Return to Transcripts main page


A.G. Barr Faces Growing Pressure to Release Full Mueller Report; Trump's Attorneys Claim Vindication After Barr Memo Says No Russia Collusion; Rep. Katherine Clark (D) of Massachusetts Discusses Barr's Memo on Mueller Report, Democrats' Past Claims of Collusion; Barr: Mueller Stops Short of Exonerating Trump on Obstruction. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 25, 2019 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255. 1-800-273-8255. That number saves lives. Please take it out and share it as widely as you can. Thank you so much for joining us today. I'm Jim Sciutto.

"AT THIS HOUR" with my colleague, Kate Bolduan, starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much for joining me.

Did the president and his team conspire with the Russian government? No. But did the president obstruct justice? That seems to still be unresolved. That's according to the Mueller report, which is officially complete. Only a select few people in the Justice Department have actually seen the report. The entire world has now seen the attorney general's four-page summary of it. And to sum up the reaction to the summary, the president says complete and total vindication.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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. This was an illegal take down that failed. And hopefully, somebody is going to be looking at the other side.


BOLDUAN: We'll get to that maybe a little bit later.

But that claim of total exoneration, there's more to it than just that. While the attorney general's summary of the Mueller report declared that the Mueller did not find that the president or his campaign, his team conspired with Russia in its efforts to interfere in the election, it also quotes the report stating this, "While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him when it comes to obstruction."

That has Democrats calling for the attorney general to testify before Congress. And it has everyone else saying let's see the full report. What's wrong with that?

CNN's senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez, is following all of this for us.

Evan, it has been a long road getting to this point. What are you hearing now about the decision of whether or not or how the full Mueller report would be released?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I think the Justice Department, Attorney General Bill Barr making no promises about releasing the full Mueller report. At this hour, you already have Justice Department lawyers who are hard at work trying to figure out what more, what other parts of the report they can provide to members of Congress who are asking exactly the question you are asking, which is can we see the full thing, can we see the other determinations that Mueller was able to reach. And certainly, why did Mueller not come to a conclusion on this crucial question of whether or not the president obstructed justice. One of the things we know from Bill Barr's letter is he summarizes what Robert Mueller found and says essentially there was evidence on both sides and Mueller decided to punt on the question. So that left it up to Bill Barr and Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, who has been overseeing this thing from the beginning, to make a final determination.

Let's read a piece of what Bill Barr wrote in his letter. He said, quote, "After reviewing the special counsel's final report on these issues, consulting with the Department officials, including the Office of Legal Counsel, and applying the principles of federal prosecution that guide our charging decisions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the special counsel's investigation is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense."

Kate, that is going to be the key part of this is that Mueller was not able to reach a real conclusion. He makes clear that he does not exonerate the president on this question. So the question is, why. We know that Mueller investigators had asked repeatedly to sit down with the president, for the president to ask questions in person. In the end, all they got was a take-home test, so to speak, and the president answered written questions only on the collusion part of this investigation. On the obstruction part, they never got to answer any of those questions. So that will be the big question that looms over the rest of this, certainly, for the coming months, for Republicans and Democrats to decide how they will get to the final parts of this investigation.

BOLDUAN: And also how the public is ever going to make a full determination if they don't get the chance to see the full report.

PEREZ: Right.

BOLDUAN: Evan, thank you so much for bringing that to us. Really appreciate it.

We go from the report to the White House. The White House and the president's attorneys have been out in full force this morning since the memo's release.

CNN's Abby Phillip is over at the White House with much more on this.

Abby, the president's team claiming victory no doubt but what else are they saying about the report?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They are really echoing President Trump's comments where they say this is a complete vindication for him. But they are not praising Bob Mueller for finding that President Trump didn't collude with the Russians after conducting a thorough investigation. They are, in fact, saying this investigation was illegal and was a lie from the start. They have pivoted to attacking the investigation, the underlying investigation that reached the conclusion that it did yesterday. And they are blaming the media and blaming Democrats for beating the drum of collusion for the last two years where there was none in their view.

