Return to Transcripts main page
Trump Claims Complete and Total Exoneration; Official: Trump's Camp "Thrilled" by Mueller Report Conclusions; House Judiciary Chairman Says Committee Will Call A.G. Barr to Testify; Special Counsel and DOJ Deliberated Seeking Subpoena for Trump. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired March 24, 2019 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Thanks very much for joining us. Our breaking news coverage continues right now with my colleague Ana Cabrera in New York.
ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: It is 7:00 p.m. Eastern, 4:00 in the afternoon out West. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
Our breaking news this hour, President Trump, in his words, complete and total exoneration. That is his reaction to the Robert Mueller investigation that spent nearly two years looking for collusion and, according to the Justice Department, did not find it. Here is the President just a short time ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So after a long look, after a long investigation, after so many people have been so badly hurt, after not looking at the other side where a lot of bad things happened, a lot of horrible things happened, a lot of very bad things happened for our country, it was just announced there was no collusion with Russia.
The most ridiculous thing I've ever heard, there was no collusion with Russia. There was no obstruction and none whatsoever. And it was a complete and total exoneration.
It's a shame that our country had to go through this. To be honest, it's a shame that your president has had to go through this for -- before I even got elected, it began. And it began illegally. And hopefully, somebody is going to look at the other side.
This was an illegal takedown that failed. And hopefully, somebody is going to be looking at the other side. So it's complete exoneration. No collusion, no obstruction. Thank you very much. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: An illegal takedown that failed. Sources tell CNN the President was in very high spirits today after he learned of Attorney General William Barr's conclusions from the still-classified final Mueller report.
Now, Barr says this long investigation did not come up with evidence that the President or people close to him, a, worked with Russia to knowingly change the outcome of the 2016 election or, b, committed obstruction of justice. Here are Barr's words -- quoting Robert Mueller here -- while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.
And there's something else we've just learned. Sources familiar with the Special Counsel's investigation now say that there was considerable discussion about issuing a subpoena for President Trump to be interviewed. Ultimately, the decision was to not move forward with that.
Now, we have CNN reporters and analysts covering every angle of this story this evening. This hour, reports from the White House to Capitol Hill. Let's get right to CNN's Kaitlan Collins starting us off in Washington.
Kaitlan, you have new information on the President's mood?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Ana. We're learning how it was that the President learned about all of this. Now, we're told that the President had been expressing some restraint, some caution over the weekend while down in Palm Beach, not sure what was going to happen today.
But then Pat Cipollone and Emmet Flood, those two White House lawyers, briefed the President after Bill Barr's Chief of Staff called Emmett Flood this afternoon to deliver a readout of the key findings that Barr was going to send to Congress and then make public.
Now, we're told by the Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley that when the President first got that briefing from those two lawyers, he said, quote, this is very good. Hogan told reporters on the flight back from Air Force One that the President was in a very good mood, and that he is, quote, very happy with how it all turned out.
Now, that good mood kept on going from Mar-a-Lago to Air Force One where I'm told by sources it was a very jovial flight back to Washington. They just landed, and they are now on their way back to the White House where the President could speak with reporters there and answer some more questions.
Now, on that flight back, Ana, we're told that the President was making calls, watching television, meeting with staff, including his Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Social Media Director Dan Scavino, in his office on Air Force One as they made their way back here.
So clearly a good mood from the President now that this is out there, these key findings from Mueller's investigation per his Attorney General. But one thing that, Ana, the White House hasn't cleared up, they haven't said when the President is going to look at the full report or if he's going to look at the full report from Mueller. That's something they said we still have to stay tuned on. CABRERA: All right, Kaitlan Collins in Washington, thank you for the
very latest information on the President and his reaction. Now, in the past few minutes, the head of the House Judiciary Committee, Congressman Jerry Nadler, took reporters' questions. We brought it to you live here on CNN.
[19:05:03] He says after the conclusions reached by Attorney General William Barr, the Judiciary Committee will be calling Barr in to testify. Let's get CNN's senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju in here now from Capitol Hill.
And, Manu, this may be the end of the Mueller probe. But is this just the beginning for Democrats in Congress?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. House Democrats making it very clear, they plan to push to get the full release of the Mueller report. They're not satisfied with the four- page summary from Bill Barr. They question his motivations.
They have been critical of him for some time. Barr himself was critical of the Mueller obstruction investigation before he became Attorney General. And Democrats say, what did he mean when he said that the obstruction did not exonerate the President?
The President himself said that he was completely exonerated. But just moments ago, Jerry Nadler said that's just not true.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY: President Trump is wrong. This report does not amount to a so-called total exoneration. Special Counsel Mueller was clear that his report, quote, does not exonerate, close quote, the President.
The Special Counsel spent 22 months uncovering evidence of obstruction and other misconduct. Attorney General Barr, who auditioned for his role with an open memorandum suggesting that the obstruction investigation was unconscionable and that a president -- and that it was almost impossible for any president to commit obstruction of justice since he is the head of the executive branch, made a decision about that evidence in under 48 hours.
