, possible counterintelligence operations, or even grand jury materials.
I want to bring in Samantha Vinograd, she is a former senior adviser to the -- national security adviser under President Obama and a CNN national security adviser, and Jonathan Wackrow who is a former Secret Service agent and a CNN law enforcement analyst. Good to see you first.
All right, so Samantha, you first, you know, what exactly could be or should be held back because of concerns over classified information?
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, there is a balance between transparency and national security risk. And from a national security perspective, the full release of an -- of the report without any redactions to the public could result in grave national security risk on at least two fronts. In the first instance, counterintelligence investigations rely on classified sources and methods. These are assets and mechanisms that are used to gather information. By releasing their names or -- and by releasing the tradecraft, you put those sources and methods at risk.
And second, Fred, we have the issue of an ongoing investigation. Special Counsel Mueller was looking at interference in the 2016 election. That was his mandate. We know that Russia is still attacking our country.
It is very possible that foreigners, for example, that are named in the special counsel report and any underlying documents that haven't been charged as part of the special counsel investigation may still be targets of an ongoing counterintelligence investigation. If we were to release their names, that could expose them and really hinder those ongoing investigative efforts.
WHITFIELD: Right. Separate from the Mueller intelligence reporting. So Jonathan, if some of these materials, you know, are held back from public release, is that something that could still be seen by the Judiciary Committee or the so-called, you know, Gang of Eight senators?
JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, listen, yes, it is. But I think it's really important for the viewers to understand how unique this reporting is by Mueller. You know, it's what I refer to as a convergence of the three Cs, criminal, counterintelligence, and Congress. Information that's contained in each one of those components of Mueller's activity does have a classified, you know, component to it. You know, as Sam just mentioned, from a counterintelligence standpoint, the sources and methods.
I mean, this is ongoing. We absolutely know that there's foreign adversaries who are trying to influence the 2020 election. So is that information contained within the written report, but more importantly is it in the underlying documents.
Also, it needs to be noted that we have -- you know, the activity by the DOJ in terms of criminal activity is still ongoing. We have to have the sentencing of Flynn. We have, you know, Roger Stone who's going to be prosecuted in the fall. So, all of this activity, you know, there's a potential for classified information to be in -- contained within the report as well.
All of this feeds into ongoing congressional investigations. So with that, yes, there's a ton of potential classified information here. Members of Congress should have the ability to view what those classified aspects are. However, disclosure could have, you know, far-reaching ramifications on national security.
WHITFIELD: And Samantha, you know, back to those other, you know, counterintelligence operations that are underway, there's already been acknowledgment again from the intelligence community that Russia may be at it again for 2020. How much of a fear is there or potential danger of, you know, giving away information by publicizing too much in these ongoing operations? VINOGRAD: There's a huge danger, and I really want to stress as well that we have the Mueller report that is being -- it's being litigated right now whether it should go to Congress. But the Department of Justice also has a legal requirement to keep Congress fully and currently informed. That's the terminology that's used about ongoing investigations and intelligence matters so that Congress can conduct their oversight responsibilities.
Based upon that, we should actually expect the Department of Justice to keep relevant committees, whether it's the Intelligence Committees or the Judiciary Committees briefed on the ongoing threat from Russia and ongoing activities in that respect. The House and Senate Intel and Judiciary Committees are continuing their probes more generally including why the administration continues to do things that help Russia's attack on our country. And that really raise eyebrows from a counterintelligence perspective like, for example, President Trump's refusal to turn over transcripts to Congress regarding his meetings with President Putin.
[12:45:07] WHITFIELD: And Jonathan, you know, the president has made it really clear that he hasn't respected, you know, the Intel community on a number of levels, but particularly in the Russia interference with the 2016 election. So, if this administration does embrace this report as, how, if at all, does this repair, you know, that fractured relationship between the president and the Intel community?