[11:05:23] Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, this morning made a number of appearances, including on CNN. She basically said that this was all so unfair to the 63 million people who voted for President Trump in the 2016 election.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They claim to have actual evidence. They said it was true and they lied. They didn't just lie on TV. They lied to the American people. And they tried to take something away from the 63 million Americans that voted for this president. It's outrageous. And I hope that they will stand up and say how wrong they were throughout this process.


PHILLIP: So some of this is an argument about politics, and argument that goes toward the president's case to the American people for 2020. It's also an argument to undermine any kind of investigations Democrats on Capitol Hill might want to launch as a result of this trying to dig deeper into what the Mueller report found.

But there are also some outstanding questions for President Trump. Does he want the full report to be released? Sarah Sanders says he is all for transparency but wants to protect the interest of some of the people involved in the report and also the office of the presidency. That is a big of a vague statement but suggests they may not want written questions released to the public. And secondly, will the president be interested in pardoning some of these individuals that he said have been treated so unfairly throughout this process. That certainly remains within his power and it's a big question for President Trump in the coming days -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: And first and foremost, where is the president on releasing the full report to the public? It seems that Sarah Sanders said he has always been for it but with the caveats of executive privilege and protecting the office of the president.

PHILLIP: Exactly. BOLDUAN: So, I think, add that to the ever-growing list of we'll wait and see what it looks like in a tweet tomorrow.

Abby, great to see you. Thanks so much.

Joining me now, a member of the Democratic leadership team in the House, Congresswoman Katherine Clark, of Massachusetts.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for coming in. We really appreciate it.


BOLDUAN: The president, as you have heard, calls this total exoneration. He calls it that. You call it what?

REP. KATHERINE CLARK, (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I think the real winner here and who has been exonerated is the Intelligence Community that has been warning us that Russia tried to interfere in our elections. And we need to see the full report to really understand the evidence that was collected, where we stand with the obstruction charge. And we're going to do that, demand that, and keep gathering our facts.

BOLDUAN: On the question of collusion, the special counsel, according to the memo, was unequivocal, saying that there was no Trump/Russia conspiracy. Is that comforting to you?

CLARK: It is. I am relieved that this investigation that goes up to the president of the United States has found that no American conspired with foreign agents to interfere with our elections. But the report and what we have been able to glean from it, the letter from Attorney General Barr, at this point, raises more questions than it answers. But I think that that is a win for the American people.

BOLDUAN: The White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said this morning -- I believe this is my interpretation of what she said this morning, that the president is not opposed to releasing the full report, though there seems to be some caveats of how much. And we'll wait to see what he says in a tweet.

But regardless of what they say, it does need to be scrubbed for classified information. Do you have any sense as a member of leadership how long that process could take?

CLARK: I don't know. I think that what we are seeing is that Attorney General Barr is going to be looking for guidance from Mr. Mueller himself. And of course, we anticipate the White House legal team is, you know, not going to give up this report easily. There's been some indications. I certainly hope that the vote that was taken in the House, 420-0, to make this public, stands, and that the president stands by his previous comments that he wants this public. That is the way to build public confidence in these findings. That is the way we know how to properly address the obstruction evidence that is out there. And it also will allow us to have the American people be able to make their own evaluation.

Meanwhile, we are working every day to put their agenda back on the front burner in Congress and make sure we are still working on health care and infrastructure and protecting the right to vote in this country. And this report certainly highlights the need and the crucial urgency around that work.

[11:10:30] BOLDUAN: I will read for you something that the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, said yesterday in terms of the summary that came from Bill Barr, the attorney general, which is, "We cannot rely on what could be a hasty partisan interpretation of the facts."

Do you think that that could be what the attorney general laid out in his summary, a partisan interpretation? Is that what you think it is?

CLARK: Well, Attorney General Barr is a political appointee. And he did put out in sort of pre-job interview a very lengthy document saying that he doesn't think the president could ever be found guilty of obstruction. So I think there are legitimate questions. And that is why it is so important for the credibility of the investigation and of Attorney General Barr that we make that report and the underlying evidence, to the greatest degree possible, public, not just for members of Congress, but also for Americans so that we can understand and properly evaluate the actions that Attorney General Barr has taken.