His conclusions raise more questions than they answer, given the fact that Mueller uncovered evidence that, in his own words, does not exonerate the President.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Still a lot of questions about how Democrats plan to pursue the laundry list of investigations here on Capitol Hill, including into Russian interference.
The House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Adam Schiff, wanted to continue looking into the Russia investigation and potential Russian ties -- financial ties for the Trump campaign, Trump officials, the President himself, how they plan to pursue that, how Jerry Nadler wants to go forward with his own investigation into obstruction of justice.
But Democrats say it all begins with getting the full Mueller report. They want to see the underlying evidence, exactly what he found and then pursue their investigations going forward.
But, tonight, Ana, Republicans are saying that it is all just a fishing expedition to retrace steps from Robert Mueller who did not find conspiracy or coordination with the Trump campaign, saw no reason to prosecute the -- the Justice Department saw no reason to prosecute the President for obstruction of justice. They're saying it's time to drop it. That's the word from the Republicans here on Capitol Hill, Ana.
CABRERA: And so the partisanship continues, if not worsens. Manu, I'm wondering who else, Democrats in Congress, might call in to testify regarding the findings from the Mueller report since they already mentioned they want to see Barr.
RAJU: Yes. And Adam Schiff had said before this report was issued that he wanted Bob Mueller before his committee, as well, to answer questions. They've threatened to bring him in. The question is, will they do that in a public setting or behind closed doors? That's unclear too.
But Barr seems to be the person right now that they want to bring in. Barr himself said in that letter to Congress that he would release as much of the report as possible, consistent with the law, consistent with regulations. That's a line he's been saying since his confirmation hearings.
But expect him to, of course, be called. Perhaps Bob Mueller. We'll see if anybody else and we'll see who else they plan to bring in as part of their own investigations that the Democrats still plan to pursue despite Mueller ending his, Ana.
CABRERA: OK. Manu Raju with the reaction from Capitol Hill, thank you.
CNN's Laura Jarrett is at the Justice Department. Also with us, CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez, CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz, and CNN law enforcement analyst Josh Campbell.
Laura, tell us a little bit more now about that extraordinary move that the Justice Department almost made to issue a subpoena for the President.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, we knew that for the better part of a year, there were negotiations between Trump's legal team and the Special Counsel's office because the Special Counsel wanted a wide-ranging interview. They wanted to sit down with him to assess, obviously, his state of mind, his intent on a whole host of issues related to this investigation.
But we're learning, tonight, how there were actually internal discussions, sensitive deliberations between the Justice Department and the Special Counsel's office raising the specter of a formal subpoena for the President.
Now, ultimately, that never came to pass. But the fact that it was raised at all is a significant move, and it shows just how critical this time period was and how they were really going to the limit to try to see what exactly they could find out here.
Now, it's interesting. In Bill Barr's four-page letter to Congress today, he finds that there was no prosecutable case, either on the question of whether there was a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, as well as on the issue of obstruction of justice.
[19:10:06] But on the issue of obstruction of justice, corrupt intent is so key here, and he says that he doesn't find that there could be a case. But Mueller certainly did not find that. Instead, Mueller thought that there was evidence on both sides of the issue. So this is going to be a prime issue now, of course, for lawmakers on Capitol Hill to try to tease and exploit out, Ana.
CABRERA: Yes. The Special Counsel, therefore, did not draw a conclusion one way or the other as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction. That is a key line that a lot of people are looking at tonight because it ended up being Barr and Rosenstein who decided not to pursue obstruction of justice charges.
Now, Evan, the President has always said two words -- no collusion. Does this report vindicate him?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. It exactly says that there was no collusion found in this investigation and I think the most important part of this letter from Bill Barr because, again, this is the biggest question that has hung over this presidency, the presidency of Donald Trump, almost since the beginning.
And the Attorney General quotes from Mueller's report. And I think that's an important thing because we don't have Mueller's report, but the Attorney General quotes him. And it says, quote, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.
And that's an important sentence simply because it was -- there has certainly been a lot of suspicions. And one reason why the FBI launched this investigation in 2016 was because there were so many contacts.
I think as many as 16 people connected to the President, to his campaign, had contacts with Russians either during the campaign or during the transition, and the FBI was tasked with finding out what happened here. And then that became the Mueller investigation after President Trump fired James Comey.
So a lot of this investigation derives from the fact that the FBI had a mission here, and the FBI -- the Justice Department had a mission, which is to get to the bottom of what exactly happened.
We know -- again, the letter from Barr establishing once and for all that there was Russian interference, something the President refuses to admit. But on the key question of whether or not anybody in his campaign or the President himself were knowingly trying to conspire, that is answered here. And it absolutely says that the evidence did not point to that, Ana.
CABRERA: So that's the issue of conspiracy or collusion or coordination. But, again, on the issue of obstruction, the other portion of Mueller's probe, we know Mueller himself did not make the decision on whether to prosecute the President. He left it up to Attorney General Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. How did Barr and Rosenstein ultimately decide there was no obstruction, Evan?