WACKROW: Listen, I think the relationship is always going to be fractured. I don't think this report, even if they come out and say, yes -- I mean, it's just a moment in time, I don't think that you know, the president or members of the administration really appreciate the hard work that, you know, the CIA community does every single day to, you know, defend the United States. I mean, the information that's contained within this report, I mean, really -- again, I refer to the underlying documents, the sources and methods. You know, if that information does come out, that could be, you know, damaging to, you know, long-term national security issues that, you know, transcend well beyond this administration.
WHITFIELD: Jonathan Wackrow, Samantha Vinograd, good to see you both. Thank you so much.
WACKROW: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: All right, still ahead, coalition forces say they have defeated ISIS in Syria, driving the terror group from its stronghold. How weeks of fierce fighting finally came to an end? And what happens next?
And a new episode of the CNN original series "The Bush Years" premieres tomorrow. Here's a sneak peek.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please raise your right hand and repeat after me. I George Walker Bush do solemnly swear. GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I George Walker Bush do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States. So help me God.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the first time since John Quincy Adams in 1825, a president's son reaches the White House.
NEIL BUSH: I know mom and dad have expressed that even greater than being president is watching your own son being sworn in as president. It was a joyful moment for the whole family but especially for mom and dad.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is that iconic photo where he goes to the Oval Office for the first time as president and his father joined him, and his father said hello, Mr. President. And he said back to his father, hello, Mr. President. It was an extraordinary day in that family.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Tune in tomorrow. "The Bush Years" airs at 10:00 p.m. right here on CNN.
[12:52:14] WHITFIELD: That was the marching band in Eastern Syria playing the American national anthem and celebrating the announcement by the U.S.-backed Syrian forces that they have fully liberated Syria from ISIS. But as the Syrian defense forces raise liberation flags over the final ISIS stronghold, it's a victory that can only resonate so far. The breeding ground and ideology of ISIS still thrives.
CNN's Ben Wedeman has been on the ground in Syria now for the past 50 days. So Ben, what does this mean that the ISIS caliphate has been defeated in that portion of Syria?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly means that it's a major setback for the ideology upon which ISIS was based. For a few years going back to 2014 in June, when ISIS took over Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, there was a feeling that they were unstoppable, that they were fighting armies that were corrupt and basically incompetent. And I was in Iraq as they were taking one major Iraqi city after another while they were expanding in Syria as well. So the removal of that certainly has led many to breathe a sigh of relief.
However, the problem is that the fertile soil upon which ISIS grew and thrived is still there, and that is the autocratic regimes that spread across the Middle East that their prisons are basically a breeding ground for people who are disillusioned, who have been tortured, who have experienced corruption which is rife throughout this part of the world. And therefore, until those problems are addressed, you will always have those who go to the extreme, to the most fanatical solutions that might be out there and that's what ISIS represents. There are, for instance, young Egyptians who took part in the revolution there in January of 2011, had hopes in that revolution became disillusioned and joined ISIS and moved to Syria or Iraq. And so unless that situation is changed, I'm afraid that we may not be far from the emergence of ISIS 2.0.
WHITFIELD: And now, what's next if ISIS, you know, gone in that stronghold of Syria?
WEDEMAN: Well, certainly in the short term the concern is sleeper cells, ISIS sleeper cells, which are active in many parts of Syria as well as Iraq.
[12:55:03] Now, ISIS grew out of the vacuum that was created by the Syrian uprising that began in March of 2011, and it also thrived down the anger and frustration in Iraq caused by the sectarian nature of the government there. So you have the problem in both of these countries of these sleeper cells which are very active not in the areas ruled by ISIS but very much throughout the country. And in fact, near one town we were staying, one day there were two suicide car bombings, killing 14 people, claimed by ISIS. So if opportunities aren't created, if reconstruction doesn't happen, ISIS will find a way and come back.
WHITFIELD: All right, Ben Wedeman, thank you so much for that.
All right, still to come, more on the breaking news. U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr set to brief Congress as soon as this weekend on the initial findings of Special Counsel Bob Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. We're back in a moment.