BOLDUAN: One thing that obviously everyone can do and should do is answer for their statements in the past. We do that with the president, and we do that with Republicans and we do that with Democrats, as well. I want to play you some things that Democrats have said in the past with regard to the Russia investigation and the president. Listen to this.


REP. JERRY NADLER, (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: It's become very clear that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians in trying to subvert the election. The question has been --


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: How is that -- how can you say that so definitively that they colluded?

NADLER: Well, the fact that -- the fact that Manafort and Trump Jr met with Russian agents who told them that they wanted to give them dirt on Hillary as part of the Russian government's attempt to help them and that they said fine. It's clear that the campaign colluded. And there's a lot of evidence of that.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: You can see evidence in plain sight on the issue of collusion, pretty compelling evidence.

REP. MAXINE WATERS, (D), CALIFORNIA: Here you have a president, who I can tell you and guarantee you, is in collusion with the Russians to undermine our democracy.


BOLDUAN: Do Democrats need to answer for this now?

CLARK: I think that is exactly why we have been waiting, gathering facts, and looking for what the Mueller report is going to tell us. And the report is in. And it says a couple of things. It says resoundingly --


BOLDUAN: Right. But on the most basic level, when it comes to collusion with the Russians, the Mueller report, according to the memo, says that did not happen. We hear from Democrats in the past, hearing Maxine Waters right at the end, saying she guarantees that Donald Trump is colluding with the Russian.

CLARK: Well, I will not speak for Maxine. But I can tell you this, that everything that has happened in this investigation and the corruption that is exposed at some of the closest advisers to this president, I can certainly see why people think that there was collusion. What we have now is a report that says, legally, there is not conspiracy or coordination. And you know, we are willing to take that when we get a chance to look at this report at face value. I think that everybody has faith that this investigation was done fairly as it goes to conspiracy and coordination.

BOLDUAN: Do you think Democrats --


BOLDUAN: -- with those examples that I laid out that Democrats need to be careful going forward in those bold statements? Because they are coming back to bite you guys.

CLARK: You know, I think that, of course, we have to be careful. And we have to acknowledge what this report says. There was no finding of coordination by anyone, not the president, nor his campaign. But we also have to look at this term "collusion" and what other very important factors that this investigation has highlighted. It has shown that there's corruption at the core of the Trump Organization. And that is something that we need to look at and that Americans need to be very aware of as we move forward.

[11:15:05] BOLDUAN: Congresswoman, thank you so much for coming in. I appreciate your time.

CLARK: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, the attorney general steps in where Mueller punts and clears President Trump on the question of obstruction of justice. But did Bill Barr speak too soon? We will have more on that ahead.

What do voters think about all of this? Does the Mueller report help the president win reelection or does it help Democrats running against him? We'll be right back.


[11:19:48] BOLDUAN: There's a lot that we still don't know about the Mueller report. Here's what we do know. That it was exhaustive. It lasted 22 months. It cost at least $25 million. More than 2,800 subpoenas were issued, 500 search warrants, and 500 witnesses interviewed. All of that, so far, distilled down to four pages, four, with only a handful of direct quotes from the actual report.

Here to break it down is CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutors, Elie Honig and Jennifer Rodgers.

Let's play the Barr memo annotated game. I want to start with the top, collusion, the question of collusion. Here is what it says in the Barr memo. As the report states, quoting the Mueller report, "The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities."

Elie, is there any room for interpretation?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think this is about as clear cut as we get. I think we knew going in we had two things. We knew the Russians hacked the DNC and Hillary Clinton's e-mails in order to try to help Trump win and that people in the Trump camp wanted it and encouraged it. The question was, would there be connection in between. Mueller has said, and that's a direct quote, no. So I don't think there's a whole lot of wiggle room there.