PEREZ: Well, they went through a whole process. And they, quote -- quoting from the Barr letter, it says that they couldn't reach that there was any corrupt intent. And in particular, one part of it says, in cataloging the President's actions, many of which took place -- he's referring to the fact that the President did a lot of things that looked like obstruction in tweets, in some of his interviews, in some of his statements.
They say the report identifies no actions that, in our judgment, constitute obstructive conduct, had a nexus in a pending or a contemplative proceeding and were done with corrupt intent. And that's a very important part of this because it appears that Bill Barr and Rod Rosenstein sort of went through a process to try to determine whether or not they could reach a point whereby they could say that there was any kind of obstruction here.
And they decided in the end that they did not, that they could not establish that. But the problem is, obviously, certainly for Bill Barr -- and I think he's going to keep answering -- he's going to have to answer questions about this probably for the next year, at least, is the question of, why did Bob Mueller not reach a conclusion?
It's clear that Bob Mueller could not reach a conclusion on this. And so the question is, going back to Laura's point, is it because the President never sat down for an interview? Is it because he was -- they were never able to issue a subpoena to the President to get to what his intent was in some of these actions that were clearly suspicious and whereby -- you know, everybody read them as being object instructive.
CABRERA: Some of the details we learned in this letter from Barr is that Mueller's team interviewed 500 witnesses, obtained more than 3,500 subpoenas and warrants after 675 days. Josh, what questions aren't answered in Barr's summary?
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, first, let's start with the collusion piece. Now, I think that this is a good day for the country from a national security perspective in the sense that you had this robust investigation. You mentioned the number of personnel that were assigned to this.
These were the best of the best that were looking into this issue, whether or not the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government. Their determination that that did not happen, again, is a good thing for the nation from a national security perspective.
[19:15:05] I will say -- and it's important to note -- the President, before he boarded Air Force One, he described this investigation as one that began illegally, which is completely, patently false.
Again, you go back and look at the origins of this investigation. You had the four key players as was -- you know, has been reported -- George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn -- who had these strange connections to Russians. And it was incumbent upon the FBI to determine whether there was a threat there.
So the fact that they're now saying that there isn't a threat as it related to the Trump campaign, again, is a good thing. The one question that I have, going back to what you just discussed with obstruction, is one that the Attorney General is going to have to answer and perhaps Robert Mueller himself.
Now, if you look at the letter from Bobo -- Bill Barr today, on page three, there is this line that's written that's very passive. And he says that the decision by the Special Counsel not to reach a legal conclusion leaves it to the Attorney General.
Now, this is the Attorney General saying that this is now our decision. Well, the question we'll have to ask is, was that a decision that Mueller wanted to leave to the Department of Justice, or was it something that he was intending on Congress to make the decision? And that's something, you know, there may be two audiences there.
But again, until we get the full report, until we actually see what it is that he said, what his thought process was, we won't know exactly what the formulation was and, you know, what was intended there.
Again, the question coming down to, did he decide that he was not going to make this determination because of, you know, again, a number of factors we just don't know about? We'll have to really dig into those before we get to the bottom of what was actually going through the mind of the Special Counsel.
CABRERA: Shimon, this report does not recommend any further indictments nor did the Special Counsel, we've learned, obtained any sealed indictments that have yet to be made public. How significant is that?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Not only that are made to be public, there are no sealed indictments. So there are no more indictments. There are no more people going to be charged as a result of the Mueller investigation. This is all done.
We know that there are other investigations ongoing that are not part of the Special Counsel team. They were sent out to other jurisdictions, were not within the mandate that was given to Robert Mueller and his team. And those investigations are ongoing. They're in New York. There may be some here in Washington, D.C.
But this is over. You know, we finally got some window into what Mueller was looking at, their principal conclusions here. And now we wait. We wait to see, obviously, what the members of Congress are going to do.
I do think we are going to learn more from this report eventually as other cases start to become public, these other cases that were farmed out to other U.S. attorneys. I think once those start becoming public, we may get more information from this report.
And I do think that we need to look at how much information and how quickly the Attorney General, in this case, released, you know, and how quickly he did it. He said he was going to do it this weekend, he kept his word.
And I think as of -- since Friday, I have certainly been surprised at the amount of information that the Attorney General has put forward. This letter that he wrote to Congress and then certainly today a lot more information than many of us expected.
CABRERA: And, Laura, we know all Democrats are not satisfied with this report, especially on the issue of obstruction. We all remember, Barr sent a memo to senior Justice officials before he was nominated and confirmed as Attorney General. And he was critical of Mueller's obstruction probe specifically. Remind us about that and its significance.
JARRETT: He was. It was a 19-page missive that he came up with, apparently unsolicited, back in June of 2018 before he was Attorney General. He was just a private citizen musing around about obstruction of justice theories based solely on what he had read and seen on T.V. apparently.
And it's interesting. Several months ago, when this issue first rose and we learned that he wrote it, I can remember being at a press conference where the Deputy Attorney General was asked about it. And Rob Rosenstein said Bill Barr doesn't know the whole story.