BOLDUAN: And then the big question, and for the non-legal minds, including myself, confusion on obstruction. Let me read you this, Jennifer. The special counsel states that, "While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him. The special counsel's decision to describe the facts of his obstruction investigation without reaching any legal conclusions leaves it to the attorney general to determine whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime."

Barr is saying there that Mueller left the question of obstruction to the attorney general. Is that a fact?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: This is the question for all of us who have been puzzling over this since the letter came out yesterday. He definitely left it up to someone. Whether he actually wanted to give that decision to the attorney general or whether he was saying it is a very close call legally, the standards for criminal prosecution are very high, this should instead be something that Congress takes a look at because, legally, it is probably not there. That's what is unclear. Mueller was in the best position to decide this question. He was the prosecutor. He didn't have a conflict. That is why he was appointed in the first place. He was independent. He knew this investigation better than anyone. He was the guy who should have made that call. He didn't make that call. The question is, did he intend for the A.G. to make the call or intend to leave it open so Congress could take a clean look at it without anyone weighing in on whether it was actually --


BOLDUAN: In the time it was under consideration is an important thing that has been pointed out by a lot of smart minds. Also on obstruction. "For each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the special counsel views as," quote, unquote, "difficult issues of law and fact concerning whether the president's actions and intent could be viewed at obstruction."

So when you see that the special counsel was wrestling with difficult issues, if you will, does it mean anything to you that Mueller is looking at difficult issues for 22 months and Barr reaches a conclusion in 48 hours?

HONIG: I think that is really hard to understand why and how he got to his conclusion so quickly. My mind goes back to the infamous memo that William Barr wrote shortly before he became A.G. for Donald Trump in 2018 where he took this very aggressive and, I think, extreme view of obstruction of justice. He wrote the memo attacking explicitly Mueller's theory of obstruction of justice. Barr wrote in the memo that the theory was "fatally misconceived," was the quote, and he said in a different interview that the theory was "asinine." So I wonder -- and this is one of the things, I think, need further explanation --


HOINIG: -- did Barr simply take that view and impose it on what he believed was there and say, OK, well, I don't believe it can be obstruction, we're done. That is about the only way it could be done in 24 hours or 48 hours.

BOLDUAN: And it remains unanswered. You both leave open questions because, how it is worded and what is said and the context provided in the Mueller report in full would be extremely important to anyone, obviously how Barr reached his conclusion in 48 hours is what we can learn from.

But on the last part of the memo, it addresses the decision to -- whether or not to release it publicly. This is what Barr writes: "My goal and intent is to release as much of the special counsel's report as I can consistent with the applicable law, regulations and departmental policies."

Jennifer, is there any legal reason that you see to not release the report to the public?

RODGERS: Yes. There are some buckets of information that are problematic there, classified information, grand jury information that's subject to Rule 6-E, also can't be released without a court order. There's the executive privilege issue on some of this, if the White House exerts executive privilege, they'll have to figure out whether that is a legal barrier to release. Those three things are legal issues. The fourth thing is the department's policies of not releasing derogatory information against someone who has not been charged. That is not a law. That's their policy.


RODGERS: That is a different bucket. But there are some things that will have to be scrubbed from the report before the public sees it.

BOLDUAN: To me, it says it can be a long time before this thing can actually be released.

Really quickly, as I was looking through the memo, Barr quotes words, phrases from the Mueller report only -- I saw six times and only one of them seemed to be a full sentence. Is that surprising to you?

[11:25:10] HONIG: Yes, a little bit. I think it underscores just how important it is that we see the actual Mueller report. It's like, if you see a movie trailer and you go see the movie and you go that's not quite what you thought it was going to be based on the trailer, right? We need to get the full text to the public, to the extent possible under the law. And I think we'll see a big fight in Congress and potentially the courts over that.

BOLDUAN: All right. Great to see you guys. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Coming up for us still, will the Mueller report help or hurt President Trump's reelection chances? That is where this big focus goes immediately. Former Ohio Governor John Kasich, he's joining me next to discuss.