Well, it turns out the two of them has -- have decided between themselves that the President did not obstruct justice. And you see a little bit of the shades of that in this four-page memo from Bill Barr where he talks about the fact that the -- the fact that the President did not also collude with the Russians.
That was the underlying crime. The fact that there was no evidence that established that the President was involved in that speaks then to the fact there wasn't obstruction of justice in that underlying crime. And he says that alone -- while not determinative, the absence of such evidence bears upon the President's intent.
And it really does come down to corrupt intent. He thinks that there isn't any here and -- as far as it goes with corrupt intent on obstruction of justice and the fact that it has no nexus to any criminal or other ongoing proceedings.
So it would be one thing if the President is just musing in the wind about different gripes, things that bother him, things that may look like obstruction. But if they don't bear on any criminal proceeding, then from Bill Barr's perspective, it's not a prosecutable case.
[19:20:00] CABRERA: OK. Everyone, stand by. I want to go to the President returning to the White House just moments ago and listen in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will you ask the Attorney General to make the full report public?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, will you ask the Attorney General to make the report public?
TRUMP: I just want to tell you that America is the greatest place on earth. The greatest place on earth. Thank you very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: OK. So very brief comments, obviously. America is the greatest place on earth after, earlier today, a much more long-winded statement from the President, reacting to the news of the Robert Mueller report, emphasizing no collusion with Russia. He said there was no obstruction. He said it's a complete and total exoneration.
And he went on to say it's a shame that our country had to go through with this. To be honest, it's a shame that your president has had to go through with this. Before I even got elected, it began. And it began illegally, he said, and, hopefully, somebody is going to look at the other side. This was an illegal takedown that failed.
Those were his comments earlier but, tonight, now saying America is the greatest country on earth as he returns to the White House. So we continue our breaking news right now. Sources telling CNN, the President and his camp are thrilled by the Mueller report conclusions. One Trump adviser who speaks to the President regularly said, quote, this is like Geraldo Rivera and Al Capone's vault all over again.
Joining us now, CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger and CNN senior political commentator and former senior adviser to President Obama, David Axelrod. Also with us, CNN political commentator and former special assistant to President George W. Bush, Scott Jennings, and CNN national security analyst Samantha Vinograd.
Gloria, this cloud that has existed almost from the start over Trump's presidency, has it just been lifted in a big way today?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, yes, I think it has, particularly on the question of collusion. Obviously, still questions about obstruction out there but -- and the Democrats will pursue that.
But if you're sitting at the White House right now and you believed that Mueller's investigation was illegal, as the President stated today, and you believe that there were angry Democrats out to get you on Team Mueller, and now you see what Barr has done, I think you're breathing a huge sigh of relief. And I think you're going to use it as a cudgel in the 2020 campaign.
And I think the Democrats in the Congress are going to continue to pursue, as they should, the underlying information here. Because I think there's a lot more to learn about this question of obstruction and a presidential interview and why that did not occur. And so they'll pursue that. But if I'm sitting in the White House right now, I'm feeling very good about what happened today.
CABRERA: David, what do you make of the President's reaction today, all of his comments that we've heard?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, first of all, I agree with Gloria in that on the issue of collusion, this was an unambiguously positive development for the President, and he has a right to claim that. On the issue of obstruction, it was much more ambiguous, and to say that he was totally exonerated completely belies the words that were in the Attorney General's -- the Attorney General's report.
And there are many, many questions that still remain, which is, why did all these people have contacts with Russia, and why did they lie about it? Why did Paul Manafort give the President's polling data to a Russian apparatchik? Why did -- you know, what did they make of the meeting at Trump Tower and so on? There are a lot of questions that need to be answered.
But I want to focus on another point, the larger point. The President said this is the greatest country. He's right. This is the greatest country. And one of the reasons it's the greatest country is because we have a functioning democracy. That democracy was invaded by the Russians. This letter and this investigation confirms that.
And yet the President stood -- even after the indictments of the Russians, stood next to Vladimir Putin and accepted his word over the results of his probes and his own intelligence community on the issue of this attack on our democracy. And that should be a point of concern for all Americans.
It's not just about Donald Trump. It's about what the Russians did to us and his unwillingness to confront it.
CABRERA: Scott, in the wake of this, the President could be sending a message of unity. But a Trump adviser says the plan is to slam and shame the media. Is that what you think he should be doing?
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think he's going to do two things. One, yes, I think he's going to continue to say, look, I told you the truth. I said it was a hoax, I said there was no collusion, and the media and the Democrats essentially lied to you.
[19:25:02] That's going to be a core message, I think, for them moving forward. And it's going to be part of their campaign because you've had these Democrats -- Adam Schiff and Blumenthal and all the rest of the ones that have been involved, you know -- running from green room to green room, saying we have direct evidence of collusion that was totally blown up by Mueller today.
And the President is going to argue, if they were willing to lie to you about this, what else would they lie to you about just to win an election? That's going to be a very effective message for him. And I suspect they're going to ride it for the next couple of years. Not just on this issue but to destabilize and discredit other investigations the Democrats are pursuing in the Congress.
CABRERA: Sam, I see you shaking your head.
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it's just amazing to me that we're sitting here talking about a foreign intelligence attack on our country, and we're talking about Democrats versus Republicans, which we all know is actually going to help Russia's attack on our country going forward.
The President of the United States today, when commenting on this investigation into a Russian attack, actually aided and abetted that attack going forward.
He used his statement earlier today to attack the democratic institution, the U.S. law enforcement community, to spread divisions, and to spread conspiracy theories, instead of saying this investigation has concluded. It said that I did not knowingly conspire or coordinate with the Russian government, and you want to know what, now, I'm going to do my job and start protecting the country from Russia's ongoing attack today.
I imagine that the Russian trolls and bots are going to be incredibly active on social media today. And they're going to be trying to amplify these divisions because that helps their ongoing attack on our country.
CABRERA: Everyone, stand by. So much more to discuss. We've got a squeak in a quick break. We'll be right back. Don't go anywhere.
[19:30:55] CABRERA: Back with us now, David Axelrod, Scott Jennings, Samantha Vinograd as we continue to cover what a momentous day this is in American history with the principle conclusions now delivered to Congress from the Mueller report by the attorney general.
And David, I just want to take a moment and ask you about how should we look at this as Americans when it comes to our government and what does this day mean in American history?
AXELROD: Well, you know, I have said from the beginning that I had some limited contact with Robert Mueller when I worked in the White House, and he was the FBI director. And I was always impressed by his professionalism, by his integrity. And I said, whatever he concludes, I will feel comfortable with, because I know how assiduous he is and how fundamentally he adheres to, you know, the proper protocol one would expect.
And so I feel that way tonight, and in the sense that we had a probe that Mueller did his work, that he came to the conclusions he came to, some, as I said earlier, were ambiguous, some less so according to the Barr letter, I think that's a very important thing. It remains the fact that one of the main findings of Mueller's probe was there was this very, very determined effort on the part of the Russians to infiltrate our democracy, and that should be a much deeper concern to the public and to the President of the United States, the commander- in-chief. And rather than turning it into a political moment, he should be focusing on what was a very, very serious, insidious effort that according to our intelligence people is ongoing, even to this day. And when he behaves as he did today, he is leaving the back door open. And the question is why? Why does he continue to ignore what is this fundamental threat?
CABRERA: And Sam, I know that you have a lot of thoughts on that. And I just thinking about with Barr saying he plans to, you know, release as much of this report as he possibly can, they obviously have some things they have to redact, because of grand jury secrecy and the rules around that, as well as national security, as well as the -- we know the fact that there are ongoing investigations beyond Mueller because of his investigation being then, you know, spawned to the southern district of New York investigations and others. How important is it that the American people in Congress get to see the full report?
VINOGRAD: Well, I think it's important for several reasons. And I'll just name two. In the first instance, as you mentioned, it is very possible, and I think very likely, that there are ongoing counterintelligence investigations, potentially into the President and even members of his own team, based upon their exceptionally poor counterintelligence hygiene. Whether that's meeting alone with President Putin and not sharing transcripts, or doing things like using language that so knowingly helped advance Russia's attack on our country. And by looking at some of the underlying documents, the American public or at least Congress could become aware of whether the President is perhaps wittingly or unwittingly being manipulated by the President of Russia. It is likely that that is unwitting, at least during the 2016 campaign, based upon what Barr said in his letter. But we don't know what the current state of play is and that documentation would be helpful in figuring that out going forward. And for that reason, I think the American people need to understand what led to this judgment on coordination or conspiracy with the Russian government.
I will point out in the text there's a very important word in there. It's the word "knowingly" when the attorney general talks about coordination with the Russian troll farm. That really tells me that there may be information, I'm going to stress "may" that the President and his team were again unwittingly being manipulated by the Russian government. And that's important for Congress and the American public to know.
CABRERA: Well, in fact, in this report, it does say that there were multiple efforts from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign and there was outreach.
[19:35:04] VINOGRAD: Which is no surprise. Campaign officials are often the targets of foreign intelligence services, because often they are inexperienced and/or they lack appropriate counterintelligence knowledge to know what to do when people reach out to them. So that's not unusual. What is unusual, of course, is that complain officials lied about those contacts, which we know based upon the Mueller investigation.
CABRERA: And so if people are just joining us at home, important to note. We have the principle conclusions from Robert Mueller's report, as outlined in a letter from the attorney general today to Congress that was released to all of us here in the media and the American people. And it found no criminal collusion or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia and the election meddling efforts in 2016. It also has determined no obstruction of justice by the President, at least according to the attorney general. Mueller did not necessarily come up with that conclusion himself.
But Scott, one question I have, why would all of these Trump campaign officials lie about their contacts with Russians?
JENNINGS: Yes, it's a good question. And it's -- a lot of lawyers in Washington will tell you that in any investigation, the most likely thing that's going to trip you up is if you fail to tell the truth. You know, very few people ever, you know, go down for what the underlying investigation is. A lot of people go down for not telling the truth. And so it would have obviously been smarter for people to have just told the truth, because as Robert Mueller found out, there was no collusion, there was no coordination with the Russians at all.
You know, one thing, Ana, on this issue of obstruction. And we are talking about it a lot as though it is an open question. It is not an open question. Mueller, according to the letter, found this to be a complicated issue. He kicked it to the attorney general and the attorney general and deputy attorney general concluded there was no criminal intent and there was no reason to prosecute the President of the United States for obstruction. Now I'm hearing Democrats and partisans carp about this. That the President's appointees made this decision. I have a question to those people tonight, and that is, are you equally as upset then that senior Obama administration DOJ appointees decided not to prosecute Hillary Clinton?
Because here's a fact. Political appointees, no matter the administration, run our department of justice, they make decisions, important decisions, every single day. That is not something that is unique to the Trump administration. It happens in all administrations. And you cannot be mad about Barr's decision and somehow think it was fine, you know, for the Obama DOJ or any other DOJ to make a similar decision.
CABRERA: There have been similar inspect general investigations though into the Hillary Clinton. Go ahead, David.
AXELROD: I just want to pick up on something that Scott said. He's quite right that oftentimes what happens in these probes is that you get tripped up by not telling the truth which is precisely why the President's lawyers would not allow him to sit down with a special counsel and answer questions about this.
I'm not a lawyer. But my guess is that if you're trying to determine intent, it's hard to do if you can't sit down and question the person who is the subject of your investigation. So they did the right thing from his standpoint, because the President has been challenged in the past when it comes to telling the truth. And this would have been a very risky proposition. But it also complicated Mueller's task in trying to determine what, in fact, the President was up to when he fired Comey and did the other things that prompted the creation of a special counsel.
CABRERA: Let me read you what we are now hearing from house speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer because I think this gives us a window into what could be next in all of this.
This is what they write. Attorney general Barr's letter raises as many questions as answers. The fact that special counsel Mueller's report does not exonerate the President on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report be made public without any further delay. Given Mr. Barr's public record of bias against the special counsel's inquiry, he is not a neutral observer, and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report.
So David, what do Democrats do now?
AXELROD: Well, I think they are going to press for the release of the report. And the reason is not just to determine what the President's culpability or lack of culpability was. It's because of the fact that this is a major issue, this intrusion of the Russians and how it happened and all of the coloration around it. And they do have to make judgments about what the President -- they have a responsibility to do that. But they have a larger responsibility to protect the country.
Mueller did a lot of serious work on this subject that ought to be a matter of public record. So I think they are going to continue to pursue this report. And remember, there are 12 other investigations, active investigations that we know of that sprung from this special counsel investigation. Many of them involving the President. We don't know what the outcome of those will be.
So this was an important day for the President in terms of the conclusions of the attorney general in his summation of the report. It's clearly not the end of the discussion.
[19:40:22] CABRERA: OK, everybody, stand by. We are going to continue our coverage. Our special coverage right now of our breaking news after a quick break. Don't go anywhere.
[19:44:56] CABRERA: Today is the day of national consequence. The attorney general revealing special counsel Robert Mueller did not find the Trump campaign or associates conspired with the Russian government in the 2016 Presidential election. The President and the White House are declaring total victory, total exoneration. There's a lot we still don't know. Some are latching on to one sentence from attorney general Barr's summary regarding obstruction of justice specifically.
Here it is. While the Mueller report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.
Joining us now is Michael Zeldin, former special assistant to Robert Mueller at the justice department and Elie Honig, former U.S. attorney for of the southern district of New York.
Eli, the Democrats in congress, they want to see not only the full Mueller report, but all the underlying evidence, as well. Do you agree with this?
ELIE HONIG, CNN ANALYST: Look, I think they can and should and will get their hands on the full Mueller report. And it remains to be seen, look, Barr may put it all out there.
Look, there's zero reason to believe that Barr distorted the Mueller report in his four-page letter today. But I think anyone who has relied on cliff notes in high school can tell you there is a big difference between the summary and actual document. So I do think the Mueller report needs to come out. I do think the Democrats are well- founded in seeking that.
Now when you go to the next layer down, which is the underlying FBI reports and evidence, that may be a bridge too far. I'm not sure what basis there is. And the farther you go, the more you run into complicated problems with grand jury secrecy and executive privilege. So I'm not sure that's worth the fight.
CABRERA: What's the one thing that stands out most to you from what we have learned so far, based on Barr's conclusions.
HONIG: Yes. The obstruction of justice conclusion surprised me. Look, Mueller found not enough evidence. We -- for beyond a reasonable doubt. We are talking about a criminal standard here. Not enough evidence for coordination or conspiracy charges.
He clearly found more evidence of obstruction. And he didn't make any decision. He sent it over to Barr, which is kind of curious to me because prosecutors make hard decisions all of the time. I have been in that room. Sometimes you are right on the razor's edge of a charge or no charge. He sent it to Barr, and from there it was completely obvious what Barr would do. Barr has been openly hostile to the obstruction of justice theory that Mueller had been proceeding on since before he was attorney general. He wrote this long unsolicited letter to the DOJ saying that Barr's theory was fatally flawed - excuse me, that Mueller's theory was fatally flawed. So it's no surprise that's where Barr came out.
CABRERA: And let me read in fact his reasoning for saying the President did not obstruct justice. Here's what he wrote in this report. In making this determination, we noted that the special counsel recognized that the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference. And that, while not determinative, the absence of such evidence bears upon the President's intent with respect to obstruction.
Michael, does that reasoning make sense to you?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, it does make sense to me. It seems to me in an investigation of this sort, where Mueller has a theory of obstruction that's really an outlying theory, and DOJ has a more mainstream theory that one of the things you are going to look at is what underlying criminal conduct is there that the President may have endeavored to obstruct.
I think that's the exact reason why we didn't have an interview of the President, because Mueller couldn't satisfy the standard of need for this evidence and no other way of getting it because there was no evidence that they needed with respect to an underlying crime. So it was just going to be what was the President thinking? And you just don't get that in the ordinary criminal case.
So I think here what you have is a difference of opinion between DOJ and the special counsel's office. And to Bob Mueller's credit, he said, look, I'm going to be an institutionalist. I'm going to let you guys at the DOJ apply standard obstruction of justice analysis rather than my further-reaching standard of obstruction theory, and that's how we ended up. And so Mueller is a little bit unsatisfied. And DOJ makes the decision consistent with the way they normally make decisions.
The only thing about Mueller's report, if you will, that surprises me is he says that the evidence does not exonerate the President. Really, prosecutors shouldn't be making comments about exonerating or not exonerating. That's not their job. So I was a little surprised and maybe a bit disappointed that we saw that language in there.
CABRERA: Were you surprised to see that language, Elie?
HONIG: It is unusual, as Michael says. But I think given of the stakes here and the level of national interest, I don't think it was inappropriate to say that much in the report. And Michael talks about the subpoena question.
HONIG: Which I think is a really interesting, strategic back and forth, where I think Trump's lawyers prevail. They took a gamble. They said we are not bringing him in to answer questions voluntarily, right. Now the gamble they took there is that Mueller would have responded with a subpoena. And Muller did not do that and apparently the reporting we just heard there was internal discussions about not doing that.
I'm actually a little surprised that Mueller backed off of that. He really let the President get away with ever having to answer any question in writing or in person under oath or not under oath about obstruction of justice.
[19:50:05] CABRERA: And Michael, you have worked for Mueller. You know him. Why do you think he backed off?
ZELDIN: Well, because in order to meet the standard for subpoena in a case like this, you are going to have to establish the need for that information and know alternative means getting it. And I don't think without an underlying crime he could have met that standard. And so I think that probably he thought this through with Michael Dreeben from the solicitor's office on his team and people who are in main justice and they thought it through and they determined that they might not win a subpoena fight. And rather than lose a subpoena fight, let it be decided along traditional grounds, and that's how it ended up.
CABRERA: The President was never interviewed, of course. But he did have to answer questions, Elie, in writing. Do you think the American people will ever see his answers?
HONIG: I do think so. Look, they're part of the record. They're no different than any other evidence. So it's essentially like a transcript of an interview, only the lawyers and the President got to fill out their end of it. But I think that's going to be fascinating, to take those answers on collusion, conspiracy, whatever we're calling it, and compare them to sort of what's known and what's out there in the public record and to see if they all stand up.
CABRERA: Does anything -- go ahead.
ZELDIN: The only thing I was going to say in response what Elie said, there were no questions about obstruction. There was just the collusion question. So we may get to see them. But obstruction was off the table, pursuant to Jane and Marty Raskin's theory. They prevailed under the reasons we have just discussed a moment ago.
CABRERA: I was going to ask, does anything we have learn today, Elie, change the course of the other investigations that we know are out there.
HONIG: No, look. It's a huge win today for the President. There's no way around that. And this is almost all good news in this letter. But there's still plenty more out there. The two biggest ones are Congress and my former office, southern district of New York.
Southern district of New York's inquiry has nothing to do with collusion with Russia. Nothing to do with obstruction. They are looking at the financial crimes, the campaign finance crimes, the potential tax crimes coming out of the Trump org and inauguration and Michael Cohen and all the people around him.
So this, the findings today are hugely important. They are monumental but they will have no impact on what the southern district is doing.
CABRERA: And we have also been discussing the fact that the President is rejoicing, his family perhaps rejoicing as well because there's no new indictments from Mueller. I mean, they could still be at risk certainly in some of these ongoing investigations into the Trump organization, the Trump inauguration and so forth.
But as far as we know, Mueller's team never even interviewed Don Junior or Jared Kushner about the Trump tower meeting with the Russian lawyer, having them promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. That would seem central to, again, the collusion question.
Michael, how do you think Mueller was able to come to his conclusions about coordination and conspiracy without even interviewing them about that?
ZELDIN: Well, they spoke probably to Manafort. They spoke to Gates. They may have spoken to other witnesses that were collateral to that meeting, whatever documentation of there was, they looked at and they made a determination that either Jared Kushner or Don Junior were targets and they weren't going to inquire of them because of their target status or they felt there really was not enough at that meeting, no thing of value passed from a foreign national that would trigger a violation of the criminal laws and they just decided that that was not a prosecutable offense and without that, there was no need to bring these people in.
CABRERA: Michael, you know Robert Mueller, as we know mentioned personally. Do you think he wants to speak out now that this is over?
ZELDIN: No, I don't think so. Mueller, I don't think, has ever really wanted to speak out about anything, at least in the couple of years that I work for him, he barely spoke to me. So I can't imagine he will want to have to testify.
But you know, he may have to. He is a private citizen when he resigns his position. They might want to ask him, tell us about the conversations between yourself, your office and the DOJ around this obstruction of justice, no exoneration decision. Because we may make a decision, the House, that while this does not rise to the level of a criminal offense, it could still be analyzed along abuse of office, abuse of power analyses and we wanted to explore with you what was at stake when you were discussing obstruction within your team and between your team and the DOJ.
So I think there is still going to be room for conversation here. The good news for the President and accolades of the Marty and Jane Raskin team, the President is not going to be in indicted for this and the case, in large measure, from Mueller, is over.
[19:55:03] CABRERA: I have got 30 seconds, Elie. If you could ask Mueller one question what would it be?
HONIG: I want to know what he made of all the obstruction evidence that we know about. How did he look at the Trump tower meeting? How did he look at the firing of Comey? How did he look at attempts to get Sessions to un-recuse? All of that evidence that has been so widely reported and come out without a recommendation on obstruction of justice either way?
CABRERA: All right. Thank you both, Elie Honig, Michael Zeldin. Really appreciate your expect ease as we learn more and more about this two-year investigation by Robert Mueller and his team.
We are continuing to follow reaction of the 2020 Democratic candidates as well. Bernie Sanders tweeting this. I don't want a summary of the Mueller report. I want the whole damn report.
Kamala Harris tweeted, the Mueller report needs to be made public. The underlying investigative materials should be handed over to Congress and Barr must testify. That is what transparency looks like. A short letter from Trump's hand-picked attorney general is not sufficient.
President Trump is back at the white House. And here is what he told reporters after learning of the finding from the Mueller report.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So after a long look, after a long investigation, after so many people have been so badly hurt, after not looking at the other side, where a lot of bad things happened, a lot of horrible things happened, a lot of very bad things happened for our country, it was just announced there was no collusion with Russia. The most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. There was no collusion with Russia. There was no obstruction and none whatsoever. And it was a complete and total exoneration.
It's a shame that our country had to go through this. To be honest, it's a shame that your President has had to go through this for before I even got elected, it began. And it began illegally. And hopefully, somebody will look at the other side. This was an illegal takedown that failed and, hopefully, somebody will be looking at the other side. So, it's complete exoneration. No collusion, no obstruction. Thank you very much. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: And then just moments ago, as he returned to the White House, he added this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I just want to tell you that America is the greatest place on earth. The greatest place on earth. Thank you very much. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Those were the final words from the President today. CNN's White House correspondent Abby Philip joins us now. Now what's the mood at the White House tonight?
ABBY PHILIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, all weekend there's been a sense of apprehension as they waited for this report to come down. But as soon as it did and that letter from attorney general bill Barr landed with the President's lawyers, the mood in Mar-a-Lago where he spent the weekend, lifted.
The President was briefed by Pat Cippolone and Emmett Flood, two of his top lawyers dealing with this Russia probe this afternoon about the Barr letter. And on the plane ride back from Florida to Washington, D.C., you know, sources tell us the mood was jovial. That's how they described it.
One of the President's top aides, his deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley, told reporters this was the message the President wanted him to pass on to reporters. This is very good. You let them know it was very good. So the President is feeling really great today about what's in this report. But as you heard there from his comments to reporters just before leaving Florida, he is also concerned about two things, one which is how his associates, who have already, in some cases, pled guilty and received jail time with regard to this probe, how they were treated. And the second thing is what happens next?
He said hopefully the other side will be investigated. What exactly is he referring to, it's not clear. But he could be referring to Hillary Clinton, who he said needs to be investigated in the past, but reporters did ask deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley whether the President has plans to order that kind of investigation. He said it hasn't been discussed as of this moment.
And as for whether or not President Trump has or will see the actual Mueller report, as of right now, he hasn't seen it. He hasn't been briefed on that report. And Hogan said it's not clear whether or not he will in the future. It's also not clear whether or not President Trump still supports that entire report being made public as many people on Capitol Hill have been asking for, for weeks and months now -- Ana.
CABRERA: And it was just Wednesday when he said let it out. Let it out. He was proposing full transparency.
Abby Phillip at the White House tonight with the very latest from the President and the White House reaction to the Mueller report now being released, at least the principle findings.
Thank you so much for being with me. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.